I have some good news to share, I'm rehoming Santina. It's a hard thing to talk about so I'm glad I got that off my chest. Read till the end and watch the video to understand the situation, how the rehoming went, and how a win/win situation came out of it all that really is good news.
I adopted Santina from the rescue on December 23, 2013. She's been a great bird and a wonderful pet. However, from early on we ran into issues. I'm not talking about behavioral ones because those we solve through training. I'm talking about Santina's health problems.
From the beginning, it was clear that she had some issues, but I was optimistic that veterinary medicine could cure her. I spent a small fortune getting Santina tested for everything under the sun, yet the results were inconclusive. It was a wild goose chase because results would contradict each other and no specific cause could be found. I treated Santina with antibiotics and kept her quarantined from Kili & Truman for triple the normal quarantine period. In the absence of a specific diagnoses and under the impression that the treatment helped, I went ahead and put all of the birds together.
It wasn't long until Kili and Truman began exhibiting similar symptoms to Santina. It was not clear at first because they were all close together. But as Marianna started borrowing birds for a few days at a time, in the isolation of her room, she discovered that Kili & Truman had the same things going on. All the birds went on antibiotics. While on medication, things would seem to improve. But, once off, things would go right back to before.
Marianna moved in with her Blue and Gold Macaw, Rachel. Rachel got sick too which made things even more clear. We started by keeping Rachel in a cage in a separate room and treating her.
Over the course of the last two years it has been a nightmare of juggling treatments and quarantines. We went so far as keeping each bird in a separate room and showering between birds. This has led to a few things. First of all, it led us to discover that antibiotic treatment appears to cure all of the birds but Santina. After several different medications and a long trial of isolated treatments, we have concluded that Santina's condition is most likely incurable. The curable bacterial infections that she has been spreading to the other birds may be a symptom and not the cause. When removed from Santina's presence, after a course of antibiotic treatment, the other birds have been infection free going on for over half a year.
The other thing we had come to realize was that Santina's condition has been taking a toll on our bird and family life. Instead of focusing on making new training videos, taking the birds places, writing articles, and doing the sorts of bird things I usually do, I have been plagued with vet visits, quarantines, and depression. We could not travel with multiple birds, could not keep the birds together as a family, nor spend time with more than one bird at a time. The wedding was a distraction and kept us busy. We had to jump through hoops to make arrangements to get the birds involved in the wedding without impacting their quarantine.
Since the time I introduced Santina to the other birds, my entire bird life has become stagnant. I stopped training Santina because I was afraid to risk her illness becoming worse. The other birds, I could not get to training because much time was being spent on work and handling all of the birds separately. Marianna has made all of the quarantine efforts possible by splitting the tasks of caring for each bird. Life had become a rut. There was no motivation or pleasure from doing bird stuff and thus a giant set back in the online realm as well.
We never planned things to go on as long. It always seemed like there would be an end in sight. First it would be a week of medication, then two, then a month. When we split the birds into different rooms, it was just going to be a trial to see how they do separately. But, weeks turned to months and months to years. Nothing was changing. We were exhausting all ideas and possibilities. The conclusion was becoming more and more apparent that Santina would not be able to be kept together with the other birds.
All of the birds were short-changed throughout the whole process. Instead of spending one collective time taking care of them all, time had to be spent on separate feedings, separate cleanings, and quarantine procedures. Although more time was being spent on birds than the normal situation, individually the birds were receiving less time. What started as a health problem and temporary solutions was turning into a long term problem. We were getting nowhere.
This summer, I was contacted by a lady that had seen my picture used in a bird sale scam. These things happen left and right and there's nothing I can do about them (most of them are overseas and create a new page every week). She was looking to get a Green-Winged Macaw. We got talking and before long, Lori and my wife became great friends. Lori read my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots, and discussed the finer points of owning macaws with Marianna.
Lori was still trying to decide if a Green-Wing was right for her or not, so Marianna and I paid Lori a visit with Santina. After meeting Santina, Lori told us she would like a bird just like her. Coming home from that visit, we realized that there was a strong potential here for an ideal situation all around. We stayed in touch with Lori and helped her develop her understanding of parrots. Then there came a point where I asked Lori if she would be interested in adopting Santina. She was ecstatic beyond words and the answer was yes.
