No More Rescues

It hurts to put this in writing, and it will be tough to live by it. I want to do so much in the way of writing and organizing and the like. I need to free up my time by scaling back on the birds. So the Hungerford Home for Happy Hookbills has just turned on the No Vacancy sign.

There are birds that will be here for their natural lives. That hasn’t changed. And like this past summer, when I thought I might have no choice but to rehome all of them, deciding which birds might be rehomed is a challenge.

The doves can go. The budgies that I didn’t breed myself can go. The 3 zebra finches and one green singer have to stay. No matter what, I will always want to hear the adorable trumpeting calls of zeebs. Maynard, Bo, and Io are home for good. The conures and lovebirds also are here to stay.

The area where I can do the most cutting back is with the cockatiels. Maybe. Not Kai, not Fletch and Tuck, not Bobbin and Freckles, not the four from Frank, not Mallory, not Hermes – okay, never mind.

Truly, the only way to cut back is to take in no more birds. A friend recently asked if I could take in a green cheek conure, and of course I said yes, but I did not hear back about that bird. Since it was her daughter’s bird, I have a feeling that won’t happen. I said no to a macaw, and that bird is now happily waiting for a forever home at FreeFlight in Del Mar.

I can say no. I also can refer people to the bird club, FreeFlight, Quail Ridge, and half a dozen other good quality rescures. I shouldn’t feel like this is a bad thing.

I rescued two parrotlets in December. I won a pair of canaries in January. But that’s it. I draw the line, no more birds. No matter how much I have wanted a baby African gray, or how much fun Max the flame macaw was to feed and play with. Maybe a few more zeebs, but that’s it.

Are you convinced yet? Because I am not. Just like trying to stay on a diet, I give up what I want long term for what I want right now. I am the Statue of Bird Liberty. Give me your lonely, your plucked, your mostly ignored parrots, longing to be somewhat freer. You know, I think Plan B will go into effect. More Aviaries so more birds can move outside. Maybe rethink the bird room, make it a free flight room for the cockatiels and finches.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday or Sunday.

Parrot Scents

Everyone who is tired of hearing about Maynard, my double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, please skip this post. It’s not ALL about Maynard, but mostly. I’ll be sure to tell you the parts not about him in case you want to just skim.

I have an on-going argument with my husband. He says that Maynard smells like cheese rind that is much too old. I don’t get that, he smells herbal to me, a little musky but nice. Recently I realized that Maynard is aggressive to Mike, and happy and affectionate to me. Does he somehow use scents to indicate these differences on another level?

*It’s pretty well known that you have to be very careful if you use candles, air fresheners, and so on, around birds. Non-stick cookware is off limits, not only for the harm the released toxins can do to our feathered family, but the as yet undetermined harm to people. In these cases, because birds have air sacs which retain what they breath in for a long time, the other gases reduce the amount of oxygen the bird has, and leads to death.

*Back to the subject, this great blog post confirms that Amazons have a musky smell. And there should be no bad odor coming from any bird. Powdery birds like cockatoos, cockatiels, and African grays will smell different from conures and Amazons who don’t have a natural powder. I will never forget a nice young lady who worked a bird club outreach with us at a local fair. She brought her adorable cockatiel for people to handle. She named him Chicken. He still loved her. She would hold him up to her nose and sniff him regularly. She loved the smell of her bird.

*Parrot poop, on the other hand, needs to be cleaned up regularly or you will discover some incredible smells. Our toeless African Gray, Bo Dangles, does have a special situation in that we use towels on her metal shelf so that she is more comfortable and warm in the winter. But a day of such use is about the limit. I hope to get her a better cage soon, and will switch to something like rabbit pellets that can be cleaned up easily. And let me tell you, those towels need be changed out completely. I tried at first to just flip it over. Parrots poop both solids and urine at the same time. Poopology is important, so that you can find a clue to your bird’s illnesses long before he or she shows signs. In the wild, the bird will hide the signs as long as possible. I love the Bird Tricks group, they share lots of knowledge with everyone, and if you buy their stuff, great, and if you don’t, no problem. This is a really good reference on poop.

