Joy and Tears

This has been a very difficult season for me. I wrote before that we said goodbye to our oldest lovebird, Piro. Since then we also lost Fletch, one of our oldest cockatiels. When you lose an older bird, one who has been acting sleepy and quiet recently, you are more prepared. The loss still hurts, but solace might be found in the fact the sweet little one is no longer suffering. Even if not sick or injured, old age brings some pain with it. (Warning — the last photo may be disturbing to some people) Continue reading “Joy and Tears”

Parrots Can Say Goodbye, Too.

Several birds, especially parrots, can learn to say hello. My Amazon, whose photo is on the front page of this blog, likes to say, “Hi, Maynard!” whenever I first see him for the day.

But sometimes we say goodbye. Something Maynard has learned to say if he wants something to go away. Whenever Mike or I find a bird that for any reason has died, we say goodbye for the last time.

Now and again, we part with birds under happier circumstances. I have sent birds off to live with such people as a cancer survivor who was alone, a young child who was painfully shy, a disabled adult whose social contacts were limited, and a teach who used zebra finches to divert inner city teens from other scary pursuits.

Selling birds helps keep the flock fed and well. I sold all my parrotlets to someone I let through an ad on Kijiji. She loved the wee hook bills much more than I did, and was so excited to absorb the whole group. That was a nice day.

I also had three violet love bird fledglings hand fed but under-socialized for sale. All were bought by a friend who buys and sells birds for a living. The last time I talked to her, she still had them with her because they were so cute. And that pretty much explains why I don’t do more breeding and selling than I do. Parting is such sweet sorrow.

One of the first clutches of cockatiels hand fed by a friend and socialized with his roommate’s help included a lutino (yellow) male that Mike promptly named Creamsicle. Creamy was slated to be sold to my bird club for the opportunity drawing table. The club wanted both of the cockatiels I had, one in January and one in February. Since Creamy was such a sweetheart, I held him back and put his sister on the table first.

Creamy has a wonderful personality, very sweet, and very eager to be with people. I sat with him on my shoulder and loved that he would put his head into my ear and sing. Not so loud that his song hurt my ears, but very nice and an adorable affectation. He does this no matter if he is on my shoulder or Mike’s. Creamy loves everybody. By the time the next club meeting rolled around, Mike put his foot down. Creamy stayed with us, and has become one of the birds I show to guests who want to hold a bird. He’s just a member of the family and can’t be sold.

The club didn’t mind. The person who had won Creamy’s sister had not been able to bond with her, and put her back on the table for February. Almost as if it were fate, my hand-feeder friend won her, and was thrilled to have her back. They are still happy together.

I have already told the story of Jordan, and her return to the man she wanted to be with. I have a friend whose neighbors suddenly aquired a cockatoo. The beautiful bird had plucked her chest bald and had all the apprearance when I saw her of a sad creature. Her owner of many years passed away not long before this. She was one of two birds the man kept, and to make it easier to rehome the cockatoos, the family decided to split them up. If they had been cats, it’s possible no lasting negative behavior would have resulted. Even dogs might have better handled so much change. But for a parrot with the intelligence equal to a -year-old human child, losing two family members at once created insurmountable depression, insecurity, and self-destructive behavior.

When we do say the final goodbye to one of the flock, the little body is preserved in our freezer. Yes, we do our best to conceal the corpsicles from visirots. Once we have a good pile (and luckily it may take up to a year to do that), we plan a special date like a solstice or an equinox, or Samhain or Beltane. On that date, we set a fire in the backyard fire pit and send the little bodies off as clouds of smoke.

I tried at first to keep track of the individual birds – Nora and Elliot, our black head gouldian finches, Miss Tick, my adopted budgie who took to breeding eagerly; Chico, and elderly cockatiel who was bonded to another male, both brought to a bird club meeting in hopes of finding a good home for the boys. But for the most part, the pain of losing them limits how much I want to remember the day.

The more years I spend sharing my home and my life with feathered family members, the more goodbyes gather in my memories. I’ve had to down-size in the past, and due to economic fun and games, I have to face the possibility that we may have to move. If that happens, I will be saying goodbye to all but a handfull of the flock. That will be the most heart-breaking goodbye for all of us.

