Friday, July 30, 2010

Goldfinch -- with an update

I was driving to work this morning when I saw what looked like goldfinch roadkill in the middle of the road, right where my tire would go. I moved my car so that I would pass over the dead bird, but as I continued on my way, realized that the bird was still perching -- if he were dead, he'd probably be more prone.

So I did a U-turn. While I was waiting to do another U-turn, five cars came by; I was so worried that one of them would run him over (he was in a horrible position). However, perhaps his bright yellow plumage saved him as they all swerved so he'd pass under the carriage and not the tires.

I grabbed him up -- still breathing. I used to always have a carrier in my car for just this reason, but hadn't replaced it after the last time I used it. So he went in my cup holder, covered by a towel.

When I got home, I put him in my wildlife carrier (never used for the parrots!):He's got some water and budgie seed, and is currently in my basement. I suspect that he got hit by a car and has a mild concussion. We hope to release him this afternoon, if he's doing better.
If he's not, we'll take him to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Updates next week!

UPDATE: When I got home from work Friday afternoon, the carrier was empty. He escaped through the holes in the front (I really thought he wouldn't be able to get through them!) and was loose in my basement. I was able to quickly catch him and I put him in an aquarium for another hour or so as I wasn't sure how long he'd escaped and therefore how long he'd been without food/water.

After about an hour, I brought him outside. Here he is, right before his release:Had I realized how quickly he would make his escape, I would have made a movie, as he strongly flew out of the aquarium as soon as I opened the top. He was out of my sight in seconds. Success!

Yesterday, a goldfinch couple landed in the large tree in my backyard. She took a bath in the bird bath while he watched from the tree:It probably wasn't the same male, but I like to think it was -- he wanted me to know he had reunited with his mate and they were doing well!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steve: one month

Yesterday was the one month anniversary of Steve coming to stay with us. Time is flying by! He's nowhere near ready to be adopted yet, but he's getting there.

Here he is, chewing on his nails a bit, probably because I was close to him:But he quickly relaxed enough to dive into his dinner. This actually made me very happy, as he would not put his head completely in the dish if he were terrified of me -- he'd have to keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn't planning on hurting him:
He got something!
I'm pretty sure I heard him say "Up!" this morning as I was giving that command to Max. That wouldn't surprise me since Max says that when I'm giving the command to Stella. He also made a fun noise when Thomas turned the blender on this morning.

Now that he's more settled in, I think my next goal will be working on getting him to nicely step up on my hand to come out of his cage. If he would come out of his cage on his own, this wouldn't be such an issue, but it just breaks my heart that he is spending so much time in his cage!

All foraging all the time

I promise I'll talk about other topics soon! But foraging is just such a big success that I had to write.

First, Steve. He found all of his hidden pellets yesterday, so today I went with 15 hidden and 5 in his dish, but still wrapped. Again, before I left for work, he had found and eaten many of the hidden pellets. In this picture, he has one in his foot (though you can't see it because a toy is in the way) and you can see a couple of wrapped pellets in his blue plastic toy, waiting for him to find them:A short video of Steve finding a pellet:

Eating a wrapped pellet, from a different angle:
I put wrapped pellets in the caiques' cages, and Beeps had eaten three before I left for work.

Also, I was wrapping the pellets at the kitchen table this morning, and Rocky climbed up and ate two wrapped pellets. He never eats pellets in the kitchen! Therefore, I will be wrapping and hiding pellets for all of the parrots. My bird sitter might kill me the next time we go on vacation with all of this extra work for her!

Lisa had asked if foraging is fun for all parrots. As I replied in my comment, I can only talk about the parrots in my house, but they all love it! I'm only sad that I didn't start earlier with Rocky and the caiques. I'm sure I'll be updating more on this topic in the future.

Starting foraging is really easy. There are many different ways to make your birds find their food. The way I do it is by wrapping pellets in adding machine tape and then hiding the wrapped pellets in toys in their cages. You can buy special foraging toys, but almost any toy can be used to hide a pellet. I do tend to buy more complicated foraging toys for the greys, to make things more challenging for them.

