Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sheesh It's Been A Long Time!

Well, I'm back posting... I feel bad for neglecting this blog, but have found that training myself (going back to school) has been taking priority over a lot of things in my life.

Birds update:

Darwin is off medication for his seizures, and seems to be doing ok. He still loves to annoy the big birds.

Lucha is still the handsome green boy. He is getting better at allowing me to touch him below the neck, but still on his terms.

Marnie is finally getting all her primaries grown in. She has been flying occasionally and is getting stronger. I am looking forward to try and teach her to recall.

Puff went through a phase of only wanting to step up onto the perch and would remove flesh from my hands... but now he's back wanting to step up onto my hands.

Silver came into our lives in harm, and passed on knowing the best of what birds should have without being able to return her to the wild.

Mobie recently came into our lives last week. She is a 15+yr old African Grey. Her owners loved her very much, but realised that with one of them terminally ill (he since passed) and in their 70's it was time to find Mobie a forever home.
She's a great little gal, who is happily hanging out on the playscape, eating good foods, and stepping up for me.

So there's an update, hopefully it won't be too long till the next one, but no guarantees as the spring semester starts!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Putting Birds Before Yourself

Ndeke with his wife Inyoni... both are now in a better place

I swore a number of years ago that I would ever rehome one of my "permanent" animals... That is to say the ones who I had decided had found their forever home with me, instead of extended fosters...
Recently I broke that oath.

My lovebird Ndeke was originally a foster, who then moved in with my female lovie Inyoni and became permanent.
When Inyoni died last year, he was living the high life!
He was now able to have warm mushy foods, berries, veggies, a hidey hole, all the things that he had not been able to have when Inyoni was around because it would encourage breeding.
He was quite the happy bachelor.
Then about 3-4 months ago things started to change. He was quieter, less active and then started plucking his tail feathers out.
I worked to improve his habitat with fresh bamboo browse, foraging and toys, but it didn't help.
I finally admitted that my house was no longer the best situation for him. That no matter what I did, I was simply not set up to provide him everything he needed for him mental health. No matter how good his cage and diet was, he needed more.

Thankfully my friend Emily came through once again. The sister of her riding instructor had been thinking about adding a bird to her family and we got in contact.
Ndeke went to his new home last week. There he will have attention, lots of activity, lots of love and be able to bring joy to her and her family.
I got an email from her a few days later to let me know that he was settling in well and had brought a wonderful "vibe" to their house. I am so happy that he will have a chance to thrive again.
We have an agreement that should things change and it is no longer best for him to be there that he will come back to me. I also told them that if money is ever an issue, I will happily pay his food and vet bills... to me that is a small price for his happiness.

What have I learned from this?
That it is not a bad thing to admit when your situation is not the best situation for an animal. No matter how dedicated you are to their well being, sometimes it is best to put their welfare before your own heart and pride.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Playscape Additions

Birds in the wild do not spend all day hanging out in the same tree... no matter how enriching that tree may be, so I have always thought that my own captive birds should not spend all day in or around their "tree" or in this case cage.
Now my birds all have cages that are larger than most would provide for their species, with a variety of perches, toys, foraging opportunities etc etc... but lets face it... if we had to live in our bedrooms all day, every day we would get pretty bored, no matter how nice our decorations are.

Because of this I have over the years been developing, improving and expanding what I like to call their "playscape". It started off as a single manzanita playgym and has now developed into a manzanita play gym, a HQ metal play gym, a starbird climbing net. All of these are enhanced with various toys, foraging opportunities and boings. All of which are rotated and moved regularly to present new challenges.
My birds all love this playscape and make full use of it, but I am always looking for ways to improve it.
One of the ways I have been wanting to improve it is to add something which would allow a) a place to have a bird bath, b) a flat perching surface and c) new foraging opportunities.

Last week I found just the right piece to add. While wondering around Walmart I came across a bathroom organizer (one of the shelves which go around and over a toilet) which was marked down to $10. The shelves were wire bars of about 3/4 to 1" spacing.
I brought it home and and assembled it to add into the playscape. The height was perfect and allowed for me to put my Austin Air Cleaner underneath to save some space.
The bars allowed me to add in foraging toys which were designed to be fixed onto the side of a cage. The flat shelves allowed me to add a large flat dog bowl as a bathing dish (I use a plastic one with a rubber base to prevent slipping). Finally the bars on the shelves and the struts of the main frame allow me to attach hanging foraging toys, foot toys and other fun things.

This new addition to the playscape has gone down very well with Marnie and Lucha who will spend hours moving around it and exploring. Puff is still a little nervous of it, but given time I am sure he will come around to it.

