Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Steppin' Up (Not a Post About a Dance Movie)

PLOT TWIST: I make you wait three months for the last two installments of my Icelandic adventure. But seriously, sorry about that. Motivation hasn't even been in my vocabulary lately.

But! I will tell you about how LOKI IS NOW SOMEWHAT IRREGULARLY STEPPING UP ONTO MY HAND! HALLELUJAH! *angels streaming out of the sky, with their little heaven-trumpets, singing their little angel songs or whatever it is angels do*

It's true. Here's a photo to prove it.

Both of his feet are on my hand. Success.

This was achieved through pure trickery and probably hundreds of sunflower seed bribes over the course of 5 months. Here's a step-by-step (PUNS!) account:

1. Loki loves being on his cage. Loki also loves sunflower seeds. So I figured the first step was getting him off of his cage, which required purchasing a ladder that connects his cage to a table nearby, and then bribing him off of the cage with seeds.

2. I started small by baiting the ladder with seeds. Every day we moved a little bit farther down the ladder, until he was eating seeds off the table. For weeks he wouldn't even step one foot off the ladder, despite me moving seeds farther and farther away. He would just stretch his little chicken neck out until he got all the seeds within reach, and then he'd leave the rest and run back up the ladder to the safety of the cage.

3. One day I put all the seeds completely out of his reach. It took a lot of contemplation and frustrated-dinosaur-noises, but he finally put one foot on the table, and then the other. It was that moment when he discovered that the table was not made out of hot lava.

4. I let him walk around on the table many times before I took the ladder away. The first time I took the ladder away he freaked out. "OMG, OMG, OMG HOW DO I GET BACK TO SAFETY?! DANGER! DANGER!" He shot up the ladder the moment it was reconnected to the cage. We did this a bunch of times until he was relatively comfortable on the table without the ladder.

5. Once we got to this point, I'd offer my hand out instead of putting the ladder back. Honestly, the first time I put my hand out for him to step up, he immediately stepped up and I very smoothly took him directly to his cage and praised the ever loving shit out of him.

I mean, I wasn't really that surprised when he hopped onto my hand, he used to step up for me all the time back in Maryland before I had the birbs moved out here. Something about moving him out here made him really fearful of stepping on hands, or maybe he just LOVES his new cage, or maybe it's for some other reason that I don't understand. He loves head scratches, and long "preening" sessions are a regular part of our schedule now (he "preens" my hands now, and it's so adorable I just can't even) so I know he's not just fearful of hands.

So there's the update. We're working on it, and things are getting better.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lokisaurus Rex Update

For a long time, Loki was in exile.  I decided to "start from scratch" with him, treating him as though he was a completely untame bird that wouldn't come out of his cage. I thought that maybe it would be an extra motivator for him to learn to trust me and step up.

It did not work.

I am completely ok with admitting that a lot of the time I don't k now what I'm doing when it comes to parronthood. Yes, I grew up in a house full of birds. But time away from that, education in bird behavior, and lots of research on my part have opened my eyes to the fact that guess what? My grandparents didn't really know what they were doing, either. And how would they? It's not like the internet existed back then. "Positive reinforcement" wasn't exactly a buzz term in the 1970's-1990's. Looking back, there are LOTS of things that my grandparents did wrong. But their hearts were in the right place and they took parrots out of really bad situations and gave them love the best way they knew how. Sure, their birds weren't always properly socialized, but they were always fed well, given vet care, and were kept clean.

I'm sad that Loki lost so much time that he could have been hanging out with me and having fun, but I tried something that I thought might work. I don't regret it. We can only move forward from here. He's still not stepping up, but he is getting closer to walking near my hands every day. He loves getting head scratches and will readily take treats from my hands. He's even ok with me touching his feet after a few minutes of warming up to it. But stepping on hands is still strictly forbidden in his birdie brain. And that's cool. We'll get there.

Here are some pics from today's training and play session. Yesterday he learned how to give beaky-kisses on command, and now he wants to kiss everything (because sunflower seeds). It's totez adorbz.


Post spray-bath floofy-crazies

Yes... when you rip chunks off of a toy and drop them, they end up down on the floor. You look shocked literally every time you do this.

Biiiiiig stretch.

Giving kisses and ripping toys to shreds is exhausting work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Icelandic Adventure, Part 2: The Hike, Days 4-5

Day 4: Álftavatn to Emstrur

Woke up early again, with a raging sore throat and inflamed sinuses. Shit. I had a full-blown sinus infection. I could barely get out of bed. D ran around the kitchen asking people is they had any anti-histamines, vitamins, ancient herbal remedies, anything that could help me get through the next two days. The rude Americans from the previous night redeemed themselves and gave him three precious Benadryl tablets, which he delivered to my shaky, sweaty, clammy hands. I took a Claritin, a Bendaryl, an Advil, and had a cup of that horrible coffee, and that cocktail cleared me out and perked me up enough to function and hit the trail.

I should also mention that by this point I was having some issues with my right Achilles' tendon. Something had worn away on the inside of my boot and had rubbed it, leaving a kinda nasty bruise. It was pretty painful, but bearable.

We had our first actual take-your-shoes-off-and-wade river crossing that morning. It was a cute little sandy-bottom stream, mostly ankle-deep. My feet sure were chilly afterwards! Wool socks felt nice afterwards. Aww, how cute. Tee hee!

Aww. Ankle-deep.

Then we had our first REAL river crossing. Pants off, boots slung around neck, trekking poles holding us up, rushing knee-deep GLACIALLY COLD WATER. It was maybe 30 feet wide, and our feet and legs were 100% numb by the time we got across. For real. They basically skipped the "ouch! cold daggers!" feeling and went straight to totally numb. That's some cold shit.

