With the Sweets, Comes the Sours.

Click here for pinning african grey.

As parrot owners we all have one thing in common, parrots bite.  There is no way to get around it. You can’t put it on a plate and make it pretty to serve to the unsuspecting or unknowing, it’s just a harsh fact of owning these beautiful creatures.  They bite, and when they do, it sucks.

Dexter my Timneh grey who I have had the longest in our little flock usually bites me once a year.  Is it an episode in terror that he has been planning?  Nope.  It’s usually around spring fever time when all parrots go a little wonky.  It’s the one time of year that you have to pick your battles and walk away.  Sometimes it’s not the easiest to walk away from and your feelings get hurt.

photo (2)Cooper, who I refer to as Cujo of my household, has his moods.  He can be pig-headed, cage aggressive, cunning and a down rain pain in the old keister.  However, I try not to lose faith in him.  He makes it extremely difficult to love him sometimes, but when he lets his walls down, your heart literally melts in your chest.  There are months that go by where his beak does not shred my skin like paper, there are months where he steps up without launching at my hand like a junkyard dog going after a trespasser and there are months when Cooper lets his true personality shine.  That’s when I tend to relax and lose focus.  Cooper is just being Cooper, and that’s when it happens.  WHAM!  I understand that he has not been premeditating the strike like the planning of a bank job, it’s just that I haven’t watched his body language, and his trigger points that indicate the attack is coming.  Of course when this happens, it hurts.  It bothers me to the core.  I feel horrible, not only for my physical wounds, but for the gauge to my ego.  I feel as if all the work that we have done is just tossed and out the window.  When any of the other birds nip me, it does not affect me the same way.  Of course the same intent and aggression is not there.

I've had this plaque for 24 years.

I’ve had this plaque for 26 years.

Birds are naturally prey animals and innately suspicious creatures.  They have their defense mechanisms, just like any other animal out there.  So biting may be the way that they communicate to you that they aren’t happy with the way things are going and want to say “No, I don’t want to go” or “I don’t want to come out of my cage”.  A friend of mine and I were chatting about a bite wound and he asked “well your birds talk, can’t they simply say no I don’t want to go” and I responded, “yes they understand certain things, but english is not their first language”.  If you think about it, it’s true they mimic, understand and can formulate their own sentences, but that’s not every bird.  Some birds don’t even talk at all; so how are they going to communicate?  Physically. Our first reaction to physical threat is fight or flight, our adrenal system takes over and usually doesn’t allow for “talking it out” until the brain has made the decision of which path it is going. Fight avenue or flight drive.

Click here for Parrot Problem Solver.

Click here for Parrot Problem Solver.

For those of you out there with a bird that bites, educate yourself and the “why” will make itself known.  Birds usually don’t bite for no reason and some with severe aggression issues have been conditioned that way.  There is always a cause and effect in any behavioral scenario and it’s up to you to find the root. Try and tell yourself it’s nothing personal, lord knows I try to tell myself that very thing.  

With every beautiful thing there is always a counter balance, the yin to the yang.  With parrots and their beautiful magnificence, there has to be the other side of the spectrum. When your parrot bites you, shake it off and breathe,  it’s nothing personal.  And remember, “With the sweets comes the sours”.

Copyright – 2015 – Parrot Earth – With the Sweets, Comes the Sours

 

 

Safe and Sound

I got my photo for Macaw Rescue & Sanctuary here.

I got my photo for Macaw Rescue & Sanctuary here.

I am not sure if you’ve heard, but there was a bird-napping situation at Macaw Rescue & Sanctuary.  A number of parrots were stolen in the dark of night.  Prior to this the owner, Bob Dawson, had never felt the need to lock up his birds or his acreage.  In fact he has never had a problem in the last twelve years he has been on the property, until now.  What you need to know is Macaw Rescue & Sanctuary is out in the woods of Western Washington, and when I say, it’s out there…. it really is out in the middle of a forest.  Also, any of the Dawson’s enclosures are far from the front gate, so in order to pull off this feat, you would need an experienced memory of the property and what birds are where.  This has legitimately shaken the Pacific Northwest’s bird community to the core. Other bird thefts have occurred in the area as well, however it is not know if they are related to this incident or each other. 

