Let’s talk about the Genesis story. Not in the biblical sense, but in choosing or being chosen by a companion parrot. Every flock has a genesis story for every member. A moment in time where we first met the feather love of our life. Maybe they chose us, maybe we chose them, but no matter that moment of Genesis, the only thing that matters happens next. The moment after Genesis.
There’s one Genesis story I’d like to dismiss, if not outright remove from all companion parrot conversation. The one about how a baby parrot bonds easier to their human than a rescued or older parrot. That hand-feeding a baby or bringing home a baby just finished hand-feeding will somehow guarantee a full relationship with a companion parrot. This idea guarantees nothing. This is an outright untruth. It’s a lie. This idea sets up the parrot and the human for disappointment.
What we want from our companion, is a relationship. This isn't about buying a pet to keep. This is about a lifestyle choice involving an exotic creature that can fully interact, love and share that lifestyle. A parrot wants a relationship. They need a relationship. They are that smart and it is appropriate, if not mandatory, to look into this lifestyle with these ideas.
Let me tell you three Genesis stories for illustration. Three personal stories from our flock. Inside these stories we’ll find ideas that will turn your ability to communicate with your parrot up a notch and empower a real relationship building lifestyle.
Felix is a ransom rescue parrot. We found him by chance. He was a consignment item at a local pet store. Yes, reading those words and for me, speaking those words hurt. I still wince at that idea. The Felix… on consignment. As we stand here in this astounding sanctuary, I can assure you there are parrots now free to be, who were once a consignment item. A sad, ugly truth inside the parrot world.
My husband and I were only there to get dog bones, a few parrot toys and millet. Isn’t that how these things always go? You aren’t looking for another parrot, but the parrot is looking for you. We walked in and found Felix in a cage setup to the right as you walk into the store. His back to everything and everyone. This was a parrot saying, I have no use for any of you or anything. I do not understand why I am here.
Cali was the first to approach him. And with all creatures, Felix too welcomed my husband‘s attention. Cali has spirit animal vibes. There’s never an animal that ignores him. He‘s a magnet. Cali asked Felix to step up, and Felix obliged. And they stood there talking to each other, while I wrapped my head around the fact someone had chosen him and there was no going back. I respect a parrot who chooses.
They chatted and Felix relaxed. I could see him settling in and rescuing us at the moment. I came over for a visit and a step up. Felix was clear about me. I was acceptable. I was not Dad. Therefore, meh. He was happy to be with me, but happier to be back with Dad. And so it is, today. Felix chose Dad.
We took Felix home. There’s no not taking a parrot who choses you home. We began our journey. We learned from the store owner that his name was Franklin, his leg band showed he was 19 years old, born in 1993. He was a male. He had one previous owner, an older gentleman. He had passed, and the family wanted nothing to do with Felix, so they put him on consignment. Again, another story repeated somewhere among the 850 and more parrots here at the Oasis. This is not an unusual story at all.
Felix settled in without a second thought. We loved him, and he without reservation loved us. He had an impressive vocabulary and a story to tell with it. His previous Dad had an answering machine driven by a cassette tape. We knew this because Felix would start a conversation in his head with the sound of a cassette answering machine kicking on. And then follow it up with messages he remembered. There were people named, Bob, Harry, Franklin and Felix. There was golf to play. There was fishing trips and somebody had to take a f***ing shower! We learned he loved apples, popcorn and yapplepopcorn. If he wanted you he yelled HERE! If he did not, he would shush. He would say Good Morning Felix! in the morning and Bye Bye Felix! at night.
And for three months I called him Franklin. I honestly thought Felix was the old man. One morning Felix had had enough of my confusion. He wouldn’t step up for me in the morning and he only said, “Good Morning”. He perched, head cocked waiting for me to give him full attention. Now I‘m not one to argue with parrots. So, I responded good morning. I was confused why he didn’t say Felix. He said good morning again. I answered again, same. He then leaned forward, gave me the Eye of Judgment and said, “Good Morning Felix.”
