All About Feathers, Part 3 – Feather Plucking
This final article in the “feather care” series will address the serious issue of feather plucking. Preening and molting are natural processes to keep feathers in shape, but as with all cases, things can go amiss. Feather plucking is a common problem with parrots, and it can be frustrating to determine the root cause of it, and how to best support our feathered friends during these times.
Feather plucking can be caused by medical, environmental, or behavioral issues. Medical issues must be determined and evaluated by a qualified veterinarian and are the first potential issue to address. If you notice that your bird is plucking, then make an appointment with the vet as soon as possible to determine if it’s the result of a disease that needs medication and/or treatment. They can determine if it’s the result of a serious disease that needs management (like cancer or liver disease), or something treatable such as parasites, feather cysts, metabolic disorders, potential metal poisoning, or psittacosis. Proper medical evaluation and care are always the first steps when you notice that your bird is plucking.
Environmental and behavioral issues are less serious but will require that we make appropriate changes to keep our home and environment optimum for bird health. One common cause of feather plucking is low humidity. That’s not much of a problem where we live in the “soup bowl” of the south (between the Smoky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean), but I understand that there are places where the humidity does occasionally drop below the 40% range, which results in dry skin that may lead birds to pluck their feathers. Improper diet is also a cross between a medical and environmental issue. Make sure that you’re providing your parrot with a good diet of pellets, fruits, vegetables, and occasional seeds. Vitamin drops
in their water can also help to balance vitamin and mineral deficiencies. You can buy or order liquid formulas and put 1-2 drops in their water per day.
Anxiety is the number one behavioral issue behind feather plucking, and it can be challenging to determine if the anxiety is caused by medical or environmental factors. One good example of this is two years ago when I noticed that Zack and Bubbles were plucking their own and each other’s feathers. It was the timing of the plucking that told the story: they started plucking after I was sent to work from home and my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. They had just been to the vet for their annual checkup the previous week, so I knew they had no medical issues. An examination of my own behavior lead to the (quick) conclusion that the combination of going from a happy life in an office to a family crisis while working from home affected them. I did my best to establish a new “work from home” routine, to take the stressful conversations out of the room, and provide them with extra attention, toys, and treats while adjusting to our temporary normal for the time. While they still knew I was distressed, it helped. The plucking slowed and stopped as they saw me make efforts to stabilize life for them. Liquid vitamins
were also helpful.
Birds are sensitive, flock creatures, so any kind of change or distress can cause them to feather pluck. Even boredom can do it. Consistency isn’t always possible, but if you can keep them engaged with appropriate toys, keep them on a good diet, and keep a fairly consistent daily schedule, then it will go a long way in easing the stress and helping them adapt to the ebb and flow of life.
Bird collars are also an available resource, and your vet may use one in cases of medical, injury, or severe behavioral problems. I’m not a big fan of collars because they don’t address the core problem and are mostly a protective measure in medical issues. It might be a temporary measure in severe situations, but I would not recommend it long-term. You need to get to the root of the problem to stabilize your parrot so they don’t want to pluck their feathers.
Feather plucking is disturbing and difficult to handle, but the good news is that it can be handled in most cases. Only about 10% of birds develop feather plucking which becomes a serious self-mutilation disorder and/or infection, and the chances of your bird being one is small if you’re attentive and dedicated to their best care.
I hope this series on feathers has been informative, entertaining, and fun. Feathers are wonderful and fun to pet, sniff, snuggle, and fluff, but remember that they’re a big part of who our birds are. A lot of their health and identity are in the feathers. We should respect the feathers and help them to give them the care they deserve.
Have a safe and fun fall!
Amazon.com – OZ Bird Multi Drops
BirdSupplies.com – How to Stop a Feather Plucking Habit While Improving Bird Wellness
Northern Parrots – Feather Plucking: What Is It and What Can You Do to Stop It?
PetMD – Feather Plucking in Birds
Veterinary Practice.com – Feather Plucking in Parrots
All About Feathers, Part 2: Molting
It’s that time of year again! Late summer into early fall is when many of us notice a slow change in our homes. It usually starts with one or two feathers on the floor. Then the cage cleaning the next week will be filled with feathers. Before you know it, your house looks like a bird bomb went off. There are feathers everywhere. Your vacuum filter looks like it could resupply a feather pillow company with stuffing.
That’s right, it’s molting season!
Molting season is the process where our feathered friends shed the old, damaged feathers that have reached the end of their lifespan and grow fresh, new feathers. This typically happens once or twice a year in most parrots, although some birds (like cockatiels and parakeets) can molt up to three times a year. It’s usually after breeding seasons, and a common period for molts is in the spring and fall. The prime molting time in the United States is September – November, and the full process can last about two months.
Preening helps to keep feathers in optimal condition, but nothing can negate the wear and tear of life in the world. Feathers are made of Keratin, which is the same materials human hair and fingernails are made of, so they’re subject to the same damage that we are in these areas. The difference is that birds have between 1,500 – 3,000 feathers on their sweet bodies, meaning that molts take a bit more than growing hair and fingernails for us. Their feathers wear out even in our protected homes and must be shed and replaced to keep them in optimum condition. Molting sheds old, worn feathers to make room for bright new, strong feathers to keep them regulated, protected, and well balanced for flight and other wonders of the bird world.
Molting is regulated by circadian rhythms, much like our natural wake/sleep/eating cycles. Hormonal shifts and seasonal changes in climate and sunlight (decreased exposure to UVB) also affect this process, which means that the mental, behavioral, and physical processes of molting create stress in our feathered friends. Feathers typically do come out and grow in pairs to keep birds balanced and able to fly, but the new feathers grow back in blood-filled “pin feathers” that are typically itchy and uncomfortable. Molting also takes energy, which means they might not be as active and playful as usual. They may even get aggressive during this time. I often compare it to a woman’s menstrual cycle, in that this process can affect the entire body.
And this lasts two months. Is there anything we can do to help our feathered friends? The answer is yes. Here are some tips to help your birds through molting season with as little discomfort and frustration as possible:
- Keep the temperature and humidity as comfortable as possible. Birds have less insulation with the feather loss, so make sure that the room isn’t too cool. They also need proper humidity to keep their skin in optimum condition to grow new feathers.
- Offer preening toys. This will give your parrots an outlet so they don’t “overpreen” and potentially break open the new blood feathers.
- Give your birds a bath. This helps with the discomfort of growing new feathers and helps to open the shafts of those pin feathers gently.
- Keep a consistent schedule. Make sure your bird is getting an even 12 hours of daylight, and 12 hours of “dark time” to keep their circadian rhythms even during this time so they can heal.
- Make sure they have an appropriate diet and consider vitamin supplements. In addition to proper sunlight and rest, they also need additional vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Make sure you feed your parrot a balanced diet and consider a drop of liquid vitamins in their water.
- Be patient. Molting is uncomfortable, tiring, and irritating so naturally, your bird isn’t in the best mood. Be patient and gentle with them, and give them time and space to get through this time. Let them lead you in how much human interaction they want and don’t push your limits or force them to play or interact if they don’t want to.
Molting is a normal process both for our birds and for us. The secret is to learn how to manage this “bird cycle” with as much grace and patience as possible so we can get back to living the best life possible.
What if the molt is over, and the feathers are still flying? Some random feather loss is normal year-round, but if your bird has bald spots, then they might be plucking. We’ll talk about that next month.
Have a great fall!
All About Parrots – What Time of Year do Parrots Molt?
Amazon.com – OZ Bird Multi Drops
Beak Craze – How Often parrots Molt and What You Can Do to Help
Bird Street Bistro – Helping Your Parrot Through Molting
Bird Supplies.com – The Molting Process in Parrots
All About Feathers, Part 1: Preening: Feathered Frenzy
This month, I launch a three-part series on feather care and begin with the activity we admire the most: preening. Preening is how a bird grooms its feathers to remove dust, dirt, and parasites, and to align feathers in the optimum position relative to adjacent feathers and body shape. Caring for 1,500 to 3,000 feathers is a lot of work that’s essential for health and well-being.
Birds take preening seriously. I remember the indignant look Zack gave me the day the vet showed me his preen gland during a normal checkup. The vet wanted to educate me, but Zack acted like a secret of birdhood had been revealed to mommy. This gland, properly referred to as the Uropygial, is the basis of the preening process. It’s located at the base of the bird’s tail and secretes an oily substance that birds spread on their feathers to keep them flexible and coated with a waterproof layer. If you see your bird dig into this area and then preen, that’s what they’re doing: getting what I call their “crème of preen” to strengthen, waterproof, and straighten out their feathers. Birds without preen glands (such as cockatiels, cockatoos, African Greys, and owls) have specialized feathers that disintegrate into power down, which is a dusty substance that some people (myself included) are allergic to.
It isn’t just about being nice and neat. Preening also removes the tough sheaths from newly grown feathers so they unfurl properly, and to align their feathers in the most aerodynamic shape for easier flight, acrobatic moves, and optimum position for insulation, tolerating weather conditions, and body shape and alignment.
Preening isn’t just running those feathers through the beak. Bathing, stretching, and sunning are also part of the feather care process. Preening isn’t only functional, either, as it’s also a part of courtship and bonding experiences. Birding preening one another is called “allopreening,” and is a strong form of communication between bonded birds. But watch out, because allopreening can turn into fighting quickly, especially if the preen-ee has had enough from the preener.
Preening might look like “bird yoga” to us, but it’s a personal hygiene process to them. Do not disturb or frighten your bird while they’re preening. And, as I learned at the vet’s office that day, don’t mess with their preen gland. The vet did get a bite. Fascinating as it is, it might be a good idea not to stare at them for too long and give them some privacy while preening.
Preening can become a problem if your bird doesn’t do it enough, or does it too much. Lack of preening can be a sign of illness that can lead to dull feathers, inability to fly, balance problems, inability to control body temperature and leave them susceptible to parasites. Overpreening is a sign of stress that can lead to broken and frayed feathers, and bald spots. Be sure you know your bird and watch them for signs that preening is out of balance so you know if you need to take them to the vet, or take steps to reduce anxiety in your feathered friends.
This is a normal routine function of feathers, but there is another natural process that’s not as graceful or pleasant: molting. We’ll discuss this uncomfortable bird topic in next month’s article.
Stay safe and enjoy the rest of your summer!
Bird Supplies – Your Ultimate Bird Preening Guide
Bird Tricks – Plucking vs. Preening vs. Molting
The Spruce – Preening: Why and How Birds Do It
It’s an inevitable fact of life: your parrots will get mad at you. Birds have feelings and just like people, there are things they don’t like. Whether it’s a trip to the vet, a wing and nail trim, a bath, company coming over, staying up too late, or going on a trip, we will eventually irritate our feathered friends. Birds are usually cheerful companions, so it’s sad when they bite you, scream, or turn their backs and pout. How do you get back in their good graces?
I have plenty of experience with this, specifically about every three to four months when it’s time for the regular wing and nail trim. My husband and I hate doing this, but it’s easier to do it ourselves and keep it on a regular routine. I know I’m in for wiggling, fighting, parrot chasing, bites, flying feathers, and dramatic squawks when the clippers come out, followed by an evening of pouting.
Parrots have the intelligence of a two- to a five-year-old child. As such, you need to adjust your thinking and actions accordingly. Fortunately, my first job in college was in daycare so I’m not afraid to dust off my brain cells and implement these strategies to get back on good terms with my pouty parrots:
Give them space.
They have a right to their feelings and need space to process what’s happening and “get over it.” Don’t force it if your parrots don’t want to interact. Let them stay in their cage so they can rest, eat, or play with their toys. This is a situation where “ambient attention” is a good idea. Be around so they know that you’re available when they’re ready to interact again. Do your own thing and talk to them occasionally, but don’t demand their attention. Allow them to decide when it’s time to interact again.
Let them “get back” at you.
