Thursday, May 29, 2008

Garden failure

Last month, I decided that the lizards would appreciate some edible flowers. They so enjoyed the dandelions and I wanted to give them more exotic flowers as well. I couldn't find any in the grocery stores near us, which meant that I would have to grow them.

Although things started out well enough, the picture here from mid-April shows the last day I had hopes of blooms.
The next day, all of the stalks fell over. Despite my best efforts, I had failed at growing flowers for my lizards.

Our community holds its farmers' market on Wednesdays, and Thomas got off of work early enough yesterday to go. He met a wonderful farmer that had listed edible flowers as something he had. Even though he was sold out, he had a few flowers on plants he was trying to sell. He cut off a few blooms for the lizards. This is Andreas enjoying the flower:

He also purchased some greens from this farmer, so we had a salad last night. Of course I had some help cleaning the lettuce.
Max found a post-it note I had on the side of the counter. Luckily I didn't need it anymore, so I let her destroy it. We keep our garbage can on the side of the counter, and when she was done with the note, she walked it over and threw it in the garbage.

I don't have a picture of this, but I got a little nip from Rocky lately. It's now a blood blister on my right middle finger (appropriate!) Last night I had him step up on my arm and we were going to find Thomas. He was so excited that he started leaning forward and flapping his wings, which caused him to lose his balance and fall from my arm. He reached out with his beak to grab on to anything he could -- and got my middle finger. I gently lowered him to the ground and he went off running to find his mate. I'm not counting this as a bite since it was unintentional and minor.

Also, Calypso is finally back to normal after our trip. He spent the morning in the kitchen with me. It took him four days this time. Hopefully that will continue to decrease as he realizes that we do return from our trips!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Figure 8 Toy

We have a figure-8 rope toy that I think is made for playing tug with dogs. I may have mentioned this before, as one of Max's tricks is to do a loop through the bottom section, and she also loves hanging off of it as I push her. Lately, Beeps has been hanging out in the bottom part. I catch him there several times a day. We've added several swings to his cage, but he's not interested in them.
Max also likes to perch on the upper level of the stand and swing the figure-8 toy at whichever parrot happens to be hanging out underneath it. The caiques are too short to be knocked off, but she has successfully knocked Rocky and Kika down in the past. They have learned and no longer stand where she can reach them.

Kika has been revealing more of her personality to us, which we love! She is still incredibly sweet to the humans in the house, but has started asserting herself more with the other parrots.

Last night, Max was on the middle part of the stand and I was scratching her head. Kika has been closely watching my interactions with the other parrots, and she inched closer for a better look of what I was doing to Max. With no warning, she reached out and bit Max on the wing! Luckily she just grabbed a beakful of feathers and no harm was done. However, I felt guilty because I had lulled Max into a false sense of security.

This is what I saw when I came home from work yesterday:Thomas was in the living room playing video games, and the other parrots were with him. Max had flown into the kitchen and was playing with the jacket that he'd left on the kitchen counter instead of putting it away in the closet. He said Max wouldn't stay in the living room because she was so enthralled with the jacket! I was surprised he allowed this as she ruined the zipper on another jacket the morning we left for Madrid earlier this year. I hung the jacket in the closet before any damage was done to this zipper.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Return from vacation

I was in too much of a rush to post this picture before we left for Belgium, but here is Max enjoying a wine cork:
The parrots took our absence quite well. I think they're getting used to us leaving and returning. Rocky, of course, was ecstatic to see Thomas again. The bird who seemed second-most happy to have us home, surprisingly, was Kika. She tried to regurgitate for me several times and whistled some pretty songs. Max and Daphne were quickly back to their normal personalities. Beeps was excitable for the first day or so, but is now back to normal. As he did last time, Calypso is too excitable and is threatening to bite when I offer my hand, so we're interacting from afar for a few days.

