A Suburban Farm of 6th Happiness.

Argyle the Parrot’s new word

by Alan - February 17th, 2011.
Filed under: Pet Stories. Tagged as: , , , , .

Today, Argyle said a new word!  It is only his second word, which may not sound impressive for a 6 year old African Grey, but it is actually a huge break through for him (and an amusing story for us to retell).  To appreciate this story, you need to know about Argyle’s past…

We got him 2 years ago via a woman who informally rescued him from her child’s friend’s house.  There, he was being kept in a cage that was barely big enough for him… and he had to share it with a macaw (a bird that is much bigger and more aggressive than a grey).  If that wasn’t enough, the children thought it was great fun to poke sticks through the bars to get the birds’ attentions.  The brother taught the African Grey to say naughty things, such as “[sister’s name] is a whore!” Guess who the parents punished for this?  No, not the son- that would have made sense.  They punished the parrot!

When we got Argyle, he was feather plucked, had only 1 tail feather, ate only pellets and grapes, and was  too terrified to make a sound, let alone say a word.  Hands and any kind of long stick like object elicited terrified squawks and an attempt to fly away (which usually meant plummeting to the ground further scaring himself).  He was a nervous wreck who would sit perfectly still, except for a constant subtle shaking.

By the time we had had him for 1 year, he had grown in all of his feathers, learned to enjoy many new foods,  learned to climb about on a birdie gym-set and play with toys.  He was even comfortable whistling various tunes- most of them out of tune since he learned them from me.   He’s still scared of hands and stick-like objects if he isn’t properly warned, but he can now appreciate a good ‘scritching’ on his head, sit on our shoulders and exchange kisses.  His first break through with the speaking issue came around the 1 year mark, when he finally began to say “hello” again.  After realising he wouldn’t be punished for it, he began to say it often and proudly.

Its now been two years that Argyle has lived with us.  He’s still stuck on “Hello”, but a few days ago, (coincidentally, shortly after we brought home Mickey, a Polish Tatra Sheep dog puppy) that began to change.  Tam (my wife) and I would be talking and in the background, or petting the puppy, and Argyle would  go: twitter*tweet*whistle*hello*(mumble)*tweet*.

“What’s that Argyle?” one of us would say.

He’d sit on his swing, looking innocent.

The next day it happened again.  And again the day after, several times.  Tam was sure there was an ‘or’ sound in the mumble, so I began thinking of all the possible words he might know and be trying to say.  Maybe it was “Four” (when I’d give him food, I’d count it out- “one, two, three, four grapes!  Four yummy green grapes!”).  Or maybe it was “More” (“Argyle ate all four grapes!  Does Argyle want more?  More grapes?”)

All our guess were wrong.  The next day, all was serene, when Mickey the puppy trotted into the room, looking for attention, or treats, or both, as puppies tend to do.

Argyle looked down at him and finally exclaimed, “WHORE!”

And no, we didn’t punish him.  He was congratulated and told he could say it all he wanted for now.*

Footnote: It is generally not a good idea to teach parrots “bad words”. Given their long life spans, they often will require re-homing (even if you would never give them away, they might outlive you). Birds with “bad vocabularies” have a harder time finding homes. In Argyles case, he’s already been taught, and then badly punished and traumatised.  Getting him over the trauma and fear is our first concern. Later, when he is confident with speaking, we can work on extinguishing the undesirable word(s).

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