The Truth About Baby Birds

You may have heard the term, Affection Sponge. I usually hear it in connection to cockatoos, along with Velcro Bird. Baby birds who are hand fed are more likely to become these types of companion birds. But do you really want a baby who can’t live without you?

My violet lovebird Fin is nearly ready to go to his forever home. He’s eating 90% of his food on his own. He’s been observed drinking from a dish. I still have a heating source for him in the big bird cage, but he only seems to sit on it after I have fed him baby food. He’s nearly “all growed up.”

He just learned to fly a few days ago, and is still doing the panicky helicopter flights, should I go forward or should I go back thing. It’s just adorable. Except when he decides to perch on my head just after I fed him and haven’t wiped the baby food off of him yet. Yeah, I guess it’s good for my hair.

Fin also is still in the baby poop stage. No warning, lots of output, fortunately no stink yet. And if he stays healthy, the stink will be minimum. But it just doesn’t want to wipe off.

I worry about his feet. When I first pulled him out of the nest box, he displayed a bit of splayed leg syndrome. I thought I would have to wrap his legs to get them to work right. But just having him on a rubbery flooring in the brooder cured that all by itself. Luckily, because he was not having the wrap, no way, no how.

But he still has an issue with his toes. The inside toes on each foot should be going back so they can curl around any perch from behind, balancing the middle toes that face forward. This opposable grip is vital to parrot development and behavior. But Fin’s inner toes, while they have the claw facing upward, still lie next to the front toes. I am hoping as he gets a little bigger, the toes will solve themselves. His future parront knows about the situation and doesn’t seem bothered by it.

The most important thing about baby birds that you should never forget is that each one of them will own a piece of your heart. Unless, you know, you are a mean and evil person who just handfeeds birds for the money. If you are an ordinary person, the babies never completely leave you.

Little Fin has traveled more than any of my other babies, probably because he is a singleton. He went to a science fiction convention with me, and to my weight loss support group meeting last week. But then he learned to fly, so he won’t be going anywhere again with me. I will keep his pictures to remember the fun, and the pain, of this experience. I know his new daddy will lovehim more than I possibly could.

Featured imageExhausted after attending his first convention, Fin slept soundly. On his fuzzy pink sock.

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

Poop is a Many Splendor’d Thing

One of the first things I ever learned when I started keeping birds was how to look at their poop for signs of illness. Because bird poo contains everything in one drop, you have a pretty complete panel for finding clues. Birds hate to show any illness or weakness, because their flock might abandon them and predators will watch them. So long-time aviculturists learned other ways to track symptoms.

While I randomly check my birds for these signs, sometimes I have no choice. Especially with lovebirds. Jake loves to be on my shoulder, and always leaves me a little token of his esteem. You would think that larger birds would be less fun to have poop on you, but it’s really different. Maynard only poops about every hour or so. And he makes a squeeze noise beforehand. I can usually move him or get out of the way. The worst is when he has floor walking privileges and leaves droppings so he can find his way home again. Stepping barefoot on one of those bombs is more than a trifle unpleasant.

Some very enterprising bird behaviorists have figured out how to train a parrot to poop on command. How awesome is that? I always expected Sunny (my second and most loving sun conure) of having been trained. She almost never pooped on me. And if I lost track of time and had her with me for more than a couple hours, it was my own fault and I deserved it.

How, you might ask, does one train a bird to poop on command? With patience, commitment, and positive rewards (it says here). Personally, I think I will stick to wearing bird shirts that are okay to be chewed up or shat upon.

Why not just put a diaper on your parrot? I heard many years ago that those diapers and similar things annoy parrots and cause them to hold in things that are not good for them to hold in. It might cause lots of physical problems, which result in medical expense for you. Well, it seems that is no longer the case. The new flight suits with poop pouch don’t put any pressure on your bird’s vent, so they poop freely when wearing it.

But there is a little issue with your bird not taking to it at all, and even turning against you if you keep trying to play dress-up. Know your bird’s stress level and limitations.

And by the way, baby lovebirds poop a lot, all the time. I am so astonished at what’s coming out of little Fin’s behind. Hopefully when he is fully weaned, he’ll poop less often and more solidly.

Thanks for reading, I should be back on Sunday. I may be late, so just be patient. Thanks!