We had Monday free, so we were working on cleaning out our closets and creating a pile of clothes to donate to charity. Max and Rocky were intrigued:
We also bought 4 tomato plants and 2 hot pepper plants and are trying our hands at container gardening. We hope to have a large garden someday, but don't want to put one in at our current house since we don't plan on staying here long:
I also made some carrot bread yesterday. It was unwrapped on the counter this morning, as I had taken my slices but Thomas hadn't yet. Max instantly flew over to help herself:
Here's a Kika picture from yesterday. I still haven't been able to figure out how to take good pictures of her! Her mutilation sores have completely healed, and she has tons of new feathers growing in, including flight feathers. We're hoping that she may be flying by the end of the summer.

She definitely feels more at home and is starting to assert herself a bit more, which is good. We've started clicker training and she picked up targeting (the first step) very easily. I can't wait to see what other tricks she'll learn!
Now, a couple of photos from our vacation in Belgium.

Here is the cathedral in Belgium. There was a big sign saying that a pair of peregrine falcons was nesting in one of the towers! Thomas and I spent quite a while watching the facade and were rewarded with a falcon that flew out and returned to its nest a few times. The nest was too far up for us to see, but it was quite exciting, and we loved how the Belgians seemed to embrace the pair!
We were eating outside on the terrace of a restaurant, when we noticed the name of the store across the street. This is something that Rocky says to me constantly, so we had to take a picture!
Bruges is a wonderfully preserved Medieval city, and is sometimes called "Venice of the North" because of its canals. Although somewhat touristy, a canal tour is a great way to see this city. We were so happy that we went! We got to see a ton of wildlife, including many baby ducks and swans. Here are some of the ducks. When they needed to go fast, they would rise up out of the water and almost run across the top of the canal.
This dog had a pillow placed in this window so that he could comfortably watch the canal. We thought this was such a pretty tableau. What a life!
We had a wonderful vacation but, as always, were happy to return home. I should be able to visit blogs later in the week and can't wait to see what everyone's been up to!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Max is angry

Max knows something is up (we're leaving on vacation in a few hours). She was misbehaving and begging for attention all morning. Thomas just called to tell me that she'd taken all of the lizards' medication that were on the counter and thrown it in the garbage. I'm just hoping I can avoid a Beeps bite before we leave.

Have a great week and I'll update as soon as I can!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our gardener is not doing his job

Beeps and Rocky both like to garden, although Rocky has mostly left that to Beeps lately. A few days ago, I took some video of him playing in our Christmas cactus (listed here as a safe bird plant, although he doesn't eat it) when the action suddenly turned sinister. He has also almost destroyed another plant we have -- I may post a picture after we get back.

Last night, Rocky stepped up onto my bare arm, which was the first time I had him do that. He was in a really bad mood this morning -- even Thomas had to use a stick with him -- so I didn't try.

I think the birds can sense our impending departure. Last night I was wrapping up Max's pellets so that our birdsitter can have her forage (I usually wrap them as part of my morning routine but want to simplify things for her), and Beeps flew over, intent on attacking me. The last time he bit me was the day of our departure on our last vacation.

Also, our vet got back to us on the lizards' blood work, and he said everything looked fantastic. Elsa has been a bit sluggish lately, so I was worried she may be forming eggs, but he told me that he couldn't feel any forming in her, and her bloodwork didn't indicate that she was in the mood to breed (he said this much more scientifically, of course!) Since they are never together, the eggs would be infertile, but of course I worry about getting egg bound and other reproductive issues.

Finally, I thought I'd post a link to an article on Alex the African Grey and Dr. Irene Pepperberg. I'm trying to catch up on my magazine reading and was pleasantly surprised to see this article last night. It's kind of long, but I thought it was very interesting.

I'm not sure if I'll have time to post tomorrow -- it's the day our flight leaves, so I'll be very busy (I'm still not packed!) -- so I wish everyone a happy week and I'll let you know how the parrots take our absence and return. We're most worried about Kika. We don't want her to feel abandoned just as she's found a new home!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In which we fail fostering (again)...

This will probably not come as a surprise to some of you out there, but we have decided that we can't live without Kika.