The key to making this successful is starting slow, watching what your bird can handle, and making accommodations for that. Your bird may require a week or more at each step, or maybe only a day or two, depending on his/her personality.

These are the steps I've taken. For this example, let's assume that the bird gets 20 pellets per day.

Beginning foraging steps:

1. Wrap 10 pellets and leave 10 pellets unwrapped in food dish. If bird will take food from your hand, maybe offer him a wrapped pellet to pique his interest.

2. Wrap all of the pellets in the food dish.

3. Leave 15 wrapped pellets in the food dish and hide 5 wrapped pellets in his cage. Hide the pellets in obvious places, or places near where he frequently perches.

4. Work up to hiding all of the pellets.

5. Start hiding some pellets in trickier or harder to find places.

That's it!

I feed Harrison's, which lends itself quite nicely to this. If I were still feeding Zupreem, I'm not sure how I would do this. Maybe wrap 2-3 pellets in each paper square?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mistaken identity

Thomas was alone with the parrots earlier in the week as I was at a meeting.

As usual, the caiques were in the living room and everyone else was in the kitchen with Thomas. Suddenly, he heard Beeps laughing, which only happens when Beeps is doing something he shouldn't. Thomas went into the living room to investigate and found Beeps on Max's cage. He tried to move Beeps to a more acceptable spot, but Beeps started cowering and then the laughter came again, from behind Thomas.

He had the wrong caique! Calypso hadn't gone over to Max's cage for such a long time, he just expected it to be Beeps and acted without really looking at who it was.

Beeps was actually hanging out on Andreas's tank, but it took Thomas several minutes to find him. Despite his bright coloring, he can blend in quite well. Beeps is not allowed to be near the lizards' tanks as we do not want him eating their cords and possibly starting a fire, hence the laughter when he thought he was pulling one over on us.

This morning, Thomas and I were eating our post-run breakfast and reading the paper. I was actually trying to complete the sudoku puzzle (so not exactly "reading the paper"), which was much more difficult than it should be as I had a severe macaw in my face, blocking my puzzle!

For whatever reason, he was obsessed with me this morning, and not in an aggressive way. He walked right up to me and started saying "Hello!" after exchanging a few dozen greetings, he then started saying "Gimme a kiss!" which we repeated back and forth for 5-10 minutes. This lasted until Thomas grabbed him for their morning shower.

Another case of mistaken identity? Did Rocky temporarily forget he doesn't like me? Or does this represent a thaw in his feelings towards me? Also, where was Rocky and who was this pleasant macaw?


"What do you want from me? I am running out of hands!"

I hear Thomas exclaim in exasperation, and find this:
Notice how Stella has positioned her head to receive a kiss. Which she quickly received, of course:

Another foraging update

I'm reposting a picture of Steve's before food dish from yesterday so as to have a more accessible "before and after" comparison. He had 10 wrapped pellets and 10 unwrapped pellets.This is what I found when I got home:
There were 5 unwrapped pellets left, and the rest had been eaten/destroyed.

This morning, I wrapped all 20 of his pellets. 10 were placed in his food dish and 10 were hidden around his cage. By the time I left for work, he'd found and eaten 5 of his 10 hidden pellets. Of course, since he stays in his cage while I'm hiding them, he watches where I put them, so they're pretty easy to find! I'll gradually make things more complicated for him, don't worry!

This morning, the caiques were in the living room and everyone else was in the kitchen with us. I go in and check on the caiques regularly, to make sure everything is fine. I also listen and go in there when I hear flying or anything suspicious.

As I've mentioned before, my greys do not have food dishes. Their pellets are wrapped in pieces of receipt paper and hidden in their cages for them to find. The caiques and Rocky just get their pellets in their food dishes. I could give you a million reasons for this discrepancy, but it boils down to laziness on my part and the fact that the greys both have/had feather destruction issues so I try to keep their minds as active as possible.

I am going to have to quit being so lazy.

