Do We (Unintentionally) Limit Our Birds’ Happiness?

Umbrella cockatoo (and me)

Umbrella cockatoo (and me)

Let’s face it. Being the self-appointed guardian of a non-human loved one is a big responsibility which requires us to keep continuously educated with current information so that we can properly provide for their every need and keep them healthy and safe. That is, after all, the job we signed on for.

It is daunting when you think about. The internet is filled with warnings and scary possibilities. There seems to be no end to the barrage of things that could harm our birds. I am sure that some things aren’t even on our radar yet and will, in 20 years, make us cringe and say: I can’t believe I did that with my bird!”
Attention to safety is crucial, but it can be stifling when it is overdone. You also have a responsibility to your bird’s mental health and well-being and sometimes we can go too far in our quest to protect them.

I posted a video on our Facebook page recently that got me thinking about the ways we might be holding our birds back. It featured an umbrella cockatoo trying to grasp the little red dot coming from a laser pointer. Obviously, this is impossible to accomplish but the bird continued to try.

There were a surprising amount of comments saying that this was frustrating to the bird.

People were saying that the bird couldn’t ever “win” and that this would be viewed as a bad experience in the end.

Could their concerns be an example of going too far? The assumption that “winning” is important to a bird or that not accomplishing this task would be perceived as a failure are based on human experience. Do we, perhaps, invent concerns that aren’t valid in a bird’s world?

Consider a wild bird trying and trying to get a nut that had fallen out of their reach. There would eventually be the realization that it was futile to continue trying and being the practical animals that natured created, they would abandon further attempts and move on to something that was within their reach. I don’t see frustration having a big role in the lives of wild birds.

Isn’t it possible that the bird with the laser dot was thinking: “Wow. This is trippy. I can see it, but I can’t touch it!!” This is what I observed.

Play can definitely cross over into frustration if overdone. But is it the best idea to avoid the dot game altogether? Or should we learn our bird’s threshold of tolerance and stop before overdoing it? We have an obligation to be sure we don’t rob our birds of having an interesting life in our effort to be the perfect avian guardian. Allowing ourselves to live in a state of constant worry will prevent us from enjoying our birds.

galah

galah

I saw a video back several years ago of a teenager who snuck up on his galah and said “boo!”. The bird took to their air screeching, made a complete loop around the room and landed on the boy’s shoulder. The comments were mercilessly condemning siting cruelty on the part of the teenager and irresponsibility on the parent’s part.

But I loved the video and found it very telling that the bird, even with many options for landing places, chose the shoulder of the “offender”. It was clearly play to this bird and it made me smile because I knew this bird was having a good life as part of this family and felt safe among humans. The video made me recall events in my childhood where my father or brothers would chase me pretending to be a monster. I screamed and ran away, but knew all the while I was never in any danger. They are happy memories.

It is necessary to point out that the “boo” game is not a good idea in homes where trust has not been nurtured between the bird and the humans. It could easily cause further mistrust. But in those homes where mutual trust does exist and safety is always being evaluated, I wonder how many of us are still holding back on our birds. Your thoughts?

7 comments

patricia Bartolucci

My Galah absolutely loves to screech like he is being killed while flying around the room…. Or to roll over on his back holding is rubber football? in his feet while screeching like he is terrified. Then he flips over and dpromptly does it again. They like to play with great exuberance. You can’t ovrerly protect them from fun either. Toos are exuberant birds who scream more from delight & excitement than fear.. Thanks Patty, good discussion.

patricia Bartolucci
Patti

We did this with our dog and one day he looked at my husband’s hand holding the laser. At this realization, he layed down. Birds are smart too. Some will figure it out.

Patti
patricia Bartolucci

My Galah absolutely loves to screech like he is being killed while flying around the room…. Or to roll over on his back holding is rubber football? in his feet while screeching like he is terrified. Then he flips over and dpromptly does it again. They like to play with great exuberance. You can’t ovrerly protect them from fun either.

patricia Bartolucci
Evanjeline

I was one of the ppl that reacted to that video at first glance (I did not write anything) But then i rewatched it, and it was obvious this bird where not frustrated and had a good time. It’s always individual. I’ve done it with both my birds. My amason saw it, and tried to figure out where it came from, and after 10 seconds he knew it was me, and that it wasn’t something he could catch, but still played with it a bit. My senegal on the other hand saw it, looked agressive like he does when he want to kill an insect and moved towards it. When the light hit him and he saw it he went nuts and tried to preen it of. I stopped, but he still kept looking all over himself at intervals that day to see if the mysterious thing was back. Except the things that are oviously a danger to them I don’t think there is any right or wrong what to do and not do with them. Learn to know them and try everything in their pace. If they get fustrated stop. They react so different that there is no way to say for certain what kind of ways to play are right and wrong.

