The Fab Four Fables

Our family consists of my wife Carol, me and six birds, a green cheeked conure, Pistachio, a dusky conure named Orville and four umbrella cockatoos, Ashley, Murphy, BeBe and Mickie. Unlike the conures, which we purchased as babies, all four umbrellas were adopted as older birds. They came to us, each with his own problems, but today we call them the “Fab Four” (Fab stands for Fabulous). We plan to add more birds to our flock in the future. And when we do, they will all be older birds. How all of this came about is a long story. So if you are interested, sit back and enjoy the series of articles titled ” THE FAB FOUR FABLES “, which we are publishing in the next few issues of Winged Wisdom. Hopefully, many of you will understand the rewards of adopting an older bird.

How I Got Seduced by a Beautiful White Cloud

In the telling of the story of our flock, we could think of no better title than The Fab Four. It is appropriate that the word “fabulous” refers to a fable. Those tales that start out with …. “Once upon a time” …. and lead to….”they lived happily ever after”….and include a moral. The title refers to the “they lived happily ever after” part which may leave the impression that the fab four feathered flock was always fabulous. Well, it ain’t so and we’ll start at the “once upon a time part”. Later, we’ll deal with the moral of the story.

“Once upon a time” a new pet store opened across the street from a restaurant favored by Carol and me. In the window, there was a large cage with a bird in fine white feathers (who later we came to know as Ashley). Carol wanted to check out the pet shop, so we did. I went to Ashley’s cage. Ash said, ‘Ash is a good girl’, ‘Hello Ash’, ‘I like my Ash’ and more. Carol wanted a bird with color, red or blue or orange or yellow or pink with purple polka-dots. I wanted Ashley. The pet store owner put Ashley on my wrist and Ash tucked her head under my chin for an outstanding cuddle. After that, whenever I came near, Ash would put a foot through the cage bars and attempt to pull me close.

Carol fell in love with macaws in general and scarlets in particular. But people told us that scarlets usually get mean when they are old enough to mate, besides, I wanted Ash. After a few months passed, Carol decided to get me a present, Ashley (then 5 years old). We went to purchase Ashley, and found that Murphy (another 5 year old) had picked his cage locks twice to get into the cage with Ash. He would do this at night setting off the alarms which called the cops. The pet store owner wisely decided to let them live in the same cage and they had been together for quite some time.

Being that the two were in the same cage, I didn’t have the heart to seperate them, so my present had expanded from Ashley to Ashley and Murphy. The next good news was that the price was $2,000 for each bird. We checked around and found that we could buy a weaned baby umbrella for $800. I wanted Ash, so we offered $1,500 for each bird, merely twice the market price instead of triple. By the time we bought a used cage, toys and food, our investment was $4,000. I am feeling guilty about spending that much money because Carol’s generous present was based on an amout less than one half of the $4,000. But I am so excited that I can take Ashley home after the vet visit.

As soon as we were settled, Carol tried to take Ashley out of the cage and got her fingers nipped. I told her that she wasn’t gentle enough. Later, I took Ash out and gave him to Carol to cuddle. Ash stepped onto her arm, crest down and feathers unruffled and started up to cuddle. Ash bit her nose. The blood flew. Carol grabbed a towel and pressed it to her nose. The towel muffled her voice as Carol says something about me getting the bird away from her. The word ‘beast’ was included. I didn’t know whether she meant Ashley or me, but decided it wasn’t the best time to ask her. As I put Ash into the cage, Ash said: ‘If you are going to bite, you have to stay in the cage’. Uh, oh! This meant that Ash had done this before, probably a lot of times.

I went back to check on Carol. The bloody towel pressed to her face still muffled her voice, but she managed to use that clipped monotone delivery that wives use to let one know that his real trouble is yet to come: ‘I’LL… BE… ALL… RIGHT… JUST… LEAVE… ME … ALONE! I decided that this wasn’t the time to ask her what she thought of our new pets.

Well, there was still Murphy. He is pretty and hadn’t bitten anyone. But, when I tried to take him out of the cage, he cowered in the far corner. In the pet store, the cage had been in the middle of the floor so he didn’t try to hide. In our house, with the cage against a wall, he not only didn’t want to cuddle, he didn’t want to come to me at all. This did not seem to be the start of a beautiful relationship. I waited for Carol to say to me: “Aren’t you glad we paid $3,000 for your tame pets instead of $1,000 for a mean macaw?” I knew that if she held the bloody towel in one hand as she delivered this line, it would be very effective. I wondered if Kentucky Fried Ashley for dinner will satisfy Carol?

