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"Potty-potty"
"Glub Vue"
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Pancake

Is He Real?


"Potty-Potty"
by Steve of the Bird HotLine



Sunshine "Hello there. . . . I'm Sunshine, a 6½ year old Sun Conure, about 10 inches long (beak to tail). I was born in Phoenix, but my family came from the Amazon. Wow, I bet their wings got tired.

"I'm as cute as a button, smart as can be, know about 40 words (all in context), and I'm potty trained. I love to cuddle, have a great sense of humor, know there is a wrong way and a right way (my way) to do everything, and I'm exceedingly modest."



Actually, everything he said (except maybe the modest part), is true. Like being potty trained. When he has to go to the bathroom, he says, "Potty- potty," and if we're home, I have to take him over the bathroom sink. When we're out he goes in a Kleenex.

No kidding. At home it's the sink, out it's got to be the Kleenex. Okay, maybe not necessarily Kleenex—any tissue will do. (How to potty train your bird is explained at the bottom of page.)

While I'm working on the computer and he's sitting on my shoulder, he'll tell me, "Potty-potty." Since I'm right in the middle of something and don't want to get up, I grab a tissue, put him on my finger and say, "OK, potty-potty." He just looks at me and keeps repeating, "Potty-potty" until I give up and take him to the bathroom sink.

Since he has most of his flight feathers clipped and never tries to fly away from me anyhow, I take him with me on outings to do our banking or shopping around town. When I tell people he's potty trained they always act surpised (with a little disbelief mixed in). Then he says, "Potty-potty," I whip out the tissue, he waits until all is ready, and bombs away. Now the eyes get round and it's, "Honey, come over here! You won't believe what this bird just did."

I always praise him when he tells me and then goes potty, by giving him a kiss and telling him he's "such a good boy." So now, of course, he tells me after he goes, "Such a good boy." Actually, he's carried this whole business a little too far. There he is sitting on my shoulder after I go to the bathroom, telling me, "Such a good boy."

Birds in the wild have a relatively limited number of sounds. So they usually make the same sound, with different strengths and intensity, to mean different things. Well, Sunshine carries the concept to his vocabulary: the same word or phrase can mean something different by the way he uses it.

For instance, besides saying "such a good boy" when he's proud of himself, he also came up with his own meaning. He says "such a good boy" when he's through with whatever he's doing and doesn't want to do it any more. I can see the logic. After all, I said it to him when he was through going to the bathroom and now he's through doing something else.

He also uses the phrase when he's been bad and he's being punished. (Punishment for him is having to stay in his cage for ten to twenty minutes— depending upon how bad he's been.) "Such a good boy," you hear coming from the cage. As if to say, "I'll be good . . . so let me out of here."

Speaking of Sunshine's cage, he rarely goes potty in it, except in emergencies. As a matter of fact, he holds all night, and wants me to take him potty as soon as I get up in the morning. How he solves going potty when no one is home to take him is typical Sunshine. We have two other birds, both cockatiels, a male (Snuggles) and a female (Buttercup). Their cage is right next to his. So during the day he climbs into their cage and goes potty. He probably figures, Since they go potty in their cage, if they don't care why should I.

As I'm writing this, Sunshine is sitting on my wrist giggling (probably at my spelling and dangling participles). Oops, he just said those magic words, and if he's got to go, I've got to go. . . .

"Come on, Sunshine, give me a break. I want to get this finished, just go on the tissue."

"Potty-potty, potty-potty, potty-potty, potty-potty, POTTY-POTTY!"

"Okay, okay!"


More adventures of Sunshine coming every month.



******

Potty Training Your Bird

It's easier than you might think to potty train a parrot or cockatiel. Birds are basically very clean creatures and want to please. They don't want to dirty your clothes, they just need to know there is another and better way. The younger they are the better. (But do wait until they are out of the egg.) All birds make distinct movements before they decide to go. Some back up, some stretch, and others wiggle. Watching your little feathered friend go potty a few times will give you the clue.

When you see your bird start this activity, pick him or her up and say, "Go potty" (or any other phrase you like), and place your buddy over the sink, toilet, or tissue.

