Hello Cockie! Whose a pretty bird?
September 15, 2011 10:21 AM   Subscribe

The cockatoos are talking, and they're borrowing our words. Wild cockatoos, native to Australia, have been heard to utter English phrases. Escaped or freed pet birds pass phrases to others as they move up the hierarchy of their flock, as explained in an 8 minute news clip (MP3 linked in the page) featuring an interview with Martyn Robinson at the Australian Museum.

Not quite as impressive as a chimpanzee learning sign language from his mother (previously), but it's a start.
posted by filthy light thief (79 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
More on this
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:28 AM on September 15, 2011

Once they learn how to properly eavesdrop they can start up a blackmail ring.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Previously: a project in spreading the word
posted by longsleeves at 10:38 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is a quaker parrot colony in Chicago, and I've often wondered what would happen if mine got loose among them and taught them his phrases; would, say in a year or so, a person walking through Hyde park hear "Here Kitty, Kitty!" from overhead?

Or perhaps a bunch of wolf whistles coming from the trees all around them? Or maybe (and this would be my favorite) a bunch of quakers doing their best effort attempts at the Mentos bird version of No Limit.

Because that would be way too cool.
posted by quin at 10:38 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is "Crikey! Ain't she a beaut!" one of those phrases? (I'll shut up now.)
posted by Philofacts at 10:39 AM on September 15, 2011

Youtube is full of videos of parrots lording their power of speech over dogs and cats, chuckling maliciously to themselves.
posted by The Whelk at 10:40 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Birds are awsome. I am always surprised at how quick they pick stuff up. I use to live with a woman who had an African Grey, that guy was the meanest bird ever but it would repeat phrases it heard me say once. I think it was mocking me. Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up ?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:42 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thousands of years ago there were parrots who ate parrot eggs. I don't think they're around now, for some reason.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up ?

I was about to say that it wasn't that fucked up, but the closest analogy I could come up with was if I ate a chimpanzee fetus.

I guess what I'm saying is that now I agree with you.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2011 [28 favorites]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up ?

My parents' Grey loves scrambled eggs. Little hard to feed it to him though because he likes to bite fingers.
posted by sbutler at 10:47 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up ?

I've fed my birds things like eggs, chicken and turkey. It seems messed up, but they really seem to like it, and I'm not above raising a few feathered monstrosities.
posted by quin at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

When those "The World Without People" specials were big, they addressed this, and I think the book "The World Without Us" also did -- and there was something strangely touching about the fact that even if something wiped out all us human beings tomorrow, that for the next century or so (don't forget, parrots can live up to the age of 70), there would still be creatures making human-speech noises long after we were gone.

(The sentiment is, of course, punctured by something the article points out-- that a lot of times the "speech" being repeated is obscenities. Which calls to mind a primordial jungle years after our extinction, the silence broken only by periodic cries of "FUCKING ASS-MUNCH!" or something.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2011 [39 favorites]

I'm suddenly reminded of the scene in Red Rackham's Treasure where Tintin, Captain Haddock, et al., make their way to the island where they believe Sir Archibald Haddock's treasure is buried. They encounter a colony of parrots that have passed Sir Archibald's salty language down from generation to generation, startling Captain Haddock with a dose of his own insults.
posted by LN at 10:56 AM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

I love this story, but it screams "urban legend" to me (albeit in the voice of a cockatoo).
posted by Wordwoman at 10:56 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

EmpressCallipygos -- in the audio interview, Robinson said that thought the phrases would degrade over time, as they have no meaning to the birds (unlike sign language with chimpanzees). Which would make it exactly like human language, but probably a bit faster.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:59 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, I figure it'd degrade, filthy, but it's still nifty that even in that short a window...

(And yeah, the birds don't really even know that they're "talking". They're just being mimics. I've heard of parrots picking up the sounds that their owners make when they're, er, climaxing, and repeating those noises later on in mixed company. The people are the only ones who attach significance to that, it's just noise as far as the bird's concerned.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:02 AM on September 15, 2011

The Radio station's website has the link labeled "WILD BIRDS TALKING" so just be aware they don't have any recordings of wild birds talking; the discussion is fascinating however.
posted by longsleeves at 11:05 AM on September 15, 2011

Many, many birds will eat the eggs of other birds.

This may shock some delicate sensibilities, but there are even birds that will eat another live, adult bird.
posted by DU at 11:11 AM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up ?

Yes, and chickens will eat other chickens. My friend had a chicken die of natural causes and when she retrieved the body it had been partially consumed by her feathered friends. Little velociraptors really...
posted by melissam at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

This seems really marvelous, but when you discover a body outside your door and your cockatoo informs you it was the plumber and he'd come to fix the sink, you're going to know the path toward evil this might take.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up ?
I was about to say that it wasn't that fucked up, but the closest analogy I could come up with was if I ate a chimpanzee fetus.

I guess what I'm saying is that now I agree with you.

As long as there aren't any parrots who will try to eat all my chimpanzee fetuses, I'll be fine. And well fed!
posted by FatherDagon at 11:21 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]



posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:24 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is a quaker parrot colony in Chicago, and I've often wondered what would happen if mine got loose among them and taught them his phrases; would, say in a year or so, a person walking through Hyde park hear "Here Kitty, Kitty!" from overhead?

Your're not the first person who's thought about this. I never was able to get hold of one of the little fuckers, though.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2011

It has begun:

Rise of the Planet of the Cockatoos.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:38 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dammit HDY, I was about to post that. I'll just add this Lyrebird recording instead.
posted by N-stoff at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

the closest analogy I could come up with was if I ate a chimpanzee fetus.

No, no, silly, not a fetus, menses, MENSES! There is no blastula in a bird egg!

That said:

Metafilter: the closest analogy I could come up with was if I ate a chimpanzee fetus.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:53 AM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

This past season, after realizing her eggs weren't viable, the female raven ate her own eggs.

Corvids are endlessly smart birds, and not particulary sentimental as far as I've been able to tell. To be honest, I'd be more surprised by a raven or crow that didn't eat the handy source of protein once it was clear the eggs wouldn't hatch.

It may seem a bit mercenary, but that pragmatism is one of the things I've always liked about them.
posted by quin at 11:54 AM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Far more horrifying than parrots eating eggs: watching a parrot crack open and eat the marrow from a chicken leg bone.
posted by kinnakeet at 12:02 PM on September 15, 2011

Wild talking cockatoos would have been a nice addition to The Birds.

Hitchcock totally spaced that one.
posted by busillis at 12:03 PM on September 15, 2011

There is no blastula in a bird egg!

Sorry, should have said no blastula in an unfertilized bird egg. Obviously there would be in a fertilized egg.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2011

Everyday I'm schieffelin, schieffelin.
posted by DaddyNewt at 12:21 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

My Congo African Grey picks up stuff REALLY fast. Sometimes he'll piece together stuff that's hilarious.

