Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Claw

All of my larger parrots withdraw a foot into their bodies and perch one-footed. They tend to do this most often at night, when they are a little sleepy. I believe they sleep one-footed as well, but, believe it or not, I have never caught them sleeping. If we're around they instantly pop to attention.

Usually they ball their foot up and bury it in their feathers, appearing to be one-legged. I searched for a picture of this, but don't have any. That pose must not be exciting enough for me to capture! I'll try in the future, but when they see the camera, they usually start strutting around.

This morning, Max was perching one-legged, in the position we call "The Claw." She is the only one of our parrots to do this. We're not sure why, but it makes us laugh. Thomas and I make jokes about the claw coming to get us and occasionally make claw motions at each other.
This next picture turned out a little blurry. I think she was unfurling her foot and making the begging motion to get me to pick her up, but it looks a little threatening when I captured it in this stage:Max says, "I'm going to get you!"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Stella and Max

In my last entry, I wrote how Max has been chasing Beeps around. Max and Stella also chase each other around. Shortly after I took this picture, Stella displaced Max on the back of the chair. I like to look at it as they are getting exercise.

If they are alone in a room they don't do this, and they also don't do it if I'm watching them. They only chase each other around when I'm in the room with them but not paying attention to them, so this could be a way of them trying to get my attention.
Later on Saturday, Stella flew, unbidden, to Thomas's hand and started attacking it. It was so very strange since she'd been around these hot pad mitts before without having such a reaction!After I took this picture, he placed her on the stand and she apparently forgot about the mitt.

Rivalry renewal

Max had been getting along better with Beeps, but that changed this weekend. By "getting along better," I mean that she'd been ignoring him -- I don't want to give the false impression of a friendship!

Saturday, she kept chasing him around and cornering him places, like here, on the plant stand:
Finally, Thomas took Beeps under his protection, which didn't stop Max from trying:
Beeps did not appear to mind being stuck by the plants, however. After they left the kitchen, I found this:I've been nursing this plant back to health after the last time Beeps decimated it, so was not pleased to see he'd resumed his attack!

Stella's phone obsession

Lately, Stella has become obsessed with our telephone. She flies to the kitchen table, wrestles the handset off of the cradle, and then attacks the phone. I don't have a better picture than this since I need to save the phone once she starts attacking so can't take time to photograph the drama.

Yesterday, after I got the phone away from her, I noticed that she had dialed something: 66666. Rather spooky!

We sometimes call Beeps "Devilcakes" due to his demeanor (and the fact that he calls himself "Babycakes,") but maybe we need to rethink which bird deserves that moniker!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Nesty redux

After unsuccessfully trying to nest under his cage the past two springs, Rocky has moved his attention to the bathroom and the hallway leading to the bathroom.

I must say I'm a little sad about this as I thought it was absolutely adorable when he spent hours under his cage, and Thomas enjoyed the respite from his constant attention. He's not allowed to camp out in the bathroom for hours since he tries to open the cabinets (and is sometimes successful) and we hope to sell the house in a few years; hopefully without having to redo all of the woodwork in the house that's at macaw level. He really can't get into any trouble under his cage but has only gone there once or twice that I've seen so far this year.

Right before I got there, he had maneuvered the bathmat so that he was completely covered. I guess I didn't miss that interesting of a picture. Imagine a red lump with a little eye sticking out.
By the time I came back with my camera, he was out and warning me to stay away:
Interestingly enough, even though we suppose that Rocky is building a nest for he and Thomas to share, he is quite aggressive around Thomas when he's near the bathroom.

The fact that he is stick-trained has saved us both a lot of bloody bites!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Three Amigos

Lately we've fallen into a routine where Thomas showers with Rocky and Beeps and I shower with the other three larger birds (Daphne has trouble breathing in the humid environment so she stays in the living room). Here's my crew this morning. It was not a peaceful shower. Calypso loves to push the shampoo bottles around, so he had Stella squished in the middle of two bottles before I realized what was going on and made the spots equal again.

Stella also likes to knock the bottles off, onto my head, if possible. I caught the bottle a few times and replaced it, providing her with a fun game. If she knocks the bottle to the other side so I can't reach it, then she runs over and starts irritating either Max or Calypso, whoever is open.

Surprisingly, Max was perfectly behaved.

