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Archive for the ‘conures’ Category

At the start of February, my parrot Beaudin died. It was unexpected, because to all appearances he was healthy and active until his last few hours. Suddenly, for the first time in decades, I was sharing the townhouse with a single parrot, and the silence was unsettling.

A few people suggested that I was becoming too old to get another parrot. Besides, some said, pets would only tie me down. However, chances are that I have several decades left, and, really, what worthwhile choices don’t tie you down?

Moreover, the number of abused and neglected parrots made me determined to do what I can to help without becoming a Crazy Old Parrot Man. After mourning Beau, I contacted Greyhaven, the adoption agency from which he had come, and asked whether it had any conures who needed home.

Greyhaven is still reeling from the collapse of the World Parrot Refuge, a well-intentioned effort to provide for domestic parrots that ended with neglect and larger parrots preying on smaller ones, and at first I was told that no smaller birds were currently available. However, then the staff remembered Morrison, a brown-throated conure who had been with the agency for almost two years.

Morrison had been abandoned by his person. His person had not seen fit to take the little bird when he separated, and the wife had no interest in keeping birds. Greyhaven’s volunteers had seen to his basic needs, but his noisy and curious personality was too demanding for most of them to give him more than minimal attention. But that same personality is what has always attracted me to conures, so I agreed to consider him.

Greyhaven’s adoption policy can be rigorous – and rightly so, since the point is counter the cruelty and neglect that domestic parrots often face. I was prepared for questions about my lifestyle and knowledge of parrots, but the adoption coordinator remembered me from Beaudin’s adoption, and the interview was largely a formality. One look at Morrison was enough to delight me, and to let me know that he should have no trouble settling in. Smaller than a nanday, he almost seems delicate, except that is active, almost hyper personality dominates the space around him automatically, with the slightest need for aggression. I had expected some objection from Ram, my remaining parrot and the victor of many dominance competitions, but he is largely indifferent to having a stranger around — perhaps because Morrison is a different species.

I was prepared to spend hours feeding Morrison to help him accept me, teaching him to step up and coaxing him to eat fruits and vegetables. But none of that proved necessary. He was under-socialized, but not abused. Within a few hours, he was sitting on me, and in less than a day eagerly exploring the living room.

He was eager, too, to start what is apparently a ritual with him: exchanging whistles and his limited vocabulary of “Hello” and “Pretty bird” with a person over and over. Probably, he has little understanding of the words, but just as obviously he knows the important of verbalization in human socialization. Pleased with the attention, he will keep the ritual going for as long as ten minutes at a time if I continue to participate.

If anything, he is almost too eager to settle in. He has the habit of flying to Ram’s cage, an invasion of privacy that Ram does not appreciate. Several times, I have had to lunge across the living room before Ram could make his objections known on Morrison’s person.

Still, perhaps I worry too much. After less than a week, Ran and Morrison were sitting on me as I lay watching a video. And as I type now, Ram has claimed my right shoulder and Morrison my left. Sometimes, they studiously ignore each other, each preening his back and making happy chirps while watching intently, and I have to be watch that Morrison keeps to his own side – but mostly all is right with the world, at least when the two birds are on neutral ground.

In years of working with parrots, I have never met one who adjusted so easily as Morrison has. If the first ten days are any indication, I look forward to years of his company. Morrison is nothing like Beaudin, and certainly not a substitute for him, but he is very much his own person, and someone I am overjoyed to know.

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As I type, two parrots are fighting for dominance not much more than a meter away from me. It is not a fight in the conventional sense, because both participants are careful to avoid actually touching each other, but it is none the less real for that.

The struggle erupted because Beaudin, the large, younger cock discovered the hutch on my printer stand. The color inkjet is small enough that the space between its top and the cupboard on the hutch has all the space that Beau needs to pad about on top of it. Any nanday conure likes a semi-dark place they can peer out of, and since he discovered the space a few days ago, he flies directly to it whenever he is let out of his cage.

