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Dear Parrots magazine,

Avian intelligence

I've really enjoyed Eb Cravens’ insight into avian intelligence. I can't get enough of this fascinating subject. All the little snippets of information I can get helps me understand my own feathered friend.

I have always felt that I needed to be one step ahead of my Grey-Headed Cape Parrot because of her thinking skills. She does say a few words, of her choice of course. The most interesting being her use of, “Are you ready?” I started using it in relationship to the bedtime routine. “Tell me when you're ready” or “Are you ready” used to get a response from her.

She has now invented different meanings for this question. “Are you ready?” (with little wing flap) means are you ready to let me out. “Are you ready?” (with a little beak grind) means I'm ready for bed, and “Are you ready?” (when she's out, with her head down) she's ready to fly over to me. I think that is very clever and inventive.

Well, can you imagine how surprised I was when one day she flew over to me while I was lying on the settee, finding it hard to keep my eyes open, as I was so tired. She placed herself in front of me and said, “Are you ready?” with a little beak grind. It wasn't anywhere near her bedtime, so effectively, she was asking me if I was ready for bed!

Yes, I agree, the Grey-Headed Cape is very intelligent – very much a thinking and creative bird. She figures out how to attach a foot toy on to another hanging toy, so that they don't fall to the bottom for her to retrieve. If they fall I hear her say, “Oh dear”. She remembers where I keep my little stash of toys to entice her back home, as food doesn't work these days. She sneaks over to pinch one. When I'm cleaning her papers, she flies over to 'help' or 'hinder', but more often she will quickly retrieve a bead or a precious treasure that she believes might get thrown away.

I did wonder why she suddenly started lunging at me when I'm getting out my button jar or filling up her food dish. It's clear now, from what I understand from what Eb says, that she is trying to reorganise the pecking order and just being a bird. She's not what I would call an aggressive type but can be very feisty as well as very loving. I do get to enjoy a bit of allopreening, but I don't get a new hair style as she much prefers to relieve me of any skin blemishes. If she can't find one, she practises picking up a tiny bit of skin to pinch me.

She did have her eye on a suture after an operation I had once, I could see her thinking of removing it.

She is a confident bird and will take on new opportunities, others might be surprised to hear that we enjoyed watching the fireworks together on 5th Nov. Yes, sometimes an unexpected bang would make us both jump, but she never flew off in fear but preferred to stay on my shoulder to peer at the pretty colours in the sky.

I agree with Eb that the Cape is not a good choice for a beginner. However, being new to parrot parenting myself, I feel that I have to be one step ahead because my little companion is so full of curiosity. Maybe, it has helped coming from a background of working with children with special needs, where you have to constantly tune into non-verbal communication in order to understand them.

Jane Clark, by email




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