Scares and Laughs – Life with Parrots

I had a slightly alarming moment a few nights ago. Ptak, my parrotlet, was contentedly sitting on my shoulder as I wrote. I use a ballpoint pen (that fact is important) in a journal to make notes and jot down the things I need to do. As I began to write, I heard Ptak make a repetitive clicking noise deep in his chest. Anyone who’s owned birds knows that respiratory clicking is bad news.

Heart in my throat, I paused, and Ptak nonchalantly preened his wings. The clicking stopped.

I started to write again, and the clicking started anew. This went on a few times more before I realised that he was mimicking the sound my pen -specifically, the ball – against the paper! What a relief… I start, he starts; I stop, he stops – down to the millisecond. It’s pretty cute.

My parrotlet is actually a very good mimic; he has sound effects for most everything he encounters. As I get ready for the day, for example, he makes the schweep noise of me dusting off my jeans, the snap of elastic, the rustle of papers, and the sounds of me eating my breakfast (clangs, bangs, and chewing).

Mavi the Senegal parrot has also really been improving his speech. He has many different ‘voices,’ which he’s perfected, and recently even learned some new phrases. As I woke him this morning, he climbed down to his bowl and declared, ‘Hey, Buddy!’

He also has started saying ‘step up,’ and ‘I love you.’ Most Senegal parrots have a raspy voice (described a lot as sandpapery), but Maverick does an adorable and clear imitation of me speaking to him. Mind you, he does also have plenty of so-called sandpaper voices. But he’s not limited to these. Mostly he does sound effects – like letting me know how tired he is by imitating the squeal of the door hinge, followed by the light switch click – and is getting very good at communicating through these sounds. If he wants me to leave, he mimics the sound of the door!

Mavi’s newest thing, though, is to hush himself whenever he gets loud. If he’s being hyper (not screaming or making particularly undesirable noises, by the way – just being rowdy), I’ll sometimes tell him, ‘Shh.’ Recently, he applied this noise to his own shrieking. So he goes, ‘Shriek, shriek, shriek! SHHHH.’ And yes, he definitely tells me to hush sometimes.

In any event, things are sloooowly settling down after springtime. My Senegal is still rather short with me, but I am allowed to talk to him again, and sometimes even give him a scratch or two. He still can’t be out while I’m in the room, but he is no longer reacting violently to the mere sound of my voice. Big improvement!

Meanwhile, Ptak is doing great. He has discovered a love of window-watching and spends much of his time observing the world go by. In fact, he is very fond of the bees that frequent our roof, and loves to chatter at them. He calls big ones ‘silly birds.’ When the wild wrens come in to investigate, Ptak does his best to scare them off. We don’t get too many birds in our front garden since he discovered the window. 😛

That’s about all here. Long time no write, I know. I have some posts in the works for the upcoming week – check in soon!

Students with Birds Has an Official Website.

Tonight is the opening night of LittleBlueParrot.com, my own website that I’ve been working very hard on! As a self-confessed technophobe, learning to do all this has been a trial (even if the process was a bit simplified for me). I had to do a lot of research before feeling ready enough to publish.

Anyway, dear readers, I’d love if you’d take a look and let me know your thoughts. This blog will still be well-loved and much used, of course! You can go check out some of my photography there, too. I promise I’ll blog some more soon – things have been a little hectic lately.

As always, likes, shares, Tweets, and re-blogs are appreciated! Little Blue Parrot is just the next step towards starting my own sanctuary here in the U.S.

 

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Spring is here!

The Mavi Chronicles: ‘I Love You, but I Want to Bite You.’

My Senegal parrot has always had anger problems. If something is wrong in his life, he takes that out on me, and if I’m not around, it’s the nearest person or toy. Recently, my poor boy is feeling very… ahem… unstable about the move overseas, quarantine, and probably the time when I left him alone with O. beforehand. It makes sense, and I certainly don’t blame him. I do wish he’d stop punching my face and arms full of holes, though…

Being a somewhat hefty Senegal (he gets comments on his size all the time – and he is decidedly not fat!), he can do some serious damage. His attacks are not your average bite and release, or even a bite-and-cling affair; they are full-on fly-by attacks meant to do damage. I tell people who are considering a parrot not to underestimate what a bird’s beak can do. Mavi certainly emphasises this.

How much do small bird’s bites hurt? A helluva lot. Worse, I would venture to say, than some of the bites I’ve received from much larger birds.

