I have been preparing to move to a new house for over a year now. The renovations have been ongoing and delayed. As a part of the move, I had a big bird room being built and this was an opportunity to house any sized parrot I could dream of.
About this time last year I began looking into acquiring a baby Green-Winged Macaw. I was on a waiting list for a baby once eggs were hatched. Infertile eggs and cold temperatures kept pushing things back until what was supposed to be my baby hatched in the spring. The plan was to acquire an unweened baby macaw to be trained for outdoor freeflight. By that point, I have been noting tremendous success indoor freeflying Kili & Truman and craved the challenge of flying a parrot outside. But according to most expert sources that I had encountered, the consensus was that you can only succeed with outdoor freeflight with a large parrot that was weened by the trainer. Furthermore the bird was to become a performer much like Kili & Truman and I was warned that anything but a baby might not be good for that purpose.
Note: hand feeding unweened baby parrots and/or outdoor freeflight bears a high level of risk and is complicated beyond the scope of any advice I can give. Virtually all pet parrot owners should not attempt either and those who do should seek out expert advice.
I don't believe in adopting rescue birds just because or simply out of sympathy. I see a lot of people in the bird community burn out because of these reasons. I think rescue parrots should be adopted on merit and benefit to bird and owner. There are too many reasons to go over here but there are definite pros/cons to adopting and there are plenty of cases where adopting a rescue rivals getting a baby. I may write another article later about how it turned out better to adopt Santina.
Finding the right rescue is not necessarily an easy matter either. You have to research around and find the right rescue with the right attitude and most importantly the right bird for you! This may require some distant travel but for a bird that will live with you a lifetime is not something to skimp on! I had already been looking nationwide for a suitable baby so distance made little difference on finding a rescue. When I learned that Lazicki's Bird House & Rescue is in Rhode Island, that felt like right in my backyard compared to the far search I had been making.
The first thing you want to learn when choosing a rescue (after all there are many bird rescues but you only have the ability to support one at a time) is about their reputation in the bird community. Talk to local bird clubs, people who have adopted from that rescue, and volunteers at that rescue to get an impression what it's all about. I was hearing about Lazicki's in the news, from other rescues, and from adopters so I already had a favorable first impression. The rescue had several Green-Winged Macaws but everyone thought off the bat that Santina would be the right one for me. Given that those people have been around the bird and I haven't it was wise to take their advice and then test it out for myself. The next step was to go and visit the rescue and the bird.
To an extent it does matter what kind of care the rescue provides the birds. Naturally supporters of rescues want to support the ones that do a good job and let the ones that do a poor job go bust. However, it is impossible to hold them to the highest standards. They do things on a tight budget, they have a lot of birds, etc. So discounting these things, the things to look for are that the birds are healthy, treated properly, and that the rescue's policies are acceptable. Things like cleanliness, out of cage time, cage size, etc can be discounted from ideal (as long as they are not abysmal) as the rescue is only a temporary location for the birds. You want to look for minimum standards being met at the rescue and use that as an opportunity to provide maximum ones in your own home.
I won't spend too much time commenting on the appearance of the rescue facility when I visited because they will have moved to a new location by the time this article is released. So there's no sense in analyzing the facility I was visiting that they were in the process of replacing. The things that I didn't like were much the same as would be the case in most any rescue: the birds are clipped, not trained, cages are too small, etc. What was more important was that the rescue was open to the ideas of training, flight, cage-free lifestyle, etc. What I would not accept is a rescue that would mandate me to clip the bird or engage in similar unacceptable practices. I did not have any expectations to find a flighted rescue macaw.
I visited the rescue a month prior to adoption to meet Santina and go over preparations I would need to make in order to adopt her. We discussed diet, space requirements, behavior, and medical care. Santina did not want to step up for me but Steve did put her on my arm. She gave me a few nips but otherwise was content to just sit on my arm and preen herself. What I found was that she is not aggressive but rather regressive. In other words she does not come over to bite you but if you come after her, then she will. This is a much easier situation to work with. Just don't do the things that make the bird have to defend itself (and that is usually unwanted handling).
When it comes to adoption fee, I was not particularly interested. I knew it would be less than I had already agreed to pay for a baby but more importantly I knew it would be negligible compared to the cost of keeping the parrot long term. In a single year that bird could chew through more toys, food, or perches than the price I'd pay for her at the rescue. In fact, without even knowing what the adoption fee would normally be, I offered $1000 to the rescue for hooking me up with such an awesome bird. I had since learned that I donated double what the adoption fee would have been. I'm glad that I did because the rescue can really use the help right now and they had done the best they could for what would become my bird! You can't put a price on a living/loving creature; you can only do your best to support the rescue/store/breeder for being a temporary care giver. This is why I want to encourage everyone to give as much as you can to rescues and don't look at it as a cheap alternative. Nothing about keeping parrots is cheap. (In making preparations with the avian vet for Santina's upcoming first visit, I learned that it would cost over $800 for all the testing she would require. I would have felt terrible if I had paid any less an adoption fee for the entire bird!)
Steve, the founder of the rescue, is a nice guy (even if he tells you that he doesn't give a damn about you as long as the bird is ok!). His heart is in the right place and he is foremost concerned about the long term welfare of the birds. He shares my view that flight is essential for parrots and that they enjoy working for food (even if they are unable to provide those opportunities at the rescue). On adoption day, Steve and I went over pictures of the place I'd be keeping Santina and took care of some paperwork. Then we went over to check out Santina. I could tell that she did not want to step up for me so I tried to divert the animosity by chatting with Steve nearby.
