Sunday, May 31, 2009

The North Carolina Arboretum

I thought you might enjoy a few more pictures of the stunning beauty of nature, taken from the North Carolina Arboretum ..........

while I am working on two posts that I hope you will find very valuable in your day to day life with your birds! Applying what I have learned, and continuing to grow in these areas at every opportunity, have been very helpful in the relationships with my feathered companions.

The two topics will be:

1. Generalizing Behavior; and
2. The Affect on Birds of Our Inadvertent Behavior Patterns.

Until tomorrow morning's post, I hope you can heard the sound of rushing water and feel the sense of relaxation and solitude in these photos!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Altitude Affects Attitude

I've found it a little easier to go into the bird room today. Each day gets minimally better, but the trend is in the right direction. Bolstered by phenomenal friends, multitudes of prayers, and all of your kind, encouraging messages on this blog, as well as the Talk Budgies Forum and the Birds of a Feather Forum, I am finding the strength I was not sure I ever could. These are the times you are reminded that there is strength in numbers and blessings in every situation.

Strider has begun relentlessly calling (and I do mean relentlessly). He is getting extra millet for his comfort food.

While I cannot say for sure that he pines for Sammy, it is what I suspect since he was getting quite attached to him.

Coco joined me for a shower this morning, signaling our attempt to get back to some sense of normalcy. She too does not seem herself. As I have mentioned before, it is impossible to say if she is experiencing a reaction to a change in her environment (Sammy's absence), or responding to the changes that she perceives in me.

We know that birds see far beyond that which we can comprehend. I believe that they can sense our body temperatures, blood pressure and perhaps so much more. I believe that their expanded view of the color spectrum permits them to see things in us that we might find quite surprising or believe that we have hidden.

Barney had no idea how exciting his day was going to be, and when we had not headed out by 9:00 am, he began acting all basset-hound'ie...
But when he saw the harness come out, he perked right up!
(Ummm, mom: what have I told you about 'pink' and 'flowers'? I distinctly remember asking for a camo-leash and dark green couch cover!)

The first stop on The Blue Ridge Parkway, the picnic area! There Barney met a lovely young lady, but mom was too busy looking at the view to think of taking a photo! (*smacking self in the head*)

We spent the next three hours at a variety of scenic overlooks, just taking in the beauty of the day, and placing our feet upon solid rock again.

These are old mountains, and they contain healing.
Since Barney could not scratch his name on a picnic table, he considered leaving his 'mark' in a different place:
We all had a wonderful, relaxing day much needed, leaving us refreshed and renewed.
I was sure by now, that you would have reached down and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day. But once again I say 'amen', and it's still raining. But as the thunder rolls, I barely hear you whisper through the rain, 'I'm with you'. And as your mercy falls, I raise my hands and praise the God who gives and takes away.

I will praise you in the storm, and I will lift my hands. For you are who you are. No matter where I am. And every tear I cry, you hold in your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn, I will praise you in the storm.

I remember when I stumbled in the wind, you heard my cry, you raised me up again. My strength is almost gone, how can I carry on, if I can't find you. But as the thunder rolls, I barely hear you whisper through the rain, 'I'm with you.' And as your mercy falls, I raise my hands and praise the God who gives and takes away.

I will praise you in the storm, and I will lift my hands. For you are who you are. No matter where I am. And every tear I cry, you hold in your hand. You never left my side. And though my heart is torn, I will praise you in the storm.

I lift my eyes unto the hills, where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Bottom's Up!

I knew something was amiss when she let me lick her face... She never lets me do that (says it gives her 'pimples'). Her face was wet, but not any more. I made it all better; nice and dry.

It is what I do... make things better. It comes naturally. I make her laugh. I make everyone laugh. Sometimes they just look at me and laugh. That's not funny - it is polite to wait until I've done a trick or two!

Look, I've been used by the local vet as an experimental pincushion a time or two, so I understand pain. My mom was in a lot of pain; in cockatiel years, 28 is pretty darn old! I know only time will help her remember the good times once again. The two times Sammy made her climb trees to get him back after he did his 'Houdini Trick'... the times of laughter will once again return. In time.

Until then, I gave her the best advice I could:

Lay on the couch with your bottom held high in the air. Keep it there as long as needed. Usually in a day or two, you will be feeling much better. Plus, you will be smarter because all the blood rushes to your head!

I know, I know....

My brilliance is bafflingly amazing. It comes from years of keeping my bottom held high. The effects build up over time.

