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December 18, 2006

Birds and stress

Just before Thanksgiving, we got (another) bird. Now, many people, when you say "bird", figure "budgie" or "parakeet" or something of that sort. Nuh-uh, this is an African Grey. Not as big as a macaw or a cockatoo, but still substantial — about a pound when fully grown. Bites hard enough to cause real pain in adults if provoked (or just feeling her oats), so it's very important to train them young or else you'll have real problems down the road.

Sounds a bit like raising a kid, doesn't it?

What really surprises people the most, though, isn't the bird's size, but its projected longevity — bigger birds like the Grey can live human-duration life spans: from fifty to eighty years. So not only are the bird's emotional and social upbringing needs very similar to a human child's, one of the overriding considerations of parenthood is present as well: your "baby" is going to outlive you, so planning and providing for its future after you're gone is something you must do. But I digress.

We also have a cat. (The juxtaposition of cat and birds in the household makes some folks do a spit-take.) Now, the birds and the cat aren't really sure about each other. The birds are more unsure about the cat than the cat is about the birds, but there's no real predatory interest there. Still, there's no way I'm leaving them unsupervised on the same side of a cage, but under supervision, the cat steers clear of the birds, even when they're overlapping territory. (Sometimes the birds like to sit on the cat's favorite sunning shelf, for example.)

Still, when the bird's in my office and the cat wants up on that shelf, everyone's just a little on edge. Today, the Grey seemed especially unhappy about the cat's proximity, and so I ended up giving her "emergency cuddles" to settle her down. That accomplished, I put her back on her perch, and watched her for a couple of minutes. And then: eureka!

Thanks to the bird, I have figured out the perfect strategy for dealing with any high-stress situation: take a shit, then have a snack.