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No, I Don’t Advocate Giving Parrots Beer

This year, I will be celebrating my tenth year living with companion parrots.

It’s hard to believe that, almost a decade ago, I got my first bird.  I had seen this video of Alan Alda, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, and her amazing African Grey Alex and I was impressed.  More than anything, I wanted a parrot.  I started to do my research, and I understood that parrots were noisy, messy, and demanding.  I read web site after web site, bought a few books, and I thought I was ready.

But then I ran into an obstacle.  At the time, I was relatively broke.  A year before, my wife and I had bought a house, and we were suffering from that strange form of poverty that comes from buying a home.  We investigated bringing home a baby grey, and took a deep breath and sighed when we added up the costs of a baby bird, a cage, toys, a well-bird check, and everything else.

We had to put our plans on hold.

But they didn’t stay on hold for long.  Sometimes, the universe has a way of giving you what you want.

In our case, it came in the form of an advertisement in the newspaper.  A Goffin’s Cockatoo was for sale, so we met her owner (who was interviewing potential homes) and the bird.  We liked the bird, and she kinda (she was extremely shy) liked us, so we went home hoping that we’d be selected as her future home.  We admitted that we hadn’t researched cockatoos all that much, since we’d been focusing on a grey, but we promised to go home and bone up.

Then we found the site MyToos.com and we got scared.

Still, my wife foolishly wisely suggested that not everything on the Internet is as it seems.  She suggested that site was a good example of Internet Amplification Syndrome, which is basically the tendency that people who are really unhappy about certain things tend to be the most vocal.  She suggested that cockatoos might not be as bad as the web site’s author stated, and that we should try anyway.

We tried not to think about it too much, because we didn’t know if the cockatoo would end up in our home or not.

Then the phone rang.

It was the cockatoo’s owner.  We’d been selected as the little hen’s new family.

Welcome home Static.

She has been a great bird.  She’s been wonderful, partially because we were lucky as heck getting a sweet cockatoo, some of it was because we were smart and consulted Phoebe Linden over at Santa Barbara Bird Farm for behavioral advice right away, and some of it was because we weren’t totally clueless to some of the concepts one needs to use in training a parrot.  Sure, we made a lot of mistakes with Static, and I have to give her a lot of credit.  She was enormously patient with our lumbering and stupid initial attempts at building a quality relationship with her.

She taught us enough that we later added two more birds to our flock.  Our second bird was a 25-year-old African Grey, who was also bought from a newspaper advertisement.  Our third bird was a blind and badly-abused Severe Macaw who had been rescued by a lovely woman who was forced to give her up because of health problems.  We found her on the Internet, driving all the way to Nevada to get her.

Our grey, Coco, was with us up until just a few weeks ago.  He passed away at the age of 34 from heart failure.  The motivation behind this blog is partly in his memory.  He was a good boy, and in the nine years he was with us, he went from being a bird with a reputation for being “a stinker” to a really sweet guy.  He loved to go camping, he would accept (some) petting from strangers, and he was nice to all the adults in the house.  He had something of a fri-enemy (friend/enemy) relationship with our teenaged daughter and he would make sure to pinch her at the first opportunity if he perceived she had angered me.  My first thought, after I had gotten over the initial, terrible shock of his passing was, “Who will bite my kid now that Coco is gone?”

So our current flock consists of Static, our  14-year-old Goffin’s Cockatoo, and Luna, our approximately 30-year-old Severe Macaw.

After Coco died, both birds were pretty upset.  Static, who is the more emotionally sensitive of the two girls, snipped off a great many of her feathers, so she looks a lot like a shredded ball of paper at the moment.  Just after Coco passed, to help everyone (human and bird alike) to cope with the grief of losing a friend, we decided to start a birdie school.  Even though Static and Luna had mastered things like stepping up, returning to their perches and cages without a fuss, using their beaks gently, and not being too noisy, we hadn’t gone beyond that.

Enter Birdie School, which is my blog documenting our attempts to teach our birds something more than just basic companion behavior.

Coincidentally, just last weekend Barbara Heidenreich gave a seminar at the Santa Barbara Zoo on parrot behavior and training.  Although we were familiar with her training techniques and used similar methods for training our birds to (mostly) behave, we’d never worked with these techniques in a formal or structured way.  I went to her seminar and saw just how much is really possible, and that gave me some new ideas and motivation to help my birds be not only the best companion parrots they can be, but also to enrich all of our lives.

This blog will document our progress.

Now here’s the part for the necessary disclaimers.  I’m going to write on my blog about what has worked for me.  This doesn’t mean that everything I say here is the gospel truth.  It doesn’t even mean that everything I do is a good idea.  It just means that this is what we’ve done, and how it worked out for us.  If you have a companion parrot, then you have to make choices that work for you and your bird.  I’m not a bird trainer.  I’m not an expert.  I’m just a smart geek with a computer. my own business, and a couple of parrots.

Do what works for you, and don’t get mad at me if what works for me doesn’t work for you.  You are your bird’s own best advocate.

Oh, and speaking of advocacy, despite the extremely cute graphic that I downloaded as part of a free blog template, I do not advocate giving my parrots beer.

(Not that Static wouldn’t try to steal some if I gave her half a chance.)