Back to Bo, I put her on a special diet at the same time I tried Io and Maynard on the same food. She ate it, but wow! She had the stinkiest poops ever. She’s back on the mix I used before. Io, on the other hand, loves the food and doesn’t stink any more than before. Maynard didn’t stink because he just wouldn’t eat it. Perhaps if I put pasta and cheese on it?

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

*These parts are not about Maynard.

Lies I told Myself

When I worked a very stressful, 40 plus hours per week job, I told myself many lies. I am coming to grips with the truth of those lies slowly. Which means I am giving myself times out and punishments like crazy.

Lie #1: Once I stopped working, I would feed my birds more fresh vegetables, fruits, and cooked meals like quinoa and soaks. Because I would have time to make the food every day. So far I cooked once in the three months I have been retired. My punishment? I can’t have any more hookbills until I make this happen. No. More. Birds. 

Lie #2: When I retired, I would hand feed all the chicks from my breeders. I will bond with these babies and sell them as really well socialized pets. I fed two lovebirds and two cockatiels. I hated it. I was tied to their schedule, I almost had to miss a writers meeting, and the lovebirds sold but I still have one of the cockatiels. The other cockatiel died unexpectedly, and I have been beating myself up over it repeatedly. My punishment? The three lovebird chicks in the nest were given to a friend who agreed to handfeed them. I agreed to watch her birds for six months over the summer. 

Lie #3: With so much time on my hands, I will keep all the cages clean. Well, I am at 50% on this one. The bird room cages haven’t been cleaned yet, and the unexpected rain in California is hampering my efforts. But the living room cages are clean, even hosed down in the warmer spells. So my punishment is to keep cleaning. I can live with that.

Lie #4: Lots of extra out time for the birds. My goodness. In the summer, we couldn’t let them out because we needed the ceiling fans to stay on. (See above, California) And if Maynard is out, no other birds can be out. He will attack and injure, if not kill, the intruder into his world. Jake has tried to attack Maynard, and even though I give them separate out times, Jake has started going on top of Maynard’s cage to taunt him. My punishment for this is not getting to have the cockatiels, lovebirds, or conures flying around the house in beautiful flocks, having a good time and looking for something to poop on. Okay, maybe that’s not as bad a punishment as I thought.

Why did I tell myself all these lies before I retired? I think the problem is that my house doesn’t just have junk drawers. We have a junk room, a junk desk, a junk garage, and a junk side yard. There are many cleaning issues that haven’t been properly addressed in years. If the house started out clean and organized, I believe I would be able to keep on top of all those issues above. Or am I just telling myself another lie?

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Sunday.

Identity Crisis

What do you do with an angry Amazon Double Yellow-Headed Parrot? Especially when he’s upset because I left the room with dark clothes on and came back in something light. I left wearing pants and came back in a long dress. Or I left with dry hair and came back with it wet. I wish I knew how to keep him from having these episodes.

I remember hearing that chickens respond better to a person who wears the same clothes every day while feeding and cleaning their pen. I could understand that, but Maynard has a bit more brain than a chicken, in spite of what my husband says. Here’s some input on bird vs. mammal brains:!/

And more data on the reason science is just now realizing that birds are smarter than we think.

Are they smarter than people in some situations? This makes me think of the early IQ tests that were biased toward people who lived in a certain style and place. It’s just not fair.

This comes as no surprise to me because I know my birds are always trying to tell me something. And this has great input on how they recognize each other in the wild. But in captivity, a caged bird might not know its name.

Maynard knows his name, I am pretty sure. He calls himself that pretty often. And he knows we are talking to him when he hears that name. But I have no idea what he calls us. Does he really think my name is Mama?

While this article is talking about wild birds, it does mention the fact that parrots can tell their owners from strangers. and this one is similar, neither one has an answer as to why Maynard will suddenly think I am The Enemy. 

This is the closest I can find to a concrete reason. Towards the bottom, the author states that she does not let her parrots see her clean their cages. Parrots resent the invasion of their territory. And sometimes we have to win our parrot’s trust over ever day. That could be the explanation.

