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]
A Man Beloved by an Angel
Galen was born on July 5, 1968 in San Diego. He lived here most of his life but spent the past few years in Arizona. He always loved animals but never thought of having a bird until one day in 2007. He went into a bird store to look around and visit the birds.
A worker asked him if he wanted to take one out, and he said, "That one looks like she wants out really bad." This yellow-collar macaw had been squawking, banging on her cage, and making eye contact with Galen. The worker said, "Ok, but she doesn't like anybody, and she bites." She sat on his shoulder and it really seemed like they had an instant bond. That was the beginning of their love story.
Galen didn't have the money to purchase her right then and didn't want to make a rash decision, so he visited her frequently, eventually put her on layaway, purchased a home for himself and Wolfie, and took her home several months later. They were two peas in a pod. Even when Galen was too sick to care for himself, he tenderly and attentively cared for all of her physical and emotional needs. Anyway, I have never seen anything like that in my life.
She seemed to know his thoughts and he hers. He learned how to care for her in every way, not only by listening to others, reading, and going to seminars, but by listening to HER. The last thing asked me to do was visit her from time to time. And he went into detail about the kind of toy she likes.
Wolfie is in a good home and has bonded with her new caregiver. She spends her days looking out the window, chewing on her favorite toys, and eating her favorite foods, much like she did with Galen. In her new home, there is a photo of Galen and Wolfie taped to her window, and I am told she often sits quietly just looking at the photo.
In my local bird-store* is a Citron Cockatoo. He is one and a half years old and has been there since he was a baby. Being older, he was moved to the consignment room: a place where birds wait for new homes when they are no longer wanted or can no longer be cared for properly. The cockatoo (who has no name so I will call him Beaker) was once a friendly bird but he showed signs of aggression to all the employees and they stopped taking him out for play. Since I have no problem handling Beaker, I decided to apply the A-B-C’s of behavior analysis to see if I could discover what was driving his behavior. As my teacher Dr. Friedman said, “Behavior is a function of its consequences.” Everyone does what they do for a reason. Discover the reason and you can find an appropriate “replacement behavior” that satisfies the need of the bird and the needs of the people in his world.
History: Beaker would be taken out daily and placed on a Java Tree in a central location in the main part of the store for play and socialization with humans. This location is along a hallway and is used frequently by customers and employees alike. He then began biting people and was promptly returned to his cage after each incident. Over time, he was let out less often.
I took Beaker out for observation. As soon as I entered the main room, he became nervous and trembled. I placed him on the arm of a chair located in a less-frequented part of the main room. Birds are prey animals and look around to see if a predator might be stalking them. Quiet corners are usually the safest place to put a bird to make them feel secure. I preened him for several hours and observed that he seemed oblivious to almost everything but preening. When no longer being preened or preening he became startled at any changes in the room. For example, a couple sat on the bench next to us. He was so busy preening that when one got up and the other moved over slightly, when he was done he looked over and then jumped. I also noticed that whenever an employee walked by, he froze, became nervous, and when they attempted to approach, took flight.
Using the information that I observed, I came up with these A-B-C’s:
Environmental: Employee attempts to move Beaker to a Java Tree
Antecedent (what happened just prior to behavior): employee approaches Beaker
Behavior: Beaker bites
Consequence: Employee moves Beaker back to his cage
My analysis of this situation is that Beakers’ nervous condition combined with his being placed in a central location with a lot of activity has made him prefer his cage to that location. His biting has rewarded him with being removed from that area and has therefore reinforced it. He has been taught that by acting aggressively or fearfully by flying away and being “uncontrollable” he will not have to do something he does not want to do.
When Beaker bit me (no bleeding), I did not respond by returning him. I responded by telling him softly “no bite” and to “calm down” and proceeded to pet and kiss him.
When a bird suddenly changes behavior, there is always a reason.
*I do frequent a local birdstore where the owners are helpful when I have issues with my birds or have questions. I do not support the buying and selling of birds. I am outspoken in my belief, a belief founded on solid scientific evidence, that birds should not be hand raised by humans because it causes functional autism and psychotic behavior, that they do not belong in cages, and that babies should be fed by their parents and not by the alien hands of humans.
[Ed: Those seeking proof of the effects of hand-rearing should read Hand-Rearing: Behavioral Impacts and Implications for Captive Parrot Welfare pp. 83 - 91, The Manual of Parrot Behavior, Andrew Luescher, Blackwell Publishing, 2006. This text is the gold standard for our current knowledge about psittacine behavior. One should never let a Google search do more than wet their appetite for information and always seek current, peer-reviewed, texts on the subject studied. The Manual is, at this time, that text.]
Chloe Sanctuary Mash Recipe and Variations
DEAR COOKS: If you know of anyone looking to adopt parrots or cockatoos, please send them our way. Finding those willing to allow a feathered heart into their home is a rough task indeed. Our free education seminars online and in person will help insure the human companion / animal bond!
[A good source for grains and beans is Sun Organics in San Marcos. They have a website or you can pick things up in person. Wear a jacket if you go there. They keep everything in the freezer: actually it’s not a freezer it just seems that way.]
Items to make ahead of time: Grain Mixture and Bean Mixture.
Grain Mixture: Triticale, Kamut, Spelt, Amaranth, Quinoa, Barley, Wheat, Millet, and Oat Groats. Use equal parts of each and don’t forget that grains soak up a “ton” of water.
Soak the grains for 4 hours in double the volume of purified water [I use reverse osmosis water]. Increase volume of water to double the volume of grains and bring to a boil. Cover and let cool. Store in freezer bags and freeze until the day before use.
Bean Mixture: Pinto, Navy, white, adzuki, mung, red beans and lentils. Clean, sort and soak overnight in purified water. Drain.
