Archive for June, 2008

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Why Does the Caged Bird Scream?

June 25, 2008

Despite the fact that Stewie has been extra vocal in expressing his displeasure with me in the last week and I’ve only been moderately successful in tempering his bad mood, I wrote up some tips on what to do if your parrot screams a lot for the PetKnows blog.

While we might not like that our parrots scream at the top of their (deceptively tiny) lungs, let’s not forget that they are trying to communicate something and that we need to respond accordingly. There’s no single answer to the question “why is my bird screaming?” That’s like asking: “what do people mean when they are talking?” The answer: it depends — both on the bird and the context. That means how you respond to your bird’s screaming can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution either. Your reaction needs to be appropriate to what your bird is trying to communicate.

To help you along in your bird-to-human translation efforts, here’s my interpretation of what my birds are trying to tell me when they are screaming.

What Stewie (loud sun conure) is trying to say when he screams:

  1. Pay attention to me!
  2. Pay attention to me now!
  3. Look, there’s something outside!
  4. Why aren’t you paying attention to meeeee?!
  5. Gimme, gimme, gimme!
  6. I’m a sun conure, and I love the sound of my voice, YAY!!!
  7. Pay attention to me!!!!
  8. Where are you?? I don’t see you. You can’t possible be paying attention to me!
  9. Yay, you’re home. Now you can pay attention to me!
  10. PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEEE!!

What Mika’s (pionus parrot) screaming means:

  1. Stewie, SHUT UP!!
  2. For god’s sake someone make that conure shut up already!
  3. ME TOOOOO !!!

If you’ve got a screaming parrot, buy some earplugs and try these tips to curb excessively loud vocalization. And check out the links below for more information.

Recommended reading:

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Shhh, Don’t Tell Him Snap Peas are Vegetables

June 25, 2008

Stewie is eagerly eating his treat… a snap pea! (Shh, he doesn’t seem to realize that peas are veggies). So far, beside corn, these are the only fresh veggies he likes — and both are kinda high in sugar, more like fruit than veggies in terms of nutritional value — but I’ll take what I can get, considering that Stewie was on a very seed heavy diet when I first got him.

Stewie with a snap pea Stewie with his snap pea

So far, Mika doesn’t appear to show any interest in fresh food whatsoever, but she does seem to enjoy the Just Veggies brand of dried peas. Interestingly enough, Stewie does not like the dried peas, although he does like some other types of dried veggies, especially the dried carrots that come in the Just Veggies dried vegetable mix.

Mika eating peas

If I remember correctly (and it’s possible I’m deluding myself on this detail), Stewie was pretty easy to convert to pellets, and he took to a couple different kinds of fruit after a while, although fresh vegetables continue to be a challenge.

At least he’ll taste most things I offer him now (especially if he thinks I’m eating it too).

Mika, on the other hand, seems like she’s going to be much more stubborn about giving up her seed addiction. The food she came with does contain high-quality pellets, but as far as I can tell, she doesn’t actually eat them — she just picks through the mix to eat the sunflower and pumpkin seeds. And she won’t even try anything new, not even “treats” that Stewie only gets as rare rewards.

When it comes to converting birds to a healthier and varied diet, patience, persistence and creativity are key. Stewie recently started really loving his Beak Appetite, something he wouldn’t eat when I first introduced it to him, so there is hope to changing their minds. Just gotta keep trying…

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Introducing the New Addition to the Flock

June 23, 2008

Haven’t had a chance to update the blog with the big news: I got a second bird! Mika is a two-year old white capped pionus — a total sweetheart of a parrot.

She joined Stewie and me last weekend.

Mika

Mika, the white capped pionus, reading a Washington Post
story about the rising cost of vet care.

I got her from a woman (via Craig’s List) who had to rehome her due to frequent overseas travel. Mika was clearly well loved. She steps up without hesitation and has only bitten me once, even though I’m a complete stranger to her and I’ve been having to towel her to give her medication.

Her integration into my household, I have to admit, has been a little rougher on Stewie (and me) than I was expecting. I was prepared for them not being best buddies right off the bat, but Stewie is having a tough time adjusting to the “interloper” in the house and he’s downright aggressive towards her.

Despite my efforts to keep him away from her, he flew to her cage on Wednesday, while she was inside, and bit her toe.

I freaked out, as you can imagine. I took Mika to my avian vet where they cleaned her up and prescribed some antibiotics, just to be safe. Poor girl — not only has she had to move into a new home where everything is unfamiliar, and she has to share her home with a little orange demon bird, but she has to be deal with me forcing medication into her twice a day. 😦

Not to worry, she’s fine – the vet said it was minor. She’s being a total trooper about it; and like I said, I think I’m more stressed out than she is — she’s being very cooperative.

