Friday, November 15, 2013

Quicksilver the African Grey Parrot, Skittles the Candy, and Conan O'Brien Goes Birding in Central Park

Quicksilver  the African Grey Parrot gives me "The Look".

 "The Look" is usually preceded by Silver deciding that some action is required around the old homestead.  

The intensity of this "action" varies.

On the low end of action, the mood where is is a little bored and being mischievous, he tends to be out to surprise you.  For instance, he may follow you into the bathroom and give your bare toe a slight pinch while you're brushing your teeth.

  You are surprised. 

 And because you are surprised, you then make a little surprised sound and you jerk your foot back.  Silver finds this to be a total hoot.  He laughs while you tell him he shouldn't be on the  floor.  Number one, he may get stepped on,   and number two, pinching people isn't nice. 

Silver does not care.

On the high end of action, ordinarily when Silver is very hormonal or very angry, "the look" as he marches across the bed towards you, precedes a sudden leap at your hand, your telephone, or maybe even a scary plastic bag you're holding and an attempt to bite the crap out of it or you. 

Figuring that a lot of this when not just blind hormones was coming from boredom and or some kind of pent up parrot hostility, due to my bossing him around all the time--

Stay off the floor!  

Do not entice the cats to chase you!   

NO! Do not chew the furniture, the window sill, that DVD, my copy of Wild Birds Of America, that giant box of Tide, MY TELEPHONE, DO NOT POP THE BUTTONS OFF THE TV CLICKER...

You get the picture.   

Tangent Alert!  On one occasion when I fell asleep without meaning to in the middle of the day, neglecting therefore to put him in his cage for a nap before I drifted off,  Quicksilver mosied over to my computer keyboard and popped every single one of the tops off the keys.   

Try going on line and finding a diagram of your particular keyboard so you can put them back in the right places with nothing but a space bar.

Back to our story...

I figured Silver might enjoy something new.

Enter the Skittles.

I'd heard that some African Greys will do almost anything for a Skittle and Silver might even attempt to charm me to get one.

(Do understand I'm not talking lots of Skittles, just  one every now and then.)

Skittle Day 1

I allow Silver to see the bag.  He knows a candy bag when he sees on.  He grew up with children.

I dump a number of Skittles into my palm. I put my hand out for him to choose one.
 Silver looks at the Skittles and chooses a yellow (lemon flavor) with his beak.  But instead of transferring it to his foot and then taking bites the way he'd usually eats a holdable piece of people food, he keeps it in his beak and shells it like he would a seed.

Does he think it is a seed?  No.  He's thinking.  See the way his eyes aren't particularly focused on the outside world?

It does have a hard outer covering comparable to a husk.  Note the hard tiny bits of candy shell falling through the air.
But it's candy too.   He gives me a positive look and chews as fast as he possibly can.  (The reason his feet are in focus but his head isn't.)

He is very focused internally.  Note part of  his tongue is now touching a portion of  candy which is not covered by the dry candy shell.   More shell flakes off.
 As Alex the African Grey Parrot used to say, YUMMY!

 Okay, back up about 14 years.  When he and Samantha were both much younger.  When no one was looking one Christmas Sam would give Silver a piece of peppermint candy cane.  Dry, he didn't want it.  He wanted it from her mouth.  And would go over and start excavating around in her mouth gently with his beak if she was within range.

Eventually she fessed up and asked why that might be?

After thought and getting her to demonstrate the behavior, I posited that the reason Silver would always want to extricate a piece of hard candy from Sam's mouth but was  uninterested in the candy before it went into her mouth, was because being he has no saliva, he couldn't taste the sweetness without some moistening. 

I have no idea if this is true as I've no way to truly test it, but as a working hypothesis it was never disproved as anything that needed moistening in order to taste had to come out of people's mouths and Silver knew it and went for it.  

As to the skittles they are dry but they have an intense fruity smell.  And if you "open" them, they're moist.  Perhaps the aroma made the difference or perhaps he'd seen people eat them previously. ???

DAY 2  When presented with Skittles once again in my palm, Silver chose bright green, the new sour apple flavor  He started the shelling process, and immediately spit it out on the floor.  Then looked at me expectantly.


I gave him another pick. 

