Posts Tagged ‘feather picking’

My Steve – with me now for one year!

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Today, a year ago exactly, I few halfway across the US to meet and take home my rescued African Grey Steve, who had been fostered from a parrot rescue by my good friend Mary of Parrot Musings.

It’s been a very challenging year for both of us, with many ups and downs x a zillion, it seems!  There have been times I’ve been overjoyed for the least little progress and down in the dumps through discouragement.  Nevertheless, I was never willing to give up on this sweet, most gentle of Greys.  That very gentle spirit is what attracted me to him.  From all of the neglect and unknown treatment he has received in the past, Steve could have turned out anti-social and vicious.  But he has always allowed himself to trust again, amazingly.

Steve has severe phobias – about being handled, about being outside his cage, about other birds, about the outside (where he had escaped for 5 days during this stay with his original owner).  Those phobias still remain, and probably always will in a reduced form.  But with extreme PATIENCE, he has come a long way in a year.  Most of this time, it was I who had to learn from Steve what he needed.  That is still an ongoing process.  Sometimes I’m embarrassed by how long it’s taken me to “get” what he needs, but with give and take between us, we have come to be very attached to one another.  Like any other relationship, we learn what the other person is like in certain situations and we adjust or compromise.

What is very clear is that Steve will never be a typical boisterous Grey, who likes to hang from things and bounce around having fun.  The skin under his wings is so delicate that the least jolt, fall, or sudden movement tears whatever has healed, causing those wounds to bleed slightly.  Pain is part of this cycle, so Steve is very careful how he walks or climbs – deliberately and with care.  These are the mutilation wounds he developed when living with his original owner, and which continued while at the rescue.  Since being fostered and coming home to me, he has never once picked under his wings, thankfully.  The only thing he does, in times of nervousness, is pluck feathers from his neck, and you can see that bald spot in the photo above.

It might be possible, with a type of avian physical therapy, to improve the mobility of that delicate skin if it ever healed definitively, but Steve cannot be handled yet, and I think the trauma of regular handling would be far more detrimental to his physical and emotional self than anything gained from the therapy.

Of course, this means Steve isn’t very active physically and probably never will be.  But I’ve arranged his food in such a way that it’s either wrapped or stuck inside various crevices all over his cage.  Same with his foot toys.  So he has to move around to get to any food.  He loves it this way.  So, while Steve may not live as long as a healthier Grey, he will be a happy one and after all that he’s been through, that is all I care about.

The best part of our day is at the end, when the other birds have been put to bed.  I sit next to Steve’s cage near his food hatch.  I’ve rigged a platform there, so he can safely walk up to and through the hatch to get his nightly head rubs.  We commune with each other for about 1/2 hour before Steve’s bedtime.  Even if Steve doesn’t solicit head rubs, he will sit with one foot curled up, relaxed, and just watch me, and I watch him.  It’s a great calming time for both of us.

I have great hopes for the next year for Steve!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Friday, December 24th, 2010

I’ve had a few lovely Christmas gifts from Steve in the last week, and I’d like to share them with you:

First, here is Steve after having had his shower with warm water spray today:

He fluffed up his feathers, clearly in great enjoyment, and allowed me to spray him for a long time.  You can also see a bit of goose flesh from the chill of his bath, but also how his feathers are growing back on his chest.  I think he’s calm enough now that he’ll let them grow back fully.

Hand training for trust: I’ve been giving him his clicker training treats with my hand fully open and the treat in the middle of my hand in an attempt to get him more used to my hand.  This has many practical benefits, because I often need to replace chewed toys and move things around in his cage.  If he’s terrified of my hands, I can’t do much without freaking him out.  (Steve has good reason to be afraid of what hands might do.  When he was mutilating under his wings, Steve was removed from his cage by pulling him out by his head to avoid making his wounds worse!  Poor guy…)  Steve initially was afraid of my hand, but now he’s very calm about my hands when I do expected things.

His first self- initiated communication: This past week, I came home later than usual and the other guys were clearly excited and clamoring for their supper.  They like to share my steamed veggies and have grown used to getting that most evenings.  When I finally fed Steve his seed treats, he calmly grabbed my finger as if to say, “Man, the service around here is going downhill!”  It was the first time Steve has initiated clear communication to me. That was wonderful!  Maybe he now understands I am NOT going to pull him out by his head!

Exercise: Steve has gotten used to not moving about much in his cage, probably through the years he’s been in pain from his wounds.  I moved his foraging cups down a level in his cage two days ago.  I figured he’d eventually move down if he was hungry enough for his seed treats.  It took 2 days, but he now moves more!  Yay!

