The Curse of the Clingy Parrot

Being down at school really sucks.  No birds to wake up to, no birds to cook for, no birds to snuggle, what do I do with myself?  Theres no poop here!

Anyways, in my spare time I’ve been lurking different bird sites, message boards, and ask the veterinarian forums.  And one of the problems I have noticed are perpetual screamers who refuse to play with toys.  And the only thing that seems to shut these birds up is, you guessed it, your immediate and undistracted attention.  I have a  theory on this problem and it is such an easy thing to avoid that I’m getting quite angry people are on the verge of rehoming their birds over it.

I’m going to be very mean right now and say that if you have a bird like this, you are to blame for this birds problem. 

Why?  Lets look at how we raise parrots vs how parrots are raised in the wild.

A baby parrot in the wild is totally dependant on its parents.  As it gets older, it begins to get too big to stay in the nest with all its siblings, so it begins to venture out.  It starts hopping around and learning to fly.  And although the parent may still feed the baby, they primarily leave them to figure everything out on their own.  The parents don’t sit around and cuddle with the baby all day-they have much more important things to do, like find food. 

Now lets look at how we raise parrots in captivity.  We take the babies and place them in a bin.  We feed them and socialize them.  As soon as the baby is fully weaned, a breeder sends it home with its new owner.  New owner gets the new bird and its such a cute baby, and its a new, shiny toy for the person.  And we want it to bond with us, yes!  So what do we do?  We carry the baby around, we feed the baby from our hands, we snuggle the baby all the time because baby parrots are just so cuddly.  And this young bird, who in the wild would be figuring out how to survive on  its own, is now having everything they could want handed to them.  It’s like taking a kid who was college bound and still setting their clothes out for them in the morning and cooking their waffles for them.  And while this bird is figuring out what life is about, we are setting unrealistic expectations about how often we are going to provide stimulation for them.

So, while the bird will quickly figure out that if he wants his food, he isn’t always going to have it handed to him and he might have to walk over and reach into his food dish for a pellet, he doesn’t really know what to do when he is bored. 

Lets fast forward 6 months (or sooner for some!).  Life hits you, the bird is not new anymore, and you have to get back to reality and expect your bird to act like a bird.  Give him some toys, make sure he has food and water, and expect him to be content to come out of his cage once a day and sit by you on his playgym.

However, birdie has been raised to be completely dependant on his owner and now is thrown for a shock when he is no longer receiving the amount of attention he had before.  He rationalizes this by calling to his owner, as something certainly must be wrong if they are not giving him their undivided attention.  Owner gets angry at birdies constant screeches.  As time goes on, birdie gets more and more frustrated, bored, and angry that he is not receiving attention.  He screams more and more.  Owner gets more frustrated that birdie is screaming more and refuses to play with all the wonderful toys they have bought.   Everyone is angry and nobody wins.

This situation is easily avoidable.  When you go and get a baby bird, freshly weaned from a breeder, DO NOT SPOIL HIM.  Treat him like a bird.  I’m not saying don’t handle him, but do not spend every waking moment you are home with your new fid.  Leave him on a playgym sometimes, leave him in his cage sometimes.  Play with some toys instead of just cuddling and petting while he is out.  Do not set the bar to a level that you cannot continue, especially at the time where he is discovering who he is and what he needs to do for himself.

  Also, be kind to your bird and yourself and set some ground rules.  Just because its cute that your new baby flies over to sit on your shoulder after you place him on the playstand, it’s not going to be cute when he misses your shoulder, lands on the floor in front of you, and you step on him.  Do not just think of the now and then, but think of the future. 

So, what do you do if you already have one of these little demanding monsters, whether you created it yourself or adopted a rehomed bird who’s last owner spoiled him? 

