Thursday, April 16, 2009

Body Language - Continued

As a follow up to yesterday's post, I wanted to delve just a little further into this 'body language' thing... it can be so fascinating! This is because it really is the foundation of our understanding of birds.

The challenge will always be to view body language in context. Our best guide is our knowledge and relationship with a bird. We may laugh, cry or yell for a variety of reasons, the context, knowledge of the person, and the surrounding scene allows us to ascertain the meaning.


There are certainly some elements of birdie body language that are a bit easier to analyze than others. While pinning eyes may mean a certain level of excitement, it is only within context that we determine what type of excitement the bird is experiencing.

As we grow in our relationship with our birds, we become the closest thing there is to an 'expert' when it comes to reading our own bird's body language.


Analysis is an amazing tool. It can, however, become a double edged sword if misinterpreted. For example: we know that in certain instances, a sick bird will close one eye. One eye being closed, though, can also mean the bird is asleep (Avian Sleep Cycle).

The conclusion that a sleeping bird is sick would cause great concern! But assuming a sick bird is simply sleeping could result in an early sign of illness being missed. So again, we rely on the whole picture as a means of analysis.




Perch position is an element of body language that can have a physical or an emotional element.
We all slouch from time to time; it does not mean we are sick. We might be disinterested, bored, lazy, sore from exercise or simply have poor posture! A bird that is standing high on a perch, off his 'ankles', may be displaying interest and intrigue in a person or the environment, feeling strong and healthy. None of our birds, however, spend all their time standing straight and tall (any more than we do). A bird sitting on his ankles may not be feeling well, but it is also likely he is simply in a relaxed, settled mode (where all of my birds spend much of their time). It is nice to see our birds feeling comfortable, isn't it?!

Lifting one foot can also be a resting, relaxed or sleeping position. Many birds never lift a foot while sleeping. However a bird with one foot up all the time (that is refusing to use the foot) is naturally experiencing a medical problem. A bird that is quite ill may not perch at all due to weakness, and may spend much time at the bottom of the cage. However, not all birds at the bottom of the cage are sick; they may be down there playing, foraging, involved in 'nesting games' or simply hanging out. Conversely, a bird may perch while still being sick. Are we all confused yet?! And this behind the backdrop of us genuinely wanting to understand as much as we can and give our birds the best possible life!

Here again is the value of using our observations and analytical skills only within complete context and the framework of what we know about our birds. The best observer and interpreter of your bird's body language will be you; you are the expert. That expertise will greatly assist your avian vet when appointment times come.

Do not hesitate to say, "This is simply not normal for my bird." We cannot always quantify or qualify the abnormality, but it is crucial to identify it and relate it to your bird's health care provider. Since displaying signs of illness in the wild would make our birds vulnerable to prey, they will innately hide them at all costs. When illness is displayed, it can often be quite serious and advanced. With this tendency comes a resulting ambiguity in the display of symptoms. Our ability to closely monitor our birds' activities and habits, and knowing what is customary for them, will lead to identifying problems as early as possible To the extent we miss a symptom or one is simply not displayed,
understand that a bird makes it their business to hide them from us.

The good news? In the wild, it is in their best interest to communicate clearly. We can see this at the bird feeder; there is nothing subtle about the cardinals chasing off the blue jays! They are neither passive aggressive nor manipulative; they act quickly and decisively. This means we can see it, analyze it and act upon it. We may not always decipher it correctly, but with time and practice progress is made. As much as it is in their best interest to hide illness, it is equally in their best interest to display relationship building body language.

Want to learn more about your bird's body language? I've got a great tip for you! Just video tape your bird (and then report back with your findings)!! Video tape him with a variety of different family members or friends, as they walk up to or near your bird, or perhaps offer food or a favorite toy. Then, have a family member video tape you doing similar activities with the bird. Compare the two; watch the tape slowly, multiple times, and see the world of birdie body language come alive before your eyes! You will see small, virtually imperceptible in real time, elements that may surprise you! Begin the exciting journey of delving into the world of birdie body language!

To get you started, below is a video of me scritching Coco's head. Watch closely... you will see her signal me, with her open beak moving toward my finger, that I should not touch that spot, should move on to a different spot, etc.

I react quickly, and then she returns to her original position of enjoying the head scratching. Had I not responded to her body language at that instant, she may have made contact with my finger, taking it in her mouth, or by using some other cue to get her point across. If I had persisted in ignoring her body language, it could have brought a thoroughly enjoyable time to a quick, harsh end.

What language does your bird use to speak to you?! It is a whole new world!




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3 comments:

Jim said...

Nice! Learning my birds' body language is not always easy but the payoff has always been great.

Good job, Robin.
Two thumbs-up!

wolfgirl1987 said...

She is totally loving those scritches! lol!

Barbara Heidenreich said...

What a fabulous gentle interaction. Yes you definitely speak "parrot" very well : )

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