Friday, January 30, 2009

Another nut story

Since we switched the storage location of our almonds in the shell to a place where the parrots can get to them, they've been eating more of them; hence the increase in nut stories!

Earlier this week, Rocky had climbed onto the table and helped himself to a nut. Seeing this, Max flew over to the table, started dancing antsily, repeatedly exclaiming, "want some!" Whether she was telling this to Rocky, the humans who were on the other side of the room, or just herself is unknown.

Thomas gave her an almond, but after she tried unsuccessfully for a few seconds to crack the nut, she dropped it and started leaning towards the nuts saying, "want some!" some more. I really think she could crack through an almond if she'd try (Beeps can and he's smaller!) but we always acquiesce. Thomas tried to pre-crack the almond, but couldn't do it. He was sitting at the table by this point and didn't want to get back up to find a nut cracker.

So he used a living nut cracker:Rocky was just hanging out on the table, so Thomas gave him the nut, told him to crack it, and then took it away from Rocky once he'd done the hard work. Rocky was not exactly pleased with this turn of events, but ended up consoling himself by getting another nut.

Max went on to happily crack open the almond and eat it, once it had been started.Hope everyone has a great weekend! Thomas and I are volunteering at the parrot shelter, so I may have some stories to share from there next week.

Long Lizard Rant

As I've mentioned before, my lizards really stress me out. On paper, this shouldn't be the case at all. They don't want attention. Once you get the set-up arranged properly, it should be a piece of cake. Just feed them, clean their tanks, and check temperatures occasionally to make sure things are still working as they should.

The parrots are the ones that should be stressing me out, but they usually don't. I'm certainly not saying I'm perfect or an expert, but I've done enough reading and have enough experience to know that I'm providing them a pretty good captive life. I can tell by their behavior that they are happy. That's not the case with the lizards.

I think Andreas is relatively happy, for a lizard; he comes out every day, eats and poops well, etc. Elsa is another story. She's still brumating, so I only see her a couple of times a month. She rarely eats, rarely poops, and is quite sluggish. She acted similarly last winter, so I feel fairly confident that things will turn around as summer arrives. Their temps are the same; how does she even know it's winter?

At their vet checks, their blood work came out well, and the vet reassured me that they were very healthy.

Last week Wednesday, I returned home from work to see that Andreas's light had burned out. I am quite frustrated with the company from which I buy their lights. They are very high quality, when they work. They are supposed to last a year, but I've been averaging 3-4 months. I sent one in for a replacement on the warranty, but then decided it was too much work for too little return, with the restocking fee, shipping costs, etc., so I would just bite the bullet (these bulbs are $40 each).

What frustrates me most is that Andreas's tank was quite cold when I got home, as was the bulb. Who knows how long he was without this heat source (although he does have others, this one is required to get the temps up to where they need to be)? Since Elsa was in her hide, I put him in her tank to warm up while I changed the bulb and waited for his tank to warm up.

That was my last replacement bulb (I try to keep some in stock since they go out so frequently) and tried to buy more, but they are backordered! This is the same company who has other bulbs for me on backorder since October -- over three months! Looks like it's time to make other plans...

Friday night, less than 48 hours after the bulb had been replaced, I was sitting on the couch when the light went out. Are you kidding me? I called the company this week, got a refund for the bulbs that are still on backorder, and told her the situation with their bulbs and why I was switching brands. The representative convinced me to send in the defective bulb for a replacement and to give them another shot. They'd been having quality control issues, but recently switched manufacturers.

After the light went out, I had to wait until the bulb cooled down so I could remove it and replace it with an older, lower-quality bulb (the bulb we used originally with him, before we found this other company) that I keep on hand for emergencies. Once again, I temporarily placed him in Elsa's tank, although this time she was out of her hide, basking. She went over and bit him on his tail! I decided being in a cold tank was preferable to being attacked, so he was moved again. She did not appear to do any damage to him.

Last night, he had a choice of dandelion greens or endive; he chose dandelions (of course!):
I tried to get a picture while the leaf was larger, but he's a quick eater! It kind of looks like he has a green cigar coming out of his mouth. I just love his little pink mouth, too!

Here, he was taking a short break from eating. You can see the marks on the leaf where he bit down:We are planning on turning a spare bedroom into a room for the lizards, with space heaters to get the temperatures up, and many different basking and hiding places. This larger space would allow for more temperature variations, so they would have more choice, and we can build all sorts of fun structures for them out of foam "rocks." Right now, they're in tanks that are the minimum size, so the temperature variations are not as great, and they each only have one hiding place.

But Elsa's aggression towards Andreas is making me rethink our plans. I had spoken to my vet previously, and he thought that as long as the enclosure was large enough and there were enough hides, we could house them together. They are solitary lizards, but since we have one male and one female, as opposed to two males, he thought we'd be OK. (Of course, we would pull any eggs that might appear.) They'd lived together at the pet store, in an enclosure smaller than each of them have now, with no problems.