The important thing to take away from this is that you never know when you will find a chance to enrich your birds lives further. Whenever I go to a store, yard sale, farmers market, on craigslist I am always looking at things with the birds in mind, and have found a number of great deals. All my birds love their stainless steel measuring spoons that cost me $1 from Walmart. The childrens links that I buy in bags of 30 from Target for $5 have made life so much easier by using them to hang toys... this way I never have to worry about the link not fitting around the larger bars, or having to mess with tightening or loosening links when a bird is threatening to remove my hand.

The new addition to the playscape with the air filter below it. On the shelves are the bird bath, toys and of course my grey Marnie

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Browse of Various Kinds

Today was a good day for my birds... or maybe that should be a good day for me being able to enrich my birds?

For some reason I have lived in the same condo complex for nearly 5 years and never registered that just over the fence by the flood pond is a lot of bamboo... and when I mean a lot I mean 20ft by 20ft of it. It's never sprayed on either side, and conveniently lower branches hang over the fence within grabbing distance. Today, when walking my Dachshund Mina, I finally noticed it!
I pulled several branches/tops down and snapped them off, returning to the house with a good handful. Now all my birds have fresh bamboo browse to destroy in their cages. Tomorrow I think I shall gather some to add to their playscape.
Bamboo is awesome stuff where birds are concerned. The thicker parts can be cut up to make foraging toys, wedged between cage bars to form perches, or can be placed between bars to be shredded. The frondier end pieces can be woven through the cage bars to provide shredding goodness for all sized birds.

After my good fortune (and guilt at not noticing it earlier) with the bamboo I set about making a batch of chop and freeze. This is a time saving mix of veggies, dried fruits, nuts, herbs, grains and legumes which is hacked, mixed and then frozen. A couple of hours of making it one day, leaves you with weeks if not months worth of quick foods for when schedules are tight. I like to break mine up with bird bread, fruits, fresh veggies and a little of whatever I am eating if bird healthy.
This most recent batch consisted of: Mustard greens, red kale, dandelion greens, yellow bell pepper, courgettes, carrots, quinoa, a bean mix, millet, dried amarillo chili peppers, dried goji berries, dried apricot, dried pineapple, dried mango, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, chamomile, red leaf raspberry, hibiscus, spearmint, flax seeds, OptOmega oil and Palm Oil. All organic of course.
The thing I really love about doing it in this way is that it can be made of whatever organic produce you can get at the time; No mustard greens? Use some collard greens instead. Can't find fresh chili peppers? Use dried instead. This way not only can you support seasonal produce, but you can also provide your bird with something new every batch. Indeed, every meal they get of it will be different in it's balance of ingredients.
You can increase the enrichment factor by not making all the ingredients of uniform size. Carrots for example can be put in whole, sticks, chunks and circles. Each requiring a slightly different approach from the bird to eat.
My top reason for doing this chop? My birds on the kitchen counter "helping"! In the case of my CAG Marnie it is stealing large amounts of goodies and then getting mad when I make her give most of it back to put in the mix. Lucha the amazon will instead gently take small pieces of chopped up foods and eat it off to one side. A highly enriching past time for both!

When doing this chop mix I always put some of the ingredients to one side for separate enrichment uses. Today a couple of mustard green leaves and carrots were kept back and hung on a stainless steel skewer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hand Fed Offers No Guarantees

I have been hearing a lot lately of people saying "I don't want an older bird because it might have been wild caught, I want a hand fed one so it will be friendly"
Sitting here watching Marnie ( 8yr hand fed CAG), Puff (10 yr hand fed CAG) and Lucha (30+ yr wild caught Lilac Crowned Amazon) on the playscape, it strikes me that this is a hugely over simplified view.
Hand fed does not guarantee a friendly bird, no more than being wild caught means a mean one.
I have three excellent examples right in front of me; Puff, Marnie and Lucha.
The easiest and without doubt "friendliest" bird is Marnie, who was hand fed, was treated well all her life and is friendly with others (as long as I am not there).
Now if one followed the quote in the opening sentence then the next "friendliest" bird is Puff... WRONG! The next one would be Lucha, who was wild caught, brought into the USA and had not had the best of lives... however with patience and positive reinforcement is a very sweet bird, who actively seeks attention and whose idea of heaven is a beak rub. Now I'll admit he will bite if you ignore his extended warnings and touch him below the shoulders, but on the whole that's not a major thing.
The least "friendly" bird is Puff, who was hand fed and then had a series of mistakes and bad attempts at "training" which saw him turn from an inquisitive little grey ball of fluff into a mistrusting, bite first find out what the human wants later guy. This is not his fault, and he is making slow progress now he's in a calm, enriching environment where he is allowed to make choices in his interactions with humans. The other day the stood on his door perch waggling his leg and saying "step up?" while I was getting the others out onto the playscape. Needless to say I wanted to ruffle his head feathers and kiss his beak (just as Marnie loves)... but I contained myself knowing that with Puff such an action would result in removal of one or more features of my face.

