Monday, March 21, 2016

A Few Small Things

A couple little things I don't want to forget... 

Flossing with Fig is a challenge. She is after that floss like nobody's business, tugging away. I am sure to get cavities. 

Fig will now stay on my shoulder if I sit on the floor with the cat in the room. Previously, that was a no can do. She only just has accepted sitting with me on a chair when the cat is out and about. She really places a lot of trust in me now, and she "hears" me well when I offer assurances. Not, however, spending much time out when kitty is about as prolonged tension is not good for Fig, and Lucky is insanely jealous of the birdie. Incrementally bringing these two together though. They already have shared play time, but not on Lucky's turf. 

When we are at the mirror in mating season Fig loves to "fight" with her reflection. She loves this. She really wants mirror time. Sometimes when we're at the mirror she'll bite my finger or prod my face to say, You have a go! Defense!!!! Defense!!!! Then she invites her reflection to a friendly chat, fickle bird. 

Also, when I talk to Fig in the mirror, she gives me direct eye contact, in the mirror. Previously, she'd look at my real face. Generally, eye contact is something that has been there all along since the very beginning, but recently it is intense, pronounced, prolonged, and often suspended, and now it is so in the mirror too. Fig can gaze very deeply and intently into my eyes curiously, attentively, and affectionately, and usually it is abundantly clear which is which. 

The other day in the shower, Fig came down so I could wash her face while perched on my knee, as usual. But, she spotted a bit of food in her bowl which I had forgotten to remove. I took it away mid-nibble thinking I may have splashed some shampoo in it. Fig didn't growl angrily as I expected her to do. Instead, she stared at where the bowl no longer was, hoped around to face me, jumped back on my knee, then, looking right into my eyes intently, cawed a loud growl. Then she turned, poked her face upward, and closed her eyes, "You may wash my face now." This was a clear example of talking in the past tense, then switching to future tense. Fun stuff.

Fig has been tearing up her favorite perch cover. I placed soft thick neoprene under the other perch cover to give her a bit of a trampoline bounce effect. Well, she decided she wanted an upgrade on both perches. Never ending upkeep! (Update: neoprene added beneath second perch cover...Fig is very happy with the three dollar upgrade, and has ceased tearing off the cover even though it has a few holes which beg to be enlarged. One simply must listen when a bird is "saying" something via lashing out. It means they're irritated, and displeased.)

Fig continues to expand and cultivate her musical tastes. She enjoys music a lot. There should be some interesting posts on this topic coming up.  Man I wish I had an iPhone that Fig could actually use to choose songs, and play games. Going to look into this.

Progress Report on Affection, Bonding, and Communication

The first two years with Fig, I continuously used touch as a means to communicate.

Specifically, touch was the way I permitted her to express her stress level to me. I cannot recall how the technique came about now, but I remember that Fig was extremely high strung, the slightest surprise startling her into a sudden quick duck, or leap. I believe the correct word for this may be flighty. Just a flash of light, an electronic sound, someone walking past could startle her hazardously. 

At some point I guess I realized that allowing her to peck my finger intentionally was a good method of stress release for her. It also allowed me, by the strength, or softness of her peck, to gauge her level of stress. Depending on if she grumbled, growled or a whole host of other things, one could really get a significantly accurate read on her mood, or opinion. I gave this finger pecking the name, "kiss kiss" which was also what Fig knew to mean that I would gently hold her beak and give her a kiss on the head. She seemed to quickly understand that "kiss kiss" hand up meant I would kiss her, and "kiss kiss" hooked finger offered meant she could "bite" me. She knew to watch the gesture whenever I said, "kiss kiss" to know if she should expect a kiss from me, or a chance to give feedback to me. Also, I was hoping that the association of my affection offering, "kiss kiss" to her would gradually work around to her peck feedback becoming more affectionate to me; it has. 

I think the first year, I could generally manage to kiss her on the head, while gently cradling her head, for about ten seconds, if lucky. Then she lost trust and felt she was being stifled, and she'd abandon ship. I think mostly that while being cradled, she'd start to worry about predators, more than me. She just needs to have a look around. And when she was asked to "kiss" my crooked finger, she intuitively understood that it was an opportunity to communicate her stress level, opinion or offer immediate feedback to me: I liked that, I didn't like that, I'm stressed now, I'm cool, no worries. One very interesting thing about communicating with a Crow in this way is that it's very easy to get feedback about past, present, and future (I'll write more about this another time.)

In the second year, Fig's feedback pecks to my finger gradually toned down more, and more. They were mostly soft, though still indicating some level of anxiety in her sometimes. Generally, affection manifested, but the method remained a crucial stress release, and feedback technique.

In the third year, instead of pecking she would very gently and tenderly, offer a soft delicate touch most of the time. This is also how Fig would say "No thank you" when offered water from a bowl in hand, or "That's enough thank you." With a very tender, soft, brief "embrace" of a finger tip with just the very tip of her beak. 

Now, about to start her fourth year alive, she is almost three years old, the kiss on the finger is something she no longer feels a need to do constantly. I only offer her the chance to do so sometimes, after I suspect she may be upset. Or if I have doubt about her feeling on a matter. It has become largely redundant. 

If I offer Fig a chance to give stress feedback by pecking my finger now, without clear cause or reason, she usually declines, vocally and facially communicating instead. She literally shakes her head, no, don't sweat it, I'm fine, it's cool, using her voice, eyes, feathers, and body language very effectively.

At some point in her third year, Fig started allowing me to hug and kiss her for, forever. I can now hold her head, press my cheek to hers, or any part of my face just about anywhere and cuddle her warmly and tenderly for long extended embraces. If she startles or withdraws, it is undoubtedly due to some third party stimulus. Fig initiates at least half of our affectionate interactions. She is remarkably affectionate, and sweet. She steps in close on my shoulder, or on her perch, lowers her head, arching her neck, and turns her head to put the top of her head against me. Usually she says, Love you love you love you several times in a row, and grumbles and chatters, gargles, and mimics too. Sometimes she holds my finger in her beak, preens my hair, or clothing. It's all disgustingly too romantic to describe in full, though again, the main goal is her confidence, well being and safety. My intentions are purely to protect Fig who is especially vulnerable to further injury by teaching her to be calm and assured. I watch the dominant territorial female Crows in the forest, and the happy ones are so calm, so placidly relaxed, they look much of the time as though they could collapse from boredom, and that's the goal for Fig. Excitement, and play have their time and place, but my goal is a level surface for her sea of anxieties as her default setting. 

Taming Fig is necessary for her own well being, happiness, and safety. And while I have described a mainly calm, cheerful, safe bird, there remains much longterm work still to do. She can still get anxious. She can still get worried, sad, upset. She can still startle, and be injured. I suspect this will always be so, just diminishing over time.

My goals are to continue diminishing these dangers, to build our bond, develop better communication, and see where that leads. Life, love and intellect are deep, intriguing mysteries well worth exploring to the fullest. It is a challenge of patience, dedication and perseverance. It is difficult, but in every respect, raising a Crow is indeed a rewarding, if unusual parenthood. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March Nesting Update

Life with Fig is so varied and interesting. Today I came home, brought her in, and she sits quietly. Yesterday, same routine, but she vocally begged and begged not to be left alone for a minute all afternoon, and late into the evening. Even food would not appease her. I suspect she may be in heat, or ovulating, whatever the correct term for that is in birdie lingo. Anyway, yesterday was not the first time Fig demanded attention none stop from me, it was however the first time in three years that she repeatedly, persistently demanded attention vocally. Usually she yanks at her perch cover aggressively when she wants attention. Food, water, a bath, okay, she'll be vocal, but for attention, it's usually more subtle, or less depending on how you look at a tantrum. Anyway, I am glad to see she is calmer far. We'll see.

Right now is nest building, and egg laying time, so males are marauding aggressively defending the females who enjoy quiet time on the ground, or perched, left alone to relax. It's quite amazing, Crow maternity leave. They are a very supportive bunch. I watch a family that lives in a small wood, and the family around my place which lives in apartment-ville. The dominant forest mothers spend their time feasting on nuts on the ground which are left alone by the males. They stand on the cool forest floor perched on fallen tree limbs hammering away at hard nuts, and looking for insects in the leaves, and dead wood. I really don't know how the city birds survive. It seems as though the dominant females spend their maternity resting perched high up, and I suspect their small support group brings them food, though I have only witnessed this a few times. In any case, the city birds, and the forest birds live quite different lives indeed. Fig's life is yet more different, but she has happily adapted just like the city birds of which she is an offspring.