And the confused clouds parted. OH! Sure. Yeah. I got it. I responded Good Morning Felix!
And at that moment his personality blossomed like an air bag in a front end collision. He danced a jig of celebration, bobbed his head and poofed his feather shoulder pads. Great Success! The Trainer got the Trainee straightened out.
We had to walk a path for a few months together before I caught up. That’s the thing about relationships. Time is the only real definition. Quality moments of time spent together along a time line. For instance, I have a relationship with our UPS delivery person. It‘s strictly transactional. IF I order something, THEN he brings it. That’s it. Our quality time is a loop statement. Nothing more, nothing less. We invest the time only necessary to create a successful completion. And that’s all we’ll do. Our relationship isn’t deep, nor wide but satisfying and transactional.
Conversely, my relationship with my sister is not. We‘ve known each other for 53 years. There, I just told you her age. She’s gonna love me for that. We‘ve had hundreds of quality moments spread across decades of time. And we continue to create more moments together. We are in a relationship that is deep and wide and fed by invested time. It’s not a loop transaction.
We build relationships through communication via quality moments over a timeline. This is the fuel of a relationship.
We brought home a 19-year-old parrot who lived a different lifestyle and his only requirement from us was getting his name right. He’s 26 now, and we have hundreds of quality moments spent and more to come over a timeline with no ending expected. We are in a relationship that is deep and wide.
We brought Butters, our blue and gold, home as a 3-month-old baby. I found her not looking for her (as it always goes with these moments). She was in a large Tupperware tub, with her sibling. All pink skin and color filled pins. A colored porcupine. Big black beak, big soft feet. My heart strings sang, and that was that. We tried leaving, but at that moment of exiting the area we looked at each other and knew there was no leaving without her (as it always goes with these moments).
Butters came home, and I began our weaning journey. I practice abundance weaning. I look to the crop, not the clock for feeding time. When her crop emptied, I filled her back up. A baby is in a constant growth cycle. She’s got muscle, sinew, bone, feathers, beak and feet to create. She’s got internal organs, and all the unseen cells that need feeding. Those things go on 24/7, not every 3 or 4 hours. Abundance weaning also means you offer solid foods and preferred pellets up front. They are merely toys and foraging things in the beginning, but through exploration and happenstance taste a parrot becomes fearless and confident in food exploration. Which is what you want for a parrot.
I abundance weaned Butters for 13 months. Because she knows what she needs better than I do. One day at 16 months old she found her wings, opening them wide and noticing their power. She called out and launched herself to the top of her macaw cage. It was at that most excellent moment of fledge I lost my girl. We lost our relationship language. She and I no longer based our time and communication on food, comforting, warmth, baths and snuggles. She needed none of these and frankly as a flyer didn‘t really need me. I often think about what type of person I would become if I could fly. I‘m certain I‘d be arrogant and self reliant, and of short nerve toward anything I didn’t like.
I lost my parrot relationship for a couple weeks that day. She and I had to relearn a full new communication language and reasons to be in a relationship at all. The trust stayed though. That’s the thing about trust. It’s a byproduct of communication inside a relationship. You don’t go after trust, it just happens. You go after communication inside a relationship.
Butters’ fledge is also the truth about baby birds and weaning. The bond lasts as long as they're grounded and needing that pre-flight hand-feeding. The day they fly is the day it all changes and you are right back where I was with Felix. The Genesis story does not matter. What matters is what you do next.
Parrots flock. They form groups of like-minded, agreeable individuals driven to success inside a synergistic voice of communication that is endless. They are high level communicators seeing each other as equal value to themselves willing to do what the flock requires rather than their own desires. Often we humans talk about how we missed a body language moment with our parrots. That‘s because we are not superb communicators. We have a hard time focusing on others and being aware of anything not of ourselves.