These are the three that are also the most obsessed with kissing. The greys are always saying "Gimme a kiss" or "Gimme kisses!" and all three respond to those requests with kisses by making the kiss sound.

Yesterday as Thomas and I were leaving for work and the birds were in their cages, Stella said "Gimme a kiss!" and then proceeded to make the kiss sound repeatedly. I didn't start counting until after it had gone on for a while, and I counted 27 kiss sounds! Thomas commented that it kind of loses its effectiveness after a time.

Despite the title of this post, I wouldn't say that any of these guys are friends. They've learned how to coexist, although Stella tries to harass Calypso and the greys harass each other; hence the shampoo barriers.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring reminder

As nicer weather is upon us, I feel compelled to once again repeat the tale of the worst day (so far) of my life in hopes that it will save some other bird from a similar fate. Every year, I hear tales of people whose birds were lost because they took their bird "who never flies" outside.

In July 2005, I returned home from a 10 mile run to see my across-the-street neighbor wave me down. He wanted to chat; we'd just moved into the neighborhood the month before. He started asking me about my parrots -- with the windows open he could hear them in his house and was curious.

Even though Thomas and I had a rule that the parrots were never allowed outside unless in a secure carrier or harness, I wanted to make a good impression on my neighbor. Max was clipped and never tried to fly in the house -- she always perched nicely on my hand. I knew there was no wind (I'd been outside for well over an hour) -- what's the worst thing that would happen? If she took off, she'd fly into a neighbor's yard and I'd pick her up.

The people-pleasing aspect of my personality got me into trouble that day, and almost cost Max her life. Out of nowhere, a tiny gust of wind came, something spooked Max, and she took off over the rooftops of the houses across the street.

To make a long story short, we did find her, after she spent 34 hours outside. I lost her at 8 am on Thursday and we found her at 6 pm on Friday.

Here is a picture taken last weekend of the field in which she was found -- quite a way from my house. She landed just beyond a pond and just before a very busy road. The field is currently cut back, but she was in chest-high weeds.I cannot describe the horrible feelings I had when she was missing. It was entirely my fault. She could have been killed by a wild animal, mowed over, or just starved to death -- she doesn't have survival skills!

Here is a link to one of the best articles I've read about recovering a parrot that's lost outside.

Interestingly enough, after going through this ordeal, we later decided to allow Max to fly. Remember, when Max was lost, her flight feathers were clipped. Because of what we went through, we are fanatical about making sure that none of our parrots gets outside, unrestrained, again.

We have a double door policy in our house. We usually enter through our attached garage, but make sure that the garage door is completely shut before opening the door to the kitchen. On the rare occasion that we open the front door, we double check all of the parrots' cage doors. This means that usually people who ring our bell have left before we get there to see what they want!

We also take steps that we hope will provide us with a better chance of finding them should they somehow get outside. We work on contact calls. When Max was first missing, I was calling her name until I realized that she never responded when I called her name -- she responded to my whistle in the house, so I changed my tactic. Ultimately, we found her because she responded to Calypso's call. We'd walked by the place she was probably more than a hundred times searching for her and she didn't respond to us; we might have found her sooner had we worked on contact calls before she was lost.

Additionally, we work on recall with a special focus on flying down, as if they were in a tree. I'll place the flighted bird on a high place, like the top of the fridge or a door, and then squat down and call the bird to me.

I'm hoping I'll never have to test how well they know these skills, but it makes me feel more confident of being able to find them should something happen.

I'm very embarrassed that such a thing happened to one of my birds. It's my job to keep them safe and I failed. Luckily, Max survived and was no worse for wear. Instead of pretending this never happened, I tell people about it because many people believe that a clipped parrot can't fly, and that's not true. With the wind, Max was able to gain height and go much further than we thought possible.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I hate my macaw

"I hate my macaw." Those are the words someone typed into google that led them to my blog. Another search that made me sad.

Parrots are flock animals that have a finely developed sense of what their flock members think and feel. In the wild, they depend on that for their survival.

If someone seriously hates their parrot, please do something about the situation. In my opinion, the best case would be for the individual to realize that the parrot is a wild animal and to work to find a solution that will enable the parrot to keep its home, with an attitude change by the owner. If that's not possible, then to find the parrot a new home where he can experience the love he deserves.

The search reminded me of an online discussion I participated in last week with a person who was terrified of her cockatoo and living in constant fear. That is not a good environment for the bird!

