From the Bird Club Library

Years ago, when I was deeply involved in my bird club, I wrote a bunch of articles every month for the newsletter. I included a book review from the club’s library, because few members were taking advantage of the great books there. Here’s one on a nice, general knowledge book.

Raising Healthy Birds by Kathleen Etchepare and the Editors of Bird Talk and Bird Breeders magazines.

Bowtie Press, 1995

I can think of several people who would read the foreword and put this book down in disgust. They would never pick it up again, and never find out if it holds important information that they could use. The reason is, this book is aimed at those who want to be “good parents” to their exotic birds. But for me, there is a phrase in the foreword that sums up what I enjoy and expect from fellow Aviculturists in the exchange of knowledge: “Educate yourself; devour all the information you can; and then use the information you believe best applies to your pet.”

Overall, this book provides lots of information to start with, but it’s very general because it speaks to as many bird species as possible. Once you gather the basics here, you want to move on and do deeper research on your bird. The central role of good nutrition in keeping healthy birds is the focus of the book. This is its most valuable contribution.

There are great photos inside, full color, and recipes that can be shared with bird and human. Gee, what a great idea! There is a clear list of what to bring with you to the veterinarian’s office, and a list of poisonous plants to avoid. And in case you have been told otherwise, like I was, this book assures us birds cannot catch colds from humans.

Actual avian vets wrote the later chapters about illness and preventative health care. Recognizing the signs of illness in a prey animal like parrots is stressed. Comparisons of seed diets vs. pelleted diets let one make up one’s own mind, and doesn’t pull any punches. Seeds do not have all the nutrition a bird needs, but pellets are made in various processes that include heating the food. Neither is perfect, but neither is ideal alone.

I wouldn’t mind having this book in my own library, there are great charts and photos and lots of helpful hints to make life with your parrot or flock much more enjoyable. I am glad to know this book will be available for me in the library. See for yourself!

Blue Baby Budgies

Genetics can rapidly put me to sleep. The details look like alphabet soup in some cases. For instance, finches, Lady Gouldians especially. You have to crack the code. RH PB GB = Red Head Purple Breast Green Back or Normal RH. BH PB BB = Black Head Purple Breast Blue Back, or a really pretty bird! Here’s the decoder ring: and more input: and my all-time favorite gould:

Zebra finches at least use normal words: Isabel, creamino, grizzled, but also have initials like NG for normal grey, OC for orange cheek, BC for black cheek, and my favorite, CFW for chestnut-flanked white. These do get complicated with things like Split OB/BB/BC which means at least one parent of the bird being described had an orange breast, black back, and black cheek. Here’s that decoder ring:

Cockatiels are less diverse, possibly because they don’t breed as rapidly as the finches. And last time I looked, they used whole words, albino, lutino, pearl, white-faced grays, cinnamon, and the always present normal grays. Well, according to this site, the alphabet soup has conquered cockatiel breeders:

Lovebirds have almost finch-like mutations. When you have a green bird, you have blue and yellow to work with. There are several species of these adorable little parrots, but we will look at peach-faced lovebirds because that’s the most confusing. I think there should be a law against naming a bird for a color on it, but then we would need to rename so many species it’s just mind boggling. So remember that peach-faced is the name of the whole species, and not one of the mutations. There are lutino pfls, cherry head lutino pfls, violet pfls, sea green pfls. Well, here’s a good site with a more complete list: and of course the African Love Bird Society, where you can learn about other lovebird species too:

And all of the above are just external signs of the genetics. The action happens as the fertilized egg leaves the hen and the embryo weaves its genetic material from the parents into its own unique self. If you understand all that alleles and chromosomes, you will enjoy these sites: for beginners and more advanced. Really technical:

I’m thinking about this subject now because my budgie chicks are feathering out. They’re blue! Well, duh, both parents are blue. Mom has a yellow head, and apparently one of the chicks also has a yellow head. Two out of four have the black lines on their wings and backs. So I think they are going to be really beautiful birds.

Here’s a guide to budgie colors and mutations, cause they are totally the best: Be sure to look for and click on the half-sider link. Pretty interesting!

So this should give you something to think about over the holiday weekend. Old-fashioned genetic manipulation actually involved sex and breeding. Sometimes, the old ways are the best. See you on Wednesday.

Place holder

Between being on fire alert and getting a manuscript off to an agent, I’m a little bereft of thoughts. And time. And energy. And so on. So my apologies, but here are some entertaining parrot videos.

