The President's Perch
Steve Fitzsimmons, 2003 MACAW President
I want to thank everyone who attended Animart’s Pet Fest on September 6th. I also wish to thank those who participated in Fine Feathered Friends online auction in September. Funds from this auction help support the rescue and the many birds there.
This summer we had barely a drop of rain. Officially we were in a drought. Then on September 13th it came. It rained and it rained, right up to our picnic date the 14th. We received over 4 inches of that needed rain, but unfortunately by then, we had to cancel our planned picnic. I am very sorry about that.
As we look towards the remaining three meetings of the year, I would like to ask that you think about our bird club’s future. Ask yourself -- why are you a member today, why did you join, and where would you like to see the direction of the club go? Do you have new ideas? During the next three meetings we will consider, nominate (November) and vote (December) for our club’s new leadership. Think about the the possibilities! Chances are good that you will get to be a part of this new leadership if you show interest. MACAW needs your fresh ideas, your passion for the club and your vision for the future. The future of MACAW depends on it.
Discounts available with your MACAW Membership Card
Ruth Gundlach, MACAW Secretary
And while you are thinking about it, please take a moment to check the date next to your name on your mailing label on this Flyer. That is the expiration date of your membership. Yes, for some of you it is past time to renew, but we don't want to lose your membership so we have been sending the Flyer to you for a couple of extra months, hoping you would notice. Please also remember that our dues are now $20 per year, but the discounts you can get with your Membership Card should more than cover that! It is a good deal to be a member of MACAW!
Take a Look at the Wild Side: Nine Instinctive Qualities
of Domestic Parrots
Layne David Dicker, Avian Behaviorist, Author, Humorist, Photographer & Conservationist
So what do we mean by "wild animals"? Basically, it means that the birds in our homes are physically, psychologically, and genetically identical to those in the wild. It means that there has been no domestication: breeding intended to create an animal with traits desirable to man. For example, dogs have been bred by man for no less than 15,000 generations, putting together individuals that look or act a certain way, or possess some trait that we want continued or enhanced in their offspring. We've fiddled with canine genetics so much that Great Danes and Yorkshire Terriers are members of the same species (as are all domestic dogs) while the similar looking but non-domesticated Greenwing and Scarlet Macaws are not. Most of our medium to large parrots are either wild caught, first generation domestic or second generation domestic bred birds, which is not a lot of time for domestication.
There is an interrelation between intelligence and instinct in all animals. The more instinct they have, the less they need to learn and the less dependent they are on their parents. But this is very limiting. In parrots and other intelligent animals, much instinctive information has been replaced by the ability to learn, which enables them to adapt to changing environments, inhabit more areas of the world and to generally deal better with extraordinary situations. Baby parrots are highly dependent on their parents and need to be taught virtually everything from eating to mating. But it's their learning ability and lack of instinctive forces pulling them in one direction or another that has enabled them to spread throughout the world and into our homes. And it is this same need/ability to learn many of their behaviors that gives them the potential to be such good companions. In other words, one of the natural traits of parrots that makes them good companion animals is that they don't have very many natural traits.
Although slightly off-topic, the fact that parrots are such behavioral "blank slates" is why so important to purchase a bird from a breeder who appreciates their role in the behavioral socialization process. It has become very clear that the breeders who understand and follow the natural developmental stages of neonatal (a fancy word for "baby") parrots, adapting them for companion situations, are raising birds that are happier, better adjusted, more secure and much less prone to behavioral problems.
Enough preamble already. Despite the fact that they're not particularly instinctive animals, our birds aren't completely programmable. Their hard drives do come with some preinstalled and unerasable software. Here are some of the programs:
The other reason, of course, is that after an earthquake the cable TV is usually out for a few hours. Garden hoses also petrify many parrots and it's not because they're concerned about water conservation. It's a snake thing. Another indication of the instinctive knowledge that they are not at the top of the food chain is that when cornered, all parrots react the same way, which is to roll over on their backs. It is arguable as to whether this is a defensive position or one of ultimate submission, but under either scenario it shows an instinctive awareness of their vulnerability to predation. For the companion bird companion (that's us), the most important aspect of "prey mentality" is not in any specific behavior but that we always remember that our birds are keenly aware of their vulnerability and that it is our basic duty to make them feel safe at all times; this is the foundation of the human/parrot bond.