Yesterday I was sitting next to him reading, and he was preening quietly so I told him he was being really good -- giving them attention when they're not screaming gives them the option of not screaming when they want attention, so I try to do this a lot.

His response? He said in a friendly tone, "You're a really good Nattie. Haha. I love you, bitch." My husband and I use obscenities as casual endearments.

Then sometimes he'll throw stuff together in Engrish-y ways that almost make sense. The other day we were moving, so I put Bongo (the African Grey) and our cockatiel in their travel cages so I could take their huge cages apart to stick in the truck. Bongo didn't like this, so he decided to lift up his water bowl, which lifts the food cup door, and throw it on the floor. Shocked, I said, "You douche!" Bongo yeowled, this hilarious gibberishy cat-like sound. My husband came in and asked what happened, and Bongo said, "Yes, that became water now." I want to put that on a shirt with like, a picture of an anthropocentrized flower or something.

Other times he'll say stuff that makes sense, logically and grammatically, that he's put together on his own, but it's just funny. The other day we were sitting in silence for a while, when Bongo suddenly let out this long sigh and said, "Well, I guess I *am* Bongo," not in a revelatory tone, but in the same grudging way someone takes responsibility, like when someone says, "I guess I *am* the adult here." I blinked at him and said, "Alright. How does that make you feel?" and he just gave a weary "hm" and started preening, like there was nothing to be done for it so we may as well move on with life.

On a less philosophical note, a few weeks ago we put the birds to bed, which basically means just putting them in their cages and covering them. Most nights, Bongo does not want to go to bed, but that night he REALLY didn't want to. He tried to scramble back out of the cage but wasn't fast enough. He then clung to the side as my husband wrapped the blanket around, and, adopting my husband's raging-at-Mortal-Kombat voice, yelled, "Nooooooooooooooooo!" We cracked up because we couldn't help it, which he did not seem to appreciate. He fell silent once the blanket was in place. Then we flicked the light switch off, and Bongo said simply, "Fuck."

Bongo is awesome. Parrots are awesome. When we lived in Texas, there was a breeder who said that her breeding parrots would speak some human to their chicks, like "good girl" and "here's some nummies" when feeding them. Bongo uses both when he talks to our cockatiel, which is positively creepy since they hate each other; he'll climb on Precious's cage to harass him, and say, "Come here Precious" and snicker, and when Precious starts squawking in outrage, he says, "Calm down, Precious," or (more rudely) "Shut up, Precious." What's especially amusing about this is we practically never said those things to Precious because Precious didn't scream as much as Bongo used to; we'd say "calm down, Bongo" instead, but he says Precious. He also tries to blame his own screaming on Precious if I'm out of the room: he will scream a lot, and if I eventually say anything back telling him to knock it off, he says "shut up Precious." And then screams again. (He doesn't scream much anymore after I started being more alert to enforcing and ignoring certain things.) Precious also does this horrible, scratchy barking sound in imitation of an alarm clock we had when he was a baby, and Bongo will start whistling La Cucaracha whenever Precious starts in on this because Precious LOVES La Cucaracha and will instantly start singing instead.

It is always interesting to me to see different ways Bongo figures out how to use sounds to change stuff around him. One of my favorite things he likes to do is sit on the back of my wooden office chair, and he will start banging his beak rhythmically on it, which is a normal bird thing, especially with male birds (Precious does it too). But if I start making percussive beat boxing noises, he will keep banging his beak AND make a clicking sound AND put his wings up and dance a bit. The rhythm is shaky but it's super cute. If he wants to get my attention, he knows I will do that with him for a while. He also likes to sing, "Boooooongo, Booooongo biiiiird," in it sometimes, just whatever notes he feels like.

But what's been REALLY great, is Bongo's about to turn six, so for the last year or so he's been transitioning to adulthood more fully. He seems to have gotten much smarter -- like, quicker to understand things -- and mellowed out over this time. The other week I was sick and lying in bed, really tired, but Bongo was freaking out wanting to see me so my husband brought him in the bedroom and left him on the chair I mentioned earlier. Bongo started gibbering and laughing and talking to me a bunch, which cheered me up, and I didn't want him to feel ignored so I kept up for twenty minutes or so. Finally, though, I was just too tired, but Bongo kept talking. I tried to think of a way to explain, not really knowing if anything would work, but not wanting to upset him. When we put the birds to bed at night, we say, "It's bedtime!" so that seemed like an option. Then he knows that "mommy" is me, plus he had started using it as an adjective -- he started saying "want mommy kiss" a year ago.

So I try, "It's mommy bedtime." To my surprise, he stops talking abruptly, then says, "Okay." And he stayed completely silent while I took a nap. When I woke up, he said in a bright British accent, "Hullo!"

Birds are the best.
posted by Nattie at 12:43 PM on September 15, 2011 [900 favorites]

This is kind of awesome, but also kind of extremely creepy.
posted by New England Cultist at 1:20 PM on September 15, 2011 [19 favorites]

Nattie, that's so fantastic.

It's also a great example of why I'll never have birds (well, that and we have cats), at least not the larger, smarter parrots. Those are too smart for me - our cats have me well-trained, to be sure, but I'm still just enough smarter to manipulate them back. For now.
posted by rtha at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nattie, that is fantastic.

Now I want to hear more about the intelligence of ravens as pets. My grandfather's family had raised one from a chick, but I don't remember how long it stayed with them, or if it ever imitated human speech.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:39 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up?

How is it any more fucked up than people eating pork or beef? In both cases the distinction is on the taxonomic Class level.
posted by aught at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Obligatory clip of David Attenborough and a lyre bird.

Ho-ly shit. The end of that, where it reproduces the loggers' axe and chainsaw noises, gave me chills.
posted by aught at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ravens are also scary-smart.

There's a dominant pair - we call then Edgar and Allan, of course, though I think they're a m/f pair - up on Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands. When the hawkwatch season starts (it runs August-December), they are guaranteed a group of humans who will be there every day, all day, dropping food. We don't feed them on purpose, mostly. One guy, Steve, learned that this was a bad idea when he discovered that the ravens had figured out which car was his - they'd spot it coming up the road, and then sit on the guard rail while he parked it, and then escort him up the trail to the top of the hill.
posted by rtha at 2:14 PM on September 15, 2011 [12 favorites]

filthy light word thief
posted by arcticwoman at 2:15 PM on September 15, 2011

primalux - yes, please, do come up when you can! And check your memail in a minute!
posted by rtha at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2011

Wild cockatoos, native to Australia, have been heard to utter English phrases. Escaped or freed pet birds pass phrases to others as they move up the hierarchy of their flock...

