- Part 2

The Hardest Thing About “Owning” Birds…

 September 4th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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The newest member of my flock – Charlie (Galah/Rosebreasted Cockatoo)

 

As I type this, the newest member of my flock, Charlie the galah is with his avian vet and I’m not sure that he’s coming home. I’m sitting next to my mobile phone waiting for news. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve checked to see if my phone is working. I know I charged it but maybe it has gone flat super fast? Nope. It’s working. It’s also too soon for the vet to call. I know that too. I just can’t quite stop myself from checking my phone though.

 

Charlie hasn’t been here for long, it has only been a few months and pretty regular vet visits during those months working through his multiple issues. He is a bird with problems and that’s what has made things very difficult from the start. Anyone who has dealt with a rescue bird or an elderly bird will know what it is to know that there are so many things in his past that are impacting now.

 

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Two of my younger (and healthier) galahs: Nemo and Merlin. These guys have warily accepted Charlie into the flock but understandably are a little more agile than the old man with arthritis!

 

He came to his previous owner from a rescue. The rescue gave his birth year as 1960 and said that multiple owners had abused him in the past. No details as to what sort of abuse but let’s face it – most rescue birds come with a sob story. It’s a given that he has been through something even if we don’t know what. He had a serious liver issue that his previous owner to me had found and was treating. I knew he’d had giardia from when I birdsat him and treated him last year. He has some feet abnormalities that aren’t unusual in an older bird. I also knew the plucking problem started sometime before 2009.  I received a vet history helpfully from his previous owner which included regular blood work from the last 5 years. Things could easily have been worse.

 

One thing worried me about Charlie more than anything else and that was the way he would straddle his wing, press it into his abdomen and sleep like that. I didn’t know what was causing that? I was questioning arthritis? Or whether it was something to do with the liver problem? I knew from his previous owner that this was a normal pose for him, which meant it wasn’t an urgent problem but it isn’t a normal behaviour for the species. It continued to nag at me and was on my list but he had minor problems like mites and some anxiety issues to get rid of first. In hindsight, I wish this had seemed more urgent and that I’d done an Xray before all of the other tests. I really hate hindsight.

 

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The way Charlie pressed his wing into his abdomen rang alarm bells with me.

 

So I was 45mins late home a few days ago. Charlie was bleeding when I got home. The blood was making things look worse than they were. There was a small cut on the plucked bald spot on his abdomen. He’d been chewing on a tree branch and there were small sharp stubby bits – it was possible he’d slipped and scratched his stomach. It was more likely a self-destructive behavior though. This is a bird that anxiously calls after you if you leave the room. 45 mins late… Had he freaked out and chewed himself to bits because of that? He was straddling his wing again as I wondered that. I decided that instead of treating this as a behavioural issue (which really did look like the most likely cause), I’d deal with that gut feeling that something medical that wasn’t showing in his bloods was going on and causing that weird wing straddle.

 

We went to the vet for an Xray. The vet added more blood tests the list of things to check too. I left him there for the day because an Xray requires an anaesthetic.

 

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Once cleaned up, the cut was only small but the point was it was there.

 

I went home and when I went to clean his cage, found I’d missed some vomit that morning. I rang the vet and let them know that he was vomiting. I was now damn glad he was at the vet because the vomit reinforced the idea this was medical, not behavioural.

 

Not surprisingly, the Xray was abnormal. The liver problem was obvious and chronic. I have another galah here with a serious liver condition. Morgy should have died last year but instead she’s on specialized liver medications and is still going strong. The medications are working for her. Charlie’s liver was worse than Morgy’s and that terrified me because I didn’t believe it was possible to be worse than Morgy and still be breathing? The only positive I could see was that I wasn’t having to wait for weeks for specialized meds to be compounded. They were already in my fridge at home.  I thought I had my answer. I thought I knew what came next and what to do. I was wrong.

 

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At the vet.

 

Charlie came home after that Xray and continued to vomit. The vet adjusted his meds accordingly. I went back and picked up an antibiotic in the hope this would help. It was hoped that the medications would relieve the liver symptoms enough to stop the vomiting. They didn’t.

 

It was now Saturday afternoon and every avian vet in the state was closed. I could feel the small window of time when he was still strong enough to save was fast disappearing and I was worried. If I couldn’t control the vomiting soon, he was going to deteriorate fast. I was switching what I was doing to emergency first aid. I was adding the equivalent of a bird electrolyte to his water because suddenly keeping him hydrated was more important than anything else. He was bright enough, singing and dancing and didn’t look like he was dying. I knew otherwise though. I was measuring exactly how much he was keeping down and I knew that I was in very real trouble.

 

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Charlie’s Xray. The liver is so big it has pushed other organs out of place. E.g. The gizzard. (The oval white dotted shape behind his legs). That should be much lower down, more between his legs.

 

I was consulting with Charlie’s vet via phone. He agreed that I needed to act before he deteriorated but it was after hours and he wasn’t where he could do it himself. He referred me to a 24 hr emergency service because he wanted Charlie hospitalized. I rang them. They didn’t want him. They weren’t comfortable with birds. They’d see him if I pushed it, they said that they didn’t want to though.  They told me that if I insisted on coming in they wouldn’t guarantee they’d be able to give him fluids but would charge me hundreds and hundreds of dollars to even look at him without doing so.  They advised me to try one of the animal shelters as someone there might know something about birds. I can honestly say it’s a horrifying feeling to realize that your bird’s best hope is YOU. I have my own hospital setup and with a sinking feeling I realised that I needed it.

 

I still needed help to get some lifesaving fluids into him though and that’s not something a person can do by oneself. I rang my cat/dog vet. They have a 24 hr service for cats and dogs and agreed to help me if my avian vet would talk them through it on the phone while I assisted during the actual procedure.

 

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IV Fluids – not something that you’ll find in a normal animal first aid kit but something Australian wildlife rescuers find themselves needing/using regularly. So frustratingly I had everything I needed, except for the vet/physical assistance.

 

Charlie sang and danced his way through that appointment. I was seriously annoyed with Charlie for doing that. To a vet that isn’t used to seeing birds, this didn’t appear to be a sick bird. It’s no wonder that people don’t notice their bird is sick until it’s too late! Without my avian vet on the phone and me pushing it in person, I think the normal result of this sort of appointment would have been to send the bird home with the advice to keep him warm and see your avian vet for a checkup on Monday.

 

I was able to assist the vet as he injected fluids and medications and was damn glad of my wildlife rescue training (which is actually way more practical than vet school) because I could point to where the needles needed to go and restrain him correctly. Charlie wasn’t a cooperative patient.  I knew that in putting him through this I was damaging his trust with me but I also knew he was dead if I didn’t do it.

