Monday, November 30, 2009

Natural Birdsmanship: An important article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Washing the floor

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Rocky videos

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

New running partner

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

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


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

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

Half macaw

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Virtual Adoptions at Best Friends

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

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

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

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

I may cry

A blue and gold macaw was just surrendered to the rescue where I volunteer; blind in one eye from being poked with a stick. What is wrong with people?

She is also wild caught, very very old, and wobbly. We'll probably have to find a hospice home for her. We're going up to see her tonight. I'm already bracing myself.

Adding another bird

Lori left me this comment, so I thought I'd answer in a post:

Great pictures! I also have a Grey named Smokey. He is very loved and very spoiled. He has a large vocabulary and keeps us laughing all the time. It's nice to see other parrot people out there. I am considering getting another bird someday, but I don't know how Smokey would handle it. Any suggestions? Thanks
The article that helped me the most when introducing a new bird to our house was this one. But of course I just can't leave it at that!

I think the first thing to consider is that, with parrots, there are no guarantees. If you add another bird, they may get along wonderfully, to the exclusion of people. On the other end of the spectrum, there may be severe aggression (at the rescue where I volunteer I have seen several birds whose beaks have been bitten off by other parrots). Most likely, the relationship between the two birds will fall somewhere in the middle. For the most part, my parrots ignore each other physically, though they do often interact audibly (I'd say verbally, but a lot of the interaction is whistling and beeping).

The next consideration is what kind of bird to get. This can be a really hard decision! My feeling on this is to try to stick with similar-sized birds if at all possible, in order to lessen the chance that any serious damage would occur if an altercation happens. 5 of our 6 parrots are medium-sized birds; our budgie is significantly smaller. We are very protective of her to make sure nothing happens; however, this adds an extra layer of complexity to our house. As much as I love budgies, Thomas and I have agreed that once she's gone, we won't get another as we'll stick to medium-sized birds. At times this makes me sad, as I also absolutely love the large macaws and always expected we'd have one someday; I'll have to be content with the interaction I have with those at the rescue!

I am very much a grey person, so if I were single, I'd probably have a flock of greys. I love watching and listening to Stella and Max interact, and I think it would be even more fun with more greys. Thomas loves our greys but is not interested in adding any more to our house. He is very much a macaw person, so if he were single, he'd probably have a flock of mini macaws. In some ways, the caiques are almost a compromise that we fell into. However, we both adore them and would be very happy with a flock of caiques.

Based on my experiences, I think the best way to add a new bird to your house is to adopt an older bird that chooses you. You'll love any bird you bring into your house, but birds can be a bit pickier. If you start out with one that already likes you, you're miles ahead. And it's also less likely that the bird will bond strongly to the one you already have, cutting humans out of the equation. Baby birds love almost everyone and can change their minds when they hit maturity. I've mentioned her before, but a former friend of mine has 4 parrots -- 3 she bought as babies and one she got when the bird was either in her high teens or early 20s (I forget the details). The only bird she can handle is the older, rescue bird.

As outlined in the article, the theory behind our interactions with our parrots is "first among equals." Max, our timneh, was there first. She knew what it was like to have Thomas and me to herself. She always comes out of her cage first, get treats first, get acknowledged first, etc. Our bird sitter let Rocky out first over a year ago, and Max still hasn't forgiven her for this transgression.

When a new bird is introduced to our house, we are on high alert and supervise very carefully, for everyone's safety. Once stable behavior patterns have emerged over a period of months, we still supervise, but not as carefully. Our thought is that our parrots can fly away from any danger, and since they are similar size, it's unlikely any serious damage could occur before we'd break up the fight. However, if there had been any aggression shown, we'd continue to supervise carefully. Even though none of our parrots have ever shown any interest in Daphne, our budgie, we do not ever leave her unsupervised due to the size difference.

Though there are times when I think Max would prefer to be an only bird, I think, on balance, she does enjoy having the other parrots around. She plays whistling games with Calypso and Stella, she races Rocky up the stairs, she yells "Up!" a split second before it comes out of my mouth when I'm getting Stella off of the kitchen floor, etc.

So, Lori, I hope I answered your question! My biggest recommendation would be to adopt an older, similar-sized bird. In the wild, greys live in single-species flocks (i.e. exclusively greys) so you may have more success if the next parrot you decide to add is a grey. I'd also try to add the same gender parrot that Smokey is, hopefully reducing the incidents of aggressive hormonal behavior that an opposite-sex bird of the same species may encourage.

