From Anthropologist To Anthrozoologist: Meet Patricia K. Anderson

Her love for birds started this associate professor down the path of taking a scholarly look at the human-animal bond.

PhD, CPBC, Western Illinois University 
Patricia K. Anderson, PhD, CPBC, of Western Illinois University, with blue-headed Pionus, Quito.

Patricia K. Anderson, PhD, CPBC, has been formally studying the human-avian bond since 1999. Learning how to work humanely with animals is one of the most exciting and uplifting things that she has accomplished in her life, which she continues to learn and refine. She has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1998 and joined the faculty at Western Illinois University in Macomb in 1999.

While she is a member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, she is different than the majority of its members. “I don? work in a zoo, aquarium or aviary, nor do I have a degree in biology,?Anderson said. “I? a university professor who has always been fascinated by animals and the natural world.?lt;/span>

When she was a child, she spent hours in the woods on her grandparents?farm quietly observing wildlife. She would read every book in my local library on animals, especially those describing legends and cultural myths about animals.

But how did she come to start becoming interested in parrots? “When I was carrying out my doctoral archaeological investigations in Yucatan, Mexico, I spent much of my time watching wild parrots fly over the ruins,?Anderson recalled.

While writing the final draft of her doctoral dissertation on Maya archaeology, she made the decision to accept a quaker parrot. The moment she saw Otis she fell in love, but then she panicked. “I knew nothing about birds,?Anderson admitted, “So I began reading BIRD TALK and other popular bird publications and became even more intrigued.?lt;/span>

As she fondly remembers her days with Otis, she can see that she was already on track to becoming a student of behavior and bird training. Otis screamed incessantly and had no interest in being handled. He even bit her hard enough to draw blood, yet Anderson was fascinated by him. She studied him and he studied her.

He sat by her side on a basket handle and observed her finish the dissertation. She taught him to say, “Thank you,?which he eventually generalized to anything she would do for him, and she captured his wing stretch with the word, “eagle.?lt;/span>

“I was so fascinated by his intelligence that I talked about him nonstop to anyone who would listen including my fellow new colleagues on the WIU faculty,?she said. Then one day, thankfully she says one of her colleagues took her aside and said some choice words along the lines of stop talking about the parrot and do something scholarly with it!

“So I began my studies into the human-avian bond, an area that remains largely unexplored by scholars,?Anderson said.

Since 2000, she has been teaching an upper level undergraduate/graduate course on human-animal interactions (anthrozoology) that considers how culture affects the way people perceive and interact with animals and their habitats.

“It is an elective in the WIU Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Zoo and Aquarium Studies, so I often have students who plan to work with animals professionally take the course,?she said.

In addition to her courses she shares her research through presentations to professional organizations and bird clubs, publishes in professional publications, bird club newsletters and online.

“The best way to develop a strong and lasting bond with your bird is through learning how to apply positive reinforcement correctly and build a strong history of trust,?she said. “An important component of learning how to build a stronger bond with your bird is to learn about the natural behaviors and adaptation of the species and how to recognize and interpret your bird? body language.?lt;/span>

Questions you should ask yourself include, “What does a relaxed, happy, healthy bird that is open to interacting with their human look like, as opposed to one who is fearful and stressed and would rather be left alone??lt;/span>

Another important aspect in building our bond with our pets is to recognize that environment affects behavior. Anderson said we should be asking ourselves, “How can we thoughtfully arrange our birds?environment to set them up for success??lt;/span>

By being able to read your bird? body language you will be able to respect their desires.

“A bird? body posture, wing attitude, beak position, feather attitude, breathing, and eyes can potentially tell us about their emotional states and possibly their health status as well,?Anderson said.

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Birds