Now I know some folks are now saying "Ahh but these were rescues, a hand fed baby is something completely different"... well not so! My friend Emily's female Eclectus Cah'ya was a hand fed baby and was far from a sweet hand tamed baby... and she was raised by a first class breeder.

So what is the whole point of this post?
People should judge each bird on it's own personality, behavior etc... not by whether it was wild caught, hand fed, old, young, rescue, specific species, brand new baby or for any other generalised catch all.
By being open and allowing each bird to stand on it's own merit and get to know you, you will greatly increase the chance of finding the best companion bird for you... and maybe where you would least expect it

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Variety is the Spice of Life

I just spent the past couple of days doing a deep clean of the cages and a major rearranging of perches and toys.
This is one of my favorite things to do as it allows me to be creative with enriching my birds.
Each of my birds have very specific likes and dislikes. Some of it is health related, some based on natural wild behavior and other just the personal preference of the bird.

Marnie is an African Grey and loves to go down to the bottom of the cage to chicken scratch just like the wild CAGs. Because of this I like to give her extra layers of newspaper, so she can shred it up scratching, and get through to the tray.
She also does not really care for chewing on wood; She prefers to take care of her beak on her perches. Therefore I do not give her much in the way of wooden toys.
Her favorite toys a bright acrylic ones, which she loves to beat the snot out of.

Lucha on the other hand LOVES to shred up wood. I normally give him at least two or three different wooden toys, of different colours and woods, in various spots around his cage. Lucha could not care less about acrylic toys, unless they are for foraging.

Puff loves to shred! Nothing seems to make him happier than hanging out on the bottom of his cage and turning cardboard into confetti. I save all my cardboard from groceries and shipping and toss it in his cage.

On top of their usual toys, I also include lots of foraging toys of different types. I have a number of them which are made of tough plastic or acrylic. All the birds love getting their pellets out of these, and I rotate them between cages to change up the methods they have to use to get to their foods.
I also like to make foraging toys out of destructible materials like coffee filters.

Over the years I have put together a large selection of various perches. I have multiple thicknesses, lengths and kinds of weed, along with perches made of acrylic, rope, boings, flat perches and concrete. When doing a change up I like to not only change the type of perches, but also the locations.

The combination of changing up toys and perches gives my birds the opportunity to use their brains to adapt to their new cage environment.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Training with Positive Reinforcement is Positive Reinforcement to Me!

I really love working with my animals using positive reinforcement.
Although working out how to reinforce my leopard geckos in such a way that they associate the behavior with the food is a challenge, it's still a lot of fun. I'm working on training my fat boy leo Samir to walk onto a scale at the moment. So far I've been concentrating on desensitizing him to the scale in his tank, but eventually I plan to feed his mealworms only on the scales surface, so he associates going on the tank with yummy, wiggly mealies.

Today I was working again with my African Grey Marnie. I have been slowly working on recall with her as she has finally grown in some primaries on the damaged wing. She normally picks up behaviors quickly, but for her this behavior has been a challenge. She normally only flies because she's spooking at something, so the concept of flying because she wants too is foreign to her. Still we have slowly been working on her stepping out onto my palm and gradually increasing the distance my palm is from the training perch. Now she is leaning forward and catching her beak on my thumb and helping herself over to the hand with a little flap of the wings.
Marnie works best with a lot of excited verbal encouragement when she is hesitating, so my neighbours quite often hear me through the screen on my patio saying "Hi Baby! Marnie Baby! Ready!! Come Here!!!!!" in a high pitched squeaky voice.

Lucha was already put up for the night when I was working with Marnie (he's an old man who likes to go to sleep with the sun), Puff ended up alone on the playscape. It was interesting to see him with his eyes glued on Marnie and I.
When he first came he was fascinated by Marnie interacting with me, and I credit this version of the Model/Rival method with teaching him to trust me and to step up.
He's been a little disinterested for a while, and has been a little sticky in training. For example he has been holding out for an almond in the shell before he would step up from the playscape.
Tonight however I put Marnie up for the night after our training session and heard repeated "step up?" coming from the playscape. Without getting any treat, I walked over to the playscape. Puff rushed over to where I was standing and presented his foot, stepped up and went back to his cage with zero clicking or eye pinning!

All in all today has been hugely rewarding for me, and yet another reason why I will continue to work with my animals using positive reinforcement.