Home > Articles Directory > Bird Stories

Birds Stories
The Social Psychology of a Backyard Aviary

by Leon James
Professor of Psychology
University of Hawaii

1978 Taken from Society's Witnesses -- A Social Psychology Study Book


 

Bird Stories (1) by Leon James

 
Birds and I have had a close relationship since I was a child in Rumania, in the late 1930's. I grew up with pigeons--for whom my father has had a compulsive interest since his childhood. We have a family photograph showing him, as a youth of 13, holding a pigeon amidst the formally dressed people. That photograph stuck in my mind and I would often "see" it in my daydreams.
 
My first personal relationship with a bird did not happen until I myself was 13. We were living in Antwerp, Belgium at the time--we were political refugees on "eventual route" to Canada--and a bitter winter was making casualties among our roof-top pigeon population, which numbered about 30 birds, as I recall. To make matters worse, the landlord had two cats. They lived on the first floor, and the main floor area was their family grocery store--as neat and impeccable as any of the stores you can find run by a Flemish family (I recall the name my father used to call them, "The Franske Family"). We would lose about two or three birds a month, to those two animals. Either the cat(s), or the cold, killed the mother of a family of four living in that nestbox. Then I came home from school one day, and Shamu was there, lying on a rag ("because it's more comfortable than paper") behind the coal-burning stove in the kitchen. He apparently was the lone survivor of the family in the box near my balcony, and my mother had taken him in, "to warm him up a little" she insisted, which immediately gave me a terrible fright.
 
You see, I am sorry to have to admit that we were also pigeon eaters! Not just the cats. A frequent Sunday-lunch meal consisted of pigeon paprikas , which is what my mother called the stew we were eating. Perhaps because of the guilt I feel towards them, I refrain today from eating animals. So you can see why I became afraid when I noted my mother's insistence that it was only for a little-while. Shamu was just the right age--not too old, not too young, big enough!
 
I won the battle for the life of Shamu only because there were no other birds ready that Sunday, and Shamu by himself was not worth the trouble of making a paprikas .

   The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens (Hardcover) by Robert Burton (Author), Stephen Kress (Author) "AS THE CONTINENT CHANGES and more land is used to house an ever-growing human population, yards, city parks, and derelict land have become important as..." (more)

Discover how to create a backyard bird sanctuary with the expert guidance of the National Audubon Society. Your backyard will come alive by applying these feeding and gardening techniques. Includes a photographic guide to the birds of North America, as well as the trees and plants that attract them. The ultimate resource for anyone interested in creating a bird-friendly habitat.

More from Amazon.com
 



Bird Stories (2) by Leon James
 
In my childhood and teens, a favorite fantasy would be to write "the autobiography of a pigeon"--not, biography, mind you! I would imagine that I was a wise, old pigeon who looks onto the world of people and makes commentaries about social events. However, Richard Bach beat me to it, though I must admit I have not finished a copy of Jonathan Livingston Seagull which I have owned for years, it seems to me.
Now that I am a grown-up and have my own place, I am the Master of 30 birds, smaller than pigeons, but still birds. Today, I no longer hope to be able to write Shamu's autobiography [ see Story (1)], but perhaps these stories about the community life of domesticated birds might encourage someone to attempt that feat. I've found that there are many intense bird lovers on this still paradisic Island.
 
Diane Nahl's grandmother, Mrs. Dixie Coke Nahl Allen, reports that in her memory, there was a time when Kapiolani Park was the home of a large population of free-living parakeets. Perhaps one day, they will be back! The Bird Colony Task Group in this course is charged with the duty of getting our own aviary on campus. Professor Robert Blanchard has informed me that space is available in the Psychology Department's Animal Colony facilities at Snyder Hall. It costs 17/per bird/day to keep the aviary going, at 1978 inflation prices.
Last semester, Dr. Gordon and I (we share backyards) gave away 28 birds to students of Psychology 222 and 397 who became interested in raising birds. We did it on the condition that they would give us a few of their offspring to populate our campus aviary, when it becomes a reality. As well, they promised to keep us informed of their birds' biographical histories.
 
I didn't like Hitchcock's movie, The Birds . The impression was given that birds can be really evil. Such hogwash superstition! But I did admire the actors: those birds were superb in performing their idiotic mission in the story. I have found my relationship to birds to be as intimate as with the many dogs I've "owned" over the years, since childhood. But with birds, there is an additional bonus, especially far those interested in social psychology. This is because the dog lives inside of the house with you, while the community of birds lives outside, in the backyard aviary or roof-top coop. And that makes an important difference of perspective.
 

 
Bird Stories (3) by Leon James

 

When I was seven years old, I often took my father's 25 ducks to the river which ran by near the edge of his week-end country house, turned into a haven for the satisfaction of a compulsion he had for birds: besides the ducks, 49 chickens and roosters, 35 pigeons, and 6 geese. I used a long stick to drive ducks the few hundred years to the river, across the beautiful valleys of Transylvania--with the help of a magnificent German Shepard called Lordy, who undoubtedly could have done the job very well by himself.
Meanwhile, in my Kailua backyard, the aviary I own jointly with Dr. Barbara Gordon, co-author of this book, is currently underpopulated. Besides a pair of mated cockatiels (part pied) and a family of 4 Java Rice birds, there remain only five parakeets. I am referring to the inside residents only. There are another 5 or 6 birds who fly around in the neighborhood and come for regular visits to their former "home."
The visitors are members of the community who have emigrated to the neighborhood from a little hole in our backyard aviary!
 
I discovered the escape route not too long ago when I noticed the disappearance of my third bird. My first impulse was to mend the fence, but I found myself postponing it. Two more birds left. What kept me from repairing the tear in the thin wire mesh wall, was the escaped birds kept coming back for visits, sometimes hanging around the outside of the aviary all day.
 
Instead of plugging the hole, I decided to make it larger; large enough to allow the birds through, but not large enough to give the neighbor's cat any ideas, especially since her pure white furry mass can often be seen sprawled, or in a heap, on top of the wire-mesh aviary cage.
 