Be sure when you say, "Go potty" you say it in a warm, loving way. This isn't a command, rather a request. At first (especially if you run over and grab your bird or say it too strongly) nothing may happen. What's occurred is that you've done the opposite of scaring the (you know what) out of him; you've scared the (you know what) back into him.

Probably, about 50% of the time he or she will go, though, simply because nature called. When this happens, give your bird lots of praise and loving. Let him or her know you are proud and pleased. After your bird is fully comfortable with this step, go on to the next.

By now you should have a good idea how often your bird goes to bathroom. About a minute or two before you think your bird is ready for another bombing mission, put the little guy or gal on your finger, go to where you want him to go potty, and ask him or her to, "Go potty." If your timing is good, your bird will go right away, if not, wait and keep asking. And, of course, when the big event takes place, lots of praise and loving.

Once this stage becomes a regular occurrence, the rest is up to your bird. He or she will find some way to let you know it's potty time. Some may holler when they have to go, get antsy, or lightly peck at you. Other, exceptionally smart birds, tell you.

And that's it.

******



** Your Thoughts or Comments **


Bird HotLine Directory!


"Glub Vue"
by Steve of the Bird HotLine



Sunshine "Hello there. . . . I'm Sunshine, an 8 year old Sun Conure, about 10 inches long (beak to tail). I was born in Phoenix, but my family came from the Amazon. Wow, I bet their wings got tired.

"I'm as cute as a button, smart as can be, know about 40 words (all in context), and I'm potty trained. I love to cuddle, have a great sense of humor, know there is a wrong way and a right way (my way) to do everything, and I'm exceedingly modest."


Sunshine really does love to cuddle; he's a very loving bird.

"A bird is loving?"

Actually, Sunshine wanted to cuddle close and be held from the day I met him. I had just walked into the pet shop and there he was, only eleven weeks old. He was in an open enclosure with about fifteen Cockatiels, lying flat on his back letting all of them clean his feathers and play with him. I found out later that after closing he leads them all to one corner, and the Cockatiels all snuggle in close around him to sleep for the night.

I picked him up and he looked at me with big trusting eyes, then just squished down into my hand and gently sucked on my little finger. He had found a home. But wait a minute, we already had two Cockatiels; the last thing we needed was another bird. I put him back.

Now to find Sandy, maybe she wanted to see what I found. When I dragged her into the pet shop, there he was again in the middle of his cockatiel buddies looking as lovable as ever. He was performing his part perfectly.

"Oh look honey, what's that in the middle of those Cockatiels? Isn't he cute? See if he'll let you pick him up. He did! Wow, I think he loves you."

Sandy wasn't falling for any of it, but she too was taken by him. We decided to go back home and see if I still felt the same after a few days of some rational thinking. The next few days we asked ourselves the hard questions. Like would he get along with our Tiels? We both pictured him immersed beak to tail in Cockatiels and started to laugh. Finally I listed the pros and cons.


Great! More pros than cons! The next day we picked him up and brought him home and it became obvious that Sunshine had never been in a cage, and because he was used to being with other birds, he did not at all like the idea of being alone. He wanted to be with the Tiels (Buttercup and Snuggles) and cuddle with them, and, of course, they were keeping their distance.

So that first night he slept next to me on a throw pillow nestled inside one of my old shirts. I put my hand inside the shirt, and he cuddled up to it and slept contented all night. Every now and then he'd drowsily suck on my finger or lift his wing so that he could press his body into my hand. I don't know if I got any sleep, but I loved every minute of it.

Sadly, we solved the cage problem the next day. We attached a small stuffed animal to the inside of the cage and dangled a strip of fabric beside it. That night he cuddled up to it, and (I swear this is true) held the strip of fabric with one foot and sucked on it. He had a sleeping buddy and a night-night. He was content.

But he never forgot us sleeping together, and ever since then, he loves to climb into my shirt (with me in it) and go night-night (that's his words). Sometimes I'll lie down on the bed on my back and he'll slip into my shirt and we both take a nap. (I always put big heavy pillows on either side of me making it impossible for me to roll over. Remember that if you try napping with your bird.)