I forsee a Wikipedia entry on how Oh, shit! and What the fuck!? came to be first and second among common cries of wild parrots in Australia.
posted by y2karl at 3:15 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

*looks up prices for African Greys*
posted by DU at 4:11 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

African greys are cool as shit but I would not want one as a pet. I lived with one for over a year and there was no end to how much trouble that bird caused, banging his cage, screaming (especially when I was on the phone, the phone was about 3 feet from his cage) throwing stuff, trying to bite me when I fed him peanuts. I really liked the bird, spent time talking to him, feeding him peanuts and scrambled eggs, giving him baths with a spray bottle but he always hated me. All in all I am sure he would have been better off in his natural habitat. I am sure there are plenty of birds that that love living with humans, but this guy clearly did not. He was clearly very intelligent and knew what was going on, the cockatiel on the other hand was dumb as a post spent most of his days masturbating which I guess is a pretty enviable life.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:35 PM on September 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I turn into such an idiot around parrots. I barely know anything about them, especially with communication (I speak dog, but not parrot), so any time I encounter a parrot we wind up miming each other, tilting our heads, making little whistles and clicks, I wave my hands around, parrot copies with its feet. This generally goes over well. I think. Unless I'm really confused and they're really trying to get close to me to eat my eyeballs, when I think they want petting. But they tend to settle for being itched behind the head, or chewing my sleeve, so that's all right.

A couple hundred years ago, I went off with the then-boyfriend to meet his parents, who had an odd collection of pets including an African Grey parrot named Cujo. Cujo lived in a gigantic metal cage that looked like it was made of spare burglar bars. Cujo was big - I'd never met an African Grey before. And it was named Cujo so I was not particularly interested in getting all that close to this enormous bird with a giant sharp beak.

So I did what I do around parrots, and Cujo did parrots do around me. We stared at each other sideways, we leaned, we whistled, we clicked, and when I moved my hands Cujo moved its feet.

Then Cujo settled back on its perch, and cacked up the cracker that ExBoyfriend's Mom had given it to calm it down in my presence. It tilted itself forward and mouthed the gooey cracker-mess at me and pinned me with one little gimlet eye in a way I'm sure it thought was appealing.

I went for help because I had no idea what that meant. Was this the parrot version of poo-flinging? Was the bird sick? "I, uh. Um. Cujo just threw up. At me. Is he okay?"

ExBoyfriend's Mom was ecstatic. She hugged me, then yelled across the house, "CUJO REGURGITATED FOR CMYK!" Everyone was very happy about this, because parrots only try to feed you if they like you, and Cujo didn't like anybody. It took some doing before I got someone to calm down enough to tell me why this was a good thing.

I like parrots, but I'm not sure that I could live with an animal that wants to feed me its vomit.
posted by cmyk at 5:19 PM on September 15, 2011 [55 favorites]

Also, parrots will eat chicken eggs, isn't that fucked up?

Chickens will happily eat scraps of chicken meat, too. They have no standards; they are just as happy to eat their friend as they are to eat some bugs or store-bought chicken food. They are crazy nasty creatures, but dang they taste good and omelets are the food of the gods.

Parrots creep me out because they are too smart; I'm more used to totally dumb farm animals or semi-dumb dogs and cats. An animal that can (almost) have a conversation with me complicates my place in the food chain.
posted by Forktine at 5:49 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is "Crikey! Ain't she a beaut!" one of those phrases? (I'll shut up now.)

posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:56 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wait, this is when we post the obligatory link to the other footage of Attenborough with the lyrebird, right?
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:01 PM on September 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

I first visited one of my grandmothers when I was three years old. Big country, remote area, long journey on bad roads, etc. It was a huge and riotous occasion. The whole family had got together, and we're not a small mob. Folk had come down from all over New South Wales and Victoria, with some of us traveling from as far away as Western Australia, far North Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Day after we arrive, we're all packed into Nan's tiny kitchen, mugs of tea in hand, kids scrabbling for the cream biscuits, all trying to cope with the smell of boiling mutton flaps and cabbage (well.. lettuce.. she never quite got that it wasn't just some new fangled variety of green cabbage).

Ross, my Nan's consort, leans over to my father, and says "Jock, you wanna be careful with them kids out in the back yard." My dad, who'd spent his teens in the yard, and knows it's usually safe as houses, looks at Ross and says "What's up mate, you poison the wood pile or something? Is the creek up?". Ross looks a little sheepish, and says "Nah, it's the cocky.."

Dad looks puzzled, the slowly spreading grin on Uncle Fergus' face transforms into full blown laughter, my Aunty Caitlin fulls off her chair in a fit of giggles, Ross's kids manage to just hold it together, and 17 younger kids all perk up at the news that their might be a dangerous/interesting/fascinating something out the back.

Dad asks Ross what's up with the cocky. Has it got ticks? Parrot fever? Has it taken to biting? "No, Jock," says Ross, "Some fool taught it to swear." Fergus joins Caitlin on the floor, laughing so hard he can barely breathe.

"Well a bit of swearing won't hurt em" says Dad, and we all troop out the back to stand around the cocky cage. It's a big old Sulfur Crested Cockatoo, and it looks friendly enough. Fergus walks up behind me, leans down, and says "Say hello, Ahab." So I poke my face up to the front of the cage, and say "Hello, Cocky!"

The cocky cocks it's head, then turns to face me, and screams "FUCKING CUNT!.. CUNT!".. FUCKING CUNT!".. "CUNT!"

My mother (who was considerably more proper than the rest of the family) slaps her hands over my ears, then immediately lets go, so she can grab my brother and me by the arms, and drag us back into the house. As we're being removed, we can see Fergus and Caitlin and Ross and my Dad, Ross's adult kids, sundry other members of the extended family, all the other kids, and even my Nan, hooting their heads off around the cocky cage..

Anyway, my apologies for the swearing. I learnt a new word that day. Someone sewed a cover for the cage that night. And we never got to see the cocky again.
posted by Ahab at 6:31 PM on September 15, 2011 [33 favorites]

Starlings are dire mimics, and the ones around here have picked up a lot of cell phone rings to add to their repertoires. One of them learned that if he made a fire engine siren sound, he could set every dog in the neighborhood barking. Another one mimicked the sounds of children playing at the nearby playground.

When I picture the "world without us," starlings are still singing, "do-do do do, do-do do do, do-do do do DOOOOOOO" for the next 500 years. That stupid frakking cell phone!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:52 PM on September 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

"Many, many birds will eat the eggs of other birds."

There's a murder of crows that counts my parent's 2 acres as part of its territory - they loooove eggs. If you put out a few eggs on top of the hill - ones that haven't yet gone bad, but probably not good eating for humans anymore - these crows will land, cunningly tap a small hole in the egg, and then cart the whole thing up to the top of a 150 foot black locust tree to eat at their leisure.
posted by HopperFan at 7:33 PM on September 15, 2011

Here is a fun game to play: If you spot a black bird, mimic their noises while staring at them head tilted. For whatever reason, staring directly will only scare them. Now as you repeat their calls, they will vary the sequence seeming to try to throw you off. Keep repeating the sequence back to the bird. Repeat the squawk as many times as they do. Keep this up for a few more minutes. The bird will continue to vary the sequence. This is to identify whether or not they are hallucinating or if, you, the human down below, really is being this strange. Stick with it. Eventually the black bird will make some weird noise it had picked up. A poorly emulated car engine start, or some stray human syllable. If you can make a decent impression of it then the bird will try another noise, or less creatively, make the same engine noise in a vague rhythm. Once you fail, however, it is extremely likely the bird will take flight and circle the neighborhood making this unemulatable noise. Now if any other black birds come by this game is usually dropped and you cannot get to the very end, but keep trying.

