A Blue Cere in a Female Budge = A Tumor

Well, it’s official: we’re going to lose Miss Winsty-Woo in the next few months. 😦

Winston the “Attack” bird, or so the vet called her defending herself when he approached her with a towel. (Until I picked her up. She’s a marshmallow.)

For the past day or so, Winston has seemed a little… off.

She’s always been exceptionally calm for a budgie (stiff-upper-lipped-English-budgie-woman and all that), but lately she’s seemed a little sleepier.

A little more reserved.

A little less playful.

Winston is exceptionally weird for a bird in that, since she was barely feathered, she has consistently done things that generally signify illness:

being exceptionally fluffy/fluffed up (that’s her English budgie-ness),

sleeping on the bottom of her cage (she’s done this her entire life; she likes to stick her legs through the grate on the bottom of her cage and lie on her chest)

Not a super-clean vent (a product of her extra fluffy-ness/girth and sleeping on the bottom of her cage)

Our vet has consistently given her a clean bill of health in spite of her nonsense, fortunately. Hubby and I have always been hyper-vigilant with her because of it.

Yesterday, we noticed a change:

She didn’t feel like flying/couldn’t fly very well. When something startled her and she fluttered to the floor instead of making her usual awkward, haphazard trip back up to her cage, we knew something was up.

Tail-bobbing, just a tiny bit. When calmly sitting still, her tail moves up and down now with every breath–just a little–but it signifies respiratory distress in birds.

She’s still eating fine and hadn’t lost any significant weight, but we followed our philosophy: go to the vet at the first sign of avian illness.

Two years ago vs. today. Her cere has become the same color as her cheek spots.

Today, I braved the snow, and I’m glad I did: Winston has a tumor. 😦

She’s four and a half years old.

The vet cannot feel it yet, which means we caught it super early, but he said there is only one thing on God’s green earth (that he knows of) that will turn a female budgie’s cere blue: a testosterone-secreting tumor in her reproductive track. And unfortunately, there’s no doubt that she’s a girl; the four eggs she laid last summer are a testament to that.

Our avian vet could only guess, but due to the fact that it feels like she’s lost a little bit of weight across her breastbone and these new symptoms (however mild), he suspects she has only one to three months left.

He gave us some pain medication to help her deal with any pain; she will now get all the seed, millet, and otherwise unhealthy food that she wants.

Flock of ROCK!

I’m on the writing committee for a local charity, and this is one of the songs we might be using/rewriting for our musical. Tippy clearly likes it as much as I do. XD

…Sorry it’s a little blairwitchy. I was dancing with him.


Teaching a Bird NOT to Scream: Reality

Screaming is one way birds get attention (positive, negative, it doesn’t matter!) Now, I can’t definitively say whether or not this was the case for Miss Viola Waddlesworth at her former home, however, her friend Sam, the African Grey who went to a neighbor’s house, frequently shouts, “Shut up, Waddles!”

…So yeah, we likely have a few years’ worth of bad habits to break with her.

One major purpose of this blog is to go beyond text and describe/show what bird training *really* looks like. Thus, a five minute vlog post was born.

May I present: What Teaching a Bird Not to Scream Really Looks Like: A Work in Progress

TL;DW/Oh my Gawd, I can’t take the screaming anymore – Skip to 4:05

Teaching a bird not to scream = massive, massive amounts of patience. It looks like a lot of:

  • Standing around out of sight of your bird and waiting for silence/a sound you don’t hate before you make your presence known again.
  • Making no movements that might indicate you might be coming within sight of your bird while he or she is screaming.
  • Responding to a sound you like with a happy call back/movement towards the birds–birds who are alone in a different room will “contact call“, which is natural and can’t really be turned off, so pick a sound you like/don’t hate and reinforce that.
  • Turning around/leaving the bird’s sight if they start screaming when you try to enter the room. They’re screaming for attention. Don’t give it to them!
  • Your spouse’s unwilling participation in the lack of movement/shouting at bird (shouting just reinforces the bad behavior and makes it continue longer. Spouses: Ignore it with every fiber of your being. Don’t even look at the bird.)