Ever since that first day, I've held him in my cupped hands, kissing his back and lovingly telling him, "Love you." Finally, one day about six months later while standing on my shoulder, he pushed himself in tight against my neck, fluffed up his feathers, and said something real deep and drawn out that sounded like, "Gluuuub Vuuuue."

Finally after a few days he got clearer, and it finally dawned on me what he was saying. "Glub vue!" He glubbed me! We glubbed each other. WOW! Ever since then, whenever he's feeling in a loving mood, or you treat him in a loving way, he'll tell you, "Glub vue."

As the months went by, he decided just telling you wasn't enough. He had to show you too. What could he do? Well, everybody pets me, he probably thought, so now sometimes when he says, "Glub vue," he also gently rubs his head slowly back and forth, nuzzling your face or neck. His idea of petting. Is this bird glubable or what?

He carries his loving feelings over to Buttercup too. He treats her like he's her big brother. And big brother is watching. If she gets into an argument with Snuggles, here comes big brother right between them. Then using his body (he never reacts if Snuggles snaps at him), he gently but forcefully moves Snuggles away.

It didn't take Buttercup long to realize that she had a protector. Whenever she wants to be left alone, she goes into Sunshine's cage. She climbs to the back, hides behind his toys, and falls asleep. Sunshine guards the entrance and nobody is getting in. Not with the Suninator or guard. Sometimes he'll climb up and sit on the other side of the perch and just watch her. Every now and then you'll hear quietly from inside the cage, "Glub vue."

If you have a bird (even a small bird like a canary), start thinking of him or her as a little person with wings. (I believe they call that an angel.) And the more ways you can think of to show your bird you love him or her, the more ways you will get it back. Sure it takes time and patience, but the rewards will surprise you.

*******

Having a loving bird begins with trust. Once your bird trusts you completely, then he or she will release all the love pent-up inside. The younger the bird the easier it is to build trust (there's been less opportunity to be treated meanly or thoughtlessly).

There really is no such thing as a mean bird, just a frightened bird. Flight and aggressiveness are the only defense a bird has. If his wings have been clipped, that leaves aggression. How he was treated before you met him has a lot to do with his behavior. Once a bird learns to fear humans it takes much longer to build trust. In either case, you begin by getting him used to your hands and your soft spoken voice. Feed him by hand while talking lovingly to him; put your hand as close to him as he's comfortable and leave it there for long periods, each time trying to move a little closer. Your goal is for him to eventually fall asleep on your knee, shoulder, hand, or whatever. If he'll fall asleep on you, he's showing he trusts you.

Once you've got his trust, then begin more aggressively to show him you love him: pet him, hold him, kiss him, and tell him. After that, take his lead. Birds have a deep desire to feel close to another being. Once you become that person, you'll learn what unconditional love is all about.

******




** Your Thoughts or Comments **


Bird HotLine Directory!


"Potty Potty Budacub"
by Steve of the Bird HotLine



Sunshine "Hello there. . . . I'm Sunshine, a 7 year old Sun Conure, about 10 inches long (beak to tail). I was born in Phoenix, but my family came from the Amazon. Wow, I bet their wings got tired.

"I'm as cute as a button, smart as can be, know about 40 words and phrases (all in context), and I'm potty trained. I love to cuddle, have a great sense of humor, know there is a wrong way and a right way (my way) to do everything, and I'm exceedingly modest."


Sunshine would really like to hear from you. He loves his fans. Just last weekend, while walking through a Sedona Art Fair, a woman came running up and asked, "Is that Sunshine?"

"He sure is."

She turned to her family, "It is Sunshine!" As the father and son came up to meet him, she told me that, "[Last month's article] 'Peekboo' was last night's bedtime story."

The young man seemed to want to ask something. Finally, his dad helped, "Could we take a picture of Sunshine?"

