Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 review & 2010 preview

I can't quite believe how quickly 2009 flew by! We had another great year. It was perhaps the pinnacle of my running, though I'm hoping it doesn't just go downhill from here. I finished first in my age group in 2 races, second in a couple more, and set PRs in 5 distances (5K, 10K, 10 mile, half marathon, and marathon). I qualified for the Boston Marathon -- something I didn't think I'd ever be able to do.

I met many of my 2009 goals, but also failed to meet others. Maybe 2010 will be the year that I finally finish Citizens? (This has been on my to-read list for over a decade -- I am currently over half done, so I have hope I can finish it in 2010).

The parrots had a pretty good year. Max finally learned to retrieve, which had been a goal of mine for several years. Stella continued her integration in our family. Rocky began flying. Perhaps most surprisingly, we didn't add any more animals to our flock. Now, if only those caiques got along...

Here's my list of 2010 goals:

  • Finish at least 52 books
  • Finish Citizens
  • Finish the Harry Potter series (I have 2 books to go)
  • Read at least 5 books in French
  • Place in at least 2 races
  • PR at one distance
  • Finish the Boston Marathon with a smile on my face
  • Yoga three times per week
  • Run an average of 26.2 miles per week
  • Make something that requires two strands of yarn
  • Make something nice enough I can give it as a gift
As always, I love the promise of a new year. In 2009, I picked up yoga and was introduced to what is possibly the best TV series of all time, The Wire. We traveled to Central America and Asia (though only briefly) for the first time. We saw wild parrots in their native environment. I read the first five Harry Potter books and saw what all the fuss was about.

What will 2010 bring? Thomas finishes his residency and begins his fellowship, which means he'll be home more. We have a trip planned to Boston so I can run the marathon. Other than that, it's all a big unknown that I can't wait to discover!

I wish everyone reading this a wonderful 2010 as well!


The caiques are on antibiotics for 10 days, aftermath of their fight on Monday. They've had 2 doses, with 8 to go.

Luckily, they both love the taste of their medicine, but it can still be a challenge to get it in them!

I've been making sure that I get home a few minutes before Thomas so that I can give Calypso his medication. He just perches on one hand and drinks it out of the syringe. If Thomas is home, he's not as amenable and winds up needing to be toweled.

Thomas tried doing the same thing with Beeps last night. Unfortunately, his caique-ness reared its ugly head. When either of our caiques get too excited, over something good or bad, they do what we call the caique freakout and appear to lose any sense of reason. Beeps really loves the taste of his medication, so after a few drops, he did the freakout and bit Thomas on his hand.

Beeps doesn't like to be toweled, so Thomas came up with a different way to restrain him while giving him his medication:We can't wait until they're done with their medication!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Caique ER

The caiques got into a fight Monday night. Beeps was locked in his cage. Calypso managed to get out of his cage, fly over to Beeps's cage, and start a fight. Both caiques wound up with bleeding wounds on their feet. Their hormones always go crazy around this time of year, and there had been many more caique fights lately -- we'd always been able to break them up in time before.

We packed them up and took them to a 24-hour emergency clinic. We are very lucky in that this clinic was started by an avian vet. Even better, she was working when we arrived!

She looked at them and decided they needed to spend the night in incubators. Any kind of blood loss in parrots is a serious concern, and it's better to be safe than sorry. It was a sad ride home. I hadn't thought they'd have to spend the night, so I hadn't brought the toys they snuggle with when they sleep, or any of their favorite foods. When we got home, there was no joyous beeping to greet us, and Beeps's favorite song was playing on the ipod, and it made us miss them even more.

The next morning was also very sad. Without Calypso, my shower was lonely.

Finally, around noon, I was told that I could pick them up. The receptionist told me that they were dancing and whistling and everyone kept going back there to visit them because they were so funny.

Once I arrived, I wanted to see them immediately, but had to finish filling out paperwork (we actually got a refund from the estimated fees -- having 2 birds spend the night in the ICU was much less expensive than I thought. Thomas guessed it would be more than $1200, but it was less than $500.)

Then, a tech came out and asked me which one was bigger because they couldn't tell them apart and wanted to make sure they had the right medication doses (just preventative antibiotics). They are the same size! The last time I weighed them, a few weeks ago, they were within 5 grams of each other and I don't remember which one was bigger. I gave her other clues to tell them apart and offered to go back there, but was told I couldn't see them yet :( She was able to tell them apart -- what's funny is that Beeps's dose is 0.25 ml and Calypso's is 0.26 ml. I'm not sure if you've ever tried to accurately dose and medicate birds, but 0.25 and 0.26 are basically the same thing!

As soon as they saw me, they started making their distinct whistles (Calypso does "charge" and Beeps does one that he made up) and making huge kiss sounds. It was so great to see them again! I'd brought their favorite nuts and gave them some to enjoy in the car. The car ride home was filled with whistles and kisses and happy caique noises. Neither one took their eye off of me the entire ride home -- they each had an eye glued to a hole in their carriers.

We'd been all set to put them in hospital cages with heating pads, but the vet said it wasn't necessary. The only change in their routine is that they have to take antibiotics for 10 days. They'd healed very well and were perching just fine before they were sent home. It was wonderful to have our family complete again. After we put everyone to bed last night, Stella was singing and whistling for over 30 minutes -- longer than usual -- and all her happiest stuff. Even though she doesn't pay much attention to the caiques, we think she was happy to have her flock whole again. But we're probably projecting and anthropomorphizing.

This incident made us realize that we'd perhaps gotten a bit too complacent with these wild animals, and we need to ramp up our supervision. Also double checking that all entrances and exits to the cage are secure. If they'd both been uncaged, this probably wouldn't have been an issue since they would have fought for a bit and then flown off. Since Beeps couldn't fly away, the fight escalated. We're just lucky that the outcome wasn't any worse.