 

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Heat Lamp. If you don’t have one – get one. This should be in the average bird person’s first aid kit. Your bird’s ability to control it’s temperature is the first thing to go when it is sick. A heat lamp can buy you precious time and keep your bird alive through an illness. They’re usually sold as Reptile Lamps. I use a 60W ceramic globe.

 

By Sunday, Charlie had deteriorated further. There was an avian vet open for the morning (not Charlie’s vet, but still someone I trusted, knew from past experience that he’s great with the added bonus of knowing  he is friends with Charlie’s normal avian vet). I took Charlie in. It was incredibly busy.  There were a lot of birds needing help but the vet managed to fit us in.  Charlie had more fluids, more medications and a crop feed. Charlie managed to keep half of the crop feed down. At this stage, those fluids and crop feed had been life-saving but I knew it still wasn’t enough. I was back at the dog/cat vet only four hours later, repeating what I’d done the night before. This time I got lucky. The vet on duty was one of my avian vet’s recently graduated students. He knew what he was doing.

 

Having a bird that can’t keep food down?  That’s a nightmare.  Telling him he’s not allowed to eat in order to give his digestive system a break? Not easy. Having a bird who sits in front of where his food bowl normally is, accusingly chanting “Yummy?” over and over and over? Well it physically hurt me to say no to that.

 

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One of my other galahs – Morgy. With a liver that rivals Charlie’s for being a disaster, I count Morgy as a miracle. As her liver condition has come under control, her heart problem has recently shown more clearly on her X-rays. That was diagnosed less than a month ago but she’s doing well now that she’s on heart medications.   It also turns out she’s older than I thought – her X-ray has shown she has mild arthritis. When I say it’s a miracle she’s alive and able to maintain a decent quality of life – I mean it.

 

By now, I knew my goal was to keep him alive and strong enough to go back to his own vet Monday morning. I knew that another Xray was the plan and hopefully if given contrast, it would show more than the one on Friday.

 

I managed that goal. The phone call I’ve been waiting for has come while I’ve been writing this blogpost. It’s the phone call that would tell me if he’d survived the anaesthetic for that Xray and if I had answers. He’s alive. The Xray gave answers. Not good ones though.

 

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This Xray is from Morgy – not Charlie. It still isn’t “normal”. You can see her gizzard isn’t pushed as far back as Charlie’s. This is what an Xray looks like when contrast is used. The contrast should ideally travel through the digestive system showing any blockages (the bright white stuff above the gizzard is the contrast doing this).  Morgy has no blockages.

 

Charlie’s 2nd Xray has shown that he has some sort of mass growing between his heart and his liver pushing his other organs around. Depending on what that mass is – it may or may not be treatable. The next step is to get him strong and stable enough to cope with surgery. The only good news is that the pain medications he’d had over the weekend had performed an extra function. They’d reduced the size of the mass, by reducing inflammation so that it showed more clearly on the latest Xray, compared to the one taken the week before. It was the mass that was pressing on the stomach causing vomiting. If medications could reduce it’s size – there was suddenly hope that he might recover enough to undergo surgery.

 

So that’s where I am. He’s stable but still critically ill. It’s a few days later and he’s back at home in my hospital setup. Needless to say he needs fairly constant supervision. His surgery is scheduled for early next week. I’m praying for a miracle. Apparently I’m hoping for a cyst rather than a tumour?  Really though, I just don’t want him to suffer and want him to have the retirement with other galahs that he deserves.

 

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Too sick for a cage, Charlie is in my “hospital setup”. He’s at home in a heat box, just like he would be if he was hospitalised at the vet’s.  This is not something I would expect the average bird person to have on hand.  Considering I have a 65 year old galah with a heart condition, another who is around 30 years old with liver & heart issues  and now Charlie… This box is something that is apparently essential for my retirement home for galahs!

 

What does all this tell me? Well, I can say that bird owners have it tougher than dog and cat owners. Our beloved pets are better at hiding what’s wrong. We have to be able to recognise really early signs of illness.  There is also more pressure on us to have a higher level of knowledge to help them through a medical emergency. We also need to have equipment on hand at home, allowing us to use that knowledge effectively. We usually don’t have the luxury of being able to rely on standard out-of-hours vet services to give us the best possible chance of helping our loved ones. Sadly at the present time there is a larger element of “do it yourself” when you’re dealing with a sick bird than is ideal.

 

I’ve had my share of vet bills lately. I have a large flock. The older birds, or birds that have come from less than ideal backgrounds have ongoing permanent conditions such as arthritis, heart and liver issues. You can draw a line down the middle of my flock. The ones that I’ve had from a young age pass their vet checks problem free, the rest require a lot more work. I’ve had my share of miracles – I’ve got a few birds here that are doing well despite the odds. I only hope Charlie makes it onto that miracle list too. Birds really can break your heart.

 

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Charlie – I hope he makes it.

 

Further to all of the above, it’s a week later.  Charlie did regain his strength enough to get through the surgery.  He has since survived that surgery and come back home to my hospital setup where he is recovering.  The mass that was visible on the Xray?  It turned out it wasn’t a mass but just more liver.  Charlie has the worst liver my vet has ever seen.  He’s had a biopsy and I’m waiting for results to find out what exactly the cause is, which will help determine treatment.  He isn’t out of danger, his condition is extremely serious and life threatening, but it’s looking like he’s got a good chance of being very similar to my other galah Morgy in that they both seem to defy odds.  Apparently I got the miracle I was hoping for.  Now all I have to do is work out how to stop a galah from destroying a heat box?

 

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Post surgery he’s home again. (Shredding the newspaper lining in the heatbox.)  When they start destroying stuff, you know they’re going to make it.

When Wild Birds Move Into Non-Traditional Habitat

 August 15th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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Two of my birds bathing under a sprinkler. (For those who are concerned about water conservation: I use tank water.)

 

One of my flock’s favourite ways to bathe is outside under a sprinkler. I set the sprinkler up on top of their aviaries and let the water fall down on them just like rain would. Everyone except for my macaw happily screams and shouts and plays under it. My eclectus gets as close to the sprinkler as possible as he prefers to be on the receiving end of a more forceful stream of water. If you were to listen to my macaw, sprinkler water is going to kill you and you must panic if you see it. (Someone prefers the bathing ritual of trying to drown humans in a warm indoor shower.)

 

I’ve got the perfect spot to do this, it’s a large paved area, with open sky. It adjoins an undercover verandah, which provides some shade if it’s too hot to leave them sitting in the sun to dry. It’s close to my water tank, so less chance I’m going to trip over the hose (yes I am that clumsy).

 

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Even my elderly disabled galah loves bathing in this way (assuming it’s warm enough).

 

Sounds great, doesn’t it? While they’re out playing under the sprinkler I’m only a couple of metres away cleaning the bird room. The birdroom opens out onto the paved area, so I can easily keep an eye on the birds. It’s a lot easier to clean without bits of bird toy being gleefully bounced off your head!