This game works better for crows and ravens than other crovid, but try it out!

It is like an easter egg for REALITY.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:03 PM on September 15, 2011 [164 favorites]

(I am pretty sure a similar game can be played with a pet bird. Then you can watch their eyes widen in fascination, just like when you start beatboxing to your parrot. Which, I imagine, is what everyone does with their pet bird? Isn't that why that art form was invented?)
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:06 PM on September 15, 2011

> A poorly emulated car engine start, or some stray human syllable. If you can make a decent impression of it then the bird will try another noise, or less creatively, make the same engine noise in a vague rhythm. Once you fail, however, it is extremely likely the bird will take flight and circle the neighborhood making this unemulatable noise.

This is either entirely awesome, or a scheme you have whipped up with the ravens to steal something from us.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:46 PM on September 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

An old friend of mine, Dan, is one of the coolest guys, his whole life he's been into birds and snakes, and owned both of those; one of his old snakes from when he was a kid got too big, it's now in the San Antonio zoo, he's got another story about his mother getting all mad when one of his rattlesnakes, a big one, too, it got out when Dan was at school. But -- birds -- he's all the years I've known him had hawks, and maybe falcons (maybe just hawks or falcons; I'm not birdy enough to know, he could give us chapter and verse), he understands them perfectly well, and they him, and he loves them and they him, and they REALLY love Barb, Dans wife, and no one can blame them -- Barb is a sweetie. (One of those birds will just spend all it's time crooning to her, it sits right there by her, got to be right around her, it's like it's in love with her, it's very cool to see.)

Somehow they ended up with a blue-jay with a broken wing; they took it in, nursed it back to health, and of course the jay fell for Barb, too, the whole scene was fun, another pet. And as the bird healed, it'd sit on top of a bookcase or entertainment center or whatever, and Danny would throw out a cricket and ZAM! that jay would hit hard and fast and the cricket was gone gone gone, they had lots of fun. And they didn't know what would happen when it was totally healed but that day did come, that jay flew into a tree in their front yard, looked at them, did a dead-perfect imitation of their telephone -- which it'd never done before -- then flew off. Dan thinks he might see the bird again, time to time, no telling.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:44 AM on September 16, 2011 [11 favorites]

My birds totally love the mimicing game - if I repeat the sounds they make back to them it totally makes their day. They definitely both learn things from each other. The first bird I had, Buzzard, already knew how to say hello when I got him, and the second, Benway, says it now too, though I never actually made a point of teaching him. They both know that saying it is a good way to get a response from me - sometimes when I sleep in late they are awake, but being quiet because their cages are still covered. If one of them hears me move, they'll say the cutest little polite "hello?" it sounds like they are asking "um, hello? are you dead over there? how much longer are you planning to sleep?" Benway isn't always so polite, though. he is sometimes fond of pleasuring himself on his food dish, and will actually speak english while doing so. " hello... goodboy... (pant pant) hello... (wolf whistle) goodboy" makes me wonder what the hell he thinks I'm doing when I say those words.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:17 AM on September 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

Is anyone here familiar with the "parrots born in March learn to speak better" concept?

I was recently eating at a seafood stand by the beach in Sinaloa where they had a pretty articulate parrot. Whenever someone complimented the owner would say "Es marzeƱo". No one believed that i had no idea what they were talking about.

Parrots born in March sell for twice as much as others.
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 11:58 AM on September 16, 2011

I'm not sure that I could live with an animal that wants to feed me its vomit.

You wouldn't believe how many women broke up with me using that exact excuse before I learned my lesson.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:11 PM on September 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Not to derail, but Ad hominem makes some good points about the difficulties as keeping parrots as pets. It took me some time to adjust, even after having birds all through childhood (budgies and a cockatiel). If you're thinking of getting a parrot, consider the following:

- You cannot have anything with teflon, because if it burns in the least your birds will drop dead in a minute flat. You think you're safe avoiding teflon cookware, but some ranges, irons, hair dryers, space heaters, microwaves, and even LAMPS have teflon surfaces. You have to be extremely careful buying those devices and freak out a little every time you first use them, even though you did your research; I've called manufacturers and half the time they can't even tell me for certain if the product has teflon.

- You have to be careful about what you feed them, because birds are very sensitive to chemicals and lots of foods are poisonous to them (avocado, rhubarb, etc). They can also fuck themselves up chewing on the wrong metals or woods.

- You don't know they're sick until they're REALLY sick; birds are prey animals so they hide symptoms until they're in pretty bad condition and just can't hide it anymore. What's worse, if a vet is not an avian vet, chances are they know fuck-all about birds, but many of them are not upfront about this. Before we had Bongo, we had an African Grey for literally ONE WEEK that died in large part because the vet we took him to had no idea what it was doing even though it said it was a "bird hospital."

This means you need a certified avian vet. In many parts of the country, good luck finding one. It's also going to be pricey. The annual check-up for both of our birds (total, not each) is almost $500. We spent thousands of dollars on our cockatiel, who cost $70, when he wasn't even a year old yet because he was having mysterious digestive issues. We actually had an avian vet by that point and I cannot believe she managed to keep Precious alive, but she did. It turned out Precious had swallowed a ton of fibers from his rope perch, but this was difficult to see from the x-ray; they had to keep giving him injections of Reglan to help move his digestive tract along.

Also, sick birds are difficult to deal with, especially if they are having trouble eating, because they have much higher metabolisms than mammals and desperately need warmth. Precious was sick for a couple months, and on the days he was in really bad condition, I couldn't sleep because he had to stay huddled against my neck and refused to go anywhere else. If I put him anywhere else, he would panic and start vomiting. Today Precious is a fearless motherfucker because he stomped death in the face, but man, if a dog or cat can't eat, it takes them a lot longer to be at death's door, and you can sleep next to them without a fraction of the fear of crushing them. (Sweet side note: if I get sad for any reason and lie down in bed and cry, Precious comes and huddles against my neck again. I don't know if he understands that I feel bad, or if he just remembers being a baby and huddling against my neck while I cried because I was worried about him.)

- They can be very LOUD. They vocalize -- i.e. scream their heads off -- usually twice a day, just because, but they'll also scream at other times and do "flock calls" that you're expected to respond to to confirm that you are alive and everyone is safe. African Greys in particular are generally more high-anxiety than say, a cockatoo, so sometimes Bongo will flock call every few seconds for hours. Most kinds of cockatoos, however, are a shitton louder. It's difficult to live in apartments with parrots unless they have good sound insulation. Bongo is pretty loud and somehow we never got complaints about him, but neighbors knew we had a bird apparently from sound alone. We finally moved into a house literally a week ago, but we constantly worried the birds were too loud and neighbors weren't saying anything.