As I counted my blessings that evening, my thoughts did not include the possibility of a fab four feathered flock, but rather, were more in the area that perhaps the terrible two, Ashley and Murphy might be tossed on the front lawn, cage and all. And if I were deposited with my clothes with them, we could become the tragic trio and there might be no happy ending to this story.

Just so that you know that there was never any french fried Ashley, he (yes the DNA test said that Ashley is not a good ‘girl’) is now Carol’s bird. Or rather, they are best friends. Ash’s idea of a fine time is to cuddle in Carol’s lap as she reads or watches TV. She doesn’t look when she goes to scratch him, but it doesn’t matter as he moves so she scratches where he wants. She doesn’t look when she picks him up. It doesn’t matter as he will balance on her fingers regardless of where she grabs him. Honestly, if she tries to pick him up by the left eye-ball and a tail feather, I believe that he will figure out a way to balance so she can.

The next installment will begin to deal with how we got from a bloody towel to the fab four feathered flock.

Life With Our Umbrellas Begins

Where were we? Oh yeah, my new pet Ashley (who was/is a cuddle bunny) seemed to want to tear Carol’s face off (and for some reason, she resented this small character flaw?), while Murphy (who was purchased to help keep Ashley from being alone) was cowering in the corner of the cage. He’s scared of everything, especially me. Carol was abed with a three day headache (Ash’s bite hit a nerve) and kept that d–n towel beside her on the bed or the night stand as a visual sign that she’d shed innocent blood for me and Killer Ashley. I don’t mind eating my own cooking, but it did seem a little lonely. And to get over being lonely, I had to communicate. The choices were Carol, Ashley and Murphy. However, it was reasonable to assume that if Carol communicated, it would probably be in the form, “What are you going to do about “YOUR” birds?” Notice the clever segue to why life forced me to communicate with Ashley and Murphy?

I put Ashley on a T-stand on the kitchen counter and pried Murphy out of the cage to join Ash. Neither bird had had a good diet, so I decided to hand feed them some apple. Ashley took a bite (he loves to be hand fed) and then Murphy dodged (he didn’t believe that apple is food and was afraid of my hand), Ashley ate..Murphy dodged, Ash ate..Murph dodged, Ash ate..Murph dodged, Ash ate..then it’s Murphy’s turn again, but..*ASHLEY TOOK A BITE*. So it seemed that Ash could only stand to take turns for a little while.

But then to my surprise, he turned and put that bite into Murphy’s mouth. And then waited for his next turn. Ash helped feed Murphy as soon as he understood that is what I wanted. It was nice that for the next couple of years Murphy would eat everything that Ash tasted. I could, however, have lived without Ash’s superior sneer reminding me that he could get Murph to eat and I couldn’t.

A few days later, I had Ashley and Murphy in my lap while sitting at the computer. Each bird got a hand for a scratch. This worked pretty well for 5 or 6 minutes, and then without warning, Ash climbed onto my arm and with crest up and wings out, let out a blood curdling screech as he ran up to nip my ear. He broke the skin and it started to bleed. He climbed back onto my lap. I continued to scratch Murphy while contemplating the best course of action. My shy bird (Murphy) was beginning to trust me and Ashley needed some discipline. The bleeding ear didn’t overly concern me. I’ve seen worse while shaving. Ashley needed to know that this shouldn’t become habit.

My decision was that I would allow Ash to bite one more time, then with as much dignity as I could muster, I would take both birds back to the cage. I would then take Murphy out and hope that Ash would get the message. About two minutes later, Ash climbed back onto my arm. His wings out, the crest up. His beak opened to scream as he started up my arm. He got two and one half steps in, when bang. Murphy hit Ash between the eyes with the curved part of his beak (not with the point or with the beak open). Murph never raised his crest or spread his wings . He made no display. He simply had rapped Ash as a teacher in olden days might have rapped a student’s knuckles.

Ash stopped in mid-step and mid-scream with beak open and foot up. Slowly, very slowly, the beak closed and the foot came down. Then the wings came back in and the crest came down. He turned to march back to my lap with as much dignity as he could muster. Ash then picked up each foot to examine it while counting the toes to show Murph and me that he was ignoring the situation. I said, “Thank you, Murphy”.

After another couple of minutes, Ash climbed back up on my arm. The crest came up and the wings came out. But before he could run up the arm or scream, Murphy just stretched his neck and looked Ashley in the eye. Down came Ash’s crest. In came his wings. Ash went back into my lap and licked his toes. That event seemed to be a turning point with both of the birds. Ash has been less aggressive and Murphy started to come out of his shell. It has been easier on my ears and Carol’s nose.

A moral to the story was promised and that means a lesson. I propose to share some of what the too’s have taught me. They are marvelous teachers when one pays attention. First they are capable of understanding much when you stay focused and are clear about what you want.

