25 December 2010

Christmas Cookies

A Feather Dorm Christmas means extra treats for the animals, convenient pieces of crumpled paper everywhere for bird-leavings, and epic photo/video sessions to preserve the funniest moments as our little creatures take part in the festivities in their own ways.

Christmas Eve was the beginning of our fun. We Flock Advisors opened gifts to each other, and some that we had cheekily tagged as being from the animals. The birds started their day by getting their presents from our good friends Maura and Calum: some fresh toys ripe for their destruction. Kenobi also received his gift from them, a wrapped box tagged "Bunny Balls" that we decided he should open himself since he loves to gnaw on paper products. With a little help from Ms. Flock Advisor, he got one end of the box open and a whiff of what was inside. I rolled the video camera as he worked to get at the vanilla wafers inside his fabulous present. Maura and Calum were thoughtful enough to get him the Reduced Fat variety, and he proved to be no snob to low-calorie foods. If Reduced Fat vanilla wafers are the train to a fitter Bunny Balls, then just call him "Conductor." Watching him tug on his box and yank at the bag inside to loose the cookies had Ms. Flock Advisor and I just about rolling on the floor in all-out laughter. He was determined and he finally got one. We let him have two, and then saved the rest for later. Sprite took one from Ms. Flock Advisor and we also broke of little pieces for the other birds. Its Christmas! Even low calorie cookies should be rationed for bunnies and birds, though. Kenobi's present will provide him with many weeks of flavorful entertainment and sugar-coma bliss. The birds have begun work on their toys, but Coconut's may last a long time as he is mostly just singing to his.

For Christmas Eve dinner we picked-up Chinese food and watched A Christmas Story. Ms. Flock Advisor cracked open a fortune cookie for Kenobi. I think it was his idea of the perfect food: crunchy, sweet goodness with a fiber-rich filling. The birds were in bed asleep before the movie was over, so they didn't see the "smiling" duck have its head chopped of at the end. That part would probably give Lennon more nightmares.

Lennon having his Christmas present installed.
The animals were up early with us on Christmas morning so that Ms. Flock Advisor could Skype with her parents before work. Our plan for the day, because she was scheduled for dolphin work, was to spend the day at the aquarium together and have fun with some fish-eating mammals. Lennon took his seat on Ms. Flock Advisor, and Cher hung in my shirt as I sipped the morning's coffee. Sprite shouted his hellos across the room for all (in the room and on Skype) to hear. The day before we had a trial run with the video calling and took Ms. Flock Advisor's family on a Skype-tour of the Dorm. Her mom requested a stop at Coconut's house, he is her favorite. One of the gifts she sent down this year featured a silver Christmas ornament that somewhat resembles a disco ball. It is a Coconut favorite, as is anything with mirrors and shiny spots.

Our day with the otters and dolphins was fun, but it was nice to finally get home to the flock. We warmed up some Christmas leftovers: broccoli casserole and pork-fried rice with cheese pie for desert. We also munched on Christmas candies and Kenobi finished a red and green rice treat that we found for him at Petsmart. Lennon settled into a comfortable place on Ms. Flock Advisor's chest as they both nodded off after dinner. It was another wonderful Christmas at the Feather Dorm, and Sprite's first with us. We cannot wait for the next one!
Merry Christmas from Kenobi and the rest of our flock!

22 December 2010

Kenobi Gets a Taste of Christmas, and Some Big News

All of the animals have joined us on the west coast with Ms. Flock Advisor for the Christmas season. Five animals roaming around a one-bedroom domicile while we prepare for the big day creates its own set of challenges. A fence-line runs across the living room Australia-style, creating a rabbit free zone where the Christmas tree and presents can exist safe from the tireless nibbler. The birds strike up a noisy little chorus each morning, all four of them chirp and scream to alert us that they have made it through the night. Kenobi has snacked on some Christmas cards, and Lennon left his signature on one in the form of a little dropping. A strategically placed sticker by Ms. Flock Advisor ensured that the recipient would not be offended and the card made it out in the mail with the rest.

Kenobi has found that Christmas provides all sorts of new paper-snacks that are worth a try. He is kind enough to dispose of spent envelopes via his tummy, and found that gift tags were an irresistible treat. The four sheets that I bought were quietly discovered by Kenobi one afternoon. By the time Ms. Flock Advisor and I investigated the munching he had devoured better than half of two sticky sheets. We were concerned about how the adhesive would affect his digestive system, but he has been unfazed. The remaining tags that bear his bite-marks are being used to denote gifts from him.

The animals all have their stockings hung around the house. Lennon has his own and Sprite's hung from his house. Lennon's has the picture of the snowman, which resembles his own snowball shape with he fluffs up all of his white feathers to go to sleep. Sprite climbed down to inspect his, but he will not find his treats in it until Christmas Day.

Sprite did get an enrichment today with a large stocking. I put a Nutri-berry in it for him, and he eventually found it. He was a little timid about the big red sock. I had to encourage him to explore it, but when he discovered it was a source of treats, he welcomed its presence.

Now for the big news: The whole flock will soon be reunited again on the east coast. Ms. Flock Advisor will again be working on the east coast, so after Christmas we will be moving her back over. Lennon and Sprite will once again be shacking up with Cher and Coconut, and Bunny-balls will not have to take his road trips anymore. We are all excited, and look forward to the new year as much as we are looking forward to Christmas!

12 December 2010

Lennon's Nightmare Before Christmas

At 3am last night it sounded like Lennon was trying to fly laps inside his cage, in the dark. He was squealing and flapping and ringing all of the little bells that dangle from his plethora of toys. I ran out to check on him and he was in complete panic. Lifting the blanket off his cage did nothing to calm him down. He was trying to escape whatever his mind had conjured in the middle of the night.