 

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Aggressive Senegal Parrot body language

Here’s what’s happening:

Mavi had a blissful honeymoon period lasting roughly two or three weeks when he first arrived home. This was followed by two or so more weeks of mild-to-normal hormonal behaviour, including one nesting incident that was swiftly diverted. Things appeared to settle down for a little bit, and then wham. I can’t go near him. And I don’t feel it’s entirely hormonal related.

My voice sends him into a beak-bashing rage.

I can’t look at him or go within ten feet of him without extreme aggression. Eye contact? Forget it. If I let him out of his cage while I’m anywhere in the room, he spends the entirety of the time dive-bombing me in an attempt to get skin. If you’ve never had a bird rushing your face out of nowhere, I can tell you it isn’t pleasant. Thick jumpers are my friend.

Mavi has a cage-top play station that he knows how to use – it is filled with his favourite toys and treats, but not even this can keep him distracted long enough.

 

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I was shooting this from a safe distance – notice the ruffled feathers and turned back? He’s agitated.

My Senegal is very, very angry, and while I am careful not to personify him too much, I feel that part of his behaviour does boil down to resentment. Parrots are emotional creatures. I have known other birds to react the same way to big changes. People don’t expect this kind of behaviour or complexity out of so-called ‘beginner’ birds like Senegals (and, by the by, even if I believed in starter birds, I would not classify Sennies as one of the ‘easier to own’ species out there). The charging behaviour is classic Senegal, though.

My ordinary response with an angry and aggressive parrot is to instigate a training session to distract them entirely. That’s something that’s always worked well in the past. He even has several behaviours that are solidly learnt, like speaking on cue, standing tall, and recalling to me. Or so I thought.

Mavi’s sole purpose in life is now to punish me, and training has become an impossibility. He literally cannot concentrate on anything except giving me a new facial piercing. I don’t react; I put on a teacherly attitude and just set him down and turn my back, again and again. We’ve tried cuing tricks, we’ve tried recalling him to me before he gets aggressive. Bu something about me is a trigger, and look out.

 

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We’re changing up his diet a bit – low protein and fats

Not getting anywhere with letting him out and ignoring him, I recently went back to the basics – as if he is a new bird that I am getting to know. I sit by his cage, not even talking to him (because that sets him off, too), just existing and going about my life calmly. When he’s calm too, I slip a special treat into his bowl, but even this makes him stomp round, pluck the treat out, and discard it – all while puffed to roughly the size of an American football. If I cue a trick while he’s inside his cage, he’ll turn his back on me, which I respect. That’s a polite way of saying in parrot, ‘I want nothing to do with you.’

If I go near, he weaves his head. He clicks and whistles the car alarm noise that signals his foulest mood. He puffs up. He pins his eyes and bashes his beak. He gives every indicator of an angry bird about to bite – and he is pretty easy to read, most of the time. I filmed him to be sure it wasn’t the environment causing him issues. When I’m gone from the room, he plays and forages very happily.

I am the problem.

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Random flower photo – Mavi goes on all my photo shoots with me.

I am hoping that this will pass. Upon his arrival home in the U.S., he immediately over-bonded with my roommate and younger sister (who has done nothing to encourage this). She is wary of him, unfortunately, and I am still the only one capable of caring for him and putting up with his unpredictability. I think the answer has to be – as someone else suggested – really limiting their time together. The problem is, they don’t see each other that much anyway – maybe 10-20 minutes a day, max. Mavi’s body language completely changes around her, though. He goes from a beak-bashing terror to a relatively calm bird. However, we did learn recently that even she is not left out of his attacks.

In the meantime, I’m encouraging Mavi to fly and forage, and am cutting waaay back on the treats. He’s healthy, just not happy with me. He has learned many new words, though, and lots of new voices to get the attention of his beloved. He now adorably says, ‘Maverick! Step up!’ and declares himself ‘CUUUUUUUUUUUUTE!’

As if to make up for all his craziness, he also said those most treasured three words for the first time ever: ‘I love you.’ While interacting with him through the bar of his cage, my sister and I told him we loved him at the same time, and he piped in his cutest voice, ‘LOVE YOU.’ Complete coincidence, and definitely not intended for me specifically, but heart-meltingly sweet nevertheless.

 

 

 

Quaker Parrots as Pets: Featuring Guest Blogger Joanna Grinberg-Ayala

Quaker Parrots, also known as Monk Parakeets, are said to be vivacious and noisy ‘big’ birds tucked into 90-140 gram bodies. For guest blogger Joanna Grinberg-Ayala, founder of Diary of a Kooky Parrot blog, this definitely holds true. She explores what life with quirky quaker parrot ‘Basil’ is really like – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is one real owner’s perspective on what these small parrots are like as pets; the post is part of an ongoing series that seeks to educate the public about life with pet birds. Let’s give Joanna and the fabulous Basil a warm welcome!

