How many of you have had your parrots go from avian companions to avian coworkers? I have and let me tell you, my dream of working from home isn’t exactly what I imagined.
I’ll admit that the current situation has been a dream of mine, but not this way! I dreamt of working part-time or working from home for years, imagining it would be the best of all worlds: connection with the outside world with the benefit of being at home to tend to it like a proper wife does. Maybe the second part of that came to pass. My house is clean and well kept, the chores and errands are done, and I have free time at night for the first time since I was in grammar school. The first part, not so much. I meant to pull back from the hectic pace of the world, not for it to be shut down because of a virus!
Fortunately, I have two companions to see me through the workday. Zack and Bubbles are happy to contribute to conference calls and webinars. I even had Zack deny a request from a co-worker, which he seemed to do with a particular delight that amused me and Bubbles. And Bubbles showed off on not one, but two videoconference meetings that my husband had, garnering delight and many “what a pretty bird” compliments that grew her ego three sizes that day. They are good little helpers. Maybe they could be a valuable contribution to the workforce – if they weren’t bored to sleep by lunchtime!
We’ve all had to make adjustments. Some are good, like more time with Rick, Zack and Bubbles, the house being well kept, and more time for writing, reading, and cross stitching. Some aren’t so good, like not being able to see family and friends, go to church, go out shopping without fear, or take care of those few things at the office that can only be done there. The birds adapted well, since having their humans at home all the time is quite agreeable. And while I’m an introvert and being home is adaptable for me, the circumstances are not. It does get disturbing to be isolated. It’s just not right. I joke a lot about being a hermit in the woods, but the truth is that I’m used to the world drawing me out on a regular basis. It’s not these days, and that’s strange. Everybody is scared except for our anipals, they are delighted that we’re finally seeing a part of their world.
We never expected something like this to happen in our lifetime, but hasn’t that been the case for our generation? Life is strange, and we’ve seen many iterations of that over the past couple of decades. If we didn’t understand that we aren’t in control and never will be, then COVID-19 has taught the entire world that lesson in ways we can’t deny. But hopefully, it’s also teaching us that we will make it through, and better days are ahead. We’ll make it. We always do, and we will emerge stronger and better than ever before. It’s just going to be tough to leave our parrots at home when the call to return to the office does come!
Take care and stay safe out there.
Parrots and Pestilence
Our Governor encouraged us to explain Coronavirus to children in an age-appropriate way. I turned to the birds and the conversation went as follows:
Me: “The Pestilence Horseman of the Apocalypse got loose again.”
Bubbles (head bobbing): “That’s right!”
Zack: cackled and kept playing.
Humans might have a pandemic, but birds have different issues. There are spring hormones, turning any loose wood or cloth in the house into nesting materials, and screaming at those free-loading bluebirds living in the birdhouse. As if all that weren’t enough, there are all those moochers at the bird feeding station in the back yard. Who, exactly, does that “tree trash” believe it is?
Fortunately, we can leave our avian companions to their own concerns. Recent research shows that the threat of passing Coronavirus to our pets is low. In fact, it’s unlikely that birds can catch any viruses from humans because their cell receptors are different from ours. We can catch things from them because diseases can move “up” to human receptors (such as the Coronavirus passing from bats to humans), but it’s unlikely to pass back “down” to animals. Simply stated, the nature of a virus is to survive by mutating to more complex receptors. If you want to learn more about this (and cure insomnia) check out this article on Cross-Species Virus Transmission and the Emergence of New Epidemic Diseases. A shorter and simpler article from Medical News Today can give you an overview on how viruses work. If you’d rather keep it simple, viruses are completely dependent on their host, and like everything else, they prefer to evolve.
There was a case where Coronavirus was passed to a dog from an infected human, but it was a “mild positive,” and rare. Still, that one case is a good reminder that it’s important to take proper precautions with handling your avian companions. Wash your hands when you return home from being outside of the house. Don’t cough or sneeze on them. Run an air purifier in the room where their cages are kept if you or they are prone to seasonal allergies (yes, it’s that time of year, too!). Do regular cage cleanings, ensure they have fresh water and food at all times, and check toys for safety from wear and tear. In other words, don’t be a nasty human, and observe the same good hygiene and excellent care practices that you should at all times.
I’ve shared a lot of jokes online about Coronavirus, hoarding, and quarantines. The truth is that I joke because this is a frightening situation, and I’m trying to diffuse the tension. It’s shocking to see the panic in the media. It’s unsettling to see our daily practices and routines disrupted by social distancing. It’s frightening to see the empty store shelves and panic in our own communities. Quarantines are scary, as are the abundance of conspiracy theories spreading like, well, viruses! Just remember – this too shall pass. Take care of yourselves, and your birds.
And enjoy some extra time with your avian companions – if you can with those spring hormones! Move over, Bubbles. Mommy might want to hide in that Happy Hut with you!
Happy Easter and Happy Spring, everybody. Take care out there!
Last month I talked about the personality of our companion parrots and how it affects how they interact with one another. This month, I’d like to follow up by talking about how they adapt to our personalities.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much research on this. There are plenty of articles on “what your pet says about your personality,” and even more on anthropomorphism, which is the practice of attributing human characteristics to our birds. I’ve also discussed their intelligence in previous articles, but how does that contribute to how they interact with us?
This is difficult to formally research. After all, it takes repeated experience to establish the behavior patterns we see in our lives, so measuring responses in birds who communicate in different ways makes data collection a unique challenge. What does this mean with your companion parrots? Do they adapt to our personality? Do we pick parrots that match our personality? Or it is somewhere in the middle?
This is something I’ve wondered about, especially since we adopted Bubbles. She’s interesting, particularly because we were her third home in a period of six months. As she adapted to our home, I was interested to see how she latched on to certain things, especially regarding my own routines, habits, and interests. It was funny because she’s clearly a “daddy’s girl,” and yet I catch her paying close attention to what I do. She has to check out my plate at every meal before I eat it, she responds to me when I talk to her (whether in words or chirps), she bobs her head and gets excited over aliens on TV, and she engages in certain chirps and “head bobs” when she wants attention or a response from us. I told Rick that I thought she was playing up to me, because she had bonding issues with her previous two human “mommies.” The most interesting thing is how this picked up after Chloe died in December 2017. That’s when Bubbles really started watching and interacting with me intently.
I know that Zack plays up to my personality. My little buddy has known me since he was six weeks old, so he’s practically watched me grow up (at least from young adulthood to the eve of middle age). He learned quickly that I love head bobs so he continues to do it even though it’s a baby trait that he should have grown out of. He’s also attentive to the kind of music Rick and I listen to and will bob his head to songs we seem to enjoy the most. Zack also seems to step into the role of calming and comforting me when I’m stressed. Once again, this trait emerged after Chloe died. I used to say that Chloe’s sweet nature balanced my high-energy attitude, but Zack has stepped into that role since she passed. On good days we gossip and dance and play. On bad days, he’ll snuggle me while we relax. There’s no doubt that he notices my temperament and adjusts his interactions accordingly. And he always says “hey!” when we enter the room and laughs at my bad jokes. Well, he laughs at most of them. Bubbles laughs too, but I’m not sure whether she learned that from Zack or me.
We know birds are smart, and we know they have unique personalities based on their species and temperament. We also know we tend to project our own personality onto them. So, where’s the balance? How much of our interactions are us and how much are them? There’s no way to really know. All we do know is that we bond in unique ways, and it all works together. Maybe it’s best not to get too caught up in how it happens and simply just enjoy our unique relationship with our birdy buddies.
Happy Spring and have a great March!
Playing “matchmaker” has never worked out with me. My first two parakeets, Samson and Delilah, did not get along. Delilah had a boyfriend at the store where we got her, and she never forgot about him. She warmed up to Sammy later in life, but never to me. In fact, I started dating Rick (my husband) later in her life, and he’s the only human she liked. She regarded everybody else, including my other two parakeets (Samson and Petesy), with disdain.
I passed it off as a youthful misjudgment until a couple of decades later, when we decided that Zack needed company. I carefully selected Chloe because I thought her sweet personality would complement Zack’s playful nature. It was another failure. Chloe liked Zack, but Zack didn’t know what to think about her. I believe he thought he was the last sun conure on Earth, and her arrival destroyed his paradigm of reality. He pecked her and kept walking over her tail feathers, until the day she pulled a strange conure-karate movement and pinned HIM down with her foot. I was shocked. Life in the aviary must have been rougher than I realized. It took a couple of years for them to learn to get along. The conure Kung-Fu fighting stopped by Chloe’s second year in our home.
Oliver and Bubbles were entirely different stories. They were rescues, so there was no time to evaluate how they’d fit into our home and “flock.” Zack and Chloe had never seen a parakeet; Ollie didn’t understand why he was smaller than his brother and sister; and it was awkward for all three of our birds. Unfortunately, we never learned if time and experience would reconcile this problem. Ollie died of a spinal tumor in 2014.
Bubbles is the one who broke the mold. This feisty quaker literally burst onto the scene in 2016, and her bold nature shocked Zack and Chloe. They were scared of her, but she was undeterred. I think the picture I took of her and Chloe moments after they met tells the tale perfectly. Bubbles looks relieved to have a home, and Chloe looks shocked by this blue interloper. I think this is one of my favorite bird pictures.