I didn't take any pictures, as my main concern was getting them the care they needed. I was going to take some yesterday to show the wounds on their feet, but they are barely perceptible in person and didn't show up on the camera.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Grey interactions

Though it's certainly not right for every house, living with two greys is so much more interesting than living with just one. As I've mentioned before, their interactions are fascinating. I believe that a big reason why Stella made such huge progress from the scared, mutilating parrot we first met to the happy, confident parrot we have today is Max's presence and their innate flocking tendencies.

Both greys love nuts, and when they are able to reach the containers in which we keep our human nuts, they will attempt to help themselves.

This video is a bit longer than I normally post; about 45 seconds. However, they were being so fascinating. Max wants to help Stella get the nuts out; Stella uses her body language to order Max away; Max complies.

I don't think it's possible for Stella to get at the nuts without ruining the container, so after several minutes of watching her trying to get at the nuts, I allowed her to get one. Look at how excited she is -- she runs over!

In other grey news, Stella is still obsessed with digging in the carpeting near our shoes. This is scrap carpet, so it doesn't bother us too much. Our main concern is that we don't want to encourage any egg production or undesirable breeding behavior in her. I think it's adorable when she perches on a shoe, though:Thomas has been reminding her that she is not a shoe, but it doesn't appear to be sinking in.

And here they are on the stand they gravitate towards. There is an identical stand next to this one which is mostly ignored. I'm not quite sure how to explain what they do, but they both do little things to irritate each other. Ideally, they should be on separate levels of the stand. However, one will often climb to the cup holders, as Stella has done here, in order to gain closer access to the other grey. In this case, once Stella had gone to the cup holders, Max went up to the top level. Although she looks innocent here, the reason for that is so she can try to hit Stella in the head with the toy.
I'm not sure if they're jockeying for position within the flock, playing some sort of game, or just trying to get a reaction from the humans in the house, but we closely watch them to make sure no one gets hurt.

Making toys

Thomas was helping me finish up some preening toys for the parrots at the rescue over the weekend. I do the majority of the assembly, but he's able to get the eye hooks inserted much easier than me, so that's his job.

He got some unexpected (and unwanted) help:

Not surprisingly, Stella had to come over to see what all the fuss was about:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On congos and timnehs

Bibi left this comment:

I wanted to ask you about the differences between your Congo and Timneh. I've heard that Congos tend to be more timid. Is Stella more shy around new people/things than Max? Are there other differences in behavior that you've noticed?

I thought I'd respond in a post rather than a long comment. First, what a fun website! Bibi is very talented and I can't wait to explore her website a bit more!

Now, back to the question at hand: timneh vs. congo personalities.

As always, I have to put in a bit of a disclaimer. We can definitely talk generalities, but since each parrot is an individual, those characteristics will not necessarily show up in every individual. I only live with two greys -- one congo (Stella) and one timneh (Max) but have volunteered at a parrot rescue for over 6 years and have interacted with hundreds of greys (more congos than timnehs) during that time frame. Those hundreds of greys have ranged from severely abused and neglected birds that were surrendered to severely pampered birds who were coming in for grooming, and everything in between.

In my house, there is not a big personality difference between Stella and Max. They are both equally bonded to Thomas and me. If I were to write out descriptions of their behavior, there's no way that anyone would be able to tell which one was the congo and which one was the timneh. There are two main differences that I can think of: Max dances while Stella refuses to (though I have known dancing congos), and Stella is actually better with strangers than Max. If someone comes to our home, Max will usually fly away and not step up; Stella, on the other hand, steps up, though you can tell she didn't really want to leave me.

When we first got Stella, her previous owner had told the rescue that she was terrified of new toys and perches. That wasn't true in our house, and she'll investigate a new toy as eagerly as Max will. They both have an insatiable curiosity and are constantly exploring new things, probably hoping a nut will somehow appear!

It's really at the rescue where I volunteer that I've seen the most personality differences. In general, the timnehs at the rescue will come out and step up for just about anyone who is calm and asks them nicely. Some congos will do so, but more often than not, they run to the back of their cage to escape the intruder or try to bite. It generally takes more time to gain the trust of a congo than a timneh. The timnehs seem a bit more resilient in the face of what must be a terrifying experience (being left by your family at an unfamiliar place -- in the wild, this would mean almost certain death for these prey animals).

In my opinion, a lot of this has to do with their start in life. Though timnehs are gaining in popularity, congos are in higher demand. They are more expensive and easier to sell -- more profitable. They are much more likely to be raised in production facilities (akin to puppy mills) and shipped off to pet stores, missing out on much of the crucial development stage as they sit alone in cages without much interaction, human or avian. Timnehs were more often raised by small scale breeders who treated the babies as part of the family until they left for their new home. They were abundance weaned, had plenty of toys, and had lots of interaction with other babies, perhaps some older birds, and humans. I think many of the stereotypes and generalizations of congo vs. timneh behavior stem from this. In particular because most pet stores are not very concerned with whether the person buying the parrot knows what they're doing -- they just want their money; on the other hand, small-scale breeders typically are about as hard to get a bird from as many rescues. They want to make sure their baby will be in good hands. There are no impulse purchases. Of course, there are many exceptions to what I've just said!

I'm not saying that a sub-optimal start in life dooms the parrot. We traced his band and Rocky was hatched at one of the worst bird mills around and he is quite delightful, for a severe macaw. Stella's original owner purchased her from a pet store, which means she likely was production raised. Breeders who spend a lot of time raising their parrots typically want to meet and vet potential owners. When we purchased Max, her breeder grilled us for several hours before deciding to allow us to purchase her. Yet, both Stella and Max have similar personalities now. In a good home, I believe that much of the damage of a sub-optimal start can be undone.

In conclusion, based on my limited experience, congos and timnehs make equally wonderful companions -- in the right home. If I were to add another grey to my home, I wouldn't go into my search with the thought of adopting a congo or timneh. I would just find a grey at the rescue that seemed to like me. For someone who wants to get one from a breeder, I'd recommend researching breeders and finding one who carefully raises their babies -- congos or timnehs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More nuts

We've been in nut mode lately, so after finishing the nuts we received as a gift from a friend, I purchased some more.