Lori is the ideal candidate for adopting Santina. Lori has a house but no other people or parrots living there. She can afford the upkeep for a macaw which is quite expensive. She loves animals, has time on her hands, and has no plans for adding any other birds. She is patient and willing to follow the training methods for developing trust. Also she is willing to give up an entire room in her house to give Santina the lifestyle she has become accustomed to. Likewise, Santina is just the kind of birds that Lori was looking for.
We spent the rest of the summer making preparations for the rehoming process. There was no rush to get it done and no deadline. However, due to conveniently overlapping summer schedules, it worked out to be easier to do things more quickly than to wait for the fall. It just so happens that the more you are willing to take your time, the more quickly things end up actually happening.
Lori put up plastic sheeting on the walls, replaced the flooring with vinyl, repainted the ceiling, removed all loose wiring, and prepared the room to be bird safe. It was a lot of work but best done before having a bird in the home.
We took another trip to Pittsburgh to help Lori prepare the bird room for Santina. We built a custom NU Perch stand and hung it from the ceiling. Also, the ceiling light was upgraded to a bright LED fixture and the light switch was replaced with a timer. We brought over some of Santina's old and new toys so that things would be as familiar as possible. We even used her old food bowls and Training Perches.
The room was ready but there was one more thing to prepare: Santina. Santina is a great bird with people she is familiar with but can be a menace to anyone new. I've done a fair bit of socializing her over the years, particularly using the Aviator Harness to take her outside. However, Santina still would not be at the point like the other birds to just step up for someone else for sure.
There was no way I could fully prepare Santina for the exchange. So instead I focused on preparing Lori and Santina for the training process to build a relationship. I spent time reminding Santina of the training exercises I had already done with her initially to teach her to be good with me. I wanted them to be fresh in her mind so that Lori could use them. I emphasized target training and stepping up onto a handheld perch so that Lori would be able to use those tools to move her about in the first few weeks without contact. I also spent a lot of time talking to Lori about the steps to follow to win over Santina. To put it simply, don't try to touch her or force her to step up, use the training tools she knows to relearn to do those things for you.
On August 21, 2016, nearly 3 years since adoption from the rescue, I rehomed Santina. I flew Santina out to Pittsburgh to see Lori again. Santina seemed to recognize her and was in a great mood. We moved slowly in the introduction stage and Lori did a great job. I know it took effort to hold back some of her excitement but in reality it made things go much more quickly than expected. We stayed the weekend and got to witness progress in the making.
Santina went from just barely taking treats from Lori to jumping on a Training Perch to get treats from her. Santina was becoming more at ease with Lori's presence. Otherwise, Santina was perfectly at home on the familiar NU Perch stand I built her. We practiced Santina's feeding/cleaning routines a few times with Lori doing it more and more on her own. Although the rehoming process only lasted two days, it felt like weeks of progress because we made a gradual transition. Santina had the chance to get used to her new home and new owner with me around so she actually felt quite at ease.
We would leave to go get lunch, then come back and work with her. Then we would go out for dinner and come back. This coming and going got Santina more relaxed, and when I left without coming back, she already had a new friend in Lori. And this is really great news. Santina has been taking to Lori very quickly. They have a wonderful understanding and connection developing. Lori adores Santina. The dedicated passionate attention that Santina is receiving is definitely uplifting to her.
Santina was always a one-person bird before. She grew up as an only bird and I have found her to like attention as an only bird. The group environment was not ideal for her and she did not deal so well with the little green guys buzzing around so much. On the other hand, with Lori, Santina can be the center of all attention.
As I left Santina with Lori, I was actually quite happy. Certainly there was a feeling of sadness in going home without her. However, seeing how well she is doing with Lori and how happy Lori is to have her, I knew it was all right. Kili, Truman, and Rachel are for the better. They will be able to recover their health and get back to training. Santina will be in a home environment that she actually enjoys best. Lori got the exact kind of macaw that she was looking for. And Marianna and I have a wonderful new friend. This just goes to show that a rehoming situation, when done right, can have an all around happy ending!
A year ago today, I married the love of my life. As we celebrate our one year wedding anniversary, I would now like to share with you memories of that special day.