If we have to build two separate enclosures, each one will, necessarily, be smaller than if they could enjoy the larger space together. We have a few months to figure everything out, but the plans are changing daily!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Velcro greys

First, I want to thank everyone once again for your thoughtful responses to my ethical dilemma. I will mention the options to my friend and see what she will do. The neuter will definitely take place, so hopefully that will take care of it; if not, she'll have to explore these other options. I was half expecting to be raked over the coals for even suggesting euthanasia, so thanks for sparing me that!

Both of my greys have been very velcro-ish lately. Actually, that sentence might be a bit misleading as they're perfectly happy playing in the same room as me, but as soon as one of them is on me, they don't want to get off!

After dealing with this several times yesterday, I decided to film Max's attempts to stay on me. I just find this so funny. Half of the time, they'll look at me, as though they don't understand that I want them to go on the perch. Sorry, ladies! I know you know what I want!

Sometimes I'll give in and give them a little extra attention before having them step up on a perch. Usually this extra scratch is enough and they'll go where I place them. I know, I'm teaching them that they just have to be difficult and then they get an extra scratch, but I'm OK with that.

Other times, I'll toss the grey towards a stand, like I did in this video. Yet another benefit of a flighted bird!

I didn't get a video of this, or even get to witness it, but Thomas told me that while I was in the shower, Stella kept flying over to his shoulder and then bonking him on his head with her beak. It makes me laugh just thinking about this!

I told him it was because he was in a bad mood this morning (and holy cow! did he ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!) and she was trying to knock some sense into him. It may have worked since he was laughing when he told me about it. Once again, this obviously is not behavior we want to encourage. She's not a woodpecker, so I worry she could be doing damage to her brain knocking her head into Thomas's like that! But if it hurt, she wouldn't do it, right? In any case, it was good for a laugh!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pretty baby

I was getting a bit depressed by my last entry, so thought a few happy videos were in order!

I took these about a month ago but didn't think they were that interesting at the time. Rewatching them, though, I decided to post. If nothing else, they show I'm trying to capture my life with these guys (even though they don't always cooperate when the camera comes out)!

Beeps came to us doing this strange whistle, and after the whistle he always said "pretty baby!" He would sometimes say "pretty baby!" without the whistle, but the whistle was never done alone.

Prior to taking this video, he was dancing, whistling, and saying "pretty baby" as Thomas was showering. Of course that stopped when I got the camera, but I did manage to get him to say "pretty baby" a couple of times by doing the whistle myself.

In this second video, I was planning on making a coffeecake. As I was assembling the necessary objects (the magazine on the counter, Penzey's One, is where the recipe resides), Max got so excited, probably because of the nuts. She said, "want some!" probably about 10-20 times.

Of course, as soon as I got the camera, she clammed up. The reason I'm posting this video is that I find her body language so funny. She alternates between trying to get me to pick her up and trying to get me to give her head pets. Normally when she's like this, if I try to give her head pets, she takes my fingers in her beak and moves them down so she can step up.

The "hello" in the background is Stella. She was in her cage as I needed to protect her from perching on the stove and catching fire. She still thinks it's a perch! She picked up the "hello" from Max, and it's one of the things they both say which makes it impossible for me to tell who is speaking if they're in the same room.

Ethical dilemma

A friend of mine who runs a small rescue out of her home recently contacted me asking my thoughts on a bird that was surrendered to her. He's a cockatoo, a sulfur-crested (I forget if he's a medium or greater). The picture accompanying this entry is of two umbrella cockatoos from the rescue where I volunteer. It has nothing to do with my story since it's a different rescue, but I wanted to put a picture up!I have been giving this issue a lot of thought, and haven't come to an acceptable solution -- I'm not sure there is one. I'm hoping to flesh out my thoughts here and would love to hear if anyone reading this has anything additional to add. I'm going to call the bird "Frosty." That's not his name, but I want to provide my friend anonymity due to the subject matter. Also, due to space constraints (I'm really trying not to write a book!) I'm leaving out details of things that were tried to improve the situation. Believe me, they tried everything I can think of.

Frosty was in his early teens when he was surrendered to her two years ago. He had suffered terrible abuse and neglect in his early life. He's extremely human-aggressive AND bird-aggressive. Despite great precautions, he severely bit at least three volunteers. He also escaped from his cage one night and bit the beak off of one bird at the rescue and the toes of a couple of others (all of whom were in their cages, clinging to the side, trying to fight off this interloper).

My friend found a foster home for Frosty with a woman who had a lot of experience with difficult cockatoos. She was completely upfront with this woman about Frosty and his challenges. The hope was that the combination of positive interactions with this experienced cockatoo owner and living in a flock of cockatoos would help turn Frosty around. It didn't work.

After Frosty initiated several unprovoked attacks on other members of the flock (luckily, none of them suffered permanent damage), the decision was made that Frosty needed to be caged when other birds were around and could only be let out when the others were caged. It was a difficult balance, as her other cockatoos had to get used to spending more time in their cages than before.