Since one of our goals is to give our parrots as many choices as possible, we offer the nut container to them so they can pick out what they want (Max, Rocky, and Calypso choose cashews 100% of the time; Beeps does about 90% of the time -- Stella is the true wild card. Though she just seems to grab whatever's closest, so it could just be laziness on her part.)

Luckily the nut that Max threw out was a Brazil nut. I can't blame her! I eat them occasionally in order to get selenium, but they're certainly not a favorite. I'm just glad she didn't waste a pecan.

Since I was videotaping, I had to stop momentarily so I could get her off of the container; I also placed a half cashew, the only one I quickly found (i.e. without touching all of the nuts) right on top to make things a bit easier on her (I know, this defeats the purpose...)

I think Thomas and I may need to have a container of cashews just for ourselves since our parrots are picking them out of our mix.

When he got home, I told Thomas there weren't any cashews left, and he was so proud of himself for finding one. "I'm a better forager than Rocky!" is a direct quote.


I'm not sure why this photo turned out so orange; it looked fine on my camera! In any case, since we have so many parrots, and the squeaky wheels (Max and Rocky and, to a lesser extent, Stella and Beeps) get the grease, I try to make it a point to spend daily quality one-on-one time with Calypso and Daphne.

Neither makes it to a blog entry very often, as they are very well-behaved and cause me almost no troubles. They make for great companions, but not great stories!

This morning, I'd put the rest of the birds in their cages while I had my second breakfast, yogurt with blackberries and honey, with Calypso. I'll usually let him roam the table as I eat and read the paper, but since I'd given him a blackberry and wanted to confine the stains to his stand, he perched there until he'd finished his fruit.Both of my caiques adore any kind of fruit -- fresh or dried. I don't think I'd given him blackberries before, but he dug right in. Luckily for him, my grocery store had them on sale, so he'll have them daily for at least another week.

I know I get mushy when I write about him, but he really is such a wonderful guy. He's just so puffy and warm and wonderful and I can't get enough! We are so lucky to have him in our lives.


Rocky's exercise routine has continued, which I firmly believe is at least partly responsible for his improved behavior, especially towards me! He has been quite delightful lately -- reduced screaming, walking by me without even threatening me, etc. He's still the most high-maintenance of all of our parrots, but much less than a few months ago! As I've mentioned before, we try to get him panting at least once, and preferably several, times a day.

Here is one way that he gets exercise when I'm alone with the parrots. Thomas can grab him with his hands and they'll do assisted flying or other acrobatic exercise. Since I don't want to risk a bite, I'm relegated to using a stick.

We worked up to this over months -- I would not recommend putting a parrot on a stick and swinging that stick around, cold turkey! I know that he knows to hang on (as you can see in the video), and he also has full flight (though he doesn't fly) that enables him to glide and land safely on the floor, should he choose to (or just accidentally) fly off.

Right before taking this video, I'd been tossing him into the living room as part of his flight training -- teaching him to fly around corners. That's what I was trying to do the first few attempts, but he held on to the stick, so I listened to him and we did normal flapping exercises instead.

If you have a parrot that has too much energy, resulting in screaming, attacking, or other undesirable behavior, I'd highly recommend an exercise program. In fact, I'm a big believer in making sure parrots get enough exercise, even if they don't have behavioral problems. I know how wonderful exercise makes me feel and these wild creatures, built for flight, also benefit from exercising their muscles.

The big thing is finding exercise that is fun and safe for your parrot. If Rocky were clipped and inexperienced, he could have fallen off of the stick and broken a bone. With a non-flying bird unused to exercise, you could have the bird hang on to the bottom of a towel that you gently swing over a bed or couch, or some sort of assisted flying/flapping where you have control over the bird. I will try to get some videos of these methods up on the blog in the near future.

Even though all of our birds have their flight feathers, that does not guarantee they are getting enough exercise! Flying from our kitchen to living room is not very far. It does not make Max pant! We play a game of chase with our good flyers (Max, Stella, and Beeps) in order to get them panting, and figure out ways to get the others tired out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Grey gluttons

Max had been eating the food that was steeping, when Stella chased her off and helped herself instead:
Max had to be content with perching on my water glass (which I had to wash again before I could drink since who knows where her feet have been? I have seen her walk in poop!)
Later, Thomas left the nut box open, and both greys made an immediate move to help themselves.More evidence that we starve them so they need to find food on their own!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Thomas and I had this conversation last week.

Me: Who is the funniest person you know?

Thomas: Me.

Me: Nope.

Thomas (sad face): Ricky Gervais?

Me: We don't actually know him.

Thomas: I give up. Who?

Me: Rocky.

Thomas: I think I'm funnier than Rocky.

He finally agreed with me, though Thomas is the funniest PERSON I know. Rocky makes us, and himself, laugh every single day.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


This isn't the first time Max has done something similar, though there was a bit of a twist yesterday.

One of my friends gave me a nice tin with roasted mixed nuts (no salt). The parrots love this! We present the tin to them and each one gets to choose what kind of nut they'd like. However, since the nuts are enjoyed in moderation, which is not in her vocabulary, Max usually wants more.

Last night, she was banging the nut tin against the counter saying, "want some!" as we reminded her that she had just had a cashew and wasn't getting any more since she needed to eat her vegetables in a few minutes.

I was cooking dinner and Thomas was making yogurt. We'd poured ourselves a glass of wine that was on the same counter as Max. We have to drink wine in beer glasses as regular wine glasses risk getting tipped over by flying and/or curious parrots.

In an attempt to distract her from her nut obsession, Thomas gave her a milk cap. She loves playing with milk caps. We both turned away to continue our tasks with Max standing on the counter, chewing the cap.

The next thing you know, we saw this:In an attempt to get us to provide her with another nut, Max apparently did the retrieve trick with the milk cap and our glass of wine!