At first, I didn’t object, because he can’t damage anything – well, except for the covers showing the ink cartridges used by the printer that I taped to the top for convenience. After all, I would far rather fetch him from on top of the inkjet that from the floor behind the couch, which used to be his favorite place to hide until I blocked access with a collection of bolsters and old towels.

What I didn’t take into account is that the hutch is half a meter from Rambunctious’ cage in the kitchen. Nor did I expect Ram, a crippled cock who used to mostly ignore the contests when his father Ning was alive and keeping Beau thoroughly psyched out, to defend his territory. He certainly has no scruples about sitting close to Beau’s cage, and even flying over to it occasionally.

Apparently, though, such privileges are not reciprocal. When Beau scampers on top of the printer, Ram rushes from his cage, puffing up and hissing, and stands on the edge of the kitchen counter, peering around the edge of the hutch and screaming at the top of his voice.

Since Ram was a handfed baby and rewarded with attention for being cute when he grew up, his screams retain a juvenile squeak that probably makes them less effective than they should be. However, his sounds manage to communicate his conviction that Beau is trespassing.

For his part, Beau screams back in kind, his tones deeper and more adult. He is obviously taken by his new refuge, and intent on annexing it to his territory.

After the initial screaming match, Beau and Ram settle in to peering around the edge of the hutch at each other, quickly retreating just before they come beak to beak, both of them fanning their wings to look bigger. Their breathing becomes so agitated that I am mildly worried about one of them having a stroke, although I suspect that neither is in any real danger.

The peering is followed by each tapping with his beak on the side of the hutch. Each is responding to the sound of the other, and the tapping is usually followed by another peer around the corner. After a few rounds of this behavior, both back off and make an elaborate show of ignoring each other, preening, or devouring bits of food. Usually, only the telltale raised neck feathers and stiff posture shows that both are on the alert – that, and the way one will sometimes wave his tale just out of reach, seeming to dare the other to try biting it.

Then one will catch sight of the other again, and the screaming and peering begins again.

In order to get some work done and let one of them sit on me, I often have to put one of the birds in his cage. Otherwise, the behavior can go on for hours.

But let me settle down to watch a DVD on the futon by the window, and Ram will sit on my chest, and Beau on the cushion behind me, not much further away than they are when Beau is on the hutch. Apparently, the futon and I are neutral territory, and the feud has a different and quieter etiquette there.

I’ve considered blocking the space that Beau has infiltrated, or possibly working on another computer on the futon. Yet for all their apparent seriousness, I get the sense that Beau and Ram enjoy their feud, perhaps as a break in routine.

If so, who am I to spoil their fun? Maybe I’ll just invest in a pair of ear plugs instead.

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I’ve lived with Nanday conures – a kind of small, South American parrot – most of my adult life. I knew they were intensely social birds, craving flock and constantly re-negotiating their status. But I never realized just how much the composition of the flock could affect personality until the last few months of watching my bird Beaudin.

Beaudin was a rescued bird we adopted six years ago in a process that could hardly have been more rigorous if we had been adopting a human child. He was about thirteen at the time, and may have lost a mate. When Trish and I brought him home, he had been neglected for several years, kept in a half-dark laundry room and mostly ignored.

We set up Beau’s cage across the room from Ningauble and Sophie‘s. We soon noticed that Ning thoroughly dominated him. Ning’s domination could have been because he was the oldest bird, and had been resident in the living room the longest. Possibly, too, Ning dominated because he was the only cock with a mate. But whatever the reason, Ning had Beau under control from the start.

A large and soon healthy bird, Beau would challenge Ning at every opportunity, answering his calls defiantly with his own. If Ning hopped down on the floor to explore, Beau would dive-bomb him if he crossed the invisible border between their territories. While he wouldn’t come down on the floor himself, he would pace back and forth, squawking furiously if Ning disappeared under the couch or behind it, obviously expecting an ambush at any moment.