Backyard Foraging

It’s almost easier to provide foraging treats and toys for my inside birds. There are cardboard boxes, paper bags, and lots of fun things readily available. Stuff a few peanuts, almonds, and wooden blocks into a bag or box, and off it goes for a really good time. The outside birds don’t seem to have much interest in boxes or bags. Toys are ignored. So I like to roam around my yard to find treats for them.

Number one on my list is dandelions. We neither fertilize or spray weed killer in the back yard or flower beds in front, so all our dandelion-greens are safe to use for the birds. The flower heads are very good for finches and grass parakeets.

Next is your ordinary grass. The cockatiels and budgies love the greens as well as the seed heads. This is my favorite time of year, when the seed heads come up and bring lots of nutrition with them.

Year round, I can give the birds palm fronds. Most of what I have available are Mexican fan palms. None of the ones in my yard are as tall as the ones in the link’s photos, or I would not be able to access them. Lovebirds especially like palm fronds for nesting materials.

When I had my first cockatiel, I gave him leaves off a peach tree in our yard. He loved the leaves, and ate them regularly. He never had any ill effects from the treat, but every list of toxic plants I have seen since then includes peach. I also gave him asparagus fern, and still use that today. I have it growing in pots around the yard. Note: asparagus fern is invasive and if planted in the ground, will take over the yard. Keep it confined in pots.

Somewhere I read that budgies need the enzymes in eucalyptus leaves and branches to trigger breeding. I have never been able to find that article again. However, I do give all my Australian hookbills and finches eucalyptus leaves now and then. The outside aviary has a potted tree just outside it. I turn the pot every few weeks so that fresh branches and growth can be eaten from inside the cage.

Last year I had a long, low planter that I set outside the aviary and planted snap peas there. The vines grew up the side of the aviary, and the cockatiels had a snack on the vines and leaves. Some of the plants managed to produce pea pods, which I was able to share with many of the birds besides just the aviary group.

At one time, I had a wild bird feeder outside the window of the bird room. The inside birds loved watching and talking to the outside birds, but the outside birds mostly wanted the free lunch. Not long after that, a lovely bush of milo grew up under the spot the feeder had been. Also called grain sorghum, it put up full seed heads and kept on growing after I harvested the stalks.

These are just a few of the safe plants I have around my yard that I can collect and feed to my birds. I know they enjoy it by the excitement when I approach the aviary with an armful of greens, and the happy chatter as they head for the treat sometimes before I put it down.

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

Feathered Fibbers

My living room is occupied, at least half way, by 15 cockatiels, 2 sun conures, an orange front conure, and an Indian ringneck parakeet. They are our early warning system. They announce the postal worker, the UPS driver, guests, Girl Scouts, the landlord, and those religious folks.

They also keep us informed as to the movements of all neighborhood cats, flocks of crows, the odd hawk (real or imagined), and mocking birds. We rarely get dogs running through the streets here, but there are good people who walk their dogs down our streets. The birds seem to know this is not a threat, and don’t get too excited about it.

When I was working, Sunny could hear my specific car turn the corner a couple blocks away. Once she started up, everyone joined in. Even Maynard, who resides a few rooms back from the living room, began to associate her alarm call at a certain time of the day with my arrival. He shouts “Mama!” until I come in and actually assure him I am home for the day. Well, he used to. I am rarely gone from the house for more than a few hours.

The birds also know when Mike is a few blocks away, and greet his impending arrival in the same way. The problem is, sometimes they seem to be just thinking about “Dad” coming home soon, and start to squawk. This leads to my getting up from my writing desk, walking to the living room, opening the front door, letting in the cat accidentally, closing the door on the empty driveway, chasing the cat down, and putting her out in the back yard.

A couple minutes later, the act repeats. Finally, Mike does pull into the driveway, and the cat makes her final dash into the house. The birds rejoice, and I just bet they are congratulating themselves on being right as always. Darn fibbers.

Recently, a new cat has adopted us as a late afternoon feeding station. Our cat, Oreo, does not need a backup cat, thank you very much. The new cat, Gypsy, has learned to stop playing with the doves, but the button quail are still very enticing. She won’t go into the shed at night with Oreo, probably a good thing for a cat who wants to keep all her fur and limbs. And ears. So after Oreo is safely locked in for the evening, Gypsy gets a scoop of dry food and a few good scratches.

