FROM THE EDITOR
I want to relate an unfortunate
experience to all of you and ask that you relay the information to your
friends and at your bird club meetings.
It was brought to my attention
by a friend that a bird breeder in her vicinity is offering for sale
"proven pairs of split to blue Quakers."(A split to blue
Quaker is one that visually appears to be a normal green but is carrying
the recessive gene for blue.) She is giving me as a reference, telling
prospective customers that I had recently purchased two pairs of these
splits from her. The people involved just assumed that she was telling
the truth and never checked with me.
The truth is that I have never
even had a telephone conversation with this woman. I have never bought
any of her birds, nor do I intend to.
The birds that she is offering
are presented to be split to blue pairs, and it is possible that they
are just that. Even if they are, these birds are visually no different
than normal green Quakers. The statistics given are that they will
produce 50% split to blue, 25% normals, and 25% visual blues. These
figures are based on records kept on many hundreds of birds. Even if the
pairs being sold are exactly as represented many years can pass before a
visual blue shows up. It can be many more years before you can draw the
conclusion that you paid a huge price for a pair of normal green Quakers
with no blue being carried by them genetically. In this type situation
you are entirely dependent on the integrity of the breeder.
Before parting with your money,
take the trouble to insist on references, and check with those given as
reference. We aviculturists are generally a very trustworthy group and
willing to protect buyers from those few dishonest breeders in our
FROM OUR READERS
Dear Linda; My husband and I are
the proud "parents" of a 3 1/2 year old Quaker whose name is
Jammer T. Alley. He is the most precious companion and loveable friend you
could ever have. He only says a few phrases which I understand is unusual
for a Quaker. We have followed all of the textbook tricks to encourage him
to speak more but to no avail. I have heard that if they don't speak well
that they choose to be excellent imitators. This is certainly true of our
bird. Jammer closely resembles a microwave, a closet door opening, a
zipper, many whistles, cooking sounds, kissing sounds, etc. He will even
predict when these sounds will be made which causes me to laugh - and then
you guessed it! He accurately mimics that too. My husband and I have
learned to "speak" Jammer's language, all of his special bird
sounds. He seems to truly enjoy this and we "talk" back and
forth at length. Our Vet believes that Jammer is so satisfied with our
talking his language that he doesn't need to replicate ours. Could that be
true? Jammer is also an expert at "beak tapping." He exactly
replicates the number of taps as well as intricate patterns of the taps.
What a precious animal who so desperately attempts to communicate with
us. Jeannelle from Ohio
- - - - - - - - - -
Now our charming
little green monster also has a Quaker Oat box (cylinder?) to play in. He
doesn't poop inside his either. It's fun reading about other Quakers and
comparing our Fred to others of his kind (even if he does insist that he's
one of a kind.) Dave from Georgia
A friend of mine
gave me a Quaker as a gift. He is six months old and already has a pretty
large vocabulary. Rowdy, this little bird, brings me so much joy. How many
animals can you talk to and laugh with? He loves to chase my Pomeranium
and steal his milk bones. He can be very mischievous and tell you he is a
good boy - then laughs. He can be very loving telling you "come here
and give me a kiss." He is very smart and I love him very much.
Sheryl in Alabama
I think one of the
nicest things I hear from you readers is how often your pet Quakers laugh.
These little birds do actually seem to have a wonderful sense of humor and
love to share a laugh with their owners.
- - - - - - - -
My bird was
purchased a month ago and is supposed to be a year old. He'll take a
little affection but doesn't seem too interested. How long should the
initial "getting to know you" period last? I know I'm impatient!
Do you know of any CD disk I could purchase that would help him to talk?
He says "hello" when he feels like it. Susan from New York
There is no way in
the world anyone can set a time for your bird to feel comfortable with
you. It depends on the bird, and on you too, and the experiences it has
had in that first year of its life. I don't think much of any of the tapes
and disks that are supposed to encourage talking. I suspect that our
Quakers are intelligent enough to be as totally bored by them as we are!
