"How can my 'two Congo kids' be so different? I've brought them up with the same rules..." Sound familiar?
Four year old Sweet Pea, with her Aries energy, is a very active, loving, playful and messy Congo Grey. Pardon the anthropomorphism, but if I could give her human traits, she'd be a mix between a punk rocker into dancing throughout the night and a health club nut going to the gym at the crack of dawn. Not only does she play hard with her toys, but she also exercises. She frequently holds onto the cage bars with her beak while dangling her legs, similar to Macaws and some other birds. I used to think she was begging to get out of the cage, but then realized that she was really stretching her body. I've also observed her twisting her head to the right to touch her tail, then to the left to touch the other side of the tail, somewhat similar to the human floor exercise of swinging the leg and head to the left and then right while kneeling. She certainly didn't get these traits by watching me, as I'm more like Merlin Tewillager, my other Congo Grey, in the exercise department.
My six year old Merlin Tewillager, with her Gemini energy, is more into intellectualizing. Anthropomorphically speaking, she's a perfectly coiffed beauty with every feather in place and as neat as any Grey can be. Not only does she chew most of her food and discard bits back into the bowl (except when she eats off my plate), but she also chews her toys in a neat sort of organized pattern. Most of her days are spent meditating and communicating with nature, especially with the crows who act as the sentinels for much of wildlife.
Merle and Pea really do love each other; but also, they're VERY competitive with one another. Sweet Pea has had a few previous homes (which I'll discuss in the next issue), and therefore, her life's wish is to have a human that she can OWN all by herself. When she feels any bit of jealousy, she uses her telepathic know-how (all of them know how) and threatens, "I'm gonna get you!!!" which makes Merle nervous because of Pea's athletic prowess and dominant behavior. Not only does she threaten, but she also provides what she promises. She will shimmy off of her cage, prance along the floor, climb right up Merle's cage and challenge her. For this reason, I have to keep an eye out every time they're both on top of their cages. I've also discovered a secret, provided by Nancy Sheffer, Alex and Twia Kusuku's mom , of attaching velcro to the cage and making a plastic skirt around the bottom, so that she can't shimmy down. It has worked wonders.
Merle, on the other hand, has learned to use her intellectual capabilities to compete. Both Greys are prolific talkers, but Merle learns faster and grasps the meanings quicker. Sweet Pea then learns how to talk from Merlin, more than from me. Therefore, Merle leaves out any phrases that refer to Pea, solamente. Sweet Pea calls Merlin's name, but not her own, because it is NOT in Merle's vocabulary. Another example, I call Merle BEAUTY and Sweet Pea is called PRETTY. From this, I've made up a silly ditty that goes, "Beauty and Pretty, click, click...Pretty and Beauty, click, click... Beauty and Pretty, click, click.." Merlin changed the tune and sings, "Beauty, click, click... Beauty, click, click... Beauty, click, click...," completely leaving out Sweet Pea's name, Pretty. Therefore, I do believe they are quite balanced in the competitive arena.
Merlin Tewillager can be a show-off in front of people, whereas, Sweet Pea becomes shy. I think Merle's showmanship comes from her early childhood. We traveled together, which frequently attracted crowds of adults and kids, similar to the Pied Piper. She learned that she could make people stay physically away by talking-- which also made them laugh. Merle is NO Buckwheat of Kilimanjaro, as it has obviously become much more fun to give the wrong answers and to get laughter, than to get applause. "What does the rooster say? Meow... What does the cat say? Er, Er, Er, Errrrr." However, at home and away from the public, Pea also joins in with guess what? That's right, the wrong answers (but she also knows the right ones).
Pea is a squishy love bug and lives for her cuddles at night. I can hug her, touch most parts of her body, hold her upside down on my hand and kiss her without the threat of a nip. Merle, on the other hand, prefers to sit on my knee and watch me. She also gets her head rubs, when SHE allows them; and a ritual of a few loving hugs and kisses are thrust on her before bedtime, with only a small protest.
Merlin is a very kind and wise parrot. She seems like an "old soul," and she takes her heritage and learning what the world has to teach her very seriously. I think all the travel, living in different types of environments and exposure to many animals, birds and people through travel and the Round Table groups have contributed to this confidence. HOWEVER, you put one little thing like a new toy near her territory, or go through a severe storm, and she becomes momentarily ballistic. By contrast, Pea is calmer about storms and new toys, and she spends much of her day into TOYS!!! She also talks to the animals outside, but seems more concerned with having fun, than with how life fits together.
They are alike in many ways, too. They love to sing (not very well, but) and dance--- Merle moves her body up and down while Pea bops her head. They're also OBSESSED with water:
"Want some water..... You're water!!!.... Where's the water?.... I love water... Grey babble, babble, water.....the water sound... and the list goes on." Although they're blessed with having a babbling brook outside their window in the country, and you can hear the water moving through the pipes in the walls of my NYC apartment, I think the "obsession with water" is an African Grey thing.
African Greys are VERY different from other parrot species; and even within their own subspecies and across subspecies, they can be as different as night and day, just as people are. These differences may come from their early socializations, current socializations, genes, relationships with their humans and how they've learned to "manipulate" their humans, and so on.... The one thing they ALL have in common, however, is the ability to mesmerize with that uncanny intelligence, wistful sense of humor and intense loyalty to the human(s) lucky enough to be touched by an African Grey Parrot. The rest of the world doesn't have a clue of what it's missing.
This article was first published in the Fall 1998 issue of the Grey Play Round Table® African Grey Magazine: www.AfricanGreys.com ; www.AnimalLoversUnited.com ; www.NaturesCornerMagazine.com
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