I’m sitting here typing this with Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo on my knee. Why on my knee versus my head or shoulder? (hey, isn’t that a commercial?) He’s on my knee because it’s one of those days. Let me explain what I mean.
I was on the phone with my sister this morning. I went to get Rico out of his cage and he stepped right up as he usually does. He flew around the house a bit as I made breakfast. Flying to the top of the refrigerator to see what I was doing in the kitchen. Then flying back to his perch in the living room to check out the happenings out the front window. Then he flew to his favored or most frequented perch that hangs between the kitchen and the dinning room. I went to ask him to step up and he moved quickly in response to my hand with an open beak. I was a bit taken back by this action but respected it. Why would I respect this? Why wouldn’t I? Did I need him to step up? No. Did I want him to step up? Yes I did but it wasn’t a necessity. I was going to have him step up so I could pet and give him the usual neck snuggles.
I looked at him with a confused look on my face. He could have easily bit me if he wanted to as I was clearly within reach. I could have also gone in for another request to step up. I had a feeling if I did, he would have made his form of communication a little clearer that time. Yea, I don’t want to reinforce that behavior or teach him that the quick movement wasn’t clear enough and that maybe a step further, a bite I’m assuming, would do the trick. So I backed off, confused at the behavior.
I went on about my business and ate my breakfast. I walked up to Rico again, remembering his last action toward me. I showed him my hand without pushing it in front of him and asked him if he wanted to step up. I was going to see if he wanted to sit down with me while I ate breakfast. He sat on his perch obviously watching me. I saw his eyes move from my eyes to my hand. I paid close attention to his body language. You know what I saw? Some would describe it as nothing but I saw a lot. I saw him look at my hands, stand completely still, feathers up around the beak, and perched on one foot. Now that’s a lot of body language. My hand was held as an offering in front of him yet his body language or lack of movement clearly showed me he was not interested.
In a situation like this, I could have asked for more but why? Did I need him to step up? Like I said before, no I didn’t. I can’t read what is going on in Rico’s head so we rely heavily on each other’s body language. His body language pretty much told me “No, I don’t want to move.” or “No, I’m just fine where I am.” or “No, I find you and your human food pathetically uninteresting to me so please leave.” My point is whatever it is that was going through his head, I have no clue, but that body language can tell quite a bit. Rico has his own mind, his own life, his own opinion. This is nothing different than mine. Somedays I don’t want to be bothered with the telephone, the solicitor at the door, or someone touching me when I just want to be left alone. That’s ok and if you continue to force me or prod me to get me to get up off the couch because you feel like it, I may give you a piece of my mind after your continuing to try when I’ve thought I’ve made myself clear.
Rico eventually flew over to me at the dinning room table. I was happy to have him there. I wanted to reach out, grab him around his body with both hands, raise him upside down to my face, and kiss him on his back as I often do. Based on our previous two encounters this morning within the past few minutes, behavior was telling me this might not go off as planned or how I would like it to go.
I reached my hand over to him and rubbed my fingers together above but in front of his head. This is a signal that I often present to him at the same time when I ask “Can I pet?”. It is an added choice I can provide to them in their living situation with me. I ask them. If they don’t want to be pet, then I don’t do it. I rubbed my fingers and said “Can I pet?”. He turned his head and his eyes followed my fingers. Not a good sign for moving in for that pet. When he wants petted, he’ll usually slightly close his eyes or bend his head down in welcoming the scratch. When he turns his head and watches my hand, based on past experiences I know this means “Nah, not right now.” or “Just where do you think you’re with that thing?” or “That hand is better suited for putting that pathetic human food in your mouth versus on my neck right now.”. Whatever is going through his head, I don’t know, but that body language is clear. Very clear and I want to pay attention to that and let him know his message has been read loud and clear because if I push it, this teaches him that he hasn’t gotten his point across and he needs to make that message more clear.
So many times do I see people push the envelope with their requests. Actually, if the envelope is understandably being pushed, than is it a request? If you are telling me “No!” and I keep pushing, I think I’m taking your choice out of the situation and pushing the envelope. I know because I’ve pushed that envelope too and what I’ve learned is how effective, strong, relationship building, and easier it is when you don’t push that envelope.
I later went in for another request and Rico’s response was watching my hand and no movement of his feet stepping onto my hand. Yep, its going to be one of those days and by that I mean, his behavior isn’t the normal and typical bouncing, jumping, loving, and squawking cockatoo. He does this once in a while. I don’t know exactly why, but it happens. I know on days like today I really need to respect that body language because it means a lot to him and to my relationship with him. The more I respect the “Hey alright. You don’t want to be pet than I’ll go on about my business.” the more he respects that fact that I respect that. Did that make sense? Based on our behavior during and after days like this, I see our relationship getting even stronger as if that clear line of communication through body language on both parts are clearly understood and respected.