Mika Playing with Foot Toy

Mika playing with a foot toy.

Right now she and Stewie obviously have to be kept completely separated. For now, when he’s out of his cage, I have to erect a shoji screen around her cage so he doesn’t fly onto it. I’ll be bringing him to the vet to have his wings trimmed again. It’s a tough decision, since I do so enjoy having him flighted, but his little aerial attack is going to cost him his flying privileges — at least temporarily while they take more time to get used to each other.

It’ll probably take a few months before I can count on them being civil to each other (or rather, for Stewie to be civil to Mika, since she’s already a perfect lady) — so I’ll need to continue to enforce completely separate out of cage/play schedules for the two of them. In the mean time, all three of us are going to have to learn to adjust to the new routine and the new order of things.

Stay tuned for more details (and photos) about Mika and how the transition is going.

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Bloggers Choice Awards

June 17, 2008

Like this blog? Please vote for it over at the Bloggers Choice Awards site:

My site was nominated for Best Animal Blogger!

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Cost of Keeping a Parrot

June 11, 2008

ASPCA banner

The ASPCA released its annual estimate of pet care costs, and according to them caring for a bird costs $270 in the first year and $200 each subsequent year … to which I respond a resounding “AS IF.” Maybe for this bird, but that doesn’t even come close to what I and other parrot owners I know are shelling out.

While they do say the estimates were based on a budgie parakeet, I think people will generalize this to small parrots and be unprepared for what the costs will really be. For example, the ASPCA’s calculations are based on a $70 cage. Seventy dollars. HA! The cages I’m looking at for my potential second bird are in the $300$500 range. I got a fantastic bargain on Stewie’s flight cage at only $150.

(You may have seen cheap little cages for $70 at PetCo or PetSmart, but no bird lover I know would use something like that as anything but a travel cage for a parrot. Even budgies need room to move, stretch, flap and play. Granted, budgies don’t need $500 cages, but budgies are not the norm.)


Next up, medical costs. Stewie’s initial vet check-up, including all the necessary bloodwork, came to around $300. Thank goodness he got a clean bill of health, or I would have had to pay for treatments and medication. None of this was included in the $150 adoption fee.

From the very get-go, just bringing Stewie home cost me more than $500 and that doesn’t even take into consideration what people pay for the birds themselves.

You can get a budgie for $20 at a pet store, but I wouldn’t recommend it. U.S. breeders charge anywhere from $300 to $500 for a sun conure; slightly more exotic species can cost $1000 easily. Generally, the bigger the bird, the more expensive it will be to purchase and the more expensive their care is.

I’m not exaggerating when I admit (sheepishly) that I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on bird toys and supplies, including perches, feeding dishes, ladders, etc. The cost of fresh foods and veggies also add up, although that’s not something I’ve tracked.

And I almost forgot about Wayne’s Bottle Brush Gym! That again was several hundred dollars.

Getting the picture?

Birds aren't 'cheap'
Photo credit: birdfeed by striatic. Birds aren’t “cheap” 🙂

Some people may not spend $400 on a cage, and they can save money making their own toys, but even given a minimal standard of care and a good deal of bargain hunting, I just don’t see how a pet parrot only costs $270 a year.

Here’s a more realistic look at what your parrot-related expenses will be.

If you’re thinking about getting a pet parrot, be aware that the bird’s purchase price is but a fraction of the cost of having a (happy and healthy) pet. Do your research, educate yourself on the expenses that come with keeping parrots and honestly assess whether you want to make that kind of financial commitment.

p.s. I’m not going to link to any price lists for birds for sale by breeders because I want to encourage you to check out your local animal shelters or parrot rescue organizations when looking for a new bird 🙂

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Choices: Hahns, Pionus or IRN

June 5, 2008

When it rains it pours! I’ve been thinking about getting a second parrot and all of a sudden I seem to have three choices available: the Hahn’s (mini) macaw from the animal shelter, a Pionus being rehomed through Craig’s List and today I got an email from Phoenix Landing telling me that there’s an Indian Ringneck Parakeet (IRN) that might be a good match for me. The Indian Ringneck looks like a female lutino, and she’s just a little bit bigger than Stewie (average IRN length is 15″, half of that being in the tail; average weight is 115g – according to AvianWeb.com)

I’m also told that she wouldn’t need to be quarantined, which is a big bonus.