Since we now know that your bird has a genetic fear of becoming lunch, and one of his primary defenses to this is to see the potential diner before becoming the dinee, how can we use this information to improve the lives of our feathered houseguests? To start with, don't make sudden or jerky movements around birds. Also, you should never place a bird's cage, perch or playpen right next to the door used for the entry into a room or anywhere that people could just suddenly appear. The best place for a cage is opposite a doorway so that they can see you coming. You should also make a little noise (footsteps are usually enough) as you approach, before coming into view.
The same thing applies to dark rooms. In the wild, parrots sleep when it's dark and are awake when it's light. This is also a defense mechanism against visual predators. If you have to approach a parrot in a very dark room, again, make some soft noises before entering, enter slowly and maybe turn on a small light. They protect themselves by seeing their predators, so they feel even more vulnerable when it's dark.
Parrots may react differently to different colors and may have a "flash color" that will get them very excited. This will vary from bird to bird and, to that extent, may be learned. But the general sensitivity to color is inherent. It's pretty common for parrots to have real color preferences when it comes to food. Even pelleted foods where the different colors taste the same. Eye contact is important to parrots. With trusted individuals it is very reassuring and should be used to "connect" with your birds when you're on the phone, running around the house or doing other activities that don't directly involve them...when they'll let you, that is. On the other hand, when first meeting a shy bird it may be a good idea to avert your glance a bit if he seems particularly uncomfortable with your presence. With these birds, you first work your way up to eye contact, and then proceed to physical contact.
Finally, a lot of so-called "aggressive" birds are absolutely captivated by eye contact so, when working with them on hand taming (and other contact sports), it is a good idea to always maintain that eye contact because a bird that's looking at you isn't biting.
What our companion parrots do with an urban living arrangement is to make a "flock" out of their immediate surroundings. Family members, pets, and frequent visitors belong to the flock and others do not. A particular bird may not like everyone in the house but, under normal circumstances, they aren't terrified of them either. And if you don't think other pets are accepted, just ask anyone who has both birds and dogs. They will tell you stories of parrots dropping food for their furry flock mates. Does this relationship extend to furniture and other inanimate objects (which would actually describe an uncle of mine)? Probably not, but a change in room arrangement or a new painting can be perceived as a threat, so be cautious and proceed gradually. This "flock mentality" frequently results in a question that goes something like, " My macaw is great around me and my family, but is terrified of everybody else. What's wrong?" The answer: Absolutely nothing. How would you feel about someone who you thought might make you their appetizer? This is how a parrot perceives strangers. But the good news is that this is one of the few inherent behaviors that can and should be partially overridden because a parrot that will accept new things (toys, food, people, schedules, your bad haircuts) is less likely to be traumatized and probably has a more developed sense of curiosity and independence.
As parrots go through their developmental stages, there are times when they are receptive to learning what is safe and what is not safe. It is during this stage that they're more easily taught to accept a variety of people, and that changes or new things are not necessarily bad. As they mature, this could be constantly reinforced by frequent forays into new, safe places and introductions to new people who know how to handle birds. Mature birds can also be taught to expand their horizons, but it is much easier when this process is initiated at a young age by an experienced and knowledgeable breeder. So much of the credit for hypothesizing, discovering and fostering these theories to fruition must go to breeder/developmental behaviorist Phoebe Linden of Santa Barbara (CA) Bird Farm. She has truly brought the world of humane, behaviorally oriented breeding to the next level.
Again, it appears as if it is the highest bird in the tree, the one with the greatest amount of unobstructed vision who will be most likely to sound the alarm. And, not coincidentally, it seems as if there is a great deal of jockeying and squabbling for that position and that it invariably goes to a larger, older, more experienced bird. These behaviors and theories impact our relationship with our birds in many ways. Let's look at the "highest bird in the tree" situation. How many people have a stepladder to a bird's cage? When the bird is feeling really bossy, all you do is step upon the ladder and the bird becomes totally compliant. Sound familiar? This applies not just to the tops of cages, but to play stands, manzanita trees and other place where the bird will be spending any amount of time. If their eyes are consistently higher than yours, they will automatically believe that they've "earned the top spot" and that they're the boss. This is also why it is generally said that you should not allow your bird on your shoulder. There's more to this debate but if there were to be a single rule, it would be that the shoulder should be off limits. As behavior consultant Liz Wilson says, "There are two things you'll notice about Pirates: they always have a parrot on their shoulder and they always have an eye patch." If your bird is not fully "Up" trained, if he is in breeding mode, has any aggression/dominance issues or is just startled, your shoulder is the last place he should be.
