“I had a strange encounter at a shopping mall in Seoul this morning.
“I was walking to the pets section of the supermarket not unlike our pet lovers chain here in Singapore.
“I have a 4 month old cockatiel at home and we are all very close to it and I always have a look at birds section of all the pet shop I pass by.
“This enclosure had a sliding front glass pane access. Inside was a pair of cockatiels and Pied Kakariki [also known as Red-fronted Parakeet or Red-fronted Kakariki (Cyanoramphus novaezalendiae)].
[The above image shows a Red-fronted Parakeet courtesy of Dr Eric Tan, photographed at the Te Wharawhara Open Sanctuary, Rakiura National Park, Ulva Island, New Zealand on 30th October 2011. However, the bird seen in the shop is slightly different, a “pied mutation” that is popular in the pet trade.]
“One of the Kakarikis caught my attention. It was right at the front of the enclosure with one leg resting on the horizontal ledge and the other lodged on the side corner. It did not appear to be in distress, but it was a lot more interested in human visitors passing by the enclosure than all the rest.
“I went near to have a look at the bird as I was not familiar with this species.
“When I got close it started to do a side to side dance. The closer I got the more energetic its dance became.
I thought that this was quite an engaging individual, an attention seeking bird.
“Then I walked away. It did not move from the spot. And I observed it from far. I had a hunch from the body language that its upper leg was stuck between the glass pane and the side of the enclosure.
“Sure enough as I approached it, it did the dance again. When I pointed to the stuck leg, its dance took a slightly different form but still very energetic.
“It was not in pain or trying on its own to dislodge it. On close examination, it looked like it was in need of a pedicure.
“It’s very long fore claw was apparently stuck as I suspected.
“Now I tried to explain the situation to the shop assistant but had less luck. He spoke no English and although he saw what I was pointing to, he led me to the product shelves.
“Finally after much gesturing with my foot and pointing at birds foot and simulating groans of pain, he finally realised what I was thinking about.
“He slid aside the front glass panel and the bird was free. It hopped off for a quick sip of water and was back.
“What happened next also got me by surprise. The handler took it out of the enclosure and it looked as if it was more keen to leave his hand and get onto me. I did not even extend my hand to the bird. It just stood there waiting to be transferred over. The handler then put it back in the cage and it went back to its usual routine.
“We have always trained birds to do what we want them to do. In return for reward. What about the other way round… the bird trying to get us to perform a particular behaviour?
“This encounter has got me thinking a bit more about bird-human communication.”
7th July 2015