If you are using a pressure cooker do not fill past the halfway point! Be sure and add 1 Tablespoon of oil before cooking in a pressure cooker; this is a safety issue and not to be forgotten! In the pressure cooker add enough water to reach the 3/4 mark of the cooker [see manual of your cooker]. Bring up to pressure and cook for 3 minutes. Take off heat and let cool until the pressure cooker safety valve releases the handle. On older models be careful; be sure the cooker has dropped pressure. When cool enough to bag, put excess into freezer bags and freeze.
Alternately, you can cook on a stove cook for 30 minutes at a simmer. You will need to have a minimum of double the height of water in the pot to cook the beans.
Preparation for meal:
Note: In pressure cooking the vegetables I always add enough vegetable oil at the base of the cooker to form a 1/4 inch layer at the bottom and then add the chopped carrots first.
Use roughly equal parts of chopped each finely chopped vegetable. I use a food processor to chop.
Potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, celery, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, butternut squash, crookneck squash, zucchini, summer squash, banana squash, and seasonal additions. Rinse all vegetables prior to chopping in vinegar water. You make vinegar water by using 1 gallon of water with a half cup of vinegar added. This will strip off poison, dirt, and other junk. Drain. Chop the vegetables in a food processor. I usually jchop them into small pieces, about a quarter of an inch or less. Put on top of the carrots in the pressure cooker. If you do not put the carrots on the bottom some of the other vegetables have enough sugar in them but they might actually burn to the bottom of the pressure cooker. The carrots will protect you against this. How do I know? Experience.
In a pressure cooker ad 1 cup of water (see instructions for your cooker) and bring to pressure. Cook 3 minutes and cool in your sink.
In a pot on your stove add enough water to cover and cook until slightly tender. Be careful not to overcook.
Take frozen peas and frozen corn and put in the bottom of a mixing bowl. Pour the hot mixture of vegetables on top of the frozen ones (be sure and drain most of the water out of the vegetables if they were cooked on the stove ). Stir. This helps to cool down the hot vegetables and cook the frozen ones. This is a nice shortcut that helps to retain the flavor of the frozen vegetables as well.
Add a cup of beans and a cup of the grain mixture to the mash per quart of the veggie mixture. Add one cup of organic apple sauce; in this case it is important to use organic applesauce. Add seasonings: cayenne pepper and chili pepper to start. Some ideas: italian seasoning (basil, thyme), sage, coriander...
Variation: add a Tbs or two of almond butter, or a Tbs of low sodium mayonnaise,
Serve slightly warm and add powdered plant enzymes to the mix. Cooking kills plant enzymes and they are necessary for digestion!
Notice the three bowls of food: fruit cup, almond butter mash, and fresh chopped veggies. One other bowl is hidden behind her: the regular mash.
I believe I covered this subject some time ago but, as with all things avian, it never hurts to remind! Well, unless your avian friend is doing the reminding; I am not liable for that.
So the next time you observe your avian companion destroying your environment, think of how this behavior would benefit their environment should they live where they belong, in the treetops.
Welcome, dear heart!
This isn’t just an escape plot. It’s a valid response. We do not know the motivations behind the bite. We do not know the motivations behind anything someone we know does. In fact, there are times we don’t even know our own true motivations until later. If you are not aware of the stories your mind tells you, I’m sure you’ve been aware of someone else doing it. Have you ever had someone come to you upset because another person gave them a compliment and they are torturing themselves over what they really meant by it? Their mind has told them stories and before you know it, they are upset over things that don’t truly exist. They have projected on to that person what they have decided their motivation was. Someone cuts you off in traffic and it’s a personal slight against you. You don’t know if they just got a call that a loved one was ill and was rushing to the hospital. Chances are they don’t even realize you exist.
So the next time your bird bites or you are restraining yourself when yet another person asks “Does it talk?” remember that you cannot possibly know their motivation and do not project your emotional response onto them as a label.
-- By Regina J.
[In the picture above it may look as if Peaches is biting that hand. From that picture alone someone might label her a “biter.” She was offered the finger and she is gently playing with it using her tongue.]
Regina’s article deals with “constructs.” Our mutual teacher, Dr. Susan Friedman, PhD, discusses constructs in the language used in Applied Behavior Analysis: “In the field of psychology, an important distinction is made between behaviors and constructs. In this context, a behavior describes what a bird is doing and is defined as something that can be observed and measured. We can see and count the number of times a bird flies off a perch, and we can hear and clock how long a bird screams. Alternatively, a construct is an idea or theory about the mental processes inside an individual that explains why or how they behave as they do. As such, a construct cannot be observed or measured directly. These explanatory theories are “constructed,” that is, inferred from the outward behaviors we can observe and measure with our senses. You can’t touch or measure a bird’s dominance, per se, but you can measure how often he bites you when you try to get him off the top of his cage. Height dominance, cage dominance, food dominance, and flock dominance are all examples of many commonly discussed constructs assumed to explain companion parrot behavior.” She further explains why constructs get in the way of working with birds and impede our understanding. You can find Dr. Friedman’s article in full at behaviorworks.org here. -- Ed.]
The girls were extremely well behaved and very intelligent. Haley was so comfortable around them that she actually fell asleep!
I had topics to cover but it is such a relief to have a class be guided by well thought out questions. There was a lot of interest in Chloe and how she came to rescue other birds, as well as Haley’s species being pushed into extinction. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing true interest in parrot/cockatoo preservation as well as what it takes to properly care for one of these magnificent creatures.
It was an honor to work with such smart and caring young ladies.
[Regina is on our Board of Directors and although she lives in New Jersey she has spent more time at the Sanctuary than anyone else who has volunteered to help! She works hard to educate the public. -- Ed.]