Since there haven't been too many happy faces around here the past day or two, I've had to work over-time to make people laugh. One of my favorites is when I jump off the bed, onto the floor, in one leap and all four of my feet touch the ground at the same time. (Don't try it - unless you're low to the ground like me and all four legs are the same length. Otherwise, you could smack your face on the floor and get carpet burn).

I saved my best trick for last, and I do believe that is when things started turning around:

In the middle of the night, around 3:00 am, I suddenly jumped into the bed and landed all 50 pounds of my weight right between the two of them! (They never saw me coming, either!) I brought my rawhide, and I figured it would be a great time to play some tug of war! After all, they were just laying there....

That is what they do to me when I am just laying around - they try to get me to play! So I thought - 'brilliant' - I'll do the same! (This is the benefit of years of keeping your bottom held high; genius thoughts just come out of nowhere.)

I still think it was a masterful plan, but it did not have quite the result I intended....

I'm a little tired, but I did my part to make them laugh the past two days, and am quite pleased with myself. Things are starting to get back to normal, and we will finally be taking the promised walk on the parkway tomorrow morning!

So, we are going to start working on happy times, good thoughts, and happy memories. I plan to make a few of my own tomorrow morning when we take our walk. I'll see if she will take the camera along (typing is easy for me compared to using a camera).

The outpouring of love at Sammy's passing - toward her, and toward the entire flock (feather and furred) has brought great blessing and comfort to us all. She says I'm her little angel, but the past few days, she has been surrounded by angels. Uplifted in prayer. Encouraged by friends.

Each and every message has been special, and will be forever cherished.

Meet my mom back here sometime tomorrow afternoon for photos of our outing! Until then, bottom's up for happiness, everyone!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

28 Years, 2 Months, 27 Days

I knew Sammy wouldn't live forever. I knew I would never be ready to lose him.

I wasn't, and I am not.

He had a good life, freedom, spunk and an appetite for anything and everything. He did not die alone, he did not die in pain, and he did not linger nor suffer. I guess these are things we try to hang onto for comfort at times like this.

Yet comfort is a fleeting friend and pain is inconsolable at these times.

Sammy was loved, from the beginning to the end.

I hope you will all understand if I take a few days off from writing. Thank you.

The Power of Flock Dynamics

I try to never underestimate the many benefits of strong flock dynamics! I believe in not simply hoping my birds get along, but in promoting positive flock dynamics, communication, and empowering choice. It is a very powerful tool.

What are some examples of flock dynamics in day-to-day fort living? Some of their communication tools include: flight, eating together, sleeping together, and contemplating the big questions of life together. They are together 100% of the time without cages, so they are constantly making choices on what they want and trying to influence one another.

My #1 Responsibility:
To foster an environment for positive communication between the flock members (not to create it).

How can I foster it?
* By leaving the room if needed. This is a judgement call that I make based upon observation and circumstances. At times, my presence can become a distraction and detraction from clear interaction between the three birds. I must be sensitive and aware, temporarily extract myself from the situation if it is more conducive to their relationships.

* By providing plenty of space and perching options. For 3 birds I have more than 30 different places to perch within the fort system.

* By providing a large enough area that they are free to interact or not, and to whatever extent and for whatever length they choose.

* By encouraging group activities (many of which I also participate in) from eating to napping/sleeping. In the wild a flock acts like a unit of sorts, and my flock operates in the same way within the fort system.

I have experienced the value of flock dynamics in training. As a small example, Strider sees that the other birds stay within the fort system; he follows suit. He looks to them for cues of fort behavior.

The past few days the power of flock dynamics has extended to diet! When Strider first came to me, he was a junk seed budgie. I was able to get him to start eating pellets within a week in addition to limited amounts of certain select seeds. Beyond that, he has had no interest in broadening his palate. Yet it is important to me. Coco and Sammy have an excellent and varied diet including plenty of fresh foods, grains, legumes, certain nuts and other select items. Naturally, I would like to see Strider improve his nutritional choices over time. Despite my continual efforts at introduction, he wasn't budg'ing.

As with many other budgies (and birds in general) encouraging a well rounded, varied and fresh diet is sometimes easy to suggest and hard to accomplish. Inasmuch as foraging must be 'taught' and encouraged, and enrichment is a process of learning and not always something birds fall into naturally, the same is true with diet - they rarely come out of the shell asking for a piece of fresh broccoli with some grated carrot dressing.

