Tuesday, June 30, 2009


While Penske and Bucky are in quarantine, I thought it might be a good time to talk in more detail about quarantine and the reasons for it, as well as the discussion of various diseases that can endanger our birds (and in some cases us)!

So, are we all up for a series on zoonotic disease? No needles, and no pain - I promise!

Before I get started, let me repeat my mantra regarding quarantine:

If *we* could tell the health of a bird by *looking* at it, there would be no need for the expenditure of thousands of dollars, time and effort on quarantine stations for birds entering this country. It would be as simple as hiring a couple of us to stand at the border, look at each bird, and declare it *disease free*.

Now, again risking the great possibility of skinning my already scarred knees, I shall carefully jump off my soap box before I fall!

Zoonotic diseases are a select group of diseases, caused by various agents, that can be transferred from animals to humans. In other words, the disease causing agents can cross the species barrier. Naturally, I will focus on those diseases that can be transferred from avian to human. The infectious agent can be: protozoal, fungal, bacterial, chlamydial or viral.

The paper I have linked to above, is one of the most extensive I have seen on the topic and in my estimation, certainly worth the read.

Also known as psittacosis or parrot fever when affecting psittacines. These names are used interchangeably.

When affecting all other birds (or humans), it is called: ornithosis.

The disease agent is chlamydia psittaci, a bacteria-like organism.

This disease still presents a threat to the companion bird population, as it has been found in several pet store chains in the U.S. (See my Quarantine post for further links to news reports of this disease being found in U.S. pet store chains.) It may be even more prolific outside the U.S. It is also a threat to poultry and wild bird species such as ducks, geese and pigeons.

Airborne (inhalation of contaminated fecal dust).

Contaminated objects and surfaces such as clothing, equipment, toys, perches, food dishes, etc.

Secretions (feces, nasal and eyes)

This disease can also be transmitted from bird to bird by a carrier bird, one that harbors the disease, symptom free, sometimes for years. The carrier bird periodically sheds the organism through feces, nasal secretions, and/or secretions of the eyes. Contact with these then produce an acute infection in other birds. Shedding is likely to increase during times of stress.

Human to human transmission is possible, most notably through the exchange of saliva.

Incubation Period:
4 to 15 days

Avian Symptoms:
Red weepy eyes (conjunctivitis)
Nasal discharge
Weight loss
A variety of other symptoms may be seen as is the case with all ill birds such as lethargy, reduced appetite, excessive sleeping, failure to perch, etc.

The morbidity rate is high, especially untreated.

Young birds with immature immune systems are especially susceptible, making neonatal psittacosis a serious threat.

If a bird does receive treatment, and survives a bout of psittacosis, it can leave the immune system compromised and weakened.

Birds do not develop any lasting immunity to this disease, and therefore may be reinfected if re-exposed.

Usual treatment is 45 days of a broad spectrum antibiotic.

An avian vet can perform specific tests to identify this disease.

Human Symptoms:
Sore throat
Joint and muscle pain
Chest pain
Sensitivity to light
Loss of appetite

**Important note**
Robin, to her knowledge, has never experienced a loss of appetite, except possibly during a tonsillectomy when she was 5 and under general anesthesia! EEK!

Complications to humans can include:
Enlarged spleen
Inflammation of heart muscle (myocarditis)
Reduction of heart rate

Usually a drug such as tetracycline for 3 weeks

Humans do not develop an immunity and are susceptible to reinfection.

Exposure to psittacosis does not mean transmission. It means exposure, which involves the possibility for transmission.

The transmission of psittacosis from avians to humans is often listed as uncommon or rare. Naturally, if the young, the elderly, expectant mothers, or those with compromised immune systems contract the illness, it is of greater concern.

I am always more concerned about the health and welfare of my birds than I am my own. I am guessing that most of you are the same. We would gladly endure illness instead of watching our birds experience it.

Bringing new birds into the home, such as Penske and Bucky this week, means my top priority is protecting my existing flock. Then I worry about protecting myself.

This means I tend to the care my existing flock first. Then, I take care of Penske and Bucky. Then I change my clothes and shower. This is the best means of protecting my flock. Overkill? It depends on ones perspective and level of risk aversion.

Do I think Penske and Bucky are ill? No. I really don't. They show no visible signs of illness. They are young, and at this point perhaps a bit perkier and more active than their older soon-to-be friend, Strider! Is there a possibility that they are ill? Yes. That possibility always exists. It is worth risking no quarantine, or breaking quarantine early on an assumption or hope that they are not ill? No. Even something as straightforward as scaley mites could present a danger to my existing flock. And that is not transmissible to humans. It, like many other infections and parasites, can be harbored and appear during times of stress such as moving to a new home.

Is it tempting to break quarantine? Yes, I think all of us who quarantine feel that temptation at one time or another. We are anxious to unite birds and see friendships develop. The more we know, the less we will be tempted to give in to the lure of breaking quarantine or failing to quarantine.

If I had a separate dwelling where I could quarantine these birds, I would. Ideally, a separate air system as well. Since my home does not have central air or heat, I am one step ahead in this respect since no shared air is circulated through such a system.

Additionally, Bucky and Penske are on a separate level from Coco and Strider, as far from them as they can be given my circumstances.

Psittacosis (parrot fever/chlamydiosis) is a serious disease that can have a great impact on a flock as well as individual birds. Add into that the possibility of transmission to humans, and then the possibility of transmission from one human to another, and I believe we can agree that it pays to be informed, aware and prepared to take every feasible precaution to prevent the spread of this disease.

Well, if that didn't give you the heebee jeebee's, check in for tomorrow's post! Bright, chipper, and hopefully very, very healthy, Bucky and Penske invite you to read about a different zoonotic disease in tomorrow's post!