It was Lennon's first night-fright in a long time. Cockatiels are particularly known for them, and Lennon has had them in the past. They become so panicked, trying to escape an imagined threat, that they can hurt themselves in their erratic flapping and falling. There is the risk of a broken wing or neck, or tangled up foot, but they can also break a blood feather. Blood feathers are new feathers that are just coming in, and are still just a quill filled with blood. If they break one, they can bleed to death quickly. For this reason, night-frights are dangerous and it is important to calm them down quickly.

When I opened Lennon's cage door I managed to cup my hand around him briefly to keep him still and check him for injury. He had none that I could see, and I pulled him out of his cage. He took off flying and calling loudly. There was plenty of light in the room, so he could navigate okay, and I think it did him good to get some energy out and see that he was okay. He ended up landing on the Christmas tree.

He stepped-up on my hand from the tree and I took him over to the couch. He was on high-alert still with his crest straight up and his head whipping back-and-forth methodically. Concerned that his fright may have something do with not being able to see his favorite person, I took him in to see see Ms. Flock Advisor in the bedroom. We both tried to calm him down, but he remained on edge. I took him back out and we sat on the couch together until about 6am when Ms. Flock Advisor came out to get ready for work, and found me asleep, with Lennon perched calmly near me.

Lennon got to go back to his cage and get a couple more hours of sleep. Ms. Flock Advisor noticed that the blinds had been left open all night on one window. A shadow or a passing car could have been what triggered his fright. We will be sure to close the blinds for him from now on. We might also have to really emphasize the next time that the Grinch does give the Christmas tree and roast beast back to the Whos, so he really isn't a scary guy at the end.

Sprite was barely stirred by all of the commotion. He mumbled a little, but went right back sleep when the noise subsided.

10 December 2010

Budgie Power! and baby pictures.

This week has been cold, for all of us. I managed to put a few Christmas decorations out and get into the spirit a little while wrapping up the semester by writing about 30 pages of research papers and articles. Cher, Coconut and Kenobi have benefited, as I've basically been holed up here in the Feather Dorm all week and looking to them for comic relief.

On the western side, Lennon and Sprite were treated to a little Christmas story-time by Ms. Flock Advisor. She sent me a message to say that she had just read them How the Grinch Stole Christmas a few days ago. They listened intently. Lennon sat on his porch (his open cage door forms a sort-of porch) and Sprite sat up in the corner of his cage, which is his normal spot when he is interested in what's going on. We will try and get some video of story time with the birds. They might even pick-up a "roast beast" or other fun vocabulary word!

Kenobi has been all about the cold weather. I leave the porch open for him throughout the day, and he goes out to lay down in the cold. He is reminded this time of year why he has all of that fur. The illuminated deer and seal have to go up on the table, and more importantly their cords, when he has access out there. If he gets a hold of one of those cords, the deer and seal probably wouldn't light up anymore, but Bunny-balls would. Temporarily, at least.

This was supposed to be the week that I finally put up a video of Coconut's target training. Alas, he is too camera shy. I tried a few times but he just freezes up when that camera is around. I will have to do some more desense training with the camera before I can get some footage up on the blog. I am very happy with how the little guy has been doing, though. Yesterday, after a session, he came out of his cage and flew around the house a bit as I walked around. He even let me touch his foot while he was on his perch. That is huge for Coconut. In fact, this may be one of the first times he has ever let me touch him voluntarily. He really is a skiddish little bird, but has done really well adjusting with the target training. When I get near his cage he hops right up on his favorite perch, anticipating a session, and fluffs up (generally a sign of comfort for birds) and starts chirping.

Coconut has learned to touch the end of a stick, and that humans bring treats and fun. I have learned, through the training sessions with him, that Coconut has an incredibly complex bird-eality (you know, like "personality"). Birds, all birds, have mental capabilities that are incredible considering the physical size of their brains compared to the brains of mammals. Then, birds are a completely different animal than mammals. Naturalists and scientists have long known that birds also have an incredibly strong skeleton, considering that their bones are hollow, due to a honey-comb structure. Their bones are light so that they can fly. Their bodies as a whole follow this basic plan. Yes, there are flightless birds, but this discussion will not go into the environmental pressures at work there. Considering that flighted birds most certainly benefit from the ability to, um, fly, it is no surprise that the whole of the creature would be built with this ability as a priority. Everything about a bird, then, must be as light as possible. Mammals, for the most part, have not had the necessity for lightness that flighted birds have had in their development. This is why I love birds. They exist on a different plane. Their survival strategy is different than ours, yet they have attained, especially parrots and corvids, an incredible brain. Coconut could not possibly weigh more than an ounce in total, he probably weighs less than that. His ability to show emotional diversity, though: excitement, anger, frustration, fatigue, is absolutely incredible for a mammal such as myself to conceive. Any one of my fingers weighs more than the little guy, yet he can learn, and think, and problem-solve, and be an individual. He shows me this as we have our training sessions together. I notice more and more characteristics of his, and learn how his responses differ to things that I try with him. Today I tried a training session too late in the evening. After a few approximations, he let me know he was ready for bed by tucking one foot up under his feathers after a reward of millet. I covered his cage, and he hasn't made a sound since. He was ready to sleep, he is not a machine, no animal is. Working with this tiny animal has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as an animal trainer. I have been impressed with the abilities of a tiny but efficient little brain, and rewarded with a connection with another being that I would not have had otherwise.

In addition to having fun with Coconut and writing boring research papers, I came across some baby pictures of Kenobi. These were taken with my old phone, so the quality isn't great, but you can see all of his baby hairs. His ears also look very thin and his head is tiny. I can't believe how much he has grown, and that it has been almost two years since we went and got him from the small town of Callahan, FL.