And then, reassure Smokey that you love him, keep special routines with him, let him bathe first, get treats first, etc. At least once a week I'll get Max up 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the parrots so she can have some alone time with us. She also goes to bed last every night.

Good luck!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What is wrong with me?

So I've posted here many times that our flock is complete, at least until we're in another house. Things are good -- why rock the boat?

Then, I found a caique in rescue that is only several hours away from our house and, from the description, would fit in perfectly with our house. He loves singing and dancing! He's male! He's the perfect age!

Thomas and I tried to get him out of our minds, but we can't. I've sent an e-mail to the rescue to see if they'd consider adopting out of their area. Our mind is not yet made up, and I'm torn about whether I want them to say we're not eligible because they're too far for a home inspection or not.

Why do caiques have this hold on us? We've been able to resist so many parrots at the rescue where we volunteer, but put a 10+ male caique within reach and all reason goes out the window!

I'll keep you updated.

Update 1: After exchanging e-mails, it appears as though they would be open to considering adopting to us, which means we will have some important discussions over the next few days.

Update 2: My experiences this weekend are making me lean heavily in the direction of not applying to adopt this caique. Thomas is not yet on board with this decision and wants to mull things over a bit more.

Here is the crux of my argument: we have room for one more cage in our living room; 2 if we move the lizards to another room (I want all of my parrots in the main living area of the house since that's where we spend the majority of our time; the lizards wouldn't care if they were in another room). We also would have the time to devote to another bird, providing he isn't bird-aggressive. Financial resources are fine and do not enter into the equation. As for this specific bird, I know he would fit in perfectly to our flock and our lifestyle. We have the experience and resources to train him and give him a good life.

(Thomas was getting really excited when I started with the pros!)

However, given that we can't save everyone and have room for at most 1-2 more parrots, shouldn't we save those spaces for parrots who really need us? Parrots surrendered to the local rescue we support? Parrots like Stella, who was mutilating herself and needed to go into foster care? This caique does not appear to have behavioral issues -- he's just a typical high-energy caique. Plus he's already in a foster home instead of a facility, and therefore likely getting more one-on-one attention.

Obviously we still have a lot of thinking to do.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ode to caiques

Thomas had off yesterday and his car needed work, so he was at home with the parrots most of the day. When I got home from work, he was lounging on the couch with Beeps perched on his hand. He was singing a song he had made up with these lyrics:

Orange pants
Orange legs
Orange you glad I'm singing this song?

At least three of the parrots were glad he was singing this song, as Beeps, Rocky, and Max were all dancing.

His muse:Thomas declined my request to videotape the song for the blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Caique shower

I've switched up my shower routine a bit lately. Instead of trying to bring all of the birds in at once (kind of like in my blog header), I have been alternating and taking only two in at a time. This means I don't have to put barriers in between the birds as they have enough space that no problems occur. I also only take two parrots that generally get along. Usually that's either a caique shower (Beeps and Calypso) or a grey shower (Max and Stella), though occasionally I'll bring Max and Calypso in for a change. Rocky is not allowed to shower with me as I'd be unprotected, so he has to shower with Thomas.

I took these pictures last week; here's Calypso:And Beeps:
Here are a couple of Beeps videos. I wish there was a way I could tape the caiques without them knowing, as they sometimes act differently when the camera is out. For example, in the second video, Calypso is huddled on the side, as he is in the picture above, but he loves the shower and is usually more animated.

Beeps, on the other hand, is almost always a bundle of energy, as evidenced here. The whistle I do in the first video is a whistle that he came to us doing, after which he usually says "Pretty baby!" He'll also often respond with "Pretty baby!" when I do the whistle, but not when I'm taping! In the second video, I was hoping to get him to dance, as he usually does when we sing his name, but once again the camera had its effect on him.

Want some!

She's pretty entitled, just coming over to help herself to breakfast. It's a good thing she's so adorable!

We still have the lizards

I so rarely post about them, but the lizards are still here and doing well. Andreas didn't come out of his hide for about a week after we got back from vacation, but he was out every single day last week!

Here he is, eating some of his greens:

He got a little mad at me on Saturday. He sometimes needs help with his sheds, especially around his feet. When we first got him, we took him straight to the vet. She helped him with his shed, and in the process two of his toes fell off. She said this was because the dead skin had constricted the blood flow and we needed to keep an eye on his toes so that this didn't happen again.

