Birds and Toys

Companions of parrots are repeatedly told that your bird needs lots of toys. They need things to chew on, they need things to play with, and they need things to challenge their intelligence so they don’t get bored. But have you ever seen a bird that really, really loves its toys?

I am not talking about the urge to mate with a toy. If your bird has a favorite that’s too much of a favorite, there are lots of helpful sites on the web to talk you through that issue. I am looking at a fondness for a toy expressed in different ways.

Sometimes the fondness is fleeting. My cockatiels often adopt a ball or wood block or bottle cap, and carry it around for hours. Kai likes to sit on a big wooden ball, as if he is expecting it to hatch some day. But when a cockatiel carries the toy into a food dish, the toy is put down and food is consumed. After that, the toy might be abandoned in the food dish. Until the angels come along and make it a real rabbit. Or something.

Many of my parrots love bells. Lovebird Jake has to have a perch just under his bell, so he can wear it like a hat. The look on his face when his bell in on his head is one of pure devotion. Seconds later, the bell is exactly what he needs to take out his aggression. Or to signal that he really didn’t get enough out time. Or to say the carrots are okay, but he’d rather have broccoli, thank you very much.

Maynard, my coverbird, also likes his bells, but he has to be in the right mood for them. Otherwise he likes his red jar lids, which he carries around and chirps to, and occasionally tries to feed, and his buttons and beads. I have bought shirts and had friends send shirts so he could chew the buttons off of them. I cleaned out a junk basket recently and found a lot of large, plastic beads. He’s having a great time with those.

Bo Dangles likes to get my attention at the end of the day by dangling from the roof of her cage. Once she sees that I have seen her, she rotates her body with her neck muscles, climbs over to the side of the cage, and starts ringing her bell. That’s a cue for me to play tug of war with her and the bell. Of course, tug is her favorite game. The bell just happens to be one thing she uses for that, and the thing that makes Blind Io upset from the noise. Bo will tug on towels, shoes, just about anything she can reach. She’s a tugging fool.

My recovered from his seizure budgie, Pretzel, has a very special ball with a bell in it. He does indeed carry it around his cage shake it to make noise, and talk to it. He leaves it under the food hopper most of the time. All my birds get cardboard boxes to destroy and chew on. The conures in the bird room love to get those heavy gray cardboard cup trays from a certain coffee purveyor. I stick a few peanuts in the middle, and they go to town, chewing a path into the center. Recently I put a flat tray type box in the cage with Sunny and Mookie, then put a paper bag with a few peanuts in the middle. For days, all you could see of Mookie was his tail feathers, sticking up between the box and the bag.

My birds are entertaining, especially when I keep them entertained. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

Displaced Aggression

Of all our domestic companions, parrots are among the last to come live with us. People have kept chickens, pigeons, canaries, and other song birds for centuries, but parrots are new to non-native countries, relatively speaking. They were kept as pets by tribes in various forest and jungle environments, and only recently (century-wise) brought into more urban settings.

As less civilized creatures, parrots are moment to moment in touch with their fight or flight instincts. Therefore when someone or something seems threatening, they try to get away, or they attack. And if the threatening thing is not in range, they will attack whatever they can reach. Continue reading “Displaced Aggression”

The Name Game

Naming birds is tricky. Humans are hung up on gender issues, and they feel really stupid if they give a male bird a female name and vice versa. In truth, the bird could care less. Whatever name you call it, those are just sounds that mean you want the parrot’s attention. I can’t think of too many domestic animals that can tell if you gave them a gender name that doesn’t match them. There are few honest pet psychologists with loads of cats and dogs seeing them to get over the trauma of the wrong name.

True, dogs will respond better to a name that does get their attention. And stop naming your dogs with people names, will you? You are just adding to the problem of anthropomorphizing them. Yeah, like that’s a big problem. Respect your pets as family members and as the animals they are. That’s all it takes. And darn if they don’t divide their list of “favorite” names into males and females. Talk about anthropomorphizing.

I was going to be flippant (okay, more flippant) and say cats don’t respond, so call them what you like. But that’s not true or fair. Some cats can be taught. You can name the kitten the sound the can opener makes and it will always be there when you call. This article doesn’t mind using people names, and takes you to the same list of names as the dog one above. And research shows that cats like names that end in an “ee” sound.

Parrots are tricky. You have a good chance of hearing the bird repeat whatever you name it. And this can sometimes cause untold heartache. For instance, I love the name Paula. I love the name Melissa. I can never name any pet those names because the two previous wives of my husband went by those names. My first cockatiel I named Palafox. I never planned on having him say his own name, so I didn’t mind that he probably couldn’t handle the F or X. Maynard says his name a lot, which makes him sound like an idiot child. What is it about having your bird say its name in conversation?

Science has shown that wild parrots name their offspring, and have names themselves. They communicate with thousands of other birds and identify themselves by their name. Handfed and hand raised birds probably sit around wondering what their names are, or why the big feeding machine isn’t using their name. I wonder if that means when we finally do name them, they are able to relax and start interacting with other parrots, finally. Here’s a better list of names for your parrot.