Monday, June 29, 2009

Join Me in Welcoming ....

Please join me in welcoming....

Penske (on the left), and Bucky (on the right)!

Both (fingers crossed) are boys.

At this young age, it is difficult to know for sure, so I am certainly hoping that I have guessed right!

Penske and Bucky are around 3 to 4 months old, and entering their first molt. Bucky is what is called a 'normal' budgie. He has the coloration of the wild budgies of Australia.


Well, Penske is a bit more of a mystery. Two budgie breeders with extensive knowledge and experience are...

Well... not completely sure.

The best guesses at this point are either:

Light green greywing cinnamon; or
Olive green greywing cinnamon

The greywing mutation dilutes the base color (either light green or olive green) by 50%, thus the yellowish color. The over all color is further affected by the cinnamon mutation. Once Penske has finished his molt, it will be a bit easier to tell, but one breeder stated that "the only way to know for sure would be to test breed".

Well, let me tell you something...

There will be no test breeding around here if I have anything to say about it!

And, speaking of having things to say about this... you can bet that Coco and Barney will have a lot to say! Strider will be thrilled, so you know he will have lots to say as well!

At the present time, Coco, Barney and Strider know nothing of their existence as they are on the lower level where these 3 never trod (or fly). I imagine it won't take long before they are heard, and at least Strider will suspect that he may have some friends-in-waiting.

Penske and Bucky will spend a minimum of 30 days in quarantine. Of course, they both look healthy, are bright, active, chirpy, good eaters and love toys, but quarantine is still a must. Looks can be deceiving, so all due caution must be taken.

Penske - is the shy one, a bit jittery and sensitive.

Bucky - has helped himself out the open cage door already. He then stepped up on my finger, and has even accepted millet from me.

I am really happy that they have each other during quarantine. They were seen playing with their toys together today!

Once quarantine is over, it will be a happy day to see the joy on Strider's face at meeting his new (I hope male) friends! You can bet there will be lots of photos!

Please join me in welcoming Bucky and Penske to the flock!


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Who Are These Pretty Birds?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Expectations for Interaction

When we bring companion birds into our lives and our homes, what are our expectations?

We may be disappointed, if we expect

1. A bird should always enjoy "cuddling".

2. A bird is much like a dog or a cat, but with feathers.

3. A bird will always want to interact with us when asked.

4. A bird will be a 'low maintenance' pet.

5. A "hand fed baby" will not require any training.

6. A bird will not provide any unique challenges, opportunities for learning and growth, or even stretch our patience at times!

We most likely will not be disappointed, if we anticipate:

1. A relationship with a companion bird, as with a relationship with a human, takes time, effort, patience and understanding.

2. A relationship with a bird simply does not happen over night. I get concerned when I read:

"I just brought my bird home, and it will let me do anything!"

Two weeks later, the same person will relate:

"My sweet bird has taken a turn for the worse! We have had a "set back" in our training! When I first brought it home, I could do anything to it, and now, it tries to bite me every chance it gets!"

This bird has not had a "set back". It may have been compliant when it first came into the new home, and is now becoming more comfortable to express itself. Sadly, the first couple of weeks in the new home the bird has most likely begun to learn that its body language is largely or totally ignored.

3. For a variety of reasons, a bird may not always want to interact when we have a few spare minutes. This is one of the many times when observing body language is essential. If we have the expectation that every time we want to interact, the bird either will or should, and if we act upon that belief, we will most likely be disappointed, bit or both.

If we ask a friend to go to the movie, and they say "no thank you", we do not become bewildered and fear that they no longer 'love us'. We also do not immediately panic and think that their desire to watch tv or "veg" means a trip to the doctor is in order.

We do acknowledge that it may be a bad time for them, there is something they would rather do than see a movie, and for whatever reason, whether known to us or not, we will not be going to the movie with them. Asking twice is a possibility, but beyond that, we will be accused of badgering them, our relationship is likely to suffer and it might even result in future avoidance. It is nothing personal, they simply don't feel like a movie. Our relationship will be strengthened if both parties can openly and honestly communicate their feelings, be heard and be understood.

With our birds, we often want to make it personal, asking if we have done something, or contemplating that they suddenly "hate" us because they do not want to step up, or they fly away from us and return to their living space.

Instead, it is a moment to ask ourselves, what is in it for the bird to interact? And still then, there may be something they would rather do that is more reinforcing at that particular moment than interacting with their companion.

Recognizing and allowing a bird to have the option, the choice, and the empowerment to assert their likes and dislikes, including interactions, often results in a bird that wants more interaction with humans. Especially if its experience has been that when it chooses for the interaction to be concluded, the interaction will end.

What positive experiences have they had during interactions? What other things may they want to be doing instead (eating, napping, playing, etc.). How can we "sweeten the pot" and make each interaction as positively reinforcing as possible?

If I know that in taking a friend's phone call, I am facing a two hour marathon conversation, you can bet there will be times I am not up for taking that call. If on the other hand we can have some pleasant, and relatively non-marathon type conversations, ones in which I am free to say that I'm really not in the mood to talk, it is time for dinner, or I have something I need to get done, then there is a greater likelihood that I will not avoid the phone call.

One way to end a positive interaction on a really negative note is to prolong it beyond the point when the bird no longer desires the interaction. This often happens, either consciously or subconsciously, with the idea that by our efforts and persistence, they will get into it again, or change their mind, if only a bit of persuasion (aka coercion) is used.