Unfortunately, the males around are vocally, gesturally, posturally, and physically threatening around this time, sometimes visiting Fig's balcony to make sure she knows her place. I filled in her open rooftop for spring to make her feel more secure. Fig hears a lot of this territorial grandstanding, and it freaks her out to a fair degree. On a bad day she won't even want to go out to her balcony for exercise, though I make sure she gets her fill of much needed daily jumping about. It is all a bit frustrating as I pride myself on keeping Fig very clean and pretty, and the stress of the aggressors on patrol for the month of egg incubation has made her pull feathers from the usual place on her leg which looks awful and takes forever to fill back in, especially since she only just molted. It is only a tiny bare spot on the one leg, still it rather makes me mad.  I suppose I should be happy that it is so easy to see exactly when Fig is feeling stress about something. 

Fig too is somewhat more aggressive this nesting season due to sexual frustration, and girlie biological goings on. She argues with me about just about everything which is rather fun and enjoyable in a way because I am honing my sweet talking skills something fierce. When she gives in to my pleading or reasoning she is so cute. She really understands that I mean her utterly no harm, and she can go from growling at me adamantly one second to instantly relenting and jumping on my hand or shoulder. I never push her. You cannot push a Crow, it only hardens their resolve to resist. But you certainly can sweet talk them. They are very sensible if you are consistently gentle to a fault. Fig will literally growl ferociously in my face, then lower her head and press the top of her head against me affectionately, as long as I don't demand, press, push or boss, none of those things are any use with a Crow, you must above all else respect their dignity, and be utterly sweet or they will hate your guts deservedly.

Anyway, I play with her more, and take her out more to make up for the nasty local Crow nationalism. Recently Fig has not only gotten very good at our little game of find the Q-tip, but she knows what time we are going to play it, and she let's me know when that time has arrived, to the minute by flying out of her usual perching place, and gently pecking at the Q-tip container. Again, not a vocal, but a more physically noisy communication when she really wants something. We usually play for a dozen mealworms. She gets on my shoulder and runs across to the other shoulder, going behind my head. In the time she is crossing, I quickly hide the Q-tip somewhere. She knows she has to get across quick if she wants a visual glimpse at where I have hidden it and she dashes as fast as she can to sneak that peek. Then she zips down to find it and waits for her mealworm reward. She will jump a few centimeters to snag it from a high location which is quite a trick on a slippery surface. Before she'd get a tissue to stand on which seemed a fantastic use of tools to me. Kind a too bad that she's decided to jump now instead. She still will not take the Q-tip from a drawer, even if open all the way with the Q-tip clearly fully in view. Drawers are the devil. In fact the other day, I decided to try the drawer midway through our usual game, and she not only balked at going down to even have a look, she balked at continuing the rest of the game. I had to give her the rest of the worms. Crows are just utterly freaked about things that move, give off light, make noise, or who knows what. Nothing to be done. My fault.

And here's a silly tidbit. We were playing the Q-tip game the other day. Fig knows she gets a mealworm for finding the Q-tip. But suddenly she decided that it wasn't finding it, but simply pecking it that got her rewarded. At least the idea that this might be so occurred to her. So midgame the other day she finds the Q-tip, and I reward her. Then I reach for the Q-tip, and she quickly snags it, and tucks it under her foot.  She looks right at me, and pecks the Q-tip. I reach for it to retrieve it, and she hunkers down and growls at me ferociously. I pecked it!!!! Where's my damn worm? She is not really being aggressive. I gave her a worm, and told her to get on my shoulder which she did with a bit of under her breath grumbling. I gave her a hug and a worm. You know, she understands exactly what transpired. She was not breaking the rules of our game, she was testing them to clarify what the rule actually was. It's damn clever. I've not had any trouble since, she just actually wasn't sure. Now she's jumping up and down without objecting in the slightest. Things like this happen all the time, and it just floors me.

Anyway, we'll be in for a month or two of utter silence as the wild Crows incubate their clutches, then raise their young in utter secrecy. That will be a nice break from the territorial parading.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is Fig Unique?

I imagine many people have raised baby crows that were found on the ground fledging, injured in traffic, or orphaned. And I imagine in a majority of cases, those Crows that successfully grew up, maybe hung around for a few years with their adoptive human families before becoming sexually mature, then flew away to find a mate and live a Crow's life. I have to imagine that the number of permanently disabled Crows living with human families is pretty small, because most injuries would lead to death, or euthanasia at the hands of a vet or professional rehab center which would not usually raise a non-releasable bird, if they want to keep their license. And a vast majority of people want nothing to do with a Crow,  especially an injured one. So, I suspect Fig represents a very small number of Crows who permanently reside with humans, and will do so long term.

Going a step further, Fig lives "outside" for several hours per day in her home territory, and during this time she chats with her biological mother, father and siblings from morning until night. She has done so over the last three years, and they teach her the latest seasonal catch-phrase full volume calls, as well as intimate quiet gurglings. In other words, Fig has had the opportunity to reach sexual maturity now, to fully grow up, learning and using her native language, with her biological family. I have to suspect that this set of circumstances is extremely rare, possibly unique.

Fig is a bird that fledged. She was raised by, and imprinted on wild birds. The last three years taming her has been a very long, slow process of encouragement as a result. And Fig has mainly dictated the pace of her integration. She remains very much a wild bird, but she is now very comfortable living with a human family, with a predator cat, but it has taken the full three years of incrementally developing a relationship with her, in addition to her incrementally willing her own self out of her wild shell on her own terms. On top of this challenge to suddenly integrate into a human world, Fig has had to grow up, and mature and her dependence has stunted, and warped that process. That is a lot to psychologically bear for anyone, but for a disabled, captive Crow living everyday with her real family just outside, I cannot imagine. Fig is an inspiringly strong person. She is my hero in much the same way that my son is my hero for his endurance, tolerance, and perseverences.

Recent developments are that Fig ventures more and more into common spaces, voluntarily, to explore, or seeking to socialize with us, and the cat even. Fig enjoys sitting with us at meals, during dish washing, and to watch TV, or especially to listen to music. She likes to watch a game of Chess from a shoulder, or while cuddling in a lap. Yet, she retains a highly independent side. She is still quite shy. She still prefers to be in her own space most of the time, but the balance of time towards social interaction is quickly shifting at an accelerating rate. This is great for her, but more and more demanding on me because initially she wants to socialize as a pair. I suspect in another year or two she will shift more towards socializing on her own terms, independently.

Fig is fully capable of deciding when and if she wants to socialize, and she is capable and confident enough to object if pushed. If really pushed, she can really object. You can have a very loud argument with her if you like. She will hold that perch like it's a steak dinner, growl, and bite if she does not want to be moved. But I NEVER move her forcefully, against her will. I ALWAYS respect her decision. She knows that I respect her, so if I let her bite me, it's a play bite much like your dog will do. It doesn't hurt, because she knows I'm going to relent. She knows I will let her have her way. And the second I relent, she fluffs up and I give her pets and kisses. She is earnestly saying NO, it is serious communication, and I have to listen, but she also knows that the argument is largely fictitious. I don't make a habit of arguing with Fig, but sometimes we do play argue for fun, or really argue if I need to move her and she is not inclined to cooperate right away; either way, if the argument is play, or me really asking for a bit of cooperation, it is rewarding to see how fast she instantly switches from growling to nuzzling my face. I think anyone watching would be very concerned that Fig would peck my eyes out, but her personality is as soft as a lamb, because she knows mine is as well. I am sure if I was an asshole she would maim me to the best of her abilities. She's no jerk either. She often capitulates when I suspect she would maybe rather stay put. So, in those cases I reward her with praise, or let her have her perch a while longer. But she does try to please by doing what is asked of her, so I have to be sensitive to her true feelings.

I think it is important to argue with a Crow, however, sometimes. It gives Fig confidence in herself, in me, and us. You have to have a real, full set of working emotions in any relationship. I often see wild Crows arguing. And quite often those arguments do turn temporarily physical. I have the ability to gauge the true ferocity of a Crow fight. But I NEVER get physical with Fig if we argue, I always let her win, and we always switch to kisses and nuzzles immediately after, so she consequently has tremendous confidence about objecting when she wants to stay put. I simply revisit her a few minutes later, and the chances are really good that she has completely switched her mind, in large part, I am sure, because she loves to please, just as with human kids. Kids don't want to make parents upset, so the next thing you know...Look Mom, I cleaned my room! Fig is the same. Look Dad, this time I'm coming with you!!! She loves to make me happy, because we share the joy.