Sorry that I didn't have a chance to post about the wedding sooner. Right after the wedding we left for three weeks to Australia on honeymoon. Then when we got back we had a lot to catch up on and married life to adjust to. I spent a lot of time editing together footage of Australia parrots so that set me even further behind on getting to the wedding footage. By the time I had a chance to work on the wedding video, it was the harsh middle of winter. I was just posting pictures of parrots and snow. Posting footage of a summer wedding would just be out of place that time of year. So we decided it would be best to wait till August and share with you the wedding on the same day, one year later.
Fast forward to August 8, 2015. It was a cool summer morning in northern New Jersey. Crickets were chirping and songbirds singing. A thin layer of fog formed on the lake that would serve as the backdrop for the wedding ceremony. A few of us spent the night at the lakehouse for an early start. But the majority of guests (and the birds) began arriving in the later part of the morning. Our bird friends Ginger and Kristine were responsible for bringing all of the parrots from our house that day. Once our parrots arrived, we went out to take some pictures.
We continued taking photos with family and friends until the ceremony which started at noon. Kili and Truman not only were the ring bearers but they were also the wedding party. Kili was the best bird and Truman was the bird of honor. It is understandable that Kili would not allow to be any bird but the best. Rachel and Santina, the big macaws, were placed on specially decorated Training Perches at the sides.
At the lead of the bridal processional, Kristine and Ginger brought out the wedding party parrots. Then came the bride with her father. The ceremony was held on a shady peninsula that stretches into the lake. The ceremony went much like any other with the "I dos" and promises of eternity. Kili and Truman helped provide the rings.
We had a tent erected over the deck for the reception. It provided cool shade in the August sun while everyone sat at one very long table. Bacon wrapped scallops, ginger lamb bites, and steak were catered to everyone's delight. For desert, guests dipped fresh fruit and marshmallows in a chocolate fountain. Blue and Jewel from the movie Rio, topped the wedding cake.
Marianna received Truman as a wedding gift. It was his calling all along. His purpose was to make a special someone in my life happy. And like wine, with age he gets better. When he was young, he was pretty difficult. Going through his terrible twos (and more like terrible twos, threes, and fours), he was a menace. But with those years behind him and lots of training, Truman is as good a pet as ever. Marianna was ecstatic to receive this feathered monkey of joy on her wedding day.
After the reception, my bride and I boarded a white stretch limo. It took the long scenic route to the airport while many of the guests took a shortcut to get there sooner. The limo arrived to the airport and drove across the runway. Our guests greeted us at my decorated airplane. We took some pictures and then transferred from our limo ride to the airplane. The guests waved goodbye as the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Sazhin flew off into the sunset. Dreams do come true!
I received a question from a follower about whether or not it is possible for someone with a handicap/disability to put an Aviator Harness on a parrot with just one hand. I was about to just say the first thing that came to mind, "no!" But I had no experience with this either way so instead I said that I would look into it. After all, who better to try it out and find out?
I realize that there are many people with disabilities that keep parrots. Some are in a wheelchair or have shaky hands from PTSD. Others have trouble just from age while some are young and dealing with a temporary injury. So although the video included here is based on one single type of disability, I would like to use this as an encouragement for any physically challenged owner that there are ways to succeed in training your parrot despite your impairment.
Note that although this article is about one specific type of impairment and about one kind of training example, the mindset conveyed here may be helpful for all sorts of parrot issues and for any person having trouble with their parrot.
Granted Santina is fully harness trained already, this experiment was solely about whether or not it is even possible to consider harnessing a parrot with the use of just one hand. Well, I am happy to say that I learned that it is. Santina had not even worn a harness since last year and yet she was cooperative at putting it on. This is largely due to the fact that she was taught to wear the harness using positive reinforcement from the start and looks forward to it whenever she sees it. Since the harness was never forced on her, she has no reason to freak out when she sees it for the first time in a while. I did just one normal run with the harness to make sure she was still ok with it.
So I dangled the harness in front of Santina and she just stuck her head straight into the collar the way she was taught. Getting the collar onto the bird myself with one hand would have been much harder and simply impossible if the bird resisted. But since she actually wants to get it on, her assistance made it substantially easier! Pulling the straps through and around the wings was only more time consuming but no harder than usual. The hardest part I found was to pull all the extra material through the bird-proof clasp with one hand! Without the ability to hold the clasp in one hand and feed the material through with the other, it was a challenge of dexterity to do it with my fingers. But with practice it got better and by the second take, I kind of had it down. I would recommend anyone with a disability working with the harness, or any kind of training, practice all the mechanics of it ahead of time to reduce strain on the bird.