Beeps flew over to Stella's cage, found a pellet hidden in her cage, then ate it (sorry for the blurriness):The greys usually eat the pellet through the paper -- Beeps completely unwrapped it and then ate the pellet:
I gave Calypso a wrapped pellet, and he was also so happy!

Rocky would probably enjoy this as well. I should stop with the preferential treatment for the greys. I'm going to have to start wrapping pellets at night or I will never make it to work at a reasonable hour! Luckily, I have an amazing boss who would probably find it funny if I started coming in 15 minutes later due to parrot pellet wrapping and hiding!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Safer cherries and Steve's beginning foraging

I enjoyed reading your comments about other scares that you've had when your parrots eat colorful food! We finished up all of the bing cherries, which had made me think Steve had bled all over his cage, and started in on lighter cherries today. They were a hit, and the juice does not look like blood. Yea!Every morning, I give Steve a pellet, and every morning he drops it on the ground, uneaten. Today, I was wrapping the pellets for Max and Stella at the kitchen table. Calypso was on the stand, begging, so I gave him one. Steve saw Calypso receive something, so he started begging. I gave him a wrapped pellet, expecting him to drop it on the ground. But he surprised me as...he ate it!I therefore decided no time like the present to start him foraging. I wrapped up about half of his pellets in adding machine tape. I then put all of his pellets, wrapped and unwrapped, in his food dish:I then left him alone as I went downstairs to lift weights, and when I came back up, Steve had unwrapped and eaten several pellets! After my shower, I found him on the bottom of his cage (the first time I have ever seen him there -- he usually only travels from favored high perch to water dish to food dish), eating a wrapped pellet that he'd dropped!

Steve is a foraging natural!

I'm planning on hiding a few pellets around his cage tomorrow to see what his reaction is. I'll still have pellets in his food dish as I want to make sure he knows how to find food around his cage before I cut off his easy supply.

What a great morning it was!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greys (just the ladies)

Max and Stella continue their strange relationship, which mostly appears to be keeping an eye on what the other grey has/is doing and trying to either get the same for herself or deprive the other grey from having/doing it.

I was hoping that their flock behavior would help Steve come out of his shell. This has so far not been the case, though it may still happen. Patience!

Here's Max, keeping an eye on Stella who was climbing around on a chair:Here's Max, trying to get head pets from Thomas (who was reading a book at the kitchen table) until she gives up and notices something more interesting to investigate:

"Hey, give me head pets!":
"See? This is what I want YOU to do to ME! Why am I petting my own head?":
(I did remind her that if she and Stella would do this to each other, everyone wins.) Finally, Thomas acquiesced:
Max's happiness could not continue forever, as Stella wanted in on the action, or at least wanted to prevent Max from receiving the pets:

Shortly after I stopped filming, Stella grabbed a beak full of Max's tail feathers (no harm done) and they chased each other around the kitchen for a few laps until they resettled on their stand.


Over the weekend, I was home alone; Thomas was heading home from work. I had all of the parrots out and was also working on making lunch. Rocky was making this difficult, as he kept getting into trouble. The thing with Rocky is that he is very smart. He knows what is acceptable and what is not, so when he eats the fish tank or chews wallpaper off of the wall or climbs the stairs, he knows he's doing things he shouldn't.

Therefore, I said to him, "You want attention? You're getting attention!" and I had him step up on a stick and stay by my side while I finished making lunch one-handed.

First, he tried eating the stick:
Then he tried to scare me (I actually did not get much done as I kept stopping to take pictures!):
Next, he decided to try to get down by himself, until he realized he was too far off of the ground, so he swung back around to perch normally:
Finally, and I don't have this on video, he flew off of the stick, landed on the ground, and ran into the living room where he chipped appropriate wood. I guess he got a little more attention than he bargained for!

