Thursday, July 30, 2009

Birdie's Helen Keller Moment


Ok, I've collected myself from the picture of me and Birdie in yesterday's post - what memories! Since Shirley asked, here are a few things I did with Birdie at the very beginning.

I had nothing to go on, except what I had learned about educating children. (I did have a "library" - this is a place where they have books on a shelf. You take one, sit down, and read it. They even let you take them home for several weeks!) Wow!

(Ok, sorry - I will be sending myself to bed without a mint julep tonight for that remark...)!!

With no friends familiar with birds, I set on a path to attempt to make a connection with Birdie. I wanted to form some type of basis for communication.


At the time, I was working as a kindergarten teacher on Miami Beach. Some of the students did not speak English when they came to school; others very little. And of course some did. Therefore, many of them were just like me and Birdie - unable to communicate with one another.

I observed them to see how they formed a line of communication, and learned the following things:

1. They mirrored one another's body language.
It seemed a part of the natural 'get to know you process' that they would literally mimic each other's body language in exceptionally subtle ways. We don't call kids 'copy cats' for nothing!

I wondered - would this work for Birdie as a basis to begin a rapport? Anything was worth a try!
I began mirroring Birdie's body language.

If he leaned away from me; I leaned away from him.
If he lifted his wings slightly and/or stretched, I tried to mimic that language.

And so on.

This seemed to have an interesting effect on Birdie; it appeared to relax him to my eye. I continued with this process, mirroring as much as I was able. Even turns to the side, turning around to face away from me, etc.

Little did I know that I was helping him begin to learn that I respected his body language!

2. They mirrored one another's behavior or activities.
When one would color, the other would color. If one would take a drink from their juice cup, the other would take a drink from their juice cup. I was not sure the role this might play, but I tried this with Birdie.

When I would see him eating, I would go get something and sit next to him and eat. If he was preening, I would pretend to preen. I had toys that looked like his, and if he was paying attention to a toy, I would do the same.

3. They offered each other something of theirs.
After spending time in mutual, but separate activities, I would see the children offer each other something of their own. You could see them pass a red crayon and give a look like, "Do you want this"? Demonstrating that they were willing to share. Often the other child would take it, or look at it and shake their head no (body language). But I felt the offering of something that belonged to them, or something of value, was a part of the process of establishing a rapport.

So since we were doing mutual activities such as eating, just as the kids were mutually coloring, I began 'offering' something of mine to Birdie. Recall that I had never had a parrot before; I did not know that what I was doing by instinct or by observation of the kindergarten children, was something that all people did with their parrots. I began eating, and offering some of my food. Just as the children sometimes said no - that was ok. The child did not get up and walk off in a huff, but would often offer a different color of crayon instead or go back to playing together but separate.

If I was 'playing' with a toy, I tried to demonstrate with my body language (while not putting it in Birdie's face) that I was offering him the chance to taste it or take it. And of course I offered food. I also offered my clothes like scarf or or a belt, access to zippers and buttons.


4. They spent time in close proximity, perhaps doing similar activities; aware of one another, but not directly engaged.

This is where I came up with my 'hang out' concept. At every opportunity, I was mirroring his body language, his behavior, activities, and offering him something of mine. We spent a great deal of time in close proximity.

I had seen parrots give a 'come hither' look as they put their heads down and slowly scratched their own head with their foot. So this is one of the behaviors/activities that I mirrored. As our relationship progressed, I put my head down in front of Birdie, and appeared to be slowly scratching my own head, through the cage bars at first, occasionally stopping and sneaking a glance at him as I had seen other birds do. At first there was no response. If he seemed to me to be uncomfortable, or leaned away, moved away, or backed up, I mirrored that body language as well, but while continuing to 'preen' myself.

One day Birdie ventured over to me, and began to preen my hair. Since my hand was still on my head, doing the come hither impression, I left it there. After some preening, Birdie explored my finger, my fingernail, and continued to preen me.

The best I can describe it, would be to say that it was Helen Keller moment for Birdie. Over the course of a few weeks I had not grabbed him or made any demands of him. I approached him slowly at all times, hands behind my back, and at the first sign of tenseness, I stopped and took one step backward. If I thought he still appeared tense, I took a second step. Sometimes, those steps took me right out the door. There are days when we are all "not in the mood". I also began to discern what his body language looked like if he didn't mind that I continued to approach.

I had no preconceived notions of how things were supposed to work, what training looked like, or how all of this was going to come out. Being bit was positive punishment as it resulted in my undesirable behavior of sticking my hand into his belly and saying 'step up' to decrease (all the way to 'zero').

The natural part of him stepping up and being comfortable being on me (knee, shoulder, head or hand) came as a part of us eating together. He began to come out of the cage, over to me, and crawled onto my knee to access the food easier.

We would sing, dance or hang out on the rocker. I have a picture of him in his collar, sitting on the back of the rocker. He also liked to sit on the arm, and we would rock away... it was hang out time. I couldn't really touch him much given the collar, and the condition of his skin, other than on his head. He allowed me to give him injections without having to towel him. Fortunately, the need for that began after we had formed our communication.

No doubt - he was a special bird, and he took quickly to my inept style and use of my 'instincts'. I feel he must have cut me a lot of slack as I worked hard to not force myself or intrude on him. I can only guess that he allowed me to give him the injections because he knew it was necessary. I could gently place my hand on his back, and give him the shot into his breast muscle, place some betadine on his exposed skin, and we got that over as quick as possible.

Beach time was a great hang out time; he would sit on the back of my beach chair. We walked back and forth with him on my shoulder. Again - me having zero experience - I had no idea that the common recommendation is to never have an amazon on your shoulder. They're too unpredictable!
And there is a certain bit of truth to that and due caution is indicated. Birdie and I didn't know that at the time. It was a natural part of the evolution of our relationship. He loved riding on my shoulder.

For countless hours we hung out at the beach, or went for car rides - him on my shoulder or a play gym that sat on the passenger seat. He rode to New Port Richey sitting on that playgym. I received a lot of intrigued looks and questions when I stopped to fill up the car on the way!


I think in another post I will tell you about Birdie's avian vet - she was special as you can imagine, and she had a resident in-office helper! A monkey named Daisy! But I will save that...

(Gosh - it is like a soap opera - a cliff hanger!)

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1 comment:

Shirley Morgan said...

Thank you Robin! :-)

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