Usually Sunshine is squeamish around children (they can be unpredictable), but he was obviously comfortable with this little guy. A picture, Sunshine was going to do him one better. Out of my shirt he came and Dad snapped Sunshine sitting on his son's shoulder. From the size of the smile on his face, I knew Sunshine had made his new little buddy's day. What his little buddy didn't know was that his mom had made mine too. "A bedtime story." Now that felt good.

"So what does this have to do with, 'Potty, Potty, Buttercup?'"

Absolutely nothing, but thanks for getting me back on track.

Having a bird like Sunshine has shown us just how clever birds are. But there are still times when Sunshine even surprises us.

For years Sunshine has been telling us when he has to go potty. He says, "Potty, potty." That's about as clear as you can get. When he says it at home, he expects to be taken over the sink. When we are out, a tissue will do. He also knows everyone's name in the house, including our female cockatiel Buttercup. He calls her, "Budacub." Both Sunshine and Buttercup love taking baths in the sink, which, for Sunshine, makes the sink a multi-purpose fixture. If Buttercup had her way she'd get a bath every day, and to let us know she wants one, she flies to the sink and looks up at us. If Buttercup gets a bath, you can be sure Sunshine wants one too.

One day I walked into the bedroom with Sunshine on my shoulder. As I passed the slightly opened door of the bathroom I saw through the crack that Sandy was giving Buttercup a bath. I immediately backed away, hoping Sunshine hadn't seen what I saw—I wasn't in the mood to give him one.

Unlike Buttercup, Sunshine turns a bath into a project. Buttercup just sits in the water, moves around a little, and cleans herself. Sunshine hunkers down and flaps his closed wings as fast as he can. He sprays water all over himself until he is thoroughly drenched. That's okay with us, but in the process he soaks the entire bathroom. How one little bird in a small amount of water can cause so much havoc is beyond me. We move everything off the counter, cover the mirror, and put towels all around the sink, and still he gets water everywhere. With Buttercup it's a bath, with Sunshine it's a disaster.

I made a quick exit from the bedroom, already knowing it was too late. Sunshine was giving me a neck rub as he danced from one shoulder to the other, flapping his wings excitedly. He had definitely seen Buttercup and the dreaded bath.

I ignored him. "So, what shall we do big fella? Shall we look out the window at the birdies?" (That's one of his favorite pastimes.) He just got quiet, as if he was thinking over the whole thing. . . . I knew I was in trouble.

"Potty, potty!" he said.

Smart comeback. Since he had just gone a few minutes ago, I knew he didn't really have to go potty. He just wanted me to take him to the sink in our bathroom, where he could act pleasantly surprised that a bath was going on. But, since he has a brain smaller than a grape, and mine is the size of a cantaloupe (all right, a very small cantaloupe) I reasoned I could out smart him.

"Okay, you have to go potty, no problem." I took him to the guest bathroom. Human Vs Bird: one for the humans. I held him over the sink, and he didn't even try to go. He just glared up at me. He was not happy being outsmarted by the quick thinking cantaloupe.

He sat there for a moment; I guess planning his next move. Then that little munchkin grape said, "Potty, potty, Budacub."

I looked at him in amazement. He had taken two of his words and put them together to make his own phrase. And, what's more, a phrase that made his desires perfectly clear. He was telling me he wanted to go to the other sink where Buttercup was.

That leap in logic from the mind of that little grape was the bird kingdom equivalent of e=mc2. The magnitude of what I was up against hit me; I was dealing with my own little Einshine.

"Potty, potty, Budacub," he said again, just to make sure I got the message.

That did it. I took him to Buttercup, and gave him his well deserved, but dreaded, bath. Game, set, and match: Grape 1 - Cantaloupe 0.

******

Giving your bird a bath really is fun, and they love it. You can use the sink (for smaller birds) or any container that's big enough, as long as the sides are low enough so that they feel they can hop out of it easily. Be sure it's clean and you've rinsed it well so that there's no cleaning agent residue. As they bathe, they get water in their mouths. Use warm, not hot or cold, water and keep it at wading level.

Because they love baths, birds can find their way into any receptacle that holds water. Be sure to keep toilets and anything containing liquid covered (that also means fish tanks).