I understand that the current economic climate is a freezing blizzard for some, however when you begin to take birds from a sanctuary for the purpose of selling them or setting up a breeding operation, I believe there is a special place for you in hell.  In case you don’t believe in hell, then I believe there is an instant Karmic debt that is coming your way.  

This whole situation got me thinking about security and what measures do we have in place to protect our birds. When we were searching for this house, I wanted a compound feel.  I grew up in the country on a farm and with the phrase “did you close the gate?”.  Hey, I love the feeling of gates, locks and privacy. It keeps unwanted people out and a feeling of safety in. 

backyardWhen we found this house, which is surrounded by trees, fencing and gates, I knew it would be a perfect home for us and our animals.  We built a large fence in the immediate backyard area right after we moved in.  Some thought it a bad investment and just thought we should stick with the worn down chain link that surrounds the property.  However because of Sheldon, our Golden Retriever, and Baron, our adorable Miniature Schnauzer, we made sure the fence came first and they were safe.  Our animals did not ask to come live with us, and because of that, they get treated as a member of the family. Now they have a nine thousand square feet fenced back yard that allows them more room to run than some dogs get in their whole lives.  It also allows us to have another level of security when the birds are in the back yard getting some sunshine.  We don’t have to worry about someone walking up and snatching them right out of our yard. 

palmAnother thing I am conscious about is windows.  We have blinds and window covering on all the windows. They are easily opened for light but I always make sure they aren’t open all the way, especially facing the street. Why announce to the world that you have expensive exotic parrots in your home?  In the bird room I placed palm plants in front of the front facing windows. This allows for that “jungle feel” and light is able to peer through.  More importantly, it also doesn’t allow eyes to peer in from the street.  I also have a reader that planted shrub bushes in front of her bird room windows, to prevent lookie-loos from peering in.  

We also have an amazing security system. I remember when they were rather expensive in the past, but now they have reasonable systems which are not only affordable, but you can also install yourself. Most even come with cameras.  There is a certain (insert pun) secure feeling with having a security system. 

Storm doors!  If you own your home, they can not only be a lovely way of getting air and natural light into your home, but they lock and they can be another barrier between you and your front door. 

Last year one of my readers left her grey unattended for five minutes on her porch while she went in to make some lemonade and when she returned, her grey was not only gone, but so was the small cage he was in.  She of course is still devastated and has hope someday she and her grey will be reunited.  But how? Microchipping is a great way to leave a digital signature on your parrot.  Is it a guarantee that you will be reunited? Unfortunately no, there is no guarantee, but it’s better than nothing. It’s very affordable and convenient when you get your parrots annual vet exam. 

legbandIf your parrot has a leg band, write down the information.  This is an easy indicator to give law enforcement if your bird is stolen.  It’s even a great identifier if your feather friend flies out a window and someone needs proof that he/she is yours.  

Photos!  If your bird has any identifying marks, take pictures.  Even if he/she doesn’t, take pictures.  The smallest thing can help in bringing your bird home. Did I mention, take pictures?

These are a few suggestions and the probability of your bird being stolen is low.  But, why make it any easier for someone to take your companion.  Think like a thief and look for “ins” and opportunities that could occur and create a way to prevent them.  Unfortunately in this day and age, we have to be more careful than ever.  People aren’t as nice as they used to be and those people who want to take advantage, will.

So take care of yourself, your family and your flock.  You could be the only thing that will make things around your home, safe and sound.  

Copyright – 2015 – Parrot Earth – Safe and Sound 

 

 

When Parrot Adoptions Go Wrong *Update*

Mealy at APR

Mealy at APR

Back in July, I wrote an article and did an interview about All Parrot Rescue and The Brewers, Sonya and Steve.  You can read the interview in its entirety here.  A few weeks ago I was sent the information on their court date and unfortunately was unable to make it.  I contacted Sonya for information, however at the advice of her counsel, she had to decline any comment.

The Brewers were not sentenced to any jail time, but 240 hours of community service and probation, by Judge Julia Garratt.  “Many times, a set of circumstances arise where truly good people do really stupid and potentially dangerous things,” she told the couple.

According to Kiro7, Cheri Eir-Jones plans on bringing trying to persuade the courts to give her back the birds that were taken.  