Some of the literature suggests that you take your bird to a neutral area, such as a small bathroom, to teach the up and down commands. These commands are important to establish the relationship between you and your feathered pet. You can make these lessons easier for the bird to understand by creating a serious situation. Take your scale along and weigh her/him. Write the weight onto a clip-board. Put her/him onto a t-stand and use a spoon to hand feed some apple sauce or baby food. It makes them feel important to do serious things for you. The up and down training becomes almost a by-product and they learn it quicker because they are not trying to figure out why you are having them go up and down.

We have a large gym with many perches in our den. When Carol started training Ash to stay on a perch, she would keep her hands near to catch him if he slipped as he stepped onto the perch. She would be saying “stay” while her body language was saying: “come to mama”. Ash was confused.

Ash would jump down from the perch to go find Carol. She would pick him up, give him a hug, scratch his head, kiss his beak before carrying him back to the perch and telling him to stay there. If he jumped down his punishment was: a hug, a scratch, a kiss and a ride back to the perch in mama’s arms. Things started to improve when she gave him the hugs, scratches and kisses while he was on the perch, not when he jumped off.

One woman posted a story about her bird bonding to her husband and attacking her. Her hubby laughed. This was not good! The bird will be encouraged by to bite even more. As with human children, both parents must take the same position, remaining consistant with one another.

One’s expectations are also very important as a bird will usually live up to (or down to) your expectations. Recently on the net, one woman wrote about her too having sharp nails and being able to file her nails by telling the bird that it would make her beautiful. Another woman wrote that her bird didn’t mind having his wing feathers clipped, but threw a fit over having his nails filed or trimmed. She even scheduled the visit to the vet for nail trimming so that hubby would be forced to take the bird there. The first bird enjoyed what the second bird had a fit over. Is this because all birds are different? I believe that it is because each bird did exactly what its owner expected. One expected her bird to enjoy (or at least tolerate) having the nails filed and it did. The other woman expected her bird to have a fit and it did. In these cases, a behavior pattern in the birds seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy of the owners.

Ashley’s Tale

It is time, probably overdue, to describe the background of Ashley and Murphy. As with human children, the formulative years are very important. We do not know all the details, but I’ll recite what we do know.

Ashley, our first bird, is the one we know the most about. He was hatched in 1989 We have a certificate of hatch date from the breeder. Ash is a local bird and has the same vet now as he has had since his hatch date.

Ash’s prior owners were a young couple who lived with the wife’s parents. They concluded that because his eyes were brown when he was weeks old that Ash was a female. They taught him to say “Ash is a good girl”. DNA tests informed us that he is really a male. Ash grew up as the star of the family with a mom, a daddy and a grandma all there to take turns teaching and spoiling him. Daddy thought it was funny to teach Ash to make mutterings that sound like under the breath cursing. Daddy dearest also taught him to play rough with a towel, sneak up on sneakers and to attack a heavy gold link bracelet. This must have been cute when Ash was a little snowball, but not so cute to me when a grown up umbrella wanted to play rough with me.

Ash lived as the prince of his kingdom, albeit a spoiled one. Then a human baby was born. And there was less time for Ashley who wanted to reward this demotion by biting the women (mom and grandma) because they were giving part of his time and attention to the new baby. Of course, when he hurt (bit) any of them, they put him into his cage as punishment. So, he learned to hate the cage and yell at them.

As they needed more money with the new baby, a tearful decision was made to sell Ashley. They put him in the pet store near us, as that was the only one which would take him on consignment. The woman who owned that store , which is now out of business, would put a fish net over his head as punishment when he misbehaved. So the first two women in Ash’s life (mom and grandma) abandoned him in favor of a human baby while the third woman put a fish net over his head if he didn’t do what she said. Ole Ash did the sensible thing, he swore off women.

No one told me about my little time bomb, so I let him on the bed with Carol. He marched right up and demonstrated his opinion of women by biting her nose. While I could understand his disdain of human women, using Carol’s nose as a scoreboard did not seem to be in Ash’s best interest or mine either for that matter. Therefore, after Carol stopped bleeding and hurting, we both held Ash. I would keep a hand behind his neck to smooth down his crest when he assumed the attack mode with Carol, and tell him “no, play good”. After a time which seemed like forever, Ash could be trusted with Carol.

Then the good news! Ash decided that not only were all women not bad, but Carol was good and that he loved her. Then the bad news! Ash loved Carol and wanted her for a mate, so he was compelled to fight me to the death for her hand. I will have more on how we got by that hurdle later.

Murphy’s Tale

Murphy (sometimes called Murph, the Surf) is our second U2 and perhaps the most complex personality of the flock. We bought him because it was thought that he was the companion of choice for Ashley (believed to be female). The two had lived together in the same cage for some time at the pet shop. As you may recall in the previous article, Murph was the one who picked the locks to get to Ash.