- - - - - - - - -
ON FEATHER PLUCKING
We have had a
heartwarming response to Barabara's plea for help in our January issue
with the problem of feather plucking. Although no one has come up with a
"magic cure" the experiences of some of our readers may offer
help and encouragement in handling this distressing habit. Many thanks to
all who took the time and trouble to write. I can include only a few of
your letters but do appreciate them all.
I would like to
respond to Barbara from NY from your January, 1997 issue. Regarding
feather plucking in Quakers, I too have a Quaker nine years old, Fredo,
who insists on pulling out his feathers on his chest and underwings, I too
have visited an Avian Vet, the Vet whom I purchased Fredo from. ( She
cares as much about Fredo's health as I do.) We had a complete physical
check up done, which produced good news and bad news. There was nothing
physically wrong with Fredo and he was still plucking his feathers. I have
talked to other Quaker people and I have heard many different
interpretations of this desire to mutilate himself. one being that it is
my fault - that he is neurotic.
Fredo is currently
given meds (Haloperidol) to no avail. I have approached this from many
different angles. I have changed his routine, his food, his toys, all
forms of entertainment. Still he continues to mutilate, sometimes to the
point of drawing blood. I refuse to collar him in an attempt to stop the
plucking. I feel that it would be more detrimental than helpful.
I know that he is
getting the very best of care and love; I know that it's not for lack of
the emotional and physical essential needs he may have. I also have a
cockatiel, 10 year old Nakita, who is very healthy. This has been a two
year ordeal. I love Fredo and would doanything to help him. After all the
frustration I have simply decided to relax and enjoy Fredo for what he is,
my barechested , sweet Quaker. Rest assured, Barbara, that you arenot the
only one out there with a feather plucking Quaker, but until another way
of dealing with this behavior isdeveloped, or another test can be used,
take it from someone who has tried almost everything. I say
"almost" for thehope there is someone else with another
solution. Enjoy yoursweet Toby. Rene' from Missouri
The problem with
feather picking may be in the name - just kidding. My Toby, four year old,
sex unknown, is doing the same as her Toby. We have been to two good Vets
and have gone through the usual medications and treatment with out any
results. We even tried acupuncture for about five treatments. It helped
and slowed her down some. However, it was only temporary and required a
fifty mile trip for each treatment. We have been using herbal meds ( Bird
Calm and Proc Bac) for about a year. Its not the answer but I feel that it
is about as good as anything we have tried and without any side effects.
Toby has mutilated
her chest and wings so badly that the feather follicles are totally
destroyed, so no chance of ever getting any feathers back. However, I
would not trade her for a hundred birds with feathers. She is so sweet and
loving and says that she loves me. Richard from Florida
In response to
Barbara I'd like to offer my experience in hopes that it will help her and
others who deal with feather pluckers.
My Quaker, 5 years
old, also started plucking at about a year old. Every " bird
knowledgeable" person I have consulted tells me Quakers are notorious
My Vet recommended
children's Benadryl Elixir. This helped for awhile, then it seemed to make
my bird more hyper than usual and the plucking was increasing.
Over the years the
following changes have been made, per suggestions from Bird Shop owners,
the Vet, magazines, and other owners of pluckers:
Bedtime is a
mandatory 12 hours. The cage cover was changed from one that allowed no
light to filter through to a thinner one that lets my bird wake with the
morning's dawn like Mother Nature intended.
We don't react at
all when he pulls out a feather. This was the most difficult to adopt. We
read that in some cases plucking is an attention getter. When we see him
preening normally we praise him (Good Boy!) and comment enthusiastically
on how pretty he is. (What a pretty bird! You're so pretty!, etc ) I've
been told that frequent baths could help by encouraging constructive
preening instead of destructive plucking. Try to be aware of what is going
on when the plucking occurs - loud voices, tv, overdue bath time, wants
inter active play time, wants to eat with you, etc. etc.
Really the only
thing consistent about feather plucking is that the cause is not
(consistent.) Julie in Michigan
I recently had to
put my pet bird, Mollie, out on a screened porch for two days with the
doors to the house closed. Workmen inside were using adhesives with a
strong odor and I was concerned about her inhaling the fumes. By the
second day of her isolation she was plucking out her breast and underwing
feathers at a great rate.
