30 January 2010

Feathers, Feathers Everywhere

The birds are molting, and feathers are flying. Yellow, green, orange, and white feathers are turning up in every crevice of the feather dorm. They are also being carried out into the world by the flock advisors via our clothes, cell phones, and bellybuttons.
Molting is something that every bird goes through, and it can be a very trying time for them. When penguins molt, it can last more than a month, and they are not able to swim through that whole time. This of course means they go hungry. Our birds do not go hungry, but they do turn rather grumpy and irritable during their molts.
Cher prefers to bathe her way through the discomfort of sprouting new feathers. She morphs into a statue of bliss as she perches in the shower with hot water trickling down her neck and between her wings. The water mattes her mature feathers down, leaving the new pin feathers pricked up like tiny quills. She looks like a yellow and orange pin cushion.
With her desire to shower away the prickly feeling of those new pin feathers, it is impossible to turn on any faucet without hearing her go ballistic. If I neglect to take her into the shower with me, I can hear her screaming incessantly from the moment I turn the water on. I’m sure the neighbors would prefer I just drop her in a full bath tub. Even washing dishes prompts her to climb, twittering nervously, down my arm in an attempt to get to the comfort of running water. This morning, while I was tackling my endless pile of reading material, I found myself pelted as Cher took a bird bath in her water dish on the new tree stand. My books and liquor cabinet, yes they are side by side in the feather dorm, were sprinkled with bird water. How could I stop the little thing from getting some much needed relief, though?
Lennon and Coconut press on through their molts together. Lennon has his own pattern of angry preening and yelling at his feet, Coconut now follows suit. Lennon is a recessive pied white-face cockatiel, and thus has more fluffy white down than your average ‘tiel. His preening always turns into an angry rant that winds up with fluff stuck to his face. I’m sure he is displeased with us humans and our selective breeding shenanigans. Coconut is rather comical as he mirrors Lennon’s feather woes; he has the body of a toothpick just pulled from a marshmallow. His agitation has little basis other than a desperate need to fit in.
Sprite’s molting routine is an unfolding mystery to us. He is laden with pin feathers, and is letting the flock advisors both pop them open for him (this is the normal way that the pins erupt into mature feathers; the birds typically do it with their beaks). He has, however, shown us that he does know how to make regular bird sounds. A muffled parrot squawk has found its way into his vocabulary on occasion over the last week. After his molt is complete, spring will be upon us, and with it his hormonal season. Time will tell if the muffled squawks will turn into unabated screams. Cher would certainly be crushed by the noise competition.
Until the molting is finished, the flock advisors will continue double-duty vacuuming and plucking stray feathers from each other like a couple of chimps on tick patrol. I opened up my phone the other day to record a number and a little yellow feather fluttered out onto the round table in my poetry workshop. They’re like fish scales; you’ll find them in places you didn’t know existed.

23 January 2010

Progress Amid Chaos

The cupboards around the dorm were bare this morning, which meant a trip to the farmer's market was in order to restock. For the birds, we now have: apples, pears, starfruit, bananas, and sweet potato. I tend to follow my own nose when it comes to shopping for the feather brains (who, incidentally, lack a sense of smell) as the Flock Advisers will be sharing in their windfall of produce. Bunny Balls was not forgotten, 3 heads of Romaine came home for him.

With the pleasant foraging behind me, I decided to get caught up on some chores. I got the play tree that I bought last weekend disinfected and ready for use. While Cher tested it out for the rest of the flock, I moved on to cleaning and disinfecting the dorm itself. This resulted in little, besides the breaking of some recent Ms. Flock Adviser acquisitions: two of four cocktail glasses, and a depression glass relish tray. All were bought at an antique store...so yes, irreplaceable.

With my hopes of being industrious dashed, I turned my focus to more mellow endeavors. For an Ancient Literature class, I began a contemplative reading of The Birds by Aristophanes (irony, or fate?). Also I had hoped to work on my relationship with Sprite today, and work on some experimental training I've been doing with Coconut for a few days. For Sprite, I gathered up all of the unwanted phone books laying around the community. We have found that he loves to methodically dismantle magazines, so I figured some phone book mutilation would suit him just fine. I also pulled out the spray bottle to give him a bath. He's funny about bathing; sometimes he jumps right in, other times he has zero interest at all. Today's bath time started out a little lethargic, but when I made him move around to follow the shower he showed some life. By the time the bottle ran empty, he was on top of his cage with wings spread mumbling what I can only surmise was an excited proclamation.

Coconut's training has consisted of bridge conditioning. What I am teaching him is to associate the word "okay" with that ultimate birdy goodness: millet. The first session took about twenty minutes for him to calm down enough to eat. Having human attention focused on him is something he doesn't experience often, but much progress was made today. When I put my hand in his cage with the millet spray he behaved as if he knew the drill (which is exactly the goal). After "okay"ing his millet binge for a minute or two, I introduced the next phase: target training. The little guy is way too edgy to just shove the target stick into his world, so I just let him get some millet from the same hand that I held the target stick in. It took some time, but he eventually tolerated the presence of the target stick enough to get his beak on some of that delectable millet. It's basically just crack-addict psychology. Coconut may have the demeanor of a Red Bull-charged flea, but he'd chew right through the Advantage spot if a dog's neck were made of millet.

