Gram scales are worth their weight in gold.

It’s no secret that birds hide their illnesses; by the time the standard bird owner notices that her bird is acting mildly sick, her feathered friend is often knocking on death’s door.

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Winston is a little on the skinny side for an English budgie; 45-55 is pretty typical for these stout fellows.

Typical avian illness symptoms include fluffed feathers, a loss of appetite (this can be mild at first and hardly noticed), being quieter than usual, tail bobbing, and if things are really bad, you’ll find your friend on the floor of his or her cage one morning.

Sometimes, they’ll seem perky and alert as they look up at you from the floor of their cage.

Sometimes, they are quite clearly dying.

How do you protect your feathered friends when they are masters of disguise?

It’s possible to predict the future and possibly prevent a tragedy with one simple trick:

Buy a gram scale. Weigh your bird in the morning.

There is one simple sign many parrot owners overlook that can be the canary in the cave of your bird’s health, and that sign is your parrot’s weight.

Weighing your parrot regularly could save your feathered friend’s life, especially if he or she is a newer member to your flock.

Take Louie: He came home with us at the beginning of last summer, otherwise known as during the “comp time” for all the sixty-seventy hour weeks we put in during the school year as teachers (smack anyone who tells you teachers “get summers off”–we earn them, darn it.)

We had three months of round-the-clock, home-always happiness with our little man.

But, the summer of our much-content had to come to an end at some point, and we weren’t sure how our jolly green man would adjust to waking up four hours earlier–would he be grumpy? Sleepy since he was now only getting eight hours plus naps rather than an unbroken twelve hours? We had nothing to compare it to and weren’t sure what to expect.

One week into the school year, he seemed a little tired. Just a touch. Quieter in the evenings–he was still eating generally the same amount. Maybe a bit less, based on observations.

It was because we were weighing him regularly that we caught his illness, and caught it early.

Louie was, ah, a touch on the bovine-side weight-wise when first we brought him home (apparently a diet of cheese, meat, pellets, and peanuts doesn’t bode well for ekkies).

The week before school began, we were weighing him every other morning or so.

His initial morning weigh-in was a whopping 394, on the heavy side for a Solomon Island Ekkie (other types of ekkies usually weigh more than this). One week into the school year, and he’d dropped to 370 during his morning weigh-in, a loss of nearly 24 grams.

This worried us, and with our experience losing our baby before, we didn’t wait. We called and set up an appointment for the earliest opportunity, which was the next day.

The night before we brought him in, he was lethargic. Tired. Sitting, mute, on his tiny perch, and leaning off to one side, barely able to keep his eyes open.

The next morning, he weighed in at 355.

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Louie’s healthy morning weight these days: between 365-375 when he wakes up. He’s usually around 385/390 at the end of the day and can eat 20-30 grams in one sitting!

Dr. LB put him on an antibiotic immediately, suspecting a bacterial infection. Louie hated the syringe, so I ended up dousing small pieces of bread with the medicine and feeding it to him, crumb by crumb, to make sure he took every last drop.

Within twenty-four hours, he was UP. Peppy. Perky, talking, kissing our cheeks, and back to romancing our feet with a vengeance. Because we’d only known him a few months, we weren’t able to spot his initially mild change in behavior.

We’d assumed he was just tired/acting differently because we weren’t home the way we had been. If we hadn’t been weighing him, it might have been too late.

But because we weighed him every few days or so, we were able to spot the subtlest of signs of illness, make the appointment, and take care of our little man.

Today, he weighs a healthy 373, which is just about perfect for a Solomon Island Ekkie. =) It fluctuates here and there, but nothing shouts “sick!” like a twenty gram + drop in weight!

Moral of the story:

1. Weigh your bird often.

2. Know what he/she typically weighs (link), both species-wise and your-individual-bird-wise.

3. Take him/her in to see an avian vet immediately at any sign of sudden weight loss.

Building a bond takes time.

