Friday, May 8, 2009

The Early Days

Coco, my yellow crowned amazon parrot, came to me at 3 weeks, on 3 feedings a day, but quickly went to two. I was a horribly nervous first-time mother, and within a week I had a nasty case of dermatitis from washing my hands constantly!

A trip to the avian vet resulted in her being declared "Miss Spunky". I was 'positive' she was a he, but the bird doc got it right. DNA revealed that of all the amazons I had loved before, my first baby was a girl!

Coco came out of the shell independent! I left a 'How to Wean Yourself' book next to her terrarium and, when she was done, she chewed it up and spit it back to signal me. Her weaning was seamlessly natural, especially after I showed her that shells contained nuts! Thus began the last 13 year journey of Miss Spunky (aka The Diva) and the wonderful world of making choices (empowerment).

As much as I am obsessed with positive reinforcement, I am compulsive about empowerment. At less than 6 months of age, Coco was living cage free in a corner of the dining room converted into a large play gym. It was the prototype of the Fort Coco to come.

With my sense that Strider is about to complete his transition, I am once again reliving those early days. Over the past 6 months of slowly working with him on our relationship, flock relationships and the beginnings of fort life, there have been more than a few times that I have questioned if he would be able to live completely cage free. He is a bit 'high energy' compared to Sammy and Coco, and initially displayed a propensity for zooming within a feather of Coco resulting in her flailing to the ground.

Perhaps I was really questioning myself - is it a fluke that Sammy and Coco live as they do? Can we add one more?

Sammy and Coco share areas and food, respect one another's privacy when needed, stay on fort territory, and do not hang from the chandeliers or chew the piano legs. The day I climbed the tree at age 47 to rescue Strider, I had not anticipated a flock addition (or the real possibility that the fire department might need to be called to rescue me!).

Will positive reinforcement, empowerment and evaluating what is "in it for them" work one more time? Naturally, I believe the answer is yes. I have reminded myself that the same processes I used back then, and still employ each day, have not changed over the past 13 years. It may be new territory for Strider, and there is certainly a new dynamic having three birds over two, but the science has not changed.

What has changed is access to that science. My cockatiel Sammy has been with me for 28 years now. Back then, I did not have the science of behavior in the way in which it is available today. I had no mentors, nor were there articles or blogs to read. There were few resources, and less of them directly related to birds. Even with being exposed to quite a bit of behavioral science through my degree in education, it could not have prepared me for living with parrots (cage free or otherwise)! I did not know anyone who co-existed with their birds both harmoniously and without barriers. It was all OJT under the tutelage of The Diva herself!

This blog is entitled 'Living with Parrots Cage Free', and we are close to making that three! The past few weeks have shown me what an incredibly smart little guy Strider is, and it is rewarding watching him enjoy more and more unsupervised time. I am seeing him follow the lead of Sammy and Coco, moving in and out of his own area while sharing the common areas with the other two!

Tomorrow (Saturday) is an important day: I will be in and out of the bird room as the flock spends their first entire day together. One full day, from sun up to sundown, experiencing flock life in the totality of togetherness for the first time! It is quite exciting!

In preparation for this important event, I reminisce of those early days, and find myself most grateful for the select mentors of my past and the amazing support system of my present.

As I once again transition a bird, I dedicate this post to offering my gratitude to those who have walked (and continue to walk) before me. They have afforded the opportunity to live with my birds as I do. Their tireless efforts ensure the science is accessible to anyone who desires to learn how to make a difference - one parrot at a time.

(For more information on the science of behavior, operant conditioning, positive reinforcement and applied behavioral analysis, check out some of 'My Favorite Bird Links' in the right column of this page.)


1 comment:

Jim said...

Hi Robin. I'm betting Saturday goes well.

You're an inspiration for all of us that care for birds. Thank you for all the help and support you have given me. I can't remember you every saying it 'can't' be done but rather 'lets talk about it'. Your positive reinforcement goes beyond bird relationships. It's an honor to call you my friend.

Hoping the best for the birds and you on Saturady.

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