Sunday, September 13, 2009

Update on Coco

Awhile back, someone made a comment on one of my posts, where I had referenced the challenges I have had with Coco over the years, and indicated she would like to hear more about those challenges. Well, Coco is presently giving me one of those challenges, so I thought now would be a good time to write about it!

She is an amazon parrot, and they are known to be tricky to handle shall we say. Despite her being a yellow front amazon (generally thought to be less volatile in personality and hormones than the yellow nape, double yellow head or blue front), and despite being hand raised by me from the age of 3 weeks, and despite being a female which are usually a bit easier than the males, she's still challenging, spunky and predictably unpredictable. She always keeps me on my toes, and reminds me that watching body language is where it is at. Failure to do so can result in a bite if one is not careful. Since I've handled amazons for 30 years, I know the drill, and enjoy the challenge.

I must accept that she will have days where she doesn't want to be bothered with anyone, including me. I give her what she wants - space - in addition to carefully observing her body language. At these times, often body language comes quickly and in the twinkling of an eye; failure to react accordingly could result in a bite. If I sense she is on edge, I will give her opportunities to gain a treat for a little 'trick' such as a wave, moving from one perch to another, etc., and I have no hands on contact. Just some simple, straight forward interactions. Even her clamoring to step up on me can be what she wants one minute, but if they next minute she is on me and changes her mind, I could become the rod for her lightning. So I must be careful to give her a wide berth.

Coco's first challenge came when she was 3 years old. She went through what we loosely call puberty. It is hard to quantify it, but she was not herself for a number of months. This also occurred during a move, and thus there were many changes during this time.

The subsequent years have brought me a more mellow Coco. She still has her moments of over excitement (she is an amazon after all), and I still have to watch her body language like a hawk. She experiences what is called 'amazon overload', where due to hormones, excitement or both, the bird becomes too excited and has a tendency to be out of control for lack of a better word. When a parrot is in overload, and especially amazon overload, the advice is to step away. Far away. Unless you want a free piercing.

An amazon in full overload may actually stalk, hunt and chase someone attempting to spar them like a rooster. A few moments later, they could act like nothing ever happened.

Around the end of January, early February of this year, Coco began going through another 'transition' shall we call it. It has all the trappings of hormonal issues. I am not one to like to blame everything on hormones. And even if it is hormones, we still need to maintain our positive reinforcement techniques and do the other routine things that she is accustomed. However, hormones do play a part in all of our lives, humans or birds. But we cannot conclude that all the ills and behavioral issues have an etiology in hormones. However, during a hormonal period, relationships and behaviors can be strengthened or broken. It is a time for caution.

She has had a hair-trigger excitement level, is beating the living daylights out of her toys, sometimes 10 minutes at a time, she has not wanted interaction with me for the most part, she has had a seeming chip on her wing - just not herself again. It has been a long year for us.

The important thing will be to keep our relationship intact during this, so that the strain of this time has the least affect on the relationship as possible. This means me giving her the broadest distance, and keeping my eyes open at all times.

Depending on what you read, amazon parrots can deal with sexual maturity and related issues between the ages of 2 and 12. Coco just turned 13 in May, although she may have failed to read the book to know that she is supposed to be ok now! Silly me!

She is now going through her second molt of the year... oi - I need a new vacuum! She is eating everything that is not nailed down (her food intake tripling over the past several weeks), and she is shredding everything that is not food-worthy. You will note that several months ago I wrote about her redecorating her fort - that continues - and then a week or so ago I showed a picture of the egg crate she shredded. She has gone through two of those in the past week or so.

So, since I've been dealing with this behavior off and on since February, I thought it was time to reach out and ask the expert a few questions. I have someone that I go to when I need expert advice on my amazon parrot or amazons in general. Someone I trust and have the highest respect for - a woman whom I feel knows the amazon species as best as is possible for any of us. She has a troop of performing amazons (a brave woman, no doubt!).

This is the second time in 13 years I have had to reach out to her with a question on Coco, and she has immediately and graciously responded both times. I really wanted to confirm whether what I have been seeing off and on since February is in fact hormonal behavior, and what, if anything, I need to do differently. I don't want to use hormones as an excuse if there is something I need to change in my interaction or training with her.

This expert of all experts in my book is Joanie Doss. She also has excellent books on body language, as you know a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I highly recommend any of her books, especially on body language.

