My Congo African Grey picks up stuff REALLY fast. Sometimes he’ll piece together stuff that’s hilarious.
Yesterday I was sitting next to him reading, and he was preening quietly so I told him he was being really good — giving them attention when they’re not screaming gives them the option of not screaming when they want attention, so I try to do this a lot.
His response? He said in a friendly tone, “You’re a really good Nattie. Haha. I love you, bitch.” My husband and I use obscenities as casual endearments.
Then sometimes he’ll throw stuff together in Engrish-y ways that almost make sense. The other day we were moving, so I put Bongo (the African Grey) and our cockatiel in their travel cages so I could take their huge cages apart to stick in the truck. Bongo didn’t like this, so he decided to lift up his water bowl, which lifts the food cup door, and throw it on the floor. Shocked, I said, “You douche!” Bongo yeowled, this hilarious gibberishy cat-like sound. My husband came in and asked what happened, and Bongo said, “Yes, that became water now.” I want to put that on a shirt with like, a picture of an anthropocentrized flower or something.
Other times he’ll say stuff that makes sense, logically and grammatically, that he’s put together on his own, but it’s just funny. The other day we were sitting in silence for a while, when Bongo suddenly let out this long sigh and said, “Well, I guess I *am* Bongo,” not in a revelatory tone, but in the same grudging way someone takes responsibility, like when someone says, “I guess I *am* the adult here.” I blinked at him and said, “Alright. How does that make you feel?” and he just gave a weary “hm” and started preening, like there was nothing to be done for it so we may as well move on with life.
On a less philosophical note, a few weeks ago we put the birds to bed, which basically means just putting them in their cages and covering them. Most nights, Bongo does not want to go to bed, but that night he REALLY didn’t want to. He tried to scramble back out of the cage but wasn’t fast enough. He then clung to the side as my husband wrapped the blanket around, and, adopting my husband’s raging-at-Mortal-Kombat voice, yelled, “Nooooooooooooooooo!” We cracked up because we couldn’t help it, which he did not seem to appreciate. He fell silent once the blanket was in place. Then we flicked the light switch off, and Bongo said simply, “Fuck.”
Bongo is awesome. Parrots are awesome. When we lived in Texas, there was a breeder who said that her breeding parrots would speak some human to their chicks, like “good girl” and “here’s some nummies” when feeding them. Bongo uses both when he talks to our cockatiel, which is positively creepy since they hate each other; he’ll climb on Precious’s cage to harass him, and say, “Come here Precious” and snicker, and when Precious starts squawking in outrage, he says, “Calm down, Precious,” or (more rudely) “Shut up, Precious.” What’s especially amusing about this is we practically never said those things to Precious because Precious didn’t scream as much as Bongo used to; we’d say “calm down, Bongo” instead, but he says Precious. He also tries to blame his own screaming on Precious if I’m out of the room: he will scream a lot, and if I eventually say anything back telling him to knock it off, he says “shut up Precious.” And then screams again. (He doesn’t scream much anymore after I started being more alert to enforcing and ignoring certain things.) Precious also does this horrible, scratchy barking sound in imitation of an alarm clock we had when he was a baby, and Bongo will start whistling La Cucaracha whenever Precious starts in on this because Precious LOVES La Cucaracha and will instantly start singing instead.
It is always interesting to me to see different ways Bongo figures out how to use sounds to change stuff around him. One of my favorite things he likes to do is sit on the back of my wooden office chair, and he will start banging his beak rhythmically on it, which is a normal bird thing, especially with male birds (Precious does it too). But if I start making percussive beat boxing noises, he will keep banging his beak AND make a clicking sound AND put his wings up and dance a bit. The rhythm is shaky but it’s super cute. If he wants to get my attention, he knows I will do that with him for a while. He also likes to sing, “Boooooongo, Booooongo biiiiird,” in it sometimes, just whatever notes he feels like.
But what’s been REALLY great, is Bongo’s about to turn six, so for the last year or so he’s been transitioning to adulthood more fully. He seems to have gotten much smarter — like, quicker to understand things — and mellowed out over this time. The other week I was sick and lying in bed, really tired, but Bongo was freaking out wanting to see me so my husband brought him in the bedroom and left him on the chair I mentioned earlier. Bongo started gibbering and laughing and talking to me a bunch, which cheered me up, and I didn’t want him to feel ignored so I kept up for twenty minutes or so. Finally, though, I was just too tired, but Bongo kept talking. I tried to think of a way to explain, not really knowing if anything would work, but not wanting to upset him. When we put the birds to bed at night, we say, “It’s bedtime!” so that seemed like an option. Then he knows that “mommy” is me, plus he had started using it as an adjective — he started saying “want mommy kiss” a year ago.
So I try, “It’s mommy bedtime.” To my surprise, he stops talking abruptly, then says, “Okay.” And he stayed completely silent while I took a nap. When I woke up, he said in a bright British accent, “Hullo!”
I saw an article about parrot intelligence where some jackass was going on in the comments about how birds don’t understand the human words they use and their mimicry isn’t any more impressive than those cats that sound like they’re saying “no”, we just get fooled into believing they’re intelligent because they figure out how we react to these sounds and how to use them to get what they want and it’s like dude I’m sorry but are you aware of what “language” is?