Archive for January, 2011

My Pippin Is Gone

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

On January 26, I came home from work to find my little sweetheart Pippin had died.  It looked as if she had passed very gently – no sign of struggle or injury – and for that I’m grateful.  She was a little over 10 years old.  The life span of lovebirds in captivity can be 10-15 years, so she died on the young side of her span.  My doctor performed a necropsy, and he found no sign of disease or indication of why she died.  Pippin had definitely slowed down in the last year.  I figure that she just ran out of heartbeats in that tiny big heart she had.

Pippin came into my life as a nearly-weaned hatchling who was full of life and joy.  Chipper, our cockatiel, quickly became her hero and she learned several phrases from him:  “Chipper!”, “Whatcha doing, Pippin?!”, “Chipper-choo,” and the frequently-heard “You be!”  (This was shorthand for “You be good!” which she could also say, but often didn’t have time in the moment to say the whole phrase.)

Here she is being prompted to say “Chipper-choo!”

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As our flock increased, she became the self-appointed conscience of the group, always putting everyone in their proper place by a well-timed pip of consternation, or a vigorous “You be!”  She was fearless and had strong likes and dislikes, which she made known.  But her corrections were always well-timed and spot-on, including the ones she directed at me!  I began jokingly calling Pippin “the knower of all things.”  You could never fool Pippin.

When Charlie came into my house, Chipper and he bonded well and became a tight unit, and his affection for Pippin seemed to disappear.  Chipper was more involved in impressing Charlie, I think, but he never really forgot Pippin, as Chipper would sometimes say, “Goodnight, Pippin,” or “What, Pippin?”  Fortunately, Charlie absolutely loved Pippin and his daily morning routine would be to hop in front of her cage on a cotton rope perch and sing to her.  She loved his attentions and would often just sit and listen to his music.

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As I mentioned, Pippin was fearless in approaching new things and checking them out.  In a moment of distraction, when she was outside of her cage, she flew on top of Sam’s cage and he lunged, out of instinct, and tore off half of her upper beak.  I was devastated and nearly drove like a banshee, top speed, to my avian vet 40 minutes away.  Even through her pain and bleeding, she gave me an encouraging chirp that I always described as a “Pippin giggle.”  She often did this any time I made something special for her or made an extra effort to make things good for her.

Fortunately, her beak began to regrow, though never to her original point.  I ended up needing to bring her into the vet each Friday for a lower beak trim so that the lower beak – which grew much faster than the top still-healing beak – would not grow over the upper beak, making it hard for her to eat.

I would place Pippin into the Wingabago shown here, place it on top of a box in the passenger seat so that she could have a good view out the window, and then strap her in.  She always eagerly looked forward to these trips.  She hated the moments spent in the vet’s hands, but she dearly loved sitting on top of the perch, watching the world go by during the 90-minute round trip through beautiful countryside full of interesting sights:  hills, pines, meadows, raptors and blackbirds, people, etc.  During the 2 1/2 years we made this weekly trip, we bonded so closely that it’s hard to really describe it.  We spent two years watching the seasons pass, sharing the rhythms of our lives, growing in mutual understanding.  Sometimes I’d just chat with her and she’d respond.  Or we’d travel in silence, both of us seemingly caught up in our own thoughts.  But somehow, we always seemed to be in sync with each other, understanding each other.

The beak trims were always stressful for her, but she never held it against anybody, and would quickly recover to return to her cockatiel “boys” at home, where she most loved to be next to.

It’s hard to believe how such a tiny creature can have such a huge impact on a person, but she had a heart many times larger than her real one.

Pippin was a little being of light and joy and wisdom, and my heart is full of gratitude for the 10 short years she came to be in my life.

Steve Will Do Anything for Skritches

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

I haven’t posted for awhile, as I’ve been recovering from a nasty case of sinusitis/bronchitis.  I’m surprised my flock hasn’t begun to mimic my hacking!