After being restored
to her usual place in view of the kitchen and hanging in front of a large
wall mirror ( easier to clean than wood paneling) she gradually stopped
plucking on her own. This took about two weeks while I tried to decide
whether or not to take her to the Vet.
Some months later
after Mollie had broken the clips holding the bottom of her cage, it fell
to the floor with a loud crash. She was temporarily housed on the kitchen
bar while I went in search of a new bottom for the cage. Within a few
hours, before I had returned, she had started plucking again. I returned
her to her usual place, in sight of that bird in the mirror she has become
so fond of, and gave lots of TLC. Happy day- the plucking again ceased.
For this bird at
least I am convinced that feather plucking is her way of handling stress.
Her personality is such that it does not take much to cause her stress. I
must confess that Mollie is a Sun Conure, not a Quaker, and that our
Quaker never pulls a single feather. It seems the causes are many, and the
problem can occur with all species of birds. Good luck to Barbara. Alice
- - - - - - - - - -
My Quaker, Tiki,
used to pluck feathers to the point of bleeding. We've put full spectrum
lights by his cage. He eats good pellets and all the human food he can.
We've given him Benadryl elixir (in birdie doses of course) when needed
and he has lots of toys and love. He's been "pluck free" for
awhile now, thank goodness. Polly from Washington
HOW BIRDS BREATHE
by Jackie Frederickson D.V.M.
Condensed from Avi Reference Page
- Bird Clubs Of America
respiratory system is unique. It differs from mammals in that birds have
no diaphragm, have a syrinx (vocal organ) at the end of the trachea
instead of vocal cords in the larynx, and have no epiglottis. ( the valve
that closes during swallowing to prevent food entrance.) Birds also have
air sacs, limited lung expansion, and air capillaries instead of alveoli
(cells such as the human lung has).
Air enters the nares
and is moistened and warmed as it travels through the nasal cavity and
exits through the choana slit. When a bird breathes the mouth is closed
and the glottis creates a seal with the choanal slit, allowing the air to
travel from the nasal cavity to the trachea. From the trachea the air
travels through the syrinx into the bronchi, which connects the trachea to
the lungs. The lungs are attached to the backbone, have air capillaries
that are interwoven with blood capillaries for gas exchange.
Most birds have four
paired and one unpaired pulmonary air sacs that connect the lungs to
create a large respiratory capacity. Six expiratory muscles move the ribs
outward expanding the chest, increasing the volume of the thoracic-
abdominal cavity, which creates negative pressure inside compared to
outside the bird and causes the air to flow into the respiratory tract.
There are nine respiratory muscles which cause the ribs and sternum to
move inward, causing expiration by creating an increase in internal
pressure within the air sacs. This forces air out of the air sacs. If a
bird is unable to move its ribs it will suffocate.
When a bird breathes
in fresh air, half the fresh air goes to the lungs and half goes to the
caudal air sacs. With both inspiration and expiration, the lungs are
filled with air, but the air sacs fill and empty with inspiration and
This system is much
more efficient than the mammalian system. Birds have fresh air (high in
oxygen) in the lungs on both inspiration and expiration. Also the air
capillaries are thinner and smaller than the alveoli so the blood gas
barrier is more efficient.
With disease in any
part of this system, problems develop. Careful observation of the nares,
choanal slit, and trachea, as well as posture (tail bobbing) and body
swelling can tell you a lot about respiratory health. Further information
can be gathered by auscultation (listening with a stethoscope),
radiography, and collecting samples for cytology (cells) and microbiology.
Diseases of the respiratory tract can be nutritional, infectious, toxic,
neoplastic (tumor-like), or even blockage by foreign bodies.
AN EXCITING ADDITION TO OUR
by Linda Greeson
I have been
fortunate enough to become acquainted with a small bird breeder who was
willing to sell me a Cinnamon mutation Quaker along with the parent birds.
This lady needed a new roof for her house before winter set in more than
she needed these birds, and I was delighted to accept her offer.
In the Cinnamon
mutation lime green plumage replaces the green of the normal. The lores,
cheeks, and throat, normally gray, are so pale a gray as to be almost
white. The primaries and tail are green on top and cinnamon on the
undersides. The feet and legs are pale, almost flesh color. The eyes are a
dark, reddish brown, not the bright red of the Lutino.
