Rewards of Caring for Special Needs Birds


"71i" hose of us who love our \!llbirds try to give them long, healthy and happy lives.

But the sad truth is that some birds, be they domestically raised "companion" birds or imported "breeders," do not spend their lives in one stable and nurturing environment. Quite often they are bought and sold, moved and transplanted several times during their lives. As a result, some end up confused and emotionally or physically damaged by their experiences.

Other birds are hatched with problems-physical abnormalities which, in the wild, would be an automatic death sentence but which in captivity can be overcome and gain the bird a full and contented life. It just takes a little extra consideration from its human caregiver.

Still, at some point in its life, another bird may have an accident which requires its removal from the flock or from its mate. And it may need special attention from its keeper.

Here at the Oasis Aviary and Sanctuary I have taken in a number of birds with special needs or problems. When I agree to give them a home, in my heart I have to accept them exactly the way they are when I first see them. And I know every step of progress will be a miracle and bonus.

Rainbow; behavior problems Rainbow is a male Scarlet Macaw who arrived here at 16 months of age. At first impression, he might appear to have come from an ideal home. His owner was a middle-aged professional woman of considerable means who had several other birds. He was healthy, well fed and groomed, but rather than being lavished with time and attention, he was cared for by a series of the owner's relatives and hirelings. He was shuffled between his home, that of a relative and even to that of a renter. When I met Rainbow, he had never known stability nor had he learned to bond.

aggressively defensive and frightened. I found myself black and blue from fingertip to shoulders the first few weeks he lived here. Every interaction was a test, a challenge to my authority. He never broke skin, but would give nasty pinches and he'd eye me with flaring pupils. His only vocabulary consisted of "Hellooooo, step up?" And a long, loud "Ouuuttttt." His previous owner had told me how she would slap Rainbow when he nipped.

I began a program of nurturing dominance, taking him out on my hand, doing the downward shifting, unbalancing movement I call "the earthquake" when he would nip. If this didn't work, I'd put him back into the cage for 10 to 20 minute "time out" periods. In the cage he would cry "Ouuuutttt!!" which I would force myself to ignore. But when I let him out again, he would resume his nippy behaviors. In frustration, I called Bob Diaz, the head trainer at Parrot Jungle in Florida. I explained all to Diaz and he recommended that I allow Rainbow only water, pellets and veggies in his cage and that I reserve nuts and seeds as treats to be hand fed when his behavior was good.

This seemed to have an effect. In less than a month, Rainbow had stopped his constant nipping and challenging and began to bond with me. He allowed me to touch him all over his body, even stroking under his wings. I was able to touch the skin on his face and massage his feet. Soon he began to trust me enough to step off his perch and allow me to catch him. He would lie on his back and let me tickle his belly, and he learned to laugh an endearing chuckle. I gave him more and more time out of his cage and no longer heard his loud cries. Instead, he would call "Hiiii" to anyone in the house.

Rainbow was still terribly frightened and therefore aggressive around strangers. After about two months of living with us, my husband jerry (who is still intimidated by a bird of Rainbow's size) began to help me desensitize Rainbow to strangers. Jerry would go into Rainbow's room (my studio) every day, at least once, and offer Rainbow a treat from his hand just as I had. Gradually Rainbow began to accept the treats and at this point Jerry could come into the room while I was handling Rainbow without a danger to me.

Today, eight months after Rainbow arrived, he is still very cautious around strangers but is far less aggressive so long as strangers keep what Rainbow feels is an adequate distance. I allow for this but am ready to desensitize him further, using bird-savvy friends as Bob Diaz suggested, I hope Rainbow will gradually lose his fear of unknown people.

By accepting Rainbow and attempting to understand his problems, and not punishing him for what his previous situation made him, he has become a loving addition to my flock.

Sassy; physically challenged

Sassy is a young female Moluccan Cockatoo who was hatched with extremely crippled feet and legs. The breeder (an AFA member) decided to try extensive (and costly) surgery to correct the problem. As soon as she weaned, both of Sassy's legs were reconstructed to the point that she could walk on her hocks. One foot can grasp, but to the side, and the other foot has only one working, moveable toe.

Although I had never expected to have a cockatoo as a companion, when Sassy and I met, about a month after her surgery, she and I immediately fell in love with one another. Within a month of our meeting, the breeder and I had become friends and when she offered Sassy to me I leapt at the opportunity to share my life with the little pink bundle of energy.

Several special physical accommodations had to be made for Sassy.