Friday, July 31, 2009

Relationship with the Avian Vet

As you can imagine, with at one point giving Birdie several injections twice a day, and dabbing Betadine on his exposed skin and muscle, I was at the avian vet's office more than once or twice.

Birdie actually had two avian vets, a primary (a female - avian and exotic animal vet) and a backup (a male - avian and small animal vet). It is Birdie's primary avian vet that is the subject of this particular post. She had the greatest impact on us, and provided Birdie with the bulk of his world-class care. However, both were excellent professionals

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Birdie and I relied heavily on those relationships. Perhaps even more because of my inexperience with parrots. The best choice I made was to surround myself with competent medical professionals, to complement the personal study and learning I was seeking on my own.

On a side note -

... As she gracefully jumps onto her soap box, usurping one of the privileges of a blog...

If I see one more person post a question asking if their bird has a "
common cold", I may need to buy a new monitor. This insinuates that the bird is suffering from something that will run its course and does not require treatment. One cannot equate a common cold that a human experiences, caused by the rhino virus which is not transmissible to birds, to the bacterial or other viral infections to which an avian is susceptible.

Very few things upset me as quickly as someone seeking medical advice for a seriously ill bird over the internet.

"What do you think could be wrong with my bird - he is vomiting, has diarrhea, is puffed up, on the floor of the cage and convulsing??? Oh, and he has tumors all over his body. Should I be concerned??"

Gosh, if your loved one (human) were in that condition, would you be on the internet asking complete strangers with questionable credentials that question, or would be seeking a real live medical professional?

Ok, I'm stepping down now... but I reserve the right to... jump back on it. Falling down is just so embarrassing.... the longer I am on the box, the higher the risk that I will skin my knees.

But - I just had to get that off my chest..... sorry!


Back to Birdie and his avian vet! Yeah!

When Birdie and I were in the waiting room, it was not unusual to be sharing space with very large snakes and spiders, and perhaps other animals that I was afraid to 'ask' what they were. It was an interesting place!

One day while back in the exam room, waiting for her to come in, I saw the door knob turning - every so slowly.. turning... turning...

Then, it stopped. After a moment, it began turning slowly again. Naturally, I was curious. I figured it was a small child. But I heard no noise. Even the door knob itself did not make a sound.

Taking a chance, I suddenly said, "You can come in!"

And - in she came! Daisy, who I believe was a spider monkey. I know she was a monkey of some sort, but I am not positive on her specific type. She was cute as she could be! She was unaccompanied, and I was not sure what to expect. She stood in the hallway, hand still on the door, looking in at Birdie and I.

For a moment, I chose to play the statue game. After what seemed like only mere seconds, in walked Birdie's doctor, taking Daisy by the hand, and leading her back into the doctor's private office!

Daisy was the resident in-office helper (or, so she thought), but she was not the only one. At the front desk a greyhound or three could always be found lounging on over-sized bean bags as clients checked out. Of course these were rescued greyhounds, and boy had they hit the lottery! Naturally, they were well taken care of, rightfully spoiled rotten, and profusely showered with love by both staff and clients.

It was a fun place. But more important, it was a place of learning.

It is my belief that:

The second most important relationship, between a companion and a parrot, is the one that includes their avian vet.

So, here are a few things that are important to me:

1. My avian vet is someone who I believe cares for the health and welfare of my bird as much, if not more, than even I do!

2. My avian is someone who partners with me in my learning; willing to teach and encourage me to provide the best life for my bird possible. Always having time for my questions (as long as I don't expect it to be a marathon session), or directing me to resources to learn about the areas that I may desire.

3. My avian vet is a source of new, innovative information on behavior, diet or husbandry that I may not yet have heard.

4. My avian vet is someone who surrounds themselves with caring, well trained, educated and experienced people who have skills both as people-people and animal-people.

5. My avian vet has the 'tools of the trade': birdie-sized instruments and diagnostic equipment. Hopefully these will never be needed.

6. It is ok that my avian vet treats animals other than birds! Most of them do!

7. My avian vet is someone who handles my birds gently, quickly, with care and expertise. No one wants to see their bird manhandled; wing-side manner is important to me.

8. My avian vet is someone who places the same value on her ongoing education as she does on mine. She stays on top of the latest research and employs an attitude of life long learning.

9. My avian vet is one who takes vacations from time to time (either for learning or for fun). We all experience burn out; we all need to get away from our jobs occasionally - even those we are called to and truly love. I like to see my avian vet willing and able to get away, having an experienced vet that she trusts on standby in case of emergencies. If she trusts her practice to another vet for emergencies, then I trust that other vet as well.

What are my responsibilities? They are many. Perhaps that will be the topic of a future post.

First and foremost, I must be willing to seek out education and answers. I feel that I cannot expect my avian vet to spoon feed me basic husbandry information. I must demonstrate my commitment by spending time learning and studying from many available sources, allowing my avian specialist to clarify, give opinion, additional information, state of the art research, provide me with new avenues or sources of information or suggested groups, and generally provide me expert guidance. It is not her responsibility to be my only source of information. It is her responsibility to provide my bird with expert medical care, and what I learn from her is truly a bonus. All of my avian vets have been generously forthcoming with their knowledge and guidance.

Click here to find a veterinarian that is a member of:
The Association of Avian Veterinarians

The second most important relationship, between a companion and a parrot, is the one that includes their avian vet.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Birdie's Helen Keller Moment

Ok, I've collected myself from the picture of me and Birdie in yesterday's post - what memories! Since Shirley asked, here are a few things I did with Birdie at the very beginning.

