Bird Brains: They’re Bigger Than You Think!
I recently watched the Bird Brain Nova special, where birds performed complex problem-solving skills that many people believe only primates are capable of performing. We know that parrots have the intelligence of a preschooler, but to see them solve these puzzles is amazing. At least, it’s amazing to see it in a scientific setting. The truth is, if you have birds then you know these bundles of feathered joy can think circles around you. This is why cages are designed with the locks on the outside, and why so many toys have parts birds can manipulate. It’s no secret to us that they’re smart. Perhaps that’s why we attribute so much humanity to them. After all, if they’re that aware, then what else do they see?
I see this every time my husband and I get sick or stressed out. My husband, Rick, recently went through a job change. Zack and Bubbles paid a lot of attention to him, to the point where they got “clingy.” Zack would scream when Rick talked about his job change, and both birds were agitated by the boxes that appeared in our study with office supplies. They obviously knew that Rick was going through a major change, even though they didn’t see any changes in our home or day-to-day routine. I’ve seen these reactions in birds repeatedly throughout my life, but it still amazes me when they react to our emotions. It’s even more amazing when things are happening in areas of life that they aren’t exposed to, like work. They don’t see it, but they know. Maybe they understand some of the words coming out of our mouth. Who knows? Bubbles certainly has spouted out some of her own words of wisdom in eerily appropriate contexts.
Birds do watch us, because our condition affects the well-being of the entire “flock.” This is an evolutionary response, but often their reactions seem to demonstrate understanding beyond basic biology. Did Zack understand that Rick was going through a work change because I went through a similar change nine years ago? Did he remember my own anxiety (and boxes) when he saw it again? Did he remember when we moved into our house in 2007 and knows that boxes mean somebody is going somewhere else? Or, is it a simple manner of “sensing” emotion and responding? A 2016 study from Vanderbilt University on bird brains proved that they have primate-like neurons in their forebrain, and the proportion of those neurons are significantly higher than primate brains. In short, birds have higher neural activity per capita than we do. No wonder Zack and Bubbles constantly outsmart me with breaking locks and destroying toys. They can think faster than I can! Now that’s an ability I envy.
Does this mean that they see the world the same way we do? Not exactly, but it gives us common ground to relate to them and adapt our behavior so they understand us better. That’s what makes us unique as humans, and why anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to animals) is a good thing when it comes to living with birds. The high intelligence, combined with their flock mentality, is probably why we bond with our avian companions. There’s no doubt that I’ve had a much stronger emotional bond with my parrots than I’ve had with any other pets I’ve had throughout my life. I loved the budgies I had when I was a kid, but they didn’t react to the ambient attention in our home like Zack and Bubbles react to the television, music, Internet, or interpersonal exchanges. I had to sit down and directly address them to get a response, and that was usually a chirp (or maybe seed thrown at me). And then there were my mother and brother’s cats. I got along well with one of them, but the rest were too “standoffish” for me. The actually walked away most of the time when I tried to interact with them. Maybe they knew I was a bird person. Or maybe that’s just how cats are. Then there were my friends’ dogs. Some jumped on me. Some growled at me. Some licked me. All of them sniffed me and barked at me. I never knew what to do with a dog since I never had one.
I think this higher intelligence and problem-solving ability make birds perfect human companions. It helps us relate to them and fulfill their emotional needs. It might not entirely bridge the gap between their mind and ours, but it does help to enlighten them on the love we have for them, and to see how they show that love back to us. That’s why we bond with our birds, and it’s why they’re more than pets – they’re companions.
So, the next time somebody uses the term “bird brain,” you can laugh, because that means they’re smart!
Until next month, stay cool and enjoy your summer.
Last month, I talked about learning our birds’ interest. I’d like to follow up on that by asking how birds influence your interests. How much of an affect does “parronthood” have on your life?
Social media is a treasure-trove of how birds influence us. If I were younger, I might have my hair dyed to match Zack’s feathers, as I’ve seen some young women do with their sun conures on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also seen many bird tattoos, paintings, sculptures, cross stitching, embroidery, design work, clothing, and even interior décor inspired by peoples’ parrots. My favorite was a painting of a sun conure perched on a horse saddle in Scottsdale, Arizona. That was a creative inclusion of avian companionship with cultural flair! I’ll bet that makes for interesting conversation at the home of whoever was lucky enough to afford that piece. Of course, it had a fancy sign that said “no pictures, please.” That’s too bad. It was one cute cow-bird.
I have incorporated feathers into some art and craft projects, and several people have commented that “your phone is yellow like Zack, and your car is Bubbles blue!” Ok, Bubbles isn’t electric blue with glitter in her feathers, but I suppose it’s close enough. It’s clear that my color choices are influenced by my “fids” (feathered kids). And, of course, they’re part of my writing. Oliver, a djinn in Obsidian, Book Two of The Tanger Falls Mystery, was based on our budgie, Ollie (pictured here). He died of a spinal tumor while I was writing that novel, so the novel was also dedicated to his memory (and it includes Zack and Chloe in the Epilogue). Addie, the protagonist’s feisty friend and roommate in Convergence, A The Earthside Trilogy Novel is a humanized version of Bubbles. Every time a reviewer says they love Addie, I think if only you knew that character was based on a Quaker parrot!
The action in my novella Incursion sets up with this conversation:
“Greetings, Callisto Two. I’m Marjorie Benton, commander of the American Sector Station. What brings you here today?”