The same results are seen in birds that have no rules or boundaries. In the wild, birds have many things that they clearly can and cannot do. This must translate to their domestic environment. The greatest example of this is with parrots that are not wing clipped and allowed to fly around the house. (Obviously, there are huge safety concerns with free-flying birds, but this is not the topic of this article.) This is a bird that does not have to stay where you put it, does not need you for locomotion and can make many decisions on his own. The reason many well intentioned people do this is to allow the bird to remain"...as natural as possible.
Excuse me, but, HELLO! C'mon, folks. Let's give up the ghost and surrender to the fact that a condo in Los Angeles and the rain forest are just not the same, and they aren't ever going to be? We can make all the monkey sounds we want, but it isn't going to change the fact that this critter is far from home. Now that we've returned to reality, we can concentrate on what really is natural, and that is for the bird to have boundaries, rules, order and a strict limit to their autonomy. Maintaining clipped wings is a required portion of this equation. Another component of counteracting the natural quest for flock leadership is the theory of Nurturing Dominance. The simple fact is that that we must be perceived by our birds as dominant. I wish that there were a less stringent word to use, but sugar coating it doesn't make it any less true. But "Nurturing Dominance" is truly a unified concept in that neither works without the other. If you just nurture and don't establish yourself as the flock leader, your bird will be miserable. Similarly, if you use intrusive, non-nurturing forms of domination like striking, frightening, dropping, flicking or squirting them with water, you will compromise your bird's sense of security. So what to do? We have to establish ourselves as the flock leaders but can never do anything to lessen our birds' trust in us.
Well, aside from clipping wings, keeping birds no higher than chest level and establishing boundaries, we should teach a few simple commands. The best, easiest to teach and most pragmatic are "UP" and "Down" because, well, we all have to pick out birds up and put them down all the time. But seriously and very importantly, every time you say "UP" and the birds steps up, that fact that you are the boss is reinforced. It's no different with people. Who is the person always giving you commands that you have to follow? Right, your boss. There is never any ambiguity as to who is in charge when one being gives a command and the other follows it. It is amazing how effective these simple things are when it comes to neutralizing any aggression/dominance issues and supportively establishing yourself as commander-in-chief. Another problem that I see all the time with the failure to establish flock leadership (height, lack of rules, no Up/Down training and unclipped wings) relates back to safety and security. If a bird believes that he is in charge often, logically, he believes that you aren't and that you won't be able to protect him. Worse than that, he may have to protect you! I frequently see flighted birds that have no have no rules that are emotional wrecks. They scream. pluck, bite, you name it. These birds feel insecure because they simply don't know what to do; they haven't been trained to be in charge of a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house in the suburbs and they're scared. It is remarkable how much happier and more loving these birds become after their wings are clipped, they start sleeping in a closed cage, learn some rules, and start thinking that their names have been changed to "UP" or "Down".
You may also want to pay attention to your own moods. I've seen people who can control their macaw with one eyebrow. Raise the eyebrow and the bird starts to pin its eyes and the head feathers come up, furrow the brow and the bird hunches down and starts making baby noises. And then there's the the person who is very late for an important meeting and needs to get her bird in the cage. She dashes in all frantic with her coat half on and half off, balancing a cup of coffee in one hand and something that would have been breakfast in the other. She sticks her elbow out and says," Okay, I gotta go, Come here. Up. Hey, where are you going? Don't you know I'm late? Get over here! Up. Up! UUUUUPPPPP!" while bird runs all over the place, crest raised and heart pumping. Aside from feeding off the person's energy, the bird is probably terrified, entertained, or both. This person needs to leave the room, take a deep breath, count to ten, switch to decaf and then go back in, approach the bird and calmly say "Up". Works every time. Sensitivity to your moods can help with screaming aggression as well. Just concentrate and control the bird with energy. The more you relax, the more the bird will relax.