I did have Thomas pose her in this picture, though she doesn't seem too interested in her handiwork.

Isn't a parrot's mind fascinating?


Going through some of his mail, Thomas found and sent me a picture of the bird that got away -- the one he regrets not adopting on almost a daily basis (for over four years).

She is well-loved and in a fantastic home, but part of Thomas will always pine for her. This is a picture that her new owner sent to him -- she's in her outside cage.
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She really loved Thomas. She knew what his car sounded like and would start screaming from the time she heard his car until he came over and greeted her properly.

She always wanted to be near him and didn't like it when other birds were closer to him than she was! That's part of the reason we didn't adopt her -- due to the large size difference, we were worried about what might happen if she decided to attack Max.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rocky playtime

Rocky got some hands-on play time with his favorite person last week:

Thomas always hopes that Rocky will stay still on his back, but that rarely happens!Rocky and I have been making more progress. Here are some things that have happened recently:
  • I had Rocky on a stick and was bringing him to Thomas. Thomas had recently gotten a haircut, and Rocky did not want to go by him. He walked down the stick, onto my arm, and nestled against my chest in an attempt to evade Thomas. Rocky did not even attempt to bite (I was closely watching his body language!)
  • When Thomas isn't there, Rocky's been coming over by me and not even threatening to attack. A peaceful coexistence.
  • Thomas has been placing Rocky in my lap when we're on the couch. Rocky will just climb off of me in an attempt to get to Thomas -- without any threats to me.
  • When Rocky is caged, he sticks his feet through his cage in an attempt to grab me. Before, he'd quickly try to pull my finger in while he bit his leg (if I allowed him to pull my finger into his cage, my finger would have been bloody!) Recently, he's been letting me pet his foot without trying to pull my finger in for a sneak attack.
  • There have been no attempted flying attacks in over a month, and he still has all of his flight feathers.
I know we still have a long way to go, and I still don't completely understand him, but I am very pleased with the direction things have been going lately.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Where's Rocky?

Thomas was sitting on the kitchen table. He was wearing a loose-fitting jacket, which allowed Rocky to hide. Max was investigating. She may be the nosiest parrot in the world.

I've mentioned before one of the things I love about Rocky is that, no matter where he is, he stops what he's doing and sticks his head out when you call his name. I guess Max didn't realize that!


A few scenes from the life of a grey in our house:

In league with the power company

We have a towel situated in front of our door in order to help not allow so much heat to escape that way. But Rocky is thwarting our plans:

Squirrel disaster recovery

I noticed that we had a lot of squirrels in our backyard this year, but until the leaves fell, I never realized how many were living in our giant tree. I can make out 3 nests in this picture, but there are at least 6 that I could find.
I love squirrels! They are so funny to watch. Pretty much any time I look out my back windows, I can see at least one running around.

We had a pretty severe snow storm last week, and one of the nests fell to the ground. A few days later, I looked out to see this:

At least 2 squirrels were rebuilding their nests (or perhaps expanding/reinforcing their current nests) by using debris from the fallen nest! They were doing this most of the day yesterday.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I've written before about how much my parrots love the products from Parrotnutz, but not for awhile, so I'm going to show some more pictures. Although they like all of the food they've tried from there, they go nuts for the meals and mashes.

During the summer, I don't feed this to them as often as we make our own mashes from fresh veggies from the farmers' market. However, as the weather gets cooler and locally grown veggies are scarce, we turn back to this food.

Though I don't have any pictures of them, the caiques go crazy for this food! They both make squealing noises as they demolish every morsel. Thomas even remarked that this is the only food that makes the caiques join the clean plate club. They love it!

Rocky follows Thomas as he doles out the dishes to the parrots:
You just add hot water to the dry ingredients and let it steep for 15 minutes. Max is too impatient and will often go over and start eating while the food is still steeping.

As Thomas said when he drew my attention to this happening, look at the glutton:
Stella kept trying to kiss Thomas, but he had to evade her due to the food on her beak:At one point, we looked around the living room, and every parrot had a beak covered in food.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A few grey stories

Max loves preening wet hair. She never preens our hair when it's dry, but watch out after a shower! She usually just gets to preen mine, as it's long enough for her to reach when I'm holding her. This morning, she noticed Thomas had wet hair, so she flew over to preen it.

Of course, by the time I got my camera, she'd mostly stopped:
Then decided to settle in, apparently:He removed her right after I took this picture as he needed to get to work and didn't have time for another shower if she'd gotten him dirty.

When the greys are nervous about something, they bite their nails. I'll try to get it on video, but they're rarely nervous, so whether I can video it will depend on felicitous timing.

This is something that Stella came to us doing. In the beginning, she was almost constantly biting her nails; I now haven't seen this behavior from her in months. However, she taught Max this behavior.

Last week, the greys were on the stand. Max must have been perching in the preferred position, as Stella was slowly creeping up to her with the intention of dislodging Max and taking her place.

Max was employing all kind of body language to tell Stella to stay away, and Stella was employing all kinds of body language to let Max know she wouldn't be deterred.

I brought Thomas's attention to the two of them, just as Max started biting her nails, "Look at all of that body language passing between them!" I said.

He replied, in the voice that he uses whenever he's pretending he's one of the parrots talking, "Hey Stella, wanna smoke a cigarette? Come on, let's go smoke together!"

It was funny as when Max bites her nails, it does kind of look like she's smoking.

Parrot life lessons from Thomas

Let me set the scene. This morning, Max is on the counter, the table, the island counter, everywhere but on an approved parrot perch or stand.

Thomas, to Max: "Parrots like to perch on stands. They're like the trees they'd perch on in the wild."

Me, to Thomas: "I'm sure she appreciated you telling her how to be a parrot."

Thomas, to me: "Well, somebody's got to!"

Observe your bird!