Two more birds left--an unmated, adult, male, a pied cockatiel, and one of the little Java birds. I witnessed the departure of the cockatiel, which was very moving. I was writing in my study, when all of a sudden I heard all three cockatiels calling out excitedly. It seemed however, that one of the birds was calling from above the roof! I couldn't be sure, but I rushed out in time to see him circle around the aviary and then take off in a white flash in the sky, pursued by the excited whistle calls of his two companions back in the cage. I could've given my pension plan away to be able to be that bird for just one minute.
 
To date, I have not seen him back, but that doesn't mean he doesn't come around when I'm out.
 

 
Bird Stories (4) by Leon James

 

The life of a parakeet in a backyard aviary is organized by the community daily round schedule. Parakeets are, above all, social animals . A parakeet can spend its life in jail , in solitary confinement inside the little bird cage, inside the house. But anyone who has observed the vibrant mood of a community of parakeets living in a backyard aviary, will testify that cooped-up solitary life for a parakeet destroys its life energy. It appears depressed, sleeps most of the time, and is constantly in need of medical and grooming attention by the owner. It is drugged, gassed, ventilated, bathed, trained on the finger, grabbed by children, pampered with junk food, and scared to death when being chased back into its little jail.
 
Outdoors, and with the support of the group, the parakeet lives out its life in an adjusted relationship to its fellows, and not needing any help from the outside, except a few supplies. This consists of fresh water, seeds, green vegetables, perching areas, nestboxes, and that's all. Many aviaries have a roof, but I feel that the birds prefer the sky, sun, and the rain. Knick-knacks, playthings, bells, mirrors- are also fine, but not essential. Most importantly, the parakeet spends its time in relationship with others of its kind.
 
In our Kailua backyard aviary, the birds all arise at the same time, at daybreak Lying on my bed and returning slowly from the unconsciousness of sleep, I am gradually awakened by the distinct sound of individual birds flooding into my awareness. The sounds come from all directions around the house, each window or wall bringing forth a melodious, and purely wonderful wave of emotion and life energy. Birds sing with singular feeling, glorying in the beauty and harmony of planetary life.
 
The neighborhood birds, wild and free, sound off first. Then, our birds in the aviary join the chorus of awakening life. Once in a while, the grey male cockatiel preempts everybody else. While still dark, the clear, unadulterated voice sounds out in a personal song that tells the sage of his race. I know few things in life as deeply moving as that life song, the voice of my own ancestors.
 

 
Bird Stories (5) by Leon James

 

Birds of a feather flock together. That holds true, as well, in the backyard aviary, but, there, it is not the only truth. At one time, the aviary was populated by four species: lovebirds, cockatiels, Java birds, and parakeets. The lovebirds have, relatively speaking, quite an "aggressive" style of interaction. After witnessing several bloodying attacks by the lovebirds, perpetrated on young parakeets who were too slow in getting out of their way, I decided-to separate them from the larger colony. They got their own aviary a few yards away where they lived and multiplied until last semester, when r gave them all away (the pair had grown into a family of 11). The following chart summarizes some of the differences which can easily be observed by anyone who spends time merely watching their daily rounds.

 


Stable dominance hierarchy in
colony
Mother raises family even
if father deserts or
disappears
Father helps defend nestbox
Shares nestbox with another
family
Permissive weaning
Husband to more than one
mother
Young birds play with each
other
Adult same-sex friendships
Mother uses building materials
in nestbox
Husband or father helps
prepare nestbox
Father spends time
in nestbox
Mother feeds babies
Father feeds babies
Father feeds mother
Mother feeds husband
Both parents socialize children
Children return to nestbox
after exiting
Eat fruits and wild flowers
LOVEBIRDS
+

?


+
-

+
-

+

-
+

+

+

+
+
+
-
+
+

+
COCKATIALS
?

?


?
+

?
?

?

?
-

+

+

+
+
-
-
?
?

+
JAVABIRDS
?

?


+
+

+
-

+

?
+

+

+

+
+
-
-
+
+

-
PARAKEETS
-

+


-
-

-
+

+

+
-

+

+

+
+
+
-
+
+

-

 

 

Mother sleeps inside nestbox
Father sleeps inside nestbox
Cross-species friendships
Groom each other
Allow others to perch on
top of nestbox
Sleep close to each other
on perches
Spontaneous contact with
humans
Trainable contact with humans
Quiet, non-activity periods
LOVEBIRD
+
-
-
+
-

-

-

+
+
COCKATIELS
?
?
+
+
+

+

+

+
+
JAVA BIRDS
+
-
+
?
+

+

-

?
+
PARAKEETS
+
-
+
+
+

+

-

+
+

 

In this chart, a "+" means that the behavior was definitely observed, while a "-" means it did not occur even after extensive observations. A "?" means that the answer is inconclusive, given insufficient opportunity for observation. By contrasting the pattern of behaviors across the four species one can construct a 'cross-cultura1' index of similarity. A possible formula might be:

S = (agreements - disagreements) x 100

(agreements + disagreements) 

   National Geographic Field Guide To The Birds Of North America, 4th Edition (Paperback) by National Geographic Society (Author)

Review By D. Blankenship (The Ozarks) "Having been a birder for quite a number of years, I of course have quite a number of bird identification books. This was a very nice addition to my collection. I do carry it on field trips along with a couple of others (Sibley's and Peterson's being the primary ones). I have found that not one bird guide is suitable for everyone. Being from the "old school" I tend to turn to Peterson's more often, but that is probably from pure habit. Some hard to identify birds though do take some work and really more than one reference. This particular work is quite good. The pictures are very helpful and when I use this work with others I find most of my needs meet. I highly recommend this particular book."
 