People who adopt larger parrots for the first time often hold the misconception that they’ll get to know their new feathered friend in a week or two, give or take. That their parrot will have maybe a week of transition as they settle into their new home for the first time.

Bonds take time. Trust. And positive experiences. Lots, and lots of positive experiences!

As a former dog or cat owner, I expected these same things–you feed a kitty, you snuggle a puppy, boom, they’ll love you forever. You know your pet, and they’ll adore you even if you have to scold them a time or two for breaking the rules.

Scold a parrot a time or two in the first few weeks, and they might just never forget it–or forgive you.

The longer I’ve been a parrot owner, the more I’ve realized how important it is that every experience be a positive one.

We’ve had our cockatiel approximately a year, our eclectus for eight months, and our senegal for six. We’re still learning new things about each other every day; any time I’ve reacted in a negative way, I find myself taking two steps back for every step forward with each of our little men.

Thus, in order to truly bond with your flock (especially rehomed parrots) and build that coveted bird-person relationship, it’s important to consider what needs to happen each time you interact with your bird so that he enjoys himself.

Make every experience count: make it deliberately positive.

Our senegal, for example, is an absolute sweetheart; he loves to sit on shoulders, sings and dances and enjoys scritches.

He also bites like the dickens when he doesn’t want to be put down somewhere.

Now, I am terrible at not reacting to bird bites; what can I say, I have a low pain tolerance! His control-biting is the slow, tendon-grinding, deep-flesh puncture wound type that gets a reaction out of me every time.

Naturally, having someone scream out in pain and/or yell in anger isn’t exactly a positive experience for a bird. This issue resulted in a few more nasty bites before I realized I was destroying the tenuous relationship we’d been building.

Our solution? Stick training; Ozone now has a little stand that he steps up on instead of our hands. No more control-biting! We pet him, we coo to him, he dances, he interacts with us and enjoys time on a stand every day, but any time we pick him up, we know we are taking a measured, calculated risk.

We’ve been bitten a lot less, and Ozone dances a lot more–our little man is MUCH happier!

Progress is generally slow; our cockatiel, for example, started by freaking out and posturing with squeaks and frantic bites every time a hand even approached his cage. One year later, he reliably steps up–but I am still envious of my friend’s cockatiels, who snuggle and beg to be petted like puppies.

It may not seem like a lot of progress, but for Qtip, he’s taken HUGE leaps of faith in order to trust us. When he initially made a BIG show of biting, we picked him up anyway, gently and lovingly with a happy “Step up!” command, and eventually he stopped trying to bite us… sometimes. Occasionally, he reverts back to the early days of posturing aggression, but those episodes are becoming fewer and far between.

He hates to be touched, yet craves it from our budgies who want nothing to do with him–whereas before, he’d erupt in a chorus of angry, bite-laden chirps if our fingers hovered anywhere near him, now he’ll tolerate his shoulders touched–for a second. Maybe two. But he’s such a lovely fella that I have confidence we’ll eventually get to a place where we understand one another better.

Every day is a new beginning, a new chance to show our feathered companions that we adore them. That they are safe. That they are loved.

Make every experience a positive one–even if progress is slow.

Thank you for saying goodbye.

Dear Former Parrot Owners–

Thank you for saying goodbye to your feathered friend.

Maybe the decision was easy; maybe he spent most of his time in a bedroom where his constant chirping (“Hello? Mom? Are you there? How about part of a verse of zippidee-doo-da?”) wouldn’t bother the rest of your family. It only made sense–it was only fair–to find him a new home.

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Q-Tip: Quentin Cortez Aztec Tipton

The first time he bopped his rosy cheeks along to music, we were thrilled. When his frantic chirps for attention as we left the room gradually waned, and then disappeared entirely, we celebrated. When he started playing with toys again, content on his own because of the blossoming knowledge that he will come out to be with his flock every day, we watched with happy hearts. When he joined our flock of little birds, with whom he plays every night, we were content.