After their baths, they need to stay warm and away from drafts. You don't want them to catch a cold or worse a respiratory infection, which can be deadly. (Wet or dry, always look out for drafts.) Whether you want to let your bird dry himself or help him get dry depends on how wet your bird is, and how much you enjoy the drying process. We always dry them. It's the best part.

We wrap them in towels first, to get off as much dampness as we can, then we dry them with a hairdryer. They love it. Buttercup often falls asleep. The trick to getting your bird comfortable with the hairdryer is to let him be in the room with you when you are using it on yourself. When you turn it on for the first time, like any loud appliance, turn it on and off quickly two or three times. Once your bird is comfortable with the sound, leave it on.

Set your hairdryer to a medium speed and heat setting. Heat too high can burn them and the fast setting is usually too loud. Once your bird is comfortable with the hairdryer being on, every so often let the air blow over him. If he acts as if he doesn't like it at first, that's only because it's new. After a few times he'll begin to enjoy the warm air. Once he does, try drying him after a bath. Just keep your distance. Think of how strange the hairdryer looks from his perspective.

******




** Your Thoughts or Comments **


Bird HotLine Directory!


"Pancake"
by Steve of the Bird HotLine



Sunshine "Hello there. . . . I'm Sunshine, an 8 year old Sun Conure, about 10 inches long (beak to tail). I was born in Phoenix, but my family came from the Amazon. Wow, I bet their wings got tired. "I'm as cute as a button, smart as can be, know about 40 words and phrases (all in context), and I'm potty trained. I love to cuddle, have a great sense of humor, know there is a wrong way and a right way (my way) to do everything, and I'm exceedingly modest."


If you've read previous articles, you know Sunshine uses all his words in context. He says what he means when he means it. Of course, some of his words have their own special meaning to him—definitions that aren't necessarily in the dictionary. A good example is pancake.

When he was only four or five months old, we went through a phase of having pancakes almost every morning. Naturally Sunshine wanted his share too. I'd hand him a piece, as he stood on his perch in the living room, and say, "Pancake." He'd take it from me with his beak, grab it with his foot, and, holding it up to his mouth, nibble on it. It quickly became his favorite treat. After about a month, we began keeping a reserve pancake in the refrigerator for his morning treat whether we had any or not. Every morning it was get up, get dressed, and give Sunshine his pancake. "Here's your pancake."

I thought I was teaching him to associate the word pancake with pancakes—silly me. Sunshine, as usual, had his own idea. A couple of months later he began to say, "Akak." Soon akak became pakak, then pankak, and finally pancake. But not just "Pancake," he'd say it deep and demanding, "PANCAKE!"

One day while I was eating a sandwich, he looked over at me, "PANCAKE!" Dutifully, I got him a piece from the refrigerator. He jerked it out of my hands and tossed it. "PANCAKE!"

"Sunshine, I just gave you some and you threw it away." I picked up the piece and gave it back to him. Plop . . . it was back on the floor.

"PANCAKE!"

"If you want it, you go get it." I went back to my lunch.

"Pancake! . . . Pancake! . . . Pancake!"

Suddenly it dawned on me. . . . I gave him a bit of my sandwich. "Paanncaake," he said all soft and gooey, and munched away until it was gone.

"Pancake," he said again. I brought him his dish of raw almonds, raw cashews, raisins, and non sweetened granola cereal. "Pancake," he said choosing an almond. It didn't take long to determine pancake meant food to Sunshine. And it made sense. After all, I'd give him some every morning and say, pancake. Only, he heard, "Here's something to eat." Food.

From that point, whenever he's hungry, sees you eating something he wants to try, or goes to the Bank of America, he says, "Pancake."

"The Bank of America?"

No, he doesn't eat money. They always have a treat for him—a raisin, a piece of banana (one of his favorites), or a pretzel. It didn't take him long to get the message: Bank of America—"Pancake."

He's also a big hit at McDonalds, Jack In The Box, and other fast-food places. It all started on one of our trips. Usually we take Sunshine with us, and when we're on the road we throw all our good eating habits to the wind and get a fast-food breakfast. Sandy normally has pancakes and the first time we drove up to the talking menu and ordered pancakes, that got Sunshine's attention. When we drove up to the window and they gave us pancakes, that really got his attention.