More from Amazon.com



 
Bird Stories (6) by Leon James

In a previous section [ see Bird . Stories (5)], I presented an Index of similarity between the four species of birds in our backyard aviary. The closest cross-species overlap was found to be that between cockatiels and parakeets (53% over- lap), and cockatiels and Java birds (47% overlap). This empirical finding corresponds to my overall, intuitive feeling. A number of episodes come to mind that confirm these groupings.
Alvin was a quiet green parakeet youngster who had just emerged from the parental nestbox. Our oldest male cockatiel, gray and white with a gorgeous yellow feathered top hat and bright red cheeks, was observed to approach the unsuspecting Alvin, and nibble at his feet. Alvin kept getting out of the way as best he could but the grey cockatiel kept pursuing him. At first I thought that he was molesting the youngster and became quite alarmed. Close observation over the next four days revealed that the exchange was obviously friendly. It became apparent that the cockatiel was training Alvin to scratch his head! With relentless pursuit and great patience he succeeded eventually, and from then on, the two were almost inseparable companions. The friendship ended when Alvin mated with a female parakeet and appeared totally involved in his new responsibilities as husband and father.
 
A few weeks later, there developed another friendship between this same cockatiel and one of the Java birds. At first, the relationship was restricted to sleeping arrangements. The male Java bird would always sleep right next to the cockatiel, almost touching him, while the other birds (parakeets) were kept away at some distance (in inches). Thereafter, the Java bird could be frequently seen during the day fishing for lice (no doubt) in the cockatiel's head region. Since the latter is much bigger than the former, he would assume a downward posture, lowering his head towards the Java bird; From time to time, the cockatiel would emit a raucous sound of protest and jerk his head up as the undaunted Java bird came up with a feather in his beak. However, the cockatiel would recover within a second or two and go right back in there for more cleaning. Later, when both birds mated with a female of their own kind, the two pairs regularly cleaned each other and even attempted to share the same nestbox. However, none of the eggs on either side hatched.
 

continue with (7) here
 
Bird Stories (7) by Leon James

 

I will tell you one of the biggest secrets I've discovered about (or from) birds. Anyone who knows this about birds can tame them (or befriend them) within minutes. (The trick also works with other animals, including people.)
It used to be a funny adult thing to do around where I grew up (in a Hungarian-speaking part of Rumania), to say to a child that if he wants to catch a bird, all he needs to do is to throw salt on the birdie's tail. For many years I fantasized catching birds this way, trying to imagine it, but I couldn't figure out how to get the salt to the tail! Later, as an adolescent, I did catch a few pigeons another way, with an easy contraption I saw my father use. I'll sketch it for you.


A light, flat wire mesh, or box, acts as the trap that falls on the bird. One end is held up by balancing it on a stick which is conveniently connected to your hand by a string. You pull the string, the stick falls, and so does the box. Anything walking under it is trapped! Now all you've got to figure out is how to get birds to walk under it. And that's the secret I want to tell you. I'll call it the adaptation level secret .
 
First, let me tell you about where its name comes from, then I'll give some examples in the subsequent Bird Story. I learned about the scientific concept of "adaptation" first. Two names that I remember from my college days (I majored in Psychology at McGill University, in Montreal, B.A. '59), are those of Harry Helson and Jaspers, the former a psychologist (Texas University, as I recall), and the latter a neurophysiologist (Montreal Neurological Institute, if I'm not mistaken). Helson wrote a book having adaptation level in its title. He catalogued a large number of situations where a person's perceptions would be affected by whatever shapes, contours, and colors the person was used to seeing. Exaggerated effects could be produced if you knew the person's regular world by departing from the usual, and producing contrasts effects.
 
The steady and habituated world of an organism is called its "adaptation level." (This might be analogous to "the key" a piece of music is written in.) Jaspers recorded EEG measures ("brain waves") from sleeping cats in the lab. When a brief noise is made, the cat's head jerks up. If the same noise is repeated, the head no longer moves, but the ears might. The third or fourth time, the ears no longer respond, but the EEG instruments still go wild. How- ever, as the noise is repeated a few more times, the EEG waves decrease in intensity, until nothing responds to the noise. The cat is fu11y adapted to the new level of the auditory surrounds. Like us, its brain forgets about the background noise. And this is where the secret is.
 
If you can turn yourself from foreground into background in the perception of another organism, then it will automatically adapt to you and accept you as normal. Co-presence and repetition are the two methods I know that allow you to affect the adaptation level. Co-presence means that you arrange the environment so that the animal cannot pursue it's normal daily round activities without your being present. For example, you feed the animal and stay in its presence while it eats. Repetition means that the more times you have this exchange, the more the animal accepts you as normal background.
 
There are many factors to be considered (e.g., "generalization gradients'') and I 11 tell you about them in subsequent stories. But the essential is to know about and understand the animal's normal adaptation level and to work yourself into that background with co-presence and repetition.

  The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (Paperback) by David Allen Sibley and Rick Cech

Not just spin-offs from the famed Sibley Guide to Birds, these field guides are specifically designed to tote along on outings. The maps are new.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
 

"The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America I have had the Sibley Guide to North American Birds for years and it carries so much information I sometimes carry it into the field but it is heavy and cumbersome."  A. Ehrlich

More from Amazon.com
 




 
Bird Stories (8) by Leon James


 
A previous story (7) refers to the scientific concept of generalization gradients in adaptation level . This means that after a particular sensory stimulus (noise, sight of an object, taste, touch, movement) recurs unchanged, it quickly enters the range of perceptual normalcy or adaptation level. In other words, it fades into the background and is apparently forgotten. Now if you change the stimulus in some way, the adaptation to it ceases. However, if the change is very small, it only takes one or two repetitions to re-adapt; but if the change is large, adaptation level is disturbed and the organism now responds with full, or near full, intensity--until the new adaptation. This business of determining just how much or how little to change the stimulus to get particular effects, is called by learning theorists "gradients of generalization."
 
The operation of "gradients" of stimulus similarity and difference, and their effects on birds, is easily noted when observing a backyard aviary. Say you station yourself comfortably in front of the aviary. The birds stay away from the corner or side where you are. Clearly, your visual presence has disturbed their adaptation level, and this is visible in their behavior (avoidance). Less than five minutes later, the birds act like they've forgotten you, and you now form part of their background.
 
