Hide and Seek

Parrots are both predators, of seeds and fruits and sometimes small insects, and prey in the wild.  Being good at hiding is vital to their survival, although often a quick take-off is more effective.  However, in captivity, they don’t need these skills so much.  You can take the parrot out of the rain forest, but you can’t take the skills out of the parrot.

Parrotlets are tiny birds, compared to other South American and Central American birds.  They are preyed upon by spiders, really huge spiders, GINORMOUS SPIDERS!  So they have evolved to be fierce little things with excellent survival skills.  When I earned my first breeding pair of parrotlets, they had been hand fed and were so cute I wanted to cuddle them to bits!

Let me digress for a moment.  When baby birds are fed by their parents, they bond with and love those parents, not all other birds.  The same can hold true with human feeders, if the chicks aren’t socialized or fed by more than one or two humans.  I have often arrived home with a hand-fed beauty, only to find it is terrified of us and not able to adjust to the new surroundings.

The parrotlets, Jade and Brent, were bonding to each other, and not to us.  Still, I wanted to give them out time.  Being stuck in a cage is never good for a bird.  Mike agreed, as long as I was in the room with them and watched what they were getting in to.  As we had them in our office at the time, this didn’t seem to be a chore.

Soon it transpired that every time Mike or I got up to leave the room, or came back into it, Jade especially would panic, and attempt to fly off.  Both had their winds trimmed before arriving at our house.  I got in the habit of checking that they had landed somewhere that was not dangerous to them, and letting them stay where they were.  But at the end of the night, they had to be netted and put back.  Not fun, but important.

One night Jade panicked and flew behind a book case that leaned out from the wall at the top.  She got herself wedged in there tight, and we couldn’t reach her.  Now it was my turn to panic.  We, and by we I mean my wonderful husband, moved stacks of boxes in front of the book case, took the books off, and got to Jade.  Scary to think that if I hadn’t seen where she had landed, we could have found a dead bird when the smell got bad.

My love birds absolutely hate being netted at the end of out nights, and if I turn the lights off, just a night light or a lamp across the room still on, they will find their way into their own cages.  Sometimes there are arguments over who gets which cage, especially if we have recently moved cages or birds around.  But for the most part they go in without trouble.  As soon as I can close a cage with the correct birds inside, I do, which makes it easier for the remaining birds to make up their minds.

One night only Boo, a Fishers’ love bird, remained out, and I was going to bed, so I got out the net.  To my surprise, Boo zipped down the hallway and into the master bedroom.  I thought that it would be easy to find him in the bedroom, I could close the door and it wouldn’t take long to get to bed.  Yes, I did have a lot to learn.

Boo was not visible in the room.  I looked in the open closet, the bathroom which had no separating door, under the bed, under the dresser, under the pile of laundry, and anywhere I thought a bird could be hiding.  Boo, wherever he was, kept perfectly still and quiet.  Mike helped look, but we could not find him.  Finally it got too late to keep looking, and we went to sleep.

We kept the toilet lid down and let everyone in the house know that there was a bird loose.  Be careful going in or out.  Leave toilet lids down.  Food would not be a problem, there always seemed to be spilled seed on the floor.  I left a bowl of water on a kitchen counter.  I came home that night expecting to hear that Boo had been recovered.  No Boo.  Not the next night or the next.  Five days later, I was sorting laundry in the master bedroom, and a small form fluttered up at me, and zipped out of the room!  Boo!

He appeared healthy, not starving or dehydrated.  To this day, we don’t know where he had been all that time.  Yes, he could have gotten tangled in the laundry when I looked for him the first night, but I am skeptical that he could have survived so long if he was trapped.

Another love bird, Beauregard, was lost overnight,  Beau is a beautiful violet mutation of a peach face love bird, and part of my current breeding program.  I normally keep the bird room door closed now when the lovies have out time.  But somehow, I had forgotten or not realized Beau’s wings were fully operational again.  He flew out and into, you guessed it, the master bedroom.

We once again searched everywhere, once again came up without a bird in the hand or in the bush, and gave up.  In the morning, while dressing for work, I looked at a book case top shelf, and there was Beau, still and quiet.  I quietly told Mike what I saw, and he slowly turned and grabbed the escapee.

