Tag Archives: birds

Anthropomorphism – what it is and the concerns it carries

ricoIt’s a tongue twister but deserves the time it takes to pronounce it. What is it? It is defined as placing human characteristics on animals other than ourselves. This was a hot topic at a recent event I attended. It was also a very eye-opening topic, even for me.

Many people anthropomorphize, myself included. An example of anthropomorphizing would be saying “I need to get home and take care of my boy.” Obviously parrots are not our children. I have been known to make statements like this too. Another example was one I thought about earlier today. I give kisses to them on their beaks as a form of communication of my love to them. This is a common form of communication of our feelings from human to human. In the wild, I’m not sure how common, if at all, parrots touching beaks to one another is a form of affection. Regurgitating from one parrot to another is a sign of courtship and communication. Obviously this would not be the case from human to human. I’m laughing picturing this as I type. It’s a pretty bold visual but it does make a pretty big statement. My point is that different behaviors are very powerful forms of communication within a species.
Another common form of anthropomorphizing would be letting our birds sleep with us under blankets. This is how we as humans commonly sleep. You would not see this with a parrot in the wild. Here’s my point with the concern with anthropomorphizing; dark areas and enclosed spaces for a parrot in the wild usually represents a nesting area. There could be major confusion in the communication with the signals we are giving our parrots. We may think we are showing love and affection the way we would to our child but the way a parrot may see it is totally different. Often times allowing our companion parrots to practice nesting behaviors can lead to serious behavior issues such as plucking, lunging and biting, egg laying which can lead to egg binding, and staying at the bottom of the cage with their tails up in the air. Two total different lines of communication from human to parrot. Are we the ones sending mixed signals by assuming they think the way we do? We can assume and many times I see that assumption confused based on the bird’s body language. Sleeping with our parrots can be very dangerous and fatal to them due to suffocation and rolling over on them.
Do you see my concern here? Parrots are parrots and people are humans. From my perspective, we need to see the importance in the difference between the two because we think different and the different things we do could mean something completely different.
Do I anthropomorphize? Absolutely I do. I think that began with my first parrot when I gave him the name Rico. That in itself is placing a human characteristic on a parrot. Is it hurting my communication with him? Not at all. Not that I can see. Do parrots name each other? I don’t know. I have not studied it but I bet there are certain calls they give to each other that helps them identify one another. That could be a name but it is something unique to them. I just make sure my anthropomorphizing isn’t causing confusion and adding behavior issues or unknown medical concerns to the mix.
Let us know your thoughts on this often unclear topic.

The Concerns with Height Dominance

Our cages are tall and our play stations tower over our heads. We train our birds to fly down or want to come down to us by making sure there is always something of value to them to come down, even if it is just our attention.
Our cages are tall and our play stations tower over our heads. We train our birds to fly down or want to come down to us by making sure there is always something of value to them to come down, even if it is just our attention.

Many times people rely on using the label ‘height dominant’ for reasons why they cannot get their bird to come down from the tops of cages or other areas higher than their own head. From the years I have been working with behavior issues and training birds, I have seen birds not come down from over people’s head for sole reason of having no reason to want to do it. If you ask a bird to step up to put it in an area where the bird does not want to be, why would it continue to come to you?

We often cue (deliver signals) to our birds through the routines we do on a daily basis. For example, the bird has been in its cage all day. The person comes home from work and gets the bird out of its cage for its nightly ritual. Once the owner is done with dinner and done watching tv, they shut off the tv and ask their bird to step onto them from the top of their cage or play stand. This is a clear cue to the bird that it is likely going to be returned to its cage. If the bird does not want to be returned to its cage and it has learned in the past if it runs to the top of its cage and out of your reach, it doesn’t get put in the cage immediately, it has learned through previous instances to run out of your reach. We are still training whether we realize it or not. Just what are we training the bird to do? There is no height dominance here. What is here is a lack of reasons for the bird to want to come to you and/or go back to its cage.

My concern with using the label ‘height dominant’ is that it causes the owner to stop or refrain from training the bird to come down to you when asked because they think this is an ingrained behavior. This is a behavior that we can train the bird. Give certain reinforcers such as treats or attention to your bird when it steps up onto you from another area. If you do have to return it to its cage, make sure there is something of value given to the bird after it goes into its cage for your bird to want to continue to do this in the future.

Here at the center, our bird cages are nine feet tall. Most of the perches within the cage are over our heads and many of these perches we have to use a ladder to be able to reach up to the bird and ask it to step up. Our aviary is thirty feet tall with rafters for the birds to fly up to. We don’t have ladders this tall. When we need a bird to return to its cage, we make sure we have a reliable recall so the bird flies down to us when we call them.

Birds are prey animals and most find comfort and safety in height. We want them to feel comfortable and we provide that height to them. Through training and the trust we build with training, we also want them to continue to find comfort and safety in being with us.

Following is a video of an example of this training and trust built through training with Rocky, our moluccan cockatoo that came to us from a shelter. We love having this trusting relationship with him and through observation, he shows us that he seems to be enjoying it just as much as we do.