Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Levels of Relationship Intimacy

After having Sammy the cockatiel and a myriad of parrots over the past 30 years, the arrival of budgie-boys has been an interesting and joyful learning experience. As I have related countless times, watching them brings me such immense pleasure they should charge me a millet entrance fee!

Once Bucky and Penske had finished quarantine and were ready to be introduced to Strider, I immediately noticed that there were different levels of intimacy in their relationships. And, I would expect this. Bucky and Penske already seemed quite bonded to one another. However, I did have one surprise coming to me.If someone had asked me, "what behavior is more intimate between birds, regurgitating or preening" I may have responded regurgitation. It is a behavior between mates tending to one another as the hen sits on the eggs, and as the couple feed the new hatchlings. One could make the case that this behavior would be more reflective of a bonded relationship than simply preening might be.

However, observation of the budgie-boys over these past few months since their introduction has shown otherwise.

Within a week they began regurgitating to one another. Of course, Bucky and Penske were already familiar with one another having gone through quarantine together. But regurgitation with Strider followed soon after they met.

After some time passed, Penske began accepted preening from Strider. It took a bit longer, but eventually Bucky accepted preening from Strider as well. It was a wonderful moment to see! However, no one was preening Strider. He always had pin feathers. I wondered if perhaps I simply hadn't witnessed it. But Bucky and Penske had beautiful pin-free heads while Strider did not. That is... until this past weekend. Strider has been in a heavy molt, is a total pin-head, and I caught Bucky extensively preening him!
So in my observations of these three, this leads me to believe that preening seems to be reflective of a deeper level of relationship and bonding between my three. This is interesting from the standpoint of how we interact with our birds, and perhaps the opposite of what we might have guessed.

When we see birds regurgitate toward us, I often hear people say something like, "my bird thinks of me as a mate." Since the three budgie-boys well know each other's genders, it would seem to me that the regurgitation between them has nothing to do with perceiving one another as a mate, and everything to do with friendship and perhaps even common courtesy.

Inasmuch as they know that they are not each other's "mates", I believe that when our birds regurgitate in our presence they also understand that we are not their mates. But this is a whole different discussion that I will abstain from delving into at this point. Perhaps food for thought in a future post (pardon the pun)!

If my observations of the budgie-boys hold any application to our companion relationships, it might help guide our approach in developing those relationships slowly over time. I shudder every time I read the advice given a new bird companion to "stick their hand in the cage" and leave it there for an extended period of time, not moving, and giving the bird a chance to learn that "the hand means it no harm". I've never quite understood this. If I am in a room alone with a spider, the fact that the spider doesn't move for an hour doesn't lead me to believe it means me no harm. I only believe it hasn't harmed me yet!!!

I wonder how I might feel if a motionless hand/arm came into my space.... See spider analogy above... use imagination!
If instead we began by offering food reinforcers and associating ourselves (and hands) with them, how much more quickly would the same bird progress in its relationship with the new companion?

For a bird unwilling to take a bite of millet even from a long stick, and most certainly unwilling to take food by hand, we can simply drop a treat in the bowl each time we walk by. If every time I walk past the cage I drop a treat in the bowl, it may not take much time before upon seeing me, the bird goes to the food bowl in anticipation of the treat! It is a place to start to develop that relationship and associate ourselves and hands with something that our particular bird finds reinforcing! It also gives the bird a chance to learn how to predict one aspect of my behavior.

A relationship builds over time, but in the process, there are some beautiful and rewarding moments!



louara said...

Great post Robin and so very true. I believe the biggest compliment a budgie can give a human is to give them some food and/or sit on their humans head. It is the ultimate sign of trust, don't you think?
My budgie loves to go on my head and play with my hair, I guess she is preening me! Sometimes she does a really great job too lol.
Food re-inforcers have always worked for me,if you offer a favorite food or treat everytime you see them , they become your biggest fan. Once the trust is established, the sky's the limit!

louara said...

ps-I don't trust spiders either and I never will.

Coco said...

Great post as usual Robin :) I always love hearing about the budgies!

I do have to say, interestingly, with my budgies the preening came first and then the regurgitation (although it all happened very fast, within five days or so). But the very first thing they did when I introduced them was preen-- Charles had a head full of pinnies and Theo went right to work!

Eriisu-chan said...

See... I always thought the preening was more intimate... My proof is the fact that some birds will gladly accept food, but not want you to touch them. I would also trust, lets say Coco, enough to give her food (since my hands are further away and I can 'read' the bird better), and I offer food to "stange birds" often enough... but I wouldn't be about to offer head scritches and preening to a bird I don't know.

Arlene said...

Great post. My two budgies don't preen each other. Ever. But the male Nicky will regurgitate and feed Rosie now and then.
Ahh true love. :)

Food reinforcers are the perfect means to a loving end I think.

Jim Stewart said...

I saw pretty much the same with Nino and Teo. I will add, as they got older preening each other seems more of a trust, close relationship issue than regurgitating. I think taking food, beak to beak, would be safer from their prespective than allowing a beak on your feathers and skin.

Good observation and post.

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