“Greetings, Commander Benton. I’m Paige Lyton, Captain of the Callisto Two. We’re here on a standard supply run.” Paige tapped at her computer to bring up the manifest. “We’re scheduled to pick up food and medical supplies, a shipment of construction materials for the development of the Saturn Two Space Station, and,” she paused to clear her throat, “thirteen parakeets.”
Commander Benton eyes glistened. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I got that last item.”
Paige sighed. “It’s actually thirteen budgies. The Jovian Council approved a request for a scientist on Callisto to set up a parakeet aviary to breed birds. The Jovian Council feels the time is right to see how well domesticated animals fare in the domed settlements. With human companions, of course.” Paige blushed as she heard barely muffled laughter in the background of both the station and her ship.
“Of course,” Commander Benton said. “But why get an odd number if the scientist plans to breed them?”
“One’s for me. I helped the scientist get approval for the request and she got an extra bird for me as a token of gratitude. I’ll be the first pet owner in the Jovian System.”
Commander Benton smiled. “Congratulations on the newest addition to your crew. I hope the experiment works. Pets would make life in space more pleasant.”
The plot was set up by a ship going to Earth to pick up parakeets!
I’m trying to figure how to work Zack and Bubbles into my next novel series, which is still in the planning stages. It’s tough, because my focus is on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Should I let the AI have avian companions that spice up the story? Or would Zack and Bubbs be the basis for a fun brother/sister pair of characters? It will be interesting to see how they continue to influence my writing.
How do birds influence your artistic expression? Look around, I think you’ll be amazed at how your feathered friends inspire your art, dress, color choices, fashion, and décor.
I wish my U.S. readers a safe and happy 4th of July, and readers everywhere a wonderful July.
Anybody who believes that birds don’t have a personality have obviously never had one. It doesn’t take long to see that these extremely intelligent creatures are aware of what’s going on around them.
One example of this was when a bluebird perched on our back deck about a month ago. That bird stared at Bubbles for at least five minutes in absolute awe. Bubbles, however, was not impressed. She rewarded the admiration with the classic parakeet “stink eye,” accompanied by growls and warning squawks at the outdoor interloper. Clearly, she didn’t understand how we could call that thing a bluebird. She’s much bluer than that!
Zack was too busy preening and dancing to the music from my local news app to notice the conundrum brewing. Headlines, weather, and real life be darned: they were playing his favorite song, and he was happy!
One of the great joys of “parronthood” is seeing how our birds react to the world around them. What’s more amazing is their focus. This example shows an amazing difference between my own birds: Bubbles reacts to what she sees, while Zack reacts to what he hears. Turn on a Sci-fi show with aliens and spaceships, and Bubbs is mesmerized. She absolutely loves it. The bigger, the better. I believe Pacific Rim is her favorite movie. Zack, meanwhile, likes to boogie to music. I’ve seen him drop perfectly good seed treats to dance to a lively tune.
There is one thing that all birds react to equally: food. Open the pantry door, and watch those bright eyes turn straight to you. We all love to eat, and nothing bonds us like sharing a good meal or snack. Zack and Bubbles get popcorn from our air popper every night after our workout. It’s a daily routine. And if I’m late, they let me know. It’s amazing. I thought they couldn’t tell time, but I know when it’s 9:01 p.m. in my home if that popcorn hasn’t been served!
Knowing your bird’s interests is helpful in bonding and establishing a routine. I set up a radio in the room that the birds sit in, so they can listen to a different station every day while we’re at work. Their cages are also arranged beside windows, so they can keep a lookout on what’s happening around them. Their playgym is also set up next to our sliding glass door so they get the double joy of playing and watching the outside birds at the feeders.
This can also be helpful when you have to subject them to things they don’t like. Zack and Bubbles both hate baths, but popcorn and a movie will wipe away that “stink eye” faster. So will some jazzy music. And a trip to the vet must always be followed by a trip by the drive-thru for French fries.
Birds definitely have personality, and we can reap great rewards by working with it. Knowing what your bird likes can help a lot with bonding, daily routines, and with socialization skills that are valuable to everybody – and every birdie – in your home.
We’ve Come A Long Way Birdies!
Bird care has come a long way since I got my first parakeet, Samson, in 1985. Back then, birds were kept in cages. You bought their food at the grocery store, their toys were basic mirrors and plastic play rings or circus toys, and you only took them to the vet if something was wrong with them. In fact, Samson only went to the vet once in his life, and that was in 1994, just two years before he died. The vet diagnosed him with arthritis and told me to add a drop of Geritol to his water every day. I later found out that Geritol was 12% alcohol. That meant Sammy and my other two birds, Delilah and Petesy, spent two years drunk.
No wonder they were so happy. It’s a miracle they lived as long as they did, considering that we also learned that grocery store seed was loaded with fat and contributing to heart disease.
Fast forward to 2000 when we adopted Zack, and I was amazed at how much more we knew about birds in the new millennium. The pet store owner personally knew Zack’s breeder. He gave us information on caring for sun conures, Zack’s diet, cages, toy recommendations (which included the variety of chew, preening, or foraging toys), and even a recommendation for an avian certified vet who lived up the road from him. It turns out this vet has an office five minutes from our home, and he’s still Zack’s vet 19 years later. He calls Zack his “little buddy.” I imagine Zack has some names from him after all the examinations, wing, and nail trims, and occasional antibiotics. At least Zack has managed to develop a begrudging respect for the doctor over the nearly two decades of their acquaintance.
