Saturday, May 11, 2013

Using science to stop plucking

Positive Parroting podcast on using science to deal with feather plucking:

Friday, May 10, 2013


Sugars feather destructive behavior is a real fight for us. The moment we are using a collar to restrain her and Paxil to calm her. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Even horse manure is organic

In one of the parrot groups somebody asked for an appraisal of why her 13yo umbrella cockatoo was acting crazy all night long. It was followed by a response from someone who tried to blame the issue on adolescence and hormonal issues.

I felt forced to respond. Umbrellas reach adulthood by five years of age and the mating season is from November until March. The response that was given had so many errors that it made me cringe Including an attempt to frighten by a alluding to the potential for bites.

Here is my response:

Two things come to mind: Rumford baking powder and a smartphone. I'll get to the reason for those things in a moment.

It is difficult to assess the behavior of a Cockatoo based on description only. In these situations you should video what your bird is doing. By reviewing such videos a behaviorist, and anyone who can critically observe the behavior, should be able to sort out the reason for such a display if it is behavioral and not medical.

Now to the baking powder. One day I was cooking dinner for Chloe and Lauralei. This was back before I took my classes in behavioral science. Suddenly, Chloe began to scream and acted in some of the ways similar to those That you have described. Cockatoos are sensitive to their environment and I began looking around to see if I had added something that might've caused such a behavior. It took about 15 minutes of picking things up and moving them out of her sight. When I came to the baking powder and put the can out of her vision she abruptly stopped her radical behavior.

If I had taken video of her during that time it would have shown that her eyes were focused in one direction, at the can. It also would have proved amusing to anyone who watched the video as they saw me move around completely oblivious of the obvious focus in her eyes. That's where the smart phone comes in: taking video.

I spent the big bucks and took Dr. Friedman's professional class in behavioral analysis directed at Parrot behavior after this incident. It has made all the difference in the world.

Please be careful when assessing responses to your question. Many people have developed their ideas Without consulting scientific consensus. Unfortunately, if you try to understand behavior based on anecdotal advice it can make the problem worse.

I asked a friend of mine who had a similar problem with her umbrella cockatoo and I asked what she had changed. She told me she could think of nothing. I had to grin. She had gone from brunette to redhead. No change at all.

You might consider reading Barbara Heidenreich's the parrot problem solver or enrolling in the parrot BAS group on Yahoo.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Are Pellet diets safe? How do I change my bird's diet?

On one of the Yahoo! Groups someone asked about pelleted diets. They were concerned that liver damage might occur over time. They can't feed their bird fresh foods because it won't eat them. With a little coaxing they can get their bird to eat a smoothie. Here is our response:

Honestly, no one knows the answer to that question. Most of the nutritional formulation of pellets is derived from what we know of poultry husbandry. Harrison's pellets were formulated by the same vet who commissioned the text clinical avian medicine. That's the pellet we supply our birds.

I've changed the diet of many birds here at the sanctuary. When they come to us they are often used eating terrible things. One relinquisher told me "She will be easy to feed. She eats anything." I am not a junk food junkie and don't have things like frosted flakes, cookies, and Cheetos around the sanctuary. That was the cockatoo's choice in food. I've had this bird with me now for about three months and she is eating the mash that I make of organic vegetables, grains, and beans. The process of changing a bird's diet can take a long time. The above mentioned bird gets health-food varieties that are the equivalent of the junk food items that she is used to along with the mash. Finding low sugar and salt replacements nearly drove me nuts but I had no choice: this wonderful bird destroys her feathers and without comfort food she mutilates.

The key to changing a bird's diet is to be aware of what they like and find ways to make small changes. With Sugar, the Moluccan aptly named for her diet, I presented many different kinds of cooked food. She readily ate cooked yams. From there I began slowly adding other items to the yams until she was eating almost the same mash as the others. By the way, I do vary items in the mash and the flavors because birds seem to tire of the same food every day.

As with any training the changes are made in baby steps, small approximations. You begin with things they already eat and make slight changes observing the results. This process can go on for a long time.

One umbrella cockatoo with us, Coco, would only eat bananas, oats, and peanut butter from a spoon held for her when she came here. Now she holds her own spoon and eats the mash on her own. She wouldn't eat peanut butter, bananas and oatmeal today; her taste in food is completely different now.

