Friday, January 29, 2010

Preparation for the Next Storm

winter.gif image by akapody

The storm we've been hearing about for the last couple of days has now begun entering our area! It arrived around 2:30 pm this afternoon, and at present (4:00 pm) we are working on 2 inches of snow. It is expected to snow for 24 hours. It is a very wet snow, and it is anticipated that ice, sleet and or freezing rain (I'm not entirely sure why they distinguish between the three) will be around as well.

Good news - The generator has been hooked up, tested, and operates as expected! Yeah!!!

It is an All Power brand generator (considered a mid-sized unit), pulling 3,500 watts at start up and 3,000 watts continuous. It puts out 25 amps, has a 6.5 horsepower engine., and according to specs, runs 10 hours on 4 gallons of gas.

While power outages are predicted for this storm, now that we are set up to go with a generator, in excess of 40 gallons of water, 4 months of food and a Coleman camping stove with extra propane cannisters (not to mention my snuggie that my sister gave to my husband for Christmas), I can pretty much guarantee there will be no interruption in power!

The nearly 4 day power outage we experienced in December is not something I would like to repeat, but I learned a great deal. The birds came through with flying colors, and we are even more prepared this time around. There is great peace in being self-sustaining. It leaves me able to fully enjoy the beauty of the snow covered mountain top, perhaps a long weekend if the roads are impassable Monday morning (fingers crossed...), some extra time with the birds and plenty of knitting!Did I mention that I finished the kimono jacket I wrote about in the post: Another Old Coco Sign? I'm very pleased with it. It is very warm and cozy!

But - back to the more important topic, the birds! I have noticed over the past couple of weeks that Coco's appetite has significantly increased. It has only begun leveling off the last 2 days. Over Sammy's 28 years with me, he also experienced routine appetite fluctuations. It was his pattern to gain in the winter and lose in the summer (sound familiar?).

This is one reason it is beneficial to know the average weight of our birds as well as their customary patterns. When I weigh the birds, I like to do it first thing in the morning before a meal. However, the time of day is not as important as it is that when comparing weights, we are comparing those taken at the same time of day. I would not want to compare an evening weight to a morning weight for example. There can be quite a discrepancy. So we want to compare apples to apples when taking weights.

Often we can tell when a bird steps up if they have just had a good meal. But since many illnesses begin with weight loss, depending upon 'feel' is not always the best way to go. Birds can fluff up and appear larger and heavier than they are, and by the time we might notice it, much time could have passed.

In my blog post Instinct to Hide Illness, I wrote about the dichotomy between a symptom or behavior meaning something or perhaps meaning nothing. It can leave a companion quite confused. A bird with its eyes closed may be ill or napping. A bird with a decreased appetite may be ill or in a normal cycle of increased/decreased food intake. In the instance where we can obtain hard facts, such as a weight, we are in a better position to make decisions. Check with your avian veterinarian to find out what she considers an acceptable weight fluctuation in your particular bird, and at what point she would advise that you bring a bird in for a check if it has lost a certrain percentage of weight.

The importance of knowing our bird and its patterns are key. I was aware that Sammy's appetite increased and decreased seasonally, and this allowed me to relax when it occurred. The same is true for Coco. I notice when she is pigging out, and I notice when she seems to eat sparingly. Neither concerns me greatly... I just make a mental note similar to noting a molt has begun or ended. It is all within a range and spectrum that has been established for her during the nearly 14 years of her life. If she were to refuse to eat for even 1/2 of a day, let alone an entire day, this would be cause for great alarm to me. That is not her pattern, and would immediately get my attention.
She is not one to miss a meal!
The budgie-boys, on the other hand, have not yet shown noticeable fluctuations in food intake. They get a great deal of exercise in Fort Str'ammy, and they eat accordingly!

All my birds have access to food 24-7, and none are overweight. I do not measure their food. However, I have discovered over the years that an abundance of available food seems to breed (in most of my birds) a "caution to the wind" mentality where food is less valuable and more likely to be wasted. I will put out food more often during the day but in smaller quantities so as not to encourage waste.

