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Modifying contact calling

2533 Views 17 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  The Brute Squad
My senegal, Roni, makes a shrill call whenever I leave her sight, and any time she "thinks" I am going to leave her sight. I believe this is the sound she would naturally make if she were trying to keep in contact with other members of her flock if she lived as a wild bird in Africa.

The sound doesn't bother me, but my son thinks it sounds like fingernails on a chalk board.

I feel the sound is a natural call for her, and I expect her to make her natural sounds from time to time. However, I'm hoping not to teach her to scream more often than she has to. I've read I can easily reinforce the behavior and make it worse, so I'm trying to consciously reinforce more pleasant sounds from her.

I've read a few articles about this and spoken to the people at the bird store from whence she came. The common theory seems to be to ignore that sound and it will eventually fade from usage.

I'm trying not to go to her when she makes that sound or acknowledge her in any way, but it is difficult. For one thing, she seems to hear me coming and often makes the sound right before I enter the room. Then I have to decide whether to turn around and come back a bit later, hoping she won't happen to call me again as I am about to come back, or continue into the room, taking the chance she will think it was her "calling" that made me come.

I thought I would try some natural jealousy to see how that worked, and the results have been positive, but not exactly what I had planned.

The bourkes, Stanley, couldn't make an unpleasant noise if his life depended on it. Every sound he makes is music to my ears. So I started giving him lots of attention whenever he would make a pretty sound, hoping Roni would copy him. It worked. She now makes cute bourke's noises whenever I am in the room. Stanly also says what sounds like "pretty" to me. Maybe it is just a natural bourkes sound, but it sounds like "pretty", and we all reinforce it as if that is what he is trying to say. Roni now says "pretty" even more clearly than Stanley.

However, this doesn't carry over to noises she makes when I am elsewhere in the house. She still uses her shrill contact call then. Of course, I suspect she is smart enough to realize that I probably can't hear the bourkes sounds throughout the house, anyway. What good would a "contact" call be if it can not be heard well enough to contact? Actually, she's also gotten so good at imitating him when I am in the room that I sometimes can't tell which one of the two is making the sound unless I am positioned so I can tell which cage it comes from, so I suppose even if she tried using those sounds for contact calls, I wouldn't know if she was making the sounds or Stanley was. So, my point is, I think the bird is too smart for me on this one.

I've considered having the kids stay in the room when I leave and then call me using some phrase we all agree on. I could come to answer them, and perhaps she would pick up saying that to get my attention. It could work.

Nevertheless, I honestly feel bad about ignoring the contact call itself. I don't want to teach her to scream whenever I am not with her and whenever she imagines I am leaving, but I also believe it is a very natural thing for her. I think she just wants me to keep her informed where I am in the house. Everyone tells me that she doesn't call for me unless I am actually home. She is quiet when she knows I am gone.

Additionally, the kids and I call one another from various parts of the house to locate one another and communicate. She should have the same option.

I believe that, with human children, inconsistent reactions are the surest way to reinforce any behavior. A baby that is never responded to when he cries will eventually stop crying all together, but that is a very neglectful way to parent. A baby that is responded to quickly, effeciently, and consistently will learn to cry only when he needs something, and this is what a parent wants. A baby who is responded to inconsistendly when he cries will learn to cry even when he doesn't need to cry, because he never knows when he will get the response he needs, so he has to cry all the time in hopes to get attention sometimes.

What I would really like is to help Roni develop a contact call that my son can better tolerate but which comforts her as she needs to be comforted when I am out and about the house and also gives her information about where I am. In other words, I'd like to be able to respond to her calling me in a pleasant tone so she gets what she desires from using a pleasant contact call instead of this screech.

So, any suggestions for modifying the contact call to something a little more pleasant than the "fingernails on a chalk board" screach?
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I had some successes with my tiel and my linnie using a contact call of my choice - a specific, quieter whistle that can still be heard throughout the house. When they made their contact call, I would do mine back once, then ignore them. After a week or two, they learned to mimic a noise more similar to mine - namely, dropping the volume and pitch.

I also used to do this to Chenga, a U2 in a shop I worked at. He would screech bloody murder for attention if I left the room, and I would quietly talk to him, telling him 'You won't get any attention or talking from me after this unless you lower your voice, mister!' After a few tries, and learning that whenever he said 'hello' and 'good boy' (i think those were the two, it's been years) i would answer him, talk back to him, and come into the room.

I hope that helps you! :thumbsup: It sounds like you have the right idea already!
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Update on this issue.

Roni has learned that if I shut the door when I am not in the room with her, there is no response to a contact call, so she doesn't make one. If I am in the room with her, I shut the door so she knows I'm not leaving when I move around; therefore, she has no need to contact call. If the door is open, she makes the call any time I go near the door, but if it is closed, she doesn't.

