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Bringing Back the Magic: A Transformational Memior
By Joe Tyler

Why is an earthquake like ShakeN'Bake, the chicken recipe? It's where EVERYBODY is chicken!!! Yes, earthquakes are a joking matter for some of us, but not for all of us, such as our birds and even chickens.

They seem to fear far more because they have some instinct that tells them there is danger ahead. Birds are phobic when the earth trembles, and so am I, for that matter. Buckwheat, my performing Grey, doesn't seem to be afraid of crowds of 150 people, even when they're school-aged children; but when the earth moves, he may be frightened for a few weeks, or longer. I believe he has a serious case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder when he has night frights a few weeks or months following a seismic event.

Buckwheat was four years old the first time he was in an earthquake. It was early in the morning and I would never have known it happened, had it not been for Buckwheat waking me. He was beating his wings against the sides of the cage; therefore, I put him on the floor so he could not injure himself. The trouble was that he had already sustained bumps, bruises and lost some 17 flight and tail feathers. It was such a shock to his system that I had to heat up the house to 85 degrees, for three days while he came out of it. Before he began to recover, he would just sit there, all fluffed up. Buckwheat's a great actor on stage, but he was not faking this one.

These birds are quite sensitive to changes like earthquakes; but they can also have night frights for no apparent reason. I'm still not sure whether or not Buckwheat's first earthquake precipitated the night frights that were "seemingly" birdie nightmares and unrelated to anything in the environment of which I was aware. Being Buckwheat's father AND partner on stage, I tend to be sensitive to his moods....especially his neurotic outbursts.

I try not to yell at him when he bites, as any Grey might. I might add that I have noticed him regressing on one or more of the 30 behaviors he does for our routine, after a traumatic event, and even one as "little" as my yelling at him for biting. Regression is what happens when he will no longer perform on cue. Some behaviors return, and some never do. When Buckwheat fails to do a behavior, we talk about it....then I lay an egg...just kidding. But it does help to talk about it, especially when I say "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

Buckwheat's second earthquake didn't appear to shake him up as much as the first. It registered 5.0 on the Richter Scale and had me sitting straight up in bed at 2:00AM. This one scared all of my birds, and once I calmed them down, I brought Buckwheat back to the bedroom for about an hour.

Although he was calmer, he did have another Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in the form of a night fright four days later. We now use a "nite light" which I believe has helped to control his night frights, as he hasn't had one since that night. Additionally, we do not cover Buckwheat's cage at night so that the "nite light" allows him to see across the room, and I believe it affords him the ability to climb around in his cage, before settling in to sleep. Further, we have turned the activities of going to bed into a ritual that he looks forward to. Specifically, I bring him in to my wife's and my bedroom where we socialize for at least a half hour before bed every night.

Overall, Buckwheat is a pretty steady bird, and I believe I've built on his calmer times to give him as much reassurance as any bird can get. In other words, I've spoiled him rotten.

Joe Tyler is the side-kick and straight man for Buckwheat of Kilimanjaro's comedy act. This charming African Grey and Joe perform for many bird clubs, nursing homes, schools and other events. They can be reached at: (702) 329-3260.

This article was published in the Summer 1999 issue of the Grey Play Round Table® Magazine: ; ; ;

All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form without the permission of the author.

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