Humans herd. We herd selfishly, driven by self interest. We put no one else on an equal footing with ourselves. We prioritize ourselves and what is ours. We are also lousy communicators. Social sciences and the News at 10 proves that out. We herd into groups that agree with our prime beliefs and commitments. We do not want challenges or rogue thought near us. We are selfish. Social sciences say so.
Once upon a time a man would write a woman a love letter to express his truth. (Staying inside the relationship context). He might write, “My Dearest Katie, your eyes are like lucid blue pools of heaven. Your smile lights the sun. I wait breathless at your call. If only my heart could find you in the middle of the night, I would then sleep. Your beloved and dedicated, Tony.”
Now Tony wakes up, rolls over and grabs his cellphone. He sends a heart emoji, BLOOP. And Katie is left to figure out all that other stuff. We are lousy communicators because we have turned communication into a transaction. If I send you a little picture, then you know I‘m not selfish.
One more Genesis story for one more perspective. Snickers chose my husband. We were at a bird store; I was working taking photographs of all the inventory for an eCommerce site I was building. Cali came with me for the fun. While I‘m working on one side of the store, Cali was on the other visiting birds. He came around to my side and turned the corner facing me with what looked like a windshield splat of red feathers on his chest. A baby scarlet macaw was hugging him with his wings spread open around my husband shoulder to shoulder. His little head and big white beak lolling back and forth on Cali’s shoulder. There was no going back. Snickers chose Dad with extreme prejudice. They told us this little nugget had never responded to a person like this before, and to prove it, the nugget refused to be peeled off Cali. He was older than Butters had been, at 4 months. I had it in my head I would abundance wean this baby. This baby had other ideas.
From the get go Snickers had little time or use for me. He preferred his Dad and had little patience or interest in me or our visiting human kids. He would nap sprawled on any person, but if awake his viewpoint was clear. He had no conscience time for no other than Dad. I attempted to abundance wean him, but he would rather eat and scurry away. To this day I am sure he sat on his blanket on the floor pushing feathers out as fast as he could to get past this whole baby thing. He only wanted Dad, and he wanted the flying power to get to him. The day Snickers fledged and landed on top of a macaw cage I thought, "ahHA! Now we’ll see Dad lose his boy to growing up and he must face the same retooling and communication needs as me.”
Not so much. Dad came home to find his boy flying right onto his shoulder with his wings spread wide upon landing. As if to say, “Look Dad! Look what I found! WINGS!” They celebrated Snickers’ rebirth into flight with Dad admiring his wings saying, “Pretty wings! What a good boy Snickers!” Yet, I remained a “meh” to this boy. I am still a meh, 5 and some years later. But I am also investing in the day he decides I am more than a meh. Even if that day does not come.
Snickers’ Genesis story shows that a baby bird has opinions, and will keep those opinions when he takes flight. There are no guarantees at all in a parrot’s opinions or their changing of those opinions. A parrot is as opinionated as any human. Baby or no, bonding is not a guarantee based on age, hand-feeding, or history. The only thing that matters happens after the Genesis story.
What’s important no matter who chose who, or how is the communication skills we bring to our parrot. We are creating a relationship lifestyle, not keeping a pet. We must upgrade our ways of communication to be more like a parrot, and less like a human. Humans distill all things into their simplest form out of motivation to self. We want things easier, faster and less intrusive to our daily world. It’s this filtering (or elimination of time invested in communication and conversation) that breaks down our skill set for the communication with our parrots.
We need to fix that by retooling things we already use. A food bowl is not a conversation. It is a transaction. We need to upgrade the simplest things into a conversation, and not a transaction. A toy is not a conversation, it‘s a distraction. We need to upgrade this important employment opportunity into a conversation.
Let’s retool food first. We all need it. We are not communicating with it all the time. A parrot’s food bowl is not communication. It is a transaction. If I look in this bowl, there will be food to eat.
