Hence the Loco in the Title

For the last three years or so, our Congo African Gray parrot, Bo Dangles, Bobo to her friends, has been the top-ranking parrot in the house. Daily, Mike or I would play with her, give her treats, and as she has no toes, try to make her comfortable in her cage. I even got her to come out on a pillow and scoot around on the floor. Unfortunately she turned out to be a toe biter, and until she learns to bark like a chihuahua, she’s back to being a cage bird.

Our other CAG, Blind Io, is happier to be left alone, as long as he has food, water, a cardboard box to chew on, and a plastic toy to carry around. He really dislikes it when we move perches or bowls around, and barely tolerates cage cleaning.

Now we have added a double yellow headed Amazon (DYH) to the mix. Maynard talks much more than either Bobo or Io. He climbs out of his cage and spends time on his play top. He loves cardboard tubes, almonds, and telling us Good-bye. After 2 weeks, he’s stopped panicking when one of us leaves the room. Now he only panics when both of us leave the room.

A few nights ago, Mike gave Maynard a crusty heel of bread, and the bird loved it. He chewed on it all evening. As soon as his cage was open the next morning, he went back to the crust.

Bobo was not amused. We haven’t played with her for a while, as her new cage limits ways we can do this. The cage does have wider spaced bars, that allow both of us to give her scratches and petting. I even cautiously gave her kisses on the top of her beak. Since Maynard’s arrival, Bobo is a bitey bird more than usual.

I looked at my behavior, to make sure I still say good morning to her first, and give her scratches when I turn on the lights. I give her treats when Maynard gets them. Even if she turns up her beak at almonds or bread, I make sure she gets fresh food before Maynard. So she knows she still outranks hims.

I even run back to the office to tell her good night if I was so tired I left without doing so. I make sure I include her in everything that goes on near her cage. She likes to climb up the back of her cage so she can look out the window at the budgies. She does this when I am outside doing yard work or when Mike is building a cage or feeding outside birds.

Bobo has started to pick up some of the things Maynard says. I hope that means she is warming up to him. Time will tell, and maybe when I get to set up a playpen on the floor for Bobo, she and Maynard may spend some time closer to each other, maybe get to be friends.

I worry about Maynard being hurt by Bobo, even though he is a bigger bird. He is very gentle, and totally blows out of the water my preconceived notion that Amazons bite, period. Bobo is aggressive, and bites. When we first brought her and Io home, we tried to put them in the same cage. Bobo followed Io around to the extent she could, pulling on his feathers. He cried and growled at her, and we had to separate them again.

I promise to update this relationship saga, but I want to share a development with Dani, our orange front conure. Dani somehow hatched in a poor environment for baby birds. She has the worst case of splayed legs I have ever seen. Like Bobo, she gets around her cage pretty well and hangs on the side bars. Since she can’t perch, at night she lays on towels we put in the bottom of her cage. Sometimes she even rolls herself up in the towels. She’s a sweet bird, but the first time we saw her sound asleep on the bottom of her cage, we were alarmed. Luckily her prior owner had told us about this habit of hers.

Dani only wanted seeds to eat at first. Recently, she started taking advantage of the little bits of apple, pea pods, or corn that I slip into her bowl. She is aging, and maybe her taste buds have changed.

I received a donation of a bunch of bird tents over the summer. My lovebird Jake sleeps in a tent, as does Wraith, an Indian Ringneck. I wondered if Dani could use a tent if I made sure it sat on the cage bottom.

I waited for the weather to grow cooler, and using a long chain threaded through the top of the tent, I managed to get it into the right place. On the first day, Dani hung in her usual corner, but kept her eye on the strange green thing in her world. But as night came on, she went down and looked it over. Eventually, she crawled in.

I leave the house in the morning while it’s still dark out these days. Dani has been staying in bed and just calling to me as I left. With the tent, I don’t think she even notices that I am leaving. In fact, I had to check with Mike to makes sure she was still with us.