They need to get their frustrations out, so don’t punish them for screaming, excessive vocalizations, biting, seed-throwing tantrums, or refusing to interact. I’m not saying to let them run wild but try to de-escalate the situation by keeping an even tone of voice and not reacting to their misbehavior. This is why you need to give them space. Listen to the screaming with a straight face, take the bite, put them in their cage, bandage yourself, clean up the thrown seed, and eventually they will be ok. Like people, they need to vent their frustrations with the unfairness of the world.
Postpone annoying activities.
Limit things your parrot doesn’t like if you know they’re annoyed. For example, if they hate the vacuum (as most parrots do), then it’s probably best to skip it after a vet visit, nail trim, bath, or noisy visitor. You know how you feel after a bad day: you want some relief. Give them the same respect that you give yourself. If they’re agitated, just don’t
Occasionally it’s suitable to offer a treat for putting up with things they’d rather not put up with. I try to reward my parrots for dealing with the regular wing and nail trim by putting their favorite toys in their cages, giving them popcorn, or letting them have some extra snuggle time. Even if they’re a holy terror during the process and I need to meditate to calm myself down, I still try to ease the tension by giving them something they like to get “back on track,” and to create one positive association for them to connect with the experience.
The good news is that parrots are forgiving. They get over things quickly, which is probably why they’re so cheerful and loving. The important thing is to be respectful and give them the space they need to get through the brief and temporary tough times.
Have a safe 4th
of July and a wonderful summer!
Parrots love to play, so toys are as necessary as appropriate cages and an excellent diet. In time you learn what types of toys your bird loves, and there are endless offerings to keep them busy, happy, and engaged. This month, I’d like to talk about appropriate toys for your birds, whether it’s for a “hatch day,” “gotcha day,” holiday, or something to entertain and spoil them.
I classify toys into four main categories: chew toys, preening toys, foraging toys, and manipulation toys. Different birds will prefer different types of toys. Conures hollow out trees for their nests, so Zack loves chew toys. These are made of soft wood, leather, or paper, and are often decorated with food coloring. The purpose of chew toys is demolition. Chew toys will be destroyed quickly, so I suggest a budget for frequent toy replacement. I even have one type of ladder that Zack loves on “subscribe and save” on Amazon. It must be popular because it’s frequently out of stock. Chloe also loved chew toys, but she was more interested in puzzles that she could manipulate with her beak or feet, and chew when she got tired of trying to figure them out. I thought that was clever. It’s like how we took the stickers off Rubik’s Cubes and rearranged them to “solve” that puzzle in the 80s.
Bubbles is a Moncks Parakeet, so her interests are different. She prefers the preening toys with soft cotton that she can groom, pull, wrap around herself and her perches, and try to tie on her perches and cage bars. Female birds seem to tend toward preening toys that they can snuggle and “care” for. I looked in her cage one day last week, and she had half the strings draped over her back, and the other half over her front. Her head sticking out of that toy looked like a dress! I asked her if she was going to the royal ball. She growled and shook off the strings.
My budgies preferred the manipulation toys. These are mostly made of plastics and are games. Oliver liked his swing and basketball goal that hooked to the side of his cage. It had a ball on a chain that he could put in and take out of the basket. Mirrors and swings often have beads or small pieces they can play with attached to them. One thing you have to watch out for is small parts. I was shocked one day when I came home from work and discovered that Bubbles detached the bell clacker from one of her manipulation toys and dropped it in her water dish. She’s now limited to chew and preening toys.
I’ve never had luck with the “foraging” toys, which are the wood or manipulation toys that you hide treats in for the bird to find. Perhaps mid-size birds don’t like them, but I’ve heard that they’re popular with larger birds. I’d encourage you to give it a try with your birds. You never know what they’ll like. Even though they have favorites, they should play with different types of toys to keep them mentally stimulated. My birds are given a combination of chew and preening toys.
Given how quickly toys get destroyed, it can be expensive to keep that “stash” up. You can make your own toys but be sure that you do research and use safe materials. Not everything in your garage or storage house is appropriate for bird toys. Make sure that the materials are non-toxic, non-treated, stainless steel, shreddable, splinter-free, and use natural dyes. Also watch out for small pieces or parts that might break, be swallowed, or entangle your bird. I’ve included links below on bird toy types and safe materials. One general rule that I have is that if it says, “Made in China”, check it carefully to determine if it’s appropriate. They use leaded paint and often misclassify their toys (I once ordered Zack a toy that was clearly too small for him and was more suitable for a budgie). When in doubt check it out, or just say no to it.
Each bird will have their favorites, and the only way to discern their preferences is through trial and error. Try different kinds of toys, be patient, and see what they react to. New things are scary, but in time they’ll let you know if they like it or not. I also suggest rotating toys in their cages at least every two to three weeks. Like us, they get bored with the same old thing and need to be stimulated with new and exciting things to keep them engaged. It won’t take long to develop an acceptable cycle of toys for your parrot pal.
Toys are an integral part of life for your parrot pals. The trick is to know your bird, and what makes them happy. Don’t worry, they’ll help you build them a perfect “toy box.”
Stay safe and have a great summer!
AllPetBirds.com – The Best Pet Bird Toys
Clever Pet Owners – How to Select Safe Toys For Birds?
Fun Time Birdy – The 4 Types of Bird Toys Your Parrot Must Have
Mighty Bird Toys – A Helpful Guide for the Selection of Safe Bird Toys & Materials
Nicknames are less serious than given names because they usually arise out of discovered delights as we get to know our feathered companions. Discovering new traits, even after years together, often generates an endless list of nicknames that we use to describe our birds’ endearing personalities.
Zack’s nickname is “Pookie,” after Garfield’s teddy bear. He’s had it since we got him because Rick said he never had a teddy bear as a child. Conures love to snuggle, so his sweet and supportive nature quickly turned him into Rick’s little “teddy bird.” We also call him Sunshine, which is a natural nickname for a sun conure between their colors and their cheerful personalities. Sometimes people don’t know whether his name is Zack, Pookie, or Sunshine!
Bubbles is so feisty that we could go on forever with her nicknames. Her first one was “Captain Bubbles” from a story I wrote about her on my personal blog where she went on a spaceship adventure with other bird friends. We often switch this to Miss Bubbles because people call me Miss Sherri, and it seems to have a “flow” that she likes. I also call her SweetPea when she fluffs up and chatters to me, which I love. Then there’s Zippy because she learned to mock my zippers, and often “zips” at me to get my attention.
It’s amazing how birds (and other companions) not only learn their nicknames but the nicknames of other pets as well. I tried to call Bubbles “sweetheart,” but she wouldn’t have it. We called Chloe that, and Bubbles doesn’t like being called anything that we called Chloe. She has a strong and independent personality. It’s surprising that she remembers that after four years, but she’ll growl if you accidentally call her Chloe or any nicknames associated with Chloe. And if Zack doesn’t like a nickname we come up with, he’ll say “no” or growl. He didn’t like it when I called him “Speckles” when his feathers were changing from green to blue on his first molt, or “Blinky” one day when he had a feather tickling his eye.
Birds are full of personality, so naturally, we’ll come up with nicknames to capture the essence of the traits we love. I think the most important thing to remember is to keep the nicknames respectful and appropriate. “Stinky” might seem like a cute nickname on cage cleaning day, but it has negative vibes that they pick up on, and you don’t want to accidentally let that one slip in front of company. It’s best to keep nicknames cute, civil, and something you can be proud of. Much like people, our birds deserve honor and respect too.
Have a safe and wonderful spring!
What’s in a Name: Feathered Frenzy
How did you decide your bird’s name? Names are a sensitive and personal issue, and the fact that your feathered friend will live for decades means you have to pick something that you (and they) can live with for a long time.
This was my first consideration when we got Zack in March 2020. His original name was General Lee, but Rick and I decided that was unsuitable for a bird that would live 30+ years. We settled on Zacchaeus after the tax collector in The Bible who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus because Zack kept climbing his cage to watch us as we walked around the pet store. We shortened it to Zack so he could say his name, and because it seemed good and “bird appropriate.”
Zack was six weeks old when we got him, so he was young enough to change his name. He took to it right away and seemed to like it. The same wasn’t the case with Bubbles, who was two years old when we got her (despite the fact that she said, “I’m three!” cheerfully). Her first owner was a child who named her. If I had her as a baby, I would have named her Saphira (which is the moniker I bestowed on my electric-blue car) or Phoebe. But Bubbles already knew who she was, and the name fits her well.
Some people think names are prophetic. I’m not sure if that’s true, but they are the number one indicator of identity, so it makes sense to give them serious consideration. I check the meaning behind the name to make sure it conveys their spirit properly. Certainly, it doesn’t require the research that I do for character names in my novels, but names are symbolic and need appropriate consideration. Zack is a cheerful bird, Bubbles is spunky, Chloe lived up to the beauty that her name implied, and Oliver was a peaceful and kind parakeet. He wound out unintentionally named after an ancestor. I learned six months after we adopted him that my great-grandfather’s name was Olle. Like that great-grandfather, our Ollie also passed away young.
There is no formula for naming your birds. This is one of those instances where you need to go with your internal guidance to determine what “feels” right. If, for example, General Lee seems a ridiculous name for a six-week-old bird, then your bird will adapt if you change it. If they have an established name like Bubbles, you have to live with it. But rest assured that you’ll get used to it, and come to understand and love it.
I think the best advice comes from my late father. When my brother and I were born, he said that he wanted us to have first names we used our whole lives. His suggestion stuck: I am and always will be Sherri. I think this advice applies well to birds. If you name a bird, be sure it’s a good name that reflects their spirit, and that you don’t mind using it for 30-80 years.
Have a Happy Easter and a wonderful spring!
It’s been said that two of the biggest threats to a bird’s safety are themselves, and humans. This is true. We aren’t perfect, and sometimes our feathered friends pay the price. Other times, their own kerfuffles result in emergency situations. And illness can happen without warning or explanation
A couple of weeks ago we had a case study of this concept in our home. Bubbles fell and hurt her foot, and Zack broke a blood feather. They both had a fright that caused them to jump, and we don’t know what triggered these “bird emergencies.”
Your bird will have an accident or get sick no matter how careful you are. The key is to be prepared and have what you need to act quickly and calmly to establish healing, calm, and order. Today, I’d like to give you tips on how to handle these emergencies so you and your birds get better and back on track.
Anxiety compounds problems, and birds are sensitive to our emotional states. It’s difficult to keep your cool if your bird is sick or injured, but it’s critical that you remain calm, and keep a level tone of voice and activity. This is hard because a normal human response is what’s referred to as the “amygdala hijack.”
This is your “fight or flight” response that causes you to panic or freeze in an emergency. You can’t control it, so the key is to have enough emotional intelligence to unlock the hijack and get control of your brain. The best way is to know yourself. Prepare with the steps below, and know some relaxation techniques to call upon in a hurry, like taking long, deep breaths and assessing the situation. This will slow those natural responses, and allow you to draw upon your knowledge and experience to help your feathered friend. I know it seems like you don’t have time to assess your emotions and control your responses, but you must make it. Your bird’s safety and well-being depend on taking this critical first step to clear your mind so you can act properly. It’s also good for all emergency situations, so this is a skill you can take with you everywhere.
Keep the correct supplies available.
All bird owners should have Kwik Stop Styptic Powder
and some Q-Tips available to handle things like Zack’s broken blood feather
. (Baking soda or corn starch also works as an anti-clotting agent.) You may also want to have a smaller “hospital” cage available in the event of an injury (like Bubbles foot) to give them a place to rest and recuperate until all is well. A travel cage fits this bill because it can be used for multiple purposes from fun day trips and visits to healing time for accidents.
Take proper safety measures.
I’ve written many articles with tips to set up your home for parrot safety: things to avoid like Teflon, scented candles, open doors, food that’s toxic to our feathered friends, and normal threats like predators and environmental hazards. Know yourself and your bird, and make sure you act and react wisely. For example, if you know that your bird hates vacuums, then make sure they’re secured in their cage before you get it out to clean. Also be mindful of these things when routines are disrupted, because this can cause birds to get nervous. I suspect one reason why Zack and Bubbles had their accidents was because our routine was disrupted: we’d had an active day celebrating Mom’s birthday when Bubbles had her accident, and I was behind schedule because I didn’t feel well the day Zack broke his blood feather. Common sense goes a long way in ensuring your bird’s safety.
