Celebrating, Conservating and Educating (about) African Grey Parrots

Nikki’s Nest

This page on our website is devoted to Nikki, the first African grey parrot – or first parrot of any kind, for that matter – to enter our lives.

Located on the Nikki Picture Page, there are several thumbnails you can click on to see bigger images of Nikki.

But first, Nikki’s story …

 

PARROTS CAN BE GREAT TEACHERS

By John Geary

I never thought birds could have so much personality, demonstrate so much intelligence, be so much fun to play with or show such a tremendous capacity for love.

At least, that’s what I thought until I met Nikki.

And in meeting him, he taught me I have untapped sources of patience – and love – I never knew I had before.

Nikki is our Congo African grey parrot. However, like a teen-ager experiencing a bad first date, I did not hold out much hope for a happy ending in the early stages of our relationship. That’s because Nikki was coming to us third-hand and his first owner – a male – had abused him. So he was not really fond of males.

Initially he would step up on my command, but he was without a doubt, my wife’s bird. I accepted him grudgingly, and we co-existed more-or-less peacefully. However, a few months after Nikki became a part of our household, we returned from a short holiday and he would have nothing to do with me.

We can only assume something happened to him while we were away, to make him become even more wary of adult males. Possibly he was teased or tormented by a male in the house where he stayed during our holiday; we’ll never know.

We do know he was terrified of me. I took him out of his cage a day or two after our return and he flapped down to the floor immediately in an awkward attempt at flight. My own attempts at trying to get him to step up were met with a loud growl.

After that, I could not even get Nikki to come out of his cage when I opened it. He did not bite me, but did everything possible to avoid me. Whenever I attempted to have him step up on my hand, he got very agitated, growled, and climbed up the back wall of his cage.

For a while, I chose to ignore him. But then something – be it stubbornness, intrigue, refusal to give in to a challenge or a combination of all three – motivated me to make every effort to gain Nikki’s acceptance.

During the next several months, I very patiently went about convincing Nikki I was not a bad person. I simply gave what he was willing to take and took what he was willing to give. No more, no less.

I started by feeding him peanuts through his cage bars. Of course, he would always accept food. I would also imitate him whenever he made any sound, such as whistling, meowing, clucking or any of the countless other noises he made. Then I stumbled upon something that seemed to really help us turn the corner.

My wife mentioned that Nikki had initially taken to the young teen-age son of a friend, but just recently the boy’s voice had started deepening with the onset of puberty

All of a sudden Nikki was not as keen to interact with him. Eureka! I thought that he must associate a deep male voice with pain or abuse, or at the very least, discomfort.

So from that point on, I made sure I talked in a very, very high falsetto whenever I interacted with Nikki. I added some small stuffed animals to the act, and every day “we” would dance with Nikki, talking in silly “stuffed animal” voices. Not long after that, it became apparent he enjoyed this little game. Whenever the gorilla, bear and myself came to visit him in his cage or on his perch, he would indicate his pleasure by fluffing out his feathers.

Nikki and I were starting to lay the groundwork for a stable, loving relationship. But there was more to come.

I began a little routine we would go through whenever we put him to bed. Nikki and I would play tug-of-war with his food and water dishes while I was changing them for the night. Then one day, he poked his head through the hole in the cage where his dish had been and began laughing!

I knew I had really started to win him over.

Pretty soon he was sharing my morning cereal and juice with me. It eventually became my duty to put Nikki to bed at night and get him up and bring him out to the kitchen in the morning. He was still leery about stepping up on my hand, so I would just haul the cage out of the room he slept in.

Then one day, I took a giant leap forward. I held out my hand, and Nikki stepped up from his cage! I never knew an act that simple could feel so rewarding, to the point I was misty-eyed with happiness.

A few weeks after that, I thought I’d taken a giant step backward, though.

One day while I was taking a bath, Nikki jumped off his cage and came down to the bathroom to see me. But when I bent down to get him to step up, he sunk his beak fiercely into my forearm. In agony, I tried to shake him off without harming him, and finally dislodged him so my wife could pick him up and put him back in his cage.

For the next few days, I wanted nothing to do with the bird.

But after a few days of snubbing him, I found myself drawn back to him. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to stay mad, but I could not. I enjoyed interacting with him too much to just give it up. I enjoyed our silly play as much as he seemed to.

Then at breakfast on the third day after his attack, he climbed down off my wife’s shoulder, walked across the table, up my arm and onto my shoulder, as if to say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. I love you and want you to be part of my flock.”

Of course I forgave Nikki, and our relationship has prospered even more since then. We have made up all kinds of silly new games to play now, and if I don’t follow the regular bedtime and morning routines, Nikki is very disappointed.

This entire process took over a year. If someone had tried to tell me beforehand that I would show that kind of patience with a bird, I would have laughed and told him that he had the wrong person.

But through patience and love, I taught Nikki to love and accept me. And through our interactions, Nikki also taught me how to be patient, but more important, how love can overcome anything.