Maynard had 6 new experiences of companions, I am his 7th companion human. He’s been with me for a year and a half, which is not very long. He did pick me, he loves me, and we get on very well together most of the time. But if I make unexpected changes without his knowledge, he reverts to aggression in self-defense. My solution with washing my hair is to make sure I have him in the bathroom while I shower. He loves that, so it works well. I have to work on his aversion to me changing clothes mid-day. It’s not always possible to have him with me as long as he is aggressive to Mike. But now that I have an answer, I can find a way to solve my problem.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Thursday. 

Too Old to Be a Mom

Parrots are so much like human toddlers that it’s frightening. I know it’s not fair to either birds or kids to say they are exactly the same, but there are similarities. And you know the parrot is never going to grow up, get a job, and move out. Or is that the toddler? I can easily be confused.

Last Saturday, I woke up at my usual time, but stayed in bed because it was too cold to get up. I needed a little more sleep. Well, Maynard had other ideas. From the other room, I heard him calling for me. “Mama!” Pause. “Mama!” Sigh. That’s when I thought, I’m too old to be a mom.

I want to be a grandmother, sure, but I think I am going to have to adopt. In the meantime, I am runnign around after my Amazon toddler, picking up his toys, barricading rooms so he won’t go in and get hurt or damage anything, and trying to sleep when he takes his naps.

Jake gets my morning hours, and he is a smart lovebird. I’ve always been amazed at how easy they are to train. When I had a dozen or so in the living room, and they had evening out time, I just had to turn out the lights but one, and the pairs would go back to their cages. Sometimes there would be a disagreement about which cage belonged to which pair, but my word was final. With few exceptions, they flew around for a couple hours, and then were ready to turn in.

We recently moved Jake’s cage. When he is being stubborn about returning to his cage, I only have to get the net out, and he zooms right back to his digs. This morning, he was so confused. So I didn’t “threaten” him with the net. I took him into the bathroom with me and talked him into letting me hold him and return him to his cozy nest.

Maynard had evening out time, and doesn’t fly these days. Since he has such animosity to Mike, and sometimes to me, we keep him clipped. Like any toddler, he gets to a point where he is worn out. Unlike a toddler, he climbs back up into his cage, has a snack and a drink, and goes to sleep. What a good boy!

Like a toddler, he will babble words we can’t translate, but he doesn’t seem to mind that we don’t understand. He’s just making noise for noise’s sake. Unlike a toddler, he is capable of yelling “HELP!” in a way that might make a neighbor call certain authorities. So far, no one has felt obligated to do that.

Right now, Maynard is on his T-perch, destroying what I call his pacifiers. The clear plastic lids from yogurt containers are his favorite thing to destroy. There’s a screw at one end of the perch. I cut a small hole in the lid and attach it over the screw’s head. He sometimes gets part of my dinner placed there, and after he eats, he destroys the thing. This activity will keep him quiet and happy for at least an hour. I just hope I don’t run out of lids. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

What We Have Here is a Failure To Communicate

Companions of larger parrots will understand immediately. Your parrot knows what is going on, and only wants to find a way to communicate to you when you miss things. We humans can be really dumb when it comes to talking.

For instance last night, worn out from a day of doing stuff, I failed to turn off the light over the canary cage in the dining room. Maynard’s cage is just past the dining room in the office. Most nights when Mike and I retire, the big parrots settle down first. But Maynard tried to get my attention to the light. He kept calling his Jerry Lewis-like “Hello? Heeeeelllllooooo!” I told him to go to sleep, and he answered in a spate of words that just didn’t translate. Some time around midnight, Mike got up and realized I’d left the light on.

Why didn’t I go see what Maynard wanted? Well, in the past, there hasn’t been anything out of order. I will have to give him a little more credit now. Last night was pretty odd. The male button quails were making a strange call that made Mike go out with a flashlight to see if anything was wrong with them. Nope. Nothing going on there. And quail aren’t parrots, but still. They were trying to say something. Mostly, “Hey, we need us some hens! How about it?”