 

Recently they were drip-drying in the open and I was a couple of metres away mopping the bird room when something suddenly changed. It was one of those moments when you know something is very wrong but you just don’t know how you know it? Everything suddenly seemed to be screaming DANGER. My birds were dead silent, absolutely everything seemed to be completely still.

 

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My Blue and Gold Macaw (on a different day) drip-drying in the sun.

 

Except for me that is. I dropped the mop. In a split second I’d covered those couple of metres and wound up next to the birds. I carefully followed their eyes to see what they were looking at, in order to work out what was wrong.

 

Every one of them was staring upwards and my macaw was making a low grumbling noise. They were absolutely terrified of a tiny speck that was circling directly above us. When I say tiny, I mean to my eyes it was almost invisible because it was so high up.

 

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Different day (when my birds were safely away & I therefore had time to safely take a pic). This is a black shouldered kite circling above. The bird I’m describing in this story was much higher and much bigger, but this pic gives you a good idea of what I mean by “speck”.

 

The speck was a bird and the fact that I could see it when it was that high, told me that it was an exceptionally large bird. The circling action told me it was a bird of prey that was hunting and the fact that my birds and I were in the center of that circle wasn’t lost on me. It was a lot bigger than the normal birds of prey that I see.  I knew I had only seconds to react. I also knew that I couldn’t move the birds to safety one aviary at a time because it would leave my remaining birds unprotected.

 

Well fortunately, my aviaries (even the super huge ones) are on platforms with wheels. That said they’re not exactly the lightest things to move. I swiftly pushed the aviaries together and with strength that I didn’t know I had, pushed the back one so that it pressed against all of the others. I moved them all simultaneously under my patio roof in one go. My back is still mad at me for doing it but it was worth it.

 

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How do I know the speck in the last pic was a black shouldered kite? Using a different camera lens, I zoomed in.

 

The second I got the aviaries moving, all of my birds screamed in terror. I knew that the speck had seen that its chosen feast was beginning to get away and that the chase was on. The speck was diving on us.

 

What I didn’t know was that the speck was one of two wedge-tailed eagles. I have no idea where the speck’s partner was hiding but it reached my yard a full 10 seconds before the diving speck did. Fortunately the barrier of my patio roof was forcing the eagles into a side-on attack. They both landed in a tall tree nearby clearly trying to work out how to swoop in and collect their dinner.

 

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Note: both of the birds in this picture are wild birds. It’s not cruelty – it’s wild birds behaving normally. (A bird has got to eat.) I’ve included this picture because some people simply won’t believe that Wedge Tailed Eagles will eat large parrots (in this case a Sulphur Crested Cockatoo) on a daily basis. Don’t be fooled. Birds of prey will naturally see your pet birds as an easy meal. This is the type of eagle I was face to face with – you can see why I was so scared for my birds.  Photo by: Leigh Sayers

 

Meanwhile I slammed on my exterior ceiling fans and fired a stream of water at them with the hose. It made them retreat a few metres but they weren’t willing to give up. On the bright side, their wary retreat bought me the precious minutes I needed to push each aviary up a ramp and lock them securely back in my bird room. This was done one handed while my other hand was firing off streams of water in the eagles’ direction. The bird room wound up being slightly pool-like as a result.

 

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The encounter was over in seconds. The eagle took its meal home. Photo by: Leigh Sayers.

 

It was a close call and a bit of a lesson to me. If you had asked me the day before, I would have told you that I don’t get wedge-tailed eagles in my area. We get some smaller birds of prey, but nothing that big.  Any bird can attack, but normally the wild birds around here are a lot easier to fend off.  These eagles were extremely determined.

 

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A wild “Butcher Bird” overlooking my yard. They get their name from their tendency to impale small live animals on a stick and strip the meat off it like a butcher. They’re not a harmless visitor around here, but easy enough to scare off.  Their numbers have increased drastically in the last 12 months.

 

All of my cages and aviaries are sturdy and you’d think that would be enough to protect pet birds from being a wild bird’s dinner? That’s actually why I’m sharing this story. Many people think their cages and aviaries are infallible. There would be a reason these eagles weren’t even remotely concerned about my aviaries and that is quite likely to be due to their past experience. With my ongoing hose defence; they wouldn’t have been persisting in their attempts to get to my birds unless they knew that they’ve succeeded getting pet birds before. An aviary or a cage to them is no more than a foraging toy. Many people have learned that the hard way. I had no plan to do so.

 

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This Pied Currawong has its nest at the rear of my yard (interestingly it has chosen a tree that neighbours a raven’s nest, so they share guard duty). Every time it flies overhead my birds scream in fear even though it seems to have no interest in them.

 

The eagles returned at the same time, every night for the next two weeks. I’d see them in the sky, two tiny circling specks. You could set your watch by them. It’s worth remembering that if a wild bird finds an ongoing food source, it will add that food source to their daily routine until it is depleted or until they find something better. It meant that my birds didn’t get as much outside time during those two weeks, especially at that time of day. More than that, other bird people that I knew in the area were trading information about sightings and were also taking that sort of precaution. I’ve also marked the days on my calendar, as it wouldn’t shock me to see them again this time next year.

 

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Mission accomplished – the same Pied Currawong returning to its nest with a small mouse. So their diet isn’t entirely vegetarian…

 

I have seen them since, but not consistently. The lesson in this is that times are changing. If you have pet birds, it’s worth being aware that some species of birds of prey are moving into more populated areas than where you’d traditionally find them. It pays to look up.

 

One last note – the pair of eagles that I have been dealing with are likely to have been drawn to my area because of the abundance of “easy food”.  They are known for taking off with small dogs and cats too.  So if you happen to have other pets and find yourself in the above situation – don’t forget to watch out for them too.  I suspect the eagles’ main diet might actually be pigeons as I have a new neighbour a few streets away who has started regularly flying a racing flock.  Having a new neighbour like that – is not good news.

 

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The Pied Currawong – looking up from the tree it nests in.

Helping A Bird To Settle At Night

 July 31st, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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Cockatiels are notoriously easy to disturb at night. How’s this for a messy beak? This one likes pomegranate!

 

Normally if I hear a bird crashing around in its cage after falling off a perch at night, I’m going to think of a few possible causes:

  1. Something has disturbed the bird.
  2. The bird is having a night fright.
  3. There is something medically wrong.

 

Well sometimes things just happen and something will disturb your birds at night. Personally, I minimize that risk by covering my birds’ aviaries at night. I’ve also confiscated my kitten’s ping-pong ball. (Problem kitten behavior: Let’s throw ping-pong balls at the bird room door at 2am.)

