Thirty Reasons to be Thankful, Pt. 2

Continuing from last week with 16 through 30. Oh, by the way, I don’t really live at Facebook.

16. Words – Be careful what you say around some of the Flock. Mike and I don’t use much profanity. So when one of the parrots spouts off with the F bomb or some damn thing, we laugh uproariously. Which only encourages the bird to say that again. And it doesn’t have to be profanity that causes the laughs or embarrassment. Jordan, a Timneh grey who no longer is part of our flock, had picked up his former owner’s way of calling an albino cockatiel. We never knew when she was gonna say, “Hey, white girl, come here!”
17. Someone to Talk To – Yes, the parrots do carry on happily on their own, but now and then they talk to each other. And even more rarely they will talk with us. Such as when I get home after work, Maynard says “Hello, Maynard!” To which I often ask, “Were you good today?” “Good boy Maynard!” He assures me. When I leave the room, he starts yelling, “Ma! Maaa-aa!” “I ask from down the hall, “What do you need?” “Help!” Well, we knew that.
18. Dreaming of Hand-feeding– When I have to carry my baby birds to someone else to hand feed, that breaks my heart. I don’t really know all the ins and outs of hand-feeding, but I have lots of resources. I’m only missing the practical experience. Because I work an 8 hour day with an hour lunch and anywhere from an hour to three hours of commute time, trying to fit in caring for tiny birds at this time is not practical. And my office in winter is unbearably cold, so no. Even with a heating pad, I have to pick them up out of the brooder to feed. But some day, within the next year, I will be retiring, and I will be breeding and hand-feeding the baby birds. Something very wonderful to look forward to!
19. Jake asleep on my keyboard – Some of my individual birds have special relationships with me or with Mike. I love them all, but when Jake, my purple love bird, joins me in the morning for breakfast, then preens on my shoulder for a while, I feel very special that he is so trusting with me. He is not allowed on my keyboard, but there is a wide section just beneath the keys where he comes and sits next to my left hand. If I am playing a game that only requires the mouse, he can sit there asleep for long periods of time. I hate to start typing sometimes, because he wakes up and gives me a little nip. But mostly because he won’t be there forever, and I love these moments.
20. Bo asleep at my feet – Our toeless African grey, Bo Dangles, threw herself out of her cage last week, while Maynard was out. Unfortunately, Maynard is very territorial, and had no qualms about walking over to her and attacking. So he went back in, because Bo hasn’t been out much lately. And I pulled the lap blanket I use at my desk for her to sit on. The next time I looked down at her, she was asleep! This bird still doesn’t like to be handled much, bites more now because she resents Maynard, and is nearly defenseless when on the floor. But she trusts me enough to sleep by my feet. Sorry, I have some dust in my eyes.
21. Maynard on walk-about – Our Double Yellow (DYH) Amazon Maynard can easily climb out of his cage. He likes to go up on top most of the time to the play area, but sometimes he goes to the floor to forage, or to see where I am. He has come into the kitchen, but we had to put him back. He liked the taste of the floor mats too much. Recently he attempted to mate with my feet. Yes, he’s a DYH pervert with a foot fetish. Who knew? Some day I hope to have Mike film this event because the noises the bird makes are very entertaining. I discourage the practice, however, because he’s already too territorial (Maynard, not Mike) and flares his tail to charge at anyone who wanders too close to me. I know I shouldn’t, but I like the fact he picked me and is so fixated on me.
22. Creamy always happy to see us – Creamscicle was hand fed by a friend, and I intended to donate him to my bird club for the opportunity table. But in the end Mike and I could not part with him. We have so many cockatiels, you would think one more wouldn’t stand out. Well, they each have their own habits and personalities. I think that’s why I never get enough. And Creamy always wants to be with us. Even if a month goes by when I can’t find time to take him out for interaction, he is as excited as ever when I do or Mike does. By comparison, Mallory, an albino female cockatiel, was hand fed by someone other than Creamy’s foster parent, and was pretty tame when we first brought her home. But with lack of interaction, she has turned half wild again. That’s the usual pattern, and a risk I know we take with so many birds to take care of. What I am so thankful for is that Creamy hasn’t changed. He’s a soft, sweet, loving little guy. And maybe his gender has to do with it.
23. Cockatiels Mom, Ash, Zippy, Elmer – My two best breeding couples of cockatiels. Mom and Ash were given to us, and produce some beautiful silvers and albinos, as well as pearls. (You can find out what those mutations look like here: http://www.cockatiel.org/mutations/) Zippy and Elmer have babies that are pearl or yellow faced and the occasional normal grey. They are good parents, don’t seem to be bothered too much by the times we pull their babies, and are very willing to raise the kids if I don’t have a hand feeder lined up.
