Sunday, January 20, 2013

In which Max makes me laugh

I'll admit it. I am a happy person and laugh a lot.

My therapist told me this is not always a good thing, as I endured years of abuse at Thomas's hands, thinking I was happy.  Yikes!  Interesting to think that I could have escaped years earlier.

But now that I am no longer in an (emotionally & verbally) abusive relationship, I am very glad that I have a high happiness base line.I think that's a good thing. 

I recently listened to a lecture on human behavior, and I learned that 50% of happiness is due to genetics, 10% is circumstances, and 40% is our behavior and how we react to things.  I am glad that my 50% genetics = happiness as I really only have control over 40% of my own happiness!

Max makes me laugh every single day. 

Currently, she is obsessed with the dark bathroom.

Here, she looks like she may want me to give her head pets; instead, she is just interested in heading to the bathroom.   She is a trickster!
As an aside, I may need to consider my parrots' opinions in great music.  They love Father John Misty, heard here, and his music is frequently listed as the best of 2012.

Note to record producers: I will loan out my parrots' expertise to tell you if you have a winner or not :)

In which Max is loving

Sometimes Max is so wonderful!

Actually, most of the time. I am really lucky to have such a fabulous parrot.

Tonight, she was on her stand and I was at the table.  She flew down to request head pets.  How could I deny her?

And a wonderful bonding experience resulted:
I am very careful to stick to her head, so that I don't send her improper signals!

I really hope that everyone feels this way about their own parrots, but I feel so lucky with mine.  They weathered losing one of their owners with grace and strength.  They are as happy and wonderful as ever.  In just a few months, I will have had Max longer than I will have been married!  Having this amazing bond with such a sensitive, wonderful creature humbles me.  I pity Thomas, who so easily gave her up.  What could he possibly have been thinking?

In which Max is ornery

A few weeks ago, my very dear friend Paula sent me a care package. We have not (yet!) met, but her husband cheated on her and we've developed a love-at-first-sight kind of friendship.  This package involved about 30 bird Christmas tree ornaments, in addition to other things, as well as some packaging peanuts. 

Max had been destroying the peanuts, and I wanted to make a video so Paula could see how much happiness she'd brought to our house, even with things not intended to cause happiness!  Of course, as soon as I tried to tape it, Max decided to throw the peanuts away instead of chewing them up.

And then I tried with some wood, to the same effect:
I told her she would irritate our downstairs neighbors, but I was just joking.  They are university students, and they are just fantastic.  They love the parrots, especially the guy who plays bass, as the parrots start dancing, and this makes him laugh.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hormonal caique? Oh, yes!

I received this question in the comments, which I will answer below:
I found your blog while looking for approaches to handling my hormonal caique. Do you know of any dietary options by chance?

The bird's hatch date is 12/19/09, and this year she's been on an extended celebration. I've had her since May '10 or so. "Her" isn't formally confirmed; breeder's guess by feeling the pelvic bones.

Her diet is a variety of fruit/veggies in the morning and access to a grain mix during the day.

Other than a recent plumbing disaster (variety of chemicals used, cutting a drain pipe, etc.), and a family visit during the holidays, no changes to our normal routine. It's been several days of return to normalcy, but aggressive behavior has intensified.

The bird is normally cage-free, with a bull terrier in the house (equally cage-free). Lately, they've been going at each other, with the bird instigating. The bird isn't clipped, and the dog is sufficiently well-behaved, so it hasn't been a concern in the past; however, the bird hasn't been provoking the dog to this degree before. Typically, it's the other way around.

With me, behavior is a roller-coaster. I can tolerate occasional beaking, but a love-bite on the lip from a reach-around lunge off my shoulder that I can't see coming is a bit much.

I grab her following incidents (to prevent further damage - to me) and deposit her in the cage, leaving the room. She then is pretty insistent on calling me back. When I come back, I can see the typical signs of an aggressive posture. If I open the cage and tell her to step up, she will and very shortly attempt to attack.

Any suggestions appreciated.

Hello, and welcome to the world of mature caiques.  As always, I must disclaim that every bird is an individual, but over my years of parrot ownership and volunteering at the rescue, I have done as much research as I could to try to give my parrots the best captive life I could, so I feel comfortable making generalizations, which I will do here, though of course it does not apply to every individual of the species. 

There used to be a good site about caiques that appears to no longer be available online.  I remember very vividly the line "biting is one of the downsides of caique ownership."  I've found that to be true, to a point.  The site also mentioned that they tend not to do well with other animals in the house, but I'll get into that more down below.

One of the great things about caiques is that typically they are very expressive, so once you get to know their body language, you can usually avoid bites by not trying to handle them when they are agitated.