You can change your bird's diet. You can. If you have ever seen a trained killer whale this should make you realize that there is science behind shaping behavior. The trainer had no special gift from a higher power: the trainer used proven scientific methods. Behavior training works! Doing what I do I would be up the creek without a paddle if I had not learned to use it.

Since your bird is already eating a smoothie. That's where you should start.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


"In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life. We must be able to accept death and go from it's presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others. Out of our sorrows should come understanding. Through our sorrows, we join with all of those before who have had to suffer and all of those who will yet have to do so. Let us not be gripped by the fear of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows. Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to our memories as precious gifts. Let us make the best of our loved ones while they are with us, and let us not bury our love with death." -- the Roman philosopher, Seneca

Murri, you live on the altar of my heart.

Father Don

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Tribute To A Special Lady -- Murri

A Tribute To A Special Lady


by Carina Graham

I received a call from my sister.  “So…  we have a parrot here, and we don’t know what to do with it.”

Once upon a time there was an elderly man who could no longer take care of himself.  His family decided to put him into an assisted living facility.  The problem?  This man had a parrot, an African grey and no one else in the family knew what to do with the bird.  After asking around, someone in the family gave this parrot to their dog’s groomer.  Though the groomer was an animal lover, she was aware that she had no experience or knowledge when it came to caring for birds.  Fortunately for the african grey parrot, this groomer was my sister’s roommate.

She brought the bird home and then called me, a brand-new recruit to The Chloe Sanctuary for Parrots and Cockatoos.  And I’ll admit it…  I panicked a little.  A real parrot!  With no home!  Abandoned!  Oh no!  What to do?

So I did what any new volunteer would do.  I called the director of our sanctuary to ask for help.  After explaining the situation to Father Don, he asked me to bring the bird over.  I left my house right away and drove forty-five minutes to my sister’s.  
When I arrived, I found a grey bird, much smaller that I had imagined, standing in the back of her cage staring at me.  “Her name is Murri,” my sister said, “short for Murrieta.  She talks, but she hasn’t said anything yet.”

I sized Murri up, and I think she did the same to me.  She stood, silent and still, probably apprehensive about what was going to happen to her.  Her chest and legs were plucked of feathers, giving her a very ragged appearance.  Perhaps it had been a lifelong condition, or maybe it was something that had come with the stress of recent events.  When we loaded up my SUV and put her and her travel cage in the front seat of my car it didn’t help matters.  Poor Murri, having just left her owner of however many years and being passed from house to house in a very short amount of time probably didn’t know what to think of all the commotion.  We got her in, and off I went on a short drive to Father Don’s.  

I wanted to make this little bird feel better, so I played music and I sang and I talked to her. Murri just stood still and stared at me.  I vividly remember her golden eyes watching me as I sang, wary and unsure, as if wondering what I would do to her next.
We made it to Don’s place unscathed, and he met us outside.  He opened the passenger side door to help carry Murri inside.  And this grey parrot that had been still and silent this entire time looked at him, stood up straight and tall, and said very clearly:

It was as if she was introducing herself.  And Don took the prompt right away.  “Hi Murri!” he said enthusiastically.  “Want to come in?”

That was the start of it, and in that very moment I knew I was witnessing something special.  Murri hadn’t spoken a word to me, my sister, or her roommates this whole time but there was something about Father Don that she instantly connected with, and connected enough to want him to know who she was.  

There is one thing I’ve learned in volunteering with an animal rescue.  A person can work as hard as they possibly can and help to save as many lives as humanly possible but when a parrot chooses you, that’s something that cannot be replicated or replaced. Murri definitely chose Don.  

Over the years, Father Don worked very hard with that girl.  He helped to reduce her feather destructive behavior.  She became more vocal with him.  They withstood a house fire and a move together.  He observed amazing behaviors between her and the cockatoos in his care.  She taught him things about parrots, and he taught her to love and trust a human again.  Over the years, they forged a strong bond.

