— Henry David Thoreau
Out of the Blue (2009)
“It all happened fast. I was working hard and focused on my efforts. Still, I am always aware of my surroundings. I saw my beloved come around the corner from the back bedroom and the evil one had him! The foe I had vanquished just days ago had somehow returned. His dark eyes and bright plumage were clearly peering through my beloved’s arms. I tossed my own safety out the window and I sprang into action.
Leaping from the couch to the perch I bounced off it and soared into the air in one graceful motion. I swooped down and forced my beloved to drop the monstrous one by grasping his thumb securely in my beak. I did notice the strange expression of surprise on my beloved’s face. He must have admired my courage because his expression was one of amazement at my daring and well-executed flight! He dropped the monster to the floor as requested. I descended in a fell swoop.
All of this took place in less than five seconds. The only thought that passed through my mind was protecting him from the evil one; I would sacrifice my own life for my beloved! After I subdued the creature with forced blows of my powerful beak it was roped carefully by my mate and then placed in a large paper bag. I supervised the operation to insure that no hurt came to him. The bag was taken into the back bedroom. Once again our home was safe from the intruder. Still, I am always alert that he might again appear.”
That is what I believe ran through Chloe’s mind when she forced me to drop the toy parrot. As with most of her kind, they bite their mates to shield them from danger. It is a signal to the mate to fly away. Many times I have heard people say “it came out of the blue” or “for no reason at all” concerning a bird’s behavior. Those with more experience know that there is always a reason. There is always deep thought going on. Whether it is the need to protect, the need for safety, the need for companionship, or the need for freedom, there is always a reason. They can decide to do an action in an instant. More often, there are obvious signs of their intentions – obvious to other birds, that is, not to humans. Often they are driven to action in desperation because we have not seen the obvious.
A person new to birds might not understand why their hand was bitten rather than the toy bird. That’s simply the way it is done in the wild. That is how mates are warned of danger. It does not hurt their mates – feathers are forgiving in the forest. It can happen lightning fast and seem to come out of the blue. Knowing just how they react as animals in the wild can help us understand what they are doing, what their purpose might be.
When I was first learning about Chloe, I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I could not understand because her speech is body language. Posturing, feather position, eye contact, and subtle motions of her body describe her language – not the use of her pharynx. Vocalizations have a place. They are like punctuation marks. They add emphasis or direct the attention to something important. We all have had people ask, “Does your bird talk?” My answer is usually, “Yes. But not the way you think.” There is hardly a moment when Chloe is not commenting on the world around her. It is so for all parrots and cockatoos.
She knows my body language, too. I could get dressed and anyone watching might think I am about to go out. Chloe will know the difference. I can get off the phone and she will know that I am about to leave because of the call. How does she know this? Parrots are the greatest interpreters of sign language in the world. Only the deaf among us truly understand the subtleties of body language. I took signing in school for awhile and I realized this truth: you can lie to a deaf person, but they will know a hearing person is lying. They read your posture, your expression and your movements like we read a good book. Parrots are the same. I hope one day to see how well a deaf person works with a parrot. I believe that they will see the sign language of the bird much better than those of us who hear. That just might be a match made in heaven.
Until you take “parrot sign language” as a course given by your companion, you will miss the great story being told each moment by the avians in your world. Frankly, I am surprised that I was able to learn her language. I had a good teacher, though. She “shouted” until I could “hear” the quiet words she speaks all day; she made exaggerated actions to teach me the way she talks.
I have learned a great deal, but there is so much to learn. The task is enormous. I understand the need she feels to keep me safe and protected. Still, once in awhile I forget and bring out Fred the toy parrot in my hands. The day I brought her home I would not have understood it. I would have thought it came “out of the blue.”
When she defends me from him, I realize just how loved and protected I am.