Saturday, May 23, 2009

Enrichment Part V: Auditory

Nature is anything but quiet! A bird's life is full of sounds that direct daily life by providing warnings of danger, location of food, territorial boundaries, and much more.

If we consider ways to provide our companions with auditory enrichment, naturally music and perhaps television come to mind. I do provide my birds with extensive and varied musical options. They are particularly responsive to nature cd's. We listen to everything from whale songs to rain forest recordings... thunderstorms to croaking frogs. I find it equally enjoyable!

The value of sound, as a form of enrichment in our birds' lives, is most evident when it becomes a tool of their empowerment and a method of language.

Sound language:
1. Provides increased understanding of indoor environment;
2. Promotes interaction within that dynamic environment; and

3. Creates another level of communication/relationship.

Sound language
is simply an extension of my body language, further supporting the relationship and increasing two-way communication.

Therefore, we return once again to the topic of conditioned reinforcers!

The dog learns to associate the sound of the jingling leash with the opportunity to go for a walk. The bird learns to associate the sound of the click with the presentation of the treat. They are better able to understand and interact with us and their environment by having learned these association... the 'meanings' if you will.

We are now in position to take conditioned reinforcers to a new level. How can we use sound, not simply to train a step up (as in a click-treat) but, to help them understand where and with whom they live, what to expect in certain situations and as a basis for another level of communication with them?

What are some associations my birds have learned to make?

1. The sound of the alarm means I am getting up and will leave the room shortly.
2. The sound of the vehicle coming up the driveway means I am home (flock calling begins).
3. The sound of the shower means an opportunity to join if desired.

Sounds are even more powerful when coupled with visual cues.

Sounds help our birds better understand the ebb and flow of indoor life and respond accordingly in the same manner as they do in the wild.

Even what we know they are able to hear is perhaps only a fraction of what they actually hear. They may hear us breathing from across the room and be able to tell if we are stressed, asleep or relaxed and at rest. The very sound of our breath could be relaying information to them.

Additional information is provided by our vocal intonations. Try whispering to a bird that is flock calling instead of 'yelling' back. A completely different response is received. The richness of vocal intonation that we use (or lack of it when we state 'step up' or 'step down') provides information to our birds and helps them better interpret their environment. I love to speak to my birds in trills and whirls and use the broadest range possible, singing, whispering and even cooing.

Most important to me:

How can sound actually be used as a form of language?

This truly is the exciting part!

I have always said to Coco 'Are you hungry' when offering her food. Thus, she learned to associate the sounds of those words with the presentation of food. Now she will say, 'Are you hungry' when she IS hungry and would like me to 'do that thing' (present food) that happens when I say those words. In other words, she has learned, through sound, to cue me when she is hungry. (Had I said 'I am hungry' all of those years, as opposed to 'are you hungry', it would be even cuter!)

The same thing has happened with the sound of the word 'bye'. (I say the sound of the word because, while I have evidence that she understands that those sounds cue certain behaviors in the humans around her, I do not believe she has comprehension of those words in quite the same way as we humans understand comprehension.)

She has learned to associate those sounds with certain behaviors in us.

So she has learned that when we leave the room we say 'bye'. Sometimes if we are walking toward the door, but not intending to leave, she will still say 'bye' as to her it appears that we are about to leave.

Thus, when my husband enters the room, she immediately says 'bye' to him. It happens 75% of the time when she sees them, and I take it to mean that she literally wants him to "do that thing" that people do when the word 'bye' is said... she wants him to disappear from the parameters of her kingdom!

Now, through the use of sound and the knowledge of conditioned reinforcers, we have literally bridged a form of communication with her where she can express her desire for my husband to disappear or express the need of hunger through the words 'are you hungry'. She does not need to scream if she has no food; she has an even better way of expressing that - one that is effective for her (it works, and therefore it continues to be positively reinforced) and it certain works for me as the human that lives with her! I would much rather have her say 'are you hungry' than scream her fool head off!

These are only two examples of how sound can be used to bridge a form of communication! I am sure you can think of many other ways to use it in conjunction with your own birds' life.

As a side note: I have done the same thing with sign language. Perhaps I will write a post on that some day. I have taught her to use her feet in much the same way as a deaf person would use their hands to sign. She 'signs' to me to express many of her basic needs. It is effective for her, and it is much better for me than a frustrated screaming bird! It allows us to live in harmony and peace with one another and to have a greater meeting of the minds.

I believe our birds derive enjoyment from sound, music, nature cd's and the like. But the knowledge that we can truly enrich our relationships with them and enhance their ability to understand and interact with their environment through the use of sound, gives the word 'enrichment' and whole new depth and meaning: Sound Language.

In the same way that they are always watching and learning from us, they are also listening and learning.

I hope you have enjoyed the series and have gained something that can be used in your daily life with your feathered companions.


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