When Thomas got home, lunch was not yet ready (not surprising, given Rocky's consumption of my time), so he relaxed as I finished. Rocky was so happy! He grabbed three pieces of wood at one time and chipped them up next to Thomas's leg:This is what he wanted all along.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Short stories

Calypso loves corn. Last night, the rest of the parrots had come into the kitchen with Thomas and me, and Calypso was alone in the living room. We'd already fed the parrots their dinner, which included some chunks of corn on the cob. Calypso, who usually stays on his own cage, flew around to a couple of other cages and ate the other parrots' corn!

The corn beak thief:
For dinner, we made a sauce with vegetables from the farmers' market and put that on some udon noodles. Rocky climbed up to help himself from Thomas's bowl:************************
Steve emptied out one of his toys of the shredded paper that was inside:
So I refilled it:
He was already working on emptying it out again. I know there is a forager in him!

I love cherries and bought some incredibly tasty ones from my favorite farmer. All of the parrots except Max also like them. Here's Thomas feeding Stella:With cherries, because their juice really stains, we try to hold the cherry instead of letting the parrot fly all over the house and make a mess!

Steve also liked the cherries (he's actually eating one in this picture, though it's hard to see). Also, word of warning to anyone living with a mutilator: dried cherry juice looks a lot like dried blood. I had a minor freak-out this morning until I remembered that!*************************
Could this squirrel be any more adorable?
I hope everyone has a great weekend! I'm supposed to run 17 miles tomorrow. And the weather forecast is not looking promising. Rain!!!

Integrating a new severe macaw into the house

No, not me, don't worry! Though there is a severe macaw at the rescue who is trying his best to enter our household...

I received the following question in the comments, so I will answer it here. As always, I am no expert, but have interacted with hundreds of parrots over the years at the rescue and have successfully integrated several parrots into our flock. Also, as always, every parrot is an individual and there is no "one-size-fits-all" parrot advice, so I am talking in generalities and probabilities, even if I don't always qualify my comments as such!

On to the question, which I will intersperse with comments and then write more at the end...

Lisa wrote:
Thank you! Well I’ll start with my 2 biggest questions/concerns. Samba will come out of his cage and stand on the edge of the cage door. If we don’t immediately come to visit he will make a bit of noise and start bobbing his head up and down.
Me: This is great news!
He really acts like he wants to interact with us. Once we come to see him he will dance when we sing, and jabber with us for a few minutes. Then is seems out of nowhere he gets very anxious.
Me: Can you notice anything that he does right before getting anxious? Or that you do? I know it seems like it is out of nowhere, but carefully observe him and your interactions with him. Parrots can be extremely subtle. Does it happen if you lift an arm up (maybe in a dance move, but he's afraid you're going to ask him to step up), or does it happen after he pins his eyes, or lifts up the feathers on his head, or lifts his wings up, or does any other movement?

If you can't notice anything, look at timing. Is he OK for five minutes? Three minutes? Or is it sometimes three minutes and sometimes 20 seconds?

Ideally, you can figure out the trigger (or timing) and remove yourself from him before he gets agitated. In general, parrots benefit more from short, intense, frequent bursts of direct attention than long ones. Law of diminishing returns and all that. If you have an hour of direct attention, most parrots do better with 12 five minute interactions than one 60 minute interaction.

As an example, if he doesn't show agitation until over a minute in, dance with him for 30 seconds, then go away for a few minutes, then come back for another 30 seconds. Keep the interactions short and fun and leave him wanting more!
Although we are not attempting to reach for him, he starts yelling “come here Samba step up” right after he says this he will pin his eyes and begin biting his legs, then go back in his cage and appears freighted. It seems obvious that he is anxious that we are going to make him step up. We are not as I tried it once and was bitten and the same with my husband. I am trying to watch his cues to see what makes him uncomfortable so I can back off before he gets upset however it really seems to come out of now where. Well my question is since he appears so upset and is saying STEP UP!! at the same time that he runs and bites himself, should we not attempt to get him to step up?
Me: You have correctly picked up on his body language. Rocky will frequently bite his leg and then glare at me, or, if he's in his cage, reach for my finger and then pull his foot in and bite his leg, so this is very normal severe macaw behavior. (As an aside, one of the things I love about severe macaws is how flamboyant and expressive they are! I mean, biting a leg to show disapproval? Genius!)