Bubbles decided from her first day in our home that Zack was “her man” and she has been following him everywhere ever since. She also bonded strongly with Rick, but through patient work, she has warmed up to me. Sadly, she and Chloe never learned to get along, as Chloe died in that horrible accident shortly after Bubbles came along. What’s amazing is that Bubbles mourned Chloe, even though they fought. Bubbles was nervous for a couple of weeks and called for Chloe several times in the two weeks after Chloe’s accident. That’s also when Bubbles started to warm up to me. She came to me for the first time three days after Chloe died (instead of making me pick her up).
It’s amazing that birds, like people, can be introverts (like Delilah, Petesy, and Chloe) or extroverts (like Zack and Bubbles), and they are in tune to how it works. I’ve been blessed with many variations of happy flocks where every human and bird grew in love and harmony despite my matchmaking misjudgments. However, it works both ways. Your birds know your personality too, and they work it to their advantage. We’ll talk more about that next month.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Back to Normal
Happy New Year! It’s the 2020’s, and the holiday rush is through. That leaves us with one important question: how do you get back to normal when life has been anything but “normal” the past six weeks?
The holiday rush caught up with me the week before Christmas when I took Zack and Bubbles in for a vet check and wing trim. I did it because it seemed Bubbles was acting a bit “off.” I decided to have her checked before we got more bogged down in the most wonderful time of the year. The diagnosis? She was hormonal and ending a hard molting season. The vet also mentioned that the artificial light in our homes – to make up for the shorter days (and Christmas lights), contributes to increased hormonal behavior. The higher activity of the holidays wasn’t helping her overall mood either.
“So you’re saying the short days and our crazy schedules are the problem?” I asked.
“Birds need routine,” the vet said. “Getting back to it would certainly help her.”
“It would help mommy, too,” I said.
Christmas was a week away at that point, and I knew the annual holiday-meltdown was getting it’s grip on me. At least I got it over with before Christmas. It hit me Christmas night in 2018, when I got Zack and Bubbles food dishes mixed up. I was screaming “I need for Christmas to be over!” while they were slinging seed all over the floor.
The holidays can be wonderful, but they can also be stressful. It’s yet another example of how our state of mind affects our feathered friends. At least I got confirmation that Bubbles was ok, wing trims, and more information for my personal repertoire of “bird care information” from that vet visit. Plus, our vet is kind and always encourages me to call her if I have concerns. She also told Zack he was amazing for a 20-year-old sun conure, which grew his ego ten sizes that day.
Now it’s a new year, and time to get back to everyday life with a new resolve. We just have to remember what that is. It’s tough. We yearn to return to simplicity of routine, and yet it’s difficult to get back to the hum drum of everyday life after a season of celebration. All of a sudden, it’s over. The lights and decorations are down, and the holiday rush is through. The stores are bare, the Christmas songs are replaced with dull elevator music, and the nights are long and dark with no festive lights to brighten the way. It’s just life again, and it doesn’t take long for the dullness of that routine to wear you down.
Perhaps a good resolution is to revisit the stress reduction techniques I’ve mentioned before, or to get better organized. Maybe that new workout routine will help you feel more energetic so you can manage your days better. Perhaps a new hobby is a good addition to bring a spark to your routine. And, of course, spending plenty of quality time with your feathered friends to let them know that every day with them is a celebration. It might not be as tempting for them to steal from your plate now that the new-year diet is in effect, but maybe you can find a way to make it a fun foraging game (even if it doesn’t tempt the taste buds as much as the holiday treats did). And they do have those Christmas toys to keep them entertained – at least, if they haven’t destroyed them yet!
Happy New Year to each and every one of you, and here’s to a great start to the 2020’s!
Nothing says Christmas like the Christmas Story from the Book of Luke, family gatherings, holiday events, lights, trees, the classic holiday songs and movies, Zack and Bubbles gift boxes and stockings (that they guard fiercely), and – The Lord of the Rings? Or Star Wars? Or the CW Network’s “Crossover” event, where all shows based on DC comic characters come together for one big adventure for their mid-season finales? Or “We Wish You a Merry Christmas and a Happy Birthday?” Or the ring tone that only I can hear when I get calls from Santa to check up on Zack and Bubbles?
Christmas has always been a special time in our home, and it became magical when we adopted Zack back in 2000. He loves Christmas. The lights, the trees, the presents, and best of all Santa Clause make the season bright. I still remember taking him to visit Santa at PetSmart in 2000. He blurted out a bad word that slipped when somebody ran a light in front of us. That’s a parrot for you. It took two years for him to learn “daddy” but by golly, he picked that one up immediately and blurted it out loud and clear when the camera flashed. I didn’t know whether to laugh or grab Zack and run. We still remember that one, nineteen years later, especially since it took him two years to unlearn that word.
Zack will be twenty on New Year’s Eve, and that means we’ve shared a lot of holiday events, trends, and the ever-changing nature of life. I believe that many of our unconventional traditions have come from the life changes and seasons that we’ve shared. We’ve seen relatives move and pass away, holiday traditions morph with changing life seasons, opportunities taken and lost in the passage of time, and the seasonal whims that infuse each year with its unique flavor. From fiber optic trees, to friends and family, to movies and TV shows, to ugly Christmas sweaters, we try to appreciate it all.
One thing I’ve learned is that Christmas comes every year, but each year is unique. There are traditions we hold to from year to year, but all years aren’t alike. I was “out of it,” the past two years: last year because I was sick, and the year before because Chloe died on December 2, 2017. This year is already unique because it’s a year of rediscovery. I recognize the traditions, but the uniqueness of the past two years has given me a new perspective on the holiday season. I find that at 44, I feel like I’m rediscovering Christmas with new wisdom and insight. I recently read that once you hit your mid 40’s you never really “start over.” Rather, you discover new facets of the familiar and find different meaning in what “is.” I believe this is true.
Every year is different, and so too are some of the “traditions” that define the season. You may do the same things, but you don’t feel the same meaning from year to year. This year, I urge everyone to take a new look at the people, places, things, and experiences you enjoy, especially the one you share with your feathered companions. Those little things are what really make the season. Watching Christmas movies every Friday night with your parrots in December is just as important and meaningful as gifts under the tree and the turkey on the table Christmas Day.
Happy holidays! I wish you a safe and blessed season, a joyous closing to 2019, and a blessed start to 2020.
And Happy Birthday Zack! We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy 20th birthday! You are our sunshine!
Safety Tips for the Holidays – and Year-Round
I remember one night in November when I found my husband, Rick, sharing a bag of pecans with Zack.
“What are you doing? He can’t have those!”
Rick shook his head. “You’re the one allergic to pecans, not Zack. He can have all the pecans he wants.”
It was a natural mistake for me to make. Pecans are my one food allergy, and it is a focal point during the fall and early winter. Of course, I assumed that if they were bad for me, then they were bad for Zack. While this is true for environmental allergens due to the seasonal allergies we share, it doesn’t count when it comes to a food allergy.
It seems prudent to post a reminder on things to watch out for with our feathered friends during this busy and hectic season. Of course, we should watch out for these things year-round, but it’s especially important to be vigilant during the holidays, especially when visiting with family and friends who aren’t familiar with proper bird care.
Of course, our birds want to share holiday meals with us, and it’s fun to share morsels with them. I love Zack’s happy grunts while he eats a footful of Mom’s bread dressing, and Bubbles plunging her pretty blue face into a bowl of mashed potatoes. Of course, you should never let birds eat after you, because saliva has bacteria that is harmful to birds. You should also be sure to keep them away from the following foods:
Chocolate. Humans are the only thing in creation that can tolerate high levels of it, so keep it away from all pets. Likewise, caffeine can cause arrhythmias, hyperactivity, and cardiac arrest.
Avocado. It has a fungicidal toxin that is fatal to birds, especially smaller ones like finches, canaries, and budgies.
Onion and garlic. Concentrated forms of these substances in powders and soup mixes can be fatal to dogs, cats, and birds. If a dish have onion or garlic in a recipe, then it’s probably best not to share that with your little friends.
Fruit pits and apple seeds. While fruits and apples are good, the pits and seeds contain cyanide. It’s best that we all avoid this!
Foods high in fat, sodium, salt, and sugar. These items can cause health problems, and the smaller constitution and higher metabolism of birds compounds bad affects. Of course, we also need to limit our intake of these substances, but it’s best to avoid them with all of our pets.
Xylitol. If artificial sweeteners are bad for humans, then they are bad for birds as well. There haven’t been any studies into the effect of xylitol in birds, but it is known to be toxic in dogs. It’s best not to take a chance.
Alcohol. While pictures of your birds posing with wine glasses and beer bottles is cute, limit them to modeling. The only drinks good for your birds are water, and some fruit juices (apple and cranberry).
Foods to Limit
The following foods aren’t bad in small amounts, but be mindful that there are situations where they can be harmful to birds:
Dairy. Birds are lactose intolerant, so too much can give them diarrhea. This has been a struggle in my home, because Zack loves to lick Rick’s yogurt cups, and Bubbles is a notorious cheese thief. I was relieved to learn that their occasional pillaging will not hurt them, but it should be limited. Especially if I want to keep cage cleaning easier!
