Let me tell you the story of a bird named Mae West.
Mae West was one of the most dependent little female Alba cockatoos I have ever met. This is also the reason why she was abandoned at the refuge that I operated a few years ago. Mae West was a Human Impregnated Bird ( EAM ), having received very, very poor socialization.
She had only one goal in life… to snuggle up in the arms of a human and then she showed the greatest tenderness there is. Unfortunately, little Mae West had been adopted very young ( in fact too much ) by a couple who cared a lot about the lady’s droppings and who, thinking they were doing the right thing, had taken a long time to teach her that to get caught in her arms, she had to relieve herself beforehand, so as not to risk spoiling their clothes.
Pôvre Mae West, she who only wanted one thing, curled up in the arms of one of her humans, but who unfortunately could not physically produce the required amount of guano in return.
So little Mae West started pushing and forcing whenever she wanted to be hugged, that is, most of her time in the day, in order to produce the precious liquid that in his head had become the passport to his desire to be cuddled.
Of course, what had to happen happened … By pushing so hard, Mae West came to the extreme and caused a cesspool to prolapse …
As Mae West had been well conditioned to do this to get permission to come on the human, the problem escalated to the point where there were no more emergency vet visits, which you well know. generated exorbitant costs.
Continuation of the story… Abandonment at my refuge
It took me a long time and patience to convince Mae West that she didn’t have to hurt herself to deserve my attention and that there were a lot of other occupations and activities in this world. to curl up in my arms.
Here is a fine example where humans had created from scratch a serious behavior problem in a parrot, which at the start was quite healthy, simply by demanding the impossible and by ignorance of the learning process of the bird and of their ability to interpret a situation.
Don’t worry, the story ends well. After three years at the shelter observing other parrots, his condition had really improved a lot. She had learned to play, to be occupied, and above all, that there was no longer any requirement attached to the pleasure of receiving the tenderness she so needed. Mae West was able to be placed back into a loving and understanding home, well aware of her problem. There have been a few relapses from time to time … but who would dare to throw the first stone at him …
That was still a relatively obvious situation … but there is more twisted. There are behaviors that are innate, present from birth in the species and there are behaviors that are learned, that come from the experiences of the
- By making associations.
- By observing others.
I will not come back to the subject more than necessary, I believe that we have covered it for a while, but all the same … it is not always easy to disentangle the innate from the acquired …
When we talk about behavioral problems in our parrots, we tend to refer to howling and aggression. However, in these little notions of innate and acquired, there are slightly more unique facets of the behavior of your birds…. Hence the importance of knowing (at least a little) the ethogram of the species with which you are negotiating …
Not long ago, a man telephones me in a panic because his young 6-month-old Moluccan cockatoo ( weaned ) has, according to him, developed serious behavioral problems. He screams all the holy day and begins to show “dominance” by more and more frequent attacks.
In addition, the bird refuses to feed: it refuses grains, extrudates, and totally ignores fruits and vegetables. It goes without saying that the bird has lost much weight and the customer is distraught.
- In your opinion, is it abnormal that a 6-month-old cockatoo howls like this, that it is so aggressive?
- In your opinion, is it abnormal that a 6-month-old cockatoo refuses to feed?
- Are we really facing a behavior problem?
I will put you on the track … If I tell you that the beginning of the period of independence of the young cockatoo arrives at about this age and that at this period of its life, the young parrot timidly begins a phase of emancipation by which he must learn to survive on his own?
What do you think is wrong here?
What is this bird missing?
The answer is… He is simply missing the model!
If the bird arrives at the beginning of its period of emancipation, it must necessarily begin to explore.
Food exploration is normal at this age, he must begin to learn to feed himself independently ( under the supervision of his parents ). This is what this young cockatoo naturally seeks to do. It’s an innate behavior, it’s programmed to start trying to act on your own at this age!
Remember that the innate behaviors are written in the genes of the species and that the pattern of activity is the same from time to time.
Now, the young cockatoo needs landmarks to emancipate himself, he needs models to observe in order to acquire the skills that will be necessary for his survival. But there you have it, it doesn’t!
Even with the best will in the world, the client cannot transmit to the young cockatoo the art and the manner of husking a seed … or even, teach him that it is inside that the edible part is found … In short, he cannot, therefore, play the role of the model that the parents or other birds of the group should play during the weaning period under normal conditions, in its natural environment …
So, it is not the young bird that is not normal, it is the situation, the environment in which it operates that does not meet its needs.
The young bird only acts according to its genetic program and the latter is designed according to its natural environment, in which the young should be supervised by its parents, who, at the beginning of its period of independence, space the beaks, serving essentially model in the acquisition of skills to survive and encourage the young to imitate them.
In an artificial environment, he will therefore have to learn all alone, gropingly, through a lot of trials and as many errors. Since there is no model to observe and imitate to perfect his learning, the time allotted to this one risks doubling and even tripling the time normally allotted to this learning in a natural situation.
At this point, the hand-raised young parrot will need human intervention. He will have to insist on the beak, in order to prevent deficiencies in the young, then, once his crop is full, present him with different foods to try to arouse his interest and encourage him by various reinforcements which will be fabulously positive for him.
The young parrot thus satiated and secure will begin by playing with this food, he will learn to handle it until he discovers for himself that he can eat it… no small matter!
So the innate behavior here is the emancipation behavior, which manifests itself in time, according to the genetic program of the bird. And the behavior to be acquired is: identify the food, learn to handle it, prepare it and finally eat it. It is obvious that in the context of captivity, the acquired cannot be put in tune with the innate since it lacks an essential element for the bird… the model. We could then speak of a gap between the innate and the acquired by the environment.
If humans do not know how to recognize this kind of problem in a time when they try to replace the natural parents of the bird, the young parrot will make its debut in life in great insecurity and risk developing all kinds of problems. inherent in the anxiety that insecurity can create by a period of famine early in life.
The young parrot will be hungry, very hungry, but will not know how to feed, you see the picture … At this time, the young cockatoo may develop behaviors that humans consider “problematic”, such as biting or screaming, quite simply because he is hungry …
Then the human tries to find out ( as best he can ), but there is a strong risk that his interpretation of events will be incorrect and that he will give bad information… as this client did with me….
- He bites me, he is dominant ( misery ).
- He refuses to eat, he makes caprices, his bowl is full, he throws the food on the ground and he starts screaming …
- I am calling you because I have been told that he is not normal, that he has a behavior problem ( re-misery ).
And when I try to explain to the client (a good hour) what I have just summarized in a few lines, his reaction remains… “How can he be hungry when there is plenty of food in his cage? He is aggressive and he yells, he necessarily has a behavior problem “… Full stop!
So, the man sends me to graze ( this is not the answer he wanted to hear ), reaffirms that his cockatoo has a “behavior problem” and cuts off communication.
What do you think will happen to this young Moluccan cockatoo? Who has never read about the bad temper of these birds, the howls, and the legendary aggressiveness of the Moluccan cockatoo?
Why am I wasting my time with guys like this?