I had nothing to go on, except what I had learned about educating children. (I did have a "library" - this is a place where they have books on a shelf. You take one, sit down, and read it. They even let you take them home for several weeks!) Wow!

(Ok, sorry - I will be sending myself to bed without a mint julep tonight for that remark...)!!

With no friends familiar with birds, I set on a path to attempt to make a connection with Birdie. I wanted to form some type of basis for communication.

At the time, I was working as a kindergarten teacher on Miami Beach. Some of the students did not speak English when they came to school; others very little. And of course some did. Therefore, many of them were just like me and Birdie - unable to communicate with one another.

I observed them to see how they formed a line of communication, and learned the following things:

1. They mirrored one another's body language.
It seemed a part of the natural 'get to know you process' that they would literally mimic each other's body language in exceptionally subtle ways. We don't call kids 'copy cats' for nothing!

I wondered - would this work for Birdie as a basis to begin a rapport? Anything was worth a try!
I began mirroring Birdie's body language.

If he leaned away from me; I leaned away from him.
If he lifted his wings slightly and/or stretched, I tried to mimic that language.

And so on.

This seemed to have an interesting effect on Birdie; it appeared to relax him to my eye. I continued with this process, mirroring as much as I was able. Even turns to the side, turning around to face away from me, etc.

Little did I know that I was helping him begin to learn that I respected his body language!

2. They mirrored one another's behavior or activities.
When one would color, the other would color. If one would take a drink from their juice cup, the other would take a drink from their juice cup. I was not sure the role this might play, but I tried this with Birdie.

When I would see him eating, I would go get something and sit next to him and eat. If he was preening, I would pretend to preen. I had toys that looked like his, and if he was paying attention to a toy, I would do the same.

3. They offered each other something of theirs.
After spending time in mutual, but separate activities, I would see the children offer each other something of their own. You could see them pass a red crayon and give a look like, "Do you want this"? Demonstrating that they were willing to share. Often the other child would take it, or look at it and shake their head no (body language). But I felt the offering of something that belonged to them, or something of value, was a part of the process of establishing a rapport.

So since we were doing mutual activities such as eating, just as the kids were mutually coloring, I began 'offering' something of mine to Birdie. Recall that I had never had a parrot before; I did not know that what I was doing by instinct or by observation of the kindergarten children, was something that all people did with their parrots. I began eating, and offering some of my food. Just as the children sometimes said no - that was ok. The child did not get up and walk off in a huff, but would often offer a different color of crayon instead or go back to playing together but separate.

If I was 'playing' with a toy, I tried to demonstrate with my body language (while not putting it in Birdie's face) that I was offering him the chance to taste it or take it. And of course I offered food. I also offered my clothes like scarf or or a belt, access to zippers and buttons.

4. They spent time in close proximity, perhaps doing similar activities; aware of one another, but not directly engaged.

This is where I came up with my 'hang out' concept. At every opportunity, I was mirroring his body language, his behavior, activities, and offering him something of mine. We spent a great deal of time in close proximity.

I had seen parrots give a 'come hither' look as they put their heads down and slowly scratched their own head with their foot. So this is one of the behaviors/activities that I mirrored. As our relationship progressed, I put my head down in front of Birdie, and appeared to be slowly scratching my own head, through the cage bars at first, occasionally stopping and sneaking a glance at him as I had seen other birds do. At first there was no response. If he seemed to me to be uncomfortable, or leaned away, moved away, or backed up, I mirrored that body language as well, but while continuing to 'preen' myself.

One day Birdie ventured over to me, and began to preen my hair. Since my hand was still on my head, doing the come hither impression, I left it there. After some preening, Birdie explored my finger, my fingernail, and continued to preen me.

The best I can describe it, would be to say that it was Helen Keller moment for Birdie. Over the course of a few weeks I had not grabbed him or made any demands of him. I approached him slowly at all times, hands behind my back, and at the first sign of tenseness, I stopped and took one step backward. If I thought he still appeared tense, I took a second step. Sometimes, those steps took me right out the door. There are days when we are all "not in the mood". I also began to discern what his body language looked like if he didn't mind that I continued to approach.

I had no preconceived notions of how things were supposed to work, what training looked like, or how all of this was going to come out. Being bit was positive punishment as it resulted in my undesirable behavior of sticking my hand into his belly and saying 'step up' to decrease (all the way to 'zero').

The natural part of him stepping up and being comfortable being on me (knee, shoulder, head or hand) came as a part of us eating together. He began to come out of the cage, over to me, and crawled onto my knee to access the food easier.

We would sing, dance or hang out on the rocker. I have a picture of him in his collar, sitting on the back of the rocker. He also liked to sit on the arm, and we would rock away... it was hang out time. I couldn't really touch him much given the collar, and the condition of his skin, other than on his head. He allowed me to give him injections without having to towel him. Fortunately, the need for that began after we had formed our communication.

No doubt - he was a special bird, and he took quickly to my inept style and use of my 'instincts'. I feel he must have cut me a lot of slack as I worked hard to not force myself or intrude on him. I can only guess that he allowed me to give him the injections because he knew it was necessary. I could gently place my hand on his back, and give him the shot into his breast muscle, place some betadine on his exposed skin, and we got that over as quick as possible.

Beach time was a great hang out time; he would sit on the back of my beach chair. We walked back and forth with him on my shoulder. Again - me having zero experience - I had no idea that the common recommendation is to never have an amazon on your shoulder. They're too unpredictable!
And there is a certain bit of truth to that and due caution is indicated. Birdie and I didn't know that at the time. It was a natural part of the evolution of our relationship. He loved riding on my shoulder.

