Monday, November 19, 2007

Hearts of Space

Sugar Franklin has laid four perfect cockatiel eggs and is sitting on them very hard this go-around. She bites if I go near her.

I'm taking all four parrots to the vet's tomorrow for feather and nail trims, so I'm going to take the eggs away from Sugar tonight. She'll just have to be mad.

I got a pay-as-you-go subscription to Hearts of Space today; it used to be on our local NPR station and I've missed it. It's a nice relief from rock n roll and everyday classical stuff. Kinda like background music in cult movies; transparent yet all-encompassing.

Speaking of which, I'll be starting piano lessons next week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hand Perches

I think I'm going to branch out in this blog. After all, there is only so much you can say about birds, and lord knows I've already said it twice. Maybe I can be as eloquent as, only without the grad school.

It's been raining just a bit here; enough to require the windshield wipers but not enough to require an umbrella. We really need rain and lots of it. What we're getting now is a tease. The Farmer's Almanac said it'll be a dry winter and dry year next year, too.

Last night I had the birds out; Sugar on my shoulder
and Charli perched on my hand. I was holding my hand
out and continued to hold it out while Charli preened
and generally made herself comfortable. After awhile
my hand got tired, but I didn't want to disturb
Charli's ease.

Sugar would climb to my shoulder or down to my chest
and demand I pet her. But of course I can't pet her
correctly since she's still molting and all her
little feathers are pin ones.

The Bobbsey Twins climbed out of their cage and
perched themselves on the door of the cage. I still
can't figure out if they like each other or if their
hisses at each other are genuine dislike. I hope
they like each other, at least enough to preen one

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Finished Project

Finallly, finally I'm done with the BH book. It's small, but covers everything, and now rests in the hands of Avian Publications.

I was going to self-publish but it's such a hassle to do all that layout and design and marketing stuff, so I've got my fingers crossed Avian Publications will accept it as one of the their titles. Far less money that way, but far less aggravation and sleepless nights.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Now I'm ready to get my humor columns together; I am going to self-publish those in a book. As soon as I think up a title.

Peace in the House

Nice uneventful couple of weeks. Sugar Franklin has been molting heavily and demands incessant scritching. The other three are molting but aren't being as demanding as Sugar is.

Sugar's infected feather follicle has cleared up beautifully, and she's back to her sweet self-centered, spoiled self. It was worth any amount of oral feedings and bites and hurt feelings to see her back to prancing around and preening like the goddess she is.

Yesterday I took Nicholas in for a nail and wing trim. One front nail on each foot always grows much longer than the other nails. The only thing the vet and I can figure out is that he's standing in such a way that nail isn't getting worn down like the others. He's 14 to 15 years old and has, I suspect, arthritis, so I just put it down to that.

In this picture he's being cute; he's such a show-off. He was noisy and calling the entire time we were at the vet's. The other three like attention, but Nicholas would be a prima dona if he were a human. I could see him on the stage, bowing while the audience threw roses at him and the critics raved.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Alex the Grey

Goodbye Alex.

Alex, the 31-year-old African grey belonging to Dr. Irene Pepperberg, is dead. To say that parrot lovers are devastated would be an understatement.

Why mourn a bird I've never met?

Because Alex was a major part of the bridge that's slowly being built between animals and humans.

And because Alex was Alex.

I don't write decent obituaries, and this is no different.

Alex is dead; may his work live on.

Here's the formal press release, explaining why Alex was so important to us all:

WALTHAM, MA (SEPTEMBER 10, 2007)—Alex, the world renowned African Grey parrot made famous by the ground-breaking cognition and communication research conducted by Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., died at the age of 31 on September 6, 2007. Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species. Pepperberg says that Alex showed the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old. Her research with Alex shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry.

In 1973, Dr. Pepperberg was working on her doctoral thesis in theoretical chemistry at Harvard University when she watched Nova programs on signing chimps, dolphin communication and, most notably, on why birds sing. She realized that the fields of avian cognition and communication were not only of personal interest to her but relatively uncharted territory. When she finished her thesis, she left the field of chemistry to pursue a new direction—to explore the depths of the avian mind. She decided to conduct her research with an African Grey parrot. In order to assure she was working with a bird representative of its species, she asked the shop owner to randomly choose any African Grey from his collection. It was Alex. And so the 1-year old Alex, his name an acronym for the research project, Avian Learning EXperiment, became an integral part of Pepperberg’s life and the pioneering studies she was about to embark upon.

Over the course of 30 years of research, Dr. Pepperberg and Alex revolutionized the notions of how birds think and communicate. What Alex taught Dr. Pepperberg about cognition and communication has been applied to therapies to help children with learning disabilities. Alex’s learning process is based on the rival-model technique in which two humans demonstrate to the bird what is to be learned. Alex and Dr. Pepperberg have been affiliated with Purdue University, Northwestern University, the University of Arizona, the MIT Media Lab, the Radcliffe Institute, and most recently, Harvard University and Brandeis University.
Alex has been featured worldwide on numerous science programs including the BBC, NHK, Discovery and PBS. He is well known for his interactions with Alan Alda in an episode of Scientific American Frontiers on PBS and from an episode of the famed PBS Nature series called “Look Who’s Talking.” Reports on Alex’s accomplishments have appeared in the popular press and international news from USA Today to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. The Science Times section of the New York Times featured Alex in a front-page story in 1999. That same year, Dr. Pepperberg published The Alex Studies, a comprehensive review of her decades of learning about learning from Alex. Many other television appearances and newspaper articles followed.

Alex was found to be in good health at his most recent annual physical about two weeks ago. According to the vet who conducted the necropsy, there was no obvious cause of death. Dr. Pepperberg will continue her innovative research program at Harvard and Brandeis University with Griffin and Arthur, two other young African Grey parrots who have been a part of the ongoing research program.

Alex has left a significant legacy—not only have he and Dr. Pepperberg and their landmark experiments in modern comparative psychology changed our views of the capabilities of avian minds, but they have forever changed our perception of the term “bird brains.”

For press contacts:
The Alex Foundation and Dr. Pepperberg can be reached by e-mail at the or by phone at 781-736-2195.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


One of avian vets told me she thought Sugar's impacted preen gland might be cancer, but I needed to see Dr Z (the premier avain vet in this area of the country), who was in Europe but due back in two days.

I was just sick for two days -- the thought of surgery, the dangers, the prognosis, the expense.

Dr Z said she didn't think it was cancer, but it might be a tumor. And was not uncommon in cockatiels. Please note how she said "not uncommon" rather than "common." What's the difference?

OR it could just be infected. So I'm giving this tiny bundle of yellow feathers and arrogant will power warm compresses and oral antibiotics twice a day.

Sugar takes these meds about as well as can be expected: biting, sticking her tongue against the syringe tip, slinging the meds everywhere, clamping her little beak shut. It's supposed to be sweet so she'll take it -- and when she slung it out yesterday all over my face, I couldn't help but notice that it was sweet. sigh . . .

I'm to see Dr Z Wednesday; she said if the redness and swellling hadn't lessened by Wednesday it was probably a tumor and would require laser surgery, which is quick and clean.

It seemed to me last night that some of the redness had gone,so I've got my fingers crossed.

But, worry queen that I am -- how did this happen and how can I prevent it from happening again?

Oh, and about the eggs -- Sugar's having "fun" sitting on her eggs. She's healthy, on a good diet, and gets plenty of calcium so I'm going to let her be. At least until this preen gland situation gets worked out.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Finishing Up

The book is mostly finished -- well, the writing of it anyway. Now I have to get Charli to pose for the cover picture -- ha! Then I have to format it, do an index and table of contents, get my ISBN, then get it converted over into PDF to match CafePress' standards.

Sugar has been sneaking around and laying eggs now every ten days or so. Enough is enough, so this week she's going for a Lupron shot. Plus her preen gland is getting impacted again.

Who knew such a tiny little bundle of feathers could be so much trouble and so expensive?

I've been invited to a concert out of town in a couple of weeks, which means I'd be out of town for maybe 30 hours. Which means I'll have to find a bird sitter to check on my babies lest they (the birds) open their cages and trash the place. Only there are only two people that I know of who bird sit, and they're both expensive and overbooked. I'm almost tempted not to go to the concert because it'll be so much aggravation arranging things.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rain, Rain, Go Away . . . .

Things have been normal (whatever that means) around
the house for about a week now. Sugar laid another
egg, and when I threatened to take her to the vet for
a Lupron injection, she stopped.

Stormy here today; sudden rain interspersed with
sudden sunlight.

I know my birds mostly sleep while I'm at work, but I
can't help but suspect they do some communicating,
too. I mean, there are four of them in the same
room, sharing the same environment and the same
human. Anthropomorphizing again, but what the hell.

I've gotten the too-short first draft of my book
done, and am waiting on some feedback from a couple
of folks who know the technical stuff better than me.
I wish they'd hurry back with their suggestions; I
want to get the thing finished and done with.

