BirdTricks | Parrot Training Blog » Mel

New Year’s Resolutions

 January 8th, 2015
Posted By:
Mel
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When Wildlife Rescue goes right! 3 baby Tawny Frogmouths at a carer’s house cuddling up to a feather duster.

 

2014 was a difficult year for me personally. More than once, I’ve found myself wondering why I put myself out there for animal rescue work? Some cases just break your heart, particularly if they’re due to something as fundamentally wrong as a human intentionally inflicting pain. I saw things last year that make it hard for me to sleep at night. There’s a reason I do what I do though and I have to admit that coming home to my own pets and their antics gives me the motivation to get up each day.

 

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Musk Lorikeet playing soccer.

 

Which brings me to my New Year’s Resolutions. I want to find the positive in 2015. Like most people, I’m fairly hopeless and tend to break resolutions within the first month of the year. The main problem seems to be that they’re just too unrealistic and hard to keep. We’re little more than a week into the year and my resolution not to fall off any more ladders (there was a possum rescue related injury that motivated this one) has already been broken. Luckily (apart from my knee) I seem to bounce.

 

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Rainbow Lorikeets playing soccer while I clean the aviaries.

 

I have made one resolution that I think might make 2015 a memorable year for the right reasons and it’s one that I’m sure other people might like to copy. I’ve found a use for the gift that my brother gave me at Christmas.

 

My brother and I don’t have much in common but we’ve managed not to kill each other yet. My brother also moved house last year and when he was cleaning his house before he left, he somehow mixed up his rubbish bins. Recyclables were put in the garden waste bin and the garbage collectors refused to take the bins. He telephoned me from interstate, telling me he’d gone on a holiday and couldn’t get back to fix it before his agent handed the keys to the new house owner. Could I go over and do it? Mentally calling my brother a few names, I did.

 

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They love these cat ball toys because they can pick them up by the holes and throw them at each other. Sometimes soccer looks remarkably like Dodge Ball.

 

Do you know what happens to a carton of pineapple juice if it is left in a warm rubbish bin in the sun for a few weeks? It isn’t pretty. All I had to do was lightly touch the carton and it exploded over me. The smell was something awful and the experience really improved my relationship with my brother. Particularly because he found the incident highly amusing.

 

Why is this relevant to birds? Well think of the times you’ve had someone visit your house and they’ve done something to annoy you. How do your birds treat that person? Birds have an amazing ability to pick up on the subtlest emotions of their favourite humans. It goes without saying that my brother (who already dislikes birds) is automatically in trouble when he visits.

 

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Gently pulling a visitor’s hair. Fid’s manners need a little work!

 

Insert a Christmas family gathering into my situation. Picture the expression on my face as I opened the following gift from my brother: A hard-covered notebook covered in pictures of pineapples. The sight of a pineapple is enough to make me nauseous, so while it was an amusing gift, I can well imagine that my facial expression showed some sign of the memory the gift brought up.

 

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I actually do like it, I’m just not that fond of pineapples anymore!

 

Before I could even react to the gift, my birds responded accordingly. The next thing I knew, Fid my Blue and Gold macaw was pelting my brother with walnut shells. (Note: he won’t share the nut.) My brother was less than pleased and said something suitably nasty to Fid. Fid promptly roared: “SHUTUP!” This made all of the other guests laugh and say “Yeah – shutup!” to my brother pretty much anytime he spoke during the day.  I almost felt sorry for him.

 

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Fid loves walnuts and loves this orange ball. He carefully extracts the nuts without chewing the ball then spends hours throwing the ball around.

 

If I’m honest, I have to admit that bouncing sharp bits of broken walnut shell off my brother’s bald head looked like a lot fun. My brother turns a particularly pretty shade of purple when he’s annoyed. One of the downsides of becoming an adult is that this kind of behavior is no longer excusable. I know better. Unfortunately for my brother, I just happen to keep a range of pets who don’t.

 

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My male Eclectus made an enemy out of my brother by asking him the same question over and over one day. Pepi has an amazing vocabulary and a real temper. Hiding almonds in a foraging toy is guaranteed to make him mad.

 

Which brings me to my New Year’s Resolution: I’m going to use that pineapple notebook weekly to record an example of something that my animals have done to make me laugh. My first entry is (obviously) a description of walnut shells bouncing off my brother’s scalp.

 

My pets make me laugh daily, so by the end of the year I should have a book that will make me smile no matter how horrible my day has been. I’m thinking weekly is more realistic and achievable than daily, so this is one resolution I’m hoping to keep! A book like this should be something I can treasure long after my pets are gone.

 

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My elderly galah Cocky Boy guarding his tree bark. The raised shoulder feathers scream “Don’t touch!”

 

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?  Tell us in the comment section below.

Is It Possible To “Normalise” A Bird Person’s House?

 December 11th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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The: “What will happen if I swing this blind’s pole into the glass door?” expression.

 

I’m moving house. I’m staying in the same state but flipping over to the other side – so a few hours from where I am now. Suddenly I find myself preparing my existing house for “normal people” to rent. It has come as a little bit of a shock for me to take off my “bird person” glasses and try to look at my home objectively without thinking about birds. I found myself standing in my shower, looking at a window frame, hearing some imaginary normal person voice asking: “What kind of termite does THAT?” in a seriously horrified tone. It turns out that this moving thing might mean a bit more work than I had originally thought.

 

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The thoughtfully personalised corner of my bathroom window frame.

 

It’s not that my birds are badly behaved or are flying around the house unsupervised. The damage here is minimal compared to what it could be. I’ve seen those photos of cockatoos peeping through the remains of a door and laughed. I know it doesn’t take long for a roving beak to do that kind of damage and so make sure they’re supervised. Fortunately, I find the chaos birds can create amusing rather than distressing and choose to live this way. I can’t imagine a life where I might find myself handing unchewed tax files to my accountant. (My accountant has the most amazingly expressive face.) Save me from the boredom of a life with “normal problems”! I LIKE chewed up tax files even if my accountant doesn’t.

 

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Each year my accountant says: “Keep your birds away from your tax files!”

 

A real estate agent’s camera however, is not quite so forgiving. So I’ve found myself cataloging and fixing an amazing array of small issues, while trying to prevent my flock from following along re-creating those issues behind me. It turns out it isn’t easy to convince a parrot that the corner of your bathroom’s window frame is not a good place to hook in a beak and swing, flapping your wings dry after a shower. Let alone convince multiple parrots that the clips that are meant to sit in the corners of your shower screen (presumably to stop the glass door banging shut and shattering) really shouldn’t be pulled off and hurled into the bath in order to make that super fun “pinging” noise.

