Adventures in Bird-Sitting

Snapdragon

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Tashi, almost-2-year-old female moustache parakeet, Indian subspecies (Psittacula alexandri fasciata)
When you work at a parrot shop, you're bound to wind up with plenty of bird stories. When you're a lifelong cat lady who works at a parrot shop and whose friends are all fellow ailurophiles, it can be difficult to find a friend who is as amused by your parrot stories as you are. (Let alone one who even understands why a particular story is cute or funny!) Thank goodness for this forum!

Here's your first story.

The day after Christmas, I spent quite a bit of time in the boarding wing. Before I started cleaning, I made the rounds to talk with each bird for a couple of minutes. Kiki the African Grey begged for and got some nice head scritches through her cage bars, and I promised her that I would come back for more scritches once the cages were all clean. Understandably, she had observed me with extra interest ever since.

I surveyed the mess. Some cages looked like they'd been hit by poopnadoes; others had chunks of destroyed wood blocks strewn about; and all had food and water flung everywhere. And of course, there was the poop. When I was nearly finished, I heaved a big sigh; I was dirty, tired, and very much OVER all the poop.

Kiki the African Grey: "What's your problem?"
Me (over my shoulder): "It's OK, honey. I'm just tired and all this bird poop is kind of icky. I love you guys, though! You're worth it."

I picked up a large, dirty tray and grate and took them into the bathroom to scrub, sanitize, and dry them. On my way back out with the clean tray and grate...

Another bird: *does a fantastic, noisy imitation of a particularly juicy, nasty fart*
Kiki, in an annoyed tone: "Oh POOP!"

I HOWLED laughing. And many of the birds joined in like a cheesy laugh track.

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I have a hard time believing that this was all just coincidence! Feathered clowns. All of them.
 

Laurasea

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I love this!!!! Great story! Please do share many many more!

I have two parrots that laugh, and I live it! They seem to know what's funny and that's when they laugh, it when they do something naughty they laugh the evil villains!! ;)
 
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Snapdragon

Snapdragon

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I spent the last couple of days reading parrot behavior threads recommended to me by many of you, and had a revelation. It turns out that I already have the framework in place!

I've spent a good deal of time taming feral cats, including a far-too-young mama kitten who wound up choosing me to be her mama. While cats are generally considered to be predators, they are ALSO prey. And in the eyes of a feral cat, humans are predators. They have NO reason to trust us, so we have to give them reasons to do so. I had to learn to think like both predator and prey. How does a predator behave when it has prey in its sights? How do I ensure that I DON'T behave that way? How do animals signal to each other that they are friendly?

The basics in the cat world when attempting to make friends are:
- Call to the cat with a soft trill that ends in a faintly questioning tone.
- Approach from the front, but at an angle.
- Don't look directly at a cat and DO NOT stare. That's what a predator would do.
- Blink slowly and exaggeratedly as you carefully avoid staring. In the time you're taking to blink slowly, the cat could theoretically attack you. By making yourself vulnerable to the cat, you're telling the cat that you are friendly. (When you do this with a cat you know, you're effectively saying "I love you".) If the cat returns the slow blink, you can offer a hand or finger to sniff.
- Don't reach out to a cat with loosely curled fingers; they look like claws. A fist (first choice, it looks like a cat paw) or single finger is best.
- Don't try to pet the cat until s/he has a chance to thoroughly sniff your hand. Wait until you get a nuzzle.
- Don't put your hand over the cat's head. It's intimidating. Start by stroking the cheeks with a finger, and then pet whatever the cat shoves into your hand. You don't need to move your hand around; allowing the cat to be in control of the interaction makes them feel safer.
- ONLY pet the head and neck of a cat you don't know. Many cats can get overstimulated; the head and neck are safe zones.

SO MUCH of that applies to birds! Do you see it?!

After that revelation, today went remarkably smoothly. With the exception of two very cage-aggressive conures in boarding (sorry guys! I can't NOT touch your cage if you want food and water!), my interactions with the birds were far more relaxed and mostly felt intuitive. I was able to give head and beak scritches to thirteen different birds. They included AGs (including one who is known for biting but was very sweet with me), Amazons, a pionus, caiques, toos, conures, and tiels. I persuaded four of them to step up for me. One new boarder willingly came out of her travel cage for me, flew off, stepped up when I followed and asked her to step up, and then perched on my finger to consider me thoughtfully while her mom set up her toys in her boarding cage. I was even able to coax a pionus who REALLY didn't want to leave his boarding cage to go into his travel cage with a minimum of fuss. Both owners told me that they were extremely impressed with the kind and gentle handling of their birds and by how relaxed their babies were with someone they didn't know. (Best compliment I could possibly receive.)