Preparation is key.
The unexpected happens, and it’s easier to take action if you know what to do. Have the number and address of your veterinarian and an Emergency Vet stored in your phone, and bookmark the sites for Bird CPR
and building a bird emergency kit
. Also, make note of things that your vet tells you during normal visits. They offer information, tips, and tricks that can help in situations when your brain goes into lockdown. Knowledge is power, so keep building on it and researching ways to take better care of your feathered friends.
Hopefully, these times will be rare, but it’s good to be prepared. We can get back on our feet and keep ourselves and our feathered friends safe, happy, and healthy with love, patience, and wisdom.
Have a safe and happy spring!
Amazon – Kwik Stop Styptic Powder
Bird Tricks – Parrot CPR
Bird Tricks – Parrot First Aid Kit
Expanding Your Flock
Zack was seven years old when we decided that being an only bird wasn’t suitable. He was showing signs of loneliness (feather picking and clingy), and it was obvious that my husband and I would be stuck in the full-time workforce until retirement. The solution: adopt a sibling! I had multiple parakeets in high school and college, and they kept one another company on those long days of classes, band practice, honor society meetings, and the social life of a teenager. Surely a companion parrot would be suitable to keep Zack happy and balanced during our workdays.
The search took three years. We thought another sun conure would be good and preferred a female, but hens were hard to find. Most people wanted to hold onto them for breeding purposes. We finally found a suitable sister in Chloe when we visited Parrot Mountain in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
. They said she was about Zack’s age, and she was sweet. We lovingly brought her home and surprised Zack with a new sister.
He wasn’t amused. I guess he thought he was the last sun conure on Earth after ten years alone because he was shocked by her introduction. What’s more, Chloe had always lived in an aviary. She was used to being around other birds, but not in a home. I’ll never forget the confused look on her face the first time it rained. She was staring between the ceiling and the window, completely baffled as to how it could be raining yet she wasn’t getting wet. The situation was further complicated six weeks later when one of my husband’s co-workers found a parakeet outside of the workplace. You guessed it: the owner was never found, the co-worker knew nothing about birds, and we wound up adopting a sweet green budgie that we named Oliver. Zack went from being an only bird to having a brother and a sister in six weeks. And my job moved me to a new agency the week after we got Ollie.
To say it was a difficult transition that wasn’t well-timed would be an understatement.
Those who follow me on social media know that the years after were a revolving door of circumstances with Zack’s sibling situation: Ollie got a spinal tumor and passed away in February 2014, another co-worker adopted and then decided they couldn’t handle a Quaker parrot which resulted in us taking in Bubbles in July 2016, and Chloe passed away in a horrible accident in December 2017. King Zacchaeus, who celebrated his 22nd
birthday on December 31st
, still reigns as “alpha bird” in our home, with Queen Sister Bubbles by his side.
Obviously, I’ve had some experience with adopting and rehabbing birds. This month, I’ll give you some tips on adopting a second (or third, or fourth, etc) bird. It’s not a decision to be made lightly.
Know the bird(s) you’ve got.
Ten years was too long to adopt a sibling for Zack, but circumstances worked against us. We were getting settled into jobs, setting up our household, building a home, and I was working on my writing. Financial issues also made it impossible for us to get a second bird until we were able to stabilize. The advantage of waiting was that we knew Zack really well. We had him since he was six weeks old, so his personality, temperament, and preferences were as much a part of our lives as our own. I knew, for example, that one sun conure we found in 2007 had too strong of a personality to blend with Zack. They would have fought all the time. We’d need a more mellow hen, and I knew we’d found it in Chloe the minute I laid eyes on her. There wasn’t an opportunity to plan or strategize with Ollie and Bubbles, but we were able to work out those issues as we got to know them.
Give them their own private space, food and water, and toys.
Unless you plan to breed, all birds should have their own cages. This is especially important with Quakers, who are territorial. Zack and Bubbles couldn’t share a cage. Bubbles adores Zack, but they’d fight because either she’d be in his face too much, or she’d get irritated sharing food, toys, and “optimum” perch space. Giving each bird a space of their own provides an area of “ownership” where they can have what they prefer and don’t have to share with the other birds. This might sound silly, but consider this: how irritated do you get if your coworkers go in your office area and use your stuff when you’re out (especially if they call in sick the next day)?
Separate caging is also good to quarantine and to rehab the new bird. Your birds need to get to know one another, but there should be a quarantine period to make sure the new bird doesn’t spread illness to your other birds, and they need to be supervised in those introductory days. It also helps the new bird to have a “safe” area to observe your home while they adjust to their new life. Your birds will bond even if they have their own cages. In fact, having that private space helps to keep a balance of respect in their natural “pecking order” and peace in your home.
Commit to time, love, and tenderness – especially if your new bird is a rescue.
Bubbles hated middle-aged women when we adopted her. She loved my husband and she adored Zack, but I could get lost. I remember one morning when she got out of her cage while I was changing her water, and she chased me around the room, trying to attack my toes. She wouldn’t let me pet her, growled, or screamed when I got near and tried to bite me as hard as she could clamp her beak on my flesh. I don’t know what happened to her, but I had two things in my favor: a determination to establish a bond of love and trust, and a co-worker who grew up with a Quaker and gave me a lot of advice on dealing with their spunk and territorial issues. I set up Bubbles’ cage next to my chair, so she’d get used to me being around all the time. I insisted on interacting with her often and spoke to her kindly, from morning apple feedings to cage cleanings to bedtime routines. It took about two years, but she finally let down her guard. Now, she’s a girl after my own heart. She dances when I come in the room, laughs when I laugh and says “love you” to me. But I still wear closed-toe shoes. Quakers don’t get over the toe obsession.
Make sure that you’re in it to win it if you add to your flock, and that you have the internal motivation and discipline to stand by that decision, especially in those tough times. It takes time, patience, and consistency, but you can do it. It might require many bandages, some frustration and tears, and an iron will to break down their barriers to open up that love, but it will happen if you’re consistent, committed, and loving in all of your interactions with them.
Spend balanced time with all of your birds, individually and together.
Birds are social creatures that require a lot of interactive time to thrive. Integrating a new bird into your home needs to be a “flock” effort. You need to fully engage with the new bird, but don’t neglect your current bird(s). This requires a balance of spending time with each bird individually and supervising them together on a play gym or common play area. This sounds tricky, but it isn’t because each bird is unique and they’ll let you know how they prefer their one-on-one time, and their “whole flock” playtime. A pattern will emerge quickly. Just go with the flow.
Multiple birds will establish a “pecking order” in the first days. This means testing boundaries and, unfortunately, fights. Much like people, both your current and your new birds need to learn the lay of the land and the hierarchy of “flock members” for successful integration in your home.
Be patient with yourself.
Any change is a process of trial and error, and expanding your flock will require a lot of it. Rest assured that your new bird will get comfortable in your home after a couple of weeks, and they’ll guide you to the best ways to do things. Do the best you can and be patient.
There are many more things that go into expanding a flock, but these are the foundation for adding more feathered friends to your home. Take it a step at a time, respect that each bird has their own personality, and make sure you spend plenty of time with them. It will all work together into a beautiful home filled with happiness, joy, and feathers.
Happy Valentine’s Day
The Post Holiday Blues: Feathered Frenzy
The post-holiday blues is an annual struggle in our home. Our parrots hate it when we take the Christmas decorations down. Zack is our Christmas conure, and having his hatch day on New Year’s Eve gives the holiday season an extra-special touch. Once it’s over, we deflate. Zack screams while the decorations are packed away, while Bubbles paces and makes sad squeaking noises. Once the deed is done, there’s pouting. It subsides quickly, but it hurts my heart to see their eyes looking at the mantle, for their stockings, or peeking for the Christmas tree in the living room.
The end of the holiday season affects us all. January is full winter: dark, gloomy, and boring. Transitions are tough, whether you’re glad the whirlwind of the holidays are over, or you miss the festivities, and life without them seems empty. I’ve tried to ease the pain of this season in several ways. I tried taking down the decorations slowly, but Zack and Bubbles weren’t fooled. It prolonged the suffering, so we decided it was best to get it over with quickly and dedicate a full day to un-decorating.
I thought retaining elements of the holidays like listening to Christmas music, reading a Christmas-themed book, or watching Christmas movies or TV shows that we didn’t have time to watch over the holidays might help. That helped me cope, and it seemed that I was able to “let go” of that holiday vibe better. I think it confused the birds though, and some family and friends told me that this didn’t work for them.
One thing that helps is post-holiday traditions. I like to make my pot of “post-Thanksgiving” or “post-Christmas” chili when we’re worn out on large meals and are ready to transition back to the usual diet. Doing non-holiday things that we didn’t have time to enjoy over the holidays also helps. One annual excursion is to take advantage of the post-holiday sales with gift cards and/or money we received for Christmas (both for ourselves and the birds). We also try to visit restaurants we haven’t been to in a while or go to the movies. Slowly resuming the daily routine also seems to help. The structure helps us settle into a new year and focus on what lies ahead.
Coming out of the holiday season is hard for us all. The lights and celebrations make things special, but everything seems bleak once we turn the calendar page to January 2. It affects our avian companions too, so do your best to cope together.
If you need one last pick-me-up, there is another holiday to celebrate. National Bird Day is on January 5. It’s an opportunity to have a low-key celebration just for the birds, and a great transition into a new year. And, of course, make sure to integrate some time just for you and the birds into your daily routine. That goes a long way in keeping you grounded, and giving you something to look forward to every day.
Happy New Year! I hope 2022 is joyful and prosperous for us all!
Creative Christmas Ideas
Rumors of supply chain problems are causing anxiety this holiday season. It’s affected every sector, and people are getting creative to fill the Christmas shopping lists. We’re seeking solutions to this lingering problem from shopping local, to regifting, to going non-traditional. Hopefully, we can find some special, meaningful joy in approaching the holidays differently this year.
Fortunately, our feathered friends aren’t quite so demanding. You can come up with fabulous gift ideas for your avian companions even if the supply chain is disrupted. In this entry, I’d like to share some tips for keeping the season festive without breaking the bank, relying on the unreliable, or driving up your anxiety when the deliveries are delayed.
One suggestion is to build your birds a play stand. My husband built this play stand from PVC pipes and connectors. He drilled holes to hold perches, snack bowls, and toys and covered the pipes with colored duct tape. A clear storage bin catches mess and poop (unless your birds make ‘miss the bucket’ a play gym game). All of the supplies can be found at home improvement stores like Lowes or Home Depot, and you can use those older toys that your parrots forgot about to decorate it. A homemade play stand not only engages your creativity but delights your parrots as well. We’ve had ours for years, and Zack and Bubbles still love it.
Speaking of rejected toys, have you thought about resurrecting them? “Regifting” is one of the oldest tricks around, and it works for your birds as well. Go through your bird supplies and see if there are any “oldies but goodies” that can be brought back to life, rearranged, moved, or reorganized for more fun new opportunities. Perhaps there are even things around the home that can be used to entertain them, like old radios or tablets to play music or games. Even throw blankets for cage covers, music CD’s, and old DVD’s can be brought back into rotation for holiday fun.
We all love snacks, and bird law mandates that we must share snacks with our feathered friends. Every Christmas I make Zack and Bubbles a gift box of their favorite snacks: popcorn, unsalted peanuts, cheese crackers, and even a bag of fresh mountain apples have been a great treat every year. You can get a reusable gift box from a discount store, and snacks from the grocery store. Best of all, birds don’t know name brands from generic, so you can fill up that box on a budget, and with things that are bird-friendly and in stock.