You can also follow Basil’s antics on either of her Facebook pages (or Twitter):

https://www.facebook.com/ScreechandSquawk

https://www.facebook.com/basilthequaker

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Quaker Parrot – what to do?

I was asked to write about my life with a quaker parrot… to show prospective quaker parrot owners what they’re in for. So here it comes – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Our quaker parrot is a huge loud personality bursting out of a small green body.

We’ve had our quaker, Basil, for over 2.5 years now. It’s been wonderful. We all love her like crazy. And she annoys us to no end. Basil shares her space with 3 budgies. Basil is, most likely, a girl. It was never confirmed, but from watching her personality traits and certain behaviors, I think it is pretty safe to assume she is a female.

 So, what is life with my quaker like? I will try to summarize her quirky colorful personality:

 

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Basil of Screech and Squawk

Grouchy – The main sound we hear the most coming from Basil all day are grunts and grumbles. She sounds like a cranky grump. She grunts when she’s annoyed. She grunts when she’s content. But, when she’s really upset, she yells.

Messy – When Basil eats, the whole room gets trashed. She doesn’t eat in her cage. She doesn’t eat next to her food dish. She takes a seed in her beak, walks all the way to the edge of the cage, chews, and discards the shells onto the floor under the cage. When she gets veggies, she picks out stuff she doesn’t want, and throws it in all directions. When she eats peas, she extracts the filling, and scatters the skins everywhere. Needless to say, no matter how much I vacuum and clean, the floor in the parrot’s part of the room is always covered with bird food.

Noisy – Basil squawks rhythmically every morning for a couple of hours. Especially on the weekends, when we are trying to sleep in, and she wants us to come to the living room. The squawking is loud and annoying, but it only happens at intervals during the day. She probably is not quite as loud as some of the big parrots, but her piercing screeches can be heard from our 4th floor apartment all the way in the street. She’s not shy about reprimanding everyone, from budgies to humans. And, when her cage is locked, she clanks on the cage bars really loudly in protest – often for hours.

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Noisy quaker parrot

 

Nosy – Basil needs to see everything, check everything, and participate in everything. She likes to watch what I do from her spot on her playground, and loudly comments on everything. She usually chatters or grunts, occasionally resorting to yelling when she disapproves of something, like vacuuming, for example.

Jealous – Whenever I dare to talk to the budgies or snap their pictures, Basil rushes over, photo-bombs my pictures, jumps on my shoulder, nips my neck, anything to divert my attention away from the budgies. Same thing happens when the Kid comes over to cuddle with me. Basil immediately appears, places herself on my shoulder between us, and starts biting the Kid.

Picky – Basil has her favorite foods and nothing else will do. No matter how much I try to mix it up for her, she will only eat a few chosen veggies and fruit. No substitutes accepted. They either get ignored completely, or tossed on the floor with disgust.

Talented – All Basil’s senses seem to have extraordinary sharpness. She can spot a cookie from all the way across the room. She can smell gummy bears hidden deep in my pocket. Her sense of taste is so well developed that she manages to pick out the smallest pieces of favorite foods from my plate and discard anything else on the floor. She can hear me creeping on my tippy toes to the bathroom on early Sunday morning, and starts calling me loudly to come over to the living room. In short, there’s no hiding anything from Basil.

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Basil’s serious now.

Persistent – Basil never gives up. She will do anything and everything to get what she wants. To score human food, she will bite, dive inside my mouth, wrap herself around my whole face while sitting on my shoulder to reach my lips, lower herself down my face when sitting on top of my head, walk right into my plate and dig in my dish in search of her favorite foods, try to rip food out of my hand, lick the plate, the table and my blouse… You name it. There is nothing Basil wouldn’t do to get what she wants. When she first saw budgies land on the window frame, she went berserk! She could not stand to see the budgies do something she wasn’t able to do. So she started practicing. She tried and tried for days until she learned how to do it too. It wasn’t easy. She’s nowhere nearly as agile as the budgies, she’s big and bulky, and not a great flyer. She kept crashing into the window and falling onto the windowsill, but she never gave up. Until one day, she learned how to do it. Only to triumphantly chase the budgies off!