Oh, the things we do to our pets. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

Any Volunteers?

To continue my evacuation plan, I need to clarify that this is the plan during a firestorm. For earthquake or flood, well, things will be very different. Earthquakes tend to destroy roads, so there isn’t much purpose to packing up to leave. Unless our home is damaged, we will do our best to stay in place. Having water on hand is essential, and what I see as the biggest obstacle to being self sufficient in a crisis. A pool would be good enough, a pond, perhaps. But this is something to be resolved another time.

A flood is not impossible in Southern California. And if an earthquake damages some of the dams in the area, we could actually have to deal with it. And as I live in a valley, I doubt very much I could successfully get through such an event.

Fires, of course, move quickly, but they rarely start close to where I live. I would have a few hours at least to cage up the birds and pack the go bags. I will put tags on the cages and carriers so we know who to put where. That way helpers will just need to know which cockatiel is Kai and which one is Fletch, and then I’ll yell, just put all the cockatiels in here!

Now, outside is a whole new problem. I have already filled up our two cars with the cages and food and clothing and carriers and towels. Imagine being in a small car full of parrots in an emergency. Yeah, not doing a drill any time soon. But what about the two doves, 6 budgies, 4 lovebirds, 2 button quail, and 7 cockatiels?

Don’t even think about turning the birds loose. They will be nailed in seconds by hawks and eagles looking just for such an easy snack. If they evade the predators, they may or may not be able to find food and water, but chances are not good that they will survive. So at this point, I will need to reach out to club members or friends, and arrange for someone to help me cage the birds, and put them in a truck or van.

Through the North County Aviculturists, I became aquainted with Terry Runyon, a skilled magician who also works with parrots. He is active in ham radio circles, because that is a form of communication that will still work when the cell phones and land lines don’t. He also had a wonderful trailer into which were fitted stainless steel bird cages, especially for evacuations. During the past fires, he helped out folks in lots of remote areas.

I know people with trucks hate to be asked to help friends move. But I am counting on their being willing to help out in such a situations. At least until I can afford my dream van. (And it can tow a trailer!)

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

And I am Marie of Roumania*

Last Sunday, I posted about emergency plans, supplies, and being prepared. Yeah, with 70 birds or so, evacuation might not be realistic. Even so, there are some birds I would not abandon, and I should have cages and carriers, if nothing else, prepared to go.

I have passed a milestone in my relationship with African Gray Bo Dangles. She will step out onto a platform if I hold it up to her. This allows me to get her in and out of her cage. She will immediately try to bite my toes or my hand, but still we are making progress. She also isn’t too bad if I wrap a towel around her to move her somewhere. Still tries to bite, and tries to hide under her cage if she thinks I am going to put her back. But I am now confident I can pick her up and put her in a carrier. The carrier will have a thick comfy towel inside for her comfort.

Io the blind gray will be much more difficult. He has allowed me to touch his beak and toes, but still tries to bite. In an emergency, I would need to throw a towel over him and stuff him in a carrier. When we brought him home some years ago, he screamed all the time he was in the carrier and pooped and then walked through it. Not fun. Poor little guy, I hope to work with him more so I can calm him down.

Maynard has a carrier, he will go in it, and as long as he can see me, he doesn’t mind too much. He much prefers to be on the steering wheel if we are in the car, but he can’t reach the pedals. So he stays in the carrier. The canaries are in a small cage, we could easily take them along. Jake can go in a small travel cage. I have a small folding cage for Sunny and Zazu. Wraith the Indian Ringneck can go in a carrier, but he will be traumatized. He’s also on my list for working with.

Sun conures George and Gracie will have a carrier to themselves. Sun and Orange Front conure Mookie and Sonny will go in a carrier together. Our little bent bird, Dani, also orange front conure, will go in her own little cage. Her splayed legs make it impossible for her to perch, so I will give her both a bottom towel to rest on and bars to cling to.

Beeby, half-moon conure, and Esme, green cheek conure, will go together. Beeby is very aggressive and hates everyone, so he will need similar treatment to Io. I would put Esme in first, and that might make him settle down more quickly. The finches (seven zebras and a green singer) would go into the bachelor canary cage, the parrotlets into a small cage, and their cage used for the inside budgies. The budgie cage would be used to house our one Rosie Bourke and as many cockatiels as we can reasonably stuff into a large flight cage like that. The lovebirds would go into one utility cage. Pretzel would have to go back with his family for the evacuation.

Those are all the inside birds. Between the two hatchback cars we own, we just might be able to put all the carriers and cages in them. But what about the outside doves, budgies, lovebirds, cockatiels, and quail? And what about a plan?

I’ll be back on Sunday, and hopefully I will have a plan.

* from Dorothy Parker

Bird Scouts: Be Prepared!

Southern California is beset by wildfires and firestorms. We have awesome first responders, and it’s rare that anyone who follows their directions comes to harm. Understandably, human lives are placed higher than those of pets and other animals. So it is up to us, the caretakers, to ensure the safety of our companions in an emergency.

