Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year !

Monday, December 28, 2009

No Electricity - No Christmas Lights!

I never saw this one coming. Then again, I'm not a meteorologist. I'm also not convinced that the ones who are necessarily graduated top of the class!

"Isolated patches of icy, wintery mix, but rain in most areas."


An ice storm with 60+ mph winds!

It started on a quiet Christmas Eve. Hubby and I were slated to go to church when the cold icy rain began around 7:00 pm. Sure enough - it would seem that the "isolated patches of icy, wintery mix" had somehow settled on top of our house.

Given the situation, 32 degrees and falling temperatures, we decided to remain home. Alas, I was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Awhile later while sitting at the computer, a sudden loud bang plunged us into darkness. Through the window, eerie blue arcs of light emanated from the humming transformer.

Hmmmm... (I mean hummm)... this cannot be good?!

I'm thinking we should not expect the electric to magically return anytime soon. Simultaneously, we lost the land line. Without power to run the electric well pump, there was no water.

I called the special 800 number to report power outages. Thus began night #1. We lit the oil lamp, and a few of the emergency candles. Earlier in the evening, in a moment of premonition (more than the weather man had), I raised the temperature in the bird room a bit.

At the time of the power loss, the outside temperature was 29 degrees. With the oil lamp producing a dim light, we lay in bed listening to branches crashing around. Having had a tree fall on the house once during bad weather, neither of us was about to fall asleep so fast.

The wind howled through the trees, and we began 'reminiscing' about our 1992 Hurricane Andrew experience in Miami. When a stiff wind blows, I cannot help but feel some of the same anxieties that I experienced during that awful, devastating storm.

The temperature in the bedroom fell slowly overnight. We have a fireplace, but it is worthless as it sucks all the warm air out of the house and replaces it with cold air from outside. It only warms whatever is 3 inches from the hearth.

We broke out the extra blankets and hunkered down under the warmth of the covers falling asleep around 3:30 am. Christmas morning, we woke up to an 1/8 inch ice that melted fairly quickly. But the wind had knocked down trees and made a huge mess of the landscape. We were not surprised the power was still off. The biggest holiday of the year, and some who had lost their power the previous week in the snow storm had still not been restored! We weren't expecting to see a truck pull in the driveway.

We have 3 weeks stored water for drinking and flushing, at least 3 months of food and a coleman propane camping stove. The camping stove cannot be used for a heating source as it is not safe around the birds. But - it serves a critical function: coffee!

Hubby made coffee for Christmas morning while I checked the bird room for the first time. 54 degrees. Better than I had expected. The birds greeted me with their usual chirps and activity. All seemed completely normal for them. As you know, I keep the bird room temperature between 60 and 65 in the winter. With them being acclimated to these temperatures, 54 degrees was not a substantial drop. The question is - when will it come back on, how cold will it get, and weighing the stress of packing them up and moving them against the cooler temperatures.45 degrees was the number in my mind. There's no magic to that number - it was just the number I've always had in my mind as the bottom line - given their acclimation to cooler temperatures, it being a short duration, and in a completely draft-free room. But I've never had to test that theory. Unfortunately, the sun refused to show its face on Christmas, and the room only warmed to 52 degrees.

I called the electric company a second time, as they have a recording that provides 'updates'.

Computer: We are aware of the outage in your area. We do not know what has caused it. We have no estimate for restoration time. (Should I call them to tell them that it was caused by the ice storm and wind the previous night?) Well, they are the professionals...

But... about Barney and his issues! You knew this was coming!

Have you ever heard a dog's teeth chatter? He is apparently not a cold weather dog or much for camping adventures. If we expected him to keep us warm, we would have to quickly move to Plan B. He jumped in momma's lap and pretty much remained glued to me until his ordeal came to an end! I gave him a 100% wool sweater I made but inadvertently shrunk... I think he loved it!

(Did I just hear her say I loved this? Do I look like I'm loving this tacky autumn design? Thank goodness they didn't make me wear it out in public when we went for our morning and evening walks!)

Christmas day wore on... and on.... Hubby wasn't interested in playin' scrabble with me (obviously, he knows I would beat him... again)...

The second night, the bird room fell to 48 degrees and our bedroom fell to 45 degrees. Again, no signs of stress in the birds. They didn't miss a beat. They chirped away happily and were extremely active while Barney whined and fretted! My poor little baby... momma spent a lot of time cuddling with him in the bed under about 16 blankets... fortunately, hubby got a 'snuggie' for Christmas from my sister, and it kept me and Barney very warm! :D

The day after Christmas - still no power. I was relieved that the birds have been acclimated to lower temperatures. Had they been accustomed to temperatures in the 70's, I would have had to be concerned about a drastic drop in temperature. However, I still had to keep an eye on the thermometer, an eye on them, and somehow be prepared to make a decision if I should carry on or pack them up. Which would be more stressful? We were now 2 days into them pretty much remaining at 50 degrees round the clock. My inconvenience and discomfort was nothing compared to my concern for them. And I had to limit my trips into their room during this time so as not to let any warmth out into the cold hallway.