I usually take him with me at least twice a week to run errands. So he's in and out of parking lots all the time. But from that first incident, whenever we pull into a fast-food lot (the drive-up window not even visible)—no other parking lot, mind you—he gets all excited and starts screaming, "PANCAKE!" How he knows the difference is beyond me.

He's so clear, we let him order himself. I'm not kidding. The voice says, "Can I help you?" and Sunshine screams, "PANCAKE!" The voice responds, "Something to drink?" And we fill in the rest of the order.

We pull up to the window with Sunshine on my shoulder (now that's a catchy phrase), and the attendant does a double take, "Oh, a bird."

"Yep, he's the one who ordered the pancakes."

"Pancake! . . . Pancake! . . . Pancake!"

"I thought it sounded different," says the attendant. Then hollers to the rest of the crew, "Come here, this bird say's pancake."

They all come over, he say's pancake a few times, they "ooh and ah," we get our order, and pull out. The next morning—miles away—the whole scenario repeats itself almost word for word. It's as if they all have the same script, just different faces in the window.

Didi . . . didi . . . didi . . . didi. . . . "You are now entering the twilight zone. . . ."

Sometimes, for a change of pace, we take him inside to eat. We walk up to the counter, he climbs out of my shirt, and up to my shoulder.

"May I help you?" He or she says eyeing Sunshine, not sure if a bird should be in there.

"PANCAKE!" Sunshine exclaims right on cue without any prompting.

"Did he say pancake?"

"He sure did. We'll have one side order of pancakes and one Egg McMuffin without the meat (for which they charge me the full price, and that really—oh, never mind).

"Look at this!" He or she announces to anyone close, "this bird—"

"His name's Sunshine."

"—just ordered his own pancakes."

Within a few seconds everyone in the place is gathered around and the original attendant is now taking full credit. "That's Sunshine and he orders pancakes. . . . Tell them Sunshine."

"PANCAKE, PANCAKE!" Even though he loves being the center of attention, Sunshine is getting tired of all this conversation. He wants his food.

The attendant beams, "See!"

We go sit at a table after being told they'll bring us our food. Now we all know they don't bring you your food at fast-food restaurants. Everyone knows that . . . except Sunshine. It's not unusual as far as he's concerned. They look for any excuse to see him again.

The whole group brings our tray and hangs around to see him eat his pancake. With a flourish, I open a napkin on my knee, Sunshine climbs down, and I hand him a piece of pancake. "Paanncaake." Probable thinking, Finally.

"Ooh . . . ah . . ." says the crowd.

He takes the piece of pancake out of his mouth, holds it with his foot, and begins to eat.

"Ooh . . . ah . . ." says the crowd.

Finally they notice the line waiting to order is growing impatient and go back to work. Sandy and I give each other a look, open our food, and, now that the crowd is gone, take the opportunity to eat.

"Paanncaake," Sunshine says all proud of himself and contented, nibbling away. The shows over.

Sometimes when we want to have a quiet meal to ourselves, we'll leave Sunshine in the motel room and sneak out to breakfast on our own. We go to a regular restaurant, and enjoy the peace and quiet—and feel guilty the whole time.

*****

Feeding Your Buddy

Every now and then I run into someone who thinks all you feed a bird is seeds. That's like saying you feed a human bread. Sure it's an important part of our diet, but it is only the beginning.

A bird who only gets seeds will not receive nearly the nutrition he or she needs for a long, healthy, active life. They need nuts, grains, fruit, and all kinds of vegetables, except avocado (which is deadly) and mushrooms (too much yeast).

They also need supplements. Every day I sprinkle a little soy protein, a small amount of bird vitamins (I like Prime), a tiny bit of crushed health-food store (for people) multi-minerals, and trace minerals over his and the cockatiels seeds and food dishes. I try to avoid giving Sunshine any lecithin as it is considered brain food. The last thing I need is for him to get any smarter. If he does, he'll be writing his own column, "Steve Under My Feet."