In a perfect world, Maynard, Io, Bobo, and Dani would all live together, groom each other, and be happier birds. In this world, we strive to make them as happy and comfortable as we can.

Next week, I’ll look at bird bonding and how crazy it can get when a human who can’t tell males from females is doing the pairing.

Maynard Comes Home

Most of the birds in my flock are smaller, like sun conures, and Indian Ringnecks. The biggest birds Mike and I share our home with are Congo African Grays. Well, on the first Saturday in October, that began to change.

I went to the monthly North County Aviculturists meeting, and picked up a couple of friends on the way. Fred, the friend who had given us Jordan a couple years ago, and then successfully reunited with her, brought his double yellow headed Amazon parrot, Maynard, to the meeting, He came down with Maynard on his arm, and we got in the car to wait for Andy. Maynard moved right over to my arm, and then climbed up on the steering wheel. He chattered away and laughed, and Fred mentioned that Maynard wasn’t usually so vocal.

Maynard is a very polite bird, and when it was time to get off the steering wheel and into a carrier, he complied with just a little grumbling. He looked out of the carrier the whole way to the meeting, a ten minute ride or so, and inside the meeting hall he seemed happy to be let out again. Fred and Andy and I sat around a table to listen to the very interesting speaker from SoCal Parrots. More about them another time.

I sat at the far end from where Maynard’s carried had been placed, but the first thing he did was walk over to my end of the table. He sat there happily chatting at me, until the speaker started up, and he politely grew quiet. Just the occasional Amazon-like outburst escaped him. Not knowing how he would react, I reached out a finger to give his head a scratch. He bowed his head and let me groom and pet and stroke his head and feathers.

When Fred saw this, he had to pick his jaw up off the floor. As sweet and well behaved as Maynard is, no one has ever been allowed to touch him like that. Fred decided Maynard was my bird, he had chosen me, and that was the end of the story.

I learned through the course of the night that the manager at Fred and Andy’s apartments enjoyed getting on people for noise issues, and so Fred had already had to find another home for Jordan. That broke my heart. But it seemed Maynard, too, had to go to another place to live.

Maynard had been the pet of a very nice woman who lacked enough time to really work with him. She encountered Fred some years ago at a bird store in Escondido, and they talked about Maynard. The parrot was there for nails and wings to be clipped, and he stepped up for Fred. The woman didn’t like feeling she was ignoring Maynard, so she willingly gave the parrot to Fred.

Fred had Maynard for some months, and a neighbor got attached to the bird. Even telling the neighbor that Amazons are not starter birds didn’t dampen the enthusiasm. So once more Maynard moved to a new home. But in a year’s time, the neighbor and his wife had a new baby in the home, and the baby couldn’t sleep when Maynard decided to entertain everyone. Fred took Maynard back, but because of the noise issues at the apartments, he knew this would be temporary. He had brought Maynard to the club meeting in the hopes of finding someone willing to take the bird.

I knew taking Maynard would have good points and bad points. I didn’t want to put more strain on our household economy, which was struggling along at the moment. We made ends meet but soon the rope would need to have the knot tied in it so we could hold on. But because Mike would be home, Maynard could be watched and made to feel safe and welcome. And Maynard is such an entertainer!
At the meeting I took photos of him with my phone, and when I got home I told Mike the whole story. I showed him the pictures. He shrugged and said, “It’s up to you. We already have the food, he’s not going to be eating that much.” And what’s one more cage to keep clean?

We posted his photos on Facebook and asked friends if we should adopt this little guy. Overwhelmingly, the folks who read the post voted for Maynard to come live with us. So I called Fred to say we would take Maynard, and arranged to pick up the bird the next Sunday.

Maynard has been here about a week now, and he certainly is delightful. He isn’t all that loud, but in a house full of other noisy birds we might be biased. Every day while I was at work, Mike would send me texts about the new family member’s antics.