No doubt we have all had the experience in human relationships, where someone make relationship demands without considering our likes, dislikes, needs or schedules. Their mere presence, or voice on the phone may immediately increase our anxiety level, we may feel on guard, and we may even lash out at the person. This is because of our experience with them... what we have learned will be the likely outcome of interactions or conversations. For example, under other circumstances, we may enjoy their company, but not if we sense we may be involved in a marathon session or other interaction that does not fit with our plans for that day.

When Coco steps up, I do not immediately dash off with her, but provide an opportunity for her to return to the perch if she chooses. This reinforces a number of things, including that it is ok to step up, say hello, and step back down again. And, she will usually get a treat for that. Note: She will get more treats if she remains with me, as well as other opportunities for things that are usually personally reinforcing to her.

I appreciate the interaction for what it is, because it is what she wanted to do, even if she returns to the perch. Nothing personal. And, nothing coercive. It has truly been my experience that a bird that learns that choosing to interact and for how long is within its control, the interaction increases. Naturally - because the results of the interaction are a positive consequence.

Appropriate expectations help us keep perspective when interacting and working with our companion birds.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Introducing - Midge and May !

As you may have read in yesterday's post, The Quest for Strider's Friend, my mom is looking for a "friend" for me.

However, she's looking in all the wrong places. My luck...

I've met these two beautiful, young ladies, and would like to introduce them to you - as I think they would make the perfect friends for me!



and her sister


Aren't they just - too pretty?! By the way, this is not the same May-May that is Barney's girlfriend... she's a dog - it is important to keep these things straight! I - don't care too much for dogs. But apparently Barney is all whacko for May-May...

Anyway, between text messages with Callie, I've been in contact with Midge and May (unbeknownst to their mom, who goes by the nickname "GoldieLover".) They have never come out and said it, but I am pretty sure when they are alone, they fight over who will take my next call or text message! My beautiful belly has all the girls swooning - no doubt.

So in the course of my many conversations with these ladies, I have pretty much learned their entire histories:

Midge was hatched sometime in the summer or early fall of 2003. Her first companion was a ten year old girl. Midge was in a teeny-tiny cage, for a few years. While she did get some out of cage time, she often hung out at her now forever home with GoldieLover. Eventually the little girl and her family moved to New Zealand, and the rest is history - Midge is happy in her forever home with her sister, May.

She also lives with a few feral felines... but that is another story entirely!

As a part of the 'welcome to her forever home' party, Midge received an expanded, and upgraded living quarters - a condominium by any budgie standards! Midge is quite the acrobatic, often playing upside down bird, and always fully enjoying her birdie condo! She loves it!

When she is not perfecting her acrobatic routine, she has a happy habit of chewing ladders and clanking her grate.

Garcon... service.... garcon! I require millet, please!

Apparently, this endearing grate-clanking behavior can grate on her people's nerves a bit...

Midge is a big fan of mirror toys, but to her intense annoyance, most of them were removed by her mom after the arrival of her sister May. Isn't that the way it always is? The new sister or brother shows up, and either you have to share your toys, or you lose them altogether. Well, that's not happening to me...

Or is it?

I will have to check, because I never want to lose my mirror toys!

So, once May entered the picture, things changed. But May and Midge love each other. Midge loathes swings and does not enjoy out of cage time. Possibly she thinks a feral feline or two is somewhere near (although they are kept locked up when birdie out of cage time occurs). Or maybe its because she’s not a great flier.

Ok - she has hit a few windows and slithered down a few walls... but practice makes perfect, right?

"Um, mom - I was just back here behind the bookcase doing some reading... yes, that is what it was - I was reading and also checking for dust bunnies!"

Perhaps she should could come to my house to practice?

Midge loves to watch the world go by, and has an ideal location, as she has a “birds eye view” of the living room, dining room, and the best view in the place out the living room windows. She also loves to tease the feral felines and, if things get too quiet, she knows she can always have a massive squawk or flutter attack. This brings the feral felines rolling in every time! Ah - the joys of studying stimulus/response behavior in feral kitties! Much more entertaining than store bought toys!

From what I understand, Midge is a seed junkie who has so far completely resisted all attempts to convert to pellets. However, without knowing it, she has eaten a few pellets because her mom crushes them up in her seed mix.

Now - that's a secret - nobody tells her! I found out from May - who (between me and you) is a blabber mouth. And, I can say that, cos my mom says that "I would know a blabber mouth when I heard one!"

I also found out that Midge likes carrots occasionally. I myself do not like carrots, which makes me wonder just how well we might get along... hmmm....

Midge loves being talked to, and while she may not be tame by the definition of others, she tolerates hands in her cage, and will even perch on a finger.

Midge's sister, May, is still quite a youngster, having hatched late in 2008 and only recently losing her baby bars. She is a yellow face type 2, like myself, and shaping up to be a gorgeous young lady.

May loves the swing that Midge hates, and is often to be found napping on it. What is funny is when Midge decides she is going to give May a ride, and sets it swinging by pulling on the tassels.

May loves preening toys, and things that make noise, but tends to ignore the mirrors loved by Midge.

Well, I have some millet to eat, so I am going to stop typing and let the pictures of these two beautiful ladies speak for themselves!

(Hey girls, don't forget - I'll be expecting a text message later from one or both of you!)

I hope you enjoyed meeting Midge and May, two regular readers of Strider's Blog Entries!

(Oh, sorry - my mom just corrected me... I was supposed to say they are regular readers of the Living With Parrots Cage Free Blog. But I really think that Midge and May only read my posts!)



An example of Midge and May's Stash:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Quest for Strider's Friend

As you know, Mr. Strider will be getting a buddy at some point in the (hopefully) near future. That is, a male budgie friend!