The bird can sense fear in his flock; even though he doesn't know why, his instincts kick in and he becomes fearful also. This can easily spiral down into the bird becoming phobic, which is where this case appeared to be heading.

In my opinion, if the owner can't get over her fear, it's better to find the bird a less stressful home before he gets too damaged from his present environment. Many suggestions were made to help her get over her fear, and I hope she's able to do so in order for her bird to live a happier life.

Typical Sunday breakfast

Foraging for food, as though we starve her.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Snow hike

We just got back from a short hike outside. The trails were still a bit snowy in places and the ground was damp, but we were eager to get outside again! During our run earlier in the day, we'd seen a blue jay and a beautiful finch, so we had high expectations for what we'd see on our hike.
We saw barely any wildlife; just a few robins, but we heard frogs and birds -- spring is upon us!

At the end, we were relaxing by a pond when we saw a strange orange glow coming from under the ice still on the pond:
Upon closer inspection, we realized that this orange glow was comprised of hundreds of goldfish!
We hiked here last year and never saw them; also, they were all relatively small. I'm so curious as to how they got here. Did one person dump a lot of them? Or did it start with a relatively small number and they bred themselves into this giant school?
In any case, even though they were beautiful to see, it made me a bit sad to see this invasive species in the pond.


We picked up a package yesterday, and I set it on the table while I changed out of my work clothes. Thomas was in the kitchen preparing a snack. Before I went upstairs, Max came over to investigate. I removed her and told her not to eat our clothes!When I came back downstairs, I saw this:
Thomas was snickering and wouldn't give me a straight answer; I think he was trying (unsuccessfully) to get Max in trouble! None of the clothes or the packaging had any bite marks on them, so I suspect human aid in emptying the box.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Unsupervised parrots

I think Rocky's name should be changed to Peter Rabbit. How else could he have stolen this apple right out from under Thomas's nose?

Yesterday, I was cooking and Thomas was standing at the island, reading a magazine. Stella was wandering around, so I told him if he wasn't going to help with dinner, at least he could be a human perch. He agreed.

Then, Rocky came over and started threatening my feet. Although I can protect myself (I just raise my foot in a "stop" position and he stays away,) it can be hard to maintain that while moving around making dinner. I picked Rocky up (on a stick) and told him to read the magazine with his buddy.

Thomas, more engrossed in his magazine than his parrots, let out an exasperated, "Oh, Rocky!" when he saw this:
The apple in front had a huge bite out of it; good thing he didn't go for the onion! Prior to his discovery, he was eating as fast as he could, as though he was worried he'd get caught and have to stop! After Thomas's exclamation, when I came over to take a picture, he attempted to leave the scene of the crime.

But, once the skin had been pierced, it was too late, so I had a pre-dinner snack after allowing the parrots to eat as much as they liked:
That picture is a little dark, but if you look closely, you can see his eyes pinning in happiness.

I reminded Thomas that Stella loves apples, and particularly loves eating them when someone will hold the food for her, and he obliged:He kept alternating between the two of them:Don't worry; Max and Daphne don't like apples, and the caiques got a piece when I was cutting it up for me. Nobody was excluded!

I hope everyone has a great weekend!


Before I get to today's post, I wanted to address a couple of questions here instead of burying them in the comments where they may never be seen again.

Anonymous asked me:

excellent post. ... could you tell me what it means when an african grey looks like he is yawning....just standing with his mouth open?

Let me first apologize for the non-answer that follows. It's hard to say without knowing your bird and the other circumstances surrounding the behavior! My greys both do a big yawn motion where they keep their beak open for a second or so afterwards, but it's not for a long time. I read an article once (can't find it again or I'd link to it) saying that's a type of stretching for them. On the other hand, Rocky will often make that same beak motion, but he's threatening me and warning me he's prepared to bite! I just thought of one other time when I see this: when the parrots spy an item of food that they really love, they'll sometimes open their beaks in anticipation of the food.

Try to figure out when the grey is doing this -- when he's agitated? Sleepy? Favorite food around? No discernible pattern? He may be trying to communicate something to you, or he just may like the way it feels. If it's something that recently started and is bothering you, you might want to take him in for a vet check just to make sure everything's OK.