 

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Fid just pulled that little silver plug out of the corner of the shower door and threw it at me…

 

My main problem has been window-related. I’m not sure when it happened, but apparently I have developed an abnormal attitude to window dressings? To the extent that I forgot that curtains and blinds are even called “window dressings”. I forgot that the curtains and blinds are meant to exist for two main reasons. They apparently exist to block light and make a window look pretty? Well the value of natural lighting in a bird house means that it would never occur to me to try to block light out with curtains. As for a house looking pretty – well birds have their own aesthetic values and they have a way of personalizing things quickly teaching a human not to worry about “pretty” anymore.

 

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Blinds are an awesome window-crashing prevention device!

 

My windows have long been shielded by wooden venetian blinds that can be set to let a lot of light in. I have come to view those blinds as the “things that stop my birds from smashing into windows mid-flight”. If a bird does happen to fly at a window, it can safely catch the blind with its feet or beak and hang off it, then choosing a safer landing site. Well this attitude and the fact that wood and birds usually equals splinters, might give you some idea of just how “prettily dressed” my windows are. I’ve had to add: “buy cloth curtains” to my ever-growing expensive fix-it list.

 

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It’s not like the birds chew on my furniture… Walking is enough.

 

Speaking of wood – isn’t it amazing how so many chairs have wooden backs or parts? I’ve found myself selling some furniture that I don’t plan to take with me. I’ve occasionally struggled to describe the condition of that furniture though because it looks like some weirdo who spends her evenings gnawing on the backs of chairs previously owned it. It turns out your birds don’t have to actively chew on stuff to damage it. Landing or sitting on it will do it easily enough.

 

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Pomegranate swing? In my defence it was a lot of fun.

 

Which brings me to a new game: “What’s that stain?” Suddenly the weird splotches that won’t wash off the ceiling are a problem. The stain that used to say: “Remember that wonderful day when I had that great idea to turn a pomegranate into a swing?” suddenly raises suggestions about the possibility of a murder scene instead. Don’t get me started on the beetroot stains or the stains from the red-fleshed dragonfruit! It’s amazing how many fruits and vegetables contain juice with serious stains-like-blood dying ability.

 

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My vacuum cleaner loves getting bark out of carpet. (I wish!)

 

My quest for a decent vacuum cleaner continues. It’s not safe to walk on the carpet in my house with bare feet. When you have an army of stick and bark flinging monsters in the house – splinters that the vacuum might have missed are a constant hazard. Then there is the danger of stepping on a sharp stray nail or screw. Let’s face it, stick and bark flinging monsters have multiple abilities. Their tendency to turn into feathered screwdrivers, bent on dismantling anything nearby… My grandmother used to have a jar of odd buttons to use for mending while I have a jar of odd screws and nails instead. After all, bird people really don’t tend to wear items of clothes with buttons on them at home.

 

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My elderly galah – his bark is worse than his bite.

 

Then there’s the smell. This varies and depends a lot on what foliage the birds have shredded in the last 24 hrs. A lot of the time it smells like I’ve drowned the house in Eucalyptus oil. Commonly it smells like you’ve climbed and got stuck in a lemon tree. No matter what though, if guests have even the most minor sinus infection – their nose is going to start running. Inevitably people start looking for tissues. I could actually see my real estate agent wondering just why a person would have a box of tissues conveniently located in 4 or 5 places around my main living area alone? Clearly I must have the flu and as his nose was running – could he already be affected my germs? Telling him what the tissues were really for would probably have just freaked him out more.

 

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I noticed the real estate agent surreptitiously counting my legs. You could just see her wondering why I’d have poles installed in my shower if I’m not disabled?

 

So I find myself “normalizing” my house and wondering just how other people do it? I will get there, but I find myself fixing things that I never expected to have to know how to fix. Items like: “Porcelain/Enamel repair kit” really do seem an odd thing to have to write on your shopping list. For the record, metal vases do not make a fun “pinging” noise when hurled in the bath. Putting a serious chip in a bath has a sound in its own right.

 

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Personalised paint job anyone?

 

Who am I kidding? I’m going to have to paint the whole house. Evenly spaced scratches halfway up the wall in the living room from that fun day I put a cage too close to the wall? Nothing else is going to fix that! It could be worse though – at least I stopped them from chipping away the bricks…

 

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Next on my list: Undo the damage the cats have done… Don’t get me started on the dogs!

 

So please give me something to laugh about as I watch paint dry? Share your stories of the way your own birds have personalized your house in the comments below.

 

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Unlike galahs, lorikeets can fit through the top opening of a good tax folder. :p

Controlling Seasonal Bird Noise

 November 13th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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Male King Parrot. He nests close to my house and is constantly talking to my Eclectus from this tree. (Pepi taught him to talk by yelling “Hello” over and over when he was nesting here a few years ago).

 

When the warmer months come, there is one difficult part about living where your pet birds also live wild. That problem? Noise!

 

Every year, as spring arrives – the increase in wild bird visitors to my place is significant. Sometimes they come as a flock and sometimes just single birds that seem to be particularly interested in finding a mate. My flock’s response to this is always the same. They do everything they can to call the wild birds to them. It gets loud.

 

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Wild galah flock – on a quest for dandelions.

 

This year – with the addition of Charlie, I have five galahs in my flock and the volume they can produce as a group when they’re showing off for a visitor? I’m pretty sure my neighbours don’t love me.

 

This sort of noise, is technically not “problem screaming”. It isn’t something that I’m accidentally reinforcing. There are different types of screaming that birds will do.  The sort of noise that I’m talking about, is normal parrot behaviour and a big part of living with parrots. I’m not talking about noise that is aimed to manipulate me to do something.  It’s not something I’m looking to train out of my flock.  I learned a long time ago that if a parrot is allowed to behave normally (for a parrot) then you’re less likely to have problem behaviours occur.

 

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The female King Parrot

 

The local Galah flock have taken to visiting my yard (dandelions get them every time!) right when I’m trying to watch the evening television news. All they have to do is fly past and if my guys spot them – well it gets so loud, it’s impossible to even think let alone hear the television. I have to admit that this can be really annoying. Frustratingly, it’s also when my neighbours are most likely to be upset by the noise too.

 

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After a few weeks they start to pair off, this is always when things get the noisiest. The singles tend to answer my flock (really creating some excitement).

 

So how do I get around this? Is there a way to stop a normal behavior at certain times without stopping it at others? The answer is – yes there is.

 

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Two of my galahs (Nemo & Merlin) examining some fresh logs for splinter potential.

 

There’s one golden rule at my place: Birds aren’t noisy when their beaks are full/busy. When I need some quiet time, I replace the noisy behavior with another normal parrot behavior instead. I give them something to occupy their beaks with and when I say this – I don’t mean overfeed them!

 

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Apparently my challenge has been accepted.

 

The cockatoo members of my flock (who are easily the noisiest here) are obsessed with chewing things into splinters. This year my accountant offered to hide my tax files at her office, so I’ve had to find more natural alternatives to allow them to express this behavior. Fortunately this noise increase coincides with when we seem to be getting a lot of windstorms – so the availability of fresh foliage, branches and logs is significantly higher than normal.

