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The Finster Log
Have You Brushed Your Teeth Today?
Posted on: 06/02/07, 15:15:48 | | link
A little while ago I wrote about giving Harley the Most Scritches Ever
while Bruce was out of town. Unfortunately, one night we ran into a snag. There I was, my back to the TV, giving Harley the Most Scritches Ever while he was sitting on the back of the couch, when suddenly, Everything Went Wrong. The tip of Harley's upper beak was just a little stuck in my thumb, there was a little bit of blood, and we were both in a bit of shock. Once we extricated ourselves, I cleaned up what turned out to be a small puncture wound, gave Harley a drink of juice to clear the taste of blood out of his mouth, and took a deep breath.
Obviously, I had done something wrong, but I didn't know exactly what. I couldn't fix it, all I could do was try to pay more attention next time. Which I tried to do just a few minutes later. But suddenly, Everything Went Wrong again.
Not such a big bite this time, no more blood, just lots of confusion on both sides. As far as I could tell, I was giving him scritches in the proper way, but something kept going wrong. After the third bite — and don't you think I was brave to keep trying? — I decided it was time to stop.
My best guess is that he had a new pin feather somewhere on his head, and when I inadvertently scritched that sensitive spot, it hurt him. Poor fellow. The thing is, we've both been a little wary of scritches since then. Bruce came home the night of the Bloody Event, so Harley and I had a few days' break before we tried again, but even so, despite good intentions, we've been a bit too skittish to let me really start digging in again. We have plenty of time to figure it out, but still, it's a disappointment.
The other day, after taking a pen out of Harley's mouth a few too many times in a row (there's INK in there, buddy!), I got the idea to give him a toothbrush, clean and fresh from the dentist's office. Instant success! So many textures, so squishy to chew, and those bristles! you can preen
them! Plus, it makes a very satisfying "thonk" sound when you fling it against someone's collar bone. It's one of those toys we'll have to keep an eye on, though, since it looks like Harley might be capable of breaking some of the softer plastic into bits.
Then one day, Bruce and Harley enjoyed a bit of magical communication, and we learned what a tooth brush is really
good for: SCRITCHES! Wonderful scritches! Lovely, lovely scritches! (Although the photo is pretty bad.)
Since then, every night, Bruce and/or I spend(s) the evening brushing Harley's head, neck, cheeks, and even under his "chin." Although you can't really watch TV while you're giving Harley Brush Ruffles, since it's a very delicate procedure, you can hear it, and since he perches on his table, I'm more comfortable than I was when he sat on the back of the couch. I still hope to get back to Six Finger Skull Massages one day, but for now, this is pretty good.
Move In Again Day
Posted on: 05/28/07, 14:14:55 | | link
When you get a new dog or cat, and already have pets, vets generally suggest a quarantine period to ensure that the new animal doesn't have worms, or something equally contagious, that your current pets could catch. This usually lasts for a couple of days.
Birds are a different story. Vets used to require a six month quarantine for birds. This was partly because birds used to be caught in the wild, so they could have all sorts of diseases. Even now, though, vets often suggest 30 to 60 to 90 days. Why so long? Partly because they're susceptible to diseases with long incubation periods, partly because they're good at hiding illness, partly because the stress of a move — and the incubation period itself — can lower a bird's immune system enough to make a latent illness "take," and partly because avian medicine is relatively new. Well, that last one is partly my frustration talking, but it's not entirely untrue.
The thing is, the only proper
way to quarantine birds is to have separate airspaces. No matter how careful you are about washing and/or separating everything in between the two groups of birds (and this means bird paraphernalia, your hands, and your clothes), if you don't have two separate airspaces, you can't do a proper quarantine. Needless to say, I don't have two separate airspaces in my 800-square-foot apartment.
I've been lucky in the past, with a couple of new sets of Finsters, and Peanut. But after doing more research with Harley, I've realized that luck really was part of it. The good news is I haven't gotten any new finches in a long time, and I know where Harley comes from: two known sources makes quarantine less crucial. Another bit of good news is that Harley's blood work came back clean. (Oh yeah, Harley is big enough to get blood work done!)