A couple days ago, Maynard decided to help peel the old paint off the bathroom wall. Except we weren’t exactly expecting to apply new paint anytime soon. So I have had to keep that door closed. He also will go down the hall all by himself and play with my shoes. (I don’t know if all Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrots have foot fetishes, but he certainly does.) His idea of playing is to take bites out of the rubbery soles and toss the shoes around. He also has removed all the aglets on my laces. To prevent that, I have blocked the hallway with a small table laying on its side. I have a tv tray upside down against the linen cupboard. Amazingly, he doesn’t go far into the living room where the other bird cages are with the fallen sunflower seeds.

Every afternoon I take at least an hour to sit with Maynard and play, or let him chew on a toy, or whatever he’s in the mood for. He seemed miffed that he was not allowed to go wherever he wanted in the house. I guess he thought I didn’t know about it, because he kept climbing up on the ottoman, walking up my legs, climbing on the back of the chair, shouting his whole verbal repository, then reversing directions to go look at the blocked hallway.

Sometimes, however, he does try to communicate something I do not know. When Maynard first came to live with me, his out time mostly involved sitting on a t-perch next to me. I would give him bits of my meals, toys to play with or throw, and when he allowed it, head scritches. Then he started climbing down from the perch. It’s tall enough that he shouldn’t be able to do that. But he did it.

Because Maynard hates Mike and will attack him if he sees him, we have to block off the area in the office where Mike’s desk is. And we have to be sure Mike remembers when Maynard is out on the floor. Now most of the time, Maynard’s out time is floor time. Lately, he’s been trying to climb up my trash can. Seems he misses our shared perch time. I almost get it when he tries to tell me that, but sometimes it takes a bite to my ankle. Good thing I love him.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

Half Life

As I played with Jake my Lovebird this morning, I tried to remember how old he is. He was a year old when he came to live with me. And that was about five years ago. He’s six years old, and if he lives the estimated life span for lovies of 20 years, then he’s edging in to middle age.

Using this site as a measuring device, I seem to have a lot of elderly birds. But I think their numbers for the larger parrots are low. They say 50 years for Amazons and Grays, but another source gives 50 as the bottom of a range going to 80 years. That’s more like what I expected.

Maynard is 26 years old. If I expect him to be around until he’s 50, then we are half way there. He certainly acts middle aged most of the time. If Jake lands on Maynard’s cage, I can just hear Maynard saying, “Get off my lawn. I mean bars!” Even an expectation of 80 puts the Amazon in close range to his middle years.

With Io and Bobo, I have no idea how old they are. I would think they are also about twenty years old. I am in the process of moving Bo into a smaller cage. I am usually of the opinion that larger is better where cages are concerned. But since Bo can’t perch, having no toes, she climbs around and plays on things and has herself a great time. Until she loses her balance and falls to the cage floor. Right now that’s a three foot drop. Onto iron bars or press wood trays. So a cage that is not so tall would benefit her, and help her live longer. The goal is to find one with the larger diameter bars that are more comfortable for her to wrap her legs around. Not an easy task.

Io is good in his cage, the only issue he has that may threaten his life span is his habit of unscrewing his food bowl and dumping the contents. I suppose going for an afternoon or overnight without food isn’t terribly dangerous.

My budgies are all older except for the four chicks that hatched within the last year. But if Pretzel is any measure of their health, they may not have overly long lives. I have some in the outside aviary that are pushing 10 years.

As for canaries, ten years is average, and 15 possible. So my waterslagers should not need to be rehomed when I pass on. Luckily, they probably would be the easiest to place.

Conures on the other hand are a problem all unto themselves. Greencheeks are about the quietest variety, and are on the small side. The suns, of which we have 5 now, the jenday, the half moon, and our “broken bird” the orange front are quiet when the lights are out and it’s dark. I would rarely ask that birds be rehomed together, but Beeby and Esme should stay together, Sunny and Zazu, George and Gracie, and Sonny and Mookie. I know how old Sunny and Zazu are, and Sunny is getting up there. She was ten when she joined the flock, and has to be 16 or 17 now. With a life span of 30 years, she is firmly middle age. Maybe that’s why she and I get along so well.