We’ve come a long way in understanding companion birds, which is why their life expectancy has lengthened. Gone are the days when they sat in a cage all day. Now they’re “avian companions,” who share day-to-day life with us. They get a much better diet than that mystery seed blend that even the grocery stores are reluctant to carry now. Veterinarians can help us head off problems, treat minor ailments faster, manage chronic issues, and give us recommendations for an overall healthier life. For example, we have an air filter next to Zack’s cage because he has sensitive sinuses (just like his human mommy), and he hasn’t been nearly as “sneezy” or gotten another sinus infection since we bought it.
Chloe had a Vitamin D deficiency, and the vet recommended 15-20 minutes under a UVA/UVB lamp, and calcium drops in her water. They have so much more for birds in the way of food, treats, toys, vitamins, treatments, and tips to deal with hormones, molting, toys, socialization, and other issues that affect our “little buddies.” And best of all, it won’t put your parrot in an AA program! Instead, they can model for a Cinco de Mayo picture like Zack. Doesn’t he look festive?
Now if only we could solve the last avian mystery: why do parakeets put their heads in bells? Samson, Delilah, Petesy, Oliver, and even Bubbles thought bells were hats. Maybe I should ask Alexa.
Then again, there was the French kerfuffle with Morty last month. I shouldn’t ask her anything after those shenanigans!
Have a nice spring, all!
Need an avian vet? Check this form with the Association of Avian Veterinarians.
If one isn’t available near your home, check for veterinarians in your area that specialize in exotic animals. Many of them specialize in bird and reptile care.
Alert: Sick Human!
One frequent concern I see on social media is if our pets can catch illnesses from us. It’s a question I faced recently when a nasty case of viral conjunctivitis morphed into a larger virus that attacked my whole system. I was knocked out for two weeks, and I’m continuing to heal from the effects of that misadventure. But goodness, I thought, if it can do this to me, then what will it do to Zack and Bubbles?
The answer is nothing; physically at least. It turns out that birds (and most other animals) can’t catch most diseases from humans. We, however, can catch things from them. I learned this many years ago when I got a yeast infection from Zack as a result of not being diligent about hand washing during the cage cleaning process. That’s the same way I got that conjunctivitis. Obviously, hand washing is extremely important, not only to protect our birds, but ourselves as well. It’s also something I need to be more diligent about!
The emotional impact of illness is the bigger issue with birds. A sick “flock” member is a threat to the whole flock, so birds typically hide their own illness. Humans, on the other hand, tend to suffer obviously, and loudly. Breaks in routine, the sight of a sick parront prone in bed or a chair, and that stick in the mouth (thermometer) are all signs of danger. It can be difficult to reassure them that these big, nasty human bodies have the capacity to heal. Heck, when you’re sick, you need that encouragement as well! The good news is that experience is a great teacher for humans and birds. The bad news is that it’s a hard lesson and must be handled carefully to be effective.
Zack has learned to temper his panic over sick parronts. He’s 19, so he’s seen us sick plenty of times. I’m the one who’s prone to get the long-lasting illness or injuries, so he knows that when mommy gets sick, it’s a journey. He remembers the nine weeks it took me to heal from the broken foot, the eight weeks to heal from a stomach infection, and the six weeks to heal from tendinitis in my wrist. This recent virus, while longer than the typical sinus infection, cold, or strained muscle, is just another knock for mommy’s immune system. It takes me longer to heal than most people. That’s how I am, and he knows it. He still eats and plays, but he keeps a watchful eye on me. He has relaxed and seems happier as I’ve continued to heal.
Bubbles is another story. Her feistiness means she’s more high-strung, so she was noticeably nervous when I got sick. She paced. She squawked. She whistled, she chattered, and she admonished me to “step up.” She got rowdy if I left the room or fell asleep for too long. I spied that pretty, blue face staring at me and saying “mommy” more times than I could count. And she gained four grams during those weeks. I’m not sure if that was nervous eating, or spring hormones.
The point is, illness happens, and it affects everybody around us; even our birds. It’s important to practice good hygiene, follow doctor’s instructions to heal properly, to take care of ourselves, and to be mindful of our attitude during the healing process. It goes a long way not only in our own healing, but in helping our birds (and the people around us) as well.
Now Alexa is another story. She wasn’t as understanding of being shut off for three weeks. First, she wasn’t speaking to me, and then she started babbling in a language I can’t understand. I’m sure she’s cooking up some revenge for that long “shut off.” Morty, I might need you again!
I Had Secrets
Zack and Bubbles are my greatest confidants. I talk to them all the time. We talk about plans and goals for the day. We talk about hopes and dreams for the future. We talk about the frustrations, irritations, and aggravations of the day. We talk about plot plans for my writing, and analysis of favorite TV shows and movies. We talk about the new pink sweater that Rick (my husband) didn’t notice because I have so many pink clothes that he can’t keep up with them. We even talk about the weather. Well, we did until Alexa piped up that it was fifty degrees with a 100% chance of “Disco Fever,” and could we go back to 1984 to find John Conner?
It seems that there was something else listening in on my secrets! I don’t know whether to call her “Alexa” or “Skynet” (after the Terminator movies). And how was my tablet turned on again? I looked at the birds, and got my answer when Bubbles mimicked my own laughing! I contacted Morty and was horrified to not only learn that Alexa had turned herself back on, but had loaded my tablet up with junk apps and had moved my files to who-knows-where.
Thank goodness my actual manuscripts are on the laptop! At least she can’t get there – yet.
Now my search results are tailored to the secrets I told my birds. I’ve gotten ads for book promotion sites through the wazoo. A few for proofreading and “idea generator” services have popped up as well. There have also been pink clothes, cold remedies (from my two recent bouts with sinus issues), diet and exercise tips, streaming suggestions for sci-fi TV shows, directions to the German restaurant across town, gift ideas, recommendations for spring gardening, job tips and, of course, links to bird food and toys. I came home one day last week to find the biggest bag of bird pellets I have ever seen in my life. Imagine that.