Now the living room birds just need to learn that Gypsy loves to jump at the window, but she can’t get at them. And to stop sending out those false alarms. Thanks for reading, I will be back on Thursday.

Hand-feeding Diary

Day One: Fin is two weeks old. I have pulled him from his nest box and put him in a brooder. He looks confused. By the way, he’s possibly a she, but for the sake of easy writing, I will refer to the chick as he. His first feeding goes very well.

Day Four: Somehow his heating pad was accidentally turned off over night. Fin burrowed into the litter and is fine, if more hungry than usual. He appears to have splayed legs. Will research and correct as soon as possible.

Day Seven: Weighed in at 45 grams this morning. Still eating well, every three hours. Just having good traction in the brooder seems to have corrected the splayed legs. He sits up well now.

Day Eight: Introduced a fuzzy sock stuffed with other cloth. He enjoys climbing up on it, and then slides down to stick his head under the cuff. He does pretty well sitting on my shoulder for a few minutes. He seems bored in his brooder by himself for long periods.

Day Ten: Fin is gaining weight regularly. Introduced a wood and plastic toy with a bell on the end. He nibbles the plastic. Has been chewing on the millet, doesn’t want as much formula now. Moved the brooder so that a third is off the heating pad, in case he wants to move to a cooler area. So far, he prefers the warm side.

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Day Twelve: Feedings are now every four hours. He acts like a starveling at first, but will not take much at all. Added Nutriberries to the millet, and a bowl of water with chopped apple and cucumber. He thinks they are chew toys. Up to 50 grams this morning.

Day Fourteen: This little one has a strong voice. From the moment he sees me until the first feeding, he lets me know he is hungry. He has just started the head bobbing feeding thing. He weighed in at 56 grams yesterday, but has dropped to 45 today. Does a lot of wing flapping, and standing up on the sock. He’s so cute.

Day Fifteen: Put a little wooden ladder in the brooder. He chews on it, hasn’t exactly figured out the climbing thing. He has napped less today, and played more with the things in the brooder. He is eating only 5 ccs of formula, five times per day. I give him water from the syringe after he stops eating, and he likes that. Up to 52 grams today. Another week, and he may be ready for a cage.

Day Sixteen: Fin seems unhappy that I cleaned out the brooder. Seriously, I apparently took all his good shit. He did a lot of defensive posturing and attacking through the side of the brooder at Jake. He’s a big boy now. But down again to 50 grams.

And so it goes. In a few weeks, he will have weaned and be in a cage, and then go to the bird store to await the happy family that will adopt him. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

Wild Lovebirds

Having gone from a flock of about 20 lovebirds in times past to a nice number of 8 and a chick being hand fed, I thought about how lovebirds live in the wild. I only found one video on them showing the birds in Africa. I’ve linked to it before, but it’s pretty cute.

But those are Fischer’s lovies. This little guy is ready for his close up. I guess the only wild peachface lovies are in Maui these days. Hanging out with those java rice sparrows can’t be a good thing.

Hold on, there are some in Phoenix, Arizona! And this is adorable, wild birds visiting cage birds. I can’t find out where this is, as the Nevarez Project web page leads to a We Can Sell You This Web Name site. This is Scottsdale, in Arizona, where the lovebirds have gone wild.

I don’t speak Afrikaans, so I didn’t realize this was about peachface parrots in Namibia. If I ever do an all lovie aviary, I will use lots of rocks and acacia trees.

Apparently the lovebird only goes on rampages in captivity. This little one is all, “It’s a trap!” but he still does it. Uh. Not sure what this one is doing.

World Parrot Trust says that heavy trapping for the pet bird trade has reduced numbers in the wild, but the peachface is not yet of concern. Wonder how much the huge flocks in Arizona have to do with that? Notice they used a captive bird’s photo for their page.

As a long-time Smithsonian supporter, I am very pleased with this article they have on lovebirds. Lots of nice facts.

I notice with my birds that they can’t talk unless they are moving their wings. Even if it’s just a little flutter at the time. Is that the avian equivelant of talking with your hands? While Drs. Foster and Smith state it’s common in many parrots, I think they should address the higher incidence in lovies.

Birds N Way has more good information on lovebirds. If you have more than one, be sure to let them show compatibility before shoving them in the same cage. And never put more than 2 in a small indoor cage.