The reason I didn't post on Monday is that I had to bring Kika to the rescue facility to meet her potential new owner. I felt sick, my emotions were all over the place, and I couldn't come up with words to express how I was feeling.

When we agreed to take her in, we knew that there was someone interested in her and that this most likely would be very short term (less than 2 weeks). She just couldn't handle it at the rescue and we wanted to stop further mutilation. Based on the description of her by her previous owners and her behavior at the center, we expected a scared, difficult grey. What we found was completely the opposite.

We told ourselves we couldn't fall in love with her, but we couldn't help ourselves.

She started making sad, mournful noises (grey owners will know what I'm talking about) the moment I took her toys out of her cage so that she would have something familiar if she was adopted. These continued the entire drive, as I fought back tears. It was so hard leaving her there.

A couple of hours later, Thomas called me, himself almost in tears, and asked whether there was any way we could adopt her. I called up to the facility and was told that if the person looking at her didn't want to adopt her, we could have her, but we would have to wait and see.

Luckily for us, Kika was still available at the end of the day! She made happy noises the entire car ride back home. I'm sure she was just picking up on my emotions, but it's amazing how sensitive these creatures are.

We got home much later than usual, so Thomas was cooking dinner. He told me that all of the parrots were mad at me for possibly sending one of them away and they were worried that they might be next. Of course he was just kidding!

As was the case before, she is adapting quite well to our house. Max hasn't tried to buzz her in almost a week. She gets along with the caiques, and the parrots are able to share stands without problems.

Kika must have lived in a technologically advanced house (at least compared to us) as she has regaled us with her repertoire of at least 5 different phone rings. She also makes normal grey sounds that I love -- clicks, clucks, beeps, whistles, etc. She and Max make identical sounds, to the point where it's impossible for me to tell which grey is making the noise.

Although we weren't looking to add another bird to our house, I think she's a good fit and will enjoy life with us. But she is absolutely the last until we move as there is no more space in the living room.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


In what was quite possibly the most disgusting thing I have seen in some time, Andreas pooped on Sunday and there were visible worms crawling around -- lots of them! We bagged it up and put it in the fridge (in a drawer where I couldn't see it, but I couldn't get it out of my mind) and made vet appointments for the lizards, who we due for their annual visits anyway.

Here they are in their carrier (large Rubbermaid container), waiting to go. They interact rarely, but when they do, they aren't hostile. Andreas is on top. His tail has been slowly shedding, but you can still see the red on both of them from when they were on Calci sand in the pet store.
I won't get blood work results back until tomorrow, but the vet said that they both looked really healthy (other than the worms). He recommended that we try topsoil for their substrate, so we've got to go shopping tonight.

When he did Andreas's fecal sample, he found 2 types of worms! Ick! Even though we didn't get a fecal sample from Elsa, we decided to treat both lizards for what was found in Andreas as they lived in the same tank when they were at the pet store and he thinks that they've had these worms the entire time and just weren't caught on last year's vet visit (different vet).

The vet was pretty excited about seeing tapeworms. Apparently they're rarely seen, so he feels fairly confident that our lizards were wild-caught (which just breaks my heart). He took pictures of the tapeworms and will be including them in lectures that he gives to other vets!

They both got injections today for the tapeworms (Andreas's arm was a little sore so we have to watch that) and Thomas will have to do another injection in 2 weeks. We were given oral medication for their pinworms that they'll have to take for 5 days. He said we could wait until after our vacation to treat them since day 5 would fall on a day we're not there. Our wonderful pet sitter is more than capable and willing, so Thomas and I will discuss tonight and decide what to do. She already does so much I hate to put additional responsibilities on her.

This vet is fairly new to the area, and I'm so happy he's here! He's certified avian and also a reptile expert. The difference in his expertise from the last vet we saw (supposedly also a herp vet) was amazing. We'll be making appointments for the rest of our parrots to get their annual visits done with him later this summer.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Rocky in love

Last night, Rocky and Thomas were playing on the table, when Rocky approached his stick and flipped over on his back while holding the perch in his feet. That's what he's doing in this picture -- perching while on his back.

