You know you’re in really serious trouble when you walk into your bird room and all of the birds stop what they’re doing and look at you in that way they do when they want to see if your head is going to explode? There is stony silence for that moment that it takes you to realise something is very wrong and then one of the birds breaks the silence with a well-timed “Uh oh.”
As my eyes took in the disaster site in front of me, I still didn’t realise what I was actually seeing. I honestly thought I’d have more time before I’d ever find myself writing this. In the true nature of hindsight, I have come to realise these events actually started 24 hours before that well-timed “Uh oh”. The bits of the puzzle are fitting together now.
I made a mistake. I live with a stack of escape artist birds. If they’re not removing the wall of their own aviaries – they’re removing the nuts and bolts from an aviary belonging to any neighbouring bird. Consequently, padlocks are a must around here and even they don’t last long. My mistake? Well I accidentally left a key in a padlock that I use on my Blue and Gold Macaw’s food bowl door.
Naturally, it turns out that my macaw knows how to use a key and will do that in preference to breaking the lock. So yes – he turned the key, lifted off the padlock and proceeded to unlatch and open his food bowl door in order to escape.
To put your minds at ease, an escape isn’t a big deal at my place. An escape from a cage means that the bird has escaped into a safe bird room. Every door to the great outdoors leads to another door and they’re ALWAYS locked. So no, he didn’t get lost. It just meant that he sneakily got ‘out of cage time’ earlier than he was supposed to. On this particular occasion, it happened to be right when I needed him safely contained so I could go out.
Fid wasn’t out unsupervised for long. The other birds ratted him out. I was alerted to the problem because the rest of the flock turned into an assortment of microwaves, car alarms, a grumpy old man yelling “BAD BIRD” and a demented duck. When I hear that range of sounds together, I know to come running. I also knew exactly which bird was playing up because Fid yells “OI!!!” when he’s dobbing on another bird and he was being suspiciously quiet.
What makes this time different from other occasions of mischievous behaviour – he used his time out more thoughtfully than he normally does. Normally when he steals something, he’ll bring it to me as though to say: “Hey look, I’ve got your sneakers and I’m fraying the shoelaces again!” or: “Hey look I’ve got the cat’s food bowl and it makes this great noise as it bounces off the coffee table!!!”
This time, he’d stolen the padlock and key and wasn’t prepared to show it to me. Instead he’d gone and unlatched Pepi my eclectus parrot’s cage, opened the door and hid the padlock and key in the bottom of Pepi’s cage. He then hung off Pepi’s door to close it and got back to his playstand before I could get their in response to the alarm calls from the other birds.
Well without a padlock and key, there was no point putting Fid back in his cage. He’d have the door unlatched within 2 seconds. I was either going to have to salvage the lock or grab a spare. Fid literally sat on top of his cage laughing like a human as I moved aviaries and lifted grates trying to find where he’s dropped the padlock.
I found the padlock because of two things. Firstly, Eclectus parrots growl when they’re in a snotty mood. Having a padlock thrown at them apparently puts them in a snotty mood. Pepi was telling me that he was unimpressed. Meanwhile, Fid (still laughing) kept looking from me to the padlock. I followed his line of vision and spotted it for myself.
This told me two things. Firstly Fid knew what I was looking for, secondly, it also told me that hiding it was intentional. He knew he’d stay out if I couldn’t safely lock the cage. I found myself wondering if this was a sign that he was in a new phase of development? He goes through patches of sudden spurts of intelligence and it’s usually a sign of some other change in behaviour coming.
Which brings me to the “Uh oh” occasion. When I got past the silence where the birds were wondering if my head would explode? I found myself surveying Fid’s latest activity. He had removed every single toy in his cage that wasn’t padlocked in and thrown them on the floor. Worse, he’d removed every single perch he had and thrown them at the floor as well. The aviary was basically empty. Everything was on the ground. He’d accomplished this in less than 30 minutes. The only thing left was his platform perch and that was hanging by some heavy duty padlocks. He’s removed the nuts and bolts that held it in place.
Well not unlike the padlock-hiding scenario, this was on purpose and part of a larger master plan. Obviously, destroying his cage contents meant that he got my attention. Not only that, he got me in there fixing it as I’m not exactly going to leave him with no perches and entertainment…
He very happily climbed onto my shoulder as I started my repairs, helpfully fanning his butt feathers right in front of my face (ensuring I couldn’t miss his presence). The next thing I knew, I was wiping spat up kiwi fruit off my face. It seems Fid had decided that I needed to be fed. The butt action was a little much too (if you know what I mean).
And so it begins… I’ve never come across anyone describing a neurotic fixation with removing perches as a sign of hormonal behaviour before? Apparently though, in Fid’s case it is. This is the beginning of him doing anything and everything to get me near him in order for him to be that little bit too friendly and that is something to be wary of.
What is odd about this is Fid’s age. He’s just over 2 years old and so I thought I had at least another 2 years before I was going to have to face the onset of the dreaded hormones. Bigger picture wise, there is a seasonal thing going on at the moment. A lot of people are saying they’re seeing hormonal behaviour with their birds at the moment. What I’m seeing with Fid is pretty minor in comparison. I’m thinking it is only minor because he is so young.
Where to from here? Well it took me less than 20 minutes to realise that any screwed in item isn’t going to work in Fid’s cage. Basically he was pulling things down as fast as I could put them back up. So I changed things up. Now if he wants to remove perches he has to turn a whole tree into woodchips. No screws. I have literally shoved in some very thick tree branches vertically. The branches coming off the side of the thick branch now form his perches. As for toys – I am no longer using clips I’m using padlocks. Fid breaks padlocks but at least they last longer than clips.
In terms of the hormone issue, it’s a good reminder for me of what I can expect in the next few seasons with Fid. I’m already warily avoiding the most common hormonal triggers because I don’t want to set him off. If you’re having trouble with your birds being hormonal, it’s a good idea to check out our Spring Horrormones course.
In Fid’s case, I’m lucky I’ve had him so young. I’ve been able to get a lot of training in before the hormones have hit and so I already have a lot of ways to deflect the behaviour. So when the butt feathers start to come towards me in that particular way that male birds do… I’ve been able to cue some flight commands and help Fid get rid of that unwanted energy in an entirely different way.
Since writing the above, Fid has decided that as he can’t undo screw-in perches in his own cage, his best bet is to escape and undo everyone else’s. I need more trees…
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.