Thursday, October 29, 2009

My punishments

The parrots don't really like it when we go on vacation. They like routine, and they like us, and they get neither when we're gone! Luckily we have a fantastic bird sitter that they like, so it's not horrible for them, but they are always happy to see us again.

That doesn't mean they're not going to punish us for leaving!

Here is a rundown of what the 6 of them did/are doing to us, in order of appearance in our house:

Max -- She only got to stay out for about an hour after we got home, then it was bedtime. She was upset, so she bent down and bit my finger as I was putting her in her cage. For the first time ever, she drew blood on one of us! Since that evening, she has been fine. I knew it was going to happen, but was powerless to prevent it. I can finally type normally again today.

Calypso -- He always freaks out for a few days after we return, not allowing me to pick him up. I think it's because he's so excited to see me again that he can't control himself, though of course that's just a guess. Yesterday he woke up normal, so I was punished for two days.

Daphne -- Nothing. She is so laid back! She was just happy to see us.

Rocky -- He refused to go by Thomas for a day, and started stalking me big time. It was very strange because he was not trying to attack me for the first few days, he just needed to be in the same room with me. Yesterday he did launch at me and landed in my hair as I walked by him. I might have suffered a face bite had I not had a stick with me so I could easily remove him. He may end up getting a wing clip soon, which saddens me as I'd love for him to be able to fly (now is the first time he's ever been fully flight feathered). However, if he uses his power to launch aerial attacks on me, he'll have to be clipped again.

Beeps -- He, like Calypso, is very excited to have us back. He is on a hair trigger for attacks, though we're just even more cautious around him than usual and have avoided getting bit. Yesterday, he tried to attack me as I gave him a piece of apple (I call this "pulling a Rocky" -- attacking the hand that feeds you instead of taking one of your favorite treats). I was on watch, so I moved my hand away in time. He knows he's not supposed to do this, so right after, he immediately went in his cage. I like to think he knows he needs time to cool down! I locked him in and then let him out a minute later after he'd calmed down. I suspect he'll be back to normal by the weekend.

Stella -- Like Daphne, Stella did not punish us. She was so happy to see us, she regurgitated several times the first evening we were there. On subsequent days, she was completely normal.

I have not seen the lizards in the four days we've been back. It's getting colder, so they must be brumating. Their heat is fine (I am obsessed with checking their tank temperatures!) but somehow they must sense the outside weather is commanding them to brumate. I feed them every day, just in case they wake up, but so far, it's all been wasted.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Istanbul wildlife

Since I didn't take any parrot pictures last night (still doing laundry and getting back into the normal routine), here are a few more Istanbul wildlife pictures.

Breakfast at our hotel was served on the top floor. There were tons of birds to watch as we ate! This seagull had been on a neighboring roof and flew over, landed right near us, and then patrolled the ledge a bit.Although this picture was not taken when the seagulls were at their most numerous, you can see a few on the neighboring roof.
And a close-up of the crows on the minaret:
The next day, we took a cruise on the Bosphorus. We saw dolphins jumping around -- the first time I've seen them in the wild! Sadly, we didn't get any pictures.

From the ferry, we took a picture of all of the seagulls on these roofs:
I believe that's the Black Sea in the distance. So many black waterbirds!
Closer up:
Our guidebook humorously mentioned that you don't see too many people swimming in the Bosphorus due to a combination of jellyfish and garbage. The jellyfish were certainly plentiful! They were a bit more apparent in person, but you can see their ghostly outlines under the surface:
I'll post more wildlife pictures tomorrow.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cat City

I'm back blogging after a week's vacation in Istanbul, Turkey. What a wonderful trip we had! I would highly recommend this destination. I'll post more on our trip in the upcoming weeks, but I wanted to post some of my cat pictures. More will follow!

I have never seen so many stray cats in my life. When we were outside, I don't think I went more than 5 minutes without seeing one! If I'd taken pictures of every one I'd seen, that's all I would have had time to do.

This cat was lounging in the grounds of Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. When I stopped petting her, she meowed and looked forlornly after me. Not all of the cats were this welcoming to human attention!

Cats lounging in the shadow of Chora Church:Cats in Asian Turkey:
We didn't get the greatest picture, but were unsure what this cat had done to earn the medal around his neck:
Earlier in the week, we had seen a beautiful all-white cat limping towards us. She looked at us, and we were startled to see that she had one green eye and one blue eye. She was so stunning that she'd run away before I gathered my wits about me to take a picture! Back in my hotel room, I read in the guidebook that she was most likely an endangered Van Cat.