I know Mike and I both searched that bookcase the night before.  So probably the little joker was hiding somewhere else and went to sleep on the shelf once we were asleep.  Either that or his cloaking device only works at night.

With instincts still strong in parrots of any size, it’s important to take special care about open doors, windows, and water containers.  Know where your birds are at all times, and be very careful about open cage time.  We have a sign we used to put on our front door warning that birds were out.  That was when kids or roommates were here, and we needed to communicate the situation.  At present, we have few visitors and can be less cautious, but we still won’t open the front door if birds are out.

You will know your own birds best, and will know the best way to keep them safe in your house or aviary.  Just remember, with parrots it’s rarely fight or flight, it’s hide or flight.  Stay safe!

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The Name Game

Most hook bills are capable of learning their names.  Many other birds recognize their name and come when called.  Mike and I put a lot of thought into the names of our birds. Many come with names already assigned.  And sometimes that drives me crazy.

For instance, Zazu.  This would be a great name for a love bird or any African parrot, because in the movie The Lion King, the secretary bird carried that name.  But for a sun conure from South America?  Boo!  And how many hundreds of sun conures are there with the name Sunny?  Almost as many are there are cats named Kitty.

Our African gray female has a special need in that she has no toes and cannot perch.  She loves to show off her little stumps  by hanging from the top of her cage by her beak.  That is how she got the name Bo Dangles.

We named our first violet love bird Jimi, after Jimi “Purple Haze” Hendrix.  We named our green cheek Esmeralda, We named a white cockatiel Mallory for her marshmallow appearance.

Psycho bird Beeby, a half-moon conure, came with his name, and it stood for Bad Bird.  He is unbelievably cute and loveable, but he does have a tendency to bite and attack us.  So he has gained many nicknames:  Beebozo, Lord Beebatron, Beeb the Merciless, and Beebus.

Elmer is a cockatiel who arrived with his name, and because he can say  “Whatcha doing, Elmer?” I could not change his name.  Newbert arrived with the name Charlie.  Eh.  He was a nearly wild cockatiel who flew into a window at my office and was brought to me.  Mike named him Newbert.  Better.

Sometimes bird pairs have names that go together.  The first rosey Bourkes I had were named Fred and Ethel.  But a pair of sun conures we were given were called George and Bella.  Bella knows her name, so I call her Gracie Bell.  It works for us.

I guess names mean a lot to me, I remember roommates naming kittens Frank and Jake.  I was astonished.  These were geeky fans like me, but they didn’t go with Jake and Elwood.  They loved westerns too, but they didn’t go with Frank and Jesse.  Unbelievable.

When I spent time on email lists or Yahoo groups devoted to various birds, I noticed a few common names showing up.  Love birds were often called Skittles.  Amazons were named Kiwi.  African Grays were named Smokey.  So I conducted a survey of the members of my bird club.  I expected to see many matches, but instead there were very few duplicates.  I was amazed, and pleased that my club contained many original thinkers.

I also think names can harm or help a bird in how folks think of them.  We were given a female cockatiel named Tweeker.  She was frantic when she came into the house, pacing in her cage and squawking.  Once the former owners said their goodbyes and left, we put her in with the community.  (I know. I have been very lucky in that I don’t often quarantine new birds, but no illnesses or other traumas have been spread to my flock)  The bird settled down immediately in the flock, and soon paired up with our largest male, TJ.  We renamed her Teena.

We received a beautiful white-faced gray cockatiel that went into our aviary.  He has the largest eyes I have ever seen on a cockatiel. They give him a surprised look, and he is not very tame.  But in coloration he is just like our inside bird named Kai.  So he has two names.  I call him KaiClone, Mike calls him Spooky.

We had Gouldian finches for some years, but never had good luck with breeding them, or even keeping them alive.  Still they were amazingly beautiful birds, the males had a sweet, soft song.  It was very entertaining to watch the males bouncing on a perch while holding grass or straw in their beak, giving a pretty girl the eye.  Mike named one Elliot Gould, and he was a character.  Whenever he got a drink out of the Lixit bottle (the type used more for hamsters and rabbits, with the ball bearing at the end of a tube), he would lean back and weave from side to side for a few seconds, then take another drink.  I have never known a bird to get so much enjoyment out of water.