Yet, for all Beau’s young machismo, Ning always had the psychological edge. He would sit just centimeters over the border, apparently calmly preening, but actually alert for any attack. When Ning discovered he could use the table to infiltrate to a position directly under Beau’s cage, where the angle was too steep for Beau to dive-bomb, he took full advantage of the fact, lingering there as long as I would let him.

I am ashamed to admit now that I laughed at Beau. He seemed so full of expectations of becoming dominant and so puzzled at the hold Ning had over him that I had to laugh. Partly, my reaction was a pleasure at seeing that age and the death of his mate hadn’t slowed Ning down any, but mostly I laughed because Beau’s reaction seemed so exaggerated.

Then six months ago Ning died, and Beau became the dominant cock at last. Rambunctious, my other surviving parrot, is crippled, so he has never tried to dominate, and suddenly Beau had what he had sought by default.

For several months, he continued to look around cautiously, peering at the places where Ning had liked to hang out as if to be sure he wasn’t about to be attacked. But, almost immediately, Beau became more confident, exploring further from his cage. Now, he spends more time with me at the computer, flying to and from my shoulder as he pleases, hardly ever checking for where Ning might lurk.

A nervous bird, Beau didn’t calm down completely. But he became a quieter bird. His expressions of surprise or peevishness still sound like a cockatiel’s, but they are usually quieter, and last for a shorter time. Where he had once preened with Trish and I only occasionally, and never for long, he now preens me and presents himself for a neck and wing scratch several times a day, and coos contentedly when I talk to him.. Only occasionally, when the shadow of another bird crosses the window or when I move too quickly does he act like he used to. For the most part, he is a much more confident bird, although I suspect he will always be high-strung.

As for relationships with Ram, Beau is benevolent, as dictators go. He will concede my shoulder to Ram for brief periods, and wait if I feed Ram a piece of peach or some fruit juice first. But he expects his share of both attention, and will fly over to claim it, driving Ram away in his eagerness – although, mindful of Ning’s treatment of Beau, I intervene to keep them from fighting, because, after his initial retreat, Ram has a tendency to lunge and bluff, and I am not sure if either will back down.

Beau’s transformation has convinced me that we often under-estimate just how social parrots really are. To an extent, being plunged into a small flock might have been just what Beau needed to help him recover after years of isolation. There is, after all, a theory, that intelligence develops in social species in order to think about relationships. But, because he was the newcomer and therefore low-status, past a certain point, being in a flock seems to have slowed his recovery from neglect beyond a certain point.

Perhaps the effect of having other nandays about might have been different in a larger space, or with different birds. I don’t know. But I do know that, if another parrot ever comes to live in the townhouse, I will think more about how the personalities involved might interact.

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Today, my nanday conure Ninguable died, surviving his mate Sophie by just under thirteen months. He died in my hands. It was the last act in a relationship that had lasted twenty-eight years.

He had been listless for the past couple of days, but yesterday evening he had seemed to rally. However, the improvement didn’t last, and this morning he was lying on his back when I opened his cage. I thought him dead, and although he roused feebly, I knew he wouldn’t last out the day.

I had no means to euthanize him, and taking him to the vet would only make his last hours uncomfortable, so I sat with him through the day. He seemed to have suffered a stroke, because he struggled to move his left leg, growing testy at times.. Sometimes, he yawned with his beak tilted up. He didn’t show any signs of pain, just frustration. I was just putting him on to a towel in his cage bottom, so I could use the computer with one hand while stroking him with the other, when he collapsed beak first and twisted sideways.

For a moment, I swear I saw a light in his brown eyes. Then he was gone. I waited a few moments, but I knew what was left was no longer him. The time was shortly before 2PM.

Ning was our first parrot, and responsible for most of the others coming into our lives. We had been fascinated by a friend’s dwarf macaw, and had spent over a month looking for our own small parrot. We briefly considered a blue-crowned conure at the Lougheed Mall pet store, but debated if it was quite right. Then we saw Ning at the store in Kingsgate Mall, and immediately knew he was right for us.