She will call to the linnie if she is in a room away from the linnie and the linnie is calling for her, but I think that is normal behavior, and so mostly I don't have them in separate rooms.

Roni's behavior has become wonderful lately. She is as sweet to ME as she was when she was little, before she went through her first testing stage. I don't trust her with others, though. She hates my daughter, but my daughter scared her a while back, so I think perhaps they might always have a strained relationship. My son doesn't like her because of something totally undeserved and mean she did to him, soooooooooooooo, I guess I will have to outlive her.

She imitates all of the little birds, and that is quite nice. Either my hearing has worsened (perhaps the contact calling permanently damaged some of my nerves), or she actually does not make that very shrill noise she used to make. I think maybe she actually has changed her contact call so that it is closer to the linnie's instead of her natural call, though, because now even my son does not complain when she does make a call, and it used to drive him crazy. The linnie contact call is probably as loud as Roni's natural call, but just slightly less shrill. It was always the shrillness, not the volume, that bothered my son. Actually, the volume is not now nor has it ever been bad. She can not even be heard on the other side of the house, which is why I think they classify senegals as ok for apartments.

I did want to mention that she is now prone to saying a phrase out of the blue. Some of them I never hear again, and some of them I can't understand, but sometimes she says a very clear phrase. The pitch of her voice is quite high, so not as understandable as the linnie's voice.

Last week, after I put her in her cage because she screamed in my hear in response to one of the linnie's contact calls, she said, "You're such a good bird!" I was so shocked, I didn't even think to reinforce by repeating the phrase, which I think she needs or she won't say it again. Instead, I just let the first thing fly out of my mouth, which was, "You're such a BRAT."

Today, she was sitting on my arm while I was on the linnie forum watching a video someone had posted. She said, "Whatcha thinking?" I was impressed by that. I say that to her a lot. I had the presence of mind to reinforce that one, so perhaps she will repeat it.

I am actually surprised at how much she talks, but, unfortunately, she is difficult to understand. I doubt I will ever know much of what she is saying.

I'm very happy she is my bird. She is a great pleasure.
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Roni sounds like a sweetie....:)
Nanay is there any chance you could take some video of Roni talking? I'd love to hear it even if it's hard to understand. :biggrin5:
I never know when she is going to talk. She doesn't talk all that often, just says the random phrase now and then, but almost always it seems like she understands what she is saying. Clearly, as bad as she actually behaves, I must tell her she is good or she wouldn't constantly claim she is, lol.
You know what, I don't even think I know how to take a video any more. I am really getting old.
Roni surprised me again the other day by saying something totally appropriate. I was doing morning chores and trying to wake my daughter up at the same time, and she said, "Get up". She was looking right at her, and it was very clear and sounded very similar to me. Unlike the other three birds, who will repeat the few phrases they say at any time and just for fun, she only seems to talk when it means something. She is usually not very clear, but this time she was quite clear. It also seems to me, and perhaps this is just my imagination, but it appears that she imitates the other three birds, but knows to whom she is speaking. In other words, she will contact call each bird imitating it. I'm glad she is not around louder birds, lol.
I have enjoyed many weeks of a very sweet Roni. She seldom bites at all, but when she does it is not hard. I do have to watch her because she wants to bite my chin. She has never done anything but mouth it, but I just don't want her to do anything of that nature to my face. She did bite my son in the eye once, which really scared both of us.

She is now starting to make vocalizations that sound very close to my voice, although I am not understanding the words. I am very surprised because I had read that senegals were not capable of actually imitating a human voice. It is written that they can speak a few words, but in a birdie type voice. I did read that Shandi's bird speaks in human voices, so I guess it must be possible.

She still makes contact calls when I leave the room, but not for long, and the calls are just a shade less piercing than they used to be. I think this is because she now calls like the linnie calls, and her voice is a shade less piercing than Roni's original contact calls were.

I think I want to concentrate on trying to develop her talking abilities, especially since she is now using such a good voice. She still says her few early phrases in her parrot type voice: "step up", "pretty Roni", "good girl", although sometimes they are now closer to a human voice.

Someone said "pretty bird" in a very close to human voice today, but I do not know if it was Roni or Elisa. Elisa is the only one I've ever heard say, "pretty bird" prior to today, and she has a very distinctivly low voice. This was definitely not her normal speaking voice. I'm thinking it was most likely Roni, who has in the past always said, "pretty Roni" as opposed to "pretty bird", but they were fairly close together and from the angle and distance I was away from them I could not tell from whence the sound came.

Do any of you have advice for purposeful talking lessons?

I will probably also do some trick training. She learned to give a high 4 for an oat groat very quickly, but I suspect that is the easiest trick of all. I don't know if I'll go with clicker training or just treat training.