Try as he may, he has not convinced me that a girlfriend should be in his future.

And, indeed I had my eye on a very beautiful little boy.

As near as I could determine, not being a genetics expert, he was a dominant pied, single factor violet, sky blue male. An exceptionally active and playful little man, he caught my eye immediately and stood out from the other birds. He was also much older. The others were clearly babies, still with their baby bars. This little boy looked closer to a year old.

But I hesitated. And, we know what happens to the bird (or person) that hesitates?
The quest continues.

Today, I went back to the pet store today, and my little boy gone. Unfortunately, this was not the only bad news of the day.

I approached the bird area where there was a cage with a conure, two cages with finches and canaries, and two cages with budgies. In one of the budgie cages there was 1 bird; in the other there were 12 budgies.

The lone bird was in fairly bad shape. Psittacosis is my guess. Conjunctivitis was apparent, the young bird was having some labored breathing, and could not keep its eyes open.

In the cage of 12 birds: 2 of them were on the ground with their eyes closed. I was disappointed to see pelleted bedding material being used. Pelleted bedding and other such materials are quite absorbent, creating the perfect conditions for the growth of the aspergillosis bacteria, a nasty fungal infection. This was sad to see.

2 budgies were hanging on the bars farthest from me, and the remaining 8 were sitting on two perches, 4 on each side.

I stood and watched the birds for 10 minutes. All 13 birds sat motionless, including those on the bars of the cage and on the bottom, not moving a muscle, not making a chirp - nothing. My whistles and other birdie noises went unnoticed. They kept their eyes closed most of the time, and were completely unresponsive. 4 of them showed an obvious bobbing of the tail and other signs of labored breathing. One of the two hanging on the cage bars was having even greater difficulty breathing, its chest heaving with each breath. One of the 8 sitting on the perch I was expecting to fall any second as its tail was perfectly horizontal with the floor of the cage. The only positive thing was I could see no obvious signs of scaley mites.

Ten minutes into my visit, no employee approaching me, and no change in the birds' behaviors, I briefly left the cage area to find someone. Snagging the first employee I could find one aisle away, I asked him if he knew anything about the birds and could answer questions. He said yes - he took care of the birds (hang on to this thought), and we walked back to the birds.

As we approached, the birds remained in the same positions as when I had left a moment earlier. I went to great efforts to be low key, not accusatory or confrontational. I was soft and laid back in my approach, and began by inquiring when the birds had arrived in the store, and if he had noticed they were not very active.

He said he had noticed, and they had arrived yesterday morning. He also stated they are usually noisier in the morning than in the afternoon, but they were not noisy or active this morning either.

He then asked me what I thought might be wrong or if I thought there might be a problem with them.

WELL, since you asked.... (apply big smiley face here)...

Again, while remaining low key, I began to systematically move from bird to bird, pointing out the signs of labored breathing, conjunctivitis, perch position, and the fact that they were neither moving, chirping, nor opening their eyes. One by one, I evaluated each of the 13 birds for him.

His demeanor was one of being interested in learning the new information he was hearing. Other than noticing they were not very active, I think the other symptoms had either escaped him, or he had not taken the time to observe them closely.

He agreed and acknowledged that they certainly didn't look good at all. In fact, he said, "the one in the back (as in the back of the store away from the customers) looks even worse than these."

What?! Wow...

Even if they had been healthy, there were none that really caught my eye. But knowing the store and cages are contaminated with something - I will never be able to buy a bird at this particular store.

The birds were all quite young, and of course their immune systems are tender. I had no intention of making a scene, always able to attract more with honey than vinegar, but I needed to feel satisfied that I had conveyed an appropriate sense of urgency.

I also wanted to instill confidence that he could rely on my assessment of the birds' condition (that is, if the pink, watery eyes, lethargic puffed up appearance, and labored breathing did not speak for themselves).

He thanked me several times for passing along the information, and stated he would be sure to inform the store manager. I respected
that he admitted there was a sick bird in the back room.

He ended the conversation by saying he was really the "fish guy". I found this of interest as initially he presented himself as able to help me with the birds and answer questions. So perhaps when the question was more than "how much do these things cost", and "do they eat a lot of food", he suddenly became the fish guy.

I will also compliment him for his attentiveness, his statement of previously noting their inactivity, and his interest in learning about the signs and symptoms of illness. All in all, the fish guy gets a solid 'B' grade.

Oops - wait:

I forgot something about the fish guy.

I told him I was looking for a friend for Mr. Strider, my budgie, and I would have to come back at a different time when they had healthy budgies. (Oh, yeah - um - right.... like, not).

At that point, he suggested I consider purchasing the $219.99 conure as a friend for Mr. Strider.

Nice try. Let's see: your budgies (and other birds, see below) are in my estimation quite sick. I come into your store looking for a budgie, and I should go home with a $219.99 conure for my budgie?

Now 20 minutes into the process, still not a single chirp, no movement, no preening, no interaction with each other. The sad thing is contemplating that some birds may have already been sold, and even perhaps as "exceptionally tame" because they were too sick to move, and three of them unable to perch.

But, I was not yet out of the woods (or out of the store) quite yet.

Now, I had a different dilemma on my hands.

Do I now give him my run down on what is wrong with all the canaries and finches?

Same deal - they looked horrible for the most part. There were a couple that appeared healthy and fairly active, but it was probably only a matter of time for them. The budgie cages were fairly clean, but the finch and canary cages were a complete disaster. The bowl of food was way too large, so one of the finches was sleeping in it. There was one bowl for about 25 finches. The perches and other cage acoutrements were very soiled. More than what can occur during one day.

