We have had the toucan trio now for just about 3 months and I feel like we are making good progress in establishing positive and trusting relationships with the birds. I have my own developing bond with each of The Three P’s (you know – secret handshakes, private jokes, and the like) but it is Paz who has been the first I have been able to form the strongest connection with.
I believe this is mostly attributed to her gregarious nature, more than my own appeal, however. Paz definitely has the most outgoing personality of the three. Whenever people approach their enclosure, she is typically the first one down, giving her best adorably inquisitive pose while the cameras click away. Paz is quite vocal (and admittedly, so am I) so when the toucans first arrived, she charmed me immediately by always being the one to purr back at me as I chattered away.
In the beginning though, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Paz, while social at a comfortable distance of her choosing, can generally be a bit aggressive up close. It took some time for her to warm up to me. For the first week or so, she would furiously bite and jab at me whenever I tried to change her food bowls or touch her toys and especially when I would ask her to “step-up” onto my hand or arm. Her bites didn’t hurt me physically as much as they did my feelings. But, although she sure acted tough and mean, I came to understand that her bravado was merely a smoke screen for fear and/or mistrust (thank you, Bird Tricks!). So, I made it my mission to break down her walls (she will like me! ) by patiently spending time with her, rewarding non-aggressive behavior, and agilely averting her bites to avoid continuing the negative cycle.
My patience has been rewarded. Paz has replaced her fear of me rather quickly and is now always extremely eager to see me. She is the first one of the toucans to consistently “step-up” and in turn, spend time out in the garden, which has been a great bonding experience for both of us. While she doesn’t quite let me pet her, I believe we are moving in the right direction as she has begun to touch and explore my hands and face. In the mornings, she loves to examine my face by gently grabbing it all over between her beak. My nose is of special interest to her – apparently, it’s the strangest beak she’s ever seen! From what I understand of her previous life, Paz was known as the wild child of the toucans – the one few people wanted to get too close to. A human friend from her past home came to visit recently and was surprised to see her lightly squeezing my nose, exclaiming, “I would never let that bird near my face!”
Another particularly endearing behavior is that Paz loves to give me food and treats. I have read that in the wild, it is a part of a courtship ritual for one toucan to give another a grape or other food item, passed between beaks. The first time this happened, I had just given her a treat but she refused to eat it, purring loudly while extending her beak towards my mouth. I finally realized what she was doing, so I accepted it and exchanged another. I find it so sweet that she would want to share her precious treat with me. She continues to do this from time to time and it never fails to melt my heart as it did that first time.
I am also happy to see that I am now considered a source of comfort and safety to her. If we’re outside playing and something startles her, she hops back over to me. Also, whenever she is either wound up or just happy to see me, she does this thing where she purrs constantly while softly, yet quickly, tapping my fingers in between the tips of her beak. I’m not sure what natural behavior this is replicating, but for some reason, it reminds me of how my cat kneads when being snuggled, as a result of being weaned too early. Perhaps Paz does this for a similar reason, but either way, it is so captivating and I can’t get enough of it. I’m more than happy to provide my fingers and return the gaze as she locks her eyes on mine.
I am looking forward to watching how our relationship develops as time goes by. I am still earning her trust to be able to pet and “preen” her. I also hope to be able to have greater assurance with her more and more outdoors, perhaps beyond the garden someday. Either way, I feel so honored to have won her heart. For isn’t that the best part of being loved by an adult animal – the fact that they choose to love you ?