2nd Morning with Chop.

So today is my second morning serving chop and I have had 4/5 with at least moderate compliance!  Yesterday, all of the little guys sat around hungry in their cages, waiting for their pellets to return.   I used my age old trick of laying down a towel, throwing some food around it and placing them all on the towel and pretending to peck at the floor while exclaiming ‘yum yum!!’ like an idiot.  It usually works and they all will at least try some food.  Moving from the floor to the bowels in the cages is a learning curve though.  

Yesterday it was Miles who started eating like a little fiend, which is good because it inspires everyone else to try some.  However, when I put the bowels in the cages this morning, everyone ran away like I was trying to poison them.  So, I tried my second favorite trick.  I sat down next to the cages and ate my breakfast.  Mmmm that inspires everyone to go eat, as birds are communal eaters and my guys LOVE eating with me.  I also mixed in some pellets and some seed into their dishes today in an attempt to bring them to the bowl.  

 I look over and little Erin has her face buried in her dish.  Erin, who took an entire YEAR to convert successfully onto pellets, was eating the new food as her breakfast.  She has definitely gotten more adventurous and more bold when it comes to food.  Miles saw Erin eating and had to go over and start his breakfast too.  Bella eats anything, so she had already eaten some yummy banana and some of the seeds in her dish.  Even Jules, who was disgusted that I wanted him to try a new food yesterday, went over and grabbed a little food from his dish.  The only one I haven’t seen eating it yet was Taylor.  

So it wasn’t 100% acceptance.  But it was definitely something.  And for the bird who took a year to convert from seed to pellets, its definitely a big step.


My First Attempt at Chop!

In the past year, I have become obsessed with nutrition.  I think it has something to do with becoming a vegetarian, or maybe more recently it has been spurred on by preparing diets at the aviary and how good they look, but regardless of where it stems from my new found joy has led me to researching more natural animal diets.  

A long while ago, I had began researching more natural bird diets for my guys and I stumbled on  The Chop Blog.  It made me really want to try this method of food with my guys.  Unfortunately, living down at school and my mom taking care of the birds made it difficult to try it.

Now, I’m home for the summer and commuting next year, so I decided it was time to give it a go.  Lance and I were out shopping and I suggested looking at appliances.  Lance is a huge sucker for appliances, so he gladly obliged and we left with a little 8 cup food processor.  We hit the produce and bought some fruits and veggies and went home to give it a try.

I was a little hesitant to make a big batch of it because I don’t know if my guys are even going to eat it and our freezer is in need of a cleaning out, so we decided to start with a mini batch and see how it went.  Before I got home from work, Lance had soaked the bag of beans all day and started cooking them, started cooking the wild rice and barely, and had thoroughly cleaned the food processor and all the little Rubbermaid containers that we purchased.  I had read online that uncooked beans are poisonous to birds, so I was really freaked out about using them.  We soaked them for about nine hours and cooked them for another two and a half until they were pretty soft to the touch.  We might have over done it a little but better safe than sorry.  

We drained the wild rice and chopped up some of the beans and mixed them in.  mmm yummy.  We added some flax seed and dried oatmeal.  

Lance was having a good time using the food processor.  He also informed me that if we decide to have an actual wedding and a bridal shower, he was coming with me to make the registry.  I called him a Susie Homemaker and he actually agreed with me lol.

  Then we chopped up some of the vegetables we got.  We added kale, some frozen peas and corn, some boiled sweet potato, frozen green beans, and fresh carrot.  I added some blueberries chopped in fourths and a few whole ones for texture.  

We mixed everything together, drained it one last time, and bagged it all up.  We filled up our little containers first, but didn’t have enough to avoid bags.  Ideally, we’re trying to stay away from bags because they’re more difficult to reuse and we’re trying to be more environmentally friendly.  Plus, the little containers hold enough for all the birds.

I threw one of the containers in the fridge last night to thaw.  This morning, I added a little extra banana, mango, and apple to the dishes, especially to Bella’s.  In the wild, conures eat mostly fruit while parakeets and cockatiels eat a lot of grains and seeds.