Steve, I have learned, will do just about anything for head skritches.  So what better time to train him (instead of the other way around) to come OUTSIDE his cage for head rubs?  Besides, my neck and back were beginning to cry out from the contortions I was going through to give skritches to Steve through his food hatch.

So while I watched a DVD, I waited for him to at least come down to the door, where I had installed a wide perch for him just inside the door (I’ve since also installed a rope perch outside the food hatch).  But no, he decided to be much more creative.  He hung from the cage with his head and neck exposed to me.  He hung there, quite happily, for a good 45 minutes!  Then I introduced the blue pillow shown in the photo, and he finally got the idea he could actually get head skritches right-side up, standing on the pillow.  That quickly evolved into his climbing up to my shoulder where he presented his head for even more head skritches.  This guy would be content if I rubbed his head all night long!  Considering that he’s been deprived of this kind of loving touch for years, I guess he’s making up for lost time.  Since he hasn’t been outside his cage for weeks now, this was a huge night of progress.

Also, one night recently as I was giving him a goodnight skritch, he began regurgitating food for me.  I was so surprised!  But I was also glad in one sense – not that I want Steve to bond with me as his mate – that he has begun to trust me and to form a solid relationship with his human companion.  This may also be the first time in his life he’s been able to do that.

Way to go, Steve!

PS  The cute cotton rope toy outside Steve’s cage was generously made and sent by Michelle at The Beak Whisperer.  She makes fun toys for parrot enrichment.  Steve is getting used to this one before I introduce it to his cage.

It’s Crowded in Here!

Saturday, January 8th, 2011

This is the current configuration of Steve’s cage right now:

Steve is trying to be invisible to the camera here.  The fan-shaped wooden thingie on the cage door is one of the places I place his wrapped pellets for “foraging.”  I no longer offer him pellets in a food cup.  He got the idea right away and seems to enjoy moving about to retreive them when the spirit moves him.

This is the other side of Steve’s cage.  He sleeps in the upper left corner on top of a branch of the grapevine perch.  In the foreground are two of the 3 “stairs” he uses to travel up and down the cage.  Until I put those into his cage, he didn’t seem to want to climb down.  That may have something to do with the fact that his underwings may still hurt – and it may also explain why he doesn’t lift his wings and be more spontaneous and loose with his body when he gets showers.

I tuck more of his pellets in various nooks and crannies on this side of the cage.  I’ll be adding another toy that hides pellets soon, and that will about cover his daily pellet intake.

There are a number of dangly toys Steve prefers over anything else.  He doesn’t seem to know how to play with foot toys, but if anything dangles, he explores it.  The good thing is that instead of retreating into himself, he seems to display more and more courage to try new things, even though he still gets very nervous from time to time.

I was delighted last night when, during our nightly food hatch head skritching time, I offered him a spoonful of my lusciously ripe persimmon.  I think he thought I was giving him orange juice – which he loves – and he bent down and said, “OOOOooohhh!” twice. (He used to say this often with Mary, but hadn’t done so since he’s been here.)   He tentatively tried the persimmon and found it wasn’t exactly to his liking.  So I went to the kitchen and hand-juiced an orange section into a spoon, and he was quite happy with that.   He loved his OJ, and I loved my persimmon.  Oh, the simple pleasures of life!

Steve Moving Forward

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Steve continues to move forward on all fronts.  He solicits head skritches every evening, and I am always happy to oblige. I open his food hatch and wait.   Here is how it goes:

Then Steve presents his head:

And then skritches in earnest:

Isn’t he sweet?  (I also got a painful nip milliseconds after this shot – Steve does NOT like to be photographed!)

I’ve now been able to remove his food cup into which I’d been placing his wrapped pellets.  He is now showing signs of typical African Grey curiosity, so he has suddenly gotten the idea of “foraging” for his pellets.  He eagerly hunts for them around his cage.  They are currently easy to find, but in time I plan to make it harder so as to further stimulate problem-solving and – fun!  He’s coming around and it’s so wonderful to make note of all the small – but significant – changes he is allowing in his life.