Nippy – When you read on Facebook about these birds that cuddle with their owners, or sit in their pockets… well, it certainly won’t be about Basil. She must have an obsessive-compulsive disorder of some sort. She can’t stop nipping. Ever! We can never relax when she’s around. She plucks our body hair. She removes moles and pimples. She picks on freckles, scars, and scabs. She nibbles on our necks. She pinches our cheeks. She gnaws on our clothes. She removes our buttons. She never stops chewing on our clothes and us. Results? Holes in our shirts and blouses, missing buttons, bleeding moles, scabs that won’t heal for weeks because they’re constantly picked on… and constant shrieks of – “Ouch!” whenever Basil is around.

High-strung – Basil hardly ever relaxes. Ever. She has to see everything the budgies and we are doing. She can be getting a massage, half comatose from pleasure, but she keeps jumping nervously at every sound the budgies make. And, often, just has to fly back to show the budgies who’s in charge.

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Basil wields her bean.

Bossy – She rules the flock. She cannot stand to see the budgies sitting around and relaxing. She will do anything to keep them on their toes. She controls their eating times. She decides where they get to sit. She chases them back and forth all day long. No budgie can relax when Basil is around.

Volatile and vindictive – When Basil gets mad it’s either ear-piercing yelling and wing flapping, or vicious biting and trashing her surroundings. When I don’t share my food with her, she walks over to the computer mouse, tries to push it off the desk and bite through the cable. Or, she tries to vandalize my computer keyboard. Or shred whatever papers are lying around. She never lets anything go. Someone or something has to pay, be it one of us, our clothes, or whatever object is at a near distance.

Cunning – Basil learned to sing her own rendition of Happy Birthday song, which sounds like – Appy Poo Day. As a treat, I offer her a piece of cereal, and call it a cookie. She learned to demand the cookie by yelling really loudly. In the past, she would attempt to sing and dance through the entire song, but, with time, she got wiser. Now all she does is sing one phrase – “Appy Poo Day”, and immediately yells – “COOKIEEE? COOKIEEE?”

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Destructive – This goes without saying… Like every parrot, Basil loves to chew and shred her surroundings, which includes but is not limited to computer keyboard, computer mouse, cables, furniture, books, documents, walls, curtains, blinds, doors, pictures, frames, and so on… and so on…

Strong-willed – Everything has to be on Basil’s terms. She will only step up when she feels like it, she will only fly over when she’s in the mood, she will only graciously allow us to pet her, when she decides it’s time for a massage. And even then, she will less than gently redirect our fingers with bites, when the massage is not up to her expectations. When she’s not in the mood for pleasantries, it’s stink eye, painful bites, or ignoring our attempts at affection. In other words, don’t mess with the quaker!

Exclusive – Basil only tolerates the three members of our Family. No one else can get near her. She will ignore them; give them a stink eye, and outright bite if they try to get too close. Occasionally, she will graciously honor some people, like Grandpa or Aunt, by agreeing to sit on their shoulder, but they better not be trying to get too chummy with her. Or else!

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Manipulative – When I eat something yummy, Basil nearly jumps out of her skin. She tries everything, from biting my lips to diving inside my mouth. When nothing works, she places herself on my shoulder, kisses my cheek and repeats – “I love you”, in hope that that will score her a piece.

Stubborn – When Basil wants to be with Dad on the couch, she flies over a million times in a row. She starts nipping on him, he gets annoyed, puts her back on her cage, she flies over to the couch and waits for him before he’s made it back. He puts her back on the cage, she flies over. He puts her back, she flies over… See where this is going? Same happens with the swing on her playground. She likes to twist it upside down so the budgies cannot use it. Dad fixes it. Basil goes back and turns it upside down. Dad fixes it, Basil turns it, dad fixes… All day long!

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Independent – Basil self entertains herself all day by chasing budgies, destroying toys, papers, and furniture, and planning her shenanigans.  She does not need us much. She does come over for scratches occasionally, and to try to wrestle food form us, but other than that she is very self reliant. Maybe it’s because she has other birds to occupy her attention. Maybe it’s her personality.

Competitive – Basil competes with the budgies over everything – space, food, toys, and my attention. She competes with the Kid over access to Dad and me.   She fights for what she thinks is rightfully hers, and firmly asserts her position in the Family hierarchy. At the top, that is.

Spoiled – What can I say… Basil owns the apartment and us. She flies over to the table on the weekends for breakfast. She walks all over the table. She dives into our plates. We humbly offer her pieces of our meal, and she picks and chooses discarding unwanted pieces all over the table and the floor. She has us all wrapped around her little tail. We feed her, massage her, and tend to her as she wishes. In return, she graciously honors us with her occasional attention on her terms.