He then chose yellow again, the color and flavor he'd originally picked.  He shelled it, ate it and I got another positive look.

Day 3 and 4 he chose orange. 

Day 5 and 6 he picked red, strawberry.

Interesting pattern so far.  He finds a flavor he likes and then has it again after changing flavors after one lemeon.  Then for whatever reason after two takes he becomes adventurous and now tries a new color.

He never chose green again, and at least so far is totally uninterested in the dark purple, grape skittles.  Now whether he'd give them a shot if they were the only choice may be next up.

Now for something completely different and very funny...who says birders don't have a sense of humor?
A wonderful clip from 2005 featuring Conan O'Brien taking a walk with the late Starr Saphir and company, on one of her famous Central Park bird walks, unearthed by long time reader and contributor NYC Bill.

Plus, who knew the Swiss were such dreadful litterbugs?

Happy Hawking!

Donegal Browne


Anonymous said...

I have 4 pet birds. None of them will eat tomatoes or red bell peppers--nothing red--except red licorice. They must be able to smell it. Both of the amazons gobble it down even though the white front amazon really does not like people food very much. The yellow crowned amazon will eat all people food and I have to watch his food intake or he will get fat.

By the way I love hearing about Quicksilver!

Karen Anne said...

Skittles look like M&Ms...who knew :-)

Are M&Ms safe for Silver? I know chocolate is unsafe for some animals.

Sally said...

HAHA!!! Your story about Silver was fascinating, but the bit about him pulling off the keyboard tops was hysterical! I'm sure you did NOT find it all amusing at the time... grin.

Donegal Browne said...

Hi Anon,

I'm trying to think if Silver eats anything red? Well he likes Spaghetti with red sauce. :) And I'm betting he'd go for red licorice as well, given half a chance. No he doesn't go for fresh tomatoes or actually neither green or red peppers. He's big on carrots and asks for them by name.

I was told once by the owner of an Amazon that they are the "perch potatoes" of parrotdom, ie. they do have a tendency to get chubby. For whatever reason I'm told Greys aren't prone to fat.

Wonder what their secret is?

Sounds like you have quite the flock of exotics. Do they get along? Can they be out at liberty all at the same time?

Donegal Browne said...

Hello Karen Anne,

No M&Ms for Silver. I've not been told specifically that parrots can't have chocolate but on the safe side he isn't given it. I admit he once helped himself to bit of chocolate rabbit one Easter without any change that we could see, but he didn't have much before he got busted.

It did change his droppings from green and white to brown and white but there are several foods that cause that without apparent issue. One such is marrow. He cracks open poultry bones (yes, cooked) and eats the marrow.

And before I get comments concerning cannibalism from out there, no Silver isn't being a cannibal.

Is Pale Male a cannibal when he has pigeon for lunch? Oh yeah...those birds of prey.

Greys are omnivores in my opinion. At least Silver is.. :)

Anonymous said...

Chocolate can kill birds as can avocados. There used to be a great site on the web about what was bad for birds but it is gone now.

My birds are all different sizes so only the amazons are ever allowed to be on a playgym together. One of them will show domination over the other one and then they will go to their seperate ends of the playgym.

My white front started to groom the yellow crowned years ago. Once he taught the yellow crowned how to groom he stopped grooming him. Now when they are together he will walk over to the yellow crowned and put his head down and wait to be groomed. He will not groom the yellow crowned any more. That white front amazon is a very smart bird.

My birds also like bone marrow. I break a small wing bone for my smallest bird which only weighs an ounce and he eats the bone marrow out of it, I think it is funny how they know to eat that bone marrow. It is not anything they would eat in the wild.

They are a lot of work. I virtually have 4 two year olds. Two of them will outlive me and that is a big concern for me. They are my family and I love them.

Michelle Hellstern said...

Hmm... I've never heard of parrots eating marrow before. I thought only Lammergeiers (aka Bearded Vultures) did so.

It could be that they're "omnivorous" because their ancestors may have been a falcon (I don't know much about phylogenetic trees, but that's how I interpret it).

Not sure if you want me linking to anything, but here's the said tree I was talking about:

(This post is just speculation, though it's just a guess as to why they might like marrow. :0)