 

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Even my elderly disabled Galah gets into shredding logs.

 

Eucalyptus is the favourite around here at the moment. I say that with a word of caution though – if you have birds that aren’t native to Australia, don’t let your bird over-indulge with Eucalyptus as they can react to it. (For example, Fid, my Blue and Gold macaw has a very low tolerance for large gum nuts – green vomit isn’t pretty!) If at all possible, use safe foliage that is native to wherever your bird is native.

 

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My rainbow lorikeets, Lori and Dori. They will spend hours chewing and rolling around on a log, but won’t reduce it to mulch quickly.

 

If you don’t have access to Eucalyptus, other bird-safe foliage is fine too. Shredding roses is another favourite around here, so even flowers work. Just be sure that whatever you’re using is pesticide/herbicide/fertilizer free.

 

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This is Cocky Boy, my elderly galah – ready for his next log!

 

There is a downside to this – the amount of mess that a parrot can make when shredding a tree is something that no vacuum cleaner should be expected to cope with. The upside is that I needed mulch for my garden and a single Galah can churn out a metre’s worth in just over an hour.

 

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This is one of the reasons why I tiled the bird room!  Bark and carpet just don’t go well together.

 

The end result of all of this is that a wild bird can be just outside my birdroom’s door and my flock is too busy messing up the lovely clean birdroom to notice. Whenever I want quiet time – all I have to do is throw in another log.

 

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An hour’s work.

 

I was actually able to hear when the television news covered one of our recent storms, showing footage of a tree that had come down at our local shopping centre. They were happily commenting on how the crazy locals brought out their own handsaws to help clean up the tree. (Remind me not to wear shorts and t-shirt when I next go out with my handsaw to collect perches – apparently they make me look crazy.)

 

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This is Charlie – even when he was really sick, he was up for playing this game. Interestingly some of the compounds found in Eucalyptus trees are chemically very similar to his liver medications – so I encouraged it.  It’s worth noting that at my place I use foliage as more than an activity – it’s part of their diet.

Gaining The Trust Of A Bird That Permanently Needs Medication

 October 16th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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Charlie the galah. His previous owner took him to the vet to get his darkened nostrils checked out but no cause was found. We now know that Charlie’s liver was causing vomiting that was mild enough not to be noticed. A discharge from his nostrils were a part of that.

 

I’ve found myself in the worst place to be when it comes to developing a healthy relationship with a bird. My Galah, Charlie, came to me from a decent home but had a rescue history prior to his last home which has left him prone to serious trust issues. Medicating a bird is difficult at the best of times, but when trust is already an issue it can be a real nightmare. This comes before I’ve had a chance to do anything to earn his trust to help offset the current situation. What’s worse? His condition is permanent. I can’t wait for the medication period to end because it simply won’t. This sounds easy to get through, doesn’t it?

 

If someone else asking for help presented the above situation to me, I know what I’d suggest to do. I’d advise the person to start some trick training. I’d say build some trust by positive encounters and trick training (if done correctly) could be fun for both human and bird, it’s an excellent way of building communication and trust. That way not every encounter is going to be about medication and you have some chance of developing a decent relationship.

 

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Love at first sight! Charlie very quickly decided mum is the world’s most wonderful person.  Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for anyone else to handle him.

 

Well, apparently I can’t actually follow my own advice. Training works better when your bird is on a training diet. A bird with an ongoing health problem can’t always be put on a training diet. In my Galah Charlie’s case, due to the way his enlarged liver has pressed his digestive system out of place he tends to graze, eating small amounts consistently throughout the day. He doesn’t do well with set meals. If I try to implement “meals” I end up with a very sick, vomiting bird. So the idea of catching him before a meal when he’s motivated to train? Well it just doesn’t happen.

 

So that’s ok, training is still possible. I should just restrict his favourite foods to training sessions, right? I won’t be able to catch him before he eats but his desire for the “better” food might help. Well, I can’t do that either. What sort of food training reward could I possibly give to a bird that is on such a strict diet? No seed. No nuts. None of the traditional rewards are allowed.

 

As if all of the above isn’t bad enough, I have another problem that has arisen directly because of the fact that I’m medicating Charlie daily and have had to do other bits and pieces to him in order to save his life. I am the syringe-wielding troll. My mother? Charlie adores her. The sun apparently glows in a rosy halo around her head. I’m living with the dreaded thing known as a “one-person bird” and I’m not the lucky one person. The syringe-wielding troll is the one who gets bit. My mother gets cuddles.

 

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What a “treat” is nowadays for Charlie. Wheat Grass can be a lot of fun, but it isn’t easy to use it as a training reward.

 

Well this is a common problem in my situation but wait there is good news! There’s an answer I usually point people to for the “one-person bird” problem too. Have you heard of the 60:40 rule? (Click here for a post on that.)  I’m going to quote Patty (another Birdtricks.com blogger) here:

“The 60:40 rule refers to the ratio of acceptance you want your bird to have. A bird will almost always have a preference for one person so you strive for getting the bird to give you 40% if you are not the preferred person.  Sometimes you arrive at that ratio by dividing up the work and interaction but the ratio is about how the bird regards the people. We then make decisions based on that ratio such as if you are the bird’s 60 person then you should be the one that initially trains recall etc.”

 

At the moment Charlie likes mum a lot more than me (90:10), which is making it difficult for me to do anything with him. In theory, because she is preferred she should be able to get away with giving him medication without damaging the relationship too much but it just isn’t happening – she won’t do it.  I need to spend more time than mum does with Charlie to counteract not being the preferred human.  However, if mum is around he goes straight to her and even if she isn’t, he goes straight to her armchair and  wants to wait for her to show up.  I’m fighting to even get a few seconds of his attention.  Somehow I need to find a way to spend more time with Charlie and not just doing the bad stuff when I am with him.

 

Firstly, and rather bluntly, mum’s too soft. She gets very upset when she sees a bird distressed at the sight of a syringe. She doesn’t acknowledge that the bird is picking up on her emotional state as much as anything else. If I do it – it’s over fast before things can go wrong. If mum tried it she’d be too scared, too worried about hurting him, to even begin to try to hold him in a firm grip and he’d take full advantage of that. He’d squirm, cry, bite, break free, his movement would make the meds go down the wrong way and I’m left fixing an aspirating, choking bird. (No offense mum. Love you dearly but you suck at dealing with sick animals.)

 

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You can see the love.

 

The second problem with the above is my mum loves being the one person Charlie adores, so she is actively encouraging him to spend all of his out of cage time with her. The 60:40 rule is only going to work if you have the cooperation of the person the bird adores. If the other person won’t cut back enough to let you put in the work to fix the balance – you really are in trouble.  This is made worse by the fact that my mother has absolutely no interest in doing what she sees as the un-fun stuff related to living with birds. She will do it if she has to, but it’s reluctantly and she won’t be enough to counteract the negative impact of the amount I have to do.  I’m on my own with this problem. I’ve heard many people who aren’t the favourite person with other birds; say they can’t get the favourite human to cooperate either.