 

In terms of night frights, I don’t actually have any birds in my flock that are prone to them. Click here to access a post that Patty wrote about this topic a while back.

 

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Nemo, one of my Galahs/Rosebreasted Cockatoos likes to sleep on this perch for a few hours every afternoon.

 

The third option – something could be medically wrong. I’m always in favor of a vet check when something is not quite right with your bird. An example in my flock was when Fid (my macaw) had issues with settling at night when he was suffering from psittacosis. In his case I found a heat lamp and the introduction of a sleeping platform helped. (Click here for that post.)

Lately, I have been dealing with a fourth cause. I have welcomed a new bird into my flock. The new bird is understandably jumpy and on edge in a strange environment. There are some general things to keep in mind when you first bring a new bird home (click here for that post). My recent experience however, has highlighted that the complete darkness that I ensure my birds have at night, can be more than a little dangerous for a jumpy new bird.

 

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Charlie. The newest member of my flock. Likes his food…

 

Personally, I don’t like using night-lights. They can be fantastic, but I’ve found that if I use a night light with my flock – my birds simply will not shutup. One will ask “Where are the peanuts?” then another will start quacking the alphabet song and it goes on from there. They all join in and are more than happy to sing and talk to each other all night. A night-light might prevent my flock from getting spooked and flying into something in the dark, but it also leaves me dealing with tired and grumpy birds. I must admit, after listening to the alphabet being quacked full volume at 2am, I don’t become particularly friendly myself.

 

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Glow sticks – nice and cheap from a junk store.

 

I’ve found a way around this. I’ve started using glow sticks. What are they? Thin plastic tubes, that you bend, something inside snaps and the next thing you know it’s fluorescent in colour and it glows in the dark. (Not a very technical description I know.) I bought mine at a $2 junk store. They came with connectors that allow you to make bracelets out of them. The little kid in me just wants to snap them all and make them all glow at the same time. They’re fun to play with and I suspect that’s what they’re really made for.

 

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Be careful to place them out of reach of your bird. I find the tray at the bottom of a cage or an aviary to work well.

 

They’re not something that I would put within reach of your bird. They contain glass and the chemicals are likely to be toxic. It doesn’t take the average parrot much effort at all to bite through something like this – so don’t take that risk. That said, I find they work well if you set them off and drop them in the tray at the bottom of your bird’s cage. In other words, put it under the grill safely out of reach of your bird.  (Make sure your bird’s cage is a design where this works.)

 

I cover my birds at night, so this means that the light emitted from the glow stick is only visible to the bird whose cage it is placed in. The glow stick emits a gentle glow that slowly fades throughout the night. I find it gives off just enough light to help the bird see around it if it is feeling scared. This means if it does spook and start to flap around it is less likely to hit items in the cage. It also means that the bird is less likely to spook in the first place because they can see well enough to know that swinging toy in the corner is just a toy and not a predator.

 

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You have no idea how hard it is to photograph something to show the strength of its glow at night, while still showing enough light around it in order to tell what it is…

 

So that’s my tip for helping a bird settle at night in a new environment. On that note, I’d like to introduce Charlie – the newest member of my flock.

 

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Charlie the galah. As you can see, he has plucking issues.

 

Charlie’s previous owner had asked me sometime ago if I would take Charlie if something ever happened to her. Considering how long parrots can live, it seems to be the sort of arrangement any responsible owner would plan for. The reason she asked me was because I’m already caring for an elderly galah. There is something to be said for keeping birds of the same species who are roughly the same age together. There aren’t that many really old galahs around. My galah, Cocky Boy turned 65 this year. Charlie is meant to turn 55 years old later this year.

 

So Charlie’s previous owner has had some issues that have led her to re-home him now. I hadn’t really planned on adding to my flock but I have had Charlie stay here before while his owner was away – so I know he fits. (He also fits in the filing box I keep my tax receipts – he’s an awesome shredder.)

 

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He has a few quirks that I’m wondering about? This is the position he likes to sleep in or perch. I’m wondering if there is a little arthritis starting in that wing joint? It’s not a normal behaviour so I’m working on this with my avian vet.

 

He’s jumpier than any of my other birds and that’s not particularly surprising because he hasn’t had a great history. His previous owner was fine, but he came to her from a rescue and as we all know rescue birds can have some issues that can mean it takes a little longer to work on trust. So the little things like using a glow stick at night seem to be making a huge difference to helping him settle in.

 

You’d think going to the effort of making sure he’s comfortable at night would help with building trust. Charlie however, doesn’t seem so grateful about my thoughtfulness. He’s made his preferences clear. He’s madly in love with my mother. Meanwhile I’m in trouble with her for saying that it must mean that she’s old… After all it’s the two elderly birds that have chosen her as their favourite – it’s a logical reason. Yeah – I’m definitely in trouble for highlighting that.

 

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It’s love.  Charlie showing off for my mum. He glues himself to her shoulder whenever he can.

 

Psittacosis Explained

 July 17th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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This budgie is suffering from psittacosis and an incorrect wing clip. Note the poor posture, the discharge around his cere and that he is sitting fluffed. He also has a tail bob.

 

Recently there has been a spike in concern about Psittacosis as news has spread that Petsmart in the US have removed birds for sale from 500 stores after 16 birds (so far) have tested positive to the disease. For many, it’s the first time they’ve even heard of the disease and understandably it has them worried and asking questions. Particularly considering that Psittacosis is contagious to humans. If you live or work with birds – this is an illness you need to be aware of.

 

What is it?

The condition is known by several names. “Psittacosis” is probably the most well-known name, “Avian Chlamydiosis” is another. “Psittacosis” is the common name used when parrots have the illness, “Ornithosis” for other species of birds. The disease is caused by obligate intracellular bacterium, Chlamydophila psittaci. (In simpler language, think: a type of bacteria that reproduces in the infected person or animal’s cells causing a serious infection.)

 

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Same budgie as pictured above, post-treatment. The difference in posture and feather condition is obvious.

 

Who can get it?

It’s a zoonotic disease, which means that while it is more common in animals, it can be transmitted to humans. For humans: children, pregnant women, the elderly and those who are immunosuppressed for some reason (already sick) have an increased risk of contracting it if they are exposed. The good news is that it isn’t a common illness in humans.

 

In birds, it’s actually quite common and not just in the US. This is a disease that exists around the world. It isn’t limited to parrots; many different types of birds can contract it (over 570 species have been found to have had it).  A bird that is already sick or stressed is more likely to be affected by it.  A bird may carry the disease, but the condition can remain dormant until activated by a period of stress or illness.

 

In Australia, it is extremely common in both wild and pet birds. In fact, it is so common that it is enough to make screening for it a standard part of a new pet bird vet consultation here.  No matter where you live in the world, you should be aware of this illness.

 

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Wild Australian short-billed corella. This one appears healthy, but could still be carrying Psittacosis – many wild birds do.