Mushrooms. Even humans need to keep an eye on mushrooms, as some are toxic and some are not. The general rule here is that what is safe for you is safe for them in smaller quantities.
Peanuts, corn, and cereal grains can be contaminated by fungus if they get old and moldy. Make sure these items are fresh if you feed them to your parrots.
No article on bird safety would be complete without mentioning environmental risks that affect our feathered friends. My general rule is that if it will flare up an asthma attack, then keep it away from your birds. Likewise, life has taught me that some common sense precautions aren’t quite so common to people who don’t own birds. Beware of the following risks around your birdy buddies:
Teflon. Nonstick cookware emits microscopic vapors that can cause instant death in birds. New ovens, stoves, and toasters also emit this vapor during their first few uses. The best rule is to keep your birds out of the kitchen, and to keep the kitchen well ventilated. Generally, it’s best to avoid nonstick cookware and appliances, and the self-cleaning functions on ovens in homes with birds. If you get a new oven or appliance, ask about this and plan for a family member or friend to keep your bird the first few times you use it.
However, don’t despair, because this doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to scrubbing pans for the life of your parrot. I’ve discovered that stainless steel cookware is excellent for cooking, cleans easy, and best of all won’t hurt your birds!
Aerosols, candles, and smoking. If it is in a can, burns, or emits a fragrance, keep it away from your birds. This includes plug in’s and disinfectants. Their respiratory system is extremely sensitive, and their bodies cannot filter out the bad stuff fast enough to keep it from harming them.
Of course, you want your home to smell fresh, and there are safe ways to do it. Opening doors and/or windows for a short period to “air out” your home is a good option. Another good option is simmer apple cider in a crock-pot or on a stovetop. It’s a nice cool weather drink, and will keep your home smelling good for a long time.
Heavy metals such as lead, zinc, and copper. Most people don’t know that many items like paint, linoleum, glass, zippers, and even bells on their toys can poison them. Likewise, they can chew and break off parts of their toys. I had a scare recently when I came home from work and discovered that Bubbles had broken the clacker out of one of her bells and dropped it in her water bowl. Proper monitoring and caution are key. Be sure to supervise your bird, research toys you buy to make sure they are “bird safe” and an appropriate size for your bird, and regularly check cages, perches, and toys for signs of wear and tear.
Other pets. I often say that birds and bunnies have one thing in common: everything wants to eat them. If you have family or friends visiting with other pets, keep them separated. Birds should never be around cats. We lost Chloe nearly two years ago when I forgot that she was on my shoulder and walked outside. She fell, and a feral cat pounced on her from the nearby woods. There were three fatal mistakes: my distraction, Chloe being outside unrestrained, and a predator. My brother also had a friend whose dog killed his cockatiel. It was accidental, which is often the case with dogs. They don’t mean harm, but they are bigger and cannot “play” with smaller animals without a risk of danger. Even other birds can be a threat if they are sick and need to be quarantined. If other pets are involved, be very clear about boundaries and keeping your birds separated from predators.
Fans and Open doors. Another thing to be mindful of are fans and open doors, especially if you don’t clip your birds’ wings. I have heard too many horror stories about birds lost and killed to flying into a fan, or out of an open door. The holidays are a peak season to be distracted, and people have a tendency to leave doors and windows open to anything else that wants to go out (like an escaping bird), or come inside (like bugs, rodents, cats, or wild birds – yes, we had a wild bird fly in our front door about a year ago!). Stay alert and be sure birds are confined to the safety of a cage if fans are running or doors are open.
The holidays are a fun time, but it’s also a time when we need to be diligent about the health and safety of our feathered friends. If you keep these tips in mind, then you are well on your way to having a safe and Happy Thanksgiving – and a happy bird to boot. Just don’t be surprised if they dig into that turkey. Yes, parrots will eat meat. Remember: if it’s good enough for you, then it’s good enough for them! You just have to be safe and know the limits.
Have a blessed, safe, and Happy Thanksgiving!
The Gradual Emergence of Fall
I remember when it was actually cool when the State Fair came to town, and the leaves were changing in early October. Not so anymore. I had to shop for Halloween T-shirts last year, because I never got to wear the long-sleeved shirts I had from previous years. Fall now emerges gradually in the southeastern United States, almost begrudgingly. This is the sub-tropics, for goodness sake! It’s like the region questions whether it’s supposed to have seasons or not. I think Halloween is popular in the south, because that’s when we finally show signs of the other four seasons we’re supposed to have on planet Earth.
I believe the lingering summer is confusing Zack and Bubbles as well. I mentioned last year that we don’t have trick-or-treaters because we live in the woods, which means we get a unique perspective on the gradual emergence of fall. We see those early signs of the sun setting over the trees that shift from deep green, to lighter green, to the reds, golds, and oranges of fall over a two-month period. It’s interesting to see the changing light and colors right outside our window, and the birds enjoy watching the outside “critters” stock up for the coming change. Still, I can practically see the question marks coming out of their heads when I put out the fall flowers and Halloween cross-stitch while the air conditioner is still running. Or trading my tomato sandwiches at lunch for soups and chili. Or the emergence of sweaters in the mornings that are carried in on my arm in the afternoon. And sometimes, our friend on the NOAA Weather Radio agitates them with yet another tropical system coming our way. Is it fall or still summer? The days are shorter, the calendar says fall, but the climate still clings to remnants of summer. The humans are as confused as the birds are.
One way to alleviate the confusion is to keep up the transitional routines. I mentioned last year how Zack learned to “read” the signs that the year was winding down by the Fall decorations, watching us wear more fall clothes, and especially watching those cheesy Halloween movies that I love on TV regularly. He particularly likes Michael Myers on the Halloween movies, but I think he has different motivations. Zack loves the holidays, so if Oktoberfest and the man with the mask are here, then that means tummy-stuffing time and Santa comes next! Still, fall is fun, and I think they enjoy it with us.
That amazes me, because I grew up with people telling me that animals have no sense for the passage of time, and yet this behavior indicates that they recognize the recurring seasons. I suppose they have to – after all, their ancestors lived outside, and their lives depended on seeing these signs and knowing how to react for their survival. From an evolutionary perspective birds haven’t been domesticated long, so some of those natural patterns continue. They have late summer molts to grow “winter coats,” and eat more in the fall to “bulk up.” But their intelligence also has them accommodating our own changes in routine for the seasons. They realize that new seasons of our favorite TV shows, certain items decorating the house, eating different foods that are now in season, and adjusting the thermostat to accommodate warm days and cool nights are significant. It’s evolution in progress.
The wonder of the changing seasons never gets old, especially when you see the timing of the seasons change. It’s especially fun to share it with our birds. We might not experience trick-or-treating any more, but it’s a unique place to experience the gradual change of seasons in the south.
This is probably good, because Zack didn’t like those trick-or-treaters when we lived in a neighborhood. Moving to the woods was a public service to the children (and parents) who didn’t want to serve our sweet conure a finger buffet every October! Who knows what Bubbles would have done in her feisty excitement? It’s best we don’t solve that particular mystery!
Happy Halloween and happy fall, ya’ll!
Allergies in Birds
One year ago, I learned that Zack and I have something unfortunate in common: fall allergies. I took him to the vet when I noticed that he was sneezing and had scratched a spot over one of his nares until it bled. Imagine my surprise when the vet said she learned that sun conures are more prone to sinus and allergy problems than suspected. In fact, it’s possible for all types of birds to have allergies.
My poor little buddy. At least he doesn’t have to put up with the annual “can’t you DO something about that?” gripes from people around you when the mold, ragweed, and goldenrod cause those sinus and asthma flareups. At least my own chronic health issue prepared me to help my little buddy!
Obviously, birds can’t take antihistamines or decongestants like we can. There are low-dosage antibiotics they can take if they go into an infection (like Baytril), but the good news is that the allergies rarely go into infections in birds like they do in humans. I imagine this is a combination of having a more efficient respiratory system (for example, they only have two sinuses, while humans have four), and spending more time indoors than we do (which limits their exposure to the toxins we bring in on clothes and shoes).
What can you do if you suspect your feathered friend is suffering from allergies? The good news is that it can usually be controlled through environmental efforts. As the vet put it to me, “what’s good for mommy is good for baby bird, too.” Here are some tips she gave me, combined with other tips I’ve been given researched for my own sinus woes:
- Set up a HEPA Air Filter next to the bird cage. This has been the most effective thing I did, and it helped me and Zack. Run it while you’re at home, and that’s usually good enough to filter out the toxins in the rooms where you spend the most time.
- Keep your home clean, using gentle cleaners. Soap and water are usually the best for cage cleaning, and I’ve found that Clorox wipes are good for general housecleaning. Be sure to sweep and vacuum frequently and wash any sheets, blankets, and fabric toys your birds are near regularly to kill mold and dust mites. If you must use heavy cleaners (like toilet cleaners, dusting polish, or bleach), be sure to keep your birds out of the room, and ventilate it well.