Birds in a Cage: It’s Complicated

Why is it some birds get along with any and all cage mates, and some don’t? This is a question that has many answers, and none of those answers will hold up if applied to a different scenario. Here are some things I have observed in my own flock.

Zebra finches are notorious for needing lots of space when mated. In fact, it’s an accepted rule of thumb to keep either a single pair in a cage, or at least three pair in a larger cage. With three, the combatants are faced with too much going on to pick on any one couple. This has worked for the most part, but I have found that even with three couples in a big flight cage, some days one of the birds just violates some unwritten law of zebra finch behavior, and all the others, even the mate of this poor fellow, will start to pluck him and batter him. Then it’s time to pull that one out and give it a rest. But then you have to watch that the structure of those left behind doesn’t create more unrest.

Zebras also seem to dislike white birds that are claiming to be zebra finches. The white birds have to be protected from the normal grays. And as I really like the looks of the white and light colored zebras, I’ve used several tricks to keep them from being picked on. One thing that works well is putting silk ivy vines around perches, to create screened areas for resting. This also attracts the males to pull at the silk leaves, and means one has to be vigilant to clip threads or remove tattered leaves before anyone gets caught in them.

I’ve been told I am very lucky to have a pair of parrotlets who have lived happily together in the same cage for going on three years now. The little hookbills are very wild and have always gotten along with each other. Perhaps part of that luck is the fact our conures like to go tease them by walking on the top of their cage. Banding together to fight off the invaders may have strengthened the bond between them. But my second pair of parrotlets has been even closer to the conures. Recently I became concerned enough to pull the female when the male began to beat up on her. I kept her in a cage where her former mate could see her, and he did seem to miss her, hanging on the cage as close to her as he could be most of the time. After a week of this, I reintroduced her to the cage, and instantly the male was chasing her, plucking her, and being horrible. This time, he came out of the cage.

It just so happened that a new female parrotlet breezed into town about then, and was set up in a cage behind this male. Poor little first girl was completely forgotten. The new girl is now in the same cage with the male, and things are going pretty well. She’s a bit more aggressive than the original mate, and stands up to the little bully. Meanwhile, the first girl is starting to come out of hiding in the cage and look at the world around her. We are hoping a hand-fed male with a gentler disposition might come along to keep her company without a return to the domestic violence.

Lovebirds are another group with special cage needs. Eye ring species, like fishers and masked, should not be kept with non-eye ring species, like the ever-present peach face. Well, my first lovebird was a peach face, and I decided to get a masked to keep him company. They got along famously, and when I realized they should not be bred together, I worried they would not accept other mates. Luckily that was not a problem. Currently I have one cage with a fisher, the original masked, and an offspring of the original peach face. When I put that last youngster in with the other two, they picked on her mercilessly. So I moved her into a nearby cage where she could see them and be seen. On nights when the lovebirds had flight time, this youngster would try to sneak back into the original cage. After a few weeks of chasing her out, I decided to let her take her lumps again. And to my surprise, the three of them settled in to a happy life together.

No matter what you hear about housing birds together, your experience could be so different, you will think you misread or misunderstood the warnings. But I almost suspect the birds have read those warnings too, and get a kick out of keeping us humans guessing.

Note: I no longer have parrotlets, and am not breeding my zebra finches. I have the first love bird, as I have previously written, and am highly disappointed in his lack of offspring right now. I am consoling myself with the three violet chicks who will be off to the handfeeder next weekend.

Hide and Seek

Parrots are both predators, of seeds and fruits and sometimes small insects, and prey in the wild.  Being good at hiding is vital to their survival, although often a quick take-off is more effective.  However, in captivity, they don’t need these skills so much.  You can take the parrot out of the rain forest, but you can’t take the skills out of the parrot.

Parrotlets are tiny birds, compared to other South American and Central American birds.  They are preyed upon by spiders, really huge spiders, GINORMOUS SPIDERS!  So they have evolved to be fierce little things with excellent survival skills.  When I earned my first breeding pair of parrotlets, they had been hand fed and were so cute I wanted to cuddle them to bits!

