But Professor, my Parrot Ate my Homework! I Swear!

Erin, saying enough studying!

Here is my wonderful little Erin attempting to kill my study attempts.  She says enough biology!  I’m cuter!  This could possibly be the reason I always seem behind on things.  But how could I say no to a face like that?  Aside from trying to shred my homework (which I’ll have you know, she never shreds any of her shredding toys, just my homework), she also tries to take my pen or pencil out of my hand, throws my pictures on my desk around or knocks them over, and tries to chew on my computer cords.  Bad, bad birdie!

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It’s Just a Bird

It’s just a bird.  The words I hate hearing more than anything else.  I mean, how do you explain to people that your bundle of feathered joy isn’t ‘just a bird’ to you?  The hard facts in life is that if you are not a pet person, or a bird person, you probably won’t get it.  

Obviously, from my past posts, this whole blog, and all the numerous pictures I have posted of my feathered kids (fids for short), you can tell I love my birds.  They are not ‘just birds’ to me.  They are an important member of my family.  They are like my children.  So when I have people telling me that they are ‘just birds’ it definitely gets under my skin.

I especially have this problem when I start explaining the medical care that some of my birds require.  All of their handicaps require unique care and sometimes I have to do things that to normal everyday people are a little crazy.  A good example of this is Taylor.  When I explain to people that he has to be on medication forever to keep yeast from growing in his crop, that he has racked up around $500 in vet bills in his short life, and that his feet are so turned in I have to find or make special shelves to sit on, I get a lot of grumbling about how I am crazy and he is ‘just a bird’.  And sometimes I have a hard time understanding why they can’t see what I can.   About how he has overcome his handicaps, he has learned to be happy with what he has, and he is a terrific, sweet, and funny boy.  To me, he is a success story and he inspires a lot of hope in me and makes me look at life a little differently.  To everyone else, he’s ‘just a bird’.

I even get a lot of people who try to turn my own science major-ness against me and claim that according to Darwin, survival of the fittest rages and if he was in the wild he would be dead.  And I agree.  If any of my birds were in the wild, they would be dead.  But what they don’t understand is my birds would not have these problems if they were in the wild.  My birds are mostly a product of human made mistakes.  Inappropriate diet to the breeding parents, over breeding, in breeding, and just general not understanding what the term ‘bird breeding’ meant are the reason my babies are so crippled.  Also, they are not in the wild.  They are in my house and I have the means to care for them and make them comfortable, so why wouldn’t I?  Our science is great enough to help with the problems that inexperienced humans have created.  

To me, saying ‘its just a bird’ is an insult.  My birds are my choice in life and no one else should question that.  They are my hobby and my calling.  I enjoy caring for them and I enjoy having them in my life.  To me, saying ‘its just a bird’ is like telling a parent ‘its just a child’ or an expectant mother ‘ its just a conglomeration of cells acting as a  parasite off your body’.  Children are not my calling in life, yet I do not question the motives to why other people want to have them.  That is their life choice, and its no ones business but their own.

So my other animal loving friends, how do you deal with people when they say ‘its just a bird’ or ‘its just an animal’?  Leave me a comment!  I’m interested in knowing how everyone else deals with this, because to date I haven’t found a response that just gets people to leave it alone!

Erin Gets an Education

I don’t know what about this year has made me miss my birds more than last year, but I most definately have hit a rut when it comes to pet sickness.  So I decided that Erin would be joining me this semester. 

A lot of other apartment dwellers have pets, so why couldn’t I?  I know of people who have snakes, mice, toads, hamsters, lizards, turtles, and even some brave people who I know have snuck cats into ‘no pet’ apartments and dorms.  So, I decided to it a try.

I feel like most buildings ban animals because they don’t want the mess, don’t want the noise, and don’t want the potential for a small animal like a snake or hamster to escape, die in a wall, and stink up the place.  However, little Erin doesn’t have any of those problems.   She’s quiet, clean, cannot escape her cage, and absolutely loves all her new found attention from my roommates.    I feel like giving her a change where she lives as an only bird for a while will help her to overcome her featherplucking.  I think that having her around will also help manage the stress and depression that goes a long with getting a higher education.  It’s a proven fact that people who have animals generally live longer, more fulfilling lives, have less high blood pressure, and less stress related issues.  Which is a good thing because I live with Pharmacy majors lol. 