I was up at the rescue yesterday (Long story, but the power went out so we were preparing to send the parrots into volunteers' homes until the power was restored. I was going to get about 6 greys, a severe macaw, and a bearded dragon. Can you imagine all of the beeping and phone ringing that would have been going on at my place? Power was restored just as I was about to put the parrots in their carriers, so they didn't have their routine disturbed.) where I heard the story of one of the latest birds to be surrendered.

A lady was surrendering her grey because he had become very mean and bitey several months ago and she didn't want to deal with him anymore. Of course she hadn't ever taken him to a vet, but said he appeared to be in general good health.

When he got back to the rescue, volunteers were performing his intake and were shocked to see that under his wings, it looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to him. Obviously this isn't what happened -- he'd mutilated himself -- and his owner never noticed!

Had she taken him to the vet when his behavior changed (from a handleable bird to one who refused to come out of her cage) the mutilation could have been caught early, and he could have been spared months of pain.

Two of my parrots are former mutilators; Calypso:
and Stella:
Because the mutilation was caught early (they each mutilated for less than 3 days), we haven't had a recurrence. It's been 4 1/2 years for Calypso and 1 1/2 years for Stella.

Based on my experiences at the rescue, the longer a parrot has been mutilating, the harder it is to stop.

I know that the people who read me regularly know this, but hopefully this information could be helpful to someone stumbling upon this. Know your parrot. Know what's normal for him or her. If their behavior suddenly changes, it's probably time for a vet appointment to rule out anything physical.

Look at them physically to see any changes -- tumors, plucking, mutilation, etc. Rocky has a tumor, and Thomas examines this on at least a weekly basis -- any changes would send us to the vet. It's easier to examine some birds than others, but work with them to make this a fun experience. With the greys, we've taught them to lift their wings so we can look under, as they do not appreciate us touching their wings. Rocky, Daphne, and the caiques, on the other hand, love being handled, so we are able to do this physically.

If you work with your bird to allow handling, this also makes vet visits much more pleasant, and less stressful for the parrot.

Since parrots are prey animals, they are very adept at hiding any illnesses. It's our job, as their caretakers, to observe them carefully, notice any changes, and get them the treatment they need.

Aquarium photos

It's been a few months since my last aquarium update. We haven't added any fish in years, so there typically aren't many updates! However, since I had time yesterday, I watched them for quite a long time and decided to take some pictures.

I know I'm just kidding myself, but I think my fish like me. Thomas tells me it's just that the associate me with food, but it still makes me happy when they see me and get all excited. They don't get excited when they see him!

If you look at the bottom left, you can see the tail of one of our clown loaches. They all hang out under a piece of wood we have in our tank.
I think that two of these Australian Rainbowfish are the babies that hatched in our tank. They're as big as everyone else!
Sometimes the two larger clown loaches hang out together and appear to shun the smaller one. They're all about the same age, for whatever reason, one is significantly smaller than the others. However, more and more frequently, all 3 will hang out together, like here. It makes me so happy when they're inclusive!
And here is a photo of our red skirts schooling together:
They are all around 4 years old, so I'm shocked they're still doing so well! The last time we added any fish to our aquarium was September 1, 2007, so we've been at a nice balance for a couple of years now.

The main reason we got the fish tank was to add humidity to the house when Max started plucking, and to give the parrots some entertainment. However, the parrots don't really seem to care about the fish, with the occasional exception of Calypso.


Yesterday, due to inclement weather, I took most of the day off of work and spent it with the parrots. Having quite a bit of time to himself in the living room, Rocky discovered his new favorite place to perch. He found that if he stands on the arm of the couch, he can get a breeze from our air purifier.

If you look closely, you can see the feathers on the top of his head ruffled by the wind.

Wet caiques

Both of the caiques took baths in their water dishes yesterday. Calypso started first and then Beeps, in true flock fashion, joined in. I love it when they are wet! Here's Calypso:
And Beeps, though I didn't get his head. He kept moving around and I couldn't get a good picture:Calypso always gets hormonal in December, and this year is no exception. Beeps has decided to join in the hormone fun this year, too.

While the caiques usually ignore each other, Beeps has lately been flying over to Calypso's cage and threatening him. Calypso then has to defend himself. Though he never instigates and I therefore think of him as a lover rather than a fighter, Calypso is one scrappy and tough little bird!

On three separate occasions yesterday, I had to break up a ball of caiques. They grab each other's feet and roll around on the ground while trying to beak each other. I've heard that caiques play roughly, so I'm not entirely sure how much of this is serious, but I don't allow it since I don't want any injuries.

One time, I had Calypso on my hand and was bringing him back to his cage from the living room when Beeps jumped him and the two flew in a mass of caiques to the ground to start rolling around.

Extra caique supervision will be taking place in our house until hormones subside!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rocky vs. Aquaphor

Rocky decided last night that he absolutely did not want the container of Aquaphor to be on the table. He'd already knocked it off several times when I decided I should get it on video.

I've been hoping to get such a move on video ever since reading Richard's blog entry about how his macaw does similar things -- knocking things down and then having to look on the floor and admire his handiwork.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lots of Rocky

I was trying to get a video of Rocky grabbing a slice of wood from his basket and then climbing into Thomas's pants. Rocky had other ideas, though he had been doing that for quite some time before I thought to get the camera!

Here, he decides to fake attack Thomas's leg. I love how he goes back a bit in order to get a running start. Though we think this is entirely playful, he is still a bit rough and this can hurt! He's done it to me before, through a blanket. Thomas will often have red marks on his body (though they quickly disappear) if Rocky starts doing this on his bare skin.

He knows exactly what I want him to do. In fact, I tell him again in this video! But, he chooses to show off for the camera by more fake attacking. At the end, I pan up to Beeps perched on Thomas. That's who was doing all of the background beeping!

In this next video, he does some jumping, which he does when he's excited. He knows I love it and will sometimes do it when he wants something from me. He'll often do it on request, but rarely when the camera is out. I had hoped he was going to grab wood from his basket, but he seems to change his mind at the last minute and runs back over to Thomas. His attempt to climb up Thomas's pants is met with unanticipated results, but he pops back up, ready for action!