On the parrot-front, this was a successful day at the Feather Dorm. The glass shards have been swept up, and Ms. Flock Adviser has accepted my apologies for breaking her antiques. I am appreciative of that. It isn't often that the Flock Advisers are more destructive than the birds. Then again, Kenobie is roaming the pad right now. Don't hand out a Destructor of the Day award just yet.

19 January 2010

Save the Cackling for the End

On Sunday I went to an Exotic Bird Expo to pick up supplies and info on the cheap for the Bird Brains. Deals abounded, and I came home with a Beethoven size bag of Zupreem fruitblend, some Mazuri (the real good stuff)and a wooden plays tand. Even with my bed load of goodies, the best thing I took away from the expo couldn't be loaded in the truck.

Walking up and down the aisles, the experienced folks I talked to encouraged me to sit in on one of Larry's bird shows. I didn't know who Larry was, but I am always game for a good bird show. After carting out the fruits of my bargaining, I took a seat as the announcer made the last call for "Larry's Amazing Trick Bird Show."

The stage was impressive to start. A half dozen t-stands and props with wheels, pedals, and fuses. From behind the curtain came Cockatoo screeches, Macaw calls, Conure screams, and a strange chirping that hinted: exotic parakeet. A few kennels were set up behind the crowd for some flighted birds, and out came Larry on stage. His assistant set up a couple of birds on t-stands while Larry introduced himself in a voice masked behind so much hoarseness and phlem that it was just above audible. The very first bird he introduced was Lucille Bald, a Macaw that had plucked itself so persistently while being housed by a previous owner, alone in a blacked out shed, that the feathers will never grow back. The bird is quite literally naked except for it's head. Lucille did not seem shy in front of the crowd of thirty or so, and with a little coaxing from Larry, she pulled the fuse on a pint sized cannon to start the show "on a bang" as Larry put it.

To be honest, I can't really recount the rest of the show in epic detail, but I can give the highlights. A Ruby Macaw, a Lesser Sulfur Crested Cockatoo, and a Blue Crowned Conure were flown to the stage. The Ruby Macaw was named Chili Pepper. Larry explained this was his first bird, and he liked his women hot, therefore the name. We heard that joke several more times throughout the show until it was completely exhausted. The Blue Crowned Conure refused to do sit ups on cue, although Larry fed him after each of 4 refusals causing a red flag fest in the depths of my trainer-mind, but the bird did do the typical "Conure puffy bounce" while Larry clapped a beat and rapped. Hearing a guy from Georgia do a rap might have been worth the price of admission, but wait, there's more!

At this point in the show, I still haven't seen anything I'd call "Amazing" in the way of bird stunts. But the proverbial excrement was about to hit the literary fan with gusto. Larry was hacking and coughing to the point he couldn't go on without asking for a hot tea, on mic, and pausing the show while he swigged it. He made a remark about how tea is one of the only things you can drink while you're undergoing chemo. The crowd kind of stared, not sure whether to laugh at such an insensitive crack. Seriously, what if somebody in the crowd had a relative in chemo, wasting away? When he was finished with his tea, the show went on...and how!

Getting toward the end, Larry suddenly realized he hadn't repaired an essential prop after the last show. He asked the crowd if they had any tools on them, they chuckled. Finally, a joke hit! But it wasn't a joke, he repeated,"seriously, I really need a pair of pliers, does anybody have a pair?" Luckily, strict showmanship had been abandoned long before this segment. Surprisingly, a lady did come to the rescue, a vendor with a pair of pliers. Larry took the tool back stage, still talking to the crowd on mic, while we watched two macaws bicker, and a conure do its own moon walk thing across a table. It was all just starting to unravel.

By the time Larry got back on stage, the cockatoo was tired of being trumped for attention. Larry was stretching out a riveting introduction to the "Parrot riding a bicycle" trick, when the lady with the pliers tried to sneak around the back of the stage and grab her pliers on the sly. The mischievous little cockatoo seized opportunity in the form of a flashy gold hair clip. The lady jolted and started swinging her head wildly as Larry went on, sure that the disbelief on the audience's faces must have been at his telling them that Lucille Bald was going to ride a two-wheeler. The Lady swung and danced all around trying to shake the cockatoo, but the bird hung on to those long locks. First with two feet, then one, and then a daring beak-only grab. Finally it let go and fluttered to the ground. The lady jetted off just as Larry turned around to grab Lucille for her finale. All that he saw was a little cockatoo waddling on the ground. He said, "How did you get here?" to which the crowd snickered in their wisdom.

Lucille rode her bike, although with little grace because Larry had inadvertently tightened the wheels too much and he had to push her along. The end of the show came, and Larry's messages of bird safety and well being. He shared some very good advice about how to find a quality toy, and what products to stay away from. He professed his love for the birds, and bird people. He then told us of the birds he is actively trying to re-home. Three of the birds on stage were not going home with him, due to his health concerns.

