• Sheila S Blanchette

‘It is just a bird’

* I find writing relieves stress. I normally write using paper and pencil (yes, so old fashion). I am not an eloquent writer like Pamela Clark, or Lara Joseph. I am writing this blog to assist with my mourning (please ignore my bad grammar or odd comments).

I have had companion birds for over 25 years. I normally would have 1 or 2 in my household, but over the last 5 years, I seemed to be up to 4 birds: a Lovebird, Quaker Parakeet, and two lorikeets. I love their company and antics. Each bird has his/her own personality. Each bird brings challenges but from each experience, I learned how to improve their environment in my home.

In 2010, I began volunteering at a local rescue, which has exotic birds. I volunteered there to learn more about companion birds. Each day, I saw new behaviors and learned new enrichment for each different species of companion birds that was at the rescue. Over my many years of volunteering, some of the companion birds did pass away due to medical or age. When I talked about these losses to ease my pain, I would hear “It is just a bird.”. “It” is not just a bird; these birds had a life, a personality, and a story. I took on the responsibility to make sure there was someone would remembered them. (Here are a few pictures of those wonderful birds that passed).

(Alexandro) (Carrot) (Rio)

I remember these birds for many reasons from aiding with cleaning their cages, creating the enrichment, or just hanging out and watching YouTube video with each one (at one time or another). I am not saying I had this magic moment. The time spent was a learning and understanding moment. These memories do not bring me sorrow but empathy and understanding for the next bird.

When I opened Heart of Feathers Education in 2015, I learned the enjoyment of working in the behavior world with clients and companion birds. Even in this world, I was not removed from the loss of a bird. Over the years, I have met wonderful birds that passed away too soon. They may not have been my birds, but I treated them just the same.

(Moose) (Frankie)

I cannot say whether or not exotic birds should be companion birds. That is not for me to say, but I would never want to take the opportunity away from anyone to have that amazing connection between human and bird. Whether volunteering at a rescue or working as a Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant/Trainer, you learn empathy; especially in these situations. When I hear, “It is just not a bird”, those people only see a bird in a cage. Companion birds are not a piece of furniture, a toy, but they become a family member like a dog or cat.

Even with these years of empathy and understanding, it does not prepare you for the events that occur in your own life.

During Mother’s Day weekend (2019), I had my own encounter with “It is just a bird.” I need to start from the beginning and tell you about Flash, a rainbow lorikeet.

Flash’s story starts in a pet store near Boston, MA (USA) in 2003. Flash is a beautiful colored Rainbow Lorikeet with such great red, green, and blue feathers. He was well taken care at this pet store, and he spent several months being silly. playing with toys, and chatting with customers. An older gentleman visited Flash several times before buying Flash from the pet store. The older gentleman bought Flash for his beautiful colors, but had no experience with birds or lorikeets. The pet store gave him the necessary food and toys to take care of Flash. Several months later, Animal Control was contacted by a neighbor concerned about the older gentleman’s pet cat which had not been taken care for over 2 weeks. The older gentleman had a heart attack. He was hospitalized and later passed away. When Animal Control arrived 2 weeks later, the gentleman had 6 cats and 1 lorikeet.

I was a member of the American Lory Society in 2004. This society had a group email communication. In Feb 2004, there was a communication about a lorikeet that was up for adoption at Animal Rescue League of Boston. I showed hubby the email. We talked about adopting Flash, and we decided to email Animal Rescue League of Boston to get more information on this lorikeet known as Flash. We were told that there were two other people interested in Flash, but they did send some history on Flash.

One of the other applicants was a member of the American Lory Society. She and I spoke, and she was not ready to take on another Lory, but she did not want Flash to stay at a rescue. She bowed out since I had the room and lived closer. Hubby and I contacted the Animal Rescue League of Boston again to set up an appointment to meet Flash. We knew we were probably not going to go home with Flash, but we decided to bring Dick’s Lory Life Food/Nectar, and some toys to donate.

When we arrived, the manager began to interview us. We demonstrated we had experience in lorikeets as companion birds. We explained we understood we were probably not going home with Flash. We gave them the donations. The Manager asked if we wanted to meet Flash. Of course, we said “Yes”. We visited Flash, and hubby placed Lory Nectar on his finger, and Flash immediately licked the nectar off. We sat with Flash for over an hour.

After the hour, the Manager asked if we were still interested in Flash. “YES”. Both applications had fell through, and on Valentine’s Day 2004, Flash was adopted.

Flash was introduced to other bird (at the time): Nagos, Dusky Lory, and Sunshine, Cockatiel. Flash met the kids about 6 months later (after the quarantine period). Everyone had their own cage. Flash and Nagos had an on and off friendship, but they were always goofing around with each other. Flash was happy to hang out with people and with Nagos. He would be hanging off your shirt, or sitting behind you on the couch watching TV. All was great for 2 years.

In 2006, I noticed I was having trouble getting Flash to step up on me. He would step up on my husband. Over time, I was getting nasty bites on my hand when I asked for a step up. Flash would chase me out of the room whenever possible. I look back now, and realized many of my mistakes, but at the time, I knew what I knew. I read several parrot training books. I was recommended to use ‘You and Your Pet Bird’ by David Alderton (1992). This is were I gained some of my knowledge and how to handling birds(pg 134): ”You can adopt a similar technique with parrots, but use gloves if you are inexperienced. Take extra care, however, since it is easy to press too hard, when wearing gloves. Like other birds, parrot will not struggle once restrained…”.