Besides a few nuts, Santina got to go outside for the first time this season, a reminder of how wonderful it is to wear a harness and go out. I didn't pester her further with my own clumsiness to take it off with one hand because she was eager to get back to her normal bird business when we returned. However, I am sure that the exact same process could be repeated in reverse. My conclusion is that if you can tie your shoe laces with one hand and go about daily tasks, putting an Aviator Harness on a parrot with one hand is at least possible!
The key part is the training. More precisely than ever, the bird with the impaired owner requires the most accurate of training. Yes, the parrot can be taught to fill some of the role of the owner and help in the harnessing process! But the training must be correct and thorough. More patience, self discipline, and attention will be required. But if your goal is to beat your impairment and achieve the same things with your parrot, then I think it can be done!
Sometimes I find myself impaired during parrot training even with two hands. Some things I do with the birds makes me wish I had three or four hands to accomplish all the training at the same time. But since that won't be happening, I have to make do with what I have. I find ways to either break behaviors down into smaller portions, devise tools to help me do more within my capabilities, or worst case scenario, I seek help from someone else to get more hands into the training scenario. No reason the same can't be done going from two hands to one, or working from a wheelchair, or dealing with a different impediment.
I suggest that anyone planning on having their parrot wear a harness to safely go outside, follow the steps covered in my Harness Training DVD. Further, it is important that the bird be prepared to begin this advanced training by performing the requisite basic training explained in my book. There is an automatic special discount built in on my online store. If you order a Book + DVD or Harness + DVD, DVD is 50% off. Book + Harness and the DVD is free.
What I found interesting was how not-unusual the challenge was! Although it was challenging, it was challenging the same way that any parrot training task is. There is a goal to accomplish x and y with the parrot with limited means and communication. So I work on solving the puzzle through trial and error, positive reinforcement, reading body language, and all the usual tools used to train behavior to the birds. What I discovered was that harnessing a parrot with one hand is really the exact same thing just with the added step of using less appendages and more patience. This turned out to only be one step more complicated than harness training a parrot in the first place. There are loads of other challenges in getting a parrot to wear a harness so this is just an extension of that and just adds one more challenge and nothing more. The same problem solving mindset that needs to applied to teaching the bird to wear a harness in the first place can just as well help overcome the added physical demands.
This system for overcoming disability and accomplishing things with our parrots stems far beyond just harness training. Target training, trick training, taming, flight training, and all that good stuff can be achieved through patient persistent application of the training methods that I teach. I'm not saying it will be easy. You will have to tailor these methods to your specific conditions. But following this system, you will find success with your bird.
Rachel the Blue and Gold Macaw loves getting sprayed from a water bottle. Marianna sprays mist on and around Rachel and Rachel just soaks it all in. She dances around her Training Perches with her wings flapping to catch the mist. This is pretty typical for a rainforest parrot. Parrots from dry climates on the other hand (like Senegal Parrots, Budgerigars, etc) don't really like to shower much.
While Rachel can get really excited about a shower, Truman the Cape Parrot prefers baths. Meanwhile Kili the Senegal Parrot and Santina the Green-Winged Macaw are pretty indifferent to water. Either they don't want to get wet and resist or at best they do nothing. They just never get into it like Rachel does but I figure that when they aren't mad about getting wet, that these are the times they like it.
The best way to get your parrot used to showering is with a gentle spray mister. Use slightly warm water. Squirt the mist above the bird and let it fall onto the bird. Avoid squirting at the bird directly unless it likes it. The important thing is never to use a spray bottle for punishment or make showering an unpleasant experience. As long as you keep it enjoyable, it will be a great activity for you and your parrot to enjoy together.
Here's a video of Rachel getting sprayed from a water bottle.
July 18/19 2015, a game-changing parrot training seminar was held in Russelsheim Germany outside Frankfurt. The seminar was the culmination of nearly a year's worth of online webinar sessions during the scope of which I was teaching training methodology and harness training for parrots of all levels.
The Germans accepted us with great hospitality. Bratwursts and pork chops were plentiful. We got to meet many members of the German flight club and their birds during the barbecue the night before the seminar.
During the Seminar we alternated between lectures, outdoor flight demonstrations, and feedback sessions for members. Flight club members would show me what they have accomplished with their own parrots and I gave them pointers and feedback on their training. Overall I was very happy to see so much progress and success since we began the webinar series.
