Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Location: New Zealand

Marni D. Sheppeard

Monday, January 22, 2007

Parrot Party

Sorry, Carl, but if you keep sending me cool photos I'm just going to have to post some of them, such as this shot of you with Escher the Grey Parrot.
...and here is a photo from home:


Blogger CarlBrannen said...

The African Grey's given name is Escher. His last name is Fountainberry or Fontaineberry or something like that. No one knows as he doesn't spell it consistently.

His nickname, acquired from the repetition of many bloody incidents from his youth, is Pecker. I've taught him to express his frustrations by squeezing instead. This is done by saying "ow" whenever he pecks or squeezes so that the two actions get associated with the same desire. Squeezing is less violent and easier for him, and results in calmer reactions from the victim (who are huge beasts and likely dangerous), so he does that instead now.

Escher was raised "by hand", which means that his food arrived from a hand rather than another bird. Being a bird, he thinks that he is a sort of hand, and so is easily charmed by beings that have hands. But even wild birds can be charmed by song. Dogs used for hunting birds sometimes instinctively make a kind of warbling sound that is said to mesmerize birds.

I charmed Escher by song. Birds can also be charmed by dance. They seem to prefer things that involve long notes, swaying movements, head nodding, and the waving of hands.

January 23, 2007 2:00 PM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

01 23 07

Hey Kea:
Thanks for sending that wonderful pic Carl. I just LOVEEEEEE parrots. Escher seems like a really cool bird. Have you read about Irene Pepperberg and her training of Alex the African Grey? Cool stuff.

My sister raised a coupla love birds and they bite like little demons! But they are lovable and loud and vibrant. Parrots represent the wild and inquisitive side of life methinks:)

January 24, 2007 6:24 AM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Is that the African Grey that learned about 1000 words? Escher still bites people, but I think he does it only when they're totally out of line.

A lot of people's problems with birds comes from people wanting the bird to do something that the bird doesn't want to do. With cute birds, one of those things is to come out of their cage, perched on a hand, so strangers can see how cute they are. Like they're a possession without a vote of their own.

I told a female friend that it was possible to charm Escher by daily singing to him for 3 months. She sang to him for 30 seconds, of course he was mesmerized. So she stopped singing and put her hand in his cage to pick him up. He pecked her good. It's like she didn't hear the "3 months" part. What would she do if some stranger tried to pick her up after 30 seconds of conversation? (Don't answer that.)

I never "pick Escher up", instead I put my hand out for him to choose to climb upon. And I won't do this until he's climbed out of his cage on his own. Part of the reason for this is that birds (naturally) feel very territorial inside their cage, and are likely to defend it. The other part is to make sure that it is totally a voluntary action on the part of the bird.

Whenever I see other people with birds I'm amazed that they're not getting bitten / pecked a lot more often. But even the worst human is better than almost any other species animal at adapting to cross species relationships. Humans are very special things.

January 24, 2007 9:30 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hi. Escher sounds like a cool dude. None of the wild parrots I have known have ever pecked anybody, although they sometimes crawl all over people and undo their shoelaces or nibble their ears. Keas know who is boss. Wandering into a national park carpark, one is quite likely to see tourists having left their vehicle doors wide open, oblivious to the fat kea hiding behind a bush waiting to hop inside as soon as they aren't looking. They do a good enough job trashing the outside of cars/houses. Imagine what they do to the inside. They quite like shredding matresses.

On the other hand, keas have learnt the hard way that humans are dangerous. The farmers used to shoot them for attacking sick sheep in the high country (for their livers, which are particularly tasty). In theory this doesn't happen anymore, but one still hears stories of keas getting shot.

January 24, 2007 1:31 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

I think a most of it depends on the particular animal. The only reason Escher is at my buddy's house is because his previous owner couldn't deal with the little guy's tendency to draw blood. (I've seen the previous owner with him. He picked the poor guy up, turned him upside down and petted his breast. If Escher hadn't responded by biting him, I would have.)

My buddy's cockatoo, nicknamed "Monster" can be quite sweet but is more likely to be quite aggressive and has put a person or two into the emergency room. I've trained him to calm down when sung to and can generally get done what has to be done.

Humans have a tendency to believe pretty much what they want to believe, so among the million or so links having to do with the tendency of birds to bite people there is a lot of advice along the line of "this is not natural bird behavior", but is caused by whatever.

I see this as more of the same advice along the line of motorcycles, mountain climbing, cave diving, etc., "is safe, provided you know what you're doing". In other words, the truth is that these things are quite unsafe, and the people who haven't actually killed themselves at it, like to imply that they are much smarter than the dead. I'd like to hear what the dead have to say.

So I do not let birds near my face. Cockatoos are noisy unpleasant birds and are lousy pets. And as long as I'm on the subject, I think that the dog breeds that have been bred for bite strength, the guard dogs, are unsuitable as house pets. Hunting dogs generally have softer bites and better temperments.

January 24, 2007 5:35 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

In other words, the truth is that these things are quite unsafe...

Yes, indeed. And I wouldn't go near a caged bird myself. If I was stuck in a damned cage, I'd be pecking people too. Of course, keas have strong beaks, but they aren't like caged parrots - they are free. They like playing with humans, who generally mean them no harm.

The mountaineers I know (including some dead ones) fully appreciate how dangerous it is. Unfortunately, some of the other dead ones are in that category precisely because they didn't appreciate it. Hence the warnings.

January 24, 2007 5:48 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Of all man's pets, the one that I feel most sorry for is the caged bird. To give up the heavens for, at best, a meal ticket.

An ironworker from Arizona told me that he saved a falcon fledgling and that it took to hanging out at his home, but feeding itself. It developed a bad habit of eating local pets, and wild animals being illegal to "keep" in the US, he was forced to get rid of it when a neighbor called the authorities.

It was a very long and involved story that helped fill the time needed to drive a truck from Phoenix to Seattle. As such it was better than many other similar stories I have heard. I doubt that I could repeat it to a field biologist with a straight face.

January 24, 2007 10:35 PM  

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