David's First Word. One day after bringing him home I was exchanging food and water dishes in his cage. He came very close to check out his water dish. Noticing how curious he was I held the water dish under his beak thinking he might want a drink. Holding the dish I repeated the word "water" three or four times. He turned his eye to the dish and stared at it very intently. He looked back at me and then back at the dish and touched the water with his tongue. Much to my astonishment he looked up at me (eye to eye) and repeated the word "water" very clearly, as a question ... as if he were asking if it really was water. Frankly, I don't think I would have believed it if I hadn't witnessed it. Today he continues to say "water" and then "uummmm goooood" when a dish comes his way. Over the years he has expanded the "water" label to his food dish also ... calling food "water". The water dish experience is an example of how he has learned some of his vocabulary ... that is, by association with something he is doing or is interested in. He also has picked up words he hears from the birds he lives with.
It's my understanding that Hyacinth Macaws are considered to be poor talkers. I won't say that David has a perfect speaking voice but he does a pretty good job. David's vocabulary is limited compared to a bird who is a gifted talker. But, honestly, I've been so amazed by his ability to speak.
Here is a list of some of the things he enjoys saying all the time:
- Hello - said with several different inflections depending on his emotion at the moment.
- Hi - he only says "Hi" in a whisper ... and it's pretty endearing.
- Hi, Boo Boo
- 'Night, 'Night - he never fails to say this at the end of the day when he knows the lights will soon go out.
- Bye, Bye
- I Love You - he learned this phrase one word at a time.
- How does the duck go? - followed lby a bunch of quacking. He learned this phrase from Rodney, my Greenwing.
- Rock-a-Bye David - he says the first words of this lullaby substituting his own name for "baby".
- Knock It Off - when the rest of the flight crew he lives with are having a scream-fest I'll hear him above the din telling everyone to "knock it off". I bet you can guess who he learned that from.
- Fly - He loves to hang on the side of his cage and flap his wings while saying "fly" repeatedly. Actually, what he says is more like "fwy" where the "L" becomes a "W". It is really funny the way he says it. If I walk fast or jog with him on my shoulder he'll spread his wings slightly saying "fwy" as we run around together.
- Hop - David loves to hop. He will hop like a rabbit on any flat surface making about 3 to 4 jumps in a row. He repeats the word "hop", "hop", "hop" as he jumps around.
- Water - Sometimes when I bring his food bowls he'll say "water" as a question, as if he were asking if it is water (or food) that he is getting.
- Ummmm! - as in "ummmm good".
- Good - David says "good" when his food dish contains a favorite food, or if he is hungry and has been waiting to eat.
- Rodney - The name of my Greenwing Macaw.
David's cage is a little larger than a typical macaw cage -- measuring 5 feet wide x 4.6 feet deep and 5 feet high. He only stays in it at night. During the day he has access to the outside of his cage and his playstand and sometimes the bird room he lives in. The room is "bird proof" ... containing lots of playtime activity centers, but nothing the birds can get hurt by or nothing they shouldn't destroy. David's cage is elevated off the floor so that he cannot leave the exterior of his cage or playstand if I don't want him wandering around the room by himself. So that is where he spends most of his day.
David is not a chewer like most birds are. That may surprise some people because with that beak he could really dismantle anything he wanted to. However, his softer wood toys don't last very long if he has a mind to chew on them. David seems to prefer plastic objects like Chomping Chains. And he loves large stainless steel bells and has several hanging throughout his environment. I hang the bells on Chomping Chains which is a good combination to keep him entertained. He has turned one of his bells into a "buddy". I'll discover him resting next to the bell with it under his wing. I suspect being non-destructive is not typical of Hyacinth Macaws. I've heard stories of how they can snap the welds on their cages. Stainless steel cages are recommended for Hyacinth Macaws because of that. David's cage is made of high-strength aviary wire and it has worked extremely well for him. He has never tried to chew on or destroy his cage. The wire of his cage is 1" x 1". The 1" opening is small and would be difficult, in my opinion, for him to grasp the wire in a way to tear through it. However, as I mentioned David is not inclined to be destructive and I would not be able to provide an opinion whether that type of environment would be acceptable for a destructive Hyacinth. However, I think it is worth noting that many breeding Hyacinths are kept in outside environments in warmer climates. Those environments are often made of high strength aviary-type wire, so perhaps that is a dependable material in which to house a Hyacinth. Anyone wishing to provide suitable housing for a Hyacinth should do thorough research before making the investment in a quality environment. If an aviary-type environment is desired I might suggest checking out these attractive indoor and outdoor aviaries.