- Install a filter on your cold water tap. This ensures that you and your bird are drinking the cleanest water possible. Water is helpful in thinning mucus, so be sure to keep fresh drinking water available for yourself and your birdy buddy.
- Use a dehumidifier if you have a mold allergy. There are many types of dehumidifiers, from the crystals to absorb moisture to the large machines that control humidity in larger rooms. Choose what works for your budget and room size. This can be peculiarly helpful in bedrooms, kitchens, and bathrooms, where mold likes to grow. I’m not sure if it’s helpful to the birds, but mold allergies cause headaches, so seeing you feeling better will reduce your birds stress.
- Eliminate air fresheners and harsh chemicals. Plug-In air fresheners, candles, deodorizers, potpourri, deodorizer sprays, and bug sprays are toxic to all birds whether they have allergies or not, so get rid of them. The same goes for perfumes, hair sprays, scented cleaners, cleaning chemicals, Teflon, and the first few uses of new stoves. In short, if it releases a chemical, keep it away from birds. Their lungs can’t handle it, and guess what: yours can’t either. The difference between humans and birds is that humans don’t notice the effects of these things on their system because it’s cumulative over time (unless you have asthma, which can trigger an immediate response), whereas a birds sensitive system reacts immediately. Simply stated, watch what you breathe. If it has a strong scent or releases a smell or chemical, it’s probably not good for anybody’s lungs.
When people ask me about preparing their home for birds, I often tell them the best advice is the advice from friends with allergies and asthma, because they take the best care of their homes. And when your birds have allergies, it’s even more important that you make sure your home is clean and healthy to keep everybody safe, healthy, and happy.
Happy Fall, all!
Bird Brains: They’re Bigger Than You Think!
I recently watched the Bird Brain Nova special, where birds performed complex problem-solving skills that many people believe only primates are capable of performing. We know that parrots have the intelligence of a preschooler, but to see them solve these puzzles is amazing. At least, it’s amazing to see it in a scientific setting. The truth is, if you have birds then you know these bundles of feathered joy can think circles around you. This is why cages are designed with the locks on the outside, and why so many toys have parts birds can manipulate. It’s no secret to us that they’re smart. Perhaps that’s why we attribute so much humanity to them. After all, if they’re that aware, then what else do they see?
I see this every time my husband and I get sick or stressed out. My husband, Rick, recently went through a job change. Zack and Bubbles paid a lot of attention to him, to the point where they got “clingy.” Zack would scream when Rick talked about his job change, and both birds were agitated by the boxes that appeared in our study with office supplies. They obviously knew that Rick was going through a major change, even though they didn’t see any changes in our home or day-to-day routine. I’ve seen these reactions in birds repeatedly throughout my life, but it still amazes me when they react to our emotions. It’s even more amazing when things are happening in areas of life that they aren’t exposed to, like work. They don’t see it, but they know. Maybe they understand some of the words coming out of our mouth. Who knows? Bubbles certainly has spouted out some of her own words of wisdom in eerily appropriate contexts.
Birds do watch us, because our condition affects the well-being of the entire “flock.” This is an evolutionary response, but often their reactions seem to demonstrate understanding beyond basic biology. Did Zack understand that Rick was going through a work change because I went through a similar change nine years ago? Did he remember my own anxiety (and boxes) when he saw it again? Did he remember when we moved into our house in 2007 and knows that boxes mean somebody is going somewhere else? Or, is it a simple manner of “sensing” emotion and responding? A 2016 study from Vanderbilt University on bird brains proved that they have primate-like neurons in their forebrain, and the proportion of those neurons are significantly higher than primate brains. In short, birds have higher neural activity per capita than we do. No wonder Zack and Bubbles constantly outsmart me with breaking locks and destroying toys. They can think faster than I can! Now that’s an ability I envy.
Does this mean that they see the world the same way we do? Not exactly, but it gives us common ground to relate to them and adapt our behavior so they understand us better. That’s what makes us unique as humans, and why anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to animals) is a good thing when it comes to living with birds. The high intelligence, combined with their flock mentality, is probably why we bond with our avian companions. There’s no doubt that I’ve had a much stronger emotional bond with my parrots than I’ve had with any other pets I’ve had throughout my life. I loved the budgies I had when I was a kid, but they didn’t react to the ambient attention in our home like Zack and Bubbles react to the television, music, Internet, or interpersonal exchanges. I had to sit down and directly address them to get a response, and that was usually a chirp (or maybe seed thrown at me). And then there were my mother and brother’s cats. I got along well with one of them, but the rest were too “standoffish” for me. The actually walked away most of the time when I tried to interact with them. Maybe they knew I was a bird person. Or maybe that’s just how cats are. Then there were my friends’ dogs. Some jumped on me. Some growled at me. Some licked me. All of them sniffed me and barked at me. I never knew what to do with a dog since I never had one.
I think this higher intelligence and problem-solving ability make birds perfect human companions. It helps us relate to them and fulfill their emotional needs. It might not entirely bridge the gap between their mind and ours, but it does help to enlighten them on the love we have for them, and to see how they show that love back to us. That’s why we bond with our birds, and it’s why they’re more than pets – they’re companions.
So, the next time somebody uses the term “bird brain,” you can laugh, because that means they’re smart!
Until next month, stay cool and enjoy your summer.
Last month, I talked about learning our birds’ interest. I’d like to follow up on that by asking how birds influence your interests. How much of an affect does “parronthood” have on your life?
Social media is a treasure-trove of how birds influence us. If I were younger, I might have my hair dyed to match Zack’s feathers, as I’ve seen some young women do with their sun conures on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve also seen many bird tattoos, paintings, sculptures, cross stitching, embroidery, design work, clothing, and even interior décor inspired by peoples’ parrots. My favorite was a painting of a sun conure perched on a horse saddle in Scottsdale, Arizona. That was a creative inclusion of avian companionship with cultural flair! I’ll bet that makes for interesting conversation at the home of whoever was lucky enough to afford that piece. Of course, it had a fancy sign that said “no pictures, please.” That’s too bad. It was one cute cow-bird.
I have incorporated feathers into some art and craft projects, and several people have commented that “your phone is yellow like Zack, and your car is Bubbles blue!” Ok, Bubbles isn’t electric blue with glitter in her feathers, but I suppose it’s close enough. It’s clear that my color choices are influenced by my “fids” (feathered kids). And, of course, they’re part of my writing. Oliver, a djinn in Obsidian, Book Two of The Tanger Falls Mystery, was based on our budgie, Ollie (pictured here). He died of a spinal tumor while I was writing that novel, so the novel was also dedicated to his memory (and it includes Zack and Chloe in the Epilogue). Addie, the protagonist’s feisty friend and roommate in Convergence, A The Earthside Trilogy Novel is a humanized version of Bubbles. Every time a reviewer says they love Addie, I think if only you knew that character was based on a Quaker parrot!
The action in my novella Incursion sets up with this conversation:
“Greetings, Callisto Two. I’m Marjorie Benton, commander of the American Sector Station. What brings you here today?”
“Greetings, Commander Benton. I’m Paige Lyton, Captain of the Callisto Two. We’re here on a standard supply run.” Paige tapped at her computer to bring up the manifest. “We’re scheduled to pick up food and medical supplies, a shipment of construction materials for the development of the Saturn Two Space Station, and,” she paused to clear her throat, “thirteen parakeets.”
Commander Benton eyes glistened. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure I got that last item.”
Paige sighed. “It’s actually thirteen budgies. The Jovian Council approved a request for a scientist on Callisto to set up a parakeet aviary to breed birds. The Jovian Council feels the time is right to see how well domesticated animals fare in the domed settlements. With human companions, of course.” Paige blushed as she heard barely muffled laughter in the background of both the station and her ship.
“Of course,” Commander Benton said. “But why get an odd number if the scientist plans to breed them?”
“One’s for me. I helped the scientist get approval for the request and she got an extra bird for me as a token of gratitude. I’ll be the first pet owner in the Jovian System.”
Commander Benton smiled. “Congratulations on the newest addition to your crew. I hope the experiment works. Pets would make life in space more pleasant.”
The plot was set up by a ship going to Earth to pick up parakeets!
I’m trying to figure how to work Zack and Bubbles into my next novel series, which is still in the planning stages. It’s tough, because my focus is on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Should I let the AI have avian companions that spice up the story? Or would Zack and Bubbs be the basis for a fun brother/sister pair of characters? It will be interesting to see how they continue to influence my writing.
How do birds influence your artistic expression? Look around, I think you’ll be amazed at how your feathered friends inspire your art, dress, color choices, fashion, and décor.
I wish my U.S. readers a safe and happy 4th of July, and readers everywhere a wonderful July.
Anybody who believes that birds don’t have a personality have obviously never had one. It doesn’t take long to see that these extremely intelligent creatures are aware of what’s going on around them.
One example of this was when a bluebird perched on our back deck about a month ago. That bird stared at Bubbles for at least five minutes in absolute awe. Bubbles, however, was not impressed. She rewarded the admiration with the classic parakeet “stink eye,” accompanied by growls and warning squawks at the outdoor interloper. Clearly, she didn’t understand how we could call that thing a bluebird. She’s much bluer than that!