Anyone who knows Father Don knows that he has many cockatoos in his care.  As one might think, having several of these giant white birds keeps a person very busy but Don still made time for Murri, personal time set aside every night for her and him to spend together,  time that they both cherished and needed from each other.  Over the years, she developed her own special word that she only shared with Don.   She would say “Murr”, a shortened version of her name, like a little purr.  Only for her special person.
Those of us around them, who never heard that special word, grew to love Murri nonetheless.  We were amused and delighted by her antics.  She would boss around those cockatoos like a pygmy queen sitting on her perch!  “Oh good grief!” Murri would cry, watching those white creatures chase each other across their cages.  When Don would bring a special snack of almond butter, she would say, feeling most satisfied, “You’re a good boy!”  Sometimes, when no one was paying much attention to her, she would politely cough, just enough to startle a person into looking at her, before we remembered that parrots don’t actually cough.

Murri was an old parrot when she came into Father Don’s care.  At least fifty, Doctor Young estimated by her feather condition and her arthritis.  So it wasn’t much of a surprise when her weight began to fluctuate in the last year, or when she began to drop some of her clever vocabulary.  Still, no one expected the end to come.  

On March 10, Murri had a neurological event, perhaps a stroke.  She had an issue with motor skills right away, but slowly recovered them.  Physically, she was weak, but mentally she was sharp.  She showed signs of knowing her name, and knowing her special person.  All the volunteers with The Chloe Sanctuary held our breath for days while she slowly recovered.  Perching, eating, responding to cues from Don.  She had ups and downs.  Times when she was so exhausted she could hardly stand on her feet, or when she would stand on the bottom of her cage with her chin resting on her perch and would sleep for hours.  

Our wonderful avian vet, Dr. Lee Young of Discovery Animal Hospital in San Marcos, examined her and confirmed our worst fears, that Murri was suffering from a protein deficit, especially the proteins that help with immune response.  It wasn’t something that was treatable.  Murri was just an old bird, and like any mortal creature, her body began to give out. 

I helped Don pick her up from the vet after an overnight stay, and when the assistants brought her out I heard that bird give a sweet cry of “Murr!” as soon as she saw her special person.  Murri only had eyes for Don, and did well on the way back to his home.  There I was privilidged to hold her while Don prepared some food and while we all sat and talked for some time after.  Murri was exhausted.  She laid in my hands and fell asleep several times in her dish of food.  Still, she kept hearing Don’s voice and kept waking up and looking over at him with those bright, golden eyes of hers.   

The next day, Murri seemed to wake up.  She was eating well, and giving Don attitude about getting almonds.  She made bubble sounds when she was spoken to and reacted to her surroundings.  She and Don had a last, good day and then Murri drifted away.  Thankfully she didn’t exhibit pain or suffering, just seemed so very sleepy at the end.  Yet even the most peaceful death is heartbreaking to those that love.  There are many, many people who loved Murri. I cannot speak for her caretaker, the person she loved the most and who loved her the same.  I know that he must be aching beyond reason or comprehension at the loss of his beloved companion,  but I can say that Murri was the first parrot I ever helped to rescue.  She was the one who made the mission of The Chloe Sanctuary real to me.  She was the first bird I witnessed coming from a state of petrified fear and uncertainty to finding a loving, secure home.  She was the first bird I witnessed learn to love and trust again, to watch her unfold like a flower over time, revealing a little more of herself as she got more comfortable and felt more safe.

Thank you, Murri.  Thank you for the opportunity to know you in the beginning and the end.  Thank you for giving us human beings a second chance after you were given away so freely.  And thank you for helping to build a rescue group that has, and will continue to help more birds like you.

Please remember, friends, that the mission to rescue these special creatures is not free.  Times are tough for us all right now, but if you can make a donation (perhaps in Murri’s memory), The Chloe Sanctuary will continue to help save more parrots in need.  

We are grieving, but we know our mission is never over.  While there will never be another Murri, there is always another bird who is hurting, who is just waiting to show someone how very special they are.  

[Goodbye, dear companion. I'll write more when I can hold back my tears and stop sobbing -- Father Don]

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A note on Willow

Mina just emailed me and informed me that she forgot an important point. When she brought Willow home the first thing she did was weigh her. It's important to keep track of the birds weight. It's a gauge of their physical health.