Had we known what we knew a few years later, we probably wouldn’t have bought him. He was missing a nail on one foot, and part of a toe on another – a likely sign that he was wild caught, and had had his feet tangled in a net. Plus the store owner swore he was eighteen months old when by his markings he was under a year. Later, we realized he had probably been smuggled into the country, an abusive practice that we wouldn’t have wanted to support.

But he was so feisty among all the much larger birds in the room, hanging from the bars of his cage and trying to attract the attention of the red lory who was the only bird of his size. We put a deposit on him, and stopped on our way to the Vancouver Folk Festival to feed him cherries and grapes, all of which he greedily devoured.

On Trish’s birthday, we brought him home. We left him to acclimatize while we went out to dinner, but we were both so excited that we could hardly eat. We named him Ningauble, after the ever-curious wizard in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series.

In the next few weeks, I worked with several times a day in the spare room, teaching him to climb up on a presented perch, then on a finger, feeding him and praising him loudly as a reward.

In the evenings, I would take him out and herd him on to my shoulder, where he would sit nervously before starting off. He couldn’t fly much, because we had clipped his wings, but that didn’t slow him much. He would glide as far as he could, and resolutely trudge along the floor and up the furniture until he reached his cage.

One evening, we were sitting reading when he reached over and gently preened my hair. Between my nervousness that he would bite my ear and my delight at this sign of trust, I hardly dared to move. But the next evening, he preened one side of my hair followed by the back, careful not to miss a spot, before giving up.

He seemed relieved to realize finally that he wasn’t responsible for all my hair, and after a few more evenings, settled down to a token preen in return for having his ear holes and neck scratched. He would sit and preen me for a couple of hours, then waddle down the couch to Trish to give her a couple of hours of attention.

I was in grad school at the time, and used to work in the spare room we had converted into a library. For a while, I used to take Ning into the library, since he would scream for me if I left him in the living room. Unfortunately, he would not only wander the shelves flinging books off, but also produce what our local used bookseller called parroted editions that had been thoroughly chewed to the point where they were unsellable.

After a couple of years, we decided he needed a mate, so we brought home Sophie, a malnourished, abused bird. Our plans to quarantine her for a month were immediately overturned when the only way to keep them from calling from room to room was to introduce them. Under our anxious eye, Ning jumped into Sophie’s cage and immediately started regurgitating to her.

If Sophie could talk, I swear she would have said, “Excuse me, sir? Have we been introduced?” but they immediately became inseparable, eventually going on to produce six chicks, one of whom is still with me, and one who returned to us before dying at a young age from the second hand smoke in a home where he briefly lived.

Ning wasn’t that skilled at feeding babies. But he kept Sophie fed while she was brooding, and delighted in teaching them the basics when they left the nest. At that point, Sophie was glad to pass along the responsibility, and Ning always pined when the babies went to other homes.

Because of the trouble and heartbreak of finding new homes for the babies, we eventually stopped allowing eggs to hatch. But Ning and Sophie didn’t seem unduly troubled. They continued in happy monogamy, with Ning in the adventurous lead and Sophie chirping nervously behind, but following him – on to the floor, or up on my shoulder, where they would sit preening each other and occasionally me while I worked on the computer.

In between, Ning would have territorial wars with the other male birds housed in the living room, always with the psychological edge. Although not particularly large for a nanday, his electric blue and green feathers showed he was the epitome of health. And, anyway, he was the cock with the hen.

He also showed an uncanny ability to find what unsettled his rivals the most at the least risk to him – for instance, sitting just inside another male’s territory on the floor, in a spot where he couldn’t be dive bombed.

And so things went on, the living room full of bird calls, affection and avian macho, until I got into the habit of thinking they might go on forever. But Trish sickened and died, and, five months later, Sophie died. Ning responded by a fit of macho, rampaging around the dining table until it was clear that this previously neutral ground was now his. He was also inclined to mope unless he spent as much time as possible with me – something I didn’t mind in the least, considering we were widowers together.