And finally, the best gift you can give anybody (human or avian) is time. The holidays can be overstimulating, so make sure to plan some time out for a “pajama party.” Order a pizza and breadsticks, or get take out (that can be shared with your parrots), change into pajamas, and dedicate a night to in house fun: enjoy a binge of your favorite TV show, popcorn, and a movie, put on music and enjoy a “dance party,” or take out old games for a family “game night.” Whatever you like to do to “chill out,” make a date to have a time out with your family and birds to relax and decompress from the most wonderful time of the year.
You can make it a great holiday without stress or breaking the bank with some creativity. Just make sure toys and snacks are bird safe, and you can have a unique holiday celebration that you’ll cherish and remember for years to come. Those memories are the best thing to take from the holiday season.
Stay safe! Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Educating Others: Sharing the Joys of Parrot Companionship
The holiday season is a joyous time to share with family and friends, but it usually brings bird owners to a shocking realization: People think we’re weird. While the lifestyle is familiar to us, only 5% of homes are graced with avian companionship. A 2011 survey found that there are 16 million birds kept as companions in the United States, compared to 90 million dogs and 94 million cats. The reason: birds aren’t domesticated like dogs and cats. They live indoors, which means their human companions must constantly live with loud vocalizations, hormones, powerful bites, and the mess of crumbs and chewed up everything. Most people don’t have the patience to work through these instinctual behaviors to unlock the treasures of bonding and companionship that birds provide.
Birds are complex and social creatures, and they want to be involved in our lives. This means that other people in our company need to understand and respect our feathered friends. I’ve found that, if you apply the same patience with people as you do with parrots, they’re usually willing to learn some of the nuances of bird companionship. They may even come to a greater understanding not only of your parrots, but of you as well.
Rick and I got Zack in 2000, just two years after we got married, so our family and friends have always had to adapt to a “bird home” with us. We’ve learned how to make this easier, from telling people ahead of time what to expect, to guiding them through the proper “parrot protocol” in our home, and when the parrots come to visit them. Over time, people have come to understand several things about why we are the way we are, and why we’ve developed some of the habits that dominate our home.
One example of this is that people understand why we clean so often. They used to think it was because we were perfectionists, until they witnessed how quickly crumbs and feathers accumulate on the floor. Now they know why I keep a battery-operated vacuum mounted in the kitchen! It gets frequent use, and even more often now that there’s more activity around the home.
People also understand why we have so much trash. They used to shake their heads at the drama of garbage management, until they saw how often the cage paper needs changing, food dishes cleaning, and, of course, emptying the filter from the vacuum.
The biggest lesson has been the importance of acknowledging Zack and Bubbles, and watching for their reactions. You speak to these guys when you walk in the room, or they’ll speak to you – loudly – until you acknowledge them. If you do choose to get close or interact, watch for flared beaks and feathers or you might have a parrot attached to your shirt, chewing a hole in it. And NEVER get the vacuum out unless they’re caged. A couple of people made that mistake when trying to “help out” around the home during visits or holidays.
I believe that people getting to know Zack and Bubbles also gives them insight into our personalities. It takes a certain kind of person to prefer a parrot as a companion. You have to be tuned in to yourself, your surroundings, and the world around you. This is a higher level of awareness, and yet it seems natural to us. Birds as prey animals have this heightened sense of awareness that meshes well with our own. They also bond with people, and now our family and friends better understand the value we place on relationships and trust. Of course, dogs will also bond with you, but birds have a more social nature and their constant presence makes it more apparent.
I recently went to an appointment where the nurse asked me who lived in the home with me. When I told her my husband and two parrots, she said “two parrots! That sounds like fun!” It is fun. Now, our family and friends know that fun as well.
I encourage you to use the holiday season to teach the people in your life more about that fun. We aren’t weird, we just see the world in a different way. Now is a great time to share that perspective, and to give others insights to our parrots and ourselves that they might miss the rest of the year. They may still think we’re weird, but at least they can have an opportunity to know it a bit better.
In closing, I want to say thank you to being wonderful friends. There’s nothing like life with birds, and I’m so happy that we share this awesome life.
Stay safe. Have a great fall and a Happy Thanksgiving!
In Defense of Animals: Parrots as Pets
JSTOR Daily – The Rise and Fall of the Pet BirdMarin Independent Journal: Birds Make Great Pets and January is the Month to Adopt Them
Avian Inspired Self Improvement
Last month, I discussed the importance of training parrots to live comfortably in a human home. Let’s look through the other side of the mirror and consider how our parrots inspire us to make beneficial changes in our lives.
Mom was amazed recently when I told her that it’s “lights out” in our home at ten o’clock every night, even on weekends. When I was younger, I longed to break free of the confines of a weekday schedule. I’d stay up or sleep as late as I wished to “rebound” from the demands of daily life. Now, that schedule gives me comfort. Since parrots need consistency, we go to bed at the same time every night, even on Friday and Saturday nights. There have been a few times when Rick and I have gone upstairs to read, watch TV quietly, or surf the Internet after putting Zack and Bubbles to bed, but mostly we roost with the parrots. Besides, Zack and Bubbles let us know when it’s bedtime. Beak grinding starts around 9:45, followed by going to “sleep spots” and fluffing. The vocalizations start at ten o’clock sharp if we aren’t out of our recliners and shutting down for bedtime.
This isn’t the only way “parrothood” has changed our routines and habits. My weekly grocery list is also inspired by Zack and Bubbles. I order their food online, but each week I make an effort to make sure that snacks are also properly restocked: unsalted peanuts, Cheez-Its or Goldfish, crackers, nachos (preferably low salt as well, if I can find them), apples, grapes, watermelon (when it’s in season), bananas, mini-wheats, and honey nut cereal are snacks we all share. They must be “bird friendly” to make the list. One of these things better come out if the pantry door opens, so I make sure it stays well stocked. We also share bites of our meals with them, if it’s safe to do so. If not, they go on the playgym next to our kitchen table and enjoy a safe snack while we eat our meal.
I also try to be mindful of taking care of tasks around the home based on when Zack and Bubbles want to be out. When I worked from home, I would often play music or put on the television in the mornings, but turn it off in the afternoons because they want to “hunker down” after lunch. It didn’t take me long to figure out that they like to play in the morning, and take a nap before we typically get home from work. I tried to work with that by keeping the house quiet after lunch and taking my work laptop and phone upstairs if I had a conference call or meeting. Now that I’m back at the office, I’ve resumed my schedule by limiting coming home for lunch to once a week, turning on my weather radio or online courses in the morning as I get ready for work, doing chore and errands when they want to return to their cages to play or eat, and saving the reading or watching TV for later in the evening when it’s “snuggle time.”
It’s amazing how the tone of our home is set by our interactions with our birds. It takes work and adjustment on both parts, but I’m amazed at how you find a way to create a balance that’s perfect for birds and humans to live in harmony. Plus, these changes are often good for us, and that makes us feel better and have a happier and healthier life together.
Enjoy your fall and Halloween!
The Importance of Training
Back to school time has everybody in learning mode. Whether you’re sending kids back, going back yourself, are employed with or living with somebody employed in a school, or are adjusting to the patterns of back-to-school time, it affects us all. People aren’t the only ones who need to keep learning. This month, I’ll talk about the importance of training your avian companions.
If you have parrots, then you know that training isn’t a “one and done” thing. For example, I got a new cordless vacuum a few months ago that terrified Bubbles. She would scream and growl from behind her favorite toy in the back of her cage every day when I got it out. My solution was to put both her and Zack in their cages prior to vacuuming, and then do “the presentation.” I’d slowly bring out the vacuum and say “this is vacuum,” then point to the start button and say “I’ll press the button to start.” Then I start it and go around the room in the same pattern every time, starting with the area around her cage to get the horror over with. I took a few weeks, but putting her in the safety of her cage and then doing “the presentation” has established a calming pattern that she recognizes, and she doesn’t fear it as much. Zack gets quite excited and starts doing a dance with one of his toys every time that vacuum comes out. To him, “the presentation” is a sign that play time is next, because vacuuming is my last chore of the day.
Training can be valuable to help parrots adjust to new situations, but they must have a baseline of learning and trust in order to adapt. I’ve never wanted to teach my parrots tricks for entertainment value, but there are some things they need to learn for their safety and comfort in the home:
- Step up training is vital for proper handling, safety, grooming, cleaning, and daily life routine. In fact, I feel this is the foundation of all other training because it teaches your bird to work with you. Birds don’t always want to come out and we should respect their wishes, but sometimes it’s important for them to be obedient and “step up” for routine care, cage maintenance, interactions, vet visits, or safety reasons. Ideally, they should step up on your finger or arm, but stepping up on a perch is also acceptable.
- Not biting is just as important as “step up” training in forming mutually beneficial and respectful bonds. Birds need to learn that you aren’t a threat, and they can trust that you will take care of them and handle them gently and with respect. This training is important for health care, grooming, bonding, and interactions.
- Potty training is a more elusive thing. Training your parrot with cues to go “potty” in specific places depends as much on you learning the signs that they need to go as their willingness to cooperate with your wishes. How successful this is depends on you, them, and fate.
No training will be 100% effective and failure will happen. There will be times when they bite, when they won’t step up, when they poop on you or chew the furniture, when they attack, or when they just aren’t in the mood and refuse to cooperate (especially when they’re tired, hormonal, or molting). We all have times when we fall short of the mark. These failures are an opportunity to reinforce good things, because a patient and forgiving reaction is more likely to get them back on track (much like with humans).
Sometimes you train your avian companions without realizing that you’ve done it. For example, both Zack and Bubbles are vigorous head bobbers. They love to dance, and they make a noise that sounds like laughing. I didn’t actively train them to do these behaviors, but I obviously encouraged it enough that they hung on to these “baby traits” because they get a positive reaction out of me when they do it. And they have trained me to make their popcorn snack every night between 8:30 and 9:00 with wing shaking and vocalizations.
Whether you teach your avian companions’ tricks or just the basics, I can guarantee that you’ll revisit training as often as “life happens.” It’s important to establish a comfortable relationship where training is part of the daily routine because you never know when you might need to call on it again. Like with the vacuum situation, it’s a lot easier to do when you have a comfortable camaraderie with your parrots so they’re willing to see and learn new things.
Here are some resources on how to train your parrots:
The Spruce Pets
Have a wonderful late summer and early fall!
Breaking the Law: The Parrot That’s Illegal in 12 States
Did you know there’s a species of parrot that’s illegal in 12 states, and only allowed under restrictions in 10 more states? What kind of bird would be such a troublemaker that nearly half the nation is wary of it?
It’s the Moncks Parakeet. That’s right; it’s illegal to have a Quaker in some states. Madrid, Spain even enacted a mass euthanization of these beautiful and feisty birds in 2019.
What did Quakers ever do to us?
The answer is that they’re too good at survival in the wild. Most escaped parrots can adapt, especially in warmer climates, but Quakers have more of an impact on their non-native environment than their parrot counterparts. There are three ways their survival instincts are deemed enough of an issue to regulate these spunky ones:
First, they are a threat to agriculture.
Quakers are proficient breeders. Breeding pairs can have up to six clutches a year, and these birds are hungry. Their large flocks can wipe out crops of fruits and grains, and have consumed an estimated two to fifteen percent of crops in South America. Not our problem? Not exactly, as there have been wild colonies of Quakers identified in 23 states
. These large colonies of Quakers can lead to the next issue that’s made them illegal and restricted in so many places.
Second, they present safety concerns.
Quakers build large communal nests from sticks and twigs in a style often described as “condominiums,” and they prefer building them on man-made structures like power lines and radio towers because the electricity warms their nests. I must admit that they’re smart to build on a provided heat source, but this can cause interruption to many of the modern conveniences and infrastructure support that we enjoy every day. Relocating Quakers is no easy task either, because they’re territorial. Quakers will attack anybody who comes anywhere near their home of food sources. (Quaker owners can attest to this personality trait with every feeding and cage cleaning we do!). Their feistiness also makes them a threat to other birds, because they’ll attack the native bird species to establish their dominance over the area. Quakers are survivors, and they can thrive in any climate or environment. I pity the fool that crosses a Quaker!
Third, there are health concerns.
