I’m sitting in my hotel room in downtown Columbus, Ohio. I’m a few blocks away from Ohio State University, where I was asked to collaborate and give a presentation to the veterinary student clubs. I gave the presentation last night focused on, but not limited to the causes of feather picking in birds and the importance of enrichment. I told the students how important it was for this talk to not be limited to only birds. Many animals, especially exotics have many of the behavior concerns and issues in common that result in feather destructive behaviors, self-injurious behaviors, and mutilation that is prominent in the companion parrot world.
I spoke for two hours and stayed an additional forty minutes addressing questions and brainstorming ideas and future collaboration with the students. I discussed the severity of misunderstood behavior issues that end up turning medical, some to the extent of euthanasia. Euthanasia for behavior issues in the companion parrot world is not uncommon. Many times this is due to misunderstood behavior issues and inaccurate behavior modification plans. This doesn’t need to be. Several of the residents at The Animal Behavior Center, not just parrots, were cases likely ending in euthanasia. My goal is to provide full quality and empowered lives to these animals in addition to showing how these are behavior issues that can be addressed.
Many of the behavior issues in the companion parrot world are due to separation anxiety, unknowingly reinforcing nesting behaviors, and lack of appropriate enrichment, which many cases turn to feather destructive behaviors and severe cases of self-mutilation.
The lives of parrots contain a level of mental and physical complexity that is challenging for many people. We don’t learn from easy and there is much room for us to do better. This comes in the form of education. When we know better, we do better. The lives of animals rely on us doing better.
To learn more about separation anxiety, and other aspects of animal behavior, training, or enrichment join us in our membership program. Our membership program is not only for the companion animal caretaker but it is also designed for people taking care of numerous animals in zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and individuals wanting to have a more thorough understanding of why behaviors exist and how to change them.
Visit our Membership page for more information.
About a month ago I was asked to spend a day putting training plans together for the staff that takes care of 200 parrots at A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue in Blairstown, New Jersey. I know the owners, Jeanne and John Gilligan, as they have been here to the Center for a few workshops, along with members of their staff. While I was out there, I met a 23-year-old, blue fronted amazon named Sam. I asked about his story. He was surrendered two years ago and that’s when Jeanne asked the people that surrendered him if they knew their bird was blind. They did not and with veterinary care, Jeanne began treating him for ulcers on both eyes which was the cause of his blindness. After two years in A Helping Wing’s care, regular eye drops in both eyes, and probably pain or discomfort, Jeanne, and her veterinarian decided to have his eyes removed. His first was removed on May 14th, 2018.
After a few hours of training that day, I came back to Sam. He intrigued me as I stood watching him ringing a bell in his ear. I actually smiled. He looked content, interested, and aware of his surroundings. So I walked to his cage-side a second time. I asked Jeanne what he could do. I interacted with him a bit by blowing very lightly in his direction. He clearly responded by opening his mouth and pointing it in my direction. His behavior didn’t look defensive, but interested. He responded the same each time but each time he seemed more interested. Now I was more interested.
Jeanne obviously had the history with him and it showed when she walked to his cage and began talking to him. He leaned toward her, clearly enjoying and wanting the interaction.
Jeanne showed me that he knew where his food dish was and when she tapped on it, he dropped the bell, scurried over to the end of the perch, down the cage and stood next to his dish waiting for information. When I saw that I said, “Oh, this bird is capable of a lot of things! If he can do this, I think we can teach him to do so many other things.” Jeanne knew I was smitten before I left and she gave me that smile like she was saying “I’ll see you when you adopt him.”
I called her two days later asking if she would consider me adopting Sam. I couldn’t stop thinking about him and all the things we could learn together. I filled out the adoption paperwork and submitted it before I even left New Jersey. She said she wanted to have Sam’s other eye removed before I drove out to adopt him.
Over the next several weeks, I spent the time talking to all the volunteers at The Animal Behavior Center telling them about Sam. I asked their opinions of if we were capable of taking on, not another bird, but a fully flighted, blind bird. I asked all the volunteers to go through their daily repertoire questioning where bringing in a blind bird would be a concern. We found a few. A pig moving a cage to get to the dropped food. I’m afraid the movement would knock Sam off balance on his perch. We found a way to make sure this doesn’t happen and this is where we place his cage. We’re going to take it off the rollers and place it on a table.
We found another…Rico, our fully flighted, jealous, Umbrella Cockatoo. That lies with me. I told the volunteers this will depend on how Sam is introduced to the flock. We also plan on having Sam’s cage right next to Rico’s eventually. I’m up for the challenge. I’ve introduced several birds to each other. Some just can’t be out at the same time but some can. We don’t pick who they prefer. They do. I feel pretty confident that I can introduce Rico to Sam without confrontation. Detailed live streams will be happening within The Parrot Project.
I spent weeks going through my daily repertoires and found nothing that couldn’t be changed to set this bird and his future here for success. I called Jeanne at A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue and told her we are ready for Sam when Sam is ready. She told me Sam’s surgery was scheduled for 8 AM Monday, August 13th.
That vet appointment was yesterday. Sam’s other eye was removed, the surgery was successful and he is now back at the rescue recovering. Jeanne will be monitoring his recovery over the next few weeks and keeping in touch with me. If things continue to go smoothly, our plans are for me to drive to New Jersey to pick up Sam, the beginning of September 2018.
Jeanne called me this morning, August 14th, the day after his last surgery. She sent me this photo and told me he is doing so well. I was all smiles and I told her I am so excited to begin this new
venture with Sam. Our goal here at The Animal Behavior Center is to empower animals, no matter their abilities. I can’t tell you how excited I am to start living, loving, and learning with Sam. When we know better, we do better. Sam is going to teach me how to do better.
Click here to learn more about A Helping Wing Parrot Rescue & Sanctuary, and the wonderful work they do. I cannot thank them enough for giving me this opportunity to do better with Sam. In turn, I hope to help others through our work together.
Watch The Animal Behavior Center’s Facebook page for updates and follow along on our journey the beginning of September to go pick up this special, gentle soul.