Anyway, I digress...

The point I was making, is that Fig is unique, she must be, almost. I doubt there are many Crows who live with humans, yet socialize with their biological family. This makes Fig very special. It means she is bicultural, and bilingual. It means that she is an authentic Crow, who can teach us a tremendous amount especially about the complex language of Jungle Crows.

This is the challenge for me. I really want to capture, and catalog the language Fig uses. But the problem with describing this, or any language is that it often is unique to a small subset of users, in this cases, pretty much just two individuals.  If you think about any language, or let's say a language class, you don't usually get to learn things such as the words "uh huh, yeah, umm..." and thousands of other examples. You only learn these things when you get off the boat in another culture, and suddenly the clear and carefully iterated Ko-ni-chi-wa you learned for hello in Japanese class, hits your ears as chiwa. And then there is every possible musical variation once attitude, tone, pitch, modulation, repetition, stutter, stall, emphasis, timing of syllables is all factored in.

The fact is, speech and language ARE musical. They are Opera. They are Hip Hop. They are Country Drawl. So one can never ever nail it down with words. Language is a slippery, slimy, living creature that evades capture but for fleeting moments, holding still only long enough to allow one to jot a few feeble, hopelessly inadequate descriptions in one's biology notebook.

I guess that is really what I want to say about Crow language, what I have realized after three years of listening to it daily, now. Crows use language. They use words. And they use musical possibilities in just the same way humans do, to enrich their vocal expressions, which express amazingly concise, and subtle nuances...their feelings, moods, and goings ons.

As I read over what I write, it all reads very much like I am listening to my inner cat lady rambling on about her cat's communications. Yes, we ought very carefully to listen to our cats too. Hmm. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Notes on Memory and Communication

Three years in to caring for Fig, life is still full of surprises.

A tale of memory...

So recently Fig insists on washing the dishes together. She sits on my shoulder, chatters and begs for hugs, by which I mean she tugs my hair, then when I turn to look at her, she rotates her head and leans into me which means she wants to touch foreheads, and feel the heat of my breath, and skin against her feathery head. I can look directly into her upturned eye as if she's a whale turned on its side in the open sea, and she peers lovingly at me through her white nictating eyelid winking, and blinking adoringly. A forehead hug, nose nuzzling, hot breath in feathers affectionate romantic interaction like this can go on for sometime, so I have to keep reheating the dish water.

Anyway, I was washing the colorful plastic cutlery my son has now outgrown but still likes to use, and I was showing them to Fig, trying to recall the words/syllables I had assigned to the 13 colors I had taught Fig three years ago. Fig do you remember this color, I said, Ao, that's blue. She cocked her head as if to say, okay. And this one is green, what was that, oh yeah Do! I got through four colors, and could see she was paying attention. But I was now out of plastic spoons, and down to regular cutlery. I lifted up a silver spoon. What color Figgy? I had totally forgotten what I had used for Silver. Arrrr she said, dragging out the rrrrr like a pirate. Indeed that was correct. She had remembered the color for silver from two years back. I was quite surprised and impressed. My son heard her say it too, and he instantly recalled that she had learned colors, and he insisted I get down Figs box and give him the color swatches so he could practice the colors with her. What a wonderful son I have.

A tale of communication...

Crow communication is complex. But more than that, it is different. I have not proven to be a great learner of the Japanese language. My main weakness is listening. I can prattle away about my own thoughts well enough, but listening to others, a radio, or a TV is much, much harder. It is no different listening to a Crow, but the main difference here, is that I am the only person I know who is learning the language, so that being the case, I listen harder. Maybe I like animals more than people. Certainly, I empathize with animals more easily, and a big reason for that is their lack of voice in a remarkably unempathetic, human world.

I used to write things down. I used to record contexts, and details. But now, I realize that doing all that is rather more distracting than it is worthwhile. So now, I just really listen when Fig talks, and almost every time she talks, and I really, really listen hard. You have to. There are subtleties going on, but there is also a biologically different mechanism functioning. The voice, and the ears of an animal are a set. To a certain, perhaps large extent, the ears of a being are designed to listen to the voice of that particular being. I suppose that makes some sort of sense, but it is not necessarily an intuitive observation. One sort of assumes one can hear just about everything, but this really is not the case. One only realizes this sort of thing after hours, weeks, months, and perhaps years of listening to an animal speak, and realizing that one is still standing there shaking one's head, saying to one's disappointed self, and said animal, nope, I still did not manage to quite catch that sound, or a glimmer of meaning, pardon me, could you kindly repeat that, please. But as I have stated, I am not really a fantastic natural listener. I have gotten better though.

There is a certain amount of learning that goes on by osmosis in regards to listening, to be sure. Giving up has its merits, almost as much as deciding to try really damn hard. I have tried both. But to be honest, with Fig, because I am the only one in her life who she really needs to have understand her, 98 percent of my approach has been along the listen really, really damn hard route. I wish I could say the same for my Japanese.

Anyway, I have figured out a few general things. First, Crows use a small vocabulary of words, such as water, food, friend, enemy. Second, they use those words to create a far greater variety of meanings than the sum of the words alone, and they do this by using repetition, emphasis, tone, pitch, modulation, and most subtly by changing the ending, very similarly to the way humans change meanings by conjugation of verbs, for example.

I do not want to write a long dissertation on Crow communication at this time. I only wanted to write a general description to give some idea of my understanding of what is going on because recently Fig gave me one illustrative example which struck a chord in my rather hard, old, frontal lobe:

I had gotten busy, and Fig was in the bathroom. She had been behaving well, and was quietly grooming, but I knew she must be getting ready for some attention.  Sure enough she started yanking away at her perch cover; this is her way of saying, Hey, hey buddy! Come and show a lonely Crow some love!!!! Well, I was pretty busy, and admittedly, I ignored her much more than usual. Eventually, she settled back down, but she was not preening or occupying herself, so I could tell a storm was brewing. Then I added the straw that broke the camel's back. I started washing the dishes. Well, that was just too much for Fig. She knows that I know, that I know that she knows that washing the dishes is something that she and I do together. She wasn't having it. She launched into a loud vocal scold which hit home. It was a scold that I may have heard before, but probably quite rarely because honestly, I pay Fig extremely devoted attention most of the time, so she would have very rare occasion to use this language.

What she did is she screamed the word friend. I cannot reproduce how she said it here, in words alone. I can only describe it. If you say the word friend with the usual tone, attitude, and pitch and volume that you might usually scream the word, ASSHOLE, that will give you some idea. The effect was that she was saying, You are supposed to be my friend! In English, if you are really pissed off, you might drop the end of a word, as in, Assho-, if you really say it fast, well that too is also what Fig did with the word friend, as in Fren-. I am certain that she was being sincere and direct about her feelings, but was she was employing sarcasm within her language? I certainly felt that was the case.

I am not sure why, but this was a mini-cathartic moment in understanding Crow communication for me, particularly because I realized that I really have to fill in, or listen for subtle ending changes on words.

The word for friend in Fig's language is Ha-oh, or How.  So, if you drop the oh off, it just sounds like Ha which is a totally different word, and meaning depending on several ways that it might be said.

Anyway, this moment in particular solidified my listening approach with Crows. First and foremost, I try to accurately pin down the word being used. Secondly, I listen for the emotion. Is it cheer, excitement, worry, surprise, annoyance, anger? Crows spend a lot of time nagging one another. And they have incredible teamwork, and expectation of replies when they communicate. More and more I feel as though they communicate much like a human mother and child, only in the case of the Crows, the children roam more widely and freely, perhaps because they are much more willing to answer back when nagged, and not just to mother, but to whom so ever happens to be part of their perimeter. I have to wonder why Crows are so good at the "answering back" while humans, especially human children, seem so infuriatingly poor at it. Perhaps it is the way human children keep their parents close. And perhaps Crows are good at two way communication because that works better for groups. Anyway, Crows spend a lot of time nagging each other, and so they inevitably find themselves using an annoyed tone of voice quite a lot, just as humans do, especially if no one answers their calls when they ought to. Thirdly, I listen to the pitch, volume, and repetition because this tells me who they are talking to, far or near, what they are talking about, something immediate, or abstract.

So once again...
1. What is the word?
2. What is the emotion?
3. What is the emphasis(es)?
Listening in this way has greatly helped me to understand exactly what Fig is saying and to whom much more of the time.