Love the mini macaw in this!

Australian pigeons:

Listen to the background sounds of a room full of parrots!

This is not a hologram:

Sneaky parrot is sneaky:

I’ve watched this video before, don’t know if I posted a link here. But hey, repeats are a fact of life.

Cockatiel forced to sing to a rabbit!

Sweet cat and cockatoo:

A hoppy bird:

There’s an echo in here:

Choir practice:

Time to go to bed:

See you on Sunday.

Emergency Evacuation Plan

I live in a part of the world that likes to burst into flames now and then. Our fire season normally comes along around fall, after a long, dry summer. We get these Santa Ana winds, hot dry conditions, but this year we skipped spring and summer entirely. The calendar hasn’t caught up yet, but the weather follows some other system. Fires get started, the wind jumps in and we pretty much expect that people we know will need help. I’m always paying attention to the places people can go with their pets when evacuated. And that is where having an EEP comes in handy.

Had our neighborhood been threatened, Mike is at home, and I would get there as quickly as I could. My employer has been very sensitive to the needs of people to check on their homes, pets, and loved ones. Also schools are closed, and while the YMCA offered free child care to those impacted by the fire, they quickly ran out of space. So some people had to be home with their kids, keeping calm.

My biggest concern is that we have two small cars. They are hatchbacks, and we can stuff a lot into them, but as many birds as we have will be difficult. So the first thing to do is locate someone with a truck or van or trailer to help evacuate the birds.

I sat down and figured out how many carriers or cages we would need. Squishing birds into emergency accommodations, we still need 25 separate containers. We might get most of them in our vehicles, but it would be better to have a backup. Because that would not leave any room for people clothes and so on.

With 25 cages or carriers, we need 25 waterers, 25 food dishes, food, bottled water, nets, cat food, and other things. Here’s how I envision things would go:

I head home as quickly as possible.

Mike is already stuffing birds into travel carriers or small cages.

I gather waterers and food dishes.

I get water bottles and food ready to go.

Mike starts loading cages and carriers into the cars.

Mike gets frustrated that we can’t load everything in our small cars.

I call the friend who has the truck, and they are on the way.

Friend arrives, we finish loading birds, cat, food, and making sure all the doors on the cages have clips.

I realize we need clothes for us, toiletries, medication, some food, tea, sweetener, and sparkling waters.

Noise of the birds in the small cars is indescribable.

We figure out where to go. The possibilities are the fair grounds in Del Mar, houses of friends from the bird club who are not in the fire zone, and Alaska. As far as I know, Alaska doesn’t burn very often. Also relatives, but that’s a last ditch scenario.

Before we can take off, we get the alert on our cell phones that the evacuation order for our neighborhood has been lifted.

Reverse all the steps above.

Think more about downsizing.

There’s always a chance of losing birds due to the air quality or the stress if we do evacuate. Currently I have 4 budgie chicks that I would hate to move, and four zebra finch eggs that might actually hatch if we leave them alone long enough. I feel especially blessed that the fires never came closer than three miles from my home, and that was a small fire that was contained quickly.

The Red Cross web page has tips on making a plan for your family.

As well as

And Today’s Mama:

The ASPCA has special plans that include the fur and feather folks:

You may not have a high opinion of FEMA, but this guide is thorough:

And after an emergency, be sure to watch for lost or stray animals, so you can help get the pets back to the families. Stay safe, don’t approach an animal that looks scared or angry. Call the local Animal Control and let the professionals take care of things.

I hear that, as usual when we have an early hot spell, that an El Nino weather system is on the way come winter. I love that, with rain steady and plentiful. But after a fire, it means mud slides in the areas where the vegetation was burned, and the roots no longer hold the soil in place. So I’ll keep these plans handy, and see you on Wednesday!

The Terrible Trio

We have three birds in the house that are crazy. Really, they are ready to kill at various times. Good thing the humans are bigger than they are. And we can get them into their cages without getting bitten.

The first to arrive was Zazu, a sun conure. At five years old, his owner, a woman, had passed away. The husband didn’t ever let Zazu out of his cage, and decided to rehome him for free. I was just at the beginning of my bird crazy collecting days, and made the arrangements to pick him up, bring him home, and set him up here. After we got home, I put him on a perch stand and sat nearby, talking to him. Za didn’t seem relaxed, and maybe I should have given him a day or two before trying to interact. Oh well. I stuck my hand toward him, saying “Step up!” He went into velociraptor mode and bit me. Bleeding ensued.