In the mornings, when I came to open the curtains, he would greet the sound of my voice with a liquid trill that would continue for up to a minute — one of the most beautiful sounds I ever heard, and one I wish now that I had got around to recording.

Despite his increasing age, Ning showed few signs of slowing down until the last four months of his life. One day, waddling over the carpet, he stopped and began biting furiously at his right wing. When I picked him up, I could find no damage, but he never flew far again. Instead, he would call anxiously to me, squirming until I picked him up and carried him to where he wanted to be. By this time, I could guess his destination with almost total accuracy.

I had seen similar signs in Sophie, but, considering Ning’s better health, I had hopes that his senior years would be prolonged. Until a few days ago, I even had hopes that with therapy he might fly freely again, since several times he managed short flights when frustrated.

As I write, it’s six hours after his death. I’ve taken his body to be cremated, and removed his cage from the living room – and I still keep looking for him as I type. He’s the one who taught me that parrots had sentience and limited planning abilities. He’s the one who kept me amused with his unabashed enthusiasm, and supported me with a preen and by hanging out when I was discouraged or grieving. He’s the one who taught me that parrots can purr.

Given all this, what could I do but sit with him in his final hours? I talked to him about our years together, sang him his favorite silly songs, and repeated my pet names for him. I cried over the inevitable before it happened and I hoped for a miracle, knowing I wouldn’t get one.

And you know what? I’m not ashamed of any of it. Because those are the sort of things you do for a friend. The only shame would have been to leave him to die alone, and my only comfort is that I did for him what I could.

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If I want a day of bird-watching, I don’t have to leave the living room. With four Nanday conures – a type of small South American parrot – in residence, I can even do my bird-watching from the comfort of a chair. And, since three of the four Nandays are male, much of what I watch is territorial posturing.

The dominant cock is Ning. He has several advantages over the rest: He has been here the longest, he is the only one with a mate (Sophy), and he fathered one of the other males and has always lorded it over him. His disadvantage is that he is perhaps a little complacent and starting to get on in years, so he is no longer as aggressive as in his youth.

Of the other cocks, Ram is little competition. Not only is he Ning’s son, but he has a bad leg and is reluctant most of the time to compete – although he can surprise everyone at times with unexpected outbursts of ferocity.

Beau is the third cock, and the relative newcomer. However, he is younger, larger, and feistier than Ning, and probably the most cunning of the three. At first, Ning used to dive bomb him with impunity, threatening him without actually making contact. However, after about six months, he started dive bombing Ning in return, and now he gives as good as he gets.

This is how the living room is divided: Ning and Sophy have a cage on the right side of the room, and Beau’s cage is on the left. Ram’s cage is in the kitchen, but he uses the back of a chair and an arm of the couch by Beau’s cage with impunity, either because Beau doesn’t regard him as a threat, or on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Occasionally, though, Beau will chase Ram away from his cage, especially if Ning isn’t there to vent his anger upon.

The dining room table between the two cages is contested ground. However, the futon by the window is definitely Ning’s, although Ram will brave it if Ning and Sophy are in their cage. Beau doesn’t quite dare, although he will pace to the end of the couch and sit as close to the futon as he can without actually being on it.

That is one of the main characteristics of the territorial posturing: Like kids in the backseat of a car who have been told to keep to their side of an imaginary line, Ning and Beau will come as close to the border of the other bird’s territory as they dare, apparently with the sole purpose of taunting each other. Just as Beau crowds the futon, so Ning will often see that his foraging on the carpet brings him close to Beau’s cage, apparently just to have the pleasure of disconcerting him. From their actions, the boundary couldn’t be clearer if it was painted on the carpet.

When not crowding each other, all the males will sometimes shriek at each other, so loudly that we have to pause the DVD we’re watching until we can hear it again. Sometimes, Beau will ambush Ning in mid-flight, too.
Apparently, the urge to defend his nest is strong in the typical Nanday cock. However, what is interesting is that the defense never seems to go beyond posturing, even in what must be the rather limited space in the living room. Not only is there never any real violence, but at times, as they call back and forth, the males seem almost friendly – as though their aggressiveness is only intramural, and, on some level, mutual identification as members of the same flock is as important as claiming territory.