24. Button Quail, Happy and Sad – I love my button quail, I love when we have chicks, and I love that I have managed to raise some clutches to maturity. But sadness is a part of the world with these birds. We’ve lost more chicks than we have saved. They can fit through the wires of the aviary, they don’t do well in the brooder inside, and can drown in a tiny amount of water. Our cat seems to believe we raise the chicks just for her. Luckily she only gets the ones that find their way out of the aviary. Then there are the losses of adults through aggression, illness, and accidents. My very best hen, Tennessee, left us this past week. She got her wing caught in the wires of the aviary, and we did not find her in time. (We named her Tennessee, not because we named the dog Indiana, but because her coloration type is known as a tuxedo button quail.) She was the best broody hen ever, and if the weather wasn’t too cool, she could bring those babies through to maturity. When she sat on eggs or chicks, her small body spread out like a pool of feathers. I miss her, but I am so thankful to have known her.
25. Dani – Our orange front conure, Dani, is a special needs bird. All my special needs kids are special to me, but Dani is someone special out of that crowd. She is splay-legged so severely that she appears to be doing the splits all the time. Using beak and feet, she can get around her small cage, and hangs in one particular corner most of the time. She eats very little, but is plump enough. Recently she started tasting more of the fresh foods I stuck in her seed dish. When Dani first came to us, we were lucky that the surrendering owner told us about Dani’s sleep habits. A towel is always on the floor of the cage, and at night, Dani lays on the towel, pulls a corner of it over her, and sleeps on her back. She also snores. She appears to be a past parrot when seen in this position. Some kind person (actually, one of my hand-feeders) gave me a bag full of bird tents. One of the tents seemed just the size for Dani, but it would do her no good if we suspended it from the top of the cage, as they were designed. With a little thought, I put a chain through the top of the tent, set the floor of the tent on Dani’s sleep towels, and secured the chain to maintain that height. Dani loves it, and sleeps in it every night. In fact, some mornings, she can’t be bothered to say good bye to me in the morning. I’m thankful for this sweet, loving parrot and being able to enrich her life.
26. Share them with others – Yes, if you come to visit, you will probably be able to hold Jake or Dani or Creamy, maybe Sunny if she’s in the mood. I’ve taken Sunny and a cockatiel named TJ to an event at a library and a small health fair at a church. I’ve even taken them to my weightloss support group to talk about healthy diets. I have photos of them on Facebook, at my desk, and in my house. Sharing is caring!
27. Trade Birds – I often have excess birds of one gender or type, and need X number of birds of a different gender or type. Not always having money readily to hand, I have a huge group of good folks who also raise birds and are willing to trade. Win-win!
28. Take in Birds – I’ve turned down macaws and cockatoos, but rarely budgies, cockatiels, conures, African Grays, love birds, Bourkes, canaries, or finches. The Amazon was a fluke, and if he hadn’t picked me, I could have said no. I’ve taken in birds because the owner died, the couple had a baby, the kid went to college and didn’t want the bird any longer, the bird wasn’t entertaining enough for the kids, the neighbors found it and thought it was ours, someone I work with found it and thought of me, and we agreed to sit the birds over the summer for a school teacher, and they never claimed them again. It’s all good.
29. Rehome Birds – We are only human, and we are subject to the economic crises of our times. Sometimes the sheer number of birds is unhealthy, especially when there are others around who would like to have a companion bird. My favorite deal is to give the bird to a child, with the parents’ consent, along with constant assistance by phone. Kids who learn to care for pets are healthier and more secure in the long run. Yes, often they learn to deal with the death of the pet, but why not learn about it with an animal rather than a person in their life? I feel it’s a better situation, and can open lots of doors for spiritual conversations.
30. The Diversity – My flock comes from Australia, Africa, South America, and Asia. They eat seeds, berries, greens, insects, eggs (cooked), and veggies. They are red, green, blue, violet, pink, orange, yellow, white, gray, and brown. Some are single, some are monogamous, some are homosexual. Some sing, some shout, some are very quiet. Some like to be with people, some like to be with other birds, some like to be alone. They are my flock, I love them, and give thanks every day for their presence in my life.