For countless hours we hung out at the beach, or went for car rides - him on my shoulder or a play gym that sat on the passenger seat. He rode to New Port Richey sitting on that playgym. I received a lot of intrigued looks and questions when I stopped to fill up the car on the way!

I think in another post I will tell you about Birdie's avian vet - she was special as you can imagine, and she had a resident in-office helper! A monkey named Daisy! But I will save that...

(Gosh - it is like a soap opera - a cliff hanger!)


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Picture of Birdie

Ok... ok..

Every one of you, that asked for a picture of Birdie... you should be ashamed of yourselves! Now you've gone and done it - you've made me cry! But, they are happy tears.

I searched high and low; and finally (!) I found it....

The picture I remembered was one taken of the two of us by my grandfather on that trip to New Port Richey I mentioned.

Of course, my grandfather is no longer with us (kleenex please, Elise?)!

Meanwhile, I came across other pictures I had forgotten about - me with a blue front I worked with from the pet store, and a double yellow head tres maria named Dick Tracy who later went into a breeding program. He was stunningly gorgeous.

And then there was the yellow nape amazon Buddy, and early pictures of Sammy!

Memories..... light the corners of our minds!

I also found a picture of Birdie in his clear plastic snap up collar! His original collar was a piece of x-ray film fitted with some rubber glued around the neck opening and stapled in place. It was not something that was removable as you can imagine. Then, he upgraded to the clear plastic snap off/snap on collar. High tech! It made my life easier!

You can see that Birdie still looks a bit worse for the wear in this picture. But he had recovered the majority of his feathers at this point. He was still a very sick bird. Of course, we did not know that his internal organs had been stressed and damaged. He had also been diagnosed with a thyroid problem and put on daily medication.

So, here it is, as requested (bear in mind, circa 198___!) It is a picture of a picture, but best I can do with no scanner.

In Loving Memory of 'Birdie'
The one who set me on a lifelong love of amazons and the world of parrots:


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Story of Birdie

Back nearly 30 years ago, when I first began living with companion birds, some of the things that were customary advice would most likely make us cringe to hear now!

I specifically remember the pet shop where I purchased my first amazon parrot. It was a bird that had come through quarantine, and was in horrible shape. This parrot was virtually given to me for free because no one could handle it. No one wanted it, and it was languishing in a pet store that really wanted it gone. I felt so bad for it.

I had never had a parrot before of any type. Just my cockatiel. We all have to start somewhere! I had no clue what I was doing, or what I was in for; I only felt I could give it a better life than what it had (which wasn't hard considering its circumstances).

The advice given me at the pet store?

Clip the wings and put the bird in the bathtub. Don't let it out until it steps up. If it bites you, tell it 'no' and 'ouch', but don't pull back - don't let it think it is hurting you. I went home, to do exactly as I was told.

Note: Never having had a parrot before, I had never been bit by one either.

Now, this was no simple parrot - he was a yellow naped amazon that had come through quarantine as an adult. Wild as the day is long, let us say, he had a bit of a chip on his wing.

I held him in a towel, clipped his wings as I had been instructed, and placed him in the bathtub. Did it occur to me why the lady at the petstore didn't want to clip his wings, but only explained to me how to do it? That should have been my first clue!

Well, that sure is a nice start to a relationship - having just been toweled, clipped and dumped into a tub... I did offer him a couple of seeds, which he refused. Can't blame him.

I put my hand down, and firmly, without emotion, said, "step up".

He didn't respond.

Again, I said, "Step Up!" This time, I nudged his belly. And this time, he did respond.

He bit the crap out of me.

I don't mean he nipped me.
I don't mean he pinched me.

I mean he bit the ever living daylight crap out of me.

I guess the "no" thing and the "ouch" thing didn't translate to parrot-speak? Who knew?!

So, that was my introduction to training. I quickly determined that this bathtub thing was not going to work (for me). Perhaps I was doing something wrong? I did exactly as I was told by the "experts" at the pet store. They were the experts, right?

I had no idea this bird intended to bite me that hard, intended to draw blood, and that upon the very first bite, blood would be gushing out of my finger. What was step 2 supposed to be?

As a dutiful pet owner, I went back to the store, a bit humbled, and described my experience. What went wrong? I did what I was told! If I was supposed to leave this thing in the tub until it stepped up, I wasn't sure if I was going to have any fingers (or a hand) left for it to step up on! Honestly, I didn't want to be bit again. I'm not saying it was uncomfortable - I'm saying it downright hurt! After I got the bleeding stopped, I wasn't even sure if I didn't need stitches!

The follow up advice?

Oh - I guess you will need to wear a glove to train that bird.

Well, my goodness - this is not a raptor - it is a parrot! And, what happens when I take the glove off? And, what kind of glove - steel fingered?

I walked away shaking my head. This simply didn't make any sense to me at all. Now, I felt I was really up the creek without a paddle.

I went home. I took a long, hard look at that wild, yellow nape parrot, nutritionally languishing on an all seed diet, aggressive, and perhaps just as confused as me. I named him 'Birdie'. I don't know if he was a 'he', but I decided he was going to be.

Since the professional advice wasn't working for me, I decided to go with my instincts. I did have a background in education and teaching, so I applied anything and everything that I could, that I knew worked with children, to my relationship with Birdie. I had some cursory understanding of positive reinforcement and operant conditioning. Nothing close to what I needed, but it was better than the 'bathtub' advice!

Amongst Birdie's other issues, he came to me as a feather plucker. FDB (feather destructive behavior) is challenging under any circumstances. Early on, Birdie had plucked out all his feathers and began removing the skin. In several places, the muscle was exposed. Working with an avian vet, I learned how to give injections and do much of his treatment at home. I never thought I would be capable, but weighed against the cost of hospitalization, I found myself taking quickly to the injection training. I believe this is part of what served to bring the two of us closer.