Evanjeline
Denise Zmijewski Bunch

I have to agree. I can’t constantly worry about trivial things, then I wouldn’t have any fun time with my birds. I raised twin girls and I was not a worry wart and they are thriving in their older teenage life in college. I have my three babies and I am not going to over worry with them either. I provide the best possible environment, food choices, and play for them as I possibly can. I must be doing something right because all three sit on me looking to be scratched, cuddled, played with, fed, etc………My husband laughs saying he has never seen birds act like ours and I agree, they each have a personality of their own and we love all of them. Just enjoy them and they will let you know their limits, likes and dislikes.

Denise Zmijewski Bunch
Deirdre

Dear Meg Mclean, Barbara Heidenreich on Facebook has some excellent free videos on training parrots. She covers biting, screaming and other behavioral problems. Try looking into to those. it could help with the screaming problem. I trained it out of a B&G I fostered, but I knew the cause of the problem, so I knew what I needed to do the train him out of it. Each bird and situation is different, and I think Barbara’s videos could be helpful to you. Also, Lynn Paulson on FB fosters, retrains, and rehomes a lot of displaced parrots of just about any species. She would be a good person to ask how you should handle the situation, too. Hope this helps.

Deirdre
chris brown

I’ve just lost my best mate, Mr Bird [a Dubbo? born galah], after 28 years. Grief doen’t even begin to describe it. He was my third galah and fourth cockatoo. Sam was the first, betrayed by a journalist and was snatched whilst flying around Merimbula, NSW. Tinker was the second Galah, raised from a quilled golf-ball [as you could in Sydney in the 70s], who was allowed out after 4 weeks flight training indoors. Bought as a companion for Ben, our rescue Major Mitchell, he just flew down the garden, over the top of the gum trees, did 3 circuits and came home. Knew where he was ever after. After 5 or 6 years, he courted a girl Galah from the local flock and eventually stopped coming home at night. but he brought the flock with him during the day. And his girl-friend, although she would always land on my arm further away from me. His favourite was to bring his friends home for tes and devour the seeds of our wattle tree. no more than 8ft from us as we ot out of the car from a day at the beach. The benefit of this was that we were trusted each year to guard the creche of youngsters – we’d have 20 or 30 young birds running around the garden fighting twigs etc. Ben also flew free for all the 10 years we had her [sic] – but she had to stay in Oz due to revised CITES regs – so she was put in the acre of an Avian Rights group to be re-habilitated into the wild. She would preen my eye-lashes and mutter the most beautiful sound while I worked in my study. She would aslo go and garden with our neighbours – and join in their barbecues. When I had to come back from Oz I regret to say, but am very grateful that I did, found a pair of mature wild-caught galahs in the bottom of a cage of sulphurs in a pet shop in lakemba, and decided that they were going to have a grim life [they were alo-preening at the bottom of the cage]., so I bought the pair and brought them back to UK [39 days quarantine]. To my despair, Mrs B died after a couple of years. Mr B regained his wings in Bedford Park, and became a most familiar companion, flying free all over the place, from Par Sands in Cornwall to Peterhead harbour & Llandudno Beach. Adept at quartering a buzzard, a stalwart Maltese fighter against the odds of crows and seagulls and a sheer exhibitionist at low-level aerobatics. And master sleuth and quartemaster – he checked all inward groceries, knew where everyting was kept and learnt how to open several sorts of tins. I miss his morning hurtles around the roof-tops, and the pumped up bird full of adrenalin when he came back in. And waking up to find him cuddled in my hand under the duvet. And I miss him making his nest in the hollow wall over the built-in cupboard in our Victorian toen-house. A lot of unpaid bills lie shredded in there. A great mate.

chris brown

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