Frankly, this reason holds less water, because all parrots have the potential to carry psittacosis
, a bacterial infection which is fatal to other birds and causes flu like symptoms in humans. Quakers are deemed a bigger problem with this because of their prolific procreation and large flocks. They multiply, and they get around more. Let’s just say that the Moncks Parakeet isn’t a fan of social distancing. The world is theirs, and they will go where they want and do what they want – and you aren’t getting in their way!
It is hard to believe that these parrots are regulated in so many places, but bird owners need to be aware, because these laws are enforced. You can click here for a website to see where Quakers are legal, allowed with restrictions, or banned.
This link also has additional information on macaws, who are protected under the Endangered Species Act; bringing parrots to Hawaii, who has strict laws on the ownership of exotic pets (yes, parrots are considered exotic pets); and bringing parrots into the United States from other countries.
When in doubt, check it out. While most birds are legal in the United States, it doesn’t hurt to check on the laws and regulations where you live to make sure you understand the state’s stance on ownership of exotic pets. Quakers are a good example of why you need to know before you buy, move, or travel with feathered friends.
Stay safe and enjoy your summer!
All About Parrots – Are Parrots Legal in America? A State-by-State Guide!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Psittacosis
Forbes – Madrid Plans to ‘Ethically’ Slaughter 12,000 Invasive Parakeets
National Geographic – Former Pet Parrots Breeding and Thriving in 23 U.S. States
Pets on Mom – Why Is a Quaker Parakeet Illegal in Some States?
Creepy Crawly Unwelcome Guests
There’s a legend that says God created birds to drop crumbs when they eat so their ground-dwelling friends will have a chance to eat the good stuff at the top of the trees. While this story is a testament to the friendly nature of our feathered friends, it’s another matter when those creepy crawlers find their way into our homes. Unfortunately, that’s a likely matter now that we’re in thee warm summer days where everybody – and everything – is looking for the comfort of one of our greatest inventions: air conditioning.
What can you do about these unwelcome guests? Birds have sensitive respiratory systems, so we want to veer away from insecticides and sprays. Fortunately, there are some natural remedies that are effective in keeping the bugs outside, where they belong. For example:
A vinegar and water mix is effective in repelling ants.
Ants are a repeated problem in our home, because our builder constructed our house on top of a colony, and the ants never forgot that they were here first. Vinegar repels them two ways: ants don’t like the scent, and it wipes out their trail, so other ants can’t follow them into your house. Wipe the area where you see the ants gather as well as other counters or tables where you find them, and those pesky suckers will find outdoors much more attractive. This, combined with closing openings with caulking and placing ant bait outdoors,
will keep ants outside, where they belong. Bait is really the only thing that will get rid of ants for a long period of time, as they’re strong, tenacious creatures that withstand even the most aggressive of pest control attempts.
Another thing that helps with ants is to vacuum your floor frequently and wipe up spills and sticky spots quickly. Crumbs and sticky messes attract ants. My Deerma Cordless Vacuum
is helpful in keeping the crumbs off my floors, and disinfecting wipes are a must for cleaning and disinfecting. I use both in my home every day!
Pepperment oil is good for repelling spiders.
They hate the scent, but be sure to dilute it well and use it sparingly. Again, I recommend finding where the spiders are getting into the house, and spritzing a small amount outside. A little goes a long way, and too much can be toxic. Also be sure to knock down spider webs around your house. That’s a good sign of where these critters are trying to get in, and knocking down those webs will deter them from digging deeper.
The vinegar mixture is also said to be good for spiders, so if you have a problem with ants and spiders, then that mixture might be a good fix for both problems.
Coffee grinds are toxic to roaches.
Humans are the only creatures on the planet that can digest the coco bean without toxic repercussions. But roaches, like humans, are drawn to it, so they’ll ingest it without realizing that it’s poison to them. Grind up the coffee and spread it where you see roaches. A mixture of baking soda and sugar
will also have a similar effect.
We had a roach problem in our master bathroom last summer, and our pest control expert said that roaches are drawn to water, so their presence is an indication that your caulking has worn out in a critical area. Be sure to keep an eye on that in kitchens and bathrooms, and close up thin or weak spots to keep these nasty creatures outside.
There are many other natural tips I found to repel bugs, which are available on the links below. The important thing in keeping these unwelcome guests away is to keep them outside by making outside more appealing inside. I always recommend keeping your home clean, and investing in regular pest control service. A pest control service can provide barrier-control measures around the perimeter of your home to keep bugs out. And they know we love our pets, so they make an effort to stick with non-toxic materials that are used outdoors. They might have to come inside occasionally, like when we had ants in our pantry or those roaches in the bathroom, but they’ll work with you to treat the areas safely – and the natural treatments I mention are usually pretty effective.
Here’s to a happy summer filled with family, friends, food, and fun with our parrots – but no uninvited, creepy crawly guests.
Have a safe and happy 4th
of July, and a wonderful summer!
Deerma Cordless Vacuum
The Spruce – How to Get Rid of Ants Cheaply and Naturally
Survival Life – 10 Natural Ways to Repel Spiders
Service Sutra – 10 Effective Ways to Repel Cockroaches Naturally
A Feisty Reprieve
My husband and I just returned from an anniversary vacation to Disneyworld. It was the magical time they promised, and a reprieve from the chaos and madness of the past year. My Mom was kind enough to take in Zack and Bubbles for the week, but her word of choice was different. She described the week as “interesting.”
Mom has kept Zack and Bubbles before, but this was her first time doing it since my Dad passed away last summer. I thought keeping them for the week would be good for her, and she agreed. She’s asked me to bring them over many times over the past nine months, and enjoyed their company. They’re comfortable with her, so we figured it would be fine. Zack and Bubbles made themselves at home as soon as we departed for our trip.
Zack was a perfect gentleman, of course. He played and behaved and generally charmed Mom to the point that she wanted to keep him. Bubbles, on the other hand, kept her on her toes. First, Mom had to figure out how to quickly change food and water to avoid finger bites. She worked out a clever rotation system that only resulted in one bite that didn’t break the skin. The next challenge was cage cleaning. Her first attempt resulted in a wrestling match with the “step up stick” (a perch we use to get Bubbles in and out of her cage, because Quakers are territorial). Mom won that round which humbled Bubbs into a grumpy disposition until the next morning, when a nip to the finger was successful and resumed the balance (I wonder if Mom took that bite on purpose just to make Bubbles happy). Future attempts were limited to pulling on Mom’s hair and clothes when she got close to the cage. I called each evening to check in on things, and was regaled with the day’s tales of how Bubbles tried to escape, nip fingers, grab food and clothes, played, chattered, and generally establish her dominance over the world.
In other words, Bubbles treated Mom exactly like she treats me. Mom was flattered when I told her this. She had her own system worked out by the time we returned home, and she felt she had a breakthrough with the feisty little lady. I didn’t know whether to be happy or humbled. I thought some of that was just for me. I guess I was wrong.
It was obvious that they did miss us and were glad when we returned home. One thing that Mom never mentioned were the cute head bobs from both birds. I’ve had a lot of those since we returned home. So maybe that’s the one thing they reserve just for mommy.
It is important to have a person you trust to keep your birds. Whether a friend or family member, be sure that you take your birds to visit other people in their homes so they can get comfortable in the event that you need to go somewhere that they can’t accompany you. Birds do bond primarily with one or two people, but they can “extend” their flock to others they know and learn to trust. Like us, they need to know there are many people they can depend on to take care of them.
Are you going on vacation this summer? If so, are you taking your parrots for a getaway with you, or are they having their own vacation with a family member or friend? Be sure to share those adventures on social media. Vacations do us all good.
Take care, stay safe, keep cool, and have a great start to your summer!
Has pollen got you down with sniffling, sneezing, coughing, headaches, and a case of the yellow haze blahs? You aren’t alone. It seems this pollen season has been a tough one. It’s not just us, either, as you’ve probably noticed that your avian companions are sneezing and picking their nares with their toenails more often.
I know that’s gross, but they didn’t learn it from you. It turns out that birds picking their nares with their toenails is a common occurrence, because birds have mucus issues too. In fact, my veterinarian told me that Zack has allergies, which is a common issue with conures. I was surprised. Sure, I noticed the sneezy seasons we shared, but I didn’t realize that birds have allergies too. They’re are prone to many of the same sinus problems, illnesses, and woes that humans are. Those cute little nares are an entry into a complex system that connects throughout the birdy body. I think it’s more efficient than our own, but it’s also more sensitive and requires more care. That system is why Teflon cookware and scented candles are a no-no in bird homes. Things that get in their respiratory system spread quickly throughout the body.
The good news is that it’s as easy to help your bird’s breathing as it is your own. They can’t take decongestants or nasal sprays, but there are environmental adjustments that can help you and your parrots through pollen season. Here are some tips and products that can make breathing easier in your home:
Keep cages clean.
I clean Zack and Bubbles cages using a dishtowel with regular dish soap and water, and change the paper in their cages frequently. I also change their water frequently, and make sure to their food and water bowls are cleaned out daily (often more often). Birds are messy, but you can develop a maintenance routine that doesn’t take up too much time in your daily schedule.
Clean your home.
You don’t have to scrub it down every week. Change your air filters regularly, dust off furniture with a feather duster, and wipe off kitchen and bathroom counters with disinfectant wipes. Keep dishes and laundry done at regular intervals too. A doctor once told me that keeping a tidy home goes a long way in alleviating sinus issues.
This isn’t just to pick up dropped seed. Carpets and floors get a lot of dust, dirt, and pollen tracked in from our shoes throughout the day. I vacuum the floor in the den (where their cages are) and kitchen at least once a day. This task can be simplified with a battery-operated upright vacuum. I bought a Deerma Cordless Vacuum
a few weeks ago, and it’s been a miracle in my home. It’s lightweight, easy to handle and maneuver, and easy to clean.
Get a HEPA Air Filter.
It’s been great for me and Zack. I’ve noticed that he sneezes and picks his nares much less, and my own sinuses feel better when I run the air filter. Be sure to check it at least once a month to clean the filters so it works at maximum efficiency for you and your feathered friends.
Humidifiers or De-humidifiers?
Many people recommend that you get a humidifier to help with sinus issues. This issue is debatable depending on your climate and individual issues. Mold is a problem in humid or damp climates that can cause headaches, congestion, and runny sinuses. Most people are at least somewhat sensitive to mold, and those with allergies benefit more from having a dehumidifier. However, drier climates can lead to aching, bleeding sinuses that also cause problems with congestion, and a humidifier can help those issues. I’d recommend checking with your doctor (and veterinarian) to see which option is best for you and your birds.
I’m allergic to mold, so my solution is a HEPA Air filter in the den next to Zack and Bubbles cages, and a dehumidifier in the bedroom. That way, Zack and I both get what we need for our personal comfort.
Parrots can get sinus infections, but fortunately, they’re as easy to treat in birds as they are in humans. Get your bird to the veterinarian as quickly as possible if they show signs of illness so they can begin medication. They’re usually given liquid antibiotics that have to be administered once or twice a day by syringe. Doing the “birdy burrito” by wrapping them in a washcloth or dish towel to give them the medication isn’t fun, but they react to the medication quickly and will recover well if you act fast and prudently.
In closing, I’ll share the often-quoted advice from the past year of wearing your masks and washing your hands frequently, especially before handling your birds. Little things go a long way when it comes to better health.
Have a wonderful spring, and here’s hoping we get relief from this pollen soon!
BeChewy – All About Bird Nares
DEERMA Cordless Vacuum Cleaner
Honeywell HPA200 True HEPA Allergen Remover
Veterian Key – Avian Respiratory System Disorders
Post Pandemic Blues
As the world shifts to post-pandemic reality, I’ve noticed something: I’ve changed, but Zack and Bubbles remain the same.