To give one more example:
Ah is used to say hello.
Hello, is flat. Ah. (Ah, you're home.)
I am here, goes up. Like if you say, Hi! (directing attention here, more at oneself)
I see you, goes down. Like if you say, Hey! (talking about there)
I love you (aka I'm so happy to see you.), is drawn out in a croony song. Ah-ah-ah-ah (I missed you so-oo-ooh much!)
Same word, same general meaning "hello", different stress, pitch, repetition, therefore expresses a variety of emotions, frames the subject, suits the context.
It is very similar to human language communication in all of it's minute subtleties. Yes, yes, I realize that I started out by saying it was different, well mainly I had meant about the physical, mechanical apparatuses of the vocal chords, and the ears, in my defense.

It is a lot of fun, listening to an animal which is so willing to speak to you in it's own language, and doesn't mind trying a bit of yours as well. It is humbling. I suspect I will never be truly fluent in Japanese or Crow, not like I am in English. But trying has made me a better listener. That is quite a gift.  There is something perhaps about our first language which can never be replaced, or duplicated equally, and I suspect the reason for that is because our need to express our emotions satisfactorily is so deep, and utterly tied to our very first words, and contextual experiences. How can one rewrite such defining memories? One can't. Neither I, nor the Crow can anyway. But we have come a long way, and I believe we have a long way still to go.

Jail Break

As I stated in my last post, I was planning to replace the flimsy material that has fenced Fig in, or rather fenced her siblings out, as come March, the males in her family can become intensely, aggressively territorial. Fig's dad and his chosen right hand man patrol their breeding grounds with impressive ferocity, as Fig and I found out two years ago when they violently attacked her by surprise while Fig played in the tree by our building, and chatted to me in English. I will never ever forget that incredible spectacle, and the intense 20minute confrontation she and I weathered before she finally managed to leap safely back into my arms; it was as impressive as watching, and listening to wild tigers having a brawl with deafening, blood curdling, life and death growls, and roars one usually does not get to witness or hear; very impressive; unforgettable, raw nature at it's best. It is the kind of shocking spectacle that makes one automatically call out with one's voice in such a primal, instinctive, defensive manner, that one feels very much like a wild monkey, more than a man. Anyway, I digress....

So I had not done the fence, yet. I suppose I had been waiting for February to have her last good frost. And a few days back, I come home in the late afternoon to find Fig peering out of a 40cm wide hole in her fence. Her mother had come and eaten a hole in Fig's fence in an attempt to jail break her. Claw marks were all over the outside of Fig's roof, but the hole was in the side of the fence just above Fig's favorite place to sit. I know it was Mom because she is the only one who visits Fig every morning and afternoon, and the only one daring enough to land on Fig's enclosure roof. I remind you that she and Pappa have maintained a close relationship with Fig these past three years, though always from a distance, and mainly vocal/auditory as the cannot see one another when Fig is in her enclosure. Fig's Mom, though, comes and sits in the tree, on the wall, or the opposite building's antennae and chats with Fig in a low voice daily, sometimes for and hour, or two, or three.

Mom is coming up on mating season, and nesting, and the last two years have been unproductive years for her. I think building staff have been diligently destroying nests. She only managed one offspring last year, and three two years back, and I think none of them survived. Fig on the other hand is the runt of a large litter of possibly eight or nine, and maybe there were two or three successful nests three years back, so a massive squadron of siblings took to the skies that spring. I suppose that explains why poor Figgy got so badly trampled in the nest, and ended up with an ingrown feather.

Anyway, Fig's Mom made a very nearly successful jail break attempt. If she had done it in the morning, she'd likely have succeeded, but because she probably did it in the afternoon, Fig was too nervous to take a walk around town so close to sun down. She is no dummy, but she was having a mighty good look out that giant hole when I showed up home. The hole was big enough for two Crows to fit through, so if she had really been in the mood for a wander she'd have had it. I am sure I would have found and retrieved her, still I really do not enjoy unplanned outings as having Fig wandering free as hormones are beginning to soar is extremely scary. I know hormones are beginning to soar because Fig's hormones, too, are soaring lately. She sings me never ending love songs, vibrates her tail, and squats down low with her beak raised 90 degrees; she's in full swing to swing. She is now a mature Crow, and I suspect her mother was looking for Fig's assistance to raise this year's brood. She probably also wants to teach Fig how to be a successful mother. It is a heartwarming, and heartwrenching tale to live and tell, but I am convinced that Fig has a happy and fulfilling life with our family. I will provide Fig with nest materials and see if she won't happily go about building a nest, and perhaps lay some eggs, poor baby. I do so wish there was some way Fig could be of use to her mother. It truly breaks my heart that she can not, or at least that I cannot think of a way.

I cannot help but suspect that this story may be one of very few recorded cases of a Mother Crow attempting to jail break her three year old daughter after three years captive, in order to gain her assistance with rearing young, or just to simply let her out free. Hopefully it can serve as convincing, and solid evidence of the intelligence, love, and deep commitment between family members of this incredible species of bird.

I went to the hardware store to buy new fence material, and it was closed until April. So I went to a store I usually would not go to. Amazingly they had four pieces of higher quality material cut to exactly, I mean, precisely, the size of Fig's fence, and I was able to resurface the fence that same evening. The odd coincidences do make me wonder sometimes. They really do. Anyway, I had to nearly ignore Fig until 10:30pm as a result of repairing the fence, and I can tell you, she really was not happy about that at all. She did not get angry or scold me, but she was perplexed and obviously a little sad, so I gave her an extra long shower, and face wash, and she soon cheered back up. These are very emotional animals. They are not loners. And they do not deal well with sudden change to routine or other family members usual habits.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Xmas with the Relatives

It is late December. In fact, tomorrow is New Year's Eve. And you would think the local Crows were gearing up for a party.

What is all the commotion about? Is it an abundance of tasty garbage put out early by families off to visit relatives? Is it the smell of lots of holiday cooking? Or is it, as I suspect, the run up to mating season?

The Crows are around, and they're scattered all over roof tops. It is not a roost, it's local family in their territory. And they are cawing their brains out. Something damn important is being decided, and I think it must be along the lines of who all is mating, where all nests are to be built, who all is in charge of what, and a whole lot of other deciding and planning.

There is such a ruckus from early morning until early evening that even Fig, who usually stays in bed until 10 or even 11a.m., especially in the cold of winter, is up at bloody 7a.m.!!!! That is still late though because her family is up at 5 or 6a.m. most mornings before the sun. I must have the world's most wonderful neighbors.

It does not even matter if I let Fig sleep inside. She hears the conversation outside, through the lengthy fan ducts, perfectly well, and she feels compelled to join in the political discussions. There are plenty of other times of the year when wild Crows are up early making loads of noise, but this is the only time of year that Fig is excited enough to actually wake up, and emerge from her cozy sleeping box to join in...after only 7 hours of sleep mind you! So this time of year is especially significant in some way, and I have to take measures to ensure that Fig, my family, and neighbors can all get enough sleep.

I have to bring her in, talk to her, and give her some breakfast to get her to quiet down. She soon forgets about the Crows outside and goes back to sleep after a nibble. In fact, she quiets down and forgets them so well, it rather feels like she doesn't much like them, despite the fact that she vigorously converses with them.

Just to test this theory out, I put on my jacket and took out Fig's tethers. She utterly freaked. What??!!! Are you kidding? You are NOT taking me outside today!!! Fig will usually put up a certain amount of objection to going out, especially when it is cold out. But I can usually sway her to change her mind. In fact, changing her mind is a prominent characteristic of her personality. She will usually issue a rejection if I request to do just about anything, which I will accept. Then after a few minutes of thinking it over, she will change her mind and enthusiastically say, Hey, alright, let's do that! But today, there was utterly no hope of changing her mind. I tried hard to convince her that it would be fun to go out and join in, to see everyone, but she was absolutely not going to go to this church potluck.

It seems to me, that she loves  her mother immensely. Her mom is out there two or three blocks away at times, and in all the cacophony, I can pick out the mother's distinct voice, and clearly hear that Fig is holding a conversation mainly with her mother who after three years apart, still has unfaltering devotion to Fig, in fact, I think she may be her favorite kid. Fig is after all, the kid who has stayed at home. The mother is around, chatting with Fig off and on, almost daily, mainly in the mornings and late afternoons. But the thought of going outside, with so many unfamiliar, confident siblings swarming about is just too much for poor, delicate Figgy, the unfortunate runt of the litter. 