Most birds love potatoes, especially mashed with a touch of milk and a hint of butter. ("Sandy, why don't you make the birds some mashed potatoes. You know, just the way I like them.) Some other favorites are pizza (just the bread with a little soaked in sauce and cheese—no toppings), corn on the cob (or the kernels scraped off), and the all time favorite popcorn. And let us not forget cheddar cheese (just a little).

They don't need sugar or any other sweetener (including honey) or anything made with a sugar substitute or any prepackaged food. Sunshine has never had one of those sugar-fit honey seed trees they sell, and he hasn't missed it. Oh yes, chocolate is deadly too.

A good rule of thumb: if they advertise it on TV or it sounds so delicious or it comes in a box or worse yet sealed plastic or there is something you really love, don't feed it to your bird. Unless you really love vegies, fruit, grains, nuts, and supplements.

*****


"Is He Real?"
by Steve of the Bird HotLine




Sunshine "Hello there. . . . I'm Sunshine, an 8 year old Sun Conure, about 10 inches long (beak to tail). I was born in Phoenix, but my family came from the Amazon. Wow, I bet their wings got tired. "I'm as cute as a button, smart as can be, know about 40 words and phrases (all in context), and I'm potty trained. I love to cuddle, have a great sense of humor, know there is a wrong way and a right way (my way) to do everything, and I'm exceedingly modest."


"Is it true, does Sunshine really do those things you write about, or are you making them up?"

I can understand why I often hear that question. Here's a bird that tells me when he has to go potty, he says, "Potty-potty; tells us when he's hungry, tired, feeling loving, or thirsty just to name a few; and has abilities you'd be surprised to see from a three-year-old. Do I make these things up? Absolutely not. Sure I have fun with my phrasing, and look at everything as a sitcom, but when it comes to Sunshine, what I write is true.

If you've never had a parrot, or haven't been able to give him or her the time needed to bring out all the ability hidden inside, I can understand your skepticism. Maybe this will help: Dr. Pepperberg (an animal behavior research scientist) has devoted her career to working with parrots to learn just how intelligent they are, and to use the teaching skills she develops with birds to help impaired children learn easier. For the last twenty years she has been researching—mostly with Alex, an African Grey.

African Greys have taken the same intelligence test they give dolphins and chimps. The Greys score higher. Most other parrots are right up there too.

Alex is able to differentiate colors, sizes, shapes, and objects when asked, knows the concept of same and different, and he has an astounding vocabulary—not just words but whole sentences. (All this is documented—if you want to learn more, check out Dr. Pepperberg's web site

Dr. Pepperberg or her assistant place three keys (for example) on a tray and holds up one. "Alex, what is it?"

"Key," says Alex.

The key is put back on the tray. "Which one green." Alex touches the green one.

"Which one bigger?"

Alex touches the biggest one with his beak.

Alex can count to six and he is now learning to recognize letters and their sounds—the first step to teaching him to read. When he sees an O or R separately he says the letter, seen together he says or.

He was taught by example. Dr. Pepperberg and her assistant would play act in front of Alex. The assistant would be asked which one is bigger or round or how many corners, and if he or she got it right, would get a treat.

They now have two other Greys they are training, but instead of using a human assistant, Dr. Pepperberg uses Alex as her assistant to train the others. And when Alex is acting the part of teacher he rarely makes a mistake and never teases with wrong answers. The new Greys are learning much faster with Alex as one of the trainers.

So why does one bird reach his or her potential and others don't? I think it's in the three N's—nurturing, nutrition, and no limitations.

Parrots (depending upon their size) have the ability of a three- to six-year-old. Give a newborn all the loving he or she craves, the right nutrition so that the little one's body and brain can function at its best, and you are well on your way to helping create the best possible person. Add to that your willingness to let the child experiment and reach toward his or her highest abilities and you wind up with a creative, intelligent child. Well, it's the same with a bird.

Once you realize birds have that kind of potential, it's just a matter of giving them all they need to stretch their minds as far as they will go. Normally, though, this isn't what happens. Instead the bird is thought to be incapable of most everything so they aren't given the chance when they are young. Once they grow up, they (like us) accept what they think of as their limitations and stay well within them.