Bella seemed to enjoy it.  Unfortunately, my little guys are not to impressed with my culinary skills.  They’ve avoided it, which is a common small bird tactic.  I’m hoping that the more I serve it, the more they’ll get used to it and start eating it.  

 Ultimately, I think that our first attempt went well.  Next time I won’t be so afraid to make a larger batch, but I’m definitely going to have to clean out the freezer first!

Higgins Worldly Cuisine Review

The last time we went out to a bird fair I picked up some of the Higgins Worldly Cuisine packets to try with my guys.  I’m always busy, so sometimes finding time to get all the ingredients together and make my own mixture is tough.  I usually just give them some of whatever we are making for dinner, but the Worldly Cuisines looked pretty tasty and I needed something else bird related to spend my money on.  

I bought the Moroccan Cafe Blend, which had a lot of rice in it, and my picky cockatiels usually like rice.  The back label said to cook the food on the stove top, but I’m really lazy and made it in the microwave by covering it and microwaving it for five minutes and stirring it every minute and a half.  

When I took it out, it smelled divine.  I know birds aren’t suppose to be able to smell, but Bella was on my shoulder and started getting excited and edging towards the microwave before she even saw the bowl.  Maybe she just knows by now her lazy mother takes all of her treats out of the microwave lol.  
As weird as it is, I always taste their food before I give them it, because in my opinion, if I’m going to give something to my parrots it has to be suitable for human consumption.  It was pretty tasty, even for a human!  It tasted kind of like plain rice with some apple and something sweet like brown sugar in it.  Anyways, it passed my taste test, so I mixed in a packet of ornabac because no one likes eating probiotics with their pellets and some of the Higgins Snack Attack Leafy Greens and Herbs to give it some extra flavor and dished it all out to everyone.  They all seemed to like it!

Bella, trying some of her Moroccan Blend!

Bella’s Story

I was sitting here trying to think of something interesting I could post about, and I decided that it might be interesting to write an installment about each of my birds and how they fell into my ownership.  I’ve written a little blurb about each of them in the Our Flock section, but it doesn’t really highlight the extent the extent and the urgency that I took some of them out of.

Bella’s story is by far the most interesting and involved.  She makes everyone else seem pretty lack luster to be honest.  And if there was ever an animal that I wish I could see what they went through when I wasn’t around, it would be Bella.

Bella was born and bred at the little pet store I work at.  She was the youngest of a clutch of three chicks, and there were only two clutches laid, so she was the youngest of six chicks.  Her parents stopped producing shortly after Bella was hatched.

I first met Bella sometime in August right after I got my job at the pet store.  Because the store is family owned, we often take in people’s animals that they no longer want and put them back up for adoption, hoping another family will come and give them a home.  These animals have a smaller ‘rehoming fee’ instead of a price tag and often go home with their cage and their toys that they came in with.  Bella had come back to the store after being purchased two years prior.  Red throated conures are pretty rare, and not many people in this area have heard of them so I didn’t even know what she was when I first saw her.  I had been thinking about getting another bird, maybe another cockatiel or a green cheek conure, but there was definately something about Bella that drew me to her.  My boss told me that she had been bought for a child, who no longer had an interest in her and the mother couldn’t stand her screaming.  She then went to live with an old lady who took pretty good care of her, but died.  She went through a few relatives while they sorted out the will and such, and then she went back to the child and the mother who hated her.  Finally, in desperation, they brought her back to the store because they couldn’t stand her anymore and just wanted her gone.

Bella was nervous and nippy at the store, but she wasn’t mean.  Her rehoming fee was far less than what she had origionally been marked at, and for a two year old red throated conure, she was a steal.  Bella was quickly put on layway by an older man.  

However, as time went on, Bella still sat at the store.  The man stopped answering our phone calls.  Three months time passed and Bella’s layways was voided at the beginning of December, just in time to be homeless for Christmas.  

Christmas Eve came and another guy came into the store and expressed an interest in Bella.  He had come and bought several animals from us before, but it never seemed like he kept them very long.  He always was rehoming or reselling his  pets for some reason or another and it really didn’t sit right with any of us at the store.  He asked to buy Bella, and my boss gave him a speech about how she had been through a lot and if he wanted to take her, he needed to be prepared to give her a lifetime home, as she had already been through so many changes and her sweet, trusting demeanor had already been compromised because of it.  He assured us that he has been thinking about getting a bird for a long time and that he loved her, blah blah blah.  He took Bella home that day.

