Sunday, January 22, 2017

Kindness, Appreciation, Compassion - Pass It On

My friend, Patti Christie, with her dearly loved Amazon, "Higgins"
(Picture is from 2004.)

Many years ago, when I was just beginning my career as a public school teacher, I had the privilege to teach  first and second graders.  It was a privilege, because I was witness to children exploding into literacy; watching them become readers,  proud "authors," problem solvers.  It was, to use the over-used word, awesome.  And,  I had a wonderful principal, who allowed me the freedom in my classroom to do what some of my teammates I'm sure considered unnecessary and unorthodox.    I kept animals in my classroom.  

I knew that most kids had some exposure to dogs and probably cats. But the unknown to me was, if my students did have dogs and cats at home, did their parents model gentle care, kindness and love toward their pets?  And I didn't know if birds and rabbits were part of their life experiences up to that point. 

Since I couldn't answer that question (and we all know the horror stories of chained up dogs, animals without shelter during extreme weather, empty water bowls, physical abuse, death), I wanted my kids to have hands-on positive experiences that they might reflect on and take with them into their coming years.  I wanted them to be able to gently hold a rabbit, pet it, speak to it with compassion, and understand its worth.  We laughed together as Cisco (mini-lop) did leaps in the air, flipping 180° and leaving a trail of flying "raisinettes" in his wake!  They heard that lovely chirp of parakeets in the classroom.   The noisier the kids were, the louder the birds got.  It was wonderful.  My students loved it.  I modeled proper care, cleanliness, and feeding...and kindness and compassion.   I loved that rabbit.  I loved my little flock of parakeets. I hope some of that rubbed off on my young students.

And, when our senior citizen dogs were in their last days and couldn't be left alone, both my husband (a teacher as well) and I took them to school with us.  They slept under our desks. Our students watched us give them companionship, tenderness, and care in their final days.  They were not alone. They were loved.

And I hope that those children left my classroom (and my husband's as well) with  an appreciation of the value that all living creatures have; that the animals that we deem pets deserve  to be treated with respect, and cared for with kindness, compassion, and appreciation, no matter if their experience is with the short life of a mouse, a gerbil, or the decades that a macaw can share with us. We are responsible.

My point here is, if you have animals in your life, feathered or not, please take the time to share your love, your passion, your kindness, appreciation, compassion with others, especially young people. Tell them about your animals.   Let them touch (safely), explain the funny quirks and wonderful qualities that make your pets so special. If you have children, let them take on responsibilities within their age and capabilities, so that they feel they are their own, and they can feel the wonderful inner gifts that caring for an animal generates within us...even at a young age. 

Our birds, our animals bring us such great joy.  I know that all of my animals have played  profound roles in my life.  I bet the same goes for you as well.    And,  I realize I've used the words "kindness, compassion, appreciation and love" over and over again in this blog.   But...can you say them too much? Can you  model them/"live" them too much?    Please, just be cognizant and do pass them on.  They are invaluable, tremendous gifts to share.  

Saturday, January 14, 2017


All of us know that our birds benefit from regularly having nuts in their diets, unsalted, raw nuts shelled or unshelled.  And my guess is that you, too, have noticed that nuts in the shell at the grocery stores and online before the holidays, (okay, all year 'round) are really expensive.  But, in December the grocery stores stock bin after bin of unshelled nuts, all headed to the mantle to be stocking stuffers and centerpieces.  Except, not all of those nuts make it out of the grocery store. And after the holidays, the stores start marking those nuts down.

I won't belabor the point: this year I was almost too late.   A friend of mine who works  at King Soopers (Krogers in other parts of the country) called two days ago to say that the produce department  had bagged up all of their bulk nuts from the holidays in  approximately one pound bags, and they were all marked $1.00.  Clearance. Yup, you read right: one dollar. Not a typo here. One dollar.    She asked me if I'd like her to pick some up for my birds. We all know what my answer was, "OF COURSE! I'll take 30 bags!"   And so, I happily exchanged cash for nutritious nuts, and started a frantic hunt around town to find more.  A friend of mine in the Denver metro area searched out other stores, and found about 36 pounds, bagged and priced the same.   I found another 14 pounds.    And then...the well went dry.   All gone. But, ohhhhh, between us we had, in less than 24 hours, stocked up over 70 pounds of fabulous nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds,  Brazil nuts, hazelnuts) for our birds, at a fraction of their normal cost,  to also share with the flocks of two other friends.  Money so well spent.   Unshelled nuts to last months.

Nothing beats watching a parrot rip methodically into a pecan, a walnut, an almond, a Brazil nut, in the shell.   It's inspirational to watch the problem solving as the shell goes by the wayside within seconds, and the nut has been discovered.   And...nothing is wasted.  Do your birds head down to the bottom of the cage to check out the shell pieces for left behind nut meats?  Mine do. So smart.