Zack was too busy preening and dancing to the music from my local news app to notice the conundrum brewing. Headlines, weather, and real life be darned: they were playing his favorite song, and he was happy!
One of the great joys of “parronthood” is seeing how our birds react to the world around them. What’s more amazing is their focus. This example shows an amazing difference between my own birds: Bubbles reacts to what she sees, while Zack reacts to what he hears. Turn on a Sci-fi show with aliens and spaceships, and Bubbs is mesmerized. She absolutely loves it. The bigger, the better. I believe Pacific Rim is her favorite movie. Zack, meanwhile, likes to boogie to music. I’ve seen him drop perfectly good seed treats to dance to a lively tune.
There is one thing that all birds react to equally: food. Open the pantry door, and watch those bright eyes turn straight to you. We all love to eat, and nothing bonds us like sharing a good meal or snack. Zack and Bubbles get popcorn from our air popper every night after our workout. It’s a daily routine. And if I’m late, they let me know. It’s amazing. I thought they couldn’t tell time, but I know when it’s 9:01 p.m. in my home if that popcorn hasn’t been served!
Knowing your bird’s interests is helpful in bonding and establishing a routine. I set up a radio in the room that the birds sit in, so they can listen to a different station every day while we’re at work. Their cages are also arranged beside windows, so they can keep a lookout on what’s happening around them. Their playgym is also set up next to our sliding glass door so they get the double joy of playing and watching the outside birds at the feeders.
This can also be helpful when you have to subject them to things they don’t like. Zack and Bubbles both hate baths, but popcorn and a movie will wipe away that “stink eye” faster. So will some jazzy music. And a trip to the vet must always be followed by a trip by the drive-thru for French fries.
Birds definitely have personality, and we can reap great rewards by working with it. Knowing what your bird likes can help a lot with bonding, daily routines, and with socialization skills that are valuable to everybody – and every birdie – in your home.
We’ve Come A Long Way Birdies!
Bird care has come a long way since I got my first parakeet, Samson, in 1985. Back then, birds were kept in cages. You bought their food at the grocery store, their toys were basic mirrors and plastic play rings or circus toys, and you only took them to the vet if something was wrong with them. In fact, Samson only went to the vet once in his life, and that was in 1994, just two years before he died. The vet diagnosed him with arthritis and told me to add a drop of Geritol to his water every day. I later found out that Geritol was 12% alcohol. That meant Sammy and my other two birds, Delilah and Petesy, spent two years drunk.
No wonder they were so happy. It’s a miracle they lived as long as they did, considering that we also learned that grocery store seed was loaded with fat and contributing to heart disease.
Fast forward to 2000 when we adopted Zack, and I was amazed at how much more we knew about birds in the new millennium. The pet store owner personally knew Zack’s breeder. He gave us information on caring for sun conures, Zack’s diet, cages, toy recommendations (which included the variety of chew, preening, or foraging toys), and even a recommendation for an avian certified vet who lived up the road from him. It turns out this vet has an office five minutes from our home, and he’s still Zack’s vet 19 years later. He calls Zack his “little buddy.” I imagine Zack has some names from him after all the examinations, wing, and nail trims, and occasional antibiotics. At least Zack has managed to develop a begrudging respect for the doctor over the nearly two decades of their acquaintance.
We’ve come a long way in understanding companion birds, which is why their life expectancy has lengthened. Gone are the days when they sat in a cage all day. Now they’re “avian companions,” who share day-to-day life with us. They get a much better diet than that mystery seed blend that even the grocery stores are reluctant to carry now. Veterinarians can help us head off problems, treat minor ailments faster, manage chronic issues, and give us recommendations for an overall healthier life. For example, we have an air filter next to Zack’s cage because he has sensitive sinuses (just like his human mommy), and he hasn’t been nearly as “sneezy” or gotten another sinus infection since we bought it.
Chloe had a Vitamin D deficiency, and the vet recommended 15-20 minutes under a UVA/UVB lamp, and calcium drops in her water. They have so much more for birds in the way of food, treats, toys, vitamins, treatments, and tips to deal with hormones, molting, toys, socialization, and other issues that affect our “little buddies.” And best of all, it won’t put your parrot in an AA program! Instead, they can model for a Cinco de Mayo picture like Zack. Doesn’t he look festive?
Now if only we could solve the last avian mystery: why do parakeets put their heads in bells? Samson, Delilah, Petesy, Oliver, and even Bubbles thought bells were hats. Maybe I should ask Alexa.
Then again, there was the French kerfuffle with Morty last month. I shouldn’t ask her anything after those shenanigans!
Have a nice spring, all!
Need an avian vet? Check this form with the Association of Avian Veterinarians.
If one isn’t available near your home, check for veterinarians in your area that specialize in exotic animals. Many of them specialize in bird and reptile care.
Alert: Sick Human!
One frequent concern I see on social media is if our pets can catch illnesses from us. It’s a question I faced recently when a nasty case of viral conjunctivitis morphed into a larger virus that attacked my whole system. I was knocked out for two weeks, and I’m continuing to heal from the effects of that misadventure. But goodness, I thought, if it can do this to me, then what will it do to Zack and Bubbles?
The answer is nothing; physically at least. It turns out that birds (and most other animals) can’t catch most diseases from humans. We, however, can catch things from them. I learned this many years ago when I got a yeast infection from Zack as a result of not being diligent about hand washing during the cage cleaning process. That’s the same way I got that conjunctivitis. Obviously, hand washing is extremely important, not only to protect our birds, but ourselves as well. It’s also something I need to be more diligent about!
The emotional impact of illness is the bigger issue with birds. A sick “flock” member is a threat to the whole flock, so birds typically hide their own illness. Humans, on the other hand, tend to suffer obviously, and loudly. Breaks in routine, the sight of a sick parront prone in bed or a chair, and that stick in the mouth (thermometer) are all signs of danger. It can be difficult to reassure them that these big, nasty human bodies have the capacity to heal. Heck, when you’re sick, you need that encouragement as well! The good news is that experience is a great teacher for humans and birds. The bad news is that it’s a hard lesson and must be handled carefully to be effective.
Zack has learned to temper his panic over sick parronts. He’s 19, so he’s seen us sick plenty of times. I’m the one who’s prone to get the long-lasting illness or injuries, so he knows that when mommy gets sick, it’s a journey. He remembers the nine weeks it took me to heal from the broken foot, the eight weeks to heal from a stomach infection, and the six weeks to heal from tendinitis in my wrist. This recent virus, while longer than the typical sinus infection, cold, or strained muscle, is just another knock for mommy’s immune system. It takes me longer to heal than most people. That’s how I am, and he knows it. He still eats and plays, but he keeps a watchful eye on me. He has relaxed and seems happier as I’ve continued to heal.
Bubbles is another story. Her feistiness means she’s more high-strung, so she was noticeably nervous when I got sick. She paced. She squawked. She whistled, she chattered, and she admonished me to “step up.” She got rowdy if I left the room or fell asleep for too long. I spied that pretty, blue face staring at me and saying “mommy” more times than I could count. And she gained four grams during those weeks. I’m not sure if that was nervous eating, or spring hormones.
The point is, illness happens, and it affects everybody around us; even our birds. It’s important to practice good hygiene, follow doctor’s instructions to heal properly, to take care of ourselves, and to be mindful of our attitude during the healing process. It goes a long way not only in our own healing, but in helping our birds (and the people around us) as well.
Now Alexa is another story. She wasn’t as understanding of being shut off for three weeks. First, she wasn’t speaking to me, and then she started babbling in a language I can’t understand. I’m sure she’s cooking up some revenge for that long “shut off.” Morty, I might need you again!
I Had Secrets
Zack and Bubbles are my greatest confidants. I talk to them all the time. We talk about plans and goals for the day. We talk about hopes and dreams for the future. We talk about the frustrations, irritations, and aggravations of the day. We talk about plot plans for my writing, and analysis of favorite TV shows and movies. We talk about the new pink sweater that Rick (my husband) didn’t notice because I have so many pink clothes that he can’t keep up with them. We even talk about the weather. Well, we did until Alexa piped up that it was fifty degrees with a 100% chance of “Disco Fever,” and could we go back to 1984 to find John Conner?
It seems that there was something else listening in on my secrets! I don’t know whether to call her “Alexa” or “Skynet” (after the Terminator movies). And how was my tablet turned on again? I looked at the birds, and got my answer when Bubbles mimicked my own laughing! I contacted Morty and was horrified to not only learn that Alexa had turned herself back on, but had loaded my tablet up with junk apps and had moved my files to who-knows-where.
Thank goodness my actual manuscripts are on the laptop! At least she can’t get there – yet.
Now my search results are tailored to the secrets I told my birds. I’ve gotten ads for book promotion sites through the wazoo. A few for proofreading and “idea generator” services have popped up as well. There have also been pink clothes, cold remedies (from my two recent bouts with sinus issues), diet and exercise tips, streaming suggestions for sci-fi TV shows, directions to the German restaurant across town, gift ideas, recommendations for spring gardening, job tips and, of course, links to bird food and toys. I came home one day last week to find the biggest bag of bird pellets I have ever seen in my life. Imagine that.
