“I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.” Gustave Flaubert
Most of us have been conditioned to consider bird’s chirping, singing, or squawking as something like noise. How sad for us. Although a great listener of humans and four legged animals, I’ve been woefully ignorant of the rich discussions taking place in the trees. The most basic understanding of bird language would have enriched my experiences with birds both captive and free.
Soon after being given a Quaker parrot in the summer of 2013, a friend played Jon Young’s video about bird language for me. My eyes (and ears) were opened to a new dimension to the world around me. Just like humans and other mammals, birds make noise to communicate. Young’s insights allowed me to hear Dahlia’s comments and requests as clearly as I do my human friends.
Dahlia clucks, trills, squawks, whistles, sings, kisses, clicks, and purrs.
When I walk away or leave the room or car, she makes an unpleasant squawk. This is obviously an emotional response to something she does not like that serves as an alarm. When I walk back toward her or return to the room or car, she often trills, kisses, or coos.
When I stop singing in the shower, she often squawks. When I resume, she makes adorable sounds celebrating music and interaction as if it is a party.
After six months with Dahlia, our ability to communicate makes us friends and roommates rather than human and animal or worse, “owner” and “pet.” She is wonderful company, a fun dance partner, and great entertainment. She is also demanding with a strong sense of entitlement. It is one of the most intimate relationships I have ever had.
“When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life.” Brenda Ueland
By listening better and more often to Dahlia, I have helped her personality develop. Knowing I will respond to her needs, she is quick to make her desires known.
Playing music she likes encourages her dancing while enhancing her quality of life. Letting her take the lead in games we play makes her more than a toy.
“The activity of interpreting might be understood as listening for the ‘song beneath the words’.” Ronald Heifetz
One game we play is a version of Simon Says. Dahlia only initiates this when I am in the room but not engaging with her, which is telling. I hear a distinct whistle, rhuu-whoo-rhuu as she gets my attention. Recognizing the cue, I copy. She quickly gives me another, wheet wheooo, which I echo. Then wrhoo-ruh-wheet and my ready reply.
If I had not listened for meaning or “the song beneath the words”, I would have thought she was merely vocalizing. Playfully copying her led to another activity making us more like dance partners than jailor and jailbird. The connectedness we share as a result of varied interactions makes us both happier.
Having lived with so many animals over the years I am amazed at birds’ interest and ability for dance. My quaker parrot can’t stop moving to the music. It’s automatic. Maybe we should call song birds song and dance birds.
“An appreciative listener is always stimulating.” Agatha Christie
Some species, like mockingbirds, include “elements learned in the individual’s lifetime” in their songs. Researchers call this appropriation. Many scientists contend that song bird calls include grammatical structure. Undoubtedly, we will be learning about bird communication for years to come.
Birds use what they have to communicate much like humans do. Linguists will tell you that humans do not use all of the sounds our mouths can make. Some languages use more than others, but putting together all of the various sounds human language makes leaves some sounds completely unused. Birds however use all of the possible sounds due to their more limited apparatus.
Birds tell us they are content, happy, excited, angry, bored, and scared. Much of the emphasis on human/bird interaction is on how much human language they can learn or already know. But, if birds understand some of the words they use and understand words that they cannot say, our interaction with them, our relationships, would benefit from humans working on their listening and communicating skills.
Some things to consider:
Why you should listen to your bird
What your bird is telling you
What your bird wants you to know
What your bird is trying to tell you
You and your bird will be happier if you become a better listener.
Article submitted by: Lisa Kendall
Birds lovers know how much time and care feathered friends require. Ensuring their happiness is a lot of responsibility. In my quest to keep my quaker parrot Dahlia entertained, I’ve discovered ways to incorporate her in my daily routine.
Most birds are very social creatures getting lonely, bored, and even distressed when left alone. Looking for opportunities each day to include Dahlia keeps her close as I go about my day. Activities especially suited for a bird on the shoulder or nearby include personal grooming, light housekeeping, working on the computer, and running errands. When you have time, playing and allowing them to fly freely can be both physically and mentally stimulating.
Games and Activities
Taking time for focused attention will make all the difference in your bird’s quality of life. There are many ways to interact that will promote bonding and stimulate brain activity. Many birds love toothpicks. Try putting one in your mouth and turning your head to one side. The movement and stick-like object hits the bird’s nest-building instinct. Dahlia and I play keep-away for a couple of minutes several times each week. After she takes the toothpick, she expertly shuttles it to the other side of her mouth to keep it from me. I position her so I can take it back. Knowing I want the toothpick stimulates her interest in it while providing greater eye/beak coordination. Although she has little interest in toys, most birds do. It’s important to buy new toys regularly.
Around the House
There’s no reason your bird can’t help you while you’re working on a computer, doing light housekeeping, opening the mail, and doing bike and car repair. Several bird friends have marveled at how much their birds enjoy watching them do dishes. Since most birds have the developmental ability of a toddler, seeing dishes moving from one place to another provides enough interest for most birds. Having a perch or playstand makes hanging out with you a snap.
In the Bathroom
Bathroom time is an opportunity to keep your bird company. People have showered with birds for decades if not centuries. Dahlia wasn’t up for the shower at first and now she won’t let me bathe without her. If your bird doesn’t is reluctant at first, don’t give up. The steam is especially good for tropical birds. My parrot never tires of my morning routine. The motion of the toothbrush is one of her favorite things. She bobs up and down with the brush every time. The dental floss never makes it to the finish line as I rush to use it as she chases it between my fingers.
On the Road
Dahlia goes with me to run errands daily. Whether she stays in the car or goes in, we spend more time together and she enjoys the changing scenery as a result. Running errands with a bird can be a great bonding time. I put a towel, paper towels, or paper diaper changing pads on the dashboard above the steering wheel. Dahlia stands on the edge of the dash, on the steering wheel, on my shoulder, and on her cage in the passenger seat. I keep snacks in the glove compartment and bring fresh food such as one grape cut in half, a cucumber slice, and a very small container of bird seed is usually in my purse.
At the Pet Store
If you have time, stop in a pet store for a brief walk through. Dahlia enjoys going to the pet store about once each week. She stares at the rabbits and cats, marvels at the fish, and postures for the parrots. The stress relief I get from so much animal cuteness makes the trip well worth it. Seeing my own little bird react to the menagerie of animals is a delight, but the main benefit is making her day a bit more interesting.
Since Dahlia spends much of her time on my shoulder, she is mainly a free bird. She often flies ahead to the car, flies to me from across the room, and regularly flies both in and outdoors. Since this was not something I planned, I did not train Dahlia to fly or to return to me as is customary. She will not be flying again until spring and then only in parks far from traffic.
Caution; free flying should only be done with birds bonded to you. Since there is no one else Dahlia would rather be with, she always comes down from the tree sooner or later.
Article contributed by: Lisa Kendall