Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Night Night, Curtain!

After our usual evening routine of cleaning, special veggies, Beak Appetit, a bath for the budgies and fun interaction, I closed the bird room curtain at 6:30 pm. I then leave the room so that as the sun sets, the room naturally darkens. However, Coco began to scream.

This is not normal. I run down the list:

*She had food
*She had our usual routine
*Her curtain was closed.
*The music was turned off.

As far as I can see, there seems no 'explanation' for her to be screaming.

What to do... what to do...
What to think... what to think...

If I wanted to assign human emotions to her, I could think she was 'mad' at me for leaving. But we won't go there!

Since this was a deviation from her usual behavior, and after a few minutes it didn't stop, I went into the room to determine the issue. For sure, it seemed she was trying to get my attention!

Upon entering the bird room, I immediately realized *the issue*.
The problem was me. I had not, in fact, met all her needs. And by screaming, she was able to alert me that there was something I could do for her.

Before leaving the room, I had stood near the budgies, grabbed the curtain, and pulled it closed. I did so without looking back. Thus, I did not realize that I pulled a little harder than usual, and the curtain at the opposite end (Coco's side) was no longer covering the sliding glass door! In other words, the curtain was not actually 'closed'! Aha!

I fixed the curtain, and then she scurried over to my hand desiring to step up. I gave her a little scritch, and then she returned to her perch.

Now, this was more like it!

So, what did Coco learn?
She screamed, I closed the curtain.

The next time she would like the curtain closed, what might I expect to be her behavior?


Did I reinforce her screaming behavior?
(Yes) Behavior that is repeated has been reinforced.
I have reinforced this behavior on many previous occasions, and she will alert me if the curtain has not been closed, I forgot to turn off the radio, and more. She will also use this attention-getting method if she cannot find any food.

By entering the room in response to her scream (as opposed to 'ignoring' it), what do I accomplish?

Providing a method for her to communicate her desire to me. Unless I can teach her to ring a bell loud enough that I could hear it at the other end of the house, or teach her to use her beak to activate an auto-curtain closing system, a squawk every 30-45 seconds is a way she can get my attention. When it doesn't stop, it is my cue to enter and discover to what she is trying to alert me. Just as a baby cries to alert the parent of a messy diaper, when Coco alerts me after I have thought she was going to sleep, I know she is trying to draw my attention to a need. We do not insist on waiting for the baby to stop screaming before we change the diaper, or expect the baby to ask nicely. We understand that we may not always be able to determine the reason for the crying baby, but that they do not cry just to hear themselves cry. They are alerting to an unmet need.

What happened after I closed the curtain, gave her a scritch and left the room again?
I never heard another peep out of her!

What did I learn?

Close the curtain right the first time, and your dinner won't be interrupted!



Anonymous said...

That just shows how much birds rely on routine. Good post. :)

Jim Stewart said...

I like how you look at, talk about, screaming. I don't think dealing with screaming, and many other behaviors, is a black and white issue. I get a bug up my bottom when I see it stated as such. -- Ignore all screaming - reinforce a desired alternate behavior. Sounds like a 'paint by number' picture and I've yet to see one that worked with my parrots.


Mary H. said...

Awesome post. Our animals are so good at communicating with us, even if they can't use words!

I just finished the conversations chapter in Karen Pryor's latest book, Reaching the Animal Mind. It's full of examples similar to this.

Mary H.

Arlene said...

Boy oh boy you got a lot of nerve not closing her side of the curtain right. But I love how she said "thank you". She's a little doll. :)

It funny because when my little Rosie screams like that it usually means "come back here because I want another Cheerio".

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