Mike came in to see what happened, and picked up Zazu as if he’d lived with him for years. Sigh. So that was the end of my interaction with Zazu.

Some years later, after we had acquired Sunny, a female sun conure, someone contacted us about taking in a half moon conure. (Certain pet stores and club members knew us and would refer people to us) The woman had found the bird in her back yard a couple years before, and as she worked for a veterinarian, she had a well bird check-up performed and got his sexed determined. She called him Bad Boy because he would chase and bite anyone who came near him. She did a bit of traveling in her occupation, and could no longer find anyone who would willingly watch the bird for her without being paid a small fortune, having her provide health insurance, and indemnity if they had to kill the parrot.

We took him in and he and I got along pretty well, but he did not like Mike at all. Even with his wings clipped, he would launch himself off the top of his cage and attempt to attack. We called him BB, which morphed into Beeby. I hate seeing a bird live alone, so I introduced Esme, our green cheek conure, to his cage. Either it was love at first sight, or she kicked his feathered butt right off the bat. I love seeing them cuddle and preen. Esme will chase Beeby away from us when he tries to attack now.

Yes, the golden days of Beeby tolerating me ended when he demonstrated that he could fly once more. There was no way to keep him from attacking Mike or other birds, so we took him to the local bird shop to have a trim. I had been told early on that you should not trim the wings of your own parrots, because they will remember and resent it. The only way we could have maybe not soured my relationship with the bird would have been to arrange for a brave soul to pick him up, take him for the trim, and bring him back. Maybe. He figured out that we were standing around waiting for the job to be done, so we were to blame.

The last of this crazy trio is Maynard, my double yellow headed Amazon parrot. To me, he is sweet, trusting, loving, bonded, and a joy in my life. Mike, however, is competition for my attention, which will not be tolerated. Mike gives Maynard snacks all through the day. Maynard gets excited when Mike is in the kitchen, cooking. But when Mike walks by the cage without food, Maynard lunges and growls. What a brat!

So we have one bird who only likes Mike, one bird who hates everyone, and one bird who only likes me. Luckily we have a bunch of sweet babies that love everyone, such as Jake the love bird, Sunny the sun conure, and Creamsicle, the cockatiel. Enough personalities to populate a sitcom, and keep us smiling. Here’s a cute video about entertaining birds.
See you on Sunday with more traveling through books.

Happy Mother’s Day!

In an odd convergence of calendars, this weekend is a great weekend to be a mother of Mexican heritage living in the United States. May 10th is always Mother’s Day in Mexico, and May 11th happens to be the second Sunday in May, and thus the US celebrates Mother’s Day. Apparently it’s also Mothers’ Day in New Zealand and Australia. My hens and I will celebrate in style.

Of course, I am a step-mom, a very rare and wonderful breed of Mother. I had a great one, and I think I am a pretty good one. And that made me think of birds who are tricked into raising other birds’ chicks.

I think I mentioned the dove that sat on a cockatiel egg, but the chick was too strange for her to actually feed. And a co-worker whose cockatoo hatched out a mocking bird chick and is feeding it. That hen is finally not laying eggs, so there’s a method to the owner’s madness.

I’ve had society finches that would sit on just about any egg and feed the chicks, and I’ve had Gouldian finches, cut-throat finches, and canaries that would hatch the eggs then toss the chicks.

Cuckoos are the epitome of birds who foist their offspring onto other species to hatch and raise. Not only that, the cuckoo chick goes about systematically removing the other eggs from the nest. In a fascinating slice of evolution in action, some target birds are fighting back.

In the New World, we have cowbirds which have similar habits, but don’t always eliminate all the chicks of the foster parents.

Did you know that pelicans were considered the most excellent mothers of the bird world? People in medieval Europe believed that a pelican would cause blood to flow from its breast to feed its young if no other food came to hand. Er, I mean, beak. Well, actually it all got mixed up with the Christians drinking the blood of Jesus, because a little bit got lost in the translation, but there you go.

Who hasn’t heard the phrase, “Like a hen with one chick?” Chickens are some of the best moms in the bird world, but they have it pretty easy. The chicks are precocious. As soon as their down dries, the are up and running, and following mom’s example of what to eat. Turns out some folks use one broody hen to hatch out a dozen eggs at a time.

Cats get along very well with poultry, it seems. My cat must be an exception, given the number of baby button quail that have vanished in her vicinity. But I remember a cute video of a kitten that liked to nap under a chicken. I can’t locate that video, but here’s a great article about a cat and a chicken with joint custody.