Addition to this information, I was told many times “You need to be the dominate one.” Over the weeks, I used a thick glove to try to re-train to step up. I found the biting increase severely, and when my hand was not gloved the bites were drawing blood. After the last severe bite, I knew this was not the answer. I discontinued the glove training and started looking for assistance.

Tragedy occurred in 2007, Nagos, Dusky Lory, passed away (due to medical reasons). Flash mourned for his friend, he called and looked for Nagos. Flash would sit in Nagos’ cage and call. This was so heart breaking. In the summer of 2007, we decided to bring home another lorikeet: Tuque, Yellow Streaked Lory. He was in quarantine for awhile before we introduced him to Flash. When Flash and Tuque met, they were best buds.

Flash was always hanging out with Tuque. They played in each other cage, they preened, they bathed together, and even went venturing around the house together. Through it all, Flash still would attack my feet and nip at my hand. Once again, I began looking for assistance on Flash’s behavior. I was also getting tired of wearing my Uggs which seemed to cue Flash to attack my feet. I was learning what was not working; Force and Dominance.

Through social media, I met Jess B. She was working on a project related to Turkey Vultures and had told me about this fantastic animal trainer. The animal trainer was coming to Tufts for a talk.

I attended the session, I was introduced to Lara Joseph, the Animal Behavior Center. This was a wonderful session, but I still had lots of questions. Lara was very patience with me, as I asked all my odd questions. Of course, most of her answers were “No, does not tell the bird what the bird should do. What behavior do you want the bird to do instead, and do not say stop biting your Uggs.” This comment started my journey to become a Certified Parrot Behavior Consultant/Trainer (but that is a story for another day).

With her advice, I started over with Flash: Day 1. I worked on off-contact training with a target/stationing in the cage. This training took time; 6 months, but I had time, and patience, there was no rush. No one was going anywhere. With the consistent small incremental training, I could track the Functional Assessment (Antecedent, Behavior, Consequences).

Over the years, Flash and I started to have an understanding. When Flash saw the training tools, aka the training bowl and syringe, coming into the room, he immediately went to his station. Yes, my consistent behavior created a cue to Flash’s behavior. I was so happy. When I was not cuing the training time, Flash was still attacking my feet. Instead of saying, I will live with it.

I introduced a wiffle ball, when I entered the room. I would roll the wiffle ball into the room, and at first, Tuque would toss it, which I would say “Great Job, Tuque.”. Not much time later, Flash was tossing the wiffle ball as well. Flash was being reinforced by the words “Great Job”. In addition, I slowed my pace down when I walked into the room, and the attacking feet, slow decreased.

The toss game grew from a wiffle ball to arolled up sock or rolled up newspaper, all worked as a tossing object. I was able to take my Uggs off after that point, no more attacks.

In 2019, Flash and I had a breakthrough. Flash had a fantastic bond with my husband. I never labelled Flash as a male only bird. I knew that Flash and I had a misunderstanding behavior which had caused the loss in our bond. I worked very hard, and it took years for behavior to change. While working at my desk, Tuque had jumped up on to my foot to hang out with me. With in an instance, so did Flash. At first, I was little stressed, but I calmed down. Flash appeared a little stress, as well, but he started preening Tuque.

Soon they both tucked their heads back and rested on my foot. I did not care that I was losing sensitivity in my foot, the greatest moment was occurring. Tuque finally jumped off my foot and Flash followed. From that point, Flash and I started to move forward at a quicker pace. Every night we worked on moving from one station (on one cage) to another station (on another cage). I believed he enjoyed the sessions. As he got to his spot, and I said “Good”, I heard him say “Yum Yums” (which meant food). (Flash was never thrilled with the video camera or the cell phone, so getting photos or videos became an honor).

During the months of April and into May, I was just starting to train him to jump through a hoop. I was about to train the introduction of the video camera, so I could capture this progression. I started to notice that Flash was beginning to limp on his left foot. I thought it might be the bouncing on the metal bars was causing a foot to become sore. I started to limit the training; we did other items. The limp was not getting better, but worse.

Hubby and I brought Flash to the vet to find out what was going on. He had Gout and a small infection. We were given several medications to reduce the infection and stabilize the gout. Flash was trained for taking medication from a syringe, so taking medicine was so easy.

For several days, he was eating and doing fine, but on Saturday (the day before Mother’s day), I received a call from my husband asking me to come home. I drove home to find Flash tuck under my husband chin, as hubby tried to comfort Flash. I tried to call a vet but no one was open. At 5:40pm, Flash passed away.

Flash was not just a bird, but a family member. He is not an “it” but a living creature that brought love, laughter, and life to our household. When I tried to tell this story, a few people stated, it is just a bird, you can get another one. I write this blog hoping to remind folks when someone losses his/her bird (whether you like birds or not), please just give your condolences, and let the person grieve.

We have lost a friend.

Flash was an amazing bird. If you want to help other birds, or other animals, please

donate to:

MSPCA - Nevins Farm in memory of Flash (Donate)

Animal Rescue League of Boston in memory of Flash ( Donate)

The Animal Behavior Center - Sam I can Foundation in memory of Flash ( Donate)

Rhode Island Parrot Rescue in memory of Flash (Donate)

Foster Parrots in memory of Flash (Donate)

Remember: Large or small no animal should be referred as "It is just an animal".

Additional Memorial to Beaker, Quaker Parakeet (I am so sorry Dr. Pat Anderson)

#Behavior #Bird #Education #HeartofFeathers #Training

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