His attacks on his human foster mom continued. She could find no discernible reason for the attacks. Unfortunately, Frosty's favorite attack target was the face, and this woman had to go to the emergency room for stitches in her face at least five times, including twice in one week. If anything, during the time he spent in foster care, he got worse.

Life intervened, and his foster mom had to move across the country. She took her permanent flock with her, but made the decision that she couldn't take Frosty. And I can't say that I blame her, as her other cockatoos were starting to show signs of stress with Frosty in the home.

Frosty is now back at my friend's rescue, and she doesn't know what to do. Possibly he would be OK in an only-bird home where the owner was constantly vigilant; however, finding a home where someone would have the experience to deal with this kind of behavior problem and they don't already own birds? Nearly impossible.

After long discussions with her vet, the decision was made to neuter Frosty. I believe this surgery is scheduled for sometime in February. Although it's a risky procedure and we don't know whether this will solve the problem, it gives her hope. Me? I'm a bit more pessimistic about things. He wasn't aggressive only during hormonal periods -- this is a daily thing. Although I'm certainly no expert, it seems to be as though he's mentally insane. I've read reports where people have become mentally unhinged after suffering severe abuse; I would think that a similar thing could happen to a parrot.

My friend firmly believes in the no-kill philosophy, and that's part of the reason she's struggling so much with Frosty. Can he possibly be happy? Would it be kinder to put him out of his misery? What options are there for him? Since he is aggressive to humans and parrots, it would seem as though his life would be relegated to living alone in a cage. Is it fair to do that to a majestic wild animal, who has already suffered so much, for possibly another 60 years or more? A dog who had sent a person to the emergency room five times would already have been euthanized. Should parrots be held to a similar standard?

I'm leaning towards euthanasia in this case. All over my blog, I've talked about the amazing resiliency of parrots and how they can overcome horrible pasts to find happiness again. I still believe that to be the case. However, I believe that there are some extreme cases where it is kinder to the bird to end his suffering. He doesn't appear to be physically suffering, but his mental anguish, in order for his behavior to be so aggressive, must be extreme.

I'm not sure my friend is willing to go that route. She's really hoping that the neutering will do the trick; if it doesn't, she's desperate to find another solution. I'll keep you updated on what happens.

Finally, in my experience (which does not include living with any of them), cockatoos seem to be the parrots who are the least resilient; the least able to cope with life in captivity. If you are considering adding one to your home, please visit this site. (Note that loud cockatoo noises start a few seconds after going to this site, so beware if you're at work or need to be quiet). The second page, in which there is no noise, can be found here. If you'd like to interact with people living with cockatoos, here is the forum. It's not a fluff board -- they tell it like it is.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Leaping Beeps

If I knew how to edit videos, I would edit out the last few seconds of this; I was trying to capture Beeps leaping from one stand to the other. I kept thinking he was going to do it again, as he did in the beginning, but he fooled me! I think this is quite adorable -- he lines up and is so precise about his jumping!

I could tell that the greys were begging for attention, so I focused in on them at the end.

Last night, I grabbed a stopwatch and tried to see the maximum amount of time in between beeps from Beeps. A few times he made it to 4 seconds of silence, but usually it was more like 2 or 3 seconds in between beeping. I would think he'd get tired of making constant noise, but that has so far turned out not to be the case. I am very happy he's quiet at night! Also, as I've mentioned before, his beeping starts to fade into the background and I only notice it when I'm paying attention or when I watch him on videos.

Stella's ideas of acceptable perches

Thomas had to work late last night, so I was home for a few hours with the parrots. As I was cooking, I heard wings flapping and someone landing on the garbage can. I assumed it was Max. I said, "Max, why are you in the garbage?" on my way to remove her, only to discover it was my other grey. Stella had never gone there before. Living with a curious, flighted bird can be a challenge, but it still makes me happy whenever she does something like this, as it brings into focus the sharp change in her personality since she's been with us. She just reinforces in my mind the amazing resiliency of parrots in the way they can recover from sub-optimal conditions and be happy again!After removing her from the garbage to her stand, she once again took off, this time landing on the sink.Max has also started hanging out on the sink, thanks to Stella. In some ways, they act like a little flock. They still don't physically interact, and they don't call for each other when they're separated, but they tend to like to be in the same room. Stella has picked up the majority of Max's vocalizations, to the point where I can't tell who's speaking if I'm in another room.

This morning, they were both talking about kissing, so there was a chorus of "Gimme a kiss!" followed by kiss sounds.

Monday, January 26, 2009

African grey study

This study on African grey parrots was recently posted on a forum I frequent. It's very long (139 pages) but quite interesting. I skimmed through it on the computer and will revisit parts of it as I have more time.

Parrots misbehaving

But what else should I expect from them? I've recently been writing about Max and her behavior on the fridge. She loves hanging out on the top and has claimed it as another perch. As you can see, we've had to keep the first few inches clear of any magnets as one of her favorite things to do used to be throwing everything in her reach to the ground. In this old post, you can see her being quite disrespectful to Salvador Dali!