In my more vulnerable moments I'm still worried, wondering what else I should test for, how much longer I can stand having a rash on my hands from washing them so often, how much longer I can possibly subject the poor Finsters to the tiny dungeon of the hospital cage, how I'm supposed to be able to tell if a bird I've only known for about a month isn't feeling well, how I'm supposed to be able to tell if the Finsters aren't feeling well when they're in a tiny dungeon, etc. But fingers crossed — the Finsters moved back to the Big House yesterday!
The transfer went about as expected. We lined the two cages up, and waited. But apparently, having been in the tiny dungeon
hospital cage for so long, the Finsters pretty much forgot what the allure of big, open spaces, giant water dishes, tasty corn, and nest boxes were all about, so they just sat there, occasionally looking at the connecting doors. This doesn't surprise me — while they were in the tiny dungeon
hospital cage they completely ignored the little door I left open countless times while I changed their water. Apparently, the hospital cage is tiny, but safe. (To be fair to myself, I was giving them fresh water three times a day, so had many opportunities to forget. But still. I literally lost count of how many times I left that door open, to come back and still have five birds. Thanks, Finsters!)
Bruce and I weren't about to wait three hours for them to come out
, since we really missed having the Finsters in the kitchen. So after about 15 minutes, we took the entire front grate off the tiny dungeon
hospital cage. Still no takers. So after another 20 minutes, Bruce reached into the cage to shoo them out. Success!
The Finsters are all showing signs of having been in the tiny dungeon
hospital cage for awhile, but apart from being a little less capable of acrobatic flying, they seem to be doing well. And Harley seems pretty interested, although he hasn't quite claimed them as his Finchy Minions yet.
Oolong spent quite a bit of time singing and chirping at the nice shells in the brown dish. Harley thinks she's pretty cute. Well, who doesn't!
Posted on: 05/26/07, 20:00:00 | | link
I've read that African Greys spend a lot of time foraging on the ground in the wild. Since being soaked from a bath would make it very difficult to fly away from predators if they're on the ground, they may not generally get as wet during a bath as some other birds that spend most of their time foraging in trees. Many people who own captive African Greys report that they don't like to get very wet. So when Harley's former Mom told me he likes to take baths, I was pretty excited. Remember, I'm used to Peanut, who splashed water on his face a couple of times a month, but that's it. My expectations were very high.
Reality has turned out to be a little less wet, although part of that is probably the fact we're all still adjusting to each other, and the space is still new to him.
Most days (it should be every day, since Harley is a Walking Giant Dust Mite) I set him on the edge of the kitchen sink and spritz him gently with a water mister. Some days (well, many days), he's just not in the mood. I can tell because he'll either start climbing up my arm if I haven't quite gotten him to step off my hand, or he'll start climbing up the tea kettle that sits right next to the sink. I'm getting really good at reading his subtle cues, aren't I? But when he's in the mood, he'll sidle back and forth along the edge of the sink, walking into and out of the steady misting I aim across his bow. He bites at the mist, scratches his ears, almost raises his wings, and generally has a pretty good time.
I've tried different bathing methods, as well. The oval baking dish in the picture fits nicely in the bathtub. But the edge is apparently a little thin for perching, and — well — the bathtub is pink. So despite the extra water I pour into the dish from the very tasty measuring cup, and the additional misting, Harley spends most of his time drinking the drops of water from the bottom of the bathtub, as if to lick the pink coloring right off. Well, who could blame him?
The brown square dish is an eight-inch baking dish, perfect for making brownies if you didn't have a six-foot Finsterium taking up one-third of your kitchen. Its two handles make very nice perches, and it also fits in the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, despite our playful splashing, words of encouragement, and lovely renditions of the "Rubber Duckie" song, Harley doesn't do much more in this dish than drink from it, no matter where it sits.
We've also tried the shower — we even got a new shower head with a gentle, drippy setting that should be just perfect for a bird bath. As we've all gotten to know each other better, Harley has seemed more interested in bathing in the shower. (No, there will be no pictures of this.) But so far, we've had the best luck with the misting at the sink's edge.
That is, unless Harley gets into one of his moods to take a bath in his water dish in his cage. That's the small, round white bowl in the picture. Which has even less bathing space available when it's in the cage, because of the wire frame that's designed to keep big birds from tipping their dishes over. Which they would do every day
if only they could.
