The Adoption of an Older Parrot
Reprinted with permission from the Companion Parrot Quarterly.
The ad in the newspaper said "Double Yellow Naped Amazon for sale". I scour the bird classifieds on a daily basis (a sure sign of a serious addiction...), and this one piqued my interest. I have long been fascinated by the talking green parrots, and was particularly captivated by the Double Yellow Heads and the Yellow Napes. From the description in the ad I figured this bird had to be one or the other. I hoped to add an amazon to my little bird family some day, so I always paid close attention to the amazon ads, which were never nearly as abundant as the cockatoo and African grey ads.
The price listed in the ad was well within my budget, and I decided to call - just to get a little more information mind you, nothing more. A pleasant-sounding lady answered the phone, and from her description - a large patch of yellow feathers on the neck and back of the head - I was able to discern that the bird was most likely a Yellow Nape and not a Double Yellow, whose adult plumage usually includes an entire yellow head. She told me that the bird was 9 years old and that she had owned her for the previous 2 years. She said that the bird was very friendly with her, but hadn't had much exposure to strangers in recent years and she really didn't know how "Beaker" would react to a stranger.
Up until this point, my tentative plan was to eventually get a young, newly-weaned bird from a reputable breeder, as this is how I acquired my other birds (with one exception - my first bird, Wally the Quaker Parrot, was a total impulse purchase from a chain pet store - something I would never do now, but that is another story...). When I found out that Beaker was 9 years old, I had a few misgivings, afraid that I would purchase someone else's problems and worried about venturing into this unknown territory... But I was trying to keep an open mind, and I was encouraged by the fact that the owner was on good terms with the bird. Two previous amazon ads that I had called about involved birds who hadn't been handled or even out of the cage in years, and I didn't feel that I had the necessary experience to take on a bird who would require extensive rehabilitation just to be able to step up without taking a chunk out of my hand. So I made an appointment to go see Beaker and that afternoon my husband, son and I were on our way.
Beaker's owner, Claudia, had just moved into a huge house in a very nice neighborhood. Beaker was in the kitchen, in a sizeable cage that she shared with a Congo African Grey. The cage was old and not very well made, but it was clean, and the birds had a variety of fresh foods and clean water. It appeared that they had been well cared for, despite the fact that they had an obvious dislike for each other and probably should not have been caged together. They stayed as far away from each other as the confines of the cage would allow.
Upon our entry into the kitchen, Beaker went into what we later learned was full amazon display mode - head and tail feathers flared, pupils dilating, all the while making a throaty, growling sound that sounded remarkably like a frog. Claudia opened the cage door and Beaker promptly obeyed her "step up" command. From Claudia's hand, she continued to warily eyeball the strangers in her realm. Claudia asked her if she would like to sing, and she immediately responded with a high-pitched LALALAAAAAAAAA that any opera diva would envy. We were enchanted.
Beaker was gorgeous. She was a big bird, over 600 grams, and maybe a tad on the heavy side, but overall she appeared to be in good shape. Her feathers were lustrous, and the patch of bright yellow on her nape was huge and stunning. Claudia interacted with her with apparent ease, even holding her upside down in her arms like a baby.
I asked about Beaker's past, and why Claudia was selling her. She told me that Beaker's original owner, "George", raised her from an egg (I am a little bit skeptical about this as I know that incubation and handfeeding are extremely difficult tasks...). George and Beaker were virtually inseparable, and Beaker accompanied George nearly everywhere. Unfortunately, George died an untimely death in a car accident and Beaker went to live with George's mother. Having no previous experience with birds, George's mother was afraid of Beaker, and was disturbed by Beaker's constant repertoire of words and phrases, many of which were spoken in George's voice. She asked George's best friend, Dan, to take Beaker. So Beaker went to live with Dan, who happened to be Claudia's husband. After a few years, Dan and Claudia divorced, and Beaker stayed with Claudia. Now Claudia was engaged to be married again, and her fiance was not fond of Beaker. Beaker constantly called Dan's name in Claudia's voice, and the new fiance was not very happy about it. He also did not like Beaker's constant yelling for attention. (Word of caution if you think there might be an amazon in your future - they are not quiet birds. Be sure that you have a high noise tolerance...) Claudia made the decision that Beaker had to find a new home.