I'm not sure how she managed to reach these sub coupons, but she was quite proud of herself and ripped up the corner before throwing the entire sheet on the ground.A few hours later, Thomas and Rocky had gotten into a little disagreement. Rocky didn't like the shirt Thomas was wearing, so after a futile attempt of attacking him (Thomas said, "I'm not letting a macaw dictate my wardrobe!"), Rocky took to following him around the house, keeping a few feet of distance between him and Thomas. I know, I know, it's very strange.

Thomas was in the bathroom, using the facilities. Normally, Rocky would be right in there with him, but he didn't want to be so close, because of the shirt. I was upstairs, when I heard Thomas call to me, "Can you stop Rocky from eating the buttons off of my jacket?"

I rushed to the scene of the supposed button defacing, only to be met by the scene at left.

As we were leaving shortly, Thomas had placed his jacket on a doorknob instead of hanging it up. Rocky wasn't eating the buttons; he was using them to get a foothold so he could climb up the jacket.

He puffed up his feathers and opened his wings in order to threaten me by showing me how big and scary he is.

I removed Rocky, so that he couldn't poop on the jacket, and everyone was happy again.

Sleep, Interrupted

Thomas had to spend Friday night at the hospital; the last time he has to work 30 hours straight until June! As usual, upon his return, he was quite tired and he attempted to catch a quick nap on the couch. The parrots (more specifically, Beeps and Rocky) would not leave him alone. It's hard to sleep when you have parrots crawling over you and noisily fake biting you (Rocky) or pacing all over you while beeping (Beeps).

Here's Beeps:
And Rocky:It's hard to tell from this picture (I had only one shot and had to be quick since Beeps was coming over to attack -- he doesn't like cameras!) but Thomas had placed Rocky on his back and told him to go to sleep. Of course this was all in good fun; Rocky got bored of being on his back after a few seconds.

Shortly thereafter, Thomas gave up on his idea of napping.

Max and Rocky

Max occasionally gets pulled into Rocky's fabric games. This weekend was one of those occasions. Thomas had placed his housecoat (do men have housecoats?) on the table, and Rocky had to go over to give it the business. Shortly thereafter, Max joined him.

What I found interesting was how Max is aware of Rocky's movements at all times, even when she seems to be focusing on the sleeve, and how Rocky attempts to get the housecoat all to himself!

Friday, January 23, 2009

In which the punk car is sad

My boss calls Thomas's car "the punk car" because he thinks it's punky. It had an incident yesterday.

Thomas and I were at the hardware store, buying untreated pine 2X4s so he could cut and drill them and I could assemble them into toys for the parrots at the rescue where we volunteer. As we were in the aisle, I said, "Let's buy the 6 or 7 foot ones because I know those will fit in the car." Thomas said, "The 8 foot ones will fit and they're the same price as the 7 footers, so that's what I'm buying."

It's true that the 8 foot ones will fit, but only if they're positioned properly. There is not a big margin for error. And this time, he erred.

I'm off to the glass repair shop now to get a new windshield installed in the punk car. I brought a book. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

UPDATE: I had a fantastic experience at the glass repair shop. Of course, I would have preferred to not have had to go, but it was great! Everyone was incredibly friendly and, since they didn't have another customer waiting but the windshield had to set a bit longer before I could drive away, they washed the outside of the car and vacuumed the inside. What service! We went to Safelite/Auto Glass Specialists, which is a national chain. I highly recommend them and will definitely be using them again for any glass needs!

Hiding in plain sight

Thomas had a team dinner to go to on Wednesday night. Nobody in our house, including Thomas, was happy about this. He spends 80 hours a week working and they want to spend more time together? Since it was expected, he went, leaving me at home with the parrots.

After Rocky realized that Thomas had left, he climbed on the plant stand and moped. It took me a few minutes to find him. He did manage to get over his sadness and climbed up on the couch to be with me. I was greeted by him saying "Hello!" or "Hello Rocky!" at least 30 times.

Nut party!

The day after the dance party, Thomas and Rocky were alone in the kitchen. I was upstairs changing clothes, and the rest of the parrots were in the living room.

Thomas said to Rocky, "Want a nut?" As he was giving Rocky his almond, the three good flyers (Max, Stella, and Beeps) all flew into the kitchen at the same time, as a flock, each begging for a nut in their own way. Max said, "Want some!" Beeps beeped. Stella extended her neck towards Thomas as far as she could.

Thomas said, "I guess we're having a nut party today!"
Beeps eats his cedar nuts so quickly, it's almost impossible for me to get a picture of one in his foot. But, I loved the way his head tilted in this picture:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My thoughts on severe macaws

It's been a long time since the last time I posted my thoughts on the species of parrots that share our home. That's because the only remaining bird left from my initial plans is Rocky (we've since added Stella but I'm not ready to write much about her at this point -- we're still watching her come out of her shell!) and I'm not quite sure how to succinctly write this post. I guess we'll see what happens. Also, don't bet on this being succinct!

I know this is ridiculously long, but if anyone is considering adding a severe macaw to their house, please read and think about it. As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments. I don't have any agenda and will be as honest as possible.