I’ve often thought Erin would make a terrific little ‘therapy bird’.  I’ve never heard of an actual therapy bird before, mostly because parrots don’t like strangers and have the ability to remove a finger, but I think Erin would be a good one!  She’s very gentle and sweet and forgiving and trusts anyone.  I often call her my birdy ambassador and always hand her to the people who have never handled a bird before or who think badly of birds.  She always makes a great first impression or changes their minds.

Model Rival Training Technique Video

I decided to do another video blog on the how we use modeling to trick train our birds.

Modeling works well for us because not only is the second bird watching the first bird and seeing that responding to a command in a particular way gains a treat, it also gives the bird a rival to compete against for the attention of the trainer.

Modeling can also work if you have only one bird.  You just need a willing human who doesn’t mind acting as he second bird.

Birds are very watchful and learn a lot just from watching what is going on around them.  Miles has even learned how to ask for a treat simply by watching Bella do it so many times.  Miles has never been trained to ask for some food, yet he knows how!

Erin’s Sucess Story

I think I can finally say that Erin has made it through her rut as a picker and is essentially back to being a normal bird!  Its taken from March until now to get her to stop picking and to let her feathers grow back in, but as long as we don’t have any huge setbacks I believe we are in the clear. 

For those who do not know, Erin is my 6 year old handicapped cockatiel.  She was not my first bird, but she was my first handicapped parrot and she was my inspiration to get involved with handicapped animals.  Her whole story is in the ‘About Our Flock’ section.

Anyways, out of all my birds, Erin was the one that I felt was least likely to start picking.  I thought for sure it would be Bella.  After all, Erin was well adjusted, friendly, loving, and happy with everyone.  She seemed, in general, like a happy, easy bird.  However, after I went away to school, Erin wasn’t recieving as much attention as she was used to.  She rarely got out of her cage because Bella was so demanding of time and attention that my family didn’t have time to play with the smaller ones as much.  The other two birds played with their toys and entertained themselves, but apparently that wasn’t enough for Erin. 

The straw that broke the camel back was when my well meaning mother attempted to change Erin from being bedded on Carefresh to being bedded on diced newspaper.  Erin flipped out and began pulling her feathers out.

When I came home for spring break, my mom announced on the car ride home that we had a problem with Erin that everyone had apparently been keeping a secret from me.  She had a patch the size of  a dime cleared on her chest.  I was mortified as well as completely furious that no one had told me.  I made a vets appointment and took her later that week.

Erin’s test came back clean and she was deemed a neurotic cockatiel.  They gave her anti-anxiety medication.  However, the medication was too strong and Erin soon began not eating while on the medication.  I pulled her off the medicine and her plucking became worse.  I bought her all new perches and toys and totally outfitted her cage.  I attempted to change her diet, which she thorougly hated, to a new rice based diet, incase she was allergic to wheat.  Nothing seemed to slow her down.

By the middle of April, Erin had completely balded her chest.  I bought her a no pick vest.  Erin began picking under her wings and progressed to self mutilation.  At this point, I wanted to take her to a vet yet again, but I had no money and finals and no support.  Poor Erin had to wait.  Taylor also got sick and needed veterinary care, so I was completely wrung dry of all funds.

By the middle of May, Erin was so caked with goo from sprays and aloe that she looked like she had been involved in an oil spill.  She was miserable.  Every waking moment was spent pulling out the pins of the feathers that had been coming in.  She would squeak pitifully everytime she pulled on another feather.  There were some nights that I would just put her to bed early just so I didn’t have to hear her pulling her feathers out.

At this point, I was home regularly, so I was beginning to think her plucking had become a habit and she was continuing because the pins coming in were itchy.  So, in a last attempt, I cut the toe off a sock and put holes for her head and her wings and made her wear the sock.  The sock didn’t allow her access to under her wings, her back, her belly, or any part in between.  At first I was doubtful about whether it would work or not.  I figured she would chew through it or shred it apart to get at the pins.