Then, he went over to Thomas for some snuggling and love. He is such a hands-on bird; I still don't understand how he was able to get through spending at least 6 years cage bound with his sanity mostly intact.

I love this picture because he fits so perfectly in the space under Thomas's chin. Despite my recent progress in our relationship, I don't think I'll ever trust him enough to have him this close to my jugular!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Parrot interactions

When I write about the lizards, it's usually about Andreas. He is much friendlier and more active than Elsa. She was out of her hide yesterday when I got home from work, however, and also enjoyed dandelions that I picked from our yard. I just can't believe how much these guys love the dandelions. I may try to figure out a way to grow them in the house year-round for them.
When I was outside picking the dandelions, there was this bird in our tree, very close to where I was. I'm not good at bird identification, so I'm not sure what he was. (EDIT: a friend e-mailed me to let me know he was a white breasted nuthatch -- I need to get better at my bird IDs! And thanks, P!) But he was beautiful, and I spent several minutes watching him (her?) hop around our tree. P told me that these birds will hop around the trees, looking for bugs, spider eggs, and whatnot. Once they go around a tree, they fly to another and start foraging some more.
Max has recently been using the pen cup on our table as a foraging toy. Parrots shouldn't eat ink, so we watch her closely, but figure there's no harm in letting her play briefly with the top of the pen. Thomas and I sometimes talk about what professions the parrots would be if they were humans. Maybe Max would be a writer?
Kika has been hanging out with the caiques. It's very sweet. Beeps seems to be protecting her from Max. When they're all on the stands, he'll place himself in between the greys. That's Calypso near her in this picture; you can kind of see Beeps in the back.
Speaking of Kika, I heard her first word in the almost 5 days she's been with us -- a standard "hello!" Her voice is much quieter and sweeter than Max's. She's been making a lot of grey noises and whistling. Her chest wound is almost completely healed and she has tons of pin feathers growing. She also has been destroying several of the toys I made her. She loves the finger traps! They are one of my favorite components to teach birds how to play with toys.

Below is a rare action shot of Max and Beeps playing. I love the way movement was captured in that some of their feathers seem see-through.
I used to be very careful in keeping them separate so that this kind of thing didn't happen. But I've come to believe that it really is some kind of play that they do. And I'm always closely watching to make sure that it doesn't escalate. Additionally, they are both flighted and able to escape the situation. I've seen many outside birds behave in similar ways. Finally, they are of very similar size -- I would never let them play with a budgie or a full-size macaw (enough disclaimers?)

No pictures of Rocky recently, but he is still doing well. I think he's been behaving better since I've been handling him, so I don't have as much to write about.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mostly shower scenes

This is what greeted me when I walked in on Thomas showering Monday morning:
From left to right, that's Max, Rocky, Kika, and Beeps. Calypso doesn't like to shower with Thomas, and Daphne can't be in the bathroom because she has trouble breathing with the hot, moist air. All of the birds went under the spray with him for a few moments and were drenched.

This was the scene when I showered this morning:
From left to right, that's Max, Calypso, and Kika. Beeps likes to hang out on the towel rack instead of the top of the shower door when he showers with me. Rocky prefers to walk around the house and hang out on the floor of the bathroom.

Here's a close-up of Beeps on the towel rack:
He has such good posture! Compare that to Calypso:
This is actually a pretty good picture of my beautiful, but non-photogenic, caique. He had been sprayed before the shower, so he was slightly wet. I had gone into the kitchen to refill the spray bottle so I could spray the lizards' food. Calypso spied this and demanded a quick shower.

Here's how Kika looked this morning:
If you compare her mutilation sores to the first day we had her, she's made amazing progress in a few short days. I think she'll be completely healed by the weekend. In other progress news, she has started eating Harrison's pellets, which are among the most nutritious for greys and should jumpstart her feather regrowth.

