Everyday I stumble on to new circumstances, interactions, or behavior concerns with my birds or the birds in which I work. No day is ever the same so I don’t expect the behavior that happens in the house to be the same from day-to-day either. I don’t expect my bird’s behavior to be the same today as it was yesterday. We learn from our environment and exploring that environment is how we continue to learn. This works the same for our birds. What Rico, my Umbrella Cockatoo enjoyed interacting with yesterday is going to change in some way today. This is how intelligent minds work.
So this morning I decided to have Rico come out into the kitchen to fly around and interact with my husband and I as we both got ready for work for the day. It was something different and a consistent changing environment that Rico can learn from and interact with. By consistently changing I mean, a lot of things are changing around him. I’m moving about the kitchen putting away dishes and preparing fresh veggies for the birds. My husband is walking around taking out the trash and carrying things in from the garage. Every time we move something in the kitchen, Rico’s environment changes and Rico learns from watching and interacting with those changes. I learn more about Rico by watching what he focuses on and what items in which he interacts. By watching him and living with him, I can learn and predict what things he will be drawn to in his environment and what things he is about to get into. When we learn what items and situations are attractive to them, we can use these items and situations to guide them to the things we want them to do and away from the potential undesirable things they are getting ready to do. A perfect example happened this morning.
Rico was flying around the house and interacting with some of his favored toys. I was watching him while I was continuing on about my business. He checked and interacted with all of his toys and then flew back to the kitchen. He sat there perched on his boing with a bird’s-eye view of everything that was going on in the kitchen. He flew down to a huge bowl of popcorn I had sitting on the countertop from my late night munchies the night before. He flew down to it. He stood and stared at it and then the behavior began. He stuck his beak in the middle of the dish and began swiping back and forth. With each swipe he was pushing popcorn out of the bowl. I chuckled and continued lining bird bowls in a row on the counter. My husband walked over and took the popcorn bowl away from him. I watched him and I watched Rico. Rico looked up at him like someone just took the world’s largest lollipop from a three year old kid. My husband sat the bowl on another table. I laughed because on that table also sat his sunglasses, his pen, his watch, and a few important notes. I looked back at Rico and saw Rico look at the bowl and then move his eyes to the lovely, attractive, enrichment items beside the bowl.
I asked my husband why he moved the bowl of popcorn and the reason was exactly what I thought it was going to be. “Because he’s making a mess” my husband said. I replied “Well he was having fun with it and popcorn is very easy to clean up.” I could tell the interaction with that large bowl of popcorn was going to take up a good deal of Rico’s time and attention this morning. Now it was gone. Now what behaviors are going to take up the rest of his time this morning? Rico quickly flew to the other table. I told my husband the popcorn is a lot easier to clean up than destroyed pens, glasses, destroyed notes. My husband looked at where Rico flew to and immediately ran to collect his valuables. I picked up the popcorn dish with Rico perched on the side of it and moved them back to the countertop where it was a safe place for Rico to play and safe for all of the items around him. There he began swooshing the popcorn out of the dish once again. I laughed as I looked back at my husband. I could see him understanding why I was letting him swoosh the popcorn.
Telling Rico what not to do doesn’t give him the opportunity of learning what is ok to do. Often when we continually tell a bird what not to do and pull them away from the objects we don’t want them interacting. Usually the only thing this teaches the bird is how to get to those objects faster and sneakier next time. I knew the swooshing of the popcorn was only going to attain his interest for a so long. So, I grabbed a paper cup and threw an almond in it. I stuck that almond in the new contraption of a toy we made the day before. He now has to search for a way to get the toy open to get to the cup to extract the almond which he has to shell before eating. He loves this and I know, because I watch the things he enjoys interacting with in his environment. If I don’t provide appropriate enrichment items, he’ll make his own. 😉