You change your position to another spot three feet away. Now the same things happen, but a little earlier, one minute instead of four. You move back and forth a few more times and you notice that, after a while, your movement has adapted. Now you can play a trick on them: you change your regular style of moving--say a little faster and jerky instead of smooth. suddenly the birds notice you again. Their activities are again disturbed or affected You can continue your antics in front of the bird cage, demonstrating the generalization gradient for adaptation level. Whenever you make a novel gesture or sound, the degree-of its "notice value" will be proportional to the degree to which the new stimulus departs from stimuli to which the birds are already habituated.
 
You can go inside the aviary and repeat the demonstrations. For example, if you sit or stand without moving, the birds will soon treat you as an inert post. If you control- your movements slowly enough, you'll be producing a smooth generalization curve ("gradient") so that you can sneak up on them without evoking the avoidance response. And that's a secret known to all bird lovers!
 


 
Bird Stories (9) by Leon James

 
You already know the secret of adaptation level [see stories (7) and (8)]. Let me tell you a few interesting observations which show how this principle governs much of the life of birds in a backyard aviary.
You sit in a comfortable position next to the wire mesh of the aviary, watching the community in its regular daily round of activities. Suddenly a motorcycle zooms by on the street. The noise disturbs the birds: they stop eating or grooming, they freeze in position, and some individuals fly about in apparent panic, flapping their wings against the walls, or falling off perches. Two minutes later, the motorcycle returns from the opposite direction. You see a similar effect on the birds, but not as strong. Those who previously panicked, are now poised on their perch, as if tensing to take off, but holding it there. When the motorcycle goes by the third time, only the most reactive birds take heed and then, they too adapt. The same observations can be made about airplanes, helicopters, trucks, lawnmowers, outboard motors, and anything else that is unusually noisy.
 
Now let's move to the visual modality. After the birds adapt to your comings and goings around the aviary, you play a trick on them. The next time you reappear, you have a bright colored towel wrapped around you. Or a hat, or a mask, or anything that sticks out or flaps about. Or even just holding a stick or bright colored object. The birds have immediately noticed the change, and show it by avoidance. I ordinarily use a brown plastic pail to pour fresh water every day into the aviary dish and through the wire mesh. The birds are, of course, totally adapted to this procedure, showing no concern whatsoever, even when the falling water streams by them where they happen to stand, two inches away. One day, I happened to grab a yellow pail of the same shape and size as the brown one. As I approached the aviary in my usual movement, the birds suddenly panicked and flew wildly about. The unexpected switch from brown to yellow was too much for them. It fell outside the generalized gradient of smooth transition.
 
When a visitor is around our house, I sometimes send him to see the birds, while I stay behind, watching. In some cases the birds accept the presence of the visitor, but in other cases, they greet him with a show of panic. All the visitor sees, of course, is birds flying around and making characteristic noises. But to the knowing witness, the birds are reacting and having a particular exchange with the visitor. I've noticed that the birds show a resistance to adaptation with some people, but to know the cause of it, would take experimental observations. You would have to vary changes in appearance and timing in a systematic way so as to localize precisely along which dimension the differences occur: size, shape, color, movement, proportion, and so on. It would be interesting to find out whether the birds notice voice quality, facial expressions, eye movements, skin shade, and the other socially significant stimuli that humans pay attention to, and which are imbued with emotional significance.

   Feeding Your Pet Bird (Pet Reference Books) (Paperback) by Petra M. Burgmann (Author), Michele Earle-Bridges (Illustrator) "When beginning a discussion of nutrition, the first essential question is: "What constitutes a proper balanced diet for pet birds?..."

"A MUST for those unsure of the best avian diet, or those with finicky eaters. The section on quantity of vitamins etc per item of food was invaluable in creating a balanced diet for my birds, although I did have to look on the Internet for the ideal quantities for a companion bird. Even better, it has a whole section on how to transfer your bird to a new diet without stress. It's so good I carry it around in my handbag for reference!"

More from Amazon.com



 
Bird Stories (10) by Leon James

 
I was curious about the extent to which birds are aware of the work surrounding the aviary. Information on this can be obtained in two ways One is to keep watching the birds, and noticing what they react to. this applies to the shared stimulus world only. You can detect change incoming sounds and noises, as well as see overflying birds, prowling mice, falling leaves, and what not. The second method is to cause some change in the environment and to control the change along known grading For example, by moving your hands and arms a certain distance I'll some of my observations with both these techniques.
 
The following chart summarizes some of the facts obtained through first method of observing natural stimulus changes in the environment their apparent effects on the birds.

 


Stimulus Change
(ANTECEDENT )
Behavioral Effects
(CONSEQUENT)
Cars, motorcycles, delivery trucks



Overflying birds (silent and
distant)


Overflying birds (calling out
and near)

Birds perching in the vicinity,
searching for seeds

Mice running about near or in food
dish


Cat on a hot wire mesh roof



Bird in distress (broken wing,
inexperienced young birds, or the
born handicapped)

New object introduced into cage
( food dish, plaything, branches )
 
Almost always adapted except for
young birds who have just emerged
their nestbox.

The cockatiels (only) often moving
their heads, adjust their eyes
and appear to peer into the sky

The cockatiels (particularly)
excitedly, using a strident whistle

All adult birds act excited in
noises and flying about (untill

Al1 birds show total asaptation
than the mice who run when a bird
starts feeding ).

Panic when the cat jumps on or
total adaptation when cat sleeps
grooms itself.

Excited involvement by parents
mild interest by others. Quick
adaptation ( first few minutes,

Studied avoidance, adapting growth
depending on object and prior
adaptation.