It appears that Crows, too, dread holidays with their relatives.

Note: I am guessing that this year is going to be a very serious mating season with loads of offspring. It feels like the year, three years ago when Fig was born. That was another big year with loads of enthusiastic activity. The two years since were very quiet with very few offspring. In fact, this last year, it appeared to me that Fig's mother only manage a single baby, and I think it died, which may explain why the mother has given Fig so much extra attention this year. It appears to me that she is going to nest higher up this year, and close to our building, if not right on top of it again. This will ensure a very noisy fledge in mid May, which ought to be exciting, but it also presents me with the problem of keeping Fig quiet which has not been a problem the last two years as I think Fig's presence caused her mother to choose other more private nest locations the last two seasons, but now the mother seems to have accepted that Fig is simply a person in her neighborhood, in her favorite building, and will nest where she used to, if she so wishes. Well, we'll see. I am planning to replace Fig's fences very soon with new material to help fend off any hormone crazed territory defenders come early March who may be inclined to attack her, and drive her away.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Toilet Training...Accomplished!

Success! I have no idea how it has happened, but Fig is now, for all appearances, cooperatively toilet “trained”. What this means is that she can now sit on my shoulder around the house without having any “accidents”. This is a double achievement on her part.


First, she has finally realized that being on my shoulder is safe, whereas before she always wanted to be in my lap. She never poops if I am holding her, or if she is sitting in my lap, even if something really frightens her, because being embraced, or coddled effectively makes her feel protected. So pooping on me is not something she wants to do, it is something that is triggered by fear, and when she is afraid, she may not be able to help herself. Being up on my shoulder in the house, with a cat around, and TV, and unusual noises, and kids, and things, and an environment in which things are constantly changed, moved, different day to day (Crows are hyper aware of small changes in their environment) simply made her too nervous. Now, however, she has made the leap out of her safety blanket space, and into ours. Her space is still somewhere she wants to be, but she now happily spends hours in our space comfortably without the need to sit in my lap and be reassured. Now she sits on my shoulder, and feels safe and comfortable, even if I am sitting down, which puts us much nearer the cat and kids. This is huge leap of confidence, and trust for Fig which I was not expecting her to make so suddenly. The other day, I had two kids in the house, both rowdy, one rather obnoxiously in the face of the poor Crow…but Fig handled it all very calmly, without pooping!


Fig is so communicative; you can really understand what she is telling you. I can gesture to her, do you want to come down to my lap, or up to my shoulder, and she can clearly state her wish to move, or not to move.

She has not merely decided that my shoulder is safe, what is going on is much more than this. What she is saying to me is, I will go onto your shoulder, even though it still makes me nervous, because I want to be a big girl. It is exactly the same thing as when parents send their kid to the store, or let them ride around the block on their own for the very first time. The kid is nervous still, maybe even worried, perhaps afraid, but the kid is saying, I am ready to face my fear, and I want to try, in part because they know they must grow up, and in part because they want to please, impress, and receive praise from their parent for their bold achievement. This is exactly what is going on with Fig.


Now, getting her shouldered in the house, was easy. She has been able to sit on my shoulder for more than two years now. The issue was that she has been too afraid to not have accidents when up there, or have stress build up to untolerable levels, causing her to act out, and need a break. I suspected I could get her to the point where she would agree not to poop on me though, because she has been accident free when I carry her around town, or sit her on my lap for as long as I can remember. Something about the shoulder was just too insecure though. Now, thank goodness, it is no longer an issue for her, and this means she can spend time with more than one person in the house, she can do dishes with us, she can sit at the table, and she can be a fully active family member.


Fig’s second achievement is her toilet training success. She is still dependent on a human to get her to her toileting spot, but now amazingly she has started to notify me when she needs “to go”. This is not merely a litter boxing effect at work; she has decided very clearly, that she is deliberately going to communicate with me because she realizes that is what I want her to do, what I expect from her. It’s a real Eureka moment for her, and for us. She is very clearly telling me, and I mean actually looking me in the eye, and saying in her own words, “Oh, I get it! You want me to tell you when I gotta go! Right, no problem. Don’t worry.”  Again, I find myself trying to explain something very difficult to describe here.


Okay, so she is sitting on my shoulder, for example. And I look up at her, and she does her usual look back at me right in the eye, and “gurrs” softly to acknowledge eye contact. And perhaps she wags her tail, or plays with my hair a bit. Or maybe she softly ambles a bit, shifting her weight foot to foot. Or maybe she looks up, then back, or adjusts an eye. There are so many small motions that she does, and they are all telling, all communicative, and no one is enough on its own to be a full sentence. These head tilts, eye winks, foot fidget tapdancing, tail wags, beak lifts, feather ruffles, and utterances are a fluid, contiguous stream which segue into meanings and action based on context. And while I still find myself guessing at a lot of what Fig does or says or does, she has made one thing very clear, she has said to me,  “Okay, I get it. You want me to communicate when I need to go potty. No problem.” And if I ask her, “Do you need to go?” her response is very clearly nuanced as either, “Don’t worry about it.” or “Yeah, maybe I can go.” or “Uh, Matt, I really gotta go. Hurry up!”


We have now had four days together in the house, accident free, up on the shoulder. I even stuffed her full of food just to make certain it isn’t a fluke. It is nothing short of a Xmas miracle.


Next, I cannot wait to get Fig confident enough to bound about person to person, shoulder to shoulder, socializing as much as she likes, with whoever she fancies, and building her own relationships, and finally, bounding off to the toilet entirely on her own, and hopefully flushing it too.  She already, ironically, goes bounding about in search of the cat although she is terrified of the cat. She intentionally jumps down to get closer to her in certain situations, and when she gets close, she pulls this cat whisperer face and posture which just mesmerizes the cat. Fig deliberately creates situations where the cat is inclined to chase her across the house at high speed. It is seriously as if she is, no joking, training the cat. I mean, as best I can tell, the Crow is in fact, teaching the cat, by play, and repetition, not to attack, to stop short, to pursue to a certain place, then halt on command. She is taking serious risks, and flirting with death, but like a flutist to a king cobra, she appears to be in complete control. It’s madness. Wonderful madness. I even wonder if she might be copying me by expressing approval, and disapproval to the cat. Or teaching the cat the game we usually play at the park where I chase her from point a to point b and back repreatedly. I shall be writing more about this again.


I digress. Just to make certain I have accurately recorded this. I did not train Fig to be toilet trained. I simply expressed mild disapproval when appropriate, and she caught on. She has always understood the meaning of poop, it is a word she picked up very early on as a youngster, and on her own has understood very quickly too that I don’t want to pick her up until she poops. She has understood this so well in fact, that I can tell if she wants to be picked up or not, when I approach, by if she poops or not. A poop means, Yep, I am ready to go! Please pick me up!


Likewise, I never trained her not to poop when I hold her walking around town. Usually, I just sweep her legs back, and she relaxes and goes to sleep reclined on my arm, either upright, upside down or sideways. She does not mind either way. She simply won’t poop in these positions.


Nor did I ever teach her not to poop on my lap. She decided that on her own. She naturally recognizes me and my person, and I guess she either has too much respect, or too much self-consciousness to go in proximity to others.


And finally, I have not taught her to inform me when she needs to go to the bathroom if she is on my shoulder, or perched on my arm, or somewhere in the house. I simply told her, Please don't poop, whenever she alighted on me or furniture.


The point is very much that I have not taught her anything. Yes.


This means several things. It means that Crows have a self awareness, and self-consciousness. They have awareness of others, and respect for them. They have awareness of a common space, and respect for it. But most importantly by far, this means that Fig, that Crows have awareness of the expectations of others, any respect for those expectations. They try to meet others' expectations, because they desire approval and praise. They understand the tone of your voice. They learn your vocabulary, even if they do not manage, or decide to mimick or use it themselves. They learn, just as a human child learns, by listening, observing, and remembering what happens in what context.


Everything Fig has achieved as far as toilet training stems from her own abilities to listen, to remember, to understand, percieve situations, and others' wants, and to act to receive positive feedback.


BUT Fig does not merely seek to please. She does have her own boundaries. She does want time alone. She does want what she wants, and she does have opinions which need listening to. She is not simply a robot trying to serve a master, not at all.