 

Symptoms:

In humans it presents like the flu and quickly escalates to pneumonia. If you’ve got it – you’ll know it. After an initial incubation period, you will become very sick, very fast. We’re talking respiratory issues, high temperatures and left untreated it’s serious and can even cause death in extreme cases.

 

In birds, frustratingly some birds can show no symptoms at all. Some birds carry the disease and never become symptomatic, but they can still be contagious.  This is why screening and quarantining a new bird before introducing it to your flock is so important.

 

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Male eclectus with discharge from a nostril. If you see this, it’s time to take your bird to a vet for a checkup.

 

The most common symptoms in birds are respiratory; by which I mean sneezing, coughing, and/or discharge around the nostrils or eyes. A bird with respiratory symptoms may scratch at their nose or head in an effort to clear their airways.  Feather loss can occur as a result of the scratching.

 

Sick birds will often seem depressed and lethargic, spend a lot of time sitting “fluffed”, they may lose their appetite, appear slightly clumsy and have poor posture.  Watery droppings are another symptom to look out for.

 

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Blue and Gold Macaw’s droppings at the time he had psittacosis.

 

How is the disease spread?

It is usually contracted by inhaling or ingesting airborne particles or dust. Often this happens when contact is made with a contaminated bird’s droppings, or nasal discharge.

 

Be aware that these particles can remain active for weeks in the environment, well after they have been shed.

 

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Same Macaw’s droppings after treatment has begun to work.

 

How is it Diagnosed?

In humans, the easiest method is a simple blood test. If you have flu-like symptoms and have been around birds, it is important that you mention that contact to your doctor. This is not a common diagnosis, so your doctor is unlikely to make the connection unless you tell them about the birds. Your doctor may not have even heard of the illness, so be aware of the different names it goes by. (For example in Australia, the blood test is listed under the name “Chlamydiosis” not “Psittacosis”.) Be aware that if you have recently taken or are currently taking a course of antibiotics, this can cause inaccuracies in the test results. (False negatives/all clears).

 

In birds, there are several options for testing. The easiest will require a blood sample.

 

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Fid, my Blue & Gold Macaw when he had psittacosis didn’t look very ill – just a bit scruffy.  His blood tests said otherwise.  (The red berries and foliage are cotoneaster – in case you were going to ask!)

 

Avian vets will often perform an in-house immunocomb or ELISA test. These tests look for a specific antibody or antigen. In simple terms, if the bird has the illness, the bird’s immune system should be responding to it and this test is looking for what the bird’s immune system produces in that response.

 

The clear advantage of this test is that it’s fast (same day results), it gives you an idea of how strong the immune system response is (how bad the infection is) and because your vets can do it themselves with a commercially available kit, it’s inexpensive to do. The disadvantage is that false negatives are possible. The bird’s immune system might not be responding because it is in a dormant stage (e.g. incubating) at the time of the test.

 

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Wild short-billed corella. It is sitting fluffed instead of foraging with the rest of its flock. As a result, this is not a tree that I would get foliage from for my pet birds.

 

The alternative test is a PCR and usually requires a sample to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. This test is looking for part of the DNA of the disease. The advantage of this test is that if even the smallest amount of the DNA is there, this test can amplify and find it. The other advantage is that PCRs are performed to detect many different diseases. So if you’re screening a bird for a range of things, laboratories will often screen multiple diseases from the one sample, at the same time at a discounted rate. This test is a good option for those who live in countries that don’t have avian vets.  A normal vet should be able to take blood and send it off.  The disadvantage is that it can take weeks to get results and false negatives are possible. A negative result does not mean the disease isn’t present. It could just mean that that the particular part of the DNA the test was looking for wasn’t present at that time. In other words, the bird might have the disease but not be at the stage of the disease that the test is looking for.

 

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At the vet, having a drink of water while recovering from an injection.

 

Whatever test you do – it’s wise to do multiple tests over a period of time to determine if the bird is really clear or not.

 

There are other tests that can be performed as well, but at the time of writing the above are the most popular/considered the most reliable.

 

Also remember that the use of antibiotics can compromise test results. A single test can tell you the disease is there but a negative result doesn’t necessarily mean the bird (or the human) is in the clear.

 

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Wild flock of galahs. It pays to keep an eye on your local birds. Notice if any can’t keep up with the rest of their flock.

 

How can you prevent it or reduce the risk of spreading it?

  • The biggest and most obvious thing to do is quarantine any new bird from any others you might have in your flock even if it has come from a location that you trust. It’s important to remember that many birds show no symptoms at all but can still be carrying the disease. An infected bird usually goes through a period of incubation of roughly 5-14 days before it will show signs of illness too.
  • Screen your birds. Take your bird to an avian vet for a “new bird consult” when you first get it. Your vet will be able to advise you of exactly what diseases are around in your area and what tests you need to do.
  • Hygiene is incredibly important. Wash your hands after handling a bird before you handle another.
  • Use safe practices when cleaning your aviaries. Use a misting spray on your aviary bases before rolling up newspaper. This effectively traps dust particles preventing them from being disturbed and inhaled.
  • If looking after infected birds, wear a face mask while cleaning.
  • Don’t buy toys and products from a pet store that keeps them anywhere near live birds. The dust and airborne particles spread easily and you don’t want to bring them home. Only buy products and toys from reputable locations.
  • If you’re in an area where wild birds have this illness, don’t use foliage or branches from the trees that those birds are occupying.
  • Use aviaries that have a design that minimises your birds’ contact with droppings.  Wire grills at the bottom of your aviary assist with this.
  • Use a decent, bird safe, vet quality disinfectant. Find out what your vet uses. A vet quality disinfectant has the ability to kill viruses. I strongly recommend F10 (you can find it on ebay if your vet doesn’t sell it). Their products include a water soluble disinfectant that comes with instructions on how to kill different viruses. They also sell a disinfectant hand gel and wipes for quick convenient droppings cleanup. F10 is bird safe.

 

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The range of F10 disinfectant products that I personally use and recommend. A clean environment isn’t enough – you need to use something that will actually destroy the illness.

 

How is it treated?

The good news is that this is an illness that is treatable. A course of the right antibiotics combined with meticulous hygiene habits can cure this. The antibiotic to use (for either birds or humans) is a Tetracycline. The most common one used is doxycycline, but chlortetracycline and oxytetracycline are other options.

 

In humans, it’s usually an oral course. In birds it is either given in a soluble format in the bird’s drinking water or given as a course of injections.

 

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Wild pair of King Parrots eating privet berries.

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of treatment.  An injection gives you control of the dosage (whereas you can’t control how much your bird will drink). However it’s not a nice injection. In human terms, if you’ve ever had a tetnus injection – think of how much that hurt and the bruise involved. It’s similar. Some birds (especially macaws) can have a negative reaction. Some species of birds do better with the injections being 7 days apart (for 8 weeks) others (macaws again) do better with them being 5 days apart.

