Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Deep Bond Takes Time

Almost everyone has heard about someone that has shared an intense bond with some animal companion, be it a parrot, dog, goat, or fish. Perhaps you have had one yourself. However, I also know many people can feel somewhat discouraged by these stories, if they do not immediately experience a true connection with their new pet. It can be very tempting to get irritated, or perhaps blame your animal, or the species of animal, as somehow not as good, as intelligent, as others. Personally, I think this is hogwash, just my opinion. Those that have an immediate bond, and one that is returned, not simply a one-sided human ego affair (you know when it happens, trust me) are quite lucky. However, bonds that take time to develop are no less real and no less incredible.

As an example, when I got Gwen, my then 6 year old ex-breeder chihuahua mix from the pound, she very quickly settled in with me. In fact, I was frequently told how amazing her immediate claim to me as her new person was. She was fairly protective of me, and clearly valued my company. She did not want to be far from me for long at all, and had separation anxiety. That said, it was not a deep bond. She liked me, but..... it was just not the same. I could tell, and so could close family that saw her with me a lot, that she was somewhat aloof. I was the best she had, but she was not truly bonded to me. She was taking care of herself. As an example, when I was sick, she really seemed to care less, in fact, I would get complaints if I interrupted her beauty sleep throwing up in the night- she moved off the bed and across the room, taking a blanket with her. Not exactly normal behavior for a doggie companion of an ill person, is it? Overall, throughout the day, as much as I loved her, and she seemed to like me, it was clear there was no deep bond, just a friendly friendship. So basically, she decided to like me fairly quickly, in a day or two, but for a very long time, that was as far as it got.

When I had had Gwen for about a year, I was away from her (health reason again) for about a week. Prior to that, we had never been apart for more than an hour or two, and that only a couple of times. I had continued to treat Gwen like the little princess she is for that year, and tried to get past her block, but I had had no luck. When I saw her again after being away for a week, though, that had all changed. Gwen was so excited to see me (not that I did not return the sentiment!) and it was very clear from then on that things had changed. She is no longer just a guard dog, but a personal body guard- and by this I do not mean a nippy chihuahua, just to be clear! She learned on her own that chemicals were a problem for me (or perhaps she had already known and not bothered about it) and would go on alert when she noticed something. She did not allow anyone that she felt was, erm, contaminated (speaking MCS-wise here) near me, even if they were otherwise well-loved and welcomed people. If I started to get upset, she was right there in my lap, licking me. And, just for the record, I never heard another complaint if I got sick in the night. One of her ears is always tilted towards me to listen. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. It was no longer a one-sided affair, Gwen and I were, and are, extremely, extremely close. I am not even going to begin to describe what she means to me, this blog is just not the place for that, quite frankly.

Moral of the story? Don't give up. This does apply to parrots, after all, if it took this long to bond with a friendly and loving dog, you can easily imagine a parrot could take even longer, it depends both on the individual bird as well as what he or she was been through. Claudia and I had a near instant connection that is almost eerie, whereas my bond with Yo-yo, while just as incredible, took a couple months, and some have taken even longer. I do not have such a relationship with Clementine yet, she settled in quite quickly, and we get along wonderfully just as I did with Gwen when she first arrived, so I will just wait and anything more is just gravy. Trust me, whatever side you are on about those stories of being instantly chosen, bonds formed over much longer periods, with hard work or simply a lot of patience, are just as strong, and just as life changing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Introducing Food to a Stubborn bird?

Co-written by Lola (Frank was too busy to help.)

If other food is always available, why try something new? Similarly, suddenly taking out a dish that is always available often just leads to a hunger strike. Birds in the wild do not feed all day, and as ours are getting far much less exercise than them, I see no reason why they need food all day, either! Two meals a day, with some treats hidden in toys if you like, is a more natural way to feed. Watch the birds outside your door- heaviest in the morning and evening. Allowing the stomach to fully empty in the afternoon is not just natural but healthy- it allows the body to cleanse itself, heal, and re-set for the next meal. Feeding two meals a day makes food more valuable, more exciting, and can, and often does, help your bird gain weight, and by monitoring the food to a healthy amount, can also keep their weight down- which for parrots is even more important than for us. And since food is more exciting and valued, they are often more willing to try something new.