As one example, she recently objects to using the toilet room when I take her to go potty. This is an inconvenient fact that is going to put a bump in the road I have planned to travel towards full, actual toilet training, where she uses a human bathroom, and flushes the toilet on her own. She has an issue with the toilet room. It is a small, typical Japanese toilet room, so she finds it rather claustrophobic. She feels cornered. She has recently told me in no uncertain terms that she will sit on my shoulder without having accidents. But at almost the exact same time, she has decided to tell me that she really is not a fan of the toilet room. Instead she tells me, she would prefer to poop from her usual perch, the one in the “bath” room, not the toilet room, the exact room I am trying, eventually, to extricate her from over time. She has even invented a game, all on her own, which she often does. When she wants to go to the bathroom, she flies to the end of the laundry room, as far from the entrance to the “bath” room as possible. She is saying, You open the bathroom door, and hold up both arms, and I will hop across and into the “bath” room to use the toilet. She is saying, I like this game, and I like going to the bathroom in there, NOT in there. She has figured out a clever way to get two things that she wants, in exchange for doing the one thing that I want. This is how clever these animals are folks.  


This little game of hers makes me think again, more deeply, when I am watching the wild Crows in the trees, and on buildings, what significance, what meaning the place they choose to sit has. Sitting in a certain place can be a powerful way to communicate to everyone who can see you, it’s time to head off to the roost, or time to go foraging, etc… That Fig is now doing this behavior with me using place as communication, talking to me from my shoulder, playing with my hair, and other things….are signs that she is freely, naturally communicating. It is exhilarating. It also has me a bit worried, because she seems to be an incredibly capable negotiator. Who knows what she's going to be negotiating next!?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Toilet Training

Had a very interesting experience with Fig the other day in regards to potty training.

As I have written, she sits on my lap for extended periods, never going to the bathroom on me, but if she sits on my shoulder she will. Likewise she never goes to the bathroom if I wrap her up in my jacket, or carry her around like a baby, or otherwise constrain her in the way Parrots might more usually be handled, which surprisingly she really enjoys too. I had no idea Crows were cuddly until one came into our lives, either.

Undoubtedly, she won't poop because the closeness creates hightened awareness of my presence, but it also puts her in a physical position in which she would not naturally, usually be when relieving herself, standing up, or close to another being. The third thing, is that she feels safest when I hold her closely, and she likes being held in a warm embrace which reminds her of her mother warmly nestling on her in the nest, so maybe she does not want to ruin the vibe?

Conversely, she poops when she feels insecure, worried, afraid, or vulnerable. One might think that my shoulder would be just the spot to feel safest, and slowly, it is getting to be, but not quite yet. Fig still thinks the cat can jump up on my shoulder. She still feels a little uneasy having more freedom all around the house, too, hence the hazards of letting her perch on my shoulder. But, I carry on letting her perch on me for longer and longer, and she is slowly requesting to sit on me more and more, for longer and longer, and getting better and better at notifying me when she needs to go to the bathroom. But, we are still ironing out the pooping issue somewhat.

She has made it very clear to me that she prefers to poop from her perch rather than using the toilet. This is something we are going to need to talk more about as the idea is eventually to get rid of her "room" entirely, so she would no longer have the perch she prefers for toileting. I have to find someway to make the bathroom a more favorable option.

As I was saying, something interesting happened the other day though. As usual, I was sitting with Fig in my lap. She decided she wanted to venture up on my shoulder. She is quite clear about communicating things like where she would like to be. Really? I complained. She was unusually insistent about it. Okay, I said but don't poop. She does understand the word poop. She will poop on command. In fact, she is so used to this, she usually will not agree to handling until after she has pooped first, as she knows this makes me very happy, and like a real kid, she aims to get praise from her parent.

Now, what happened next is very hard to explain, because I cannot put it into words, so you will have to take me word for it. Fig told me, I promise not to poop. Her communication consists of gutteral errs and gurgles, and gestures, so I can't transpose exactly what she "said", but I could tell she was saying, "I understand, and I promise to be a good girl, if you let me sit up on your shoulder." So, I let her sit up there for a couple of hours, making bathroom breaks when she indicated, and everything went smoothly. Amazing! That has rarely happened before, that we had such a moment of complete understanding, and compliance with my wishes, when she is up on my shoulder. It was a magical, breakthrough moment, sort of like those moments one has with one's children, only way more Dr. Doolittle-esque. Recently, my son, all of his own accord, folded all of his dirty clothes, before taking a shower, and placed them on the washing machine. Crazy, right! It was like this. Kids sometimes, magically, when you are not expecting it, develop and exhibit earth shattering initiative after years and years of constant nagging, just when you've about given up hope. Crows too!

Of course, the very next day, my son's clothes were back, scattered all over the floor of the house. And Fig pooped on me again, apparently forgetting all the success, and progress she'd made the day before. Fortunately, I know it takes time. We'll keep at it.

We really want to get Fig out of her "room" and fully integrated into family life for afternoons and evenings. We've considered a cage. We've considered a perch. But really, the only sensible way to integrate a Crow into a human family is to give that Crow freedom, and independence first. A perch of her own, or a cage would probably allow her to feel safer out in the common areas. But freedom to jump about from person to person is great exercise, and social interaction. Giving a naturally phobic bird like a Crow an "out" so to speak, a safe spot, will likely keep her socially, and physically inactive, forever. So for now, the perch, and the cage are off the table. Fig is going to have to succeed at feeling comfortable on/with people in the common areas first. We are going to "be" the perches. Once she passes this hurdle, she'll get her own cage to retreat to ask she likes.

Communicating with a Crow is not unlike communicating with children. You have to have routines. You have to repeat yourself, without nagging. You have to have clear expectations. And most of all, you must not forget to praise, praise, praise...this is a most powerful tool. And rewards are good too, but nothing trumps praise.


Friday, December 11, 2015

On Peanut Butter

Just want to write this down before I forget.

When Fig was younger, I used to give her bread with peanut butter, but I had to be extremely careful to only give her the slightest, thinnest spead peanut butter imaginable because she had a habit of wolfing down bread in big chunks in order to make a dash for her perch with it, and if it had peanut butter on it, the bread would surely lodge in her beak or throat where it would likely cause her to choke to death.

Now-a-days, I am still extremely cautious when I feed Fig peanut butter, but I probably do not need to be. She has long since learned that it is hazardous eating, and she now nibbles away at bread with peanut butter very gingerly out of caution, and sometimes, if the bread is not all that great, all she wants to eat is the good part with the peanut butter on it. It's like she's eating the topping off of pizza. Anyway, there are things like this which I now take for granted, but I never expected to witness Fig learning. It's just entertaining minutia, but it does demonstrate how clever Crows are.

Peas and Corn

My wife was feeding peas and corn to Fig the other day.  Fig loves corn, but she is not a huge fan of peas. In fact to get her to eat them I have to mince them up, and mix them into rice with a bit of fish or chicken.

Anyway, my wife was offering Fig a corn. And Fig would take it, and say thank you.

Then she was offering her a pea, and Fig would stand there, and shake her head, no thanks.

So this was giving my wife a good laugh.

Then my wife started offering Fig a pea in one hand, and a corn in the other with some distance between, and switching hands.

Of course, Fig was choosing the corn every time, and neglecting the peas.

This scientific method game my wife was engaged in is something that just happens naturally when you live with a Crow. One of the many reasons it is fun to have Fig in our family is because she is such a clear communicator, as in this instance.

Another example, is when Fig does not want to do something. For example, if she does not want to watch TV, she will simply refuse to cuddle. She'll jump to a chair, or my shoulder, or my knee, but she will not agree to come in close for sit still, hug time.  I always listen if she expresses for any reason that she is not up for something. It is not a good idea to boss a bird around.

Fig can clearly communicate that she doesn't want, or that she wants, and with pretty exacting specificity. And she can initiate the activity she wants to do, be that a shower together, playing, or cuddling.

Now, our cat will bring a ball, and ask repeatedly to have it tossed. And the cat can ask for food, though not for water. And the cat can initiate intimacy, too, but she doesn't differentiate between talk time, petting, cuddling or a shower (which she would never ask for) with such clarity or success.  So there is simply a higher level of communication going on with the Crow than the kitty, and much of that success lies in the fact that the bird is simply more vocal, more engaged through eye contact all of the time, and generally tuned in to communicating constantly. Predators on the other hand spend most of their time lounging, sunbathing, sleeping, and resting up for their next sprint after the cat bowl.

