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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

May 27, 2011

Bird Brain

By Elizabeth Creith

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Every time I hear the term "bird brain," I have to laugh. Most of the birds I've met in the pet trade are way too smart for my own good.

A few months after we opened, we had a sun conure for sale. Conures are smallish birds, a little bigger than a cockatiel, but short-tailed. We put him in a cockatiel cage, where he seemed content.

Stef, the young man we'd hired to do cleaning and feeding, was conscientious, but one morning I saw that the door of the conure's cage was wide open. Fortunately, the conure was still inside. I closed the door, which fastened with one of those ball-and-wire snap closures. This one was fairly stiff, and it hurt the ends of my fingers to get it done up.
An hour later, I saw the sun conure on the floor. He fluttered away from me, but we clipped all the birds' wings as a matter of course, and I caught him easily.

"What are you doing out?" I said. I put him back in—through the wide-open cage door.
I found Stef changing shavings on the feeder mice.

"You have to be careful to get the conure's cage door closed properly," I said. "I know it's stiff, but double-check, okay? I just caught him out."

"I'm sure I did it up," Stef said.

"I know,” I answered, “Just double-check it."

Twice more that day I caught the sun conure out. Finally I lurked at the end of the aisle and saw him chewing at the door fastening. He picked and nibbled, turning his head this way and that for a minute or so, and then—pop, flop—the door fell open.

"Right," I said.

I caught him before he reached the floor, popped him back into jail and got a spring clip from a leash to hold the door closed.

Silly me. Any bird that can figure out how to pop a wire over a ball can unravel the mystery of another kind of clip in short order. He chewed and fiddled with it constantly, as though I'd given him a brand-new toy, which I suppose I had, and in two weeks he could undo it at will.

He'd learned something else from experience, too; I never caught him working on that clip. Whenever I went by, even if I stood at the end of the aisle, he hopped off of the side of the cage and sat on his perch until I left. All the same, in two weeks he was the Jailbreak Kid again.

Next step, a quick-link. I thought this was pretty clever of me. The screw action of the nut joining the ends of the link was different from the spring-pressure of the wire and clip. He'd have to re-think his methods. How smart, after all, could a bird be?
It took him a week to master the quick-link.

If birds could blow raspberries, I'm sure he would have done it as he ran along the aisle.

"That's it," I said, and did what I should have done in the first place. I bought a lock, not a tiny, pretty lock, but a honking brass lock with a quarter-inch-thick loop. The sun conure glowered at me and chewed on the lock, but he was in for good. It had taken me almost two months, but I'd finally outsmarted him.

Yup, I'd outsmarted a bird. It was hard to feel properly triumphant.

We sold him a month later. We threw in the lock.

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