Within a week I was seeing new pins.  At first, Erin did try to take the sock off and shred it.  But she couldn’t.  I could tell she was itchy, but as the pins sprouted into new feathers and less pins needed to grow in, she got more comfortable.  She began to seem happier and cleaned all the grease off her feathers.  She started to look like a bird again!

Today, Erin still wears her sock when she is in the cage and to sleep.  However, she is gradually being weaned off of it.  She no longer needs it while she is out of the cage and will happily play, eat, and preen without pulling out any of her feathers.  She is almost fully feathered, only having a small bald spot in her wing pit, which is quickly being filled, and on the very top of her one knee.  She no longer mutilates at all.  In the future, I plan to decrease Erin’s time in the sock while in the cage until she no longer needs it at all.  She is also going to move down to school with me when I go in August, so she can recieve more one on one attention and hopefully not revert back to picking.  She’s going to have a whole suite of girls to love on her, so hopefully that will be enough to make her happy!

Although Erin will always be prone to picking now, I am confident that with close monitoring she will not revert back as badly as she has been in the past.

This is Erin, taken today, July 15th 2011

Our Adventure to Northview Animal Hospital!

Today I took Taylor to Northview Animal Hospital to see what was wrong with his swollen crop.  And it was quite an adventure just getting there! 

I am not by any means a confident driver.  I hate driving in places I don’t know, I hate city driving, and I hate being pressured by other drivers.  And getting to Northview involved all three!  I’m surprised Taylor didn’t die on the way there from fear of my poor driving or my screaming and cussing.  Mapquest lied and said I would be there in a half an hour and its a good thing I left an hour ahead of time, because I arrived just on time. 

Dr. Denise Pleban saw Taylor and I’m pretty sure she is my angel from heaven when it comes to finding an avian vet.  For the first time since I’ve started looking for an avian vet, I didn’t feel rushed with my time with the vet, I didn’t feel cheated, and I didn’t feel like I knew more than the person seeing my animal. 

Taylor had samples taken from his crop as well as stool samples and had grams stains run on both.  He was a little stinker today, and his crop was not nearly as swollen as it had been yesterday, so his physical exam was less than revealing.  His lab tests, however, revealed that Taylor has a yeast infection in his crop. 

I was pretty surprised that it was  yeast infection, because Taylor is 3 years old, and yeast infections are usually common in baby birds!  However, Dr. Pleban said he may have  a compromised immune system due to his rough beginnings.  He could also have a mechanical problem keeping his crop closed and away from bacteria.  If that’s the case, Taylor will have to be on medication for the rest of his life to keep him safe from infections in his crop.

As for right now, Taylor is on medication for ten days that I have to give him twice a day.  I also was advised to change his pellets from Kaytee to either Harrisons, Roudybush, or Zupreem.  So, I picked up a bag of Zupreem from the store on the way home, and amazingly, it seems like Tay really likes them!  Even better, I offered some to Erin to see if I can get them both on the same pellet, and she seems to like them as well!  Erin NEVER likes any other pellets than Lafaebers, which is a good brand, but expensive and messy. 

So now I just have to convince Taylor that his medicine is for his own good.  I already gave him his first dose and he acted as though I gave him a dose of cyanide.  He’s so over dramatic. 

Make Your Own Bird Toys, Issue 1!

As a quick update, Taylor still has a swollen crop, but is looking happy and healthy (other than the large bulge on his chest) in his hospital box.  He has eaten the entire sprig of millet I gave him last night, as well as part of his seed and pellet mixture.  I also caught him drinking this morning, so he is eating, drinking, and pooping, all essential to life!  Tay also has an appointment down at Northview tomorrow at 11:40.  So, hopefully we will find out what is wrong with him and remedy it!

I also found a vet to shadow over the summer on my days off from Petscapes!  I called Dr. Hope today from Hope Veterinary Hospital and he said I was welcome to come anytime, for surgeries on Tuesday and Friday mornings, to office hours throughout the week. I am so pumped!  So, I’m sure I’ll have many good things to write about!

However, today I decided to do a fun installation about making your own bird toys.  Bella enjoys shredding things up, and therefore goes through toys like water.  Because the average bird toy runs around $5-$10 depending on how complex and big it is, I have decided to start making a lot of my own.  So, I am going to share some of my secrets with you.  Shh. 