Murphy is believed to be the same age as Ash (1989 hatch), but his early life was less pleasant and the details are not as well known. Murphy has an open band and was probably wild caught. It was believed that he was first owned by a young man about to graduate from high school. That young man tired of Murph after a few months and put him in a garage to pine away all alone. Water and food, probably only seeds, were put out once per day. He was later owned by a young woman who was successful in getting the cage bound Murphy to come out, but could not get him to eat anything but seeds. She only kept him about one year, and we were unable to discover the reason why she sold him.

Murphy’s third owners were a couple who lived in a trailer house and thought that he should be a bird statue and sit quietly on a perch when out of a cage. We believe that he was hit with a rolled up newspaper if he left the perch, made too much noise or chewed on any of the woodwork. Ole Murph still ducks if you move your hand too fast and he doesn’t see as good out of one eye as the other, but this little guy needs no tears as he has grown into quite the family man.

As mentioned in a prior episode, when Murphy came to live with us we discovered that he was cage bound, afraid of everything including his own shadow and ate only seeds. He also picked locks. Many of the locks he would pick before I got out of the room. And then stare me in the eye and crow. And as he watched Ashley eat, he learned that there are foodstuffs other than sunflower seeds. He wouldn’t take food from me. But if I brought two pieces to the cage, gave one to Ash and turned around, when I turned back to look, Murphy would be eating Ash’s piece. I could then give Ash the second one. Murph would eat anything as long as Ash tasted it first.

He also was afraid of me and would run to the far side of the cage if I approached. Carol could fetch him from the cage, probably as a result of the year the nameless young woman spent trying to reassure Murphy, and then hand him to me. He would stay with me once placed there. So every day, Carol would take Murph out and give him to me before taking Ashley to our bedroom. Ash would get a hug and then go under the cover to sit in her lap. I would hold Murph and talk to him and pet him. While he didn’t struggle, he remained tense and stiff as a board. Then one day, after 18 months, ‘ole tough guy’ just melted. It was as if he didn’t have a bone in his body. After that, he would spend 5 or 6 minutes in an intense cuddle with me. After no more than a few minutes, he was off to join Carol and Ash. She would give Murph a hug and then he’d climb up the curtains to sit on the rod and stare at the wall. He wanted to be alone, but in the same room with Carol and Ash to get his ‘daily fix’ of staring at the wall.

It seemed that Murphy needed time to learn to trust that humans would be around long enough for him to afford to love them. Once he decided to cuddle, we upped the stakes a little. When I carried him to Carol or back to the cage, he would struggle to get down to fly, jump or walk the last few steps. I would hold him and make him give me a kiss before allowing him to travel that last bit. (Note: This kiss is where Murphy puts his beak against the tip of my nose. I know that is not a real kiss, but it suits Murph and me. Besides, that’s what the Eskimos do!)

During this time Murphy was taking showers with me. Ashley is a water baby, but Murphy just put up with this nonsense. I would sing and dance under the shower, but he just slumped against my chest and suffered getting wet. So about two months after he started cuddling, one day I took him to the shower but stood out of the water flow. He was in my arms, against my chest, but bone dry. I felt so badly about putting him under the water as he suffered so! I was about to take him back to the cage and try again with a spray bottle when all at once, his wings opened so that the water could reach his body. It hit me like a lighting bolt! He LIKES the shower. I yelled, “You little fake!” He reached up to give me the please-thank you-I like you general purpose kiss. Then he put his head down but kept the wings open for the duration of the shower.

Murphy will take a shower, but only if I allow him to pretend that he hates it. Remember, I said that he is complex. In a later chapter, I will tell of how his desire to be the man of the house for Mickie, that “little bundle of love” female U2 who became his mate, transformed him into a confident, outgoing, sharing, protector of our flock.

It was also about this time that Murphy spoke his first words, “Hello, Ashley”, which was not a surprise as that was Ashley’s favorite. At that time he was about seven years old. I tried to get Murphy to say, “Hi ya, Hi ya, Murph”, but his next words were “I love you” which I think came from all those nights trying to get him to cuddle. I think that he liked the way those words felt better than “Hi ya Murph”. I like to think so.

Harmony Begins and Ends

Bringing two older birds (Ashley and Murphy) into our household was certainly an experience for both us and the birds. It was fascinating to see them begin to settle in and to get used to a new environment. But even more interesting was to see them learning to interact with each other.

When Ashley and Murphy had their first visit with the vet (although Ashley was a life time patient of that vet), we had them DNA sexed. In spite of their lifestyles, the certificates say that they are both males. The pet store owner believed that they were a bonded but not proven pair when we purchased them. But the fact that they were actually both males was all right since Ashley was to be my pet and Murphy was his chosen companion.