The budgie-boys are like hummingbirds, always flitting to and fro and expending a great deal of energy. The quantity of food they consume is commensurate with their activity level. The beans and grains they receive every few days adds important carbohydrates and protein to provide additional high quality energy and nutrition.
Since the storm is on the way - I'm making a fresh pot of beans and grains! Maybe this time there will be some left for hubby! (maybe....)

The snow from the last storm had melted, but the world is white once again!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Quarantining (Again)

soapbox.gif soap box image by akapody

I believe I'm preaching to the choir when I talk about how absolutely essential quarantine is. Yet, I continue to be so disappointed to read posts on bird boards from people obtaining birds from anywhere (most especially pet stores), and immediately introducing them to their existing flock.

The rationalization for this? (As if there were one...)

These deem themselves able to identify not just a sick bird (one laying on its back at the bottom of a cage), but also to determine when a bird is healthy and 100% disease free! Now, this is an amazing skill. So read on. Those with this skill have a number of possible career paths before them.

For these who are seemingly able to simply look at a bird and tell it is healthy, or who further state they will "certainly keep an eye on it and take it to the vet at the first signs of illness", the sky is the limit to the amount of money that can be made in a few different careers.

For example, these folks can work at one of the many quarantine stations in countries around the world! Any one of them would be thrilled to employ one of such great talent, and gladly pay a pretty penny for the skill. Imagine the time and money these countries could save with this person at a desk all day long simply giving the ol' thumbs-up or thumbs-down as animals were paraded past them? A few coffee breaks, and they could still have 100 or more birds file past their desk each day. I know that you might point out they are not avian veterinarians, or any kind of veterinarian, but their ability to spot a healthy bird when they see one will really help out the worldwide quarantine stations. After all, they'd know if a bird was sick... and they are able to pick a healthy bird out of a crowd to take home to their personal flock. Bird owners around the world would be fortunate to have such a person responsible for assuring that only healthy, disease free animals are permitted into the respective countries.

No need to wonder if the bird was harboring a disease that would come out during the stress of moving to a new home. No need to worry if the bird carried psittacosis but had not yet developed symptoms. No need to be concerned that the bird was a carrier of any disease!

Oh, and another career opportunity would be working in a vet's office. How much money could be saved performing silly blood tests, fecal tests or other swabs? No need for any of that...

As long as the person had a thumb that was capable of moving up and down, no other office supplies would be needed. No tests, and they certainly wouldn't even take up much space in the vet's office. What a time and money saver!

Surely I jest?

Not when the life of a flock (or a single bird) is at stake. I will take the possible scraping to my knees that might occur if I fall off my soap box. My knees will heal. An entire flock becoming infected, suffering, not to mention the medical expense because someone played roulette? It isn't like we cannot point to documented case after documented case of pet store birds being infected with everything from mites to psittacosis to avian gastric yeast and more.

We acknowledge that it is impossible to look at a human and determine if they are infected with the swine flu, TB or many, many other diseases. Oh, if it were that easy, the swine flu and other such communicable diseases would not be so easily spread. We'd see someone coming down the aisle toward us in the grocery store, and know to turn the other way and run and thereby completely avoid getting the flu. We acknowledge that the period of time when a human is contagious is often the period of time when they are symptom free. But we do not apply the same logic to others of the animal kingdom?

Instead, there are those fortunate few who simply have the amazing ability to pick out a healthy bird and thus quarantine is unnecessary.

If we don't care about the health of our flocks, what about the pain and money that will be incurred if illness sets in? And the sadness and guilt if God-forbid a death occurs?

I really simply do not understand, and I never will.. It upsets me every time I read such an account (although I'm sure I hide it well)...

Oh, sorry - got to go... time for my blood pressure pill!!!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I'm So Proud of Her

I'm so proud of her (my human companion)! She has finally shown a few signs of "getting it"!

For example, if I don't like food that is offered me, I throw it down. Give it to me a second time, I throw the food AND the bowl or toys, or a fit. Or, all three.

She has been admittedly slow about picking up on these signals. Thirteen years... and she will still ask, "what's wrong, don't you like that?"

If I liked it, would I spit it out?

Or, she will say, "aren't you hungry?"

I could be hungry, but I'm not desperate!

I like my peppers raw - not dried, I prefer walnuts over almonds, and if she won't eat brussel sprouts, I don't know what would possess her to give them to me!