I had him out to get the skin off, and he was very antsy. He's wildcaught and handling stresses him out, so we very rarely do. After I'd removed the skin and put him back in his tank, he immediately went into his hide for about 10 minutes. Once he got the pouting out of his system, he came back out.


Friday night, we were having yet another dance party. Sometimes Thomas grabs Rocky as though he's palming a football and moves him around as part of his dance. Rocky loves this.

He was doing this while sitting at the table, and Max ran up and started preening Rocky's tail. She is losing a bit of interest as I took this video, but you get the idea.

If Rocky were not controlled by Thomas, we would not allow this, and Rocky probably wouldn't, either!

Tired Out

Rocky's exercise program continues. If there were marathons for parrots, he might follow in my footsteps.

Here he is after one of his sessions, panting. It's a bit hard to hear him on the video, but you can see his chest going in and out.

His behavior has been better since starting on this regime. I guess he just had too much energy before!

Friday, November 13, 2009


I had placed my outer layer on the table after I got home from work. Rocky got to it before I put it away and had brought a pen in to his nest with him (?)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Art installation

Stella made this art installation yesterday morning:Some of our favorite parts of modern art museums are the installations, so I left it when I went to work so that Thomas could enjoy it before it got cleaned up.

Stella threw all of the items off of the counter and then spent about 15 minutes arranging them just so.

Included are the neti pot (top and bottom), an empty spice container from the recycling pile, and a feather Max had molted out.

Gimme Kiss

Day 2 of Rocky's exercise plan has continued success. Thomas worries we're just making him stronger, but my response is that that's a good thing, although it will ultimately take us longer to tire him out and get him panting. And this morning, without me asking him, Thomas got Rocky out of his cage and exercised him before work, which meant an almost scream-free morning.

When Rocky is adorable, as he is in this video, I start questioning my sanity and wonder if I make up his screaming. After all, how could this creature be so loud?

He'll also do this with me, though only when he's in his cage. He'll only say "gimme kiss" and make kiss sounds when one of us has our face near him.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Finally, I am getting around to answering Pamela's question of a few days ago:

Do you have suggestions, or can you point me to some of your blog posts about having a flighted bird? Harley has most of his wing feathers back, and I love the idea of having a flighted bird. But he needs some practice landing. And I haven't had a flighted bird since Peanut the parrotlet - he was so small, that his flying was a very different thing than Harley. No territorial issues so far, just a bigger, flying, clumsy bird.


First, congratulations to Harley on growing his wing feathers! I am a huge proponent of flight, as long as it can be done safely. I believe that it's an individual decision that depends on the bird as well as the living conditions of the bird, but it always makes me happy when another parrot can safely be allowed to fly!

Max was the first of our birds to fly, and it brought out parts of her personality that we'd only glimpsed previously. It made her so much more fun and enjoyable to be around as she gained confidence in her skills.

As I mentioned here, two of our unfledged parrots have become great flyers (Beeps & Stella), two are acceptable flyers (Calypso & Daphne; they never choose to fly but can safely make it to their cage or stand if we launch them into the air), and one has no flight skills (Rocky). Max was fledged and is an excellent flyer.

As with most parrot-training subjects, I don't believe there's a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching an adult parrot to fly. I believe you have to observe your parrot and work out a system that will work for them. That being said, of course I will outline what we did with our birds.

1. Before they had their flight feathers back, we worked with them on flapping exercises. Birds who don't fly have atrophied flight muscles. Below is a video of Stella from June 2008 when her wings were clipped. We got her to start flapping by saying "flap" every time she flapped on her own so that she'd start to associate the word "flap" with her motions. And praise her! Then, I'd have her perch on my hand, like in the video, and move my hand up and down, which will often produce a flapping in parrots to help them become more stable. Some parrots might be uncomfortable with this, so watch their body language and don't make them go too fast! Stella loved it.

2. In my mind, there are three main components to flying: the take-off, the flight, and the landing. The take-off seems to be mostly mental -- does the parrot think to fly to get where she wants to go? We don't work too much on that; however, we do work a lot with the flight and the landing, always working at the parrot's pace.

We try to work on landings first, since I imagine that must be pretty scary for a new flyer! I think the flight part is pretty instinctual, but it's the taking off, maneuvering, and landing that are skills they normally would have learned from their parrot parents.

