was too enticing. He regularly flew between my legs from across the room to
perch upon my finger. Repetition imprinted the trick upon his brain. His best
performance was yet to come.
The ring. I asked my mother to find some type of a dinner-plate sized
ring as she practiced one of her favorite pastimes, scouring neighborhood
garage sales. She found a wooden, needlework ring that fit the description.
When I brought the ring into the room, Byrd cocked his head to one side,
suspiciously eyeing it with the full extent of his monocular vision. When I
approached him with the ring at my side, he darted away. He didn’t like that
ring at all. The granddaddy of all tricks was going to take extra effort.
Delicacies would have to be the lure. Byrd grew tired of earthworms,
and lost his appetite for mealworms. But Byrd could never resist one treat:
waxworms. Those plump, parchment-skinned, maggot-shaped waddlers
drew Byrd’s attention like nothing else. A shake of the waxworm plastic
container would bring him scampering from any corner of the apartment to
light upon my shoulder. He would stare at the container, mesmerized. That
magic had to be put to use.
Training again began slowly. I dropped the ring on the front room
carpet and tossed a waxworm a few inches from it. Byrd flew to the floor,
yards from the ring, and hesitated. He looked back to me, inevitably wanting
a waxworm, but not the one near the ring. I tossed another waxworm a foot
away from the ring. Byrd still hesitated, dancing back and forth, stopping,
craning to observe a treat seemingly so far away. Then, he stood still.
Decision time. He crept inches closer. Closer. Lunged. Then he ran away,
content to devour his waxworm within a safe distance of the dreaded ring.
I dropped another waxworm closer to the ring. After hesitating for minutes,
Byrd again gingerly stepped closer, snatched the worm and ran away. He
waited a while longer before daring to grab the waxworm closest to the ring.
Finally, I threw a waxworm into the middle of the ring and sat back to watch.
Byrd nervously skipped around the perimeter of the ring, wondering which
stretch of wood was safest to jump across. After deciding on just the right
spot, he stopped. Paced back-and-forth. Stopped again. Waited. Suddenly,
he vaulted into the ring, grabbed the worm, jumped out of the ring and again
ran a distance away to enjoy his treat. A first day success. In subsequent
days, Byrd grew accustomed to retrieving waxworms from inside the ring
perimeter—without the drama.
When fear was gone, training advanced. I dropped a waxworm inside
of the ring and picked up one edge approximately one inch. Byrd had to
simply step inside of the ring, as usual, to retrieve his treat. After a bit of
hesitation, he stepped over the ring edge contacting the carpet, retrieved his
treat and ran away. I began to slant the ring further, never letting Byrd run
under the ring. I would rotate it until the edge which contacted the carpet was
always in front of him. He could run out of the ring by running beneath it or
jumping out of it, but never retrieve the treat by running under the slanted ring.
The slant increased over days of practice, from 10 degrees to 45 degrees to
60 degrees. Then, to 90. At that point, the ring had to be constantly rotated.
Byrd always ran to the opposite side of the ring in order to avoid walking
through it. He soon realized that the only way to the waxworm was through
the ring. He began to hop through it. Breakthrough.
The next steps were relatively easy. I lifted the ring ever so slightly.
Byrd hopped through for his treat. Lifted it higher. He hopped through again.
Lifted it higher. This time, I placed the worm between my thumb and forefinger.
Byrd jumped through the ring, onto my hand and retrieved the worm. When
I moved the ring to the kitchen table and placed a worm within its perimeter,
he waited for me to place the ring on the front room rug. Remedial training
was in order since Byrd didn’t transfer the trick to all surfaces yet. I coaxed
him onto the kitchen table with a waxworm, and then we quickly moved
through our initial training on the tabletop. Byrd jumped into the ring, walked
through it, jumped through it. I moved the ring from the table to over my lap.
The real test.
Byrd transferred. He bounded from the table, through the hoop and
onto my finger to claim his treat. Then, I lowered my finger to the side of
table, placing Byrd’s claws over its edge so that he would willingly step back
onto the tabletop. I moved further away. Byrd popped off of the tabletop,
through the hoop and onto my finger to again claim his treat. I set him back
on the table and I stood up. He flew through the hoop. I moved across the
room. He jettisoned from the table through the hoop. His eyes and his body
radiated an aura of pride and success.
Byrd enjoyed his new ability as much as I did repeating it. I could
tell—after claiming his treat, Byrd lingered on my finger until I threw him into
the air. He’d land nearby, waiting to perform his next trick. In subsequent
days, I could use lesser treats, such as a slice of grape or a soft raisin.
We accomplished the grand finale. Just me and Byrd. Now… if I were
to set the ring on fire—careful not to singe my red ringmaster suit—and
positioned myself between two sitting tigers, I know that the crowd would
explode in applause when Byrd flew around the grandstand three times,
and then, bulleted through the ring of fire! In front of our imaginary circus,
we repeated all of Byrd’s tricks most every day and tried to expand his
Byrd’s pleasure was not only in receiving a treat, but in performance
itself. Since he showed so much intelligence in his early youth, I should’ve
known that Byrd would be such a good performer. As he aged, his intelligence
was also channeled into energetic curiosity.
Byrd accepted an unfamiliar position: I placed him in the palm of my hand.
A Curious Little Byrd