We didn't see another one, but after that, every white cat we saw, we endeavored to take its picture!In addition to cats, we saw several ringneck parakeets flying around in the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace areas. We heard them before we saw them, but did have the pleasure several times to see them soaring high above us; their brilliant green feathers shining against the blue sky. We assume these are escapees -- we'd also seen ringneck parakeets at Kew Gardens in London.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Taking a break

I'm taking short blogging break of about a week.

I thought I'd leave with a picture of Calypso, perhaps the easiest-going and least "caique-like" of all caiques (certainly of those that I've met).
I just cannot resist him. It's like he has magical powers over me. Late for work? Sure, I'll stop and cuddle you for 5 minutes! Here, let me find the biggest cashew for you! He demands so little I want to go above and beyond to make him happy.

I don't write about him much on here as he's not photogenic and doesn't really enjoy the camera. He also doesn't get into much trouble and therefore doesn't make for interesting stories, unlike the hooligans sharing his living room.

Parrot fight

Max has taken to hanging out on the stairs. We remove her as soon as is practicable since the stairs are carpeted. Last night, I was in the kitchen and Thomas was supposed to be watching the parrots. He yelled, "You might want to get in here!" and this is the scene I came across:A bit of background: earlier in the evening, Rocky had climbed up the stairs and surprised me while I was in the bedroom. Usually I have a stick with me at all times, but I did not have one as I'd assumed Rocky would stay with Thomas in the living room. Instead, I grabbed my robe and had him hang onto that as I brought him downstairs. Then, I set the robe on the stairs, intending to take it up with me the next time I made the trip.

Rocky loves towels, robes, and all terry-cloth items, so he must have taken my robe hanging on the stairs as an invitation for him to play on it.

Max did not take kindly to this intruder near her stairs, so she came over and the two of them started fighting through the rails. I just snapped one quick picture so that I could remove them from the situation, so the picture makes it look like Max is behaving demurely and Rocky is attacking her. Not the case -- they were both willing and equal participants!

After removing them to more acceptable perches, I brought the robe upstairs.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Melon progression

This series of photos was taken last week, after Thomas had scooped fresh canteloupe into bowls for dessert (for the humans).

First, the exploration:Then, partial claim by putting one foot on the bowl, making it difficult for humans to remove the melon from the parrot:
Finally, full claim to the melon! The only way for the human to take the melon bowl to eat is by bringing the parrot along!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dirty beak

Thomas was eating yogurt. Since Rocky operates under the assumption that he is invited to share in any food that anyone is eating, he ran up and thrust his beak into the bowl.

His usual way of cleaning his beak is to wipe it on whatever surface is readily available. Since that probably meant Thomas's clothes, he asked me to bring him a tissue so he could take care of the mess before it got on fabric.

Running update

I have qualified for the Boston Marathon! At my age, that means I had to run a marathon in 3:40:59 or faster. Even three years ago, this seemed like an unreachable goal. I figured I'd have to maintain my fitness and qualify in a few decades, or pay quite a bit of money to buy a charity entry.

Everything just went so perfectly on race day. The weather was gorgeous and I'd slept well the night before. I had a feeling it might be my day, and it was!

My next race is on Halloween...should be spooky!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rocky videos

The Rockster was in fine form over the weekend. He's been stealing the shoes that Thomas wears around the house and trying to drag them under his cage. They don't fit. Then, he spends a lot of time positioning them just so and trying to squeeze himself into them. It's probably some sort of displaced breeding behavior. We don't do anything to stop it since it doesn't make him any more aggressive, and since he's not female, we don't have to worry about egg binding. It's actually kind of cute, plus it keeps him busy.

I was trying to capture this on video, but he noticed, and so he started showing off by dragging his beak on the floor and wandering around. He does make a brief stop at the shoe, but doesn't really get into it. He finishes by coming over to threaten me, so I stopped taping.

I started up again when it looked like he was going back by the shoe, but then he started showing off again. Still, I thought this video was rather funny, the way he briefly stops to make the bell ring and then tries to burrow under the paper by Max's cage.

I decided I wasn't going to get anything more substantial out of him, so I put the camera off to the side. As soon as he noticed, he ran over to me, jumped twice (he knows this is one of my favorite things he does) and shouted my name. It was so surreal, I'm glad Thomas was there to witness it. Apparently he wanted me to start taping again, so I complied. I'm only sad I didn't get that on video!

Here's more of the same, but with one jump, more shoe positioning, and more loudness (moaning, laughing, screeching).