As I said a few paragraphs up, if you can't figure out a trigger or any body language by him, concentrate on timing and focusing on short bursts of attention -- before he gets worked up.

As beloved parrot suggested in the comments, it is probably too soon for him to happily step up for you. Sure, you could force him to do so now, but you'd likely get bit and surely destroy trust, making it harder to have a good relationship with him down the road.

In your first comment, you mentioned "recently" bringing him home. Some birds take longer than others to feel comfortable in new situations. I know it's tough to not be able to handle him -- after all, you only want the best for him so why doesn't he understand and act accordingly? -- but giving him space, following his lead, and moving at his pace are so important to having a happy parrot in your house. Samba is only 10 years old, so he could be with you another 4 decades or so. In the grand scheme of things, an extra few months of slow progress is nothing!

As another aside, do you have any idea how his former owners had him step up? (From Samba's comments, it sounds like they may have had trouble getting him to step up). Some parrots feel more comfortable stepping up on hands vs. arms, towels or sticks vs. bare body parts, etc. This information might be helpful for you later on, but even if you don't have any contact with his former owners, you can still get him to a point where he steps up.
He does take fruit and vegetables from my hand very gently (but very leery).
Me: That's great that he will take food from you! One thing I do with a new bird is always say "want some?" or "want an almond?" and show them the food from a few feet away instead of just thrusting it in their face, then slowly go in and have them reach for it. This frames our interaction -- the bird chooses whether they want some, and comes a bit closer to me -- of his own volition -- to get some. I have a video of this with my foster bird near the end of this post.

Another way to build trust is to remove the bird's favorite foods from his normal diet. Does Samba have things that he really, really loves? Don't put them in his food dishes in his cage. He only gets them directly from you, so he makes the connection. This may mean going through his seed mix and removing cashews or pistachios or whatever!
I had read a bit about clicker training with a target. When I came within 5 feet of his cage with a chop stick he went ballistic and was visibly terrified. Now I’m not so sure that target training is the thing to do.
Me: Clicker training is fantastic and I do it with my parrots. Severes are very intelligent, and clicker training is fantastic for their mental fitness. Do you have a clicker? Have you conditioned the clicker with him and he's OK with that, it was just the chopstick that scared him? Or had you not gotten that far yet?

Conditioning the clicker is when you click and then give him his favorite food right away, as soon as you possibly can, so Samba learns that click = treat.

If he was afraid of the chopstick, you can use something else, like a straw (that's what I use), pen emptied of the ink cartridge, end of a fork, etc. You don't want to use anything perch-like, as that can cause confusion later on if you want to stick-train him. I do know that some people started by hiding most of the target stick in their sleeve and gradually took the target stick out after the bird was no longer afraid.

Or, even though it's advisable to start with target training, you don't have to. Once you've conditioned the clicker and Samba knows that click = treat, you can click/treat him for doing pretty much anything, like coming out of his cage and dancing. Here is a link to a free yahoo group that can provide advice, also. The moderators are much more experienced than I am and might have other ideas!
Lastly- he often will hang from the top of the cage with his beak while fanning his tail feathers and stretching his wings a bit. Would this be a happy display or does he want me to back off when he does this?
Me: Every parrot can use body language in a different way, so I can't give you a definitive answer. You'll have to observe the situations when he does this and his reactions to your reactions to this (hopefully that made sense -- it did in my head!) However, generally in the macaws that I've known, this is a type of begging behavior. He probably wants something -- attention, to come out, attention, treats, attention, etc.

That being said, since he is new to your house and doesn't feel totally comfortable yet, he might be a bit confused. Being a severe macaw, he wants attention (doesn't the world revolve around him? Because Rocky thinks it does!), but he is also a prey animal, so when he gets the attention from someone who might be a predator, it's a bit scary. Especially since it sounds like he was not receiving a lot of positive attention in his previous home.