Mike’s Texts: Maynard does, indeed, like cheese. He started getting excited as soon as he could see it.
Maynard is about two minutes into what sounds like a conversation between Fred and Andy. Now he’s singing what I think is Amazing Grace. Oh, dear. . . howling like a dog. Went out to check on quail, and Maynard started calling me like a dog. He also says, “Hi, Maynard!” Maynard says it’s okay. He started calling right after you left, and kept it up until I told him he was being excessivly noisy. He said, “Okay” and has been quiet since. He started calling a little while ago, and after he calmed down I gave him a tour of the house. The conures and Wraith were louder than he was, and he’s been quiet since. Chicken noises and “IIIIIIII LOVE you!” Maynard is barking now. Io is exercising the pugs this morning. Maynard just yawns. Maynard was doing one of his frantic acts, so I sand “The Minstrel Boy” at him. He just stared at me until I finished, then said “Uhhhh. . . “Maynard seems to like the bottle cap.

Maynard gets a little panicky when left alone during the day, but those instances are lessening already. He goes back in his cage politely when we ask him to, and he loves almonds. When we leave the room, he says, “Goodbye, Maynard!”

I have tried to give him new toys, but so far he is not comfortable enough to have his environment changed any more. He does like little plastic cups to play with and small white twist caps from sparkling water bottles. He eats the fruit and veggies I hand out, and overall has made the transition easily.

I’ve heard that parrots will give you a two to four month “honeymoon” when they are behaving with excellent manners and holding back from being themselves. So in a few months, I’ll let you know if the “honeymoon” is over.

Ten Reasons I love Raising Birds in Southern California!

1. The Weather. Yes, we have some. Usually the weather is mild, on the warm side for anywhere else in the country, and if you don’t like it, you can travel 10 miles in any direction to find the change you wish. Particularly in the inland valley where I live, the winters are mild, we don’t always get frost, and birds can be kept outside without any additional heat source. Sometimes I turn on a light early in the morning so the birds can start eating sooner so they can burn up calories and keep warm. That’s about it. But one does have to make sure the birds have time to acclimate to being outside. Plan to get them out there for the first time in July or August. Then when October rolls around, they will be fine. (http://www.visitcalifornia.com/Travel-Tools/Weather/)

2. So Many Other People Have Birds. I’ve mentioned before that Mike and I can drive a few blocks in any direction and hear birds from other people’s houses or yards. We wear our parrot Hawaiian shirts and make many new acquaintances of people who have birds of their own. I know most of the bird people in the office where I work, out of 160 employees, and have bird sat or traded birds with a number of them. We all speak the same bird language.

3. So many Bird Clubs. And in mutual courtesy, the clubs try to schedule their regular meetings on different days. You can start the month out with San Diego Bird Breeders (https://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Diego-Bird-Breeders/151769014845655) on the first Friday, go to North County Aviculturists ( https://sites.google.com/site/ncabirdclub/) on the first Saturday, then there’s Hookbill Hobbyists (http://hookbillhobbyists.org/), Canary Club (http://sandiegocanaryclub.com/), Budgies ( http://bfsdc.org/), Finches (http://www.sandiegofinchandsoftbill.com/), and so on.

4. Magnolia Bird Farm (http://www.magnoliabirdfarms.com/), such a cool store! I repeatedly call it the Disneyland of Bird Lovers. So many birds there for sale, some have been rehomed, some have been raised there. Today they had an Iligears macaw, rarely seen in this area. He (maybe she) was not tame, so definitely a breeder, and sweet enough to keep interacting with us through the cage. They have outside aviaries that are awesome, today there was a hyacinth macaw out on the swing in the aviary walk way, and in warm weather they often put their two huge iguanas out with some of the fast little birds. Magnolia has the best price on seed and many other things like vitamins and dried fruits. They are family owned and operated, and have two locations. Our favorite and the one I talk about above is the location on Magnolia Avenue in Corona. They also board birds and have scheduled surgical sexing available. The staff are friendly, and appreciate good customers. Many people sell or give them cages to sell in their used cage lot. I saw a small aviary there some years ago and wanted it to use as an airlock or safety area to the aviary we already had. They let me put it on layaway, which helped a bunch, and when I came to pick it up, they credited me with more payments than I had actually made. I asked the clerk to be sure to check it, and she discovered whoever had made the original transaction had not recorded it correctly, so it looked like a second payment. She was so pleased that I was honest, she gave me a discount on the cage.