Let me digress for a moment.  When baby birds are fed by their parents, they bond with and love those parents, not all other birds.  The same can hold true with human feeders, if the chicks aren’t socialized or fed by more than one or two humans.  I have often arrived home with a hand-fed beauty, only to find it is terrified of us and not able to adjust to the new surroundings.

The parrotlets, Jade and Brent, were bonding to each other, and not to us.  Still, I wanted to give them out time.  Being stuck in a cage is never good for a bird.  Mike agreed, as long as I was in the room with them and watched what they were getting in to.  As we had them in our office at the time, this didn’t seem to be a chore.

Soon it transpired that every time Mike or I got up to leave the room, or came back into it, Jade especially would panic, and attempt to fly off.  Both had their winds trimmed before arriving at our house.  I got in the habit of checking that they had landed somewhere that was not dangerous to them, and letting them stay where they were.  But at the end of the night, they had to be netted and put back.  Not fun, but important.

One night Jade panicked and flew behind a book case that leaned out from the wall at the top.  She got herself wedged in there tight, and we couldn’t reach her.  Now it was my turn to panic.  We, and by we I mean my wonderful husband, moved stacks of boxes in front of the book case, took the books off, and got to Jade.  Scary to think that if I hadn’t seen where she had landed, we could have found a dead bird when the smell got bad.

My love birds absolutely hate being netted at the end of out nights, and if I turn the lights off, just a night light or a lamp across the room still on, they will find their way into their own cages.  Sometimes there are arguments over who gets which cage, especially if we have recently moved cages or birds around.  But for the most part they go in without trouble.  As soon as I can close a cage with the correct birds inside, I do, which makes it easier for the remaining birds to make up their minds.

One night only Boo, a Fishers’ love bird, remained out, and I was going to bed, so I got out the net.  To my surprise, Boo zipped down the hallway and into the master bedroom.  I thought that it would be easy to find him in the bedroom, I could close the door and it wouldn’t take long to get to bed.  Yes, I did have a lot to learn.

Boo was not visible in the room.  I looked in the open closet, the bathroom which had no separating door, under the bed, under the dresser, under the pile of laundry, and anywhere I thought a bird could be hiding.  Boo, wherever he was, kept perfectly still and quiet.  Mike helped look, but we could not find him.  Finally it got too late to keep looking, and we went to sleep.

We kept the toilet lid down and let everyone in the house know that there was a bird loose.  Be careful going in or out.  Leave toilet lids down.  Food would not be a problem, there always seemed to be spilled seed on the floor.  I left a bowl of water on a kitchen counter.  I came home that night expecting to hear that Boo had been recovered.  No Boo.  Not the next night or the next.  Five days later, I was sorting laundry in the master bedroom, and a small form fluttered up at me, and zipped out of the room!  Boo!

He appeared healthy, not starving or dehydrated.  To this day, we don’t know where he had been all that time.  Yes, he could have gotten tangled in the laundry when I looked for him the first night, but I am skeptical that he could have survived so long if he was trapped.

Another love bird, Beauregard, was lost overnight,  Beau is a beautiful violet mutation of a peach face love bird, and part of my current breeding program.  I normally keep the bird room door closed now when the lovies have out time.  But somehow, I had forgotten or not realized Beau’s wings were fully operational again.  He flew out and into, you guessed it, the master bedroom.

We once again searched everywhere, once again came up without a bird in the hand or in the bush, and gave up.  In the morning, while dressing for work, I looked at a book case top shelf, and there was Beau, still and quiet.  I quietly told Mike what I saw, and he slowly turned and grabbed the escapee.

I know Mike and I both searched that bookcase the night before.  So probably the little joker was hiding somewhere else and went to sleep on the shelf once we were asleep.  Either that or his cloaking device only works at night.

With instincts still strong in parrots of any size, it’s important to take special care about open doors, windows, and water containers.  Know where your birds are at all times, and be very careful about open cage time.  We have a sign we used to put on our front door warning that birds were out.  That was when kids or roommates were here, and we needed to communicate the situation.  At present, we have few visitors and can be less cautious, but we still won’t open the front door if birds are out.

You will know your own birds best, and will know the best way to keep them safe in your house or aviary.  Just remember, with parrots it’s rarely fight or flight, it’s hide or flight.  Stay safe!