He's decided he's done playing by himself. When he rocks back and forth like that, he's begging for something. He wanted to be brought up on the couch with us. Thomas was too busy watching football and didn't have a leg on the floor for Rocky to use as a ramp. So Rocky had to take things into his own hands.

As I've stated before, one of our goals is to teach the parrots personal responsibility. If they're unhappy about something, they need to do something to improve their situation. They just can't sit there and scream and hope that we solve their problems. Rocky wanted to come up and he figured out a way to get on Thomas's lap.

I thought I was done taping, so the football game has sound again -- sorry for the loud background noise!

Rocky was making moves as though he were going to descend to the ground. I find this an adorable move on his part, so I grabbed the camera again. However, when he noticed I had the camera, he changed plans and decided to show off a bit more by fake attacking Thomas.

I have been fake attacked before, and I find it unpleasant, but Thomas must have thicker skin than me. After a few seconds of Rocky giving Thomas the business, Thomas decides to turn things around and give Rocky the business.

Of course I feel the need to put a little disclaimer as I would not recommend that most people do this kind of thing with their parrots as the goal is to gain trust and have fun with your bird. This would not be fun for most birds. Rocky is a weirdo and by living with him and learning more about each other, he and Thomas have developed these kinds of games they play.

Friday, October 9, 2009

If Beeps were human...

Thomas and I sometimes play the game about what our parrots would be like if they were human. Usually this is generalities (i.e. Calypso might be an accountant and would like to read), but in this case, we know who Beeps would be.

Charlie Manuel.

He was reading the sports section the other day, and said, if Beeps were human, he'd be the manager of the Phillies (which just happens to be my favorite baseball team!)

It was due to this quote, from Jimmy Rollins:
Usually he’s calm for the first three minutes. And then come the beep, beep, beeps. And then a joke or something, so everybody starts laughing.

That pretty much sums up our lives with our caique! (Though Beeps doesn't tell a joke, he does something funny that makes us laugh.)

We now sometimes refer to him as Charlie Manuel.

For illustration, beeping his way up the stairs:

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to teach your bird not to bite

There's been more traffic to my site lately by people wondering how to get their birds to stop biting. This is probably due to this post, but I thought it might be helpful for me to go into a little more detail, instead of just talking about one specific kind of bite, as I did in that post.

I live with two parrots that were trained by their prior circumstances to bite and attack. Rocky (severe macaw) spent the six years prior to being released to the rescue locked in a tiny cage because his owners were terrified of getting bit again. Beeps (black-headed caique) sent his previous owner to the emergency room with his bites. As punishment, she was in the process of sending him to certain death by releasing him outside in winter, before he was saved.

Despite the backgrounds of those birds, we are very rarely bit. And when we are, it's almost always our own fault.

A rare sight in our house:
One of the most important keys to having a successful parrot-human relationship, in my opinion, is to realize that parrots are wild animals. They are not little humans, and therefore don't always act in a way that seems rational to us. After all, would you bite, scream, and generally irritate the people who provided you with food, shelter, and love? I certainly wouldn't, yet parrots do that every day.

When we were in Costa Rica earlier this year, I spoke with the biologist about parrot aggression. She said that they've seen very little aggression in the wild scarlet macaws they study. With the exception of one male who'd instigated quite a few fights (and almost lost an eye on two separate occasions), everyone else lived pretty peacefully.

Believe it or not, most parrots don't want to bite. In general, their experiences with humans are what lead them to start biting.

In my experience, the biggest reason that parrots begin biting is because we humans don't listen to their body language. Eventually, frustrated by their lack of ability to effectively communicate their desires to us, they find a method that works: biting.

In this picture, Rocky is very agitated. His feathers are fluffed up, and he's extended his wings as a warning to me of how scary he is. If Thomas, the love of his life, tried to pick him up right now, Rocky would bite him.
Contrast that to calm, happy Rocky. There is pretty much no chance of getting bit when he's like this:
Here's Beeps, agitated. His feathers are fluffed up, his eye is reddening, and though you can't see it in this picture, he was snaking his head back and forth. He's warning me he's upset about something. If I ignore that and try to pick him up anyway, then I deserve the bite I'd surely receive:This macaw was happily perched on Thomas's lap -- until I got too close. She's warning me away, and if I don't heed her, there's a good chance that either Thomas or I could get bit.
If you are living with a biting parrot, I'd recommend keeping a parrot bite journal. Write down your observations about your parrot's body language. Are there signs your parrot makes before biting? They may be subtle -- look for pinning eyes, raised feathers, a fanned tail. I've mentioned before that if I offer food to Rocky, he'll take it nicely from my hand if his tongue is sticking out. If his beak is open and his tongue is not sticking out, he's trying to trick me. At the last second, he moves his beak to the side and bites my hand, ignoring the food.