I did have a couple of fall back plans to consider before packing them up and moving them to a friend's house. The budgies would probably not be terribly affected by that, but Coco would be quite affected. Making hot water bottles out of mason jars was possible, but impractical given how quickly they would cool at the low temperatures. More practical would be using sheets to build a fairly large make-shift 'tent' in the bird room in which we could all sit in and our body warmth would increase the temperature in that area. This would not require moving them into travel cages but simply tenting off their forts and hubby, Barney and I moving in with them.

Another option I considered was placing them in travel cages and using the mitten warmers (little packets that produce heat once opened) inside towels packed at the bottoms and around the sides and tops of their carriers. Those packets produce warmth for 8 to 10 hours. It was my theory that a number of these wrapped and placed around the cages and inside our large tent was certainly an option.

Mid-day on Sunday the troops arrived!

How many trucks does it take to restore power to the mountain top home? Three trucks and lots of men!

The third truck was the biggest one of all!

I think I may be in love with that stranger up on the electric pole!

Those are the prettiest hard hats I've ever seen!

Aahhh... heat!

The birds did not miss a beat the entire time and I was so proud of them. They ate, played, flew, chirped (and yes, screamed) to their hearts content!

However, the outdoor temperatures did not fall below the mid 20's. I had a couple of fall back plans, and this time there was the ability to get them off the mountain. That may not always be the case.

So - we made the decision that a small generator capable of running a heater for them and a light or two would be a wise investment. I'll sleep better knowing we have that in place....

You have your own generator, Coco?
Have I told you how lovely you look in green today ? !


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone !

To each of you:

From Barney, Coco, Strider, Bucky, Penske, and the Fort-Maker Extraordinaire, a very Merry Christmas, and an exceptionally healthy and blessed new year!

I would especially like to thank all of you for helping me with my blog this year. Your supportive words of encouragement, comments, and daily visits mean a great deal to me.

Many of you are also personal friends, and it is an honor to have each of you in my life.

Those of you who have contacted me by email about your birds throughout the year - it has been a pleasure to be able to assist you in small ways as you work to become the best possible companion to your feathered friends. Seeing those relationships grow brings me immense joy.

I feel a sense of community with you all. We've had many laughs, and unfortunately a few tears this year. But through it all, I've made many new, great friends. I've enjoyed getting to know your birds, and hope that you have enjoyed meeting one another's fids as well!

Blessings and peace to you and your families,
Robin Cherkas


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Finder's Keepers...

I was minding my own business when...


Monday, December 21, 2009

Meet Nino and Teo !

As you know, Coco lives a cage-free existence in Fort Coco, an amazing space designed by master-fort maker (hubby) whom she nicknames "the one I love to hate".

(Oh, and she also calls him "Mo". She also calls him "bye-bye", and she also calls him "go away"! Clever nicknames, huh?!)

Fortunately, she is not unique in her style of living. It is shared by two friends who also live cage-free and forage for their daily food.

Meet Nino (blue and gold macaw), Teo (greenwing macaw), and their companion, Jim.

All three are regular readers of the Living With Parrots Cage Free Blog!
They can often be seen at the local park in the afternoon.

While at home, Nino and Teo have their own bird room. Yet, they certainly know how to pull their weight around the house!

They help with the laundry:

They make beds:

And they even dust!
(That IS what they're doing up there, right?) !

(NOTE: All work-related activities have been approved by the BLU [Birdie Labor Union], and their nut cups have been filled commensurately)!

When it is time for some privacy, a BLU required lunch break or bed time, the boys hang out in their own Fort-Macaw:

That is, when they're not watching the neighbors:

Beautiful, happy birds, living cage-free with their companion.

Like Coco, they have learned what to chew on and what not to chew on!


(Hey, buddy - just remember, that's my chin, not an almond!)

I hope you enjoyed meeting Nino, Teo
and their pet human!


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Snow Plow Arrived-Sort Of

One side of the road has been cleared by a neighbor. We still haven't seen the county plow:

Someone forgot to mention we need to get out of the driveway too!

The campsite (as always) is truly beautiful:
Can you see the house way up at the top of the 'hill'?
Hmmm... what is that black blob down there in the snow?

A baby bear?

Let's get a closer look:

Let's hope it's not a huge bear-poo! Ok, just a little closer:
Oh, boy... that's what happens when you don't stay on the right side of the road...
I'm thinking two cars were tryin' to share the road (the way they suggest cars share with bicycles...)