This is normal. The past year has tried us with constant changes: going into lockdown with multiple restrictions, with life events continuing to happen, and being bound by restrictions that make navigating things tougher, and now emerging back into the world. I’m not the only one struggling to adapt to what was once “normal,” and yet, going back seems as unreal as what we’ve become accustomed to in the past year. We don’t see the world the same way we did before COVID existed. I’ve read several articles saying that we’re all traumatized. It’s a world full of hurt, confused people coming back to a normal that we won’t be able to fully embrace for a while.
And yet, our parrots remain the same.
This fact hit home during my first week back at the office, when I insisted on coming home for lunch each day to check on them. I was concerned that they wouldn’t understand me being gone all day. It turns out that going home for lunch was more for me than it was for them, as they became agitated and begged to go back to their cages shortly after I got home. Those mild signs of stress in them made me realize that coming home and then leaving again to complete my workday was disruptive. Obviously, their needs are different from my own. I wanted to check on them, while they preferred that I don’t come home until I intend to stay home for the day. It’s stressful and confusing for them to switch from “human home” to “human away” mode several times a day.
It seems my parrots are adjusting faster than I am. Birds have the intelligence of a two- to five-year-old child, so they don’t experience life the same way that we do. Zack and Bubbles aren’t worried about a pandemic, or changing schedules. They don’t have paradigm shifts that change their worldview and cause them to have an identity crisis. They don’t care about safety precautions, dress codes, schedules, or traffic. Birds (and all of our anipals) know whether they’re safe and their needs are met. They’re ok as long as you take care of them, keep the routines stable, respect their needs and boundaries, and spend adequate time with them each day.
I usually give advice on adapting your life for your parrots, but today I advise letting them help you beat the post-pandemic blues. We’ve changed, and that’s ok. At least you have your parrots to go home to, and they will comfort you with their joy and stability. Nobody can take that away from you, so let them cheer you up and encourage you to keep moving forward in this strange new world. Spend some extra time with them enjoying the old routines, or even implementing some new ones that you discovered during the pandemic. You don’t have to give up everything. It’s possible you discovered some things in pandemic life that you can bring into the post-pandemic world, like better ways of doing things, or new hobbies and interests.
We may go back to normal, but we won’t be what we were. At least our parrots don’t have to worry about that. Let your love and care for them be part of the foundation to adapting to a new reality that is still emerging before us as we walk through this world.
Happy Easter, and have a wonderful spring!
Attention to Ambiance
I recently saw a social media post about being attentive to the “ambient attention” that our parrots experience. The post suggested that while it’s important to spend adequate interaction time with our parrots, it’s equally important to be mindful of the overall atmosphere in your home, and how it affects our feathered friends.
This makes sense. The number one piece of advice I’ve seen about calming anxiety is to create a peaceful atmosphere. Of course, that atmosphere affects our anipals as well. A noisy, chaotic environment will cause screaming fits in parrots as surly as it will cause anxiety in us. You’ve seen how many times I’ve suggested to “turn down the volume” if your parrots are hormonal, agitated, angry, or upset. The energy around you matters when it comes to sustaining an optimum level of balance and peace. This is a case where what’s good for our parrots is good for us as well.
The question is, how do you achieve ambiance that’s suitable for you, your family, and your birds? Homes take on energy based on the personality, preferences, and lifestyle of the inhabitants. The key is to get everybody together on the effort. You have to assess the natural ambiance that your home has, which is simple: check yourself, and check your pets. The saying that the happiness of your home is reflected in your pets is absolutely true. If you and your parrots are generally happy, healthy, and full of fun energy, then you probably have a good thing going. If you’re anxious and your parrots frequently scream or exhibit fright or feather picking, then you have a problem. And temporary situations can change the energy of the home. Changes in schedules, illness, injury, and life circumstances can alter that energy in ways that throw every human and anipal in the home out of balance.
Here are some tips to improve the ambient energy in your home, so it has a positive impact on both you and your parrots:
Utilize natural lighting.
I mentioned in last month’s entry that artificial light stimulates hormonal behavior in our parrots by disrupting their natural biorhythms. It does the same in people. For example, have you noticed that you get sad or grumpy with it rains for several days, and you feel better when the sun finally comes out? I’ll bet your parrots get sleepy when the weather is dreary, anxious when it storms, and perk up with it improves. Take advantage of the power of the sun by opening curtains and blinds to provide your daytime lighting. Set up cages so birds can see out of windows, and make sure your furniture is placed so it isn’t blocking light or reflecting a glare off of something outside.
One issue we have in the south is heat in the summer. We had to buy heat-blocking curtains for windows that are in full sun, but we have other rooms that aren’t in direct light set up so we can enjoy the natural light without running our air conditioner to an early destruction. Translucent shears might seem old styled, but they reduce glare while allowing plenty of natural light in and allowing you to see outside.
Keep the noise levels low to moderate.
Do you know what humans, parrots, televisions, radios, computers, and mobile devices have in common? They make noise. Add a microwave, washing machine, dryer, or dishwasher, and the noise level in your home is higher than you realize. If you have neighbors who are “do it yourself” enthusiasts, that means noise can drift to your home from their home. While noise can be a difficult element to control, it can be reigned in with cooperative efforts. I know people use televisions and radios to keep their parrots company while they’re out of the home and that’s ok, but keep it at a low level. Birds can hear better than humans can, so what seems reasonable to us is loud for them. When you are at home, try to keep a moderate tone of voice, and keep the volume of your devices set as low as possible for you to be able to hear it comfortably.
If in doubt, let your parrots’ be the barometer of the noise level in your home. If they’re wailing the song of their people and flapping their wings, they’re trying to say that it’s too loud, or something is wrong. In either case, it’s wise to take a break to discern and correct the problem. Sometimes, it’s as simple as taking your telephone calls and webinars to another room, or turning off a device that nobody is using.
Maintain a consistent schedule.
Birds, like all of us, are creatures of habit. As such, we establish our routines to meet our responsibilities as quickly and efficiently as possible. Parrots set their expectations by our routines as well. For example, Zack and Bubbles know when it’s time for morning apple, when we settle in for our Bible reading, when it’s time for work, when it’s mealtime, when it’s workout time, when it’s “fun” time, and when it’s bedtime based on consistent things we do to signal the passage of the day. If we get thrown off of one of these things, they let us know that we’re off schedule. Of course, these things can’t be helped sometimes (like during the holiday season, which I mention every year), but it helps to stay as close to that routine as possible. For example, if a deadline has you working late, then leave on a light and some soothing music for your parrots, and have some special time eating dinner and relaxing with some music, television, or reading when you get home.
Interact with your birds while you do things around the house.
Some activities are too dangerous to have your birds out of the cage while you do them. You can’t have a “shoulder buddy” when you’re cooking a meal, cleaning the house, or taking out the trash. What you can do during these times is talk to them. I’ll read passages to Zack and Bubbles while I write or read to “integrate” them into what I’m doing. Point out your family members, your DIY neighbors, or wild birds when you’re near a window to let them know that you see what they see. Dance to music while cleaning up the house. Look in on them every now and then to let them know that while they can’t be out right now, you are aware of their presence and want them to be aware of what’s happening around them.
Birds are intelligent creatures, and their needs are much the same as our own. One need we all share is the need for a happy, peaceful home. Pay attention to the ambiance your bird is experiencing, and I guarantee that you’ll find yourself in a better frame of mind, and in a wonderful, happy, supportive home.
Happy spring to you all!
Handling Hormonal Horrors
It’s a phenomenon that happens to all bird owners. You’re humming along, interacting with your birds as you normally do, when one day your sweet feathered angel bites you, drawing open a bloody wound on your finger. Or they scream, constantly, for no good reason. Or they won’t come out of their cage for you to clean or feed them, and when they do you receive another bloody bite. Or you have company over, and you’re horrified when your parrot starts playing with one of their toys inappropriately. They take off in flight (or gliding if their wings are clipped), making you chase them all over the room. Your floor is littered with stray feathers. Your sweet feathered friend has reverted to its dinosaur ancestors! What happened?
Hormones happened. Handling them in humans is quite enough, but it’s an issue you’ll deal with when your parrots reach adulthood too. Believe me, I know. I’ve had parrots since I was 10 years old and I think we’ve all had enough bloody finger’ pictures to know the perils of hormonal parrots. Of course, it can be confusing. What happened? What can we do?
What happened is domestic life. Hormonal behavior in parrots usually lasts for short periods throughout the year in the wild, but alas, life with humans has changed that delicate balance, often keeping them in a hormonal state all of the time. It’s typically low level that you see with occasional outbursts of crankiness, but every few months the big spells cycle around, leaving you to wonder what evil spirit has come into your home. The truth is a combination of nature and nurture. Normal seasonal cycles, varying weather conditions, and daylight hours outside combine with controlled climates, artificial light, and constant interactions with humans who want to snuggle and pet them to create the perfect storm of stress.
There are steps you can take that will help your parrot (and you) through these trying times. Knowledge is key, and the important thing is not to punish them for the behavior, but to handle them as calmly as possible. Here are some suggestions to help navigate the land of hormonal horrors:
- Handle them with more discernment. I know those feathers are soft and tempting, but you should cut back on petting them below the neck. Touching your bird anywhere but on the head stimulates them, so it might be best to let them sit on your shoulder without extra petting. I know it’s hard, but you don’t want to make them uncomfortable or angry.
- Keep their cages clean. Nesting behavior should be discouraged to help these times pass. Cages with bottom grates are the best for this, since the wood from chewed up toys falls through them, and the birds can’t get to the paper liner to shred it. This is especially effective in keeping your female parrots from laying eggs. Clean up the thrown seed and chewed toy shards regularly, check perches and toys for signs of wear, and rotate their toys to give them variety and proper mental stimulation. This will provide your birds with a nice, tidy home, and a routine that will settle them back into domestic bliss with us humans.
- Let them sleep. Birds need 12-16 hours of sleep. I know this is challenging if you’re retired or working from home, but do your best to allow your feathered friends to get their beauty rest. Have quiet times, and set up an “alternate area” away from the bird room where you can work, talk on the telephone, watch TV, read, get on the computer, or do other quiet activities that won’t disturb your birds periodically. I also cover the bird cages at night to let them know it’s “roosting time.” I know this isn’t as common a practice as it once was, but it’s something I’ve always done to signal that it’s resting time for all of us.
- Encourage healthy play times. Give them toys and a play gym to release energy and mentally stimulate them in the proper ways. Foraging toys are good for varying their diet and creating the balance they need to get hormones back in order as well. Chewing toys are also good to help with those nesting tendencies. You might want to cut back on the preening toys while they’re hormonal, as those can stimulate hormonal behavior. Birds need exercise just like humans do, so make sure they get their workouts!
- Encourage proper training techniques. Training is about establishing a balanced relationship with your parrot that sets appropriate boundaries to allow you to live in harmony. You should train your birds to step up, and how to communicate without biting. You also need to learn their vocalizations, behaviors, and habits so you can interpret their needs, to direct their play in the proper way, and to handle vocalizations and interactions properly. For example, birds don’t understand that our skin is thinner than theirs, so they don’t realize how badly their bites hurt us. Also, chattering and occasional vocalizations are completely normal, and it’s best to let them express themselves appropriately. This will make it easier to calmly redirect them when, for example, they’re wailing while you’re on a video conference or important telephone call. Don’t overreact, and keep your interactions with them calm. This communicates that it’s a proper redirection of energy; not punishment.
- Turn down the volume. The best remedy for a biting, screaming, flying (or gliding) around the room, territorial, and other generally naughty behavior is to turn down the volume. Calmly put them back in their cage, turn off anything making noise (televisions, music, etc.), and have a “time out” to reset the energy levels in your home. Like humans, birds sometimes get overstimulated, and need a break to reset to normal mental settings. Hormonal birds need more quiet, “in cage” time to navigate this tricky season, just like humans do when they get stressed out.
You’ve probably noticed that many of these are the same tips I’ve offered to deal with stress. Hormonal seasons are stressful for our birds and for us, so these timeless tips can serve multiple purposes.
