Sunday, June 7, 2015

5 Things to Prepare for when Introducing a New Bird

So you've had just the one bird for quite some time now and have decided that maybe the time has finally come for you to go out and get a second. This can be very exciting indeed and having come such a long way with your little friend, the prospect of finding him a friend or two, and of adding a bit more color in your household can be a very pleasant but somewhat daunting thought. Having lived with just the one bird before this, many first time "flock parronts" are often nervous about adding additional birds into their family because they are unsure of what to expect. So many questions come to mind, for instance:  "Can birds get along with members of other species?" "Will this change the way my little friend has always loved me?" And, "do I get him a boy-friend or a girlfriend?" The answers to these questions: "yes", "not necessarily, no", and "it depends".  Living with two or more birds, can be a very different experience to living with only one bird, or in some cases might not be that different of an experience at all, and while there is little to no way to predict how the addition of new family members will affect currently pre-existing dynamics, there are nonetheless certain things that one can look out for, and be attentive to, to facilitate the process of familial integration and encourage positive interaction. The following is a list of 5 things to prepare, before introducing a new member of the flock to the rest of the household. 

1. Quarantine and Health Safety

The average *safe period* to quarantine a new bird is advised to be anywhere between 30-35 days. All new birds should also be brought for an appointment with the avian vet to be dewormed, and screened for diseases. 
First things first, birds that come in from the pet store (or even from the breeder) may carry a wide range of nasty parasites and other microbial organisms that can make the little friend already living with you very, very sick and so a period of quarantine and stringent adherence to cleanliness procedures and health safety is very important when bringing the new family member home. This means that for an initial period of time the new bird should be kept in a separate room from the *older* one, and that the birds should not be allowed to interact during that time frame. Any handling of the new bird and his/her food items/waste should be followed up by a strict sanitation routine (I mean, stricter than *usual* for those of you who are already neat-freaks) before handling anything associated with the older bird. If possible, a visit to the avian vet for a quick blood work may allay some fears though many will still insist on a quarantine period for safety. As for how long this quarantine period should last, different people will have different opinions on the length of time the birds should be separated but an average time frame of all the persons I have spoken to (including bird rehabilitators and vets) is anywhere between 30-35 days. I believe it is up to the parront to adjust this time frame to their discretion but this provides something of a useful gauging point. 

2. "Safe" Spaces 

Until they get along, all birds must be provided with a "safe space" in the household. The "safe space" is an unclaimed territory where initial interactions can be facilitated, and also a personal place for the bird to call his/her own.
After the 30-35 days are up, you may be very excited to introduce your new bird to the rest of the family but, and I cannot stress this enough, you should always take things slow and work not at your pace but at the pace of the new bird and the one that is already presently residing in your home. Some birds are very amicable to making new friends and will take to their new brother or sister in a matter of minutes. Other birds, typically those who have had a longer period of being the sole focus point of interaction and attention from their human family members may not be so engaging and may even resort to aggression to what they perceive is essentially a competitor for your affections. To avoid any nasty accidents from happening, the establishment of a "common" or "safe" space is therefore most ideal in facilitating the first meeting and all future interactions between the birds until the parront is absolutely certain that they are entirely on good terms. The "common" or "safe" space refers to two things. The first is a physical space: one that has been unmarked or unclaimed as "territory" by either of the two birds. This means that cages are usually a bad place to facilitate first meetings as many parrots typically are very protective over their cages. The extent to which a "safe space" may be created differs largely from bird to bird. For some birds this can simply be a rather large play gym with abundant toys and food and water sources for the birds to explore on their own until they have sufficiently warmed up to each other, for others this may mean an entirely different room in the house!

The second "safe space" is more of an emotional one. Both birds need to know that they are not being forced into this relationship and so, must have a refuge to call their own should they feel the "need" to escape from each other for brief periods of time. One way to facilitate this if both birds are tame and view you as the primary caregiver/trustholder is to place both birds on play pens at opposite ends of the room. Allow the birds to interact with their toys and food items on their own until they gradually seek you out for company. It may be difficult but it is important not to be overly affectionate to one bird to the exclusion of the other. You may, for instance, feel like praising your first little friend profusely for being such a good boy, but bear in mind both birds are in the early stages of their friendship and do not know very much about each other so what this is doing is reinforcing to the new bird that your older little friend is the dominant and more "important" bird in the household. This can result in fights breaking out between the birds if the newer bird seeks to challenge your older friend for your affections, or in a very timid newer bird that constantly gets bullied by his/her older brother/sister. Similarly showing too much affection to the newer bird in front of the older one can result in jealousy and similar outbursts or other forms of attention seeking such as biting and/or screaming. In this way, parronts need to learn very well the body language of their fids and also be quite aware of how their fids react to their own body language and tone of voice. All interactions at this stage need to be facilitated. It is unadvised to leave two birds that don't get along in the same cage on the assumption that they will simply "fight it out" and eventually start to like each other. More often than not, the bullying will only escalate until it results in severe injury or death of one or both of the birds. 
IT is often better to let new birds get acquainted with each other in an open space such as on a play perch than in an enclosed one like a cage. 