And what does Sophy do in all of this? Mostly, she ignores it. Although sometimes she will loyally give one scream for every dozen of Ning’s, mostly she pretends it’s not going on. But, then, from Sophy’s frequent look of strained tolerance, I suspect she views the cocks — and the local humans as well – as slightly addled fledglings. Somehow, in the middle of all the male battles, she manages to look as though she is humoring all of us in the manner of a benevolent dictator. Her attitude suggests it would be beneath her dignity to notice the feuding in any way.

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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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Few animals or birds are as affectionate as parrots. Mostly living in flocks, they are intensely social, so much so that interaction is intensely important to them – so much so that an ignored parrot is an abused parrot. Next to the average parrot, a cat is an ascetic, and a dog is a treacherous turncoat who will betray you at every chance. Yet, being highly intelligent as well, each parrot demonstrates affection in their own way.

Our own Nanday conures illustrate a variety of preferences. Ning, our oldest cock, was once a studious preener. When he first accepted us, he would gently preen every square centimeter of my hair, then march down the couch to preen Trish’s. However, when he became the mate of Sophie, he showed less interest in preening us, although he still tries to preen our mouths. But his preference is to stand beak beneath a human nose, making kissing noises, for as long as we will let him. When I am doing my couch potato imitation, his preference is to tuck himself against the side of my jaw, making a purring noise like a miniature green refrigerator. You always know when he is set on preening, because he swaggers over with an arrogant determination to get the affection that he wants. He likes a quick scratch under the chin or over his ear holes, but never for more than about a minute.

By contrast, Ning’s mate Sophy is more standoffish. She was an abused bird when we bought her, and has never learned to trust hands completely. To this day, she only enjoys a preen so long as she is turned away and doesn’t officially notice it. Instead, her preference is to do the preening herself. She will preen a motionless hand or arm for twenty minutes at a stretch. She also enjoys preening a face, especially around the eyes, having perfected a delicate preening that makes her the only one of us our birds whose beak we would trust so close to our eyes.

Rambunctious, our crippled cock who was handfed as a baby, is the exact opposite of Sophy. Where Sophy is standoffish, Ram will fly anywhere, anytime to one of us so he can sit on a shoulder, cheeping happily away as if telling a long and rambling story. Once I stop moving, he will belly up to a neck and start preening the side of my face. If he comes across me lying down, his greatest joy is to roll on his side in the middle of my chest, with my hand cupped over him. He will stay that way for forty minutes, given the opportunity, and has been known to fall asleep in that position.

Seeing Beaudin, the youngest cock, strut up and down and make harsh cockatiel squawks, you would never believe that he had an appetite for affection. But, the truth is, he is the most affection-hungry bird in our house. Possibly, he doesn’t quite believe that he has a permanent home. Or perhaps, as we suspect, he is a handfed bird like Ram. But, whatever the reason, he has an endless appetite for interaction with us. He likes to sidle up against the palm of a hand, and be scratched endlessly almost anywhere. Under the beak, over the ear, on the neck, under the wing – it’s all the same to him, so long as the preening is constant. A few minutes of this treatment, and he goes so limp that he seems boneless, rolling on his side and gently nibbling any nearby fingers.

Much of this behavior seems based on their experiences in the nest. For instance, it is easy to guess that a nose hovering above them to an accompaniment of clucking sounds reminds them of when they were just hatched, and a beak was hovering over them protectively. But, whatever, the reason, all our birds seem endlessly preoccupied with giving and receiving affect. Even Ning and Sophy, who are rarely more than a meter away from each other, welcome the chance to preen one of us given any encouragement whatsoever. Their affectionate nature is one of the main reasons why parrots remain my pet of choice.

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