I learned that Santina was hatched on September 13, 1999, had a single owner who had to give her up for personal medical reasons, and that she had a tendency to hate men. Also it turned out Santina was previously named Santino and thought to be a male until she laid an egg at the rescue. Otherwise little is known about her past and I would be left to discover her behavior and personality on my own.
Santina did not want to step onto my arm and tried to bite. Steve forced her onto my arm and then Santina gave my arm a bit of a bite. There's no question why she bit. She did not want to go and then was forced to so she bit in order to not have to be on my arm. A large part of the problem was that the bird was bonded to Steve, had nothing to gain, and everything to lose by stepping up for me. She was already fed, uninterested, and defensive. She could not be sure if I was sturdy or safe so her best course of action was to bite rather than step up. This is one place I fault the rescue on not using socialization techniques to make visitors a highlight of the birds' day rather than a downside. It certainly makes the prospect and decision of adopting a parrot that does little more than bite you quite a difficult one.
The decision to adopt Santina was bitter-sweet. From a logical stand point she was a good bird, the right kind, and had a lot of potential. But in the introductory phase there was little bond or relationship between us that would be indicative of any sort of preference. Furthermore the rescue gave me little stimulation that the bird was ideal for me. Most of what I was hearing was about how I'd be ideal for the bird and little the other way around. What I had to remind myself of was the fact that a clever rescue could have just as well manipulated the situation (like a used car salesman) to make it seem like a good idea. Ultimately the decision and the risk was entirely mine. I decided that with my training capability I should be able to turn any bird around regardless if it chose me or not.
Santina did not want to go into the carrier. Let me rephrase that, she desperately did not want to go into the carrier and Steve had to do a double take to shove her in. Absolutely not the approach I'd wanna use but this was not the time to stand around figuring it out. I learned that Santina is phobic of carriers during that episode and also while walking her near a carrier since. Once in the carrier, I wasted no time loading her in the car and heading home.
The giant macaw clung to the bars during the span of most of the car ride despite the perch I put inside for her. At home I opened the door and tried to coax her out. After the bites she had given me at the rescue I was a bit leery of putting my arm in a confined space with her. Worse yet, every time I reached in her beak would come for me so I was unsure if she was using it to hold on or bite. Eventually I just bit the bullet and went for it and I was relieved to know that she was trying to step up rather than bite. I took her out and set her up in the smaller of the two bird rooms that will provide her temporary lodging. Since she has been accustomed to a cage for so long, I did not want to overwhelm her by letting her loose in the big room all at once.
Within 24 hours Santina has been stepping up for me, dancing, and taking scratches. This will be the subject of future blog posts so be sure to check back. In the meantime, here is the video of Santina at the rescue and coming home!
I am checking on the new article in the blog every day, LOL
I am so excited and looking forward to hear more news, just cant wait for another update.
Michael, think of doing live feed for your bird room and live stream it.
check out justin.tv or ustrem.tv that would be sick....
I would be your biggest fan ))))
Keep up posted, looking forward, more photos and videos is better
Nice videos Michael!
Santina has quite the beak!
I was impressed that you didnt flinch from that "love bite", even if it was a struggle not to. Steve's handling suprised me as well, he readily put his hand around her beak, I would imagine that not to be the greatest of ideas with a panicking Macaw, such as Santina going into the carrier!
I really like how the bird room looks, we'll be wanting more photage when its all done . Whats the plan, are you intending to house Kili and Truman there as well? Also, whats your idea on their interaction - supervised only? I guess Truman could stand up to Santina, at least a little, but Kili is another story...
Also, more pics of Santina!
Happy new year's eve!
Worst case scenario plan is that Santina moves to the big room and Kili/Truman get cages in the smaller cage room (where Santina presently is). That way I can also stick Santina in the cage room with the room itself being the cage and let Kili/Truman roam the big room.
Ideally though, I'd like to get Truman loose with Santina in the big room and Kili loose in the little room. This may work out because Truman's demeanor is more like Santina's. Not intentionally aggressive. If I sense that it is safe to leave the two of them unattended, then they can have the big room together. I know that there is no way I can leave Kili unattended with macaw cause she'll attack and then get hurt in return. Kili would be much happier having a room all to herself. Truman is nimble and flies well so I bet I can hang small things all over the ceiling and he'd be content hanging out up there while the macaw would stay low on the bigger stuff. They wouldn't even need to cross paths. Kili wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to attack.
Either way, I will still have cage for Kili & Truman. They were brought up that way and it's not too confining for them. If things go perfectly I'll leave the cage doors open in their respective rooms as it may work out. Santina is too big for a cage which is why the small 5x8ft room is her cage. Anything out there sold as "macaw cage" is pitiful and in my mind cruel. It's like keeping a cockatiel in a shoebox. I would never have gotten a macaw without the means to house it. I feel bad about there being little room to fly but that's a different thing I'm handling and you'll find out down the line.
What a beauty of a bird! That is great that you got her acclimated to the carrier so quickly. I can't wait to see how her flight training goes. My husband, Patrick, will be ordering your book too. When you start your book tour again let us know if you decide to come out to San Diego because with enough notice I'm sure one of the rescue groups we network with, PEAC.org, would love to have you as a speaker. Tell Truman, his brother, Jupiter, says Hello!