Kiro 7 News was in the courtroom and broadcasted this video on their newscast.   

 

I think this is a learning situation for the avian community. It shows that things can escalate very quickly and there is always going to be another persons view and their truth.  If this teaches anything to anyone, learn the local laws in your area, know your rights as a rescue and as an adopter. Schedule regular home checks. Review your contracts and know if you are signing something that is truly legally binding.  If you are going to repossess birds for whatever reason, make sure you have law enforcement there, so there are no “he said, she said” moments.  Also, have your own camera for evidence. It’s very important to protect yourself.  

I have worked with the Brewers in various projects and even fostered a bird for them, a Timneh Grey named Bella. In my opinion, they have great intentions and do great work for the birds that they take in at All Parrot Rescue.  knowbetterI have also never had any kind of negative experience with them or anyone at All Parrot Rescue. I hope they are able to continue the very much-needed rescue and adoption work that the Pacific Northwest so desperately needs.  

Personally I like to look at situations like this with an open eye and try to learn lessons from them. I have my own views and in this case I will leave it up to you to decide.  I wanted to make sure that I brought this case to light, so others may learn from someone else’s heartache.  

Because as Dr Maya Angelou said…

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better”.

Copyright – 2015 – Parrot Earth – When Parrot Adoptions Go Wrong *Update*

 

2014 in a Nutshell.

I got reflection here.

I got reflection here.

Every year about this time, I like to do reflection time.  I love to focus on errors in the past year and see if maybe I learned anything from those errors, therefore making me a more rounded person.  Sounds good doesn’t it?  Yeah, sometimes it takes a few times slamming your hand in the metaphorical car door before you get the idea.

house.2

I figured the double rainbow was a sign.

This year has been one of happiness and stress.  We spent over a year looking for the perfect home, not just a house that would “work” but a house that we could make a home for our entire family (cats, birds and dogs).  If you have never house hunted before, let me just explain the amount of stress that one incurs.  The constant hustle and bustle of firstly finding said house, then the competition to buy said house can be utterly horrific. There are constant ups and downs, the excitement of getting the offer accepted is like winning big at the casino.  However the realization that there may potentially be over $100,000 in repairs is enough to make you feel like Mike Tyson just punched you in the gut.  Yep, we had that happen and we were smart enough to walk away and wait for the house that was truly indeed “ours”. In the end we ended up with an acre of land and the birds have their own room.  My husband and I also got separate bathrooms and offices, which I truly believe is the key to a happy marriage.

I wrote some great articles and even had some published overseas in various publications.  I did some freelance writing here and there which made me grin from ear to ear.  There is nothing quite like putting it all out there on the page and it be appreciated by the reader.

PEOutdoor.BannerParrot Earth grew on Facebook “Likes” and blog subscribers, not to mention daily views and emails thanking me for starting the website and blog, which of course, at times brought tears to my eyes.  It’s nice to know that what I am doing with birds is making a difference.

This year has also been a learning experience for people running rescues and people working in them.  One rescue in particular was written about by a guest writer who later asked to be anonymous, it was such an amazingly emotional story, it had to be broken up into a series of three chapters. 2 3 There was another article “When Parrot Adoptions Go Wrong” written about a rescue who “repossessed” a bird that was allegedly being neglected in the house she was adopted into. This brought on a legal battle that is currently going on and charges of assault and theft.  However the bird was relinquished back to the rescue and had various infections and was very ill from the alleged abuse. This story is still unfolding and I will try to keep you updated as much as it develops.

Myself and Barbara Heidenreich

Myself and Barbara Heidenreich

I got the chance to get to know some of my hero’s and “movers and shakers” in the bird world and I happy to say that some have become good friends.  

I also learned some things about myself this year, especially being active in the avian community.  It is incredibly important that going into any diverse niche group of people, you have the ability to develop survival skills and a thick skin.  There can be some venom spewed and those keyboard vipers (as I like to call them) can really force you into a retreat.  It really can get to a person.  social-media-bullying-390x285Personally I have seen a lot of great aviculturists go into retirement over being bullied via social media and the internet (yeah, that thing that was supposed to bring us all together).  In fact I lost an amazing writer over the scrutiny of social media and it’s a damned shame.

