(Title is a song line from the musical ‘The King and I’)
I’m becoming slightly more adept at Birdie-speak. It’s a complicated language; I’ll never become more than just barely proficient. But retirement has its perks; it offers time for patience.
Every morning I go up to the warm bedroom and open the big cage doors. BB Birdie, always plastering herself to the door, squawks a reprimand: You took long enough! Open up!
I do, and she immediately zips around the room a few times, cheeping birdie hoorays before landing on the upholstered armchair to look at me expectantly. (Gray and Daffy might fly around the room, and even perch on my head for a microsecond, but then they’ll fly back to the open cage’s roof to chat between themselves, and watch events unfold. I’m hoping they’ll copy BB and be more inclined to ‘mix and mingle,’ down the road,)
I begin my various greetings.
Three second pause...then I add, Hello!
Lee-saaa (Lisa is my daughter’s name).
And then, a crisp Bye-bye every time she flies off. I do different tonal pitches for each word, to further distinguish them. She listens intently.
But the interaction I enjoy most happens when we try to chat.
First, - a ritual ‘hi, how are ya?’ which goes like this.
She cocks her head, eyes me, and answers.
bbbb... in a soft, high pitch.
A fractional pause. I respond.
She listens. Squawks.
So then I launch into ‘birdie-babble,’ offering a rapid, complex series of sounds: tongue-brrrs, clicks in rapidly changing vocal registers, bits of nursery songs, mouth smacks and high cheeps- before ending with ‘mamamamalalalalabababa.’ This last usually induces body-bobbing. When I stop, she bobs vigorously, and cheeps for more.
Something about these softer, consonant-blurred sounds appeals to her sense of rhythm.
Today I brought in two fresh, organic spinach leaves, and when she rushed out of the cage and flew to my finger, I offered one. With no hesitation she began taking teeny tiny bites, which rapidly diminished the leaf, while making happy smacking sounds. She especially enjoyed the fat center vein, probably for its flavorful moisture. All the while, I talked to her.
(Gray and Daffy seem to enjoy being together, mostly inside the cage. One smoothes the other’s wings. They click beaks and have long, intricate conversations. They’ll eagerly eat a proffered leaf, but from their perches inside, if I stand there, patiently holding it high.)
Not BB, though. This bird is Social. She wants to head-ride- or fly- out of the room to explore. Socialized early in her long life (she’s moving into year 8 or 9, by my count) she enjoys humans and their giant nest’s interiors. Hairy heads, tall shoulders and index fingers provide favorite perches to launch from to investigate all my domicile’s nooks and crannies. BB’s an explorer.
Still, people are her main focus.
She likes me well enough (though she’ll peck my fingers if she’s displeased, or annoyed). I still don’t know her enough to let her fly about more freely outside of this room. (She’ll always come to Lisa, anywhere.) Another concern: The rest of the house is kept considerably cooler. (Joe and I exercise (clean a cupboard, sweep the floor, vacuum stairs) and add a layer of clothing if we get a bit chilled at the highest (68 degree) setting. These efforts keep us warm for another couple of hours.) But BB is a tropical bird. She needs steady warmth. We have a heating unit, a humidifier, and temperature gauges in the birdie room to monitor conditions 24/7.
Anyway, she scolds me for not taking her downstairs.
I deflect her annoyance by beginning a ‘conversation’ as she sits on my finger.
I make a sound, say, a high squawk-
She makes it, too.
She clicks twice.
I wait a few seconds, then duplicate it.
This delights her. She bobs vigorously in approval.
After a decent pause, I throw out a rapid twenty-second string of my own sound collection: clicks, lip pops, squawks, murmurs, high cheeps, a ‘hey babe-you’re hot’ whistle, a musical phrase, and end the babble with a low, soft ‘boom.’ She loves that, and hurls back her own long, much more complex string of sounds and songs. It’s absolutely amazing how many she can rack up without taking a breath.
I’ll never be able to keep up with such diversity.
Satisfied, she flies back to the big cage for a drink and a seedy breakfast.
I sit back, thoughtful. That bird is truly talented.
She’s also full of mischief.
This afternoon she flew to me, perched on my library book’s top pages- looked at me slyly, then, quick as a flash, began to nibble notches in the pages’ edges, exactly as she did with the spinach leaf. Horrified, I yelled NO! and thumped the book with my hand, once. She flew off, squawking gleefully.
A minute later she returned to page-perch- with her back to me, and looked over her shoulder to see if I was paying attention.
Quick as lightning she dipped her beak to nibble off another microbit, but this time I was quicker. Fast as a snake I snapped out a sharp ‘NO’ and banged the book just enough. She flew off, squawking with annoyance.
Ha! My point.
The third time, though, she flew to perch on the page tops, faced me and looked into my eyes.
That bird was wondering if she could wear me down. Could she go for it quicker than I could react?
She’d give it another try.
But- if one knows what to look for, one can clearly spot signs that a certain behavior is about to happen. Tiny ‘tells’ telegraph intent. When I saw her stiffen just a micro-second before lowering her beak to strike, I reacted.
“No!” and thumped the book as her beak descended.
She flew off, squawking; she was, I dare say- embarrassed.
Another point for me.
Here’s the thing.
The fourth time BB flew to me, after ignoring me for five minutes, she page-perched to dine on the remains of the spinach leaf, ignoring the book under her feet. Sated, she chirped and sang, and we traded more creative ‘chat’ back and forth.
The ‘eat-the-book’ game had been abandoned.
Thirty minutes later I left the room to fetch an ancient appointment book. I set it on the bed for her to shred (I’d read that budgies get a kick out of tearing into old books). BB page-pecked it a couple of times, then paused to listen and look at me.
I was silent.
Observation: BB was never alarmed or upset by my admonitions. How did I know this? Because she’d flown right back to me.
She’d tested, learned what I would not tolerate, and so had given up that behavior. (She could have torn the appointment book into pieces, but where’s the fun?)
I find this absolutely fascinating. How does she do this with a brain smaller than a new pea?
Next test: Would she remember not to attack my book-in-hand on another day?