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Thirty Reasons to be Thankful, Part One

On Facebook, where I live, my 500 plus close, personal friends are posting something they are thankful for every day in November. I thought about it, but between keeping the flock clean, fed, and watered, and writing a thousand words a day for NaNoWriMo, I am just going to throw my list up here, and be done with it.
1. Affection: Parrots have so much love and affection to give. If you are lucky, you will be the object of their affection. But even if that affection is directed at another bird or person, you can smile and enjoy the interactions.
2. Devotion: I’ve come out in the mornings to find a bird who didn’t make it through the night for one reason or another. That bird is rarely alone. Especially if the bird was part of a bonded pair, the surviving mate will be there, often trying to attract my attention. They don’t exactly understand death, but they don’t let it stop their love.
3. Colors: I am always amazed at the variety of colors birds come in. Our pink bird gets lots of attention, she’s a rosy Bourke parakeet. The sun conures, naturally, get a fair share of gawking due to their spectacular plumage. But even Beeby, our half-moon conure, has incredible iridescence to his green feathers, each edged in dark green. And our Amazon has the most beautiful tail colors when he spreads it out.
4. Appreciation of Wings – We do trim our birds’ wings if we are going to take them somewhere or if we need to get to know the bird a bit. It’s really difficult to tame a wild bird that can fly away from you when it wants to. But I always regret taking away that thing that makes a bird a bird, the ability to fly. Except for Beeby, who is psycho and will kill us in our sleep given half a chance.
5. Study of eggs: Eggs as tiny as finch eggs, or slightly larger dove eggs. Still not as big as chicken eggs, but made the same way. People are curious about how eggs get fertilized, so I explain that the hard calcium shell doesn’t develop until the last stage, right before the hen pops it out into the nest. Eggs have air sacks, but are also porous so that air can get in. Three days after the egg appears, if it is fertile and going to be a baby bird, you should be able to hold it up to a cool light and see tiny red blood vessels developing.
6. Knowledge of Diet: Simply, birds do not eat only seeds in the wild. A seed only diet will shorten the life span of a bird and possibly cause them medical issues. Yes, birds love seed, it is high in fat and is candy to them. I don’t believe birds should be given only pellets, that’s not natural either. The best diet is variety, some seeds, some pellets, lots of fresh vegetables, some fruit. Fresh water and lots of love.
7. Value in Weeds: You don’t need acres of land to grow special vegetables for your flock. If you have dandelions, you have a treat. If you have grass that has gone to seed, if you have milk weed, if you have just about anything that grows that is green and sometimes has seeds, you have great food for your flock. You can always check a web page that tells you what is safe for birds, but take it with a grain of salt. The Australian birds thrive on eucalyptus, but it’s often listed as toxic for birds.
8. Messages in Eyes: Watch for pinning, which is when the pupil contracts to a very small dot. If the pupils are large and relaxed, usually the bird is calm. Maynard, the Amazon, has such large eyes that you can easily see the changes in his emotions. But he is a very gentle bird. Full of bluffing and threats.
9. Lizard Ancestors: I’m not going to argue theology, here. I have watched baby birds and listened to their calls for feeding. Lizards.
10. Baby Birds: Sweet little lumps of fuzz and helpless dependence. So very loveable.
11. Nests and Nest Boxes: I love to see birds trying to build a nest in whatever is in their cage or aviary. Love birds, depending on their species, will place strips of leaves or paper between the feathers on their back or tail, and carry them in that manner to the spot where the nest will be. Our proven pair of violet lovies wants to nest so much that they threw all that icky seed and pellets out of their hopper and crawled up from the trough to start building a nest. Nest boxes are a joy in that they can be cleaned and reused, but a frustration in the amount of room they take up inside or outside the cage or when you need to store them. Why doesn’t someone make a collapsible nest box? There are plastic nest boxes that can be sterilized in a dishwasher, but the ones I have seen are usually for smaller birds, finches or parakeets.
12. Cleaning Duties: Thankful for cleaning? Yes, really. I have so much fun teasing the sun conures with the vacuum cleaner hose. I’m evil, it’s true.
13. Special Needs: Nothing warms my heart more than seeing one of our many disabled birds living a good, happy life. When she’s not mad at me for bringing Maynard into the house, Bo Dangles is loving and likes to have her head scratched since she has no toe nails to scratch herself.
14. Sunlight is their clock: Yes, they do get up with the sun, but they also go to sleep with it. Except for the birds who have artificial lights for various reasons, they are as regular as clockwork. And there is a whole schedule for light with canaries to stimulate breeding, because they are that attuned to seasons and sunlight.
15. Songs: Canaries sing, sometimes the females as well as the males. Cockaties have their own little songs, very repetitious. Male zebra finches have their own trumpeting calls, and a son will sound similar to his father, but not quite. The parrots are capable of learning human songs, so we often sing around them. Music does sooth the feathered breast.

