21 September 2010

Sprite Rides Again

Sprite and Lennon enjoyed a cross-town ride this week to theirs and Ms. Flock Advisor's new living quarters. It was a minor change in address, but Sprite was upgraded to a new travel cage for the journey. He made the short hop riding shotgun with me while perched in his new "cage fit for a conure." He now has room to stretch his wings and climb up high where he can supervise passing traffic. Once in his new surroundings, he was slightly hesitant to leave the smaller travel cage, but Ms. Flock Advisor sweetened the deal with some Nutri-berries. Later she visited a local bird store (yes, its an awesome one) and loaded him up with some deliciously destructible toys.

Lennon took to the air immediately in the new place, navigating with daring and precision. He has been testing, and apparently approves, the acoustics. He even took the time to ham it up in some "Lennon Noir" shots. The little guy has shown an unbelievable willingness to adapt to new surroundings through this first two years of his life.

Cher and Coconut are still doing great here on the east coast. Coconut is expanding his skills with the target stick daily. My current goal is to continue working him toward following it out of the cage and toward me. Then I plan to work on his stepping-up on my hand with a cue. I really love seeing his comfort level with me improve with each session. 6 months ago I could not have opened his cage door without him going bananas, forget eating from my hand. It is wonderful to see how much he has progressed. One side-effect of the training sessions that I haven't seen yet is his picking up human sound mimics. My hope is that with the increased one-on-one interaction that we are having, he will start to pick up on phrases that I say often (especially because they are paired with the positivity of the "game" and the treats). He hasn't yet, but loyal followers of this little blog will be the first to know. Budgies (a.k.a. "pet shop parakeets") are one of the best mimicking species of parrot. I have heard them mumble whole sentences with eerie precision.

Cher is spending long hours in the home-office with me these days as I plow through piles of literature, and write a little here and there. She makes a great work companion as she is more than content to do her preening and occasionally mimic the tapping of the keyboard. She also stands excellent watch and alarm calls at any soaring hawk or vulture that might come through the window and snatch us both up. I cannot convince her, however, that Ospreys are fish-eaters.

A book give-away at the library last week yielded me Domestic Rabbit Biology and Production, a title published by The University Presses of Florida, Gainesville ca. 1976. The book has some very interesting information about rabbit health, so Kenobi stands to benefit from that. What the book also provides is proof to Kenobi that he is much better off where he is than as a lagomorph in the hands of mid-seventies UF students. I am yet to try the rabbit hypnosis technique outlined in the book, but again, I'll keep you posted.

08 September 2010

The Amazing Tooth-Brushing Bird

Playtime with an animal is worth more than just a few minutes of cuteness and entertainment. It offers mental stimulation, a chance to build your relationship, and a window into their mind.

There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal enjoying itself, especially when you get to be a part of that fun. Though many species will teach their young important hunting techniques, or social interaction etiquette, or even dangerous scenarios to avoid within the context of play, it is not all business. Because animals kept by humans rarely need to forage for their food or deal with a dangerous situation, much of their playtime serves the purpose to them of pure enjoyment while serving their keeper's interest of relationship building with them. Play is a time to build trust and a way to discover what an animal finds reinforcing. The only way to discover new reinforcements is to consistently introduce new objects and scenarios, while limiting known enjoyments to keep them novel.

The Feather Dorm has its own set of activities and objects the flock members enjoy during playtime. The flock advisors are always happy to enjoy playtime with the birds and Bunny. For Cher, the shower is always a hit. Earlier this year I brought home a "wet perch" that suction cups to the shower wall and allows Cher to enjoy the shower at eye-level with us. I have read in several articles that birds typically like cool or room-temperature water and will shy away from warm water. Cher is apparently not typical, because through much experimentation we have found she will not really let herself get drenched until the water has warmed up a bit. In the shower she tweets and spreads her wings to let the water trickle down her back and around to her belly. She will spread her tail feathers and give them a shake a few times as well. By the time her shower is finished, she comes out looking like a spiky dinosaur.

Cher becomes very animated in the shower, but she is often a little more timid given a dish of water to bathe in. A Christmas gift I had bought this past year was a custom painted birdbath, and Ms. Flock Advisor and I had decided we should let Cher test it out to see if it was in fact satisfactory for her wild feathered cousins. It took a while for her to get familiar with the strange new device, but she did eventually dip her head in and go strutting around the shallow dish with her tail and wings dragging. It was a twist on a familiar concept (the shower) that challenged her to work out what to do. Sometimes a slight twist like that is all that is needed to bring hours of new enjoyment to an animal's life as they focus on how to confront the new ordeal.

Lennon is a very vocal male cockatiel and most of his playtime centers around that. He has four songs that he whistles a portion of, and Ms. Flock Advisor is forever offering him new ones to see if he picks them up. Music is not his only love, however. Lennon will often pick up on a strange sound that is far from melodic. But even the most ordinary sounds take on a certain flair when mimicked by the little guy. Lennon has imitated the crunching sound that we make while chewing, the clicking of our keyboards and mice, and one of his latest interests is the sound of a toothbrush in action. He began that one on his own while at the bathroom sink with Ms. Flock Advisor. She came out giggling and brushing while Lennon showcased his new sound to me in the living room. In the video you can hear several of his other mimics as well, and if you listen at the last second you will hear Ms. Flock Advisor say "Good Bird" followed by Lennon's mimic.

Learning what each animal finds reinforcing in playtime is extremely beneficial when it comes to making a new situation fun for them. Because Lennon spends so much time mimicking the sounds he hears, we can turn on a radio and instantly give him some fun stimulation on a long drive or in a new place. Sprite uses his feet to grab toys and roll around with them in his blanket. By offering these to him when he was first moved into Ms. Flock Advisor's new home on the west coast last week, we were able to bring something fun and familiar to a place with strange new sights and sounds.