Let’s make it a conversation. First things first. Nutrition. It’s 2019, there is an endless supply of information and options for feeding our parrots well. Food is a big point of conversation in social media. Some parrot groups sound like scientists arguing over the elemental table. Today we know so much about feeding our parrots well, we argue about it. But wait, here’s a question. What about you? What about me? Isn’t this a relationship? Are we feeding ourselves and our parrots well? Are we devoting as much passion into our own health as we do our birds? If not, why? You are the firewall between the world and your companion. What if you get sick? What if you end up in the hospital? What then? Treating your food and your healthy lifestyle with as much love and respect as you do your bird is mandatory. A relationship requires it. To not is to miss the point of a great relationship at the start.
Food is a group event shared all day long in a flock. Hunting, scavenging, sharing, separating, collecting, categorizing. It’s a big deal! How can we harness that event full of communication into our human lifestyle? Let me tell you what Kirby taught me about foraging in a house with humans.
We eat like our parrots. I say this first so the rest of this makes sense. I shop and anything I bring home is appropriate for man or feathered beast. I carry twenty some bags of food in twice a month. Produce and dry goods. As I lay these out on the counter, Kirby… pirate, pillager, thief and lurker begins his personal foraging event. He will inspect every item of every bag to make sure I have screwed none of this up. He’ll snack on all things Kirby Certified. He forages. One afternoon he was particularly piratey, and I stopped to watch his joy.
I thought to myself, “That boy is so happy foraging…“ and the lightbulb went on. I need to create space and time for all to forage. From that day forward we all forage. I have 20 some bags of fresh foods to clean, chop, store and categorize. I need to inspect things and create stashes for easy cooking and eating later. I am foraging anyway! When I get home, I bring Felix into the kitchen/dining room. He sits on his tent tree with his while bowl waiting for his share of food communication. Kirby is pirating and I need not assist him in his skill set. He’ll get what he wants alongside us. The Horde of cockatiels are in the dining area in front of their window ready to accept tasting bits into their foraging tray. And the macaws are ready to fly slamming themselves against the child gate inserted in the pass-through window above the kitchen sink in their efforts to get their share of communication snacks. They make a big deal about flying as hard as they can to attach themselves to that gate, then yell out in celebration of their success and access to whatever it is I‘m chopping up.
For 3 and a half hours I chop and clean while they taste everything I am chopping and cleaning. We forage, together, communicating through taste and laughter.
I will say a word. Consider what comes to mind for you personally. Thanksgiving. Set the pilgrim story aside. What comes to mind when thinking on Thanksgiving? Family, love, food, laughter? What is it about Thanksgiving that is so universal? The visceral communication in the food via tradition delivering generations of memories. That’s what. A parrot would call that excellent communication. Grandma has passed, but we passed her gravy down to Aunt Garnet. Her coleslaw to your daughter-in-law. And even though they are no longer with us, their love and true self remains with us through their food recipe. Food is a powerful transient messaging service. Food is communication.
When we are dating someone, what do we do? We share food. Dinner and a movie is a cliche. Food helps deliver more than our words can. I share a meal with our flock whenever I can. Literally sit at a table with a plate specific for this moment. It will be messy. It will require my full attention. And it will be excellent communication together.
I make warm meals to share. I spoon feed the macaws, drop dollops of sweet potato or brown rice in Felix’s tree stand bowl. Kirby flies in and out scavenging while hiding under my arm grabbing bits off the plate. The cockatiels are singing and eating from their foraging tray. We eat and share the ideas of together and comfort. I embed the essence of together via this powerful transient messaging service. It is our own thanksgiving moment.
Food! Our new retooled tool for excellent communication. It’s only a matter of redefining the delivery and the time and we’ve completely upgraded our human communication.
We need another retooled tool. Something we use all the time, but do not take advantage of it’s power. How about toys? Materials and toy are another tool for communication. Parrots manipulate, separate, identify, and play with materials (toys) throughout the day. What can we do to simulate foraging, playing and such?