What we normally do is Thomas and I stand close to each other, and launch the parrot back and forth, having them land on our arm. Our arms are wider than their perches, and this seems to work well.

"Launch" is a rather extreme word to explain what we do, though. It's more of a gentle motion, along with "Go to Thomas/Mary!" or "Go to your perch/cage!" and the other person presenting their arm and encouraging, "Come here!"

In this video, I launch Max to the treadmill:

As the parrot gets comfortable with landing, I'll move on to launching them to a perch or to their cage, as Thomas tends to get tired of working on this much more quickly than I do. I usually start pretty close to the intended landing point, and slowly go further away so that they fly a longer distance before landing.

As always, work at the pace of the parrot. This may take a day, or it may take weeks.

3. After the parrot seems to be able to land well, we work on flight skills. Once again, in my experience, parrots tend to be able to fly straight and up fairly well (as long as they have developed muscles). It's getting around unexpected obstacles, turning corners, and going down that we work on.

Unexpected obstacles can be dangerous. If a parrot is flying quickly and a door that they expect to be open is closed, they could crash into the door and cause problems. From my experience, it's not as dangerous when they crash as they're learning because their muscles are not fully developed and they're flying more slowly than normal, so a crash has less of an impact. Therefore, I feel it's important to try to teach them important flight skills before their muscles get too developed.

What we do is work on going around corners first. I'll place the intended landing perch (human or otherwise) around a corner, but still in sight of the parrot, then gently launch the parrot and praise when they go on the perch. Once that's easy, we go a little further back, until they can't see their intended landing perch when I launch them. Again, depending on the parrot, this might happen in one training session, or it may take many.

For U-turns, I'll launch the parrot in the opposite direction of their favorite perch; all of them quickly learned to turn around.

Flying down is also important, as if something unforeseen happens and the parrot gets outside, being able to fly down might save their life. We work on this by putting the parrot on a high perch and calling them to us. Then squatting down and calling them to us. Sometimes we put them at the top of the stairs for them to fly down. This has taken us longer than any other step!

4. Once the parrot has a pretty good grasp on these basic concepts, we start working on things like flighted recall and flighted retrieve. Flighted recall is calling the bird to you, and may also be key in retrieving a bird that accidentally gets outside. Flighted retrieve is having the bird bring an object to you -- it's a fun way of working on flight skills and exercising your parrot's body and brain at the same time.

As for actually living with flighted parrots, once we got used to it and more or less had them trained on what perches were acceptable, I find it easier to live with them flighted. Instead of making multiple trips from the living room to kitchen in order to have them in the same room with us, I can launch them into the living room and tell them to go to their cage, or they automatically follow us into the kitchen.

We do have to be careful about certain things, but these have become almost second nature over the years. For example, we are very strict about our double door policy. We usually go in and out through our attached garage. When I'm coming home in the car, I don't open the door from the garage to the kitchen until the garage door is completely shut. If someone knocks on our front door, I either don't answer, or I exit through the garage door and surprise them by coming from the side. Our next house will definitely have an enclosed porch! This is one of the main reasons we don't have a dog -- there is no safe and easy way for us to let the dog outside while maintaining the safety of the birds.

We only have one ceiling fan, in our bedroom upstairs, a room the parrots are not supposed to enter, though they sometimes sneak in. If the fan is on, the bedroom door is shut. We don't close any doors in the house without first checking to make sure no one is perched on top (I almost smashed Max's toes once when she landed on our basement door while I was in the basement. After I got back upstairs, I closed the door and was surprised to hear Max screech in pain and fly away. Luckily, she was not injured, but we are now very careful!)

In addition, there are some of the less important, and rather funny things, like not ever having any unsupervised cheese out or knowing that unsupervised bananas might be destroyed at any time.

I feel as though I've been going on and on and I'm not even sure if I answered your question properly, so please let me know if I have been unclear, or if you have additional questions! A s always, I'm not an expert -- it's just what's worked for us in our house! I can't wait to read Harley flying updates on your blog!

Rocky update

Rocky was incredibly well-behaved last night and this morning. Maybe he reads the blog and realized exactly how irritating he was being. Or maybe the fact of me getting my frustration out by writing about it here changed something in my behavior towards him which, in turn, changed his behavior towards me.

More likely, it has something to do with the return of his exercise program. We'd slacked off lately in making sure he gets panting several times a day -- giving him a more positive channel in which to burn off his excess energy rather than screaming and attacking.