After faking me out a few more times, but never entering the pants with wood, Rocky climbs up. You can hear Thomas say, "I don't think he's in the mood right now," which translates into, "Quit filming so we can get back to 30 Rock!"

Later, though I didn't capture him grabbing the wood, he decides he is in the mood and finally makes it into his pants:

Usually he stays in the calf area, but he made it a bit further this time:Of course we were then joking that Thomas had a giant, moving, loud thigh tumor.

Dancing Beeps

Thomas was singing to Beeps over the weekend. He showed his appreciation by dancing. Towards the end, you see Rocky climbing up on the couch; that's when Beeps flew away!

The lizards

Andreas has been doing so well lately. I expected him to brumate through the winter, but he's been out of his hide every day, running around, eating, etc. I know he's a solitary animal, but at times he almost seems to want attention from us.

Last week, I looked over, and he was staring at us:
Elsa's not been as active. She's barely eating, will go over a week without coming out, etc. I'm thinking about upping her temperatures a bit to see if that helps.

On Saturday, she was like this for over an hour:Later, she exited about another inch and stayed there for about another hour. The next time I looked, she was sunning herself under her basking light.

Last week, Andreas was glass dancing against the corner of his tank. We almost never let the lizards out to run around (they prefer higher temperatures than we keep our house), but he had so much energy and Thomas wanted to let him burn it off. He put Andreas on the floor, who immediately ran into the corner of our living room and did the same glass dancing movements! (Though I supposed it was wall dancing). We laughed and put him back in his tank.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rocky breakfast

Here is photographic proof that Rocky's wings do collapse and nestle nicely; it's just that since he likes to show me how big and scary he is, and I take the vast majority of the pictures, it appears as though his wings are permanently stuck to "open."He's sharing some of Thomas's breakfast -- peanut butter toast. He ate the peanut butter off, dropped the bread on the ground, and then climbed down to find Thomas and beg for more.

Isn't his dark green coloring just amazing? He's like a little jewel. When the light reflects off of him, he is absolutely stunning.

I also think he must read the blog, since he's been remarkably well-behaved since I posted my rant about him last month.

I hope everyone has a nice weekend! We're going to watch The Man Who Came to Dinner tonight; I haven't watched this movie in years and Thomas has never seen it -- I can't wait! I also have to get some speed work in on the treadmill -- it always makes me feel so good after, but I'm still dreading it. Additionally, I have two scarves on the needles that I must finish before the end of the year so that I start 2010 with a fresh knitting slate. What an exciting life I lead! Details to follow in next week's posts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cheese fiends

I didn't get my camera out quickly enough, but both of the greys were exploring the grater. They are cheese fiends and definitely know what the grater means!Actually, Max is the cheese fiend; Stella was just over there to irritate Max, as she won't even eat any cheese when offered.

Pants parrot

Rocky, as a macaw, is quite destructive. As long as we provide him with acceptable wood to chip up, he usually leaves unacceptable wood alone, though he has been known to take chips out of our aquarium stand!

We leave baskets of 2X4 slices around the living room, so when he feels the need to chip, he runs over and grabs a slice. He loves winter, when Thomas wears pants instead of shorts, as one of his favorite places to chip wood is in Thomas's pant leg. He often wears scrub bottoms, which provide enough room for Thomas's leg and a severe macaw.

My view, from the couch:A view from behind:Someday, I will get this entire process on video, including him grabbing a piece of wood and going into Thomas's pants (which he does with no help from Thomas). He started doing this on his own -- it was not something we ever encouraged.

After he chips the wood, he has to dig them out of Thomas's pants. You can see lots of little chips on the floor:

He then needs to get another piece of wood, or get a snack, or just wants to go somewhere else, so he leaves the pant leg:

At the end of this video, he is making a threatening pose at me, so I quickly turned the camera off and hopped up to the safety of the couch!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Music cravings

I almost never get cravings for any kind of food, but I do get cravings for music. I'm stuck in the past, and have a lot of CDs; I have not yet switched to downloads. Even though I know it's better for the environment, and my house's clutter, I really like having a physical CD.

I have uploaded most of my CDs to my itunes at work, so whether I'm at home or work, I can generally satisfy my music craving almost immediately. Yea! This sometimes drives Thomas crazy as I will listen to the same song 10 times in a row as we're cooking dinner. He'll beg me to play something else and I'll agree after playing this song "one more time," which I then do several times. He's done the same thing to me, so I don't feel bad!

This morning, as I was driving to work, I needed to hear a specific song. I only had 5 more minutes until I got to work, but I was going crazy! Finally I rushed into my office and satisfied that craving.

Pocket parrot

I took this picture earlier this year, though I'm not sure if I posted it or not. In any case, it made me laugh when I found it again today, so I'm posting it.The Rockster is very weird; Thomas wouldn't even attempt this with any of our other parrots as they would not like it. However, Rocky will frequently climb in there by himself. Like a kangaroo.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My evil car

I frequently joke that my car is evil, and here is the proof!Wendy inspired me to take pictures of my car's important milestones. However, she safely parks her car before taking the picture -- I just slowed down to about 30.

This milestone was actually causing me some concern as I was driving on the Interstate and knew I couldn't take a picture while going 65 (or 74...) I thought I might have to get off an exit or two early, but wound up making it to my normal exit and taking the photo on the off ramp.

No new caique for us

For the reasons listed here, in update 2, we decided not to apply to adopt the other caique. It was a really tough decision and I'm still not sure we made the right one.

There are several birds that Thomas and I regret not adopting, and this caique may very well join the list.

For your viewing pleasure, here are a couple of pictures of the bird that I most regret not adopting:He was one of the most amazing parrots I've had the pleasure of knowing. He was older than Thomas and me, and such a gentle soul. He stayed up at the rescue for almost a year until we found the perfect home for him. I still communicate with his new owner, and he is a very loved member of the family.

I know we made the right decision not bringing him home, but I still think of him frequently and miss him.