Occasionally sweet – Basil has moments of weakness, when she fluffs up on one of our shoulders, naps a little and repeats – I love you! Kiss? Of course that causes our hearts to melt. Or, she joins us on the couch, snuggles under the blanket, and allows us to massage her little fluffy body. Recently she has been allowing us to reach under her wings, which is a huge accomplishment for us, since she is not a very trusting birdie.

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I do not know how my experience compares with other quaker parrot owners, or rather people owned by quaker parrots. I only knew one other quaker personally. His name was Oscar, and he was much calmer and much less annoying. When Basil and Oscar met, he minded his own business, while Basil did all she could to bite him. I suspect it had to do with their gender. Female birds are usually way more snippy and nosy.

 What else can I say? Like every crazy parrot lady I am nuts about my birds. Every time Basil perches on my finger, I feel grateful that I have been honored with a bird’s trust and love. I love Basil’s green fluff. I love her warm feet. I love to massage her around her beak. I love to kiss her, and sniff her, and pet her, and just have her next to me, whenever she lets me, of course. Her colorful personality has been a great source of entertainment to all of us. And when we go for vacation, we miss her and the budgies every single moment. We would not trade her for any other bird. She has become an integral part of our family, with all her quirks and demands.

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Quirky Quaker Parrot

 

 

 

How to Safely Medicate a Parrot

Since coming home, my poor parrotlet has just not been himself. I put it down to the stress of a new home, quarantine, and the big move, and gave him time to settle. Six weeks in, however, and things were still ‘off.’ I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But something was up. Appetite: fine. Poop: fine. No nasal discharge, fluffing up, or other typical symptoms of sickness in birds. Ptak just seemed a little more tired than usual – and that I attributed to his moult, which began upon his arrival here and is only just now slowing down.

A few days ago, I noticed he seemed to have a little trouble breathing. Tail pumping ever so slightly, he climbed to his sleeping perch and had a nap directly after his breakfast. Anyone who knows him will see that this is bad news. Post fuel-up, Ptak is usually ready to play! Even when I left the room, he stayed napping. Normally you can’t hear yourself think for his chatter. After Charlie, I will not leave a bird whom I feel is ‘off’ again.

 

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My sweet canary, Charlie.

Trust your instincts. If something seems to be amiss somehow, it isn’t a waste of money to consult a professional.

So I phoned our local avian vet and made an appointment for the same day. We packed up one fussy parrotlet and went.

Of course, my bird promptly made a liar out of me. He chattered and fidgeted the whole way, even in the office. The vet examined him and declared him to have no chest issues (heart, airsacs, and lungs are fine and clear), and no odd lumps or bumps.

Upon weighing him, however, she declared, ‘You’re a little chunk!’ My parrotlet measured in at a shocking 37 grams. He was just 30 grams at his last vet check in Scotland! Fortunately, this is most likely down to his time in isolation, where he wasn’t able to fly the way he’s used to. I know now that he needs even less on the seed, more chop and veggies still. It certainly explained why Ptak flies a little way and needs a rest. My dad commented later that perhaps we can dye him grey and stamp ‘Goodyear’ across his side. 😉 (All in good fun!)

At the end of the check up, the vet did a gram strain and trimmed his talons toes.

 

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Parrotlet trying his hardest to look grumpy.

All that was on April 3. The gram strain came back positive, and a certain little blue bird is now subjected to a course of antibiotics: .02 ml of them administered by beak, to be exact. That would be approximately two droplets.

Antibiotics went fine the first day. Towelled him and administered the meds with a little help. A few days ago, however, he inhaled some of the medicine!

My poor little bird stopped fussing in my grip. I let him go immediately. He flew away and seemed unable to draw breath. I could hear fluid in his chest (thank God it was only one droplet, max). My mum easily grabbed him as his eyes closed – signs numbers two and three that this was an emergency – and held him upside down, gently swinging him. Ptak coughed then and was fine.

I immediately put him in his carrier/hospital cage. My instinct was to keep him quiet while we phoned our vet’s office. He had some residual difficulty breathing that day (coughing and sputtering occasionally), but was quickly recovering. After a bit of trouble, we managed to reach a vet.

 

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The emergency bird hold.

He told us a number of things that may be helpful to other owners struggling with the question of how to safely medicate an un-trained parrot:

1. Aspiration is a common occurrence with birds who struggle during the process. (It emphasises the importance of continuing syringe training even if, as with a certain parrotlet, it seems not to be paying off yet!)