I wrote a lengthy description of Coco's behavior and experiences since February. Joanie confirmed my suspicions. Her opening sentence in response to my email was:

Your bird is definitely showing signs of hormonal behavior.
This behavior can be year long if your environment is right.
She should be getting 14 hours of darkness and cool evening

Her response was quite lengthy, and I won't bore you with all of it (amazon owner talk - commiserating as we do and understanding that there are some unique challenges with amazons as well as unique joys). But the most important point: my bad - she has NOT been getting 14 hours of darkness. The cool evening temperatures I have little control over (although each evening gets a little cooler). But as you recall I recently moved the computer into the bird room, so I could spend more time in there, and some nights I stay up later than I should. So the past couple of months, her darkness schedule has been about as consistent as mine - not. So that is one thing I have changed right away.

Joanie also made another excellent suggestion, which I can pass along to all of you whether a bird is having a direct problem or not. She suggested I keep a daily journal of all of her activities - food consumption types and amount, chewing wood type activities, hours of darkness, general behavior, attitude, etc. etc. This I have also begun doing.

These are things I knew to do, but at times it takes an outside person to remind us of what we already know - we know that our birds need at least 8 hours of darkness, and more if hormonal, of uninterrupted quiet sleep. We know that journaling their activities, training progress, etc. can be quite useful. But I had forgotten what I know, and it was really nice to have this gentle reminder that I need to get back to basics with her. I need to break the cycle of hormones, and finish out this period of puberty (or whatever it is), with a positive relationship between me and Coco!

Now, the only bit of a disappointment is that Joanie shared that she has a 22 year old amazon that still experiences periods of difficult hormones that can last for several months.... hmmm.... didn't want to hear that! She believes some birds just seem to handle their hormones a bit easier than others. But since the last 10 years with Coco have been good, I am going to bank on this being a difficult year - a last hooray before she returns to her old, spunky and only slightly unpredictable self! Although I know that she will always have an amazon-edge to her.

It is always great to write about the wonderful things our birds do, and how well training is going, and how wonderful it is to be their companion. And, that it is! But since this blog is about 'living with birds', I know I am not the only one who has birds that go through challenging times. No different than if a puppy starts chewing on a piece of furniture, or has a set back in house training... we still love them, but they can present a few frustrations in between! It is frustrating, it can be hard to remain consistent in our training techniques, keep a positive attitude, and on top of it all, remain hopeful and patient. What is most encouraging is that I know that positive reinforcement works, and that I have laid a foundation of it for Coco. Since I know that this type of challenge passed once in her life at age 3, this time it too shall pass. (Although, I would have liked it to have passed a bit quicker than it has!)

These are the places the rubber meets the road in bird companionship. Now, who would think that this pretty littl' princess could be a handful, huh? Wow! :D



Arlene said...

Wow. I would never have guessed. Not Coco. In a really bad state she can actually hunt and chase you down?
Robin, there's so much to learn about these birds. The saddest thing of all is uneducated owners getting one and not having a clue on how to handle or raise it. So we know what happens next. :(
Sounds like you're on the right track with her.
You must have the patience of a saint. :)

Robin said...

Yes, she like any other amazon can chase after someone if they get worked up enough! Despite their medium size, on overload, they are quite bold! lol!

Robin said...

I will add - there is much that can be done to avoid overload from occurring, and this is not common place for Coco. But it is something I am aware of, and when I see signs of overload impending, I change my behavior, and much more, to diffuse the situation. But when in a hormonal state, over excitement, and leading to overload, can occur more quickly.

LunarLass said...

Thanks for the post Robin, it was interesting to hear about your more challenging experiences. My poor budgie, Luna, had giardia about a month ago, and we had to shang-hai her with a towel for two weeks to give her started bad and got worse trying to get the meds in her. Now her trust in us is totally broken, but we will love her regardless of whether or not she shows affection to us. Luna is not an amazon parot, but she's definitely a budgie with a grudgie and has her share of attitude. Good to know I'm not alone in dealing with an unpredictable birdie!

Robin said...

A budgie with a grudgie - I have never heard that, but what a cute phrase! It really captures the essence of what you have been experiencing!

Yes, I think most all of us can relate to similar challenges. In my case, it is my trust with Coco that has broken down moreso than her trust with me. But whichever direction, we know that we bird owners are not alone in our joys and challenges. :)

I hope your little lass is back to herself soon!

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