Whisper Sweet Nothings in My Ear…Emotional Intelligence and Our Exotic Birds
May 25, 2012 § 2 Comments
I was laying in bed this morning, the wee early morning hours, you know, when you are trying to wake up, but you still are in those twilight minutes still not quite awake, in that dreamy state wondering if you are in the real world, or off in some other alien world? And I heard one of the parrots I’m rehabbing off in the distance…going on and on and on…saying things I had never heard it say before, and it got me thinking, “Who did this bird live with in its past life?”, “What kind of life did this bird have?”, “How many caregivers has this bird been through?”, all of these questions running through my mind waking me up at the speed of the sound that was coming out of the parrot.
If you have a bird that’s older than a couple of years, if you have a bird that’s lived with anyone other than you, if you have a rescue bird, chances are your bird has a vocabulary tucked away deep inside its memory, and an emotional memory to go with it, that’s adding to the very behavior you are trying to understand and correct.
I began understanding some things about this bird while I lay there in bed listening to the very articulate sounds being vocalized through its beak. I began understanding that at one time it was loved very deeply and completely by someone. I mean I‘ve heard this bird utter full sentences before, but they were always relatively harsh and punishing sentences like, “Knock it off!” and “Stop it!” This led me to believe that its past owner didn’t treat it very well, or that at minimum there was someone or some other living creature in the house that either didn’t behave very nicely or the owner just wasn’t a very pleasant person to live with.
But this morning was different. The words flowing out the bird’s beak this morning were pleasant and loving, phrases of love that I had never heard before. Had this bird been with more than one caregiver in its life? Or was this bird just now telling me that it lived in a home where there were two people in the same house? Or, even, did the caregiver have two sides to their personality?
Who knows? No one will ever know. But one thing is for sure, at some point in time there was someone that did absolutely love this bird. I heard the words, “Give me a kiss. Kiss, kiss. Give me kiss. Don’t bite. Give me a kiss.” Repeated over and over for about fifteen minutes, this bird was obviously having real time flashbacks of its previous caregiver.
And all of this leads me to this, for all of us that have birds that have been rehomed once, twice or a number of times, we will never, ever know just what that bird has experienced, the good or the bad. That bird holds in its permanent memory bank all of the experiences, the happy times, the bad times, the close personal bonds, the traumatic events, of its deeply personal life. For any of us to think we can take a bird into our home and “make it all okay” in just a few, short months, we are only fooling ourselves.
Even if we think we can employ behavior modification and change years of molded behavior in just a few short months, we are probably lying to ourselves unless we get a really close bond established with the bird in question. And establishing that bond would mean that we are creating some kind of emotional link between us and the bird, a trust, a kinship. We can’t just look at behavior modification as a textbook, step-by-step approach in which we are proceeding to make analytical adjustments to a birds behavior and environments without taking into consideration the bird’s emotions, how they feel about what it is we are wanting them to do, or not do. Behind every action they must have an emotional reason for doing it, or not doing it, they must have an emotional connection with the behavior, not just an instinctual need that has to be fulfilled. Why else does this bird that I’m rehabbing prefer to sit on the side of the cage that is nearest to my desk where I sit and write all day long? Especially when its food bowl is on the other side of the cage? It only goes over to the food bowl when its hungry and has the need to feed its hunger and then it immediately returns to the side of the cage that nearest to me. This was not the case when the bird first moved in with me. This is an emotional bond that grew as time has passed. This bird seeks closeness, a connection with me that it does not get from sitting on the opposite side of the cage.
Yes, these exotic birds are emotional creatures and we must begin to interact with them in this manner. We must begin to realize that they cannot be exchanged numerous times between homes, from countless caregivers and be expected to thrive without any emotional damage. We get ourselves preoccupied on behavior modification when the real truth of the matter is that these birds, that are extremely complex creatures, have deep-seated emotions. If we don’t think they do, spend one hour with a Moluccan Cockatoo and tell me they don’t have emotions. They need not only behavior modification, they need a lot of love to go along with the behavior modification we are employing.
Maybe we don’t have “it” all “right” just yet. Maybe behavior modification isn’t the only key ingredient here when it comes to understanding our companion birds, maybe we need to be taking a closer look at “emotional intelligence” when it comes to these exotic companion birds.
What is “emotional intelligence”? It is defined by John D. Mayer of the University of New Hampshire, and “et al” as “an ability to recognize the meanings of emotion and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them. Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them” as stated in their article Emotional Intelligence Meets Traditional Standards for an Intelligence, Copyright 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. Obviously they were not studying “EQ” and how it pertains to parrots when they were writing their article, so I am really going out on my own limb here. Are exotic birds able to “manage their own emotions”? We can only guess at this point in time.
And I’m certainly not saying to throw out the book on behavior modification because there is a lot to be learned by our birds’ actions. But behavior modification only tells us a small portion about their overall intelligence, when adding their emotions to the mix could help complete the total picture.
But listening to this bird this morning sparked something inside of me that I had not thought about to any great degree before…their emotional intelligence. Now don’t get me wrong, I always interact with my birds on an emotional level because I’m a fairly emotional person. But I had not given much thought to their emotional imprint before.
We teach by repetitive action and by the reward system. But what would happen if we tapped into their emotions? This is something we have not yet learned to do. In fact, when breeding/mating season comes around, a highly instinctive and emotional time of season, we go out of our way to discourage it because it brings out some very unwelcomed behavior. Now I’m not saying we need to encourage this behavior, I’m only using this as an example of a type of behavior, a type of “emotional behavior” if you will, that our birds display.
So what if we begin taking notice of other times they display emotional behavior? Maybe this is difficult for many of us because we are not yet comfortable with our own emotions…
But I have noticed that this bird I am rehabbing laughs when I laugh. Is it actually laughing along with me? Or is it just copying me? I have also noticed that when emotions are not so light in my home, when things are tense, this bird takes up a corner in the back of its cage. Is it trying to tell me that it “feels” the tense vibrations in the air? When I have music on and I am singing along with the music and my heart feels light, this bird sings along with me. Does the bird feel light-hearted as well?
I honestly don’t think I have a “special” bird on my hands here, other than I believe that all birds are special in their own right. Take “Alex the African Grey” for example. He was diligently worked with and groomed. But honestly, he could have been any African Grey. No, I think just about any of our exotic companion parrots are able to feel these emotions and express them too.
The short point of my post is this, I’m going to begin interacting with my feathered companions on a deeper emotional level. I have always respected them, talked to them, caressed them and shown them my utmost love and respect with care and attention. But from here on out I’m going to attempt to connect with them on a deep emotional level as if they understand my emotions, not as though I understand them. I am not going to approach them as the all-knowing one, because the fact of the matter is, I don’t know what they have in their past, I don’t know what they remember, I don’t know what they have experienced, I just don’t know.
My personal opinion on all of this is this, until we begin to interact with our exotic companion birds on an emotional level we are missing out on a huge part of the relationship we could be experiencing with them. Many of us “poo poo” animal communicators, but I think it may be time we give them some credit. Maybe all they are really doing is tapping in to the emotions of the animals. And if that’s what is happening in animal communication, just tapping in to the emotions of animals, then all of us that aren’t doing that need to take a huge step back and ask ourselves why we are so uncomfortable with our own emotions that we are missing out on communicating with the very animals we say we would do anything to save…seriously, we need to get in touch with our emotions if it will make our birds’ lives better.
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Machelle Pacion / The BEST Bird Food / BirD-elicious! / Passion Tree House LLC © 2012 All Rights Reserved
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