It’s shocking when our parrots get hormonal, but the thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t pleasant for them either. You know how stressful, uncomfortable, and unpleasant it is when you get sick, have an injury, or are “off balance,” and it’s the same way for them. The best thing we can do is to calmly help them through these times, just like they comfort us through our trying times.
I hope you have a Happy Valentines’ Day. Stay safe!
For the Bird
The Spruce Pets
It’s January, and the holiday rush is through. The human holiday rush, that is. Did you know there are holidays for birds too? Here’s a list of special days to honor your avian companions:
Bird Day is January 5
. This holiday has existed since 1894, and is the oldest holiday to honor birds. While the focus is on conservation, training, and awareness, it’s also a great opportunity to continue some post-holiday fun to celebrate how our birds enrich our own lives. The Christmas rush might be through, but here’s a chance to have a celebration that’s literally for the birds!
Feed the Birds day falls on February 3
. It was established in the heart of winter, when our wild feathered friends need our help the most. This is a great day to set up outdoor feeders and bird houses, and do some bird watching. Zack and Bubbles are always amazed by their wild brethren, and find the outdoor antics amusing. We even have several birds perch on our desk to get “up close and personal” with the parrots! This is a great day to learn more about creating a bird-friendly yard, and to embark on a wonderful hobby that you can enjoy year-round.
National Bird Day is held on May 4.
This holiday was established by bird activists, and is focused on captive birds and the pet industry. While there is no documentation of an act of congress that established this as a formal holiday, it’s still celebrated and is a great day to honor our avian companions and how they bless our homes and lives. It’s also a great opportunity to recognize efforts to support conservation and bird rescues, who are often overwhelmed with parrots abandoned by people who don’t realize the commitment and care that birds require. Indeed, birds are more than just “pets.” They’re companions with high intelligence and a long-life expectancy that requires that required full integration with the family. This is a day to honor our lifestyle, and to celebrate how birds make us better humans.
International Migratory Bird Day is celebrated on the second Saturday in May.
This holiday recognizes the long migrations that birds take across North and South America from their winter to summer homes. People are encouraged to take walks in the woods (or watch those outdoor feeders you set up in February) to take note of the non-native species moving through your area on their amazing journey. Conservation efforts are also celebrated on this day.
The human holidays are through, but there are opportunities to celebrate birds throughout the year. How will you honor your avian pals, and the birds who grace your yard? You don’t have to wait for a holiday. Just like with people, you should show your love and appreciation for their companionship every day.
Happy New Year! I pray we are all blessed with a wonderful, restorative 2021 full of new potential and opportunity!
The Gardner’s Network
Gift Ideas for Parrots
Getting holiday gifts for your birds is like getting presents for people: eventually, they have everything, and finding something unique is a challenge. Sure, it makes it easier that our avian companions destroy toys quickly, but you get tired of replacing the same old things. This month, I’d like to give you tips for finding unique holiday presents for your avian companions.
Finding great gifts is all about knowing your parrot. Like people, our companions have a personality of their own, which helps in finding them great gifts. Zack loves music, so a small desktop radio was a winner for him. HD Radios
have great reception, and you can program in pre-set stations to easily rotate a variety of music and shows to enjoy. It’s great, head bobbing fun, and it keeps them company when we go out.
Bubbles prefers television. Specifically, she likes aliens. This isn’t me projecting my love of science fiction on her. The first big reaction I got when we adopted her was seeing an alien on a TV show. We were shocked when she started bobbing her head and chattering at it. She still does that. So sci-fi movies and TV shows are a good pick to delight our little lady. In fact, one gift that covers both birds (and both humans in the house) was a SmartTV
. It has several apps where you can get free TV and music channels or, of course, link with paid accounts that you already have. Some services even operate on a tablet. I heard of one bird owner who got a new Kindle Fire
for Christmas last year, and set up her old one to stream music and TV shows in her bird room, much to her parrots’ delight.
Birds love to play, so you need something interactive to keep them engaged. One gift idea is a playgym. You have to be sure to get the right size for them because they’ll destroy it if it’s too small. If you have trouble finding one, you can always build your own. My husband built this nifty playgym for Zack and Bubbles in the picture accompanying the article. He used PVC pipe and drilled holes to hold perches and toys, then covered the pipes with colored duct tape. He also put a plastic tub underneath them to catch their inevitable mess (but Zack and Bubbles make a game of missing that bucket and aiming for the floor). Birds definitely have their own mind on the use and meaning of their toys!
Of course, the most precious gift any of us can give is the gift of time. Buy a holiday box, bin, or basket at a discount store to fill with popcorn, peanuts, crackers, and favorite snacks, and schedule a “parrot party.” Dedicate time to dig in that basket and hang out to play, snuggle, watch TV, talk, or dance to music. We usually designate December 26 as a “holiday recovery day” to hang out at home and do what we want. If you can’t take an entire day, just a few hours will do. The important thing is to make sure you spend adequate time interacting with your birds to promote bonding and security in the home.
Birds love the holidays too, and it’s important that we find safe, fun ways to incorporate them into the festivities. Sure, this year might be a bit different due to COVID-19, but you can still have a great holiday at home with some time, good gifts, and creativity to celebrate the true meaning of the season in simple style.
Thanks for joining us every month for fun tips and stories about life with birds. I look forward to continuing the adventure in 2021, and pray it offers us the hope and restoration we long for.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
The Great Wing Clipping Debate
Every November, I address safety tips for your avian pals. I think it’s a good idea to have these reminders as we go into the hectic and busy holiday season. This year, I’m venturing where angels fear to tread: wing clipping. The great wing clipping debate is the most controversial topic of life with our avian companions. I’m brave to tackle this, but believe it’s something that should be discussed for their safety and well-being.
Wing trimming is the practice of clipping the bird’s third row of flight feathers. The purpose is to prevent them from gaining altitude. They can still “glide” to prevent hard falls, but it prevents them from going up, up, and away – or into trouble. There are many questions about this issue. Why would you do this? Aren’t birds supposed to fly? What’s the purpose of taking that ability away from them? Why bother if the wing feathers grow back and you have to keep doing it every few months? Is it bad for them? Is it good for them? Does it break their spirit, or bond them closer to their human companions?
The practice of wing clipping is an issue of domestication. Birds haven’t been domesticated for long in the scheme of human history, so we’re still figuring out how to best integrate them as part of a human household. Of course, wild birds must fly. It’s imperative for their survival. That’s not the case with our avian companions who live in the comfort of homes with “human servants.” In fact, living in a home with humans presents a number of threats that don’t exist in the wild: fans, windows, mirrors, appliances, plumbing, us, and frankly themselves as well. Birds can find ways to get in trouble that we can’t imagine, and the purpose of wing clipping is to minimize these risks. It also makes them more docile and dependent on humans, so they tend to bond with you better. They don’t get as sassy when they know they can’t get away from you. They’ll sass you, of course, but they can’t fly to a curtain rod or the top of a cabinet to send you on a chicken chase through the house.
The necessity of flight to avian mentality and physical well-being is where the opponents weigh in. People who are against wing clipping say it’s in a birds’ nature to fly, so taking that ability away from them is psychologically damaging. I wasn’t able to find scientific evidence of this because there’s no way to test if your bird is depressed. Birds are flock creatures so they will naturally bond with others in the home, making it necessary to make them dependent on you by denying them the ability to fly? Other arguments against wing clipping are that it might actually be more dangerous for the bird if they do come in contact with a predator and are unable to escape. They may also be more prone to injury from falls, especially if the clipping isn’t done symmetrically to allow them to glide properly. And, of course, it limits their ability to exercise, since much of a birds’ physical activity is from flying.
To clip or not to clip. That is the question.
Personally, I prefer to clip my birds’ wings. Zack was clipped when we got him. He never learned to fly, so we decided to keep his wings trimmed. Bubbles on the other hand, was fully flighted, and she still hates this practice. I don’t like doing it either, but we live in a house with an open floor plan, and it’s in the woods. There are too many potential dangers in the home, and I’m a klutz. Plus, the odds of them surviving or being found if they escape the confines of the home are slim given the surrounding acres of woods full of predators. I’ve heard too many horror stories about birds that flew out of windows and doors. I feel like they’re safer if we keep wings clipped.
One thing to remember with clipping is that they can still get away from you. Bubbles demonstrated this recently when she decided to jump off my finger and glide two rooms away. It reminded me that you still need to observe proper home safety protocols as if they are fully flighted. Keep them secure in their cages when you can’t keep an eye on them, and keep things secure when they are out (close doors and windows, keep stoves and ovens off, close toilet and washing machine lids, turn off fans, etc.).
If you do decide to wing clip, have an avian certified or exotic pet vet show you how to do it properly. The feathers do grow back, so you’ll have to clip them every three to four months. When you clip their wings yourself, take your time. They’ll pitch a dramatic fit, so try to remain as calm as possible and do it slowly to avoid blood feathers or accidents. I also recommend using small scissors (smaller than the ones in the video below – manicure scissors will usually do fine) and do it in a room with the door closed. I’ve included links to two videos on wing clipping that I hope are helpful. Afterwards, try to keep your home as quiet and calm as possible so they can “recover” from the experience.
If you decide not to clip, that’s ok too. Just be sure that your bird has a cage big enough for “flapping” without hitting cage bars, food and water bowls, perches, and toys, and be sure your home is safe and secure when they’re out of their cages. You’ll also need to be attentive to your birds to make sure they don’t fly into anything they shouldn’t be in. Birds are mischievous!
Wing clipping is the most controversial topic amongst bird owners, and there’s no right answer. It comes down to personal preference, and only you can make that choice. You know your birds, your home, and yourself best.
That’s all this month. I wish all of you a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
Clipping Your Birds Wings
How to Clip a Birds Wings
Should I Clip my Bird’s Wings?
The Pros and Cons of Parrot Wing Clipping
We know our companion parrots provide us with emotional support and comfort, but they also provide another important service to us: alert systems. Zack and Bubbles perform this job well, whether they’re warning me of incoming weather, or dangers lurking about outside of our windows. This summer they’ve been particularly helpful in keeping me connected with the outside world, as it seems that the wildlife have gone as crazy as everything else in 2020.
My first alert was on Memorial Day. I was upstairs getting dressed when Zack started screaming. I could tell this wasn’t his normal “locater beep” by the urgency and speed of those screams. I walked downstairs to see a hawk perched on the deck bannister outside of our sliding glass door. I don’t know who was more alarmed: Zack or the hawk. Zack saw a predator. The hawk was getting screamed at by a bird it couldn’t see from inside the house with a human. The hawk beat a hasty retreat, I soothed Zack, and all was well with the world again.
The next alert was a few weeks later, when Bubbles started growling while I was writing my morning message to my friend Diana (Morty’s Mom, of “Beneath the Cage Grate”). This was a bit harder to discern than Zack’s screams, because Bubbles will growl at everything: moths, wind, thunder, her toy getting sassy, deer lurking in the woods behind our house, the TV, music, dust bunnies, and me being in a webinar or on the phone. I couldn’t identify what had her riled up until I heard a loud thump against the sliding glass door. I walked to the kitchen to see a squirrel on the grill. It stared at the glass like “come at me, bro!” and jumped head-first into the window. The suicidal squirrel shook it off and ran away before I could figure out why it was fighting it’s own reflection.
My latest alert was a few weeks ago. I was setting the table for dinner when Zack started pointing and screaming at the window toward our storage shed. I looked out to see a snake crawling up the wall! Both of our neighbors are DIY fanatics, and one of them had been in the process of building a deck. Four says of sawing, drilling, hammering, and banging, combined with the fact that it was Thursday (when all of the landscape and lawn maintenance people to our area running lawnmowers and weed eaters), had driven it to desperation. Zack was screaming frantically. Rick was lamenting that the ax was in the shop, and he couldn’t impost blunt force trauma on the intruder without confronting it unarmed. Bubbles was nonplussed. She knew that thing was across the yard and didn’t stand a chance. There’s a hawk out there, after all. We had a friendly wager on whether the snake would fall, or the hawk would get it. I won when it fell, crashing to failure underneath the shed. Zack wasn’t amused, but I thought it was funny because I don’t like snakes. That thing should know to stay out of the open areas. There are crazy people with sharp tools there. And hawks.