When Roni is good, she is very, very good. She has been a delightful companion bird so far. She is strong willed, and consistency is a must with her, as well as knowledge that she is prone to phobias, but I am very impressed with what a versitile and entertaining gal she is.

I had to brag on her a bit. ;)
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Nanay, it sounds like Roni is a gem. I am jealous a little bit, so I have to share with you about the Senegal we did not keep. Cayenne talked a lot! He said "hello mike" my husbands name after only a week with us, "hi" and Hello"and fart noises! A smokers hack any time you coughed he would. Kisses and wolf whistles. Call the dog whistles. I have forgotten some of the things he said, but the first 2 weeks we had him he talked his head off. He picked up a lot in 5 years. Oh ya a zipper sound as when a person unzips their pants! We did love him and he made us laugh for a few weeks! here is a pic of him. I miss him still.

Could you post a picture of Roni, or is there one in the gallery for me to look at? Thanks!


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Well, I tried to attach one, but I don't think it is here. I'm going to post this and then see if it is.

Well, there it is. Wonder of wonders.


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Roni outdid herself in the talking area today. She had been out with me, but it was clear she was too excited to be with me and needed time to play rough with her toys, so I put her back in her cage and got out Isaac, the splendid. (She can't be on me when the little birds are on me. She could hurt them.) When I walked past her cage with Isaac, she said, "Hi pretty lady. What ya doin'? Come 'ere." That's the first time I've ever heard her put several phrases together. She used the bird voice, not my voice, but, nevertheless, she was very clear. She got a big laugh and some face to face attention for her comments, so I hope she continues this talking phase. She made many vocalizations in my voice while I was holding her today, but if she is trying to make certain words, I'm not understanding them yet. She uses the voice more and more, though.

Brute Squad,
I'm sorry that Cayenne bit so hard. I hope Roni doesn't ever develop the hard biting, but I am aware she could. I have been told that female senegals are more reliable in the gentleness area than males. Both get over stimulated and phobic, so owners must be prepared for that and figure out what works for their birds, but I have been told that the females are less likely to become aggressive biters. Roni is much too young to predict whether or not she will, though.

Perhaps, if you really miss the senegal personality, you will find one that is more reliable. Also, meyers are reported in general to be much gentler than senegals, and the meyers I have seen have been. Brown heads are also supposed to be gentler than senegals, but of the brown heads I have interacted with, I could not tell a difference.

Senegals seem to do better with people if they are separated from their clutch mates very early on in the hand-feeding process, some time before weaning. I know this sounds strange, but the store I got Roni from experimented with some clutches from the same parents. When they had a meyers clutch and a senegal clutch very close in age, they would separate them, putting a single senegal in with a single meyers, or even more than one meyers if they had ample meyers. Without fail those senegal babies were gentler. The same thing worked if they had a brown head clutch to mix and match in the same way instead of a meyers clutch. Only the senegals personalities were affected. The meyers and the brown heads turned out just as the meyers and brown heads raised with their clutch mates, but the senegals turned out sweeter than those raised with their clutch mates. I wondered if the meyers would turn out more playful, because sennies are often more playful than meyers, but that didn't seem to happen.

Well, I've rambled on, but if you really miss Cayenne, maybe another poi would do well with you. You do have empty cages, correct? :giggle: The book about Senegals and their relatives by Mattie Sue Athen gives great advice for things to do when raising them that really works. I don't know how things will play out when Roni hits sexual maturity, though.
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I do miss Cayenne. But, I have found that I can't take the bite or aggression. I have found my favorite, the Pionus. They are way more layed back, and not as ready to bite hard. Nanna loves my husband and tolerates me, but I love her still.
Roni is cute. Her eyes are still black. If you look at Cayenne he has yellow eyes.
I know what you mean about pionus. Daisy, as Cannary has taken to calling the Maximillian, at least for now, is absolutely reliable with kids, and the only thing reliable about Roni with kids, or anyone else for that matter, is that she is at some point going to get carried away and bite. She doesn't bite hard, but hard enough others don't appreciate it.
This morning when I called Cannary to wake up, she said, "Cannary" in my voice, so perhaps that is what she has been practicing to say.
Sorry, Cannary is my nine year old daughter. Daisy is her bird, along with the bourkes, Stanley.
So Roni is a talker also! Thats very cool. They have a great talking ability.How is Chico doing with talking today? My Green cheek says "right now" very clearly . And he means it!
Quote from The Brute Squad "My Green cheek says "right now" very clearly . And he means it! "

You think its funny till he says it several times in your ear, he does mean it! Even Tuco the black cap responds when I tell him to get up there right now, he moves up the side of the cage!
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