Anyone need a slightly used Honda bumper cowling?
Good price! Five dah'lahs!

Goin' once, goin' twice...

Hey - buddy: There are a lot of curves between here and the bottom of the mountain! I hope you don't meet anyone on one of them...
Was that your bumper, buddy?

Well, I'm not goin' down the mountain 'till they clear both sides!

I hope you enjoyed the pictures!


Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's Going On ?

... Hey! Who changed my view from green to white??

... My mom is always wanting to "change" things....

... At least my cubby is where it belongs! Squawk !!!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Punishment Part I

A week ago we started a new discussion on the topic of punishment and launched a survey question:

A covered bird stops screaming. What method changed the behavior?

A. Positive Reinforcement
B. Negative Punishment
C. Negative Reinforcement
D. Positive Punishment

7 of you answered the poll, with the following results:
1 selected Positive Reinforcement1 selected Negative Punishment5 selected Positive Punishment

In the form of a refresher:

Positive punishment occurs when something aversive is presented to a learner, and it results in a behavior decreasing in frequency.

Recall that an aversive is something a learner will work to avoid.
Aversives/punishers and reinforcers are changeable, situational and personal.
There are 2 types of punishment:
1) Positive Punishment
2) Negative Punishment

In terms of the science of behavior, the word 'positive' does not mean 'good'. Likewise, the word 'negative' does not mean 'bad'. In other words, 'Positive' punishment does not mean 'good' punishment, and likewise 'Negative' punishment does not mean 'bad' punishment.

'Positive' means to add something;
'Negative' means to remove something.

Positive punishment (as already defined above) is when something is added or presented to the bird, that it finds aversive, and it results in a decrease in the frequency of a behavior.

Likewise, Negative Punishment occurs when a positive reinforcer is removed and it results in a decrease in the frequency of a behavior. Using negative punishment can serve to create great frustration in a bird. It could be viewed as a brief time out from something the bird finds reinforcing. But if used, it should be managed carefully, sparingly, and exceptionally briefly (as in seconds).

I kept the poll question basic, so let's take a look a bit deeper.
The order of the poll responses was not random; they were listed in order of the least obtrusive method of behavior change, to the most obtrusive method of behavior change (most likely to have a detrimental affect on the relationship between bird and companion).

A. Positive Reinforcement
B. Negative Punishment
C. Negative Reinforcement
D. Positive Punishment

One might think that negative punishment (because of the word "punishment") would be "worse" than the use of negative reinforcement when working to change behavior. This is another reason it is important to know the hierarchy, understand the behavior terms, and be aware of the effect they are likely to have on the relationship with a bird.

A possible scenario:
A bird is screaming.
The companion walks into the room and covers the cage.
The bird screams less.

What method was used to change the behavior?

We see something being added or presented (the cover), and a decrease in a behavior (screaming). Therefore, in this particular scenario, behavior change was accomplished through Positive Punishment.

Eventually, the mere sight of the companion grabbing or carrying the cover during the day, while the bird is screaming, may result in a response from the bird. However, that same cover being used at night could be neutral or reinforcing. (Thus the Changeability of Reinforcers/Punishers post I linked to above).

While one might say "my bird isn't afraid of the cover, or doesn't find the cover aversive, because he doesn't mind being covered at night", we need only look at the decrease in the behavior to determine that in a specific situation the cover is aversive. Whereas in a different situation, it may not. We all experience the changeability of reinforcers and punishers when a ringing phone is exciting if we are waiting for a call from a someone we love, and annoying when a telemarketer calls during our nap. It is not about the phone, but what happens when we answer it/the situation involving its ringing. Likewise, it is not the cover, but what the bird has learned happens when...

Consider this: What if a bird were screaming and the owner used their hand to bang on the cage? If this resulted in the bird screaming less, it would be an example of positive punishment. What experience would the bird receive in conjunction with the hand pounding on the cage? After a number of these experiences, what might the bird have learned to expect when it sees the companion and the hand coming toward the cage?

A discussion of this topic, however, would not be complete without writing about other available options for addressing the screaming bird. That is, options other than covering the bird, screaming back, squirting with water, or banging the side of the cage with the hand. Any of these, if resulting in a decrease in the screaming behavior, would be examples of positive punishment.

Stay tuned - obviously, from the picture below (taken at 2:30 today), I won't be going anywhere! Since this picture was taken, we have received several more inches, a total of 11 inches so far!


The Snow is Piling Up !

The snow is piling up! And, I am working on writing a post to respond to the survey question. If you have not yet voted - there is still time! Go to the bottom of this posts just below the comment section, read the question and cast your vote!


Snow Day !

Double good news - a day off, and I will be answering the survey question!