Now, I felt I may be on the edge of the annoyance meter, so I decided to end with a generalized statement about the birds' conditions, and being encouraged that the manager would not only look into it, but get the birds treated for their illness. Oh, and that the cages and all bird areas needed to be thoroughly cleaned to rid them of viruses, bacteria and fungi many of which are airborne.

While I will never be able to buy a bird at this store, you know I will be back there checking on the birds. I will not be able to help myself.

I have not been successful in locating any budgies in my area that are in need of rescue, but I will continue to look. I would prefer to find a bird from a private home or rescue, one that is around Strider's age, that is in need of a forever home. It is important to find a good fit for Strider, a high energy boy like him, full of love and playful.

I have 3 cages ready for quarantine. (I was only thinking about getting Strider 1 friend, but it never hurts to be extra prepared, right?!)

So alas, no friend for Strider today. It is only a matter of time before I find the perfect little buddy for my most fabulous boy. Who would have thought when I climbed that tree, (without first considering I am a bit too old to be pulling such a stunt), I would be blessed with such a loving boy, a beautiful singer, active, playful and friendly? I love this little guy!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Callie a Lineolated Parakeet!

As you recall when we met Jack the Pacific Parrotlet, it was revealed that he had a special friend! Today, we have the pleasure of getting to know the special little lady in his life (...I mean, besides Shandi...), and her name is:


Isn't she absolutely adorable?! Look at those poofy head feathers!

I have never had the pleasure of living with a lineolated parakeet. But everyone I know who has speaks of them as wonderful companions.

Callie loves to spend time with her brother, Jack with whom she is quite bonded. In addition to friendship, they share millet, which Callie enjoys eating with her feet. In fact, she eats most of her food with her feet! In addition to millet, fresh birdie bread is a big hit.

Callie, is nicknamed Pretty Girl and Lady Callie by her people, but she prefers to be known as "Queen of the Roost".

It may be hard to believe, but this little beauty loves to get her own way!

(I know - shocking!)

As cute as she is, Callie recently went through a bit of a challenging time (hormonally speaking). Her mom reports that she became exceptionally nesty, and was quite focused on her friendship with her brother, Jack. She started snubbing her beak at the family, making snarly-angry noises, and displaying a variety of other 'back off' body language to those who might contemplate coming between her and Jack.

Fortunately, things are back on track now, and the family and flock relationships weathered the hormonal influences!

Whether being nesty or not, one thing remains constant - she is a strongly independent young lady who considers herself royalty!

Callie has a few foraging toys, but finds them quite 'yesterday'.

Foraging toys are:
"for the birds"!

This little lady is into technology!

Hey, is she texting Strider?

Many linnies enjoy their baths, but Callie... not so much. Perhaps it is the indignity of having her feathers out of place. She will sit under the warm water and become drenched, quietly chirping, but does not seem to go bath-crazy as many linnies are known to do. Perhaps her mom should try a day at the spa for the queen? That's what I'm thinking might do the trick!

Finally, it must be noted that Lady Callie is a neat freak. She is constantly throwing her own feathers out of the cage onto the floor. Fortunately, she is more than willing to help her mom vacuum them up!
Look at this little girl - helping mom clean!

Send her over to my house when she's finished there!

If you are interested in learning more about lineolated parakeets, I would encourage you to visit the Linnnie Forum (click here).

I hope you enjoyed meeting Callie, one of the regular readers of the Living With Parrots Cagefree Blog!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Dinosaur Computer Lives!

A $5.00 fan, and the dinosaur computer lives!

Since I am on probation, and not permitted to use the oven ('darn'), and I really wanted some chicken...

Dear husband made chicken breasts wrapped in bacon for dinner tonight.

(I am thinking it could possibly take a month (or even longer) before I am able to learn my lesson about the stove and be trusted in the kitchen again!)

I have been asked to play piano for a funeral on Thursday morning, so while he was feeding and walking Barney, making dinner and installing the computer's fan, I was able to spend several hours practicing.

What a guy, huh?! Seriously - he is a true gem.

Once practice was finished, the dinosaur was ready for my blog entry!

We are a couple of days shy of one month since Sammy's passing. Coco continues to call his name daily. "I'll go see Sammers" has always been one of her favorite phrases. The first few days it was difficult for me to hear her say it, but we are doing much better now. I am beginning to enter the stage of remembering the good times with Sammy, and focusing on the long, happy life that we enjoyed together.

The bird room continues to be filled with noise, singing and happiness.

In the same way that Coco's main house has a screen door, although never used, enabling it to be transformed into a carrier if needed, dear husband has now made a 'topper' for Fort Str'ammy.
The topper is removable and collapsible. Quite a nice feature providing additional flexibility!

(I decided that Strider's Fort will retain the name 'Fort Str'ammy' in honor of Sammy.)

I am pleased that Strider's area is as easy to keep clean as I had hoped. Of course, compared to Coco, his droppings are microscopic (!), and the same quick clean up that is used in Fort Coco works as quickly and efficiently in Fort Str'ammy.

I am still considering a male friend for Strider with whom he can share his extensive and expansive fort. I hope that soon I will find the perfect companion for him, one that will enjoy fort living as much as Coco and Strider.

Well, in closing, there is a bit of bad news to report:

The lint trap on the dryer did not catch on fire today....

But, I do promise to keep you updated!


Monday, June 22, 2009

On Borrowed Time

Specifically, this old computer...

is on borrowed time...

as in perhaps hours!!

It all began with a toxic, plastic-y smell and just a tiny bit of "smoke" last evening that apparently has something to do with a fan thing-a-ma-jigee inside the computer that is no longer 'fanning'. It was quite a nasty smell! Apparently the fan inside serves a fairly important function.