I am editing this post to paste in here the comment that Tony made since I think it's really important and I know sometimes people don't check the comments:

Jasmine used to yawn lots when she was reacting to something, such as laundry fumes or cleaning products in the corridor outside our apartment. These were big yawns, lasting 10-20 seconds, not like the sleepy yawns she would sometimes do at the end of a long day.

I would suggest to Anonymous that they pay close attention to the environment, in case their bird is showing a reaction to something in it. Maybe it yawns in some rooms more than others, or on certain days of the week? Maybe it depends who is near (different fabric softeners/skin creams/lotions?). Does it happen more on weekdays with heavy traffic outside? Does it depend on the weather (and therefore the ventilation in the home?) Is there any new furniture or electronics near the bird that could be outgassing and causing it a problem?

It may well appear that the bird really is sleepy, but if there's no obvious reason for it to be tired, it's worth looking further.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong and that it's nothing to do with allergies, but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't say something.

Tony -- thank you so much for speaking up! That is not something I would have thought of, obviously, but could be very important. I'm so sorry you had to go through this with Jasmine, but hopefully your experience will help someone else.

Beloved Parrot asked me:

Does it take long to upload your videos? Do you have to condense them first or something?

It doesn't take me long at all. I upload them all into Picasa and then export the video I want. (This may be an extra step. I am not computer savvy, so when I figure something out, I usually am happy and don't try to find the easiest way). Then, I click the little film icon in blogger (it says "Add Video" if you pause your cursor over it) and find the video. It usually takes around 20 seconds maximum for the video to upload; I try to keep them under 30 seconds, though.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bundle of joy?

Yesterday, I was home from work for about an hour before Thomas came home. This tends to stress out the parrots a bit. I think they fear he's not coming home at all that night, so they are much more needy and demanding of me. For example, Rocky kept following me around the house, the way he usually does Thomas, and didn't threaten me at all.

Then, when he comes home, the parrots (especially Beeps and Rocky) are so happy they can barely contain themselves. Last night was no exception. After work, Thomas headed directly upstairs to change. Beeps flew to him, but with Beeps -- especially now -- we're never sure if he's flying at you because he wants to be near you or if it's an attack, so Thomas ducked and Beeps landed on the stairs where he had a fun time:

In the meantime, Rocky had also tracked him down in the bedroom. The parrots were both flashing aggressive signs when Thomas tried to pick them up. Usually it's just Rocky, and Thomas will offer him a shirt or something else upon which to step up (assuming he doesn't have a stick with him). This time, though, he had two parrots who were too unpredictable to be allowed near bare skin. I would have taken two trips, but Thomas was a bit more inventive:
At the time I took this picture, I hadn't realized that Max was perched on a chair in the background.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parrot Irish Dancing

Hope everyone had a nice St. Patrick's Day! Some members of my household are permanently festive:
When we were in Dublin last month, we bought a CD off of a street musician whose music we enjoyed listening to (and the musician had the most adorable dog with him!) To get into the spirit yesterday, we played the CD. I was taking a video of Max dancing when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the greenest parrot we have dancing:

Max stopped dancing and started putting her foot out to be picked up as soon as she saw the camera. In this video, when there's a bit of jarring, that's because Max had just landed on my head. You can hear her do her happy click shortly after that.

Monday, March 16, 2009


We had another wonderful weekend! Thomas was a bit irritated when Rocky wouldn't let him read the paper in peace, however. Thomas had to keep moving him so he could read the article, and then would turn the page, covering Rocky, who emerged to once again walk on the article he was trying to read.Saturday morning, Max was circling my orange juice glass saying, "want some!" I tipped the glass for her and she drank some juice. She apparently didn't get enough, as she then decided to help herself.
She tried helping herself to coffee cake this morning, but couldn't figure out how to access the food:
Beeps is still (still!) hormonal, although not as bad as he was a few months ago. We've been on major alert for signs he's about to freak out and have therefore not been bitten, although there have been some close calls. Last night, he was perched on Thomas's arm. With no provocation that we could discern, he started moving his head in a menacing way, his eyes started flashing, and Thomas had him fly back to his cage before any bloodshed could occur. Back on his cage, he marched the length of his cage door saying, "Babycakes! Babycakes!" Which sounds so innocent...

Lizard pictures

The lizards are doing pretty well. Actually, Andreas is doing quite well! It's been almost two years since we've had him and I'm finally feel confident that he's relatively happy. As you can see, he still has some old skin to shed from when the pet store had him on colored playsand, but I'd expect that to come off this year.