 

On a personal note, my macaw Fid had Psittacosis when I first brought him home. He didn’t do well on the injections, so after 6 weeks I switched him to the water treatment. Within 2 weeks of the water treatment he had a full relapse and had to start over with his treatment – needing 8 more injections. Needless to say, that made me hate the water treatment but on the flip side, I’ve had success using it with lorikeets. Your method of treatment is something your vet will need to tailor to your specific bird or flock.

 

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Diagnosed with Psittacosis in February 2012. The upper picture was taken in October 2013 (12 months after being officially cleared of the illness), the lower in July 2014. The loss in feather condition due to illness literally takes years to improve. Fid still hasn’t moulted out all of his damaged feathers. (Note the brightness and difference in the amount of black showing on his blue feathers.)

 

Tetracycline antibiotics have some side effects that aren’t commonly discussed in relation to birds. It can cause nausea but possibly the most significant side effect is an increase in light sensitivity. That doesn’t mean keep your bird in darkness, but it does mean that your bird can become uncomfortable in full sun. If you have a species that has exposed skin (such as a macaw with skin), there is an increased risk of sunburn.  (True for humans undergoing treatment too.)

 

It also pays to be aware that calcium can negatively affect the absorption of tetracycline, so remove any supplementary calcium that you might have on offer.

 

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Wild lorikeet, sound asleep completely unaware of the human below, while its flock is 20 metres away feeding. Not a good sign! There is quite likely something very wrong with this bird.

 

If giving medication in a bird’s drinking water, do not use a stainless steel or a metal drinking bowl.  Glazed ceramic, glass or plastic is preferable because they don’t absorb/affect the medication.  Be aware that all water sources provided need to contain the medication (including bath water), as most birds will seek out unmedicated water.  Some birds will refuse to drink and become dehydrated and will require another form of treatment instead.

 

It pays to remember that when a bird is sick, it can have trouble maintaining its own temperature.  Providing an external heat source such as a heat lamp, can make your bird a lot more comfortable and assist with its recovery.

 

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“Exo Terra Ceramic Glow Light” heater (usually used for reptiles), with a 60W ceramic globe. I use the ceramic globes because they are less likely to shatter/explode and don’t emit light (which can disturb a bird at night). This is actually the most used item in my bird’s first aid kit.

 

Meticulous hygiene standards are essential.  If you have a sick bird, you can be certain that your environment is contaminated and you MUST use a virus killing disinfectant to avoid spreading the disease and prevent relapse.  There is a huge difference between cleaning (for which I use a vinegar/water solution) and disinfecting (I use F10).  Ask your veterinarian for advice on bird safe disinfectants that are available in your area.

 

As one last note on the treatment in humans. Tetracycline allergies can be common. There is an alternative antibiotic that is slightly less effective but worth mentioning and that’s erythromycin. Speaking as someone who once wound up in hospital due to an allergy to Doxycycline… I’m glad there is an alternative!

 

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Monitor your bird’s weight. Significant variations can be a symptom of illness.

 

Overall:

There aren’t that many illnesses that can pass between birds and humans, so don’t think that your common cold is a risk to your pet.

 

Psittacosis is not an illness that you want to bring into your home if you can possibly avoid it. Anyone who is around birds needs to be aware of it, particularly due to the way it can survive in an environment and be brought into the home via a contaminated toy or accessory. It is serious and takes a lot of effort to get through it. Due to how serious and infectious that it can be, in many countries it is also something that vets and/or doctors are required by law to report to health authorities when they see a case. Unlike many other diseases out there though – this at least, is one that you can get through without necessarily facing death.

 

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Fid was well worth the effort and expense that it took to get him healthy but getting him through psittacosis was a nightmare that I don’t ever want to repeat if I can avoid it.

 

 

“Help!!! My Parrot Swallowed My Earring!!!!”

 July 4th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel
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The earring my Blue and Gold Macaw stole.

 

After reading that heading, anyone familiar with my flock will immediately know that my Blue and Gold Macaw named Fid, has been at it again. If there is a way for him to get into trouble – he’ll find it. This week he added the title “Jewel thief” to his resume.

 

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Fid loves goldfish.

 

It was one of those awfully fast scenarios that are over before you can blink. He had been talking to my goldfish, which were extra interesting at that particular time because I’d just completely overhauled their tank. He was on my arm, leaning into the tank saying “Oooooh” looking at the new shell at the front and I mistakenly believed this performance to be him innocently expressing his desire to steal their shell.

 

While I was distracted (looking at the shell) he suddenly grabbed the stud in my ear (by the crystal) and flew off with it. Not unfamiliar with Fid’s snatch and grab routines I was after him and caught him within a second after only 2 metres of flight. I am able to shove my fingers in his mouth without too much danger and I promptly did so, searching under his tongue where he likes to hold things until he can examine them at his leisure. I did not find my earring.

 

This left me with two options: Fid had either dropped it or swallowed it. The important question was – which was the reality?

 

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Fid frequently hides pellets, nuts and other bits of food under his tongue and flings them at you when you least expect it.

 

If this happens to you, there are a couple of things to remember that might help you stay calm:

  • Birds know the difference between food and objects. They’re unlikely to swallow objects – it’s possible but it’s unlikely.
  • If a bird intentionally snatches an interesting object, it’s usually because they want a closer look. You can’t look at something if you swallow it.
  • Small earrings fit in small cracks and places. I’m sure there is a planet where all the odd socks in the world go and it wouldn’t surprise me if there happens to be a pile of earrings there too.
  • If a bird does swallow something, it goes into their crop, so it isn’t immediately on its way further into the digestive system. You’ve got a small window of time before the situation gets more serious.

 

So the search was on. The speed that Fid had moved and taken off with my earring was enough to tell me that he knew I was going to chase him to retrieve it. Whether or not he’d swallowed it in that split second in order to stop me getting it was what was worrying me. I began the long and arduous task of dismantling my open plan home. I made good use of a vacuum with a stocking covering the nozzle. I dismantled furniture in my desperation but failed to find the earring.

 

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This is Fid after a shower. He flew to this chair when he took off with the earring.

 

I could feel an earring sized lump in Fid’s crop. Unfortunately before he’d been talking to goldfish, he’d just been eating pellets. My earring was the same size as a pellet. He was panting, so that was a bad sign but then again he was stressed because I had unceremoniously grabbed him and shoved my fingers down his throat. Not to mention he’d be sensing my stress too.