If I were in your shoes, what I would do is start with verbal acknowledgment. When you see him doing this, say something like "Oh, Samba! What a pretty bird! Such a good boy!" preferably in a high, happy voice, and see what he does. If he gets excited, keep it up, and maybe slowly start approaching him over the next weeks.
I think this turned in to more than two questions :) I really appreciate you taking the time to respond!
Me: No problem! I hope that at least some of what I wrote was helpful and also that you keep us updated with Samba's progress. Just remember to be patient, follow his lead, and watch his body language. For being new to birds (if I read you correctly), you are already showing a great innate understanding of things! Rocky didn't have the best start, either, but we were able to get through that, and you can, too! Severe macaws tend to be very resilient and able to overcome their past. A year from now, you can reread this and probably won't even recognize him. Thank you for being willing to put forth the effort for Samba's sake!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Random scenes of parrots

Max was playing with a new toy yesterday. I love how playful she is!Both Max and Stella are very needy right now. I suspect there may be some hormonal stuff going on. Stella will not leave Thomas alone. She is constantly flying to his shoulder:In this picture, Thomas is putting her back on her stand. Her wings are a bit droopy, which is something greys do when they are hormonally excited. As he approached the stand to put her down, Max started asking for head pets. Neither grey can get enough of him! Also, Stella returned to his shoulder about 5 seconds after she was put on the stand.Max, getting more head pets:Stella got placed on his lap this morning as she was causing too much trouble. Then Rocky got placed there, too, for the same reason. But they could not stay out of trouble, as they began beaking each other, so Rocky had to go on Thomas's arm instead.
Last night, Rocky had placed Thomas's shoe sideways and was preening himself next to the shoe. This obscured his vision of things going on to his left. Max took full advantage. I really wish I would have had this on tape!

She snuck up on him, quickly grabbed his tail, pulled, and then ran off! She didn't hurt him at all, but acted as though she pulled one over on him. Later on, I caught her chasing after him on several occasions; both of them running down the hall with Max in pursuit. She also buzzed him a few times last night.

This will mean increased supervision since I don't want anyone getting injured. Also, I have to work hard on not laughing, since it is really quite funny, but not something to be encouraged.

Vegetable extravaganza

Yesterday was my weekly farmers' market trip. I bought a ton of stuff as the harvest is really heating up around here. Thomas was busy preparing the vegetables for human consumption, while I was offering samples to the parrots and photographing their reaction. Not exactly an equal distribution of labor!

I had purchased basil, so while Thomas was making pesto, he gave me some basil blossoms for the parrots. Max and Stella were very interested, though I suspect they were just ripping the leaves off and not ingesting anything:Also, Stella was not interested until she saw Max try some!Next were little grape tomatoes. Thomas gave some to Max. Her eye is pinning here; she is very interested:
Rocky saw Thomas handing this out, and he wanted some, so he went down into begging posture:The first attempt by Thomas to give him a grape tomato resulted in Rocky dropping it. You can see it on the left of the picture. It almost looks like one of Thomas's fingers!
But the second attempt was successful:
Thomas placed some of the vegetables on the floor as a temporary holding place. He had so many things going on at once, he'd run out of counter space! Stella came over to investigate this zucchini:
Max also enjoyed the zucchini:As did Steve. Look at the size difference in just a minute or so:And a little video of him eating. I know this is probably very boring, but when he does normal things like this, it makes me so happy!

Stella then moved on to a cucumber:
After she was done:
It didn't go to waste -- Thomas cleaned it up and took the slices for lunch today.

Corn is always a favorite:
Thomas made dinner, sauteed vegetables placed on a bed of pureed cauliflower. It was delicious, even though it may not sound like it! Once the pan had cooled down, we both left the room for a minute, only to return to find this:Dessert was a honeydew melon. Rocky loved it!
Here is a video of him eating it. I think it is really funny that when he has something that he really likes, he keeps his top beak on it while he eats, as though then Thomas can't pull the fork away:

The caiques also ate vegetables; they were just in the living room so I didn't take pictures of them.