During the 20 minutes I was interacting with Olive through the bars of his cage, there was another middle aged guy (now I’m middle-aged again, that’s been gone for kind of a while – parrots make me feel young). This guy had just been part of the educational workshop upstairs. He seemed very interested in Oliver and had lots of questions. He paid very little attention to the five or so other birds in the room, mostly just looking over my shoulder at Oliver. “That’s my bird!” I didn’t actually say the words, but they popped up so loud in my head that he might have heard them. The primal quality of my territorial reaction startled me.
Then Nicole came in with adoption information for him and me. “I don’t have the actual application form – you’ll have to print that out from the web site.” I heard him say, “If I get the application to you on Tuesday…” My mind started to race: “Bastard! He’s going to steal my bird out from under me. I’m going to print out and complete the application tonight and bring it back tomorrow. Never mind the one-hour round trip. No mind all my other plans that already added up to a full Sunday. Somebody will be here -somebody’s got to feed the birds.” Then he left.
I tried hard to be nonchalant, chatting with Nicole – I’m sure I didn’t pull it off. “So it sounds like he’s decided on a bird.” “Yeah.” “What, uhh, bird is it?” I was sure that Nicole was going to say, “Oliver – I’m sorry.” “Moses – he’s in a placement that isn’t working out. The woman needs to give him back. Fred and I went out last week to meet Moses and Fred is sure that’s the bird for him.”
Have you ever felt absolutely sure of something, something disturbing, and then suddenly found out that you had totally been making up a story – and a story that tormented you? It can be very disorienting. That’s what happened to me. It took me a few minutes to get it back together. What helped me do that was that I blurted out to Nicole exactly what had just happened, we together had a good laugh at human folly – then she told me an almost identical story about herself – and also picking out a bird! It was very freeing.
“Oliver is – that’s right, yes you are. You’re the very best bird.” I may have used these exact words today with Oliver, who clearly is the best bird in the whole world. I went to Phoenix Landing today intending to tell Nicole and Ann about my desire to foster Oliver. Here are some great things he did today.
After the two hour workshop on Parrot Behavior (“Why did my parrot do that?”) – which was really very good –
Nicole, Oliver’s caretaker and my host, said “I gotta take care of one thing, then I’ll be down. You could visit for a while with him still in his cage.” No way did I want to do anything else. In the 20 minutes that Oliver and I visited before Nicole came down, he did some cool things.
He ignited right away at the sight of me. He clearly remembered me and was excited to see me. He paced back and forth in front of me, looked intently at me, put his beak right up against the bars – trying to get to me, it seemed. (The Phoenix Landing staff keep warning us in these seminars not to project our feelings or reactions on these birds, not to assume we know what they are thinking/feeling or why they do something – to be a good little researcher and keep coming back to the behavior. But, staying humble around we don’t really know, there still is some value in speculating – if only to remember that there are always reasons for any problematic behaviors, and usually reasons that involve something we did.
He kept looking at me very intently.
He did a behavior that my friend Bob said was usually a sign of them being interested in you: fluffing up their feathers. He did that a lot.
It pretty obviously was stressful to him to not be able to get out of the cage when he wanted to come see me, but in his frustration he did a couple of interesting things. He only “screamed” (apparently a bird behavior technical term) twice – and for these reasons (I think):
The first time – after interacting with Oliver a lot for maybe five minutes – I had moved 20 feet away from the cage to have a conversation with another guy. “Hey, what are you doing over there? Come back over here by me!” (What do I know? But I think that’s how it went down.)
The second time, I was standing right in front of him – with my nose buried in a bird magazine article about eclectus parrots (him). “Hey dummy, what are you doing reading an article about me when you have the real thing standing right here!?” He wanted my complete attention – I think.
He spent a lot of time on my shoulder.
He engaged in some of the same flattering but problematic mating behaviors as at Visit 2. Problematic – to be interrupted or there can be very difficult consequences (see tomorrow’s post) – but still very definitely moving towards me.
So many people told me they wanted to hear how this visit went – and wanted photos! – so I am putting this post up sooner rather than later. There actually were some other more challenging aspects to my 4-hour visit to Phoenix Landing, but I’ll save them for tomorrow’s post.
Tomorrow – Saturday, December 15th – is only a day away! Tomorrow I go to my second two-hour workshop on parrots at Phoenix Landing Parrot Rescue! This in itself is exciting, but after the workshop I see Oliver for all of the third time in five weeks – and the first time lasted 3 minutes! (The second time was two hours.) Could it be possible that I love him already? I think that for me it was love at first sight. I don’t know what’s going on in that beady little mind of his.
Where did I learn that expression? Where did I learn to think of birds that way? “Birdbrain”: annoyingly shallow or stupid person”. Here’s one artist’s rendering:
I’ve got a lot of unlearning to do. Maybe that’s part of why Life brought the two of us together.
What if I were to learn to see birds as truly intelligent? What if I came to view them as in some real way our equal? What if I believed that the only real limits on Oliver’s intelligence are limits I dream up in my mind – or ways I’m too lazy to exercise and stretch his mind? What of there were no limits on our relationship: in our mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual challenge?
So what will happen tomorrow? Any of this? Will he even remember me?
I decided yesterday morning – “decided”? – no, it just became obvious to me that it was true…that I’m ready to “foster” Oliver. (With the Phoenix Landing sanctuary, fostering is always the first step towards adoption.) After five weeks of dithering around: “I don’t know why I’m not ready to foster, but I’m not – even though I know he’s the bird for me, and I’m his person.”
In a Facebook conversation on this topic, Linda McLean said “Go ahead, take your time – I think Oliver has already made up his mind.” Linda is pretty savvy about parrots – maybe he has.