What's New in My Zoo?

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Orpheus, a very young male red fan (hawk-headed) parrot, Deroptyus a. accipitrinus,
who lives with me (December 2007).

GrrlScientist, 2007 [larger view].

My birds and I have been watching David Attenborough's Attenborough in Paradise on DVD (review coming soon) on my computer. In this situation, Elektra, my female Solomon Islands Eclectus parrot, perches on my left shoulder, thereby preserving her top-dog status in my little flock of parrots, while Orpheus, the very young male hawk-headed (red fan) parrot, sits on my knee (just as you see in the image above, except that he is looking at the computer screen instead of the camera) and the yellow-bibbed lories fly freely around my apartment.

A few nights ago, while this video was playing, I was watching Orpheus, who appeared to be completely absorbed in the film, so I began wondering if he was actually watching the movie, or if he was instead attracted by the sounds or by the colors or the flickering lights or .. what?

Orpheus didn't move, even when I peeked over the top of his head so I could get a glimpse of his face, to see if his eyes were open or closed.

His eyes were wide open.

All of a sudden, the film captured a large tree falling in the tropical rainforest. Orpheus was clearly alarmed. At first, the tree leaned slowly, sloooowly, groaning and creaking, but its progress towards the earth increased rapidly and it finally fell with a loud crash.

Orpheus shrieked and ran away. He ended up hiding his face under my arm while I laughed, and then tried to soothe him. He eventually calmed down, and came out again to sit on my knee and cautiously peered at the video, but I wonder .. what alarmed him? What was he responding to? It would be silly to say that he was afraid of witnessing a falling tree, and too easy to say that he was responding to the sound or the flickering images alone, so I am actually not sure what to think about his behavior.

Do your animals watch TV/videos with you? Are you sure they are actually watching the images or are they watching something else? If so, how do you know this?

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Orpheus, a male Hawk-headed (red fan) parrot, Deroptyus accipitrinus, Christmas day 2007. This is the best picture I've taken of him so far, but unfortunately, I didn't notice that he had a bit of dried food stuck to the side of his beak until after I took the picture. Of course, after removing…
tags: Deroptyus accipitrinus, hawk-headed parrot, red-fan parrot, pets, birds, avian, parrots I hope to post an update about my parrots every Friday, complete with pictures. Orpheus, a very young male red fan (hawk-headed) parrot, Deroptyus a. accipitrinus, who lives with me (December 2007).…

My lurcher has never in ten years shown the slightest interest in the TV. However, my mother in law's little west highland terrier goes berserk whenever animals, especially other dogs, appear and will attack the the set vigorously. I'm not sure if he is responding to the sound or the picture though, so I will observe his behaviour with the sound off next time he stays with us.

When Oberon was just a kitten, I was watching a Nature episode about kangaroos. There was a long segment showing the joeys climbing in and out of the mother kangaroos' pouches, and I noticed that my little kitten was staring intently at the screen. I just assumed he was reacting to the sounds and the flickering lights. At most, I thought maybe his predatory instinct was triggered by the sounds of helpless baby kangaroos.

But when the sequence was over, though, he did something remarkable: He purposefully walked up to one of my older female cats, and with complete confidence tried to climb inside her pouch. Which of course, she does not have. She did, though, have a low growl and a couple of hard swats for the head of a kitten who thought he was a kangaroo.

My dog Boo definitely watches TV. She barks whenever a dog comes on, sound or no sound, and goes up to the television. When they walk off the screen she will go in that direction trying to find the dog.

She also occasionally tries to get the ball when sports shows are on and just lately she growls whenever there's a fight scene.

Orpheus may very well have understood the image of a falling tree, but I wonder if there were any animal alarm noises in that video. Was he born in the wild where he would have lived in a tree and been able to associate that image with real life experience?

By carolyn13 (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

orpheus is a captive-bred bird, and has never been in the wild. additionally, there were no "bird noises" that i recall and, as a birder, i am quite sensitive to bird noises (although i should listen to that part of the video again to be certain). that's partially the reason i am mystified as to his reaction. i also doubt he was exposed to trees, since he was sent to me while he was still very young, and only just learning to fly.

Hmm. My comment didn't show up. I probably did something wrong but I apologize if this comment shows up twice.

My dog Boo definitely watches TV. She barks whenever a dog comes on, sound or no sound, and goes up to the television. When they walk off the screen she will go in that direction trying to find the dog.

She also occasionally tries to get the ball when sports shows are on and just lately she growls whenever there's a fight scene.

Orpheus may very well have understood the image of a falling tree, but I wonder if there were any animal alarm noises in that video. Was he born in the wild where he would have lived in a tree and been able to associate that image with real life experience?

By carolyn13 (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

your comment was held for moderation. comments are held for moderation when they contain "too many links" or when they are "really long" or depending upon the specific configuration of the planets. in your case, i think the planet configuration explanation is applicable.