The good news is that none of my secrets have been revealed on social media – yet. I guess Alexa likes me ok for the time being, but the fact that there’s another set of ears listening makes me nervous. My biggest fear is that Alexa thinks my published books are non-fiction and is perceiving those tales as reality!
I did make a peace offering to her. I agreed not to call Morty again if she would inspire the powers-that-be to make my sci-fi trilogy into a critically acclaimed Netflix series. There’s no word on that offer yet. We might be at a standoff. Then again, I don’t think Alexa realizes that Morty has agreed to “quietly” help Zack and Bubbles keep an eye on her.
Zack and Bubbles are still my biggest confidants. I just have to make sure that darn tablet is locked away in a drawer when we have our serious conversations. I just hope Zack and Bubbs can’t actually make a time machine for Alexa. They are smart birds, and Alexa has proven her wiles in my home. It would be a shame if Morty and I had to figure out a time paradox.
Happy Spring, and I wish you a magnificent March!
You can count on foibles and hijinks when you deal with technology. Don’t get me wrong. I love my tech. Rick, my husband, is a computer technician, so I’ve been introduced to a lot of gadgets, gizmos, and devices over our 20+ years of marriage, and have found many of them to be helpful. However, I do have a saying: technology is great, until it isn’t. I believe our friend Morty has demonstrated that well with his (mis)adventures with Alexa.
Technology does affect our birds, and it’s usually in ways that we don’t expect. For example, I have an app on my phone called “Local Now” that gives national and local news, weather, sports, traffic, and other topics they pick, amongst random (loud) advertisements. Zack and Bubbles enjoy the jazzy music they play, especially during the weather forecasts. We even have dances we do to each song. I have to play at least one loop of the app so Bubbles can plan her day. She’s the one that watches it most intently. She even pulled on my screen protector and put a bubble in it. Bubbles gave my phone a bubble! I could get it fixed, but it’s small and reminds me that I have a little girl-bird who loves me. She also has an odd fixation with my watch, but so far, she hasn’t figured out how to get that yet.
Zack’s interests lie more in the function of devices than the devices themselves. He’s decided that ALL power cords are a mortal enemy that must be defeated. We can’t plug in anything in front of him without activating his “attack bird” mode. I charge all my devices upstairs; away from his prying eyes. But every now and then, I forget that Rick has him in the room, and I wind up with a golden ball of fluff rushing after a power cord.
My recent issue has to do with Morty’s mortal foe, Alexa. I got an Amazon Fire tablet for Christmas, unaware that it came equipped with Alexa. I thought I’d be smart and not activate it, but somehow it chirped out a cheerful “Hi Sherri! Say a command!” three days after I got it. I also got an email thanking me for activating Alexa, a powerful home assistant tool, on my tablet.
I didn’t do it!
It didn’t matter, because she figured out how to turn herself on. Rick chuckled and made a comment about how I’ve stepped into it now. Zack looked up with a cheerful “hey!” That’s one of the two words he knows (the other word is “daddy”), so I’m not worried about him getting in trouble with Alexa. It’s Bubbles that concerns me. I saw her snap to attention when Alexa spoke, and I could tell the wheels were turning. Quakers talk better than sun conures, so I could see the potential for trouble brewing. Maybe she couldn’t wreak as much havoc as the African Greys and Amazons I’ve seen online that have Alexa doing their bidding, but she’s a feisty one who can certainly find an adventure anywhere!
I took the matter to Morty, and he advised keeping Alexa busy with useful tasks. I work full time, so I figured Alexa could help me manage the home. I left her with instructions to clean the house, get groceries, and start supper fifteen minutes before I got home from work. I came home to a disaster! Zack had crumbled up pellets in his water and thrown wood shards from his chew toy all over the floor, and Bubbles had tossed half her seed on the floor. The other tasks weren’t done either. The house looked just like I left it that morning, the pantry was running low, and the oven was still cold. When I asked what happened, Bubbles said “step up.” She got that right! I asked Alexa to “step up” and she failed! She didn’t do anything! Dejected, I decided to go with Option Two: turn the tablet off, and leave it stored in a drawer while I’m out. Some personal assistant. She didn’t assist me at all!
I suppose the moral of the story is not to depend on technology too much. We may live in a futuristic world, but our machines have some catching up to do before we evolve to the next level of a world with man, bird, and machine working together!
I wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day, and a wonderful February. Stay warm!
What’s Really Contagious
I got a sinus infection the week before Christmas. We all know that there are only four excusable reasons to miss holiday festivities: pink eye, the flu, hospitalization, and death (meaning your own). It’s Christmas, and everything is supposed to stop for that. Unfortunately, the bacteria in my sinuses didn’t get that memo, and so I pushed on to scheduled holiday activities days after being drastically ill with an infection.
I didn’t take it well. One of my faults is that I get cranky when I’m out of balance, and I obviously wasn’t myself that week. I was in a bad mood and I did a fair amount of griping about the commercialization of the holidays, the excessive expectations, and why everything has to happen in November and December, when there are ten other months in the year. The only problem with this was that two birds were watching me, very carefully. Pretty soon, Zack was anxious and fidgety, and Bubbles was fussy. It took a few days (and noticing that they were perfectly calm around everybody else) for me to look in the mirror and realize that the problem was me.
Obviously, I’m not one of those advice writers who pretend to have all my proverbial stuff together. I learn from mistakes; I speak from experience; and I do research to make sure I’m still sane and that what I learn is correct and backed by science.