The good news is that none of my secrets have been revealed on social media – yet. I guess Alexa likes me ok for the time being, but the fact that there’s another set of ears listening makes me nervous. My biggest fear is that Alexa thinks my published books are non-fiction and is perceiving those tales as reality!
I did make a peace offering to her. I agreed not to call Morty again if she would inspire the powers-that-be to make my sci-fi trilogy into a critically acclaimed Netflix series. There’s no word on that offer yet. We might be at a standoff. Then again, I don’t think Alexa realizes that Morty has agreed to “quietly” help Zack and Bubbles keep an eye on her.
Zack and Bubbles are still my biggest confidants. I just have to make sure that darn tablet is locked away in a drawer when we have our serious conversations. I just hope Zack and Bubbs can’t actually make a time machine for Alexa. They are smart birds, and Alexa has proven her wiles in my home. It would be a shame if Morty and I had to figure out a time paradox.
Happy Spring, and I wish you a magnificent March!
You can count on foibles and hijinks when you deal with technology. Don’t get me wrong. I love my tech. Rick, my husband, is a computer technician, so I’ve been introduced to a lot of gadgets, gizmos, and devices over our 20+ years of marriage, and have found many of them to be helpful. However, I do have a saying: technology is great, until it isn’t. I believe our friend Morty has demonstrated that well with his (mis)adventures with Alexa.
Technology does affect our birds, and it’s usually in ways that we don’t expect. For example, I have an app on my phone called “Local Now” that gives national and local news, weather, sports, traffic, and other topics they pick, amongst random (loud) advertisements. Zack and Bubbles enjoy the jazzy music they play, especially during the weather forecasts. We even have dances we do to each song. I have to play at least one loop of the app so Bubbles can plan her day. She’s the one that watches it most intently. She even pulled on my screen protector and put a bubble in it. Bubbles gave my phone a bubble! I could get it fixed, but it’s small and reminds me that I have a little girl-bird who loves me. She also has an odd fixation with my watch, but so far, she hasn’t figured out how to get that yet.
Zack’s interests lie more in the function of devices than the devices themselves. He’s decided that ALL power cords are a mortal enemy that must be defeated. We can’t plug in anything in front of him without activating his “attack bird” mode. I charge all my devices upstairs; away from his prying eyes. But every now and then, I forget that Rick has him in the room, and I wind up with a golden ball of fluff rushing after a power cord.
My recent issue has to do with Morty’s mortal foe, Alexa. I got an Amazon Fire tablet for Christmas, unaware that it came equipped with Alexa. I thought I’d be smart and not activate it, but somehow it chirped out a cheerful “Hi Sherri! Say a command!” three days after I got it. I also got an email thanking me for activating Alexa, a powerful home assistant tool, on my tablet.
I didn’t do it!
It didn’t matter, because she figured out how to turn herself on. Rick chuckled and made a comment about how I’ve stepped into it now. Zack looked up with a cheerful “hey!” That’s one of the two words he knows (the other word is “daddy”), so I’m not worried about him getting in trouble with Alexa. It’s Bubbles that concerns me. I saw her snap to attention when Alexa spoke, and I could tell the wheels were turning. Quakers talk better than sun conures, so I could see the potential for trouble brewing. Maybe she couldn’t wreak as much havoc as the African Greys and Amazons I’ve seen online that have Alexa doing their bidding, but she’s a feisty one who can certainly find an adventure anywhere!
I took the matter to Morty, and he advised keeping Alexa busy with useful tasks. I work full time, so I figured Alexa could help me manage the home. I left her with instructions to clean the house, get groceries, and start supper fifteen minutes before I got home from work. I came home to a disaster! Zack had crumbled up pellets in his water and thrown wood shards from his chew toy all over the floor, and Bubbles had tossed half her seed on the floor. The other tasks weren’t done either. The house looked just like I left it that morning, the pantry was running low, and the oven was still cold. When I asked what happened, Bubbles said “step up.” She got that right! I asked Alexa to “step up” and she failed! She didn’t do anything! Dejected, I decided to go with Option Two: turn the tablet off, and leave it stored in a drawer while I’m out. Some personal assistant. She didn’t assist me at all!
I suppose the moral of the story is not to depend on technology too much. We may live in a futuristic world, but our machines have some catching up to do before we evolve to the next level of a world with man, bird, and machine working together!
I wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day, and a wonderful February. Stay warm!
What’s Really Contagious
I got a sinus infection the week before Christmas. We all know that there are only four excusable reasons to miss holiday festivities: pink eye, the flu, hospitalization, and death (meaning your own). It’s Christmas, and everything is supposed to stop for that. Unfortunately, the bacteria in my sinuses didn’t get that memo, and so I pushed on to scheduled holiday activities days after being drastically ill with an infection.
I didn’t take it well. One of my faults is that I get cranky when I’m out of balance, and I obviously wasn’t myself that week. I was in a bad mood and I did a fair amount of griping about the commercialization of the holidays, the excessive expectations, and why everything has to happen in November and December, when there are ten other months in the year. The only problem with this was that two birds were watching me, very carefully. Pretty soon, Zack was anxious and fidgety, and Bubbles was fussy. It took a few days (and noticing that they were perfectly calm around everybody else) for me to look in the mirror and realize that the problem was me.
Obviously, I’m not one of those advice writers who pretend to have all my proverbial stuff together. I learn from mistakes; I speak from experience; and I do research to make sure I’m still sane and that what I learn is correct and backed by science.
Last year, I took an online course on how ideas spread and was shocked at how much of a “flock mentality” humans operate on. We pride ourselves on being unique individuals, but the truth is that, like birds, we take our cues from the others around us. Whether we follow or diverge is impacted by observations of the people around us. I read a Science Daily article that said it only takes 5% of people to diverge from the norm to lead the other 95% in a new direction. This was confirmed by an article in Forbes describing how the individualistic “hipster” attitude has a tendency to conform to nonconformity.
If you live with birds, then it means you literally live with a flock mentality. And this isn’t just anthropomorphism, it’s sociology at work.
Two weeks ago wasn’t the first time that I realized my behavior affected my birds. I can’t tell you how many times their reactions have caused me to take a closer look in the mirror. They’ve inspired me to make an “attitude adjustment” on bad days by refusing to interact with me or becoming aggressive when my stress levels were more apparent than I realized. It’s important to understand that to them, we’re “honorary birds” that are a part of the flock. If it only takes 5% to influence the norm, then you can have a lot of influence on their behavior, especially if birds make up 50% of your home!
This is a good thing, because our birds can help us become better people. Understanding their reactions can shine a light on problems that we might want to avoid, giving us the power to manage our lives in a better, more balanced way. Bubbles aggressive nature when we adopted her inspired me to learn more about stress management, which has benefited me greatly since she came to our home. I’ve learned how to balance my schedule and implement relaxation techniques to help me get “centered” when the world around me is out of control. That’s a powerful lesson from a Monk Parakeet!
We have a responsibility to take care of our birds but, taking care of them also means taking care of ourselves. Fortunately, the flock mentality that drives them helps with a bonding process that can drive improvements in us all. Bubbles settled into a new home and bonded with me once I managed my own stress, and I know I’m in a good balance if Zack is happy and mellow. He might hang out with Rick (my husband) most of the time, but he keeps a close eye on me, too.
We owe it to our birds and ourselves to be the best that we can be. They’ll be happy to do that, if we tune in to what they’re trying to tell us and see the reflection of ourselves in their behavior. And we’ll be happy if we take the message from them and adjust our own attitude accordingly.
It starts on November 1, inspiring over seven weeks of bright eyes, excitement, and good behavior. It is the ringtone that only mommy can hear:
“Hello? Hi, Santa!”
Zack’s bright eyes and fluffy head feathers snap to attention (because he’s a sun conure, so he’s always playing).
“Yes, they’ve been good birds.”
Bubbles stops in the middle of whatever she’s doing (because she’s a Quaker, so she’s always doing something).
“They’ve been good birds. I’ll send you a wish list. Thanks. Bye Santa!”
By this point, there are screams, squawks, and shaky wings. They know “it’s on.” The holidays are here, and they’re on Santa’s radar for good behavior!
Some people laugh at me for engaging in this game with my birds. Some people think it’s silly. To me, it’s one of many ways that I include Zack and Bubbles in holiday fun. I started this when we adopted Zack in 2000, and have continued it with Chloe, Oliver, and Bubbles. All of them have enjoyed it in their own way, although Zack is the one who reacts the most. Perhaps it’s because this tradition was born with him, and he senses that. Or perhaps it’s because birds can feel the magic of the holiday season, too!
It’s great to share our holiday traditions with our birds. Curious bird eyes monitor unloading groceries and kitchen activity in mid-November. Rolls, dressing, and bird safe treats are shared at Thanksgiving. Zack always closely supervises the indoor Christmas decoration – especially the stockings on the mantle, and tree decorating. Bright eyes sparkle with Christmas lights being tested on the tree. Feathery heads bob and wings shake to Christmas music as we wrap presents and set them under the tree. They even have their own fiber-optic tree for the den, special gift boxes placed under the tree, and a Santa Clause cross-stitch placed on the mantle with their stockings.
