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Parrots have their unique calls and as any parrot owner can attest you quickly learn which calls are associated with fear responses, well being, contact calls and so on. I didn’t know kakapo language when I was working with Sirocco and at first it was perplexing.
I finally heard the call so many describe as a “skraaak” on my second or third night working with Sirocco at Zealandia. The trainer in me wanted to know why did he do that? What does it mean? It happened after we had finished training, attended to his feeding station and were half way down the trail back to the house. My first thought was all our interactions had been really pleasant maybe it is a contact call and the skraak was his way of saying “come back”. Then it happened one night while we were heading back down the hill after Sirocco had displayed some aggressive behavior. That made me think maybe it was his way of saying “go away”. Finally longtime member of the kakapo recovery team Daryl Eason arrived to work with us. He is a walking encyclopedia on all things kakapo. We asked him what the call means and it soon became clear a ‘skraak” can mean different things under different circumstances.
Up to this point we had not observed Sirocco when he called. We only heard it. One night he skraaked during a training session! It was pretty fascinating to watch him do it. An innocent touch to his tail caused him to belt out a skraak. In this case he seemed mildly perturbed and perhaps a bit surprised by the tail touch. However he carried on with training right after the incident. Other times he skraaked when he was ready to exit the display area and another time he skraaked when he was perfectly calm and relaxed.
There was another vocalization we were lucky to experience almost every night. We were getting much better at reading Siroccos body language at this point and felt we had a good handle on what a “happy” kakapo looked like. Sirocco’s facial feathers would be nice and round, his body weight low on the perch and he would often start to get a half lidded sleepy look. This usually happened after he had consumed a few nuts and was starting to slow down in the training session. It was at this point he would start to “talk.” Sirocco didn’t talk the way we think of parrots talking, as in mimicking human sounds. Instead he would make this gentle, breathy chortling sound. He seemed to be more inclined to make the sound if people spoke gently to him or mimicked his sounds. To me it sounded similar to the noises an African grey parrot might make when feeling a bit “in the mood.” But Sirocco's gentle sounds were never followed by anything sexual. I would get to see what sexual behavior looked like on another night. More on that in the next blog.
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