Animals think in detail. They notice every single detail of everything around them because their brains function that way and their survival depends on it. Predators are looking for food, and prey animals are vigilantly noticing everything to avoid becoming someone else's lunch.
This incredible skill is transferred into the home. African Greys notice every minute detail about their human companions, or pet humans, as many of us call ourselves. Not only do they notice every detail about us, but they also notice every detail about what we do and how we react to things.
On top of that, African Greys are incredibly smart. They are highly capable of cause and effect thinking. And they use cause and effect behavior strategies to get what they want. I am sure that almost every Grey owner has noticed a high level of microwave beeps, telephone ringing sounds and/or fire alarm calls in their home. That is because your bird has noticed how quickly you RUN to attention to the microwave, telephone and/or alarm, the instant they ring. Therefore, your parrot companion copies the sound to make you run to him or her too. GREY'T thinking!
My Sweet Pea observed that I do not like to be pooped on. When I see her red tail feathers about to swish and the body getting into the pooping stance, I try to place her on a portable perch as quickly as possible. This has become like second nature to me. But then I started to notice that she doesn't ALWAYS poop when I remove her. She has learned to "PRETEND" to need to poop, when she wants me to place her on the portable perch. This is incredibly intelligent observation and cause and effect thinking.
There are many reasons WHY parrots act as they do. When they have a need, they communicate in whichever way that works to get the pet human companion's attention and reaction. Extreme behaviors, such as screaming and biting, are developed because the pet human was not properly reading the "Original Cause," or the original body language attempt to communicate.
For example, when Merlin Tewillager was a young chick, she was insecure about getting onto my hand. She was afraid she was going to fall. I was a new bird owner and was clueless that she felt that way. As a matter of fact, I was a little nervous too about how to handle her. When I put the back of my hand to her breast and said, "UPPPP!" she would grab onto my thumb and climb onto my hand. But sometimes she hurt my thumb, and I nervously tried to pull my hand away. But she held on. After a while, this interaction mushroomed into a behavior problem and she learned the "power of the bite."
Had I figured out at the time that the "thumb grabbing" was an insecure attempt to hold on to me, I could have learned other strategies, such as holding her closer to my chest to give her a feeling of support, to help her feel more secure. Then we may not have had to go through the behavior modification work to curtail her biting habits. Had I known to study the "details," I could have saved both of us from having to go through such an emotional ordeal.
Understanding how to work with our birds is really so simple, but it doesn't feel that way at the time. Again, it is ALL in the details. There is a REASON your bird is doing what he or she is doing. It is your job to observe and study. Parrot behavior is not the same as it was in the 1990's where everyone believed there was only ONE way to handle specific behavior problems. Our birds are individuals and they are reacting to individual situations; therefore, it is your job to be the detective. Follow these steps:
What reward is the parrot getting from the behavior?
- Sit near your bird's cage or playpen for a period of time and just observe. It may even help to sit below the cage to get a better bird perspective.
- Pretend that you are a bird and look at the colors and objects around the cage and in the room. Think about them relative to your size as a one pound animal, instead of a larger human.
- Jot down things that you notice.
- Observe what your bird is doing in that time period. Jot it down.
- Continue this exercise at various days and times of the day. Especially record things that COULD make the bird nervous, such as how the room looks at dusk.at night and so on.
- If there is a specific behavior issue that concerns you, use this same system to do detective work.
- When, how often, and where does the interaction happen?
- What do you do, and how does your Grey respond?
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This article was first published in Issue 012 of Nature's Corner® Magazine. Maggie Wright is the author of the book: African Grey Parrots: A Complete Pet Owner's Manual . She is the creator and publisher of Nature's Corner® Magazine. Learn more about Greys and other intelligent animals here: www.AfricanGreys.com ; www.NaturesCornerMagazine.com ; www.AnimalLoversUnited.com and www.AfricaNature.com