The Christmas season went by, and two weeks after selling Bella my manager started telling me about she didn’t think that guy had her anymore.  She said that he came in to buy crickets, but nothing for the bird, and when she asked about her, he just kind of mumbled and didn’t really say anything and left in a hurry.  We all had our suspicions and everyone felt really bad.

A few weeks later, I was googling bird toys in Pittsburgh.  Somehow that brought me to Craigslist where I was staring face to face with an ad for a red throated conure.  

I immediately emailed the guy, trying to find out the birds name even though I was almost sure it was her.  I went to work and showed my boss and manager, and I tried to come up with a plan on how to execute a rescue.  

The guy emailed me back and I found out that Bella was not being sold from the origional guy who bought her.  He had apparently sold her again, and now this guy was selling her.  I was disgusted.  The asking price was a whole $150 more than she had been rehomed for at the pet store.  I emptied my savings account while my parents were at work and drove someplace I had never heard of before to go rescue a bird.  I knew it wasn’t very smart, but it was something I had to do.

When I got there, I was led down to a basement bedroom.  Bella was in a ferret cage between a big lizard and a snake.  There were no windows in the room and everywhere I looked there were reptiles.  She bit me as soon as I tried to pick her up, but I didn’t really care.  I asked for a box and handed over the money and belted her into the car.  

Halfway home, I realized I was in trouble.  I had no cage for this bird, no food except for the Walmart seed mixture he had given to me, no conure sized toys, and I didn’t even have any perches because all of my birds were handicapped!  Plus, my parents, who had said no more birds three birds ago, were going to kill me!!  So I went to the only place that I thought could help me; my work!

And help me they did.  When I showed them Bella and told them what I had done to get her, they gave me a cage, food, perches, toys, everything I could need to get her started at my house.  They thought I was crazy, but as animal lovers, they understood.  Then I had to think of a way to break it to my parents.  I texted them both ‘you’re going to kill me’.  They’re immediate thoughts?  I wrecked the car or was pregnant.  So much faith in me.  Needless to say, they were relieved when I texted them a picture of a green parrot.  Relieved, but still not happy.

Later than night, Bella decided I was her human.  I was trying to talk to Lance on the phone and crawled up into my loft bed while my mom was trying to become friends with Bella down on the floor.  Bella had been sitting on the top of her cage, but as soon as I crawled up out of site, she crawled down and began pacing, trying to find me.  My mom ended up called me down because she was going so nuts trying to find me.  I think my mom was disappointed; she has always wanted a bird that would ride around on your shoulder with you and that wants to be with you.  I think she was hoping Bella would bond with her and be her bird.  Bella had different plans though.  

At first, I couldn’t stand Bella’s clingy-ness.  She wasn’t just content to sit on my lap and get her head pet like my other birds.  She wanted to climb up next to my head and snuggle into my hair.  She wanted to hide under my ponytail.  She wanted to preen me, constantly!  And when I wasn’t around, she screamed.  Getting her settled in was a hard time period.  She drove me nuts being so clingly, she drove everyone else nuts screaming, and she started getting aggressive towards everyone.  If someone wanted to sit next to me on the couch and Bella was out, she would climb off my shoulder, walk over, and attack them.  

Thankfully, Bella has settled down and become much more laid back from where she was.  She still bites; especially strangers.  When I come back from school for breaks, she goes into ‘clingy conure phase’ but after a few days goes back to being self sufficient.  And she still screams.  A lot.  

I’m very happy I rescued Bella.  I’ve given her a chance at a new life that she wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t taken her.  Aside from being moody and loud, Bella is very goofy and adventurous.  She is playful and silly, and she loves making people laugh.  She’s has opened up and become very loving at times, and loves to cuddle next to me or preen my hair when shes out.  She loves going out for car rides and visiting pet stores, but she still doesn’t like being handled by strangers.  She’s tough and go with Lance, mostly because she hates that he takes my attention away from her.