What's worse, the natural reaction to this is just to get really irritated and yell at them. When you do that, you reinforce it. Nearly all creatures that make sounds do so to get some result from the world around them, and birds are in the same ballpark as humans to the extent they do this. If they're yelling because they're bored, and you yell back, AWESOME! Now everyone is socializing! Yelling is not a bad thing with birds. If they're yelling because they're anxious and you yell back, AWESOME! Either it makes them feel better so they do it more, or if you're scary when you yell it feeds their anxiety and they yell more. If you cover them instead of yelling, they just get pissed off and start yelling again when you uncover them, and it's inhumane to keep them covered all day.

So like I mentioned before, you have to learn not to react when they yell, and you have to consciously remember to give them attention when they're being good. This is a big task. But even then, even that may not be enough if there's some other reason for their yelling, like social-related anxiety (see below).

- They need to be let out of their cage daily for exercise and socializing. You have to set a good balance here because if you're lucky to have a great relationship with your bird, they may start totally demanding all your attention. For a long time I spent all day with Bongo because I was at home, but I had to taper it off until mostly the evenings because he wouldn't even let me type anything. Also, parrots can get possessive, which can make them cranky and bite-y; yes, he would actually get frustrated with me if I played with him for three hours and stopped, which would make him attack me. They are intelligent, but have the emotions of a toddler.

Letting them out of their cage means they can poop everywhere, and chew up anything wooden or cloth or even metal and wire, all of which could kill them. Pet bird poop is actually really easy to clean up and has no odor and does not stain, unless the bird is sick or you feed them some weird stuff. It's way, way easier than dog or cat poop. Birds also don't pee; the white part of bird poop is solid urea. There isn't any real liquid in bird poop unless you feed them a lot of liquidy things, or they're sick, or haven't eaten in a while. We put office mats down anywhere they like to spend time, and we position stuff so that they can't reach say, the window blinds or window sill to chew on them, we don't let them near electrical wires, we try (with only some success) to make Bongo quit chewing the edge of the couch wtf aaaargggh, etc. The reason I have a wooden office chair is because Bongo would chew a cloth one to shreds and it wouldn't be as easy to clean if he pooped on it.

Bongo has, over time, learned that we get annoyed if he poops *on* us, or on the bed or something, so he will actually fly to the nearest office mat or trash can and poop there, then fly back. The first couple times he did this, we were amazed and praised him, so he still does it.

Also, the first poop a bird takes in the morning is the hugest, grossest thing ever and a total exception to the usual easy-to-clean-up rule. You have to be ready for it, and at our house, it ONLY happens on an office mat or in a trash can. For some reason, Bongo is prissy and won't poop in his cage, so if we've been out of the house for a while, we have to go through the same procedure even if we let him out in the evening or afternoon. Weird/funny thing, though: like I said, we just moved so for two days I didn't have the office mat in place or a trash can nearby when I uncovered the birds in the morning. I paused uncertainly, then said, "Uh, you're going to have to poop in your cage this morning, Bongo," and two seconds later, BAM, he did it. Then I let him out. He hadn't pooped in his cage in like, two years. Having a smart animal rules.

- You have to think like a parrot in terms of flock hierarchy, which is REALLY weird as a human because we just don't do that. If you don't, though, you will get all sorts of behavior problems. I thought we had everything sorted because my husband was the clear flock leader and Bongo would not disobey him, but it turned out that Bongo considered me and Bongo to be on equal footing. How did I find this out? When my husband leaves for work travel, Bongo attacks me even though I'm his favorite person and he regurgitates for me daily otherwise. This is COMPLETELY NORMAL bird behavior, unfortunately; when there is not a flock leader anymore, they freak out and start attacking each other to settle who the new one is. They cannot feel safe without a flock leader.

And Bongo, being a smart bird, would do some REALLY duplicitous, dickish stuff to score a hit on me. He would put his head down for petting, then bite the shit out of me, or he'd say he wants kisses or "I love you" and bite the shit out of me, etc. In those situations, you have to have an iron grip on your reactions because if you yelp or anything else dramatic, they know it works and they keep doing it. It also honestly hurts your feelings when a normally loving bird does that sort of thing, but knowing their natural behavior helps take it less personally.

So when my husband leaves town, I actually have to approach Bongo and let him get all bitey and stupid; it needs to be done and over with ASAP or they'll undergo a lot of stress where they feel like there's no leader and thus no security. And when he does get all bitey and stupid, I have to not react to the biting at all -- and he bites HARD, I mean he can crack pecans with his beak, soooo. I have a scar on my thumb from where he sawed through my skin during one of these dominance-establishment sessions. And I absolutely hate doing this, but what you have to do to establish dominance is glare at them like they're the lowest piece of shit you've ever seen -- because they read emotions very well -- and say something in a very icily calm voice.

And then you have to trick them into obeying you until it sinks in that they can't win. The way I learned to do this, and it works, is to flourish my one hand to distract them and then say "Step up" as I press my other hand to them. Normally, Bongo is so well-trained that he will instantly step up, but when my husband is gone he stops doing it because he's fighting to be flock leader. Instead, he will bite the crap out of my hand. When I distract him, he reflexively steps up -- and then he realizes, oh, fuck! So he bites my hand as hard as he can, but he's already demonstrated some submissiveness and he knows it.

What ensues is basically several minutes of my passing him from hand to hand, while he bites me hard enough to draw blood, and I glare and say things like, "You're scared of the vacuum cleaner. You freak out when anyone comes to the door. The flock leader has to vet who's cool and who isn't, can you do that, huh? No, that's right, you can't. You wouldn't know what to do if you were flock leader. Do you know how much it would hurt if I bit you? You'd die, dude. Do you know how to order your fancy organic food off the internet? Do you have a credit card? Can you read? We'd all starve if you were in charge." Because, I mean, I have to say something, may as well be topical. After this, he will become baffled and tired that he is biting me so hard and it's not doing anything, and frustrated that he keeps stepping up, and he will stop biting although he's still clearly angry.

I then put him in his cage, tell him to try it again if he thinks he can take me, and leave the room for a while. This may sound cruel, but that's seriously the only good solution: someone has to win the flock leader battle, and it can't be him because what that means in practice is that I can't let him out of the cage anymore, which would be far crueler, and it would also mean way worse behavioral problems -- which would mean having to give him away to a bird rescue. It's pretty traumatic for most birds to lose their entire flock like that, so this few minutes of putting him in his place is it. In the wild, every single bird in a flock except for the leader undergoes the same disappointment and frustration, so while it feels terrible to do it, it's something they get over very quickly. Single people who have a bird have it easiest, because they're the flock leader and that's that. When there's more than one adult, you really do have to establish that hey, there's a flock leader but the other adults are also higher in the hierarchy than the parrot is.

