Sunday, June 28, 2009

Marley The Quaker Parrot

I have to say (and please don't tell the others) that Marley is my absolute favorite of the flock. He is not the prettiest, that honor goes to Gatto the Senegal. Nor is he the gentlest, that is Callie the Pionus. Caezar the Ringneck is the most exotic, while Marley is a common green parrot. However, he is still my favorite. We purchased him to be my son Corey's pet. Jordan had Callie and Caezar was mine so the twins began to want their own birds as well. Noah got Hunter the English Budgie (his story later) and we got Marley for Corey. He was a handfed baby and the cutest thing I had ever seen. He made an adorable little clucking noise like a baby chicken. He is still as cuddly as a kitten and very affectionate. At almost 5 months old he already says "Hello!" and "Love you!" He does a funny little head bobbing dance when we bob our finger at him. He also gives kisses when we ask for them. Marley is endless entertaining with his antics. He loves toys and anything that he can tear up.....pinecones, toilet paper rolls, newspaper, clothespins are all instantly gnawed and shredded. He hangs upside down and climbs on anything he can get to. The funniest thing is when he takes a bath in the large metal dog bowl that I keep on the screen porch for the birds when they are out there. He always begins by testing the water with his head. Then he will hop in and out a few times before deciding to get in all the way. Next, the splashing begins and doesn't stop until he is completely drenched. The pure joy in which he approaches everything is very contagious. He is absolutley my favorite......but please don't tell the others.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Egg Watch

There are still four eggs in Lola and Winston's nest. For the first couple of days, they were taking turns sitting on the eggs, with Winston (as usual) doing most of the work. Now, however, Lola seems to be the main one in the nest basket and Winston is bringing her food and flying patrol around the perimeter of the cage. Lola came out for a bit in the late afternoon to stretch her wings and nibble a bit of millet. When I went in to return the parrots to thier cages for the night and close all the curtains, she joined Winston in the nest and they snuggled down together atop thier precious offspring-to-be.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park

Tucked away in the tiny North Carolina town of Scottland Neck is a paradise. It is the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park. You don't even have to be a bird lover to enjoy this little getaway from everyday life. The park houses the world's largest waterfowl collection and includes over 1000 birds of 170 species. In addition to the waterfowl, there are pheasants, parrots, peacocks and other rare birds. Most of the park is a walk-through aviary with ponds and fountains and plants. The landscaping in many parts of the park is as beautiful as the feathered residents. There are plenty of places to just sit back and enjoy the sights and sounds around you. The best part of the visit is the fact that you can actually interact with the birds. Upon purchasing your ticket (which I might add is very reasonably priced) you can purchase food for the birds at only 50 cents a bag. Most of the birds were very eager to be hand fed and some even followed us down the path for more. The visitor's center is a nice building with a long front porch hung with ferns and stocked with comfortable rocking chairs. Inside is a gift shop with many bird-related items such as books, clothing, toys and figurines. There is also a theater with a movie depicting the history of the park. This is a place I will be sure to revisit over and over......good thing you can buy a membership!!

Eggs in the nest

Lola has finally decided to cooperate and lay her eggs in the nest that Winston lovingly built. She is now sitting on four tiny eggs. The Finch Book says that she will need some live food at this time and some calcium. I have added a cuttlebone to the cage and am waiting for Petsmart's delivery of small mealworms. The eggs should hatch in about 12 to 14 days if all goes well. The book also warned that some finches do not make good parents and can abandon the eggs or chicks for no apparent reason. I am hoping that Lola is not as fickle about her babies as she was about the nest!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Caezar the Indian Ringneck Parrot