Word play weighs in on bird names in this house.  That’s why we have an Indian Ringneck named Wraith (Ring –Wraith) and a tuxedo button quail named Tennessee.  I named a canary Patience because she waited all day in a small carrier at work until I could bring her home.  A cockatiel who never quite got off the ground during out time was dubbed Scooter.  A cockatiel missing a toe became Stubby.

Now and then a bird arrives with the perfect name.  A simply beautiful gray pearl cockatiel, a female of impressive circumference, bore the name Princess.  She is demanding and regal, and not at all impressed that we put her in the aviary so she can work off her extra ounces.  And our best breeding cockatiel hen is known simply as Mom-bird.

All our birds have names, sometimes they get extras due to characteristics, behavior, or playfulness.  I confess some get new names when we forget exactly what we were calling them.  The names always mean something to us, and even when we have to explain the joke to others, we know we love our birds because we have named them, just as if they were family.  Which, of course, they are.

The Story of Piro

As I related in my last posting, love birds were not high on my list of favorite hookbills after my first encounter with them.  Then, when someone told me that having just one love bird made the difference, I decided they were just too cute to keep passing up.

I joined North County Aviculturists, along with my husband and two children.  I knew Mike loved birds, too, but hoped Alain and Alexia would learn to love them as well.  We attended most meetings, and participated in the opportunity drawings.  I remembered my mother writing my name on drawing tickets, for luck. so I wrote the kids’ names on some of the tickets.  At one meeting, Alexia’s name was called, and she really, really wanted a little pied green peach face love bird. The breeder was someone known for her knowledge of lovies, and her skill in telling the sexes.  She told us the bird was male, three months old.  Alexia named him Piro, after the main character in MegaTokyo, a web comic the whole family enjoyed.

Piro lived in a cage in Alexia’s room, but due to school and week night activities, Piro didn’t get handled much during the week, and by the weekend he had forgotten that he was hand fed and liked people.  Alexia complained that he wasn’t really tame at all.  If she let him out of the cage, he flew up to the rails on her canopy bed.

Before long, Piro came out to the living room with other birds we were taking in.  I knew he needed a companion, and I decided to try to breed love birds.  Without doing any research first, I went to a bird mart and purchased a female, a beautiful pale blue bird with a gray head.  Prio like her a lot, and she was dubbed Seraphim, after another character from MegaTokyo.

After a while I did the research I should have done before making any purchases with breeding as a goal.  I discovered that Piro and Sera were different species of love birds, and should not be bred.  Their offspring would probably be “mules,” unable to reproduce.

Thus began a long time of looking for more love birds.  I volunteered to run a bird mart for NCA, and had a contact from a woman who wanted to rehome her breeding pair of peach face love birds and all 6 of their offspring.  I took the birds in and looked them over.  All were untame.  Dad was called Benny, none of the others had names.  I set up all but one of the offspring as opportunity drawing prizes at the bird mart, kept Bennie, and his mate and one of the offspring who was a beautiful cherry-headed lutino (yellow mutation) peach face love bird.

It took some time to get Piro to stop thinking about Sera as his mate and accept Nanasawa (MegaTokyo) in her place.  A whole week.  They got a nest box and went to work.  Piro and Nana gave me many clutches of beautiful lovies, but I was not able to hand feed at the time, so they went as breeders for the most part.  I am impressed with how much Piro stays involved in raising his offspring.  He is a great daddy.

Unfortunately, Nana became egg bound and died before I realized the problem.  In spite of cuttle bone available at all times, and calcium in soft foods once a week, I lost her.

I asked a friend and fellow love bird breeder if she had any peach face hens for sale.  She told me about Kiya, a cherry-headed lutino female who had beaten up her mate.  The male had been much younger than she was, so my friend felt Kiya belonged with an experienced male.  I took her in and introduced her to Piro.  I almost think Piro thought she was Nana come back to life.

This time when I bred them, my friend hand fed the babies, and they went as sweet, loving pets to good homes.  But a few seasons later, history repeated itself.  I was checking the cages one morning, not during breeding season so no boxes were in the cages.  As I do most mornings, I was saying hello to all the birds.  And there was Piro, sitting sadly by the lifeless body of little Kiya.

