Monday, April 27, 2009

A Setup for Success!

When living with our birds, there are many ways we can set up their environment, and relationships, for success! Two chief tools are our knowledge of them and our powers of observation.

The ability of the three birds to interact positively (flock dynamics), as well as having their own personal space that is respected by others, is a top priority. The bird room, with its various forts and open-door cages, is simply a modified aviary. Whether in a large aviary or in my bird room, flock dynamics reign supreme.

Once quarantine was complete, Strider was introduced to the flock. But he was not immediately integrated into flock life. This has been a slow and metered process. Coco and Sammy have been together for 12 years, and have a relationship that allows them to share space, perches, treats and enjoy chatting. They provide one another companionship. An important part of their relationship is the mutual maintenance of invisible boundaries that mark their personal space within the fort system.

The first six months of Strider's flock time included my supervising, and reinforcing, positive flock interactions. This was integral in establishing a solid foundation and setting them up for success. Had he moved into full fort life immediately, relationships would have been strained in the same fashion as if my neighbors suddenly moved in with me. They would not know me, my habits, patterns, routines, likes or dislikes. By virtue of us having no relationship or basis of communication, the likelihood of a problem would be extremely high. Such would be an example of not setting up circumstances for success.

The past several days have been filled with flock activity in the bird room. It has been a true joy to watch. My role is to observe the totality of flock body language, as well as individual interactions, and make note of any concerns or opportunities for improvement in communication. With this information, I can set up the environment for success.

So I thought for purposes of this thread, it might be helpful to dissect the process of observing, analyzing and changing behavior.

When out with the flock, Strider has exhibited the behavior of going into Sammy's cage. He sings to Sammy, and does try to get close to him at times (as close as Sammy permits). When Sammy leaves the cage, Strider remains, settles in, and begins preening. One time Sammy left and went to Strider's cage!

Strider's behavior has increased over the past few days. Therefore, I know that there is a reinforcer at work.

While Sammy is being obviously tolerant of, but not overjoyed with, his new cage-mate, this behavior is contrary to my objective of providing each bird with their own personal space, that is respected by the others, while still able to share group spaces. Based upon Sammy's body language, I believe he agrees with me!

I began by theorizing what might be reinforcing Strider's behavior. Additionally, I observed what happened prior to the behavior (the antecedent), and after the behavior (the consequence). With this information, I can begin the process of making changes and observing what affect if any, there is on Strider's behavior of camping out in Sammy's cage.

The first possibility is that Strider simply wants to be near Sammy. If Sammy himself were the reinforcer for Strider's behavior, then I would expect to see Strider following Sammy, especially when he flew to Strider's cage. This did not occur. So I initially removed this from top consideration as a reinforcer, at least at the present time (bearing in mind that reinforcers can and do change).

The second possibility is that Strider "likes" Sammy's cage better. We have all seen instances where a child will not want a toy until another child begins to play with it. However, assuming that Strider simply 'likes' Sammy's cage better, and assigning human emotions such as jealousy to Strider's actions, will not help me analyze the behavior. I did, however, observe that Strider was not interested in playing with any of Sammy's toys. The cage contained the same food as Strider's cage. Strider did not attempt to claim the cage as his own, nor did he prevent Sammy from freely moving in and out or display territorialism body language.

The third consideration that came to mind is cage location. Sammy's cage is directly in front of the window. Strider's cage is slightly off to the side, still having a view of the window, but not as clear, direct and close as Sammy's.

Recall the two chief tools:
our knowledge of them
our powers of observation

I can be sure of one thing: Strider's behavior of camping in Sammy's cage is increasing. Therefore, it is being reinforced by something. My knowledge of Strider tells me he is very vocal and active when hearing outdoor birds, or birds on a nature cd. His singing increases.

A quick test helped me narrow down the possibilities. With Strider still inside Sammy's cage, and Sammy on his Fort outside of the cage (and Coco on her Fort), I moved Strider's cage placing it beside Sammy's cage. Both cages now had an equal window view. I then left the room.

After less than five minutes, I returned to the room. And, what did I find?

Strider had left Sammy's cage and was back inside his own!


The reinforcer was the window (the view, the birds outside, etc.) Strider was pleased to remain in his own cage where he now had the window view he desired and that was reinforcing his behavior.

Through this quick and easy test, I gained a critical piece of information that enabled me to set up the environment for success and improve flock dynamics. Once Strider's Fort is complete, I will use this knowledge to guide my placement of it.

Had I assigned the human emotion of jealousy to Strider's actions, or assumed that he simply wanted the cage that belonged to Sammy, I might have stopped there. No amount of my relocating Strider to his own cage would have curbed his behavior. Being next to the window was a strong reinforcer.

Despite Sammy's body language of discomfort at having Strider camp in his cage, I could have chosen to 'let them work it out'. There are certainly circumstances where this type of approach, or a modification thereof, is appropriate. Since my goal is for each bird having their personal space, allowing Strider to increase his behavior of being inside Sammy's cage is counter-productive. It would likely have led to relationship strain. If I was oblivious to Sammy's body language, as problems became more evident down the line, I might even have complained to my friends, "I just don't understand... Strider has been hanging out in Sammy's cage since the beginning, but suddenly it seems like a problem now!" Again we can use the analogy of a neighbor visiting... it is ok for awhile, but at some point we want them to return to their own home!

With his cage in front of the window, Strider now sits in or on it, and happily sings to the outdoor birds. Progress has been made toward my objective of each bird having their own spaces as well as sharing mutual spaces. The ability to identify the reinforcer, and change Strider's behavior, are monumental aids in shaping the flock's dynamics. Squabbles that would have affected everyone have now been avoided. Setting up the environment for success will reap a lifetime of benefits.



Jim said...

Yet another wonderful post. As you know, I'm into setting the up for success, getting along and flock dynamics so of course like it. :-)

So glad they are able to be out together.

wolfgirl1987 said...

As always, Robin, great post!

Robin said...

Thank you, Jim and Wolfgirl!

Anonymous said...

fantastic post.. i have to say..its one of my favorties so far!!...


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