Monday, March 29, 2010

What is Tame?

Lately I have received a number of questions and concerns as to how one can be assured that their new bird will be 'tame'.

First, it is critical to define and explore the expectations involved when someone uses the word 'tame'. Is the person inquiring about a relationship with the bird, or is it possible that behind the questions lurk some or many of the following contentions:

1) It is possible for a bird to arrive in our home in a state of near or complete tameness to us, although we do not have a relationship with the bird.

In other words, is tameness an 'event', or is it borne from a relationship over time?

2) A baby that is hand-fed by humans is the best (or in some folks' opinion, the only) method of assuring a tame bird.

If this is true, then all re-homed and rescued birds are certainly behind the 8-ball when it comes to finding good homes! Even if it were true (and there are many who are the companion of rescued and re-homed birds that would contend otherwise), we would also need to ask ourselves if we could provide a healthy, loving home to a bird that would never necessarily (or quickly) meet our personal definition of tameness.

In reality, we have many relationships with animals that do not meet the tameness expectations that many place on birds. For example, a cat that will be occasionally loving, but more often than not conduct itself as if it is doing the human a favor by allowing it to exist within the cat's space. Or fish that come to the glass, interact and respond with humans although there is never any hands-on interaction and they certainly wouldn't respond well to being petted or given a 'step up' command.

3) A bird that is handled by humans as a baby will remain 'tame' to all humans, in all circumstances, forever.

All animals and humans go through numerous stages of change and growth. This contention, again, would place the focus on tameness being an event and a trained behavior as opposed to an experience within the context of a relationship.

4) A bird that will step up on command must be (or is) tame.

This is one of my favorites.... if stepping up on command, allowing a scritch or any other behavior is what someone uses as the definitive ruler to measure tameness, then what is the response when the bird prefers to nap or play rather than step up, or does not want a scritch one day? I know that most of my birds over the years may have gladly stepped up or spoken an extensive vocabulary until a stranger happened by. Then they became about as willing to step up as the stones in my rock garden!

Instead, there are many factors that combine to form the relationship between human and companion. Certainly, appropriate exposure to humans and hands early on can be an advantage. However, there are many examples of parent-raised baby birds that are on-par with their human-raised counterparts. And likewise, many human-raised baby birds that later turn out to be a disappointment to their companions who thought they would experience only perpetual and effortless sweetness and spice.

There are numerous physical and psychological benefits to allowing baby birds to be parent-raised, and plenty of folks who have experienced the wonderful relationship with their parent-raised chicks, despite not being 'handled' and hand fed.

Whether hand-fed, parent raised, re-homed or rescued, it is about relationship and expectations.
A bird does not magically appear on our doorstep tame. As is the case in a relationship with our human counterparts, it is a process as opposed to an event. Additionally, experiences and events may occur that cause deposits into the trust account between us and our bird, and likewise some that may cause withdrawals.

Additional reading:
Expectations for Interaction?
Is That Bird Tame?

Hey - - - I don't bite... pet my belly!!!!!!!!!!!!


1 comment:

Arlene said...

Robin let me tell you that I don't even know what tame means when it comes to birds. They are a "Buy As Is" deal for me. But I've learned how to work with my budgies and never over-expect.
The main thing for me has always been "please just trust me". Then I can take it a step further and try to let them come to my finger. My patience is paying off in spades and now have two of the best budgies in town.
You're a big reason for that Robin and for that I thank you. :) Great post.

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