Mind you, when Harley splashes in his water dish, he's already getting wetter of his own volition than Peanut ever did. But I always feel badly that he's this big bird, trying to take a bath in this little dish, so I quickly clean the bathtub (since I just know he's going to lick
it), grab one of the baking dishes, an extra cup of water, the mister, get Harley, and try to encourage him to just jump in and get all wet.
No such luck. After a little drinking, splashing, and licking, he starts looking at me funny, so I put him back home, where he immediately starts ducking his head in his little water dish again. This has happened several times.
Yesterday he started bathing in his water dish, so I got him, put him on the edge of the kitchen sink, and gave him the biggest misting yet! Good times! And when I put him back in his cage, he started bathing in his water dish again. So I picked him up again, and gave him another Biggest Misting Yet! Awesome! And when I put him back in his cage, he started bathing in his water dish again. So I picked him up again, put the brown baking dish in the kitchen sink, and splashed around in the water with him. He drank a little water, almost splashed water on his head from the dish, and started looking at me funny, so I put him back home.
Where he immediately started splashing his head in the water dish again.
The Amazing Tree
Posted on: 05/23/07, 19:23:47 | | link
Before I say anything else, I have to point out that Harley is a Dirty Bird. No, it's not the poops, because you can place used paper and old towels in strategic spots and take care of those easily enough. But Harley sheds his weight in feather fluff and dander every day. Plus he can make thousands of enormous spit balls in a matter of minutes. And when he flaps his wings, which he likes to do regularly as a form of exercise, it all just goes EVERYWHERE. So apart from wanting to play with him, and spoil him at every opportunity, I also have to clean up after him more than I would have believed possible for a creature that only weighs about ten ounces. That's six ounces less than a pound, for those who are counting. And while it's nice to have the place clean, all that cleaning means I have lots of pictures, lots of stories, but not enough time to post here.
Enough with the complaining.
Harley's former Mom has been very generous, sending toys and things so he'll have familiar things to play with. Thank you! In some cases, like with a play gym, it made sense for Harley to continue using them, since her remaining birds are either very small (finches, a love bird and budgies) or very large (a macaw). But the very best thing came in an enormous box the other day.
Now Harley loves
boxes, so he spent quite a bit of time trying to destroy it.
Because after all, in many cases the box is the best part of the present. But not in this case. After he spent a good half hour tearing a hole a little bigger than his head, we finally helped him open it and found this Amazing Tree!
Down came the triangle, up went the tree, and in less than half an hour, Harley had figured his way up onto it. Due to the swinging, he is a little less able to get down from it. But we're always willing to help (yes, I'm just tall enough to help him down from here), and I've added a rope since I took this picture that obviously isn't in the right spot since he hasn't used it yet — but, we'll figure it out soon enough.
In the meantime, the Amazing Tree is a perfect place for grabbing onto a toy to destroy it:
And a fine perch for getting a refreshing beverage from your favorite lackey:
I Can Do That!
Posted on: 05/18/07, 16:32:20 | | link
One of the cool things about living with Harley is learning what he can do. In addition to Mind Controlling Bruce into giving him cheese, and extricating treats from every puzzle toy I've tried so far, he can also climb up to his triangle perch. It took him a few days, and at first I couldn't decide if it was hanging low enough, or near enough to his cage — or if maybe it just wasn't attractive
But just when I think I'm making things too hard for him, he goes and figures it out. Look at him now! He's King Of The Triangle! He likes to sit up there, watch TV, and lurk over anyone sitting on the couch. I think it's the lurking part that really appeals to him.
In case you were wondering, I am tall enough to get him to step down from here, although he isn't always happy to go. I am not
tall enough to get him down from the top of the cage's play gym, but Bruce is. However, I'm not too proud to use a stick.
Harley, Destroyer Of Bok Choy
Posted on: 05/14/07, 10:25:29 | | link
Harley's former Mom fed him a nice mix of vegetables every evening, and apparently, he even ate them! But any transition to a new place can change your habits, and that's pretty much happened to Harley. He'll almost always eat peas and apple, and corn, potato, and pears are often accepted. But most other veggies are ignored. Or, more likely, picked up, licked a little, and dropped again.