 
The systematic change technique was tried with body movement. I stationed myself close to the aviary of the lovebirds, standing a few inches from the front grid. In a minute or two, adaptation occurred. Now I displace my foot two or three inches, keeping the rest of the body still. One of the male love- birds is watching, keeping me carefully in his eye. He cocks his head, peering towards my foot. Nothing moves, and he resumes grooming himself. I move my l foot back, he stops grooming, cocks his head, and peers to the ground.
 
Now I raise my arm slowly. He stops grooming abruptly and moves a few inches away (inward, on the perch). Now- I raise the other arm. The two arms together extended, appears too much of a change. He suddenly raises himself, flaps his wings, and acts aggressive while making a lot of noise. The other lovebirds immediately join in.
 
After quiet is restored, I move my hands slowly, while the arms hang by my sides. Similar reactions can be observed. I noticed under these conditions that the birds' reactivity is greatly affected by background conditions. Is it unusually noisy that day? Are the birds grooming, feeding, or actively doing things? The following chart shows a gradient of reactivity which characterizes the birds in our backyard aviary:




This bar graph is only approximate and needs to be checked out by systematic observations (in that case, the graph becomes the hypothesis or prediction). It shows the effect of an intervention such as an average size noise or novel sight during different activities in the aviary. Thus, panic (flying about in discoordinated fashion) is evoked by an "average stimulus change" only during quiet perching or "sleeping." The same intensity disturbance has less of an effect, as you go to the right on the graph. The least reactive period occurs during an activity which I shall describe in a subsequent story (#12) and for which I find no better label than "praying!"
 



 
Bird Stories (11) by Leon James

 
Life in the backyard aviary is organized by the community's regular daily round. To understand, or be able to witness, some of the significant events occurring there, you must first make yourself into a regular of the community (vs. "visitor," "foreigner," "stranger"). This is surely true of any new group you're trying to get to know (school, job, neighborhood, country). Until you've adapted to the same level and range of change in stimuli, you cannot note contiguities , i.e.,-antecedents "causing" consequents. Becoming a regular of the community or group, means, foremost, knowing the members' regular daily round pattern, and the normal a reactivity of its individuals (how they define and perceive the state of "normalcy").
 
The following chart presents the activity pattern of a regular daily round in our backyard aviary.




Notice the information contained in this graph. Highest activity levels occur after sunrise and after the midday break. Lowest levels occur during the hot hours around noon, and after sunset. The curve is "bimodal" and "inverted" (like two inverted "U" curves next to each other). This circadian bi-modality can be seen more easily by plotting a longer time curve, as follows:
 





One of the most intriguing phenomena I've observed about the birds is the "praying" activity they engage in during the mid-day low. I shall describe this activity in my next story [no. (12)].

 

Bird Stories (12)

   Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior (Paperback) by Mattie Sue Athan (Author) "Somewhere between a wild animal and a pet is the brave new world of the companion parrot-a creature that lives in human homes, developing both..."

"This book really gives you a good introduction to the various kinds of parrots that are available. It describes their habits and tendencies so that it makes it easier to choose a new parrot or understand your current friend." Doreen A. Plotkowski "Doreen"

 

More from Amazon.com

When we get to know another individual, whether person, dog, or bird, we gain precise information on what the individual's range of reactivity is to changes in the environment The environmental changes include time-of the day and level of adaptation, i.e., what is perceived by that individual as the state of normalcy. Any variation within the normalcy range evokes strong adjustment behavior until adaptation occurs.

In two previous stories (10 and 11) I have described the daily round pattern of the birds in our backyard aviary. During the regular mid-day low, roughly between 10:30 and 1:30, the birds of all four species (i.e., cockatiels, lovebirds, Java Rice birds, and parakeets) engage in a mostly solitary activity during which each stays in its own place and appears intensely involved in itself. At these times, the individual birds show a low reactivity to external stimuli, either the surrounds of the aviary, or the presence of other birds inside (see graph in story #l0). What on earth are the birds doing?
 
They are not sleeping, that's for sure, as can easily be observed by the intense twitching of their bodies, and the rhythmic up-and-down movement of their heads. The eyes remain open, and there comes forth from inside the articulatory apparatus, a constant noise(?) or sound that continually varies in intensity from whispering to a strident staccato chirping. This sound is easily distinguishable from singing, calling out, whistling, etc., all of which appear outer-directed. Instead, this kind of chirping is non-monotonous, discordant, and appears inward-directed. The label I use to refer to this activity is "praying."
 
Of course, I do not mean this in the same sense as the praying we do ordinarily, since I know nothing about the language of the birds, except that it is plain to me, that it springs from a similar well, the involvement of the ordinary self with something higher and beyond. What is the beyond for a bird? We can only wonder, conjecture, and imagine.
 
Variations of the above theme occur, though without altering its apparent significance. At times, the praying-chirping proceeds intensely as the bird faces a backwall (an infrequent act) and moves its head up and down, touching the wall with the beak, sometimes knocking against it. Once in a while, among the parakeets, two individuals (especially male-male dyads) would treat each other as if they were each "the backwall," facing each other at close quarters, heads bobbing up and down, and beaks knocking once in a while. At still other times--this, especially among the lovebirds--the whole community lines UD on a perch, a11 facing in the same direction, and chirping intensely as a dis-coordinated chorus, each body twitching and jerking, but remaining in one spot.
 
Do you have any interpretations?
 
Bird Stories (13) by Leon James

 
I've described the curious "praying" activity of the birds in our backyard aviary ( see story 12). I've alluded to the possibility of a bird language that appears to serve a mostly solitary function, rather than an interactional function of communication. I would like to raise here this issue of language behavior in a more extended context than the activity of praying-chirping.
 
Why do birds chirp, sing, and whistle?
 
Biologists usually say that bird vocalizations are innately caused, though they've also shown that particular articulatory features are influenced through learning. For example, the ordinary pattern of singing of a particular species can be altered significantly by exposing the bird to the songs of other species, either directly or through recordings. As well, birds reared in isolation show some idiosyncratic patterns.
 