Parrots are addictive. Our first bird was so wonderful that it made perfect sense to get another. Besides, Callie was so attached to Jordan that it made me want my own cuddly snuggly sweet bundle of feathers. I again went to the Internet and decided on an Indian Ringneck. I read many different pieces of information about these beautiful birds as pets. Some claimed that ringnecks were tempermental and impossible to tame while others praised them as wonderful intelligent pets. I didn't have any luck finding one available close enough to drive to so I settled on an aviary in Virginia. The bird would be shipped to me via Delta Airlines. The breeder that I worked with assured me that the bird I had selected, a beautiful gray male, was hand fed and tame. She said that he would be a little unsettled by the trip but that he would tame down again just fine. She advised me to wrap him in a towel and carry him around. I was so excited I could hardly wait. I sent my payment and anxiously awaited her email with the shipping info. Days went by with not a word from her. Finally she gave me a date only to cancel it the next day. I became frustrated and almost cancelled my purchase. Eventually the day arrived and I drove to the airport to pick up my new pet. He was just as beautiful as his pictures. I couldn't wait to get him home and begin interacting with him. I had purchased a very large cage to accomodate his long tail and equipped it with toys and perches. The first few days I left him alone except for talking softly to him and refilling his food and water bowls. He was very nervous and plastered himself against the back of the cage when I came near. If I stuck my hand in the cage for any reason, he flapped around crazily and broke off all the feathers in his gorgeous long tail. In fact, he refused to even look at me, turning his back any time I approached the cage. He was terrified of my hands and my voice. He appeared to be a bird that had never been handled in his whole life and I have come to believe that he has not.

Over time he has made small progress. He will now sit very near the opening of the door that I put the food bowl in and wait for me to slide it in there. He is a great eater and has lovely smooth glossy feathers. I can get him to step up on a wooden perch but it takes several times to get him where you are going because he will flap to the ground repeatedly and try to run away. He is very intelligent and loves to vocalize. He will come up onto his play top when I put the other birds on theirs but I just open his door and he comes out on his own. When I put the birds away for the evening I will say "Night night!" as I go around putting each one back into the cages and he immediately goes back into his cage on his own. He has learned to do these things to avoid being asked to step up on the stick. I unfortunately took the breeders advice about wrapping him in the towel and he was completely traumatized and probably set back in his taming by months.

Lessons learned from this experience?? Number one: Never purchase a bird sight unseen. I cannot say if the breeder was dishonest or not for sure. She does not answer my emails. He may have been tame for her but part of me suspects that he was an aviary bird that had never been handled. Number Two: Never force a bird to let you handle him by using a towel unless it is an emergency. It may take months (or years??) to form a bond of trust but it will be worth it. I have not given up on Caezar. He constantly delights me with his noises and his beauty. Although I would love to hold and pet him, I respect his space. The rest of the flock are all cuddle bugs and love to be held. Caezar sees this daily and I hold out hope that he will one day take the plunge into a more friendly relationship with me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Callie the Blue Headed Pionus

My 15 year old son wants to be a veterinarian. He loves all creatures from hermit crabs and bearded dragons to dogs and cats. Over the years, I have indulged his passion for pets but had always put off getting a bird. I knew that birds were loud and expensive and messy. I knew that birds lived a long time and that bird cages were expensive as well. He continued to ask and I continued to give reasons why it was not a good idea. However, he is a good kid. He is quiet and makes good grades and has never given me a moment's trouble. So after a particularly good report card I gave in. We began to research parrots in earnest. After many days of Internet reading and buying books and Bird Talk magazine, we decided on a blue headed pionus. Then we began to search for a breeder in our area. The pionus is not a bird that has yet gained much popularity as a pet apparently. We finally located a breeder about 2 and 1/2 hours away. One a beautiful sunny Saturday in March we drove south along the coastal plain and into the salt marshes of North Carolina. My son read to me from the latest issue of Bird Talk and we discussed possible names.
The breeder had three blue headed pionus hens, all of them with ragged feathers and missing tails. I had already prepared my son by telling him if the birds did not appear healthy that we would not purchase one. He fell in love with the quietest one and 350.00 dollars later we headed home. Jordan held the pet carrier in his lap all the way home and informed me that the bird's name was Callie. She repeatedly called from the carrier the whole way home. We had already purchased a cage and equipped it with toys and perches and bowls of food, water and treats. Callie spent the first two days huddled in her cage, not eating the tasty treats, not playing with the carefully chosen toys. On Day 3, she arose and attached herself to Jordan with a single mindedness that I have only seen previously in dogs. She loves that boy. She waits for him to return from school each day and hangs upside down, swinging back and forth to attract his attention. Her favorite place in the world is on his shoulder where she loves to pop the lenses from his glasses. If she is on the floor, she will walk her adorable pionus waddle across to him and climb up onto his feet. I love her as well. She is the perfect bird.....gentle and loving and endlessly comical with her antics. It didn't take me long to decide that I wanted a parrot of my own. Enter Ceazar, the Indian Ringneck Parrot. But that is another story.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Clothespins and pinecones

