One summer night long ago, when she was about 2 1/2 years old, Cosmo expressed reluctance to be put to bed. I was finally able to lock her in her roost cage, say, “Good night, Cosmo, I love you,” and close the door to her room.
Let me hasten to say that Cosmo is a parrot, a female African Grey Parrot who had been talking since her first birthday, or hatchday.
As soon as I settled in my recliner in my bedroom, I heard from inside her darkened room: “Cosmo wanna water!” So I got up, opened her door, brought her fresh water, gave her a good-night kiss on her little warm beak, told her I loved her, and shut the door to her room.
I returned to my bedroom, sat down, picked up my book, and heard: “Cosmo wanna peanut!” I got up, went to the kitchen, took a handful of dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts, opened the door to her room, deposited the peanuts in her food dish, gave her a good-night kiss, told her I loved her, and shut the door to her room.
“Cosmo wanna cuddle!” Oh, no!
Then, “Cosmo wanna go up, OK?”
“OK,” I said.
Defeated, I let Cosmo out of her cage to have a few more minutes of quality time with me before beginning the bedtime ritual all over.
Parrots need 10-12 hours of sleep a night. In the rain forests near the equator where they live in the wild, African Greys awaken at dawn and go to sleep at dusk. They do not stay up on their perches munching on palm nuts and chirping with each other late into the night, because they do not want to attract predators. Also, they can’t see at night.
Parrots living in our homes need the same amount of sleep as their ancestors, but sometimes they fail to get it. Whereas in the daytime they need a large cage in the middle of family activity by a window, for mental stimulation and entertainment, at night they need a roost cage in a darkened, quiet room for uninterrupted sleep. Without enough sleep, Greys become irritable, anxious, tired and sometimes unhappy enough to pluck out their feathers.
That’s why I try to put Cosmo to bed about 9 p.m., whether she wants to go or not. In June, when the days are long, she does not.
Cosmo does take naps. Occasionally, in the afternoon, I spot her resting on one leg, with the other drawn up under her belly, and with her eyelids closed.
When birds go to sleep, they automatically lock their toes around their perch to keep from falling off. They often sleep on one foot only, preserving warmth by sheltering the other under their body.
Late one rainy, wintry night, several hours after Cosmo had retired for the evening, I heard a ruckus and then a squawk in Cosmo’s room. I leaped out of my chair, flung open the door, and found Cosmo standing on the bottom of her cage looking dazed. She’d flown off her perch. I picked her up and held her close. She was trembling.
She must have had a bad dream.
We know that humans are not the only animals who dream. Just as all of earth’s critters sleep, I assume that all of earth’s critters, at least the feathery, furry and hairy ones, dream — often about each other, and sometimes about us humans. Everybody who has any mental life whatsoever must dream, and I assume that all animals have some sort of mental life. I love to imagine what hibernating bears dream about, and whales and skunks and hawks.
I’ve been wondering what Cosmo dreams about. Does she dream about me, the love of her life, her caregiver, companion, cook and driver? Does she dream about the dogs? Does she dream about the squirrels and the birds whom she watches during the day as they feed on the deck railing outside her window?
Does she dream about having company or going in a car?
Does she dream about her clutch-mates and her parents, from whom she was separated in her first few months of life when she was sold to the pet store? African Greys in the rain forest stay with their immediate families for a year after hatching. Cosmo’s departure from her parents must have been traumatic to her.
Does she dream in English? Does she have crazy dreams after eating too many peanuts?
Does she have nightmares — about a hawk coming to get her, or the dustbuster?
After we cuddled a bit that rainy, wintry night, Cosmo said, “Como wanna go to bed.”
• Betty Jean Craige is professor emerita of comparative literature at the University of Georgia and the author of many books, including “Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot” (2010). Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Cosmo’s website address is www.cosmotalks.com.
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