Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I wonder...

I wonder if my birds wonder.  This post isn't about what we know for sure or what science has told us, it is just about my own thoughts and questions about whether or not our birds wonder about things like we do.

Forever and ever people who have lived with animals have said they have emotions similar to ours, using their connection to their animals as a compass we didn't need science to confirm it, but now it has.  Finally, research is starting to surface that tells us that our animals do think and feel.  Of course we know that animals can learn, solve problems and use tools.  So, it isn't too out of left field to think that they may be capable of wondering.

When I say wondering, I mean thinking about the past, wondering what will happen next and daydreaming about things.  I have been involved in animal rescue for many years.  I have had animals com from a variety of situations from a really wonderful home where they were very much loved, but had to be rehomed due to allergies, illness, their owner passing away or losing their home. I have also had rescue animals that came from not so good situations.  Animals that came from homes where they were neglected, sometimes not treated very kindly.  For the most part they seem to take most things in stride and not hold onto the baggage from their past, still, they have memories, do they think about their past?

Charlie, our 21 year old Amazon lived with a man who he loved and went every where with for 15 years until the man died of cancer.  Charlie loved my husband Rick the first time he met him.  He is our bird and he is fine with me, but Rick is his preferred person and I am not disillusioned into thinking that he feels the same way about me as he does Rick.  I wonder if Charlie thinks about his former home, his old best friend who suddenly wasn't there anymore.  Does he wonder what happened, where he is and if he will come back?  Does he think about him and feel comforted with the memories he carries, does he feel sad thinking about him?  Has he accepted that in life people and animals come and go?

Iris, my 10 year old Dusky Pionus was purchased from a bird shop as a baby.  Her owner apparently loved her and her other bird, but when she married and had a baby, she returned Iris to the bird shop.  I purchased her from the bird shop 2 years ago when I was heartbroken over the loss of my Grey.  Iris is very attached to me and no one else.  I wonder if she feels sad and understands she was given up once the babies arrived.  Does she feel sadness and resentful?  Is she angry?  Hurt? Does she wonder why that happened?  Does she wonder if she did something wrong?  Am I thinking too much into this?  I don't think so, but I am thinking about and wondering about something that I will probably never have an answer for and that's okay, I'm just wondering and wondering is safe and reasonable, as long as I am not pretending to know the answer or making up an answer to fit my own needs or agenda.

I wonder most about Joey.  I adopted Joey after he and the other animals in the home had to be rehomed due to a major, tragic, life changing event.  Joey was in the house during the event which ended in the fatalityof a person.  I don't know if he saw it, but he surely was in the home when it happened and in the weeks that followed prior to coming to me.  His owner was gone, people were coming and going, animals were leaving or being cared for there.  When he first came to me, I can only describe his behavior as looking angry.  He would rush over and smack his beak into the sides of the cage, lunge to bite, he was very upset.  But, I worked with him and in very short time for a period, I was handling him, holding him and he is now the sweetest, most lovely and affectionate parrot...with me.  No one else has attempted to handle him yet, but he seems to like being talked to and interacted with.  Does he wonder about his former owner?  Does he wonder what happened?  Does he think about it at all?  Does it scare him or worry him?  Does he wonder if he will be moved again or something else will happen?  I wish I could know what goes on behind his big dark eyes.  I tell him he is loved and safe and I hope he knows that and understands that, but does he?  I don't know, I can only wonder.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's in a name?

Naming animals is one of my favorite things!  Whether it is a bird, a new dog, a friend's show dog, whatever, I am all about choosing the perfect name for every animal in my life.  That is why it is a bit of a criteria shift for me to be working with animals that have no names.

The organization where I volunteer and am lucky enough to handle raptors is Native Bird Connections.  When the organization was founded the decision was made not to name the animals. There are a few reasons for this thoughtful decision.  First, they didn't want the public to view our program animals as "pets".  It is difficult for people to see an amazing wild animal like a hawk or an owl and not say, "I want one!"  As humans when we see an animal that we view as cute, beautiful or appealing in some way, we want to touch it, connect with it and even own it.  This may be fine for a domestic dog or a cat, but it isn't so wild animals, particularly non social animals.

People sometimes seemed stunned that we don't pet them or touch them, other than to handle them on the glove, but the reason that we do this is because it is what is best for the animal.  Unlike dogs or parrots or some other animals, these animals are not social.  Most are not social even with their own species, so humans "petting" them is not something that would be welcomed.  Our goal is to handle and treat them with respect which brings us back to the naming of our program birds.

Some organizations that have non-releasable program animals do choose to name them and this is okay, it is an decision that each organization needs to make for itself.  When Native Bird Connections was formed in 2000, the decision was made not to name them.  Another reason that they decided not to name them is that they didn't feel like these animals are "theirs".  The philosophy is that we are lucky that these wild animals that can no longer survive on their own, in the wild are willing to accept a life in captivity and that they are willing to give us the best that they can which is a working relationship based on trust, cooperation and negotiation.  We don't ask them to perform or do things or tricks or behaviors other than coming to programs, remaining on a perch, standing on our gloves, being moved from carrier to enclosure to perch and allowing us to interact with them cooperatively. We also don't feel that we "own" them or that they are "ours".  Yes, we are responsible for them, but they are not "ours" and never will be.

