Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Rookie Files: Hey Buddy, Buddy, Buddy

When I first arrived four years ago at the World Bird Sanctuary in the cold, wintery month of February I was but an intern.  I had a healthy respect and certain degree of caution towards the birds of prey that I was working with, and was ready to learn ways to handle them safely.  What I wasn't prepared for was the parrots.
Roxanne, a Blue and Gold Macaw, shows off her intimidating beak 
During my time as an intern I was always more afraid of working with the parrots than with the birds of prey.  Razor sharp talons and feet that could bruise or break bones did not scare me as much as beaks that could break my fingers.  Parrot beaks have, on average, over one thousand pounds per square inch of pressure.  This comes in handy when cracking open nuts for food in the wild.  It only takes seven pounds to break a human finger. 

Being quite fond of my fingers (and eardrums--a macaw scream can be heard for two city blocks!), I avoided working with the parrots whenever possible. All around me I saw staff members interacting with parrots, cueing for kisses and waves, sometimes being preened by the birds, and quite frankly thought that all of them were crazy.  I could understand that after a parrot gets to know a person, being a social animal they want attention and are even able to show some affection, but the thought of putting a parrot beak (1,000 pounds psi!) near my face seemed like the most insane idea on the planet.  I was content to let everyone else be crazy with the parrots and I would remain safely out of biting range--thank-you very much!
Buddy, assuming his typical "leave me alone" warning stance 
That all changed with Buddy.  Buddy is a Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot, and due to circumstances that occurred before we rescued him, not terribly fond of people.  He had a select few humans that he would work for, and one that he loved.  I was not even really on his radar, nor did I want to be as he had quite the reputation.  Little by little though he began whistling to me.   Sometimes I would hear him coo or honk when I left the room.  I noticed that his tail stopped flaring and his head feathers no longer resembled the head of a triceratops when I was nearby. 
Buddy's "happy tail" 
I found all this odd and asked his primary trainer (who he loved) what the heck was going on.  That is when I learned that I had been chosen by Buddy--given my sentiment towards parrots, this did not thrill me!  Buddy, however, is like a fungus and he grows on you.  After a while I would coo back or ask him to do some of his simpler behaviors.  To protect my wrist and lower arm I donned three sweatshirts in mid-June, so that I could learn how to pick him up properly.  Before I knew it I was his new favorite--a position that required me to adopt a new outlook on parrots or let Buddy become bored. 
 Buddy shows off his "cuteness" factor
Now I am one of those crazy parrot interacters.  I use the high voice, ask for kisses, and spend extra time with them.  At our behind the scenes area I am the go-to person for parrot questions from the volunteers and interns on behaviors, cueing, learning how to read their body language, etc.  It is quite the switch from where I started out four years ago.

Buddy has taught me many things over the years.  I learned how to read and interpret parrot body language from watching him, how parrots display affection and how they gain confidence in trying something new.  We’ve had a few bumps along the way--Buddy is not a big fan of being left without one of his favorite trainers for a long time--but I love this little bird. 
 I can't believe I am now the person teaching interns and volunteers how to read Parrot body language
Perhaps the most important thing Buddy has taught me is that sometimes you don’t choose the birds--they choose you.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

1 comment:

Sandra said...

Leah - You took the words right outta my mouth! I was telling someone this exact thing not too long ago. I had Gomer on my left hand wrist and he kept reaching his face up to me. I think he wanted to kiss. But like you (were), I'm actually more comfortable with the raptors. I can firmly hold the jesses and have confidence that I have control. With the parrots, they are just there and I have my thumb over their toes...I don't want those beaks near my face thank you. In time I will learn and grow more comfortable too. Buddy is special. It's nice that he chose you. Sandra Murray