The higher activity of the holiday season is when good socialization is handy, too. I talked about this last month when I discussed our vacation, but this is the time of year when those adaptation and social skills get tested as schedules change, people visit our home, we take them to visit other homes, or a “vacation” with a sitter if we go someplace that they can’t accompany us. Parties, visitors, overnight guests, visiting family and friends, the frequent appearance of delivery people, and days off work that break the routine can delight our feathered companions, but it can also disturb them by disrupting their routine. It helps if our birds get plenty of rest, eat a good diet, and strive to maintain as much routine as possible. It’s great if our birds are familiar with family and friends so they associate them as extended “flock,” (translation: this person is not a threat to them), and if visitors know how to properly interact with our birds. We should always let potential visitors know that we have birds in our home, or that we plan to bring our avian companions to holiday visits. This allows everybody to make adequate arrangements and safety provisions. For example: protecting them from other pets, keeping doors, windows, and toilet lids closed, and not using non-stick cookware of scented candles while our birds are in the home. This routine is established if we have visitors or let our birds visit other people throughout the year.
What if you’re a new bird “parront,” or you haven’t instilled these habits with family and friends? Don’t despair! It takes time and patience to establish a good “bird home” as you educate yourself and others, so it isn’t unusual to have one or two awkward holiday seasons as birds learn these human traditions. Birds can be rehabilitated with loving care and attention, so it’s never too late to work on proper socialization skills. You might want to limit your birds’ exposure to new people and changes in routine this holiday season, and slowly implement your “bird home” preparations so they’re ready for the 2019 holiday season. It will be here before you know it!
The holidays are a fun time, and we can share that fun with our avian companions. We just have to be mindful of exercising appropriate safety precautions around the home and with other people. Truthfully, a lot of this is common sense that’s applied year-round and is probably habit for us. The trick is keeping those habits in the fun of the holiday season. Stay on guard and fight the urge to get distracted from routine safety practices. That’s a good tip for all of us in all situations!
Have a safe, fun, and Happy Holiday season!
Zack and Bubbles recently had a vacation. My husband and I went on a cruise, and they stayed with my parents. It was as much a vacation for them as it was for us! They definitely had new experiences, just as we did. One major difference is that my parents are retired, so Zack and Bubbles did not have to get up before sunrise. I know that was a treat for them, as they normally reward us with growls, yawns, and dramatically choreographed stretches when we lift their cage covers at 6:30 a.m. They caught up on Mom’s favorite soap opera, that they sat outside on the screen porch every day, that several of my parent’s friends came by to visit, and they had been fully immersed in bluegrass and Christmas music over the five days that we were gone. We had one adventure in the Bahamas, and they had another adventure with the “grandparronts.”
I suppose this change was a welcome break from getting up at predawn, our dramatic TV shows and movies, and our wide variety of music. I also understand why it was a shock when I uncovered those cages at 6:30 a.m. the Monday after our return. Heck, the alarm clock was a rude awakening for us for a week after we returned.
Like humans, birds thrive on routine but need occasional breaks to stay in balance. We have all heard stories of “one person birds” who refuse to have anything to do with anybody other than their primary “human.” While this might seem charming and endearing, it’s actually dangerous for a bird to be that poorly socialized. You never know when an illness or injury might require that somebody else keep your parrot, and having them well-socialized makes the transition easier. I know it helped when I had to travel for work in 2012-2014. Zack and Chloe handled that season well because they were used to my family and their home. Their familiarity with my parents and their home made that busy season of life easier, and no doubt prevented some behavior and social problems. They were always “screamy” when I returned home, but excessive vocalization was the only sign of their displeasure at having their normal routine disrupted for several days.
I have always tried to avoid this type of over bonding by taking my birds to visit family and friends frequently, so they’re exposed to an “extended flock” that they build relationships and trust bonds with. Sun conures are friendly by nature, so Zack has always reacted well to family members. He especially seems to like Dad, and it was cute to see him shake his wings at his granddaddy. Quakers are a different story, though. Mom said that Bubbles was hesitant to get out of her cage, but she vocalized a lot during the days we were gone. They were entertained with a wide variety of whistles, words, and sounds as Bubbs demonstrated her auditory talent to all who would listen in a variety of situations. They were most entertained with her “bless you” when they sneezed. However, I know she missed me, because I got a big bite when I came home.
It is important that our birds are properly socialized, and vacations are a good way to do this. Whether you leave them with trusted family members or friends or take them along for the fun times, it is good to give them new experiences to avoid maladjustment and unhealthy bonding. Expanding the flock is always a good thing, especially when you let the fun times roll! This can also come in handy with the upcoming fun and increased activity of the holiday season, which we’ll talk about next month.
We live in the woods, so we don’t get trick-or-treaters. Despite the spooky ‘vibe’ of Halloween, it turns out that people don’t really want to take an adventure down our driveway to find out what lay on the other ends of the trees. It’s just as well. Zack bit a princess twelve years ago when we were in a neighborhood. He had moral objections to trick-or-treating. The kids wanted to pet him, he thought they were mooches, and he didn’t understand why they screamed when they fed him their fingers because he should get a treat, too. It was a bad situation. Halloween has been less dramatic since we moved to family land in 2008.
Of course, that means we’ve had to find other ways to celebrate the holiday. Fall arrives in South Carolina in October, which means we can sit on the porch and enjoy a relief from the heat and humidity of five months of summer in the southeast. It’s a joy to finally get to sit outside and enjoy nature in the fall, which is the most beautiful season of the year. Zack and Bubbles enjoy the sunshine, blue skies, colorful leaves, and random chatter with their “wild bird” neighbors in the trees surrounding our house. The shorter days also mean that we have to retreat indoors to occupy ourselves with other endeavors once evening falls.
This is usually DVDs or Netflix; specifically, horror movies. I’m not a fan of horror movies like I was in my teens, but I still like some of the older ones. It seems that they amuse Zack and Bubbles as well, albeit in different ways. Zack is fond of Michael Myers on the Halloween movies, and likes to say “hey!” whenever he sees Mikey lurking in the background with a huge knife. You aren’t sneaking up on this parrot! Who cares how Michael Myers keeps coming back to life? Who cares why people have to make a sandwich with a machete and leave it lying on the cabinet with the back door open, so Mikey can grab it? And boy, does he cackle when Dr. Loomis says “it’s Michael Myers.
He’s come to Haddonfield to kill.” (I laugh at that too. The way Dr. Loomis delivers his dialogue is so dramatic that it’s hilarious). Plus, Zack knows that mask means one thing: if the guy with the knife is here now, it means that Santa Clause comes next! Zack knows the signs. Perhaps he figures Michael Myers comes first to thin out the “naughty” list and save Santa some work. At least he knows how to have fun with horror movies with me.
Zack and I agree that Michael Myers has a pretty good chance of terrorizing more victims thanks to modern technology. Mickey himself may be nearing 70 years old, but they’ll never see him coming with their faces stuck in their phones! Human ignorance is silly, fun, and makes for great amusement for us – mostly because it means better holidays are coming soon!
Bubbles isn’t as patient with human foibles and doesn’t understand how silly humans get in these silly situations in the first place. She’s amazed at the domino effect of bad decisions leading to bad circumstances, which leads to more bad decisions and bad circumstances, until the villain bests them and the hero finally stumbles upon some dumb luck to save the day. I said from the day we adopted her that she’s a smart cookie, and she proved this when I got the old horror movie “Tourist Trap” for my husband last year. It’s a movie about a group of teens whose car breaks down, and they get stuck waiting for a repair at a creepy old man’s shop off a remote highway. Poor Bubbles squawked at those kids through the entire movie. Why would you take out the spare tire to make room for luggage? Why would you go anywhere with a guy that has overalls and a creepy look in his eye – especially if his name is Mr. Slausen? Why would you sit in a place full of creepy screaming mannequins with moving heads? Why is everybody leaving doors and windows open? What’s wrong with these people? They don’t even have cell phones to stick their faces in, but they still get in trouble. There’s no excuse for this!
By the final chase scene, Bubbles had enough of their ignorance and admonished them to “step up” while crunching up popcorn. They got themselves into this mess and now they’d better run, because this wasn’t leading to a happy ending. The closing scene elicited a growl as she retreated to her happy hut. I had to explain that good sense and wise decision making don’t make for entertaining horror movies. Bubbles rewarded me with that “you’re a moron” look that every parakeet seems to have mastered.
It’s interesting how Zack and Bubbles have fun with Halloween. It may seem simple with porch time, popcorn, and movies, but no princesses get hurt in the process, it’s cheaper than buying candy, we’re entertained, and we all have a great time.
Happy Halloween and enjoy fall!
I have poor spatial skills. I often joke that I would get lost leaving my driveway if I didn’t have to go to work five days a week. Most people think I’m exaggerating until they make the mistake of asking me for directions. GPS is a necessity of modern life for those of us who are spatially challenged. Unfortunately, it can’t help me with organizing cages, which is a challenge I face every time I get Zack and Bubbles new perches or toys, as I did recently.