And just so she doesn't feel left out, here's a shower picture of Max:
I had heard how much uromastyx lizards loved dandelion flowers. However, by the time we brought our lizards home last year (May 31), there was nary a dandelion to be seen in our yard. There haven't been any pesticides applied to our lawn for at least 3 years, so they're safe to feed. I just go out there, clip off the heads, wash them, and serve.

I was amazed at how happy they made Andreas! He ate about 8 of them. I have never seen him so excited about food before! We're going to see if we can freeze some for him -- not so sure how that will turn out!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


We went for a hike on Sunday, and ran across many turtles sunning themselves in a pond. We also sat for about a minute and watched a squirrel eating a nut, but the pictures turned out incredibly blurry.

I am just so excited that the weather has improved so much in the past few weeks and we've been able to get outside more! Pretty soon we will be able to play tennis again.

I had a meeting last night, so was only home for about 30 minutes before I had to head out. Thomas was home alone with the birds most of the evening. He told me that he was on the floor playing video games, and Kika twice climbed down from her cage to go over to him and solicit attention. Apparently Rocky spent most of the evening in his shirt, and Beeps kept flying back and forth between Thomas and his cage. Max spent most of the evening in the kitchen, but would fly back in occasionally to make sure she wasn't missing anything exciting.

I'll be home tonight, which hopefully means more pictures!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Our newest foster

On Friday afternoon, I received a phone call from the woman who runs the parrot rescue where we volunteer. A grey had been surrendered and she wasn't doing well at the facility. She came in plucked, but had mutilated herself on her chest and under both wings. Would we be willing to foster her?

Greys tend not to do well at the rescue, and Kika was taking it particularly hard. Thomas really didn't want to take her in, but he acquiesced. I think he's afraid that I'm not going to be able to give her up. And, we had to move our bookcase with our DVDs into another room to accommodate her cage. We are now officially out of room in the living room.

According to the man who surrendered her, she is very fearful, and she exhibited many fearful behaviors while at the rescue. However, once she got into our house, it's like she became a different bird.

Here she is, about 5 minutes after entering our house:
We have two large stands in our kitchen, and she started exploring both of them.

Thomas decided to take a shower, and brought Kika in with him. Here she is, drying off after her shower:

You could tell she wasn't used to this, but she was very brave and ended up enjoying herself. We have been spraying her down daily to help with her feather growth.

She is doing amazingly well. I have about 10 toys placed in her cage, and she has been investigating them. She hung out on the couch with Thomas and me last night as we watched TV, and played with many different foot toys. She especially likes beads, so I have been making her bead toys.

She is still carefully observing everything that goes on in the house. Whenever I pick up one of my birds (except Rocky), I bring them up near my mouth and kiss the top of their beak. I was not planning on doing this with Kika (I don't trust her not to pierce my lip!) but after a day of watching this, she stretched her head as close as she could to my mouth and made a loud kiss sound. So I have been carefully allowing this as I don't want her to feel left out.

We also started clicker training on the first day we had her, and she made amazing progress with targeting. If we keep her long enough for her to learn some tricks, I'm going to make sure her new family wants to keep training her.

This morning I had her on the kitchen counter, exploring. My goal is to get her exposed to as many things as possible so that she's not fearful when she goes to her new home. She is wiping her beak on the counter.

I am having a hard time photographing her -- she usually ends up looking washed out. I may have to read through my camera instructions again. She really is gorgeous and I want to document her feather improvements during the time she spends with us.

So far, the only problem is Max. She is quite jealous of this new bird. I keep reminding Max that she's number one in our house and that Kika won't be staying long. Max buzzed her, which resulted in Kika landing with a thud on our floor. Luckily she wasn't injured, but we are now taking extra steps to make sure that Kika stays safe. Unfortunately, her wings are clipped. I would love to see her learn to fly which will also increase her confidence, but I don't think we'll have her long enough for that.