From the beginning, it was clear that these guys were (are) an odd couple. Ashley was a little overweight and in full fine feather. He moved slowly, deliberately with a regal bearing. If he was not the king or prince of his castle, he was certainly the lord of the manor. He would bite and throw temper fits to get his way. Ole Murph never bit anyone and followed Ash around like a little shadow. Murphy’s idea of heaven was to snuggle against Ash to sleep. But, he is an imp, likes to pick locks and to bug Ash.

We made a play area of pcp pipe and branches (with bowls for food and water) in our den. Ash promptly discovered a branch that is hortizonal and he chewed it until it was exactly to his taste. He would hang upside down by his feet and swing back and forth making happy sounds. Murphy watched and said nothing. But when Ash tried to climb back up onto the branch, Murph would wait until Ash was almost up and then run over and use his beak to push Ash back down. Ash would try to get up and Murphy would push him back down. This would continue until Ash got mad and yelled at Murphy. Then Ash could climb back up to stand on the branch and crow. They did this same routine every day for a couple of months and then came the time when after Ash did his crowing, Murphy walked past him to the end of the branch. He hung upside down on the branch and started to swing back and forth. He pumped harder and harder until he did a complete turn around the branch. He continued to pump and slowly spun around the perch like a little white feathered ferris wheel. When he finished 10 or so revolutions, he climbed up and walked past Ashley without making a sound. Ashley has never swung upside down since. I guess that he couldn’t take his little buddy one-upping him like that.

The other game that Murphy liked to play was tug of war. He would take a block or a piece of one of the toys and push it into Ash’s face until Ash would grab it. Then Murph would pull him around the cage until Ash let go. And old Murph always went back to do it all over again, until Ash tired of the game and yelled at him.

During this time, both birds improved their diet. Ash lost a little weight and Murphy gained some. Both birds were in fine feather and looked healthy. But Ash was some 100 grams heavier at 660. And Murphy’s head looked different. His beak was smaller and his head wasn’t as wide as Ashley’s. Ash has a great hook beak. We read all we could find about cockatoos but couldn’t find anything about two or more subspecies. We decided that maybe Murphy has birth defects. But on the other hand, he seems healthy.

As for me, I’m set for life. While MY pet, Ashley, is becoming CAROL’S, ole Murph is warming up to me. Nothing can go wrong now! Right? No, WRONG! My life was not meant to be serene. Just as my two little white feathered friends are settling in, THEY AWAKEN TO THE FACT THAT THEY ARE BOTH MALES!! So after two years of living in harmony as the perfect odd couple, Murphy decided that he needed to fight Ashley for possession of all female U2’s (the fact that there were exactly none around didn’t bother him, he wanted to be READY!). Ashley, on the other hand, didn’t want to fight Murphy over non-existant U2 females, he wanted to FIGHT ME for Carol.

We tried to keep them from fighting, but to no avail. Murphy had come out of his shell and wanted to be the alpha bird. There was no stopping him. One day Murphy drew blood, so the birds were put into seperate cages. Then they cried at night because thay wanted to snuggle. Yep, they wanted to cuddle together for a good night’s rest so they could fight to the death at the next dawn. And if Ash won, he planned to kill ME next.

So, what do we do? It seemed that they need companions, and it was logical to get them girls. We begin to look into this. The first thing that a breeder told us is that the males may fight with and kill the females. Oh my aching bones, I can leave them in two cages and listen to them cry. Or, I can let them out and they may kill each other and maybe me. Or, I can get them some females that they might kill. All I needed to really make my day was for Carol to say, “Aren’t you glad we spent $5,000 so you could get into this mess? ” I wondered if the French Foreign Legion is still taking recruits?

A Solution to Raging Hormones

With two love-sick male U2’s and Murphy crying all night for a cage mate, immediate action was called for. [Peace and quiet in the house was rapidly becoming a distant memory.] So I started talking to as many breeders as possible. We learned that although there is a thing called mate aggression in cockatoos, it is not always fatal. Moreover, the breeders reported that most of the time when there was an attack, they knew something was wrong (or not right) but hoped that the birds would work it out for themselves. Additionally, our cages are in the house with us and I sleep lightly when it comes to kids or birds. It is not what I set out to do, but the answer was probably female U2’s.

I say to ‘she who must be obeyed’ (Carol), says I: “Guess we are going to have to find 2 female U2’s for our little guys. With fire in her eyes, she says: “You mean FOUR birds and TWO big cages? We don’t have the space or the time!” with such finality that I know that in her mind this is a closed subject.

