Additionally, I was not inclined to join social groups. From my early youth, my
blue-collar parents considered school work and the accomplishment of high
grades to be my job. After-school activities were not encouraged.
When my father and I regularly camped for five days in early summer
and five days in late summer, my mother visited my apartment daily for
Byrd's care. She spent time with him previously in order to gain his trust.
With very few exceptions, I telephoned her every night every time that I was
on vacation. After asking how she was doing, my next question was always
the same: “How is Byrd?” One day, she responded by saying “What will
you do without Byrd?” I couldn't stand the thought of his death, pushing the
inevitable out of my mind. Byrd was still young and we were having fun.
His feet dangled as I cupped my hand around his back and wings.
A Circus Byrd
I can't help but to believe that Byrdie liked to do tricks. Patience and a
step-by-step process yielded wonderful results. Besides, he was a little
Beginning a bath. Photo taken in 2004.
Teaching Byrd to perform tricks was an activity that we could do
together. Besides, Byrd enjoyed pleasing me and I enjoyed time spent with
him. I don't think that serious efforts were made to train Byrd until he was at
about 6 months old. He was so rambunctious as a baby that I did not attempt
it earlier. I laid the foundation, though, by placing my hand or forefinger near
his feet soon after he came into my house. Often, he stepped onto my hand
or finger. Simultaneously, I probably said the word “up” with a similar voice
inflection each time.
At the new apartment, real training began with the classic perch on the
forefinger trick. Training proceeded slowly, usually upon my kitchen table, but
sometimes upon the floor. Using a piece of Byrd's favorite food, combined
with a period of food deprivation of about an hour or so, provided the proper
motivation. I would rest my finger in front of Byrd's feet. While holding a
treat at beak's height and slightly behind the finger, I would say “up.” When
Byrd lunged at the food, jumped over my finger, flew onto my forearm or
did anything except step onto my finger, the treat was withdrawn. As soon
as Byrd stepped onto my finger, I gave him the treat. Within days, he was
stepping onto my finger regularly at the word “up.” From that point, I began
to raise my finger. Byrd could no longer simply step onto my finger. He had
to jump a few millimeters or so. I withdrew the treat numerous times or hid it
behind my back as Byrd did a myriad of motions rather than the requested
one. If I felt that he was getting frustrated or took more than 5 to 7 attempts,
I withdrew the food and waited until he was calm. We then reverted back to
a simple step onto the finger without any elevation. The treat was then given.
If Byrd was still hungry, we did the simple step again, perhaps with the finger
elevated a single millimeter. In order to avoid the connection of frustration
with doing tricks, I liked to end the session with Byrd not only feeling a sense
of accomplishment, but of weakened hunger. Since Byrd was not a small
bird, we could continue for 15 to 20 minutes before his stomach would fill and
his mind wander. We repeated his lessons a couple of times per day.
It wasn't long until his millimeter jump increased exponentially. After
a week, Byrd was jumping up an inch to perch on my finger and claim his
treat. After a few more days, he began to jump higher. When he ran or
pushed his way under my hand to pilfer the treat, the treat was withdrawn
until Byrd settled down. If necessary, we reverted back to jumping only a few
millimeters onto my finger for a treat. We progressed forward when possible
and backward when necessary. One training session, Byrd just seemed to
‘get it.' After raising my finger progressively higher off of the table, he jumped
progressively higher onto my finger. When I backed away from the table, he
bounded to my finger. When I moved to across the room, he again flew to my
finger. We repeated that trick scores of times. Byrd never tired of performing
for food.
After that accomplishment, I added a new twist. I bought some wooden
dowel rod from a local hardware store and we returned to the kitchen table.
After showing the treat over the short dowel rod extending from my fist and
giving the order, Byrd jumped onto my hand. He looked at me, expecting me
to give him his treat. But I waited. Byrd waited, too. Then, he inched his way
to the dowel rod and shimmied claw over claw to claim the treat waiting at
my fingertips at the end of the rod. After a few more times of Byrd flying to
my hand and shimmying to his treat, he began to fly directly onto the dowel
rod and claim his reward without delay.
My plan didn't stop there. Byrd could be challenged further. I fastened
a 4-inch section of dowel rod on the top of a 3-foot section of dowel rod to
create large T-shape. When Byrd flew to the kitchen table for a treat, I set
the apparatus close to the table and held his treat over the 4-inch section.
Byrd lighted upon it within a moment. I raised the apparatus to the level of my
face. Again, Byrd lighted upon it, easily claiming his treat. Finally, I raised the
T-structure like the baton of a circus ringleader, showed the treat, gave the
order and Byrd flew to perch upon the very top. Then, I raised and lowered
my makeshift baton to the imaginary music of a circus band. All of the while,
Byrd bobbed upon the top of the baton, enjoying the ride and the attention. In
those moments, I could picture myself in a red suit and top hat, maneuvering
between elephants as the smallest performer perched upon my baton. The
crowd was clapping wildly while the pride in Byrd's brown eyes glowed with
the reflection of crisscrossing beams of swiveling spotlights.
I taught him to fly between my legs. Since Byrd would readily fly to
my finger, all that I had to do was bend over rather closely to him, extend the
forefinger at knee height, show the treat and give the command. Sometimes,
he would tease me by jumping on my back. But after a short time, the treat