I say get to two meals a day with your current diet. Decrease or increase the amount of food at each meal until it is just enough that there are a very few crumbs left. If they were still starving, they would clean up those crumbs, but they still qualify for the clean plate club by only leaving a few crumbs. As I said before, if you want to fill foraging toys, take some of their meal amount to do that- ie, do not feed two full meals plus many treats (even if those treats are very healthy), but include the treats in the amount of food they can eat in one day. Once they are eating all of their food, try adding new food at one of the meals, or both. Not cold turkey, but mixed in, using still the same amount of food they can eat. While doing this, do monitor weight, if they lose more than 10 percent, back off. I try to do it without much weight loss at all, although sometimes there is no way to avoid it, just like leaving your child without dinner (been there,survived, and eat everything healthy I can!)

This may not help some of you, but I yet to find a bird that it did not widen the diet at least the tiniest bit. And even if you are not trying to get them on a new diet, I still recommend the two meal system, for all the above reasons. Trust me, outside of some severe health reason, your bird will not suffer, but be healthier!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ahhh, the Cleaning Issue

This post co-written by Yo-yo.

Keeping up with all the cleaning involved with parrots is not easy- the myriad ways they have to make extreme mess must be kept in some massive secret manifest of parrots somewhere, because there is no way they could keep up with them otherwise. Of course starting this long list is the obvious poop, also known as fecal matter, natural waste, and some other far less polite terms- often brought out when you find you are the recipient of their gift after you are in your board meeting, or perhaps when your house guest finds a little once-gooey packet on their suit case. If you are really lucky, you have a poop shooter- Lola is terrible for that, it comes from so many years in a tiny cage bringing out her clean nest instinct. Several years later, and she will poop inside her cage on special occasions, mostly she shoots it out the bars. Yep, fun. Particularly for visitors that make the error of standing near the cage.

Moving on, there is of course the issue of tossed food. I am sure you have all heard about the important mission shared by all parrots, to populate their respective habitat with new plants by throwing most of their food, and therefore most of their food's seeds, to the ground. Parrots take this very seriously. For any of you who do not believe parrots are making your house wild, and are instead thinking that keeping them in a house makes the parrots tame, simply look at your wall and floor after a nice meal. Yep. They win. I could go on and on, from the feathers and dust, to the wood chips, to the water stains after a bath... it goes on and on.

Keeping up with that mess, as I said, is not easy for anyone. Most people today have very busy life styles, which makes it only that much harder. This is a time when a schedule makes things easier. Decide when and how often you need to change the paper, wipe down the bars, clean perches, etc., find that time, and stick to it. Perhaps change the paper right after feeding, wipe the cage down quickly before bed, and take an hour, or however long you need, on Sunday afternoon to check over and scrub away accumulated waste. Once a habit, a little time here and there will keep it from becoming such a huge disaster, however much potential your parrots hold in that area. It will be hard at first if it is not something you already do, since setting a new habit is not easy.

To make it easier, keep everything you need right by the cage. So, in my case, I have a box with several cleaning rags, the cleaner I use, another spray bottle with plain water, several different kinds of brushes, from a toothbrush to a wire one for perches, a plastic putty knife (very useful, if you do not have one, get one!), a scrubby sponge and a soft sponge. I also have a small brush and dust pan and a larger broom.

Along with that I have the roll of paper I use for the cages (it is the end of the roll from the local newspaper, un-printed) and a pair of scissors specifically for cutting the paper. Sounds obvious, but for a while I had temper-tantrums over lost scissors, so now I have a nice little kiddie pair from my childhood, bright pink, that is kept on top of the roll (huge sigh of relief from the parrots on that one!)

So whenever I go to clean the cages, I have everything I need right there. This means the task is much more streamlined, and much faster. Now, my supplies are whatever works, and kept in a cardboard box, hardly picture worthy. However, if it will make you feel happy, go find a nice basket or bucket and pretty shiny cleaning stuff. I have to admit, it does make it more cheerful, even if not necessary. A good playlist doesn't hurt, either!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Ekkies Reinforce Gender Stereotypes

Stereotypes generally given to people, that is. I was just thinking  that over this week during the ekkie training sessions. Obviously I had noticed their personalities before, but this week it suddenly struck me (the things you laugh at when you live alone, right?) that they were playing right in to the oft-quoted "standard" man and woman  personalities.

Both Claudia and Chester are trained to target to a stick. This means they are to go to and touch the tip of the target stick, so I can get them to go up onto or into whatever I need them to without coercion (not really an issue with the ekkies, but useful with more difficult parrots), and even tricks like turn around, etc. It is useful for a huge number of other behaviors, so definitely something to teach. But the key thing here is that the parrot is supposed simply to touch the stick, not attack or splinter it. Optimally, the bird would not bite it at all, but that is rather a hard concept for me to get across to some birds, so I settle as long as they immediately let go on their own- no intent of playing or destroying.