He doesn't fly, so if we don't force the issue, he gets very little exercise -- just walking around the house. I know how surly I can get if I go a few days without working up a sweat, so it's no surprise that a mostly sedentary life could also negatively affect our macaw.

I'll get some videos up in the next few weeks, if possible.


I just cannot get enough of my greys. I love having two of them! Watching their interaction has been a highlight of the past year.

Last night, Thomas was giving them both head pets as he was going through a catalog. As soon as they saw the camera, they looked up. It looks like he's threatening to get them!
Later on, Thomas had our lentil soup dinner cooling on the counter. Sometimes they fight over the same food, even when there is more than enough to go around. This time, they pleasantly surprised me by each going to their own bowl:

Edit to answer this question from Jonathan:

Hi, did you always have the two together? I have a budgie who was the most affectionate thing for the longest time. Finally I got her a partner and it was like I no longer existed. Every now-and-then she flies over and nibbles at my ear but that's pretty much it.

Now I have a Grey who is way more affectionate than any creature we've ever been around. She follows me all over the house, takes showers with me, cuddles... all of that stuff. I'd like her to have a playmate but I'm pretty selfish at the same time.

I did not always have the two. I have had my timneh for almost 8 years, and my congo for about a year and a half. I believe they are about the same age and they are both female. Here is the entry from when we first brought our congo into our house (we subsequently changed her name to Stella, but it's the same parrot!)

I think they enjoy having another grey in the house, but they are by no means friends. There is almost no physical interaction between the two of them. They never preen each other and are rarely closer than 6 inches, and frequently much further away than that. They chase each other around, and it often feels more like sibling rivalry than any kind of friendship. Some other of my old posts that might interest you are: this one, this one, and this one. I write a lot about their relationship with each other because it fascinates me, so if you search through the archives, you'll find many others about them!

They do mimic each other, call back and forth, and seem to prefer to be in the same room. Though I'm not sure if that last part is because they want to be near each other or because they want to keep an eye on what the other is doing to make sure she's not receiving special treatment! They are obviously caged separately.

The thing is, you never know how an existing bird will react to a new bird until you bring the new bird home. And even then, the relationship evolves over time. The best thing I can say is to only get another bird because you want one, and not as a companion for an existing bird. They may bond to each other and then eschew humans, as your budgies did. Or the opposite may happen and you may have to keep them separated so no one gets hurt. Or they may completely ignore each other, as my two caiques do. You just never know.

Adding Stella to our house did not in any way diminish the relationship we had with Max, though we are very careful to keep up the same level of interaction we had with Max before we brought Stella home. However, we did know it was a possibility that Max would choose another grey over us.

For us, the situation turned out just about perfectly in that we have two greys that desire human companionship, while having some kind of relationship with another of their species.

Also, and this is just based on my experience volunteering at the parrot rescue, it seems much more difficult to keep paired smaller birds (budgies, tiels, lovebirds, parrotlets, aratinga conures) tame than paired larger birds. I have met pairs of macaws, amazons, and greys that were devoted to each other, yet still tame to people. It all depends on the individual characteristics of the birds and, to a certain extent, the work that their owners are willing to put in to keep them tame.

I wish I had a more definitive answer for you, but as so often when you're dealing with these intelligent creatures, it's not cut and dried!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My parrots and thier flight histories

When I first got Max, we clipped her wings. Everything we'd read back then (2001/2002 time frame) said that clipping wings was imperative for the bird's safety. We really didn't know any better and just blindly followed that advice.

After I started doing some more reading, specifically this article, we decided to allow our birds to fly. At that point, we had Max, Calypso, and Ethel, an amazing budgie. Since Max had been properly fledged as a baby, she took to flying instantly. Within days, she could get where she wanted, control speed, navigate unknown places; it was great to see.

Like Max, Ethel was an amazing flyer almost right from the start, despite the fact that she had a tumor that doubled her weight. Talk about strength training!

Calypso is another story -- despite the fact that he has the ability to fly, he very rarely chooses to do so, as in several times a month, and usually when he's trying to get back to his cage.

Daphne can fly, though, like Calypso, she rarely chooses to do so and when she does, is trying to get back to her cage.

Rocky has all of his flight feathers currently, but we'll see how long that lasts. He has not shown any inclination to fly. So far, all his flight feathers do is give him the idea to launch flying attacks on us, which are really jumping attacks but his open wings give him a bit longer of a target range so he can get us from further out.