David has a quirky habit about taking food from my hand. Unlike my other Macaws who are quick to take any food or treat offered, David is cautious. For whatever reason, he feels it is necessary to proceed slowly and uses his tongue to taste-touch anything offered ... except for his very favorite foods, like macadamia nuts. Making the decision to take the food may take a minute or so. During this time he'll look at the food, taste-touch it, and then look at me as if waiting for encouragement or approval that the food is okay. Rather than being a quirky habit perhaps his caution is another example of his intelligence. My other Macaws (Blue/Gold and Greenwing) will instantly take anything handed to them. If they don't want it they'll drop it. That is smart, too ... since they aren't taking the risk of missing anything good.
David was weaned on a wide variety of food and continues to be fed that way. However, he is rather selective in what he chooses to eat ... becoming more selective as the years have passed. He favors nuts which is expected because plam nuts are the primary diet of Hyacinth Macaws in the wild. He also gets pellets (which he eats sparingly), fresh fruit (which he likes), fresh vegetables (accepted a little less enthusiastically than fruit) ... a variety of healthy foods. He also gets some red palm oil spread on toasted bread mixed in with his daily variety of fresh food. In the evening he gets a snack ... consisting of a ration of macadamia nuts in the shell (his very favorite), almonds (which he isn't too crazy about but will eat), brazil nuts and pistachios (more favorites), filberts, walnuts (given only after being carefully checked for spoilage). I don't feed peanuts because they are known to habor aspergillus. This fungus (or mold) is responsible for aspergillosis respiratory illness in parrots which can cause death. By the way, aspergillus is in the general environment so peanuts are not the only way this fungus often causes trouble.
Now that David is mature he's developed a jealousy of my other birds and is quick to act out. He is most jealous of Fagan, my Moluccan Cockatoo. No doubt this is caused by the Fagan's demand for extra attention because he is very bonded to me. David doesn't miss this and only tolerates the Moluccan getting attention for a limited time before becoming vocal about it. To be fair, the Moluccan is equally jealous of David and acts the same way. If David's squawks for attention don't get the results he wants then he'll walk over and try to interject himself between the Moluccan and myself. The best way to spend time with my other birds is to take them to another room. David shows his displeasure when we leave but shortly gets over it and goes on with his day.
If David thinks he's being ignored he'll give a very loud squawk to let me know. For example, he'll be sitting on his playstand in my office about 4 feet away from my desk. If I'm busy working and not paying attention to him the sound he makes gives me an unexpected jolt. It is not my first choice of a way to be reminded that David thinks he is being ignored. Is David spoiled? Perhaps. But I really expect this "reminder" squawk has more to do with the instinctual need to feel connected socially. Occasional eye contact lessens his need to remind me that he is nearby.
Of course if David is in the mood to make bird noise it is very loud. It isn't on the level of screeching wild Hyacinth Macaws who can be heard up to a kilometer away. But David is certainly capable of making some noise. It's interesting that even though loud, David's tone is deeper than my other macaws due most likely to his overall larger size. He is certainly much lower pitched than my Moluccan and Umbrella Cockatoos. Even though very loud, the lower pitch of David's voice makes the sound a bit more tolerable for me.
All in all, David is quite a character and his intelligence is fascinating and a joy. He, as the rest of my birds, are loved beyond words.
If you'd like to learn about how our avian family evolved visit My Parrot Family. David tells the tale.