2. A bird who has choked or inhaled medicine should be kept quiet and calm in a covered hospital cage for a few hours to let the airways clear.

3. Our vet gave us permission to attempt dosing his favourite food (egg or strawberry) with the antibiotics. It’s not as efficient, but better than risking another incident. Only do this with your avian vet’s guidance, however.

4. Ordinarily, the best way to medicate an untrained bird via syringe is to restrain it either in your hand (no pressure on the chest!) or with a dark, solid colour towel. Holding the bird upright, put the syringe at the LEFT side of the beak, pointing towards the back right, and gently depress the stopper. If the bird won’t open its beak, you can gently use the syringe to gently coax it open. Careful not to overwhelm the bird.

5. Always follow your vet’s directions, running a full course. During administration, stop if your bird goes limp, ceases to struggle, is fighting, or appears to have difficulty breathing.

 

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Look at this photo I found of Mishka – always involved in everything.

In any case, that’s what’s been happening here! Mavi has been very sweet – still loves my sister, but let me put him on his back and scratch his head for a bit this evening. Hormones are bearable this year; learning about diet and its impact has really helped. Our Senegal has a great love of shoes, which fulfils the hard part of keeping him busy and distracted. Wood toys? Yeah, he likes them, but they’re not as entertaining! Boots, crocs, clogs, flip flops, sandals, flats, trainers. None are safe. (He only gets fresh pairs, or lightly used ones that have been sanitised.) Too bad they don’t last longer, haha.

Ptak is feeling better, and seems to be ingesting his medicine with no problems. He only has a few days left, so we’ll see how he is then. He’s been chatting, anyway, so there’s a definite improvement.

Living with Parrots (from a Non-Bird Person’s Perspective)

What is life like with a parrot, you ask, maybe even from the perspective of someone who doesn’t own the bird? It’s a question that many people want to know – for good reason. After all, these animals have a reputation for being difficult to live with due to their noise, mess-making capacity, and rampaging yearly hormones. Is all this as difficult as people say?

Here is an opinion from animal lover, photographer, and dog trainer Diane Stull (aka my mum), who has very limited experience with parrots – but suddenly has to live with them. Without further ado, Diane:

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German Shepherd “Baldur” working on his here command.

Parrot as a language is a great mystery to me—as a non-bird person with birds living under my roof, I’ve found that they are creatures very different to any other. I find this a little frustrating because in the grand scheme, I’m no newbie to the unspoken languages of companion animals. I “speak” dog, cat, and horse.

Learning to speak my domestic pets’ language:

I have had dogs since I was a kid, and over the years have learned how to be a good alpha. I’m not the Dog Whisperer, but I know that dogs like being led by their alphas, and are happiest when their people make those scary decisions of “safe” or “not safe.” This is their language. A tail wagging to the right signals happiness; exposing his or her belly shows submission. A dog who constantly licks its paws may have allergies, or an anxiety issue. Dogs who stand over you are usually being dominant.

I understand all this.

I’ve not had cats as long as dogs. It wasn’t until I got married that I was adopted by my first cat. He was a funny and loving creature. He taught me and my German Shepherd a lot. Because of him, I have acquired lots of words in cat.

 

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This is cat for “Just checking out this bird cage, nothing to see here, move along.”

I know “feed me now!” and “pet me!”   These were easy to divulge. But I also know “hey, don’t turn the page yet,” and “don’t ignore me when I’m speaking to you, human.” By a glance, I know when attention is going to be well-received, versus not. And I know what that glare with the steam coming out the ears means when I trim nails—and that isn’t fit for repeating in polite company.

Parrots, on the other hand, I don’t know so well. I had a couple of canaries as a young adult when I was still in school. They were loving birds who liked attention. I had to re-home them when I first went to work full time and couldn’t give them the attention that they deserved. Since then, all of my birds have been of the wild variety, which we attract to our yard with feeders and appropriate native plantings in the garden. I love watching them, but I don’t have to interact with them.

They just do what birds do in the wild.

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Wild chickadee enjoying our feeder.

Then my daughter adopted parrots.

She lived on her own. Visiting with her flock was easy. I interacted with them via Skype. The intimidating beaks of the cockatoo and Senegal parrot were 3,500 miles away. During these electronic visits, I could laugh at their antics and marvel at each new word or phrase that they were perfecting. My daughter, Sarah, would talk about special foods, molts, and hormones—or show me her current batch of bruised bite marks.

