Tango! Assessing personality in young animals

I was going to have an actual dog post today… but then I went and saw Tango for the first time yesterday! So this is dog-and-bird post instead. Or maybe I should say, “Personality assessment” post.

No creature is the perfect creature; they all have quirks and oddities. The real trick is figuring out which quirks and oddities you can live with! It helps, of course, if you know something about the body language or behavior of the animal, but even if you don’t you can extrapolate.

Now, while extrapolating, you need to be aware the animal may be having an “off” day, or going through a stage. Listen to the breeder. The breeder is the one around them all the time. If you describe your personality and household, and the breeder suggests a baby, give that a lot of weight. That said…

The baby greys were both timid of me when I first got there, but that’s to be expected. Birds aren’t puppies, and they aren’t automatically friendly! There were two of them, a few days apart in age and most easily identifiable by the lack of feathers on the back of the younger one’s neck. See?

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tango 6.13.13 9

<– Lack of feathers

Feathers –>

The older bird was more wary of me, settling back into a corner and growling. I ignored it to give him/her a chance to see I wouldn’t hurt them. The younger bird after just a second’s hesitation started exploring. S/he came running over to beak my fingers (relatively hard; I quickly got a little piece of cardboard to substitute for my flesh!), and the older bird finally calmed and snuggled against my arm, watching the world.

Eventually, the older bird napped. The younger bird continued to run around, beaking periodically. This doesn’t concern me: beaking is like teething. They don’t know that we don’t have plush, downy feathers to protect us from their beaks, and learning to be careful is just part of birds growing up. (In fact, this is where a lot of people go wrong: they panic because the beaking can hurt during this learning period, and instead of just fixing it — like substituting better toys and keeping their fingers away from the bird’s beak — they react poorly, accidentally encouraging it, or give up entirely. Puppies have to learn the same thing, and people do the same unhelpful behaviors with them, too!)

Over the course of about thirty minutes the younger bird figured out that I didn’t want to be beaked hard, and started softening up. A very good sign; this is quick learning! S/he, hilariously, did his/her best to climb my arm as well. One foot on my arm, one on the towel, and looking perplexed about what to do next. S/he tried to grab the towel on the other side but couldn’t reach, and tried to stretch her/his wings and get up that way. None of it worked, but it was funny watching him/her try! This little bird was very active and unafraid of almost anything: only a few times did s/he growl (greys growl when they’re worried/angry). Eventually, s/he wore him/herself out and — much like a puppy — collapsed in boneless sleep.

tango 6.13.13 13

About that time, the older bird woke up. S/he started out preening the freckles on my arm very gently, and then beaking my fingers. S/he was very, very gentle about it. I did take my hand away after a little while just for training sake, in case s/he goes through a harder beaking phase. But because s/he was gentle and not quite so assertive in his/her mannerisms, I gave her/him a longer chance to taste and check things out. (This isn’t needed in puppies, but birds use their beaks and tongues like another hand; exploring, checking texture and firmness, etc.)

tango 6.13.13 10

The older bird didn’t move as quickly, taking her/his time in looking around. S/he became more alarmed when we moved things around, growling frequently and sometimes even charging, beak open. Once s/he charged me, forgetting s/he’d been snuggled up for the last forty minutes, and when s/he got to me s/he grabbed my finger — gently — and held on. I had a good chuckle. S/he seemed confused as to why her/his tactic didn’t work. S/he also charged Justin, the breeder, once. Justin leaned down and said, “Oh, no, don’t bite the hand that feeds you!” S/he didn’t actually grab or beak that time, just paused and looked at Justin, then calmed down and made cute noises and did some exploring.

With each new change s/he became slightly alarmed and then settled down again. S/he was alarmed at being petted, but calmed down and let me scratch her/his head and under her/his wings after a few minutes of practice.

Shortly thereafter, the younger bird woke again, and the two of them wandered around, picking up shavings here and there, practicing flapping (the younger bird more than the older bird), preening each other (the older bird more than the younger bird) and checking stuff out. Once more, the younger bird would check things out while the older bird would growl first, and be brave after a moment.