 

Got a headache from my list of problems yet? Don’t worry I’m about to make it go away.

 

I’ve got some good news for people in this situation and this time it’s genuine good news. There is a way to fix the above without the uncooperative human even knowing they’re helping you to fix it. In fact, the less cooperative they are, the more they accept being the favourite human – the better.

 

The answer can be found within my list of problems. What can you use for a treat for a bird that isn’t allowed seeds, nuts or really any food reward? I asked. Well it turns out Charlie wants something more than a food reward. Meet my mum:

 

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My mum.

 

Yup, you got it folks. My mother is now officially a nut and she doesn’t even know it.

 

When I appear with a syringe, all Charlie wants, is to get to mum because her shoulder is where no syringe will ever venture. So for those of you facing these sorts of trust issues but who don’t have the one-person to turn into a nut, your nut might well be a favourite perch or another bird that your sick bird feels safe with. The trick is to work out what your bird wants and to start to see it as a reward.

 

So the bird doesn’t want to be with you, but wants to be with its reward? The trick is to work this situation so that the bird gets to be with it’s chosen person/reward as a reward only as a result of some sort of interaction with you.

 

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Very pleased with an “escape”, if I get too close – I’m going to get bitten.

 

So slipping back to my Charlie situation. I have sneakily started getting Charlie out of his cage before my mother could have a chance to do so. The first few times, both Charlie and my mother thought what I was doing was accidentally letting him escape his cage and get to her. Except it wasn’t an accident, I was actually being very manipulative. I knew that if Charlie got to mum, she’d cuddle and play with him, but wouldn’t get him out of his cage later because from her perspective she had already done that. Suddenly, without either Charlie or my mother even noticing that I was running training sessions – I became the person in control of whether or not Charlie got to mum. After a few “accidental” releases, Charlie began to look at me as his way to mum. Meanwhile mum learned that she didn’t have to get out of her armchair to get her bird, so she started asking me to get him for her. I no longer had to pretend it was an accident and was still secretly training them both.

 

So how did this work? At the start of this process, any time that I would approach Charlie’s cage he’d freak out. He was terrified I was going to towel and medicate him. He was frantically trying to get away from me and get to my mother. He’d flap around his cage (seriously risking injuring himself), bite me if he got a chance and even fly at my face if he so much as glimpsed a way past me. I used this. I would intentionally open the door enough so he could fly at my face, I’d duck, he’d get past and I’d say: “Whoops” and both mum and Charlie would think that Charlie won that round.

 

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Charlie’s favourite spot. Nothing about this body language promises cooperation. Good luck getting him to step up! He says he’s sleeping right there.

 

The next part is important. Once he “escaped” I could not chase him or do anything that might create any sort of punishment. I wanted him to be happy that he got out and got to mum – the stronger the reward the better. Mum meanwhile, was delighted that a bird would choose her instead of me and fussed over him accordingly. Technically that sort of response from her was only going to make the one-person bird bond stronger. I wasn’t worried about that though.

 

After a few “Whoops” episodes, Charlie was less panicked when I approached his cage. He became more confident in his ability to get past me. So much so that he’d stop wasting time flapping around his cage and instead go straight to trying to fly past any visible gap by my head. He’d found an escape technique that worked and confidently tried to use it.

 

The problem was that I still had to medicate Charlie during this process. He’d try the same technique whenever I had a syringe ready to go. What Charlie couldn’t possibly know is that when he “escapes” it’s on purpose. If the training was to work, he needed to see a reason why his “escape” didn’t work for the scary medication sessions. He began to blame the towel. If I had a towel with me – he’d get medicated, if I didn’t, he could get past me. A hatred of towels is a lot easier to deal with compared to a bird that is terrified of you coming near it!

 

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Charlie and my elderly disabled galah Cocky Boy have become good friends.  Handy because it doesn’t hurt Charlie to see another bird take medication quite happily!

 

Once Charlie understood that all he had to do was look for a gap over my right shoulder and fly through it to get to mum, I had the basis to begin training him. I began to intentionally to block his cage door with my body carefully leaving no gap, for a few seconds each time I approached him. Similar to the power pause method, I’d wait until his posture relaxed just a fraction and then I’d let the gap appear allowing his “escape”. Gradually I was able to build up the time before he’d escape.

 

There is a definite similarity with what I was doing to the “power pause” method. (Click here to see the “power pause” video). “Power Pause” is what we recommend to people who have a bird that is not ready for training yet. In other words, during those early stages when the sight of you freaks out your bird and it won’t take a treat or reward from you yet.  The “Power pause” technique is fine for a normal bird but it isn’t always going to work on a severely abused bird, or bird that is currently receiving medication.

 

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Improving relations – that’s my hand giving Charlie a “good scratch”.

 

In my situation, the medication sessions unfortunately maintain my status as a negative stimulus to Charlie. I can try the “power pause” technique as much as I want, but I undo any trust that I earn twice a day when I have to produce that syringe. So I needed extra motivation to help Charlie see me as something other than a syringe-wielding troll. Which is why I found myself needing two types of reinforcement in order to increase Charlie’s motivation to be around me. The negative reinforcement is removing the negative stimuli from the bird (i.e. let him get away from me), combined with positive reinforcement (the reward of getting to mum).

 

So over the last few weeks, I’ve gradually been increasing the interaction I’ve been having with Charlie before I let him get to mum. Once he stopped panicking, I was able to even offer him my hand to step up on. (I’m lucky he’s had step up training from his previous owner.) At the start, he’d just scramble up my arm and take off from my shoulder to get to mum. Slowly though, the scramble has slowed. After a few weeks of this, he is now slowly climbing up onto my shoulder, talking to me as he’s doing it. He allows me to kiss him on the head and carry him to mum, instead of him having to panic and fly. I’m gradually managing to increase the amount of time he’ll spend with me.

 

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In for a kiss… Even allowed to pause long enough to take a selfie!!!

 

Gradually I am losing my status as a negative stimulus. This is also having a significant impact on my “one person bird” problems. I suspect mum is always going to be Charlie’s favourite and that’s fine. The more trust I build by doing the above, the more I am now able to interact with him without getting bit though. Which is a really great result considering that the preferred human doesn’t want to train or medicate the bird!

 

Obviously, the more the above works, the less the reinforcement I’m using is going to work long term. If I’m no longer a negative stimulus, getting away from me is no longer reinforcing. If mum is no longer the only person on the planet Charlie wants to be with, her value as a reward for positive reinforcement diminishes too.

 

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Turns out that Charlie LOVES spinach! Especially if it was only picked a minute or so ago. (I grow my own.)

 

All is not lost however. I have lorikeets. They have trained me well in methods of rewarding birds that don’t eat seeds and nuts! (Click here for a blogpost on difficult to reward birds.) I should in theory, soon be able to move onto some normal training with Charlie using those sorts of rewards instead of the normal food rewards that we associate with training.