I'll write more about what else happened over the weekend tomorrow. It certainly ended up being different than we had expected!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Simple Pleasures

I don't know if I've ever mentioned before how much my parrots, especially Max and Beeps, love to shower. I think I have mentioned that Beeps may be half-fish as he takes a bath in his water dish several times a week in addition to his frequent drenching with a plant mister.

Max LOVES the plant mister. I keep it in the living room because I use it in the morning to mist the lizards' food, and every time I pick it up she gets so excited and exclaims, "Want some!" We try to mist her every day, sometimes more than once, but it doesn't always happen (we can't mist her too close to bedtime because we want her to be dry overnight).

I had already sprayed her for quite awhile yesterday, when I decided to take this video. It's a bit longer than usual -- around 40 seconds -- but it was hard finding a good stopping point. Her bathing pattern is that I spray her (the harder/closer the nozzle is to her, the better), she flies or runs off (depending on where she is) and then comes back for more. I can get her to fly all over the house by pointing the sprayer at different perches -- she flies right over.

In fact, I sometimes have to put her in her cage while I spray the other parrots because she tries to get in the way of the spray of water and they deserve my full attention when they're getting a bath.

After I turned the camera off, I did a little experiment to see how much she loves it. I clicker train her, which means that I teach her to do tricks and she gets a treat (generally a safflower seed, but occasionally a bit of cheese or a piece of cashew) when she does the trick. Although called clicker training, a clicker is only needed in the beginning. Once the bird knows the trick and it's on cue, the clicker is no longer needed.

In any case, I did a training session with her where I would give the cue and the treat for performing the trick was to get sprayed a few times. She loved it and I got some of my best performances out of her (exaggerated movements when I asked her to take a bow or show me her wings).

Here are the four larger birds hanging out on their stand after their baths. Calypso is the caique in the background. You can see that Max and Beeps are pretty wet. Since Calypso and Rocky weren't in bathing moods last night, they just got a light spray (as did Daphne who was safely away from their large beaks).

Rocky and I are continuing to progress. He hasn't tried to bite me since Monday. I feel like I have an even better understanding of his body language and have stopped using heavy armor on my arm, although I have not yet tried with bare skin (even Thomas usually makes sure he has his arm covered as bare skin has been known to set Rocky off).

He's also been calling my name more and following me around the house, and not in a menacing way. I have been taking things slowly and only having him step up on my arm from inside or on his cage (otherwise, it's the stick). Perhaps I'll move on to try other places in a few weeks. My main concern right now is that we're leaving for a 10-day vacation in 2 weeks and that might set our progress back, so I don't want to do too much before then.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Dog Envy

So I have a major case of dog envy. I know I can't have one right now. Our house just isn't set up for it, with flighted parrots and all. We have a house that's pretty open, and I have no way to safely contain the parrots in order to let the dog outside, unless I were to put them all in their cages every time.

Additionally, Rocky and Calypso have been a bit dog aggressive in the past, and of course I worry about a dog killing the birds, so I think our current house is just a bit too small to happily house the parrots and a dog.

But it is so hard to be responsible and not add a dog to our house.

I was surfing the Internet last week and stumbled upon the Senior Doberman Project and it was all I could do to not send in my application for one of these older pups. I was rationalizing away: if I adopt a 10 year old dog, he's probably not going to be aggressive against the parrots (especially the ones that basically just need hospice care), I can work around our house layout and let the dog out through the door in our garage, we have the financial resources to pay for additional vet work an older dog may need, etc., etc.

What's really making it hard is that the building where I work is currently being painted, and the painters have been bringing their 2 Australian Shepherds. Every time I walk to/from my car (usually 4 times a day), they come over, begging for attention. One tries to follow me into the building. They are obviously very well loved and social -- they don't beg for attention in a "I'm deprived" way, more like a "I love people!" way.

We'll probably be in our house for 2-6 more years, depending on if we have to move out of the area should Thomas decide to do a fellowship elsewhere. That's a long time to wait for a dog, but I have to stay strong and resist the temptation. But why does it have to be so hard!!!