While we had our
Cinnamon hen in the house in isolation
from the other birds
she amused us by immediately starting to talk. Her favorite words,
repeated over and over, were "Tickle -" and that became her
name. She is such a friendly and loveable bird it was difficult to move
her out to the aviary but a necessary step if she is to bond with another
bird instead of humans .She is still quite young but if we are lucky she
may mate this spring. We now have her getting acquainted with a lovely
visual blue cock. Their babies will be normal -split to Blue and Cinnamon
cocks and normal- split to Blue hens.
The breeding plan
for the next generation is to pair a normal-split to Blue and Cinnamon
cock with a Cinnamon-split to Blue hen. A number of possible combinations
are possible, but the Jack Pot will be a Cinnamon Blue hen or cock. These
are rare and lovely mutations nick named"Icicles"which to the
best of my knowledge have not as yet been produced in this country. A
number of aviculturists are working on breeding this rare mutation so the
race is on. Who will be the first to produce Cinnamon -Blue Icicles in
My plan for
Tickle-tickle's father, a normal split to Cinnamon cock, is to pair him
with a visual Blue hen. I may see all normals, split to Blue, or split to
Blue and Cinnamon but hopefully there will be Cinnamon split to Blue hens
which will enable me to proceed with my breeding program. There is always
the possibility to consider that the father bird is not a split, but that
Tickle is a spontaneous mutation. This means that neither parent has
anything to do with the new mutation.
mutations takes much time and patience, but I find it both fascinating and
by Tena Marangi, one of our
Many of you who are
familiar with my Quaker, Guido, are also very much aware of his near-brush
with death back in the Spring and Summer of 1995. Let me say that this
story is neither about his prolapsed cloaca nor about his ripped open,
self- mutilated throat that resembled the creature in Alien Autopsy. It's
about his talking abilities and how he learned such extraordinary
can't completely exclude the four months of living hell we both went
through back in '95 since we spent all of our time together, day and
night, for that four-month period. But, I'll get to that a bit later in my
Guido picked me as
his Mommie one Saturday in July 1994. I went to a local pet store to pick
up--of all things--cat food. As I walked past the counter, I noticed a
cocky green bird strutting his stuff on top of an eye-level cage. He
squawked and ran towards me as I neared his cage. He looked like he
was--no it couldn't be-- smiling at me. His beak was slightly open and his
big baby eyes were dancing with devilish delight.
The Manager asked me
if I'd like to hold him. Sure. What could be the danger in that? I didn't
want a bird. I had cats-- three of them. So, it was safe. . .or so I
thought. Curious, I agreed and gave him my right index finger. He stepped
right up and began exploring my hand, wrist and arm. He proceeded to pluck
every hair he could find. Then he went for the freckles. At twelve weeks
old he wasn't speaking yet, but the Manager said he had good potential. We
really didn't need words to communicate that we were enjoying each other's
company very much.
later--I put him back on his cage, picked up my cat food (remember, that's
what I came for), and passed by his cage in order to get to the counter
(okay, so I could have come from the other direction). He made this cute
little noise as he reached out to grab me, but I steered clear and tried
to ignore his persistent begging. His act wasn't going to work on me.
After all, I was a cat person. Shoot, I was even known as the Cat Lady in
As I left the store,
the Manager yelled," You'll be back". I laughed and yelled at
him,"Not a chance!"
Okay, okay so I was
sitting on the doorstep before he opened the next morning with checkbook
in hand. This twelve week old cocky little green chicken was coming home
with me. And the cats. . . don't forget the cats. How would these three
indoor cats react to a bird being inside the house? I didn't have a clue.
I'd figure that out later.
Well, I certainly
didn't have to worry about how the cats would react to Guido--each one
came up to him (one at a time), he bit their lips or pulled their whiskers
and that was it. That day was a learning experience for all of us. The
cats learned to respect The Beak and Guido established himself as top
critter in the Marangi household--behind Mommie, of course, as leader of
So, that's how he
entered my life, back in the Summer of 1994. As I said, he wasn't talking
yet, but I was hopeful. It was at that time that I decided to try and
teach him English. Everything I'd ever read told me that psittacines were
amongst the most intelligent animals. Matter of fact, just recently I had
read something comparing them to the intelligence of the great apes and
cetaceans. I didn't know if Guido was smart or not, but I was going to
give him the benefit of the doubt.
