Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Behavior, UH! What's it good for?

What is behavior and why does is exist? I suppose behavior is an action preformed by a "critter" for a purpose, and that purpose is the reason for it's existence via years of evolutionary development and refinement. That's just my quick conjecture so lets take a peek at what the prestigious Wikipedia has to say about the function of behavior.

"All behaviors serve a purpose."

Wow, is that it? So how do we know what purpose a behavior serves? How do I know why my bird opens her wings up and flaps them? It all depends on what the is trying to accomplish, there is no "one answer fits all". Many reasons exist for any single particular behavior existing because all animals have a purpose for performing that behavior depending on the pre-existing conditions that we put them in. For example, one answer for "why" my bird opens her wings up relies on me wiggling my hand back and forth to throw her off balance, and when she does open those wings and flaps it encourages me further to wiggle my hand whenever I want to see that behavior. (WARNING: This is not a good first option, or long-term strategy. This action is using Negative Reinforcement and should be one of the very last options to consider.)

Another scenario is for intrinsic needs. If I notice that every morning when I take my cockatiel, Achilles, out of her sleep cage and place her onto her playstand, she begins to flap quite vigorously for several seconds without any other antecedent other than stepping up onto her playstand I may first assume that the playstand is causing her to flap. But given that she does not do any other time than in the morning I can then assume that there is an internal, or intrinsic need that "makes her feel good" when she flaps in the morning.

The same behavior, but different reasons for it due to different circumstances. Easy right?

So behavior has varying purposes. But in order for your bird to get what he wants (and people too for that matter) communication often needs to take place. Many actions and movements that a bird makes is communication, often enough directed right at you, the owner. It is our responsibility as good parrot owners to make sense of what our companion animals are trying to say. What does that eye pinning, fluffed cheek feathers, pacing, lunging, head bobbing, hopping, open wings, or open beak mean? We'll discover that in time because one behavior can serve many purposes.

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog
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