Beeps is a surprisingly good flyer. Caiques are not known for their flying ability and Calypso bore that stereotype out. However, Beeps completely defies it! He was most likely not fledged and came to us with no flight skills. He'd occasionally fly into walls and make bad landings in the beginning. Even now, after a couple of years of flight under his belt, it appears as though flying takes him much more effort than it does the greys. However, he has mastered the ability to change direction mid-flight and land on precarious perches.

Stella's flight progress was also a pleasant surprise. I think she learned a lot from watching Max. She still isn't as steady as Max is -- she kind of wobbles from side to side mid-flight -- but she can navigate surprise barriers, land wherever she likes, and use flight as her primary mode of transportation.

This post is in response to Pamela's question in the comments from yesterday. I will write more (and actually answer the question) later this week -- hopefully tomorrow -- but I wanted to give my parrots' flight backgrounds so as to not muddy that future post.

More Rocky blathering

First, let me thank everyone for your kind comments about Rocky and our situation. I wanted to write about some of the comments, and thought it might be better to do so in a post instead of in the comments because I feel this might get long.

Richard, you are absolutely right that if I were that unhappy with him, or more importantly, if I thought he was miserable with us, I would work to find him another home. However, I don't think things will ever get that far with him. As much as I complain about him, he makes me laugh every single day. My life is definitely more interesting, colorful, and even better for having him in it.

A few months ago I must have been doing a little too much complaining about him (this was during the almost constant screaming phase) because the woman who runs the rescue where I volunteer told me that she had another home lined up for him! I told her thanks, but no thanks. When I mentioned this to Thomas, he freaked out. "That's my macaw! He's not going anywhere!"

The destructiveness I can handle (I was a bit unclear in my post); it's really the screaming and the jumping attacks that are more troubling. Intellectually, I know that it's just his hormones and that things will improve. I also try not to let it bother me at home because I know it's not his fault. He's not trying to annoy me, and he's probably as upset and confused by how he feels as I am.

Tess, thank for the good vibes; those senegals can be pretty tenacious! Good luck to you in getting them to coexist peacefully.

June, my friend with amazons and I have been e-mailing quite a bit lately and swapping amazon/Rocky stories. Her amazons are noisy, but at least it's talking or singing, not squawking/screaming (though I know there are amazons that do squawk/scream). About the attacks, though, if he doesn't calm down soon, we'll have to clip him and work on his behavior some more, hoping that he can someday earn the ability to keep flight. Knock on wood, no one was attempted attacked yesterday or yet this morning. (I say attempted attack because though he has been jumping us, we've managed to duck out of the way in time or get him off of us before he bites).

Shannon, you are right in that it is heartbreaking. I look at him, and I just want to make him happy, and I keep thinking, "He can't be happy if he's screaming this much." I need to start remembering what Beloved Parrot wrote a few weeks ago about how maybe screaming does make him happy. But when we were in Costa Rica with the wild scarlet macaws, we barely heard screams, and certainly not constantly.

Part of me wants to shake him and say, "You have to know how good you've got it! Start acting like it!" But I know you can't reason with parrots. He was locked alone in a back room with almost no human interaction for at least six years. Even with his dislike of me (which I'm going to probe in a future post), our house must be an exponentially better experience for him.

To conclude and try not to be ridiculously lengthy, we'll get through this. As much as Rocky irritates us, he has wormed his way into our hearts and, as Richard said about his macaw, we wouldn't trade him for anything.

Apple snob

Stella does not automatically take food offered to her in her foot so as to hold it while she eats. She is a bit lazy, apparently, and prefers that we hold the food for her, or that she eat it out of a bowl, like a dog. Since there are 6 parrots and only 2 humans, we cannot allow her to expect this kind of personal service on a regular basis, which means that after one or two bites, we'll put the food down on her perch and she'll either grab it with her foot or knock it to the floor.

Unless it's a particular favorite; then she eagerly grabs it with her foot.

Apples are a food that generally she'll eat if we hold or if they're on a plate. She has recently changed her mind, but only when it comes to apples of the Honeycrisp variety. When we offer her apple, she takes one bite. If it's a Honeycrisp, she quickly grabs the apple with her foot. If it's any other kind, she'll eat it only as long as we hold it in front of her.

Monday, November 9, 2009

On a more healthful note...

The parrots, particularly the greys, are obsessed with butternut squash. I was alone with them Friday night as Thomas had to work, so I was eating in the kitchen. The greys were with me, everyone else was in the living room.