Enter stage left... flock dynamics.

In the same way that Strider has successfully learned to live in the fort, with the other birds, without hanging from the chandeliers and chewing the curtains to pieces, he is taking cues from them in every area and this now includes food!

I can certainly use this information to a positive benefit. The 3 birds are immersed in flock living and their learning is growing by leaps and bounds. Now is a perfect time to let the flock show him what good nutrition is all about!

Sunday afternoon Sammy was on my shoulder eating a piece of walnut, and Strider flew over to see what was going on! Here we go... another opportunity to seize the moment! He landed on my hand, and pecked at the nut superficially. Hey, it's a start! I participate in a budgie forum, and most owners indicate it is a bit of a challenge to get their budgies to try something other than seed. Patience certainly does pay off, but they can still be stubborn!

So I am happy he's tasting it! This was the first hint that Strider may be ready to expand his cuisine through the wonder of flock dynamics.

The next day I made some plain oatmeal and, after it had cooled, I offered it to Sammy and Coco. Naturally, they were all over it - oatmeal is a real treat and not something they eat daily or even weekly. I knew that it would evoke a strong reaction in the two of them, and that Strider would be watching. (They all are always watching me and each other, and always learning something.)

Sure enough - Strider flew over to see what all the oatmeal fuss was about! The three of them sat on a perch, directly in front of me, as I held the bowl of oatmeal. They took turns taking bites; Strider was in the middle of the two birds (he does love to be in the center of things!). As I passed the bowl from Sammy to Coco, each time I paused briefly in front of Strider to allow him to look or taste if he chose.

And, I am thinking you may be able to predict what happened next!

After several passes he took his first taste, and thereafter he made sure to get a small bite at each chance! Equally important was the experience of the three of them sitting in close proximity, taking turns eating, having a positive experience and sharing. These are the kinds of experiences I want to foster.

Tuesday evening I placed a small piece of walnut on the base of the little guys fort,. Sammy immediately chowed down. Strider flew over to see what was going on. However this time, instead of simply pecking at the nutmeat, he actually ate it right along with Sammy! There we go - just what I had hoped! His palate is about to expand - a whole new world of fresh foods will be opening to Mr. Strider! Just as parrot parronts teach their chicks in the wild what to eat and how to find food, much of the same is now occurring in the fort setting.

Throughout the coming weeks I will be introducing Strider to new tastes and textures with the benefit and assistance of flock dynamics. I predict that within a month or so, and with Sammy and Coco's help, Strider will be expecting and enjoying a diet rich in variety and nutrients!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I've Got Something to Say

Do I look like a happy camper?

It has been a rough few days for me.

So, I have a LOT to tell you all!
Do you have any idea how many days I've been ignored with the bird's fort expansion going on?

I was never very good at math - so let's just say 'many' days! And for my time and trouble? I was given this leftover knuckle as an attempt to placate me.

How much can a cute guy like me take? This belly doesn't rub itself, ya know... At this point, I've been neglected for so long, with the birds getting all the attention, I'd even opt for a bath and a little massage!

My first issue is that I don't care for anything that makes noise (flapping wings, screaming psychotic birds, lawn mowers, weed eaters and power tools to name a few). This past week has been filled with hammering, sawing, drilling.... can you say doggie zoloft? Geesh - it has made me a nervous wreck! (Not anything that an extra biscuit or two wouldn't fix; and I've not seen any of those.)

Finally, it's over. The fort expansion has been completed. Woo-hoo... I'm so happy for the birds. I hope this means they will stop coming into the kitchen during my one meal each day.

As happy as I am that all the noise is finished and we can get back to a more normal routine, unfortunately, I'm still a bit bummed.
Why, you ask? Thank you for asking - it is nice that someone cares - did I mention that the birds get all the attention around here? I probably did... a few times...

For my time and trouble of getting ignored all week, we were supposed to go someplace fun for Memorial Day. I was looking forward to it. We usually go to this place called the arboreteum. Well, my parents call it the arboretuem... I call it Whizney World. (I do not need to explain why I call it that, now do I?)

Then conveniently it rained all day. How is it that they (the humans) can control everything else around here, food, water, light, darkness, my bed time, but when it comes to weather, they feign powerless and reference someone called a 'weather man'? I hardly buy it. I was not born yesterday (I am almost 4 years old now).

Let this weather man show his face... I've got some questions. Why does bad weather always come on a holiday? I want answers! (However, if he has any rawhide in his pocket, I'll at least give him a fair chance at explaining his position before I make him scream 'uncle'.)
(Ummm - yes. I've heard it a time or two that my head is much bigger than my body...)

A friend of my mom's, who comes to this site everyday (and my mom wants her to know how much she appreciates her support) has a daughter who thinks I am photo-shopped! Get outa here - can you believe that?! As cute as I am?! No computer program could make something as adorable as me!

As a matter of fact, clearly I am totally cuter than all 3 of those birds put together - am I not?!

So my big head explains my extreme intelligence (not counting my math issues). I am a computer-whiz extraordinaire, and as long as my nails are not cut too short, I can type fairly fast!

Well, maybe next weekend I'll get that trip to Whizney World and a new bone. It would be nice!
Until then... I'll probably stay a bit bummed...

Oh - wait!

I'm happy again!

It is time for my teeth to be brushed! She uses chicken-flavored toothpaste AND promised to add some real bacon bits to it for all my patience this week! Yeah!

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Fun Continues!

In the way of a brief overview: Coco and Sammy (amazon and cockatiel) have lived together, and in an open cageless environment, for quite some time). Strider is new to the flock, having been rescued from a tree last September and remaining with us when his original home could not be located. Over the past 8 months I have worked with the three birds, through positive reinforcement, to encourage communication and relationships within the flock, and to transition Strider to the same cage free life. This transition was completed several weeks ago, punctuated with a fort expansion project that is the subject of this post.

Sunday was another day filled with flock fun and frivolity! I gave the birds plenty of space (watching from what I believe to be an invisible location). They vied for perch space, slept, ate, played, preened, postured and shared. I might be enjoying this more than the birds! It is incredibly rewarding to see them together, and fascinating to watch how flock dynamics change in conjunction with the expanded fort system.

Talk about enrichment - they have been living it these past few days! With all the new areas to explore, and change of scenery, I have three tired birds on my hand at day's end!

Here are some of my observations on flock dynamics.

Mr. Strider (also known as "Big Man on Campus"):
Strider fancies himself a 25 pound bird caught in a 25 gram body. He only wants to have a little bit of non-stop fun! This is initiated by constantly buzzing around, trying to feed the other birds, chasing them, and getting in their faces (literally).

When Coco and Sammy posture or lunge to advise him that they have had enough of his antics, he flies away - just long enough to regroup and try again.

Their body language works to get him to change his behavior, so they do not need to 'amp it up'.

It remains to be seen if the kind of relationship he desires will ever develop.

Strider is the social butterfly of the group. He desires physical activity and tries to promote this within the flock.

I cannot underestimate the value of Coco and Sammy's ability to teach Strider what flock living is all about. He follows them, eats what they eat, perches where they perch, and since they do not hang from the chandeliers, curtains and picture frames, Strider is learning from them and also exhibiting desirable behaviors.

Sammy (also known as the 'Grumpy Old Man' at 28 years):

Sammy is most thrilled with the new dual-sided food hut. I am happy to see that his exercise levels continue to increase, especially important at his age and given his love of buffets.

He appears to be completely opposed to being 'budds' with Strider, and has no problem asserting himself. At his age, the direct approach works well for him.

Sammy's relationship with Coco, on the other hand, is tight. They have a unique understanding. Their interactions with one another are smooth and effortless. They seem to communicate with an ease and deep understanding that comes from living together for 13 years (since Coco was just 3 weeks old).

While Strider is new to flock-fort living, Sammy and Coco have it down pat. The two of them maintain one another's personal space, while sharing perches and food with comfort.

Coco (also known as "The Diva"):
I am most proud and pleased with Coco's willingness to share and exhibit patience and tolerance. She is comfortable with Sammy, but still exhibits some nervousness around Strider. When he buzzes past her or lands near her, it seems to take her by surprise. I did notice on Sunday that she is exhibiting a decreasing reaction as her comfort level and communication increases. This is especially supported by flying around the room together, as they communicate and learn about one another through flight.

While the original idea was for Strider and Sammy to have their own Fort, they still spend much of their time all over 'hers'. It seems to me it will in reality become one large fort with no boundaries or borders.

Coco usually defers to Sammy and Strider, moving away if they want a perch (after she has given plenty of sass and body language). Strider follows her around like a puppy dog, and I get the impression from her body language that she is not amused. Yet, Coco is quite laid back. (All of them can get away at any point they desire, so this removes any pressure to interact or feel cornered.)

