This story about my late great African grey, Bongo Marie, appeared in the first issue of the Pet Bird Report and people always enjoy reading or hearing it.
I am convinced after living with Bongo Marie for close to 25 years that she had a sense of humor. Her laughter was almost always appropriate. It seems to me as if some African greys have a superiority complex; as if they think they are better than other parrots they live with.
Certainly Bongo Marie has always acted as if Paco, my female double yellow head Amazon, was not her equal – as if green was an inferior color. Perhaps that is why it took such a long time after I got her to get her to eat greens; she had heard you are what you eat. Both Paco and Bongo Marie had lived with me for about 20 years and they were never friends. Bongo occasionally called Paco’s name until Paco responds. Then the grey told the Amazon to "Be Quiet!"
Several years ago, Bongo Marie’s cage was right next to the dining room table and Paco’s cage was right near the door. I was fixing dinner and had just taken a Cornish game hen out of the oven and was poised to carve a piece of the breast meat. Bongo Marie slid down the side of her cage and eyed my dinner quizzically. Suddenly, she threw her head up and in a frantic questioning voice exclaimed, "OH NO, PACO!?!?!" After I stopped laughing, I explained to her that the bird on the platter was not Paco, "Look Bongo Marie – that’s not Paco. Paco is right over there." She looked towards Paco and in a very indignant voice said, "oh no," as if she was disappointed. Then she laughed hysterically with her very maniacal laugh as if to let me know she had been joking all of the time!
Accusations that I am Lying from the Bird Training World
This story has become quite well known in the avian world. It was the feature story in the book called The Parrot's Lament by Eugene Linden and was written about in both Time Magazine and the Reader's Digest. I also tell the story of Bongo Marie and the Cornish Game Hen in my seminars and bird show trainer, Steve Martin, has used it in his video as an example of what he considers to be excessive anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the attributing of human shape or characteristics to gods, objects, animals, etc.
In a video-taped program he gave for a Minnesota Bird Club, Mr. Martin told the story wrong and stated, "Well, you know what - that whole story is fiction - it has to be fiction and I guarantee you it never happened that way. There is not a bird in the world that I know that has the capability of conversation of language like that in that the use of language context. I mean that’s some incredible cognitive thinking that they’re trying to say - basically its a fiction story. But unfortunately it isput across by the quote unquote expert as fact. I think that’s sad because it allows and encourages people to go home and interpret the behaviors that their bird does in such an anthropomorphic way that takes them farther and farther from a positive relationship with their bird."
Mr. Martin calls the Bongo Marie and The Cornish Game Hen story fiction and virtually accuses me of making it up – of lying about it. Am I a liar? As a quote unquote expert, I don't like being called a liar. I can assure you this is a true story as are all the others I have told about my clever African Grey, Bongo Marie. In telling the story, I am very careful to use the words ‘as if’ to tell it in a way that does not give the impression that I completely believe Bongo Marie was cognizant of each and every thing she was saying. However, I don't believe that Mr. Martin, as a bird show trainer, has much understanding of the relationships between people and their companion parrots.
I personally believe that the world of companion parrots living in people's homes is a very different world than the world of training birds for bird shows. Is some of the trick training/operant conditioning/clicker training information valid with companion parrots? Sure, but some of isn't and I believe it can be so rigid that it doesn't encourage people to have an intuitive relationship with their parrots that is based on creative thinking. For example, there is a book from several years back that stated that if you wanted your parrot to roller skate that you should only feed him when he was on the skates. This is the kind of information that made me become cautionary about clicker training. I am a big fan of positive reinforcement, but I don't think you need food and a clicker to relate to your parrot in this manner. Praise goes a long way with companion parrots.
THE LADIES MAN
Many years ago, I lived with a wonderful cockatiel named Rosie. He was definitely a COCKatiel, but there was no stigma for such a macho male to have the name Rosie because at the time one of the bruiser football players had the same name. I purchased Rosie as a handfed baby but it didn't take me long to realize that hand fed didn't mean hand tame. Even though Rosie was not always easy to handle, he delighted in coming out to sit on my shoulder. As with all my birds, bedtime was always special with lots of attention as I covered the cages. When I traveled, Rosie went to stay with a good friend of mine. Her neighbor visited her and was quite taken with my handsome 'tiel. She leaned close to his cage and told him what a handsome bird he was. His reply was, "I love you, you're pretty." Then he added, "Do you want to go to bed" This little guy was not the least bashful and wasted no with a nay subtle pickup lines. Of course, this was actually a combination of two of his favorite expressions. Over a decade later, it was still one of the favorite stories of that neighborhood.