Actual river crossing.


The rest of the hike that day was fairly flat as we were crossing through some dry lake beds. D and I were mostly alone because by that point I was feverish and my Achilles was bothering me a little more. We sang some 80's tunes, weathered some really intense mini dust storms that whipped up, and made several stops. Stopping a lot is not my style. I'm more of a truck along until I collapse from exhaustion kind of gal. That's just how I roll.

Flat like pancake.

Well, around two miles from the Emstrur hut, I was basically collapsing from exhaustion. It felt like all medications/caffeine wore off at once. I was in real pain. I was extremely feverish. I was exhausted. I was not being very nice to poor D. It really felt like we were not ever going to get to our destination. Rolling hill after rolling hill. Dust. Sand. I'm not going to lie, I had some waking fever dreams, something about magic flying carpets or something. I literally cried when we saw the huts.

It really was gorgeous. I just couldn't appreciate it at this particular moment because I was crying and flying on a magic carpet.

We checked in, and entered our assigned hut. Only tops bunks left. That was fine, because D and I made dinner, and I crawled into the bunk and didn't leave until the next morning. I barely slept.

The view from the bunk. I probably took this because I saw D's butt.

Day 5: Emstrur to Þórsmörk

When I woke up after about 3 hours of sleep, I no longer had a fever. Hurrah! I had my medicine-caffeine cocktail, and felt like a human being again. I actually chatted with some of the people in our hut, who all seemed so nice. I was so bummed that I hadn't been able to join in the conversations from the night before. I had really been looking forward to chatting with people on the trail, and then I got so sick that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay away from people.

I was actually able to appreciate the beauty of the site: the huts sat nestled in a valley below a massive glacier. The glacier seemed like it had its own weather, with huge clouds hanging just above the glacier. Also, clean bathrooms again.

Hiking this day was varied. A lot of flat sections, but some substantial hills too. Within the first couple of miles we had descended a really steep, but very soft sand hill, crossed over a gorgeous bridge, and then lots of small rolling ascents. My head feels so much better at this point, but my Achilles tendon was really hurting me. I was limping pretty hard, no matter how I tied my boots. The vegetation started changing, too. As in, there was vegetation. Dwarf willows, lupine, vetch, and lots of other plants that D was very fascinated with.

I'm on a bridge!

We came to our final river crossing. This was the one I'd been worried about. I had seen pictures on the internet that showed people up to their thighs in raging river water. One blog I read said that no one could cross on foot, that the river was so high that they had to use a massive off-road vehicle to ferry people across. EEK. Well, we got there and it was only knee high. Yawn.

After the final river crossing, we were expecting about another kilometer of hiking and then we'd be at the final hut! Well. About two kilometers later, we arrived at a crossroads and a sign. We were in the middle of Þórsmörk (pronounced Thorsthmork, or something like that), which translated means Thor's Woods. For real. There were willows and birches and all kinds of plants that D just couldn't resist inspecting. So we're standing at this crossroads, and I come to a realization. Oh god. I think I bought us a bus ticket out of here at the wrong place. One placard points to left. It says Þórsmörk hut. One sign points to the right. It has several other huts listed, as well as a placard saying "Bus Pickup." Shit. Shit. SHIT. Not only do we need to hike almost three more kilometers, but tomorrow morning we may have to hike up to six more kilometers to catch our bus at 07:30. What time would we have to get up? I was hiking so slowly at this point because my foot was really painful... and then I got angry. I was really pissed. I basically stomp-hike-limped the final three kilometers to our hut. When we got to the hut I sat on the front stoop while D talked to the warden. I think by this point D was a little afraid of me.

Can't stop won't stop

GREAT NEWS. JUBILATION! The bus was scheduled to pick us up right outside our hut. I was already too tired to be mad anymore, I had already resigned myself to waking up at whatever ungodly hour the next morning and limping over to the other bus stop. But nay! No! Nei! So to celebrate, I took off my boots, took a hot shower, ate dinner, and went to bed. I slept like a rock.

View from our window

 Thus ends Part 2 of our Icelandic Adventure. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Icelandic Adventure, Part 1: The Hike, Days 1-3

It's hard to know even where to begin. I'll start by largely skipping over the flight to New York, then the flight to Keflavik, then the bus ride to Reykjavik, and the nap in the hostel lobby while waiting for check-in time, and the miles of wandering around Reykjavik in woefully inadequate footwear (seriously folks, don't bother bringing Toms to Iceland, even if they are orange and adorable), and the deep 11-hour sleep. We'll start with August 22, our second day in Iceland. The day we took a bus from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, the starting point of our four-day trek south.

Pre-check in hostel lobby snooze.

Icelandic Kroner. This makes us look like ballers, but it's only about $80.

Day 1: Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar

First, we went to the wrong bus stop. We're waiting around, and I kept getting more and more nervous because we were the only ones there. We finally asked a guide that showed up if we were in the right place. We weren't. Thankfully, our bus stop was only two blocks away, so we hauled ass and got there with plenty of time to spare.

The actual bus ride was about four hours long. It was a fairly clear, sunny day, and everything looked so bright. Not that the bus ride was a colorful place in the rainbow sense, it's just that every color stood out so much. The black sand was BLACK SO HARD. The green moss was PUNCH YOU IN THE EYES GREEN. The sky was MAKE YOUR MOMMA CRY BLUE. And there were horses and sheep everywhere. It was really novel and fun at first, "Oooh ponies! More ponies! Little fluffy cottonball sheep whose heads are too small for their bodies! Ooooh ponies again!" (side note: I can probably compile a 15-minute long video comprised of 5 second clips of me screaming, "POOOONIIIIIESSSS" while driving by a herd of Icelandic horses [not ponies] at 90 kilometers an hour.)