I don’t really name these things.  This particular toy is a basic paper shredding toy.  It’s ideal for budgies up to conures or amazons.  I wouldn’t want to make this toy for a macaw, because they would probably look at it and it would fall apart.  So, this is recommended for smaller shredders.

Materials:

  1. Two or more pieces of colored paper, your choice
  2. Yarn or another type of string
  3. Scissors
  4. a bird to keep you company.  Little Erin is our model today, because she’s just so darn cute.

Step One

cut the pieces of colored paper into strips width wise.  Depending on your birds size, you may need to cut these pieces wider or thinner than mine.  I made a matching toy for Erin and her strips were much thinner.

Step Two

Bend the strips back and forth to make an accordion style piece of paper. Bend each strip separately.  Its faster to bend them all together, but then they all spoon each other and it doesn’t make as fun of a toy.

Step Three

Continue bending until you have enough strips bent to make a decent size wad of paper.

Step Four

place all the strips together at the center and tie with yarn around.  Wrap a few times to make a tougher toy and make sure there are no loops that can easily catch a bird leg.  Leave a tail of yarn for tying into the cage.  Erin decided she wanted this one.

Step Five

Tie new toy into bird-cage.  Here is an angry Bella with her new toy.  She wasn’t happy I let it invade her space.  I kinda like pissing her off though because she looks so dinosaur like when she puts that little ruff of feathers up on the back of her neck!

 

When It Rains, It Pours

Taylors Swollen Crop

 Taylor has been hanging at the bottom of his cage lately.  I figured it was because I put some new perches in his cage and usually Taylor retreats to the bottom to hiss at them and hate them until he gets used to them.  Today I noticed that he wasnt eating very much and most of his pellets from last night were untouched.  I pulled him out of the cage and discovered that his crop was extremely swollen, almost as if it hasn’t drained.  When you touch it, it feels like the crop is filled with air and if you push hard enough, it causes him to throw up whatever is in his crop.

This happened once before, but it seemed to fix itself within a few days. 

So, tomorrow I’ll be making an appointment to take Taylor to the vet.  I’m hoping to get him in Tuesday morning.  I’m not exceptionally scared for his life, as this did happen before, and he seems to be fine otherwise.  He was eating some seed right before I pulled him out to put him in the hospital box, and he’s now sitting quite smugly in his little box.

Taylor loves my hospital box treatment.  A small Rubbermaid container with holes filled with a deep layer of fluffy carefresh.  The whole box is placed so half is on a heating mat, and pellets and seeds are both offered around the clock as well as herbs and millet.  And hospital birds are on at least a half dose treatment of marvel aid to start with, if not a full dose.   I also check them much more frequently and monitor them more closely than they do when in a cage.

When Taylor gets put in the hospital box, he immediately snuggles down in the carefresh and promptly goes to sleep.  There is no hissing or bitching or biting as he often does in the cage.  It’s like offering him a hotel room.  So, needless to say, he is enjoying himself right now.

Taylors problem with his crop could easily be linked to having his handicap.  He could have other internal problems that we don’t know about.  However, with such a lack in knowledge of avian medicine in my area, at least to whom I’ve found, I cannot seem to find anyone who knows how to fix him.  I’m going to make an appointment at Northview Veterinarian Hospital, which was recommended to me by a blog reader 🙂  Thank you very much!

Unfortunately, it looks like Erin’s appointment is going to have to wait.  I don’t have enough money to take two birds right now, and while feather picking may be ugly and destructive to the bird, it isn’t at the moment, life threatening.  Taylors condition, however, may be.  Plus, Erin’s condition has been improving dramatically with my headstrong and aggressive approach to her picking.  Her vest has been allowing her feathers on the center of her chest to grow back, and I’ve been using Cease under her wings and keeping her out of the cage for long periods of time.  Her number of pin feathers has doubled since I’ve been home and under one wing is almost fully feathered.  The other one is still a problem, but with all the time she’s been out of the cage she’s been doing better with it. 

