Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Five new birds, oh my!

So, due to an unfortunate tragedy a friend of mine is no longer able to care for her animals.  I offered to take the birds and today, five new birds were delivered to my house.  I had not met her birds before, so I just knew the little bits and pieces that I had heard about them and seen pictures of them.  Most of them are rehomes, with the exception of the two budgies that she got as babies.

Two of the birds Thistle, a Green Cheek Conure and Bamboo, a Canary Winged Parakeet are very handleable, but I wasn't sure about Joey, her White Capped Pionus.  Joey seems very excited and interested when I talk to him and when I am by the cage and some of the time he looked pretty defensive and upset. When I changed his water I saw that my perception was correct, he is not okay with me messing with his cage.  He came over and became really agitated and aggressive.  But, I needed to change his water and I needed to take out his fresh food bowl.  However, there was no way I could just stick my hand in there as every time I reached he rushed over aggressively.

I was already planning to work with him, but was going to give him a little time to settle in, but obviously something needs to be done so that I can change his food and water.  When I fed him earlier, I noticed he liked grapes which I had offered in his veggie and fruit mix earlier.  He has taken food from me, but I can tell when he is agitated he just grabs it and drops it.  When I offered him millet, he didn't want it.  When I gave him a piece of popcorn, he threw it down.

I cut the grapes up into spears, with each grape become four spears of grape.  I offered him one and he took it and loved it.  I asked him to come to the other side of the cage onto another perch and he did, so I marked it with "good!" and then gave him another grape slice.  While he was eating it, I replaced the water bowl. After he was done, I asked him to move to another perch, when he did, I marked it, "Good!" and gave him another grape spear and was able to easily remove his food dish.

Thistle and Bamboo also took a grape slice from me which is great as they had not wanted to take any food from me prior to that.

I will not longer be offering grapes in their food bowls, all grapes will come from me, from my hand and used for training.

I have been through this before with birds that are aggressive around their cages.  I simply have to teach them that I mean good things happen and that if they move where I ask them, I will reward them with something I like.

Welcome home little birds.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Oh so different

I have lived with birds for a really long time.  When I was a kid I had budgies and once I became an adult, I have lived with a variety of different birds including many Cockatiels, Budgies, Lovebirds, Linnies, Conures, a Pionus, an African Grey, a Regent Parrot and a couple of Amazons.  I love birds and have had relationships with them where I believe that they loved me, or at least have affection for me back.  A relationship with a bird is a wonderfully rewarding experience.  Even my non-bird-person husband has fallen in love with Charlie, our Amazon because Charlie chose him and he kind of had no choice.  These relationships seem to be mutually rewarding and enjoying.

The relationships that I have and have had with my birds is very different than what I am experiencing with the raptors that I am having the amazing opportunity to work with.  Parrots and dogs are social animals.  This means that they interact and live with other individuals, usually of their own species.  The social nature of humans and dogs and birds helps to foster a relationship because the animals are hard wired to belong to a group.  Of course, there are exceptions to the rule in dogs or birds or even humans that are not interested in being around others, but they still remain a social animal.  Not so for most of the raptors.

What NOT to do with a raptor!

The raptors that I work with are non-releasable wild animals that are in some way physically impaired making them unable to survive in the world on their own.  So, they are provided a home where they are well cared for, but they must be able to work with people and become an educational program animal.  This means that they go to do programs at different events to teach people about their species.

I will be honest and say that before I had ever handled a raptor I wondered if I would feel an urge to pet it or scritch it as I might do with a dog or a parrot.  Interestingly, the moment I held a raptor, a Great Horned Owl, for the first time, that thought did not come into my mind and it never has with any raptors I have held. I knew, instinctively, that to try to touch him would be incredibly aversive to him, not to mention extremely disrespectful.  He is a wild animal, he is not a pet, he is not interesting in cuddling or being touched and he is being patient and tolerant enough to allow me the privilege of holding him on my fist.  It isn't only that they are wild and wouldn't want to be touched, they aren't really interested in me at all, let alone a relationship with me.  For the most part, they really aren't interested in a relationship with their own species, let alone a human. There are some raptors that are more social, for instance Turkey Vultures.  Harris Hawks are also known to be somewhat social as well.  But, the raptors I work with are not social and frankly and they don't have an innate desire to "be with me" or "connect with me".

No snuggling with this guy!

This is a huge shift in thinking and learning for me.  When working with them, the idea is to develop a relationship with them based on trust and respect.  The birds I work with are really trained just to be handled, not to do things or to perform.  I have realized early on that if I need or want them to "love" or even "like" me, I am likely to have my heart broken because it just isn't who they are.  Asking any animal to be someone he isn't or isn't capable of being is not fair and it is likely going to create a lot of frustration for both the animal and the human.  It doesn't mean that they are mean, ornery, stubborn or nasty, they are simply solitary and part of being good with them and for them is to accept that and accept them for who they are.  And to appreciate what they can offer me and what they are willing to offer me which is a mutually cooperative partnership.  I am more than happy to accept them just the way they are and grateful for the opportunity to be this close to them.