The bus.


POOOONIIIIESSSSS!!! (Icelandic horses)

And then I fell asleep for the last two hours because we were jet lagged and that struggle is real.

When we arrived, we checked in with the hut warden, got our bunk room assignment, and headed over to the hut to drop off our stuff. Surprise! They didn't have individual bunks. Nope. They had one looooong lower bunk and one looooong upper bunk. Hello spooning with strangers on our second night in Iceland. Actually, we didn't have to spoon with anyone, the closest people were all the way at the other end.

Spooning? Anyone?

Totez adorbz.

We wandered around camp for a while, soaked in the hot spring for a while, visited the Magic Bus Mall (not the real name) for some dinner since we wanted to save our freeze-dried backpacking meals for the actual backpacking portion of the trip, took some goofy photos, met some dapper Icelandic horses, and went to bed.

Day 2: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

Woke up around 05:00 to a really beautiful sunrise, had some truly terrible coffee (seriously, I strongly recommend against Starbuck's instant coffee. barfbarfbarfbarfbarfbarf), and then it was shower decision time. Should I take a cold shower? Or should I just start the trip dirty already? I opted for the shower. I grabbed all my stuff and went to the shower room and discovered that for 500 kroner, comprised of five 100 kroner pieces, I could have 5 minutes of hot water. I literally ran back to the bunk house to grab my coins.... I had four 100 kroner pieces. I literally shook D awake, demanding one 100 kroner piece. He said to check his pockets. He didn't have it. I asked our awake bunk mates if any of them had a single 100 kroner piece. They only spoke Russian and apparently didn't understand my miming (or wanted to keep their money for their hot showers, I don't blame them). I ran to the hut warden to see if they had change. They weren't open. I slunk back to the shower house and took the most painfully cold shower of my life.

I should also mention that by this time I was starting to notice that I was maybe possibly allergic to something in the surrounding area. My eyes were itchy, I was sneezing a ton, slightly runny nose.... but I continued to take my Claritin faithfully. This aspect of the story will become important later.

We ate breakfast and got a somewhat late-ish start on the trail around 09:30. We fiddled around with the GoPro a bit, and only got about 3 hours of video before the battery died. 15 HOURS MY ASS. Also, we forgot the spare batteries, they were with our day-packs back at the hostel in Reykjavik. The hiking was insanely beautiful and perfect. It was sunny, in the low 60's, with small puffy clouds scattered around. The sun perfectly lit up and displayed the rhyolite mountains' colors. Tans, blues, greens, oranges, reds.... for real, I can see why they're called rainbow mountains. I kept exclaiming things about these rainbow mountains, until D gently reminded me that he's colorblind and can't see why they're called rainbow mountains, so maybe I should stop talking about it thank you very much. Oooops.

RAINB.... I mean... Rhyolite mountains.

We hiked through the rhyolite mountains, old lava fields, moss-covered rocks, steam vents, obsidian fields that looked like black glitter, and frozen river crossings. We kept calling the perennial snowpack "glaciers," which is not accurate. We saw our first glacier at the end of the day and it's not even comparable. We had one scary moment where we went through wrong way down an extremely steep, loose, crumbly hillside and basically would have slid underneath an ice shelf (to which I politely said HELL NO), but righted ourselves and we were back on the trail.

Stinky geothermal feature

Frozen River

Snowpack crossing

The first day was about 3,000 feet elevation gain overall, but despite some gnarly climbs it didn't seem that bad. It was approximately 7.3 miles, and it took us about 5 hours to complete. We could have done it much faster, but we kept stopping to take pictures, and stopped at one vista point to take a quick cat nap while basking in the sun.

Our view from the nap point.

We arrived at the Hrafntinnusker hut at 14:30, and checked in the with the very friendly warden and his wife. About ten minutes later, he approached us to inform us that Bárðarbunga, a volcano located about 70 miles north-northeast, had started erupting.

Oh right, there was a volcano, too. We actually knew that there was a chance that Bárðarbunga would erupt while we were on the trail. Bárðarbunga was a medium-sized volcano located under the glacier Vatnajökull. So sort of safely perched underneath half a mile of ice. We were not in an area that was evacuated, but the aviation warning in the area had been raised to level orange, the second-highest level, the morning we left San Diego. We asked the hut warden if we were going to be safe to finish the rest of the trek. His answer was, "Eeeeehhh, you'll probably be fine." Thank you, Mr. Hut Warden, that was very reassuring of you. The word probably always inspires confidence in me. Anyway, D and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided we'd continue on the trek like nothing was going on. If we ran into lava, we'd just throw our packs down and surf the lava-wave all the way to the ocean (I watched Escape from L.A. recently, so I know it can be done).

GREAT ODIN'S RAVEN. ( I have now made that joke all over the internet.)

The view from our window.

Normally this would be the time when I'd write, "then we ate dinner and went to bed." But I have to stop and take a moment to discuss the bathroom situation at the Hrafntinnusker hut. Now I don't want to say anything bad about any part of this trip. Everyone was (mostly) friendly, and in general the huts were very very nice, or at the very least, very well kept. But the Hrafntinnusker bathrooms were by far the most disgusting bathrooms I've ever been in in my entire life. They even trumped that time I camped in Yosemite and all they had were overflowing port-a-potties that had vomit in every single urinal. These bathrooms smelled worse than that. It was like a combination of the strongest diarrhea smell mixed with the strongest cat-pee-ammonia smell in the entire universe. The smell hit you like a wall, if a wall reached out and pimp-slapped you in the face. Some people opted to pee outside, only entering the bathrooms out of sheer desperation to poop or wash their hands. Holding your breath was mandatory. If you couldn't poop in the amount of time that you could hold your breath, well, you were just going to have to die in there. I've dedicated an entire paragraph to this subject because I want you, my readers, to understand how bad it was.