Nuts serve a number of purposes for our birds (all ending with nutrition). First, they are a part of their daily diet.  Second, we use them as reward for solving foraging puzzles, birdie brain games.  And third, they are invaluable as tiny, tiny bites of treats or rewards throughout the day as positive reinforcement.

You would think as old as I am, and as long as I've had birds, that I would be ahead of this "markdown" strategy at the local groceries.  But, sometimes life gets in the way and it takes a call from a friend to remind me that there are bargains to be had, for our birds, every year, in the produce departments...if we just watch.  So, the moral of this missive is, keep your eyes out right after the holidays next year and grab up a bundle of those "expensive" nuts at an incredible price....for your birds.   Oh, crack open a pecan or two for yourself. Your birds won't mind sharing.  


Sunday, January 8, 2017


My Feathered Fox, Malibu, ready to attack her evil nemesis:
her food bowl! (Note the stainless steel strap across and 
around the bowl holder.)

If you read my first blog entry regarding keeping acrylic bowls in their holders in my Blue and Gold's cage, you may have left the post thinking that it was "Mission accomplished!" and "All's well that ends well."  Silly you.   Actually, silly me. 

Over the last week or so since I wrote that article,  I really thought that I had resolved the issue of untwisted bowls that resulted in thrown water and food.  After my snippet-of-paper-towel fix, wedging the bowls in their acrylic holders, I watched my very determined macaw continue to work those bowls, as tightly and snuggly as they were held...and succeed in her misguided (well, in MY opinion) mission.  

Malibu has been tenacious.  The way she chooses what to use as her tools: her tongue, then her lower beak, then moving to a different side of the bowl, then both mandibles...fascinating.  She is such a problem solver that, if it weren't so frustrating to watch her twist the entire bowl and holder upside down and jet propel  the contents, I would feel a great sense of admiration (and pride!) for her determination and mental skills.    But no matter how smart she is, she still needs to be fed and have fresh water.

What has transpired over the past week has been a true lesson in observing parrot intelligence, and then outwitting that wit, for her own sake.  And, knock on wood...I think I have finally found the solution to my dilemma with this incredibly bright bird.    Oddly enough, it all goes back to my second blog about zip ties.  

I had reached a point of frustration with the use of the acrylic, twist in/out bowls.  I decided to revert back to the original bowl holders and metal bowls that came with her cage.  The problem, as I saw it, was that she had no qualms about lifting her bowls out and tossing them, and then removing the holder and giving it the ol' heave ho as well.   But, the problem was not the bowls, it was the holders.   

Now, let me say, I LOVE my Avian Adventure cages (a reason to write another blog, for sure) but there is a flaw in their system for holding bowls.   With a feisty bird, the bowl can easily be lifted up over the lip and out of the holder.   There is nothing to prevent that vertical motion.   (It could easily be resolved if Avian Adventures had welded one more bar across the top  of the holder...but they didn't!)   

And so, I dug through my zip tie stash and found two very heavy duty nylon zip ties, probably 3/8" wide and extremely strong, and wrapped them around the holders, securing the zip ties to the bottoms of the holders with smaller zip ties, snipped off.  They held the bowls in beautifully.  There was NO WAY she could wrangle the bowls out.  Did I say strong? Did I say no way?   Again, oh, silly me.   Malibu made short work of those ties: I watched the wheels start turning in her gifted bird brain.   Within 2-3 minutes of checking out the new, "indestructible" zip tie straps, she proceeded to reach down and snap the tie on her food bowl in two like it was a piece of raw spaghetti.    I thought I'd solved the problem.   I hadn't.   But it was definitely a good start.  I was not deterred from my mission.
Note the SS  zip tie beneath the bowl
attached to a bar on the side of the cage.
There are stainless steel zip ties.  And since they are metal, parrots cannot snip them in two.  I had some in my supplies - they were narrow, but worth experimenting with.  I proceeded to re-do my zip tie "fix" with metal ties, also securing the holders to  the sides of the cage below the bowl areas.  This was a step toward success.  she could not break the tie, she could NOT get the bowl out of the holder, but she DID figure out how to grab the edge of the bowl and "pop" it so that the food in the bowl took a vertical trip and then angled over the edge of the the bottom of her cage.  I was not deterred from my mission.

I did have to resort to even stronger/wider SS zip ties, but that has stopped her from being able to "pop" the bowls in the holders.  These metal ties are expensive, (I paid $15 for a package of 5 at my local hardware store.) but I only needed 2 of the wider ones, so I have back-ups for future emergencies. For two days now, Malibu's food and water have remained in their respective bowls, unmoved, food and water available.  I do not believe, however, that the next "issue" needing resolution will  be resolving my macaw's creative food and water bowl problems.  That one, for the time being and much to Malibu's chagrin,  has been taken care of.  Case closed.