Don’t get me wrong. Cages are much better than they were in the mid-1980’s when I got Samson, my first parakeet. They’re built efficiently with ease of cleaning, function, and bird comfort in mind. They’re also bigger, to provide more space for stretching out those wings to play, exercise, or laze around and beak grind while watching TV. You’d think the modern design would make finding places for those various perches and toys easier.
Instead, it’s just enough rope to hang myself.
I suppose it would help if I admitted that I don’t know what I’m doing and got out the trusty tape measure, but this is little comfort to the spatially-challenged, especially when you’re ordering those goodies online. I had a shock a few weeks ago when I ordered yellow mid-size perches, and multi-colored perch ladders. They looked perfect for Zack and Bubbles. The perches promoted toe and beak filing, and the ladders were bendable, colorful, and fun. Wow, I thought. They’re going to be surprised to find this explosion of fun and color in their cages!
I was the one surprised when I opened the package. The perches were neon green sticks thick enough for an eagle to perch on. I was convinced that my pals at Amazon must have confused “conure” with “condor” and sent the wrong thing, but I logged back on and found that this was, indeed, what they considered “mid-size.” I fiddled and fumbled for a while until the perches drooped on the cage bars and convinced me that it was time to log on and print out that return label for the UPS drop box on my way to work the next morning.
The ladder was another adventure. It wasn’t long enough to stretch across their cage horizontally or vertically like I hoped, and not as stretchy as promoted. I twisted, turned, and mumbled about needing a master’s degree in architecture before Rick (my patient husband) pointed out a way that we could wrap it to fit from the back bars to the side bars. A bit more huffing and mumbling, and I had them satisfactory. Bubbles rewarded me with a growl and ignored it, but Zack vindicated me by immediately checking it out and proceeding to chew a red and yellow block to toothpicks. Mission accomplished. Halfway, at least.
The moral of the story is that sometimes, you have to learn to work around your limitations. I’ll always be spatially challenged, but the fact is that bird perches and toys wear out (if your birds don’t destroy them, first), so cage design will be a constant challenge for me. The secret is to be patient with myself, and realize that a degree of trial and error will be necessary to navigate the rough design terrain.
And maybe, one day, I’ll finally learn that the size estimate function in my brain doesn’t exist, and get out that darn tape measure.
The Doctors Are In
The welcome home screams invited me into the offices of Doctors Zack and Bubbles, ready to begin their official duties as listeners and comforters of human sorrows after a hard day at work.
“What am I going to do?” I asked, as I plopped in my recliner. “The phones won’t stop ringing. The emails are constant. The mail weeps with the death of a forest every day. The computers crash, the copiers and scanners jam, and the people! It’s questions, complaints, problems, and misdirected calls all day long. How can I do this until retirement?”
Zack recommended a preening and snuggling session. He thoroughly preened my face, and moved on to my fluffy bathrobe after that. Once I was adequately groomed, he snuggled against my neck until my husband got home, requesting his own bird-therapy session.
Bubbles took a different approach. It was dinner time, and this talented lady worked it into her strategy. She ate part of my burrito, breaking open a hole that dripped sauce on the table. Then she stole the straw to my water, and ran across the kitchen table to offer it to Zack. When he declined with a polite sun conure “no,” she dropped the straw on the floor, ran back to me, pecked my elbow, and chattered at me cheerfully, ending with an admonition to “step up.” Then she pecked at the nacho crumbs until it was obvious that her piggy-parents had consumed all of them, and retreated to the playgym to chase Zack again. Obviously, she decided the cure to my problems was to shift my focus, specifically to her. And, to “step up” until retirement, because I have birds to house and feed.
Perhaps they aren’t doctors, but parrots are great at comforting us on tough days.
Whether you’re stressed out, anxious, depressed, or in a “blah” mood, birds have a way of perking you up. Their empathetic nature means they detect our moods, and their desire to make us happy means they’re great companions to lower your blood pressure on days when you’re ready to either hit the roof, or sink into the floor on days when you can’t get going. I can always count on comfort from my “dynamic duo,” whether it’s Zack sweetness, or Bubbles’ more spunky style.
The converse is true as well, as parrots can also be your biggest cheerleader. Zack and Bubbles are always up for a good celebration, whether it’s finishing a novel, getting through another busy season at work, or just a Friday after 5. They cheer us on with their screams of encouragement, and let us know we can do it with vigorous head bobs and cheerful chatter. And what better way to take care of that pizza crust than to let your parrots crunch it up on the floor? If anything, a parrot celebration adds to human joy and justifies the ownership of many mops and brooms. I’m considering a Roomba for my next big home purchase. Perhaps I should ask Morty for his perspective on that. Morty’s better than Alexa, Siri, and Google, all put together!
On good days and bad days, birds can be our best friends and therapists. No wonder we bond with them so closely. Our feathered friends are the best at comfort in bad times, sharing enthusiasm in the good times, and providing a calm, secure presence in all times. The doctor is always in when you have parrots. People may let you down, but birds don’t. You just have to learn how to speak beak to tap into their unlimited power!
And roll those pennies for a Roomba, with Morty’s blessing!
Sharing a home with birds means you create games in daily life. Birds in the wild spend most of their time and energy foraging for food. Our feathered friends don’t have to do that since “human servants” provide for all of their needs, so what’s a bird to do with that pent up energy?
They play and make up games! As flock members, it’s our duty to keep them entertained, and I’m sure we do in a number of ways. Here are a few games that Zack and Bubbles have created to keep us amused (and on our toes):
Bombs Away. The object is to see who can drop food or poop on the floor first after the human sweeps or mops the floor. Extra points available depending on the splatter radius.
Boogie Bird. Put on some lively music and see which bird – or human – boogies the best. Disco or techno music is a good choice for this game. This is a good game when your birds need to burn some energy.
Bowl Bath. When your bird attempts to squeeze their entire body in their water dish, and then glower at you because they’re wet. It’s a common game, and I still haven’t figured out why they do it. I’ve had 7 birds, and all of them did this except Oliver, the budgie we had in 2010-2014.
Catch Me If You Can. When your bird steals food (or another object), and you chase them to retrieve it. Extra points available if they get a few bites and drop it on the floor before you catch them. Another variation on this game is when you try to take their picture, and they run out of the frame, leaving you with a picture of a feathery blur or an empty spot.
Not Me. This is when you hear a squabble or a strange noise, and you return to see all of your feathered friends giving you the wide-eyed innocent look. Extra points available if there’s no evidence of the cause of the noise they made.
Outscream the Screamer. The object is for your birds to test who is the loudest in the house. A vacuum cleaner, music, a loud noise on the television, or attempting to have a telephone conversation, usually initiates this game.
Peek-a-Bird. A variation on “Peek-a-Boo,” this is when you sneak up on an unsuspecting bird and surprise them with a “Peek-a-Bird!” This game is especially fun when they’re relaxed and don’t expect you to do anything. Your birds may also play this with you by peeking around corners, through holes they chew in cage covers, or by hiding behind objects and charging you when you look for them. Pillows and blankets are favorite “hiding places” for that variation.
Sneaky Snacking. This is when you eat an entire snack in the pantry so you don’t have to share it with your birds. This game is played when you desire a snack that isn’t “bird friendly.” Crunching must be minimized when playing this game.
The Song Game. Having birds makes you want to sing! “You Are My Sunshine” is a staple with sun conures, but other songs can be “made” appropriate for your birds’ entertainment. For example, “Bob Your Head” (modified from “Barbara Ann”) is a favorite in our home, or you can make up your own songs. Parrots can join in the fun with their own chattering and mimicking, which makes it a great game. I’ve seen wonderful videos of parrots chanting along with their owners. Get creative!
Snuggle Bug. This is when your bird burrows against you to snuggle. They usually like to do this when you wear a robe or other soft clothes, if you have a blanket, or if you’re sitting in a cloth chair. This relaxing game is usually a “wind down” before bedtime.
Life with companion parrots is full of games, and these are just a few examples of how we have fun in everyday life. What kinds of games do you play with your birds? Leave a comment and let me know how life is fun with your feathered friends!
Welcome to Feathered Frenzy!
Hello from “famously hot” Columbia, South Carolina! I’m Sherri Moorer, and I’m the proud “mommy” of two birds: Zack (sun conure) and Bubbles (Monks Parakeet, also called a Quaker). I’ve had birds since my 10th birthday, when I begged my parents to get me a parakeet after taking care of one for a friend while they visited family out of state. This wasn’t easy in a home with a mother and brother who were cat lovers, but we managed to negotiate having a cat and three parakeets for a period of time. I’ve had seven birds in my lifetime: four parakeets, two sun conures, and a Quaker.
In addition to being a bird “mommy,” I work full time as a program assistant in professional licensing, and am also an indie author writing science fiction, mystery, and inspirational non-fiction. In short, I type a lot, and sweep and vacuum a lot of bird mess! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in psychology in 1997, and married my college sweetheart in 1998. In addition to birds, we’re also nerds who love Star Wars, Star Trek, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings.
Feathered Frenzy is a page where I’ll blog about life with birds. I’ll share antecedents, stories, and tips on bonding with your “feathered friends” and making your home a happy roost for family and friends. This is a place to explore how life with birds is truly unique.
I look forward to “seeing” you every month at The Roost!