And then we ate dinner and went to bed.

Day 3: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

Woke up around 06:00 and looked outside... OH NOOOO FOG! We knew that fog was always a possibility, and it was the reason why we rented a GPS unit with the trail loaded onto it. Thankfully for us, the fog cleared around 08:00 and then it was a mad dash for everybody to hit the trail. There weren't any big climbs, but there were a lot of frozen river crossings which involved short, steep descents, screaming/squealing while shuffling across frozen ice/snow, and then a short, steep ascent. It was very gray during this portion of the hike, low cloud cover, but no more fog. Then came the descent.


I literally screamed when crossing over this sketchy ass ice bridge.

I won't say this was the descent from hell. But I will say that it was descent from heck. It was very switchback-y and very loose, compacted sand/rocks. Pretty much every tenth step or so included a quick little rock surf, an adrenaline spike, and a swear word. And it took us over an hour to climb all the way down. Honestly, of everything we experienced in Iceland, there were only two times when I was actually not happy. This was one of those times. All I can say is thank god for trekking poles, I honestly don't know how we would have made it without them.

The view from the top of the Descent from Heck. Our hut is teeny tiny and to the left and just below the left tip of the lake.

We arrived at the Álftavatn hut around 14:00. It was just starting to drizzle, and I was ready to relax because my feet were pretty torn up from the descent from heck. We quickly found out that this hut had been completely refurbished and was absolutely lovely. Even better: D and I had our own room! Granted it didn't have a doorknob, so anybody walking by in the kitchen could pretty much look into our room because the door was never totally shut, but it was still a luxury that we really appreciated. Another luxury we really appreciated: FLUSHING TOILETS THAT SMELLED LIKE NOTHING. And hot showers that we could pay for with cash other than 100 kroner coins. I couldn't hand over my $10 for 10 minutes of hot water fast enough (D and I combined forces and took a duel shower/clothes washing session that turned out to be a very wise investment of time).

While we were waiting in line, a Dutch lady that we had become friendly with got on the phone with her son (yes, cell phone service in the middle of nowhere). Apparently her son informed her that Bárðarbunga had really erupted, broken through the glacier, and was spewing lava and ash, and air traffic was stopped, and women were wailing and gnashing their teeth. Again, D and I looked at each other and shrugged. We were almost halfway there in a super remote area. Not much we could do about it. Also, the Dutch lady's son was full of shit.

Then we ate dinner, and went to bed. I was experiencing what felt an awful lot like a sore throat, but no way... I mean, I was just having allergy issues, right? Also, there were some extremely rude Americans and Germans who stayed up until like 11:30 at night laughing and talking loudly. I mean, they were so close to all the bedrooms that they might as well have been sitting on our beds screaming at each other. D eventually got up and very politely told them to can it, which they did with apologies.

The view from our window

Álftavatn huts

Thus ends Part 1 of our Icelandic Adventure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Warning: Non-Birb Icelandic Adventure Photos Ahead


I'm still writing and working on processing photos and videos, but in the meantime, here's a photo of D being a weirdo creepmaster flex on the plane ride.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cockatoo Crack

My roommate bought Loki a wonderful gift. It's called Shredders made by Planet Pleasures; it's just a roll of flattened woven palm leaf. You can cut pieces off to weave into new toys, or weave between the cage bars.

Loki goes apeshit for the stuff. It used to be that he'd eye me from the corner while I wove it through the cage bars, then he'd cautiously approach and take a nibble. These days? We play tug-o-war with it while I'm trying to weave it. He's nearly biting chunks off faster than I can get it through the bars. It's pretty totez adorbz.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm a Bad Blogger, and a Crash Landing

Sorry I haven't posted in AGES. The main reason why I haven't posted is because *SURPRISE* not much has happened. Loki is still a poofing grump-pot. Mango is still desperate for attention.

Mango once again lives in the bird room with Loki. Loki still hates her. Mango is still oblivious. Mango also dyed half her face green by rubbing her face on a blue rope toy after a bath. True story.

Mango's fabulous green eyebrow. It's been two weeks. It's still bright green.

However, we did have some excitement last night. Mango was hanging out with me in my room, on her hanging rope perch thingy in the corner of the room. I turned around and walked away from her, and she took off flying after me. Since I had my back turned all I heard was flapping feathers and THUNK! Uh oh. That didn't sound good. I turned around to see Mango on the floor, limping towards me. She wasn't putting any pressure on her left foot. Uh oh....

I picked her up. She was putting some weight on her foot, but not gripping very hard. I palpated her toes, then up her leg. No pain reactions. After several minutes I checked again, and no swelling or discoloration. Good signs.

So that she wouldn't have to move around too much, I stuck her in her travel carrier for the night with some small bowls of food and water. Poor little bug.

When I woke  up this morning, I took her out to inspect. She still wasn't putting much pressure on her foot or grasping well, but still no swelling or discoloration. I hemmed and hawed about taking her to the vet. Was I overreacting? Was this serious?

Let me just stop and say here that you should never Google animal injuries when you're already slightly panicky about your injured pet. Every place on the internet is going to tell you that you're a terrible person and that your pet will most likely die within 24-72 hours.