Here’s a treat! One hour of listening to Lovebird Sounds! Be sure to turn the volume way up. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

A New Member of The Rainbow Bridge Flock

Sometimes we stubbornly refuse to see how old our feathered companions are growing. Not on purpose, but just with blinders on. And maybe there’s another bird you think will be the next to go, so you are prepared for that. Then reality hits you, blind-sides you, and you fall apart.

We have lived in this home for nearly 13 years. I was so thrilled to have a nice yard that I called an ad to see about buying an aviary. The very nice lady who returned my call said the item had sold, but then she went on to tell me about the North County Aviculturists. We made plans to meet on the first Saturday of the month. (The club has since moved meeting places and meeting dates.)

The whole family went, even though not all of us were thrilled about it. I can’t tell you who the speaker was, or what they spoke on. But I do know that my daughter won a lovebird in the opportunity drawing. She was into the web comic, Mega Tokyo, so the bird was dubbed Piro and set up in her bedroom.

A week later, she let me know things weren’t working out between her and Piro. So he was moved to the living room. He’d been handfed, but as with most lovebirds, given a chance, he became less tame quickly. He never became a biter, just didn’t want to be close to people usually.

I never could exactly name his coloration. He was a peach faced lovebird, but he was yellow head to tail, with green and blue highlights. In my ignorance, I set him up with a female of the wrong species of lovebird. No eggs or babies. Oh well. Then I inherited a huge number of lovebirds (I had volunteered to run the NCA Bird Mart) to be put on the opportunity drawing table. None of them were tame. I kept the parents of all the babies, and the one cherry head, hoping for a female. A high percentage of cherries are female. She became Nana, and with Piro, had several seasons of multiple clutches.

Piro displayed a high aptitude for fatherhood. But even more so, he was a great mate. He took excellent care of Nana as she sat on her eggs. And even when there was no nest box, he was always with her.  The picture is Piro on the left, Nana on the right, being camera shy.

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The morning I came into the front room and Piro raised his voice to get my attention, I knew something had to be wrong. Poor little Nana, probably egg bound, had passed away. Piro didn’t leave her side until I took the body out. He called for her for a long time. It’s a painful process. I began looking for a new mate, mostly to keep Piro occupied. A friend had a cherry head female who was rather aggressive with young males. We decided to try seasoned mate Piro with Kira. Again, magic happened. I had a few clutches from them, but didn’t want to lose Kira.

Female birds are driven to lay eggs. They don’t know how not to do it, unless they have a clutch and then are raising babies. So many mornings, I would find Kira and Piro perched on a wire shelf, trying to keep an egg warm. Before long, the egg would roll off the wire and break. I did what I knew I could do to stop her. Moved things around in the cage. Moved the cage. Moved them to a new cage. Limited day light. Limited food. No baths. It didn’t work. Like deja vu, Piro called to me one morning. Kira was gone.

Piro became an uncle to the rescued lovies I got when a club member passed away. One of the babies still seemed fairly friendly, so we named it Lorrie and hoped for a girl. Piro and Lorrie got along swell. But they didn’t lay any eggs.

This was one of my favorite times with my birds, and especially the lovebirds. I would open all the cage doors, and the lovies would fly around in a beautiful varicolored flock. I would sit and read, but really watch their interactions. And curious as they are, they often came to see me. Not too close at first, then sometimes on my shoulders. Piro and Lorrie usually came first to say hello.

They also let the way on the ceiling fan merry-go-round. Obviously, before letting any flying birds out for free time, I check that the one ceiling fan in the house is off. The lovies would perch on the fan blades and flap their wings until it started turning.

The years have flown by. I found another female lovebird to bond with Piro. I actually tired her on few other birds, but there was no connection for her. Aura had been a pet but hadn’t been handled enough. I wondered if she would make a good breeder, but she was such a pretty diluted color that I was determined to try. I lucked in to some nice outdoor breeder cages, and set two up for lovebirds. I loved the fact that Piro was going to have fresh air, sunshine, lots of greens, and a devoted mate, at last. I hoped for babies, but that seemed less the point.

Whenever I cleaned or changed the water or put in fresh food, Piro always came close to say hello. Once I put in a nest box, I had to open it up to see Aura. But Piro became a ray of sunshine in his own right, flitting around the large cage. Two years passed, with the nest boxes pulled between breeding seasons. I put in open-front pigeon boxes for extra weather protection in the off seasons. Last winter, they did well, but we didn’t get as much rain as we have this winter.

