The New Year is unbelievably upon us, and it is time to review 2014 and make revisions that will improve the coming year. For whatever reason our species finds it acceptable to schedule an appointment with our conscience once a year at which time we make a gentleman’s agreement to do better unlike every other species on the planet that modifies their failing plans on an as needed basis.
Inevitably during the year there is a single event involving one of my birds that powerfully points out a shortcoming in my own behavior. This year’s lesson comes courtesy of Theo, my Goffin's cockatoo.
Theo is an amazingly easy bird to live with. She is very healthy and enjoys her great diet. She is sweet tempered and has never bitten anyone. Additionally, for a cockatoo she is very laid back and quiet. That is why the screaming and pacing nervously in her cage last year was so very concerning. It was very unTheo-like behavior.
I took her to the vet. We determined that her behavior which gradually evolved into barbering her contour feathers and plucking her legs was caused by excessive hormones that had her walking the edge.
We tried Lupron shots to reduce the hormones even though they typically are not effective with the larger parrot species. As expected, that didn’t work. I did all the things I knew to do with her environment to keep hormones under control. That didn’t work either, and it was upsetting to watch her distress.
I was out of options and ideas. So, I decided that I would work on controlling my reaction to her behavior. That was the only thing I could control.
Birds are very receptive to our feelings. Remember, this is a species whose safety in the wild depends on their ability to monitor the stress of their flock mates to keep them aware of lurking dangers. Our birds may not understand the nature of our human stress, but it causes them to question the safety of their environment.
Bottom line: we project our anguish onto our birds. That certainly will not help a bird that is already struggling emotionally.
Birds that pluck will sometimes continue plucking even once the problem is identified and resolved. While there is no science that can prove that my relaxed demeanor helped Theo to stop plucking once the hormones subsided, I feel certain it played a role. I was not able to put an end to what was happening to her physically. However, I was determined not to make it worse by adding my own anxiety to hers. Furthermore, I was also determined not to have her walk away from the experience feeling that her loud and obtrusive behavior was beneficial enough to give her reason to continue it.
This year’s resolution is to watch my own behavior so as not to bring my stress to their world. Thank you sweet Theo for this important lesson
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.