However, recently, she has shown signs of great promise in the area of learning to dispense treats more to my liking. Sometimes she is so slow...

Since I would like to see and encourage more of this type of behavior in her, I've decided it might be appropriate to mark the occasion of her progress with a little ceremony. Something to let her know she has moved in the right direction.

So, I'm going to present her with this diploma tonight!
I'm not an owl, but I look pretty smart in my outfit, yes? !

Wish me luck on her continued training!


Monday, January 18, 2010

A New Behavior for Coco

Friday's post contained a video showing Coco raising her foot when she was ready to receive a treat. She does not receive a treat until she signals me that she is ready. Then I reach for the next treat. Or, I may ask her to "shake", say a word, or some other behavior or interaction.

Sunday, she surprised me with a new behavior. She raised her foot for the first treat, but left it up in the air while she was eating. When she finished the treat, she just looked at me... foot still up in the air...

I gave her another treat, and her foot remained in the air. So I pulled out a new treat and presented it to her while she was still eating. She finished eating the treat in due course, and then took the new one from me. Her foot continued to remain up in the air! This is a new behavior for her.

I got the distinct impression that she wanted those treats to come at a steady (or perhaps quicker) rate since she continued to hold her foot up. This went on for about 2-3 minutes while we were interacting and the behavior was repeated on two separate occasions. If I am able to catch it on video, I will upload it - I think you will enjoy seeing this new behavior!

Now, who has who trained - really!


Friday, January 15, 2010

The Budgie Boys and Coco on Video

A little video (*beaming*) of the budgie boys and Coco... I hope you enjoy it!

You'll see Strider taking sips of water (something many think budgies won't do), and the new arrangement of Fort Coco.

(Oh - and you might want to turn down the volume toward the end.)

Coco has a great time saying "weekie-weekie-weekie", "scooby-doobie-doo", lots of "hello's", and she even demonstrates her excessively loud vocalizations! She's my girl!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Behavior Predictability

I had an interesting experience this evening....

Upon arriving home from work, I began my usual business of cleaning the budgie fort. However, I was not wearing my glasses.

(It would have been nice to have them on, and I cannot see close up without them, but I didn't feel like going to get them.)

Ok - yes I resent needing glasses. All my life I've been blind as a bat at a distance. The thing about aging is that not only am I still blind as a bat from a distance, but now I am also equally blind close up. Did any of us, before reaching this age, ever think that we would be standing in line to get a pair of bifocals that only "old people" used to wear?

Back to the budgie fort cleaning... sans glasses...

There I was with my entire upper body inside the fort, cleaning, sweeping, moving dishes, and making my share of noise. I assumed the budgies were at the opposite end since no one had flown past my face, landed on my head, or chewed on my shirt.

Suddenly something caught my attention from the corner of my good, blind eye....

As I was leaning over sweeping the floor, it was then that I realized Strider was on his swing - - about 4 inches from my face! It took me quite by surprise, as he sat calmly looking at me (perhaps wondering how long it would take me to....)

There we were, literally eye to eye. Naturally, Strider knows he can move or fly away whenever he chooses. I believe that imparts a great deal of confidence and empowerment, as does the ability to predict my behavior.

While my routine often changes, my behavior is quite predictable. Therein lies a distinction with a difference. When I clean the budgie fort, I carry out the task in the same manner. However, it could be morning, afternoon or evening depending on the day of the week, my schedule, vacations, sick days, etc.

I believe the budgies have learned, through this daily experience, the purpose for my being in their area, what I will be doing, how I will be doing it, how long I will be doing it... and even perhaps more vital - - - what I will not be doing. I will not be grabbing them or demanding interaction, sticking a finger in their belly and sternly telling them to step up, etc. etc.

They do receive treats occasionally or a bathing bowl when I am finished.

Strider's ability to predict my behavior, what he has learned happens (or does not happen) when I am cleaning his cage, and what he has come to experience during these times enabled him to be comfortable remaining on his perch with complete ease despite my being very close to him and making a great deal of noise.

He's such a little sweetie... I'll never regret climbing that tree (although at my age it is probably not recommended)... !!!


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Punishment Part II

Or perhaps a better title for this post would be the alternatives to punishment!