Beaker continued to entertain us from Claudia's hand, but I decided that if I were going to become this bird's new owner I had to pick her up and see how she would respond to me. With Claudia's permission I offered my hand and said "step up". Beaker politely stepped onto my hand, and promptly bent over and nipped my finger, drawing blood. I ignored the bite and tried not to show any reaction to it. We eyeballed each other for a minute or two, and then Beaker seemed to relax and decided that I was okay - no more bites.
With this huge green bird perched contentedly on my hand, I looked at my husband and said "whaddya think?", to which he responded "I dunno, it's up to you" (big help, huh?).
A flurry of conflicting thoughts were running through my head. Beaker was obviously quite bonded to Claudia and I had no idea if she would ever be able to also bond with me. But then I considered her history and realized that she had already successfully transitioned through several previous owners. So with my heart pounding, I swallowed and told Claudia "We'll take her."
A few minutes later, Beaker was loaded in the carrier that I'd brought along (just in case, mind you), and we were walking out the door. From the carrier we heard Beaker say "Bye Bye" and "I Love You" in a husky man's voice. It was heart wrenching, and I could tell that Claudia was nearly in tears.
Beaker was silent during the trip home. When we arrived at the house, I left her in the carrier while I readied her cage. After perches were mounted, toys were hung, and food and water bowls filled, I opened the door to the carrier. Beaker waddled out and stepped up onto my hand. I placed her into the cage, and she didn't appear to be unduly stressed by her new surroundings. She surveyed everything from the highest perch, then ventured to the food bowls and began chowing down (and she hasn't stopped since...).
I decided it would probably be best to give Beaker her space and let her get used to her new home. So I left the room and went about my business. My husband and son left to run some errands, so I was home alone. About an hour later I distinctly heard a lady talking - very loud - and it was coming from the room Beaker was in. I couldn't make out the words, but it was a lady's voice and it sent chills down my spine. The first thing that crossed my mind was "Who is in my house!!!!!????" and I contemplated grabbing a big knife from the kitchen drawer. Then the rational side of me took over, and I realized that the voice was most likely coming from Beaker. I cautiously tiptoed down the stairs into Beaker's room. Beaker was sitting on top of her cage looking like a queen surveying her domain.
I said "Was that you talking Beaker?". She looked at me and said "Hey Bird!", in the same lady's voice. I was delighted, and more than a little relieved that Beaker was my intruder. Over the next several weeks, we had a great deal of fun listening to Beaker's entire repertoire of words and phrases, which turned out to be quite extensive. Not only does she have a large vocabulary, but she also speaks in a wide array of voices including a little girl, a woman, and a man. She also has a husky smoker's laugh and cough, and she can cry like a small baby.
During the first few days after her homecoming, everyone in our family (husband, teenage daughter and 10-year-old son) interacted with Beaker. She stepped up for everyone, and there were no bites or other signs of aggression. Around the 4th day, I was holding Beaker when she suddenly leaned over and clamped onto the back of my hand, delivering the hardest bird bite I had ever received. I was shocked and stunned, and immediately returned her to her cage and went off to nurse my wounds, both physical and emotional.
The physical wound, even though it was a good one - the bruised skin quickly turned purple and green - wasn't nearly as bad as the emotional wound. I thought I had developed a bond with Beaker and I had given her my trust. Her bite seemed to be out of the blue, but as I replayed the scenario in my mind, I realized that my son walked into the room just prior to the bite. Could it be that my son was a perceived threat to Beaker and she was delivering a warning to me in the only way she knew how? I knew enough about bird behavior to realize that it was a distinct possibility.
I decided I did not want to let this isolated (I hoped) incident get in the way of a relationship which was otherwise developing beautifully. So I marched back into Beaker's room, offered my uninjured hand (doing my best to hide my pounding heart) and asked her to step up. She did so, and acted as though nothing had ever happened. I was relieved, but I had definitely developed a healthy respect for this green beauty and decided to be a little more cautious and alert while holding her in the future.