Thank you for saying goodbye. He has the life you wanted for him!

Perhaps your decision was hard; perhaps your parrot was a beloved family member, cherished. As life changes threw you curveballs and you realized that, down the road, your feathered friend would need more from you than you would be able to provide, you said goodbye.

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Louie – Luigi Scout Turkleton

Now, he spends the holidays with a loving family who plays with him for hours on end. Now, he gives constant kisses, pigs out on all kinds of food (that he’s finally learned to love!), and is our jolly green man every day. He is spoiled rotten with treats, toys, and attention, and everyone agrees (usually when he’s hanging from our fingers like a bat) that he is the best bird in the world.

You made the decision before life became too crazy to care for him the way these sensitive parrots need. Because you found the courage to do so, he is still the epitome of an amazing parrot and treasured companion. So many people wait until it’s too late, until the once docile gentleman turns into the surliest of grouches.

Thank you for saying goodbye.

The hardest of all–maybe you were forced to give up your feathered friend due to age, illness, or the ill-will of other family members.

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Ozone – Odysseus Oedipus Ozymandias (O3)

 

I want you to know that your little man is very, very loved. Yes, he has a sharp little beak, but he loves to have his head scratched. He is stubborn and bald and loud, but we adore his gurgling chatter, and we’ve learned to work around his temper. Although he still bites, he lets go sooner, clamps down softer, and plays joyfully with his bells when we sit with him the evenings.

Thank you for saying goodbye to your feathered friend, and thank you for taking the time to find us, the people who will love and care for your friend forever. Thank you for not simply dumping your bird at an over-crowded shelter, or giving him to the highest bidder on Craiglist. Thank you for reaching out, for interviewing us, for finding the right home for him, rather than just any home.

I know parronts aren’t supposed to pick favorites, but I think you should know: your boys are our absolute favorites.

Thank you for entrusting us with their care.

Louie has finished dancing! Toe-Tapping Part 2.

Take a bow, Louie! Your dancing (i.e. terrible toe-tapping) is done.

Hopefully.

By the time we took Louie to the vet, he had stopped tap-dancing. In twenty-four hours, he went from almost violent, uncontrolled spasms to… nothing.

Nothing.

What…?

He was a lovely little patient at the vet; his coloring is growing in vibrantly in shades of glowing emerald, so much so that another woman asked if we wanted to breed him. Nope, no thanks; he likes feet, not other birds anyway. Dr. LB was impressed with his weight, how healthy he is, how he recovered from his bacterial infection a few months ago, how happy he is. No sign of toe-tapping.

His verdict? Food allergies. Dr. LB claimed that this is a “syndrome”, otherwise known as “Well, we have no clue what causes this, but it’s apparently a thing.”

According to the best avian vet in Denver, the toe-tapping is usually caused by one of the following:

  1. Spirulina – Ekkies do really, really poorly on this nutrient compared to other parrots.

  2. Wheat – Often in pellets.

  3. Corn – AKA a semi-weekly part of Louie’s diet. We solved this by switching to TOPS organic pellets, which are green and corn-free (though not wheat-free.)

We removed the corn (and all corn products) entirely from his diet: boom. Fixed.

Twenty-four hours later, the toe-tapping eliminated. He tapped yesterday morning a bit and the morning before, but there was nothing today.

Moral of the story:

Some parrots (ekkies especially) toe-tap behaviorally, some do so because they’ve lost feeling in their feet (really important to look into it), and some just have allergies, like Louie.

Vet check-ups are essential to know the difference.

Luigi is tap-dancing, and it is horrible. Toe-Tapping Part 1.

The internet is full–FULL–of misinformation. And frustration.

Last night, out of the blue, quite suddenly and violently, my baby boy eclectus started toe-tapping.

Dreaded, dreaded toe-tapping: the allergen of the ekkie world. The curse we all hope never to see, that we dread, that we read tales of ekkies chewing their toes off to stop.