 

The other thing that’s going to come up? Charlie’s fear of towels. I’ve found that allowing him to develop a fear of towels has helped speed things up. I wanted to develop some sort of trust with Charlie and I wanted to do it FAST in order to make the medication sessions less stressful to him. So allowing him to blame the towel for his failure to escape me at medication times, has been handy but it isn’t great long term. If a vet ever needs to towel him… I don’t want him to freak out.

 

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One of my other galahs, this is Morgy. As you can see, she happily climbs into my lap and actually asks for her medication. (Possibly it helps that I have them made so that they’re honey flavoured?)

 

Fortunately, I don’t have to towel my other galahs that have permanent conditions when I medicate them. The more practice you have with a syringe – the easier it gets. As I build trust with Charlie, I plan to stop using a towel completely and medicate him in the same way that I medicate the others. They barely even seem to notice when I produce a syringe – it’s just one more quick interaction. By then, I plan to have done enough training with Charlie to be able to do something to reduce Charlie’s fear of towels. (Click here for a post about how I worked to reduce my Eclectus parrot’s fear of wall hangings.)

 

It’s complicated I guess and no doubt other bits and pieces are going to come up – but it’s worth putting in the effort. Oh and mum has noticed. “It’s weird how Charlie likes you now, isn’t it?” she said the other day. I did think about telling her why, but then it occurred to me that she might start yelling if she notices that I smile whenever I see a walnut.
walnut

 

Raising A Wild Baby Raven Right

 October 2nd, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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Wild Galah, springtime, Melbourne, Australia.

 

Spring has sprung here in the Southern Hemisphere. In most bird homes, this means an influx of hormones and seasonal behaviours  but surprisingly that’s not a problem I seem to be having this season with my own pet flock. Instead, spring seems to be making itself felt in the wildlife rescue part of my life. Gale force winds and bird’s nests don’t tend to get along! We’ve had our share of them with the change in season.

 

Last year, I wrote a post about a nesting pair of wild Australian ravens and what they could teach us about training birds. (Click here to read that.) I was fascinated by the way they constructed lessons for their offspring and couldn’t quite believe my luck in getting to witness them.

 

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Adult male raven (left) teaching its offspring (right) to fly and forage.

 

Their nest survived many sets of gale force winds, allowing them to successfully raise several clutches of offspring.  In the winter months, a fat male Brushtail Possum took possession of the nest converting it into a possum drey.  During the day you’d see his tail hanging over the edge, gently swaying in the breeze.  That ended abruptly about a month ago.

 

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You can see the end of the male Brushtail Possum’s tail hanging out of the lefthand side of the nest.

 

There’s no mistaking the sound of a fat male Brushtail coming home to its drey early one morning (pre-sunrise) to find 2 angry adult ravens have returned and repossessed their nest.  The fights lasted for a couple of nights and you can probably guess who won?  There’s no mistaking the sound of an overweight male Brushtail possum making a calculated retreat into your roof cavity, directly above the bed you’re trying to sleep in.  (I’m allowed to make cracks about his weight because I’m the one that had to carry his heavy butt out of the roof cavity to his new possum box, after I fixed the broken roof tiles.)

 

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The male Brushtail Possum. Told you he was fat!

 

So with a serious case of déjà vu I’ve been watching the raven lessons start up again.  Awesome, right?

 

Well this brings me to the wildlife rescue side of things.  About a week after some particularly strong winds, I was contacted about a baby raven that couldn’t fly.  The woman who had found it, had rung a wildlife organization and was told to put it somewhere where its parents could find it but dogs and cats couldn’t.  No parents showed up and so the raven wound up in her spare rabbit hutch at night, being released during the day.  I was tagged in a post on Facebook, asking if I could help?  Despite the worldwide nature of Facebook the bird wasn’t far from me, so I could.

 

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Ready to go see an avian vet. Note the watery droppings? Not a good sign!

 

I went and assessed it.  It really couldn’t fly (could only glide a little) and that worried me because at its age it should have been well and truly flying.  I quickly checked it and found cuts under both wings, which might have stopped it from learning to fly, but shouldn’t be a permanent problem.  It had mites and other signs of injury too, so I took it to my avian vet.  It had a wound on its chest, another on its head, as well as multiple cuts under both wings.  It also had scar tissue on one foot from an even older injury.  It was underweight, with a body condition of maybe 1-2.  Needless to say it required treatment for the above.

 

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How to weigh a wild bird? Have the weight of your travel carrier recorded somewhere, so you can subtract it from the weight that includes the bird.

 

I don’t normally bring wildlife cases home unless there is some sort of mitigating circumstance.  I’m a rescuer/transporter not a shelter.  I have pets – and I’m not just talking about birds.  It isn’t a great idea to mix domestic and wild together.  You don’t want a wild animal watching dogs and cats interacting in a friendly way and learning to be less frightened of them as a result.  Nor do I want to accidentally expose my pets to a disease a wild animal is carrying.  This is why I choose to help wildlife through rescue/transport instead of as a foster carer.  However, I am licensed and linked to shelter operators, so in an emergency (like when a shelter is overrun during bushfires) I will do foster care work and have fencing and enclosures on hand that I can put up as needed.

 

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On a corrected diet, the raven’s droppings quickly normalised.

 

It struck me that I might have found a different sort of mitigating circumstance.  This baby raven was orphaned and injured.  Possibly thrown from a nest in that last windstorm?  Maybe it had been blown too far away for the parents to find it?  Then it seems to have been attacked by a cat?  But its injuries were surprisingly minor and weren’t the cause of it not thriving.

 

No, its main problem seemed to be lack of knowledge.  It didn’t know how to ascend/descend or land.  It had basic instincts allowing it to take off and glide but there was no control there.  It also didn’t seem to know where to find food (or want to) and how to avoid cats.  It had learned the terrible lesson that humans equal minced meat, making it way too tame for a wild bird.  It was basically a few weeks behind where it should be in life skills with a few bad habits thrown in for fun.  It struck me that it needed the raven lessons that I knew were going on at my home.

 

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Rebuilt and possum free. There are very young ravens in this nest.

 

Which left me with the question – would the ravens at home teach a baby that wasn’t their own how not to die?  Well, why not?  I knew from last year that their second and subsequent clutches of babies was placed to observe them teaching the previous clutch how to fly, etc.  What if I set up an aviary where the baby raven could observe these lessons too?  Even if my ravens had no interest in this raven, it would still be positioned to see them and maybe I could mimic the lessons myself while simultaneously dealing with its injuries and body condition?  It was a plan.

 

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With daylight fading, a smaller enclosure would allow the raven chick to familiarise itself with its environment for the night quickly.