3. Positive Reinforcement 

Positive reinforcement is a very powerful tool in gaining a bird's trust and in instilling a certain modicum of obedience. In this case the goal of your interactions with both birds is to ensure that the interactions are as positive as possible. Birds that are stressed remember stressful situations very well and learn to respond to them with aggression. To ensure that all interactions are positive, any sign that a bird is getting stressed out or distressed should not be ignored and the interactions should be cut short (regardless of how responsive one of the other birds is doing) and only continued at a later date. Something I like to practice when introducing my birds to each other is to create a situation of abundance. When interacting in our safe spaces, the birds are given access to an unlimited supply of favorite foods, treats, and toys. Learning to "share" can be very difficult for some birds and indeed, many (even among friends) never truly learn to do so. By creating an abundant environment, the birds are able to learn that having another bird around is a positive thing because it invariably results in more food, more treats, and more toys. This is not the same as over-praising or over-stimulating one bird instead of the other as both birds will have access to more food items and more toys than they can use/consume on their own. It is very good to maintain a sense of abundance (though perhaps not to such an extravagant degree) even after the birds have grown familiar with each other as this reinforces to the birds that more company does not equate to diminished toy interaction or access to favorite foods. It isn't surprising therefore to note that many parrot species flock together in abnormally large numbers with little to no negative incident in the wild when fruit, seeds, and flowers are most abundant.
Like all good things, trust can only come through consistency and patience. The pace of the daily training sessions should only ever be carried out at the pace of the birds and their individual personalities. Some birds that are more friendly and outgoing will take to new additions to the household in a matter of weeks, sometimes days. Shyer, or more introverted birds may sometimes take a few months to a year. As a rule of thumb, younger birds also tend to get along better and quicker than older birds who are introduced into a new settings.

Taming and gaining the trust of a parrot, especially one that was not handraised or introduced to humans from a young age, can take a very long time. Introducing such a bird into your household means that you will have to begin taming the bird before introductions are made. However as with all good things, the bond and trust between the birds and with you will be well worth the wait.
5. Always be prepared for the worst

Sometimes against all odds, there are certainly situations where two birds simply just won't get along. When that happens, adjustments will necessarily be made to accommodate the needs and lifestyles of both the individual birds. Depending on the level and severity of aggression towards, or rejection of, the other partner, the birds may even have to be kept in different rooms and be given access to two sets of things: play perches, cages, food items, bowls, toys, not to mention two sets of playtime with mommy/daddy.  Birds rarely hate or dislike each other to such a degree but it can, and has happened before and there comes a time where the parront simply needs to accept that their birds just will not get along. It is ill advised to persist trying to get two birds to like each other when it is evident that, for some reason, they simply don't. Pushing the birds who dislike each other to be together in this way may have the unwanted effect of resulting in more fights with the more dominant bird often going out of his/her way to cause harm or injury to the bird that is perceived as the competitor or the threat. In the case where one bird is bigger than the other, this can result in grave injury or even death. There have been stories of parronts who let their birds "hash things out" or "settle matters" on their own, only to return to birds with missing toes, eyes, or dead birds. In most cases, however, things rarely escalate to this point and even birds who don't like each other often do learn to tolerate each other's presence so long as certain boundaries and spaces are respected and clearly demarcated. Still, this is one possibility that should not be taken too lightly as if you do not have the space or facilities to set up multiple cages/perches etc. for multiple birds it may be inadvisable to attempt bringing a separate bird home in the first place.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Featured Bird: The Himalayan Monal

There are many birds in the world that can boast of being some of the most beautiful animals on the planet, and while the diversity of birds and of animals in general can make deciding on a "winner" a literal exercise in futility, the sheer exotic beauty and splendor of the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) will sure give cause for many to wonder. The monal is a medium sized bird and actually, a kind of fowl of the Phasianidae family of pheasants and is found from Eastern Afghanistan throughout the Himalayan ranges in Pakistan, the Kashmir region, and the Republic of India. These birds prefer cooler temperatures and oak-conifer forests that are interspersed with open grassy slopes. cliffs, and alpine meadows. 