Similarly, you should never obsess on a bird's plucking problem. If your bird over-preens, feather chews, plucks or mutilates, first see a qualified avian vet to eliminate any physiological causes, then see a qualified avian behaviorist. But there can be no more counter-productive an act than to take an empathic animal with a potential obsessive/compulsive disorder and to obsess on it. The best thing that you can do while working on the problem with the appropriate professional is to relax. You're doing all you can do and everyone's going to be fine. Let your attitude convey this message to the bird.
Parrots have their own idea of fun. Imagine, if you will, that your parrot is filling out a personality profile. Maybe he's at a parrot video dating service. Anyway, under "Likes" you're going to find: vocalizing, taking baths, chewing, making a mess, playing, and, of course, feeling secure. Okay, so none of these come as a big surprise, but it's always important to remind ourselves that these are important natural behaviors which should be fostered and tailored to your environment.
Finally, there is the anti-instinctive trait, and this is that parrots are just plain smart. Obviously, I'm preaching to the choir here, but it's something that we should always keep in mind. Just like their need for security, their intelligence underlies every aspect of their behavior.
Accordingly, we must remember that:
Dane County Humane Society Corner
Sandi Meinholz, MACAW Board Member
Fine Feathered Friends Sanctuary Inc. is on the move!
Sandi Meinholz, MACAW Board Member
Our new business address is 2410 Daniels Street, Unit F in Madison WI. Take Stoughton Road (Hwy. 51) towards Madison, Turn Right onto Pflaum Road (Towards Dons Oak Furniture), the 2nd Left is Daniels Street). Our new phone number is: (608) 222-6420. Thank you for all of your support and we will keep you posted with any updates.
You might be a bird lover if...
Advertise in the MACAW Flyer! (It's easy!)
M.A.C.A.W. Education Calendar
Paula Fitzsimmons, MACAW Education Director
Upcoming Community Events & Dates
Steve Fitzsimmons, 2003 MACAW President
To Our Members Who Serve MACAW in 2003
- Thank you!
M.A.C.A.W. - Madison Area Cagebird Association of Wisconsin
President: Steve Fitzsimmons
Vice President: Lois Moorhouse
Secretary: Ruth Gundlach
Treasurer: Pam McCloud-Smith
Education Director: Paula Fitzsimmons
Librarian: Kathy Thimling
Newsletter: Christene Crubaugh
Website: Ed Almasy
Birds Available For Adoption
Fine Feathered Friends Sanctuary Inc.
2410 Daniels Street, Unit F in Madison, WI (608) 222-6420
The Pet Network Avian Placement List
For information please send an e-mail to email@example.com or call (414) 464-8808
Dane County Humane Society
Please contact Jane Hanson with questions about bird adoptions at 608-838-0413, extension 101
LaCrosse Avian Rescue, Rehabilitation and Adoption
608-452-2732, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2003 Busy Bird Fairs
First Sunday in month
October 5, November 2, December 7
VFW Hall , 301 Cottage Grove Rd. , Madison, WI
10 am -3 pm, $2.00 Admission
Sheila at 608-362-4696 / email BusyBirdToys@aol.com
Please stop by the MACAW table and say hello to Kathy and other members staffing the table!
If you think that jobs involving animals are limited, you will be pleased to learn of at least 105 different paths you can take. 105 Careers for Animal Lovers is a 39 page booklet listing 105 career ideas including resources and tips to help the reader zero in and help jump start that career search. www.pjpublications.com
Pet Supply Retailers
7820 Mineral Point Rd
Madison, WI 53717
MACAW Members receive 10% discount on all bird supply purchases!
Feathered Fid's Bird Boarding
Health Exams Required
Including Blood Work
MACAW Members 10% Discount
Fine Feathered Friends Sanctuary, Inc.
We will bird sit for you in your home or ours.
We are a 501©3 non-profit exotic bird rescue and will care for your
bird/birds in your home or ours. All proceeds go directly back to the birds in
the sanctuary. For more information please call (608)274-2615 or Email: email@example.com.
Web Site: www.feathered-friends.com.
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