Saturday, April 2, 2011

Never Say Never

I'm a dog trainer. I also know a whole lot about cats and how to train them. I hate birds, I fear birds. I even know why I fear birds so, I was chased and pecked by a giant chicken when I was about 3 years old and peed my big girl panties. Since then every bird I have had contact with has been really aggressive toward me, threatening and biting. There is no way I would ever consider one for a pet. Nasty mean creatures only suited for being cooked in a wide variety of ways or maybe as a toy for one of my very predatory dogs and cats.

Hah. Never say Never. New Lover (NL) calls me from work in early April to tell me the X had shown up at the office and dropped off the X Bird. Could I come pick the bird up? Birds can't live in an industrial chemical warehouse. My stomach clenched. My heart started racing. We had been living together for a grand total of 3 weeks and here I was presented with a potential deal breaker. What would my therapist say? This is an opportunity for growth. So I picked up the bird and brought him home.

I will admit he is a really pretty bird, a Peach Faced Love Bird, green indigo variety. But after living with humans that didn't get along his whole life, Peaches was a behavioral basket case. His bent cage spoke volumes about his life since NL bailed that home. Not to mention his stupid totally unoriginal name. Screaming and shrieking, biting, and cussing to make a sailor blush. (Lovebirds don’t speak, they repeat syllables and intonation. NL translated and then it was really really clear.) Every little noise or movement set him off. And I don't know diddly about bird care or training. The internet provided basic care and feeding instructions, but there wasn't much on bird rehab. So I decided to treat him like an out of control biting rescue dog.

First, I took over his complete care. NL was to have no direct contact. I put the bird on a feeding schedule rather than free feed, set a bedtime and wake up schedule and then totally ignored him except for those things. I just went about my business and did not avoid those things that might inspire shrieking. Vacuuming, music, my dogs hanging out, my ancient cat wandering through. From a very calm place I projected toward the bird, "Relax, chill". I made no eye contact and did not speak except to say "Hungry?" and "Good Morning" and "Bedtime".

Pretty soon Peaches stopped screaming all the time. He started to relax and groom himself and make happy little bird sounds. When I approached with the food bowl he started cheeping "Hungry!" instead of screaming and cowering in the back of the cage. At sunset he started saying "Bedtime" over and over if I was late. He started ignoring the rest of the critters.

A little while after that I started teaching him to step up on my hand before I would feed him. Patience, calm and happy thoughts, Peaches had to step on my hand before I would give him the food bowl. This was a major breakthrough for me. I had to control and ignore my own fear thoughts to keep control of the bird. He never did bite me hard.

So now it is July. NL has been given back contact with Peaches and they are both very happy. We started letting him hang out with us in the kitchen with the cage door open (I did put the dogs in the bedroom). He likes to sit on NL's shoulder and head. He talks with us. Now he is saying the things I tell him like Good Bird and hasn't cussed in a long time.

Three days ago we were doing this. I got up and walked away. And guess what? Peaches flew after me and landed on my head! He clung to my hair and groomed me. I was in awe. Peach was making happy little chirpy noises while he made sure every one of my wild locks was in place to his satisfaction. I gave thanks to him and the gods for this breakthrough for both of us.

Like I said, Never say Never. Unless NL tries to bring home a reptile or insect. I am not going to train a tarantula. Everyone has their boundaries.

I wrote this in 2008. Since then Peach has decided I am mate worthy and loves me best. 
He built me a next in the bottom of his cage in his straw litter and is hatching a bell pepper core. He keeps trying to get me to come in and take care of our "egg", but I won't, he wanted it, he can take care of it. Yah, I'm a horrible mother.

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