And ultimately, I believe she changed my life.  Lance says that it was the day I brought her home that I decided I wanted to be a vet.  He said that when he asked me why, I said ‘because I have this bird, and I like helping her, and I want to help other things’.  Honestly, I don’t remember it all that well.  The days after bringing Bella home were a big blur.  But, I’ll trust his judgement on it lol.  

And even though I’m at school half the time and she’s here, Bella’s species can live to be 25 to 30 years old, and shes currently 4.  I think we have a lot of time to get to know each other 🙂

Basic Care and Behavior at PEAC

On Saturday, me and my friend Meg went to a PEAC lecture on pet parrot basic care and behavior.  I’ve been wanting to go to one of their lectures for a while now, but I was always just too lazy to go on my own.  It’s nice that I have a bird loving friend that takes it upon herself to motivate me to go to the things that I actually do want to do.

PEAC stands for Parrot Education and Adoption Center and Pittsburgh is lucky enough to be one of the cities that has this program!  They are more of an educational program, running solely off of volunteers dedicated to spreading awareness of proper care of parrots.  Something that is right up my ally!

The lecture was held at my favorite place, you guessed it, the National Aviary.  It was given by the manager of training and came complete with its own packet of notes and parrot friendly cook book!  It was very informative and I had a great time learning new ways to enhance my flocks life.  My favorite tip was the idea for making perches.  Apparently, all my money spent on concrete perches, wooden perches, natural wood, rope, and calcium has all been in vain.  They recommended going out into the woods and chopping off some bird safe branches and notching them for your cage!  I have thought of that in the past, but I always had some worry that I may poison my parrot by giving her fresh wood.  However, they assured me I could kill parasites by baking on a low temperature and they have been using this idea for quite some time and haven’t had any problems.  They also said that a life on dow rod type perches and concrete could really injure your birds feet.  After I thought about it, that’s kind of a ‘duh!’.  Birds are meant to be perching on tree branches, not slippery sleek wood.  That totally explains why Bella always sits on her natural wood or rope perches and just poops all over the dow rods.  I should have listened to that conure a long time ago!  Unfortunately, there were no suggestions for better perching for handicapped birds 😦  Sorry guys, the rest of you will have to make due with what I can create.

I, of course, became a member that day, so now I can say I am an official member of the Pittsburgh PEAC group.  Hehe, what a resume builder!  I am also a member of the hunting for fruit tree limbs club!


Bella Won Her First Contest!

The amazing Avian Fashions had a special halloween giveaway on their facebook page earlier this month.  Being the crazy bird owner I am, I entered my sassy little conure for a chance to win a halloween suit.  Amazing, we WON!  I was so excited I literally called all my roommates into the room to make sure I wasn’t misreading.  Here are some pictures of Bella in her new costume.  My mom and sister took them, so theyre not that great.  But, Bella doesn’t really like to behave for them.  I’ll be going home soon and take better pictures, but atleast you can get an idea of what she looks like in it.

Here she said ‘I had enough of this!’  My mom said she wasn’t really sure about the hat at first, but she’s being a little trooper about it.  She doesn’t seem to be afraid of it, but I guess she likes to try and take it off and chew it.  Sigh.  We’ll have to work on that when I get home.

Anyways, Avian Fashions is great.  I wrote a little blurb about them and how much we love them on the side panel, but I would definately recommend checking out some of their products at http://www.avianfashions.com/

They’re suppose to be coming out with feather hoodies for smaller birds sometime in November!  Guess whos paycheck is already gone?

For some reason, I find it so much cutier to dress birds up than dogs.  Maybe its because all the dog clothes is so tacky and hardly functional.  But, bird diapers are stylish and totally functional!  They make my life so much easier!!

Habitat Manipulation

Ahh the quintessential  cage, standard issue with two dishes near the bottom and two straight round half-inch perches. How I hate them.

Now this is an important topic to me because I believe every animal should be kept in the most natural way possible. It is one of the strange quirks I have from my time at the aviary and zoo this year. While birds are our pets, I think they still deserve to have a natural existence.