The first thing that I would do would be to make a commitment to working through this problem.  Decide how much time your bird usually demands out of you and cut it in half.  Half the time, you still give your bird the one on one attention he needs and craves.  The other half the time, birdie is going to have to fend for himself.  Make sure there are plenty of toys and even try playing with him.  Make sure he has plenty of food and water.  Plop his little feathered behind on a play gym and occupy yourself with something else.  If he flies over to you, return him (I personally have a ground rule with my guys that if I place you on a playstand, you stay there until I come get you.  Although its cute to have your bird seek you out, its unsafe when there are people walking through and rather annoying when you are trying to vacuum or clean cages and they come crawling up your leg.)  If he screams, ignore him.  He has toys, he has food, he has water, he is perfectly capable of entertaining himself for a half an hour. 

Breaking this habit can go as quickly or as slowly as your fid will allow.  Some birds give in easy, figure they better entertain themselves, and have at it.  Others scream relentlessly, exhaust themselves trying to come and see you, and make the whole ordeal into a much bigger affair than it is.  When your bird seems to be content, finds something constructive to do, or just isn’t throwing a temper tantrum, reward.  A pet on the head, a ‘Good Birdie!” or maybe just a favorite treat.  The goal is to make being independent fun, exciting, and easily within their grasp.

Understand going into this that some birds may never play with the toy that you spent $20 on.  May birds will figure out what toys are and play with them, and its a lot easier when they do.  But some just really aren’t into playing.  The goal here is really not to get your parrot to play, but to get your parrot to be independent when left on their own. 

I also would recommend anyone having trouble with a clingy parrot to do some trick training.  Teaching your bird tricks is a great way to strengthen the bond in a healthy way.  By giving your parrot a job to do and rewarding when they do good, they are learning to trust themselves and be a little more confident in themselves.  You are also defining that hairline distance that a parrot and owner need so the bird understands you are in charge (you make the rules, and they are to listen to them, aka stay on the playstand!) and allows you to build the necessary boundaries to keep a safe and happy bird.

Although parrots are not like dogs and do not look up to an alpha, in any animal there is always a more dominant one.  The nice thing about parrots is that it doesn’t take much for them to understand that they need to listen to your rules, as long as you are willing to place the boundaries!

My Fur-st Encounter with Furries

I, like any normal human being, have always had a secret desire to hob knob with a small sector of the population who refers to themselves as ‘Furries’.  And what better time and place to fulfill this secret wish than to be in Pittsburgh while Anthrocon is in full swing!

So, today inbetween my 2 hour long lecture class and studying for my test tomorrow, my friends and I decided to walk down to the Convention Center to have our first experience with Furries. 

If you actually are a normal person, and not a total weird-o like me, you are probably wondering what a Furry even is.  And although I am not a part of the Furry nation, I atleast know a little bit about them.  Furries are fans of anthropromorphic animals, animals with human characteristics.  It is a type of role playing where the person takes on a ‘fur-sona’ and makes a character (an animal) that they act as.  Really, essentially the same thing as cosplaying for anime fans.  They dress up in animal costumes.  The detail of the costume is really up to the individual.  We saw a great many people walking around with nothing animal like on but ears and a tail, but we also saw people dressed in their full ‘fur suits’, which is essentially the same thing as what the team mascot would wear, or the Pirate Parrot. 

The term ‘Furry’ is often looked at in a negative light because there are a small minority of the furry nation that take the whole thing and make it a little creepy.  Such as furry porn, peeing in litter boxes, and crazy free love furry sex parties (all doggy style I’m sure 😉 However, these individuals are, to my knowledge atleast, far and few inbetween.  The Furries we met today were friendly and outgoing, eager to take pictures with us and just seemed like they wanted to have a good time. 

We walked into the lobby of the Westen Hotel and we were immediately surrounded by Furries.  Every shape, size, species, color.  Furries, everywhere!  It was a little overwhelming at first, as we were all Furry virgins.  However, the longer we stayed, the more we felt comfortable and the more fun we saw in it.  The Furries were all playful and silly, and as they arn’t allowed to speak while in their fur suits, they are terrific pantominers.  You could watch their conversations with each other from the top floor and know exactly what they were saying. Also, I’m sure half of the fun of being a Furry is getting the reactions out of the unfurry people.  For example, the Westen is a nice, fancy hotel that a lot of business men travel to.  As we were looking over the crowd with Furries everywhere one business man came up to us.  “Excuse me” he said. ” But, do you know why there are all these people dressed, as. . .animals?” His total confusion was priceless.  We explained that the Furry Convention was going on, and a little bit about what it was, but he didn’t seem to appreciate it very much. 