An Aside/Soap Box:

I feel like this video demonstrates why cockatoos (not Vi’s species–Vi is an Amazon) are only for the bravest, most tolerant of people. According to MyToos.com, Moluccan Cockatoos (and Umbrellas get close to this, too!) “Moluccans hold the record as the loudest bird on earth at 135 [decibels of sound]…A 747 Jumbo Jet produces as much as 140 decibels of noise.

My first-hand experience? Yes, they really are that loud. It is un.be.lievable.

Oh, and P.S.–A lot of the stuff you read at MyToos.com is NOT hyperbole regarding many, many, many Moluccan (and some Umbrella) cockatoos. We lived it. Not true of all cockatoos, but oh man… It was bad.

Training Rescued Parrots: Setting Goals

Well, we’ve had Vi for a little over three and a half weeks now–things are going well.

Slow, but well.

Man oh man, unless your rehomed parrot is super well-socialized (which many aren’t–probably why she’s a rehome), this task is not for the impatient.

I’m following my mantra of “every experience a positive one” and it seems to be working, but as a woman who grew up in the world of instant gratification, it’s hard to wait for her to be ready to step up!

Thus, without further adieu, I detail my process!

Week One – Goal: Building the Beginnings of a Relationship – FOUNDATIONS

Since day one, she has consistently climbed out of her cage and hung out on top with her toys. Keep it positive–no chasing her back into her cage! Every day, we plan on spending at least an hour at a time sitting near her cage in the basement so she has the opportunity to go back into her cage on her own (and we tell her to “cage up!” when she does and praise her for being in her cage–hopefully this command will stick eventually We leave her food in there to encourage her to return home every now and then for a nibble so we don’t have to chase her back into the cage with a towel, something her former home did. If we’re in a rush, we’ll also put a pretzel, grape or two, or other favored treat in her food dish so that if she’s been out a bit, she’ll go right in!

So yeah, teaching her to trust us enough to step up looked (and still looks) a lot like sitting around our basement for hours on end while she makes decisions–I’ll coo at her, sing to her, etc. That first week, I offered her a variety of treats. On days one and two, she wouldn’t take them from my fingers and would only eat them out of her food bowl. By day three, she trusted me enough to take something from my fingertips!

Week Two – Goal: To Teach Her That We Will Respect Her Body Language

My goal this week was to continue to build that trusting relationship, but also one of showing her absolute respect; this was the week she would bend over, grab onto a bar, and shake all over while making these weird grumbly noises. After consulting my handy-dandy bird forums at Avian Avenue, it was determined she might want scritches. So, the next time she bent over, I came it low from the side where she could see–and she let me pet her! Woohoo!

The key to not being bitten before or during scritches is to pay careful attention to a parrot’s body language. The moment she starts to pull away, I slowly (don’t jerk!) remove my hand and coo to her. If she backs away when I approach, I freeze; if she changes her mind, she’ll lean back in. If she stays put, I’ll remove my hand. The goal this week was to continue to reinforce the idea that I will respect the signals she gives me, that she does not need to bite me to get her message across.

This is the first time I haven’t been bitten (EVER!) by a parrot. Fingers crossed that I can make it to one month! I’m learning!

Week Three – Goal: Figure Out Her Favorite Treat(s)

In addition to repeating everything mentioned above, this week was dedicated to finding Vi’s favorite treat… so that I could eventually deprive her of it so that she can only get it from me, and only if she does something for it.

Clearly, I’m a middle school teacher. xD

Vi is not particularly food-driven, so this was initially kind of a challenge–all the mentioned “favorite treats” made Vi happy-ish, but it wasn’t enough to entice her to even move from wherever she was perched.

Thus, I resorted to eating whatever next to her cage–it was thus that I discovered she ADORES Tostidos. Health food? No way. Key to her heart? Oh yeah. The only issue is that Louie also loves this food, but it’s made with corn and makes him wing-flap. Boo.

Moreover, this week taught me that my mantra is extremely important–every experience a positive one! It’s been pretty dry, so a few times I’ve approached a very affectionate Vi only to accidentally shock her with static electricity–she won’t let me touch her the rest of the evening when that happens.