I think it's because Bruce is so quick to offer him cheese. Because Harley will always
eat cheese, especially if it's a nice, sharp cheddar, and Bruce doesn't want him to starve to death.
Bruce is very weak that way.
But Harley does enjoy tearing up greens, like this leaf of bok choy, and he even eats some while he tears the leaves up into small pieces. He'll also usually eat something if you offer it to him by hand — carrot, zucchini, sunflower sprouts, etc. I think it's part of his Plan For Utter Domination. "If they feed me vegetables, eventually they'll give me more cheese." Something like that. This morning he mostly just licked the apple pieces in his breakfast dish, but he decimated the piece that Bruce held for him.
The Big, Sweaty Knee
Posted on: 05/10/07, 17:06:39 | | link
You'll recall that, where Peanut was concerned, Bruce's hand was the favorite when it came time for Warm Toasties. We called it The Big, Sweaty Hand. Peanut fit into it better, it was sweatier, all the good stuff. It turns out that Bruce's knee is also much more comfortable than mine, so when it's time to watch TV in the evening (if you'll recall, the reason we first started the conversation with Harley's previous owners is because he liked to watch TV in the evening), Harley sits on Bruce's knee.
And that's fine, because when Bruce is out of town, Harley sits on the back of the couch, and I get to give him the Most Scritches Ever.
I will probably never get a good photograph of this — this is a screen shot Bruce captured on his laptop while we were video-conferencing, in the evening when the lights were dim.
Harley starts out by resting his beak on the couch so I can really dig in without knocking him over. But as the evening wears on, he'll rest the top of his head against one of my thumbs, while I give him scritches with the other hand. Several times an evening, depending on his mood, he gets Six Finger Skull Massages. Really.
Now, if you do the math, you might realize that if Harley is on the back of the couch, and I'm using both hands to give him scritches, that my back is to the TV. If you'll recall, the reason we first started the conversation with Harley's previous owners was because he liked to watch TV in the evening. You know, with us. That is, everyone watching TV. Not that hearing the TV is such a bad thing, and certainly the TV itself is much safer when I can't actually see certain political figures on its screen, since I'm so often tempted to throw things at their tiny, annoying faces. But still. It would be nice if I could watch
the TV while I give Harley the Most Scritches Ever.
I've tried giving him scritches while he sits on his table, but that's only worked once. I'll have to keep trying. Or just look forward to evenings when the Big, Sweaty Knee is home.
Giving Harley fewer scritches is not an option. Partly because Harley is benefiting from Finster Guilt — I'm giving Harley all the scritches that I can't give Peanut. And that's still part of how we both interact with Harley. We have to catch ourselves sometimes, call him "Grey Goose" instead of "Green Gus," and things like that (no reference to expensive vodka intended). But that's getting easier as time goes on; Harley is a very different bird.
Partly, though, Harley simply deserves all the scritches we can give him. And why not? There are worse ways to spend an evening.
Truth In Labeling
Posted on: 05/01/07, 18:22:30 | | link
We have a futon couch that can be set in "lounge" position, which is how we use it. A little bed tray sits in the middle, to act as a coffee table for humans, or an everything table for birds. Peanut used it while he was eating our lunch, and now Harley uses it for playing, eating, and just sitting around. The rounded edges aren't quite big enough for his feet, or maybe they're just a little too slippery, but he treats the edges as perches anyway, mostly with his tail hanging over the edge.
So we quickly learned to put an old towel underneath to catch all his poops. Since although his poops aren't as big as a Finster, they are still too big to ignore, the way we could sort of ignore Peanut's poops. The towel gets changed every day, or maybe every other day if he spends more time in other places, or he's been uncharacteristically neat while eating snacks.
Now, at least one reader has mentioned that I write about poop an awful lot. This comment was not made in the spirit of "Gosh! Everyone loves to read about bird poop!," but rather "Eeeeeewwwww." Which is understandable enough. And it's not like I'm a scatologist, or anything like that. But monitoring poop is one of the best ways to keep track of an animal's health.