When I first started working with them and met the birds I was told it was okay if I gave them nicknames or called them what I wanted.  I honestly thought that this whole idea of them not having names would be difficult for me.  I am all about names!  But honestly, it doesn't bother me at all. There is something very organic, natural and good about just saying, "Good morning Red Tail!" or "You want a shower, Roughie?"  I have come to enjoy calling them by who they are.  Just another shift in thinking and learning a new way to live with and interact with a different type of animal.

I just call her Eagle

Joey, in three months time

Nearly three months ago I agreed to take in five birds from a friend who had to rehome her animals due to a tragic, life changing event.  Her flock included a 5 year old White Capped Pionus, a 4 year old Canary Winged Parakeet, an 8 year old Green Cheek Conure and two budgies.  Two of the five have moved on from my home, but Joey, the Pionus and Easter and Peep, the two budgies will remain with me.

I have spent a great deal of time over the past three months working with Joey.  When he first arrived here he was very defensive of his cage and would lunge and bang into the sides with his beak every time I came near.  When my friends family brought the birds they told me that he was very aggressive.  I was not able to communicate with the friend who had the birds before me.  Just going by what I saw it was clear he would be hands off for a while.

Joey's cage was set up in a way that you could only change his food and water by opening the large front door opening and putting your hands into the inside of the cage!  This is challenging when you have a bird who is rushing to get to your hands aggressively when you open the door.  I have had this issue with several birds and always deal with it the same way which is to teach them to go to a certain perch in their cage and remain there while I do what I need to do.  That is what I did with Joey.  I tested foods and found his favorite to be grapes.  Grapes are not particularly nutritious to birds, but I offer them because they like them and they are not harmful.  I have used grapes with a few of my birds as I worked through finding other things they like.  Every time I would go to feed or water Joey, I would lure him up to a certain perch and fed him grape pieces while I changed his food and water.  I would continue to offer pieces or give him big pieces that lasted awhile.  It wasn't a day or two later that the moment I came into the room he would rush up to that perch.

As time went on, he began to look pretty excited when I came in and went up to that perch every time I would enter.  I did not let Joey out of his cage right away for a couple of reasons.  First, I did not want him to come out and then me have to force him to go back in.  Our relationship was moving forward in a way that I was really happy with and I didn't want to damage that.  So, we did quite a bit of training with him in his cage and me sitting with him, talking to him, listening to music with him and training him.

Finally, about 3 weeks after he arrived, I decided to open his cage and let him come out.  He crawled right out and went to the top of his cage.  He seemed happy to be out.  I offered my hand and he lunged to bite it.  I did not offer my hand again for more than a month but I did begin to let him out regularly because I learned that he would go back in eventually, so I just had to time it when I had plenty of time.  Here is the first time I let him out of his cage.

Sometimes when I had Joey out of his cage he would do the infamous "Pionus strut" where he would drop his wings and march back and forth on the top of his cage.  He has not done this in a long time, but did do it when a new person came by to meet one of the birds to adopt.  That strut clearly indicated he was feeling defensive and probably a bit territorial and that it is best not to touch him!  Here is a short video of Joey "strutting" https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10203723388301927&set=vb.1134617830&type=3&theater

I decided to move Joey to another cage.  I had a trip planned and my friend was going to be staying with my animals and I didn't want her to have to rely on Joey staying on his perch while she fed him, which by the way, he did, but I didn't know it that would be an issue.  Also, I wanted him to have a larger, heavier cage and I happened to have my Amazon's old cage, so I decided to see if Joey would mind moving to that one.  I also hoped that a new cage would lesson the territorial behavior around his cage.  I left the open cage next to his cage for days and let him explore and check it out at his pace and then finally moved him in.

I began stick training him and the stick training came along really well.  He learned to step onto a dowel fairly quickly which allowed him to choose to get close to me.  He began to want to be close very quickly and would come as close to my hand as possible.  Initially, I would put my hand inside my sweatshirt so that he couldn't see it since it seemed to upset him so much in the beginning.  He always seemed to be asking for me to get the stick so he could come and be close.

We continued with the stick training and he would always rush onto the stick and as close to me without getting onto my hand.  A couple of times he beaked my finger through my shirt.  Only one time with pressure and not very much, just exploring and checking it out.  One day I went into the kitchen just around the corner from where he was and he flew into the room after me.  I decided to put some trust into what I thought we were building and I offered my hand and he stepped up.  A lot of birds will step up from the ground, but I would never purposely put a bird in that position just to get him to step up.  When he stepped up that time I brought him back to his cage, but he wanted to stay on me and he hung out on my arm watching tv for a really long time.  He did make his way up to my shoulder and hang out there for a while to.  Clearly, he was ready for the next step in our relationship.

Joey now steps up and hangs out with me regularly.  He gently puts his beak on my fingers but never with any pressure.  He allows and asks for neck scritching.  I am impressed and amazed with how far he has come in such a short amount of time.  People sometimes think that 3 months is a long time, but it is actually an incredibly short period of time for a parrot.  I am excited to continue to grow with Joey.  

So, that is where we are at and I will surely keep you posted on our progress!