 

The next question was how serious was this? What were the chances of the earring causing metal poisoning? Well for half a second I was relieved. The earrings were a gift. They were supposed to be excellent quality Swarovski Crystal, which should in theory mean they were a safe metal. Unfortunately, it was the first time I’d worn them for more than an hour. The remaining earring was turning green. They weren’t the quality they were meant to be and metal poisoning was a very real possibility.

 

As these things go, it was well and truly after the hours that all of the avian vets had closed. By now I suspected that I was going to have to get Fid X-rayed and that surgery might well be the next step. As much as I love the emergency vets in my area, trusting them with my beloved bird when they’re not qualified? It was unthinkable. I made the decision that the earring would still be in him the next day and I would have him at the avian vet’s for their first appointment next day.

 

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Always playful, he often leaves me shaking my head wondering what he’s doing. In this picture – lying on his back on his sleeping platform kicking a coconut.

 

The gods of google told me that other people in my situation had fed their bird peanut butter in the hopes of coating the earring and making it easier to pass. I chose not to follow this advice. I knew that if he’d swallowed it, peanut butter or not – it was most likely to end up in his gizzard and stay there. I could understand the peanut butter idea if an X-ray wasn’t an option, but an X-ray is honestly the best first step if you can’t find the earring.

 

A bird that needs an X-ray, requires an anesthetic in order to have that X-ray. I knew this, so instead of feeding Fid peanut butter, I removed all food from his surroundings. For the safety of the bird, it should fast before an anesthetic. Some water is fine, but the bird really shouldn’t eat. In terms of for how long the bird should fast, it’s going to vary depending on the species of bird – so discuss it with your vet. It’s a good thing to be aware of. For a bird of Fid’s size, taking the food out overnight and having the X-ray in the morning was ideal.

 

I didn’t find the earring by morning, so off to the vet Fid and I went. Naturally, it turned out that it was Fid’s vet’s day off. Fid has a knack for being accident prone on his vet’s day off. You’d think he picks his moments on purpose! Fortunately, Fid’s vet has backup. Understandably though, I was worried about how Fid was going to cope with a new vet. I found myself hoping she wasn’t wearing earrings.

 

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Fid in the vet’s waiting room. The cover was helping prevent Fid seeing out the window in order to hide what was going on outside.

 

I was halfway to the vet when the storm hit. It suddenly felt like the wind was trying to pick up my car. Trucks in neighbouring lanes on the freeway were clearly struggling to drive in a straight line. Debris was flying around and absolutely no one’s windscreen wipers were helping with that rain. Not surprisingly, Fid was picking up on the stress. I had to hand it to him. Vet’s day off AND the storm of the year. He sure picks his moments!

 

We did actually get to the vet and not surprisingly, the only other animals that were at the surgery braving the weather with their owners, were very serious cases. There was a very distressed couple who were crying because they were having to make the hardest decision possible for their budgie. Add the flickering lights, shaking walls and roaring noise of the wind and you can imagine how calm Fid was. He was taken out the back for his X-ray leaving me in the waiting room where I watched in horror as the surgery’s sign became airborne and smashed its way through 4 lanes of traffic. It was a miracle no one was hurt.

 

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The best part about gale force winds? Home delivered perches! My galahs Merlin and Nemo are checking out their share of the latest offerings from a eucalyptus tree in my yard.

 

It wasn’t long before I was called out the back. They needed my help. No one had been able to get Fid out of his travel cage. When I arrived he was still in his cage yelling “NO!” at the vet along with a less than polite version of “Go away!” It’s at moments like these that I like to pretend that Fid doesn’t know what he’s saying and isn’t really insulting the nice new vet. Unfortunately though, it was more than obvious that Fid knew exactly what he was saying. He took one look at my face and said: “Fid! Be good and step up.” I offered him my arm and he stepped up beautifully. He then took off, swooped the new vet and did a circle coming back to land on my arm and said “HA!” It was on purpose and in that environment he wasn’t going to cooperate for anyone but me.

 

I solved that problem by restraining him for the anesthetic. Once anesthetized (and unconscious) Fid became cooperative whether he wanted to be or not. It didn’t take the vet long to do the X-ray and work out that my missing earring was still missing. I still didn’t know where it was, but at least I knew it wasn’t in Fid.

 

As Fid was waking up, the flickering lights were making my next problem more and more obvious. Checking the weather radar on my phone, it was obvious that the storm was going to last for most of the day and that it would get worse still and fairly quickly. The radio was advertising road closures due to flooding and a lot of those closures were near my home. Fid needed warmth to recover from the anesthetic and I had no reason to believe the power at the surgery was going to stay on. I needed to get him into my car with the heater on and home as quickly as possible – before all of the roads home were cut.

 

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Fid safely home, enjoying his share of the Eucalyptus foliage. (Not being native to Australia, he seems to only tolerate a small amount.)

 

The drive home wasn’t easy. The roar of the wind was loud and it was taking all of my attention to keep the car on the road. It was slow going because visibility was down to just a few metres. I put the radio on because Fid loves music and I hoped it would hide the noise of the wind. As stressed as I was, of the 22,000 songs on my iPod, I couldn’t quite believe which songs it randomly started playing. “We’re all going to die someday” sung by Kasey Chambers, followed by “Another One Bites the Dust” sung by Queen and finally “If Tomorrow Never Comes” sung by Ronan Keating. Fid didn’t seem to care and joined in with a few “LALAs” anyway but I have to say I felt like someone up there was messing with me.

 

We did make it home. The end of my street was under water but that was as close as floodwaters came to the house. Currently my flock are all enjoying the fresh tree branches that the wind so kindly home delivered.

 

As for the mystery of my missing earring? Like all good mysteries, there’s a twist. It turns out Fid the jewel thief had an accomplice. While I was frantically searching the area surrounding where Fid must have dropped the earring, Fid’s accomplice recovered the earring and played the world’s best game of kitty soccer. I located it 2 days later under my bed. The kitten had taken it out of the living room, around a corner, down a corridor, past 4 rooms, around another corner and into my bedroom. It hadn’t occurred to me to search that far away from the original snatch site. Sometimes I’m torn between being glad my animals survived and well I’m sure you know the feeling!!!

 

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My kitten Mia doesn’t look all that upset about being the reason Fid was X-rayed unnecessarily.

 

 

The Importance Of Small Rituals With Pet Birds

 June 19th, 2014
Posted By:
Mel

 

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Galahs/Rosebreasted Cockatoos, Merlin & Nemo investigating the eucalyptus tree in their aviary.

 

Recently, I’ve been noticeably quiet. I have had some health issues and I haven’t been able to do everything I would normally do in my everyday life, which has included everything I would normally do with my birds. As it turns out, I’ve been forced to learn that it isn’t easy to hand aspects of your birds’ everyday care over to someone else.