Uromastyx are not social animals, but he seems to enjoy watching us and will come over to my hand when I put it in the tank for maintenance.
I'm a bit more worried about Elsa, but I think she'll be fine, too. She's going through brumation (still!) which always worries me a bit. I'm looking forward to the summer when she comes out of her hide every day again. I pulled her out to get a weight and took her picture:
She also still has some old skin to shed and her coloring isn't as bright as Andreas's. But, they both got clean bills of health from the vet last year -- they'll go in again once it's a bit warmer.

As I've said before, they are far less work than the parrots (especially once their tanks are set up properly) but cause me much more worry since it's harder to tell if I'm meeting their needs!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Rocky and the blanket

Last night, Thomas and I were making dinner in the kitchen. At first, the greys and Beeps had flown in and Rocky had walked in, but after a few minutes, Rocky disappeared into the living room. After a few minutes, I went in there to check on him and this is what I found:

He'd climbed up on the couch and gotten himself tangled up in a blanket. This video is a little long (51 seconds), but I was trying to get him to show his face. One great thing about Rocky is that when you call his name, he emerges from wherever he is to look at you (unlike Max who freezes when you're trying to find her).

Unfortunately, this time he'd really dug himself in to the blanket and couldn't quickly get out, although you can see he's trying.

In this second video, I lift up the blanket at the end so you can see that it is, in fact, him under there.

This habit of his comes in handy when we need something to keep him occupied for a few minutes. We just put him on the couch and throw a blanket on him. He loves it!

As with most things involving Rocky, I wouldn't recommend people do this with their parrots at home. Every other parrot in our house would hate this (and we wouldn't allow our females to do this anyway as it's a bit too close to nesting).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

12 hours of parrot fun

I don't have pictures, but quite a few funny things happened during a 12 hour span at our house. Thomas had to attend a training session last night for work, which meant I was alone with the parrots in the evening. I'm not sure if the greys see Thomas as the protector of the caiques and Rocky or what, but both greys buzzed the other parrots several times until they had to go in their cages.

Rocky, of course, was sad that Thomas wasn't there. We all stayed up a bit later than usual since I was putting some finishing touches on toys for birds up at the rescue and wanted to get that done. At one point, I looked over at Rocky and he had put himself to bed, even stretching out to close the door on himself.

Thomas got home around 9:30, about 2 hours after the parrots went to sleep. We sat down to a late dinner, and Thomas decided to get Rocky out since he hadn't spent much time with him that day. When he went over to his cage, Rocky was hanging on the side, begging to come out, but his behavior after he was out was different! He was so sleepy. He climbed down off of Thomas's lap and hung out in the middle of the kitchen floor (which Thomas reminded him was not a good place for a sleepy prey animal), then he climbed up on the plant stand and almost fell asleep. Thomas promised not to wake him up again.

This morning, I was in the living room feeding the animals. Thomas was getting ready for the morning, the greys were in the kitchen, and the rest of the birds were in the living room with me. I hear a big THUD and come into the kitchen to ask Stella what she'd thrown to the ground (one of her favorite things to do). I hear Thomas laughing and saying, "I just got you in trouble, Stella!" as it was he who had thrown a shampoo bottle towards the recycling bin. This is not the first time he's done something that I originally had blamed on a parrot.

After he got ready, he came into the living room and asked what still needed to be done in order to get the animals ready for the day. I was still wrapping the greys' pellets and had fed everyone else, so I told him that just the waters remained. When he got Rocky's water out, he left the door open. I pointed that out to him, and Thomas replied, "I know. I like to boost his self-esteem by allowing him to sneak out the side of his cage because he thinks he's outsmarting me. I'm really setting him up for this, though." When we discussed this later, Thomas told me when he thinks Rocky really needs a morale boost, he unlatches the food dish door (with no dish in it) but does not open it since Rocky will still come out, but it's harder and therefore more of an accomplishment.

Finally, we were getting ready to leave; all of the parrots were in their cages except for Max. I was hiding her pellets in her cage when Thomas brought her by; I told him it would just be a few seconds. He says to Max, "Are you memorizing where she's putting your pellets so you don't have to look so hard for them?" I told him that defeated the purpose of foraging and suggested he turn around so that she didn't get a sneak peak at the hiding places :)

Lentil loaf

A few days ago, Mallow wrote:

Cooked lentils are always a favorite around here. Is your meatloaf recipe from the 'everything vegetarian' cookbook?
It took me a few days to respond since I got sidetracked and ended up not making my lentil loaf until last night and I wanted to post a picture. Of course it's from my favorite cookbook, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, but I mix things up a bit. He actually has the bean burger recipe here on his website.