Taylor is currently sitting very happily in the hospital box chewing on some bedding with his crown high in the air and looking rather content.  I’m hoping as before, this isn’t anything life threatening.  However, I’m also almost hoping that Tay is still showing symptoms when I take him, because it does me no good to take a bird who looks perfectly healthy and then everyone thinks I’m making stuff up.  Through my research, I haven’t found much about a swollen or slow empty crop in adult birds.  However, I have added oregano and thyme to Taylors food mix, which is supposed to boost the immune system and have anti diarrhea properties. 

Taylor, content in his hospital box

The Frustrations of Dealing with a Feather Picker

So, going away to school caused a lot more problems than I originally thought it would.  While I was away, my beautiful pearl cockatiel, Erin, decided to turn into a horrible feather picker.  And while up until this point I have dealt with a lot of problems in my birds, I had never dealt with picking.  And I can now say it is one of the most frustrating and heart killing conditions a bird owner will ever have to deal with.

I live down on campus during the school year because my course load is very heavy and my house is very distracting.  If I lived at home, I would want to work, which takes up a lot of time.  Then, I would also have four birds, a dog, a cat, a rat, a pig, a lizard, and some odd fish to distract me.  Plus, my father and mother, who when I attended CCAC did not seem to understand that I needed to study and would constantly interrupt me and try to get me to spend time with the family, my sister Leah and our friend who lives with us, Jamie, who share a room with me and would never allow me ample time to study, and my brother Lucas, who has friends over often, and who when he wants to go out, it is my job to taxi him around.  So, living at home would not help my education.  When I’m down at school, I have a lot of homework, so I don’t come home very often.  So, I rely heavily on my family to maintain my animals and give them the attention they need.

Well, they don’t do it like I do to say the least.

So I came home for spring break and on the car ride home my mother decides to tell me that Erin had started ripping her feathers out a while ago and hadn’t stopped.  Nice to tell me then.  At the time, Erin had only managed a patch the size of a dime on her left breast. 

I got online and looked up avian vets in the area and made an appointment to take Erin to see Dr. Dorn.

I have a huge gripe with so-called ‘avian’ vets in the area.  Most of them see dogs and cats and really do not work on birds, nor do they have any real experience working with birds.  Most of them, I know more than they do.  I took Taylor to Metvet once because he was puffed up at the bottom of his cage and not being himself, but I couldn’t pay the emergency fee to take him that day.  So I made an appointment for the next open appointment, two days later, put him in a hospital box on a heat mat and started him on marvel-aid, and when I took him to the vet, they charged me $70 and told me to keep doing what I was doing.

Well, my trip with Erin was roughly the same way.  I made an appointment and took her in.  I very firmly said I wanted tests run on her and I didn’t just want to have her looked at and told to keep doing what I was doing. I also mentioned at the desk that Erin was handicapped, but that wasn’t the reason she was at the vet, the feather picking was.  However, as soon as we got into the room, I was asked “Whats with her legs?  Has she been like this all her life?”  I tried hard not to roll my eyes and bit back answering that no, she was born normal and I twisted her legs like that so she’d look cool. 

So, they ran a gram stain on her.  I learned a little about gram stains in bio, but I didn’t know if it would test for giardia or not, which is what I really wanted her tested for, but I assumed a ‘avian vet’ would know to test a cockatiel who was picking her feathers out for giardia.  So, I trusted him and assumed she was tested and came back negative. He immediately wrote it off as behavioral, charged me $95, and gave me some anti anxiety drugs to give Erin.

I started Erin on the meds and almost immediately she lost her appetite and stopped eating.  Weighting only 76 grams, Erin is a small cockatiel and cannot afford to lose anymore weight.   I pulled her off the medicine and began treating her myself again.  I also got suspicious about a gram stain checking for giardia, because I know giardia is a protist while gram stains detect bacteria.  So, I asked Dr. Morrow, the vet at Duquesne who has become my unofficial advisor, and she confirmed that a gram stain will not check for giardia.  So, currently I am surfing the web looking for an avian testing lab that I can send samples to check for giardia.  In the mean time, Erin has oregano on every meal, which is supposed to be able to kill giardia naturally.

