I took my umbrella cockatoo, Linus, to the vet last week. His poops were runny and just generally not right. I have to watch him closely because he contracted AGY (avian gastric yeast) last year, and it took almost a year to get rid of it. It started out with the same symptoms: runny poops and a bad attitude. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I had them run the tests, which all came back negative. Problem was, his poops still weren’t quite what they should be. After finding him to be healthy, the second thing I did was to check for environmental causes. I just couldn’t find anything different.
I am moving from Texas to Florida at the end of October. I have SO much to do. I will be leaving my daughter for the first time. She is 24 and quite capable of taking care of herself, but I’m a mother, and I worry. And I will miss her terribly. I will be leaving a job that would finally be giving me the promotion that I have been wanting for a year – if I were staying. The only people who I know in Florida will only be there for a month, and then I am on my own. I am stressed. I didn’t realize just how stressed until I got an email from a friend asking me if I was getting the jitters about moving yet. Then, whammo, it hit me like a brick. It’s me. I am the environmental cause of Linus’s troubles.
My parrots are like high blood pressure medication to me. No matter how lousy my day was, all the problems vanish the minute I walk through the door and hear: “HI! How doin’?” They fix everything, almost. Work will stay at work, but now my home is in an upheaval and it’s harder to get away from that. Try as I might to hide my stress, Linus sees right through the “everything is is fine” disguise. I can sense him watching me and I know he is thinking: “something is different about her”, and it impacts his comfort level, sense of security, and ultimately his poops and his demeanor.
Birds are keenly sensitive and aware. They have developed these senses as a strategy to survive in the wild, and make good use of them in our homes. While humans rely a great deal on language to connect with one another, birds have a strong perception of body language. They watch for posturing and nervousness as indicators of trouble and react appropriately. Linus is doing what a bird does: observing the tense state of his flock mate and assuming there is something to be worried about. Fortunately, the other birds don’t seem to share Linus’s concerns.
Linus and I have been through a lot together. We had a really rocky start to our relationship, and have hit a couple of bumps along the way. Each challenge that we have had, and overcome, has strengthened our bond. We did a lot of studying one another from the beginning and have gotten to know each other all too well. It’s normally a good thing, because we have that thing that allows us to communicate with just a glance or raised eyebrow. In this case, it’s not such a good thing because I am communicating things I don’t mean to.
So how do I calm him when I wasn’t even aware of my own tension? I do what I always do when my parrots have a problem: I go after it at the source, which in this case, is me. I have started organizing, writing lists of things that need to be done, methodically attacking things that feel like a problem. I am doing things that make me feel more in control, and my stress levels have dropped – and his poops are improving in quality and he is an all around happier bird.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.