Archive for March 23rd, 2008

Parrots are such curious and lively creatures that you can easily forget that they are a prey species – until, at least, they are faced with something new. A cup or toy that they have seen before can often be replaced with one of the same shape, but add a new object to their environment, and their reaction is either a retreat with feathers held tight, or else aggressive posturing designed to intimidate (posturing that lasts only until the new object nears them). A case in point is the new cage we bought for Rambunctious, whom we hand-fed as a baby.

When Ram was pulled from the nest with a foot injury, he grew up in a glass aquarium with a heating pad underneath it. After he was weaned, he was put into the cage that he still occupies.

The cage is smaller that we’d give an unhandicapped bird, but Ram is a sturdy cripple, and could use more room. Besides, the plastic cage bottom is falling apart, and won’t last longer. For these reasons, we’ve been looking for a new cage for over a year. The quest isn’t easier, because most cages have bar spacing designed for much larger bird, which a Nanday conure like Ram could easily get his head stuck between.

Finally, last month, we found an ideal cage, about two-thirds larger than his present one, and with the right bar spacing. Last week, we outfitted it at the parrot supply shop, and deposited it on the counter near Ram’s cage.

His reaction was predictable. He retreated to the back of his cage, eying the new one warily. When we took him from his cage, he refused to come out; in fact, his good foot had to be pried loose from the perch it was gripping. I could feel his heart racing as I held him in my palm.

I sort of got the impression that we would not simply be dropping him in the cage. He was going to need to get used to it.

This past week, his reaction would be humorous, except that the matter was so obviously in deadly earnest to him. When his cage door was open, he sidles out as quickly as he can, climbing on the outside of his cage to a position on the top as far away from the new cage as he can manage. When I tried to place him on the cage, he flapped and scuttled up my arm with a piteous squawk and look of the utmost alarm and utmost betrayal in his eye. Only when we put the cage down on the floor would he manage to calm down.

After seven days, he has reached the point where, brought near the cage, he actually reached out to beak it. This is an encouraging sign, since it suggests that curiosity is starting to win out over fear for him. And when I started making some adjustment to the positions of the perches, toys and seedcups in his cage, he flew on to my shoulder, chirping with excitement and happiness as I worked.

The next step is to put him in the new cage for a while, with one of us close by to reassure him. If he eats while in the cage, or plays with a toy, then we can proceed with the move. But the whole operation is still going to take another one to three weeks. Parrots didn’t evolve by taking unnecessary chances, and, in changing Ram’s cage, we’re fighting instincts embedded by generations of natural selection. So we have to figure that it’s going to take a while.

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