04 March 2011

Why Live with Birds?

My life is better because I live with birds. Perhaps enriching is the proper term: my life is enriched because I live with birds. Yes, that's it. Let me explain why.

From my time in the zoological field I know that enriching doesn't necessarily mean fun, scary, or annoying. For dolphins a fun basketball (See: The Middle Flipper) can be enriching, but so can some scary sounds from sliding deck chairs around. Enrichment is just something different in the animal's environment. Four parrots, and Kenobi, provide my life with "something different" everyday.

I've wanted to write a blog on the subject of why I love living with birds ever since the question was posed to me about a year ago at a family gathering. At that moment Cher was clambering around to the top of my head for a look around and I basically said something like, "Just look at her, she's hilarious!" I was in a good mood at that moment and having a comical little conure around only added to the fun of that evening.

Some days are more trying. Does having several jungle animals in the house, and a grazing rabbit, help me cope with stress? Not when Cher is screaming her demands for attention and Kenobi is driving the security deposit into negative figures while I'm freaking out about a to-do list I'd trade for a day in Sysiphus's sandas, I'll admit that. What I'll also admit is that its hard to stay frustrated with life when all of these little guys are here not wanting anything more than company and snacks. Having one of the birds hop onto my lap while I'm struggling through some doleful project, then seeing them preen and just be happy that we are sharing the time together is a mental recharge.

If Kenobi is eating the carpet, then we can have fun re-directing him to playing with his stuffed animals or eating some fresh greens. When the birds are being loud, we know its time to spend some time with them. Even just a little thing like letting them perch in the room with us will quiet them down. Sprite's unwillingness to step-up from the time he came to live with us and Coconuts outright disdain for humans has led us to get to know them both better through training. The difficulties of having the animals around provide enrichment that can be turned into a positive so easily because just being their companions is a treat for us. This morning Cher provided me with a laugh and a photo-op first thing. She must have been snacking in the early morning hours because when I lifted her cage cover I saw her staring back at me with bits of crushed food pellets stuck to her beak. I was worried for a moment because this can often be a sign that a bird is throwing up and therefore very sick. Taking a closer look, though, it was obvious the bits had not been swallowed and were only on the tip of her beak where she had evidently been foraging for the last bits in her food dish.

Earlier this week I was experiencing a nerve-wrecking morning due to some computer issues (severe data loss). Ms. Flock Advisor was offering to help in any way that she could, and offering comfort. My mind was spinning, though. I was scurrying around the house trying to pull together what I needed for the day before I had to run out the door. Kenobi was bouncing around my legs as I walked, oblivious to my urgency. Sprite was perched on the top of his cage near the stairwell that leads to the front door. Keys, bag, and phone all in order I was stopped by Ms. Flock Advisor for some last words of encouragement before I rushed out to meet deadlines with fury. I looked over and saw Sprite stretching his neck out to me with widened eyes while he ground his beak, a sign of comfort. I reached out and gave his neck feathers a good kneading before I had to go. That moment lasted no more than 15 seconds or so, but it was a much needed pick-me-up (or settle-me-down, rather). In 15 seconds I had given this bird all that he really cared to get out of the day: a little interaction with the rest of the flock. He put me at ease too, as did the rest of the birds with their calls as I left. I took with me the knowledge that they would all be waiting when I got home for more time together.

Birds are social animals, but the relationship that humans develop with them is different than the kind of relationship usually developed with a dog or cat. With birds, humans become a part of the flock. It is a relationship built on interaction rather than food provisions. For parrots, in fact, the best thing for them is to make their food as hard to get to as possible: this way they can exercise their natural talents of problem solving and foraging. Spending time with them is crucial, but it is often very simple. We just let them out of the cage and go about our business. Lennon is content to fall asleep on Ms. Flock Advisor's chest while we watch a movie at night. Cher is content to play with the tag of my morning tea on my desk while I feverishly try to increase my online presence. Sprite would like a head scratch every so often as we walk by his perch, but really relishes in repeating words back and forth with us. Coconut lights up and becomes so energetic during his clicker training sessions that he makes my day, too.

Perhaps the best part about living with the birds is their necessity to communicate with their flock. This is the same ingrained need that drives some birds to become nuisances to their humans, but I love it. The birds call to us and to each other as soon as they see the light, or hear someone stir, just as they would in the wild. They are announcing that they've made it through the night, and are getting a report from their flock mates. Getting home at night, we are greeted by a big, "Hi!" from Sprite and the little birds strike up their discombobulated chorus.

The most endearing calls from them are the ones that they make as we leave: the sounds I heard on my stressful morning after getting some quick, mental therapy from Sprite and Ms. Flock Advisor. Sprite carried on with his mumbling sounds, Cher twittered and screamed in an attempt to call me back up the stairs, and Coconut went through his vast repertoire. Lennon gave his normal salutation over and over as he does each time he sees us begin to gather our car keys and descend the stairs: "Bye guys. Love yooooou." He learned the words from Ms. Flock Advisor who always says the same to the animals as she leaves for the day, now Lennon conveys the message to me. I'd like to think he speaks for all the birds.

1 comment:

  1. This is one of your best entries!!!! Yay!!!!

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