The time had come for me to be a quick study on training, behavior, FDB and avian medical care!

In the end, Birdie and I became best buddies. Thus began my lifelong love for amazons, and in particular, a soft spot for yellow napes. He and I went to the beach together often; we even traveled together from Miami Beach to see my grandparents who were living in New Port Richey, Florida at the time. It was simply an amazing relationship. He never bit me again, and never bit anyone else.

It was during one of the trips to the local beach that I inadvertently heard Birdie's first phrase. He had said a few words here and there, and had done some mumbling, but that was about it. He chose this one, unique moment to make his first statement:

"Oh my Gawwwwd"!

Clear as the liberty bell... a seemingly slight New York accept perhaps, but definitely no mumbling. And on the beach, his voice carried on the wind.

It might have been cute, but for one dilemma..

Unfortunately, that phrase came at the exact moment a very well nourished man was passing directly in front of our beach chair. It took quite a bit of back peddling to convince him that "the bird said it".

Birdie's all too short life ended one day when he was sitting on the shower rod and suddenly flew to me. Clinging to me, he died in my arms. He knew it was his time. The necropsy showed a failure of his bodily systems, most likely resulting in the overuse of antibiotics when going through the quarantine station, coupled with the antibiotic and other medications received to treat his FDB. But Birdie was a success story; he died fully feathered, and completely loved.

I tell the story of Birdie with phenomenal memories, complete happiness, and a special feeling that he was selected as my first parrot for a reason. There are no tears, only smiles for Birdie - gosh he was the best! He was a great teacher (once we got past that 'bathtub' thing...) He paved the way to place one important piece of information into my mind: it is all about the relationship.

Yes, it is about positive reinforcement, but for me and Birdie, and those parrots that followed him, it was not about trick training and vocabulary. It was about a meeting of the minds, and a relationship based upon mutual respect. It is easier to experience than to describe in the written word. Once having a relationship like that with a companion bird, it is one that is always desired for every bird that may follow.

And, perhaps Birdie came along not just to teach me, but to teach others. On many occasions we returned to the pet store; Birdie on my shoulder. The owner was frankly flabbergasted. So shocked, that she hired me to work with other birds in the store. I didn't realize until later that Birdie was an avian ambassador.

Birdie taught me everything, including what it felt like to have the snot bit out of me for the first time! Most important, Birdie taught me to follow my instincts, to not necessarily accept the advice of self-appointed experts, and above all else, to value the relationship first and foremost.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Dear Friends

It is unfortunate that I must write to tell you of a grave situation - the addition of TWO new budgies to the Fort system! I know - this is probably the first you are hearing of it, so you must be understandably shocked. I sure was!

Where do these birds come from, and how can they be stopped?!

Well, I hardly know what to say *sigh*. The birds get new toys and oodles of attention; I've been getting ear drops and coal tar baths for my 'excema'. How is that fair? Thank goodness the skin condition has not affected my beautiful, pearly white belly!

Oh, I must tell you - there is a small bit of good news! I have a new girlfriend named Jelly. Maggie May is going to be a bit disappointed to hear this, but she lives in Joi'sey, and Jelly lives right down the road. Hello!!

I've never much been one for long distance relationships anyway. Maggie May is barely allowed to go outside the back door unsupervised. In fact, when she does go out the back door, it is usually inside her mom's purse. So she probably won't be visiting anytime soon. And she never instant messages me. (I'm starting to wonder if she can type?)

Well, Ms. Jelly is quite the looker... She is a bit taller than me though (aren't they all). If she stands still, I can probably walk under her without touching her belly. But I think she may like shorter men. So far, we are just friends. Sadly, I think that is all she wants. But - it is better than nothing, right? We talk to each other across the fence.

It is her mom that gave us the vegetables recently. I think I may need to start liking vegetables so I can help eat them. Then we can go back to Jelly's house to beg for more!

(I got the brilliant idea about eating the vegetables the other night when I was laying on the couch with my head lower than my....) I get some great thoughts in this position. The blood rushing to my head...

The only problem being it can make me a little dizzy. To get me to come around, instead of using smelling salts, they pull out a snau'sage. Works every time.

I almost forgot - I was complaining about the two new chatter boxes, wasn't I? They are not as bad as the green monster. She's downright scary. I'll never forget the day that she backed me into a corner; that's all I can say. The trauma of the incident was so great, that I've never been able to speak of it publicly. It might be why I developed a skin problem! (Can that happen?)

She never laid a beak on me - but - she had a look in her eye crazier than a chow-chow at a meat market.

Oh, wait - I just had another brilliant idea (and I'm right-side up at the moment)!

I am going to approach these new budgies, and see if they (and Strider of course) want to finally form an alliance and vote Coco out of the Fort!

Now, my life has meaning again!


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Strider... Meet Bucky & Penske!

30 days of quarantine can go by slowly or quickly, depending on one's perspective. But it is worth it! Bucky and Penske continue to look like boys, happy, healthy and passing quarantine with flying colors!

Well, about the flying part....

No, they did not pass quarantine flying...

Unfortunately, they were already clipped when they came to me. Penske now has at least one flight feather on each side, but sadly Bucky still has none. It could take awhile for the flights to come in. Penske is able to fly short distances with questionable accuracy; Bucky is pretty much earth bound.

But - never fear...