 

By the time we got home from the vet’s on that first day, there was approximately an hour’s daylight left.  So I decided night one would be spent in a crate, looking out at the spot where I would assemble the aviary the next day.  I carefully selected a branch and foliage from a tree I knew my local ravens use during bad weather.  It’s a safe, stable tree that provides great shelter.  Familiarity with its foliage couldn’t hurt.

 

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Preparing a foraging tray instead of a “food bowl”.

 

The first step was clearly to teach this bird that food bowls aren’t where food comes from and that food moves.  I prepared a “foraging tray” that included samples of what this raven needed to learn to look at for food.  So we’re talking different types of grass (roots, mud and all) that conveniently still had worms in them.  Millipedes, beetles, woodlice/slaters – it turns out that my kitten’s love of hunting insects is handy.  I followed her for 10 minutes and had a good collection of “creepies” (mum’s word not mine) to shove in this tray.  Oh and that wailing sound?  That’s my mother still screaming at me.  She got just a little bit upset that I’m now keeping live insects in the fridge next to the milk.  (It’s not my fault that mealworms go in to a state of torpor and therefore last longer in the fridge!!!)

 

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You can see one of the mealworms moving around on the bark in the centre.

 

Apart from the lovely “creepies” I was also mixing up a supplement called “insectivore” which is commonly used to raise this sort of bird.  It smells bad and looks like mud but it does the job.

 

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Getting ready to pounce on moving insects!

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Success! Returning to the perch with a beak full of mealworm.

 

The next day I moved the chick out into the aviary in view of the adult ravens who were busily raising their own young.  I added numerous foraging trays to the bottom of the aviary.  Some were small stones, some were leaves and twigs, some were grass based.  All common things this raven needed to learn to search through.

 

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Hunting in the foraging trays. Overloaded with food to make it easy, but the raven seems to be getting the idea.

 

The adult ravens kept a close eye on what was going on, but generally left the chick alone.  They proceeded to collect food and feed it to their own young.  They didn’t feed the chick no matter how much it cried, but they were calling back and forth.

 

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The adult female raven (close to nest) looks down at the chick in the aviary.

 

The male worried me because it came over and seemed to try to peck at the chick through the roof of the aviary, but it didn’t try that again.  He seemed to increase his bug hunting which gave me hope for a while that he was going to feed the orphan, but he didn’t.  (I’m 100% sure of this as I have surveillance cameras and checked the footage.)

 

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The adult male raven has approached the baby several times and seems to have stepped up the food hunt – hunting bugs here.

 

The main challenge turned out to be getting the chick to descend to forage.  It was quite happy (if a little clumsy) in its attempts to get to the highest perch but once there, it refused to jump down more than one or two branches.  It was as though it reached some sort of fear threshold and would just freeze.  I carefully arranged the branches to be similar to a tree, but easy enough to jump from one to another.  I didn’t want to handle the bird much (better if it has a healthy fear of humans) but occasionally put it down the bottom of the aviary to forage and work its way up its “tree” in the vague hope that if it learned how to go up confidently, following the reverse path might become less frightening.  This had limited success.  The chick agreed to go down one more perch but no further.

 

Well the answer to this was to start some flight training.  The aviary it was in, is on wheels and so easy enough to move into my outdoor patio.  Fishing nets formed walls, turning it into a temporary flight.  I set it up similar to how the wild ravens do.  They start their babies off with horizontal flights from a tree to a rooftop.  I was placing mealworms on my outdoor table (so no more than a metre drop from the aviary’s top perch).  From this he’d fly to the ground.  When done with training exercises, I’d move the aviary back to in view of the wild ravens lessons.  They were small steps, but enough to build the bird’s confidence so he started ascending and descending within the aviary on his own.

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Wet after a bath, the chick climbed back up to dry off.

 

The other thing that happened was the raven had a bath, washing off the last of the dried blood under its wings.  It also preened out some broken feathers.  The next day, it had a weight drop and I wasn’t sure if there was an underlying disease or if it was due to the dried blood and feathers being removed?  I’d know in 24 hrs.  The bird desperately needed to put on weight, so I found myself looking to the wild ravens for an idea.

 

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Imitating the way the parent ravens hide food in gutters, I filled a food bowl with mud and leaves, with food inside it. “Insectivore” (a rearing food) looks like mud, so that’s in there too.

 

It seems wild ravens like to fill people’s guttering with mud, hide worms and other creepies in them and get their babies to hunt them out…  Well I didn’t have any spare guttering lying around but I did have a long plastic hook-on food bowl, mud and plenty of creepies.  Combine that with a bird that wants to be up high – it couldn’t hurt.  Fortunately the additional food seemed to help.  Within 24 hrs its weight had significantly risen.

 

Naturally, there had to be another hiccup in my plans.  Namely gale force winds.  With a severe weather warning in place for my area, I wasn’t comfortable in leaving a solitary baby bird outside in an aviary overnight.  I decided to bring it in to the crate to sleep out the storm.  As daylight faded, I reached in and grabbed the baby.  By now it had a healthy fear of humans.  (I hadn’t handled it more than necessary.)  It started screaming a distress call.  The next thing I knew the wild parent ravens were on me.  Both of them were swooping me, using their beaks as large stabbing sticks on each swoop.  I had no choice but to put the baby back down in the aviary and make a run for it.  If they were protecting the baby, I wasn’t willing to break that new-formed bond.

 

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It’s blurry because… well seriously would you stand still with 2 of them trying to kill you?

 

I came back after dark and took the baby to safety then.  Carefully holding its beak closed to stop the distress call so the parents didn’t hear me.  This meant it safely rode out the storm in the crate inside.  Meanwhile I woke up to some seriously mad wild ravens screaming their heads off just outside my bedroom window at dawn.  I quickly weighed the baby and got it back out there.

 

I had a decision to make.  The baby’s weight had continued to rise, but it was still 5g below what I had set as a releasable goal.  The weather forecast for the day was great, low wind, not too hot, not too cold.  Rain and wind predicted for the next day – which wouldn’t be ideal for a new release to learn to fly in, but wonderful for a recent release that is looking for water.  More importantly, it was fast reaching an age when parents would be less likely to look after it.  I had parents acting like they wanted to adopt it.  If there was any chance they would and that delaying release to wait for more weight could stop them…  I knew this baby stood a better chance of survival if it had a community of its own kind behind it.  The decision seemed obvious.

 

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I opened the door and waited.

 

I fed it, gave it a chance to eat and digest the food, opened the door and waited.  For 10 minutes it continued to move around the aviary, looking at the open door.  Then the adult male flew overhead, landed behind me and emitted one loud CAW.

 

The baby flew out and landed within a few metres of me.  The adult male swooped down and quickly fed it.  A technique I’d seen it use on its own offspring, when rewarding flight.

 

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Near me but this chick is focussed on the adult male.

 

In that split second, I knew it was going to be ok.  I also knew that I had to get out of the way before the adult decided I had to die again.  He obviously wasn’t keen on me at the moment and if ever there was a death stare…

 

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Ready to swoop in and feed the chick.