The first couple of times my husband went on work travel, Bongo would attack me and I'd just feel hurt and cry. I'd stop letting him out in the mornings, which (understandably) way pissed him off, and then he'd refuse to go back in his cage whenever I eventually did let him out, so I would have to throw a towel or a blanket over him, which is seriously messed up and horrible for him to go through; he screams like a monkey. That didn't help our relationship any, because he learned he couldn't trust that I wouldn't do stuff like that and I'm sure he didn't feel very respected.

Once I read more about their flock behavior and did the above tactics, Bongo fell into position under me after only two more trips with my husband gone. Now I can let him out and play with him for hours, and he never bites me or has a reason to because he knows I won't pull some shit where I use a towel to get him back in his cage. He knows now that he doesn't have to bite if he really doesn't want to go in his cage, he can just resist a bit and I will let him stay out longer if he's being good. Also important, he has much less anxiety when my husband isn't home than he used to have; I'm the de facto flock leader, so he isn't stressing and panting and freaking out all day. Even when my husband is home, my reassurances about whether someone or something is okay also mean a lot more to him since he instinctively feels I would know better than he would, which is huge too.

But it wasn't easy at all, and I literally have the scars to prove it. Having the pressure of a nutcracker slam down on a fingernail and not reacting is kind of a cool talent to have picked up, though.

He's not a crushed shell of a bird, either, which is something I had worried about; like yeah, he'll be obedient, but just because he doesn't have a choice, right? Turns out, no. Bongo still flies to both of us and snuggles with us and wants to spend time with us; most mornings when my husband lets him out, he will immediately fly into the bedroom to visit me whether I'm awake yet or not. And one thing my husband and I try to do is respect when he doesn't want to do things that aren't critical. So if we try to take him into another room, and he resists, and it doesn't really matter in that instance, we just tell him that's okay and leave. We come back in a minute and offer again, at which point he almost always goes because he just likes being near us. If we try to put him up and he's been really good and doesn't want to go just yet, we'll tell him he's been a good bird and we'll let him stay out longer. If it gets to be too late, we reassure him he's a good bird but he has to go to bed. Also, sometimes he doesn't want to step up because he thinks he's going to get put up when he's actually not, and I've learned that if I explain and take a few steps toward where I'm going and reach my hand back behind me, he'll step up then.

Also, another thing people don't realize that gets them bitten, is that they don't back off when a bird just applies gentle resistance, and so they force the bird to bite them. If I go to pet Bongo and he doesn't feel like it, he will grab my finger in his beak without causing pain, but firmly move it away from him. So I respect him when he does things like that and back off, and he knows that he doesn't have to cause me huge pain to get me to leave him alone. Also, people tend to jerk their hand away when they get bitten, or they hold their hand out nervously to pick the bird up because they're been bitten before, and all the bird learns is that they have to latch on really hard and securely when the hand is near them because it's always so unsteady. Then they learn that doing that gets them in trouble and they don't know what the hell you want from them, so they just bite you out of frustration. So that makes it really important to just take the bite, full-on, without reacting, if you think it might happen.

Also, we're really careful not to be overly mean if he bites because he's trying to catch his balance, so he doesn't get the impression we're unfair or at least doesn't feel confused about why he was scolded; you don't want your bird to feel that your punishments are unpredictable because then they feel nervous and off-kilter and have behavioral problems. One thing Bongo loves to do is hang on to my hands and flip upside down and have me kiss his forehead over and over. He will do this until he's exhausted, at which point his feet can't grip as well, so when he pulls himself up with his beak it can start really hurting. I sorta make a pained sound through my teeth and help him up, and I explain very clearly with only slight scolding that he can't bite, it hurts too much. If he tries to flip again, I shake my head and say, "No, no biting. But you're a good bird, I love you," and he gets the point and rests. (I also have to do something similar where he regurgitates for me, where I say, "I love you too sweetie, but you keep your food, okay?")

We also don't punish him harshly if he bites because he was startled or we approached him from behind the back of his head, which is a blind spot in prey animals. When birds get startled, they smack the nearest flock member to them so everyone can get the fuck away. Most people don't know this or don't think about it at all, and sort of indiscriminately punish their birds for stuff it would never occur to the bird not to do, which just confuses them instead of making them realize they shouldn't bite. If they were startled and bite you, they were trying to do you a favor!

This means if Bongo is on the back of my chair and there's a loud noise, he might bite my shoulder really hard before taking off -- or worse, if he's zoned out and I turn around, he might bite my nose really hard. You have to be very careful about those things. I don't think you can train that out of them entirely since it's such a basic reflex. When Bongo does it, I go, "Hey, hey, calm down -- no biting!" but not very meanly. I do see him catch himself now sometimes when I turn around too fast; he rears back to bite and his pupils dilate and contract really fast -- called "pinpointing" which they do when they're figuring out something new -- but then his crazy eyes clear just before he would normally bite. Sometimes, like a few minutes ago, he will chuckle which is sorta funny since it seems like, "haha, whoooa, I was about to bite your face off there!" But if I were meaner about it, he'd probably just be frustrated and confused and not figure out to try to stop himself at all. I also try to say something and turn around more slowly now.

In the end, since we don't over-use our authority, we don't get bitten almost ever, and when we do, it's usually not the sawing, nutcracking bite. There are rare days when Bongo's been out for like, 16 hours and just refuses to go back to his cage at night and bites pretty hard -- he usually doesn't want to go, but won't bite or anything -- but there's always going to be times you have to force them to do something they really don't want to do, just like with kids. Most of the time we compromise and give him something to play with in his cage, plus stopping and being really nice almost always helps a lot: "Heeey, it's okay, you're a good bird, but even good birds have to go sleep. We love you and we'll see you tomorrow and you'll get to play a lot, okay?" Just being really sweet to him has stopped him in mid-tantrum sometimes. I also figured out the other night that he hears us staying up a lot of the time, so if I tell him it's also mommy bedtime and daddy bedtime, he goes willingly into his cage; I think maybe he realizes there wouldn't be anything for him to do if we're asleep too, or maybe he gets irked because he thinks it's not fair we can stay up when he isn't. I dunno, but it worked.

- Parrots make it difficult to take vacations. Unless you have a friend that owns parrots, they are not going to be prepared to simply look after it for you because of the issues above. You could leave them at home and have someone come feed them every day, but they still don't get the exercise they need or the socialization. The latter is mitigated somewhat if you have more than one bird. Some birds are crazy friendly, like a lot of cockatoos, and it's not as bad as with a skittish bird, but most parrots I've met are wary of new people.

That leaves boarding facilities, which cost money. Also, you want to make sure you put them somewhere that requires all the birds be checked for diseases prior to being admitted, because there are a handful of bird diseases that will kill every single bird in an aviary. We're lucky to live 45 minutes away from a really great boarding facility that's paired with one of the eight avian-only vets in the US, and they let the birds out one at a time for fifteen minutes each and they all get lots of socializing time. They have really good ventilation systems, require a recent proof of health tests, and separate the parrots into New World and Old World rooms to minimize disease transmission. It also costs us over $500 just to board Bongo and Precious for ten days, so that's on top of the $500 we have to pay for their annual check-up; that ends up being an extra $1k we have to spend before Christmas every year just to go visit our parents. This year my husband and I are actually staggering our visits to avoid the $500 boarding fee.