The Fort Maker Extraordinaire (aka 'hubby') handicap accessed the Fort! What a guy, huh?! He spent an entire day making modifications so that Bucky and Penske would feel welcomed, comfortable and be able to maneuver well for the time being. Ladders were added, step ups to the food hut, and all the posts and toy hooks were lowered. This way, if anyone takes a dump to the ground, it won't be far to fall.

It seems that they have already discovered a new game - taking turns playing chicken. I have seen everyone play the role of both dump-or and dump-ee at least once! They are having a blast.

Poor Strider... starved for friendship and a bit short in the social graces department...

Ooh, ooh a friend!
Come here - can we talk?
Do you want me to feed you?
Preen you?
Check out this toy!
Do you want to play?
Hello - you sure are nice.
Can we play?
Right now?
This very second?
Can I sit next to you?
Do you want to preen and feed me?

He just made a total fool of himself, in a good kind of way!
Hopefully, Strider will ease up on his over anxiousness; it's almost embarrassing - he is so obvious! I've told him to try and play it cool, but he can't help himself. He is crazy over his new friends! It is a joy to watch. I've been especially pleased that, while Bucky and Penske have a relationship, they have both been paying attention to Strider. (Not like they have a choice - he is all but pushing himself on the newbies!) There is plenty of space to get away from each other, but so far they seem to always be together, often sitting on the same perch side by side. There has been non-stop playing, chattering, and fun is being had by all.
Here is a close up of the step up hubby made for the food hut.

The cutest thing is watching Bucky use it! Strider does not need it of course. Nor does Penske, but I have still seen him using it. Once everyone is fully flighted, the handicap provisions are easily reversed.

They are a delight to watch and listen to. The noise is constant, and is of the most wonderful variety. All 3 of them have such beautiful voices! It looks like we are on the way to a great friendship!

Here are the 3 musketeers playing copy-cat! (From top to bottom: Penske, Strider, Bucky.)


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer Veggies!

This is the first Tom Pouce lily of the season... isn't it just gorgeous? And the blooms are as large as they look - the size of dinner plates or more.

It was a beautiful day on Friday, and my husband was out walking Barney in the morning. A neighbor ran down her long driveway to greet him at the road. In her hand, an obviously overloaded plastic bag.

She had been tending to her garden first thing, had harvested the veggies of the day, and presented a bag saying she had more than she needed. Isn't that great?!

It's wonderful to be able to have a garden, and a green thumb, and even nicer to have a neighbor willing to share a few fresh summer garden veggies on a beautiful morning.

These days, sometimes people hardly even know their neighbors. Up here on the mountain, the houses are a bit far apart, but people know one another and have a helpful, inclusive spirit. It was refreshing to have fresh veggies and an expression of her kindness. She has seen the two of them walking on many occasions, and one day a few months ago ran down to meet Barney in person for the first time. As usual, he was thrilled to meet a new friend (no one is a stranger to him). "Is your dog always that happy?" Ummm - YES! He's just a happy, loving boy!

Check out these fabulous goodies we received - Coco already has!

She went crazy for the banana peppers, and ate the guts out of two of them already! I think banana peppers may be one of her favorites!

Of course she will be happy to receive a taste of yellow squash and some zucchini as well. In the past she has not expressed much interest in green pepper, but it is always worth a try. Tastes change over time for both birds and humans.

Tomorrow morning I will be turning the 5 cucumbers into a yummy cucumber salad flavored with some fresh dill weed. Fresh salads and herbs are a wonderful part of summer. Coco loves herbs also! She is fond of cilantro (as is her mother), and I will occasionally give her small amounts of it along with some fresh parsley.

Fresh veggies for everyone! Enjoy the weekend!


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bucky and Penske Update!

Years ago I had an amazon parrot that needed a trip to the vet. While at the vet, the bird became quite stressed, and I asked for a dixie cup of water to give a drink. The vet assured me that there was no way my bird would actually drink out of the cup, especially given the circumstances, a strange place, the stress of the visit, etc.

I felt otherwise, and thought my bird might appreciate the drink. I at least wanted to try. Finally a cup was brought to me, and my bird readily drank - right in front of the vet! (It is nice when they don't make us look foolish - as they can sometimes easily do!)

All of my birds have drank from cups when offered. Strider has already drank from one. And this week, B&P both did as well!




Then, Bucky proceeded to jump onto the edge of the cup, and do a belly flop into the water.

Ok - well, that was not quite what I expected when I offered the water - but an impromptu bath is always welcome!!!

Strider is such a beautiful singer, and I've come to discover that Bucky and Penske can hold their own in the singing department as well. I could just listen to birds singing all day long - but I find the male budgie voice particularly enchanting.

It has also been fun watching Bucky and Penske. They are VERY toy oriented. Being young, they are full of energy, and but for an occasional nap, they go from dawn to dusk, from one toy to the next, to preening or feeding one another, and experiencing all the joys of birdie-hood.

They are nearing the end of their molts, and still looking like boys. In a few months their gender will be identifiable without question, and I will rest a bit easier.

I've received a number of new readers over the last 2 weeks (thanks to each of you who visit every day or so to catch up on what is going on in Barney's World, and in Fort Coco). So for those who may not have seen it yet, I wanted to re-post the video of Bucky and Penske learning about the allure of millet!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Is That Bird Tame?

If bird owners had a nickel for each time we were asked this question, we'd have plenty of money for bird toys and vacations, right?!

Well, it depends on what you mean by 'tame'....!

Often the person is actually wondering if they can approach my bird, or enter her comfort zone, and ask for a step up or touch her. Um - that would not be a great idea.
If the ability for a stranger (or someone without a relationship with her), to enter her comfort zone and request and receive interaction, were an indicator of 'tame', then Coco would miss that mark.