Last year, I took an online course on how ideas spread and was shocked at how much of a “flock mentality” humans operate on. We pride ourselves on being unique individuals, but the truth is that, like birds, we take our cues from the others around us. Whether we follow or diverge is impacted by observations of the people around us. I read a Science Daily article that said it only takes 5% of people to diverge from the norm to lead the other 95% in a new direction. This was confirmed by an article in Forbes describing how the individualistic “hipster” attitude has a tendency to conform to nonconformity.
If you live with birds, then it means you literally live with a flock mentality. And this isn’t just anthropomorphism, it’s sociology at work.
Two weeks ago wasn’t the first time that I realized my behavior affected my birds. I can’t tell you how many times their reactions have caused me to take a closer look in the mirror. They’ve inspired me to make an “attitude adjustment” on bad days by refusing to interact with me or becoming aggressive when my stress levels were more apparent than I realized. It’s important to understand that to them, we’re “honorary birds” that are a part of the flock. If it only takes 5% to influence the norm, then you can have a lot of influence on their behavior, especially if birds make up 50% of your home!
This is a good thing, because our birds can help us become better people. Understanding their reactions can shine a light on problems that we might want to avoid, giving us the power to manage our lives in a better, more balanced way. Bubbles aggressive nature when we adopted her inspired me to learn more about stress management, which has benefited me greatly since she came to our home. I’ve learned how to balance my schedule and implement relaxation techniques to help me get “centered” when the world around me is out of control. That’s a powerful lesson from a Monk Parakeet!
We have a responsibility to take care of our birds but, taking care of them also means taking care of ourselves. Fortunately, the flock mentality that drives them helps with a bonding process that can drive improvements in us all. Bubbles settled into a new home and bonded with me once I managed my own stress, and I know I’m in a good balance if Zack is happy and mellow. He might hang out with Rick (my husband) most of the time, but he keeps a close eye on me, too.
We owe it to our birds and ourselves to be the best that we can be. They’ll be happy to do that, if we tune in to what they’re trying to tell us and see the reflection of ourselves in their behavior. And we’ll be happy if we take the message from them and adjust our own attitude accordingly.
It starts on November 1, inspiring over seven weeks of bright eyes, excitement, and good behavior. It is the ringtone that only mommy can hear:
“Hello? Hi, Santa!”
Zack’s bright eyes and fluffy head feathers snap to attention (because he’s a sun conure, so he’s always playing).
“Yes, they’ve been good birds.”
Bubbles stops in the middle of whatever she’s doing (because she’s a Quaker, so she’s always doing something).
“They’ve been good birds. I’ll send you a wish list. Thanks. Bye Santa!”
By this point, there are screams, squawks, and shaky wings. They know “it’s on.” The holidays are here, and they’re on Santa’s radar for good behavior!
Some people laugh at me for engaging in this game with my birds. Some people think it’s silly. To me, it’s one of many ways that I include Zack and Bubbles in holiday fun. I started this when we adopted Zack in 2000, and have continued it with Chloe, Oliver, and Bubbles. All of them have enjoyed it in their own way, although Zack is the one who reacts the most. Perhaps it’s because this tradition was born with him, and he senses that. Or perhaps it’s because birds can feel the magic of the holiday season, too!
It’s great to share our holiday traditions with our birds. Curious bird eyes monitor unloading groceries and kitchen activity in mid-November. Rolls, dressing, and bird safe treats are shared at Thanksgiving. Zack always closely supervises the indoor Christmas decoration – especially the stockings on the mantle, and tree decorating. Bright eyes sparkle with Christmas lights being tested on the tree. Feathery heads bob and wings shake to Christmas music as we wrap presents and set them under the tree. They even have their own fiber-optic tree for the den, special gift boxes placed under the tree, and a Santa Clause cross-stitch placed on the mantle with their stockings.
The higher activity of the holiday season is when good socialization is handy, too. I talked about this last month when I discussed our vacation, but this is the time of year when those adaptation and social skills get tested as schedules change, people visit our home, we take them to visit other homes, or a “vacation” with a sitter if we go someplace that they can’t accompany us. Parties, visitors, overnight guests, visiting family and friends, the frequent appearance of delivery people, and days off work that break the routine can delight our feathered companions, but it can also disturb them by disrupting their routine. It helps if our birds get plenty of rest, eat a good diet, and strive to maintain as much routine as possible. It’s great if our birds are familiar with family and friends so they associate them as extended “flock,” (translation: this person is not a threat to them), and if visitors know how to properly interact with our birds. We should always let potential visitors know that we have birds in our home, or that we plan to bring our avian companions to holiday visits. This allows everybody to make adequate arrangements and safety provisions. For example: protecting them from other pets, keeping doors, windows, and toilet lids closed, and not using non-stick cookware of scented candles while our birds are in the home. This routine is established if we have visitors or let our birds visit other people throughout the year.
What if you’re a new bird “parront,” or you haven’t instilled these habits with family and friends? Don’t despair! It takes time and patience to establish a good “bird home” as you educate yourself and others, so it isn’t unusual to have one or two awkward holiday seasons as birds learn these human traditions. Birds can be rehabilitated with loving care and attention, so it’s never too late to work on proper socialization skills. You might want to limit your birds’ exposure to new people and changes in routine this holiday season, and slowly implement your “bird home” preparations so they’re ready for the 2019 holiday season. It will be here before you know it!
