Above: ’Ello ’ello: good to see you are on the right side of the law, Artha!
Dot Schwarz relates some interesting anecdotes that highlight the intelligence of parrots, taken from her own and other people’s experiences with these fascinating birds.
PARROT owners know that parrots, ranging from the majestic hyacinth macaw down to the cute pet budgerigar, are intelligent, have extraordinary ways of manipulating their environment and can use human language in meaningful contexts. Wild parrots have complex social lives and elaborate rituals. When they come into captivity they keep many of their wild characteristics, but also learn to copy human language and behaviour.
There are probably more differences among parrot species than human races but, like us, they live in groups, are often monogamous and use language to communicate and play. Susan Friedman remarks that: “Each parrot is a study of one.” And the more time you get to spend with these amazing animals, the more resonant that axiom becomes.
Here are 10 anecdotes for you to determine if they are “true” or “false”.
1. At a training workshop in Florida, during one of the breaks a fellow student, a practising avian vet, told me that he’d gone into the hospital room and euthanised a parrot. The next morning, when he returned, another parrot said: “Not me.”
2. Seventeen years ago, I was sitting on the grass at home crying because my daughter had died a week ago. Artha perched next to me in the small flight we had then before the aviary was built. She asked, head tilted: “Will you be my friend?” Not a phrase I had ever consciously taught her, but one I used in conversation.
3. Paula Feldman is an English Literature professor in the USA. Coming home later one night, she asked her African grey who was in her cage: “How are you feeling?” Rachel replied: “Incarcerated.” A word she’d never been taught, but must have heard in Paula’s academic household.
4. Fifteen years ago, Betty, a Caledonian crow living in an Oxford research facility, was shown a straight piece of wire and a piece of meat in a glass tube. She bent the wire into a hook and retrieved the meat. Her mate did not master the trick. Caledonian crows in the wild use sticks to poke at termite nests, but they don’t come across straight lengths of wire.
5. Archie and Lena, wild-caught orange-winged Amazons, had lived together for 20 years and then in separated cages for 12 years when their owners bequeathed them to the zoo. They came here as elderly birds and lived in an aviary. Lena was flightless – a wing had been pinioned. When I fed them using two bowls, Archie would stand guard over Lena and not eat from his own until she had finished.
6. Perdy, a lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo, lived with us for 10 years. She worshipped (not too strong a word) my husband, Wal, who demonstrated little affection for her. When she moved to live with the Spencer family, her love for Wal transferred to Natalie’s husband, Matthew. To Perdy’s apparent joy, it was reciprocated. She will not leave his side and won’t let anyone else approach him.
7. Casper, an African grey, was good friends with Mirt, a wild-caught rescue Timneh. They would play together in the aviary. Mirt injured a leg and was brought inside to a hospital cage filled with willow branches to prevent her gnawing on the wound. Casper spent most of the next three days on the open cage door like a hospital visitor. (Alongside parrots attacking one another, I have also seen them taking care of one another.)
8. Benni, my blue-and-gold macaw, has been free flying for nearly four years. When I want to call him down to come inside, he likes to swoop down to my shoulder, veer up at an angle and, as he whizzes past, call out cheerily: “Hello, Benni!”
9. Figaro, a Goffin’s cockatoo at Vienna University, has figured out how to whittle sticks to hook a cashew nut placed outside his cage and manoeuvre it inside. Some of his aviary companions have learned the trick, but not all of them. Goffin’s have never been observed using tools in the wild. This is an example of inventing a technique using cognitive skills.
10. My daughter Habie was taking a shower. Her dad called out: “Good morning.” She called back: “Dad, I’m in the shower.” Her dad repeated: “Good morning. How are you?” Habie, irritated, stuck her head round the shower curtains and found Artha staring at her with beady eyes.
So, are those stories true or false? You might be surprised to learn that all of them are true!
Dot Schwarz shares her life with 10 species of psittacines, four pet parrots and 20-plus rescues and rehomes.
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