One thing that doesn’t alarm any of us is the train we hear on the nearby tracks a few miles away every night. We hear it at various times throughout the day, but there’s one train that comes by every night around 10:00 p.m. when we go to bed. I asked Dad if it was shipping or commuting, and he said that track is for shipping. Every night when I cover the birds for bedtime, I say “there goes the train getting us ready for tomorrow.” That was in April, and it was the last time Dad came to the house. He was diagnosed with cancer in May, and passed away on August 24. Now we smile when we hear that train at bedtime, because it reminds us of his last bit of wisdom, and it’s a sign of the world getting ready for another new day. Life goes on, and so shall we.
Happy Fall, ya’ll, and have a safe and happy Halloween!
Emotional Support Animals
Zack and Bubbles have been working overtime to comfort me lately. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in late May, and the past few months have been an unpleasant journey through a landscape that sometimes changes hourly. Let’s just say that my phone is always ringing, and it’s always bad news. Life’s like that. Thankfully, I have my family, friends, and my parrots to provide the emotional support I need to make it through each day.
This difficult season brought to mind stories I’ve heard about people having their pets classified as “emotional support animals.” Personally, I believe that “pets” would be more accurately described as companions, since they share our home and lives in a unique way. Zack is a sweet snuggle bug, and Bubbles is a feisty, happy girl. Both express joy in their playful nature and spunky interactions. Of course, I have been mindful of how my stress is affecting them and worked hard to maintain our daily routine as much as possible during these difficult days. They do provide me with support through stability and unconditional love that I need right now.
The question is, what’s the difference between this kind of emotional support and the kind that requires federal protection? I did some research, and learned that you can apply to have your companion classified as an “emotional support animal” if your doctor has diagnosed you with an emotional disability that they believe a pet could help alleviate. These disabilities include anxiety, depression, mood disorders, panic attacks, post traumatic or other stress disorders, and phobias. However, the benefits of getting a letter from the doctor to register an “emotional support animal” are limited. They aren’t covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), so the request can still be denied or accepted with conditions. This especially applies if the animal is considered an “exotic breed” (which is anything other than a dog or cat).
Research proves that pets are beneficial, but classifying them as “emotional support animals” doesn’t seem to have any added affect on psychological wellbeing or therapeutic benefits beyond those of normal pet owners. Perhaps this is why businesses are pushing back on the increasing requests for allowances for emotional support animals with their own rules and restrictions for accepting them. Or perhaps it is because they are being asked to waive extra fees for pets due to these requests.
Personally, I can attest to the fact that my own companion parrots have been critical in helping me through stress and difficult life seasons. However, having them to come home to is enough support for me. Whether it’s worth the extra work to have your Anipal formally classified as an emotional support animal is a decision that’s made based on a number of factors that are decided between you and your doctor. But whether they have the formal title or not, I think one thing is clear: our birds are always a great emotional support, and invaluable members of the family.
ESA Doctors – What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
U.S. Support Animals
Very Well Mind – What Is An Emotional Support Animal?
Tips from a Second-Favorite Human
I am not the favorite human in my household. Zack and Bubbles love Rick, and with good reason. He’s a good man who’s kind to animals. Plus, both of them see him as a savior: Zack followed Rick around the pet store until he caved in with the credit card, and Bubbles followed Rick around his work for months until her original owner admitted that we’d be a better home for her. To them, I’m the “other person” who came with the human of choice.
Parrots tend to bond strongly with one human. This is especially prevalent in some species, like Moncks Parakeets (Quakers) and Cockatoos. It can be difficult when you aren’t the number one human in your bird’s life, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good relationship with them. You just have to learn how to relate to them in your own unique way.
I’ve talked a lot about adapting to your bird’s personality, but in this situation it’s more about getting your companion parrot to adapt to your personality. The first thing you must do is teach your parrot that they can trust you as much as they trust their favorite human. Be patient and spend some time with them each day. When we adopted Bubbles for example, she was hostile toward me and wouldn’t allow me to pet her or handle her. Fortunately, I had a co-worker who grew up with a Quaker and he gave me some excellent tips on how to break through Bubbles’ suspicions. I set her cage up next to my recliner in the den and sat next to her cage several times every day just to talk to her. I also used a perch and took advantage of her “step up” training to teach her to come out of the cage for me. It took some time, but she learned that she could trust me. Or at least, I don’t wonder if I’ll wake up with her standing over me with a knife in her foot ready to stab me in my sleep anymore.
The next thing is to consider what you offer your parrot that the “favorite human” doesn’t. For example, Rick isn’t a big talker, but I am. I’m always talking to Zack and Bubbles, to the point that they’ve learned to understand my voice inflections and respond with vocalizations, head bobs, growls, grunts, screams, chirps, beeps, chatter, or mimicking my laughter. That’s another thing too. Sometimes they pick up on the unconscious stuff. I must laugh a lot, because both birds make a chuckling sound at expressions of happiness or joy. Bubbles will even stand on Rick’s shoulder and play with me by bobbing her head or making sounds that she knows I like. I sing to them as well, albeit badly. Zack appreciates his daily songs. They both mock me sniffing (I have sinus issues), and when I’m busy reading or writing, I’ll hear Bubbles say “hey mommy!” if it’s been quiet for too long. And don’t get me started on conure screams, Quaker kisses, and wolf whistles on conference calls and webinars!
It’s all about establishing trusting and happy relationship with your parrots. It’s hard not to take it personally when they like someone else better, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a good thing with them. In fact, the second-favorite human can have a unique relationship with their parrot that’s just as happy and fulfilling as the favorite person can. They do love you and want you around, it’s just that every relationship is unique, just like with humans. You appreciate different things in different people, don’t you? Well, birds do too. You might not be the favorite human, but there are things they adore and expect from you that they don’t from others. And believe me, they are watching you. I notice that when Zack snuggles Rick’s neck, he always picks the side that I’m sitting on, like he’s saying “I’m with daddy, but I want to see you, too.”
What unique things do you offer your parrot? Think about the ways you relate to your avian companions – I guarantee you’ll find that they’ve adapted to your personality as you’ve adapted to theirs.
Stay cool out there, and happy summertime!
The Unique Life of Parrot-Hood
I looked forward to coming home from work for a different reason during the summer of 2007. My husband and I were living in an apartment while we were building our home. The apartment was in a building with four other apartments and, as you’ve probably guessed, we were the sole bird “parront” in a building full of dogs. Every day when my foot hit that first step, I’d hear the three neighbor’s dogs and Zack calling me. When I opened the door to Zack’s cheerful beeps, the dogs would quiet down while Zack piped up in the joyous song of his sun conure people. The daily message was clear: the bird always won the first round of “human is home from work.”
Bird owners have a different lifestyle than other people do. I suppose that could be said for all pets, but the fact is that birds have big personalities and unique traits that lead us humans to adapt to situations that other types of pet owners don’t experience.
You probably have stories of how birds have personalized your home, and surprised visitors. From chewed up windowsills, to wolf whistles during webinars, to beak marks in food and furniture, they make their presence known. Parrots are not ones to sit quietly and let life pass them by. I remember one night when we had some friends visit and, during a particularly intense conversation, we were stopped by a loud crack. The source? Chloe, breaking open a peanut and staring in wide eyed wonder like “this is fascinating, but it’s snack time.”
Of course, we also have to make accommodations for their needs. We’re probably the only church members who don’t light a candle for the online vespers our pastor offers, because those are a “no” with birds. All of our cookware is stainless steel (no Teflon!), there are no air fresheners in the house, and plenty of wood toys adorn the den, along with a large play stand. Dinner is always shared with Zack and Bubbles, or they’ll interrupt any attempt at conversation with loud screams of protest over eating something we haven’t had the decency to share with them first. We are also required to bring out a snack (or a darn good reason for not having one) when the pantry door is opened. A covered “hidey corner” is required for privacy, resting, and safety from those pesky fireworks. And bedtime is at promptly 10 p.m. every night. Reminders are provided in the way of closed eyes, fluffy feathers, beak grinding, buzzing sounds and, if that fails, more screaming.
Spoiled? Perhaps so, but they’re worth it. The love of companion parrots has been an inspiration and comfort to me since I got my first budgie for my 10th
birthday, and I can’t imagine life without them. Zack and Bubbles are a blessing with their sweet and feisty personalities, snuggles, pats, antics, playfulness, chatter, and head bobs. And at least I don’t have to let them out to go for a walk or to the bathroom! Ok, that’s another accommodation. They crawl on everything, and I’ve learned to spot the signs that it’s time for a potty break. I have to stay alert, because “guess where I pooped” is one of their favorite games. It’s why I clean a lot. But they’re worth it.
Have a safe and happy 4th
of July, and enjoy your summer!
It’s important to have hobbies you share with your avian companions. One advantage of living in the woods is that we have lots of birds around the house. One of the first things we did after moving in was to set up a bird feeding system and several bird houses around the yard. We often enjoy watching the birds, but the lockdown has given us an opportunity to see what happens out there during the day, when we’re usually at work. Finally, I can see what Zack and Bubbles see out there every day – and it’s quite a lively world in our yard!
I can’t believe how many cardinals and doves we have. If cardinals are a sign of Heaven, then there must be a portal in the woods behind our house. There’s usually at least one cardinal at the feeder every time I look out the window, often throwing seed down to it’s dove friends below. Sometimes, cardinals or thrashers will be bold enough to stand on our deck banister and sing for us. It’s wonderful to have a personal serenade! They often don’t stay long, especially when they notice there are two birds living inside
the house, and those birds talk back. Zack and Bubbles get a kick out of showing off for their outside friends. Sometimes they squawk back, and sometimes they allow themselves to be admired.
Then there’s the bluebird family in the bird house on the edge of the woods. Those are some busy birds! It’s especially entertaining to watch them build their nest and feed their babies. Flight training is often entertaining and fun as they teach their young how to fly to nearby trees and branches. Rick held off on trimming branches this year until he was sure the pair in the box had raised their babies and moved out.
I think one of the funniest things I saw was a bluebird on the back bannister staring at Bubbles in wide-eyed wonder. He was mesmerized! Bubbles, not so much. She was indignant that they called him
a bluebird when she’s more blue than that! She stood on daddy’s shoulder, aloof and dismissive, while Zack growled menacingly at this intruder. The bluebird did find a mate and eventually came and went like the others, but I’d still see him peek in the window for the mysterious blue beauty in the house the whole time he was out there.
Zack and Bubbles are amazed to see their outdoor counterparts in action. It’s great to have a hobby to share with our own avian companions that fascinates us all. Of course, all bets are off if something else wanders into the yard, like feral cats, a raccoon, or a hawk flying through. That sets off the Zack conure alarm, and I usually have to take them back to the safety of their cages. Zack in particular is especially alert to predators, weather, or the neighbors driving their tractor through the yard. He lets us know that something other than birds is out there in a hurry (and loudly).
Do Zack and Bubbles envy the freedom of their wild brethren? Maybe a bit, but overall I think they prefer their domestic lifestyle. It is, after all, much easier to have human servants than to do all of that hunting and building on their own. And you all know the golden parrot rule: whatever we’re eating is better than what they’re eating. These two will pillage a dinner plate faster than a dog can snap up table scraps!
Birds are especially fond of visual and auditory stimulation, so see if you can find interesting things to watch or listen to with them. Perhaps fun videos, experimenting with different kinds of music, or even just looking out a window together. You never know what’s coming right to your own back door.
Have a wonderful summer!
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!
American Society for Microbiology – Cross-Species Virus Transmission and the Emergence of New Epidemic Diseases
Bird Tricks – Can My Bird Catch My Cold?
Medical News Today
Oregon Veterinary Medical Association
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!
The New York Times
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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:
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.
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!
American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
Palm Beach Post
WebMD – Living With Severe Allergies
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!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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.
Forbes – How Flocking Behavior Works in Birds – And Humans
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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