Let us first consider the issue of communication through vocal signals. It is very easy to note that birds typically affect each other through sound. 0ne bird calls out, teet-too, teet-too, too-tee-too..., and another bird responds. Silence intervenes and no one calls out. Then, one bird calls out again, followed by others' responses. Thus, contiguity and inter-dependence are two sure signs of communicative interaction.
 
As well, cross-species interaction through the vocal medium is easily demonstrated. I whistle in the vicinity of the quiet aviary. The cockatiel responds within a half-a-second. I wait, and he waits. I whistle again, the response comes instantaneously. I wait, and whistle, and wait and each time, the same result. Is this not a communicative exchange of some sort?
 
When the high flying frigate birds pass over our Kailua house every late afternoon (on their way to Rabbit Island), the grey, adult cockatiel is waiting, watching, and listening. Strident, intense calls issue forth from this vocal apparatus. He relapses into silence when the birds disappear 0verhead. Is this not vocal communication?
Cardinals, mynah birds, and many Other species, travel around the neighborhood in mated pairs. As one of the birds flies off, the other follows. How do they not lose each other? One bird calls out, and the other answers.
I often hear a type of night bird flying over the house in the dark. is easy to localize the position of each bird since they emit a whistle call at periodic intervals of a few seconds. No doubt this also functions to al the birds to keep together in the darkness. Finally, when two of Our parakeets left the aviary through the opening described in story (#3) the whole community was sounding off in a continuous and impressive cacophony. What particularly impressed me was the regular alternation between wild noise and total silence, accompanied by the characteristic tense pose of a bird "listening." As soon as the calls were returned by the now distant parakeets, the colony broke up into wild noise for a few seconds, then waited again. This went on for 3 or 4 minutes, in a dozen alternating pattern. There is no doubt in my mind that this exchange helped orient the '"escaped" parakeets, who were seen to circle far and away around the house, then returning to the aviary area where they hung around.
 

 
Bird Stories (14) by Leon James

 
The pigeon occupies a definite spot in man' s great saga of domesticating (Latin, domus = house, home) other species, i.e. of bringing them into one's domicile, sharing space, food, work, and pleasure. Everyone. is familiar with the pigeons of Florence (they are in movies, magazines, on postcards, and your friends' slides), and though the dove somehow out-deserved the pigeon in God' s scheme, having been chosen to overfly the aftermath of the Flood and report the good tidings to Noah, nevertheless to the pigeon befell the honor of the first air mail service in history!
 
Carrier pigeons , according to Webster's is "a pigeon trained to fly over great distances back to a home point, carrying a written message fastened to its legs; homing pigeono'' My father never raced pigeons though our Sunday mornings were often spent at the Flea Market in Antwerp which had a special square reserved for selling, trading, and racing pigeons. Though, as a 10- year old at the time, I was more interested in puppies, my childhood memories are filled with pigeon stories.
 
My father had had an obsessive involvement with them since his teens. In those days of the late 1940's, the Sunday Morning Flea Market was the place where everything was found, so it seemed at any rate, to a 10-year old, tagging after his Dad, afraid of getting lost, pushed and stepped on by frantic mobs. The wares were displayed on green army blankets spread out on the ground, in boxes, on people's shoulder, car tops, tents, wooden collapsible structures, and bicycles. Sometimes I would be left in the animal section playing with puppies while my father went for a "quick tour." One day, totally unexpectedly, my father gave in to my weekly pleadings, and we brought home a tiny little black and white furry dog thing which r named Juju. It was the happiest day of my life.
 
More usually, however, we brought home some pigeons. My father was trying to breed them into chicken size, and whenever he found a large, robust pigeon, he wanted it. Color, was the other factor. He wanted them to be large and of a particular hue. As I think about these things today, I realize that I don't really know what he was up to. (Fortunately, he is still around for me to ask. I must write him a letter about it.) In fact, I am amazed how little I can say about all those years of living with pigeons.
 
Things come to me as I stir up those old memories. An exciting event was getting Our pigeons to circle around the house. To accomplish this, you have to get them going all at the same time. Basically, it meant frightening them with sudden sweeping gestures, with objects thrown at them, and with lots of whistling, yelling, and carryings on. Two or three pigeons might take off and I and on the roof next door . Or the pack would take off in a sudden explosion of panic, scatter in the sky, each pigeon for itself. A few minutes later, another try. Eventually everything would work out just right, and the pack of 30 to 40 pigeons, would circle around and around, in tight formation, offering a joyous sight to behold.

 
 


Bird Stories (15) by Leon James

 
One Sunday afternoon, my 3-year old son brought in a baby cardinal which he said had been lying out on the street. My first thought was to put the bird in the aviary, which I did despite the protest of my son He was sure that if we leave it outside, "its parents will come and take it." I pooh-poohed the idea as a Disney story, and over the protest of everyone (including Dr. Gordon), I incarcerated the bird.
 
Inside the aviary, the little wild bird settled itself 0n the front wire mesh wall, and began a fantastic racket of distress calls. I went back to my study. An hour later, my son rushed in to announce excitedly that the parents had come! I rushed out and saw the little bird being fed by a pink-brown cardinal with an impressive head-set. I rushed to the aviary and immediately freed the little bird. It took a dizzying dive across the pool and barely made it across the oleander fence. Two gorgeous cardinals emerged from somewhere and were in hot pursuit. My son ran out to investigate. Later he reported that the family lived in a tree a half a block away. I learned an important lesson that day: birds aren't dumb!
 
I was trying to net a couple of lovebirds from our aviary one day to give to someone. Trouble was they all look identical and I couldn't be sure I wasn't breaking up a mated pair. I devised the following strategy. I placed the two captured birds in a little cage, left the cage inside the aviary, and positioned myself outside for observation. As soon as I had left, one of the lovebirds immediately flapped around the little cage, eventually, settled on it, and was having an intensive exchange with one of the trapped birds. I then knew I had made a mistake. Returning to the aviary I freed that bird and captured another. Then I stationed myself outside once again. This time no one seemed terribly upset and, consequently, the two lovebirds were spirited away by our eager visitor.
Though I know a great deal about the life in a community of our backyard aviary birds, I am frustratingly aware of how little I know about their psychodynamics . How do they perceive the world around them? How do they recognize each other? Obviously they know about sex, age, species, and individual differences, since their behavior toward one another visibly takes these features into account. As well, they have a sense of normalcy and react to abnormal sights and sounds. Do they have thoughts and feelings? Preferences and anticipations? What is the content of their songs and chirpings? What makes the nestlings come out? Does the mother know if one of the babies is missing? Do they know about death?
 
