Bongo Marie Cornish Hen


This story about my late great African grey, Bongo Marie, appeared in the first issue of the Pet Bird Report and in a few issues after that. It was also used as the title story in the book The Parrot's Lament by Eugene Linden and consequently appeared in both Time Magazine and the Reader's Digest. It is perhaps one of the best-known parrot stories. In fact, when I had my gallery, a woman came in and when I introduced her to Paco, she said, "Oh No Paco" not realizing that she was in front of the actual Paco from the story.


I am convinced after living with Bongo Marie for close to 25 years that she had a sense of humor. Her laughter was almost always appropriate. It seems to me as if some African greys have a superiority complex; as if they think they are better than other parrots they live with. 

Certainly, Bongo Marie has always acted as if Paco, my female double yellow head Amazon, was not her equal – as if green was an inferior color. Perhaps that is why it took such a long time after I got her to get her to eat greens; she had heard you are what you eat. Both Paco and Bongo Marie had lived with me for about 20 years and they were never friends. Bongo occasionally called Paco’s name until Paco responded. Then the grey told the Amazon to "Keep it to Yourself!" She said this when my parrots scream too.

- Several years ago, Bongo Marie’s cage was right next to the dining room table and Paco’s cage was right near the door. I was fixing dinner and had just taken a Cornish game hen out of the oven and was poised to carve a piece of the breast meat. Bongo Marie slid down the side of her cage and eyed my dinner quizzically. I often gave her tidbits of what I was cooking, so this was not unusual behavior. What came next is what was so funny! Suddenly, she threw her head up and in a frantic questioning voice exclaimed, "OH NO, PACO!?!?!" After I stopped laughing, I explained to her that the bird on the platter was not Paco, "Look Bongo Marie – that’s not Paco. Paco is right over there." She looked towards Paco and in a very indignant voice said, "oh no," as if she was disappointed. Then she laughed hysterically with her very maniacal laugh as if to let me know she had been joking all of the time! 

Accusations that I was Lying from the Bird Training World
 This story has become quite well known in the avian world. It was the feature story in the book called The Parrot's Lament by Eugene Linden and was written about in both Time Magazine and the Reader's Digest. I also tell the story of Bongo Marie and the Cornish Game Hen in my seminars and bird-show trainer, Steve Martin used it in his video as an example of what he considers to be excessive anthropomorphism and a fabrication. Anthropomorphism is the attributing of human shape or characteristics to gods, objects, animals, etc. 

I was sent a video of a program he gave for a Minnesota Bird Club, Mr. Martin told the story wrong and stated, "Well, you know what - that whole story is fiction - it has to be fiction and I guarantee you it never happened that way. There is not a bird in the world that I know that has the capability of conversation of language like that in that the use of language context. I mean that’s some incredible cognitive thinking that they’re trying to say - basically it's a fiction story. But unfortunately, it is put across by the quote-unquote expert as fact. I think that’s sad because it allows and encourages people to go home and interpret the behaviors that their bird does in such an anthropomorphic way that takes them farther and farther from a positive relationship with their bird." 

Mr. Martin calls the Bongo Marie and The Cornish Game Hen story fiction and virtually accuses me of making it up – of lying about it. Am I a liar? As a quote-unquote expert, I don't like being called a liar. I can assure you this is a true story as are all the others I have told about my clever African Grey, Bongo Marie. In telling the story, I am very careful to use the words ‘as if’ to tell it in a way that does not give the impression that I completely believe Bongo Marie was cognizant of each and everything she was saying. However, I don't believe that Mr. Martin, as a bird show trainer, has much understanding of the relationships between people and their companion parrots. In one story, Mr. Martin told a story about a cockatoo that hadn't been handled for months and how he was surprised that the bird came right to him. If you had a companion cockatoo that hadn't been handled or given attention for months, the bird would have some serious problems.

I personally believe that the world of companion parrots living in people's homes is a very different world than the world of training birds for bird shows. Are some of the trick training/operant conditioning/clicker training information valid with companion parrots? Sure, but some of it isn't and I believe it can be so rigid that it doesn't encourage people to have an intuitive relationship with their parrots that is based on creative thinking. For example, there is a book from several years back that stated that if you want your parrot to roller skate that you should only feed him only when he was on the skates. This is the kind of information that made me become cautionary about clicker training. I am a big fan of positive reinforcement, but I don't think you need food and/or a clicker to relate to your parrot in this manner. Loving praise goes a long way with companion parrots.




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