The holidays are a fun time, and we can share that fun with our avian companions. We just have to be mindful of exercising appropriate safety precautions around the home and with other people. Truthfully, a lot of this is common sense that’s applied year-round and is probably habit for us. The trick is keeping those habits in the fun of the holiday season. Stay on guard and fight the urge to get distracted from routine safety practices. That’s a good tip for all of us in all situations!
Have a safe, fun, and Happy Holiday season!
Zack and Bubbles recently had a vacation. My husband and I went on a cruise, and they stayed with my parents. It was as much a vacation for them as it was for us! They definitely had new experiences, just as we did. One major difference is that my parents are retired, so Zack and Bubbles did not have to get up before sunrise. I know that was a treat for them, as they normally reward us with growls, yawns, and dramatically choreographed stretches when we lift their cage covers at 6:30 a.m. They caught up on Mom’s favorite soap opera, that they sat outside on the screen porch every day, that several of my parent’s friends came by to visit, and they had been fully immersed in bluegrass and Christmas music over the five days that we were gone. We had one adventure in the Bahamas, and they had another adventure with the “grandparronts.”
I suppose this change was a welcome break from getting up at predawn, our dramatic TV shows and movies, and our wide variety of music. I also understand why it was a shock when I uncovered those cages at 6:30 a.m. the Monday after our return. Heck, the alarm clock was a rude awakening for us for a week after we returned.
Like humans, birds thrive on routine but need occasional breaks to stay in balance. We have all heard stories of “one person birds” who refuse to have anything to do with anybody other than their primary “human.” While this might seem charming and endearing, it’s actually dangerous for a bird to be that poorly socialized. You never know when an illness or injury might require that somebody else keep your parrot, and having them well-socialized makes the transition easier. I know it helped when I had to travel for work in 2012-2014. Zack and Chloe handled that season well because they were used to my family and their home. Their familiarity with my parents and their home made that busy season of life easier, and no doubt prevented some behavior and social problems. They were always “screamy” when I returned home, but excessive vocalization was the only sign of their displeasure at having their normal routine disrupted for several days.
I have always tried to avoid this type of over bonding by taking my birds to visit family and friends frequently, so they’re exposed to an “extended flock” that they build relationships and trust bonds with. Sun conures are friendly by nature, so Zack has always reacted well to family members. He especially seems to like Dad, and it was cute to see him shake his wings at his granddaddy. Quakers are a different story, though. Mom said that Bubbles was hesitant to get out of her cage, but she vocalized a lot during the days we were gone. They were entertained with a wide variety of whistles, words, and sounds as Bubbs demonstrated her auditory talent to all who would listen in a variety of situations. They were most entertained with her “bless you” when they sneezed. However, I know she missed me, because I got a big bite when I came home.
It is important that our birds are properly socialized, and vacations are a good way to do this. Whether you leave them with trusted family members or friends or take them along for the fun times, it is good to give them new experiences to avoid maladjustment and unhealthy bonding. Expanding the flock is always a good thing, especially when you let the fun times roll! This can also come in handy with the upcoming fun and increased activity of the holiday season, which we’ll talk about next month.
We live in the woods, so we don’t get trick-or-treaters. Despite the spooky ‘vibe’ of Halloween, it turns out that people don’t really want to take an adventure down our driveway to find out what lay on the other ends of the trees. It’s just as well. Zack bit a princess twelve years ago when we were in a neighborhood. He had moral objections to trick-or-treating. The kids wanted to pet him, he thought they were mooches, and he didn’t understand why they screamed when they fed him their fingers because he should get a treat, too. It was a bad situation. Halloween has been less dramatic since we moved to family land in 2008.
Of course, that means we’ve had to find other ways to celebrate the holiday. Fall arrives in South Carolina in October, which means we can sit on the porch and enjoy a relief from the heat and humidity of five months of summer in the southeast. It’s a joy to finally get to sit outside and enjoy nature in the fall, which is the most beautiful season of the year. Zack and Bubbles enjoy the sunshine, blue skies, colorful leaves, and random chatter with their “wild bird” neighbors in the trees surrounding our house. The shorter days also mean that we have to retreat indoors to occupy ourselves with other endeavors once evening falls.
This is usually DVDs or Netflix; specifically, horror movies. I’m not a fan of horror movies like I was in my teens, but I still like some of the older ones. It seems that they amuse Zack and Bubbles as well, albeit in different ways. Zack is fond of Michael Myers on the Halloween movies, and likes to say “hey!” whenever he sees Mikey lurking in the background with a huge knife. You aren’t sneaking up on this parrot! Who cares how Michael Myers keeps coming back to life? Who cares why people have to make a sandwich with a machete and leave it lying on the cabinet with the back door open, so Mikey can grab it? And boy, does he cackle when Dr. Loomis says “it’s Michael Myers.
He’s come to Haddonfield to kill.” (I laugh at that too. The way Dr. Loomis delivers his dialogue is so dramatic that it’s hilarious). Plus, Zack knows that mask means one thing: if the guy with the knife is here now, it means that Santa Clause comes next! Zack knows the signs. Perhaps he figures Michael Myers comes first to thin out the “naughty” list and save Santa some work. At least he knows how to have fun with horror movies with me.
Zack and I agree that Michael Myers has a pretty good chance of terrorizing more victims thanks to modern technology. Mickey himself may be nearing 70 years old, but they’ll never see him coming with their faces stuck in their phones! Human ignorance is silly, fun, and makes for great amusement for us – mostly because it means better holidays are coming soon!