Perhaps these are but idle questions, yet they persist and recur in my mind. Isn't there a methodology we can use to investigate them?
 

 
Bird Stories (16) by Leon James

 
The social organization in a backyard avian community replicates many of the characteristics of human social life. By drawing the correspondences between them and us, we can gain an especially informative perspective on ourselves. The attainment of this perspective is helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of social psychological phenomena.
 
Consider the issue of biographic phases of life , i.e. what in social psychology is called " developmental stages" or "age gradients " in " socialization patterns ." The following 7 stages summarize and classify the socialization pattern of the four species in our avian community.

 
BIOGRAPHIC PHASES
EGGS
1
HATCHLINGS
2
NESTLING
3
NESTLING
3
INFANTS
4
ADOLOSCENTS
5
ADULTS
6
THE AGED
7


1. Like the fetus in utero , the bird in the egg is affected by surrounding conditions: being rolled around, temperature and humidity changes, age at hatching. Some eggs never hatch, dry out, are eaten by ants, or are discarded by the parents. Selection in survival is already operating.

2-3. The survival of a hatchling appears incredibly improbable. Frail, pink, unfeathered, weak, and blind, a bird hatchling gradually becomes stronger, fights its way to the center Of the brood where it's warmest, and slowly but inevitably, Opens its eyes, grows gorgeous feathers, learns to emit strident distress calls to which the parents frantically respond. One day, attracted no doubt by that mysterious window to the world it sees its parents disappear from, it pokes its head out to see what it can see. It takes weeks of this look-see orientation before the nestling youth screws up enough courage to penetrate into that world of light, sound, and adventure.

4. Nestlings that emerge from the nestbox are greeted and acknowledged by the rest of the community. Even before that, there is hardly an adult bird in the community that has not poked its head inside the box, curious, no doubt, about the sounds inside. But when the big day comes and the infant makes its first appearance in the outside community, everyone contributes to its education. Infant birds are physically immature and socially incompetent. They need the permissiveness and special adjustment of the adults in the community. They continually violate many Of the rules which govern territorial access rituals . They blunder into restricted areas, disregard feeding lines, bump into others, fall, get stuck, and disturb siesta time with their antics and "play." In all of this, the parents and the other adults, remain quite patient and tolerant, getting out of their way, giving an assist, or gently disciplining them when they get too exuberant.
 

5. There comes a point when infants are no longer allowed to get away with just anything. Each is now a lone adolescent, in business for itself, exploring life, self, and relationship. Parents pay less and less protective attention as they get busy with the next brood. If lucky, the adolescent finds a compatible companion. Together, they get older, stronger, more competent; they perch next to each other, they horse around, they groom, and touch beaks. If not so lucky, the pre-adult grows to full membership with the status of singlehood and gets eventually integrated into the daily round schedule.

6. There is a marked difference in the life of an adult in paired status versus in singlehood. Young single adults have a rough time. They are always in the way Of mated ?airs nesting, courting or feeding. They seem to have no organizing purpose in life. They act timidly and submissively. As soon as they pair up, however, they appear energized by their role responsibilities. The paired male adult is treated with new respect by others, as well as treating himself with new self-respect. Being busy and having duties gives him added status in the community. He is allowed to court other females on the side (especially, parakeets) though he retains primary responsibility for his mate. He also forms friendships with other mated males.

7. Old age comes about when the adult becomes physically incapable, slows down, and spends a lot of time perching quietly, or sleeping. When the physical handicap is severe (e.g. inability to fly), the bird 5ecsmes a total isolate, is ignored by others, or treated permissively as infants are. When the bird dies, its body "disappears" within two or three days, carried away by the ants, little morsel by little morsel. ,here appears to be no sign of acknowledgement among the birds of the dying phase of life.


 

 
Bird Stories (17) by Leon James

 
When you become a regular witness to the daily round of an avian community, you begin to watch the on-going events in a new dramatic perspective that is fully as absorbing as T.V., but I dare say, much more informative. I'm not knocking T.V. per se , but I find T.V. programming singularly uninteresting, even if absorbing. On the other hand, watching a community daily round, whether avian or human (or sciurine, or simian, Or formic, etc.). reveals cultural phenomena and principles. Let me illustrate by sketching various simple situations which show the socio-cultural and social psychological forces in operation in a socially organized "space," region, or field. Let me call this interest the sociodynamics of place .
Assume that two courting parakeets do their thing on a perch. This can be schematically graphed in field theory concepts as follows:

 


Area "b" is the immediate, or proximal territory of occupation, while area "a" is distal . These two areas are differentially charged, valued, or valenced . To show this, consider two different situations happening in the same place, but at different times, i.e. under different circumstances ( circum - = surrounding, round, around; - stances = standing; to stand) or conditions. In other words, we'll look at two different social occasions occurring in one place .
 

 

 
Note that situations A and B (= COURTING) contrasts with situations C and D (= GROOMING). Let us call this first contrast, situational. Note that the arrangement of the three parakeets is parallel: arrangement 1 (A and C) can be written FFM, to show an adult unmated female next to the female of the mated pair; arrangement 2, can therefore be graphed as FMF (B and D). The second contrast is therefore the arragement contrast (FFM vs. FMF).
 