In my world I shop toys online. I don’t have the time to drive out into the world, so I shop my favorite toy makers and have things delivered. I take advantage of this once a month to create a forage playtime with our flock. Now every parrot is different and will see this all within their own opinion. Felix just wants his new toy hung at the end of his digesting perch. He’ll handle things from there. The cockatiels, want me out of the way of their new toys. Kirby doesn’t do toys. Pirates don’t have time for toys. But I hang his toy in his day cage he’s rarely in for those moments he forgets he’s a pirate.
When the box arrives, I hand out to those not needing me and my big ideas, and then I bring the remaining macaw toys in the box into the bird room. There Butters, Snickers and I will forage materials together. I place the box on the table and call them over. They begin by throwing everything on the floor. I laugh. They laugh. I pick everything up and put it back in the box. We laugh. Then we test, biting, ringing, playing, pulling, banging and foraging all the materials. We laugh together. We look at each other and watch what each other is doing. We have too much fun communicating not saying a word, but playing. Then I tell them to pick what they want. Butters chooses her first toy, Snickers his. And we make two piles, one for each. And they help me hang their chosen toys in their cage.
Now these toys aren’t just something hanging there. They are more than a transaction of distraction. They are full of the essence of together. They have a definition and a seal of flock approval. They mean flock. They represent a foraging day. They say without a word all that needs expressing. These toys are more than toys, they are edification to our love and relationship. They mean something more. They are memories and moments. Now we have food and toys retooled for excellent communication together. We need one more.
How about locations, settings and views? It’s something we live inside and laid out already. But is it communicating together excellently?
When I spoke last month in CT, I stayed at the Red Lion in Cromwell. Nice hotel. Everything said I’m welcome. And nothing said I belong.
Such is the power of locations and settings. They deliver a clear, comforting message to our parrots. We belong together.
We bought our home for two reasons. The addition on the back and the view from it. Our living room addition is 25 X 30 feet with 32 linear feet of windows. It‘s glorious! I love this room. It has a deck with a tin roof off the south side. So much light! I love this room and deck. The view behind our home will never change. It’s a flood plain. Three and half house lots full of space behind us, all grasses and trees. To the south is Tinney Creek. A tidal canal way that breaths off Tampa Bay waters. It feeds the lake across the street. This setup, this environment brings all of Florida’s birds into our view. From pink spoonbills to gulls to otters and turtles. And then some. The views and creatures to watch are innumerable and seasonal. Not to mention the Muscovy ducks that have no problem training me. Our backyard, view and room are priceless. We bought the house before parrots. At one time this was a humans’ living room. Now it is a bird room with 2 humans. Every parrot received their own window to look out into the world.
We share everything as a flock in this room. We play guitars and ukuleles in this room. We sing in this room. I write in this room. I nap in this room. We watch TV in this room. I read books in this room. Cali plays Xbox in this room. We eat in this room. I write speeches and then practice them in this room. We share it all plus the window views in this room.
Views for stimulation and communication. Parrots ponder and appreciate the best views. Felix’s weirdo neighborling window is real. We laugh and watch his weirdo do his weirdo things. Butters watches for turtles and sounds her turtle alarm when they approach (or when they don’t). Snickers watches for turkey vultures and lets the world know they’ve arrived. We share a secret between each other at the moment of looking at neighborling, turtle or turkey vulture. Watching the world pass together.
It’s not a matter of how or why or when you found each other. For a companion parrot it is what comes next. Every parrot here at the Oasis has their own Genesis story. Beginnings with humans that ended for whatever reason. Their arrival at the Oasis is itself, a Genesis story. Yet the Genesis gives way to what comes next. What needs to come next is communication, inside a lifestyle choice and change made directly for the companion we chose, or who chose us.
The Genesis story is only a beginning chapter. There’s a whole story yet to be written from that moment forward. This is where it matters. What comes next is where the relationship lifestyle begins.