What is that bird talking about?

What is that bird talking about?

February 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

“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

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