These weren’t domestic animals. They had a wild side to them.

When we found out that she had to come home due to a law change in the UK, bringing two of the birds with her, I had serious doubts that I knew enough to make our time together a happy experience. Would I ever really learn how to interact with them? I will stick to cats and dog any day; they are so uncomplicated.

 

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Skype screenshot of Mavi hanging out.

 

Fast forward to February 2014: The birds are home!

Day 1: After a massive road trip to New York State the day before, the birds are home and happy, and none the worse for wear.

I spend some time with them after Sarah wakes them. I’m clueless about the eye pinning and the body motions Maverick the Senegal is making. Is he just curious or is he telling me to back off? I quickly learn that beak bashing is an aggressive move, and to turn my back on him if he does something I don’t like. This back-turning maneuver isn’t natural to me. It’s not how you deal with aggression from a lower pack member. It’s such a change to go from pack mentality to flock mindset! We’re equals.

Sarah sets Mavi on my shoulder. I’m really uncomfortable with him there. He’s a good boy, but I realize just how big that Senegal beak is! I have Sarah move him back to her arm.

Little Ptak seems pretty unfazed by his new home. He’s very friendly and inquisitive. With a little coaxing, he is willing to come to my finger and check me out, walking up and down my arm. I like his size. And while I respect his beak, it doesn’t alarm me the way Mavi’s does.

The other animals in the house know something’s up. Koko Mau, our Siamese cat, is a bit miffed because he can’t sleep on Sarah’s bed now; thankfully, the dogs are oblivious to the noisy bird chatter coming from the newly appointed bird room. This is a pleasant surprise. The dogs are curious about the new smells, but they are not obsessing about it. We appear to be off to a positive start.

 

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Parrotlet flinging chop.

 

Day2: The birds eat as well as… if not better than… we do. Since coming home, Sarah has discovered that we own a food processor. She told me about the benefits of chop and grain bakes while still in Scotland. This is a new concept to me. I’m obviously and out of date when it comes to bird nutrition: Bird food = seeds. (She assures me this is an outdated view, but information changes all the time as we learn more.) Sarah has stuffed our refrigerator with good fruits and greens from the organic co-op, also raiding the deep freezer for some of our homegrown organic veggies.

OK, whatever. I’m just rolling with the flow here.

 

Day 3: Time for a reality check about food.

To my dismay, parrots waste a lot of food. I watch in horror as these bowls filled with lovely blackberries and freshly made chop are emptied to the bottom of the cages or splashed onto cage covers and freshly painted walls. Sarah tells me that this is normal, healthy behavior, akin to scattering seeds in the wild. I cannot watch, and leave the room.

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Senegal Parrot Maverick making himself at home.

* * * * * *

Day 10: Mavi’s starting to show hormonal behaviors. He doesn’t usually come out when there are visitors in the room—mainly to keep the bird newbies safe—but he will let me give him scritches through the bars if I ask him politely. I’m careful to avoid hitting his pin feathers. I found out today that he loves tearing up shoes and boots. What a mess this activity makes! The bottom of his cage and the floor beneath are horrifyingly messy.

Now that he’s settled, Sarah has been working with him on touching a stick on command. She calls it touch training. He used to do it in Scotland, but he’s getting a refresher after 30 days in isolation. The stick has proven useful when getting him back into his cage—without any fuss at all. Mavi has a will of his own.

* * * * * *

Present: The birds have now been home about six weeks. Sarah is in heaven. Her sister seems to have an inner parrot translator and has really taken to the birds. They like her, too.

Maverick is learning more words and sounds, and even practices using different voices. We love his little “Beaker” noise (as in The Muppets) and laugh hysterically when he meows just like our Siamese. We’re waiting for him to learn the dogs’ commands. He likes going places in his modified cat carrier. We ask him, “Adventure, Mavi?” and he jumps right in.

Ptak is 30 grams of energy. When he isn’t riding around on someone’s shoulder, he will sometimes sit on a perch and whisper “baby bird” to try and get your attention. And when is in a talkative mood, he will say “tickle, tickle” or “s’cuse me” and lift his wings when you gently shake him up and down. He seems to have a special call for Sarah, too, “Beep!” He wants her to answer with “Merp.” If she doesn’t, he will do it for her.

Me? I’m sort of the odd-man-out.

 

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Photo-bombing cockatiel.

