Archive for March 11th, 2009

If I want a day of bird-watching, I don’t have to leave the living room. With four Nanday conures – a type of small South American parrot – in residence, I can even do my bird-watching from the comfort of a chair. And, since three of the four Nandays are male, much of what I watch is territorial posturing.

The dominant cock is Ning. He has several advantages over the rest: He has been here the longest, he is the only one with a mate (Sophy), and he fathered one of the other males and has always lorded it over him. His disadvantage is that he is perhaps a little complacent and starting to get on in years, so he is no longer as aggressive as in his youth.

Of the other cocks, Ram is little competition. Not only is he Ning’s son, but he has a bad leg and is reluctant most of the time to compete – although he can surprise everyone at times with unexpected outbursts of ferocity.

Beau is the third cock, and the relative newcomer. However, he is younger, larger, and feistier than Ning, and probably the most cunning of the three. At first, Ning used to dive bomb him with impunity, threatening him without actually making contact. However, after about six months, he started dive bombing Ning in return, and now he gives as good as he gets.

This is how the living room is divided: Ning and Sophy have a cage on the right side of the room, and Beau’s cage is on the left. Ram’s cage is in the kitchen, but he uses the back of a chair and an arm of the couch by Beau’s cage with impunity, either because Beau doesn’t regard him as a threat, or on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Occasionally, though, Beau will chase Ram away from his cage, especially if Ning isn’t there to vent his anger upon.

The dining room table between the two cages is contested ground. However, the futon by the window is definitely Ning’s, although Ram will brave it if Ning and Sophy are in their cage. Beau doesn’t quite dare, although he will pace to the end of the couch and sit as close to the futon as he can without actually being on it.

That is one of the main characteristics of the territorial posturing: Like kids in the backseat of a car who have been told to keep to their side of an imaginary line, Ning and Beau will come as close to the border of the other bird’s territory as they dare, apparently with the sole purpose of taunting each other. Just as Beau crowds the futon, so Ning will often see that his foraging on the carpet brings him close to Beau’s cage, apparently just to have the pleasure of disconcerting him. From their actions, the boundary couldn’t be clearer if it was painted on the carpet.

When not crowding each other, all the males will sometimes shriek at each other, so loudly that we have to pause the DVD we’re watching until we can hear it again. Sometimes, Beau will ambush Ning in mid-flight, too.
Apparently, the urge to defend his nest is strong in the typical Nanday cock. However, what is interesting is that the defense never seems to go beyond posturing, even in what must be the rather limited space in the living room. Not only is there never any real violence, but at times, as they call back and forth, the males seem almost friendly – as though their aggressiveness is only intramural, and, on some level, mutual identification as members of the same flock is as important as claiming territory.

And what does Sophy do in all of this? Mostly, she ignores it. Although sometimes she will loyally give one scream for every dozen of Ning’s, mostly she pretends it’s not going on. But, then, from Sophy’s frequent look of strained tolerance, I suspect she views the cocks — and the local humans as well – as slightly addled fledglings. Somehow, in the middle of all the male battles, she manages to look as though she is humoring all of us in the manner of a benevolent dictator. Her attitude suggests it would be beneath her dignity to notice the feuding in any way.

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