One great way to learn your parrot's body language is to clicker train. Here is a link to a free yahoo group. I learned how to clicker train my parrots by joining this group and reading the excellent files. There is even a case study on how one of the group owners trained a very aggressive macaw. Buying a clicker was the best $1 I ever spent when it comes to the relationship I have with my birds.

In this picture, you can see that Max (on the right) is leaning away from Stella (on the left). Max is clearly communicating that she doesn't want Stella to be so close. My parrots will often lean away from things they don't like. If the human persists and tries to make them go near that object anyway, a bite may result.
One example of this is a few years ago, I was in a big hurry and needed to get all of the parrots in their cages. Both of the caiques were out. I grabbed Beeps and tried to put him in Calypso's cage, a case of mistaken identity. He was leaning away from the cage, but I wasn't paying attention. Finally, he reached down and gently nipped me. This was very strange, so I finally paid attention and realized that I had the wrong caique! He tried to tell me this by moving away from the cage. That was too subtle for me. If I had ignored his gentle nip, there's a good chance he could have escalated to a more painful bite -- and I could not blame him for doing so.

In the parrot bite journal, I'd recommend not only writing down the body language of the parrot, but also the circumstances surrounding what was happening before the bite took place. If you can find patterns, then you can arrange the environment so that bites take place less frequently.

I've frequently talked about the large number of items that will cause Beeps to fly over and attack us. We keep a mental list and make sure that he is safely locked in his cage before we use any of the items. For whatever reason, known only to him, the sight of human nail clippers makes Beeps attack viciously. Instead of wasting my time trying to teach him not to bite when I have nail clippers, I either go into a different room and close the door, or make sure that Beeps is locked in his cage, before I take the clippers out.

Rocky will attack Thomas when he wears a certain blue shirt. At first Thomas tried to get Rocky to accept the shirt ("I will not have a macaw dictate my wardrobe!" is a direct quote.) I finally convinced him to just donate the shirt to Goodwill.

Removing these kinds of triggers has made ours a happier home. By journaling them, you can find patterns and greatly reduce and possibly eliminate biting.

Rocky loves it when Thomas scratches his head. However, he sometimes gets a little too excited and nips Thomas. In the wild, he'd nip his partner and get a beak full of feathers. In our living room, he nips his partner and draws blood. How does Thomas handle this? By controlling Rocky's head when he scratches him:
You can see the absolute ecstasy on Rocky's face. The fact that Thomas is taking precautions for his own safety has not diminished Rocky's enjoyment.

One reason parrots might bite is if you surprise them when they're trying to do something else. If I try to separate a caique from his fruit, I might as well just have a band-aid ready! Stella is very engrossed in preening herself here. So much so that I can't even see her head. If I interrupted and grabbed her foot without giving her proper notice, she'd be justified in biting me -- as a warning that she wanted to be left alone while preening.
Another set of circumstances that can lead to biting is hormonal behavior. While some parrots are happily interrupted from their nest building/seeking/other hormonal behavior and will readily step up, that's not the case for everyone.

Could I really blame Stella for biting me if I tried to remove her from nest seeking?
Thomas uses a stick much more frequently during Rocky's hormonal periods. Normally, the act of stepping on the stick is enough to get Rocky to snap out of it and he will then happily step up from the stick onto Thomas's hand. Once again, watching body language is key.

In fact, I think that teaching a parrot to readily step up on a stick is a great idea, just in case. That way, other people may feel more comfortable handling your parrot should the need arise.

Watching and reacting to body language, in addition to being a way to avoid getting bit, is also a great way to reinforce the bond with your parrot.

For example, when Max starts scratching her own head, that means she wants me to come over and give her head scratches:And when she puts her foot out like this, it means she wants to step up:
I try to accommodate her as often as possible; to show her that her actions produce consequences.

This is already getting very long, but I wanted to address the issue of one-person birds as it relates to biting. My experience has led me to believe that the vast majority of parrots are not truly one-person birds. I will address this in more detail in a future post.

Biting can be very frustrating, for owners and parrots, and often results in neglected parrots, as they spend more and more time in their cages. By the time they make it to rescue, some parrots have learned that their subtle hints don't work and resort straight to biting. By using acute observation skills, it's possible to teach the parrot more acceptable behavior.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


When we're home, the 5 larger parrots are usually out of their cages. Because Daphne, my budgie, is so much smaller than the rest, and I need to make sure that nothing happens to her -- like losing a beak or foot -- from one of the larger parrots, she is allowed out only under extreme supervision. She still gets out a lot, but not when our attention is focused on cooking, for example.