More progress: Steve will have been here 3 months by the end of December.  Today, when I was replacing food in his cage, he got scared by something and jumped out of his cage onto the floor.  I offered him my arm to put him back into his cage, but he didn’t want to return.  Instead, he climbed up my arm and sat on my shoulder.  I was so surprised!  I determined to treat him for his bravery and made the mistake of taking a step toward the treat bowl.  Steve got scared, so he tried to fly away, landing on the couch.  He was slightly rattled, but by the time I got him back into his cage, he was not so much freaked as deeply thoughtful.  He always seems to really think hard about his new experiences.

Wound healing: I took a good look under his wings, as he holds them out when he’s on the floor or my arm.  Even after his two landings, one of them quite awkward where he lost a wing feather, I could see no bloody crease or any blood anywhere.

So you can see how happy I am.  I think Steve is learning that life can actually be more fun than he thought.  He sure deserves every happiness he can get for the remainder of his life.

Thank you, everybody, for rooting for him!

And a beautiful Christmas with special gifts to you too.

Fly Free, Jazzy!

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

Today my dear feathered friend Jasmine (aka Jazz, Jazzy, Jazzyroo, Jazzy-Rooster-Roo, etc) was euthanized to end her suffering.

Jazzy belonged to my best friend Dweezeljazz, and Dweezeljazz has written about Jazzy’s struggles in various blog posts – this one the most recent.

Why did Dweezeljazz and her husband have to get to this most drastic of solutions? Simple: Jazzy was done in by modern chemical combinations that made her skin so itchy that she began plucking feathers and eventually mutilating her skin. This was no behavioral or emotional situation that is often blamed for feather picking. No. Rather, it was like one of us having a constant case of severe hives with no relief in sight.

The sad thing is that even a recent move to a better location in a lovely newish apartment didn’t solve the problem. Well-meaning neighbors cannot be asked to stop using products – perfumes, highly toxic cleaners, fabric softeners, and highly-scented laundry detergent. And these fumes always have a way of entering into one’s home, despite heroic efforts to keep them out. (I’ve always been amazed by how much more potent and pervasive the use of such chemicals/product is in Europe, compared to the US.)

Jasmine had perhaps an unusually high degree of sensitivity to these chemicals. She spent 6 months in a garden/home center, host to everything from pesticides to scented candles and the scented fumes from well-meaning admirers. She’d already been scratching the feathers off her neck when Dweezeljazz rescued her. And for the next 1 1/2 years she had her new home, it was a constant battle to improve her air quality. But I wonder how many other parrots suffer a similar fate and end up irritable and bitey and plucking, which people may attribute to other factors? These unfortunate parrots often get moved to rescue places and successive homes that often don’t work out.

But enough of that for now. Time to celebrate Jazzy.

One of the hallmarks, for me, of Jazz’s personality was her unbelievable capacity for love and affection. She got it back in bucket-loads from Dweezeljazz and her husband. During the agonizing time we discussed if she should be euthanized, I’ve never experienced such grief and sorrow, thinking that I would never be able to see her again, to hear her call out my name when Dweezeljazz and I spoke on the phone each morning, and to know how huge a hole it would leave in the lives of her caretakers. Their lives have revolved around Jazz for a short but rich time.

Dweezeljazz and her husband would take Jazzy everywhere they could, if the weather was good enough and not freezing. (And even in very cold weather, they’d just wrap a down jacket around her portable carrier and off she’d happily go.)

She would be transported in her Wingabago or her backpack, and LOVED everything new: Loved to socialize with anyone and be admired, loved to go on walks and comment on the birds outside, wolf-whistle anyone passing by (much to the embarrassment of Dweezeljazz), loved to try out hawk imitations on the enormous Clydesdale horse she met, and loved to eat her snacks en route to interesting places. Dweezlejazz spent hours with Jazz in the countryside to escape the apartment fumes. Those became very special times of bonding and loving her even more.

Jazzy had an amazing vocabulary and would often express her wants and needs very clearly. In the last few months, about the only thing that really soothed her skin were warm showers. She asked for them frequently and would revel in the silky relief it gave.


Her comic timing was legendary, her intelligence keen and perceptive in the extreme. Her life was full, happy, and lively, with potential for many years of fulfillment in a family that loved her dearly.


But too soon it ended and her quality of life slowed to a halt. Her distress and pain was more than any of us could bear to watch. We had to let her go.

And so, little Jazzy, we love you and never will forget you. You have given us tremendous gifts of love and understanding, and glimpses into a feathered world that is magical and full of wonders. I hope one day that this world will be safe enough for you and your kind – and so many other joyful beings that wing through the air – to flourish free in your own habitat that is preserved just to cherish such precious beings like you.