And the second half will be posted next week. See you then!

Bird’s Eye View

You are probably familiar with the internet meme where a series of photos shows how the public views something, how your boss views the same thing, how your friends see it, and so on. Well, it’s pretty obvious that the parrots and other birds in my house see things very differently than I do.

Cleaning: How I see it – I am preventing disease, making the house look good, improving the smell of the bird environs, and adding a little order to my life. How the parrots see it – You’re stealing my cache of extra food! You’re stealing my nice toys and giving me icky new ones! You’ve let in the Horrible Sucking Monster from Another Dimension! That’s not a broom, it’s a very stiff snake!

Moving to a new cage: How I see it – Your old cage was too small for you, now you can flap your wings and have more toys and be quieter. And you no longer have to share the cage with that obnoxious conure you don’t like. How the parrots see it – What did I do wrong that you have to punish me? What are all these scary things hanging from the top of this prison? Where’s my best friend, the obnoxious conure? I’m agoraphobic! (Note: How doves see it – What?)

Food, mine: How I see it – Here’s a taste, see if you like it and I will give more if you do. No, you can’t have that, it’s not good for you. No, you don’t like that, it will make you a Past Parrot! How the parrots see it – What is this horrible-smelling stuff you put in my bowl? I must throw it out. Yuck! Wait. Wait a minute. I do like that. This is yummy. Give me more. More! MORE MORE MORE!!! Do not hide your coffee/chocolate bar/avacado from me, I must have it.

Food, theirs: How I see it – I have lovingly prepared the best seed mix, the freshest pellets, and the healthiest fresh greens and fruits for you. I have put it on a cardboard tray so you can chew that up when you finish the food. How the parrots see it – What is this horrible-smelling stuff you put in my bowl? I must throw it to the bottom of the cage. Yuck! Wait. Wait a minute. I do like that. This is yummy. Give me more. More! MORE MORE MORE!!!

New toys: How I see it – I don’t want you to be bored, so I created/bought this special rope and wood and leather and hidden seeds in paper bags toy for you! It will give you hours of fun and keep you from screaming/feather picking/any bad behavior. (Note: Bad is ultimately subjective) How the parrots see it – You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you? This is a hangman’s noose, with scary blocks of wood and paper things. I don’t want it in my cage! I won’t go to that side of my cage until you remove the horror! Fine, hang it on the outside of the cage, but I won’t come out now. Ever. Even if you take the toy away. You have insulted me.

Friends coming over: How I see it – I want my birds to be well socialized, so I will bring them out and hope my friends don’t mind. Pass the birds around, feed them vegetables, they love those. Aren’t they the best pet/companion ever? How the parrots see it – Strangers! Murderers! Put me down! Mommy! Daddy! Help! I never eat those vegetables. Let me poop on your nice clothes. Okay, I’ll sit on your shoulder if I can eat your jewelry. Oops, sorry I broke your necklace. I’ll fly around the house to show you how sorry I am. How some of my friends see it – Let’s not go back there unless she promises to keep the damn birds in their cages! This sweater/necklace/watch is a family heirloom.

Bath time: How I see it – Healthy skin and feathers require occasional bathing, so I am breaking my back to give you bowls of fresh, clean water. Tomorrow I’ll dump them all out. If I have any energy left, I might fill them up again and put them back. If you don’t use the bowl, I’m coming around with the spray bottle! How the parrots see it – Thanks for the water, but my usual water tube isn’t empty or dirty. I guess I’ll just poop in it, then soak my pellets. Okay, now I’ll splash in it and get the birds in the next cage wet. This is fun. (Note: The water spray bottle is received with polar opposites in my flock. Cockatiels love it, I can spray until my hand falls off, and they would still want more. Conures aren’t thrilled. Budgies and love birds would rather have wet leaves to roll in. The Grays and the Amazon like it but will bite the nozzle given half a chance.)

There are many more situations where the flock and I have different opinions, like scary things outside, and why we have to go away and leave them alone for any length of time, and why we get up so early and go to bed so soon. These are the enjoyable mysteries of living with birds.

Battle of the Sexing

When I started breeding birds, I began with the perfect bird for first time bird owners and breeders: zebra finches. Normal gray zeebs are sexually dimorphic, meaning you can tell the boys from the girls by looking at them. Of course the birds have to be mature and have molted, otherwise they look totally different. I thought about breeding for a finch that always looks like a juvenile zebra, but that would defeat the natural intention of the colorations. (http://www.efinch.com/index.htm) But I digress. What I mean to say is, when you put a male with a female, you are sure of what you are doing. Once the pair bonds and starts pulling its grass out of a holder on the outside of the cage, stuffing it in a seed cup, and making goo-goo eyes at each other, you can give them a nest and await the hatching of eggs. Almost guaranteed.

