Observing: Let’s tawk

Posted by Raz on Nov 4th, 2009
Nov 4

Robin Cherkas in her Living with Parrots Cage Free blog has a very nice post this week:
Signs of the Old Coco. It resonates so much with what I have been experiencing with Carly recently, and with how I am stumbling my way through dealing with it.

And I don’t mean stumbling in a bad way necessarily. Behavior is often not black and white and I think it’s necessary to step back and just observe sometimes. And let what we observe guide what we do, even if we don’t know exactly what the plan is all the time. It’s easy to overlook just being with your bird, when busy training new behaviors or maintaining old ones, plus juggling several birds, taking care of daily routines. With our pets, most often we set the agenda. I was beginning to feel a bit out of touch with my own birds, even though I am very conscientious about paying attention to their body language, moods, etc. But it seemed as though it was always in the context of something I was doing, or wanting them to do.

Robin’s Amazon Coco had been showing the aggressive and unpredictable type behavior that sometimes comes with adolescence, and her behavior was very different than what Robin was used to. Instead of fighting it, Robin looked for ways to adapt, through changes in her own interactions and the environment, in order to make a stressful time easier for both of them. Carly has gone through many changes in the past 2 years also, as she comes into breeding age; with her the behavior changes have been intense nest-making, less interest in food, a lack of focus when training (even when she hasn’t eaten or her weight is down), and less playing.

So for a little while here I am taking a step back and observing. What does SHE want to do? (Besides make nests!) I am discovering there are things she likes to do that I didn’t recognize or had forgotten about. One of them is having me pick her up from under the wings, hold her upside down, shake her and give sloppy loud kisses. (Piper looks horrified.) But it’s butt-wiggling fun for Carly. How did I forget that? Once before I forgot how much she likes to play rough and play-fight. What finally clued me in? She started biting me! Sometimes when she is “being a pest,” in any of the many ways possible, what she appears to want is “to tawk.” This means sitting on my hand, close to my face, while I talk to her and she just stares intently. This can go on for a minute or ten. Then she’s off to go play!

Time to tawwk

Time to tawwk

I am taking the time to learn in the same way from Piper now too. (No roughhousing please!) It is very rewarding to step back and see what these guys come up with for interaction all on their own, with no training session in progress, no juggling with other activities like cleaning or cooking, no half-interactions while on the computer or watching TV.

I guess this is relationship building at its most basic. We still keep the basics of our usual routine, with a training session (or “treat earning” session) once a day, foraging activities, going outside. Flying is limited to days when Carly isn’t displaying a lot of nestiness (and is on hold temporarily while I figure out what to do about the crow situation).

But I am focusing my energy on learning from them right now, not the other way around. What do they really find reinforcing? When they come over to bug me when I’m busy at the computer, what do they really want to do?

Peter Topping has an activity he likes to do with his birds called “Sapien Driving.” The idea is that the bird is the driver, and we are the vehicle responding to their cues of where to go. It’s an exercise in watching body language and a fun empowerment and bonding game. I do it with my cat outside now (he is big on walks and exploring) and I have been amazed at where he takes me when I let him set the agenda.

What I’m doing with the birds is kind of like that, just seeing where our interaction takes us. It is really interesting!