Week Four – Goal: The Hokey-Pokey

You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out…

It’s been four days since I started “Operation Hokey-Pokey.” Now that I have a treat Vi REALLY wants (one she’ll enthusiastically move towards when offered) I have my positive reward for behavior I want!

On Saturday and Sunday, I started by just holding the chip in FRONT of my wrist so she could see that my hand was there; she’d hesitate, but she’d eventually take it if I spoke gently to her. If I moved it over my wrist so any part of her head had to move over my hand, no way would she take it, and she’d move backwards. Patience–I only had to commit fifteen minutes to this process. Any more, and I’d be pushing it.

She took three small chip fragments each day from me this way–again, the key here was don’t pursue her. Let her come to me.

It was SO HARD to not just give it to her these two days, but she has to work for it–otherwise, this process will take even longer.

Yesterday, I held it over my wrist, a little further behind so she had to reach over my wrist to take it–she took five chips this way, pausing less and less every time!

Now today we had progress–I held the chip JUST out of reach, wrist in front of her coveted treat. If she wanted it (and boy, did she want it!) she had to lean against my hand to take it. She took FIVE CHIP FRAGMENTS! WOOHOO! PROGRESS!

Here she is, trying to be closer to me tonight–this is the first time she’s been trusting enough to hang out close to the floor to be near me! Meanwhile, of course, Louie was running all over the floor… That fella, I tell you what… But I digress.

Tonight, I realize: Oh my gosh. I’ve spent twenty-five days with this little girl and all I’ve accomplished is her leaning for all of two seconds against my hand… but progress is progress!

Patience is a virtue, right?

By Sunday, I am hoping that she will be comfortable putting one foot on my wrist in order for her to reach her treat… and by the end of week five, I’m hoping she’ll feel comfortable enough to step up and sit on my hand for thirty seconds… and then longer and longer.

By and large, I feel like I’m learning and enacting an important life lesson right here–1. Set a goal. 2. Set tiny, measurable steps to work toward it so that 3. every day, you are closer than before, even if it’s only a foot or two in a marathon. And of course, celebrate every bit of progress!

Budgie or Cockatiel? Our Limited Experience

The video below essentially highlights the key differences in personalities between cockatiels and English budgies (the carefully-bred, more-expensive-than-their-svelte-American-cousins behemoths of the budgie world):

When people debate over getting their “first bird” (I refuse to call any bird a “starter bird”, for each bird is its own individual and there will never be another quite like the one you adopt) most people question whether or not they should go for a cockatiel or a budgie (a.k.a. parakeet).

This has been debated to death in very clinical ways (like here or here or you can even take a fun test to determine your “right” bird here!) but I can’t help but weigh in.

Now I’m sure parakeet lovers will drag me over the coals, but I have to be honest–

I’d recommend a cockatiel every time.

Budgies are gorgeous and come in so many fun colors that rainbows are frequently jealous, but their personality (at least, if you have more than one) pales in comparison to their lesser-hued cockatiel compatriots.

Roosevelt and Beaudesert, our rainbow American budgies who flew over the rainbow bridge.

Having owned five budgies in my relatively short life and having spent several years volunteering at a bird store, I feel like I am qualified to comment.

While budgies are quite entertaining, playful, and curious little buggers, they fail to fully connect with their human care-givers, especially in the presence of other little birds. And we’d know–the baby budgies pictured to the left were hand-raised, spoiled-rotten little dudes that we visited literally every day up until they came home with us–even before they developed their pin-feathers, even! We showed up, petted and coddled and generally loved our baby budgies almost from the moment they each hatched–and yes, they were incredibly docile, happy to step up, groom our hair (and eyelashes, which is sort of weird), were generally not nippy, and were overall wonderful birds.

However. In spite of being raised in separate cages and given ample one-on-one attention from both Hubby and myself, they still more tolerated us much moreso than wanted our company. Sure, we were interesting sources of entertainment for two or three minutes, but they were MUCH happier on one of their numerous playstands with each other throughout our house.

An American and an English budgie–size comparison! …Also where they preferred to land when they’d randomly go spastically flying off.