The oddest cat/poultry story I have seen in a while involves a mother cat, her kittens, and three ducklings. The ducklings actually learned to nurse on the cat.

Lots of mother dogs are used in various zoos to nurse cubs of big cats. This page lists some of those plus more odd combinations, and some simple buddy adoptions.

And another such collection:

A video of some of these pairs in action:

And more:

Finally, a full episode of BBC’s Animal Odd Couples

Enjoy your day, give your moms some love from me, and I will be back on Wednesday.

Babies in the Nest Box!

At last, we got a decent photo of the hatchlings in the nest box. Mama is so proud, and there are still two eggs left that might hatch. Dad goes in the nest box sometimes to feed her, but most of the time he is standing guard outside.

I love that we can see the age difference between the chicks, even at a day or so apart. Budgies in the wild lay lots of eggs, the eggs hatch quickly, the chicks grow rapidly and fledge pretty much ready to go off on their own. This behavior evolved due to the harsh and dangerous land where they come from.

This link has lots of good information about budgies: and of course Uncle Wiki is also useful:

My budgies are standard, not English, but someday I would love to be breeding the English budgies again. They are so laid back, and as budgies are normally not very jittery, this says a lot! Here’s a look at the difference between the two body types: Scroll down to the photo under the heading Breeding. The larger bird on the left is English, the one on the right, Standard.

We’ve also noticed that most of the Australian birds, cockatiels and budgies primarily, are not scared off the nests by humans poking around and sticking cameras in the boxes. I’m hoping in a week or two to actually pull the chicks out once a day and love on them. I’ve done this in the past and always had good relationships with the chicks and fledglings.

Here’s an excellent page on budgie body language:
And this is a great site with information on budgie temperament:

Check back when you can for more updates on these babies and the parents. See you on Sunday!

Books I Love About Birds

Not only do I read, I write as well. Maybe that should say, not only do I write, I read as well. I do both. So I wanted to share some of my favorites in no particular order on the subject of Birds.

Alex and Me by Dr. Irene Pepperberg has to top the list. Written shortly after the death of the amazing Alex, you can feel the joy, the frustration, and the tears resulting from the parrot/human realtionship.

The Birds isn’t actually a book, it’s a novelette by Daphne du Maurier, and you won’t find the Hitchcock thriller in this story. Still, it’s an edge of your seat tale and worth picking up.

Owl by William Service tells the story of an owlet that grows up in a human household, and the impact he makes. I can read this one over and over.

A bit off my proposed subject, here’s a book I have to read: Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. Science and romance and an owl.

Another discovery that will be on my must read list, The Parrot Who Owned Me by Joanna Burger. The photo on the book cover is a red-lored Amazon parrot.

Adventures with Taking Birds by Catherine Hurlbutt is a book I read and reviewed for my book club years ago. At the time, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this book to be the life story of one woman, Catherine Hurlbutt, and her attempts to teach various birds to talk. Delightful!

The Birdman of Alcatraz by Thomas E. Gaddis has an interesting spot in my history. I haven’t read it, but I have seen the movie based on it several times. My son read it and loved it from a purely life in prison fascination standpoint. There’s no denying that Robert Stroud, the Birdman, was a psychopath as well as unlucky. His first crime, manslaughter in Alaska 1907, normally flew under the legal radar, but the new judge in town did not plan to let that happen. As he later murdered a prison guard, no doubt he would have been a menace to society in any event. Birds became a way to escape his physical confinement through the power of his mind. Gaddis may use a little too much glamor in portraying Stroud, but the story is still powerful.

Mike and I took a stab at breeding canaries, and while I am pleased to have the fluff balls we do have, I don’t think we will go that route again. And honestly, Mike just wanted to enjoy the canary songs. At times when I needed advice, there was one place to turn day or night. A Place for Canaries by Robirda McDonald. She even replied to an email and while she told me what I needed to do, get a larger cage, at the time I could not, and so ended the breeding phase. I love that Ms. McDonald has published books on canaries, and this link will not only take you to the list of those books, it is also the web site!

Finally, another book to add to my must read list: The Birding Life: A Passion for Birds at Home and Afield by Larry Sheehan and Carol Sheehan. Looking for birds everywhere, listening to their sounds, and seeing evidence of their presence is indeed, a passion.

Have a great week, and see you on Wednesday!