This week finds me once again in Orlando, Florida attending the North American Veterinary Conference. There are thousands of veterinarians, though my path stays fairly close to the avian medicine presentations. I’m checking in to see what is going on in captive avian medicine so I attended “Bird Whisperer.” Totally appreciating the positive change in avian management since those early years when avian medicine was just organizing in the early 80’s, I am grateful for this veterinarian’s advanced understanding of behavior so as to give a better life to our captive companions.
My experiences with the wonder and beauty of wild parrots leads me to ponder a few of the principles in modern avian behavior management. The goal is to empower the bird and give them a choice. Let them get feedback for the consequences of their behavior so they are empowered to choose which behavior will work best for them. An example is when a bird presents to a veterinarian and the time comes to wrap the bird in a towel for the exam and diagnostic sampling. There are methods to reduce the amount of stress the bird undergoes if the veterinarian team takes cues from the bird, moves slowly, and offers reinforcement. The presenting veterinarian said, “Is the bird having a good time in the exam. No. But at least the bird has some control over their environment.”
Could we offer even more control? I’m imagining this kind of behavioral approach to wild birds or free flying birds and if they would choose to be in proximity to humans. Would they choose to never fly again or only a few meters at a time? Would they choose to leave their flocks of hundreds (in some species) to live alone with a human family? Would they choose to have the option of some 100 food plant sources, or have a significant reduced selection, whose variety is in control of the human? I assume that if we empowered a wild species the choice, rare would be the one who would volunteerily come into close contact with humans, let alone live inside their structures on a permanent basis. Choose a cage over the threat of predation or hunger?
I do not know the answer. I am not a bird. However, if I open myself totally to the interior life of the bird, what she or he is feeling and thinking and open myself totally to the interior life of myself, what I am thinking and feeling, I believe that there would be both positive and negative reinforcement on my own behavior that might, just might, lead me and those of my species, to more compassionate care of our kind and our kin of all species. This is my hope, this is my prayer, whispered in love and shouted in actions loud enough for all hearts to hear.