I went into the living room to distribute squash to the other birds. When I left, the greys were on stands. I returned to find this:Sometimes they would nicely take turns eating:
And occasionally, they could nicely share the bowl. At one point, Max got a big chunk of squash and decided to eat it off to the side:
Even though she had the entire bowl of squash at her disposal, Stella decided to give chase to Max and that one piece of squash! However, Max was not messing around. She flew, squash in beak, to her stand to finish eating:Stella was about to give chase even over here, but I wanted Max to be able to eat in peace, so I grabbed Stella and distracted her with a piece of squash of her own.


Max has an amazing ability to sense any cheese removed from the fridge and to fly over to be near the cheese and try to penetrate its container within seconds of it being placed on the counter. Oh, how she loved it when we used to wrap the cheese in saran wrap instead of using parrot-proof reusable containers! It's like she was embedded with a cheese magnet.

Here's a still picture, if you can't/don't want to watch the video:
But I think the video is kind of cute. I love how she's putting so much power into trying to open up the cheese container that she slides along on the bottom of her feet:

I didn't think this next little story deserved its own post, so I'm tagging it on here. Before we left for vacation, I ordered some heat lamps for the lizards. Thomas has not yet gotten around to figuring out how to install them in their cages, so they are on our counter, as a constant reminder to him to get them installed!

Max ignored the boxes for the first two weeks or so, but late last week, she became obsessed with flying over and then perching on the boxes!No matter how many times we removed her or how we tried to distract her, she came right back. The next day, she'd forgotten about her obsession and has left them alone for the next few days. Which is somewhat a pity; I was hoping that she'd serve as a reminder for Thomas to get them installed!

The Big Mess

Rocky is majorly hormonal, again. Luckily, he has not been screaming nonstop as he had earlier this year.

Right now, his hormonal urges are manifesting themselves mostly in zealously guarding Beeps's cage from any attempts made by the humans in the house to walk by said cage. Unfortunately, Beeps's cage is located to the only entrance to the living room, which results in interesting confrontations more frequently than I would like.

This is what I imagine is going through his head right now: "Are you thinking about entering your own living room? And walking by Beeps's cage? Look at how big and scary I am! And I will jump on you if you turn your back or don't have a stick with you! Watch me bang this ladder against the cage! I think I'm going to bite you!"He's jumping Thomas and me with alarming frequency (one of us will get jumped about once a day). I'm thinking about trimming his wings again, but am hesitant to do so since I still have hope he can learn to fly, get exercise, and behave himself. Instead, I'm hoping to wait out his hormones. It might be a false hope. He may end up clipped tonight.

What's funny is when he jumps us and he misses (usually because he's aiming for our heads and we instantly squat down), he doesn't try to come back and attack, he just nonchalantly walks back to his own cage, laughing. Thomas said yesterday it's like he's saying, "You got me, bending down like that. I didn't get you this time. Well played!"

In addition to being very protective of Beeps's cage, he's been hanging out under our food cart, destroying wood, the newspaper we keep for changing cage papers, and anything else he can get his beak on. He even took another chunk out of the fish tank yesterday, before we could stop him.The mess! It's just killing me. This picture doesn't begin to capture it. I'm hoping this ends soon because I'm not sure how much more we can take. I would not wish a severe macaw on my worst enemy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grey chase

Last night, Max was spending more time than usual on the floor. She'd wandered into the hallway and was happily hanging out alone. Then, Stella decided that she wanted to go over there as well. She had been chasing Max around in circles, but pretty much stopped that behavior when I went over to make a video. Something similar to this had been going on for over 10 minutes:

Here is a still picture of the type of stand-off that was taking place:
I didn't get Max's escape on film, as she quickly scurried in front of Stella, hugging the wall. But Stella wasn't going to let her go so easily! I decided to extinguish the hall light in order to get them back in the kitchen.

After I stopped taping, I picked up a grey on each hand and put them on stands. They flew over to the table, where the stalking continued:As so often with them, I wish I knew what was going on in their heads! Stella obviously could have attacked Max if she'd wanted to -- she timed her movements to stay just a step or two behind. I think it may be a friendship overture, to which Max is not receptive. Or maybe it's just a game to both of them.