Larry has Hepatitis, contracted years ago from a vaccination. He's in stage 3 kidney failure, and trying to re-home all of his birds before his time is up. He has been rescuing birds for many years, and all of the birds in the show were abused or abandoned individuals that he has given a loving and stimulating life to. He admitted the shows aren't what they used to be, but he loves sharing his knowledge and helping birds and bird owners. He believes that many neglected birds can be saved without leaving their current homes just by educating the owners. He closed with saying that he will be back at the expo in April if he can move at all. He doesn't know how much longer he can keep doing the shows, but in his own words: "I'm gonna give it hell. I love these birds, and I love bird people. Ya'll keep my heart beatin'. Thank you."

Needless to say, the snickering, jeering, fun-poking crowd felt awfully sheepish after the show. Larry is doing a great thing for his birds, and for all birds whose owners might see his show. He injects very useful info into the show, and encourages anybody who doesn't have the money to get their bird to the vet for a needed procedure to contact him so that he can make sure it gets done.

What is it they say about books and covers? Maybe Buffett said it best of Spider John: "If you wait till the song is sung and the story's told, you might come to understand."

15 January 2010

A Feather in Time

Parrots are time capsules. Their incredible capacity to remember combines, in some species, with an ability to precisely mimic the sounds in their environment. A parrot will often learn a word like "hello" in several different voices. The bird might pick up several words or phrases from a child, locking the youthful voice in the home even as the kid ages and moves out. Parrots, through this time capsule quality, can also be the ultimate memorial to their passed owners. The birds will often outlive their human counterparts. For the rest of Polly's life, however, the late human will still have their voice heard.

In the Feather Dorm, Coconut has been our little time capsule for quite some time. He still carries on two sided budgie conversations, picking up the slack for his former cage mate Mango who died several years back. He also lets loose with a lovebird shriek from time to time that he stored in his little mind when Madison was still with us. Madison carried on epic screaming matches with Cher back in the day, and Coconut's impression is a stark reminder of why no new lovebirds/conures will be brought into the Dorm.

With his exceptional ability as an Amazon to mimic, Sprite has already demonstrated himself to us as a feathered time capsule. He divulges new phrases and words everyday. He has several different "voices" that he entertains us with. One thing that we learned from him is that he did indeed experience some step up training in the past. As soon as we began moving the step up stick toward his feet, he began saying "step up", and "good boy". He is doing very well with his training so far. After a session the other night with Ms. Flock Advisor, she had to leave for the evening. Sprite kept right on with the routine after she left. He went through the entire session in her voice. I was in the other room and it sounded like a recording. "Hiii Sprite. Wanna step up? Step up. Step up. Goood Boy. Wanna step up here? Good Boy." We are going to have fun with this!

On a somewhat related note, I am no longer using the beep function on my alarm clock, only the radio. I'm also trying to limit the usage of the microwave timer, and make sure that the batteries in the fire alarm never get low. With his prowess for mimicking sounds, we must avoid at all costs the chance of hearing a "beep beep beep" for the next 60 years. No doubt it would be his favorite sound.

13 January 2010

First Dispatch

With the coming of the new year, and a new addition to the flock, it is time to start recording the happenings around The Feather Dorm I now call home. What I call "The Dorm" is actually a three bedroom apartment home inhabited by a male and female human (herein referred to as "Flock Advisors"), four birds, and a bunny rabbit. Since this blog is going to be mainly about the animals, I should introduce them to you now:

Coconut- A mostly white budgie (the typical parakeet you'd find at a pet store by the hundreds) that spends his days twittering away and parroting the sounds of the other birds in the flock. His ability to mimic them is uncanny, but he is yet to pick up any human sounds.

Lennon- The hard to get object of Coconut's affection. Both are males, but only Coconut seems interested in becoming best buds. Lennon is a cockatiel interested only in spending as much time with the Flock Advisors, especially the fairer of the two, as he can. He speaks in their tongue and whistles several songs.

Cher- This little Sun Conure has been a challenge from the beginning. She demands attention constantly, and rewards it with hair preening. Her screeches sound more in tune with Sonny than Cher. This Flock Advisor has become best buds with the little bird, however, and she is equally at home in my shirt battling an electric guitar for sound supremecy or on a midnight Taco Bell run where she can scold the drive-thru employees for forgetting the cinnamon twists. Poor kids.

Sprite- The newest addition to the flock, and our first "big" bird. He's a Yellow Naped Amazon, and thus far the quietest one on the farm. So far, his days consist of eating peanuts, staring out the open window, and shoving the back of his neck through the cage bars for rubs from the Flock Advisors as they pass. We are currently strategizing our training approach with him for his first new behavior...step-up.

Kenobi- Known mainly as Bunny Balls these days because of his cartoonish nature and pride of his, well, you know.He is just about a year old now and has been at The Dorm his whole life. In a house of birds, he is taunted and scolded by them daily for coming too close or jumping too high. Having been raised in a house of women, I feel for the little guy.

So, there it is. The subjects of the coming stories are now somewhat familiar to you. Check back for more, they could come daily or weekly. You just never know what's going down in The Feather Dorm.