A male, Himalayan Monal
Closeup of the Monal's head. The brilliant plumes of the male monal, which seems to resemble shiny pieces of gold/metal leaf, runs from the bird's heads to the tip of its wings. The main body of the monal pheasant in contrast is a deep, velvet black. 
The female monal is, in contrast, a rather plain looking creature. The adaptation of colorful and brilliant plumage only in male birds is believed to ensure a higher chance of survivability in the females, who must evade predators and care for the wellbeing of the chicks.
Although they are not strictly a migratory species, the Himalayan Monal is known to adjust its feeding and breeding range in response to changes in temperature in the region, commonly associated with the passing of the seasons. During the winter, when feeding pastures at higher altitudes often freeze over, the Monal is observed to descend to as low as 2000 meters down the mountains on which it lives, while during the summer, when temperatures in the lowlands begins to rise, the Monal is known to travel back up to 4500 meters, up the mountainous slopes on which they live. Unlike many other birds in the family of pheasants, the Himalayan Monal is thought to be monogamous as birds often form single male-female pairs during the breeding season. In the winter, however, birds are more commonly observed gathering in large groups, often foraging, feeding, and roosting communally.  

The Himalayan Monal is well adapted for flight. Pictured here, a male ascends a rocky cliff.
As with all beautiful birds, the Himalayan Monal has found its significance in the cultures of many of the peoples within the bird's natural range. In the state of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India, and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan the feathers of the Himalayan Monal, typically those that compose the crest of the male bird, are highly valued as ornaments in men's hats as a symbol of authority. The high demand for the feathers almost resulted in the decline of the Himalayan Monal but populations of wild birds have thrived in certain regions after hunting was officially banned in some parts of Northern India, particularly in Himachal Pradesh where it is considered the state bird. In Nepal, the bird is known as the Danphe and is respected as the official National Bird of Nepal, a symbol of the country's natural beauty and splendor.  

The latin name of the Himalayan Monal commemorates Lady Mary Impey, wife of Sir Elijah Impey (British chief justice of Bengal), who was the first to ever raise these birds in captivity. The coloration and plumage of the Himalayan Monal also provided the inspiration for the character of Kevin, a rare and endangered flightless bird from the Pixar Movie Up! 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Featured Bird: The Parotia Bird of Paradise

The Parotias, or Parotia birds of paradise, are a genus of small birds that can be found on the Islnds of Papua New Guinea, to which they are endemic. Like other birds of paradise within the  Paradisaeidae family, the Parotias are known for their remarkable courtship displays and the dazzling array of highly evolved and adapted plumes that are present only in the male members of the species. During courtship, male Parotia birds of paradise perform on small "stages" that are carefully selected by the males by tidying up a clearing of any surrounding vegetation that might otherwise obscure him from view. Then, by raising a ring of feathers around his neck to form a ballerina-like skirt and adopting an upright posture, the male Parotia bird of paradise begins to dance by rapidly bobbing his head side to size and up and down. The black "skirt" and the rapid head gestures of the male bird are thought to accentuate the two brilliant metallic golden-green patches on the bird's head and on his neck that make him especially desirable to females who observe this display from overhead branches. The courtship displays of the Parotia bird of paradise is studied by naturalists and ornithologists alike in relation to the process of sexual selection in birds and how it is the shabby female members of the species that drives the evolution of such distinct and unique plumes.

A male Parotia bird of paradise in full display

The Parotia bird of Paradise was first discovered in 1876 by Luigi D'Albertes, an Italian explorer who spent many months charting the territory of the then virtually unknown interior of New Guinea. During one of his excursions into the forest, his local guide pointed to a bird sitting on a perch in a small clearing. D'Albertes' first reaction was to shoot and skin the bird, just as he had done with every other specimen he had collected, and he was just about to pull the trigger when the local man who was with him put his hand on his arm and said, "wait".

Parotia lawesii by Richard Bowdler Sharpe (1891)
"And then, D'Albertes became the first European ever to see the display of the Parotia Bird of Paradise. This is how he describes it in his book:

The bird spread and contracted the long feathers on his sides in a way that made him appear now larger and then smaller, than his real size. And jumping first on one side and then on the other, he placed himself proudly in an attitude of combat as though he imagined himself fighting wiht some invisible foe. At this time, he was uttering a curious note, as though calling on someone to admire his beauty, or perhaps challenging an enemy. The deep silence of the forest was stirred by the echoes of his voice. 

And then he pressed the trigger, and shot it.

When the smoke cleared away, a black object lying in the middle of the glade showed me that I had not missed my mar. And full of joy, I went to possess myself of my prey. But as I drew near, my courage failed me. I could not stretch forth my hand, and full of remorse I said to myself "man is indeed cruel." The poor creature was full of happiness, and one flash of a gun, and all his joy is past.

Excerpt taken from
Sir David Attenborough's Paradise Birds

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