Anyways, we had a good time and we didn’t even pay to go in.  Just hanging around the hotel was awesome.  And I’m sure they had a good time.  Its easy to see that this is the equivalent of what my Renissance Festival is to me. 

Pittsburgh hosts the worlds biggest Furry convention, which has artists, comic writers, and puppetters as well as the costumed Furries. 

Although they were great ambassators for the Furry community, you won’t catch me donning my fur suit quite yet.  However, I’ll probably make it a point to go down and chill with the Furries again next year!

My Crazy Life

My life is ridiculously out of control right now.  I feel a little bit like a spectator watching it fly by, but I’m exhausted enough to know that I am a participant.  And it makes me want to rip my hair out a little everyday.

First, and most importantly, I am in the process of retaking Chem II.  My teacher for chem II during the school year was horrible.  The class average ranged between a low C and a high D, and she offered no help in how to do better in the course.  So I withdrew and am now paying the price.  This time around, chem seems to be a little bit easier.  The teacher is still just so so, but her quizzes and tests are much more straight forward and less tricky.  So, so far, so good.

So, I go home on friday nights and go straight to work at the pet store.  And I work saturdays there as well.  And then I took a second job as a vet tech for a vaccination clinic on Sundays.  So sundays, I go there and then come back down to school.  And it is exhausting. 

So if I don’t write very often for the next three weeks, you know why.  I’m run to the ground and turned into sawdust lol.

Wow, what is this? He is writing!!!

Hi all

Wow, its been along time. I guess the right thing to do is write an apology to ever one. I’m sorry, Ive had a rough year, but I’m back and better then ever.

Now I know Hannah at least posted once to tell you a little about what I have been up to and I will get you updated on the in another post soon, but today I wanted to explain my view on animals a little so when I start writing you will know where I’m coming from. Some day I plan to work as a researcher for a zoo or conservation society. What this generally means is I try to do things in a more natural way, and stress things that are not quite as important to some people, like natural instinct. I always stress habitat (notice i didn’t call it a cage) design, diet, and quality of life. I think even if an animal is kept as a pet it should have the chance to live a “normal”  life.

I plan to be writing more now, and I hope to answer any of your questions about my opinions. Talk to you soon.  

Graduation Time!

So, yesterday Lance finally graduated from high school!  It was a day I think we were both waiting for a long time.  He is finally ready to embark on his journey to become a conservation biologist and I am no longer waiting for him to be a big boy. 

Its been a long, hard two years of me being at college and him being at high school.  We’ve been through a lot of issues with being at different sections of our lives.  He’s been in school when I’m not, I’m in class when he’s not, he still had parental control over him while I’ve been doing my own thing, and the 45 minute ride of separation hasn’t helped us any either.  Thats not even taking into account all our different activities and work schedules.  How we got through it, I don’t even know at this point.

But, it’s all over.  It’s finally over.  No more high school, no more marching band, no more high school drama or fake friendships, and no more parents!  Now our lives will be filled with biology, biology, and more biology, eating dinner together, going to the club or salsa dancing on weekends, and still battling work schedules.  But in one night, it’s all gotten so much easier.  Now we have things to think about like getting cars, getting an apartment, and getting student loans.  Much less scary that the idea of not getting to see each other.

Lance, of course, got accepted into the honors biology program at Duquesne.  I’m pretty sure he needed something like that, because everyone treating him like he’s just as mindless as the others taking a normal class would have destroyed him.