Will Coco bite the snot out of someone that sticks their fingers in her face, or steps toward her with a demanding stance and barks, "step up"? Probably. If she was not able to get away, was caught off guard, or decided to stand her ground and make a point (with the pointy-end of her beak!) - see above. If she can make toothpicks out of wood... imagine...
And while I cannot be positive, many days it appears to me that she looks at my husband as if he is a piece of common, garden variety trash. And, he's been around since the moment she opened her eyes! So no - she's not too keen on interacting with those outside her "inner circle of friends". She will take treats from my husband, step up onto a dowel for him, and has never bit him. But he has been well coached in Coco-Etiquette.

Does she have a great relationship with me? Oh, yes; I think so. But even I do not approach with a commanding, barking tone. We have a mutual respect thing going. What is the saying about catching more flies with honey? I strive not to take anything for granted, and am always trying to be aware of her body language. I naturally approach her with my hands behind my back (non-threatening), which I like to think is a signal that I make no demands. I can bring good things to her if an interaction takes place (things she finds reinforcing), and the ability for her to choose to interact rests on her wings. It is the way that has worked best for our relationship.

Since she is not a performing bird, but a companion bird, I believe the mark of a good relationship for the two of us is our ability to give each other space when needed. That is another way of saying choice in interaction, type and length. This means me watching her body language, and of course I've made many posts on that topic! It really is an important part of our relationship. It is her way of telling me where she is coming from.It does take time to observe, learn, and interpret the body language I am seeing. One bird may put their foot out in front of them as a "back off" signal.. While for Coco, that means "give me whatever it is that you are holding in your hand". Each bird's body language is somewhat unique. But part of the fun of the relationship is learning what our birds are saying to us!

The video directly below is a window into our relationship; but I would caution someone visiting my home to not try this! That is, unless they wanted to earn the nickname 'Stubby'! I love watching this video; it is the best relaxation 'pill' I could take!

As companion bird owners we can find ourselves in a special position of educating the public on birds and the relationship they share with us. Many who have never been around birds simply have not had a reason to consider how a relationship with a bird is built over time, and how it may differ from that of a domesticated animal such as a dog.

Each time we have the opportunity to talk about, or demonstrate, the relationship that we have with our birds to those interested, we become valuable ambassadors in the avian world.

For anyone who is considering a bird, especially if it is the first, we can encourage a conversation on appropriate expectations. In the end, it may help reduce the likelihood of frustration or rehoming. As I mentioned in my post on expectations for interaction, a great deal is gained from setting reasonable expectations and goals.And, it is always fun to talk about how our relationships with our birds (and even their personalities) change with time, and as the bird matures.

"Hey, I'm a lot of fun - AND - I don't bite! How about a belly scratch for Mr. Congeniality?"


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fort Redecorating!

Every girl needs a change in scenery now and then, right?

A little bit of updating to the decor?

Even Fort Coco needs some spiffing up occasionally.

Nothing that a pretty little beak cannot handle...

"I don't know why these pieces have corners on them... but they are ALL going to have to go!"

And, when Coco does the redecorating in her own Fort, there are extra bonuses!

It provides:

1. Exercise
2. Enrichment
3. Beak conditioning

4. More enrichment watching her people clean up the mess!

Even better - things are done to her exacting specifications!

"I think we're making progress here...."
"Hey, mom... chop, chop with that broom and dust pan! I've only just begun making toothpicks!"


Monday, July 20, 2009

Meet Carly Lu!

On July 4, 2009, we met Nolan, the African Grey, who certainly caught the attention of a lovely young grey lady named Gothic! She even posted a sweet little hello to the Mr. Nolers!

Well now...

Does Gothic have a little competition?


Enter stage left - the beautiful, the exotic....

Ms. Carly Lu!

Carly Lu, a Congo African Grey, hails from California where she lives with her companion, Raz Rasmussen.

Carly Lu is a fun loving, free spirited gal who enjoys the California lifestyle to its fullest. While she's not much of a "toy girl", she is crazy about foraging for food.

Isn't that wonderful?! I've done a couple posts on foraging, so perhaps Carly Lu has been reading over Raz's shoulder (or reading while on Raz's shoulder)!
As we know, birds in the wild spend a great deal of time foraging for food, so her love of foraging sets a good example for other companion birds out there.

Her favorite 'meal' is sprouts, but she also loves peanut butter, unshelled almonds, blood oranges and spaghetti in marinara sauce. Of course she likes marinara sauce. After all, red is her favorite color since it matches her tail!

Raz admits that Carly Lu does have a "thing" for red haired men! Let's just say that when they take trips to the beach, she has been known to drop her mom like a red-hot potato at the sight of a red-haired surfer dude! She is such a little flirt!

Carly Lu hatched December 21, 2004. Here she is just a wee little peeper. Isn't this the sweetest - just look at that face!

As you might imagine, being an African Grey she does make a sound or two! Some of her favorites (signature sounds, if you will), are:

Nowwwww what??
Bridge Over River Kwai (tune)
Rotten Porker
How Fat You are!


I'm not sure where to go with those last two. So I better just leave them alone!

Two things that make Carly Lu unique are:

1) She has her own blog (see the link at the end of this post); and
2) The blog is about her adventures in freeflight!

Freeflight is the process of flying a bird outdoors without restraint.

As you can imagine, this is not something that one decides to do on a sunny Saturday afternoon!

Freeflight is incredibly risky and dangerous, and thus requires a great deal of commitment, knowledge, training, preparation and working with those experienced in this type of flight (a mentor).

The companion, and the bird, go through rigorous training and preparation before even contemplating the great outdoors. In fact, Carly Lu's first outdoor flights were in a harness.