 

He called the baby up to the fence with him, but the baby wasn’t so great at flying yet and wound up flying to a nearby roof.

 

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The orphan raven in flight.

From there, he coaxed it to fly to a nearby eucalyptus tree (in view of the nest where the adult female was guarding the nestbound chicks), fed it and left it while he disappeared in search of food.

 

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Led to a Eucalyptus tree by the male, the chick stayed put (well-hidden but in sight of the nest).

 

The chick stayed put for well over an hour and the adult female kept emerging from the nest to check it.

 

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Double guard duty. An eye on the nest and an eye on the orphan.

 

Then suddenly the baby flew off and landed in a neighbour’s hedge.  I could hear a small dog going absolutely nuts and looked around for the parent ravens.  They were nowhere near.  The chick had travelled over 500metres and it occurred to me that they hadn’t been watching it to know it had done that.

 

I walked down the street to check it out.  I found the baby stuck on a shed roof, with two yipping dogs below it.  It clearly didn’t know where to go or what to do.  I got a net and got up on the roof.  (Met a neighbour I’d never seen before, “Why are you on my roof?” is a real icebreaker.)  I got within a metre of the baby when the adult male appeared and wow was he displeased to see me!  I’m pretty sure that was a very rude word in raven.  He took the baby off with him to a safe tree.  I realized then, that the adoption really had happened.  It wasn’t my imagination.  These ravens were going to fight to the death for this chick.

 

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Apparently this is where the best worms are? This is the Chick hunting.

 

A few hours later, they were back in my neighbour’s garden, where the ravens like to collect worms.  The chick was on the ground foraging.  The male was on the roof above, ready to swoop.

 

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You’ve got to give it to him, he’s got great parenting skills. The chick is just below him.

 

It seemed the male raven was in full lesson mode, taking the chick from one location to another.  The chick wasn’t just watching the ravens search for food either.  A local blackbird, kept dropping in and snatching worms and flying off too.

 

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They might be a pest here, but observing this little one was helpful for the orphan.

 

I knew that around 5pm every night, all of the local ravens tend to meet up and fly around the neighbourhood together for at least 10minutes.  I was waiting with bated breath in hopes of seeing something like this:

 

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My local flock of ravens flies up to join those distant specks almost every night (every raven in the entire area joins up for about 10mins).

 

However, it got really windy, so instead I found the adult male, chick and the last clutch of juveniles some distance away in a tree.  They were only small specks in the tallest tree but you could pick the baby apart from the others due to its inability to land properly (kept falling off tree branches and clumsily landing on another).  The adult male also kept zipping back to the nest from that tree.  (Apparently ravens can spot pesky attacking miner birds from some distance.)

 

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Not easy to see. You’re looking at approximately 5 black specks in the tallest tree. 3 of them are on the lefthand branches.

 

As night quickly fell I could hear the anxiety in the adult male’s calls as he tried to extricate the chick from that tree.  Eventually he managed it though.  The female climbed into the nest (presumably to keep younger chicks warm) and the adult male and adopted chick, settled within a metre of the nest.

 

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It’s dark, but I’ve over-exposed this shot so you can see where they all are for the night.

 

Having come to know these birds unbelievably well in the last few years, I think I can safely say that the baby is going to make it to an adult now that it has help from its own kind.  When a rescue goes this well – it’s a dream scenario.  If the raven hadn’t met a human with a spare rabbit hutch, I don’t think it would have made it.  It takes one moment of compassion to start a chain of events that can make a real difference to an animal’s life.

 

I was expecting to end this post here, but I know that some of the locals who have been following this story on Facebook are going to be worried after yesterday.  The bit of wind and showers that were predicted? We got hit by a really full-on storm.  Trees are down.  Power has been out.  My yard isn’t pretty.  Huge ceramic pots that I can’t even lift have been picked up by the wind and hurled at the house.  I was out on a different rescue during the storm, avoiding flying sofas with my car.  I came home and checked on the ravens and there weren’t any around to check.  I’m not just referring to the orphan and adoptive parents – I’m saying the local flock of 40 was gone.  It wasn’t just the ravens either.  The blackbird was missing, the local dove flock was gone, no sign of my resident king parrots, corollas, or galahs either.  It was eerily silent.  They came back the morning after the storm.  I believe the chick is still with the other young ravens as there are still “feed me” calls coming from their eucalyptus tree a few streets away and the adult male visits the nest and then heads back there.

 

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The nest survived the storm but the tree is damaged and vacant.

 

There was one exception.  I kept an eye out and saw the adult male silently flying in as darkness fell.  He was checking the nest which had survived the storm.  The female was still in it with the nest bound chicks.  From the sounds – he fed her and left.  He flew off into the distance, further than I could see and he didn’t come back again that night.  None of them did.  Wherever the orphan chick was, I was confident that the adult male was spending the night with it and likely the rest of the local ravens too.  He wouldn’t stay away from his own nest for any other reason.  It seems the wild birds knew this area was going to be hit badly and had flown to a safer place to ride out the storm, but it was already getting dark when the storm ended so they stayed away for the night.

 

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The morning after the storm. The female’s tail is visible on the left, the male’s on the right and the babies are noisy. The male flew off from here to where I could hear an older baby bird calling.

 

I’ve spent a lot time in university lectures listening to biologists tell me that an animal’s sole purpose/aim in life is to reproduce and pass on its own genetic material.  Then in the real world, I meet a pair of ravens who willingly share their own babies’ food with an orphan.  They’re even willing to leave their own young in order to protect the orphan.  I can’t help but think we as humans underestimate the other animals around us.

 

If you find a baby bird and want to help it, click here for a post that will help you with that.

 

Setting Up A Hospital Cage For Your Bird

 September 18th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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Charlie in my heatbox, recovering from surgery. Yes that’s some shredded newspaper lining in his claws…

 

If there is one thing that my recent experiences with my galah Charlie has taught me – it’s the importance of having some sort of hospital set up on standby in case your bird ever becomes critically ill. Even if you are lucky enough to have access to an out of hours vet who can hospitalize a sick bird, having a hospital setup can be extremely useful to help your bird continue to recover once it is well enough to come home.

 

There are four main things that I think are essential to keep in mind when putting together a hospital cage setup:

 

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My basic heat box setup. It’s simple, warm, clean and stress free.

 

 

1) Keep it Simple.

The whole point of a hospital cage is to simplify things for a bird that currently can’t cope with “normal”.

 

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Keeping it simple: I keep a collection of shallow dishes, so the bird doesn’t have to climb to eat or drink.

 

This usually requires a smaller cage or enclosure than what your bird is accustomed to. I find collapsible dog crates or travel cages to be quite handy for this, but I also have a heatbox (reptile enclosure) on hand for more extreme situations.

 

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I use a range of t-perches. These are store bought. I re-use the perspex sides, screwing in natural perches.  The point is to keep perches low, so the bird can’t fall far.