And the birds, well, Jules is going to come live at my house with my family while we are away.  Erin is going to come to college with me, which is totally breaking the rules, but is totally necessary to help her plucking.  Hopefully next summer we can find a nice house to rent and they can all come with us as well 🙂

The Sock That Saves the Day!

So, after getting exceptionally frustrated with Erin’s picking and all the failed products and theories I have tried to attempt to stop her picking , I decided just to put her to sleep.

Just kidding.

I’m not that evil and I certainly wouldn’t give up on my birdie like that.  I just wanted to see if you were awake. 

However, I did become exceptionally tired of her picking and have decided to take matters into my own hands.  I took Erin to camp with us over Memorial day weekend, and she didn’t pluck once the whole trip.  She had pins coming in and she was happy, her scabs were drying up and falling off, and all seemed to look up.  Then, I came home, went to work, and that evening every pin-feather was gone and she had a bloody mess on her chest again.  And at that point in time, I was so disappointed and so frustrated, I probably could have put her to sleep and felt like I was doing the right thing for her.  After all, if a bird is so unhappy that they mutilate their skin to the point of bleeding, wouldn’t they be happier not living?  And if the owner is the one who set the picking off by going away to school, shouldn’t they deserve to not have a bird?  And if the owner has taken the bird to a vet who didn’t find the problem, and now the owner doesn’t have money to go to another vet right this second, shouldn’t the owner just not have a bird?  At least that’s all what was going through my head Tuesday night after I discovered her looking like a plucked chicken again.

I took her up to my mother’s room and showed her the damage, basically just looking for someone else to blame for Erin’s problem other than myself.  My mom started to try to design different bird vests for Erin with her crocheting and quilting skills, trying to make a vest that did not allow her to get the left side of her chest.  If you look at Erin’s progression of plucking, it doesn’t really follow the pattern of classic plucking caused by behavior, nor does it follow the pattern of classic plucking caused by medical reasons.  Erin started plucking at the middle of her chest, just a small circle.  As she progressed, her circle got bigger.  By the time we went to the vet, Erin had cleaned the entire left side of her breast.  Anti anxiety drugs did not stop her plucking, but she also did not progress outside of that circle.  When I introduced the no plucking vest to her, Erin progressed more to the left side under her wing.  When I took her to camp, she didn’t touch her feathers until her chest would get dried up.  When I would see her messing with her chest, I would put some lotion on her, and she would go back to ignoring it and being happy to sit around or groom her other feathers.  Up until this point, I figured it was totally a medical reason, as I had changed everything I could think of and battled with every tactic I thought of and nothing helped. 

So, as I sat there and looked at Erin, I grabbed a sock, cut the toe off, put some holes in it for her wings and head, and pulled it over her head like a sweater.  And after a few minutes of tweaking and a few tries with more toes of socks, I finally had a sock sweater that fit her correctly.  And guess what?  The sock works!!

The sock covers Erin’s entire chest, under her wings, her sides, and even her back.  I thought maybe she would begin picking on top of her wings or her legs, but so far, she hasn’t touched them.  Now Erin’s plucking seems behavioral.

So, what I’m going to do is wait until Erin is fully feathered again before she gets any unsupervised time without the sock on.  Then, I’m going to wean her off of it slowly, but only letting her not wear it when I’m home and downstairs, then gradually reducing the amount of supervised time. 

My theory now is that Erin started picking because I was away at school, she wasn’t getting as much attention as she was used to, and she was just in general upset.  When I came home, Erin’s plucking turned into a habit.  As I tried to break that habit by sending time with her and giving her more new options in her cage to play with, Erin’s plucking slowed, but the itchiness and dryness of her new feathers coming in bothered her, so she began self mutilating and pulling out the painful quill feathers. 

Now that Erin cannot reach her pin feathers anymore, she has stopped plucking.  I’m sure she’s not very comfortable, but I just hope these pins grow into feathers quickly so she feels better.  And by the looks of it, she hasn’t damaged any follicles too badly that she can’t grow feathers back. 

And look at all those gorgous pins!