Sorry for the double post. I had to baby-sit my grandkids today and I'm exhausted.

I'm very intrigued by the intelligence your parrots are demonstrating, especially since the recent studies of Corvids have shown real intelligence in birds. I thought the parrot family was a bit farther down the scale than your friends seem to be.

By carolyn13 (not verified) on 09 Jan 2008 #permalink

I think my little Meyers understands what's on the screen. I was looking at a picture of his buddy, our Hawkhead, on the computer. When he noticed the picture he crawled up my hand over to the screen and gave it a big kiss, which is what he does with the Hawkhead. I've never seen him try to kiss my computer screen before or since.

Jack sometimes watches the computer - perhaps he's working out how to do this blogging business. He's developed this habit of sitting up on my lap, with his front paws on the edge pf the table, looking at the screen

Of course, it's well recorded that cats look at pictures of cats. They also react to bearded men.

Bob

One of our last cats, Gummi, almost never paid any attention to the TV -- laps and pets were far more interesting. The one exception to this was when we were watching one of the BBC Springwatch programmes, and they were filming a badger sett. For some reason, when the badgers were onscreen, Gummi went absolutely mental -- they attracted his attention as soon as they appeared, even if they were silent and not making "badger noises", and he went absolutely frantic trying to dig his way into the TV to get to them, even dodging repeatedly from the front of the TV to the back to flank them and mewling in frustration that he couldn't even *see* them from the back. It was the most astonishing thing. And it was just the badgers. My husband and I were in absolutely no doubt that he was responding to them as animals, and not just as light flickers on a screen -- but it left us wondering, what the heck, did a badger beat him up as a kitten or something?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 10 Jan 2008 #permalink

Well, in a parrot's "natural" environment, a falling tree would be a pretty standard "local disaster" -- not just the immediate hazards, but lots of assorted critters suddenly on the move looking for homes and/or prey. I'm not too surprised he'd have an instinctive reaction.

I don't watch much TV, nor keep my 16-pound cat in my lap while I use the computer, so I don't know how she'd react to screen events.

By David Harmon (not verified) on 10 Jan 2008 #permalink

We had a siamese cat who used to try to catch the birdies flying on nature documentaries. He wasn't interested in anything else, but he really liked the flying creatures :)

my current cat has no interest in TV at all - except for Inspector Rex (Austrian show about a police dog - Komissar Rex). she gets concerned by the barking and whining :). However, I now live in the (Australian) bush and there are more fluttery things outside the window than on the TV, so she probably doesn't need it!

I'm still puzzling over this. His reaction was so pronounced, I have a hard time thinking of it as an instinctive. I am also assuming your other parrots didn't react.

I suspect he has had an experience of some falling object or perhaps was in a pedestal cage that fell. The only other explanation I can think of is that he was intellectually surprised by a tree falling and that assumes he has a world view, a concept of the other. I know that there are theories that certain species of birds may have that capacity but I haven't heard of parrots being one of those species. Of course, I'm pretty certain my dogs have some rudiments of this capacity and researchers aren't backing me up on that either.

Oh, I've finally thought of a story about my dog Boo's intelligence. She was abused as a puppy and had an antipathy to males when I first got her. One of my sons is a dog trainer and it hurt his feelings that he couldn't make friends with her. So he would flip her off now and then. She immediately saw it as an insult and attacked him. (She weighs ten pounds.) People come from miles around just to shoot a bird at her and see her reaction. The funniest thing is it seems to have resolved her distrust of men. As long as they aren't giving her the finger, she's fine with them.

By carolyn13 (not verified) on 10 Jan 2008 #permalink

My Pionus, also domestically raised, exhibits alarm responses when she sees other birds outside like crows or raptors. She often alerts me to when there is a hawk sitting in the tree outside. My greys (two of the three wild-caught, pre-WBCA, but probably imported as young birds) show no such response, though they can likely see the hawk as well. I sometimes wonder if the greys have a concept of 'inside' versus 'outside' and understand that the window implies relative safety.

One of these wild-caught greys once spent a couple of nights outside, often being hassled by neighborhood crows before we recovered her, yet she seems untroubled by hearing crows outside. But the Pionus, who has never experienced such trauma (I got her at 14 weeks), is pretty vigilant about any other birds she sees outside. She will even give a particular low-level alarm warning (sort of a soft low purry trill) when she sees warblers gleaning the tree (a large bigleaf maple) for insects.

And yes, my birds do sometimes appear interested in TV or computer screen video, and do seem to be able to interpret what they see. They aren't interested all that often. Sometimes I play bird video (YouTube or Life of Birds, for example) and the sound seems to interest them a lot (sometimes the Pionus even does her low-level alarm).