Claudia very quickly picked up on the touch, not play, concept. During training, she displays unusual grace (for her, anyway) as she make her way with deliberation and great seeming concentration to the stick. She always just barely touches the stick with the tip or top of her beak. Very gentle, quite correct. Chester now... I have a bit of trouble with him! He knows the stick is not a toy, that much is clear. But to watch him during training is, well, a real treat for anyone with even a speck of humor in them. It is clear to anyone that he loves his training time- he goes charging for the stick, grunt or screech optional, heaven forbid anyone get in his way! When he gets to the stick he jumps (second grunt optional) and almost grabs the stick with his beak, occasionally giving it a little twist.  Not quite a full bite, more like a smack, but very forceful. It is always quick, and he lets go right away, and looks at me, hopping around for his treat and/or next cue. I try to move the stick quickly so he just touches barely and praise that, but he usually forgets halfway through training.

So, there you have it. Claudia, the gentle and delicate female, following directions carefully. And Chester, the rambunctious guy, using force to accomplish his task. And just for the record, Claudia wins the day- she connects the dots from task to task faster, and gets to the finish line first. But Chester gets bonus points for enthusiasm.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Paper Beats Dish

Providing foraging opportunities with cooked or chopped fresh food is not nearly as easy as with dry foods or even whole fruits and veggies. And as that is the main part of many parrots diets, with good reason, that means having parrots forage for all of their food is not something many people do. However, there are ways around this conundrum! Compared to having food appear at the same place, the dish right next to a perch, every day, anything is an improvement. So how about this idea?

(And yes, it is funny that my bird food tray has a cat hunting a toy mouse. 
What can I say? Cute, and it has been in the family, so many memories.)

Wrapping the top of the food dish in paper is easy, and provides a little enrichment with every meal. Decide what method is best to attach the paper to the dish considering your parrot. If your dish fits in a ring, which is the easiest, you can just tuck the paper in the edge of the ring. If not, I have used both rubber bands as well as cotton kitchen twine. In this case, for Clementine, I am using a rubber band as that works well and is safe with her.

Get a supply of whatever paper you plan to use and keep that next to the bird dishes so it is on hand. After filling the dish, or dishes, take a piece of paper the size you need and tie or wrap, etc, it on. 

In the beginning, you can just put a strip of paper around the edge, or across the middle, so most of the dish is uncovered. Gradually cover more of the dish, until it is all covered. In this example, I still have a small hole for Clementine as she is still learning about foraging.

Once a piece of paper is mastered, you can try more layers, or even thin cardboard for larger beaks. Use your imagination!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

So much to do!

So, January is over. Anyone make resolutions regarding their parrots? Or for that matter, perhaps you have a longstanding desire to make some change, or changes, with your parrots or their care. However, change is hard. You are here, and your destination................... is there. If you get on the internet, you are sure to find someone that is doing everything jis right. They have all the diet perfect, the toys, foraging, playgyms, just everything. Obviously, that is at the same time inspiring and disheartening. There is so. much. Argh!! You have to take it slow, and, in a way, ignore all that. And trust me, none of those people started out perfect, it has been a work in progress for them, as well, whatever they say!

Choose one little thing you know without and beyond any doubt you can do, and keep doing. Start there. Don't worry about how much is left to, what everyone else is doing, or anything else. Focus on your parrot or parrots, and recognize that any beneficial change is a beneficial change, and should be valued as such- it should not be discounted just because you think there is a lot more you could do. Your parrot will appreciate it, in fact, they may appreciate the slower pace more, since it gives them time to adjust! It takes time both to break old habits and to develop new ones, so you may have to push yourself a lot in the beginning, but it will become easier. Starting slow has the added benefit of giving you a more immediate reinforcement, as well as avoiding the dreaded guilt if you try too much and give up on all of it.

Think about what you could change, what spare time you have weekly, or where you could make some time. Think about what you need to create a new habit, there is no shame in pasting large reminders on your wall if that is what you need! If you do not, or cannot, buy a large amount of new supplies, don't worry about it. There are many, many things you can do with very little to no monetary investment. Many small, but significant, changes you can make that take very little time or effort.

So, what do you want to improve most? Training, behavior, foraging, diet, enrichment.....? Just want a better relationship with your birds? Everyone has something they can improve, and I know there are those that really want to re-do the entirety of their parrot care, from top to bottom. I understand the feeling of trying to do so much, it feels like starting over for me now, finally able to do what I have not for so long, so I am certainly practicing what I preach. Select what you think is most important to change, find one thing you think you can do, and go for it!