 

The reason that smaller than normal is better, is because the aim is to make everything easier for the bird. You don’t want them to have to expend a lot of energy to get to food and water, so in theory smaller should bring everything closer together. I keep a range of shallow dishes for use in my hospital setup. I also make my own t-stands or stable low perches. If they fall off a perch, you don’t want them to fall more than an inch or two. If a bird is going to be on the one perch for a long time, I’ll wrap it with vet wrap to make it softer, preventing foot injuries.

 

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Charlie was pretty weak here, sitting on padded perches.

 

2) Keep it Clean

Meticulous hygiene is something I strive for at the best of times but it is more than essential for a sick bird.

 

A sick bird is at high risk of contracting some sort of secondary infection, so exposure to droppings, old food or any sort of bacteria really can increase that risk. Not to mention that a lot of illnesses are carried within a sick bird’s droppings, so you should be disposing of any soiled cage linings very carefully and regularly. (I use a water misting spray, to spray any newspaper before carefully rolling it, in order to prevent any contaminates/dust from becoming airborne during cleaning.)

 

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When Charlie was getting better, he was still too weak to bathe but he appreciated a dish of damp grass (gone to seed) that he could rub himself with. It also gave him something to do (that didn’t involve removing his stitches).  Putting it in a dish made it easy to remove.

 

Think about how to set up your cage to allow for more frequent than normal removal of any cage linings. This will also help you monitor any changes in droppings as they occur.

 

Consider using a vet-grade bird-safe disinfectant when cleaning. Your vet should be able to sell you this sort of disinfectant. A good one is able to kill viruses and bacteria. I use F10 (which can also be found on ebay).

 

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My F10 collection… Fantastic stuff.

 

3) Keep The Setup Warm

Sick birds will struggle to maintain their own temperature. Providing an external heat source in this situation is often life-saving.

 

A bird’s resting body temperature (depending on species) usually sits between 38.5C/101.3F and 40C/104F. Their active temperature (depending on species) can usually increase up to 42C/107.6F.

 

In order to help a bird maintain their temperature, ideally a hospital set up should be maintained at around 25C or 77F.

 

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The thermostat switches the heat globe on and off.  The temperature drops to around 23C when off but goes up to 26C when on, which is roughly the range I want. Note the digital thermometer is prominent and monitoring the temperature. I don’t simply trust the thermostat (in case the bird recovers enough to start turning the thermostat to a different temperature!!!!)

 

There are a number of ways of doing this. Most of the easiest methods seem to involve reptile equipment.

 

This might be a bit extreme/expensive for the average bird person, but I keep a reptile enclosure/hot box on standby. I do this mainly because I have a really old galah with a heart condition. (He’s 65 this year.) He has his bad days and I can honestly say, the hotbox has saved his life more than once.

 

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My elderly galah Cocky Boy needs a heat lamp available 24/7. He has a special “disabled” setup for everyday use but a hospital setup is essential for a bird of his age as he does occasionally need it.

 

The obvious advantage of using something like a hotbox is that it is designed to hold a constant temperature, despite having vents that still allow airflow. The one that I use has a thermostat that switches a heat generating light globe on and off. The globe stays on long enough to maintain the temperature but switches off to prevent overheating.

 

An alternative is simply to use a smaller cage or a travel cage and partially cover it to help trap heat. If you do this, covering the cage is not enough on its own you need to use an external heat lamp in order to provide the heat.

 

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The “Exo Terra Ceramic Glow Lamp” with a 60W ceramic globe. This is the external heat lamp that I use. The white part glows slightly in the dark. Handy to help prevent you accidentally brushing it and burning yourself in the dark!

 

If you’re going to use something like this it is important to know what sort of globe the heatbox thermostat is calibrated to or temperature that the lamp is designed for. My box (like most) is designed to use a 60W red globe. It maintains the exact temperature that the thermostat is set to, if I use that globe. That’s great, except I don’t like using that sort of globe.

 

Red heat globes are actually the type of globe that many avian vets and bird specialists use. Even so, I can’t in good conscience recommend them myself. I don’t like them for a couple of reasons.

 

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These are the globes I’m talking about and the black mesh thing is a cage I screw over the globe in the beatbox in order to prevent a bird from burning itself.

 

Firstly, I find the light disturbs the birds at night, whereas the ceramic globes (that don’t emit light) don’t. I’ve learned to take note when a bird is distressed by something and I’ve seen more than one bird disturbed by a red globe. Also after you’ve seen a glass heat globe shatter/explode, you’re unlikely to ever want to put one above your bird. You can buy shatterproof globes but their shatterproof coating is usually made of Teflon. (Teflon and birds don’t mix well.)

 

I’m also not confident in saying that red globes are 100% safe for long-term use. I’ve read a mixture of studies that say red globes are perfectly safe and preferred; others say they can cause cataracts/damage eyesight. As a general rule, when studies seem to produce such conflicting results I tend to assume it’s something we’ll know more about in 5 years time and so I’m wary about recommending them until that time.

 

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This is how the black powder coated cage fits over the globe. Unlike the globe, it doesn’t get too hot to touch.

 

I use ceramic globes. On the bright side, they’re not known for shattering but they also have some significant disadvantages. They don’t emit light, so you can’t tell if they’re on by looking at them and you can get a really nasty burn if you touch a hot one. They also tend to emit more heat than the average glass heat globe, which means you’ve got to be careful what you put them in – you might need a lower wattage to be safe. I use a 50W in my heat box, but a 60W in my heat lamp (which is designed for an 80W red globe). I actually check the temperature with a reptile enclosure thermometer. Even using a 50W globe in the heatbox, I find the temperature sits at approximately 5C above what the thermostat is set to. It does pay to test these things before you need to put a live animal in there.

 

4) Make It A Stress Free Environment.

Keep your hospital setup away from the television, noisy children and other pets. A sick bird needs a quiet calm environment to rest. Not a space where someone keeps prodding it to see if it’s dead yet?

 

It’s very easy to overlook this when you’re catering to your desire to have the bird somewhere near you, where you can keep a close eye on it. Us humans tend to be noisy creatures, so close by might not be the best idea!

 

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Put your bird hospital in a quiet spot.

 

Finally – if you’re following my galah Charlie’s story.  I’m pleased to say he has recovered from his surgery and is back in his own cage.  His prognosis isn’t great.  The diagnosis has been confirmed as very advanced fatty liver disease.  For the moment he is stable and responding very well to medication but his condition should gradually advance as his biopsy results show that it has already advanced too far to be reversed.  So it’s one day at a time, doing everything that can be done to help such a sick liver.   While he has a good quality of life, there is still hope for him.

 

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Having noticed that Charlie had mastered the art of changing the thermostat settings by himself, I decided Charlie was ready to return to his own cage, where he has an external heat lamp that he can sit next to when he feels the need.