Monday, June 23, 2008

How to Speak Cockatiel Like a Native

Now that I have Max and Tory, I thought it might be a good idea to learn a little bit about Cockatiels. This is what I've discovered:


Learning to communicate like a Cockatiel is no challenge. They simply demand and expect you to deliver.

Cockatiels are a study of activity…these birds never stop moving, at least not if they can possibly help it. The favorite thing to do for a Cockatiel is chewing. They will chew on paper, cardboard, fabric, power cords, pencils and virtually anything else that will fit into their beaks. If they don't have anything to chew on they will grind their bills together to make a sort of crunching noise. This crunching noise is a vocabulary unto itself. What it basically means is, I'm bored, do something….now! The need to chew is probably symbolic of the never-ending growth cycle of a bird's beak. It doesn't stop growing so chewing on objects is the bird's natural way of checking the growth of its own beak. Regardless of the necessity of said chewing, it does not endear the bird to its owner any more than tornadoes endear us to trailer parks. Oh yes, and if the bird has nothing to chew on, and gets bored chewing it's own beak, it will preen.

Preening is an activity that takes up about 75 percent of the Cockatiel's day. First the bird must dig deeply with its beak, under, around and over each and every feather on its body. This is a time-consuming process but the bird has nothing but time, so the job will get done. After the feathers are all cleaned, then the bird goes to work on its own hide, picking off dead pieces of skin and depositing them on a person's shirt sleeve. When the whole process is finally finished, the bird gives a mighty shake and sends bits of bird dander and feathers flying everywhere. Then it starts all over again.

Most Cockatiels have a one-word vocabulary. It consists of, and I quote…”screech!” This one word is spoken in two different ways, at high volume and at top volume. High volume will hurt your ears, especially if the bird is perched on your shoulder when he says it. Top volume will pop your eardrum, which makes me wonder if every Cockatiel on the planet is stone cold deaf. High volume is used when the bird wishes to make a statement regarding its own situation. It can stand for everything from, “it's cold in this meat locker; get me a furnace pronto,” to, “I hate humans but I let them live because they feed me.”

Top volume is reserved for those moments when the bird suspects that it is being ignored. This is intolerable and must be dealt with swiftly. The further away the bird owner is, the louder the complaint from the ignored bird. So, basically, if I am in Florida and the bird is in Michigan, watch out. Glass is scheduled to break within the borders of five states. The screeching does not stop until either one of two things happens. Either the bird drops over dead or it gets its own way, one or the other.

Cockatiels will climb the insides of their cages as if they are jungle gyms, dangling from either their claws or their beaks. They will hang themselves by their beaks from the roof of the cage and kick their feet furiously in mid-air hoping to get purchase on something. Cockatiels will spin completely around backwards in mid-air with their heads firmly connected to the roof of the cage. It is quite unnerving the first time you witness a bird spinning its head completely around backwards like an owl. It brings to mind a young Linda Blair in the film, “The Exorcist.” If your cockatiel starts spewing pea soup and develops a voice similar to Darth Vader's, watch out.

All of the theatricals and dance steps are done to inform the bird's owner that the bird is ready for some out-of-cage time, and you will ignore that request at your own peril as the bird will simply make its demands louder and louder until you respond favorably. Cockatiels automatically assume that all humans are hearing impaired so they do their very best to make themselves known to one and all. Having tantrums is not above them. In fact, it is second nature.

The cockatiel “tizzy” consists of clinging to the side of the cage and rapidly beating the wings against the bars, creating an effect similar to a very large humming bird. If this doesn't work, it will be accessorized by some clever head spinning, and glass shattering. If that also doesn't work, the cockatiel will furiously pummel its little mirror toy into submission. If that last ditch effort does not work, the cockatiel will assume you have either died or gone stupid, and it will attempt to lift the door of its own cage itself. It will succeed in doing so too, if it works at it long enough. Cockatiels only pretend to be dumber than people. In reality, they are the ones writing the bird owner's book.

Cockatiels are kissers too. They will nibble and smooch your face for hours on end. All you have to do is eat something in the bird's presence and the nibbling will commence. This is the their way of saying, “I saw you eat that morsel right in front of a poor, starving birdie. How could you do that, you bad human?” They will kiss you until you give in and let them have a taste of what you are eating. They will bite it once, and never touch it again in order to return to nibbling your face. What you have in your mouth is seventy times tastier than what you offered to the bird, -- even if it is the same exact stuff.

Basically, the only language lesson you need to learn from a Cockatiel is this…do for me, and do for me right now. If you don't do for me right this second, I will call the pet owner's police and then you'll be sorry. You don't think that birds know how to use the telephone? Ha! That's just what they would like you to think.

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