Living with parrots as long as I have, there’s no missing the signs of a sick bird. After 3 solid days of rain, I got a chance to check on the outside birds. Piro sat on the edge of the pigeon box, eyes half closed, fluffed up. I rushed into the house, moved birds around until I had a cage available, and stuck a hot rock in to heat up. I netted Piro and Aura, and introduced them to the new cage.

But I was too late. His time had just come, and rain or no rain, I think he would have been on his way. He was a very old lovebird. In the wild, he would have lived 5 to 7 years. With me, he lived 12 years. And he left a legacy of beautiful birds behind him.

I thought we would lose Benny first. He’s the father bird that was donated years ago for the first Bird Mart I ran. He’s had a stroke or something, but gets around well enough and is not in any pain.

A wiser breeder would not have put a bird that old out to breed. I never could see Piro as a senior bird. He always had a youthfulness in his expression and his antics. His age snuck up on me. His passing leaves a little yellow hole in my heart.

March Potpourri

The Moving Parrot Writes, and Having Writ – The Parents and Parronts often make mistakes in the name of keeping their loved one occupied. When my son was a toddler, he loved keys. Not wanting to give them back after he’d played with a very important set, he threw them out in the yard in the bushes. They were never seen again. I only remembered that after I gave Maynard a pen to play with. He ripped the rubber grip off of it, and waved it around maniacally.  Good thing the pen is mightier than the beak. I may have to let him start writing this blog.

Canary Update – Those little sex fiends are at it again. Bubbles laid one egg, sat on it a little bit, then didn’t, then got down to business. I hated to tell her it was too late by then. After 10 days plus, I candled the egg. Nothing going on there. I pulled the nest and separated the couple. That was Tuesday. Rico went insane when Bubbles perched on the edge of the food cup on her side and wagged her tail in the air. I let them back together today, and he has had his wicked way with her to the point that she is now saying the canary equivalent of “Enough, already! Give it a rest!” I need to find canary couple counseling. They are so confused.

Eggs in general – This year has been rather up and down for my breeders. As almost always, there is a jealous bird in the aviary that killed some of the chicks. Next season, I am going to move my best pair into their own breeding cage, like the ones the lovebirds have. That should guarantee success for them. I pulled all the nest boxes and dumped the eggs. So much promise for so little return. At least removing the boxes prevents the mice from having something to hide behind.

Lovebird Chicks – My purple (okay, okay, violet) lovebirds are champion parents. They gave me three clutches of 3 to 4 chicks since October. I enjoy handfeeding lovebirds more than cockatiels, but that might just be me. So I hand fed the first clutch. A friend took the next two clutches. I don’t like to push my breeders beyond three clutches per season. But the weather has been so unpredictable I thought leaving the nest boxes would be advisable. My dilute peachface pair are not producing any chicks. Piro is a proven dad, but Aura was had fed and raised as a pet at first. Not sure where the breakdown is, or if they are not compatible on some chemical level. I tried giving them some of the purple pair’s eggs, but for whatever reason, they never hatched. Maybe Aura doesn’t know she has to actually sit on the eggs?

To try to prevent any more chicks in the purps’ nest, I went out every other day and gave the eggs a good shake. That is usually enough to prevent hatching. The hen stopped laying eggs about then, smart lady. And imagine my surprise a few weeks later to see one of the eggs has just hatched! This was on or about February 9th. I had two weeks to decide what to do with the baby.

Meanwhile, I found out that the local bird store could not get handfed lovebird chicks anywhere. When my handfeeder brought back the last group she took, I had sold one to a friend north of me, which required complicated transportation arrangements. But I had two more so I brought them to the bird store. They were impressed with how sweet and gentle the babies were. Yay, me! And that made up my mind right there. I would pull the last chick in a while and handfeed him.

I call the baby Fin, because I am finished! I’ll be going to a writers’ convention at the end of March, and I hope to wean Fin by then. Because “he” (no, I don’t know if he’s a he. Just a convenience to say he) was an only chick, he has splayed legs that I have to address soon. The condition has improved just from moving him into the brooder with the rubber mat in the bottom. Already he is so active, climbing all over the little box and looking out at the other birds. So, the last baby of the season, and a special one at that. I’ve never seen a chick fall asleep while being fed. Like a human baby sometimes does. He will make some person a loving, enjoyable pet.

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