Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Bird Room Gets an Upgrade!

With the onset of such hot weather, I wanted to supply a bit more air circulation in the bird room. So, what do we do?

Well, naturally - we call upon the Master Fort Maker!

A screen door was on the drawing board. We could buy one at the local box store for around $50, or he could make one from scraps around the house for a total materials cost of $0. We chose option #2!

And, now - - - more air circulation!

First, pictures of the upfit:

Now, with the screen door in place, I am able to place the box fan in the hallway, facing either into the room or into the hallway.

Oh, you might be wondering what the pink blanket is doing wrapped around the door... When the door is closed, as you will recall, we have the wooden spacer attached to it so she is unable to chew on the door or casing. But the door itself, once opened, becomes a possible temptation for a wandering beak. When leaving the door open and screen door in place, I will keep the pink blanket wrapped on the door (which stays in place because the edges are wedged between the door and jamb). This reduces the likelihood of the door being attacked.

And now, some new photos of Coco!

It is that time of year, and she is going through a full out molt, but has been a very happy girl!


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Heat, and Plenty of It!

Is this summer hotter than past ones, or does it just seem like it?! Where are the snow-capped mountains when you need them?

As you know, the bird room is not air conditioned. In the same way the birds are acclimated to cooler temperatures, the same is needed for warmer temperatures. In many ways, it seems they more easily adapt to temperatures under the bird room norms than over.

A few changes are in order to ensure their comfort as the bird room averages the high 70's or low 80's during the day.
1) Keeping the sliding glass doors closed.
2) Keeping the curtains closed.
3) Frequent bathing opportunities.
4) Careful monitoring temperatures with a wall thermometer.

1) Keeping the sliding glass doors closed.
Of primary importance is keeping the sliding glass doors closed during the day. This might seem counter-intuitive. However, the sun beats down on the wooden deck and radiates off and right into the bird room if the sliding doors remain open. This will easily raise the room temperature ten degrees or more. After enjoying a "cool" night of temperatures in the 60's with plenty of fresh outdoor air, the first thing in the morning I close the sliding glass doors to keep the cool air in and the heat out.

2) Keeping the curtains closed.Closing the curtains during the day makes less of a difference, lowering the temperature only a degree or two, but it is something I will do on exceptionally hot days.3) Frequent bathing opportunities.Offering frequent bathing opportunities is much appreciate by the budgie-boys.Coco also enjoys her shower times whether in the fort or the bathtub!

Offering her a little spritz in the fort is great fun and always results in increased vocalizations!4) Careful monitoring temperatures with a wall thermometer.Whether winter or summer, it is equally important to monitor the temperature of the bird room with a wall thermometer. No need to guess - I must to know the exact temperature, gauge changes, and make advance preparations.

Air circulation is also provided.
I keep a box fan on the low setting angled away from the birds, to pull in cooler air from the hallway.

Of course, fresh water daily (for drinking and bathing) is a must. Placing an ice cube or two in the water is a cool treat in more ways than one! While the budgie-boys are non-to-impressed, Coco loves pushing them around with her beak! I make my ice cubes in the old fashioned trays with the same filtered water used for drinking.

By nature, my birds reduce both their food intake and activity level on hot days. The budgie-boys expend less energy flying and spend more time preening and singing to each other and their outdoor birdie friends.

What do the outdoor birds do during these hot times? We notice them reducing their activity level as well. The crows are out foraging for food in the early morning hours, and keep to the cool shade of the trees the remainder of the day. If your outdoor birdies do not have easy access to water (or even if they do), consider giving them an additional source of fresh water for drinking and bathing especially during these very hot dawg days of summer!


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Signal Degradation

Quite some time ago, Coco learned that raising her foot resulted in her receiving a treat. This has been used to signal that she wants something I have. It could be a treat, it could mean she wants to come to see me (to step up), or it could mean she wants my jewelry! When I see her foot up, I know she is telling me that she wants something that I have or can bring her. This is usually accompanied by leaning toward me.

A few days ago I was giving her treats, cleaning her area, and interacting as usual. She was next to me on her main pole, and I turned slightly sideways to put one of her treats into her secondary house. While I was not paying attention to her, she leaned toward me, placed her beak on my hand, and applied and uncomfortable amount of pressure leaving a temporary indentation.

Hmmm.... what could have possibly caused this?

Had I only considered a cursory view of the situation, I might have said, "oh my goodness - my bird 'bit' me! Why the sudden change??!"

First, this was not a bite, but an attempt to communicate with me in a way that I found inappropriate. She could have done much more than simply apply uncomfortable pressure.

A bird chooses how much pressure to apply. The same beak used to peel the skin off a Spanish peanut can be used to break the hard shell of a nut open or splinter wood.

Time to consider some theories as to what might be going on.

First, I know that her lifting a foot is a signal to me, and it usually results in her getting what she wants. But sometimes it doesn't - - for example, my jewelry. She may signal she wants it, and lean toward it, and put her foot up again, but the jewelry does not become hers.

It is possible that as I had turned my side to place food in her hut, she did in fact signal me and I did not see it. She could have done this several times without my noticing. If so, that signal did not achieve the desired result, and it is feasible she chose to up the ante.

It is also possible that the cue itself has degraded. There are, of course, many times when I give her a treat simply for the giving - she does not need to ask for it. At this particular time, I was giving her treats because she was pretty and because she is Coco, not in exchange for performing a behavior.

I can only surmise what may have caused her to choose to apply some pressure to get my attention to receive a treat. More important - what steps will I take to address this new, surprise behavior?

First, I have returned to working on the foot raising cue. We have had several sessions of receiving a treat for raising the foot, putting her head down for a scritch, or shaking hands.

Second, I am chaining these responses together. For example, she may receive a treat sometimes for raising her foot. At other times, she will need to raise the foot and shake hands before receiving the treat. And so forth.

After several of these standard interactions, I again assumed the position I had been in the other day with my side to her and reaching in to place a treat in her house. (This time, I was watching her carefully!) Twice she leaned with her beak toward my hand in what I felt could have been an indication of an intent to apply pressure. Each time, I responded by taking a step away from her, pausing, and then asking her for a wave (indicating for her to raise her foot if she wanted a treat).

After these two back-to-back instances of leaning toward my hand, and then resuming requesting a behavior(s) for a treat, several more sessions have resulted in no leaning toward my hand. This evening's session, I spent nearly the entire time with my side toward her, and hand well within her leaning distance, and each time she lifted her foot when she had finished a seed and was ready for the next to be dispensed. Up went the foot!

Frequently I read "my bird suddenly bit me, and nothing changed!" The companion is flustered and flabbergasted about the bird's sudden change of behavior, or new behavior, and the whole thing is a huge mystery. First, we must understand that something did change. No two interactions or training sessions are identical, as we and our birds bring something new (if only our attitude and being) to each session.

Additionally, we understand that all behavior has function. Behaviors that result in the receipt of desirable rewards will be repeated. Those that do not result in desirable rewards will not be repeated.

My best analysis would be that I had let the foot up cue degrade. In addition to communicating she wants something I have by lifting her foot, she also has learned that mimicking speech gets my attention. I will now add a third option for her to communicate with me. I will be working in the upcoming weeks to chain a foot-lift, followed by a word, and then in time followed by moving to a perch slightly farther from me in order to receive the treat.

She is a quick learner, so I do not expect it will take much time for her to learn that if she moves to the next perch over, she will receive the treat. In addition to giving her another option to communicate with me, it will also reduce the likelihood that she will contemplate applying pressure to my hand, since she will be one perch back. Most important, I want to provide another layer of opportunities for her to communicate her desires to me - leading to further empowerment.