It is not for everyone or every bird to be certain. Unfortunately, there are plenty of stories of folks who felt sure that their birds loved them so much that they would never fly away... and, you can guess the awful result. Our companion birds are ill-equipped to fend for themselves in the wild whether it is finding and recognizing food or avoiding many deadly predators such as hawks.
Carly Lu herself had a run in with a hawk one time resulting in being gone overnight and a talon mark in her side. So, it is serious stuff. I would equate it to climbing Mount Everest. It takes years of serious commitment, training, conditioning and preparation. Anyone who decides one afternoon to go for a hike on one of the world's tallest mountains is not likely to live to tell the story.

But Carly Lu and Raz have the commitment, resources, training, and most of all have put in the hard work resulting in the ability to free fly and some interesting stories! (Like the time when Carly Lu was not paying attention and flew into the leg of a jogger on the beach... I hate when that happens!) Wait a minute... did that man have red hair...

Oh, excuse me kind sir, I just accidentally flew into your leg!
Nowwwww what?? !!!

Carly Lu and Raz also have a great deal to offer in the way of education and insight into a realm that most of us will only read about. On their blog, they chronicle the good and the bad, the struggles and the triumphs, right along with the challenges....

And the pictures are awesome!

You will find the blog packed full of solid training advice that can be applied whether one is teaching a step up, recall in the house, or contemplating harness training a bird. It is an excellent resource for all things bird related.

Oh, before I forget - I wanted to provide links to two articles on the topic of freeflight written by professionals in the field:

Learning How Professionals at NEI Train Birds to Fly Outdoors Safely
By Deb Stambul

To Fly or Not To Fly - That is the Question
By Steve Martin

I hope you have enjoyed meeting Carly Lu and her mom Raz - readers of the Living With Parrots Cage Free blog!

For more on their adventures and the great beach photos, check out:
Carly Lu's Flight Blog.

Carly, mid-flip, eyes closed! © Hillary Hankey 2007.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Bye-Bye ME !

It's like Christmas in July!

The new computer has finally arrived!

Well, actually it is used, but it is new to me!

You will recall in my posts On Borrowed Time and The Dinosaur Computer Lives, that I outlined the travails of the now distant memory - a Windows ME system.

No - that's not a typo.... yes, I said ME... as in Millenium, as in 'blue screen of death' every two seconds! It did well at first, but the last two or three years, it has been showing its age. I've asked a lot of it, and I guess it was just getting old and tired - like me some days!

I was grateful for the opportunity to have it as long as I did, and it served me well. And it received a fitting send off on its way to that great computer heaven in the sky.

Now I am able to do a few more things with my computer that the old ME operating system would not handle. (Like open 3 programs at the same time! Woo-hoo!)

I spent the afternoon installing the operating system on the newly formatted hard drive, reconfiguring it to the way I like things, downloading software, etc. So there has not been much 'bird' time today. But I have provided some entertainment as I dismantled the old system and connected up the new system - all by myself! And as Coco mentioned in yesterday's post, apparently I can be quite entertaining! Even moreso when I am crawling around on the floor connecting cables! But, frankly I do not quite understand why she thinks I look better when she is upside down though?!

My dad is fond of saying, "even a blind squirrel will find an acorn every now and then!"

I have felt like a blind squirrel a few times throughout the afternoon! But all is well that ends well. And I only needed to take some Excedrine one time!

My good friend, Jim, was willing to delay a walk in the park with the boys, Nino and Teo, to instead walk me through a few of the confusing parts. A computer genius - I am not! That's a friend!

I am happy to report that everything is operating exactly as I intended. I have the same feeling as a year ago when we first got the internet at the house - or a kid seeing their first circus!

And, I do not miss the blue screen of death - even a little bit! Hoorah!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hang 8 Birdie Dudes!

I often find the world much more interesting from the upside-down-birdie vantage point! This is also a position where I do some of my best excessively loud vocalizations. I am not sure why, but when I am upside down, everything is just a lot more fun!

In my mom's post, Her Needs-Her Needs, she mentioned some of typical reasons I may call her (some label this screaming). I might add, that if my people were a bit quicker, and met my needs before I had to get myself worked into a tizzy, I would never need to scream, now would I?!

If I do have a need, and my dad is the only one around, he will usually do. Once he has served his usefulness, he is dismissed from my kingdom. He doesn't seem to mind; I actually get the impression he likes Barney better than me!

There are certain needs that all birds have (food, companionship, enrichment, etc.), and others that are unique to each bird. Not all birds will demand to have their curtain closed at dusk in the same manner in which I, The One and Only Diva do! There is little that annoys me quicker than having to ask for something more than twice. Ugh!

Just in the way of a reminder, here is a short list of some things that can really "get me going" in the vocalization arena if you know what I mean:

1. All my foraging areas are devoid of food.

2. It is dusk and my curtain has not been closed.

3. There is wildlife outside on MY deck. (I know they live out there, but I don't need to see it, do I?)

4. Someone is breaking one of my "Fort Rules". I cannot give you a list of them, I can simply say that when I determine one is being broken, I expect the world to stop and the situation to be corrected. Immediately.

5. I am forced to listen to Barry Manilow or some other "easy listening" music on the radio. That just really gets my feathers in a ruffle quickly! I prefer music with a bit of a 'beat' to it.

Clearly, one of my needs is simply spending time with my mom. Not getting enough of her time can lead to me having an overwhelming desire to hang upside down and scream!