Don't get me wrong, I know this is only the beginning. I still have tons to learn. But guys, I am in SHOCK at how the basics of interactions and body language just suddenly clicked and by how big a difference it made today! Gaining a bird's trust is such a wonderful feeling. I swear I'm not trying to be self-complimentary; just wanted to share my excitement with people who understand. :D

There's more, but I need to get up and walk off some leg cramps. It was so busy today that I spent seven hours and forty-five minutes of an eight-hour shift on my feet. Also need to feed my three furry hooligans. Have a fantastic night (or whatever it is where you are)!
 
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Snapdragon

Snapdragon

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I hope everyone's week has been less eventful than mine! One word: fleas. The first fleas my cats have had in two years. Plus an emergency trip to the vet for an exam and meds because my senior female cat is severely allergic to fleas and went from a bit itchy one day to outright suffering the next. Plus working with the housemates to treat the whole house. I don't know how those of you with birds AND cats manage when you have to deal with fleas. My utmost respect to you.

Anyway, what you're all here for: more bird stories!

-----

I read the Amazon body language thread carefully and decided to put my new knowledge to work with a very talkative boarder. JJ is so talkative that if you keep replying to him, he WILL have the last word.

As I passed his cage, he called, "HI!!!"

"Hi, JJ!" As I stopped, he put his head forward. "What? Do you want scritches?"

"HIIIIIII!!!" He pushed his head further forward.

I opened the door and gave JJ the requested scritches. Eventually, he pulled back, then opened his beak and gently but firmly pushed my fingers away with it.

"What? Are you all done with scritches?"

"BYYYYYE!!!" he exclaimed in a cheerful tone.

I burst out laughing, and JJ joined in. "Well, I won't argue with that! Thank you for telling me so gently. That was very nice."

-----

Penny is a beautiful, talkative African Gray. She does a perfect imitation of the sound of water being poured into her bowl and of squeaky cage hinges. At one point I played "Hard Way Home" by Brandi Carlile for her, and she swung from the top of the cage, vocalized along to the train whistle harmonies, and clicked along to the beat.

One day as I was standing by her cage talking to her, she thrust her head up against the bars and looked at me expectantly. The guys had warned me that Penny was a biter, but everything I've read about body language screamed "PET ME!" I reached out and began to gently stroke her head. Her eyes closed and her entire body relaxed.

A few minutes passed. Penny lifted her head and put her beak between the bars. Her body language was the same, so I decided to risk a bite and try beak scritches. Bingo. Her eyes closed again.

Eventually, I put a finger under Penny's beak to steady it and used my thumb to scratch the beak. To my surprise, she rested the full weight of her head onto the finger under her beak. I used my other hand to stroke her head at the same time, and the sweet girl relaxed so much that she nearly fell off the perch!

When her mom arrived to pick her up, I told her about the music and the head/beak scritches. Her mom's jaw dropped at the scritches. "She never lets anyone do that but family!"
 
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Snapdragon

Snapdragon

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C is an incredibly sweet M2. I have to admit that I found him intimidating when we first met due to his size and how noisy he is, but we've quickly become good friends. I pet and talk to him, and he gently runs my fingers through his beak as if he were preening large feathers. I help with pinfeathers he can't reach, and he carefully examines my fingers, delicately and painlessly nipping off any hangnails. He is a darling, and I am head over heels for him.

A few days ago, I decided to scrape off some poop in a difficult-to-reach corner of C's cage. He didn't object to my presence in his cage, but as soon as I pulled out my little black plastic putty knife, C went into full-on Dragon Mode. He huffed, puffed, hissed, held his wings out, and swayed. I thought he was upset with me at first. I finally realized that his glance kept going back to the little putty knife in my hand.

"What? This?" I held the putty knife up a bit, confused. C hissed again. "Honey, honey, honey! Whoa. It's not scary. I promise."