I have two teenage male caiques, Calypso (18; I've had him 9 years) and Beeps (14; I've had him 6 years.)  Calypso has never bitten me, though he had bitten my ex-husband in the past.  He also postures as though he will bite me occasionally when I ask him to step up.  Instead of forcing him, I leave him be and try again later.  He is also trained to step up on a stick in case I absolutely needed to move him.  I believe Calypso is quite an anomaly among caiques with regards to biting, and I feel very lucky!

Beeps, on the other hand, gets worked up quite a bit.  He is very difficult to handle for a few months every year -- typically this has been December - February -- and then his sweet personality returns for the spring, summer, and fall.  He also has triggers; things that will set him off.  For example,  the container in which I keep my lizard's food incites Beeps to launch flying attacks at me, so I always make sure Beeps is locked in his cage before I feed Andreas.

What you've described sounds like it may be hormonal biting.

You can certainly try experimenting with different foods.  If you do that, I'd recommend keeping a journal so you can see if there are any correlations between what she eats and her behavior.  I tried with Beeps in the past, but never noticed any difference.  Some people recommend using cooled chamomile tea in place of water to help calm an agitated bird down.  Once again, this never made any difference for me.

The first thing I recommend is to make sure to keep the caique and the dog separate.  Sadly, I have known dozens of birds killed by the family pet (I come into contact with a lot of people at the parrot rescue.)  Every time, the story starts out "they always got along..." and usually involves "the bird always flew out of reach before" and "the dog/cat is so well-natured.  I can't believe it!"  I feel the risk is just far too great.  When instincts are involved, it only takes a second, and even careful supervision can't stop a tragedy from happening (I lost a dear budgie in 2011 to another animal when I was carefully supervising.  I wasn't fast enough and instead had a front-row seat to the tragedy.  I so wish I would have enforced true separation that would have saved his life.)

Additionally, it sounds like perhaps your caique has chosen you as her mate, and so she feels the need to drive her competition (the dog) out of the way, so separation may help calm down the hormones.

You mention that she is normally cage-free.  Does she have a cage where she sleeps and spends some time?  Birds really do best with routine and some limits.  Cages are not punishments.  My birds love their cages and will frequently go inside them during the day.  Perhaps she needs to get started on a routine that involves cage time.  Mine do best with 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and I see a definite difference in behavior.  How much sleep is she getting?  (Dark, uninterrupted; not with someone watching TV in the same room.)

What you do when she bites may actually be reinforcing to her, as she gets attention immediately when you pick her up.  It's likely she does not realize that her behavior caused her to be put in her cage, since it's too far removed, and she was already rewarded by your attention.  Then, she calls to you, as a lone bird in the wild is most likely a dead bird.  They are flock animals and only a few generations removed from the wild, so with all of the instincts that serve them well in the jungle but not as well in our living rooms.

What you want to try to do is learn her body language and prevent bites.  With Calypso, if I offer him my hand, he'll either step up nicely or he'll make a squealing fuss.  If it's the latter, he's probably going to bite.  So I either leave him alone until he's calmed down and try again, or, if I need to move him somewhere, I'll use a stick. 

With Beeps, things are a bit more interesting.  As background, both caiques are unclipped, but only Beeps really flies.  I noticed that right before he'd bite, his eyes would start to flash.  I watched him carefully, and as soon as I saw his eyes flash, I'd point to his cage and tell him to go inside.  He'd fly there from wherever he was, go inside, I'd shut the cage door, and then he'd have his meltdown.  After a few months of this, he started to go inside his cage on his own when he felt a meltdown happening.  I need to pay attention and shut him inside until he calms down, otherwise he may come out of his cage and launch an attack.  He's also stick-trained, should I need him to go somewhere he doesn't want to fly to.

I truly believe that they want to behave, but sometimes they can't control their behavior!

Another thing that may help is exercise.  You can develop games to have her flying around.  In the wild, they'd be flying and exercising their excess energy away.  Here, they just don't do that, so it often manifests itself in undesirable behaviors, like attacking.  Get her panting.  This could be having her on your hand when you go up and down (this is what I do with Beeps), or assisted flying (this is Calypso's favorite.  I cup my hands under his chest and we "fly" around my apartment, with me running.)  Since she flies, you can put her on her stand and call her to you (this is how I exercise my grey.)  There are a million ways (maybe not quite that many!) that you can exercise her, so find a way that is fun for both of you!

I'd also recommend keeping her brain stimulated.  In my house, we do trick training using a clicker.  They love it, and it's a positive way for them to expend some mental energy.

It sounds like you allow her on your shoulder, based on one of your comments.  I know that many, if not most, parrot owners encourage this.  However, I do not at all.  If I were queen of captive parrots, this is something that no one would do!  And especially not with a parrot who has ever shown hormonal tendencies or has ever bitten anyone (so, pretty much all parrots.)  Possibly excepting budgies and tiels.