I decided to take her to the vet. Not because the internet scared me into it, but because I wouldn't be able to deal with the guilt of making Mango hobble around on a broken leg for days because I wanted to just "wait and see." Playing it safe, I made an appointment for the early evening.

"I noticed you put me in this travel box. I'd really rather be on your shoulder, so I attempting to break out."

I really love Mango's vet, Dr. Stout (no kidding, Liz). She's extremely nice, patient, and is able to calm even the most anxious pet owner's fears. She checked Mango thoroughly, and determined that there was no through-break. She was very honest and said that if it was her pet, she'd give her pain meds, confine her to a recovery tank to relieve the pressure on her foot from perching and hanging from the cage bars, and give it about a week. So that's what we decided to do. If, after a week, Mango still isn't really using her leg, we'll get an x-ray to see if there's a hairline fracture.

Sounds good, right?

Except I'll be in Iceland next week. That little rainbow chicken nugget of mine waited until right before I leave for vacation. Sigh. Thank goodness I have a roommate that can take her if needed.

So now Mango is living in the Boo Boo Tank, a 10-gallon fish tank with a towel on the bottom and a screen top. She gets delicious honey-flavored pain meds twice a day. An hour after her first dose, she was perching on my finger with gusto and the grip from her left foot was nearly as strong as the right.

The Boo Boo Tank

I think she's gonna be fine.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Feeling Some Feels

Moving Mango into my bedroom has been an adjustment for everybody, to say the least. Here are some things that are going on:

1. Mango screams A LOT MORE. She has an all-out screaming tantrum literally every single time I leave my bedroom and nearly every time she can hear anyone's voice in another part of the house. Those two events happen a lot in our house, so there's a lot of screaming. I have been about 95% successful in not opening the door to my bedroom or paying attention to her when she's having a meltdown to show her that screaming doesn't get her any kind of attention at all. The other 5% of the time are moments of sheer desperation, like when I'm running late for work and my glasses are on my bedside table... I can't exactly wait the 5-10 minutes for her to shut her beak and settle down. Obviously my goal is 100% ignoring when she's screaming, which I'm finding very difficult when she's located in the room where 95% of my earthly possessions reside.

2. That being said, she gets A LOT more attention than she used to. She steps up for me inside her cage close to 100% of the time now, and she now steps up for D, steps from my hand to D's hand, and barely bites D anymore. She also gets a lot more shower time, which is a bonus for both of us (less dust/dander in my bedroom... and she loves the shower).

3. The downside to all that additional attention is that she started acting a bit.... breed-y. There was a time last week when for about three days straight I couldn't take her out of her cage without her trying to mate with my hand. I discourage this behavior by distracting her with something like moving my hand away, making her step up, doing a quick touch-training sesh, or just picking her up and setting her down somewhere else. She seemed to pick up the not-so-subtle hints pretty quickly, and now she just does some mild dancing/showing off as opposed to full-on trying to get it on with my hand. Don't get me wrong... I know my hand is extremely sexy. But still. Not ok.

4. I have no segue for this. Loki hasn't gotten much attention in the past two weeks. I've been horrifically busy and I'm lucky if I get to sit with him for 30 minutes at a time. Thankfully my roommate and D have been spending some good quality time with him, and I feel horribly guilty about it all. I keep telling myself it's only temporary, it's only temporary, in a few months D and I will have found our own place and Loki can be in an area of our house where he sees people all the time. But that doesn't stop me from feeling horrible right now. He's still being a champ with touch-training, still won't step up for anybody, and seems to have lots of mood swings. Some days he's super talkative, actively reaches out for head scratches and love, and generally seems happy to see people. Other days he's grumpy and just sits fluffed up on his perch, and will give a warning hiss or fake-out-bite (like he goes to bite, but doesn't actually make contact) if anyone tries to touch him. And it genuinely seems like mood swings and not his preference of one person over another, because he'll react the same way with every person that day. He is going through a bit of a molt, particularly on his head feathers, so that may have something to do with it. I'd be grumpy if I had giant quills erupting from my scalp too. Sigh. I kinda feel like a failure with Loki, but my hands are totally tied as long as we're living in a house with cats. Neither of them can be in an area of the house where the cats can roam (which is everywhere except my bedroom and the bird room).

5. Loki seemed to be a little confused for the first few days after I moved Mango out of the room, but since then I think they've both been happier without each other. Loki doesn't have any bird to hatefully stare at or hear all day, and Mango doesn't get hated at (yeah I said that). They also don't call to one another, which to me is further evidence that neither cares about the move. Most birds will alarm-call at each other when they're separated, just to keep in contact. These guys? Mango only screams at me, and Loki now only has one 5-minute-long yell every evening as the sun goes down. Other than that he's extremely quiet besides occasional babble-greeting-noises when he's in the mood.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Nobody Puts Mango in the Corner!

... except me. I put Mango in the corner.

Crammed in amongst all the other furniture.

Just as a little experiment, I decided to move Mango's cage out of the bird room. I'm thinking that perhaps maybe... just maaaybeeee.... if Loki isn't in the same room as the Evil Fruit Rainbow Bird, his focus will be better. So D and I moved Mango's cage into our bedroom.

Yup. Like, right next to the bed, because that's the only place it will fit (damn seed skirt!).

Last night was our first night with the new change, and we made sure to cover Mango's cage with a sheet. D would roll over. Mango would start moving around, which would wake me up. Then D would wake up. Than at random times throughout the night, Loki would just start screaming. 11:00 PM. 12:00 AM. 2:00 AM. 5:00 AM. That woke my roommate up.

Birds. They are loud little people.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Everyone Thinks Mango is Sooooo Cute.