In the book, he says how you can turn any veggie burger recipe into a veggie loaf recipe simply by doubling the recipe and putting it in a greased 6 cup loaf pan. Cover the loaf pan with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then remove the aluminum foil and bake for another 30 minutes.

What I normally do is make the bean burger recipe as linked to above and also make the nut burger recipe from the book and thoroughly mix the two together to make a hybrid nut/bean (in this case, lentil) loaf.

I love it! After the loaf is done, I cut it into five pieces and put them into plastic freezable containers. I freeze them all and take one out and put it in the fridge every night before bed so that I can take it with me to lunch the next day. I don't heat it up, and it doesn't even need any topping.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Faces of aggression and other stories

Rocky was being adorable last night, dancing and rapping, so I went over to try to take a video. He immediately stopped and started posturing to threaten me, so I took a few pictures. I told him he was a day late since these wouldn't get added to the body language post!************************
One of the things I don't like about it being light out later at night is that Max will sometimes fly into the kitchen after dinner, hanging out by herself. I know I posted about this last year, but couldn't quickly find a post to link to. I'll bring her back in the living room, and she'll fly back to the kitchen. She just hangs out on her stand, occasionally singing or dancing.

Last night, Stella joined her, and the greys hung out in the kitchen while the rest of the family was in the living room. Strange.

Today was another time when I had a hard time leaving the house in the morning because Calypso was being so adorable. He just wanted to sit on my hand and make kissing sounds. Every time I put him down, he'd go right back into his begging posture to be picked up, and of course I obliged. It's hard to believe he's been with us almost five years!

I just got back from having lunch with Thomas, and he was trying to talk me into adding another bird to our house! (A blue-crowned conure that's up at the rescue where we volunteer.) I could not believe my ears. We have no room! And truly no more time to give without shortchanging the parrots already in our house. Generally I'm the one that wants to add more and he has to be the sensible one; apparently not this time!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Parrot body language

I recently went through old pictures I had saved on the computer, which provided the impetus for this post. I've mentioned before how important communication is in parrot-human relationships. Parrots are complex creatures, with wants and needs, and when we can understand what they are trying to tell us, and allow them to have an influence on their lives, everyone is much happier!

A few days ago, I was trying to have a conversation with Thomas. He was distracted and not paying attention. I had to repeat myself at least three times, which really frustrated me. Imagine how parrots feel when they keep trying to communicate with us, but we don't understand them! No wonder they end up biting or screaming in an attempt to get their point across!

While some parrot communication is verbal ("want some" and "come here" are frequently heard in our house), the vast majority is not. Parrots are prey animals and, as such, are very conscious of body language and what it means. They spend their lives watching us and picking up on signals we probably don't even realize we're giving off. When I'm reading in the living room, I'll often lift my eyes from the book and notice that all six parrots are watching me.

Every parrot is an individual, so while there are some common behaviors/postures, it's important for you to watch your bird to pick up on the subtleties. I have a friend with a grey. The grey will put his head down and beg for head pets. If his eyes are closed, that's what he wants. But if his eyes are open, he's laying a trap in order to bite my friend. Similarly, with Rocky, if I offer him food, I have to watch his beak carefully. If he opens his beak to take the food and he sticks his tongue out, he really wants the food and will take it nicely from my hand; if he doesn't stick his tongue out, I'll get bit, so I place the food somewhere else, out of his reach, and he has to come over to get it.

I've mentioned it before, but clicker training is a great way to pick up on your bird's communication patterns. It's also helpful to keep a journal so you can notice patterns.

In my experience and opinion, some species are easier to read than others, as are some individual birds. For me, macaws, amazons, and caiques are open books. They are so expressive and wear their emotions externally. Greys took me a little longer to understand -- they tend to be more subtle than the flamboyant South American species -- but I feel confident that I can generally understand new greys that I meet and that I can specifically understand the two greys that live in my house. On the other hand, cockatoos baffle me. My most severe bites have all come from cockatoos at the rescue, to the point where I try to avoid handling them as much as possible (don't worry; there are plenty of other volunteers who handle the cockatoos!)

