THE QUAKER NEWS

APRIL 1997

 

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 midst.

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

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Dear Linda;

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

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Dear Linda;

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.

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Dear Linda;

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!

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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.

Dear Linda;

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

 

Dear Linda;

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

Dear Linda;

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 pluckers.

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

Dear Linda;

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 from Florida

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Dear Linda;

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

The avian 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 expiration respectively.

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 AVIARIES

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 this country?

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.

Working with mutations takes much time and patience, but I find it both fascinating and worthwhile.

 

GUIDO

by Tena Marangi, one of our talented subscribers

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 communication skills.

Unfortunately, I 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 story.

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.

Finally--two hours 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 my neighborhood.

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 the flock.

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 bliss.

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 me.

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 squirrel.)

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.

Here's another 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! 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.

Unfortunately, most 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!"

Another instance 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 be.

 

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