- Toys! Toys are expensive. Parrot toys are, by and large, toys that are meant to be destroyed. We spend over $50 a month on toys for Bongo to tear apart, and honestly I think we should be buying him more than we do. Precious is happy with a million mirrors, but Bongo knows mirrors are just his reflection and not other birds and is not so easily amused. (Precious seems to realize that something is off about mirrors, but he can't figure it out. He will walk behind them and come back out looking dazed, he will creep to the edge of them and back up and forward for an hour, trying to figure out where the bird goes. He has done this for years but never solved it, as far as I can tell. Precious is doing this right now at a playstand I set up for him in front of a full-length mirror, and Bongo has been watching him from the back of my office chair. A minute ago, Bongo broke his silence to say, "Fuckin' Precious," and laugh.)

Anyway, yes: parrots are not easy pets. Bongo has been super-rewarding, and he's hilarious and smart and I love him to death, and I even knew a lot about the downsides before I got him -- but I don't know if I would get another medium or bigger parrot. Also something to consider is that many varieties of kids, due to their high energy nature, can freak parrots out by getting all up in their face, or else rile them up into yelling along with the kids. Tons of people have both kids and parrots just fine, but they're not a good fit for every family. We don't have any kids and don't plan on having any, so this wasn't an issue for us. But I even have to tell my high energy friends to tone it down a bit around Bongo because it makes him so nervous.

posted by Nattie at 2:31 PM on September 16, 2011 [151 favorites]

My sister's Gray likes to do the *fart-and-chuckle* as you leave the room.
posted by wallabear at 2:40 PM on September 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You cannot have anything with teflon,

This is such a pain in the ass. People who don't have birds have no idea, because they never need to think about it, but when you are shopping for anything cookware related, you suddenly realize that nearly everything has some kind of non-stick added to it.

I glare and say things like, "You're scared of the vacuum cleaner. You freak out when anyone comes to the door. The flock leader has to vet who's cool and who isn't, can you do that, huh? No, that's right, you can't. You wouldn't know what to do if you were flock leader. Do you know how much it would hurt if I bit you? You'd die, dude. Do you know how to order your fancy organic food off the internet? Do you have a credit card? Can you read? We'd all starve if you were in charge."

I am so glad I'm not the only one who has conversations with my pets like this. Though in fairness, most of the time it's not to establish dominance, so much as to let my pets know what I really think of them. The word "stinkface" is often a popular addition here.
posted by quin at 2:47 PM on September 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

I have a fond memory of the moment I realized that many parrots are just natural smartasses. The pet store in a nearish mall when I was around 8 or so had a parrot with an allegedly large vocabulary, so like any kid who liked animals, I of course tried to get him talking. I spent probably five minutes with a whole lot of prompting "hello" at him, while he just kind of relaxedly eyed me and made random bird noises. Finally, I accepted defeat, probably because a parent came by to collect me from where I was entertaining myself, and turned away.

A few steps away from the pet storefront, the parrot SCREAMS "hello!" at my departing back.

I like to imagine it was smirking. I liked parrots even more after that.
posted by Drastic at 3:19 PM on September 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

This is such a pain in the ass. People who don't have birds have no idea, because they never need to think about it, but when you are shopping for anything cookware related, you suddenly realize that nearly everything has some kind of non-stick added to it.

Oh my god, yeah. I have literally never found a bread-maker that does not have teflon, so I make bread rarely and do it the long way. I'd love to make fresh bread on Saturdays when I carb-stuff myself, but not when I have to do it by hand. I can't have a griddle or a stovetop grill because they're all nonstick. I have wanted a deep-fryer for a long time, but for some reason it's near impossible to find one that does not have either a nonstick-interior, or some sort of non-stick something else. It's increasingly hard to find teflon-free cake/pie pans, cooking sheets, cupcake pans, etc, without ordering online.

I have an assortment of stainless steel, glass, ceramic, and silicone bakeware now, although I'm still wary of silicone since I've heard of these burning apart too. Mine work fine, but I haven't convinced myself to add anything new. I won't microwave plastic tupperware even when it's "microwave-safe" because it does degrade and I'm not risking it (plus it lasts longer if you don't, and I don't want any more weirdness in my food than already gets in it at cooler temperatures).

Oh, and I worried about our vacuum cleaner potentially having teflon in it... worried about the heating system in the house we just moved in to, hoping maybe we won't have to use it...

Drastic: Haha, parrots usually speak to get attention, so if you're giving them attention, they won't speak! As soon as you leave, BAM! Sometimes I will go say hi to Bongo for a bit, but he doesn't say much so I leave the room -- and then he calls, "Come here." Every time I introduce a new friend to Bongo, they stare at him in awe and say all sorts of things, and he mostly doesn't say anything (except sometimes he will instantly say "hello" back). To be fair, this is partly because he's nervous at first, too. And every time I say, "He won't speak unless he wants our attention, so we'll have to talk about something and don't look at him very much." Bongo also learns not to be afraid when he sees me having a normal conversation with someone.

Within a minute, he starts interjecting all sorts of things he's learned that you say while other people are talking: "mm-hm," "yeah" and "wow!" He also laughs, often at appropriate times -- pretty sure he's responding to people's expressions, like Bongo always laughs when I'm telling a joke because he knows *I* think I'm being funny and that I laugh soon after I act like that. The best thing is when I tell the worst, most unfunny joke ever, and Bongo is the ONLY one that laughs.

When my guests stop and look at him, surprised into silence, sometimes he'll launch into a few sentences of lively conversational gibber, I think because he's picked up that's how conversations go: one person talks, then stops and looks at the other, and the other talks. When our friends were helping us move, one that had never met Bongo went through this whole routine. My favorite conversational thing he says after a string of his-turn gibber is to laugh raucously, sigh happily, and say, "Aw, fuck," like he just heard the funniest anecdote in the world. He will also gibber in a very impassioned tone for minutes at a time if no one interrupts him, stalking back and forth on his perch like a dictator giving a speech.
posted by Nattie at 3:52 PM on September 16, 2011 [43 favorites]

Nattie, that is one of the best things I've read on the internet in ... forever. Seriously. Your birds need their own YouTube channel.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can't have a griddle or a stovetop grill because they're all nonstick.

Would cast-iron work? Most cast iron cookware comes "pre-seasoned" these days, and that's a little scary because who knows what chemicals they use to season them with, but you could get a vintage one on Ebay, and those'll be nothing but iron (and rust, but they're easy to clean!) All you need to re-season them is vegetable oil.