C's huge eyes kept going back and forth between me and the putty knife. Whenever he looked at me, his feathers smoothed back down slightly, but when he returned his attention to the knife, he went back to full Dragon Mode.

I was eventually able to get him to relax enough to stop hissing, and I went to work on his cage. All the while, my faithful friend hovered over me, standing guard lest the OBVIOUSLY vicious putty knife decide to attack his friend!

I love this bird. He is such a character.

Also, M2 breath is WEIRD. XD
 
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Snapdragon

Snapdragon

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C is such a dork. He crammed at least five pellets into his beak. I love this guy!
snapdragon-albums-c-m2-picture22138-silly-boy-crammed-least-five-pellets-into-his-beak.jpg
 

Jen5200

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I must say - love these stories :)
 

Laurasea

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O have an article I might link if I find it. Talks about how good birds are at reading us, our heatrate, pupil size, energy ECT. I'm sure your experience at reading body language, and calm confidence , and respect have made the parrots thrilled. ;)
 
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Snapdragon

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I must say - love these stories :)

I'm so glad! I wasn't sure how interesting this would be to others. I'm kind of the odd one out here, between not having a parrot and working at a parrot store.
 
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Snapdragon

Snapdragon

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O have an article I might link if I find it. Talks about how good birds are at reading us, our heatrate, pupil size, energy ECT. I'm sure your experience at reading body language, and calm confidence , and respect have made the parrots thrilled. ;)

I would love to read that article if you can find it. They are definitely good at reading us; I wonder if a couple of the guys have trouble with 'toos biting them because they aren't generally as comfortable with 'toos as with other species. If so, they may wind up unconsciously carrying that with them. I haven't yet told anyone there that, um, the "bitey" birds all REALLY like me... I'm afraid I'll look arrogant or like a show-off or something. (One of my housemates teases, "Yeah, can't let them know that you're really a Disney princess!")

The most important thing I've learned from working with feral cats is that you have to leave all of your biases, worries, fears, and expectations at the door. You have to be calm and unflinching. If you can't do that, it puts pressure on the cat and the taming session will go nowhere at best. They need darned good reasons to trust you. They need NO reason to distrust you. It is never their fault; it is always the human's fault. Sound familiar? ;)

I think it helps that our gentle mascot, the first bird I've really gotten to know, is the species with the largest beak! :blue: It also helps that C is a gentle giant. Makes other beaks look much less intimidating on a gut level. (Even if I DO know intellectually that any bird could do a lot of damage if he/she wanted to do so.) I still have to work hard to resist pulling away when a bird grabs at my hand, but it's getting easier.
 
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Snapdragon

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Here's another story.

I played a few songs off the "Parrot Dance Party" playlist for the birds in boarding. JJ the Amazon LOVED "Tightrope" by Janelle Monae. He swung from the top of his cage, chittering and laughing. When the chorus began "Cause baby whether you're high or low / Whether you're high or low..." he swung even more wildly, fanned his tail, and gleefully yelled, "HI! HI! HIIIIIIII! HAHAHAHA!! HIIIIIIIIII!!!" He loved that there was a word he knew in the song!
 
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Snapdragon

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Just thought of another!

I've been working for weeks to win over our baby military macaw. :green2: We've simply been doing target training, and he (she?) seems to enjoy it. The last time I worked with him, we did the usual: he insisted upon staying in his cage but sat in the front, touching my finger and taking bits of walnut. After several repetitions, he climbed up the front and poked his head out the entrance. The way he looked at me reminded me strongly of the way our goofy mascot macaw looks at me when she wants me to play. So I reached out and playfully gave his beak a gentle poke.

His little face lit up. He leaned forward and tapped my hand with his beak. After some back and forth, I made a loose fist and playfully got his beak between my index and middle finger, then gave his beak a light shake from side to side. He LOVED that and playfully grabbed my hand and did the same to me.

We went back and forth like this for a while: me doing my best to quash the urge to pull away whenever that big beak came at me, him trying to be gentle despite his obvious excitement and somewhat precarious perch. He did nip too hard a few times, and I just got up and showed him my back for a few seconds. When I turned back and resumed play, he was far gentler.

Things got sillier and sillier, until finally I exclaimed, "Oh, you are SO FIERCE, you big old Christmas chicken! Yes you are. You are just a big old silly CHRISTMAS CHICKEN!" One of my coworkers snorted.