As anyone who has perused my blog knows, Rocky and I have a very unusual relationship. From the outset, let me say that I love this little guy so much and, despite what I may write about him here, he is not leaving our household, so don't worry about that!

Before taking Rocky in, I had done some internet research on mini macaws. Everything I read (mostly on breeder sites, where they want to show their wares in the best possible light in order to stay in business) said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Want the personality of a macaw but with less mess/noise/destruction/etc? Try a mini macaw!" They were described as very intelligent and playful, great talkers, and great family birds. He is very intelligent and playful, he talks some, but is most definitely not a great family bird. If all breeders and pet stores were honest about the realities of living with a severe macaw, none would ever sell.

Needless to say, Thomas and I were not prepared for him and the way our lives would have to change.

We brought him home to foster for the rescue where we volunteer as he needed frequent medication for his enlarged preen gland. We wanted to ensure that he would be properly medicated and monitored, and that would be easier to do in our house than at the shelter, where things are much more chaotic.

Doing additional searching for severe macaw personalities led me to this article, which was my first inkling that things might not turn out to be as rosy as anticipated. I am quoting from the relevant paragraph on severe macaws:
"In my opinion, I have never, nor will I ever, suggest anyone buy one for a family or pet quality bird. Though they may well be manageable for some people, the majority of pet owners will have problems with severes and will 'dump' them at the first opportunity - because the birds are not what they expected. These guys are hard headed, opinionated, and for the most part a one person only bird. I do not remember ever hearing of one that was a good quality pet for more than ONE person in the household."
And that's coming from a macaw breeder. Since breeders need to encourage parrot ownership in order to stay in business, when one offers contrary advice, it's generally a good idea to listen, or at least think about what they have said.

To make a long story short, Thomas and I decided to adopt Rocky. Among the reasons? Apparently we are masochists. Just kidding! First and foremost, he was so difficult and had such a horrible past. I'm certainly not condoning it, but I can see why someone not as committed to parrots as us locked him in a back bedroom for at least 6 years. And I could totally see his next owners, whoever they might be, doing the same thing. He is a very frustrating being, and we'd fallen too much in love with him to take the risk of him falling into a bad home. Secondly, he fell in love with Thomas and was incredibly happy with us; possibly the first time he'd been truly happy in more than a decade. Thirdly, he might require expensive medical treatment (which has so far not turned out to be the case) and we'd be willing and able to cover those costs.

I am a very determined person, and both Thomas and I had gained enough experience working with difficult parrots at the parrot rescue that I knew we'd defy the odds. After all, I'd heard greys were one-person birds and Max loved both of us equally. Rocky would be tame and handleable by both of us! Oh, how naive I was!

I joined a severe macaw board and asked if anyone had a mature (preferably over age 10) severe macaw that was tame to more than one person in the house. No one responded affirmatively. I had the lady who runs the rescue where I volunteer ask her many bird contacts if anyone had ever heard of this happening, but no one had. Same thing with my vet. Maybe there's one out there somewhere, but I've been unable to find one.

When brave people (like our bird sitter) come to our house and want to hold him, Rocky is a delight to them. He doesn't see them as a threat to the bond between him and Thomas. Some visitors have even accused me of exaggerating Rocky's behavior towards me since he appears to be so charming. I know one severe macaw that used to do nursing home visits to cheer up the residents and could be handled by the elderly (I would NEVER risk this with Rocky).

What's most upsetting is that Rocky has taken an active role in trying to drive me away. This is in contrast to Calypso (caique), for example. Calypso doesn't like Thomas. He shows this by running away to the side of his cage furthest from Thomas and avoiding eye contact with him at all costs. Rocky will come over and try to attack me, even when I'm minding my own business. I have to be on constant alert for him, and I strive to keep a stick (onto which he steps up) within grabbing distance, always. I can't sit on the couch with my feet on the floor, or I risk a bite. If he gets 2 flight feathers, he leaps off of stands and I have to watch out for aerial attacks until he's clipped again, at which point I only have to be on alert for ground attacks. Sometimes (several times per month) he'll even climb the stairs to the 2nd floor, eschewing Thomas's attention, in an attempt to find and attack me.

Even with Thomas, Rocky occasionally gets overstimulated and will bite. Thomas has to be very attuned to his body language and, in doing so, has mostly avoided getting bit. He is a very beaky bird and can cause discomfort to humans even when he's fake biting and playing. I didn't quite believe Thomas on this, but Rocky will occasionally fake bite my leg when I'm under a blanket and while he doesn't break skin, it still smarts.

We are lucky in that Rocky is not bird aggressive. He'll sometimes go on Beeps's cage to eat his food or on Daphne's cage so that she'll make a fuss and he'll get attention when he's removed, but he's never made an aggressive move towards any of our parrots, even when Max buzzes him. That is not always the case. A lady who boards her birds at the rescue where we volunteer has a severe macaw and an umbrella cockatoo. She is the only human in the home. Perhaps because she's developed a mate relationship with her cockatoo, her severe macaw has made it his mission to destroy the cockatoo. She is unable to have them out of their cages at the same time, for fear of what the severe macaw will do. It is way too easy for a toe or beak to be removed in such a situation. She is very stressed out by this situation and has talked about surrendering her macaw.