During intermissions, there were outdoor flight training demonstrations. Most of the parrots flown were on harnesses with long leashes. But a few birds were even free flown. The Germans are convinced that flight and particularly outdoor flight is necessary to maintain a parrot's health.
In Germany, they have a particularly bad epidemic of aspergillus in parrots. The flight club, with the help of several avian veterinarians, maintains that outdoor flight is the only prevention/cure to the infectious lung disease. More and more people are learning to fly their parrots outside for fun and for health.
In the following video you can see some of the flights that were made. They use particularly long flight lines to fly the birds across a soccer field. Some of the flights by more experienced fliers were successful while some of the beginners ran into some trouble. In one case, a pair of blue and gold macaws flew to the end of the line several times in a row. One cockatoo somehow decided to turn around 180 and fly the wrong way. But in all cases of screw ups, the aviator harness prevented the parrots from getting into serious trouble and safely brought them down to the ground in a recoverable place. Further webinars and training will be necessary to improve recall flight reliability.
On the Sunday following the seminar, many of the attendees came on a historic parrot outing. Over 20 people and 15 parrots set out by ferry, foot, and by wing to explore the German countryside. A long walk was rewarded with a pleasant lunch at a tavern.
Flight club members received matching shirts at their seminar "graduation." They all proudly wore them to the parrot walk. If it wasn't obvious by the parrots on their shoulders, the matching shirts confirmed the group unity. Marianna and I received an honorary induction into their group after lunch.
Here is a video of the walking adventure:
After lunch, a few of us headed to a nearby field to fly some parrots. Florian brought his Harlequin and Blue and Gold Macaw with him. Before we reached the flying location, Saphira the Harlequin Macaw flew off of his shoulder and into a tall tree. Moments later, the Blue and Gold took flight to follow. While the Harlequin is accustomed to freeflight, the Blue and Gold would only sit with a harness. The force of the macaw flying off at full speed coupled with a badly chewed harness, broke the connection and the macaw took off into the tall tree. Florian watched the macaw flying away while I grabbed my camera and caught the moment.
The Blue and Gold tried to land on the branch with the Harlequin but somehow scared her out of the tree. Florian did not seem worried. He said this had happened before and he expected the two macaws to come back. After ten minutes of watching and calling passed, I realized the birds were not going to just come back. I said, "we need more birds" and ran back to where the rest of the club was relaxing. I grabbed a few people with macaws and told them to bring their flight lines.
The idea was to start flying other parrots (safely) to try to entice the lost parrots to come and join them. Unfortunately the parrots being harness flown weren't particularly enthusiastic about flying and the lost parrots were not eager to come back. Florian kept watching and calling but it was of no use. We watched leaves and branches falling out of the tall tree as the parrots were having the time of their life. An all you can chew parrot play ground is not an easy place to get a lost parrot to come back from.
Florian normally used the harnessed Blue and Gold Macaw as a motivator for the freeflight Harlequin to come back. But now that they were both gone, he could not even manage to get the Harlequin to come back. He tried to use treats and Saphira the freeflight capable macaw even came back once for a treat. But no sooner did Florian give the treat that the bird took back off into the tree.
The harness did not break for no reason. A new or well maintained harness would not have broken under similar circumstances. Other members of the group had noticed Zazou chewing on his harness and notified Florian. Unfortunately Florian did not accept that the harness was damaged until he stood there holding nothing more than the black end of the leash. An important lesson learned is not to leave parrots with harnesses unattended and to check them for damage prior to every outing.
More than an hour later, the Harlequin vacated the tree. First she flew to a shorter tree some distance away. But as Florian kept calling, she finally came to him. Florian hoped that Saphira would help call Zazou back. But it wasn't working. The group had to head back. So we left Florian and a few others to work on getting Zazou back. Some friends brought Florian's RV camper to the site so he could spend the night and continue his efforts in the morning.
We did not get to witness the recovery. But from what we learned, Florian was unable to recover Zazou all day. Zazou got rid of what was left of the harness and got driven away by predators. When all hope was lost and night set in, Florian went into his motorhome for the night. No sooner did he close the door that he heard Zazou outside. He came out to find that Zazou flew down and landed on the roof of the camper on her own. Here is a video of the parrots flying away and a discussion of the recovery effort: