Oliver’s Story

Recently, a friend of mine was in her front yard, working on her garden.  She left her front door open, and her bird was talking to her from inside the house.  After a while, a Sun Conure flew from a nearby tree into her front door, landing on her bird’s cage.  Her bird’s voice must have attracted him.  The Conure was clearly upset, and extremely hungry.  My friend, whom we will call Jill, gave the Conure, whom we will call Oliver, some food and water, and Oliver ate and drank with an urgency that suggested he’d been on his own for quite some time.

Jill put the word out in every possible medium, looking for this bird’s home.  He talked and sang, so clearly he had been someone’s pet; surely someone was missing him.  On the other hand, he was very scared, very aggressive, and screamed constantly.  After a couple of days of not hearing from anyone, she wondered if someone let him go because he was so difficult.

Then, a few days into her search, she got an email that went something like this (I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t have an eidetic memory):

Hello, 

I think you have my bird.  He’s a sun conure, and he’s 2 years old, and his name is Oliver.  I’ve had him since he was a baby and I love him very much.  He talks and sings songs from my baby sister’s CDs.  I let him fly free two weeks ago.  He’s missing a toe because my dad slammed his toe in the door when he was screaming for 3 hours straight.  When I let him go it was because my dad threatened to kill him if he didn’t shut up.  I didn’t want him to die.  I mean, he’s a wild bird, so he can survive in the wild, right?  I’m sorry I did this.  Please don’t be mad at me.  I just didn’t want him to die.  Can you please keep him?  Or find a good mom for him?  I’m sorry to Oliver, if that’s him.  I’m sorry.

I was bawling like a baby when I read this email.  Even now, writing about it, I’m a blubbering emotional mess.  Judging by her spelling, grammar, and punctuation, she was either pretty young or poorly educated; either way, she was obviously still young enough to be under her parents’ guardianship.  And I can feel that little girl’s heartbreak and fear.  I can imagine how difficult the decision was for her, how she was trying to do the right thing for her bird under the cloud of her father’s rage and threats.  I wonder whether his rage is ever turned on her.  I wonder if he expresses his anger verbally and physically with his children as well.

But this blog entry is about much more than my speculations about his suitability as a parent.  I’m writing about this because this is exactly why I am a behavior consultant.  This situation perfectly demonstrates the impetus behind my desire to educate the public.  If this man had been given better tools to process his emotions, if he had been taught that he has options to improve his environment, his circumstances, and his bird’s behavior, imagine how different the story would be.  But most people don’t know that they have the ability to change things in their environment.  They don’t know that a bird’s behavior can change.  They don’t know that, just because a bird does something unpleasant now, it can learn not to do that unpleasant thing at all, or at least do it less. And perhaps most importantly of all, they don’t know how. So many times, I go into a client’s house for a behavior consult, and a great deal of the consult ends up becoming a therapy session; because behavior is greatly contingent upon environment, and because the humans in a household make up a very important part of a bird’s environment, their dysfunction oftentimes significantly plays into the bird’s dysfunction.  Thus begins, and continues, a vicious cycle–one that often leads to situations like Oliver’s.

He’s been at Jill’s house for about a week now.  He has moments where his beautiful little personality shines through.  He loves his food, and he loves singing along to children’s songs.  But he still screams a lot.  He’s terrified of hands, and bites hard if one gets too close to him.  When Jill’s other bird tries to talk, Oliver shouts, “SHUT UP, STUPID!”  Anger, threats, and physical abuse are all he’s known; it’s the only way he knows to react to his environment.  His few good memories are, at the moment, overshadowed by so many bad ones.  With a lot of love and patience, he will come around.  He will learn that life can be so much better, so much more, than what it has been.  He will learn that he has agency in his life; he has the ability to make decisions on his own, and that he doesn’t have to use aggression as his only tool of communication.  He will learn that he is being heard, understood, and respected.  He’s lucky to have flown into Jill’s house–someone who can provide that love and patience.  How many others aren’t so lucky, though?  And what about that little girl?  What about her father?  Who will be loving and patient with them?  Until applied behavioral analysis becomes a part of our culture, our way of life – until we, as a civilization, can undergo a true paradigm shift and learn to start treating each other with love, patience, and respect, and thinking of every sentient being as a learner, who can and will change, and who deserves the opportunity to do so – I can’t help but feel that Oliver’s story will continue to be repeated everywhere, across species, and that most will not end up as lucky as he is.