Rocky is very needy. If Thomas is home, Rocky wants to be within several feet of him. I'm not sure how much of this is due to his past (he was 19 when we got him) and how much is due to his species. Based on conversations I've had with other severe macaw owners, I'd give more importance to the latter. And he's not content sitting quietly on Thomas's lap. He's fake biting him, or climbing in his clothes, or chipping wood while climbing in his clothes. All while making noise pretty much the entire time. Not words or anything "cute," but noise. Moaning, babbling, clicking, laughing; constantly.

They are very loud. In the summer, with the windows open, I have clearly heard him from more than two blocks away. We've used techniques to greatly reduce his screaming, but it hasn't been eliminated. It's no longer his first choice for expressing frustration, which is huge progress, and sometimes we can't find any reason for it. We think he must just like the sound of his own scream.

They are very expensive; the purchase price is just the beginning. Severe macaws love chipping wood. We make many of our own toys and still spend around $500 just on him every year for toys and toy supplies. Every single severe macaw surrendered to the rescue where we volunteer has come in a cage with either 1) no toys or 2) no toys and no perches, because the person got sick of spending money on such an ungrateful bird.

Here is a picture of a severe macaw (not Rocky) with an overgrown beak due to lack of chewing opportunities. He'd gone so long without perches (because he chewed them up, lacking toys to chew), he didn't even know how to perch -- he spent his days hanging upside down from the top of his cage. For years.We taught him how to perch, and how to play with toys, and he's keeping his beak trim by chewing. You can also see the poor condition of his feathers, which we improved with a good diet. He chose me up at the rescue, but we couldn't take him home due to resource limitations. His behavior towards Thomas and me pretty much mirrored, in reverse, Rocky's behavior towards us.

They are very messy. We have wood chips all over our house. I am constantly sweeping up after him. I can no longer walk barefoot in my house because it is painful to step on the chips. We leave baskets of wood slices around our house so that when he gets the urge to chew, something acceptable is close. Before we did this, he would take chunks out of our fishtank, the molding, our kitchen table, even the wallpaper.

We've tried so many things to get him to like me. As an example, for a significant period of time, all things positive came from me, and all things less pleasant from Thomas. It didn't matter -- even after more than a month of this, he'd rather bite my hand than take his favorite treat from it (and he's extremely food motivated, having gone through food deprivation in a previous home). We currently use ABA, clicker training, and a melange of positive training techniques.

Our experience certainly falls under the description given by the article I linked to, as you can see. Like the author of that article, I could never advise someone to buy a young severe macaw. If the demand dries up for them, perhaps not so many will be produced. As for the older ones out there, in rescue, if someone goes in with their eyes open and truly makes a commitment, a wonderful relationship can be had; especially if the severe macaw chooses you and all members of the household thoroughly understand what they are getting into.

Rocky and I are making progress. When Thomas isn't home, Rocky will climb up on the couch and sit near me. He will step up on my covered arm without biting if I tell him I'm taking him to Thomas. Sometimes he will walk past me and not even threaten to attack. Who knows where our relationship will be 10 or 20 years down the road?

We have games we play together; for example: fetch, mimicking clicking sounds, and dancing. He's not living in fear because I'm around; he's just trying to usurp my place in my marriage. I'm fine with that. I know Thomas won't leave me for a macaw.

Rocky is a very happy bird. We have a solution that works for us, but that would not work in most homes. Homes where the non-chosen person wants to be able to move freely about their house without fear of attack. Homes where people want to be able to clearly hear the TV. Homes with kids. Yes, we could keep him caged more often (although he'd scream more) but we don't want to do that. He didn't ask to live in captivity, and I feel it's the job of Thomas and me to make his life as pleasant as possible.

As I said in the beginning, I love the little guy. He makes me laugh out loud daily. His intelligence astounds me. But, based on my experiences, severe macaws are among the species that suffer most in captivity because most people are unable/unwilling to make the required changes in their household for these challenging fellows. Add in unrealistic expectations brought on by a sweet baby bird (who is going to grow up!) and untruthful sales techniques by breeders and pet stores, it's no wonder so many severe macaws are doomed to an unhappy life.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Parrot dance party

The parrots and humans in the house were having a dance party last night when I decided to take some pictures. Here are a few of my favorites. Also, even though Thomas has Rocky on his shoulder, it's generally not a good idea since a face bite could easily happen. Thomas took the risk for the dance party.

Can you see all 4 of the dancing parrots?I had to post this one because Beeps is just about to take off and jump to the neighboring playstand. I hope to capture this on video someday as it is very adorable. He beeps as he jumps! When he's in this pose, he reminds me of Olympic skiiers ready to exit the chute.
As I've mentioned before, Beeps can be weird when it comes to dancing. He loves to dance, but can get a bit excited when humans are dancing. During his hormonal periods, we can't dance around him or he will attack. When he's not hormonal (like now), he usually won't attack, but will sometimes posture and we are always on the lookout for an attack!

