A Playdate with Tiwi My Moluccan Cockatoo Buddyby Sally BlanchardMy Big MisunderstandingOne of my favorite stories about a bird who has played games with me is about the time that I realized I made a big mistake in interpreting a cockatoo’s initiation of play. I had visited my friends Barbara and Bruce Bailey’s home on a few occasions. Their Moluccan, Tiwi, has a curious and somewhat mischievous personality. After spending some time with her, it seemed to me that she liked to test people when she first met them. Most of the time, people would interpret her game as aggression and they would fail the test. Even though I had advised dozens of cockatoo caregivers about the “dance when I say dance” game, at first I also failed Tiwi’s test. When she ran towards me on the floor, I jumped around and gave her a classic drama reward. This encouraged her to continue the game until she was finally put in her cage. On my next visit, without her realizing it, I pre-empted her behavior by sitting on the floor and playing catch with her. For a cockatoo, she actually had a pretty good aim and if she didn’t actually catch many of my throws to her, she would run and get the whiffle ball. If I missed her throw, she would run and get the ball and bring it to me to throw for her. We played for a long time and if I tried to stop, Tiwi would pick up the ball and throw it towards me to continue the game. I actually had a lot of fun playing with her.
A year or more passed before my next visit. I came into the house and opened my suitcase on the bed. As I went into the bathroom, Tiwi came running down the hall full throttle. I shut the door because I didn’t want to deal with an overexcited cockatoo after my trip and had other more urgent plans. After a few minutes, I heard a tapping sound at the door. Tiwi was holding the waffle ball in her beak and knocking it against the door. I suddenly realized that she had a better memory than I did. I had forgotten about how much fun I had playing catch with her during the last visit. She remembered and was asking me to play catch with her again. While she was waiting for me she had also jumped up on the guest bed and thrown many items in my suitcase around the room. Once I realized that she wanted to play, I sat down on the floor and we played our fun game of catch again. Our other fun game was for me to run around the kitchen island banging a paper towel roll on it while she ran around trying to catch it. She would have done that forever if I hadn't gotten tired! Love Tiwi so much, I named my terrier after her.
Tiwi wasn’t being aggressive with me; she was trying to initiate play with me and it took some time for me to realize this. This made me wonder how often people confuse a parrot’s desire to play with aggression. Interactive play is an important part of a companion parrot’s life. We need to pay attention to their actions and body language to know what they are really communicating.