Some time after that, I received a huge flock of love birds, all peach face, all hand fed, but not socialized enough.  I mentioned last week that I kept two of these birds and sold off the rest.  Prio bonded with Lorry, who turned out to be male.

I also explained putting three love birds in the same cage with a nest box, something most breeders would tell you does not work. At this time, Aura and Piro and Lorry have four eggs in the nest.  Who’s the daddy?  Only Aura knows for sure, and she hasn’t told me.  Stay tuned!

Consenting Adult Love Birds

My first introduction to love birds came when a coworker decided to rehome her pair of normal peach faces to me.  She loved them, but felt they needed more attention.  I took them home and set their cage by a window, next to my cockatiels and finches.  When the cockatiels had out time, I had to cover the lovies so they wouldn’t bite the toes of any birds that landed on their cage.  I didn’t let the lovies have out time because they weren’t very tame.

They were totally interested in each other, and no one else.  They were noisy, they were messy, and they were quickly more than I could handle at that time.  I lived alone in a small one-bedroom cottage in San Diego, and I felt their beady little eyes follow me around the house. Their high-pitched chirps hurt my ears.  I began to cover them more and more, which is not good for the birds.  So when I found a friend who would gladly take them, I was relieved.

Some years later, as I wandered around Balboa Park, I saw a busker with a tiny bird sheltering in the front of his jacket.  I asked what kind of bird that was, because it was so adorable.  “Love bird,” I was told.  I stared.  “But, love birds bond to each other, don’t they?”

The young man was seated on the ground, and looked up at me with a touch of exasperation.  In a tone reserved for the very young or the very stupid, he said, “Not if you hand feed them, and have only one.”

I don’t think there were fireworks in the park that night, but I certainly felt a burst of enlightenment.

More years passed in which I got married, raised kids, and found a local bird club.  At one of the first meetings I attended, my daughter won a hand-fed love bird, a pretty dilute green male.  She was in to web comics and manga, so the little bird was named Piro.

Piro became, and still is, the stud of my love bird breeding program.  He’s no longer tame, but he certainly knows how to please the ladies.

I came to rehome a flock of love birds from a club member who passed away, and rehomed in turn most of those.  I kept one beautiful lutino (yellow color mutation) bird whom I hoped was female, and named “her”  Laurie.  One of her siblings was a stunning pied that I named Piper.  I’ll wait while that sinks in.

At this time Piro was single again, and I thought he and Laurie would make a good pair.  But when I supplied a nest box, no eggs were laid.  I had to face the fact that Laurie was a male.

Love birds, and most hook bills, believe in bonding equality.  The two boys bonded, and preened each other and fed each other and went on happily enough.  But I wanted to breed them, and soon I found a beautiful pied normal peach face girl.  I separated Piro and Laurie, and introduced Aura to Laurie’s cage.  There was no volcano eruptions or trains through tunnels, but there was no violence toward each other either.

I had to be sure Piro and Laurie couldn’t see each other, or they would hang on the side of the cage as close to each other as possible.  As it was, they called to each other regularly.

After a week, I decided to switch out the boys, and put Piro in with Aura.  This worked pretty well, as Aura liked Piro and Piro knew what to do with her, but he still called and looked for Laurie.

One of the first rules of keeping love birds is to never keep more than 2 per cage.  No matter what.  I had broken that rule before and not had any blood shed because of it.  I began to wonder if I could put these three birds in one breeding cage.

Yes.  Yes, I could.  Laurie was overjoyed to be in with Piro again.  Piro welcomed his buddy with lots of chirps and cuddles.  Aura was slightly aggressive to Laurie at first, but did not persist when Piro did not back her up.

I gave them access to a nest box, and lots of palm fronds for nesting material.  They set to work and soon only the boys were seen outside the nest box.

It’s been a few days, and so far no eggs have been laid.  But all the signs are there, and at night, Piro and Aura stay in the box while Laurie stands guard outside.  This love bird menage a trois seems to be working and doesn’t have any draw backs.  I am prepared to move Laurie if Aura becomes too aggressive with eggs or chicks, but the current arrangement is working fine.

And yes, they are consenting adults, as far as love birds are concerned, so no need to be offended.  I wonder if I should have a parson finch brought in to sanctify the arrangement?