We alternated between beak wrestling and target training until the silly chicken decided he was done. He settled into a corner of his cage and puffed up. I praised him and gave him his space.

This baby is only six months old and is already saying "Hi" and "hello" very clearly. I am SO going to try and teach him to say "Christmas chicken". ;) I will try to get it on video if possible!
 
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Was taking a break in the aviary, and this happened.

snapdragon-albums-youngsters-picture22152-20200108-170601-1.jpg


I was lucky to manage to snap this while the GCC was perched on my head. The Quakers, on the other hand, insisted on staying on my shoulder for a long time. They make the cutest little happy noises! The blue one decided to play with a bunch of hanging cardboard and scolded me when I accidentally moved a bit too far from the toy. Guess that showed me!
 

bug_n_flock

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Full on Disney Princess! Haha this thread is great; can't wait for more! Makes me miss my days at the parrot shop where I used to work. We also had a Hy. Sweetest boy ever, our little Andy. The day he went to his own home was the most bittersweet day ever. Even the resident "tough guy" who worked at the shop took an extra long break to go hide in his truck and cry. Even the ones not "ours" worm their way effortlessly into our hearts.
 
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Snapdragon

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Full on Disney Princess! Haha this thread is great; can't wait for more! Makes me miss my days at the parrot shop where I used to work. We also had a Hy. Sweetest boy ever, our little Andy. The day he went to his own home was the most bittersweet day ever. Even the resident "tough guy" who worked at the shop took an extra long break to go hide in his truck and cry. Even the ones not "ours" worm their way effortlessly into our hearts.

Glad you're enjoying it! It's definitely bittersweet when they sell. I spent a lot of time quietly doing target training with a beautiful little dappled cockatiel and had become very fond of her. Her new mom was having trouble coming up with a name that fit her, and when I mentioned that the little tiel looked like she was covered in big fluffy snowflakes, we tried out some winter-themed names. I eventually shortened one name her mom suggested to Tally, and her mama decided it was perfect. I was so happy for Tally when she went home, but after my shift I totally cried in my car. When my darling C eventually goes home, I will be thrilled for him but I will be also be heartbroken.

I LOVE our Hy! She is so sweet and silly. And such a brat. But mostly sweet; she reminds me of a mischievous puppy. Her name is Zoey, and it's sort of her fault that I got the job at the shop. She lured me in for repeat visits - she's so tame that they'll even let her be handled by people who have no experience with birds - and on my third visit they decided to hire me. :D

Zoey loves banana chips, playing peekaboo (she actually gasps in excitement when you show your face and say peekaboo), dangling from the top of her cage by just her beak, ringing her cowbell, and trying to steal my glasses. She doesn't talk, but she makes all kinds of funny noises. Most evenings just before closing, she and her neighbor (the young military macaw) go to town making all kinds of strange and goofy sounds. After weeks of trying, I managed to catch my favorite of Zoey's silly sounds. (Pardon how dark it is; we were just about to head out the door.)

[ame="https://youtu.be/DVy1epw97SU"]https://youtu.be/DVy1epw97SU[/ame]

I'll try to catch the macaw party noises next time. Those two egg each other on; it's as if they're competing to see who can get the most laughs. Silly birds!
 
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Snapdragon

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Sorry I haven't been on much! One of my coworkers left, so I'm now working six days per week.

I have plenty of stories, but right now I am too tired to do anything but post pictures of our Hy. I am head over heels in love with this silly blue bird.

I stayed for a while after my shift to sit down and relax with my favorite goofball. She'll perch on my knee and purr as I scratch her head. Today she was even fluffier than usual as I scratched her head and worked on pinfeathers. She kept gently picking bits of her feather debris off my shirt, and trying to gently remove a scab on my hands from another overly enthusiastic macaw. She kept up this soft, constant chatter of purrs, clicks, trills, etc. Later when she was back in her cage, she gleefully lunged at me, grabbed a bit of my hair, and pulled it out of my ponytail. Then she laughed! She doesn't talk or generally make human noises, so it was especially funny to hear her laugh. She was VERY proud of herself.

snapdragon-albums-zoey-picture22169-20200116-180000-1.jpg


snapdragon-albums-zoey-picture22168-20200117-153708.jpg


snapdragon-albums-zoey-picture22170-20200117-153712.jpg

Look at that grin!
 