We started with
Hello (original, huh?) and his name. I used them separately, at first. I
wanted Guido to associate with me entering the room and I only used his
name when I was either talking to him or trying to get his attention. This
may sound trite, but I think it's important to stress the relevance of
learning through association and NOT parroting words. Therefore, I would
never, ever recommend using those pre-recorded cassette tapes that simply
repeat meaningless words over and over again to your bird.
I was rewarded with
hearing "Hello!" upon entering his room (which happens to be my
bedroom) by the end of the first week of living with me and a few days
after that, he said "Guido." We were on our way to communication
As most Quaker
owners will agree, understanding the no bite command is extremely
important since these intelligent and emotional birds have their own form
of PMS (Psittacine Mood Swings, as I call it--cute, huh?). I also wanted
to teach Guido to understand that I was Mommie. After all, since he now
knew his name he might as well know mine.
Some may disagree
with teaching several different words or phrases at a time, but I found
Guido to be very intelligent and was easily bored. As long as I didn't
give him too much input and used the new words appropriately, he seemed to
crave verbal stimulation and would spend hours practicing what he was
learning. And, like most other talking parrots, Guido would practice his
new words using a sort of baby babble-like language that would leave it up
to me to figure out what it was he was desperately trying to say.
To this day, it's
still almost a game between us. To those of you who are trying to teach
their little green chickens to talk, here's a tip that I have found that
helps Guido tremendously. Since I am the only one who provides input to
him, this may be a bit easier for me to do, but if there's a limited
number of teachers in your household, you too may want to try this. When
your bird says something that you can't understand, try to imitate it to
yourself using the same number of syllables and same inflection that he or
she is using.
Since I'm Guido's
only teacher, he talks just like me-- clear with a slightly Southern
accent. Nine times out of 10, as I mumble it to myself over and over it'll
come to me what it is he's trying to say. Then, once I know what it is, I
repeat it for him in a voice that's clearer and a bit slower than I would
normally say it. I also make sure that I am using the words appropriately
so he's learning what they mean. Using this technique, he usually is able
to say the word or phrase within a couple of days.
Looking back to my
first Summer with Guido, there is no way I can adequately convey my
elation when he first uttered " Mommie". Not having children
myself (human ones, that is), I must have felt like any other Mother who
hears her child utter her name for the very first time. However, there are
days when he wants me in the room with him all the time and proceeds to
call me over and over and over again. He says it using every intonation
and inflection possible. He's done this on his own. His reaction to things
are so incredibly human and childlike. If I continue to ignore him, he'll
whine like a child would.
If any of you have
the opportunity to either work at home or take your bird to work with you
on occasion, I strongly suggest it. As I said before, when Guido was so
ill in 1995 I literally didn't let him out of my sight for more than a few
seconds at a time. He learned to accept traveling to work every day and
sat right next to me and my computer.
Our time together,
though a bit tense from his illness, did much to bond us and increase his
speaking ability. He learned new words so rapidly that it was necessary to
keep a journal on everything that he was saying. It was obvious from the
appropriate context in which he used old words and new that he understood
exactly what he was saying and was using these words to communicate with
I have witnesses who
can attest to this on numerous occasions. Need some examples? How many
would it take to convince you?
How about this: For
some reason this past Summer, doves frequently landed on my bedroom
windowsill and desperately tried to eat from one of those small bird
(chickadee, finch, titmouse), suction cup feeders. One of my cats, Bilbo
the flame-point Himalayan, especially liked to watch the doves and would
come running when I called.
One morning, less
than two weeks after the doves started visiting, I was in the bathroom
brushing my teeth. I thought I heard Guido say something so I stopped
brushing and listened. From his cage, I heard an excited, "Hey Bilbo,
look, big birds. Big Birds!"