5. Bird Stores besides Magnolia, because driving to Corona, as much as Mike and I love it and have a good time, takes a whole day (we avoid freeways) and wears us out pretty much completely. Luckily, right here in town we have A Bird Haven (no web page, see Feathered Friends for directions) which has birds for sale, seed, dishes, supplements, hand feeding formula, also boards birds, and clips wings and nails. Their sister store, Our Feathered Friends (http://www.ourfeatheredfriends.com/), has the same supplies, just different birds. A new store opened down in Clairmont Mesa, Bird Smart (https://foursquare.com/v/bird-smart/4b799319f964a5208c022fe3/photos), by the folks who ran Bird Crazy until it had to close. Omar’s Exotic Birds opened a store in San Diego (http://omarsexoticbirds.com/babies/). Omar himself is an expert parrot behaviorist, and lectured at North County Aviculturists some months ago. And there is a great place in Vista, Golden Sun Exotic Birds and Plants( http://www.yelp.com/biz/golden-sun-exotic-birds-and-plants-vista) that you will love, especially if you are looking for exotic birds. I’m talking storks and hornbills!

6. Bird Breeders, whom you may find through bird clubs or on kijiji (a Craigslist-like free ad environment that does not flag breeders). ( http://sandiego.ebayclassifieds.com/) Looking for a special species, special mutation, hand raised or parent raised? Breeders should be able to help you find what you are looking for.

7. Zoos, Safari Parks, Private Collections. I hardly need to mention The San Diego Zoo( http://www.sandiegozoo.org/), or the Safari Park (formerly known as The Wild Animal Park) because if you don’t know about them, you need to get out from under your rock more often. And we are not that far away from the Los Angeles Zoo (http://www.lazoo.org/) if we wanted to take a day to go there. I love The San Diego Zoo for the hummingbird aviary, the two other large walk-through aviaries, and the condor conservation program they have been involved with for many years now. I love the Safari Park for the walk-through aviaries there, and the Lorikeet Landing experience. And the flamingos found at both parks. Los Angeles Zoo, when I was last there many, many years ago, grouped their animals by where in the world you would find them, so that you saw wolves with eagles with deer, and so on. I also enjoy Toucan’s Emerald Forest ( http://www.emeraldforestbirds.com/), a wonderful private collection in Fallbrook, which can be toured if arrangements are made in advance. This is a highly scientific and conservation-oriented breeding facility, displaying toucans, macaws, cockatoos, hornbills, and so many more I can hardly remember them all. There are many private collections in the area which are sometimes open to members of conventions or clubs, and are so worth the time it takes to get to them and look around. For parrot lovers, a great place to be any day of the week is Free Flight, a small collection of birds who are outside most days on perches and for a small donation you may move among them. You may get them to step up, and you may fall in love. Many of the birds there are adoptable. Just ask!

8. Native Birds. We are a flight way for many hummingbirds, ducks, songbirds, and so on. Plus we have the shorebirds not that far away, raptors inland, and wetlands birds everywhere. We have California quail, so adorable if you are lucky enough to see a momma running along with her chicks in a line behind her. Road runners, herons, egrets, vultures, owls, woodpeckers, jays, mocking birds, gnatcatchers, western bluebirds, starlings, sparrows, orioles, and redwing blackbirds. Just to name a few! 8)

9. Wild Parrots You might call them feral or naturalized, but the truth is they are living and thriving in the wild in California ( http://www.californiaparrotproject.org/). Amazingly enough, many of the wild parrots are endangered or threatened in the area they originated in, mostly through habitat destruction. So Cal Parrot (http://www.socalparrot.org/) has a facility in Jamul where they take in injured wild parrots, evaluate them for full recovery, and plan to release their flock somewhere in San Diego County. So go out and see these immigrants when you can. The sight is worth your time and travel.