In this picture, he is posturing -- his body is erect, wings slightly out, and eyes flashing red. Thomas was ready to jump out of the way, if it came to that (it didn't).And a short video. In the beginning, Beeps is dancing, but then he notices the camera and starts threatening me a bit. Around 8 seconds in, you can hear him say "pretty baby."

After the dance party, the parrots were a bit hungry. The greys like to eat almonds in the shell (we need to slightly crack Max's shell for her) and the caiques like cedar nuts -- they're so small that Beeps had already finished his when I took this picture. He was hoping for a second one, which he got when I put the camera down.This morning, the greys were on the stand, but in their normal position with Max directly above Stella. When Max was eating her almond, she discarded the shell pieces, where they fell on Stella's head! Stella wasn't happy about this, so she flew, with the almond, to the sink to finish her treat with dignity.

Monday, January 19, 2009

When the greys aren't around...

...the caiques decide to each claim a stand as their own, as opposed to having to share. (Calypso is in the background and Beeps in the foreground).Where were the greys? Stella was probably perching on the dish drying rack and Max was probably on the fridge.

Yesterday, I made some crackers (of course, the recipe came from my favorite cookbook). They turned out quite well, although I can't wait to try some of the variations, with different grains. In this picture, the dough is ready to be transferred to cookie sheets:Then, we had cheese and crackers, using the cheese Thomas made earlier. After brining, the cheese was much more delicious. We are trying to track down some vegetarian rennet so we can make different varieties of cheese.Thomas was post-call yesterday, meaning he had worked Saturday morning through Sunday noon, with no sleep. Of course, he was tired. Rocky was being very demanding, and Thomas was getting a little irritated by all of the attention.Thomas was attempting to watch football, when Rocky climbed up on the arm of the couch where Thomas had rested his head. I hear, "Come on! Now it smells like peanuts and you're blocking my view!" Rocky got moved to the other end of the couch where he played with the blankets covering Thomas's feet. Since Rocky rarely eats peanuts, and hadn't had any that day, I think Thomas's nose was a bit off.

The parrots were a bit sad that the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. They were hoping for an all-avian Superbowl! They were, however, happy that the Arizona Cardinals beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game since Cardinals are prey animals as well and Eagles would probably eat parrots!

Days of greys

I had some cream that was about to expire, so I browsed my favorite cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman for ideas of what to make. The answer? Scones! I love eating scones and had never tried making them before. They were so delicious! Thomas and I, with a little help from the parrots, finished off the batch in about 12 hours, prompting me to finish off the cream by making a second one.Max, helping Thomas finish his scone:Stella is being quite stubborn in her insistence that the dish drying rack and the stove are appropriate perching places for parrots. She particularly likes to remove anything she can (usually a measuring cup or utensil) from the drying rack and watch as she throws it to the ground. Don't let this innocent face fool you!Max, stubbornly, thinks that the top of the fridge is a proper perch for parrots. She has removed the top layer of magnets and claimed this space as her own:Last night, Thomas called me into the living room to catch the replay of an amazing football play he wanted to share. I was only gone for a few seconds, and returned to an irritating scene. Seriously? They couldn't stay perched on their stand for a few seconds? Of course not! They noticed their opportunity and ran.

Max had gobbled up several bites of cheese, and Stella was attempting to help herself to dried beans. That one still has me baffled.
Parrots really shouldn't have dairy, but Max is a cheese fiend. This is a constant, ongoing battle in our house.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Week in review

How many parrots do you see? I love it when the four of them are playing nicely on their stands. Generally, the caiques stay on one and the greys on the other.
I was cutting up raw potato the other day when Max would not stop saying "want some!" accompanied by flying over and trying to steal a piece. I kept telling her she didn't really want some, and decided to offer a piece to her to show her I was right. Apparently I was wrong and she did want some raw potato. I didn't think this was the best thing for a parrot to eat, and was just about to take it away from her, when she dropped it after two bites.By the way, her eye is completely back to normal now.

Of course I think that all of my parrots are wonderful and adorable, but there are times when one of them goes above and beyond, to such a point where it is almost painful for me to leave them. That has been happening the past few days with...Calypso.I don't know what's gotten into him (hormones?) but he has kicked his personality up a notch. He runs over to me and jumps on my hand, making these adorable noises he knows I love. When I'm doing something that requires me to be near his cage, he hops on whatever part of my body happens to be closest. Admittedly, these are behaviors I'd find clingy and annoying were they coming from Max, but it's different with Calypso. I just can't get enough! I just wish he'd allow me to capture some of this on video so I could share his antics. As soon as he sees the camera, he freaks out, so I don't push him.

I hope everyone has a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A new job for Snowball?

In the trick training that Max and I do, where I pretend that she has to get a job, one of the positions she considers is ballerina. According to this article, it seems like a famous cockatoo is going that route :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Parrot pugilist

Yesterday morning, when I left for work, Max looked normal. In the afternoon, upon my return home, her right eye was puffy and red.

