Have you ever sat back and thought that you had everything under control and that you’re doing pretty well with your birds? Thought that your flock is happily occupied, playing with foraging toys, enjoying their amazing diet while rattling off their extensive vocabularies at each other? Thought that while they were busy in their respective aviaries that it was safe to leave them to it and go out for a while? Go shopping? I made that mistake last week.
According to my mother, the sound of my car had just faded when the happy peaceful environment I had just left, suddenly changed. She had been working on the back verandah, (also thinking the birds were safely locked up), when my Blue and Gold Macaw Fid, quietly walked up behind her and hollered: “HELLLLLLOOOOOO!!!” making her drop (and break) what she had been fixing in surprise.
Well mum wasn’t impressed. She went to pick him up and he ran the other way laughing just like a human. She eventually caught up with him and cursing me for not closing his aviary door properly, she returned him to his aviary and bolted it shut and turned to walk away.
Before she could even take a step, he stuck his foot out of the door and pulled up the bolt, leaned over he unlatched the door and swung it open. Hopping onto the ground, he ran away again (still laughing).
What followed was couple hours of Fid torturing mum. He had no intention whatsoever of going quietly back to his aviary. Instead he had decided that he had free reign to get into whatever he normally wasn’t allowed to get into.
Deciding that his aviary wasn’t going to work, mum tried to put him safely in his sleeping cage, but he just unlatched a food bowl door and came straight back out. He then tried to eat the blind, the wall, the lampshade, the stitching on the couch and then he started the process of throwing books off a bookshelf.
When I got home, mum’s hair was standing on end, Afro style. It’s something that mum and I have in common; when we’re stressed-out our hair magically goes frizzy. This was about the worst that I’d seen it. The blue and gold bird that had run up to me in order to excitedly start munching on my shoelaces told me all I needed to know. I got the: “Oh that’s great! I love how he runs straight up to you. Me? He runs away from me! But you? You get to pick him up without a problem!!!” Yeah, mum was a little upset.
It would seem that I have hit a new stage of development with Fid. It has suddenly become obvious that he was just pretending to be safely locked in his cage. It’s like he swallowed smart pills or something? Suddenly he’s unlatching doors, unscrewing things, pulling out drawers… Overnight he has become extraordinarily difficult to keep entertained. Mum says it’s my fault because I’ve been giving him those ‘smart foraging toys’ that have taught him to unscrew stuff. Maybe, but that’s part of being a parront!
Naturally padlocks are a solution. I have to be able to know he is safe when I’m not around to keep him from chewing power cables or taking on the cat.
So have you ever thought you’re on top of everything with your birds? Thought that they’re safely padlocked in to their cages and it’s safe to leave the room without having to worry about what they’re getting into while you’re gone. Yeah that was my next mistake!
The next morning I did just that, until I heard the crash of a food bowl hitting the ground. Fid had unscrewed the part of his cage that held the food bowl door in and when I got to him, he was playing with a bolt. I snatched the bolt off him and collected the pieces of cage. Fid looked at me and carefully said: “You’re a BRAT!” It really shouldn’t surprise me that this is his first sentence!
My next problem was that all of the parts were there except for one small nut that was supposed to be holding the bolt in place. The nut was the size of a pea. With a growing sense of panic, I realised that there was a distinct possibility of Fid having swallowed it.
I had the room torn apart in a second. No nut. I went over the bottom tray of Fid’s cage very carefully. No nut. I moved furniture. No nut. I checked the vacuum filter in case it had come off another time. No nut. I peeled all the rugs on the floor back. No nut. I pried Fid’s beak open and looked under his tongue. No nut. I felt, prodded and pulled him around to check his crop. No nut. But apparently Fid liked the game as he was literally purring at all the attention.
I spent the next 20 minutes trying to convince Fid to regurgitate at me. I got him to flap his wings and move his head back and forth like a baby, but no nut came up. One last look around still didn’t make it show up. I picked up the phone and rang the vet.
A conversation later, I found myself going in to the next room to get Fid’s travel cage. I was going to have to rush him in for an xray. The sooner action was taken the better. If the nut was still in the crop – it would be a lot easier to get it back than if it were in his stomach. There was a slight chance he could pass it himself, but it wasn’t likely.
I had to move the lorikeet’s sleeping cage in order to get to Fid’s travel cage. I wheeled it out of the way and there sitting in the middle of the floor was the missing nut. The little monster had thrown it 10 metres. Torn between being glad that a potential life-threatening situation was over and wanting to kill Fid myself, I rang the vet back to cancel the xray.
The vet laughed a lot and told me he’d just got Fid’s latest blood test results back. All levels are now normal. Even the one level that hadn’t normalised after Fid had had psittacosis had normalised. Fid now had a perfectly clear bill of health. I had another reason to be relieved.
There have been a couple of other incidents (he undid the screws that hold together one of my other bird’s aviaries and he bent back the bit of metal that holds the grille from his sleeping cage in place). “BRAT” has become his favourite word, as I can’t seem to help but say it when I find him up to something new.
A few padlocks and chains and cage alterations later; it now takes him much longer to escape. Apparently even heavy duty padlocks aren’t unbreakable! There is a reason people call these birds “can openers with feathers”. He makes my other escape artists look like amateurs.
He seems happy enough to play with his foraging toys and swings and whatever else I hide in his aviary. I’ve increased the difficulty of his foraging activities and for the moment that seems to be keeping him distracted. Failing that, I’ve stepped up his trick training and it seems to be a helpful distraction too.
It will be a while before I dare underestimate his intelligence again!!!! I can actually see my frizzy hair going grey! If anyone else has a resident escape artist and has any suggestions of what has worked for you??? Please share in the comments field, I could use all the help I can get!!!!
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.