Cage design and habitat manipulation to many people probably mean about the same thing. To me each of these two phrases mean something totally different. My definition of cage design is where a human designs a bird’s cage based on factors like appealing looks, functionality (aka less cleaning), and many ideas of the “Right thing” for their birds. Habitat manipulation on the other hand is where a human picks and arranges a cage and its accessories  in a way that mimics nature to make the birds life more interesting, natural, and healthy. Now I believe everybody wants whats best for their bird and I’m not saying my way is the best, but this is generally how I go about picking and designing a cage.

When I choose a cage I think about what type of bird will be living in it. In the wild some birds like budgies and cockatiels spend their day flying from place to place in search of food while  others like macaws and conures use climbing as their primary mode of transport. Most people do not factor this into their choice of cages for birds. If Im choosing a cage for a cockatiel or budgie I would choose a wider and deeper cage before worrying about how tall it was. If I was choosing a cage for a conure I would want a taller cage. Not only does this allow for a more natural environment for the bird but they will also utilize more of their cage. Another thing I look for is a cage with higher food dishes. In the wild most bird would eat while high in the trees not near the ground also this prevents debris and droppings from falling in their cup. The final thing i look for in cages is size. I like to always give a bird more room then it needs. WIth a larger cage there is more room to work with when adding things in and better options for food placement. 

Choosing the cage is just the first step in my process. The Second step is adding things in and just like with everything else I try to mimic nature as much as possible. In nature no two perches are the same size, length texture, roughness, all varies and lends to foot and claw care. when I choose perches for my cage they generally are all different size thicknesses and lengths, and I try to get bendable and different textured perches. Jules’s cage has two rope perches both a different thickness and length, one natural wood perch that is much thinner than any of his other perches, a thicker pediperch, and two standard issue wood perches. When I arrange these perches i try to make them also mimic nature I don’t focus all of the perches in one area I position them throughout the length and height of the cage. This wide array of perches situated at different heights allows the bird to have a choice of where in his cage he wants to be and what he wants to stand on. Another thing I do differently is I try to put the food dishes away from the bottom, and treat dishes I move around each time I put them in the cage. This mimics nature with food high in the “trees” and the bird having to look for and examine different types of food. I also like to cover my food sometimes with paper shreds to make the bird “forage”. 

All of these things I believe makes a bird life more natural and helps them stay healthy and happy. Next you design your birds cage try doing it in a way to mimic nature. You might also start calling it Habitat manipulation.

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!

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!

The Inside Scoop on Owning a Handicapped Bird

Upon introducing people to my birds, one of the most common questions I am asked is ‘What is it like to own a handicapped bird?’  Immediately I want to answer “just like owning a non-handicapped bird”.  However, when I actually think about it, that is not the case.  Owning a handicapped bird can be a rewarding experience, however the adventure is not for everyone.

Lets start by my definition of handicapped.  In my opinion, a handicapped bird is any bird that has some sort of disability that hinders it from living the typical way a person would expect to care for the animal.  This means it cannot live in a starter package cage, cannot eat the same as other birds, and requires an owner who is willing to work around the roadblocks and find a way to accommodate and allow the animal to live as normal and happy of a life as they can.  Needless to say, I do not think a bird missing a toe is handicapped.  If they are missing ALL their toes, they are handicapped.  However, one toe does not really count.

I have only had experience with handicaps in the form of leg, wing, and beak deformities.  There are other people in the world who have dealt with blindness, missing beaks, and paralysis.

And from what I have noticed of the bird world, there are also three types of bird owners, each of which is suited for a specific level of bird owning.

The first group is what I call ‘bird likers’.  These people think birds are beautiful and colorful.  They want a bird they can teach to talk and show off to their friends.  However, they feel birds should be ‘cheap and easy pets’ and much less work than a typical dog or cat.  They often buy the cheapest food, feed all seed diets, believe cage cleaning is of a lesser importance than dusting, often complain about the mess or screaming their animal makes, and believes a bird should be available to entertain and come out of the cage when company is around, but has no rights to be let out any other time.  Birds are disposable pets, and need not ever venture to a veterinarian. These people often lose their luster for the animal after they acquire their first one, and will recommend friends against getting a bird as they are ‘loud’ or ‘messy’ or ‘mean’.  The only type of bird suited for these people are stuffed birds, Thanksgiving turkeys, and pictures or statuary.

