Sydney, my cockatiel, thrusts his beak onto his cage bars and hangs on. Then, he just stares at me. Honestly, I don’t think most people would know what to make of it…but luckily I do. The next step is simply to say “beakers!” and touch his beak with a finger and give it a little rub. Sometimes Sydney just leaves his beak in place for a moment, taking in the attention. At other times, he pulls his head back and opens his beak, as if he is going to chomp down on any finger that dares to set this noxious game back in motion. The funny thing is, shortly after either response, Syd once again throws his head forward and holds on to a cage bar with his beak in hopes that some kind of attention will come his way.
I just love it when animals invent a game and invite us to play it with them. Parrots are masters of it, especially when it offers them a chance to gain more attention from an owner. I have heard of parrots feigning injury in order to start a game of “Run to My Cage in Order to Make Sure I’m Not Dying” or dropping objects off counters so that “Pick Up (insert random objects here) and Put It Back” gets under way. My own Sydney loves to fling pens from my desk so that he can enjoy watching me pick them up and put them back in front of him for another toss. When birds make an effort to interact with us in such ways, it not only offers us a chance to watch their creativity take flight, but better yet, it fosters a positive relationship which can filter over into so many other things. In the case of parrots, it can make them easier to handle, as birds feel much more comfortable coming to a handler with whom they’ve had positive associations. It also creates a situation in which birds can be more likely to talk/mimic. In the book Parrots for Dummies, Nikki Moustaki writes, “the primary requirement you need in teaching a bird to talk is a good relationship with the bird.” Who would have thought picking up pens could lead to a bird that tells you he is a “pretty pretty bird?” Finally, a parrot who is having fun and finding positive interactions with its owner is more emotionally balanced. Less squawking, feather plucking, and misbehavior coming right up!
So the next time your bird invents a game to play with you, feel flattered, engage, and have fun! He or she may later repeat the laughter that is sure to follow as you enjoy your feathered friend’s antics!