10. Knowledgeable Avian Vets – I always direct people who ask about avian vets to Acacia Animal Health Center (http://www.aahc.us/) if they live inland, or Dr. Stonebreaker’s Animal and Bird Hosptial of Del Mar (http://animalandbirdhospital.com/) if they are on the coast. Plus if you are lucky enough to catch Dr. Scott McDonald (http://www.scottemcdonald.com/) at any club or store, do not miss the opportunity. He’s flying in to California on November 15th, and Magnolia Bird Farm had an announcement on their white board that he would be there to do surgical sexing.

I hope you have enjoyed my list, and that you now have lots of reasons to raise birds in Southern California!

Top Ten Bird-Watching Spots in the World!

So I thought I would make a list of my guesses at to the top ten, then see if any of them agreed with the lists on the web. But I got Costa Rica and Hawaii, and ran out of inspiration. Also it really depends on which birds you want to look at. Some birds only live in Australia, others only on Madagascar, and the toucans only inhabit parts of Central and South America.

Nearly all the lists I looked at contained Papua, New Guinea. Due to a wide range of climates and habitats, the island has a wide range of birds of many types. The main attraction is the Bird of Paradise group. But you may find more than 700 species, 300 of which are found no where else. Megapodes abound, six species of these interesting birds are found no where else. As for parrots, 44 species occur here alone. There are lorys and lorikeets, fig parrots and pygmy parrots, eclectus parrots, and hanging parrots.

Did you know that the netspeak for bird watcher is twitcher? Yeah, me neither. This site (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador/travel-tips-and-articles/76653) doesn’t even list Costa Rica, but does start with New Guinea, and included Antarctica! Penguins and seabirds are just not enough for me to brave the long trip and the icy weather. Did it just get cooler in here?

I can’t imagine why Costa Rica was left off so many lists! With 830 species waiting to give you a photo op, it’s perfect, and closer to me than New Guinea or Antarctica. Many macaws, Amazons, and toucans can be found there. And the incredible quetzal, a member of the family of trogons, adds a grace note to the experience. Last, and least in size but not in interest, hummingbirds migrate or inhabit the country, at least 30 species. I can’t help but put this at the top of my list.

Africa boasts its own list of top ten sites, and topping all the lists is Kruger National Park in South Africa. Nature Travel Network (http://naturetravelnetwork.com/2013/02/africa-top-ten-places-to-travel/) states they have a respectable bird list of 400 species. This is a much better destination, to me, for seeing penguins. Also turacos, including the Grey Go-away-bird. Four types of poicephalus parrots, like the Meyer’s parrot, and peach face lovebirds are natives. Rose-ringed parakeet was introduced. Two families of owls, a smattering of nightjars, and sweet mousebirds may also be found there.

The Nature Conservancy asked readers of their blog to submit their favorite bird watching sites. Many of the submissions were in the US. The first suggestion not in the states was Mindo Cloud Forest in Equador. Tropical Birding (http://www.tropicalbirding.com/central-south-america-birding/ecuador/) professes that for sheer diversity of birds in a short trip, Ecuador tops the list. Hummingbirds, once more, are a big draw here, and a new species arrived a couple years ago, a White-Bellied Pygmy-Tyrant. The Cloud Forest itself boasts tree moss, giant ferns, rare orchids, an impressive battalion of butterflies, and birds. Parrots to toucans, cuckoos and warblers, and hummingbirds.