Now, as has been my observation with humans, my needs also fluctuate from day to day. Some days I like direct interaction. That is, I like to step up and get a scritch, sit on my mom's shoulder, head or knee while she reads, knits or works at the computer. I even like hanging out in the bathroom while she puts bright colors on her face (although I have no clue why she does it). Things like stepping up or getting a head scritch are treats in and of themselves, but sometimes I will get a little something extra such as a taste of her dinner! Bonus!

Spending time with her also means watching the daily activities of her life from across the room. It really does add to our relationship as I observe her - and it can be simply fascinating! It is 'hanging out' time. I know she is always observing me - and she seems to think it helps her understand me better. Of course, she doesn't know that I am always watching her! (And, oh by the way - she looks a lot better when I'm upside down too!)

So, I often prefer watching those activities from Fort Coco, where I have all my food, perch areas, toys, and comfort. Especially at times when I'm not feeling in such a "touchy-feely" mood. While in the Fort, I can grab a pellet, sit back and watch the show, get a drink, change to a different perch if it provides a better view - it works well for me, I must say!

Don't get me wrong - I will perform a little behavior, that I know will be considered 'cute', because it will earn me a quick treat. A curly-toed wave or saying "Hey Moe!" will work nearly every time! This is also a form of interaction.

I like that she does not push me if I do not feel like interacting. Because hanging out is really cool and fun. Otherwise, I would have to... well, don't ask! It helps our relationship that she considers my desires and preferences, and it actually makes me want to spend more time with her rather than less. Plus, I know that when I am ready to return to my fort, she never objects.

So we've got a pretty good give-give relationship going in that respect.

Whether we are directly interacting, sharing activities such as a meal, or I am observing from across the room, I find all 3 are important aspects to our relationship.

What is best is that I can choose.
And, then I can choose something different later!

Hey, how about some birdie-safe super glue on these glasses so my upside down world could be rose-colored?!

The Diva


Friday, July 17, 2009

Her Needs, Her Needs

Around here, it is all about Coco, Strider, Bucky, and Penske, and always will be! And, I wouldn't have it any other way!

But with the recent move of the computer into the bird room, Barney has been feeling a bit 'left out'.

Actually, he's been pouting. Honestly, he really does pout!
This comes as no surprise to those who recall that his mom's side of the family are basset hounds.
So Coco has been thrilled to see me more of me. She spends a lot of time just watching what I do, and apparently typing, surfing the net and playing computer games can be quite enriching! On the other hand, Barney - not so impressed with the new set up.
To cure what ails him, I put some doggie cheeze whiz in one of the creases of his rawhide. His response?
Mommy who??? Numm-numm.... doggie cheeze whiz....

Yep - pouting was officially over!

Many years ago a relationship book came out entitled, "His Needs, Her Needs". Around Fort Coco, such a book would be titled, "Her Needs, Her Needs"! As the Diva, she holds the title of Most Important Bird in her mind.

"Mom, can you make that little bird stop copying me??!"

When she has needs, especially ones I can fulfill, I view it as my responsibility to fulfill them the best I can. The only question is - how to let me know.

Coco rarely utilizes excessively loud vocalizations. When she does, I have discovered that they serve a specific purpose.
The trick is - me determining what.

When parents bring home a new infant, it can take time before they discern the meaning of various cries. Once they do, they can tell the difference between a fussy-tired cry, a hungry cry, a diaper-dirty cry, etc. That is, the parents can tell. To someone who does not know the baby, it may all seem like - a bunch of crying.

The same has been my experience in living with my birds. While I may not be able to describe the differences between Coco's calls to someone else, when I hear them, I am usually 99% correct on the basis for the call. Even my husband can tell what she needs, most of the time, and is able to fulfill many of them.

Meeting the need means that the call ceases. No sense in continuing to ask for something that has already been provided.

A few typical reasons for Coco's calls are:

1. No food can be found in any of her foraging areas.
2. It is dusk and her curtain has not been closed.
3. There is a hawk or other bird outside within her view (or a squirrel, bear or snake).
Someone is breaking a "Fort Rule" and is somewhere they are "not supposed to be".
5. She has no music, or she has music that she does not care to hear.

She will also call when I first arrive home, and if she does not see me in a reasonable period of time (15 minutes or so), she will call more.

I like that she has the ability to alert me of a need, and also appreciate that once it is fulfilled, Fort life returns to normal.

In the instances of the examples above, her calls usually have a sense of urgency to my ears. Over the years I have learned to distinguish the slight variations in calls.

If possible, I anticipate a need, address it in advance, and avoid her request for assistance. After I discovered that she likes her curtain to be closed at dusk (why - I don't know - but her curtain, her rules)... I close it before dusk if at all possible. On the evenings I arrive home after dark, even her daddy has learned it is best to close the curtain before being asked to close it. Once closed, peace is restored to the kingdom and the world is again in proper order.

In the case of a power failure, the radio will not reset automatically. It plays static... and, well - The Diva does not care for static. Thank you very much! She will loudly alert, incessantly and without taking a breath - until some pion in the kingdom has addressed HRH's need!

Where am I going with what we often call "screaming"?

I may refer to it as excessively loud vocalizations, alerting, or calling, but no matter how you dress it up, it can be a problem if not addressed. It is usually on the list of the top two complaints of those having complaints about companion birds (the other being 'biting').

Since I live in relationship with my birds, and especially Coco (as she tends to be a bit more high maintenance than the others), I need to understand her needs before I can hope to address them. I find that her needs are reasonable and basic.

So, in the near future, I will be doing some posts on this topic - on what this 'calling stuff' looks like, how it works around Fort Coco, and how my relationship with my birds benefits me when it comes to addressing excessively loud vocalizations - the kind that can be heard across the mountain!