Onions, part 2

Stella wasn't even in the room to observe Max playing with the onions yesterday, but she was drawn to them as well!My best guess is that I moved the onion bowl to the other side of the counter, so it's something new they have to explore.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Natural Birdsmanship: An important article

About a year ago, I had read this article, which reaffirmed some of my thinking on the lives we give our parrots, and which made me consider changes we might make. I resolved to read it every few months as a refresher, and then promptly put it away and forgot about it until I stumbled upon it last night. I really think it is the most important article I have ever read about keeping captive parrots, and highly recommend it.

Last night, as I was rereading, I kept interrupting Thomas to read him a line, and I thought how I wanted to write about this on the blog. I apologize in advance for the long entry!

The article discusses different roles parrots take in their flocks in the wild. This part made me think of Max, and how she'll often go off and explore the kitchen instead of staying with us in the living room:
"It is necessary for some members to venture outside the safety of the flock territory and look for new resources...A few pet birds that have been allowed to develop the social maturity and self confidence necessary to assume this role will begin to show this tendency...[the bird] will actually move away from the owner to find new areas to explore."
Our goal has always been to try to raise her to be self-confident and self-reliant. To accept responsibility for her own happiness instead of relying on Thomas and me to provide it.

Moving on to Rocky, the article next discusses reproductively active birds:
"In the case of most species, the male does most of this nest building while the female guards the nest territory. When the nest is ready, they switch roles and the female stays in the nest while the male assumes the guardian and food-acquisition role"
In our case, Rocky (the male) chips up wood and destroys newspapers, building a nest for he and Thomas (the female) to share. After chipping wood, he'll frequently try to feed Thomas's feet.

I could quote almost the whole article, but I'm trying to stick to only the most pertinent parts:
"Another manifestation of the phenomenon of human/bird mate bonding is the territorial aggression that is sometimes seen in the human/bird flock...In the flock, there are intraflock boundaries that are set into place based on the dominance hierarchy...The bird does not usually "hate" the injured human, as is commonly thought, but rather is just doing its job. In fact, the human usually is a needed part of the bird's flock who simply does nit understand these rules."
This! In our minds, Thomas and I are the bonded pair, but in Rocky's mind, he's in a mate relationship with Thomas, though Thomas does try to discourage this. I've written before that Rocky and I have a very unusual relationship -- one that, though I think about a lot, I haven't quite figured out.

Rocky will often act as though he doesn't want me around, but then he'll scream when I'm in another room and only calms down when the entire flock is together again. He'll climb up on the couch and want to be near me, though if I tried to touch him, he'd bite. He'll follow me around the house, usually with his wings spread, threatening me, though not inflicting any real damage (or even trying to) -- just warning me. He has certain games that he plays with me, like fetch or copying the noises I make.

He also knows that Thomas will not tolerate any violence against me. Every time he's attacked me, Thomas has been in another room, or his back was turned. Last week, Thomas and I were reading the paper at the kitchen table and Rocky was walking around the table. He walked to the end of the table, inches away from me, spread his wings, and swayed slightly. Trying to threaten and intimidate me. Thomas told me to just ignore him to see what he did. He got frustrated that his threats weren't working against me (I stayed at the table), so he started swaying more and saying "Hello!" Finally I acknowledged him, and then he went back over to Thomas. The entire time, he was well within striking range and could have bitten me, but didn't.

On the topic of excessive screaming (a problem with Rocky):
"In the human/bird flock, communication is still a necessary activity. If the bird is confident and the flock is stable, this vocalization is usually limited to a short round in the morning and again in the evening. In the case of the bird that lacks self confidence and a feeling of security, vocalization becomes more frantic as a means of calling for the safety of the human flock members."
While we do the best to instill self confidence in our parrots, I think they are still affected by their previous experiences. Rocky was 19 when we got him, and had previously been quite neglected and shut away from all other beings. He almost never screams when the entire flock is in the same room. He also becomes very frantic about saying "Bye bye" when we leave the house or when we go upstairs, so I think this is a major issue with him. I think it will just take time, and hopefully if he's able to develop flight skills, that will also help with his self confidence and feeling of security.

On flying:
"If the author's pet severe macaw flies to a location he knows is off limits and refuses to obey the "off" command, he will get gently pushed off the location, forcing him to fly to a location that he is allowed to occupy. When he shows acceptance of this situation, he is rewarded for this acceptance with attention. It obviously would not be fair or appropriate to "discipline" naturally in this way unless the bird is a master flier."
We do this with our greys, though as he said, we didn't do it with Stella until she became a competent flier. We would do this with Beeps, but he only perches on acceptable perches.

I could quote many more parts of this article, but just hope that interested parrot owners will read the article as I'm missing much here! However, I did want to quote a paragraph in his conclusion, as I feel it is an almost perfect summary, and what we try to achieve with our parrots:
"Key to the successful resolution of most behavior problems are the following: understanding the natural instincts and the basis for flock and individual behaviors; allowing and encouraging the development of a higher degree of parental independence and self confidence through flight; and developing a healthy natural flock social environment by establishing a structure of authority with mutual trust and respect."
Obviously, if you've spent any time reading my blog, we're not there yet. In fact, since owning parrots is not a destination, I don't know that we'll ever be "there." But we're heading in the right direction, and thanks for joining us on this ride!

EDIT: Oops! Beloved Parrot pointed out that I didn't even mention the author! It's written by Dr. Michael Doolan, DVM, and here is a link to the pdf of the article.


You know how parrots are not supposed to eat onions? Max didn't get the message!She was investigating them, and took some of the outer peel off. I removed her shortly after taking this picture as I didn't want her getting to the onion flesh.


One of the best toys we've been able to find for our parrots is the simple untreated 2X4 pine slat. We'll often drill a hole in them and string them up on wire; however, my parrots also like holding them and chipping them up.Yesterday afternoon, Thomas and I were watching football in the living room and all of the parrots were on their cages. We looked around and all of the larger parrots (everyone but Daphne our budgie) was holding a 2X4 slat and chipping it up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Washing the floor

I was washing the living room floor last night; something I do much more frequently than I would like since the parrots are so messy.