I often hear parents (myself included) complaining about their kids having so many expensive toys and only wanting to play with cooking utensils and empty boxes. There are many times when I feel that way about my feathered children as well. I spend a considerable amount of money in Pet Smart on parrot toys. They are so fun to look at and to imagine what kind of fun my birds would create with each one. I faithfully clean and rotate the toys every week so that no one gets bored. My first hint of a cheaper way to entertain my flock was when my blue headed pionus, Callie and my senegal, Gatto spent an afternoon on the screen porch destroying a wooden clothespin that I had used to clip some millet out there for the budgie, Hunter. I managed to extract the metal spring part from their collective grasp and dispose of it but I watched in fascination as they proceeded to have more fun with that clothespin than I have ever seen them have with a toy. The next time I went to the craft store I bought a whole pack (for only 4.00!!) of old fashioned wooden pin style clothespins. These clothepins are a hot commodity among my flock. They are chewed, dipped in water bowls, flung off the edge of perches, dragged up ladders and down the sides of cages. Today I witnessed the cutest tug of war ever between Gatto and the quaker parrot, on each end of a clothespin (of course my camera was elsewhere).
Pine cones are also a highly prized yet wonderfully free source of entertainment with my birds. These are treated much the same as the clothespins but spend more time in the water bowls for some reason. Gatto rolls them like balls across his playtop and Callie flings them from the edge of hers and then sits looking down at them as if expecting them to climb back up.
I have decided to begin saving empty toilet paper rolls for their Christmas presents. I just need to find a way to make them appealing to my human kids as well and I will have it made.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Feathering Her Nest.....

For the last two days, the zebra finches,Winston and Lola, have been busy setting up housekeeping in the sunroom. They are building a nest in the little basket in their cage. Of course, I guess I should correct myself and say that Winston is building a nest. Lola is only pretending. All day long, Winston plucks the timothy hay that fills a hanging metal sphere in the cage and carries it to the nest basket where he arranges it in a neat cozy swirl. Meanwhile, Lola approaches the nesting material, cocks her head and seriously considers her choices. She delicately withdraws a single strand of hay and sits holding it in her beak. Then, as soon as Winston flies by on his way to the nest with a mouthful of hay, she nonchalantly drops her piece onto the floor of the cage. When Winston returns, she begins the whole charade again. Today she laid a single pearly white and perfect egg, not in Winston's carefully constructed nest, but on the floor of the cage where it broke against the metal grate. Winston, apparently does not notice Lola's ungrateful behavior because he is adding the final touches to the nest today with time outs to preen behind her neck and feed her bits of seed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The zebra finches....Lola and Winston