One day I bought an all white zebra finch, because I really like the look of these birds, and wanted to breed something close to an Isabelle mutation. (http://www.hzebra.com/Draw/FIS.htm) I was told you could sex the white zeebs by the color of the beak. If the bird’s beak is bright orange, it’s male. I thought the beak on my new bird was the same shade of orange as the normal gray males I had. So I paired “him” with a female. I got lots of infertile eggs. So next season, I paired “her” with a male. No eggs at all. My white bird was either sterile or some oddity best left to science to discover.

Breeding budgies, or parakeets if you prefer, is equally easy. The clue only shows up, as with zebra finches, when the birds reach sexual maturity. Until then, they are all males with pink through violet ceres. (http://www.budgieplace.com/mf.html) As this link will explain, the cere is the bridge of skin at the top of the beak, where the nostrils can be found. But as they also explain, very pale mutations such as white, yellow, or pied, lace wing, or fallow, the color can be difficult to pinpoint. I had a pair of yellow budgies, there was no visual difference between them, but they were one of each sex. I only knew this because of the mates they chose.

Love birds, well, I don’t have a lot of luck sexing lovebirds. There are only a few species of love birds that are dimorphic. None of which I have attempted to breed. You can invade your bird’s personal space and push a finger upward under the pelvic bone. You will likely get bit unless the bird is tame. The male pelvis will be pointy and thin, the female’s wide and rounded. Not 100% sure, and I have birds which the experts assured me were one sex, who then turned out to be the other. Egg laying is a pretty good indicator. If you pair up two lovies, give them a nest box, you should get 4 to 6 eggs, on average. If you get 10 plus, you most likely have two girls in there, both laying eggs. And the birds give me looks of exasperation when I pull their eggs and switch partners. They can tell who’s male and who’s female, why can’t I? (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_tell_if_a_love_bird_is_male_or_female)

Cockatiels have a fool-proof clue to their sex, but again you have to wait for the birds to become mature. The females will keep a gray striping across their backs just at the base of the tail. Unless they are lutino or albino. Or pearl. And cockatiels have a tendency to pair up regardless of sex. I have had two sets of male/male bonded pairs. They made great fosters and are very devoted to each other. The odd thing is that it’s not a permanent condition, it’s just a matter of convenience. When one of the males passed away, the remaining bird, Tweety (see earlier rants on stupid things people name birds), took up with one of the bonded pairs and has been trying to convince the female to leave her mate and come away with him to the other side of the cage. So far, Tweety just annoys the pair. But he hasn’t given up yet. (http://www.cockatielcottage.net/cockatiels3.html)

African Gray parrots are totally monomorphic, you really have to know what you are looking for to tell the boys from the girls. Males are usually larger than females, but females have longer necks and more slender heads. The male parrot has a rounder body, the female is more slender. Males have tail feathers of undisputed red. Females will have a slight silver hue to their tails. Wing pits will be dark gray on the male, silvery gray on the female. And then there’s the eyes. Look at the patch of silvery feathers around the eyes. This patch is pointed at the ends in the male, and rounded overall in the female. Still not sure? Yeah, it’s complicated. (http://www.africangreysecrets.com/sexual-differences-in-african-grey-parrots/51442/)

Canaries are among the most difficult and the most easy to sex of all birds. Difficult if you believe that only males sing. I have had females who like to warble along with their brothers. Easy, if you have the knowledge of what to look for. During the breeding season, early spring here, the vents are of different shapes. The male’s has a bump, kind of a pseudo-penis, like the eraser end of a pencil, but a touch longer. The female’s vent will be flat and oval. The toes are a clue as well. Males have a longer middle toe, the female’s toes are all fashionably even. (http://www.examiner.com/article/numerous-ways-to-tell-if-your-canary-is-a-male-or-female-bird)

Sexing birds for breeding is not easy, with many mutations and types of birds. There is a wonderful company that will take a few feathers from the chest of your bird and do a DNA test. The cost is minimal, but if you are testing a dozen or more birds, it can be very expensive. Surgical sexing is the most completely positive way to sex birds, but also the most expensive. So I think I will go back to school, learn more about biology, and open a clinic just to DNA or surgically sex birds. I’ll let you know when I open the clinic.