This computer is running on a Windows ME (yes, I said 'ME' as in Millenium, as in 1999/2000 vintage) operating system, so it was only a matter of time.

It has seen a lot of hours, and has served me well. But all good things must come to an end, and I think this computer only has hours to get its affairs in order!

It has not gone without note that having a husband who builds fabulous bird forts, and is also an electrician, has been quite convenient.
Presently, the 'box' is open with an external fan blowing on it for circulation - hopefully long enough for me to get this post completed and download all the files that I care about to a dear friend's FTP site.

Yes, he had everything electrically under control, that was until...

In the midst of all of this, I picked up a fully cooked roaster chicken at the store, brought it home and put it in the oven (250 degrees) to rewarm. So far, so good.

While dear husband was working magic cpr on the computer dinosaur in an attempt to enable me to create this very post, I was in the kitchen unsupervised!

If you are thinking I am about to get myself in trouble, you are right...

I was supposed to know that the plastic caddy housing this roaster chicken, and the cardboard handle with a label and picture of this delicious bourbon chicken, could NOT be put in the oven?

I don't know how I could have known.

I am devastated to report that, while I had my heart set on bourbon chicken, it was contaminated by the melting plastic. It only needed to be reheated, but when the cardboard wrapper caught fire, it sort of made the chicken a bit too crispy for my liking.

Note to self: in case of flames, keep oven door closed.

So yes, I got a lecture about usage of ovens, and plastic, and cardboard, and... and... and...

Ok, I get it...

I am sure that the instructions on the outside of the roaster said it was ok to put it in the oven. Given the melted plastic container and the burned up cardboard, it is just my word against... a melted plastic container with a scorched, unreadable cardboard handle. I still say there was no warning that it couldn't withstand a little re-warming in the oven...

In the meantime - I'm signing off to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It does not require an oven.

Yes - I'm on probation. I cannot use the oven for one week.


My next goal?

I'm angling for a way to get 'prohibited' from using the washer and dryer for a whole week! Woo-hoo!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coco's Molt - Nearing an End

When a bird is going through a molt, it can seem like it will never end... especially if you are the one picking up the feathers!

Coco's molt started a little over a month ago. I did not make a specific note of the date, as I know it will start when it starts, and it will end when it ends. If it lasts 6 weeks instead of 4, or 3 weeks instead of 8, it still is what it is. I don't get concerned unless we're looking at a molt lasting several months, and then it would be time for a ride to the local avian vet.

Her molt commenced with nearly two weeks of seeing loads of downy feathers everywhere. I cannot say as I recall this warning in the past, but perhaps I just never paid much attention. The next time I see loads and loads of downy feathers, I will watch to see if it is a harbinger of a molt to come! During that time, I would easily count 20 or 25 fluff feathers each day.

A good time to be sure the vacuum was in working order!

After two weeks of the fluff feathers, she began her regular molt by dropping back and chest feathers. She then moved to losing primary and secondary wing feathers as well as most of her tail feathers. Amazon tail feathers are so strikingly beautiful.

A bird does not lose every feather during every molt.

She is now nearing the end of the molt, as I am finding less fluff feathers, and less overall feathers at the end of each day. Here is a photo of today's collection... compared to a couple of weeks ago, it is like a vacuum-vacation!
The feathers in this picture still indicate that Coco is molting, but it is definitely reaching its logical conclusion.

Amongst bird owners, molting can be a big topic; it is certainly something we all experience. I've never been able to pin down a specific molting pattern in Coco, but this may be because I don't obsess on it. I do find that she often molts in October, and then sometimes again in May. Given that our home environments have controlled temperatures, there is an abundance of food, and our birds are removed from many of the natural triggers in the wild that would institute a molt, it is often nearly impossible to spot a specific pattern.

It has not been my experience that my birds are grumpier or more sensitive, so to speak, during molting than at any other time. Naturally, if they have pin feathers on their heads or bodies, it could appear that they were being grumpy if I were to touch them in such a way as to bump those pin feathers and cause them discomfort.

If pin feathers have been touched in such a way to cause my birds' discomfort, any reaction on the part of my birds would be assigned to the way in which I touched those sensitive pin feathers as opposed to "molting grumpiness". Pin feathers are quite sensitive, so I need to bear this in mind. During times like this, Coco enjoys me simply blowing on the back of her neck since the feathers are often too sensitive to be touched even in a way that might seem exceptionally gentle to me.

It has not been my experience that my birds are 'tired' or otherwise dragged down by the molting process. I see no difference in activity level in my birds during molting. I do read of others stating that molting takes so much out of a bird (energy-wise); it has not been what I have observed over the years. They still have days of higher energy and days of lower energy output that do not seem to correlate to the molting process itself but simply their natural cycles. I'm not equally perky every day... (Ok, waiting for those who know me to point out that I'm not Ms. Perky Patty on most days. I'm more the tortoise than the hare....)

Just as some days they consume more food than others, their activity levels change from day to day as well.

It has not been my experience that my birds are more prone to illness during molting or that they need more sleep. They maintain the same patterns of activity and behavior during molts as at other times of the year. In Coco's 13 years she has never experienced an infection or illness of any type whatsoever, and in Sammy's 28 years he had one sinus infection when he was young-ish. During those cumulative years, Sammy and Coco when through a lot of molts. My husbandry techniques for maintaining a clean, healthy environment, endeavoring to avoid the risks of viral, bacterial or fungal illness, and maintaining strict quarantine procedures for any new flock additions, are the same year around despite molting status.