Friends have come and gone this year, over various things, I believe that people are meant to come into our lives for a reason, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It stings at first, but accepting the fact is almost inevitable.

My charity foundation raised another $12,000 for local charities and that is something I will scream from the rooftops. There is one thing to do what you love, but when you can do everything that you love it’s the best feeling in the world.

I got my scathing email of the year from someone who didn’t appreciate me expressing my opinion on MY BLOG, because I don’t like to let my parrots run all over my house and chew on baseboards or kitchen cupboards or my new furniture.  I politely responded with an appreciation for taking the time to contact me, for the occasional four letter word(I’ll let you use your imagination), misspelled word, grammar and a link to the poisonous ingredient fact sheets for varnish, paint and other toxic household chemicals.  Surprisingly,I never received a response.

This kid is still learning....

This kid is still learning….

Overall 2014 has been a year of successes, wisdom, more gray hair and understanding of myself.  I don’t have to be the best and most knowledgeable parrot owner in the world, but try my best. I also don’t have to be the best writer either, just the best writer I can be.  “When you know better, you do better”.  I also don’t always(I’m working on it) have to be the “last word person” because 95% percent of the time, you can’t change anything by having the last word, you’re just sucking up more oxygen (and I learned the last word person usually has a problem with control and self-esteem).

I know I have been a bit vague about what 2015 holds….

Parrot Earth is expanding into rescue work and foster placement.  I believe that writing about parrots is good but I want to do more.   Very soon the applications go in for our 501 (c)(3) and the next chapter begins. Thank you for supporting another year with my baby “Parrot Earth” and my crazy journey in aviculture, keep reading and we will see you next year.

Happy New Year!

Copyright – Parrot Earth – 2014 – 2014 in a Nutshell

 

Rescues; Deplumed (Part Two)

I wasn’t able to visit Sebastian this month. I had a tremendous load of responsibility in February, 2014. I went on a rescue call for a bunch of small birds abandoned in a house while it was 4°F. It was rat infested. The owner died weeks earlier and the cigarette smoke still lingered. I suddenly had 9 Cockatiels and 10 Budgies quarantined in my apartment, and I had to give them several Dawn soap baths before they looked or smelled remotely clean. I was in the middle of moving. I took in a Conure who went neurotic when he was surrendered. He was driving other foster homes crazy with his constant screaming, and in addition to all that I also started fostering a wild African Ringneck.

Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Rice

The more I learned about shelter operations, the angrier I became. It was all such a complicated mess. More and more birds came in while there were good parrots who had been in foster care for years. They weren’t getting adopted and they were developing problems in the chaos. Foster homes were bursting at the seams with dozens of parrots in each home. Nobody wanted to talk about this devastating catastrophe. They wanted to use volunteer homes as warehouse space for birds and expect us not to complain about paying for everything ourselves. They always did more and spent more than we could imagine, our work was thankless and never good enough.  

I would think about Sebastian and my mind was temporarily cleared of these trauma-inducing thoughts. I had to get him out of there and I was going to put on a happy face no matter what.

February 22 I went down those steep steps and through the rickety old doorway that led me to my big red buddy. This time he had a bowl full of food and the man looked concerned.

“He hasn’t touched his food…..I don’t know what’s the matter with him.”

Sebastian was in a different cage now. The state inspector had been by for the yearly visit, perhaps she told him to make the change. Still, the new cage was hardly a step up from the old tiny one. He willingly stepped out of that cage and onto a perch for the man.

“Hold out your arm!”

I was nervous. He talked it up like this bird was so awful and now he was thrusting him into my arms.“You can pet him! He lets some people get all in there and scratch his head.”

Despite being in this dungeon with that man present, I felt nothing but indescribable joy. To finally hold Sebastian in my arms after all those tearful nights…words just don’t do it justice.

The man showed a softer side. I wouldn’t say it was huggy or emotional, or remotely indicative of someone who was [temporarily] leaving a pet they had for ten years, but it was softer. I could see how volunteers might be led on by these moments and feel the need to protect him, with hopes that he would suddenly become this person they imagine he could be. I, however, was not so easily romanced.

He drove Sebastian over to my house and let him out of the carrier. Suddenly I felt protective. I wanted him to feel safe and easy in the new environment.

“Give him the command! Tell him to step up!”

