Getting Feathered

Morris Transformation

Morris is looking amazing, becoming a pro-trainee and foraging for living. I couldn’t be prouder of him!

I have to admit that I was a bit worried that my all-encompassing plan for Project Parrot Positive might end up being a bust. (And in all honesty, it’s possible that he could start plucking again at any time…) However, his progress has been astounding and I think it’s time to share how we got here.

The plan was as follows:

  • Working with a vet to address any health issues and medicate for stress as necessary.
  • Set him up in the best possible housing with plenty of foraging/enrichment opportunities.
  • Change up Morris’s diet to be as healthy as possible and expand his interest in investigating new foods.
  • Work on simple training to build a positive relationship (and help him “learn to learn”).
  • Train behaviors that encourage interactivity and investigation.
  • Wean him off of stress medication.
  • Raise his weight. (He was still somewhat under normal weight.)
  • Train behaviors to give him a means to seek attention other than worrying his feathers.

We are now at the stage where Morris I’m working on training some fun things to keep him occupied. He’s still doing a tiny bit of feather stripping, but we are on the right track! So in the coming posts, I’m going to discuss the phases and considerations in Morris’ “rehab”. I hope they will be helpful to some of you struggling with feather destructive behavior. There are no easy solutions, but maybe you’ll discover a few things to try with your own birds!

In the meantime, Morris would like to show off his new suit —

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Mondays with Morris: Meet Morris, A Foster African Grey Parrot and Star of Project Parrot Positive

IMGP6337When I decided to start a training/boarding program, I knew from the inception of the idea that wanted to take in a foster bird. My space is limited, as well as my time, but I firmly believe no one truly has a successful business without giving back. I would make the space and I would make the time.

So I was absolutely thrilled when I approached Caitec about sponsoring a bird by supplying their products and he agreed. I knew that Caitec was focused on innovations that would help parrots lead fuller lives and I was especially interested in their line of foraging products. We both agreed that our joint efforts could be best served by trying to help a parrot that could benefit from foraging, an enriching environment, training for better living, and a healthy diet.

My next step was to find my project bird. I approached PEAC hoping they might have a bird needing foster care that also could benefit from what we had to offer. PEAC jumped at the opportunity and serendipitously had a parrot that was ready to be welcomed into Project Parrot Positive, Morris the African grey.

Morris is 39 years-old and spent most of his life with a single owner, who had to move into assisted living. Unfortunately, assisted living situations do not allow for pets. I imagine this was an incredibly difficult situation for Morris’ person to be in. I know that this person tried to re-home Morris in advance of the situation, but Morris didn’t adjust well. He exhibited feather destructive tendencies; he plucked. So the Morris’ owner took him back. Ultimately, when the move was imminent, there was no choice. And once again, Morris worried his feathers.

Plucking is an awful lot like a person biting their finger nails. Once you get in the habit it gets worse and worse. Even if you stop, it only takes a small relapse to get right back to the habit. Sometimes the reason for the habit is medical. Sometimes it’s stress. Sometimes it’s boredom. Sometimes it’s dietary. Sometimes, it’s anyone’s guess why a person or an animal twirls their hair, bites their nails, plucks their feathers or self mutilates.

I don’t blame anyone for this situation, which I think is an important point. Life happens and life is not always fair. There are an amazing number of birds in re-homing situations that have landed there through no fault of their behavior or ability to be an excellent pet. There are so many people who have had to find a landing place for their birds even though they truly wanted to keep them.  We can’t assume any of this is ever so black and white.

Morris is not entirely naked, but his chest and neck are trimmed back closely. He has some down coming in, but the gorgeous old man is a pretty bare. The majority of his feathers are over-preened by a busy beak. It’s hard to see such a distinguished old man in disarray. He should be at the prime of his life. I hope I can help.

There is no guarantee that we can get him to stop exhibiting feather destructive behavior, but here are the steps we are taking and that I suggest:

  • Consult a vet.
  • Medicate if necessary.
  • Adjust diet if necessary.
  • Train parrot to interact with environment.
  • Reward parrot for interactive behaviors.
  • Create a foraging environment.
  • Change strategies as you have more information and as you go.

 

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Morris arrived in December. He has been to a vet and is currently on Haldol, which is meant to eliminate anxiety and keep him calm enough not to pluck. Before he came to me, he was put on a more nutritious diet and encouraged to play with toys. Currently, he is being weaned off of Haldol, being trained to interact with his environment and learning to forage for food. Also, I already adore him.

I’m going to share the process, from the arrival of his cage, food and extras from Caitec to his ultimate placement in his new family. (Although I already know that placing him is going to break my heart as much as it makes someone else happy.)  I hope you will follow along, glean some information that is helpful to you through my experience as well as my mistakes. I hope that you will fall in love too. Because, trust me. Morris is one cool dude.