I woke up this morning planning how my day was going to go. I know I have a full plate today. I have several deadlines to meet. A few of those deadlines are this weekend and the rest are next week. All of that and that doesn’t even really include the daily work I have. Calgon? Nah, as I sit here and type this, I’m sitting beside my Umbrella Cockatoo, Rico who is resting on the back of the chair next to me. He is now resting from the past hour of training and enrichment I’ve provided to him to keep him occupied while I fed the birds, cleaned the house, and emptied the dishwasher.
I’ve been wanting to write a new blog post, and one of my new year’s resolutions is to write here more often, even if it is a daily thought on anything avian or anything behavior related. So, before all of the hustle and bustle of the day starts, I was staring out the front window. Movement drew my attention there. It is the area which my husband provides food for the outdoor birds. A big flash of blue drew me in closer. Ah, the almighty blue jay. How they captivate me now that I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know them through having Pete, Nature’s Nursery’s program blue jay, stay here with me at the house for a few months while I trained him and watched him fledge. I watched this blue jay hop around and gather food in his pouch below his bottom beak. I knew that was what he was doing from watching Pete for several months. Boy was this blue jay big. Big and round and storing up for the winter months he was already experiencing. His colors were vibrant and his beak was massive. Anyone that watches blue jays, knows what they do with that beak and that beak deserves to be respected.
This blue jay was out there foraging for food along side a few other species of outdoor birds. I noticed the house sparrows. I always notice them. All of a
sudden something scared the birds. The cool thing was watching the difference in behaviors among the species. There were several. They all acted the same way and I’m sure they responded off of each other by taking flight the moment the first one started taking flight. It was such and experience because the house sparrows flew out, close, and around. Half of the flock went to the right of the house and half of the flock went to the left. They stayed low to the ground and stayed close in cornering the house. I didn’t see where they went but I knew where they went from watching them for so many years. The went to the bushes surrounding the house and the bushes across the street. The blue jay however responded to all of the birds flying away, but responded much differently. The blue jay was the last to take flight. He didn’t fly out and around. He flew up to the tree above the feasting sight. More birds flew through and away at that time again and I kept my eyes on the blue jay and he just flew up two branches. Do you know what I saw? I saw confidence, but that’s me being anthropomorphic. I saw an individual bird surviving without a flock of his own. I saw a bird that responds to his environment based on past experiences. This was a blue jay old enough to have learned and still learning from his environment. He didn’t find the need to scatter far as the house sparrows. The big, blue jay still stuck out like a sore thumb on a tree with no leaves. When he jumped up only two more branches at the next scattering of the birds, I saw a confident bird.
Watching the behavior of the outdoor birds continually keeps me learning about the behaviors of the parrots living in my house. Does this sound crazy? I sure hope not because there is a lot to learn just by looking outside your window. I watched that blue jay up in the tree. He brought his food up out of his pouch and held it in his foot and began banging away on it with that massive tool of a beak. I smiled because Pete showed me this and it was so cool to see a wild bird doing this. That blue jay had a lot of mental stimulation going on. That bird just foraged for its food, paying close attention to its surroundings, flew, perched in a tree extracting the contents of its find by cracking open whatever it was in his foot. All the while he had to pay attention above him and below him. He had to….his life depends on it. I smiled and walked to the bird room to get Rico.
Here is a video of Pete bringing food up from his pouch and caching it in a toy part I gave to him.
Here in our households live our parrots. Our parrots have evolved through millions of years. Those are millions of years that time has perfected the body and mind of the parrot to utilize every single part on its body. Open and avian anatomy book. What you will see is something far different from any mammal. It is astounding. Look at the number of air sacs and how they attach to the bones and what functions and effect that has to the health of the bird. Look at the bones and how they function and work in the ways we see our birds moving. Look at the feathers and how each section has a name and how important those names are in identifying what purpose they serve in flight. There has been much controversy over avian intelligence and how the avian brain lacks the folds that a mammalian brain has. It was assumed that avian intelligence wasn’t comparable to those animals we considered smart. Maybe hence the word bird brain, but anyone who cares for a parrot would consider being called a bird brain a compliment. We see the intelligence and studies are finding several fascinating and amazing details of the things birds are capable of. Read any book by Bernd Heinrich and search for his videos on YouTube. Watch your bird move. Watch how he sees his environment. Watch what things in his environment attract his attention and what things cause him to move away. There…..there you will see the anatomy of the avian mind. It is vast, it is fascinating, and it serves a purpose.