 

I talk to the birds, help a little with food or their UV lamp, and Ptak comes out to play with me—but I’m not really connecting with them yet. Don’t get me wrong. I like them. It’s just that I seem to always be one step behind in the communication process, and continually need someone to be my translator. Whereas I’m instinctively part of the pack and know what to do for the dogs, plus have an understanding with the cats, I’m in the dark about these birds.

Living with parrots isn’t easy. As a non-bird person living with parrots under my roof, I can tell you that they can be difficult for your average person—even an animal lover like me—to live with. The noise of even these small birds can be ear-splitting. They’re charming, yes, but sometimes unpredictable, especially in the spring. If you have a roommate or significant other living with you, think about whether you’re all on board for this kind of commitment.

Waste, mess, and noise are part of life with a parrot, right alongside the love and companionship you gain from keeping one.

 

Evidence of an Issue: Parrots as Pets.

With spring so tantalisingly close, I couldn’t resist taking the birds out in their carriers for some sunshine today. It was divine, but the warm weather and lengthening days both come with a catch. Hormones are in full blast at this household – and at many others besides. With work on my flock’s diet, things are manageable, but it’s not an easy time.

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Preparing for our outing with fresh fruits and veggies.

My Senegal has decided that I am no longer his friend, and will only sometimes let me near him. He is enamoured of my younger sister, who is away most of the day, and not fully comfortable handling him while he’s at his most unpredictable. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if he were getting the attention he needs – but he is literally driving me away because he is convinced that my sister is his new mate. I am the only one capable of caring for him at this time.

Has she done anything to encourage my parrot’s pursuits? Not one single thing except simply exist in the springtime. But that’s enough. He’s a lady’s man. (And hopefully things revert to normal soon enough.)

Ptak the parrotlet is currently in love with his bell. He will actually forgo time spent out of cage to sit beside it. He rings it and lets it gently scratch his head. Anyone who so much as glances at his bell will get what’s coming to them. Look out!

Spring brings out the worst in any captive bird.

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Celebrating spring by dehydrating some oranges as a bird toy

While the rest of the world celebrated April Fool’s Day, parrot owners were faced with a far more serious issue. The start of spring has heralded literally hundreds of search phrases on this blog based around biting, hormones, and screaming. My stats have sky-rocketed, and it’s not a good thing. A small sampling of the search terms bringing people to Students with Birds Blog (which, by the by, if you are looking for the article to help you solve these issues, check out Surviving Springtime with Parrots):

“My parrot won’t stop attacking.”

“Cockatoo bites face.”

“Screaming cockatoo.”

“Cockatoo sending me to hospital.”

“Cockatoo bites.”

“Plucking cockatoo lashing out.”

“Attacking parrot.”

“Budgie biting.” (Supplement different species’ names as you will.)

“My bird won’t stop regurgitating.”

“Bird attacking husband/family.”

“Aggressive parrotlet.”

“Lovebird nesting laying eggs.”

“Parrot won’t stop screaming.”

“Mutilating bird.”

“Jacket for plucking parrot.”

“Re-homing parrots.”

“My bird won’t leave me alone.”

“Parrot spring hormones.”

“Surviving parrots spring.”

“Unhandleable Moluccan.”

“Why does my Senegal Parrot bite me?”

“How to stop biting parrot.”

“Are parrot hormones as bad as they say?”

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My leg, after my cockatoo beat me up.

This is evidence of a problem.

My site will not be alone. Out there, the other bird blogs are inundated with this as well.  Are hormones with parrots as bad as ‘they’ say? Yes. It is a sad truth. Take the search terms as evidence. There are endless, desperate pleas resounding across the various places where I write on the Internet. The issue is the hand-rearing of captive birds. Puppies and kittens can’t be removed from their mothers until a certain age, due to the adverse affect it has on their mental health. Why are birds any different?

And yet leaving hand-reared birds to parent raise their young isn’t necessarily the answer. Those parents were hand-raised too, probably, and have no idea how to parent. It’s a circular issue.

By virtue of this most basic biological drive to mate, parrots aren’t good pets. Hormones are purely down to the animal, not one’s ability as an owner. For that reason, I would like to commend everyone who is currently surviving with one under their roof. It’s tough. If you are considering re-homing your bird, please, wait. Give it two or three months and you may find that things revert to normal again. Extra foraging, touch-training, reduced light, and low-protein/carb diets will help you survive.

This craziness does pass for most birds.

Flying parrot

Please, do NOT clip a bird’s wings this season. Using flight to burn off energy is one of the best ways to prevent hormonal-based biting, plus a clipped bird is more easily threatened, and therefore more likely to chomp