Here are some pictures taken of my flock over the years that demonstrate some body language:

When Max starts scratching her own head, especially when she turns her head upside down, that means she wants me to come over and scratch her head:
She doesn't do this as often now that she can fly, but when she puts her foot up, that means she wants someone to pick her up:
This is one of my favorite Stella pictures. When a prey animal exposes their neck and isn't looking around, they're extremely vulnerable. She wouldn't do this unless she was comfortable!
Calypso was eating when I disturbed him to take this picture. He wasn't happy. His feathers are slightly puffed out and his eyes are a little red. I'd risk a bite if I tried to pick him up when he looked like this.
Max is telling Stella to stay away. I'll also hold my foot up to Rocky to communicate to him, in a way he understands, to not come by me. Stella ignored the body language and approached further; Max flew away. However, if she weren't able to fly, the fight-or-flight response most likely would have resulted in her attacking Stella and one or both of them might have been injured.
Rocky is calm and happy. His eyes are not pinning, he's not blushing, his feathers are neither puffed out nor extremely slicked back. It's rare for me to get a photo of him like this since he usually likes to threaten me, but he's on Thomas's lap and happy.
In this picture, he's almost exactly the opposite. If Thomas tried to pick him up, he'd probably get bit. His wings are out, showing me how big and scary he is; his beak is open, ready for an attack; and his feathers are puffed out. Beware!When a parrot leans towards something, that generally means they want some. Similarly, when they lean away, sometimes accompanied by turning their head and not looking at something/someone, they don't want to go there.
Here is Stella, a day or two after she came to live with us. She is standing tall, in an uncomfortable position, with a wary look on her face. She is scared as she doesn't yet know what to expect in our house.Just a few days later, also in the shower, you can see she has a more relaxed demeanor. Parrots love routine, and she's starting to understand the routine in our house.
Here's Beeps in attack mode. His eyes are flashing red, his feathers are lifted, and he's marching around. Anyone who attempts to handle him like this will definitely get bit, and he might launch an attack even if someone is not trying to handle him.
I took this video last week, with a post like this in mind. We had spinach as part of our dinner. The greys and caiques love cooked spinach; Rocky does not like it. In this video, I offer him some and he pushes the spoon away. Very clear communication. But I keep at it -- imagine how frustrated I am making him!

These are just some examples of parrot body language, including some ideas of what to look for.

I really hate getting bit (is there anyone who doesn't?) However, living with six parrots means there's a chance of being on the receiving end of a bite, especially since we handle all of the birds frequently. By learning to read their body language, therefore opening up lines of communication, we've greatly reduced the bites, and I think our parrots are happier for it. I know we are!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dinner chaos

Or, why we usually eat in the living room.

Friday night, we were in a hurry to eat dinner, so we decided to eat at the kitchen table. What a mistake! Parrots love routine, and we normally eat in the living room. This means that they each have their own cage and they usually eat their dinner at the same time we eat ours.

In the kitchen, all bets were off. The greys and Beeps kept flying over in an effort to help themselves, Calypso and Daphne were calling to us from the living room, and, as you can see, Rocky made himself at home.
Thomas was fine when Rocky was hanging out on his lap, but he didn't stay there for long. Pretty soon he was climbing up his shoulder, down his leg, etc. Apparently it's rather distracting to eat while a macaw is climbing on you!

Friday, March 6, 2009

$5 Rick Steves Iran Travel DVD

I have a free e-mail subscription to news from Rick Steves. I am a huge fan; we've used his guidebooks on several of our trips, and I own his series of travel shows which I frequently watch while working out.

Here is his Prague guidebook, sticking out of Thomas's jacket:And me looking at his Spain guidebook to plan our next move while relaxing outside of the Palacio Real in Madrid:I just received an exciting e-mail today, informing me of a special offer Rick's making concerning the recent travel show he made on Iran.

Quoting from the e-mail:

If you belong to ANY kind of group and want to show our Iran DVD to your gang, you can have a copy for $5 with free shipping. You don't need to be a 'leader' and 'group' can be defined very loosely!

Just go here and send in the information, along with $5, before March 31, 2009.

I'm placing my order as soon as I post this blog. My family has a book club that has been defunct for several years; I think this might be the perfect opportunity to revive it!