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How The Hen House Turns: Don’t Mess With Parrots

on July 14, 2017 - 7:58am
Miranda sitting with toy bird. Courtesy photo
How the Hen House Turns—Don’t Mess With Parrots
Formerly of Los Alamos
Last week I was asked to care for three parrots, while their adoptive ”parents” traveled to Paris.
The job seemed simple enough—rotate the three food and water dishes to the outside of each bird’s cage, clean them and add ¼ cup of water to one, kibbles to a second, and chopped vegetables to the third.
I prepared the chopped vegetables on arrival and stored them in the refrigerator. Okay. So far so good. We had decided that the two parrots who could not fly (due to problems in their history) should not be released from their cages. They could injure themselves trying to fly.
To my delight, I soon discovered that these two parrots had invented ways to hang sideways in their spacious homes and exercise their wings vigorously. Then the blue-headed Pionus named Blue invited me into her domicile by lowering her head for a neck grooming.
All was well. Early on, the largest parrot, Gabby, accepted my friendship when on first approach I offered her an almond. Almond nuts are the parrots’ special “treat” (no more than three per day.)
The third parrot, Miranda, had been with her host family since she was a young chick. She knew me well enough to share a brief shoulder-sit and a bite from my breakfast cereal. Her “mother” knew her subtle parrot non-verbal language very well and had been sensitive to her needs for attention and a rigid daily routine. She usually wore a fuchsia-colored sweatshirt so Miranda could perch on her shoulder for long periods of time.
Hence the first mistake: We decided Miranda would be more accepting if I wore the fuchsia shirt. After breakfast the first morning I put it on and let Miranda out of her cage. She could have the sunroom for flying about and preening on the back of chairs and climbing over the other birdcages. I sat down on the couch opposite her cage, and she came out to sit on blue’s cage. She didn’t fly or preen, however, nor did she do her usual acrobatics on the other cages. I tried to read, but soon realized that she was perched on Blue’s cage in an unusually focused posture. She was standing stock-still, bent forward, her beak aimed down at me.
For a very long time—maybe 10 minutes—she didn’t move. I realized she was freaked out by my wearing her “mother’s” fushia sweater.
I took it off, and Miranda relaxed a bit. Then she flew around the room and spent the morning acting more normal, landing and climbing on other chairs and cages, until it was time for her to go back into her cage, the usual routine for the afternoon.
I offered my finger for Miranda to “step up” so I could place her back in her cage, but she refused. When I got a bit stern and insisted (mistake number 2), she took off and crashed into the potted tree at the end of the room.
Okay, thought I, I’ll cool it and sit here until Miranda goes in the cage to get the almond I’ll put there in her play ball. I showed her the almond, put it in the play ball in the cage and sat down to read my book. Late in the afternoon Miranda finally went in and got her almond. I praised her, and she seemed OK with me. We even shared baby carrots at dinnertime and cheerios the next morning at breakfast. (Parrots do that, and it’s important for bonding.)
The next few days Miranda kept calling for her real “parents.” I repeated phrases she knew: ‘They’ll be back. You must wait wait.”
Her calls became less frequent. When I let her out every day, she did return to her cage after I put an almond there as her reward. I closed the cage door when she went in for the nut and the night. That was our deal. We both honored it, and I never pushed it by asking her to step up again.