Monday, January 09, 2006

The Brit Budgie That Can Cross Stitch


By Elaine Meinel Supkis

Another animal story today, this time, a very clever bird indeed. I want to discuss animal intelligence---And speculate as to why certain humans refuse to learn lessons from life.

From the Sun:
SPIKE the budgie is a clever little sew and sew — she can do STITCHING.
And the three-year-old bird is so darn good she has been voted Young Cross-Stitcher of the Year.

Spike spent months watching her owner Sandra Battye creating patterns before picking up a needle in her beak herself.

They are now birds of a feather and work on tweed and other fabrics together.
The British are famous for their strong feelings about pets. Lovers and friends call each other, "pet" as a sign of affection. Dogs and cats are constant companions. My very first cat book from 1950 was the official cat fancier's guide in England. There was no such book in America at the time!

Bird watching has been a British interest for a very long time and my great godmother in America, born before the Civil War began, picked up this fancy from the British. Butterfly watching and collecting bugs goes way back, the British have tamed fish and bird and mammal for generations. The animals as human books were extremely popular in Britain, as we all well know from such classics as Wind in the Willow.

The lady who co-resides with this Budgie wasn't an animal trainer using classic Pavalovian/Skinner reward techniques to get an animal to do tricks. Tricks are learned responses imposed on an animal, sort of like how TV commercials work on humans. This manipulation only shows how easily an organism can be trained into doing things it would not do if free.

This Budgie like so many animals I have observed over the years, enjoyed interacting with humans. I even had a Rocky Mountain Skunk that lived with me when I was a small girl, had its stink bomb yet never used it on me. I followed me about like a cat or dog. Slept in my lap when I was reading a book. I found it in my sock drawer one morning, evidently, Door Kitty brought it into the house.

Animals choose humans and when they love the human, they love to imitate or participate in whatever the human is doing. In the Budgie's case, the sewing actions triggered strong nesting instincts and birds are famous for weaving nests. I used to raise weaver birds and watching them build nests was endlessly fascinating.

The bird in this story freely chose to participate in what its mind saw as joint nest building. Birds test mates this way, seeing how diligent and hard working they are in nest building. So this bird was overjoyed to see the sewing happening and its joint efforts is a tremendous award for its psyche, it glows with joy every time the nest building is launched. This melding of human and animal is always a wonder to see.

I have this smarty horse named Sparky. When we got him, he loved to escape from wherever we shut him up. He would always loiter around my shoulder, peering at what I was doing, every time I opened or closed gates. Then he would imitate my hand movements using his lips! He could open all sorts of latches and chains! I would yell, "Who let the horse out??" because he didn't run away, instead, he would come to the house.

One day, I noticed a shadow at the front door and suddenly, the door handle moved and in came Sparky, triumphant. He figured out how to enter the house! Later, he observed how humans rang the door bell and then I would let them in. One day, he rigged his way out of the pasture, came to the house and ding-donged the front door causing the dogs to bark. This amused him so much, he enjoyed the "bell rings/dogs bark" matrix, I had to disable the bell until I figured out how to pen him in.

He tried to open the truck doors, too. One day, I found him with his head inside the window, pulling at the door handle from inside. Then he learned about the truck horn. Poking it with his nose made it honk and then the dogs would bark. Another great toy.

I am a firm believer in participating with animals, doing things that are fun. This is how I got the sheep to do things. I can talk to my animals and discuss what we are doing and why. Seriously, they listen to this and if I am not persuasive, they let me know (heh). Sometimes, I say, "What are you thinking of doing?" when they look suspicious. Then they would try to look innocent but then when I go searching for what they have rearranged or done, bingo.

Naughty, naughty.

I wish some humans were as smart as animals but maybe this is asking too much.
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