Take, for example, Zupreem FruitBlend Flavor extruded pellets. Harley likes to eat these after he's softened them just a bit by dunking them in his water dish. They come in several shapes, five colors, and are apparently quite tasty — to birds. The yellows taste faintly like banana, the blues taste even more faintly like grape, the reds are vaguely red-flavored, and the orange and green are moderately orange and green, respectively. The ingredients include sucrose, which explains the sweet smell (although they don't taste sweet to me), and ground bananas, oranges, apples and grapes. Other ingredients include ground corn, soybean meal, ground wheat, and vitamins and minerals. A lot of birds seem to like the different shapes and colors, and they're really handy for determining how quickly food is processed by your birds' digestive system.
Take, for example, Red Day.
Don't worry, no pictures. You can figure it out. Go on.
Despite the fact that I'd read about this on the internets, I have to say that Red Day is pretty darned alarming. Especially when Red Day lasts for several days. In. A. Row. And especially when Red Day is exacerbated by a Lafeber's Nutri-Nut, which come packaged like tasty hand-made chocolates, nestled in individual papers — these come in yellow, orange and red. Of course.
RED DAY. REDDDDDDDDDD. DAYYYYSSSSSS.
And nowhere on the labels of these foods does it warn you that your bird will poop bloody red on Red Day. But they really should.
They really should.
Posted on: 04/28/07, 19:36:00 | | link
After a week of living with Harley, I can say with no small amount of confidence that if I were to take him through airport security now, we would both have a much easier time of it. I'm much more used to his size and weight, more familiar with the way he balances on my hand, more accustomed to spending time with a big, grey bird. He's still better at it all than I am — I am still in awe that this near stranger to me will "step up" on command (except for the few times I get it wrong). Gotta say that his Mom
former Mom did a wonderful job of socializing this bird.
Despite this growing confidence, I would not want to take him anywhere near an airport right now, for fear the visit would reinforce his apparent joy in making the sound of the airport security beep. Bruce has spent a lot of time in airports lately, so was able to identify it immediately: a metal detector that's found a belt buckle, loose change, or something equally dangerous and terrifying.
The metal detector noise is loud, high and piercing — and quite startling when it's in your living room. The other day Harley started making the airport beep, and another beep that we couldn't identify. Loud, but a bit lower on the musical scale, with a nasal tone; this one isn't so piercing, and in fact I like it. I call it a "boop." "BEEP! BEEP! BOOP!
" Let's just say, Harley might be a little more likely to forget the security beep if the boop didn't make me laugh every time I hear it.
So far, no neighbors have complained about the noise, but Harley can be quite loud. On a couple of occasions, when he's made very loud, obnoxious noises I've tried to distract him by making less annoying noises with him. This has been relatively successful — at least, when I don't start laughing at him. He can whistle (I can't, but I try), he hisses, he clucks his tongue, he makes kiss noises, he says "What'cha doin'" (although not very clearly), "no" (to which I always reply "yes"), and one day, distinctly and completely out of context, he said "you're welcome." He also says "are you ready for bed" when it's bedtime, in a voice that hardly sounds human, much less like his former Mom.
Apart from his capacity for being louder, and his ability to chew up thicker paper products, Harley's size makes a big difference in how I can handle him.
Peanut was so tiny I had to be very gentle with him, or I'd knock him right over. In comparison, Harley is quite solid and sturdy. I notice this most when I get to give him scritches.
IN YOUR FACE, BRUCE!
Yes, night number one Harley preened Bruce's beard, night two Bruce got to give Harley scritches, but night number three (with Bruce out of town) I got to give Harley the Most Scritches Ever. He was sitting on the back of the couch when I reached up to bring him back down to my knee. But instead, Harley twisted his head around, asking for scritches. He rested his beak on the couch for stability, and I started gently ruffling his feathers. But as time went on, he leaned into my fingers, and it soon became clear that some spots need rubs, not gentle touches. In fact, there is nothing gentle about scritching the crown of his skull, or around his nostrils. It's an amazing experience.