The second type of bird owner is one I call ‘bird lover’.  They understand a bird needs more than just being locked in its cage.  They try to get their pet out, buy higher quality food, clean the cage regularly and change out toys.  Although they may raise an eyebrow at taking their bird to a vet, understand that a vet may be the only way to save their birds life, and venture in when sick.  However, these people still look at their bird as a bird.  They feel it should entertain itself when they are not around and be able to put it in its cage when they do not feel like handling it or are too busy to get it out.  They also typically have a problem with biting, and will often reduce the amount of time they spend with the animal if they are being painfully bitten when it is out.  These people are well suited to own any range of handfed baby birds and some mildly handicapped birds, and will give their little bird a terrific life.  This is what most bird owners are.

The third type is the ‘bird obsessed’.  These people look to their birds as a member of their family if not children.  They understand the need to take the animal out, feed a varied diet, and buy some of the most outlandish toys.  Their birds are usually well-behaved and happy.  These people are patient to no end, willing to dedicate any amount of time to turn around the life of an unhappy animal.  They have an avian vet on speed dial and a recipe book of treats for the birds.  And honestly, like a computer nerd would spend all his spare cash on his high functioning computer system, so would a bird obsessed person.  Birds are usually a bird obsessed persons biggest hobby or passion.  These people are prepared to own just about any bird, ranging from handfed babies to severely handicapped or behavioral rehabilitation birds.  These people simply have the patience and the drive to help them.

So, at this point lets say you still feel comfortable with your level of interest and the level of the handicap of a bird you are thinking about adopting.  What can you expect?

The Cons to owning a handicapped bird

inability to use store products: whether it be store-bought perches or commercial food, almost every handicapped bird is going to require the owner to use a certain amount of creativity.  For example, three out of four of my birds cannot perch.  So, I have ordered in shelves of different sizes and textures as well as built some of my own. 

underlying health problems:with handicapped birds, you never know what else might have been affected besides their handicap.  This can lead to many visits to the vet, which gets expensive.  Taylor is a great example of this.  Not only are his feet deformed, but he also has an enlarged ‘watery’ crop.  This is some sort of quirk that goes along with his handicap.  Some underlying health problems can even cause a premature death, which can be heartbreaking.

physical appearance: Maybe this isn’t true with all handicapped birds, but with my guys, broken plumage is a big thing.  All of my handicaps look ratty all the time.  They are never sleek and well-groomed with long tails, just because they get around so differently they are always breaking off tail feathers and wing feathers.  For some people, the ratty look can be a problem.  I personally dont mind.  Twisted legs and feet and awkwardly placed leg angles are another thing.  If the handicap is physical, you’re going to look at it for the rest of the birds life.  If it bothers you, do not adopt.

giving up some of the things others can do: Three of my four birds will never ride on my shoulder.  Anytime you adopt a handicapped bird, you are going to be giving up things that a typical bird can do.  You gain from the experience, yet your going to sacrifice as well.

Never Knowing when its going to happen: you don’t contact a breeder and put yourself on a waiting list for a handicapped bird.  Most of the time, you stumble upon them unexpectantly.  I did not intend to buy any of the birds I have now, but just happened upon them. 

The pros of owning a handicapped bird

Knowing you saved a life: many handicapped animals are looked at as being imperfect and are destroyed.  By adopting one, you get to know you saved a life.

the gratefulness: like shelter dogs, handicapped and rescued birds are grateful. Although they may still bite you and scream, there’s just something about them that you can tell they are grateful.  And its a nice feeling. 

The uniqueness: Theres something special about each little handicapped bird that is different from all the others, and as an owner you get to enjoy that.  Also, how many other people announce that they have not just a cockatiel, but a handicapped cockatiel?

If you can’t tell already, handicapped and rescued birds are my passion.  And if after reading this you feel that you are interested and capable in adopting a handicapped or rescued bird, I encourage you to keep your eyes open for the next little angel that needs a home!

PS: in the close ups of the feet, I know my birds nails are too long.  These are all old pictures and when I took them, I was clipping their nails that day.  I then realized I should have clipped nails and then taken picture, but I’m dopey and did it backwards. I assure you, everyones nails are under control and healthy.