Now, I’m a member of many a bird forum. I volunteer at a local bird shop. I’m a crazy internet-researcher-English-teacher and know to take everything I read with a grain of salt, but I know my ekkies; but the more I research, the more I talk to my vet, and the more I talk to general bird people of the world, the more I realize that very, very few people actually know what in God’s name they’re talking about.

With absolutely no warning, my baby boy started clutching one foot convulsively. His entire foot would seize up, curl up–I always thought that toe-tapping would start slowly and grow progressively worse, but nope. It came on suddenly. Violently.

Louie was toe-tapping.

And still, happy-go-lucky Louie energetically tried to woo our feet (let’s just say he has a foot fetish…) perhaps with more vigor than ever before. Go figure. He encounters the scourge of the ekkie world, and there’s our boy trying his hardest to romance our various appendages.

Hubby and I worried awake all night: “Click-click-click-click…”

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” has nothing on Louie’s toe-tap.

The internet was full of (what I hope is) hyperbolic paranoia. Or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself, because sick birds terrify me.

The internet’s theories:

Was it the fact that he’d gorged on ekkie-designed pellets yesterday? (His veggie lunch apparently disappointed him.) Some ekkies do horribly imbibing on any sort of pellet–has he succumbed?!

Is he low on calcium?

Perhaps it’s the weather change! It is now officially autumn, after all!

Is it hormonal? Is he getting enough vitamin D? What about vitamin A?

Too much protein! That must be it! Cut out all forms!

…Etc. Hyperbole? God, I hope so.

This morning, it was better. Not great, but better. Whereas last night he was practically convulsing, this morning he was merely tapping. When he’d walk on the floor, he’d lose his balance; this morning, he clicked across the floor, happy as could be. No spasm.

So we called the vet to figure out what to do; naturally, they never call me back until I have to teach for five classes in a row, but their voice message left me even more confused.

“His toe-tapping could be behavioral, or it could be him attempting to regain feeling in his foot.”

Oh good. It could be nothing–or, it could be something severe enough to cut off circulation in his bloody foot?!

#ReasonsYouShouldCallYourVet #TheInternetIsNotAnAvianVet

Hubby called. We have an appointment tomorrow at four fifteen with the vet; our avian vet is known as the absolute best in the area. He’s also one of two, but at the same time, all the bird people I know praise Dr. LB like he’s their own personal Jesus. Tomorrow, we will find out what was wrong with Louie. Tomorrow, we will run panels. Tomorrow, we will pray for answers.

Tomorrow is another day. Part two will follow, complete with ekkie videos.

It starts with one…

Collecting birds is kind of like eating chips. One simply isn’t enough. Nor is two… or three… or five.

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Five? Five is enough, unless you want to dedicate your entire life to maintenance and clean-up. Which I don’t. Only most of my day. 😉

Ours started with a budgie. Meet Roosevelt Polk Kennedy: the lead domino in a series of (mostly) fortunate events:

Roosevelt Polk Kennedy
Never name a budgie until they’re a year or so old; otherwise, you’re probably wrong. xD

My then-fiance/now-husband sneezed up a storm when exposed to fur of any kind. He wasn’t a “pet person”, but I was, and our house was just a little too quiet.

And I was getting tired of loving on my electronic “Petz!” dog, especially after I let that pretty much ruin my marriage proposal (sort of). But that’s a story for another day.

One accidental trip by a Bird Store followed by the discovery that he isn’t even mildly allergic to a feathery flock, and I put my foot down: we were getting a bird.

And now we have five. Oh my.

It’s never an instantaneous process, and we have definitely made some mistakes. Big ones–but we’re still learning, and our mistakes will be our guide. This blog will cover a variety of avian subjects, such as “Why is owning a cockatoo really hard?” and “Okay, so you successfully hand-fed a baby bird–that was a bad idea, wasn’t it?”