Check back throughout the day; I'll post pictures as the storm develops. The area is slated to received 6 to 15 inches of wet, heavy snow... more for us since we are above 3,000 feet.

And be sure to check back later today for the post later on examples of punishment and our alternatives!

9:00 am - Friday morning:


Monday, December 14, 2009

It Won't Be Long Now !


Friday, December 11, 2009

Do you Punish your Bird?

Nino (left); Teo (right)
The guy that does their bidding in the center ... (Jim)

If someone were to ask us the question,

"Do you punish your bird?"

Most of us would quickly, and firmly, respond absolutely not!

(...what good would it do, anyway, to take away the bird's allowance, tell them they cannot have any of their birdie friends over to play, and even say no more tv until they behave? !! )

Of course, when we speak of punishment in terms of behavior, it means something quite different than the impression we may have brought out of childhood or life experiences.
When it comes to living with, and relating to, our birds, and especially when working to train or change behaviors, it is important to have a solid understanding of all behavioral terms.

Specifically, what is the definition of punishment in behavioral terms, and what effect does it have on a relationship between human and animal?

First, what is punishment?
Positive punishment occurs when something aversive is presented to a learner, and it results in a behavior decreasing in frequency.

There are 2 types of punishment:
1) Positive Punishment
2) Negative Punishment
A potential dichotomy exists between behavior terms and life experience. If someone were to ask "which is 'better', positive punishment, or negative punishment," many may eagerly choose positive punishment as "better", simply because it contains the word 'positive'!

However, in terms of behavior and the science of applied behavioral analysis, the word 'positive' does not mean 'good'. Likewise, the word 'negative' does not mean 'bad'.
'Positive' punishment does not mean 'good' punishment;
'Negative' punishment does not mean 'bad' punishment!
Recalling from previous blog posts:

An aversive is something a learner will work to avoid.
Thus, the definition of positive punishment can be rephrased to further clarify:
Positive punishment occurs when a learner is presented with something it will work to avoid, and that results in a behavior decreasing in frequency.

Stick around; over the next few posts I am going to write more on the topic of punishment.

  • Are there any real world alternatives?
  • How do they work?
  • How do we assess and analyze the behavior, and create a plan to change it?
Important questions and an important topic that greatly affects the relationship we share with our birds and the enjoyment of companionship.

In the meantime, try your hand at answering the question below the comment section on this page!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Bathing

I just have one quick, simple question:

Should I be required to winter-bathe?

And if so, to what end? Take my word for it - I smell as fresh as a daisy!
Yet, these people make such a fuss over this bathing thing.

And even go as far as to change my pillow cases and sheets! (The ones located on the bed that I allow them to share with me.)
Let me tell you, it has been downright cold here!

When I get a bath, I purposely chatter my teeth, very loudly, in order to make a point. Yet, how slow they seem to be catching on. Like, not at all.

However, the side benefit of teeth chattering is that my dad sits with me on the bed and cuddles to "keep me warm" while I am drying.


He has no idea that I'm not really that cold!

Well, I'm a little cold.... and wet...

(And simply humiliated that I smell like a cheap bottle of toilet water....)

The other day when I least suspected it, and thought he was picking up the leash for us to take our morning walk, instead my dad walked me right down the hall and into that bathroom. I would post a picture, but my mom wasn't home. She was at a place called work. Now, had dad tried to take me, the leash and the camera, I surely could have dumped his skinny butt in the tub, taken that camera away from him and ran off with Jelly (the cute little girl doggie). Every time we walk past her fence and I see her brown fur gleaming in the sunlight, I...


What do you want to bet that Jelly isn't subjected to winter bathing?

See, if the birds don't want to take a bath... guess what? They don't have to! They get to do this thing called choice and empowerment. They get to choose if they feel they need a bath.

How's this: I choose no baths ever, and freshly cooked bacon for my breakfast each day!

Oh, and a professional pillow-fluffer?

Mandatory 30 minutes of belly rubs a night!
So, I'm not really asking much of you all - my friends - out there in blog world.. I simply need someone to tell me exactly how to shut off the water in the house! Perfect solution!
I have all my own tools, but dang-it-all if they haven't hidden the ladder from me!


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Budgie-Boys Eating Big

The Budgie-Boys did not disappoint...
They were quick to taste their share of the Birdie Crock Pot Surprise!
Strider on the left, and Bucky on the right

Penske was actually my best little eater...
and orange is his favorite color!

After filling two ice cube trays for Coco...

It was time to prepare the Budgie-Boys pureed mix:

And freeze in 1/2 cubes:

How much is left for Steve?
Just enough for a small taste!

I couldn't be more pleased that the Birdie Crock Pot Surprise was a hit for birdies big and small!