There have been three or four times in my life that a flash of true brilliance has occurred, and this was one of them. I thought of a King Solomon like solution for ole birdy-mom Carol, who has a heart much softer than she cares to admit. I say in a very calm voice, “Of course, you’re right. I’ll have to find a good home for Ashley.”

Carol: “Why Ashley?”

Me: “Because Ash is out-going and talks. He can probably adjust to a new home in one or two years. Old Murphy is just coming out of his shell. We are his fifth owners in 7 years. Just about the time he gets to trust and love people, they sell him to someone else. If we sell him, he may never be able to trust people again, certainly not for a long time. So as much as it hurts, I’ll try to find Ash a new home.”

Carol: “He is your pet! Our baby! You can’t give him away!”

Me: “You’re right, its going to break my heart but I’ll try to find the right person for Murphy.”

Carol: “You can’t put Murphy out into the cold. Husbands are so stupid! The answer is to find two females.”

Me: Making the only correct not-that-stupid-husband response, “Yes dear, I wish I’d thought of that.”

However, once the decision to find females was reached, I found that the real problem was where to start. And exactly what was I looking for? We can play it safe and look for females the same age as our guys. And of course, we want true/breed umbrellas. But, what does one look for in a female U2? The one with the really big…..eyes? With two male U2’s hanging out watching a female U2, does one say to the other, “Look at the beak on that chick! Wouldn’t you love to have her preen your tail feathers all the way down?” I couldn’t ask Murphy what he wanted because he was just learning to talk and moreover had never seen even one female. Besides, that boy was so ready that a fence post painted white might have worked for him. I decided that I was going to look for a lady because that makes me a match-maker. If I looked for a slut, that’d make me a pimp and I won’t do that even for my little buddies with the white feathers.

So, Carol and I went onto the internet and found a female U2 in California (we are in New Jersey) that is the same age as our guys. We called and talked to the woman who owned the U2 named BeBe. The first question she asked was what did we have in mind for BeBe. We said she was to become a companion for one of our pets. If they produced eggs, it would be a happy bonus, but not necessary. As long as she became a good companion. The next question, “If BeBe doesn’t work out, will you agree to return her to me?” Not only could we live with this, we were starting to like this lady. And the next question, “If BeBe bonds with one of your males and you are unable to keep the pair, will you agree to sell the pair to me?” And with that request, Sylvia established her credentials as a really good bird person. She said that BeBe was a pet, but when she reached maturity she started to be too noisy to keep in the apartment, so BeBe became a tester for a toy maker. Later, BeBe started to pluck and it was believed it was due to her needing a male. I think that BeBe is a sexy name, French almost.

The BeBe baby (a screaming plucker that we hope will make my life more serene???) arrived and went into isolation after her vet check. I got an immediate unexpected bonus as she became daddy’s little girl almost over night. When I picked her up, she became a BeBe-baby-birdie-broach and tucked her head under my chin and moaned. Her favorite toy was/is a bath towel in my lap. She arranges one half of it into a nest and pulls the other half over her head. She pulls my hand under the towel and head butts the palm until I close the thumb and fingers around her head. And she takes a nap.

She taught me a routine. One day, she popped out from under the towel and ran up my chest with the wings out and the crest up. I ducked (which is hard to do when you are sitting in a recliner with your feet up and a bird in your lap). She went back under the towel. I hadn’t felt threatened, so I resolved not to duck the next time. And there was a next time. She ran up my chest, wings out, crest up and stopped with her beak about one inch from my nose to stare eye-ball to eye-ball with me. I guessed she wanted me to say something so I said, “Pretty BeBe” which is one of the phrases she says. The wings came in, the crest came down and she said (in agreement), “Pretty BeBe” and went back under the towel. In a couple of minutes, she repeated the act to make sure I would remember my lines. After the third or fourth time, when she said, “Pretty BeBe, she continued to stare into my eyes. It seemed that she wanted me to say or do more, so I added: “I love you”. She dove down onto my chest to do the BeBe-baby-birdie-broach thing. Now she does this routine most days she is in my lap. Sound odd? Have you ever seen a little girl run in to ask, “Am I pretty, Daddy?” knowing what answer she is going to get? Well, my little girl has white feathers and answers to the name, BeBe.

During this time of isolation for BeBe, Murphy could hear but not see her. He liked what he heard. He didn’t know what to do or even what he wanted to do, but he was READY! Boy, was he READY!

And BeBe Makes Three

At long last, BeBe’s isolation was over and we brought the three U2’s out to the play area in the den. Murphy took the highest perch in the back of the gym and Ashley took the perch nearest Carol. When we put BeBe on one of the perches, she immediately jumped down to run out of the room. I fetched her back and held her in my arms and told her that the guys (Ash and Murph) are her friends. She let me hold her, but that didn’t mean she believed me. This was going to require work.