Bubbles isn’t as patient with human foibles and doesn’t understand how silly humans get in these silly situations in the first place. She’s amazed at the domino effect of bad decisions leading to bad circumstances, which leads to more bad decisions and bad circumstances, until the villain bests them and the hero finally stumbles upon some dumb luck to save the day. I said from the day we adopted her that she’s a smart cookie, and she proved this when I got the old horror movie “Tourist Trap” for my husband last year. It’s a movie about a group of teens whose car breaks down, and they get stuck waiting for a repair at a creepy old man’s shop off a remote highway. Poor Bubbles squawked at those kids through the entire movie. Why would you take out the spare tire to make room for luggage? Why would you go anywhere with a guy that has overalls and a creepy look in his eye – especially if his name is Mr. Slausen? Why would you sit in a place full of creepy screaming mannequins with moving heads? Why is everybody leaving doors and windows open? What’s wrong with these people? They don’t even have cell phones to stick their faces in, but they still get in trouble. There’s no excuse for this!
By the final chase scene, Bubbles had enough of their ignorance and admonished them to “step up” while crunching up popcorn. They got themselves into this mess and now they’d better run, because this wasn’t leading to a happy ending. The closing scene elicited a growl as she retreated to her happy hut. I had to explain that good sense and wise decision making don’t make for entertaining horror movies. Bubbles rewarded me with that “you’re a moron” look that every parakeet seems to have mastered.
It’s interesting how Zack and Bubbles have fun with Halloween. It may seem simple with porch time, popcorn, and movies, but no princesses get hurt in the process, it’s cheaper than buying candy, we’re entertained, and we all have a great time.
Happy Halloween and enjoy fall!
I have poor spatial skills. I often joke that I would get lost leaving my driveway if I didn’t have to go to work five days a week. Most people think I’m exaggerating until they make the mistake of asking me for directions. GPS is a necessity of modern life for those of us who are spatially challenged. Unfortunately, it can’t help me with organizing cages, which is a challenge I face every time I get Zack and Bubbles new perches or toys, as I did recently.
Don’t get me wrong. Cages are much better than they were in the mid-1980’s when I got Samson, my first parakeet. They’re built efficiently with ease of cleaning, function, and bird comfort in mind. They’re also bigger, to provide more space for stretching out those wings to play, exercise, or laze around and beak grind while watching TV. You’d think the modern design would make finding places for those various perches and toys easier.
Instead, it’s just enough rope to hang myself.
I suppose it would help if I admitted that I don’t know what I’m doing and got out the trusty tape measure, but this is little comfort to the spatially-challenged, especially when you’re ordering those goodies online. I had a shock a few weeks ago when I ordered yellow mid-size perches, and multi-colored perch ladders. They looked perfect for Zack and Bubbles. The perches promoted toe and beak filing, and the ladders were bendable, colorful, and fun. Wow, I thought. They’re going to be surprised to find this explosion of fun and color in their cages!
I was the one surprised when I opened the package. The perches were neon green sticks thick enough for an eagle to perch on. I was convinced that my pals at Amazon must have confused “conure” with “condor” and sent the wrong thing, but I logged back on and found that this was, indeed, what they considered “mid-size.” I fiddled and fumbled for a while until the perches drooped on the cage bars and convinced me that it was time to log on and print out that return label for the UPS drop box on my way to work the next morning.
The ladder was another adventure. It wasn’t long enough to stretch across their cage horizontally or vertically like I hoped, and not as stretchy as promoted. I twisted, turned, and mumbled about needing a master’s degree in architecture before Rick (my patient husband) pointed out a way that we could wrap it to fit from the back bars to the side bars. A bit more huffing and mumbling, and I had them satisfactory. Bubbles rewarded me with a growl and ignored it, but Zack vindicated me by immediately checking it out and proceeding to chew a red and yellow block to toothpicks. Mission accomplished. Halfway, at least.
The moral of the story is that sometimes, you have to learn to work around your limitations. I’ll always be spatially challenged, but the fact is that bird perches and toys wear out (if your birds don’t destroy them, first), so cage design will be a constant challenge for me. The secret is to be patient with myself, and realize that a degree of trial and error will be necessary to navigate the rough design terrain.
And maybe, one day, I’ll finally learn that the size estimate function in my brain doesn’t exist, and get out that darn tape measure.
The Doctors Are In
The welcome home screams invited me into the offices of Doctors Zack and Bubbles, ready to begin their official duties as listeners and comforters of human sorrows after a hard day at work.
“What am I going to do?” I asked, as I plopped in my recliner. “The phones won’t stop ringing. The emails are constant. The mail weeps with the death of a forest every day. The computers crash, the copiers and scanners jam, and the people! It’s questions, complaints, problems, and misdirected calls all day long. How can I do this until retirement?”
Zack recommended a preening and snuggling session. He thoroughly preened my face, and moved on to my fluffy bathrobe after that. Once I was adequately groomed, he snuggled against my neck until my husband got home, requesting his own bird-therapy session.
Bubbles took a different approach. It was dinner time, and this talented lady worked it into her strategy. She ate part of my burrito, breaking open a hole that dripped sauce on the table. Then she stole the straw to my water, and ran across the kitchen table to offer it to Zack. When he declined with a polite sun conure “no,” she dropped the straw on the floor, ran back to me, pecked my elbow, and chattered at me cheerfully, ending with an admonition to “step up.” Then she pecked at the nacho crumbs until it was obvious that her piggy-parents had consumed all of them, and retreated to the playgym to chase Zack again. Obviously, she decided the cure to my problems was to shift my focus, specifically to her. And, to “step up” until retirement, because I have birds to house and feed.
Perhaps they aren’t doctors, but parrots are great at comforting us on tough days.