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So, if I take all this information, what do I get assessment-wise?

Older bird: At least when new people are around, s/he is a little more cautious and wary. If s/he has problems, they will likely be of the fear-aggression/fearful variety. Anyone who takes him/her home will have to work on acceptance of new things and learning that aggression isn’t going to work. S/he’ll need a little extra encouragement and TLC. S/he is more cuddly and likely to preen, both very lovey behaviors. S/he likes to threaten, and if it works could become a problem. But s/he is also very gentle, and there’s no reason threatening should work.

Younger bird: At least when new people are around, s/he’s far more active. This is the clown, and the more assertive bird. S/he’ll need boundaries, but will probably take new adventures in stride: no big deal. S/he’ll definitely need more work understanding rules and beaking behaviors, and be more likely to get into things. Because s/he’s more confident with new people around, s/he’ll probably want to be the life of the party — a definite plus.

What the breeder said: The older bird is outgoing and typically the one more likely to interact. What this tells me is that we have one set of behaviors with new stuff, and one set with old stuff (or s/he was having an off day!). Confidence is probably key: when s/he feels confident, s/he’s outgoing. This means that work will need to be done with her/him to make sure we build that confidence in all areas.

What I want: I want a bird I can travel with. I want a non-screamer. I want a bird I can hang out with, cuddle with (not natural for greys), snuggle with (not natural), who will be able to be independent when I need to work, who can get along with lots of people. I want a bird who will hang out with me and my friends, no big deal.

Matching: Either of the above birds would work.

The pros on the older bird are that s/he’s very gentle, the breeder says outgoing, far more of a snuggler, interested in preening and other lovey behaviors, was calm enough to let me scratch under the wings. S/he also got very interested and listened very closely when the breeder spoke to her/him, which shows an interest in people/words rather than the spaces around her/him. The cons are that s/he’ll need some work learning to accept things, and might need more adjustment time if we travel. S/he’ll probably need more socializing work, too, to associate new people with good things. S/he may not be much of a talker around strangers, which makes it harder for vain-me to show off my awesome bird. (Let me be clear: this is a bad reason to have a bird. But I’m aware of my faults, and I might as well be aware of this possibility, since it will affect my emotions!)

The pros on the younger bird: s/he’s very outgoing and will likely take travel, people, etc in stride. Most likely this bird will happily talk with a bunch of strangers around. S/he was also hilarious to watch and play with, a general clown. S/he was definitely able to entertain him/herself. When I was persistent, s/he began to learn gentle beaking. The cons are that s/he was always on the move: no snuggling until s/he konked out, and as soon as s/he woke up s/he was active again. S/he is likely to get into more things, given how much s/he was already climbing on my arm and whatnot. Boundaries will need to be set, and we’d have to continue work on gentle beaking and, until s/he’s out of this phase, be careful with strangers.

Since I can train bravery and socialize easier than I can train calmness and snuggling, I decided the older bird is the one I’d like. That said — I’ve met Tango!

I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours reviewing things from yesterday and looking over pictures and videos. Tango is about 9 weeks old (8.5, the breeder said, but I count 9.5, so only time will tell!), and adorable. The younger bird was starting to try and climb my arm (perch), but Tango didn’t. As noted, s/he wasn’t as active in general, at least yesterday while I was there. Weaning means eating on their own, perching on their own, and able to fly. The breeder said he’ll start giving them weaning food in the next few days, so they’re on their way! Hopefully Tango will be coming home some time in the next 3-5 weeks. Hopefully I’ll have time to go visit before then!

Here are adorable videos. Tango is the bird preening, while T’s sibling is flapping like crazy:

Tango is the one in the back, and if you listen closely you’ll hear adorable bird noises:

Yay! I have an adorable baby bird! 😀



**Edit: I was able to take both Quin and my Mom to visit Tango and sib in the following weeks, and discovered that the older bird — the one I’d decided was Tango — was consistently fearful. Given the number of people and dogs I have in here, and the amount of traveling I do, I decided the younger bird was probably better, and that is the Tango you hear about now!


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