Thanks for reading, and I will be back on Sunday.

Canary Love

In the town that I called home for my childhood and teen years, there lived a woman who bred and sold canaries. In the late spring and summer, when we drove past her house with the windows down, and especially if we had to stop at the traffic light just down the street, her birds would be holding free concerts. I dreamed about going there to buy a canary and filling my life with that glorious music.

I also watched the movie Bird Man of Alcatraz, which added to my wish to know personally these cheerful feathered singers. Life took me in different paths for many years, and when I did get around to having a nice flock, I didn’t think much about canaries any longer.

A friend gave me a green singing finch. This adorable yellow and gray finch was said to be the natural starting point for the man-made canary. The real canary ancestor is called the Atlantic canary Male and female adult green singers are easy to tell apart, as the female has a “necklace” of little dots on its lower throat. I had a male, and set about finding a female. These little birds are feisty and pugnacious. And did not work well in a community flight cage. On their own, I tried many different nests and live food, and never had any breeding success. I’m down to one single female, and have her paired just for company with a male zebra finch. So ends that attempt.

My husband wanted a canary. He loves their singing. So when my bird club had a special program on canaries, I talked to the presenter and purchased a beautiful male American singer as a birthday present. The house filled with glorious song, and all was well. But did I stop there? Of course not! I soon after purchased a female, threw them into a cage, and gave them a nest. Yeah, that’s not how it’s done.

Luckily these birds hadn’t read any more on the subject than I had. Soon the hen was sitting on a nest of four eggs. Sadly, shortly after the eggs hatched, she succumbed to an illness and passed away. I feared I would lose the chicks, but the dad stepped in and raised the babies all by himself. Then he died. Chances are good that this drated mite is what killed the adults. I learned to spray Avian Insect Liquidator (AIL) on all my finches regularly to prevent this issue.

The babies grew to adult hood, and some went off to new homes. I kept the hen that most resembled her mom, and got a new male. For whatever reason, this girl loved to sit on eggs, but found the new-hatched babies ugly and horrible. She tossed every baby. The longest she went without infanticide was 5 days. Just when I had my hopes up, the baby plummeted.

Needless to say, she never got another nest again, and I stopped breeding canaries. Through one thing and another, I ended up with a handful of canaries, and we enjoyed the songs. But some of the canaries were elderly, and we lost them to old age. Now we are down to two of that group, and very little singing. I wanted to get waterslagers, since they are the best singers, but they aren’t cheap.

The bird club had another canary presentation. The opportunity table that night had a pair of waterslager canaries available. One of my tickets was the second one called, and I nabbed the canaries. Yes!

New cage, new place in the dining room, and the whole house filled with song. What a great start to the new year. I know you want to hear all about these two, Rico and Bubbles, as time goes on. Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back on Thursday.

First Blog of 2015 – In which I save a Budgie but lose Two Cockatiels

The Miracle of Pretzel – No morning starts out well with my husband saying we have a bird in trouble. One look at the little blue and white budgie (parakeet in American English) with blood on his head, wing tips, and legs, curled backwards into a crescent, and I knew we would be saying good bye to him shortly. I washed him gently while he tried to bite me. The lack of strength in his bite told me more of his probable injury. He’d been thrashing around the bottom of the flight cage, which explained the blood. Not even a year old yet, and he’d had a stroke or seizure.

The first rule of helping a sick or injured bird is to get them warm. I put a hot rock into a small carrier, put in a dish of water, some millet, a soft furry thing for him to lay on, and placed the little guy inside. At this point, he could not perch. He laid on his back or his side, and flapped his wings, which only served to move him around in circles. He became agitated when we walked past, so I covered the carrier with a cloth and checked him a couple times a day.

At the time, I was handfeeding chicks, and when I finished with them, I would take Pretzel, as I started calling him, and offer him the food. He would eat a little bit, but not much at all. Several times, I would put just water and Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar in a syringe and give him that. He took that a little better than the baby food.