Pet Smart is like a crack house for me....I have no self control. On the way there my heart is racing and my hands are shaking, just thinking about what I am going to buy. I usually go there for one thing, like a new cuttle bone for the pionus and come out with bags of things....pig's ears for the dogs, toys for the parrots, magazines and books. Saturday, I went there for some Nutiberries. I left with finches. I don't know if anyone has ever noticed this, but a finch is an incredibly cute little bird. They are constantly in motion and make the most pleasant little "Nyah nyah nyah " noises. I don't know why I didn't notice them before. I usually do not look seriously at the birds in Pet Smart because of the prices. I prefer to buy from small local breeders. But on this occasion, there was a large sale sign and a very crowded enclosure full of zebra finches. I stopped to look and was hooked instantly. I immediately went to the book section where I found a book called Finches by one of my favorite bird people, Rebecca O'Connor. (Her book A Parrot For Life is my bible when it comes to information about my birds) I took this to be a sign, so I speed read through the section on zebra finches and started to gather the things I would need to make their cage comfortable. I rationalized all my purchases by reminding myself that I already had a large budgie cage at home that would be perfect for them. So I bought branches, finch seed, millet,a cute little basket nest, nesting materials and of course, the finches. Thanks to the book (which, of course, I also purchased) I was able to tell the males and females apart and bought one of each. I named them Lola and Winston.
Let me tell you that they are the most soothing little birds to sit and watch. I love to watch them hopping and flying from perch to perch. And while they are not the kind of birds that enjoy being held or handled, they are very used to people and are not startled at all by my hands in the cage. The cutest thing of all is at night when all I can see are two little orange beaks, side by side, sticking out of the nest basket. While reading the book, Finches, I discovered that some of these birds can live together in mixed flocks! Has anyone ever noticed how cute owl finches are? Or Lady Gouldians? Or......

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I have always been prone to excess, at least when it comes to animals. I have five dogs, all rescues, all living inside as family. I feed stray cats , who then inexplicably refuse to leave my front porch and must be trapped and taken to the vets for altering so I will not populate my neighborhood with feral felines.
Then there were the years that I belonged to an iguana rescue group and turned my house into a
green hotel for large unwanted lizards which noone seemed to want to adopt after I rescued them. The last of these misfits recently passed away after being a “foster” iguana in my home for years.
“ Are you married?” you may ask. “And does your husband share your love of all creatures great and small?” The answer is yes, I am married and no, he most definitely thinks I am crazy. However, in his defense I must say that he is unfailingly patient. He has built homemade cages for iguanas that were nicer than the ones sold in stores. He worked one whole hot North Carolina summer day building an outdoor turtle enclosure and carpeting it with centipede sod so that my gentle African tortoises might enjoy thier summers in the sunshine. He rolls his eyes and shares his home semi-graciously with our pack of barking refugees. He draws the line at dogs on the furniture and in the bed, but then marriage is a compromise, right?
I think I may have finally taxed his patience with the birds, however. It started innocently enough with some research on parrots and a purchase of a one year old blue headed pionus along with a pricey cage and an abundance of toys and treats. He good naturedly built an outdoor perch for our screen porch and gave up a corner of the sunroom for her cage. Well, who knew how sweet and cuddly a bird could be? Soon, an English Budgie joined the pionus in the sunroom. Next came an Indian Ringneck who remained untamed and needed a bigger cage since I was unable to excersize him properly. I should have recognized danger lurking in the shadows as I tried to sneak the pieces of the huge cage that had been delivered for the ring neck into the sunroom so I could assemble it there and hope it would blend in. “Is that what UPS brought today?” and “How much was this one?” were among the questions asked. But of course, why should the abandoned cage go to waste? So I added an adorable handfed Quaker parrot to my little bird family. So far, so good, but I had to push my luck and answer an ad in my local paper for a 3 year old Senegal parrot with cage that needed a good home. My husband works out of town part time so this has aided me numerous times in stealthily adding to my menagerie. I ended up purchasing the Senegal and setting him up in the sunroom, which now included five large expensive bird cages and five equally expensive, but gorgeous parrots. The new addition to my flock went unnoticed for several days until one morning as my better half was passing through the sunroom, he was greeted by the newcomer with a soft “Hello?” My husband stopped dead in his tracks in the middle of the sunroom and counted the cages out loud by pointing his finger at each one ( a bit dramatically, I might add). His comment? “Why would you want five birds when you already have four?” Why indeed?