As I discussed in my Hello - My Bird Won't Bathe post, during this molt Coco went through a period of nearly two weeks when she chose not to shower. While I might think that a daily shower would aid the molting process, and make her more comfortable, she obviously disagreed with that logic. When she did decide to take her shower (Let it Rain) she enjoyed it, and has been back on her normal shower routine since.

So, why during the peak of the molt did she decide not to shower? I can't say. I often see it written that we should 'mist' our birds during molting to make them more comfortable. To the extent Coco was "uncomfortable" because of the natural experience of molting, I believe that it would be her instinct to gravitate to the water if it would positively affect her circumstances. It was certainly an option available each day. But she chose not to take one for nearly two weeks.

Just food for thought... it may not always be the case that what we think would make a bird feel better is necessarily something they agree with. It pains me to think that there may be birds getting misted for their own good during molts or any other time, potentially risking bathing or the misting bottle become aversive (something that the bird works to avoid) because the companion thinks "they need it". Or because they are molting and it "should make them feel better". We can offer it, and allow them to choose what is best for them, and believe that they are exceptionally intelligent and intuitive creatures that once empowered, will make suitable choices.

We do know that birds experiencing health issues, poor nutrition and other stresses can develop stress bars.

An article I have found quite informative on the topic of molting in general, written in 2006 by Ronald Hines, DVM is entitled When Birds Molt. It brings out that the timing of a molt, when an old feather is dropped and a new one replaces it, is governed by hormones, light and reproductive cycles. (All of these can be affected by the artificial environment of our homes). It is not a lengthy article, but I would highly recommend it for interesting reading!

In the meantime, get those vacuums in good working order!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dawg Dayz of Summer!

Whew! I don't know about where you live, but here it has been hot, hot, hot! And it is
only June!

In addition, the past four days we have had major late evening thunderstorms. That = muggy.

What about our birds and the heat (or cold for that matter)?

The majority of our birds are able to withstand quite a fluctuation of temperatures. My experience over the years has been that, if acclimated, my birds have been fine in temperatures from the 50's to the high 90's farenheit. Although I don't like to push it at either extreme.
But if I am hot, I figure they are too; if I am cold, I figure they are as well. And I keep my eye on them closely (perhaps more closely then they would like)! Of course, the young and the elderly get even more attention and due caution.

In the lower temperatures, it is important to keep them sheltered from the wind or drafts; in the higher temperatures they need plenty of access to shade and air circulation.

Naturally, we watch closely for signs of response to the environmental conditions and distress. I keep a large thermometer in the bird room at all times that can easily be seen at a distance.

If a bird is overheated, it may begin to breathe with an open mouth (panting) and may also hold its wings away from the body (it appearing as if they are attempting to air out their armpits). These can also be signs of illness.

North Carolina is a bit of a temperate climate compared to many others throughout the United States and world. Although this week our heat indexes have reached into the high 80's and low 90's. The bird room is not air conditioned, and does not have ceiling fans, but I do utilize box fans. (In addition to the birds being flighted, prohibiting the use of a ceiling fan, the bird room's heating system is electric ceiling heat. So poking holes in the ceiling would not be a bright idea!)

In the winter, the bird room stays between 65 and 70 degrees. In the summer, the mercury reading is commensurate with that of the outdoors. I provide air movement and circulation through the use of box fan(s).

As I type this, the outdoor temperature registers at 74 degrees, while the bird room is 78 degrees. As the coolness of the evening sets in, the bird room temperature will begin to drop accordingly.

Leaving the sliding glass doors open, and with a fan blowing into the hallway, I can pull air from outdoors, through the bird room, and into the hallway. This keeps a nice amount of circulation and flow keeping the room comfortable.

On many days, Coco chooses an afternoon shower, which provides some fun refreshment.

The awning on the deck prevents the room from getting direct sunlight during the hottest time of day.

Plenty of circulation, and keeping a close eye by monitoring behavior, habits and body language are all important to me.

On an unusually warm day, we can close the curtains and add an extra box fan for more air circulation.

It does seem (at least in this area of the jungle), like it is going to be an incredibly hot summer. The flowering plants and trees appear quite happy, as they have been receiving daily rain to match the heat.
Me - I can handle the heat easier than the cold. The one thing I miss about living in Florida is the mild winters. But the mountains have their own appeal. When we do get snow, it rarely stays on the ground more than a day. There is an old wives tale that says 'if the snow stays on the ground for more than 3 days, it is waiting for more'!

Time to head for toward the 'cool' part of the room!

"Hey, look Coco... we both have yellow on top our heads! Do you suppose we are related?!"

Friday, June 19, 2009

Introducing Maggie May the Mi-Ki!

Meet Maggie May!

She is an exceptionally sweet four year old pure bred Mi-ki and a friend to Barney, Coco and Strider!

Maggie May (or 'May-May' as Barney calls her) shares a home with her mom Scotty, dad Mark, several birds and her brother Lil Bit.

May-May not only loves toys, but her breed is in the toy/companion group. She also loves cats, keeping herself clean and laying in the sun. A total lap dog, she would happily be held or carried around all day long if her mom didn't need to take an occasional trip to the mall, the beach, or ordering out dinner!

The rare Mi-Ki (pronounced Me-Key) is a fairly new breed, having appeared in the United States around the 1980's, and sharing common ancestry with the Papillon, Maltese and Japanese Chin dogs. Maggie May weighs in at a whopping 5 pounds! Oink oink! The breed typically live into their teens.

Barney was attracted to May-May when he realized he had met a lady with shorter legs than his! Besides her gorgeous face, she has a winning personality that endears her to the entire family and everyone she meets. While she loves playing with Lil Bit, maybe not so much into the 'sharing the bed' thing?!