And they're totally right.

She's been a real little rainbow nugget of joy to have around. She still gets pissy and territorial at times, but for the most part she's extremely sweet and willing to learn. I've learned all her favorite places in her cage. There are "step-up zones" and "no step-up zones," and I'm actually ok with that for now. If she wants to act a crazy fool when she's on the grape vine perch, and then wants to step-up when she's on the rope boing, that's ok. We're working on it. She loves coming out of her cage, so more often than not she's waiting impatiently on the rope boing, making little clucking and mumbling noises, until I come over and ask her to step up.

Well, at least SOMEONE likes the new pellets.

She hasn't picked up touch training as quickly as Loki because she's extremely A.D.D. and loses focus really fast. We do training in short, 5-minute bursts several times a day. She still lacks some confidence when it comes to balance, so she's not willing to chase the stick everywhere like Loki will, but she gets a little better every day. She'll allow me to set her down on almost every surface, including the floor, countertops, my bed, and various perches. She hardly ever balks. She's also getting better about stepping up from my shoulder. She even stepped up onto my roommate's hand directly FROM my shoulder. I feel like a soccer mom who is telling her captive audience every single time Little Susie kicked the ball during the game. These are small accomplishments, but I really couldn't be prouder.

Also, she learned how to use a ladder.

I know that I'm going to find a training method that will work with Loki, and he's going to gain confidence and be just as bold, adventurous, and sweet as Mango. I want that to magically happen tomorrow, but I'm willing to wait however long it takes for my boy to come out of his shell.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Birdy Boot Camp

Less than 24 hours after I clicked "Publish" on my last post, we had a complete breakdown of communication and trust with Loki.

Yesterday morning I got up and had a long chat with my roommate about the fact that Loki doesn't seem to be thriving. I mean, sure, he's picked up touch training quickly, and he's eating and he's physically healthy, but he has an attitude problem. Most, if not all, of that attitude problem is my fault. I knew using scare tactics to get him back into his cage was NOT a good thing, and I knew that it was probably leading to where we are now. I just didn't know what else to do because Loki is terrified of all of the other tactics that most people have used. He won't step up onto a perch because a perch is a Stick and all Sticks are bad. He's terrified of towels. He's terrified of gloves. He's terrified of people's arms. On top of all of this, he's not really all that food motivated, so just putting treats in his cage to tempt him back inside won't work either. We need to find another angle to try.

After my chat with my roommate I went into the bird room to let Loki out. He came rocketing out like usual, but I could immediately tell something was different. He didn't greet me. He was all poofed up. I tried to scratch his neck and he just glared at me. I went about giving him and Mango fresh food and water, and when I came back I tried to give him one more scratch before I left. And that's when he tried to bite me.

It wasn't a lunge. It was just an open mouth moving slowly towards my hand, but his body language was reading loud and clear: "Fuck. Right. Off."

I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty upset. I knew it was going to happen at some point down the road because his attitude had been deteriorating daily since the introduction of the towel. A little less enthusiastic to see people. A little less vocal. I little less willing to play with people in the room. But it sucks feeling like you've hit rock bottom and have taken an animal that had about 30% trust in you and turned him into a 0% trust animal.

I had a good cry in my car, and then decided to take action. Friends who are parrot people were called. The internet was consulted. And I came up with a game plan.

May I present to you, Birdy Boot Camp.

1. The first and most important change is that Loki is not going to have unrestricted amounts of time outside of his cage anymore. I thought that I was doing a good thing by letting him out and providing mental stimulation and physical play for him. What I didn't realize is that the longer I let him out without "rules," the more Loki thought he was the boss. Why should he go back into his cage? Pff. Because he refuses to step up, it turned into a "YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO, MOM" situation. I am going to approach this new training angle as though he was a completely out of control, aggressive, un-tame bird (even though he's not) because I want to build the basics first. I need to be the one in control of when and how he goes into and out of his cage, and the only way that's going to happen is by him learning to step up onto my hand.

2. We are continuing touch-training through the cage bars, and when I feel that he's not going to try to rocket out of the cage, with the cage door open. He is not allowed to exit the cage on his own again until I'm confident that I can get him back in by having him step up. Right now he KNOWS that I can't make him go back into his cage without scaring him, and I want him to know that I'm not a scary person. No more Hot Lava Stick, and no more towel (which is what my roommate was using to get him back in). No more fear-based training. Praise and treats when he does something good. 100% ignored when he does something bad.

3. I am switching his diet in a much shorter period of time than I originally planned. The reasoning behind this is that currently, the only treat that he will readily accept during training is seeds. If he's eating a seed diet as his regular food, that seriously diminishes the effectiveness of the treat. Why should he be motivated to work and learn if he can get the reward anytime he wants in his food bowl? If I ate Oreos with every meal and you tried to get me to run up a mountain by bribing me with Oreos, I'd just shrug at you while eating an Oreo sandwich. No more. He gets sunflower seeds from my hands only, and only as a reward for good behavior. For now I'm still providing unrestricted access to food (free-feeding), but that will change down the road.

4. Once he's totally switched onto a pellet diet, I'm going to have to work out a schedule where his food gets taken out for an hour or so before he's allowed out of his cage. When it's dinner time, food will go back into his cage, which is great motivation for returning to the cage. In theory, he should go willingly back into his cage because Hey! Dinner! Nom!