The contrasts involved can also be represented as a 2 X 2 contingency matrix:

 
SITUATIONAL COURTING
Courting || Grooming
FFM 1a || FFM 1b
FMF 2a || FMF 2b


ARRANGEMENT CONTRST


We thus have four occasions (A, B, C, D) and two arrangements (1, 2) giving us the following contrasts:
 
{[ 1A vs. 1B ]}
{[ 2A vs. 2B ]}
=TWO SITUATIONAL CONTRASTS
{[ 1A vs. 2A ]}
{[ 1B vs. 2B ]}
=TWO ARRANGEMENT CONTRASTS

 

Now we are ready to consider the data. What are the behaviors of the parakeets under the four conditional contrasts? The following table summarizes my Observations:

 
TYPE OF OCCASION   TYPICAL BEHAVIORS

COURTING



GROOMING
 
1 FFM

2 FMF

1 FFM

2 FMF
F1 attacks F2 at a

no attacks on F2 at a

no attack on F2 at a

no attack on F2 at a


This says that the second female parakeet gets attacked only under arrangement FFM where FM are engaged in courting. This means that the territoriality valence of area a (charge, force) varies, changes, is altered as a result of the ongoing activity in interaction with the arrangement of individuals on. the perch . This interaction effect can be graphed as follows:
SOCIAL OCCCASION

A. FFM, COURTING
B. FFM, GROOMING
C. FMF, COURTING
D. FMF, GROOMING
VALENCE OF area a

" - ', off limits
"O", neutral
"O", neutral
"O", neutral


There are many human situations that conform to this sociodynamic principle. The sight of a courting couple on a park bench, acts as a repellent to a polite stroller-by; but when they are sitting, talking or reading, the other end of the bench is neutral; the passer-by may sit there. Similar social cues function to affect arrangement at a cafeteria table, in the library, or in class. Chart the sociodynamic forces involved in these human situations and you'll see the principles in operation.
 

 
Bird Stories (18) by Leon James

 
I have discussed in an earlier story, group differences in species characteristic behaviors, and reported an index of "cross-cultural" similarity. Here, I wish to give you some additional similarities and differences between the four species populating our two backyard aviaries.

 
Group Differences in Nestbuilding

 


 
  Lovebirds Java birds Parakeets Cockatiels
Uses materials (branches, grass) + + - -
Weaves nest + + - -
Fills all of space in nestbox + + - -
Uses same box over and over + + + +
Alters nest by ejecting materials ? + + +
Both mates enter + + + +
Mother stays in more than husband + ? + -
Husband assists in building - + - ?
Mother stays in most of her day + ? + -
Mother sleeps inside at night + ? + -
LEGEND

+ indicates observed occurences for "Yes"
- indicates observed occurences for ''No"
? indicates insufficient data
? indicates probably "No"
       

 

Group Differences in Territorial Assertions

NESTBOX AREA:
MOTHER'S CONDUCT


LOVEBIRDS: does not allow others in vicinity except male
and Offspring (until late adolescence)

JAVA BIRDS: varies on a number of factors: during early
phases, as above; later, top of the box is
public at prayer times, siesta; entrance area
always forbidden to others (offspring weaned
gradually from entrance until adulthood,
perhaps longer).

PARAKEETS: top of the box is public, entrance, only for
the mate and infants. Additional conditions
create more complex patterns of conduct, e.g.,
during competition with neighbors and coveting
females, the mother aggressively chases the
incumbent from all vicinity, sometimes well
beyond that part of the aviary. Males and
infants are not attacked adolescent females at
times. Only mates and infants are allowed
at the entrance or inside.

COCKATIELS: all parts appear to be either public or
sharable, including inside (observed with
Java birds).

NESTBOX AREA:
HUSBAND'S CONDUCT


LOVEBIRDS: same as Mother's

JAVA BIRDS: same as Mother's

PARAKEETS: does not appear to protect nestbox; responds
aggressively against males in vicinity when
courting mother near nestbox, on perches, etc.

COCKATIELS: at times, same as Mother's; at times, chases
all birds in vicinity (excepting its mate).
(Conditions remain to be investigated.)
By studying group differences in various activity zones, you gain a deeper understanding of the cultural forces that activate and influence individual behavior. See if you can chart group differences among humans in your own daily round: which activities mark sex differences? Differences in ethnicity, age, occupation, role position?
 

   Grumpy Bird (Hardcover) by Jeremy Tankard

Bird wakes up feeling grumpy. Too grumpy to eat or play -- too grumpy even to fly. "Looks like I'm walking today," says Bird. He walks past Sheep, who offers to keep him company. He walks past Rabbit, who also could use a walk. Raccoon, Beaver, and Fox join in, too.

Before he knows it, a little exercise and companionship help Bird shake his bad mood. This winsome, refreshingly original picture book is sure to help kids (and grown-ups) giggle away theirs, too!

More from Amazon.com

 


   The Burgess Bird Book for Children (Dover Science Books) (Paperback) by Thornton W. Burgess

"If you enjoy reading aloud to your children, you and your family will enjoy the lovely short stories and pictures of The Burgess Bird Book For Children. The stories are long and have held my boys attention well and they look forward to the next story. The chapters provide good vocabulary building for younger ages. A wholesome book for children." Mathew Price "Kate"

"Peter Rabbit is the main character. He goes around to the various habitats discovering the different birds. He wants especially to know where the nest is, and how many young they have. Jenny Wren is also a main character. She is little Miss-Know-it-All. The fact that she is characterized as somewhat "snooty" helped my kids remember that a good identifier to wrens is their upturned tails." mnhmslmom (MN)

More from Amazon.com


   James Herriot's Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Tales by the Author of All Creatures Great and Small (Hardcover) by James Herriot "There have been times in the winter when I have regretted being a vet and this looked like one of them..."

"This is an absolutely delightful collection of stories, generously illustrated and put together with a child's point of view in mind. It belongs in every library, in every home with children, and on every child's reading list. There is so much information about treating animals (farm animals, family pets, and special companion animals) that is interesting to children and adults. As a bonus, the stories evoke emotions that help little ones develop compassion for all living creatures. It's a wonderful book." Inabo (New Mexico)

More from Amazon.com


 

Back to DrDriving Home