We began the discussion of behavior change, and in particular the alternatives to 'punishment' in two previous posts:Do You Punish Your BirdPunishment Part IThere are 4 methods of behavior change, and two of them involve punishment:A. Positive ReinforcementB. Negative PunishmentC. Negative ReinforcementD. Positive PunishmentAll 4 methods will effect behavior change, so the question is which is least intrusive and least likely to have a detrimental affect on the relationship between bird and companion. The answer is: Positive ReinforcementI believe the lures for using punishment as a means of behavior change are:1) It is often a natural, human response.2) Many of us have had our behavior changed by means of punishment, so it is a learned experience and learned behavior.3) It can work quite quickly.If my bird screams, I cover it, and it stops screaming, then I have used positive punishment to effect behavior change. Positive because something was added, and punishment because a behavior (screaming) decreased.As I mentioned in a previous post entitled "Half Empty or Half Full", changing behavior through means of punishment, in addition to having a detrimental affect on the relationship, also places the focus on what we do not want to happen instead of focusing on a behavior that we would like to see more of (or see in place of the undesirable behavior).If we instead identify a behavior we would like to increase, one that can replace the behavior we find undesirable, we are on our way to changing behavior through reinforcement. We are also looking at the glass half full so to speak.When someone asks"How can I get my parrot to stop xyz..."We change the focus."What behavior would you prefer to see?"Of course, usually the answer is"Anything but xyz!"Analyzing and rephrasing leads to an opportunity for behavior change through means of reinforcement.For example:I would like my parrot to ring a bell when its food bowl is empty (instead of screaming).
It is Coco's reality that if she is unable to find food in any of her foraging areas, she will let me know through an excessively loud vocalization. It does not bother me, as both my husband and I know this signals her need for food. However, if we had a sleeping infant, close neighbors, or other life circumstances that made this behavior of concern to us, we would need to turn things around quickly!Her excessively loud vocalization is a way to alert us to one of her needs. She must have ways of expressing the needs to us, so if we would prefer her not do so with an excessively loud vocalization, we would want to provide her a different means of having her need met.So I would want to identify the behavior I would prefer to see instead of screaming. Once that behavior was identified (ringing a bell for example), then I begin to train that specific behavior. The bird learns that ringing the bell gets it a treat and/or food. In short order, when the bird wants a treat and/or food, it will ring the bell in order to get my attention. Thus I have resolved the screaming for food issue by training an alternate behavior.
It begins with identifying a behavior you would like to see increase, thereby creating an opportunity to reinforce that behavior as an alternative to one you would prefer to see decrease.

Yeah, yeah, yeah... how about we increase your behavior of opening my treat can?


Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold as Ice

I'm working on another post on punishment (more specifically, the alternatives), but in the meantime, enjoy these pictures from a little feature on our mountain top. This is off to the left side of the driveway as you approach the house.

This morning it was 6 degrees, with a brisk wind plunging the wind chill factor below zero. We only received a dusting of snow, but the schools are closed because of the inability to keep the classrooms warm!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Starting New Year Right

Nothing like starting the new year with a good mist-bath!

Coco has never been one much for mist-bathing, preferring a drenching in the tub or sink. But given the exceptionally cold weather, I thought I would introduce her to the mist bottle slowly and see if she might take to it. It is not always practical to warm up the bathroom to take her in for a bath and then return her to the birdroom through the chilly hallway.

The first time I showed it to her was 2 days ago. She was interested in beaking the bottle, and I let a couple of sprays fall down over her. She showed no visible reaction other than to be overly interested in the treat jar I was holding in the other hand.A few of those sprays was enough - a nice introduction.

Today when I entered the room with a fresh spray bottle filled with lukewarm water, she seemed to know what was coming. Interesting, she moved to her water dish and spread her wings! She doesn't fit in the water dish, but since it is the only source of water in the room, nature sent her to stand next to it to accept a wonderful mist-bath.

She twirled, and sang, and moved around the fort in a joyous celebration of the new year!

It was nice to start out the year getting accustomed to a new option for bathing and keeping those feathers healthy and looking beautiful! Bathing is good for the outside as well as the inside.

(I'm just hoping this new year will bring
all of Santa's leftover cookies my way...)

.... and a few less baths would be nice, mom....

I hope it is a very happy, healthy, peacefully and chirpy new year for everyone and your families!