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Snapdragon

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Also, I happened to randomly see a huge bag of dried chile pods while I was in line at the grocery store. I couldn't help it; I bought it.

The guys are going to roll their eyes at me tomorrow at work!
 
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Snapdragon

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Finally met my first Alexandrine! They have the funniest proportions, don't they? Beautiful, though. This one was such a sweet bird. He kept making this funny beckoning motion with his head that another of our birds makes when he wants attention. I opened up his cage and he immediately stepped up onto my hand and began making cute little noises. He finally pushed the top of his head up against my lips for a kiss (he didn't really give me much choice, haha!), then presented his head for scritches.

I also got to meet an adorable little Meyers parrot last week. VERY cute little voice. After his mom left, he said "come here!" in that little voice, so I put a finger into the cage (as I'd seen his mom do when she said "come here" to him), and he hopped right onto my finger.

I was making the rounds through the cages last week, lightly spraying the grates with water before scrubbing them, when an Amazon (we'll call him Lee) scooted over to catch some of the spray. Remembering a co-worker giving another Amazon a spray bottle shower, I gave him one more spray. He began to burble and trill happily. I went ahead with the shower. Shortly, an ecstatic Amazon was swinging from the top of his cage, flailing happily and squealing gleefully like R2-D2 on a Starbucks Tripleshot. I have never seen anything like it. When I stopped to refill the spray bottle, he beckoned with his head, exclaiming "Come HEEEERE, birrrrrrd! C'mere birdie!" repeatedly. I was laughing so hard that I nearly dropped the pitcher of filtered water. Lee is such a character.
 
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Snapdragon

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The traffic between home and work today was the second-worst I've ever seen. I was late to work, and rushed all over the store and boarding to try and get nearly 30 parrots fed and watered and the floors in both the store and boarding swept and mopped before we opened. Of course, the big blue hooligan decided that this was the PERFECT time to start screaming her fool head off because she wanted my attention. Sigh! I put her in the aviary, and she clambered around for awhile, chewing on things, giving me that big macaw grin, and generally acting like a monkey.

Just as I finished giving everyone their morning chop, a customer came in. In the middle of a conversation, wouldn't ya know it? The big blue Muppet decided to scream her head off again. I sighed, put on my flannel shirt (because SOMEBIRDIE has sharp claws, and we're all too chicken to trim them ourselves), and put her on my shoulder. I wound up finishing the conversation and then changing papers in half the cages with the big blue chicken clinging to my shoulder, making happy macaw noises in my ear, and shredding wood blocks and twists of paper that I passed up to her as I worked. The customers were cracking up.

Damn blue velociraptor. I love her, and she knows it.
 
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Snapdragon

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HELP. I've fallen in love, and not with a sweet, cuddly bird. I've fallen in love with a bitey little Indian ringneck who is very nervous around people. I always fall for the shy/scared ones. I'm told that she'll probably still be there next year. :'(

snapdragon-albums-youngsters-picture22194-how-cute-she-because-her-alarm-call-sounds-exactly-like-tie-fighter-shooting-i-nicknamed-her-after-female-tie-fighter-pilot-who-became-rebel-alliance-hero-juno-eclipse.jpg

How CUTE is she?! Because her alarm call sounds exactly like a TIE fighter shooting, I have privately nicknamed her after a female TIE fighter pilot who became a Rebel Alliance hero: Juno Eclipse.

snapdragon-albums-youngsters-picture22195-not-best-picture-but-does-show-her-coloring-well-she-goes-true-yellow-her-head-yellow-green-her-body-shades-down-pale-turquoise-slivers-her-tail-she-s-stunning.jpg

Not the best picture, but it does show her coloring well. She goes from true yellow on her head, to soft yellow-green on her body, and shades down to pale turquoise on slivers of her tail. She's stunning.

I noticed that she loves to pull up and shred the newspaper below the grate in her cage. I've begun leaving twists of paper.for her to shred (I clear them out the next day), and today I brought a brightly-colored popsicle box and hung it up on a metal skewer with some other shreddable items. (See picture above.) Juno had already gotten a good start on the box after just three hours.

I am NOT getting a parrot. I am not, I am not, I am not.

There is something awfully special about her, though.
 
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