I was busy last night and didn't have time to take my
birds out for individual scritches. I'll be busy
tomorrow night, too, so I might skip my chorus
rehearsal tonight in order to spend some quality
avian. And maybe even get my laundry caught up.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Spring Drought

It's been very hot here for the past week, with no
relief in sight. And it isn't even officially summer

We're in a moderate drought status, and talk of rain
now comes easily into conversations with strangers.
My birds, of course, are oblivious to all this.
Their environment is cool, they have abundant food
and water, plenty of toys for amusement, and a staff
person to cater to their every desire.

But something in their physiology responds to what's
going on outside. They've all been molting more than
usual this season. I come home and there are
feathers all over the floor, as if a wild animal had
caught one of my babies and left behind only
feathers. But all the birds are intact, with bits of
down feathers and the occasional flight or contour
feather falling out.

The new feather sheaths are itchy and prickly, so I
have to be very careful about helping them preen
themselves. Once false move in the wrong place and
I'll re-learn a valuable lesson.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs

This morning Sugar Franklin presented me with her third egg since Saturday. I've taken her in for four hormone shots already this spring, and I thought she was over for the season. She lays them in her food cup, using the pellets as a sort of nesting material, I guess.

People wonder why I worry about her laying eggs. The eggs aren't fertile, and laying can be hard on her little body. Deplete her levels of calcium, danger of becoming egg bound, and so on.

Of course, she's quite full of herself. She'll rip the flesh from my hand if I dare stick my hand in her cage but otherwise prances around like she's the first and only creature to give birth.

So I put her fresh pellets in another dish. I rearrange things in her cage to off-set her sense of safety, and I put her to bed early. Today I've got a call into the vet to see if she needs another hormone shot.
sigh . . .

I made orange cupcakes on Sunday, and Charli's been in heaven with the bites of cake I give her. I think oranges are her most favorite food, though almonds come in a close second. And blueberries. And peanuts.

What do the Bobbsey Twins and Sugar Franklin love the most? Almonds and peanuts. Vegetables, they seem to think, are to be avoided at all costs lest a molecule come near their beaks. Unless, of course, it's mashed potatoes or birdie bird stuffed full of mixed vegetables and squash baby food and crushed nuts.

When I die I’m coming back as my birds.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sugar's Upcoming Appointment

Tomorrow I'm taking Sugar Franklin to the vet for a follow-up visit. She's had an impacted preen gland, which I only noticed by accident. If I hadn't noticed, I wonder how long it would have been before it began obvious. It hasn't seemed to hurt her or bother her in any way, though she was furious and quite indignant when I examined it. It hadn't seemed to affect her preening activity at all.

And she was even more angry and more indignant when I dared allow the avian vet to examine her. The vet gave me some medicated pads with which I was to daily dab at the gland, since there seemed to be some slight discharge. A week later, after daily dabbing, I took Sugar back for the first follow-up. The swelling had gone down a lot.

Now, a month later, her preen gland is back to normal -- well, as far as I can tell. Sugar has been preening as normal.

Last night, about an hour after I covered her, she made several whimpering chirps. I peered at her under the cover, and she was fine. Perhaps she was having a bad dream.

I definitely think parrots dream. There was a period when Charli was still a baby that she would settle in for a nap and practice talking. It was so cute and endearing I could barely stand it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

After-Work Attention

All five of us are in the study, where I pretend I’ll be able to get lots of work done after my “real” job.

Charli is perched on my shoulder, determined to protect me from errant fingers that might dare scratch my neck or rub my ear.

The two male cockatiels, i.e., The Bobbsey Twins, are on their play stand, staring out the window and occasionally picking at their Nutriberries.

They’ve all had rough molting periods this spring. Sugar Franklin has just flown over to my knee and begs for scritches. Her little feet are cold, and her head is full of new feathers that need preening.

I oblige because that a human’s job -- to obey all parrotly requests.
Dust, made up of dried keratin, floats out in the air.

Charli watches this for a few minutes, and then climbs from my shoulder to my chest. She looks up at me so sweetly I have to leave Sugar Franklin and work on Charli. Sugar Franklin fluffs out, and a cloud of cockatiel dust circles her body like a halo.

As I scritch Charli, tiny down feathers fall off and land on my shirt.
The Bobbsey Twins pretty much take care of their own preening. Flash doesn’t allow me to pet him at all, and Nicholas demands petting all the time. But since I only have two hands, Nicholas is pretty understanding that I can’t scritch him 24/7.

But I think I would if I could.