Revisions to the Newly Expanded Fort System:
More flight than ever is taking place with the recent expansion. We have made three changes since it was first installed.

1. Sammy's stand alone t-perch and mirror combo was raised two feet. He chose that as his sleep-spot on night #2, indicating his approval of this design improvement.

2. A glass divider was placed inside the dual-sided food hut to replace the wooden divider. This allows the birds to see through the food hut and to see one another. A divider was needed as they were stepping across the bowls and creating the possibility for soiling and for food fights.

3. The top perch of what I call the 'goal post' was replaced with a dowel appropriate to Coco's feet. With Strider and Sammy hanging out on her fort much of the time, she has expressed a desire to explore their Fort! So I wanted to provide an appropriately sized, comfortable dowel for her.
I am most pleased that clean up remains a breeze. Once everyone picks their sleep spot, I place a newspaper below them just to make morning clean up a bit quicker.

Here are some new photos:

What are you doing in the corner, Coco?

I agree, let's go! I'm right behind you!!

By the time I get up there, you'd better be off my swing!

Listen up.. let me explain how things are going to work around here!
Now - stay on your own perches! I am the queen, and I say - no dive bombing!

Fort living is a constant assessment of flock dynamics as well as practicalities of fort design. There is always room for improvement - which is my daily goal - to make their lives just a little better in some way. Meanwhile, the fun continues!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Finnish Husband !

Russian' my husband worked, and he is now Finnish 'd!

The new Fort was completed Saturday afternoon, is in place and fabulous!

Everyone has been everywhere, literally! It is what Fort Living is meant to be, and quite rewarding to see our plans for the littl' guys' section come to fruition.

Strider (the budgie) still wants to lay claim to the big girl's swing.

Sammy (the cockatiel) is happy to be anywhere he has a clear view of food.

Coco (the amazon parrot) probably would have enjoyed eating a few pieces of popcorn while she watched the show! From the installation of the Fort to seeing the little guys explore it, she was quite entertained. She displayed plenty of body language and sass when her swing was hijacked for more than a few minutes!

In short, it has simply been wonderful!

Some Design Details:

* The base is 1/8" enameled masonite that is screwed into 3/4" chipboard. (We would have used 3/4" plywood, but the store's selection was unacceptable to the master craftsman.)

* Enameled masonite (a flooring used in kitchens and laundry rooms) makes for quick clean up. I use a diluted mixture of murphy's oil soap in a spray bottle, paper towels and a whisk broom. It is exceptionally easy to keep the fort areas clean. Much, much easier and quicker than cage cleaning.

* A bead of caulking was laid at the intersection points with Coco's flooring to prevent crumbs from getting between.

* The table itself (frame and legs) are made from white pine 2x4's.

* The table top is 1/8" enameled masonite in a frame of white pine 1x2's and screwed to the table frame.

* The corners are smoothed and buffered (for the safety of the flock's clutzy companion). I will still run into them, but it will not hurt as badly.

* Some toys are hung using clothing hangers. Tiny, but fairly deep holes allow the hangers to be inserted into the wood. The toys may then be turned and angled as desired.

* Other toys are screwed into pieces of wood.

* A stand alone piece of wood was designed for Sammy's favorite t-perch and mirror. It is secured into the table top base with screws.

* Both the swing and mirror that are favored by Strider are secured using clothing hangers.

* Side perches were added onto the Food Hut for additional perching space and toy locations.

* A center barrier was placed inside the Food Hut. Immediately both birds were stepping across one food bowl to eat out of the other, creating the opportunity for the food to be soiled. Sammy also gave Strider a dissertation on the food bowl he was eating from being his, and the food bowl he was not eating out of also being his....

* Again, any Fort design must be determined by the poop-line. The perches are angled so that when they are utilized, no soiling of perches below them occurs. Everything falls to the base or the flooring.

Because the birds like to walk around the edge of the fort, the flooring which is larger than the base of the fort allows for easy clean up and keeps the carpet clean.

With all the extra flight and activity, I knew the entire flock would sleep well. The only question was where! Coco slept in her usual spot at the top of her ladder next to the water station. Sammy chose to sleep at one end of the fort; Strider slept at the opposite end. Perfect!

That is one of the benefits of Fort Living: promotion of empowerment and choice. The next few days will prove interesting as flock dynamics continue to grow and change. Now I get to sit back and enjoy the show!