Tonawanda News

February 24, 2014

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Taking time, earning trust

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — As you may remember, when I was growing up in Wheatfield, I had several pet cockatiels.

I started with a young female, Laverne, and then another, Shirley, and then a male, Carmine. A pair formed and quickly I had baby cockatiels. For the past few years, I have been cockatiel-less, so when a couple of retired friends told me they were moving through seven states — and they needed to re-home an 18-year-old cockatiel and a pair of 6-year-old lovebirds — I seriously thought about it. Cockatiels’ lifespans are between 20 and 30 years and lovebirds range from 15 to 20 years.

Lovebirds, weighing all of 50 to 60 grams, look like colorful trinkets that you would hang on a Christmas tree. They are one of the smallest parrot species and are quite theatrical in their daily tasks. Cockatiels are small grey birds with tiny crests on their head, similar to the much larger cockatoos. Cockatiels are naturally grey with yellow faces and orange cheek patches if they are male. Through years of breeding, cockatiels can come in a range of mutations including: Pied, Pearled, Cinnamon, Lutino, Albino and my favorite, the Whitefaced. Their monochromatic pattern makes them very remarkable.

Of the dozen or so cockatiels I raised growing up, I never had a Whitefaced. When the friends told me of their 18-year-old Whitefaced cockatiel, I got really excited. Both the cockatiel and lovebirds were “tame” when they first obtained them, but through time and human sicknesses they were left in their enclosures more and more, and became quite timid. After about a month of thinking, as time got closer to the humans relocating, I gave an enthusiastic “yes.”

Two weeks ago, I adopted three little birds. When I brought them home, I moved them into a quiet bedroom. For the first day or two, when I would approach the room, all three birds would fly up against their cage, away from me. If they all loved me in the beginning, it wouldn’t be as much fun, I suppose.

One thing I changed immediately was how much food they were being offered. The lovebirds and the cockatiel each had two full food bowls and a water bowl. The seeds totaled about two cups of food. The cockatiel weighs about 100 grams (equivalent to 100 paperclips) and the lovebirds each weigh about half that. It was safe to say that they were being offered excess food. I removed one food bowl and, instead of seeds, offered three to four tablespoons of chopped salad greens, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Luckily, the lovebirds went right to it and started playing and unintentionally eating the new healthy alternative. The cockatiel was a little more hesitant.

I created a routine by slowly entering the room, avoiding eye contact — which seemed to stop the frantic movements on their part — and offering food three times a day. The fresh produce meal came first in the morning. I started sitting as close as I could without them showing any signs of stress, including eye pining, sleek feathers or moving away from me. The only thing I did in the morning was feed them and sit and on the ground and observe them.

When I came home from work, I would place two tablespoons of seeds in their bowl. Since they did not have access to seed all day, they were quite excited. I imagine they were having an internal argument between getting closer to me, and eating delicious seeds. I sat by their food bowls with seed in the afternoon for about 10 minutes and if they don’t come down by then, I left them to access the seed as they cared to. By the third day, the lovebirds would come down inches away from me immediately as the seed was placed in the bowl — and the cockatiel was still skeptical.

Now two weeks after I created a feeding routine in which the birds have multiple chances to eat and choices of where to go, they are evolving into well-behaved critter companions. The lovebirds will eat seeds from my open palm when it’s placed inside the food bowl door. They do not step on my hand, but rather hang comically upside down on the enclosure bars, as if my hand was hot lava. The cockatiel has taken small pieces of millet spray — a favorite seed among small and large parrots — from my hand when it is outside his enclosure.

The cockatiel’s name is Dusty and the male lovebird is named Andre; strangely enough, they did not name the female. If you have a suggestion, please suggest one on my Facebook page. I will keep you updated as more milestones occur.