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About Emily Strong

behavior consultant. veterinary technician. crazy parrot lady. lifelong animal lover. cellist. yogi. hula hooper. horse rider. swimmer. singer. reader. writer. dreamer. music lover. amateur gardener. nutrition enthusiast. eternal student. language lover. aspiring polyglot. tattoo canvas. water drinker. overthinker. bountiful laugher. overenthusiast. attention deficit meditator.
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19 Responses to Oliver’s Story

  1. dou dou says:

    Oh poor Oliver!!!!!! He can come live with me and boo boo if “Jill” can’t manage him. He will take at least a year to adjust. Please tell your friend that the most effective way to deal with a screaming conure is to ignore him. When he starts to scream, don’t look at him and leave the room. When he stops, go back in. It takes some patience but it does work. You must be consistent. Oliver is a conure, he will always scream but you can get it under control. Tell her she is free to email me if she needs help with little Oliver. Poor boo. And that poor little girl – what a horrid man to have for a father!

    • Thanks for the sweet offer! A friend of “Jill’s” who is very bird knowledgeable actually really bonded with “Oliver”, and vice versa, so he has adopted him and is working on his behavior. He is very knowledgeable, so he knows how to deal with “Oliver’s” issues, but he also knows that I am an avian behavior consultant, so if he runs into any problems, he will contact me. As for the little girl and her father, we can only hope that someone will help him with his issues, too, before the damage he does to himself, his family, and others is beyond repair. As hard as it is, we must try to find compassion and forgiveness for him, too.

      • dou dou says:

        Thanks for the update. I’m glad your friend has you on call 🙂 And we’d love to see a picture of little Oliver!

        I believe that my boo boo was a “throw away bird” too. I have had her for ten months now. She used to bite people till they bled, now she just bites. She was very afraid of hands but she will step up now. She knew two words when she came to me “Stop” and “A**hole”. she says her name now “Sweetie Boo” and I haven’t heard “Stop” or the bad word in a long time. She was a bit of a screamer but she is SO much better now. So tell your friend not to worry, love and respect can cure a Conure’s ills 🙂

      • The picture that I posted in the blog is the only one I have of Oliver, but I’ll ask “Jill” if she has any others she can share. What kind of bird is Sweetie Boo?

      • Looks like a Sun to me, although I can’t see Boo’s back in that photo. Jendays have solid green wings and backs. She has a lot of yellow sprinkled into that wing. If there’s green and yellow on the wings and back, then she is probably a Sunday (hybrid). That happens a lot. Whatever the case, she’s beautiful!

      • dou dou says:

        Yep – she’s a mutt 😉

  2. dou dou says:

    Reblogged this on dou dou birds and commented:
    This is why pet stores should not sell birds!

  3. pixilated2 says:

    This will sound awful, and it is… but the first words out of my baby sister’s mouth when we were little were “Shut-up Stupid!” Sad. I hope the little girl will be OK.

    • I grew up in a family where we used language like that, too, even though we were very loving with each other. Insult humor was just a part of our family culture. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize how, even in jest, and even in the context of great love, words can still be more damaging than we realize. Of course, old habits die hard, and I still find myself saying things like that that I wish I hadn’t, but… you know, it’s a process. 🙂

  4. zoraidabros says:

    How fortunate for Oliver to have found your friend. I love birds and had many throughout my life. I once had 5 parrots which were rescued from a bad situation. Two of these (African Senecals) were very destructive. The male in particular could take a chunk off your finger. We found them a home (as a pair) several years ago. They’re still fine. I have one parrot left which I kept. He/she is slightly bald but otherwise happy and healthy. I didn’t think anyone else would have her. When she gets really loud, I simply cover her cage. She/he has been with us for about 7 years now.

    • Unfortunately, so many birds end up with really undesirable behaviors because the people in their lives didn’t know how to interact with them in a behaviorally healthy way. All we can do is try to share information, provide education, and be here for the birds who weren’t lucky enough to benefit from the care of an informed owner.

  5. Pat Bean says:

    This was a great blog. And I gave it a Bean’s Pat on my blog today. Thanks for sharing the story, and for the message. .

  6. FeyGirl says:

    DITTO. What a beautiful post. It made me weepy on many levels, but I’m so happy it ended well for the bird. Sending love to that little girl — so many have been there, and I hope she can make it through to continue her love for these critters…. I’ve visited more than one sanctuary with these “throwaway birds.” People must understand the love, care, and time they require, if stores INSIST on selling them (wrong, wrong, WRONG). These are highly intelligent, sentient, and long-living animals. Thanks for your thoughtful post; I’ll definitely be re-posting. ♥

  7. nuttycrunch says:

    what a heartbreaking story, but it is so good to hear Oliver has found himself a lovely loving home after all!

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