Today was the first day of Birdy Boot Camp, and Loki tried every tactic to get out of his cage. He bit the bars. He cooed at me and acted all cute. He screamed at me. He begged for head scratches through the bars. He threw a fit and threw his (expensive) pellets all over the floor. He tried the "I'm ignoring, but the moment you open my cage door I'm exploding out of this joint" (which I successfully blocked, thank you very much. Cat-like reflexes). Today was cage-cleaning day, which was slightly more challenging with an moody cockatoo in the cage, but we made it happen. I even gave him a mist-bath. Below are two videos, the first of him doing his post-bath fluff dance with accompanying dinosaur noises, the second of him grabbing pellets out of his food bowl and throwing them on the floor while picking out the tiny pieces of raisin that are included in the food (Asshole.).

I'll be posting an update on our progress in a few days. The longer I have Loki the more I've realized that I have to be extremely adaptable. If one tactic doesn't work, we're going to switch to another. We'll keep going until we find something that works or both of us, and someday we'll be all kumbayah and shit.

Friday, June 27, 2014

One Month Update

It's been one day shy of four weeks!! It has FLOWN by (see what I did there?) and I can't believe it's July! Mango (WHO IS A GIRL OMGWTFROFLCOPTER) and Loki are definitely settling in and figuring out the routine.

1. Training: Mango is getting better at stepping up every day, and she's starting to figure out touch training with the clicker. She'd rather show me her newest interpretive dance moves, but she'll do what I ask when I show her the black sunflower seeds she craves so much. Loki figured out touch-training with the clicker about 3 minutes after I removed all the distracting toys and excess perches from the top of his cage. Seriously. I clicked, gave him a treat. Clicked, gave him a treat. Asked him to touch the tip of a wooden skewer, he obliged, I clicked, and gave him a treat. He figured it out so fast that now it's only been three days and he'll chase the stick all over the top and sides of his cage (except inside his cage, which we're going to work on... see #2). Good boy!

2. Socialization: Mango is, once again, improving by leaps and bounds. She politely steps up to my roommate, D, and me when asked about 70% of the time, which is a vast improvement over the original ~10%. She still gives D the stink-eye when we're having cuddles on the bed, and she gave D a good hard bite when he asked her to step up off of my stomach while we were watching tv (NO ONE INTERRUPTS AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR, NO ONE). But for the most part she's being good. She has been very brave and likes exploring new rooms, new stimuli, and hardly ever balks or acts afraid of new things anymore (as long as they're not moving towards her quickly).

Loki is almost exactly the same as the day he arrived. It doesn't help that I'm having to use some negative reinforcement techniques to get him to go back into his cage at the end of the night (or when I leave the house). In the beginning, he would go into and out of his cage freely to play, snack, etc... but then he learned that if I approach the cage and he's inside of it, I MIGHT close the door and he won't have the option of going out again. So now he just stays out. He might sneak back in to grab a quick snack, but he'll rocket back out the moment someone comes near his cage. Hey, I don't blame him. I'd sneak off for snacks too.

The problem is that he absolutely 100% will NOT step up for anybody. He's been on my hand a grand total of three times since he's been in San Diego: twice when he got scared, flew off his cage, and landed on the floor, and the one time we went to the vet. He is super attached to his cage. My hand is only a vehicle to get him back to the cage, or a vehicle for head scritches (which he still loves and demands). It's just a matter of trust. He doesn't trust me to not do something horrible to him if I pick him up. I don't trust him to not bite me if I try to force the issue (for the record,  he's NEVER bitten me, but he is a cockatoo and there's a first time for everything).

So my solution has been some extremely mild negative reinforcement. Even the term "negative reinforcement" makes me cringe, but let me explain: There is a perch that Loki chewed in half that is now Hot Lava. It resembles a Stick and all Sticks are the devil unless they are completely stationary, have not moved within the last 3 days, and have been properly screamed at and then chewed on. So now what I do is just take the Hot Lava Stick and hold it in the air above the cage. I am always very careful to move slowly, and Loki keeps an eye on it the entire time. Then I very slowly lower the stick towards him, and his solution to get away from it is to retreat to the inside of his cage. The *momemt* he is in the cage, the reward is that Hot Lava Stick immediately disappears and he is praised to high heaven, given copious treats, and all the head scritches he can handle

One of two things is going to happen. A.) He'll figure out what "night-night" means and eventually I can just say it without needing Hot Lava Stick, or B.) He'll be willing to follow the touch-training stick to the inside of his cage and I can work on attaching the verbal cue later. I HATE using Hot Lava Stick. I HATE that I'm scaring him. I want him to trust me and how is he ever going to trust me if I have to scare him back into his cage every evening? I just wish I could force logic into his brain that I'm not going to murder him if he steps up onto my hand. It'll be so fun! He can see other rooms in the house! He can play on the bed and snuggle and take showers! But for now I just have to be super vigilant with touch training and get him closer and closer to having to physically step on me somehow to reach the stick. Patience. So much patience.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Vet Time!

Originally I was going to wait to take the boys* to the vet, but when I called to check for available appointments and they said they had an opening that same afternoon, I couldn't pass it up.

The vet was super awesome. Very nice, and she explained what she was doing with each bird. Both birds got general health check-ups, microchips, and nail trims. Loki's nails were horrendous; they had been trimmed back in Maryland in March, but the vet we saw there told me that since Loki's nails were so overgrown they could only be taken down so far... not so, the new vet told me today. They used a dremel and *insert dremel shearing noise* off went the terrible tips. Seriously. It took less than 5 minutes to undo years of damage, and the vet in Maryland told me it couldn't be done. I am not pleased with that vet, but thankfully he's in Maryland and I never have to take the birds there again. Microchipping was also fast and easy, albeit a little icky because of the needle. I mean... imagine a needle that is big enough to hold a grain of rice (the microchip's size) being stuck into a tiny little bird's belly. I squirmed, they squirmed, we all squirmed (except the vet... she's over it) but it was accomplished super fast.

