Saturday, November 1, 2008

Frank, the ever busy Quaker

I got Frank when he was around two and a half, for serious aggression issues.

After I got him, I worked to get him used to changes, something he very much disliked, such as new toys, new foods, and new games. I got him used to new toys by slowly introducing small, simple toys across the room, playing with them, and moving them closer until he was playing with them and wanted them in his cage, and then slowly working up to bigger, more interesting toys. I introduced new foods by adding a separate dish on the bottom of his cage, a place he loved to play, with a few small pieces of the new food, as well as favorite treats. Eventually, he learned to eat a wide variety of things. As for games, I simply watched what he like to do, and tried to make a game out of it. He loved singing, so we did a lot of singing and dancing. He also loved foot toys, like balls, and "birdie soccer" was a favorite game. Along with games, I taught him many basic behaviors and tricks, like wave, come, drop, shake, turn, high five, to flap his wings, etc.

During this time, I noticed he spent most of his time trying to build a nest. This in itself is not unusual for quakers, but Frank's methods were. He would spend all day with a piece of a straw, a leather strip, a Popsicle stick, a piece of palm strip, etc., and try to weave it in the cage bars. All day, he would stand by the bars, weaving his head back and forth, but never actually getting anything woven. He did eventually learn to shove things through the bars, but that was about it. He sometimes got so frustrated, he would just start yelling, moaning, and chewing the bars as hard as he could. I started teaching him to weave as best I could, weaving palm strips, straws, and leather strips into the bars with him, trying to show him how to do it.

After doing a lot of research, I came to the conclusion that Frank was one of the unfortunate parrots that had been raised either from an egg or from a young age without any other quakers from which to learn normal quaker behaviors, or even that he was a quaker. Although I do not know this for certain, as I have very little of his history, it does fit with the little story I have, and with his behavior. Plus the fact that this is, unfortunately, an all too common occurrence.

Even aside from his nest building obsession, Frank acted, and still acts, noticeably different from other parrots and other quakers I had been around. Obviously, every parrot is different from the next, but Frank had, and still has, a very different way of reacting to the world around him, especially considering he is not a bird that has never suffered any kind of abuse. He is obviously very smart, I think perhaps, in reference to training and his use of the human language, etc, the smartest parrot I have worked with. However, he is emotionally at least as bad as some of my worse rescues.

In the first few years, he would often get very, very depressed. This did not seem to go with hormonal seasons or be related to that, though I can not say that did not play in to it. I tried seeing if it was related to diet, sunlight, exercise, anything, and although tweaking those things helped, it did not seem to be the cause. I worked with him everyday through this, though I could not always get him out of the cage. Whether he would come in or out, I continued to play games and sing with him. When I could get him out, I tried to take him around, and get him exercise and some more mental stimulation. He would go through swings of not eating very much, so his weight was often on the low side. He became even more upset about not being able to build a nest, and would literally spend days either chewing the bars, or tearing off the things I had woven in the bars to chew them. During these times, I became increasingly glad I had gotten him to look forward to having his toys rotated every day, and had helped him learn to forage. Every morning, I wove new things into his bars, switched some toys around, and hid his food and treats all around the cage. His cage, in fact, I had very stuffed with toys, mostly chewable ones and preening toys, to keep him occupied all day and make him work to get around. Although these things really helped, I still was bitten almost every day, and Frank still was depressed much of the time.

Other times, Frank gets extremely hyper/aggressive. It seems to be almost impossible to figure out all the different triggers that cause him to attack. Often, he seems happy and relaxed, but will suddenly dive bomb and attack a person or bird. Once he settles on something as being bad, it is very difficult to convince him otherwise - even beyond convincing my phobic birds. Although Frank was wary of new things when I got him, he has never been a phobic or fearful bird. Still, if he does get scared or upset with something, even things that have been fine with him before, it will send him into a blind panic that is very difficult to get him out of.

Whether he is depressed, hyper, or worried, it is always difficult to avoid being bitten. I accept his boundaries, use positive reinforcement training, the ABCs of behavior, but it is still difficult, it seems like things are always changing with him! You could say that he is very touchy, however lovable. I have heard a few people mention about parrots having mental disorders, but it is certainly not a widely researched or talked about idea. Usually the few you hear about are thought to have a form of Autism, but I know that is not Frank's problem. I heard Dr.Pepperburg speak about this, and she briefly described ADHD in parrots, and that sounded a bit more like Frank. Still, I doubt I will ever know any more than that Frank is a sweet (ehem, mostly) fellow with complicated emotions a complicated thought process!

The thing that finally really did help Frank was Lola, another quaker I ended up adopting. I had hoped that watching another quaker might help him, and it certainly did! In fact, I was extremely lucky in that not only did Frank and Lola enjoying watching each other, they eventually became very bonded, and now share a cage. Lola was a great deal older, and knew that she was a quaker (though she was bonded to people) and knew all the proper vocalizations, and used them plenty. Frank listened to her, tried to repeat them, she corrected him and he repeated again. Eventually, he actually seemed learned to "speak" quaker, or at least that was how it seemed to me, watching, hearing him make quaker nosies he had never made before. He now spends much of his time weaving new "nests" every day, removing them, and building new ones. He is now so happy, chatty, and playful, it really is a joy to see.

Frank, in his usual adorable fluff mode.

Frank, playing on his travel cage,
trying desperately to get the treat out of the wicker ball.

Waving for the camera, in his typical hog-the-attention style.

And a slightly artsy shot of Frank from below.

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