All of the parrots need to be securely in their cages when I clean. The greys and Calypso are way too interested in the bucket of water; I spend more time preventing them from drinking the dirty water than I do cleaning, which makes the task take much longer than it should. Beeps is triggered by cleaning and tries to attack, and Rocky also tries to attack (though not triggered by cleaning -- just the opportunity presented by me being preoccupied). Daphne could be out, but she usually just stays in her cage.

They are very funny and predictable when this happens. Both of the caiques immediately go to the bottom of their cages and follow me around (to the best of their abilities since they are in cages!) Beeps because he's threatening me, and Calypso because he's interested in what I'm doing and wants attention. Rocky makes his vomit noise and begs to come out of his cage. Occasionally he'll throw a scream in there. The greys sit on their favorite perches (swings for both of them) and order me around: "Come here! Up! Up! Wanna come out? Come on! Gimme a kiss! Up! Up!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Rocky videos

Here are a couple more videos from the dance party we had last week. It was a little different than usual since the parrots were in their cages when the dance party was taking place. You can hear some whistles and beeps in the background from the other parrots.

Rocky is making what we call his vomit sound. It's our warning that he is getting really excited and will likely scream soon if he doesn't get what he wants. Since he was getting attention from me, he didn't scream, but he would have if I'd turned my back on him.

He believes that if we're home, he should be out of his cage. That's how it usually is, but not always!

And in this video, he is singing and dancing. He doesn't even really try to stay in key with the song, and he mumbles, so we can't understand the words he's saying.


This is something I've been trying to get a video of for years, and I was so happy that I was finally able to do so!

I have known several macaws who have done this, but not any other species of parrot. That does not mean other types of parrots don't do it -- only that I haven't seen them!

This is a way that Rocky begs when he's in his cage. It is just so adorable!

I had come home after work and knew Thomas was on his way home. We were heading straight out to the rescue so he could groom the macaws with overgrown beaks, so I didn't let any of the parrots out, as they'd only have to go right back inside their cages. Rocky was a bit displeased with this and tried to use his cuteness to get him out! (It worked; he got out for a few minutes).

New running partner

We still can't add a dog to our house, but I am getting my dog fix thanks to a friend's foster dog. He's a 10 year old chihuahua mix and he loves to run! My friend is not a runner, so I'm planning on running with him a few times a week. Our first time out, he was a little too interested in sniffing things, and he needed to run/walk back (interval training!) but I'll turn him into a runner, unless he gets adopted too quickly (which, for his sake, I hope is the case!)

Speaking of running, I was heading back home after my run this morning when I noticed another runner across the street. I waved and thought, "who is that nut wearing shorts in this weather?" and then realized it was Thomas, also out for a run! (I don't wear my glasses when I run so everyone is rather blurry). I turned around and joined him, adding a few miles on. What a wonderful start to the morning!


I was in my living room late last week when I noticed movement on one of the trees in my front yard. It was a woodpecker -- how fun! I was able to get a picture through my front window, and took a video of her hopping around the tree:

From my research, it seems like she is either a downy woodpecker or hairy woodpecker. I'm leaning toward downy, but I'm going to keep an eye out for her to see if I can use any of the identification tips in that link.

Half macaw

Thomas and I went up to the rescue where we volunteer last Friday, as I mentioned we would. Thomas is an amazing parrot groomer. He fixes overgrown beaks better than the avian vets in the area. Two macaws had been surrendered with beaks so overgrown we wondered how they could eat, so he went up to fix them. Hopefully, once they're on a better diet and have toys to destroy, they'll be able to keep their beaks trimmed without human help.

While we were up there, he also spent some time playing with the macaws. As I've mentioned before, he is half macaw. I don't think I've met a macaw that hasn't liked him. Macaws tend to be more hands-on than most parrots, which Thomas loves.

He was meeting this blue and gold macaw for the first time. She was a police confiscation, so we don't know much about her background, but she is very aggressive. Of course, she was putty in Thomas's hands.
I just love it when macaws fold their hands together like this when they're on their backs. Thomas has tried to get Rocky to do this, but he's not interested.Isn't she just gorgeous?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Virtual Adoptions at Best Friends

Best Friends is one of my favorite non profit organizations. My good friend J introduced them to me several years ago by loaning me her copy of the book that describes how they began. I was hooked! I love pretty much everything about this organization. J and I are in the very beginning planning stages of taking a trip out there to volunteer.

The reason I bring this up is in case you're looking for a holiday present for an animal lover that doesn't need anything. I give gift memberships to some of my friends, which includes an annual subscription to their magazine filled only with good news. And all for only $25!

Since my parrots already have everything they could ever need, every year each one virtually adopts one of their counterparts at Best Friends. I thought it would be fun for me to introduce this year's virtual adoptees:

Max chose to adopt Quetzal, a timneh grey that's over 50 years old and is in Best Friends's sanctuary program:Stella chose Charlie, a congo grey who reminds Stella a lot of herself, both physically (plucking) and personality-wise:Daphne was a little sad that there weren't any budgies she could sponsor, so she chose Manu, a cockatiel:Rocky chose to sponsor Everett, a severe macaw who loves to destroy things. Rocky thinks they'd be great friends:Calypso sponsored Spree, a black headed caique. He thinks she's very beautiful; as an added bonus, she's described as being more docile than most caiques, just like Calypso!
Beeps understood why Calypso sponsored Spree; since there weren't any other black headed caiques, he chose Sprite, a caique of the white bellied variety! He thought their personalities were very similar, and at least he didn't end up sponsoring a severe macaw like last year when only one caique was available!When we make out trip out to visit the sanctuary, I'll be sure to post pictures here. We're hoping to head out there next spring. Maybe I'll even be able to meet some of their adoptees in person!