Sunshine has never had any limitations put on him. That doesn't mean he isn't disciplined when he's bad (punishment for him is having to stay in his cage for up to a half hour). What I mean is, he is given all the latitude available for him to grow. If he does something creative (even by accident), we praise him and try to help him repeat the act or idea, always giving him the opportunity to take what he's learned and add to it.

In a previous story I explained he learned the word pancake and took it to mean food. No problem, once we understood his meaning we went along: food for Sunshine is pancake; food for us became pancake. "Sunshine, want some pancake," I ask holding up a piece of my sandwich.

When he heard us order pancakes for breakfast at a drive-up window, he thought we were ordering food. When we got food, he was excited. Seeing this, the next time we ordered, and he was with us, we made a big deal out of it. He got the message. Now he began saying pancake when we drove up to the window. The fact that he was really saying food and we were coincidentally ordering pancakes made it seem to the attendant that he was ordering exactly what he wanted.

Sunshine does a number of tricks: one, for example, is to hang by his beak from my finger and do the twist as I twist. I didn't teach him any of his tricks; I just go along with his ideas and turn them into tricks. He decided to hang from my finger one day and, as he hung there, his body swayed a little, I swayed my body and pretty soon we were both twisting. When he does his trick in front of an audience, it delights them and they clap. He knows they are clapping for him and reacts by doing it even more. He loves the attention. The more attention and praise he gets the more he tries to do. No limitations.

In another article I talked about his sense of humor. It's true, he has one. He picked up my laugh and to our surprise began laughing on his own when he thought something was funny. No one else laughed, just him. And sure enough, when we checked to see what was so funny, it was funny and we laughed with him. He liked that.

Just a few days ago he and I were in the library. (No, he doesn't read.) A little girl came up and asked me if he talked. I said Yes, and asked Sunshine to tell her hello. He looked down at her and said nothing.

"Come on Sunshine, tell her hello."

Nothing. He wouldn't say hello no matter how many times I asked. She came back while we were checking out and asked again. This time saying hello to him over and over again. Nothing. Finally she asked if I would bring him over to her Grandmother who was sitting on one of the couches and maybe he would say hello to her. Nothing.

I apologized for him and left the library with Sunshine in his "when we go outside" position: inside my shirt with his head sticking out from under my chin (that's a lot safer than on my shoulder). I hadn't taken more than a step out of the library when from under my chin I hear, "Hello." And he giggled and giggled and giggled.

He was telling me he knew exactly what I had wanted, but he was just being obstinate. Instead of getting annoyed with him, I said hello back to him and laughed with him. All the way to the car he'd say hello and laugh, and, to be sure he knew I got his joke, I'd repeat it and laugh too,. No limitations.

Sometimes I take him for walks in uptown (the tourist section of Sedona). He loves all the attention from the tourists, especially when he goes potty on a tissue. They just can't believe it. He loves their reaction so much he waits to go potty until he has an audience. Seriously. Sometimes he'll say "Potty-potty" and after I get him set with the tissue under him, he suddenly realizes no one is watching. That does it, he won't go. Soon as some tourists come along, he says it again and goes. When he hears the "oohs" and "ahs," he giggles. What a ham.

The strangest question I get when we take our walks through uptown (him in my shirt, head sticking out) is "Is he real?" We get that a lot. What do they think, I'm some kind of a nut walking around with a fake bird sticking out of my shirt? Or maybe the better question is: How do they know I'm some kind of a nut even though it isn't a fake bird.

How smart is he? Here's an example: One time on an uptown outing I went back to my car (parked diagonally into the curb with all the tourists). The moment I get close to the car Sunshine always gets excited and stretches out of my shirt so he can pop onto the headrest. This time no reaction; he didn't even move. I couldn't understand it. I put the key in the door lock and nothing happened. I took a step back. This wasn't my car—an exact duplicate: color, model, year, everything. My car was two cars down. It sure fooled me. But not Sunshine. What a bird.

******


 

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