Here is a video of Rocky, my Moluccan Cockatoo I brought in as a re-home over 4 years ago. With his foot, Rocky is selecting which hand the toy part is in. In the end, he quickly outwitted me to get what he wanted from his environment.
Animals learn from their environments. Our birds learn from their environments such as their cage, their play stations, their physical activity whether that’s hopping, running, or flying. This is why I’m such an advocate of enriched animal environments, especially those of our parrots. I’m fascinated with birds but especially parrots because of how quick they are in learning and manipulating their environment. Their minds are built for that. The ability in how quick on can manipulate its environment is a sign of intelligence. Our parrots are as intelligent as the environments we provide to them! And that my friendly readers, is a powerful statement.
Think outside of the box. There is enrichment all around us that we can safely provide to our birds to keep them learning. The mind of an animal under human care that is continually learning is one that is enriched and enriched environments play a big role on their happiness and mental and physical health. Many studies show this. Ok, I threw in the happiness but I see behaviors in birds that I label as happy correlated with enriched environments based on that individual bird or animal. Not all cockatoos like to untie knots. Not all macaws like to destroy wooden blocks. Not all birds play with toys…..so teach them! This absolutely can be done. A bird that sits in a cage all day and interacts with nothing pulls heavy on everything inside of me.
This morning I brought Rico out to fly around the house and get his exercise and mental stimulation outside of one of the environments I call his cage. The smarter the bird, the easier it is to label them. Smart birds search for novelty (new things or experiences) items in their environments. These are the birds that are quickly labeled “trouble makers” or “always getting into something”. This makes me laugh and I so look forward to interacting with this type of bird. Taking five minutes to watch them can teach you an enormous amount about what they are thinking, what they like, and how their mind works. This information can then be used to enrich their environments.
Rico was flying around the house and coming to my hand on cue. That was only going to last for a short time because his reinforcers for this behavior are going to and did quickly change. The pine nuts are only going to be attractive until he’s had his fill of them so I need to identify another reinforcer for future desired or requested behaviors. It was the tone of excitement in my voice that kept him on my hand and doing back flips for a short while. That would soon change too. I knew he was hungry and knew he hadn’t eaten yet today so I filled his foraging toy with food. That would only last so long too, right? I see many parrot owners reading this and nodding their head because they know exactly what I’m experiencing. Your heart rate is probably starting to race and your rate of breathing increasing too, right? Because you know exactly the attention this take and at what pace I am moving. I’m smiling as I’m typing this and I’m making this sound tougher than it really is.
When Rico was finished with his foraging toy, he flew right to the opened dishwasher. From past experience I knew this would probably attract his attention and it did. So each time I have that dishwasher open, the more opportunity I’m giving him to learn to fly to it faster and start going after whatever it is that is attracting his attention. The dishwasher is just a $500 parrot toy to an inquisitive parrot. He flew to it. Instead of pulling him away from it and teaching him to grip harder onto it and bite me if I forced to pull him off of it, I pulled him up to perch on it and then quickly thought of something else I had that he might like. I pulled out a dishwashing utensil basket we never use from the cupboard beside the dishwasher. He saw it but was it more exciting that the huge dishwasher itself right in front of him? Probably not, but the yummy almond slivers that he hasn’t received this morning probably are. I asked him to step up and he knows in situations like this, the chances are extremely high he’s getting a huge reward. He stepped up and I showered him with praise and then almond slivers. Rico loves trying to figure out how to manipulate objects to get what he wants. So, I grabbed a close by toy and threw it in the utensil basket. Living with Rico, I know through observation that most of the reinforcer in interacting with challenges like this, is mostly the challenge, not necessarily the toy.
Here is a video I shot this morning of the quick contraption I put together that kept Rico busy many times throughout the day. Here is a video clip I shut off after a minute and a half. He quickly figured this out and each time he did, I had to figure out a way to make it harder for him to unlock the top of the basket.