Your birds sound hilarious and wonderful... scary-smart, too! Thanks for posting.
posted by vorfeed at 11:46 AM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Two interesting things I have learned today: 1) I am in love with a parrot named Bongo; 2) I am nowhere near committed enough to own a parrot.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:10 PM on September 18, 2011 [20 favorites]

I only have this to say: I love birds, and birds are amazing, but I hated birds when one took up residence in my backyard when my children were still infants, and began a routine that involved imitating my kids' cries in the middle of the night, all summer long.

also car alarms, but those I can actually sleep through
posted by davejay at 1:53 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've bred falcons and I've kept parrots. Falcons are a lot easier.
posted by joannemullen at 12:07 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

It strikes me, stoneweaver, that doing that will put a whole lot of Teflon fumes in the air all at once -- which would actually make the situation worse insofar as "I don't want to submit my birds to poison gas" goes.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on September 21, 2011

Oh my god, cast iron griddle! Duh! I need to look for one, thank you. I do have a couple cast iron pans but had stopped using them because I got lazy about cleaning them (used the kosher salt with a paper towel method). I'd use a griddle infrequently enough that it wouldn't feel like a constant hassle to clean, though.

Hah, yeah, the cleaning cycle of an oven is another thing that kills parrots. I mean, even if they're not in the oven! They're dainty little creatures...
posted by Nattie at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I did make a YouTube video of Bongo a few weeks ago when he'd just learned his mewling sound. He also says "Hullo!" in a British accent in it, makes some really crazy "raaargghhhhh"-ing sounds, and then does this crazy noise right at the end.

My friends are always pestering me to make more videos of him, I've just been lazy. I'll try to keep it in mind. The only other one I have of him is over a year old. He's kind of funny in that one. At one point, you can see a bunch of half-chewed papers he'd flinged onto the floor; our office floor looks like that pretty much every day, and we have to pick it up after he goes to bed. In that video I tried snapping my fingers at him to keep him from eating my mousepad, which was pretty ineffectual and usually just made him want whatever I was telling him he couldn't have; it was after that that I figured out the whole flock dominance thing, and now he isn't so persistent. It's also been more effective to hand him something else to tear up -- we keep spare junk mail envelopes around for this purpose, or resort to plain white paper if that's all we have. We also keep some construction paper around. So yeah, just scolding him like I do in the video doesn't work at all, don't bother with it.

Oh, and yeah, in the last video he does fly off; our birds keep their flight feathers. In the end, it feels more humane to me and safer than not letting them have them, and it makes it easier for them to get exercise. It's true that they could potentially fly into things and hurt themselves, but in practice that almost never happens, and Bongo never hurt himself more than when he had clipped wings when we first got him; their instinct is still very much to fly if something startles them, and it's kind of a toss up whether they're safer or not in those situations if their flight feathers are clipped. We had to be patient when Bongo was learning to fly and watch him very closely, and he seriously sucked at it for a few years, but it was worth it. Thankfully Precious flew like a motherfucker and eventually Bongo picked it up, and he can fly around tons of corners and through partially closed doors. In the end, I would rather they be able to fly away from something potentially dangerous if necessary, because it's hard to predict some of the weird stuff they'll get into. At our old place, we put Bongo's blanket on the corner of the loft, and he managed to climb down it and hang off the side of the loft to a ten foot drop; if he hadn't been able to fly, that could have sucked, but as it was he just had fun with it so we let him do it. It's also nice when we're feeling lazy because he'll fly between us on his own, and it lets him do the whole thing where he flies somewhere he knows he can poop and then flies back.

Other than that, birds pretty much learn what they can and can't fly into. (Except my budgies never seemed to learn this; I suspect, all joking aside, that they were mentally disabled from all the inbreeding.) Our new place has a weird mirror *inside* the house where some addition was added on, and the other day Precious accidentally thunked into it because he didn't realize the top was closed but the bottom wasn't. Once I made sure he was okay (they *can* get seriously hurt or break their neck if they hit things wrong), I picked him up and took him to the window, and showed him I could move my hand through the bottom but then knocked on the top pane a bunch. Since then, he's only ever flown through the bottom. Just in my experience, they seem to careen into walls much worse when they try to fly but can't. I've seen Precious do some impressive stuff where he's just skirted the edge of a mirror and shot straight upward and away; he doesn't thunk into it, but he gets close enough that he leaves a big Precious-shaped oil print on the mirror, with all of his flight feathers visible. I'd leave those prints there for months because they were so cool.
posted by Nattie at 7:43 PM on September 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

I do have a couple cast iron pans but had stopped using them because I got lazy about cleaning them (used the kosher salt with a paper towel method). I'd use a griddle infrequently enough that it wouldn't feel like a constant hassle to clean, though.

These wok brushes are the easy way to clean a cast-iron pan. Wipe up any loose oil and debris, heat the pan slightly, and use the stiff bristles of the brush to scrape all the crap off the bottom and sides of the pan. You can follow up with the salt & paper towel method to clear anything you missed. I also do a quick re-seasoning (wipe the interior with peanut oil, then heat until it smokes off) at this point if the pan looks like it needs it, but it rarely does.

I think you may want to be careful about the re-seasoning process, though. This page suggests that the smoke from the oil won't hurt birds the way teflon does, but I'd use a fan and/or the stove hood to make sure.

he gets close enough that he leaves a big Precious-shaped oil print on the mirror, with all of his flight feathers visible. I'd leave those prints there for months because they were so cool.

Wow, neat. I've seen those prints from birds that smacked into windows, but it never occurred to me that they could leave them from a near-miss!
posted by vorfeed at 8:49 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might like the pictures I linked in an fpp I posted a couple of months ago.
posted by rtha at 9:19 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

It strikes me, stoneweaver, that doing that will put a whole lot of Teflon fumes in the air all at once

EmpressCallipygos, stoneweaver is describing unseasoning a cast-iron skillet. There's no teflon on those.

BTW, I wouldn't worry too much about "what kind of chemicals they use to preseason cast iron." It's cheap oil (probably something they can buy in uber-cheap barrels like canola), burned to a residue of mostly free-carbon.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:11 PM on September 26, 2011

Back in the early 90's my family's beloved macaw died in a tragic turkey-cooking accident on Thanksgiving. My mother had set our new oven to self-clean for the first time, burning off all remaining turkey grease and unknowingly activating the toxic Teflon. We smelled nothing and noticed nothing, until Flash (our macaw) fell from his cage and suffocated. It was a horrible. In later years, we owned an African grey named Zeus, who we eventually had to give up because of my mother's allergies. Zeus thrived at his new home. He lived with our friend Jerry, who at that time was ill, and Zeus bonded to him in an unprecedented way: mimicking him and spending his day at Jerry's bedside. Zeus still lives with Jerry's wife Lydia, but some day I expect to adopt him as well, as he's only in his 20's. I often wonder if he'll still burp like Jerry when the time comes.
posted by dziga at 3:04 PM on September 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Drunken parrot season begins in Darwin
posted by homunculus at 3:29 PM on September 27, 2011

« Older a shitstorm of unicorns, babies, puppy dogs, and...   |   The Atlantic Cities Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments