Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Tuesday's Time To (13th March)

I've been busy with our birds today. In our culture animals such as dogs and cats aren't kept as pets. We don't encourage such creatures to share our living quarters with us because some of their behaviours and grooming habits are considered unclean. But birds are different. Birds are usually kept in cages indoors, and the mess they make is much pleasanter to deal with and less obvious. I really enjoy the company of our 4 pet cockatiels. They're a great source of amusement, and watching and interacting with them, I've learned a great deal about birds - and been taught a few things about human behaviour too. It's quite humbling to spend time with them, seeing how trusting they are - a tiny, delicate creature that could fly away from me at the blink of an eye, and yet which is willing to sit on my hand and allow me to preen and pet them. They are a great joy to us, and bring us all a lot of pleasure.

For this reason, I've decided to devote Tuesday's Time To today, to learning a bit more about birds!

(In this picture you can see 6 of the 9 birds we've had over the years. Currently only 4 of them are with us now but I am sure there will be more - many more maybe - in the future!).

A time to plant ... birds love green food! It's a misconception that they should eat only seed. This provides an imbalanced diet which is specifically lacking in protein and calcium, vital elements in any bird's diet. You can offer birds a variety of greens, but make sure you avoid avocadoes, as these are poisonous to them. Ours particularly enjoy spinach, celery, carrot tops, sprouted pulses, sugar snap peas and romaine. Sweetcorn is also popular, especially warmed (most birds prefer warm, or room temperature food). They'll also eat chillis - birds doen't have any salivary glands, so chillis can't burn their alimentary systems like they do humans. They're not so keen on fruit, but will nibble at the odd piece of apple. I sometimes make them special birdie muffins, with ground eggshell in them and a mixture of greens, with a jar of beef or chicken baby food for extra protein. I just have to make sure the cubs know which muffins are theirs, and which are the birds'!

A time to heal ... birds are usually quite easy to care for, but they can be susceptible to respiratory and gastric problems. There are a couple of things that are worth doing to avoid the likelihood of them becoming prey to these. The first thing, is to keep the environment that your birds live in absolutely immaculate. This keeps down the level of mould spores, which are a major cause of respiratory disease in birds. Also bear in mind that you should not use any kind of chemical products near birds - and especially not anything with non-stick coating, as when this burns it releases poisonous toxins that can kill a bird. Don't hang damp laundry in a room where birds are kept, and ensure the room is well ventilated (but not draughty - and never forget to ensure the windows are shut when your birds are out of their cages!). The other thing you can do is to add a tiny drop of apple cider vinegar to their drinking water. This ensures a healthy digestive system, and has antibacterial properties which assist in the reisistance of disease, as well as helping the water to stay clean (but it will still need to be changed daily).

A time to laugh ... it's true, birds CAN laugh! Our lutino (the white bird in the picture above) is a real character. He can talk, whistle tunes and has learned how to laugh. It's so funny to watch him sitting on his favourite perch, nodding his head up and down and saying "ack, ack, ack, ack", which is his way of laughing! It's really important to interact with your birds, especially if you have a single bird on its own (which I would strongly advise against - they get very lonely and unhappy if kept in isolation, unless you're prepared to invest a great deal of time keeping them amused and happy on a daily basis). Birds are social creatures that see you as part of their flock. They need you to have lots of interaction with them (and why wouldn't you want to? What is the point of inviting animals to share your home with you, if you don't want to interact with them, and find out more about how they behave, and what makes them happy? I'm not talking about making an idol of them - that isn't what God wants for us - but simply about giving them the quality of life they deserve. They didn't ask to come and live with you, after all). One way to tell the difference between a male and female bird, is to listen to them! Only the males are able to imitate human speech or whistles - the females are almost entirely silent, except for flock calls and the odd cheep. What better way to see God's plan for humans, than in nature? The male and female of all species are meant to be different! Let's take a lesson from our feathered friends and learn how to celebrate those differences!