A few days later Beaker was sitting on a tabletop playstand in the kitchen. I was chopping veggies at the sink. My son walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, a few feet from Beaker, with his back to her. With no forewarning, Beaker leapt off of her perch and flew at Dan, head and tail feathers fully flared, pupils dilating wildly. It was obvious that she intended to do him harm. Fortunately, I had just clipped her wing feathers, and she was unable to gain the altitude necessary to land on Dan, so she landed on the floor a few feet from him and resumed her charge on the ground.
Dan turned around just in time to see a bird with a very evil glint in her eye waddling towards him as fast as her little legs could carry her. He had seen the bruise on my hand from Beaker's bite and knew the damage she could inflict, so he didn't waste anytime contemplating the matter. He let out a scream, and high-tailed it out of the kitchen, with Beaker in hot pursuit. I stepped in between them, bent down, offered my good hand and told Beaker to step up. She obeyed, then she chomped into my good hand, every bit as hard as the previous bite. Although my instinct was to shake her off my hand and scream and high-tail it out of the kitchen myself, I somehow managed to keep my cool and slowly walked back to Beaker's cage. After putting Beaker in her cage, I went off to nurse my wounds once again.
By this time it was pretty apparent that Beaker had big issues with my son, Dan. Actually it was probably apparent from the beginning, but sometimes I am a little slow to pick up on things and have to be hit with a sledgehammer before things finally sink in. My two wounded hands were the equivalent of a sledgehammer and I was finally figuring things out.
We established some new rules to deal with the situation. If Beaker was out of her cage, Dan would announce his entry into the room that she was in before entering it. That way if I was holding her it would give me a chance to put her down and avoid getting bitten. Dan was never to turn his back on Beaker when she was out of her cage.
When Beaker was caged, we worked on developing a relationship between her and Dan. He would sit by her cage and talk quietly to her, hands behind his back. Only Dan was allowed to offer her favorite treats.
I have never completely understood Beaker's hatred of Dan. Perhaps there was a blond child of his approximate size somewhere in her past who tormented her. Or perhaps she just views him as her biggest rival for my affections.
Beaker has been a member of our household for over two years now. Over time, she has come to grudgingly accept that she has to share the same house with Dan, but it would be stretching things to say that they have developed a relationship. Even now, after Dan walks through the bird room sometimes Beaker will viciously attack her cage-top treat cup and it is very obvious that she is attacking Dan in effigy.
I hope that as Dan grows older and bigger, Beaker will learn to accept him and perhaps even to like him someday. When other children of the same size and hair color have visited our house she has reacted adversely also, so I truly believe that she associates young, blond children with something quite negative. But until that day of acceptance comes, our ground rules enable Dan and Beaker to live harmoniously under the same roof and it is a very workable situation.
Beaker and I have developed a deep bond, and she has never bitten me again since those two serious bites in the first week after she came home. She is a wonderful bird who has a zest for life that is enviable. When we have visitors to our house, of our five birds it is always Beaker who captures the most attention. She is an extrovert, and nothing makes her happier than singing, laughing, talking and dancing for an audience.
Beaker's second favorite love (next to entertaining) is eating. When I enter the bird room in the morning, my arms loaded with bowls of fresh sprouts, vegetables and fruits, cooked beans and grains, etc., Beaker's eyes light up and she looks like a kid on Christmas morning. This scenario is repeated in the evening when it's time for warm birdie bread.
All-in-all, this older bird has been a wonderful addition to our household and has enriched our lives greatly. Even though I don't plan on adding any more birds to my flock, I would never hesitate to consider an older "second hand" bird if I had it to do all over again.
BirdsnWays Note: Kathy Pearson has lived with and studied parrots most of her life. She currently shares her home in Arvada, Colorado with a menagerie of animals, including six different species of parrots, a husband, and two children.
Where would you like to go next?
Birds n Ways Home Articles Index Winged Wisdom Index