BeBe shared the new large cage (with a divider) with Murphy, who demonstrated a little more interest in her than Ashley. Ash just wanted to be with Carol. I put a perch on BeBe’s side about 2 inches higher than the one on Murphy’s side so she was a little higher than he was. There were also perches where each could get away from the other.

Right away, BeBe and Murphy slept on the perches nearest to each other. Murphy would lean against the bars of the divider seperating them, while BeBe left three or four inches between her and the divider. After several days, I caught them doing birdie kisses through the bars. During the daytime visits to the public play area, BeBe slowly started to approach first one and then the other male. After about a month, she started to preen them a little. But she was afraid to let either one touch her. She also tried to put her foot on each male’s face. (Somewhat like a human baby touching mother’s face) She did the same to me and it probably was something she learned from a previous owner or handler.

Ashley had shown no interest in BeBe whatsoever. But, as he watched her with Murphy in the next cage, even with the divider, he began turning his back to them to stare at a corner. He was cool to both Carol and me. It seemed that he thought he should have a roomie, even if he showed no interest in one. We renewed our efforts to find a female for Ashe.

After two months of BeBe and Murphy playing kissy face through the bars of the divider, we took away the top piece of the dome for the cage so the birds could go from side to side over the top of the divider. I stayed up all night the first night and slept during the day when Carol was awake. Murphy seemed to follow BeBe around, but didn’t threaten her. She acted nervous and uncomfortable. One day I found her walking on the bottom of the cage on Murphy’s side. I worried that she was trapped there, so I opened the cage and moved her to the other side. She took one look at me and promptly climbed over the divider to reclaim the spot I had just rescued her from. Ok, so she wasn’t trapped and I worry too much.

Murphy was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. This guy was definitely on THE MAKE! He chewed two huge 1.5 inch diameter by 2 foot long dowels into splinters, some no bigger than toothpicks. He wanted BeBe to admire his pile of splinters; however, there was one that he didn’t want her to touch. She didn’t understand and for that matter, neither did I.

It was at this point that I started a program and wish to share that with other bird handlers now. Every time that BeBe gave out a yelp, Murphy got scolded and sometimes a 5 minute time-out punishment. This was first started as I was scared witless (even more than my normal state of witlessness) that one of our U2 males would kill or be killed by his prospective mate. I do not think that scolding the male when the female yells will stop mate aggression, but MAYBE: 1) the male will hesitate or even run to a neutral corner because he knows that big bird (me) says that is a NO-NO and 2) the female will yell sooner and louder because she knows that big bird (me) comes running and always takes her side. MAYBE the combination of these two things will give me a one to five minute alarm/break to get there when trouble is brewing. If you think I am wrong in this, please don’t tell me as I like to feel needed.

But if I am right (I probably am in spite of what Carol says), several ideas spring (lovely word, when one is in slush from a winter wonderland scene gone bad) to mind. As soon as we unload this over-taxed museum piece that we live in and move to an area where we can construct greenhouse/habitats for the birds, I want to install a microphone/speaker system in each breeding cage. Hopefully the software to analyze sounds of whales can be modified for cockatoos. Each new sound can define an entry into the library so the program will be able to recognize similar sounds. Then, the program can alert us when a new sound occurs. I can sleep with a beeper-buzzer taped to me under the pajama bottoms. And I will hope that when I roll out of bed at 3am to 4am with a buzz in my pants, it will prove to be that one of the females just found a new way to express her pleasure when the earth moved for her. But, if it is that one of the males just won’t take no for an answer, I will help explain to him that when she says no, it means no! And if I am awakened to find that a male just won’t take no for an answer, I will find creative ways to express to him that I am very disappointed.

The speakers? Wow, I am glad that you didn’t forget those. Ashley likes to sing off-key (VERY) with Carol (who sang in a chorale and has a very pleasing voice), but he does it with great gusto. So, in his cage area, if a female yells for help, maybe we pipe in Carol singing the Ashley song. Perhaps he will stop and sing and dance to her voice and forget about killing the female long enough for me to get there? If this sounds silly, please remember that 20 years ago, it was unheard of for a husband to be guilty of battering his wife. Today, we know that it is not silly, but unfortunantly it is common. And if my voice saying: “NO NO, STOP THAT!” causes a male to stop, then it is right even if it sounds silly.

While on this subject, male birds in the wild posture and display to each other. Male moose bang into each other’s heads. Male frogs try to out yell each other. Male peacocks use a display of colors in the tail feathers to establish who gets the new girl in town. MAYBE we need to let the male cockatoos display to each other with crests up and wings out yelling at full voice to let off pressure which might be taken out on their poor mates. It would be a kick in the pants to find that when we make the males be quiet to please us, it makes it more likely that one kills his mate because he can’t deal with the pressure we put on him. Egad, does this mean that we have met the enemy and he is us?