I pretty much ignored that and set the perch next to him, waiting for him to make the choice. Then I put him in his new cage, 78” tall and 46” wide, his old cage nearly fit inside twice.

“You’re going to have to be firm with him, he will be harder to control in a bigger cage. Do not underestimate this bird.”

I thought to myself, do not underestimate me.

Sebastian was finally in my home and I was so grateful for every moment we shared together. The first thing I did was take him to the vet. His nails were curling, his beak was overgrown, he had very foul-smelling excrement. The vet could feel his skeleton. I had to follow-up every month with the vet, getting him weighed and groomed until his feet and beak could function properly. He put me in touch with a special animal opthamologist and I made an appointment for July. It would take time to save money for that.

I was talking to another volunteer on the phone and she asked me how Sebastian was doing. I told her how I would hear him say things that sounded terrible. GET OVER THERE. GET OVER THERE. STEP UP. STEP UP.

“Did Mr. President tell you about how he rescued him?”

He did not.

Before he ever lived in a basement, Sebastian was violently abused. The first owner grabbed from his cage by his tail and flung into a dog crate. He shared the cage with a scarlet macaw named Happy who came along as well. They traveled away from that life with the man I was now dealing with.

“He said he felt like punching the guy in the face but he knew that he wouldn’t be able to get the birds out if he reacted harshly.”

Well…I guess for that moment he knew how I felt for the 5 months leading up to me re-rescuing him from this ‘rescue’. Happy got his happy ending, Sebastian seemed to have been lost in translation.

 I spent time with him every day, building a bond and training in approximations. For the first two weeks he did nothing but eat, sleep, and drink. He wasn’t difficult to control; he was just terribly afraid and very easily startled with his disability. His body often trembled in the presence of other people. I trained him to target outside the cage and he was gaining some confidence, but then he would get nervous and inch all the way to one side of his T stand until he stepped into thin air on his blind side.

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Rice

He wanted to be up high. He wanted to sit on top of his cage and never come down. I built a big jungle gym for him, arranged in a square so his disability wouldn’t get in the way. It braced against the ceiling so he could flap those glorious wings with all his might. Working with him on this stand every day changed his whole world. He developed confidence and became remarkably easy to train. I am so proud of him for how brave he has been.

The man never once asked me how he was doing. He had made comments to others about the environment I set up.

“He’s going to be spoiled and difficult to handle when he comes back”.

I wanted to ask about keeping him but I was so afraid. I’d tell him how Sebastian was doing and all he had to say was,

“He’s my bird. You can’t have him.”

It made me sick. I didn’t want to ask him until it felt absolutely right.

 Caring for birds at home became my full-time occupation. I didn’t have time to help the president keep his basement clean every week. I went over about a month later and some unsettling information came to my attention. Other foster homes were in scary conditions, I overheard. Birds that were up for adoption had been dead for months. I was white as a ghost. I didn’t know these people. I could hardly help this guy, let alone a whole network of others just like him with basements full of birds like Sebastian. I felt horrified at the thought.

Foster homes weren’t given specific guidelines on cleaning and feeding. There were no limits, no standards, and no consequences. How could they enforce rules that were not in place? How could volunteers do home checks with the number of birds they each had to care for? Some of these people had 30 to 40 birds under their roof, in addition to children and jobs. This wasn’t fair to the birds, but it wasn’t fair to the people either. It wasn’t fair to their families and it made me really sad.

“What is on the home check sheet? How do you define clean water? How do people know what you expect of them?” I asked.

He wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Some people were “too anal” according to him. They didn’t know how to write standards because of….political reasons? It got personal because of the awful conditions? I didn’t know. But I knew who could define it for everyone: Kansas state laws.

I researched these laws and studied them like I was getting ready for the board exam. There were some really serious violations within this shelter, and foster homes had no idea what they were agreeing to. I spent months writing a proposal with solutions.

I went to help him clean again several weeks later. There was a noteworthy exchange that is still eery when I think of it. Every time I helped him clean I would bring a pad of recycled newsprint to line the cages. I never wanted to use that old newspaper he had because it harbors a mold that can cause aspergillus. I learned this from Irene Pepperberg when she spoke of Alex’s death in her memoir Alex and me.