Here’s one of the most adorable Ringneck videos I’ve ever seen (if not one of the most adorable parrot videos ever):

And in this other video you see a Ringneck playing the patient older brother to his love bird siblings. Watch how one of the lovebirds follows the IRN around trying (and succeeding at one point) to catch a ride on the bigger bird’s tail!

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Deciding Whether to Get a Second Bird

June 3, 2008

I’ve been considering getting a second bird. I’ll be honest and admit that it’s as much to keep Stewie company while I’m gone as much as wanting another one for myself (that’s not the best reason to get another bird, but obviously I’d love it and do whatever it took to keep him happy even if they ended up not getting along).

But I’m torn; there isn’t a clear cut answer.

On the one hand, I hate that Stewie is alone so much.

On the other hand, if they needed separate out of cage time because they didn’t get along, I don’t think they’d get enough quality one on one time. Stewie is out of his cage whenever I’m home and I couldn’t imagine having to lock him up half of that time because he didn’t get along with the other bird. Other bird owners have advised me, however, that keeping two birds out together isn’t a big deal, even if they didn’t get along; they would just need to be supervised at all time. (I supervise Stewie when he’s out as it is.)

Squabbling Mitred Conures

photo of two wild Mitred Conures
by Gwen

With one bird, when I go on vacation, I can pack up his entire cage in my bf’s truck and bring it to my friends’ house when they birdsit. If I had two of them, I’d only be able to bring their travel cages. Plus, I think having someone take care of two birds seems like a lot more to ask than just the one. (Especially if they didn’t get along.)

Time is more of an issue than money, but part of the reason I feel like I don’t have enough time is that I know birds are flock animals and Stewie is alone while I work. Even if he didn’t get along great with a second bird, at least he’d have some company during the day (i.e. another flock member). I think that’s worth something.

And chances are he’d actually get along fine with another bird. I just like to be prepared for the worst case scenario. What I’d be aiming for, obviously, is for Stewie to have a great buddy.

Sunday and Jenday buddies

photo of Chomper and Petrie snuggling
by FlyChomperFly

Plus I think it would be healthy for Stewie to be less dependent on me for all of his emotional needs. He’s so clingy and his entire life seems to revolve around me letting him out of his cage. It’d be nice if he had a friend to occupy at least some of his emotional energy.

As you can tell, I’m pretty convinced that I’m going to go ahead with getting a second bird. The issue now is what, when, where and who.

Amazon and Quaker

photo of Amazon and Quaker preening
by Crosby Allison

I’ve been thinking mostly about something like a green cheek, but I’m also committed to adopting another rescue, and there aren’t many green cheeks up for adoption; so I’m considering various other small-ish/medium parrots that I find on Petfinder.

Last week I saw a Hahn’s Macaw and a Mitred Conure at one of the local animal welfare league locations.

Over the weekend I went to check them out. This was not a parrot rescue, just a regular animal shelter, and although they had the birds in decent enough cages at least for temporary purposes, and their cages were where all the people hung out so they weren’t lonely, they just didn’t look that great.

Besides being a little plucked, both birds were just kind of “dull” looking. Stewie was in perfect feather when I brought him home from the (different) shelter, and now he’s positively radiant, so the contrast is big. I’m not saying he was a perfect pet right off the bat – he wasn’t tame and it took a long time to get us to the point we’re currently at. I’m fully prepared to put in the effort required to make a new bird healthy and happy. That’s not the point… there’s a difference between taming and training an ornery bird and nursing a sickly one back to health.

Both parrots at the shelter had a big bowl of seeds, with nothing else. And the mitred conure had a water bowl directly underneath his favorite perch. As you can imagine, that water was nasty!

Two conures in foster care
by Crosby Allison

Afterwards we went for a stroll near the waterfront, and there was a Maryland-based parrot education organization on the pier showing off their birds and doing some fundraising. I held a senegal and a pionus – both birds I’m open to considering (although they are quite a bit bigger than a sun conure).

In the mean time, I’ve be put in an adoption/foster application at Phoenix Landing, the closest parrot rescue in my area. If you’re located in DC, Virginia, Maryland or North Carolina, check out Phoenix Landing’s adoptable parrot list on Petfinder.

Phoenix Landing logo

SweetPea

This is SweetPea, a ringneck up for adoption through Phoenix Landing. I’d love to adopt this guy – isn’t he adorable?

Wish me luck!

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Update: As you may have seen from more recent posts, I did end up getting a second bird — a two-year old, female White Capped Pionus — but Stewie is not getting along so great with her (yet). Right now they definitely need to have separate out of cage time. Just goes to show, it’s best to be prepared for the worst case scenario.