One very nice thing happened with BeBe. She came with a recipe for BeBe birdie pie that she loves. The other two watched her eat it and decided that they couldn’t let a mere female do something that they couldn’t. To their very great surprise, they liked it and started eating a more balanced diet. I decided that ‘monkey see, monkey do’ isn’t all that bad. The recipe for BeBe’s Birdie Pie can be found on the Birds n Ways recipes page.

Leaving these topics, we can look at other things. We noticed that BeBe looks like Ashley, the same hook beak with a wider head. We decide that Ole Murph may have been hurt by being hit or has birth defects or may even be some sort of throw-back. A freak? Oh, well, I love him because he is such an imp. And, you hafta look close to see that he is different from the other two.

Mickie Arrives

Then PJ Schimel (on BirdTech) reported her rescue of two cockatoos – a Goffin and an Umbie. She asked the people on our mailing list if there was anyone who would rescue a female umbrella. Well we responded to her request for help and all agreed that we would take Mickie. Mickie had been kept in a basement in a small cage, alone and unloved for quite a while. PJ found her and rescued her from this prison.

So we immediately got ready and drove the station wagon from NW New Jersey to Long Island to get our new baby. Not only did we search high and low for females for our males, but we crossed state lines to bring them home. I hope that this does not violate the Mann act. I call Mickie a baby, but she’s at least 9 years old and about the most beautiful and wonderful bundle of sweetness and love. (Our other 3 are great too).

Mickie rode home in the car as if she was a seasoned traveler, nonchalantly looking out and also shredding the newspaper in the carrier.

We brought her in the house and cuddled her for a while. And boy does she like to cuddle. Then we carried her in to meet Ashley (her new companion). We introduced them, he in his cage and Mickie in my arms. Neither seemed very impressed. So we decided to really introduce them.

BTW (by the way) – Mickie was vet checked and quarrantined by PJ when she got her, so we had no worries about putting the birds together. PJ’s aviary is immaculate and she follows stringent cleanliness rules. I can’t tell you how impressed I was with her methods and with PJ herself. We think we’ve made a new friend. And if you want a bird – we heartily recommend her aviary (It’s MAP certified)

Back to our story.

We took Ashley up to our bedroom which has a king sized bed and is one of the birds’ playgrounds. Usually all 3 of our too’s climb under the covers and remain there doing birdie things while getting petted by Carol for at least half an hour. Then they emerge to be petted some more and play with the human slave and their toys or get talked to, etc. So of course Ashley immediately went under the covers. When we brought Mickie to the bed, before Carol could even hold her she scooted under the cover and dashed for Ashley without pausing even to be held. Now Ashley can be one cool dude who rarely interacts with our other 2 toos, but for about an hour the two birds made clicking noises with their beaks (By this is meant that they open and close the beaks over and over again which makes a small sound). This sound is the one they make when they’re happily being petted. Then Ashley came out for some reassurance and petting, while Mickie came to the edge of the covers for her share of petting. Love at first sight? Doubt it. But at least it seemed like a good start.

What a change has occured for Mickie! She went from being alone in a dark basement to rehab with PJ and on to her new home with 2 humans and 5 birds (3U2’s and 2 conures). She took all the changes well.

The next surprise was in putting Mickie in her cage. There was a seperate one for her while she was getting used to her new world before letting her live with Ashley. Well Mickie would have none of it. She scooted right into Ashley’s cage. We watched very closely to see that everything was OK. But so far so good.

All the birds vocalizied and called out to each other. Murphy and BeBe were in the new cage and were still getting used to each other. BeBe had been here for three months and had been together with Murphy without the cage divider for only about a week. So everyone was still settling in.

Isn’t life great? Carol felt so good that she could almost cry. And we noticed one of the most beautiful things in the world. Mickie looks just like Murphy. He ain’t no freak, he and Mickie are a different subspecies than Ashley and BeBe.

The next day was unbelievable. We took all four birds up to the bed to see what would happen. Well within minutes Mickie was giving bird kisses to the others. They sort of lock beaks and click. She’s some FEMME FATALE! Mickie was so excited that she just hopped from spot to spot. Murphy noticed and started doing the same thing. Soon, all four looked like frogs playing follow the leader. We wondered if this was the cockatoo version of a sock hop?

It seems that Mickie gets along with everyone, but she flirted with Murphy — a lot. Will there be mate-swapping right here in our little garden of Eden? The next episode will deal with more of the love life of four horny feathered teenagers who are without a clue of what to do.