I had been doing this for 6 months and he finally picked up my newsprint and commented,

“Wow this is handy. Fits right in the tray!”

I explained why I used it and immediately his demeanor changed, he put my newsprint down, and picked up his newspaper piles to continue lining the cage trays.

You see, he had wanted Irene Pepperberg to speak at an event for his shelter, but she charges a $4,000 fee. Much of that money benefits parrot conservation and scientific research. But he believes it is such an unreasonable amount of money, that he can’t stand to hear her name. Doesn’t matter that she changed the world’s perception of parrot intelligence and inspired people to raise the bar for parrot care and conservation all across the globe. He will spite her ‘outrageous’ fee by adamantly disregarding warnings about the potential deadliness of moldy old newspaper. Riiight.

“She overworked that bird you know. He started plucking.”

Meanwhile, not four feet behind him, an African grey sits in a dirty empty cage with no toys, in all the glory of her plucked chest and abdomen.

The next time I went into the basement was also my last. I was helping with an event at Mr. President’s house while he was at work. I smelled something wrong. It smelled like the rat house where I rescued the 19 little birds. I had to check. I didn’t want to but I had to.

The smell of rodent urine wafted in and out of my nose as I walked around, trying to find the origin. And something else I couldn’t put my finger on….fungus. There were piles of mold in the cage trays. Mold growing on the floor covering ⅓ of the cubic feet that I could see. Furry looking piles under the food bins. Roaches crawling in the food supply. Plants growing out of the mold. Ants crawling around the food debris caked with bird poop.

No wonder he had so many birds die down there. Now I understood why some of them would throw large volumes of their pellets into their tray, despite being hungry. The ones who ate all their pellets must have been the ones who died. Grain food becomes deadly when it harbors certain kinds of mold. When the air dries in the cold season, that mold powders into dust and they breathe it in. Bugs and rodents leave feces and urine everywhere they go. What would have happened if I didn’t help him that winter? And now I understand why there was such an unusual amount of dust. No precautions were taken during the summers and this must have happened over and over in cycles.

And the biggest irony of this?

He had once said something that chilled me to the bone.

“All those birds died and Sebastian is still here.”

sebastian.4

Sebastian was the last one to be fed and I had even seen the man skip him because the bird was “too mean” to risk putting his arm in the cage. Mold and other contamination would be less present on food that is deeper in the bin. Sebastian was getting less food and the food he did get had less mold. Perhaps this monster gave Sebastian a terrible life for killing one of his only friendly birds, and his torturous treatment was the very thing that saved him.

One other volunteer was present and I showed her what I saw. I called the rescue adoptions coordinator. I sent her pictures of what I saw. I told her that he needed an intervention. I would help get every bird out of there ASAP, take care of them in my basement while he got a professional company to eradicate the mold and bugs, and we would have to get serious about what was going on in these other foster homes. She told me that if I were to take in any of those birds, I should not let a single cage from that environment enter my home. But she also began to worry. I told her I wrote a proposal and I was waiting to present it. She cut me off,

“We are doing EVERYTHING BY THE BOOKS, Caitlin. Do not use words like ‘law’ around the man. It will trigger him and he will shut down emotionally. He will not allow anyone down there anymore to check on those birds if you do that.”

I gave her an ultimatum: Help me get the birds out of there ASAP and make him do something different or I will report him. He is the president of this shelter and his actions are infecting the entire organization.

“Do you understand what that could do to the birds in this shelter?”

I did understand. But these people were made to believe that if the ring leader was shut down, all their birds would be taken away and euthanized. This is not the case but I could not waste any more time going in circles with her. She could look it up herself. She was choosing to believe this crazy man and stay ignorant. None of this was my problem anymore, I was done.

I ended up making a report. I used my proposal to cite all the laws; it was relatively easy to make sure the state would take immediate action since I had spent months doing all that work. The other volunteers helped him cover things up. The inspector didn’t enforce the laws he was still breaking. He passed inspection and got a stern talking to. For that entire week I could hardly sleep as my body surged with adrenaline. I was a victim of a heinous crime, years ago. I was suddenly triggered and afraid. My heart was constantly pounding. Then I got the text that I was dreading:

“I think its time for Sebastian to come home now.”

Copyright – 2014 – Parrot Earth – Rescues;Deplumed (Part Two)