That lack of connection coupled with the fact that budgies (especially the skinny American ones) are so easily startled makes for one spazzy pet! Winston, our English budgie, is certainly calmer, but put her in a scenario where she is with other American budgies, and the flock mentality takes over–she’ll go flying… or hovering clumsily, as the case may be… just the same as the American ones. So if you’re the kind of person who wants to merely be able to pick a bird up, set him somewhere fun, and watch him play (and quite probably go flying off the other direction five minutes later), then sure–get a budgie (or two or three… flock birds are happier birds!)

But if you want a calm pet who is very interested in a connection with you and won’t go flying off with the slightest brush of the breeze, go for a cockatiel. They crave companionship of all kinds–when we pull Qtip down with us, he’s genuinely curious. Many of the cockatiels we’ve known have been QUITE snuggly, especially any that were hand-raised. Some can be needy, so if you don’t want a bird with the same penchant for attention as a dog or a cat, sure, go the way of budgies… but if you really don’t want a hands-on bird, don’t get a parrot. Both cockatiels and parakeets really need time outside of the cage every day–if you want a bird merely to watch and keep you company,  get  several finches instead. 

Also, did I mention that cockatiels dance? And sing?

Cockatiels are just so lively, curious, and full of personality with a drive and desire to connect with bird and people alike (especially if you keep your little dude in a cage separate from other birds). We’ve truly fallen in love with the species as a whole–they have all the BEST parts of the cockatoo family while forgoing the worsts.

We went with budgies as our first birds because of their coloration and the dry pros/cons articles listed above; while I wouldn’t trade my current English budgie girl for anything, I still wonder what would have happened had we taken home a cockatiel.

We probably would have wound up with ten birds instead of five. xD

Parrot Culture

Today, Hubby and I had our semi-weekly coffee shop work date, and a teenager was there with a survey for school–one of the questions was “What sub-culture groups are you a part of?”

His answer?


Hubby and I, attending the 2015 Birds of Prey Soiree, a benefit for Nature’s Educators, a non-profit organization that rescues injured birds of prey (and educates people on why they actually don’t want a “pet” falcon.)

…Where people’s first reaction to furry, brilliantly-colored masks isn’t “Hi Oscar and Elmo!” but rather, “Do you have an eclectus?!”

…Where people judge each other’s “parronting” skills with the same passive-aggressive judgment as in modern-day mom groups. (You feed your parrot that? Have you provided him with all the latest foraging toys? You’re ruining your bird for life!)

…Where people endlessly discuss the various species of parrot (and especially why the species they own is the absolute top of the trees–in all seriousness, though, ekkies are the way to go.)

…Where people roll their eyes when people claim they have to leave early/arrive late to ‘let out their dog’ but who instead cancel entire evening plans to go home and spend time with their fid.

…Where use of the word “Fid” to stand in for “Feathered Kid” never needs explanation.

…Where people don’t bat an eye when someone walks in with an ‘accident’ on his/her shoe… or shirt… or hair…

…Where it’s somehow considered more socially acceptable to have a bird nestled in your bra in public than to breast feed a human child. (For the record, I don’t/won’t do this.)

…Where being bitten hard by an aggressive pet doesn’t result in the animal being put down, but rather the question, “Well, what did I do to cause that?”

Yeah. We’re of that ilk. xD

Dog and cat people may not always see eye-to-eye, but one thing they absolutely agree on is this: nobody is as weird as bird people.


Foraging Toy – The Stuffed Pepper

Today was a snow day, which meant I had time to make my birds a foraging toy! Hurray!

Behold the fury that is Louie:

Easiest toy ever–cut a slice off the side of a fairly large bell pepper, stuff the inside with a bunch of fruits and vegetables (this one was filled with carrots, peas, lima beans, a variety of other types of protein-ish beans, banana, and raw jalapenos), then tie it to the inside of the cage. The only safety concern is the string–you want to make sure it’s short. Once your parrot destroys it, you don’t want it long enough that it could get wrapped around your feathered friend!

I’m still not sure Louie actually likes this toy, but, you know… it’s at least entertaining for me?