Here's why: you can't see their body language, so it's very easy to all of a sudden get a face bite "out of nowhere" when the bird had been giving warnings that could have prevented it.

I have personally witnessed a macaw bite a chunk of cartilage out of someone's ear.  He was on his favorite person's shoulder and gave him a warning.  In the wild, he'd get a beak full of feathers and his communication would have been proper.  In captivity, he can do major damage and might lose his home.  I have also seen and known many people who have had to get stitches for a facial bite.  The risk is just far too high, and usually it's the bird that ends up losing.  Once again, far better to prevent than to react.

As I am rambling on, as usual, here is a quick summary, with a few extras:

1. Keep bird and dog separate at all times.

2. 12 hours of dark, uninterrupted sleep every night.

3. Watch body language closely and prevent (rather than react to) bites.

4. Develop another way to handle her when she's agitated (e.g. stick train.)

5. Exercise until she's panting, several times a day.

6. Keep her brain stimulated (e.g. trick training.)

7. Absolutely no shoulders.

8. Keep all petting (if any) to the head only.  Absolutely no petting below the neck, under the wings, etc.  You are turning her on and making promises you can't keep.  No playing on/under blankets.  No nest boxes or anything that might approximate one.

9. Do not feed warm, mushy foods.

Good luck!  I do hope this calms down soon, but you may need to realize that you will have a few months every year with limited physical interaction with her.  This is the case for Beeps and me, but once his hormonal season has ended, our relationship returns to what it was before the hormones kicked in.  Other people may chime in with additional thoughts, and I will add anything here if I think of something else to say!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Adding a new bird to the house

I received this comment (slightly edited) today:

Today I bought my first Grey. She was once someone's pet, then sold and they attempted to breed her. Now I have her and she's biting the crap out of me. Drawn blood 3 times. I have no idea how to handle this! She lets me feed her- she's gentle at taking food. She lets me pet her head- sometimes- and she's following me around the house and watching me. But when I try to put my hand near her she bites me HARD. I'm being patient and just sitting with her. I put my hand down near the ground and she will come over and because I'm unsure what she's going to do I'll either pull away or just sit there- in which case she bites me. If anyone can give me an insight on what's going on I'd appreciate it. :*( I want her to love me! She seems interested.... doesn't she?

Congratulations on adding a grey to your flock! 

The biggest thing that helps when adding a new bird to your flock, especially one who hasn't had exclusively positive interactions with people, is patience.

Remember that birds are prey animals, and they are not yet domesticated, so they have all of the instincts of truly wild birds.  As prey animals, they constantly worry for their safety.

You mention that you are being patient, and you probably are for a human, but you need to be patient in bird as well!  Many times, we humans want to hurry along our relationships with parrots.  We love them, and they should recognize our good intentions, right?  But if you are putting yourself in the position of getting bit, you need to take a step back and increase your patience.  It's not a race, and taking the time to build a good, solid, trusting relationship now will pay dividends down the road.

Greys are particularly notorious for taking a while to warm up to someone.  Of course, that's a generalization as all parrots are individuals.  But you really need to give her time and space to get used to her new surroundings, evaluate you (to realize you don't intend harm!), and settle in.

Observe her.  Don't stare her down, but notice how she acts when she's comfortable, happy, wary, upset, etc.  Greys can be much harder to read than other parrots (when my caiques are upset about something, even a parrot novice can tell; my grey is much more subtle.)  However, once you know the body language of your particular grey, they are essentially an open book.

Make yourself valuable to her -- talk to her softly, tell her how beautiful she is and how much you love her.  Figure out what her favorite treats are, chop them into tiny pieces, and give them to her frequently.  Perhaps think about starting to clicker train her.  Make sure that you are calm, peaceful, and non-threatening at all times.

It sounds like she knows how to step up; she just doesn't want to right now.  Don't force her!  It is a great sign that she is approaching you already -- she just may not completely trust you and may want to step up, but is afraid of doing so.  You will get there!

After living with these guys for over a decade, I truly believe the secret to happiness with parrots is figuring out ways to make them want to behave in ways that please you.  You can't force them to act in a certain way, so you need to figure out ways to incentivize them to do so.

Remember that life with parrots is truly a marathon, not a sprint.  By biting you, she is telling you that she's unhappy about something.  However, parrots rarely resort to biting as their first method of communication.  She's probably given you a few other signals that she was upset -- figure out what those are and adjust your behavior accordingly.

In the specific case you mentioned, what I would probably do is give her a small treat when she approaches you.  Don't try to make her step up yet.  She doesn't trust you yet, so stepping up is not a reward.  If you reward her (small treat) for coming to you, she will start to associate you with good things and ultimately, stepping up on you will be enough of a reward.  But it's not yet.  It may take weeks or even months.  Patience and consistency are key.

Good luck, and please update on how things go with her!