Don't get me wrong. I love our cat equally as much as the Crow, and the cat is well aware of this. This is why the cat gets jealous if I spend time with the Crow. The Crow, however, never seems to get too jealous if I spend time with the cat. She just looks at me quizically, as if to say, You can't be serious?

All animals express a full range of moods, states of mind, states of being, states of energy, and their desires, and needs; we have only to be better listeners, and better communicators. It is very important to make regular time to touch, play, cuddle, talk, relax, and connect with our animals; doing so benefits us as much, if not more, than them. Our relationships with animals are few, and fleeting since we've come indoors, away from nature. It is natural to have relationships, friendships, connections, conversations, interactions with animals. We have forgotten that to a large extent. This is one of the saddest things about modern times, because once we lose that connection, we lose respect, we lose love, and eventually, we will lose the animals, and then most assuredly our very selves.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Toilet Training

I have read that toilet training a Crow is impossible. But I managed to toilet train a lovebird in the past, so I cannot imagine that toilet training a Crow is going to be harder than that. But actually, I don't have as much time to work with Fig as I did with my lovebird who practically lived on my shoulder. Fig is two and a half now, and is still learning to transition into living more centrally in our house. Change happens very incrementally with her. She spends more and more time on my shoulder as I wander around the house, but she is never there for more than five minutes continuously because she will poop on me if she remains there.

There are a number of reasons for this:

1. The shoulder is not her main perch, so she is still uncertain about it.
2. The house is not her main room, so she is uncertain about being in newer places.
3. She is high, at the hight of her usual perch, so it feels natural to just go.
4. I don't scold her if she goes on me. Instead I praise her for communication, and this approach takes longer, but has much better long term results.

Now, that being said, Fig is now 100% lap trained, and lap potty trained. She never poops on my lap, and she sits to watch TV with us for an hour sometimes without saying she needs a break. On her perch she would never come close to holding a movement for anywhere near that long. And she communicates 100% effectively if she needs to go, when she is in my lap. She nestles in the palm of my hand, and when she needs to go, she simply looks up towards my face, and says, Errr. Then she very obediently waits until she is returned to her main perch to go. Usually, I give her a bathroom break every 15-20 minutes, for her health, but if I don't she can easily go an hour before she will start jumping about like a kindergartener in line for the potty.

The next step is to get her to understand that there is no difference between the lap, and the shoulder by letting her flit from lap to shoulder at will to draw an association, and connection between the two. Already I can see this happening as her shouldered behavior is getting better and better, and accidents are fewer, and fewer. It just takes practice and exposure.

Practice means that Fig must be praised loads and loads for successfully communicating her need to go. And getting her used to the house to a very high degree by walking around, asking her to go to various places to raise her comfort level, praising her for doing so, a lot, and asking if she needs to go to the bathroom. She actually will go to the bathroom on command on her perch or in the bathroom, even trying if she doesn't immediately need to go, so mainly the problem lies in helping her overcome her territorial nerves in spaces that she does not feel are really her spaces to inhabit.

I expect full toilet training to be completed within another six months. She is making very fast strides at communicating these days, and her confidence is way up. I carry her around the house with very high confidence that she won't have any accidents, and I no longer use a bucket in case of accidents because it's not necessary.

Toilet training a bird is not a one way thing. There has to be connection, and two way communication. If the bird poops on you, it is because you failed, not the bird. You did not notice, hear, or see something which you should have recognized, reacted to, and praised to encourage. Birds are not cats and dogs. They usually follow your lead, and if you don't act as a pair, they don't have a functioning partner. You can toilet train them, but you have to at least start by getting them to their preferred toileting place, at first.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Game of Go

I have been playing Go for a number of years, but only recently did I decide to teach it to my kid.

It occurred to me in the midst of explanations that the rules, or the object of the game rather, has some uncanny similarities to the territorial behavior or strategies Jungle Crow families may exhibit. This got me wondering if perhaps ancient ornithologists, thousands of years ago might have been inspired to make a game based on the natural laws of corvid behavior they observed in the wild.

It is merely a whimsical observation, but I have run it by the experts just out of curiosity as the more I think about it, the more I become convinced.  I will report what, if anything they report to back to me.

One wonders how abundant Jungle Crows were in China four thousand years ago. Hmmm.

I have also come up with a working hypothesis and experiment to help prove my assumption that the game was inspired by Crow behavior:

Hypothesis: Go, or Igo (as it is called in Japan) was inspired by watching wild Crows. The game is based strongly on their natural territorial, family group behavior.  While Crows share a lot of behavioral similarities with humans, fundamentally, I believe, they have an all together different character which directs their individula and family/group behavior. Therefore, I hypothesize that if you give two humans who are totally unfamiliar with Go, a Go set, and ask them to play around, and invent an adversarial game, where one person must win, and one must lose, or at least a tie can be reached, they will not manage to come up with the game of Go because their human character will lead them to invent, and follow rules, and take actions which are different from what a Crow would do.  


Taming Fig

Taming Fig has been a challenge. I have all the usual time constraints of a full-time worker, and parent. I have a young kid, and a cat in the house. And Fig by her very nature, is the most wild, crazy, neurotic animal ever in existence.

So, while I am my own worst critic, I feel I must congratulate myself on the progress Fig has made considering less than ideal circumstances for taming a wild Jungle Crow. Fig is certainly deserving of tons of praise for how far she has come. Integrating into a human family is no easy transition for a wild bird, and she has the additional, and unusual reality to face, that her bird family is right outside with her, every day, tugging away at her heartstrings, creating what must, at times, be a sea of confusing emotions for poor Figgy. 

Yet she manages to thrive. 

Outside she elects to stay and chat with family as much as she likes. And that is nice for her. And when she comes in, she simply switches gears completely, to life with humans, and a cat.
She seems to live this dual life successfully. 

Recently, Fig has much more confidence with the cat. She deliberately engages in chases around the house which rarely result in much fearful squawking, usually none at all. But it is scary to watch! It is very hard to trust a cat. If the cat ever does scare her a bit too much, I am always there to intervene, and Fig just leaps to me for immediate safety. Quite often the two of them pile up face to face, and the resulting awkward silence, and stunned faces is just hilarious. Neither can figure out what to do next. Fig very deliberately goes looking for the cat, to get a good high speed chase going. And she has virtually  no issues coming to the living room to sit and watch TV now either. She can sit on her own on the back of a chair, or snuggle in my lap. She never poops on me. She will easily sit an hour before asking to go to the bathroom.  Her confidence is way, way up compared to six months ago. And it keeps on improving, which is good, because she can still improve quite a bit. You cannot push it, you just have to wait for her to decide she is ready for a new comfort zone boundary expansion...and then one day, it happens.  I just hold her loosely, and let her wander out onto my knee or a chair, or my shoulder, then gesture her to come back, and she does, or maybe she doesn't, being rascally and playful. She obviously understands that pooping in the house is a no-no, but she can still do it from time to time if something startles, or scares her.  She has jumped on my wife's things many times, but never once had an accident on her things, probably because my wife goes, 'Oh no, Figgy, no, no, no...Please.' in that gentle voice of hers which Fig likes. Fig is a very good listener, and she understands what stuff is whose to an amazing degree. I assure you, if Fig had pooped on my wife's things, that would be the end of her living room adventures, and probably my life. I have a lot of confidence in Fig. Teaching a young boy, and a cat to move slowly is the truly hard part, so Fig usually comes out to sit with me. More and more she understands that I do, and will protect her. This is obviously more a human than a Crow thing, but it is very welcome to see that she understands this to a greater and greater extent as time goes by. This aspect of our relationship carries over to the world outside as well, though she tends to be more independent when we go to the park, because she wants to chat with her family, play on her own a bit, explore, and push boundaries, or hang out with utter strangers for some reason. She is a kid. 

Her affection has blossomed too. She snuggles, and sleeps in my lap. She is fine with dry pets now, not only being given affection while having her face washed in the shower anymore. She likes to sit in my lap, put one foot in my hand, exactly as though we are holding hands, then she will nestle down into the cup of my hand and chill. She enjoys TV, or Chess, and plays with Go stones a bit, and she is not afraid to help herself to any snacks that happen to be out. In the shower she baths herself in her bath right next to me, and chats away heartily, and singing a wide array of calls, and dancing a bit. Her array of songs is amazing, and from time to time she does a call which I have not heard in months. More and more, she asks for affection time together out in the living room, though. She does this by tearing away at her perch cover, pecking it, pulling it, tugging away at it, and leaping back and forth while elevating her chest, which is clearly the bird version if waving one's arms. That means, Hey, someone come and get me! She won't usually vocalize a desire for affection. I wonder if that is because there is no Crow vocalization for Hey, come cuddle me? She will vocalize annoyance or irritation however, if ignored. This gestural communication seems somewhat universal to animals including humans when we are at a lack for words. Dogs and cats do the same, as will parrots, hamsters, or even fish pacing back and forth to indicate uncontrolled anticipation. 