Posted on: 04/22/07, 19:48:21 | | link
I met Harley's Mom and her friend at the airport on Friday, where we found a spot in the middle of everything and brought Harley out of his travel cage and sat him on my knee. In the middle of the airport. Out on my knee. Let me repeat that. In the middle of an airport. Out. On. My. Knee. This was to prove to me that Harley was a much better, calmer traveler than I was, and that he'd handle going through security just fine. It was a remarkable experience — at least, I thought so. Harley just sat on my knee, looking around, as if nothing amazing at all were going on.
He was both bigger and smaller than I remembered.
He got lots of stares from admiring passers-by. Most people walked by slowly, watching him the whole time. But two children, both under five years old, crept up slowly toward the travel cage, trying to peer inside. Finally their mother pointed up to my knee, and the older child did a double take that would have put him on America's Funniest Home Videos if there had been a movie camera around. There was
a camera phone, so if those pics (of Harley! not the kid) come out, I'll post them.
We visited just long enough for Harley to learn and practice making a new sound: a very piercing beep from a security machine. We'll see if he keeps that one in his repertoire.
After a quick introduction to putting Harley in the travel cage (move quickly and watch his toes), I checked in at the counter, and got ready to go through security. It wasn't too crowded, and there were two lines, so I picked the one closest to where Harley's Mom was watching (ready to leap over the barrier and pummel the TSA employees if the bird needed saving), and warned everybody that I had a live bird. I put my shoes and few belongings into a grey bin, and then I don't remember anything except Harley's Mom making sure we were both walking through the metal detector and not an X-ray machine, Harley's Mom advising me to hold him closer to my body, holding Harley's toes, and putting him carefully back into his box.
I think the Transportation Security Administration people all admired him, and asked me what kind of bird he was, and I think I even managed to reply coherently, and one of the TSA people helped me make sure I had the cage closed correctly before I walked away, they were all very nice, and I remembered to gather my shoes and other things, and wave goodbye to Harley's Mom. And then I spent about two hours in the airport, talking to myself
Harley the whole time.
(As I stood in line to get on the plane, a fellow asked me what kind of animal was in the box. He guessed it was a ferret. I told him it was a bird, "the complete opposite of a ferret." Not to be mean to ferrets, of course. Back in Detroit another man asked me if I had a tarantula in the box. Who are
these people, and what kinds of pets do they have?)
Luckily there was an empty seat next to me on the airplane, so I was able to bend down every few minutes to talk to Harley. The man in the next seat over very wisely pretended to sleep the whole time. (No, he was actually very friendly, and only pretended to sleep some of the time.) Harley was very quiet during the trip, although I don't think anyone would have noticed if he made noise, since there was an unhappy infant behind me.
Trip over, Bruce met us as we walked out of the airport, and we drove home.
Where Harley almost immediately established his dominance by climbing to the very top of his cage.
Harley has been remarkably content at times. About three hours after arriving here, Harley was resting on Bruce's knee, one foot tucked up, and grinding his beak. Remarkable! He's been eating and drinking and pooping and playing and even making a bit of noise. He's introduced us to pinning — some varieties of parrots can make their pupils get bigger and smaller and bigger again when they're excited about something. The best thing was pizza sauce, although scrambled egg, apples, pears, and preening Bruce's beard also rated pinning eyes.
You read that right: Harley preened Bruce's beard his first night here.
So yes, Bruce is winning. He even got to give Harley scritches last night — only his second night here! Harley's Mom was amazed! (Yeah, don't worry. Bruce is still commuting to DC three or four days a week, so I'll win eventually. Bwa ha ha!)
But bedtime is hard. I'm sure that's when Harley feels the most vulnerable and alone. He's used to sleeping in a room with other birds, and with the Finsters in the office in as close as we can get to quarantine, all he has to keep him company are the noises from the light timers, refrigerator, and the occasional neighbor. He's ended up going to bed very late for him (although his time has changed by an hour), and it's taken several tries to finally settle him down, no matter how many choruses of "Rock a Bye Harley" we sing. The worst was last night, when he dozed a little hanging on the wall UPSIDEDOWN!
But we got two new perches today and changed his cage a bit. He preened for quite a while on one of them, so hopefully he'll settle down there a little more quickly tonight. And we have a lot of time to figure it all out.
And he's already taught Bruce how to eat toast:
Close-up of Harley on the cage