Australia is definitely on my list, as I have a deep fondness for zebra finches, Gouldian finches, cockatoos, and cockatiels. Daintree Rainforest in Queensland is an Internationally recognized World Heritage site with 430 species of birds to look for. Cassowarys, herons, kingfishers, and kookaburras enjoy this primitive land perserve. Parrots include lorikeets, fig parrots, and the magnificent king parrot. Here’s a great site for more information: (http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/journal/the-daintree-land-before-time.htm)

As long as we are in the neighborhood, let’s look at Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand. On the tip of the pennisula is Taiaroa Head, where the albatross have a protected nesting site. This is the only albatross nesting site on an inhaited mainland! You may also find yellow-eyed penguins in the area, as well as spoonbills, plovers, and herons. The peninsula is home to the only castle in New Zealand, and also a wonderful for the imagination Lover’s Leap. No parrots like this place, but just over the mountains you can find kakapo natural habitats. The Royal Albatross Center (http://www.albatross.org.nz/) and the Kakapo Recovery Organization (http://kakaporecovery.org.nz/) are good resources, and if you can get to Dunedin during one of Sirocco’s public appearances, you can kill . . . you can complete two tasks in one trip. If you are one of the 8 people in the world who have not seen Sirocco’s famous video on YouTube, look for a link to it on the kakapo site.

On the list of the 25 best birding spots in the States, Texas boasts a few, including Rio Grande where a birding festival is held yearly. You might see several types of whistling ducks, chachalacas, wild turkeys, quail, grebes, and herons. Or spoonbills and storks, hawks and coots, and the green parakeet! Also owls, gulls, and hummingbirds. Woodpeckers, phoebes, and fly-catchers. Two beautiful buntings. Here’s a look at these and more: (http://www.thedauphins.net/rgv_birds.html)

I took a look at the Green Parakeet, because there are some sites which say the US has no native parrot species since the passing of the last Carolina parakeet. It appears these parakeets are nonmigratory but do relocate to take advantage of better food and nesting places. They have established self-sustaining colonies in cities in southeast Texas, using palm trees to nest in. Fascinating.

Another place that comes up is Cape May, New Jersey. The New Jersey Audubon organization has a separate page for Cape May: (http://www.njaudubon.org/SectionCapeMayBirdObservatory/CMBOHome.aspx)
No parrots, of course, but the autumn bird migration is going to start soon. Millions of birds pass through Cape May, and late October is the height of the season. Current sightings include herons, pelicans, woodpeckers, warblers, and finches.

Since the birds are moving north, let’s look at Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada. Over 260 species can be spotted there, and birding is good even in winter. Again, we are not in parrot country, but still there are lots of interesting birds to see. Dippers top my list, as well as owls, sharp-shinned hawks, and nuthatches. Be prepared for lots of cold and snow and ice and did I mention cold? Hmm, this might not be my favorite place, but at least it’s easier to reach than the Antarctic. Here’s a good link with more information. (http://www.canadianrockies.net/banff/birding.html)

I think now I want to head homeward, and the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/travel/la-bird-watching-sites-southern-california-pg,0,7861410.photogallery) says that Southern California is one of the best places in the world to watch birds. Like Papua, New Guinea, there are so many different habitats that everything pretty much comes here a time or two. Our only parrots are feral, but they are famous enough to have a book and a movie available!

Another famous birding event in SoCal is the return of the swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano. (http://www.missionsjc.com/preservation/swallowsstory.php) I read a story once that a priest at the mission was asked about swallows that return to the mission sooner than the March 19th due date. Smiling, he said, “We call those finches.”

Along the coast here, you might also see plovers, turnstones, grebes, egrets, avocets, osprey, and gulls. (http://www.pbase.com/niemand/shore_birds&page=all) Just inland, you might see quail, oriels, mountain bluebirds, hummingbirds, juncos, buntings, sparrows, hawks, eagles, and owls. (http://www.surfbirds.com/namericanbirds/sparrows-finches.html) And for those wild parrots, (http://californiaparrots.us/) there’s no place like home.

Let’s review my list:
1. Papua, New Guinea.
2. Costa Rica
3. Kruger National Park in South Africa.
4. Mindo Cloudforest, Ecuador
5. Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia
6. Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand.
7. Rio Grande Valley, Texas, USA
8. Cape May, New Jersey, USA
9. Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
10. Southern California, USA, from San Juan Capistrano to San Diego.
Please let me know if you agree or if you know of a better place! I never got to the British Isles or Europe. Maybe twenty sites would have encompassed a better representation. Thanks!