Mango also got a little extra treatment: a beak trim and a cloacal swab for DNA sexing. Fancy! Mango's beak is now  rounded and a little shorter and doesn't really hurt when he* decides to tell me to stop doing whatever I'm doing in the language of "bite."

*Also, Mango is a girl. I got the call while I was in the field yesterday. Mango, Y U NO TELL ME U ARE A GIRL?!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Conversation with the Birds

I walk into the bird room with my laptop.

Me: Hey guys!

Mango: HI! HI! HI MOM! HI!

Loki: *side eye* oh, hey.

Me: Whatchya guys doing?!


Loki: *glare*

Me: Ok, I'll let you guys out. I'm just gonna sit here and watch Netflix while you guys play.


Loki: *cautiously exits cage, begins furiously chewing perches*

Mango: MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM!

Me: Ok Mango, I'll take you out of your cage and place you on top, since you're too excited to realize that you can, in fact, exit the cage on your own. Hey Loki, how are you doing, bud? Can I give you some head scratches?

Loki: *silence, furious chewing... more side eye... cautiously bows head for scritches*

Me: Awesome, Netflix time. Ooh, look, a new documentary on cults. Should be fascinating.

Mango: *quietly chewing perch*

Loki: Wait... what's that screen thing you're looking at? 

Me: Oh, now you wanna talk, Loki?

Loki: Yeah. Why are you looking at that screen and not me?

Me: I'm just hanging out in here so you don't get into trouble. *goes back to watching Netflix*

Loki: Hey!

Me: *watches Netflix*

Loki: Hey! Look at me when I'm talking to you! MOM!! HEY!!! WHY ARE YOU IGNORING ME!?

Me: *ear drums bleeding slightly* I guess it's time for headphones...


Mango: Loki, SHUT UP!



And that, folks, is what it's like trying to watch Netflix in the bird room. I took that video secretly while facing away from Loki because every time I look directly at him, he quiets right down and starts cooing. And I mean... he could totally come over and hang out with me and I'd give him an entire cult documentary's worth of head scritches, but noooooo. He'd rather have a meltdown like he's a 2-year-old in a grocery store and I just told him to put the cookies back on the shelf.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bonus Video: Cockatoos Require Vigilant Supervision

Here's an example of why cockatoos require constant, vigilant supervision. They get into trouble in the most glorious ways.

Week Two With Feather Children

It's been two weeks now! It honestly feels like one million years. It's an adjustment for everybody.

1. Loki still sings the song of his people around midnight every few nights or so. We've now had three blissful nights of uninterrupted sleep... until 5:30 a.m. when it's time for Loki to call to his people. But honestly? I don't mind 5:30. I'm usually waking up on my own by then anyway. Midnight I cannot handle.

2. Mango has improved by LEAPS AND BOUNDS this past week. He has now stepped up for my roommate without me in the room AND with me in the room, which is a huge deal for him. Even huger deal: He steps up for D now. He stepped up for D when I wasn't there, then when I was there, and then.... drumroll please.... I was able to pass Mango from my hand directly onto D's hand and MANGO DIDN'T BITE D. If I didn't think I'd have broken my neck, I would have done a cartwheel. We went from Mango aggressively posturing, hissing, and screaming at D to willingly leaving my hand for his in about a week. I am so thrilled, I can't even.

I'm so proud. I'll get photo evidence of Mango's newfound friendship with D next week.

One-legged pullup on the hot lava branch

3. Mango likes the shower.  I bought a shower perch that sticks to the shower wall with suction cups so I could just take the birds into the shower with me, which is great because they like water but hate the spray bottle. Yesterday was the most hilarious shower experience yet. Mango was on the perch, but he kept looking like he wanted to fly down onto the shower floor, so I just set him down there. He immediately walked into the stream of water and got this crazed, happy look in his eye. There was much fluffing, happy noises, and walking around in the stream of water, and he got completely soaked to the bone. After the shower he was shivering a little and wasn't really into the idea of being toweled off (towels are still hot lava), and I remembered something I read online... someone mentioned that after they bathe their birds, they blow dry them with a hair dryer on low. This person said that their birds loved it, but that they'd been exposed to hair dryers since they were babies. I thought, what the hell? The worst thing that can happen is he screams at it like it's going to kill him and I'll turn it off and we'll stick to Hot Lava Towel. Welp... turns out Mango loves the hair dryer. He sat very quietly and still on the bathroom counter with this total blissed out look in his eye... he even turned around a few times so the dryer could warm his other side.

Before and after.

4. Loki still hasn't made even a small attempt at stepping up onto my hand for me. Like I said before, I'm totally ok with that. He still loooooves to come out of his cage to play/chew on the perches I have up there, play with/chew the toys I have set out, and play with/chew the "let's be friends" sheet. He'll willingly lower his head for scratches and rubs, give me copious head boops, and make adorable chatty noises. He seems happy, and so I am happy. He's been through a lot and I don't want to push him out of his comfort zone quicker than necessary.

"... must... destroy..."

5. I am making a questionable purchase for Mango. I am going to try out a flight harness. He's just so curious and wants to explore all the places, and I'd love nothing more than to be able to walk around inside the entire house and out in the backyard with him safely tethered to me. I want him to get used to new places, see new things, hang out with new people in various settings. Eventually I'll want to get a harness for Loki, but we have a long way to go before he'll be ready for it. Mostly because I'm pretty sure he could chew through it and escape in about 45 seconds.

Stock photo, but look! Mango's cousin, a Jenday conure!