Fig has become much more forgiving, too. For example, from time to time, I trim and file her eight toenails down because she cannot have natural wood perches. This makes it easier for her to jump about on fabric covered perches without accidentally snagging a foot, or toe and breaking a leg or a wing. Fig is not a big fan of this maintenance. If I am not careful, I can really upset her. But she forgets all about it once the deed is done, and she returns to her usual trusting, affectionate self. There are no longer two weeks of grudge, resentment, and anxiety over a bit of what amounts to a seriously gentle manhandling. More like two minutes, if that. Oh, she will growl, and maybe bite, or peck if she thinks I want to start all over again  but once I tell her, don't fret,  it is done, she goes right back to being a lovey dovey, fluffing up in relief. 

All this progress is fantastic to witness. Fig is finally settled in. She just needs a bit more confidence before she'll have achieved full autonomy as a mobile member of the family with run of the house.  One must be very aware and careful as a hot stove, mirror, and windows present a constant danger. It is very important to teach a bird about hot places, mirrors, and windows. I have even learned that screendoors cannot always be seen, and after many years of being a bird person, I did not know that.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Thoughts on (Human) Learning

It occurs to me, that so many things we know, and do are the result of serendipity.
I mean agriculture, wine, yogurt, leavened bread, penicillin, etc...

And you can add learning to that list. Because playing around in hopes of discovering something useful, is indeed something we discovered serendipitously. Yet, it is astonishing, knowing this especially, how unplayful learning in school is still, these days.

When I watch the wild Crows, I wonder sometimes if they are doing something which they learned, by accident, or by direct instruction from other Crows.

I think, if you are a Crow watcher, this is a very important question to keep warm on the back burner.
1. What are they doing?
2. Is this a repeat? If so, is it a repeat because they learned from an accident, or instruction?

For example, when Crows toss fruits down from the tree, are they cultivating or agriculturing?
Have they learned that bugs, and maggots will infest the fruits on the ground? That fruits will later ripen or ferment on the ground? That other animals will come like pigeons or mice? That new fruit will sprout forth upon the tree again? That it is a form of hoarding/caching? That they can later collect and hide the fruit without competition present? That competition will leave town if they find bare trees?

What exactly motivates their annual behaviors? Have they learned it? Learned from it? Been taught it? Taught it to others? How do their observations and experiences guide their behavior?

These are questions we should ask of ourselves as well. These are questions we should teach our children to ask. Why? Because there are so many things we don't know yet, and cannot appreciate until we hurry up and get to knowing them.

Do Crows do family planning?

Yes! But how much of that was learnt from observation? How much taught?

On the flip side...what ain't they managed to learn, or learn quickly, or learn well? And why?
This is a good one to answer about ourselves.

Quick Update on Fig

Ah the world of Fig is an interesting one. Let's see...real quick entry. Riiiiiiiight.

Fig's Mom is a regular visitor now. She visits every morning and throughout the day. She ate a hole in the roof on Fig's balcony and brought Fig some food presents, which she leave on the roof, rather than putting them into the hole she made.. Fig is awful lazy in the morning as I have her on our family bedtime, and she prefers to sleep in her warm, insulated, dark, sound insulated sleeper box until 10-11am, sometimes later. When the mother visits in the morning Fig will answer her calls very loudly from inside the box without bothering to emerge, lazy thing. Anyway, she is better off on our schedule as she gets a lot more social interaction time than when I was putting her to bed shortly after sundown and waking up at 7am. As long as she can sleep well for a solid 12 hours per night then she is fit as a fiddle. For a while there, I thought Fig's parents were working on a rescue plan, but I think local food is plentiful in this season, and their other kids are off socializing so Fig is just nice for them to have around to chat with, especially for her mother it seems. I have never given them food, and Fig cannot have physical contact with them, but they certainly maintain close social ties, and communicate daily which is very nice for lonely Figgy who picks up new seasonal vocabulary which she then tries to teach to me.

Fig is very affectionate now. She not only sings to me, but dances too, wiggling her tail wildly, raising her "arms", fluffying up, sticking out her neck, blinking wildly, and a whole assortment of calls, noises, mimicks, growls, gurgles and the such. She and I will play growl right in each others faces and I am sure if any other person on earth were to experience this it would frighten them rather well. Fig is not afraid to voice a disagreement about anything and she can growl like a Tiger if she wants to; it is impressive, but she means to do absolutely no harm; she is as gentle as a lamb, and sweet as candy. She always says thank you, and I love you, and gushes gratitude never ending. I gave her mealworms with a bit of cheese tonight, which she had not had in a few days, and she just went made lovey gushing appreciation.

She does not hate the cat, but she cannot overcome her fear of the cat. She has become a great lap Crow now in spite of the cat, however. She sits on my knee for 30 minutes enjoying TV, a game of chess, or classical music before she requests a bathroom break. Generally her behavior at home, and at the park continues to just get better and better. I am very proud of her. Crows are afraid of everything, and anything but Fig has learned to trust me very deeply, even when confronting a serious fear. The other day, a new robe which she had never seen was hanging up in the bathroom. She was on my shoulder, and the anxiety about it boiled over and she flew off and had a major run all over the house...that is how Crows are, anxiety builds until a breaking point at which point they take flight. Anyway, she ran all over the house, a real full tour (you know, she milks it, she really, really milks it) leaping over the cat a few times in route, but very dutifully not pooping anywhere as she knows that's a nono, eventually bounding back to me, to confront the new robe again having dispelled a bit of anxiety. Once I let her peck it a few times, it faded into the wallpaper. We go through this routine with anything new, or out of place, be it a sock, one of her own feathers (especially feathers are to be feared or worried over), or anything too close to her space. She will make a big racket about anything suspicious until I either reassure, reeducate, or shoosh her, which I seldom do as it is far more interesting to have a conversation with the phobic anxiety case so I can figure out exactly what's got her anxious. She certainly has an eye for minute detail, and naturally plays a game of Spot the Difference in her environment.

Fig's daily need to vent is incredible, and seems to get a few seconds longer every day. She'll go on for ten minutes sometimes. She needs to tell me what is on her mind a couple of times a day minimum. This means she talks, and I just listen, and pretend to understand everything. When she is satisfied, she fluffs up, and quiets down. This is a vitally important routine to maintain her mental health. I sort of understand the topic, or the gist of her utterances, but I'm lost on the details. It's generally something along the lines of:  I talked to my Mom today in the morning did you see her? Man, am I in a super mood,  I slept fairly well, but did you hear that motorcycle last night? Heck of loud or what! Today's food was pretty good. I'm not complaining, but you forgot to give me some peanut butter. You know that, right? It was damn hot this afternoon, huh? Why were you five minutes late getting home by the way? You didn't forget me right? God damn it I love you, have you got any roast beef in the fridge? All done, fluff, preen.

So Fig is doing super. Healthy, clean, happy, well loved, played with, and socialized. Bless her little heart, she's a dear sweet birdie.

The mealworm farm is a success, but I need to upscale. A crow can eat a lot of mealworms, and the buggers grow very slowly. I want to do a series of serious intelligence experiments with Fig, but I have had to postpone all until next year when the mealworms are in better supply. Too pricey to buy. Hopefully I will have 50 beetles to lay eggs soon if winter doesn't kill them all first. And to think I started with only 9.

Well...more later?
1. How do we play together?
2. What am I training her to do?
3. Where did I get with APHIS/USDA, F&W, F&G, in regards to a possession permit? Nowhere. There is a ban on imports of any and all wild birds from Japan right now. I want to write in depth about this. Alas, life illegal goes on... I am very dismayed about the fact that I can go on line with a credit card and buy a permit to kill, or maim just about any living creature, but the minute I want to care for one, and show it love, and compassion, and some quality of life, then I'm an instant outlaw. I truly cannot get the world sometimes, especially the inanity resulting from bureaucrazy. Who wants to live in a world where it is a crime to seek out understanding,  to empathize, or exhibit compassion? It ought to be illegal not to do those things.