As Bilbo ascended
the stairs running for all he was worth, I walked quickly to my bedroom to
see if it was true. Sure enough, there they were--two big doves trying to
get at the just- filled feeder. (Of course, now I'm left trying to make
him understand the difference between a "big bird" and a
A few days later a
friend of mine came over. As usual, he came upstairs to say hi to Guido.
Before I left him in my room to "visit" with Guido and channel
surf, I mentioned that Guido's new thing was to call Bilbo when doves
landed on the windowsill. Though he can attest to many of my stories, you
can imagine the look I received when I said this. (I've long since learned
to ignore the looks and comments people make about this bird's
intelligence.) Within minutes, I heard a very descriptive expletive emerge
from the bedroom, followed by a comment something like,"Unbelievable!"
You can guess. Doves were there. Guido, as predicted, was calling Bilbo.
example. Knock on wood, but Guido has still only learned one nasty
word--A**hole. I'm very careful around him and I make sure others avoid
using any four-letter words when in his presence. Guido was at work with
me one day last year. It was a beautiful day, so I decided on a noontime
walk. To make sure he'll be okay, I always put Guido back into his cage if
I'm going to be gone for longer than a few minutes. Of course it makes him
mad to be locked up, but he usually settles down and deals with it.
That day seemed like
any other day to me--until I returned to my office to hear my Subcontract
Administrator laughing madly. She told me that after I left, Guido was so
mad that he kept saying "Mommie, A**hole! Mommie, A**hole!" over
and over again. To me, all he was now saying was "Out! Out!
I absolutely believe
he said that, too. Of course, that was last year. He's refined it since
then. At home a couple of weeks ago I put him in his cage to go grocery
shopping. After the screaming stopped I very clearly heard, "Go
ahead, be an A**hole." Oh well, I'm sure there are worse things he
could call me.
of what is said by Guido is on a one- to-one basis--just between the two
of us. We have conversations just like any other parent and child. Well,
maybe not exactly, but close.
People are always
asking me what are some of the things that Guido says. I could just list
the more than 275 words and phrases that he knows. But, to be fair to both
of us, I feel it necessary to give the circumstances surrounding his
comments. Otherwise, it would seem as if he were just
"parroting" his repertoire. Of course, for most of these, it's
just my word. You can chose to believe it or not. I'm hoping that you have
evidenced enough of this intelligence in these wonderful green creatures
to think, just maybe it's the truth. I think that's the best I can hope
for. . .under the circumstances.
Where to begin. .
.how about the time I was cleaning around Guido's cage (you know how messy
they can be) and he grabbed and jerked a hunk of my hair, then said,
"No pull hair! Not nice to pull Mommie's hair." This was
followed by his mania cal laughter.
While on the top of
his cage eating something he toys with me. He's evil. He waits until I
walk out of the room, then throws it to the floor and yells, "Weeeeee.
Drop." He knows me too well. I come running back in to pick up
whatever it was that he dropped. However, the difference in his reaction
comes in when he drops a prized piece of food--unintentionally. There's no
"Weeeee." There's no amusement in his voice. He yells in a
panic, "Mommie, dropped it. Mommie!!" And he won't let up until
I come to him and retrieve the morsel.
How about this show
of asserting his independence. . .or maybe he's just spoiled. I asked him
what he wanted to eat one night and he said, "Bagel!" which he
truly loves. I told him "No, you already had a piece earlier. I'll
get you a carrot." That's what I did and placed it between the bars
on top of his cage. He huffed up, growled, ran over to the carrot, pried
it loose and dropped it--no,"threw it"is more like it!--to the
floor and yelled at me, "No, want bagel!!"
One of the many
things that never ceases to amaze me is the unsolicited comments that
Guido so appropriately makes that are not something he has heard from me,
but are comments derived from what I believe is an understanding of the
words he is using himself. Examples, you say? Okay, how about this one.
Guido associates the
word "clean" with meaning, as we do, not dirty (or better yet,
contains no poopies). He understands "clean cage" as well as
"clean water." He surprised me one day after a serious bath by
stating, as I took him out of the water, "Clean bird!"
Speaking of clean
water, this just happened on New Year's Day. I had just changed Guido's
water dish for some clean, cold water. (By the way, he makes sure to ask
me if it's "Clean?" whenever I offer it to him.) He took a
drink, then another. I took the dish away only to hear him say,
"More!" I brought it back up to him and he took two more drinks.