I tried to get her to tell me what she does during the day: street fighting? Boxing? Wrestling? Most likely, she attacked one of her toys that attacked her back.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get a good picture of this, but you can kind of see it in this video -- the redness above her right eye.

This morning, she's already shown improvement and I suspect she'll be back to normal when I get home from work tonight.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Miscellaneous weekend scenes

Oranges are in season now, much to the delight of our avian companions who are citrus fiends:It is quite interesting to see Max interact with Thomas and me concerning food. I will only give her food when she is on her stand, so when she sees me with something she wants, she says, "want some!" and then flies to her stand. Thomas is more of a soft touch, so when he's got something she wants, she flies down to the table and helps herself. This does not apply to food on the counter -- that is fair game to her.

Andreas was ridiculously energetic this weekend. He usually stays in his cage as we have the proper heat in there for him, and it's a bit chilly in our house for him. However, he was doing laps around his tank, so we released him in the house to burn off excess energy.

We are in the planning stages of building him a much larger enclosure where it will be easier for him to burn off his excess energy while maintaining proper heat requirements! He made his way to the back of the aquarium, where it is quite dusty. We were calling him the "ghost lizard." Of course, after taking this picture, I cleaned him off.************************
Thomas left his yogurt unattended for a few minutes. This is what he found upon his return:************************
Thomas had a rough day on Friday, so he took off his shirt and asked if I'd give him a quick backrub. Rocky was in his lap and had his own ideas about whether it was acceptable for me to be touching his mate (the massage was suspended until Rocky was no longer in striking distance of my fingers):


Also on Saturday, we were all in the kitchen. Thomas was cooking, and since Rocky was wandering around, I was sitting on the kitchen table with my feet on a chair (if I sat on the chair like a human, I'd risk an attack on my feet).

First Stella flew over, content to perch on my lap. As might be expected, jealousy ensued and Max decided that she wanted to be over by me also:I wish I had gotten this next move on video. Rocky likes to hang out on and near the plants, so I didn't think much when he climbed up and perched on the flower pot in which we keep a palm -- he'd done that at least 10 times earlier in the day. However, this time he took things one step further, climbing up the tree to perch on the counter island we have in our kitchen. I don't think he's ever been on that before!

Once there, he decided to help himself to some of the apples from our CSA that are awaiting to be turned into cobbler:I told him that was fine, but to please constrain himself to one apple. I may have put ideas in his head, because he almost immediately started eating the top of a second apple:As soon as she saw me taking pictures of someone else, Max had to join in the fun. She doesn't even like apples! In this picture, she is just pretending to eat the apple.

Caique attack!

Saturday afternoon, I was standing on a chair, cleaning and organizing our spice cabinet. Thomas was making cheese, and the parrots were having a dance party in the kitchen.

Suddenly, with no provocation, Beeps launched an attack on me. I ducked, which resulted in him turning and flying back to his stand, both of us unharmed.

Thomas and I were discussing what could have possibly set him off this time, when he suggested it might be what I was wearing.

Caique (orange legs, green top):
Bizarro caique (green legs, orange top):

Making cheese

Over the weekend, we decided to make our own cheese, using a recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman.

I didn't take any pictures early on in the process, but here is our cheese ball, draining. We didn't have any string, so we used poly rope we'd purchased from The Parrot Asylum to make bird toys.
Here, Thomas is removing the cheese from the cloth:
The decision was made to brine half of the cheese. This needed parrot supervision:
When Thomas had his back turned, putting the brining cheese in the fridge, of course Max had to help herself to some cheese:I have to admit, the cheese was not as tasty as I would have liked. Thomas said he did a plainer cheese this time in order to perfect the method and that we will make tastier cheeses in the future. I sure hope so as this was rather bland! Perhaps the briny cheese will be tastier.

Parrot prison

Saturday morning, I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom, accompanied by the greys. Thomas walked over to the threshold of the open bathroom door to talk to me, followed by his shadow, Rocky. I warned Thomas to keep Rocky out of the bathroom. Thomas assured me he had everything under control and was explaining his method of using his legs and feet to block Rocky into staying in the hallway, when Rocky darted through his legs and ran towards me, wings outstretched and beak open, ready to attack. Blood-spilling was averted, as I always have an escape route where Rocky is concerned: I jumped up on the toilet.

Thomas said, "That's it! You're going to parrot prison!" as he emptied a nearby laundry basket of our workout clothes and trapped Rocky within its confines.

The jailbird:As you can see by this video, he did not object to his temporary confinement. In fact, he loves to play in and around this laundry basket and has chewed off many of the squares, leaving me with gaping holes through which socks have been known to escape.

I was in the kitchen, returning the camera to its spot, when I heard Max land on the laundry basket and Thomas said, "Maxwell!" She was striking at him, and he responded in kind.
After a few seconds of this, everyone calmed back down:
My teeth finally cleaned, everyone left the bathroom.