So, after my wasted $95 at the vet, I was back to figuring it out on my own.  I read every piece of literature I could on feather picking and ways to cure it.  I bought her a vest from the same site that sells my beloved bird diapers.  However, the vest only covers the front of her chest, so Erin just moved up to plucking under her wing.  I also can’t leave the vest on her all the time, for fear she will develop sores where the straps go, or it will rub her feathers off.  So, I take the vest off when I am home and downstairs to watch her, and spray her chest and under her wings with Cease, which works for a little while.  I invested $50 in new shelf perches and toys and re did her cage.  I gave her toys with coconut fibers to rip up instead of her feathers and paper shreddable toys to pull  apart.  I bought her a foraging toy and filled it with cut up pieces of millet spray and ripped up paper, hoping she will decide foraging is better than picking.  However, Erin refuses to use her new shelves and perches, and hasn’t touched a new toy once.  She gets daily showers with warm water or bird bath spray.  I moved her cage away from the other birds, thinking maybe she needed a new change of scenery or felt threatened being so close to Bella.  She also has spent an increased time out of her cage each day. Nothing was a solution.

My next step is to change Erin’s diet to a different formula of food for birds with allergies.  Although it’s a shot in the dark, as Erin has been eating the same pellets since I brought her home and she has never had a problem before, its worth at least trying.

I feel that Erin may have started her feather picking from an itch or stress, but now it has become such a habit that she just does it out of boredom.  Not only does she pull her feathers out, but she will also bite and irritate the pore where the follicle comes out, mostly because I’m guessing the feathers itch when they grow back in.  So she takes them out before they can even feather.  And although I am trying my best to have Erin out of the cage as much as possible, lets face it: I can’t always be there to entertain her.  Next year, I’m going to take Erin to school with me, and she will have the three other girls in my suite as well as me to spend as much time as we can with her.  But shhh!  Don’t tell Duquesne!

Out of all my birds, I would have thought Erin was the most secure, most well-adjusted, and least likely to pick her feathers out.  However, I was wrong.

Feather picking is exceptionally heart breaking to the owner because the owner is the only one at fault.  Other than medical reasons, such as bacterial infections or giardia, there is no cause for feather picking that is not human induced.  Your bird is too bored, or too stressed, or too unhappy.  And that’s really hard for me to try to deal with, because I have always tried to make my birds have the best life possible.  I know they don’t understand the whole ‘going away to school thing’ but honestly, what other choice do I have?

Dealing with Erin’s feather picking is a day by day battle.  We have good days and bad days, ups and downs.  Some days she’s very good and has a whole chest of pin feathers and I start to feel confident we’re going to beat it, and the next day she has pulled them all out.  Some days her chest looks great, and the next day it is red and irritated from her biting it.  It’s a hard battle.

I want to take Erin back to a vet and be tested again for anything else that can be causing it.  And I would like to take her to see an animal behaviorist who may be able to help me  figure out what is causing the picking.  But I’m wary of taking my birds to anyone anymore.  It seems like it’s always a waste of money.

I’m going to keep trying to combat Erin’s feather picking.  I can only hope I can cure it before she has destroyed the feather follicles and her feathers won’t grow back anymore.  Without her feathers, Erin looks like a sad, weak, plucked chicken, and it’s quite heart breaking.

If anyone has dealt with, cured, or has suggestions about feather picking, please contact me either by email or comment and let me know anything that might be helpful.  I just want my little girl to be happy again.

The Joy of Sharing

Camp was great, especially with our feathered friends with us. One of my favorite things about camping or going out with our birds is being able share our birds and our knowledge about them. Hannah’s little brothers friends, Gary and Ryan, both enjoyed meeting  Jules, and even their mother liked to learn more about him and Bella. He climbed on them and allowed them to pet him.

Other times when we took the dynamic duo out shopping, people, ranging from pet store attendants to kids on the street, love to hold, play with, or even just look at these wonderful birds. I love watching my bird interacting peacefully and the questioning looks on the human faces. Sometimes even the pet store attendants do not know something, especially about Bella, and Hannah and I enjoy explaining it to them.

I find through these experiences that sharing birds and showing people what nice animals they are is one of the greatest joys a bird owner can enjoy. And though it is fun, it allows us a way to show people that birds are clean, nice, and well-mannered animals.   Also through proper education we try to decrease the amount of unwanted birds in this world. If every bird owner did this I believe that there would be less discrimination of birds.