He had never said that before.
How about this odd
question he once asked me. I was laughing at something I was reading in
the other room. From the top of his cage I heard, "Mommie, what's so
funny?" I walked into the room, still chuckling at his question to
now hear, "Are you happy?" I told him yes and asked him if he
was. He rapidly nodded his head, as he routinely does when answering yes
to a question then said "Laugh, Laugh." And we both did.
Okay, have I given
you enough examples? No? Believe me, I have lots more. What about the day
I was, much to his intense displeasure, fooling around with the inside of
his cage decor (exchanging toys, rearranging hanging ropes, hanging a new
mineral block, you'all know the drill). He was madly pacing back and forth
on top. When he could take the intrusion no more, he stamped to the front
edge and said, "Stop it! Knock it off! Please don't do that!" Is
there any doubt what he meant? I thought he was quite explicit.
At the opposite end
of the spectrum was a day when I had given him some of his favorites to
eat and he was feeling particularly affectionate. Guido asked me for a
kiss when I walked into the room. He leaned way over the edge in
anticipation . We had our kissing session, complete with "little
kisses, yummy kisses and big kisses." As I pulled away he said "Mommie
good. Mommie nice." The importance of this is that I've never
associated these words together. I've told him that he was a good boy or
I've asked him to be nice and not bite. It's instances such as this that
shows me without question that he understands the words and can
appropriately use them when the need arises.
Here are two
examples of Guido's verbal spontaneity that wasn't quite right, but he
certainly got the message across. This past Summer, we took a weekend trip
together--cats in carriers and finches in the back and Guido belted into
the front seat. He just happened to be standing on one of his high
perches, looking out the passenger window when I crossed the Rappahannock
River Bridge. When he noticed the water below for the very first time, he
got so excited and, wanting me to see what he was seeing he kept saying
over and over, "Mommie, look up! Look up! LOOK UP!"
occurred during his 1996 well-bird check up, a year after his (final)
recovery from the prolapsed cloaca and throat incident.. Since he travels
with me often there was no initial reaction in the car until I took him
into the Avian Veterinarian's waiting room. He took one look around and
with obvious panic in his voice said, "Go to cage. Go to cage. GO TO
CAGE! Poor baby, poor baby. Go to CAGE!"
Now what you need to
understand is that this is Guido's command to me when he's tired of being
on his playground, T-perch or shower perch and wants to go back to his big
cage. And believe me, the last place he wanted to be was in the Vet's
office that was filled with so much pain, distress and unwanted handling.
He wanted to go to his big cage--a place of safety, warmth and comfort.
This bird never
ceases to amaze me. People that still don't believe me when I tell them
these things and think that he's just "parroting" words back to
me cause me endless frustration. I try to say, "With a vocabulary
approaching 300, how do you think he says the right thing on the right
occasion ALL of the time? Not some of the time, not half of the time, not
rarely--all of the time." They shrug. They don't have a clue. And
they certainly can't bring themselves to believe me. It goes against their
grain. I've found that many (if not most) people prefer to believe that
we--people--are the only intelligent animals that inhabit this planet. I
think that's an unfortunate arrogance.
By now, you probably
think that I'm delusional. Or, maybe you're thinking, poor thing's
schizophrenic and, well, she's just hearing voices. Or "voice"
as the case may be. And, if that's the case, well I sure am enjoying the
ride. After all, I could be hearing weird things like voices telling me to
join Cat Stevens at the Tibetan Monastery. Shoot, all I hear is this
wonderful little green chicken talking to his Mommie.
If I leave you with
anything, I want it to be a clear message on the intelligence of these
birds. Treat them as sentient beings. Teach them through word association,
as you would a child--your child. Don't ever underestimate their ability
to learn to communicate. If it's true (and I, for one, believe that it is)
that parrots are on the same intellectual level with Simians and
Cetaceans, imagine the possibilities. With a little patience, love and
kindness, these animals can be taught to speak our language--unlike a
porpoise, a dolphin or a chimpanzee who will never have the physical
capabilities to do so no matter how intelligent the specimen happens to