My heart ached as it became clear he would probably starve to death before anything else. I discussed with a friend the moral choice of letting him go that way versus continuing to attempt to feed him. He did have millet in the carrier, so maybe he was eating more than I knew.

A week went by. Pretzel began to chatter. Budgies are happy, noisy birds but not very loud. I had to get up and check that he was, indeed, making noise. That was a good sign. The next morning, I heard a furious flapping of wings from the carrier. Looking under the cloth, I gasped. Pretzel was perched on the snuggle thing and flapping his wings with exuberance. Today, he’s in his own cage and perching pretty well. He is still wobbly and obvious not at 100% but he chirps and chatters and is a constant reminder that miracles may happen when you least expect them.

Playing God – Maybe because I never gave birth to any children but still had the pleasure of raising my stepson and daughter, I often try to give my unproven couples a chance to raise a chick. Proven simply means the pair have produced fertile eggs and successfully raised them. In other words they are male and female and know what to do. I have some pairs that are male and female and don’t know what to do. And it’s hard to get them to pay attention to sex education videos. Now and again, if one pair is being very successful and another is not, I will remove an egg carefully from the successful nest and place it in the unsuccessful nest. With the pair of lovebirds, I know the male is male because he has fathered many chicks for me. The female was DNA tested, but she was a pet before she came to me for breeding. She has no clue that she needs to let the male do something before she lays the eggs. The couple next to them had three chicks last clutch and four chicks this clutch. I moved an egg from the successful nest before the four chicks hatched. But for some reason it never hatched under the foster pair.

I did the same with the cockatiels, placing an egg from a fertile pair into another nest box. Two weeks later, a fluffy little chick lifted its head when I looked into the box. But when I checked again a few days later, the chick was cold and dead, and might have been attacked by something. I know many birds get agitated when breeders do a nest check. I have been doing them for years, and never lost a chick before. I guess my lesson here is, don’t risk the life of the chicks in the eggs.

Beloved Dinky – The hardest thing to admit is that my actions caused the death of a bird. This isn’t the first time, it’s just one of the times I had become very attached to the bird in question. Coco and Dinky were clutchmates, pulled a few weeks apart, and my first attempt at handfeeding. Along with two lovebird chicks, I had fun with them, even bringing them with me to a party and having to interrupt a movie so I could feed them. In fact, Dinky got her name from the heroine in the movie we watched that night.

The cockatiels had very different personalities. Coco was co-dependent. He could not believe I would remember to feed him again, so he constantly begged whenever someone walked by the brooder and then the fledgling cage. He is the most beautiful brown-gray I have ever seen. Dinky was quieter, and as soon as she finished eating, she wanted to cuddle. A lovely red-eyed lutino, she charmed me completely.

I tried to force these two to finish weaning. They readily ate the millet in the cage, and the other food like chopped apples and broccoli, but they were still wanting at least one feeding before bed. I couldn’t see a reason for that except habit. So I put them in the large population cage to see what would happen.

Coco still begged for food when I walked by. He also followed one of the adult tiels around, maybe trying to keep warm. Dinky found a perch no one else wanted, and slept. She slept a lot. Any time I passed the cage, she would be sleeping. I think that should have been my first clue.

We went out for dinner. Dinky was alive when we left. When we came back, only a couple hours later, she had passed away. The shock of it made it nearly impossible to tell Mike what had happened, but when I cradled her cold body against my chest, he hugged me and let me cry.

Was she not eating in the big cage? Did she not know where the water was? Did I want to be free of handfeeding too much, and force her to wean too soon? She was a couple weeks younger than Coco, so she should have been fed longer. I forgot that at the time, but now it’s crystal clear. I lost a sweet bird through impatience.

There are more lovebirds to hand feed, and more cockatiels might be right behind them. I am going to stop the breeding once the weather gets a bit warmer, because right now I think the nest boxes provide a warm spot for the birds. I will be patient for Dinky’s sake, and I will be kinder while I have the babies with me. This lesson was certainly learned the hardest way possible.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year! I’ll be back on Sunday.