Whether you’re stressed out, anxious, depressed, or in a “blah” mood, birds have a way of perking you up. Their empathetic nature means they detect our moods, and their desire to make us happy means they’re great companions to lower your blood pressure on days when you’re ready to either hit the roof, or sink into the floor on days when you can’t get going. I can always count on comfort from my “dynamic duo,” whether it’s Zack sweetness, or Bubbles’ more spunky style.
The converse is true as well, as parrots can also be your biggest cheerleader. Zack and Bubbles are always up for a good celebration, whether it’s finishing a novel, getting through another busy season at work, or just a Friday after 5. They cheer us on with their screams of encouragement, and let us know we can do it with vigorous head bobs and cheerful chatter. And what better way to take care of that pizza crust than to let your parrots crunch it up on the floor? If anything, a parrot celebration adds to human joy and justifies the ownership of many mops and brooms. I’m considering a Roomba for my next big home purchase. Perhaps I should ask Morty for his perspective on that. Morty’s better than Alexa, Siri, and Google, all put together!
On good days and bad days, birds can be our best friends and therapists. No wonder we bond with them so closely. Our feathered friends are the best at comfort in bad times, sharing enthusiasm in the good times, and providing a calm, secure presence in all times. The doctor is always in when you have parrots. People may let you down, but birds don’t. You just have to learn how to speak beak to tap into their unlimited power!
And roll those pennies for a Roomba, with Morty’s blessing!
Sharing a home with birds means you create games in daily life. Birds in the wild spend most of their time and energy foraging for food. Our feathered friends don’t have to do that since “human servants” provide for all of their needs, so what’s a bird to do with that pent up energy?
They play and make up games! As flock members, it’s our duty to keep them entertained, and I’m sure we do in a number of ways. Here are a few games that Zack and Bubbles have created to keep us amused (and on our toes):
Bombs Away. The object is to see who can drop food or poop on the floor first after the human sweeps or mops the floor. Extra points available depending on the splatter radius.
Boogie Bird. Put on some lively music and see which bird – or human – boogies the best. Disco or techno music is a good choice for this game. This is a good game when your birds need to burn some energy.
Bowl Bath. When your bird attempts to squeeze their entire body in their water dish, and then glower at you because they’re wet. It’s a common game, and I still haven’t figured out why they do it. I’ve had 7 birds, and all of them did this except Oliver, the budgie we had in 2010-2014.
Catch Me If You Can. When your bird steals food (or another object), and you chase them to retrieve it. Extra points available if they get a few bites and drop it on the floor before you catch them. Another variation on this game is when you try to take their picture, and they run out of the frame, leaving you with a picture of a feathery blur or an empty spot.
Not Me. This is when you hear a squabble or a strange noise, and you return to see all of your feathered friends giving you the wide-eyed innocent look. Extra points available if there’s no evidence of the cause of the noise they made.
Outscream the Screamer. The object is for your birds to test who is the loudest in the house. A vacuum cleaner, music, a loud noise on the television, or attempting to have a telephone conversation, usually initiates this game.
Peek-a-Bird. A variation on “Peek-a-Boo,” this is when you sneak up on an unsuspecting bird and surprise them with a “Peek-a-Bird!” This game is especially fun when they’re relaxed and don’t expect you to do anything. Your birds may also play this with you by peeking around corners, through holes they chew in cage covers, or by hiding behind objects and charging you when you look for them. Pillows and blankets are favorite “hiding places” for that variation.
Sneaky Snacking. This is when you eat an entire snack in the pantry so you don’t have to share it with your birds. This game is played when you desire a snack that isn’t “bird friendly.” Crunching must be minimized when playing this game.
The Song Game. Having birds makes you want to sing! “You Are My Sunshine” is a staple with sun conures, but other songs can be “made” appropriate for your birds’ entertainment. For example, “Bob Your Head” (modified from “Barbara Ann”) is a favorite in our home, or you can make up your own songs. Parrots can join in the fun with their own chattering and mimicking, which makes it a great game. I’ve seen wonderful videos of parrots chanting along with their owners. Get creative!
Snuggle Bug. This is when your bird burrows against you to snuggle. They usually like to do this when you wear a robe or other soft clothes, if you have a blanket, or if you’re sitting in a cloth chair. This relaxing game is usually a “wind down” before bedtime.
Life with companion parrots is full of games, and these are just a few examples of how we have fun in everyday life. What kinds of games do you play with your birds? Leave a comment and let me know how life is fun with your feathered friends!
Welcome to Feathered Frenzy!
Hello from “famously hot” Columbia, South Carolina! I’m Sherri Moorer, and I’m the proud “mommy” of two birds: Zack (sun conure) and Bubbles (Monks Parakeet, also called a Quaker). I’ve had birds since my 10th birthday, when I begged my parents to get me a parakeet after taking care of one for a friend while they visited family out of state. This wasn’t easy in a home with a mother and brother who were cat lovers, but we managed to negotiate having a cat and three parakeets for a period of time. I’ve had seven birds in my lifetime: four parakeets, two sun conures, and a Quaker.
In addition to being a bird “mommy,” I work full time as a program assistant in professional licensing, and am also an indie author writing science fiction, mystery, and inspirational non-fiction. In short, I type a lot, and sweep and vacuum a lot of bird mess! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in psychology in 1997, and married my college sweetheart in 1998. In addition to birds, we’re also nerds who love Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings.
Feathered Frenzy is a page where I’ll blog about life with birds. I’ll share antecedents, stories, and tips on bonding with your “feathered friends” and making your home a happy roost for family and friends. This is a place to explore how life with birds is truly unique.
I look forward to “seeing” you every month at The Roost!