For the most part, the other 5 parrots either ignore each other or fly away from any irritation caused by another parrot. There are occasional brief squabbles, which are usually over before I arrive to put a stop to them.

This means that sometimes there are parrots free in the living room while I am in the kitchen. I listen for trouble, but there is rarely any, as the greys (most likely to be troublemakers) tend to be in whatever room I am in.

In the living room, they are most often hanging out on top of their cage. There are some interesting dynamics of parrots going on other parrots' cages. But not parrots going in other parrots' cages, until recently.

Last night, Thomas was out running and I was in the kitchen, making dinner. The caiques and Rocky were out; the greys were in their cages because they were too distracting when I was trying to cook.

I went into the living room to check on everyone, and Rocky was in the tray of Stella's grate, trying to build a nest! Stella was a bit upset by this, and trying to use her feet and beak to discourage him, but she couldn't reach him, luckily. Rocky then spent the next 20 minutes, until Thomas got home, in the kitchen with me, unable to bother anyone else.

Later on in the evening, as we were eating dinner, I noticed that he'd gone inside Stella's cage and was trying to build a nest!I don't know what's gotten into him and why he's finally decided to go into other parrots' cages, but this is something we'll be discouraging!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Flashing lights

One of the items included in my marathon packet was a flashing light that runners can clip on their clothes in order to be more visible to cars. With the shortening day, this can be pretty important.

I turned it on and almost immediately, Max started saying, "want some!" I thought she'd be scared and would fly away when I brought it near her, but that was not the case.

I did not let her have it as she would have likely thrown it to the ground and I want to be able to use it this winter!

In the background, if you listen closely, you can hear Beeps in the background, robotically saying, "Babycakes, Babycakes."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Big hugs

When the weather starts to cool down and Thomas starts wearing house jackets (is that the right word?), that sometimes means trouble for the parrots!

Rocky and Beeps love it when he envelopes them in his jacket. Max will not stand for it, so he doesn't even try any more with her.

Over the weekend, Stella was perched on the sink, the perfect target. He swooped in and landed on the floor with her in his embrace:To everyone's surprise, she appeared to like this! As she didn't struggle or try to get out even when he moved his arm away. They stayed in that position for quite some time, with him petting her head.
After a minute, Max had to fly over to check things out. She was jealous, even though she wouldn't have wanted to change places with Stella!

Friday, October 2, 2009

RIP, Sugar Franklin

My friend over at Beloved Parrot recently lost a very special bird, Sugar Franklin. Even though I'd never met her, Sugar Franklin had found a way into my heart through the stories I'd read and pictures I'd seen.

She was lucky to have been loved so much, and to have had a happy few final days.

Big hugs going out to you -- your whole flock is in my thoughts.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Running in the family?

This is a scene that greeted me this morning:
Apparently Stella's caught the running bug -- contagious in our house! Thomas and I both have races this weekend (different ones). I don't think parrots are allowed to enter, though :)

Foraging fail

Last night, as I was supposed to be preparing dinner, I ran across a little foraging box, so I decided instead to see if Max might be interested in doing some foraging.

Here is the first attempt. She often resorts to throwing things around! (Also, I apologize for how loud the background songs are in these videos -- we were listening, once again, to the Guys and Dolls soundtrack, and singing/dancing/whistling along until I decided to try foraging. It didn't sound that loud in person!)

In this video, she figures it out, but then inexplicably drops the nut and refuses to get it out again. What is going on? Cashews are her favorite!

Still being a weirdo, though she does start to eat the nut...

...but didn't get to finish it.

Unfortunately, in an attempt at keeping these videos at a reasonable length, I missed what might have been the most exciting moment in this group of videos. Max was eating her cashew, when Stella flew in and tried to land on Max, causing Max to fly away and drop the cashew she'd been eating. Stella quickly picked up the nut and finished it.

The greys do this kind of thing to each other all of the time. Apparently the most appealing perch in the house is the one currently occupied by the other grey.

I was trying to get her to give me the nut so that I could make her work for it (more than she already had, I guess...) but she was not giving up her hard-earned treat!

Then, I made her do a little work. Since Stella is not as good at foraging as Max is, I started easy. I showed her the nut and then she had to take it out of the box, but didn't have to figure out how to open the box -- that would come later...

...or not as once it became clear that work was involved in getting the almond, Stella wanted nothing to do with it!