 

I’ve always considered myself lucky. I don’t live alone, I’m not the only one familiar with my birds’ routines and their dietary needs. I’m not the only person here that my birds are accustomed to interacting with. So if something happens to me – I’d always expected it to be easy to have someone fill in for me if I couldn’t do all of the day-to-day stuff that I’d normally do. What I hadn’t realized was just how many little rituals I perform with my birds that make everything go smoothly. These are things that sound more than a little insane when I try to explain them to someone else. Apparently that isn’t going to stop me writing about them though!

 

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Wondering why the galahs’ green blanket kept sliding off at bed time??? Fid my blue and gold macaw was “helping”. This is why Fid needs to be covered first.

 

I have a handover plan that I have used in the past, when I’ve been away from home and left my birds in my mother’s care. This contains advice on who eats what and when, what medications they need (if they need them), basic daily routine, how to prepare their favourite toys/activities, how to cover their cages at night and who their vet is in case of an emergency. I thought that was all I needed.

 

My mother however, recently came to me with a face spattered in mashed sweet potato. She was whining about how it isn’t fair that I can easily slip a food bowl into my macaw’s cage, but when she tries to do that – he’ll pick up a lump of sweet potato and throw it so that it hits her right between the eyes.

 

She wasn’t so amused when I said that she did it wrong. After all, how can you put a food bowl into a set spot incorrectly? It doesn’t seem that hard.  However, every morning, I’ll peel back Fid’s corner cage cover just an inch and have a whispered conversation with him. He excitedly whispers “Hello!!!” back at me. Then he’ll disappear and suddenly charge the gap in the covers and yell: “BOO!” Only then, am I allowed to uncover him. Mum didn’t know this and so she skipped this game, uncovered him and gave him his favourite food, innocently believing that this should be a happy interaction. Unfortunately Fid didn’t quite see it that way.

 

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“BOO!!!”

 

My mother isn’t stupid. She made noise; she even spoke as she uncovered Fid. It’s just that she did it differently to how I do it. This difference didn’t leave Fid really frightened but it was enough to unnerve him and make him crabby as a result. A lot of people don’t realize that even wild birds have routines. Their very survival often depends on their daily schedule. Our pet birds don’t have control over their own schedule, so it makes sense that they can be unnerved by the slightest change in their daily rituals.

 

Another example is my musk lorikeet Otto. Despite being the smallest bird in my flock, he is easily the most dangerous. His body language is extremely subtle and changes with remarkable speed. It doesn’t take much to set him off. In particular, he likes a second or two to adjust to anything new in his environment. So if I’m putting a food bowl into his cage, I pause and let him see the contents of the food bowl before hooking it in. Usually he will take the opportunity to grab a beakful of food before I hook it in. If I fail to do this, he’ll often go for a beakful of human flesh instead. To mum, it looks like I’m hooking the bowl easily into the cage with Otto excitedly running for the food. However when she does it he excitedly seems to run for the flesh on the back of her hand.

 

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My musk lorikeet Otto. He’s giving some very clear warning signals here. The flared tail and the brightness of his colour (due to the angle of his feathers) are a clear sign that he wants you to back off. 2 seconds before – he was fluffy and making kissing noises.

 

It only takes that split second for him to switch to war mode. When he goes into that mode there is no stopping him. He emits an ear piercing series of never ending shrieks as he continuously rips into you. He isn’t one for a simple bite – he goes completely nuts and won’t stop. All you can really do is contain him somehow but he’s definitely fighting to the death. The difference between that scenario and him happily eating is only 1-2 seconds in the speed of hooking the bowl in and the angle that I hold it so that he can see the contents. I’m afraid he’s a bird you really have to know and be able to read to avoid setting him off.

 

The thing is, these little rituals are something that I didn’t even really know that I did until mum came along and didn’t do them. It’s made me realize just how many little things that I do or know about my birds that makes any interactions run smoothly. There is definitely a secret language shared between birds and their humans. Small things that you just come to know about your bird that help.

 

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Merlin (left) and Nemo (right). These galahs are inseparable. They are very clearly bonded, so it’s not difficult to see why my mother would expect them to get along.

 

As one last example, I was watching mum try to get two of my Galahs/Rosebreasted Cockatoos back into their aviary. I had told mum that if she ever had trouble doing that – get one in and the other would follow. They are inseparable. Whatever one does, the other HAS to do as well or prepare for a serious tantrum. They’re almost always less than 30cm apart. They even like to sit on the same perch.

 

What I hadn’t realized was that subconsciously I know that my male galah, Merlin is an impatient butt head. The female galah, Nemo, shares this knowledge. Mum however, had no idea that Nemo and I think of Merlin in that way or what that means when dealing with him. It’s something I should have told her.

 

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When one is shredding your tax receipts… the other will be helping.

 

In practical terms if I put these two birds into the aviary at the exact same time, I don’t put them on the same perch. Merlin will always turn and bite Nemo if I do. When he first goes back to his cage, he always heads for the highest perch at the rear of the aviary and he will sharply nip anyone that he sees as getting in his way. It won’t matter if there is another way he could go, if there is a bird (or human arm) next to him then THAT will be the direction he wants to take.

 

Nemo knows this, so if you try to put her on the same perch as Merlin she’ll panic and (as mum discovered) fly at your face in order to avoid being bitten by Merlin.  Mum wasn’t so happy when this happened either.

 

The exception to this biting rule is that you can put the two birds in on the same perch if you pause after putting the first bird in (to give whichever bird it is a head start to get to that rear perch). Or alternatively, put them in simultaneously on different perches. They always both end up climbing to sit next to each other. It’s just those initial few seconds where you have to watch out for Merlin’s impatient butt headed bite.

 

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Merlin falling off his perch/learning that perches are slippery after you’ve eaten all of the bark!

 

As you can imagine, mum watches me put the birds in on the same perch regularly but had never picked up on the 2 second pause between birds or noticed that I’d use different perches if I don’t pause. From her perspective I just easily slip the birds back into the aviary and they always actively move to be next each other. As far as mum was concerned these birds adore each other so why would you expect one to viciously bite the other? The answer is you wouldn’t unless you knew them. From my perspective, I have absolutely no problem getting the birds to go back to their aviary so I hadn’t thought to explain that Merlin becomes a butt head if you get in his way.

 

My time off from my normal routine has led me to come up with quite a list of little rituals and things that I do to add to my handover notes for whenever I need someone else to care for my birds. Everything from: don’t put pellets in toys on the righthand side of my galah aviary (Merlin throws them at his reflection in the window which can be a pain to clean up), to which order I wake the birds up. As it turns out these little things can be the difference between your caretaker being happy or them wearing sweet potato. Take it from me, it’s worth noticing the little things that you do.

 

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One of my other galahs; Morgy drops her treats if you don’t let her grab them with her left leg. Watch for tantrums if you hand her an almond on her other side! Apparently she is “left-handed”?