A time to embrace ... birds show affection to each other by preening. It's lovely to watch them as they smooth and caress their feathers - very calming. It's a real treat to have your pet bird come and preen your hair or eyebrows - what a show of trust! If your bird won't let you preen it with your hand, try using your forehead or nose - honestly! Birds are often afraid of fingers, as they perceive the shape of them to be a threat, especially when those fingers are reaching into their cage, which is their territory. They seem less threatened by faces, so try this if you have a bird that backs away from your hand every time you try to pet them.

A time to keep ... in fact you SHOULDNT keep bird seed for too long. It can get mouldy - the same mould spores that will damage their respiratory system (aspergillum) - so don't buy a larger quantity than your birds can eat in 2 months. Never buy your bird seed from a store where it is kept in open bins - buy sealed packages. Store it in a lidded plastic container, and empty the seed cups in your birds' cages every day (at least once a day, if not twice). Don't assume that the cup is full of seed just because you can see seed in there. Cockatiels and other parrot-like birds break the seed husks open to get to the seed heart when they eat (unlike other types of bird - it is a myth they need grit in their diet to grind the seed - this isn't necessary since they only eat the heart of the seed and not the whole husk) so what you see may be empty husks, not whole seeds. Likewise, remove any leftover greens on a daily basis.

A time to sew ... did you know that a bird needs 12 hours of total darkness every 24 hours? To ensure they get this, our birds are covered up in their cage at 6.45 pm every night with a layer of blankets and fleeces. It doesn't look very tidy though, so I've decided to make them a custom designed cage cover! The fabric will need to be quite thick, but as the cage is just a very large cube, it will be relatively simple to sew. If I manage to achieve this feat, I shall post the pattern on the internet to share with other birdie mamas!

A time to speak ... as I've mentioned above, only male birds are able to imitate human speech. In some birds, such as African Greys (which are said to have the same intelligence as a 4 year old child), the ability to imitate speech is very well developed, and they are able to mimick not only the forms of the words, but the exact sound of the speaker's voice too. Our male birds don't have such sophisticated skills as this, but they are still able to say a few words quite audibly - "hello", "pretty polly", "who's a pretty bird?" "love you", and "goodnight". Repetition is the key to getting your bird talking. Distractions also slow down the learning process. And if you have more than one bird living together, especially if you have a bonded pair, be aware that they will never become as vocal as a single bird on its own.

A time to love ... I do believe that birds are capable of emotions like love. I know this because when the wee female mate of one of our male birds passed away, a year or so ago, the poor little male bird who was left, mourned her dreadfully. His behaviour changed completely. He withdrew and refused to interact with the other birds, and called for her constantly. He also started to pluck at his feathers, pulling them right out and leaving bald patches. He still does this, but less than he did. I've had to work hard with him, giving him extra attention and distractions to keep his mind busy, to help him come to terms with his loss. Many species of bird bond for life - cockatiels do - and once again, to me, this is yet another example of God's beautiful plan for all His creatures - that we fall in love and cleave together, for life, because only in this secure and committed union, can we successfully raise children. How sad that we humans have somehow managed to stray so very far from this to the tragic distortion of God's world that we have today.

A time of peace ... cockatiels have a reputation for being noisy birds. They do flock call, but our birds are pretty quiet (our neighbour, whose living room is directly on the other side of ours, where the birds live, claims never to be able to hear them at all) and I think one reason for this is that they are all together, all the time. If they become separated, they instantly start flock calling to each other. Once they can see each other, they become calm. When it's sunny they can be quite vocal but in general, they just chirp and chatter gently to each other. When covered, they are almost entirely silent, for the whole 12 hours. We never, ever cover their cage to quieten them during the day. This is very confusing for them, and disturbs their natural body clocks. If they are making a lot of noise and it is disturbing us, we usually put on a CD (they especially like Andre Rieu!) or switch on the TV for a wee while (the colours and lights seem to distract them) and that normally calms them down. It's all a matter of watching and learning, and understanding their needs - and most importantly, respecting them. We all get along great, and it is so much fun, sharing our home with a flock of birds! We've learned so much from them.