In any case, times like these make me so happy that we brought Stella into our home. It has been such a pleasure watching her personality evolve, and I think Max enjoys having another grey in the house, though she'd never admit it!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Missing Stella, again

This morning the greys were burning off energy by chasing each other around the kitchen. I was reading the paper and eating breakfast. Suddenly I looked around and realized that I could see Max, but not Stella. Since she can fly, I wasn't too concerned. After a few minutes, I heard some paper destruction, so decided it wouldn't be a bad idea to find her and put her on an acceptable parrot perch. She had somehow landed in the box of newspapers waiting to be recycled. Although she could have gotten out on her own, she must have liked it in there!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Severe macaw screaming

Although Rocky's screaming is greatly diminished from what he was doing a few months ago (luckily, or I might be in a padded room somewhere...), he still occasionally will scream for no discernible reason. Actually, as far as I could tell, he no longer wanted to be on Stella's cage, and decided to let me know that before climbing down and improving his own situation. He might have been upset that he didn't find any treats in her foraging bucket, having removed them earlier in the evening. Maybe he just didn't want me to make a video of him.

The video does not capture how loud the screaming is, but it gives an idea. Why, Rock, why?

Parrot relationships 2: Rocky & Beeps

Rocky has always been strangely attracted to Beeps's cage. It's the cage Rocky was housed in at the parrot rescue where he spent about 4 months before coming to our house. It's not nearly big enough as a permanent cage for a severe macaw, but it's fine for a caique, so about three years ago we bought Rocky a macaw-sized cage and Beeps got an upgrade as well.

We're not sure if he likes the cage because it used to be his (but for a much shorter period than he's been in his current cage), because of its placement near the door to the living room (easier to hide and plan a sneak attack on me), or possibly because the grass is greener on the other side.

Beeps has never really minded. He usually just stays out of Rocky's way, either by running around his cage or by flying to another location in the house. Sometimes he'll fly over to Rocky's cage and eat his food.

Late last week, I heard lots of wood chipping, so I wandered into the living room to see what was going on. Unfortunately, I couldn't exactly capture the scene on camera, but Beeps and Rocky were chipping wood off of the same toy that was on Beeps's cage top!

In this picture, Rocky stopped chipping to threaten me; notice Beeps in the background:
Drinking Beeps's water:Beeps does not seem to mind:
In this video, Rocky is threatening me, while Beeps is running around. That little guy has so much energy!

There are many times when the greys and Calypso are all on one cage and Rocky and Beeps are on another. Daphne is always kept separate for safety reasons, though she shows no interest in the other birds.

I feel compelled to write that we do supervise the parrots and have made the conscious decision to let them be on other parrots' cages. Allowing unsupervised, or even lightly supervised, interaction could be a recipe for disaster as it wouldn't take long for one parrot to rip the toes or beak off of another. We closely supervise all interactions whenever we have a new bird in the house, and become more lax as flock dynamics are understood. With wild animals, it's a risk we're willing to take, mostly because the five parrots who are allowed to interact are all more or less the same size (our budgie is always kept separate and safe) and they have the ability to fly away from any perceived danger. It would break my heart if anyone stumbled on my blog and their parrot suffered an injury because the human thought it was OK to allow their parrots to interact with each other based on what we do in our house.

Parrot relationships 1: Calypso & the greys

In the evenings, Stella usually heads over to the Max-Calypso cage compound area and the three of them coexist, more or less harmoniously.

Max and Calypso both love looking out of the window, and since they were the first parrots in our home, they get the place of honor. Stella does not appear to even notice the window, so we're not sure why she likes to be over there so much.

None of them physically interact, and they usually stay a respectful distance away from each other.

In this video, Calypso was playing on/in his foraging bucket, when Stella came over to investigate:

Sometimes the greys will go back and forth, taking turns ringing this bell. Sometimes they do it when they want attention, sometimes when they want to threaten each other, and sometimes just for fun.

I keep hoping that they will start to bond a bit more and maybe even preen each other. Stella seems to be making overtures to Max, who is uninterested.
They have been sitting closer to each other on the shower curtain rod in the mornings, so that's nice.

I'm just happy that they've pretty much found a happy place in our flock. Even if they don't choose to physically interact, at least they're not fighting!


Yesterday as I was making toast as part of my breakfast, Max was dancing on her stand and saying "want some! want some! want some!" Apparently, tired of waiting, she flew over to the counter and took her frustration out on my plate. Note: this did not make the bread toast any more quickly.

As soon as she realized I was taping, she stopped throwing a fit and just stared at me. I don't know how to edit videos, or I would have made this one a few seconds shorter.