Our body language with each other is our language. It is our main form of communication with each other. Our language is “Rico/Lara” language. Just like English or Spanish, it’s unique and very strong and very powerful. It’s very effective if our sentences are put together properly, and just like English, if you use it loosely or get sloppy with it, you may see where your intention wasn’t well received or misunderstood. Hence the reason Rico is on my knee instead of my head or my shoulder. It’s days like today that I need to be able to see his body language and keep that communication clear. I don’t need the “Rico/Lara” language going bad or being used loosely when he’s on my shoulder. I try not to push the envelope to the point where I find myself saying “I knew that was going to happen.”
So here we sit on a dark, dreary, and rainy day in Ohio. I have a feeling its going to be a quiet day here in the house without a lot of action so I’m going to take advantage of it. Tomorrow, I bet will be one of those other days. You know, the crazy, jumping, squawking “Hey man, when are you going to pet me?” kind of days.
That was a great article about respect that is just a good reminder to all of us. There are days that we just don’t feel like contact and I never thought of a bird feeling that way. Strange as that may sound. It made me realize I am not always sensitive to the body language I am reading.
Thank you for the dummy slap on the head:) LOL
Have a great day
Hi Heidi. I’m glad you liked it. I need to try and post more often. It’s not as though I never have anything to write about. 😉 I could have easily passed this behavior off onto hormones or him being hormonal. Whether or not it is, the body language is there to still work with. Beside, passing it off onto a label such as hormonal doesn’t give us anything to work with. This behavior is definitely workable.
Were your ears ringing. Jeannie and I were just talking about you the other day. All good of course. 😉
I am a professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and bird owner (I hope to do parrot consulting in the future). This is a fabulous post and I have already shared it with my friends and clients. Listening to the animal is so important. Thank you for this post. And, please post more often:)
Hi Vicki and thank you for the compliment. A very good and dear friend of mine is a professional dog trainer also but he lives so far away. It is neat to talk to him to see how tactics in positive reinforcement training and behavior modification apply in all animals. It is good to hear you pursuing your future in parrot consulting. The avian community needs great R+ training consultants. Thanks for posting and feel free to share your thoughts in how techniques apply in dogs too. 😉 I would look forward to hearing them.
dorothy long says
Hi lara!thank you for that post on body language.its very important to read their body language since they cant talk.Thats wat I do!everything u said is true!cya at bird paradise in nj next year!
Great article, Laura. Thank you so much for the reminder of what’s required to keep our relationship with our birdy healthy and loving. It’s too easy in the moment to ignore our instincts and what we’re seeing and let our ego dictate our actions. Fortunately life, or in this case, our birdy, will give us feedback about that choice through that wonderful teacher, pain. I hate it when I force myself to learn the hard way through my own willfulness. Being dumb as a rock can hurt! 🙂 And I really hate it when it hurts my birdy 🙁
Hi Lara, I’m also a professional dog behavior consultant and I loved this article. My oldest dog has never been a super cuddler. He’s very gentle and quiet about it, but will just move away if you touch him too much. Finally I started asking him if he wanted to be touched. I hold my hand up by the side of his head and if he leans into it, I pet him. If not, I don’t. I’m not perfect about this, but it helped a ton. He stays near me more and cuddles more on his own. So simple, yet so powerful. I teach my clients this if they have a dog who is not liking all the petting. It is very hard for dog people, though; they specifically want a pet they can pet. A lot. Dogs are so forbearing; most don’t bite when uncomfortable with petting. People miss so much. Your careful observation is what dog owners need to be able to do, too.
Eden Halbert says
What a lovely post! It’s great to be reminded that our pets are allowed to have their own feelings and opinions and moods, ones that are different from our own. I like how you asked yourself whether you *needed* a certain behavior from him. There might be times when I need a behavior from my dogs that they don’t particularly want to do, but it’s for their safety, for example. Other than that, I try to give them choices, too. I board and train dogs for a living, have two dogs of my own, and although I don’t have birds, what you wrote is applicable to so many creatures in our life, whether they are two- or four-legged! lol
Greta & Eden, it’s so good to hear your comments, especially both as professional dog trainers. Greta, I have a video that I show when I speak to people that shows an easy way of incorporating choice into the lives of our pets. Your comment reminded me of it. I’ll post it to share with you but I do as you suggest to your clients. I usually always ask my birds if I can pet. If they want to, they move in and if they don’t, they usually don’t move. Also as you said, the more I ask, the more they choose to participate. It is a way of incorporating empowerment into their environments and the effects show through positive behavior.
Eden, I do the same as you also. I try to incorporate R+ training whenever I can. If safety is on the line, I will do what I have to for the safety of the animal first. I usually follow the rule of “What’s the alternative?”. If I have to take a choice away, I will but I always follow it with either figuring how I can prevent the situation in the future, or how to incorporate R+ training.
Rebecca Gerondale says
thank you so much for this. it’s so completely true. our birds are not extension of ourselves. they need and deserve boundaries and choices when it’s not a necessity. this was very helpful and encouraging to read.