The first step is to have a plan. Know where you will meet other family members following the onset of a disaster. Know who will evacuate the birds, cats, dogs, etc. Do not expect someone else to take that on unless they know in advance you expect them to do so. Also verify that they are able to do so. Continue reading “Bird Scouts: Be Prepared!”

Everybody Panic!

I am home more these days, of course, as I have ceased to work in the real world. I am cleaning, cooking, and most important of all, spending more time with my beloved birds. I allow at least 2 hours for each bird, although Maynard does get a bit more. So far there have been no problems in letting the cockatiels out with Jake the lovebird, the sun conures, and my severely splayed orange front conure. But without fail, something will spook the tiels, and EVERYBODY panics. Birds fly all over. Now, I don’t currently know all my cockatiels by name. They come, they go, we make more, it’s too much. I do know I need to have 16 cockatiels in the cages when out time is up, and one little rosie Bourke.

A day or two ago, I could only count 15 tiels. I searched high. I searched low. I figured someone had flown into the office, and I couldn’t see him or her behind the paper models and boxes and stuff. I called, and heard an answer. I called again. The answer came from behind me. One of the African grays can do a spot-on impression of a cockatiel. At last, I had to go do things, and figured the bird would come out again when hungry or thirsty.

I admit. I completely forgot about the missing cockatiel after that. That evening, my husband said he heard a mouse chewing on something behind his desk. Seriously, something was going to town on whatever was back there. He got up and walked over to look for the mouse. Or possibly rat. “Honey, whatever is back here is hissing at me.” The light bulb received current. “That’s probably our missing cockatiel!” And I told him the whole story. He remained a bit shook up for the rest of the night.

My toeless African Gray, Bo Dangles, loves to have out time. She doesn’t fly, but she will slide down a towel on a wooden tray, and sit on the comfy carpet. She also likes to go under her cage, and explore and nap. But most of all, she loves to shoot out as fast as her little stumps will carry her and attack me as I walk by. I have to wear shoes around her, and I have to remember she’s out, or she seriously startles me. She’s trying to hit me up on my leg, since the shoes don’t yield whatever reaction she is going for.

For several complicated financial issues, our son has moved back into his old room. Maynard does not believe we don’t see this potential threat in his home. He panics whenever Al comes home, walks by, or uses the kitchen. Even when Al leaves, Maynard continues to sound the alarm. I have taken him through the house, shown him there’s no one there, and he goes back to his cage. The calm lasts about 10 minutes. Then the Amazon brain remembers a threat, and the alarm must be sounded. Poor Maynard is spending a lot of time covered right now. Luckily, this situation is only for a month.

I almost think Al has surpassed Mike as Maynard’s biggest enemy. Good thing I love them all. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

Canaries: Sex Addicts of the Finch World

Humans have set up canaries to be good breeders, but we may have gone a bit overboard. I just brought home a pair of canaries, and they are very interesting to watch. They are in breeding season now, and the show must go on.

Most of the year, males and females are kept separately in big flight cages. When I brought my pair home, I got a special breeding cage for them, with a divider. Male on one side, female on the other. I named them Rico (for Enrico Caruso) and Bubbles (for Beverly Sills) since they are waterslagers, the very best singers in the canary world.

Rico sang his heart out, and Bubbles sat around looking pretty. I gave them some burlap to tug on, a nest bowl, and lots of food. The signs to watch for were vigorous pulling of the burlap threads and feeding each other. Canaries are super in-tune with the length of the days, so I worried they would be getting too much light in our office. But that didn’t seem to bother them. Soon, I observed them feeding each other. Still not pulling on the burlap, but I gave them some other materials, and put them together. I saw them feeding each other, and removed the divider.

Too soon! Bubbles tried her best to kill Rico, so I put the divider back in. Almost immediately Rico began singing again. Bubbles wasn’t buying it. She went about eating and bathing and looking at the nest without interruption.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I heard a quieter, unmelodious chirping. Looking up, I saw Bubbles with her tail in the air, chirping away. She had Rico’s complete attention. He fed her, he sang, he did everything he could think of to convince me to let him in with her. Once more, I removed the divider.

Whoa! Rico was on her like a moth on bird seed! In his enthusiasm, he knocked Bubbles off her perch. Minutes later, he was trying again, and being young and inexperienced, he tried to mount the wrong end. Oh, dear. But a few hours later, he had figured it out, and Bubbles was really patient with him. They mated happily all day. All. Bloody. Day.

The nest building hadn’t been moving forward very well. I discovered a different material that they seem to like better, and they are working on the nest together.

So for the first few days when they had unrestricted access to each other, they were ready at the crack of any light bulb and weren’t too ready to stop when we shut down for the night. I lost count of the sessions, which is a shame. I wanted to see if there is a world record that they could beat.

Just as I grew convinced that we were on the way to a nest full of babies, Bubbles had a grumpy day, and tried to kill Rico. Panicking, I applied the divider once more. Within five minutes, the little slut was near the barrier, her tail in the air, chirping and begging. Really, Bubbles? You really want to go there when you just tried to kill him?

Her bad mood passed, they kissed and made up, and finally the nest is taking shape. I learned that it will take a week for the hen to start laying her eggs. Now I just have to come up with more opera singer names for the chicks.

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