Hey, where's Lil Bit's fancy bed and hair bow?

When friends come to visit, you can bet Maggie May is going to be in her special chair, ready to enjoy quality conversation. And don't forget the doggie treats and some well-deserved attention!

I am sure it is easy to see why Barney fell in love with her, she has it all:

Beauty, personality, and is a total cuddle muffin!

I hope you have enjoyed meeting Maggie May, one of the regular readers of the Living With Parrots Cage Free blog!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

She Bites Me... She Bites Me Not!

Ok, everyone... move to the edge of your chair!

Here we go:

If you have never, ever, ever been bitten by a bird, please stand up...



Ok, my chair continues to be warm, how about yours?? !!

I think it is fairly easy to say that if parrot owners were polled on their top five concerns, screaming and biting would take the ranks of #1, #2, #3 and possibly #4 as well!

And they are only two behaviors!

It's a big topic, but I'm gonna take a poke at it (pardon the pun):


This is a real question, from Carly in Ohio, who lives with her beautiful budgie, Twyla. Twyla can be a sweetheart, but recently she has been presenting her companion with some challenges.

With permission, here are portions of a question from Carly (emphasis added):

"Twyla's biting has officially gotten too much out of hand...

Twyla bites very very very very very very very hard that I can't even stress it enough - when I try and get her to step up or when i am moving stuff around in her cage. Although she DOES have good days where I am allowed to be working in her cage without being bitten. But most of the time she gets the evil eye and lunges for me. Sometimes if I am fixing a toy in her cage she will go down and start munching on some food and leave me alone, but thats not as frequent as the biting.

...I need to start re-training her using millet but I'm afraid she will be so used to biting people that she won't stop. I don't pull my hand away (as much as I want to!) so she doesn't win the fight between hand and beak. I usually just keep going and fixing the toy but she will grab a chunk of skin and bite bite bite leaving deep indents in my skin...she had made me bleed once. I hope I can work with her enough that she will stop this... any advice?"

I believe we can all understand and relate, at least I know I can! We want the best for our birds, and that includes a mutually enjoyable relationship. Me getting bit is not 'enjoyable' in my book!

I've heard plenty of (bad) advice over the years, that usually goes something like this: Whatever you do, do not pull your hand away. If your bird bites,
wrap your arm with a towel, wear long sleeves, or use gloves. You don't want the bird to think it 'won'. Pretend biting doesn't hurt.

Unfortunately, we see in the above question that Twyla's biting behavior continued to increase and escalate in intensity despite Carly's dedication to trying not to pull her hand away.

So, time to try to a different approach, and to listen to what Twyla was trying to say through her body language and her behavior. And knowing Carly, I knew she was up for the task!

Fast forward two days after her initial question when I received the following response:

Robin I followed your instruction andddddd today a miracle happened. Twyla stepped up on my finger over and over again.....no biting either. This was seriously a miracle...after a year of no progress, when I tried your advice it worked the second day!

What made the difference?

In my post entitled "Flight or Bite" we touched on the subject: body language. Observing Twyla's body language and responding to it before it escalated to biting.
Responding to it how? By removing the hand before the beak made contact. This was the opposite of Carly's previous approach and way of thinking. Some of the body languages that may precede an escalation to a bite are:

Raised Feathers
Moving Away
Leaning Away
Flying Away
Leaning Forward

... and so forth. If we can observe and respond to our bird's body language before it escalates to biting, the bird begins to learn that it does not necessarily need to escalate to all out warfare.

We observe, interpret and respond to the less escalated body language.

But let me play the other side of this conversation:

"But, Robin - if I pull my hand away when the bird lunges, then the bird 'will win'!"

If by 'winning' we mean gaining the ability to be empowered to communicate the lack of desire for interaction, then absolutely! We understand and respect the body language, and it is a victory for the bird, for us, and most important the relationship!

Ok, let's try another one:

"But, Robin - if I pull my hand away when the bird lunges, aren't I reinforcing lunging"?

Yes. I'd much rather reinforce a lunge to get back on track than continue to reinforce biting. Of course, I am really looking for an opportunity to reinforce leaning away from me, or even a subtle 'look' that I know (by knowing my bird) means "not now, thank you; no interaction for me, please!" I am looking to reinforce more subtle means of communication (body language).

I think one of the problems that can arise is time. We may find ourselves with the time to interact, a few extra minutes, and we would like the bird to come out of the cage, or we would like to hang out with the bird. We have the time, and the desire. But if the bird is not on the same page, and would prefer a nap, to preen, or to meditate... well, timing is everything.

We can be tempted to think that if we can just get the bird to step up, or sit on our shoulder, that they will see they are having a great time, and we will win them over.

But if an interaction began with a bad experience.... with forcing or coercing the interaction...

I do not want to try to build a positive experience based upon the foundation of a negative one.

Alright, one more!

"But, Robin - if I leave my hand there and let the bird bite it, then the bird will learn that biting gains it nothing, and it will stop biting, right?"

Notwithstanding learned helplessness (and that is a whole different topic), it certainly wasn't working that way for Twyla... her biting behavior was increasing as was the intensity.

I consider learning to read my bird's body language a lifestyle skill for me, and my bird's ability to communicate the body language of "not now", in a method other than biting, and have me understand, is building a lifestyle skill for my bird as well. We will have many more enjoyable experiences if we are on the same page.

Carly wisely discerned that some intervention was needed and reached out for help. What she had read, had been advised to do, and in fact had tried for quite some time was simply not working.

Now, with a renewed dedication to reading and responding to body language, her relationship with Twyla has entered a new stage. They are creating a new history, and new lifestyle skills of communication through body language. Win-win!