Territorial Negotiations

When territories become a location of negotiation, keep the parrot's perspective in mind.

Territorial Negotiations

Years ago, George Strait released a song called “The Chair” that began with “Excuse me, but I think you've got my chair.” 

That sort of sums up Rocky's attitude that the chair, any chair, that resides within his territory is his chair. He will allow me to sit in it, provided I also scratch his head, but if we get any notions that the chair in question belongs to us, we are dead wrong. 

The first chair in the fateful spot was a red and zebra stripes vinyl chair in the shape of a stiletto-heeled shoe. Yes. We have a stiletto heel chair in our living room. It was on clearance. I HAD to buy it. It now bears several beak marks. I like the chair because it's so weird, so I moved it to the other end of the living room and put in its place a rummage-sale chair, the twin to the chair I have in the little birds' room. I paid maybe $40 for the pair, if that. The little birds' boing is next to the one in their room and as a result, gets bombed a lot. I scrub off the bombs, but they sometimes stain. So what, that's why I bought it. 

At first Rocky viewed the other chair of this pair with suspicion. It wasn't his red stiletto heel. But I sat in it with him and scratched his head and it became his chair. And he became intent upon destroying it. 

Okay, being bombed is one thing but being ripped to shreds – it's an upholstered chair – and utterly demolished is another. They were cheap, but I sort of like them. I moved that chair to the little birds' room with its twin and put a third chair in Rocky's territory, a wood chair that was probably once meant to sit at a rolltop desk or dining room table. I got that one for a few bucks at a secondhand store years ago and it's been sitting in the storeroom gathering dust for a long while. I told Rocky he is welcome to demolish that wood chair into splinters if he wants to. That secondhand store has an endless supply of wood dining room style chairs for sale and we can replace them as fast as Rocky destroys them. 

But Rocky wouldn't go near the chair. He was even more suspicious than he was of the upholstered chair at first. It took days and a blistering heat wave to convince him it wasn't a parrot-eating monster, but finally one day I came home to find Rocky perched on the back of the chair, which is in front of the living room's window fan (we don't have air conditioning) seeking relief from the heat. 

Of course, now that he has discovered the chair, and that it's wood, he has gone to work and it has Rocky's beak marks all over it. Splinters litter the floor beneath every day when I get home. I sweep them up and there's a new batch the next day. When I sit in it to scratch his head, I first test it to make sure his “work” hasn't made it prone to collapse. This is one more expansion of his territory, which at first was only his cage, then the play stand next to his cage, after he spent a week or longer observing and being terrified of it. Now the chair. 

And after the chair, the porch … 

Hubby is understandably reluctant to pick up Rocky on his arm, as he has been very badly bitten several times due to Rocky's being a Mama's Boy, so he made a T-stand. Rocky was also afraid of this for weeks afterward, but has finally made peace with it. Hubby drilled a hole in a table on the enclosed front porch for the handle of this T-stand, and now he can pick up Rocky and take him on the porch for Daddy and Me time when I'm not home, or take Rocky for rides around the house to look in on my starling in her room and the little parrots in theirs. This morning, he held Rocky on the T-stand and made a cup of coffee with his other hand while Rocky watched with deep interest. 

This, too, has expanded Rocky's territory. He doesn't have to be dependent on me for human interaction . He's still a Mama's Boy, and when I'm home and he and his daddy are on the porch, he starts leaning toward me and getting annoyed when the Magic Perch doesn't rise up and come toward me on its own. I don't think he's figured out, quite, that Daddy is the means of propulsion, and while he'll raise his wings as if to fly to me, or use them for balance if Daddy and the Magic Perch are moving too quickly, he still has not attempted flight. I don't think he can. If he wants to get somewhere without a human taxi, he climbs down to the floor and walks, but we're pretty well trained and usually he doesn't have to walk. 

Conquering the scary T stand and making friends with Daddy again are both huge forward leaps in making his life, and ours, less stressful. Now Daddy can be the entertainment committee and Rocky doesn't have to scream and be upset when Mama is spending time with the other birds or doing something else that excludes him. 

His territory has also expanded into the kitchen. Rocky was afraid to cross the invisible barrier between living room and kitchen for a very long time, but he has long since gotten over that so he can waddle over and have meals with us. He doesn't eat, or he'll only take a taste, but he wants to be there. Both dogs are there, hoping for handouts, and we're there, so he must be there, too. He sits on my arm or shoulder and supervises or looks out the window. This morning I went in to get a cup of coffee and turned around and there was a 'too looking up at me, holding up his foot. He doesn't even hesitate anymore. He and Jack, the mutt, have come to an understanding and he walks right past Jack, who once was defensive and suspicious, and Jack was unconcerned. Glanced his way and put his head back down. 

Last night, I taught Rocky to play peekaboo. I had a paper towel and I put it over his head and said “Where's Rocky? Where could he be?” and took it off and said “Peekaboo!” At first, he was annoyed and upset. He even hissed and he almost never hisses at me. But I kept doing it anyway. It's a game my Quaker, Clyde, enjoys. It took a minute, but Rocky figured out we were playing a game, and he started to chuckle and he said “wheee!” and enjoyed it, too. 

He's learning to ride a shoulder without losing his balance and grabbing my ear to hold on. I really do not want my ear grabbed in that giant beak, ever. Clyde can cling to my shoulder no matter what, because he has tons of experience. I can bend and reach and clean fish tanks and do laundry and sweep and mop and change cage paper and do just about anything, and Clyde can adjust his hold and his balance and stick with me. He has even hung on while I did yoga. Ringo Starling can, too, but she has less patience and says “IKE!” and flies away to a less annoying place to perch, while Clyde refuses to be dislodged. 

Rocky must not have much experience on a shoulder. He's getting better, but he panics when I stand up or when I walk, and I have to move very deliberately and carefully to avoid that panic and subsequent grab of whatever he can find to hang onto. Even sitting on my arm while I walk requires that I am careful and deliberate. We're working on it, and he is learning. Someday soon, I think, he'll be able to sit there while I walk around the house and won't have to wait for me to have time to sit down and just hold him. 

One way to spend more time with a bird is for that bird to accompany you during regular activities, which Clyde learned long ago and that's why he developed that ability to cling to me that earned him the nickname “Velcro Birdy.” I want Rocky to learn that, too. That way I don't have to carve out specific Rocky Time, and he can be even more a part of things, which is what parrots want. Whatever you're doing, they want to do it, too, or at least to supervise while you do it. This is yet another step in the seemingly endless quest to teach Rocky how to be a regular, unafraid, bossy parrot like the others and not the timid, terrified, abused bird who moved in with us over a year ago.

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