Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Ecelctus Parrots, Vincent and Aki

         Aki and Vincent                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015


          This is an unanticipated blog entry about my two eclectus parrots. Vincent and Aki.  You will understand why as you read.  From the time I was a child I loved birds and had a wonderful powder blue parrot named Money.  (Though a present, I knew he and his cage and accessories were expensive items.)

       Two years ago I bought a beautiful female eclectus from a man who decided to give her up because he was away at work from five thirty in the morning until seven in the evening.  I decided upon this species of parrot because they are known to be relatively quiet, unlike Amazons and Cockatoos, whose dawn and dusk celebrations of life are enough to make you quickly don your pair of noise reduction ear muffs.  This "freedom of screech" allows them to communicate with other distant flocks.

      Those thinking of getting a parrot should learn what's involved in taking care of one.  Whether they are hand-reared or not parrots retain their wild characteristics. They generally bond with only one person viewing others as interlopers often the recipient of a bite meant to send them packing. Often it is the bird who is sent packing.  Because of their noise, ability to inflict painful bites, and reluctance to bond with more than one person, the average parrot has lived in five different homes before he dies, often unwanted, sometimes living in the dark in a cage semi-permanently covered with a towel or blanket.  After the research consider getting your bird from a rescue.  Parrots are the third most discarded pet in the U.S. 

      Aki's home was reeking of cigarette smoke and had a beak so deformed she could not close it.  Her breast was completely bare from plucking.  There was no way I was not going to take her home with me.

      Next day it was straight to the vet who set to work on her beak with his clippers and dremel.  When Dr. Sager stretched out her wings we both smelled cigarette smoke.  

     I ordered special eclectus food which is high in vitamin A.  They also need lots of fruits and vegetables.  Her previous owner gave me the remainder of the food he's been feeding her, but it was not really what she needed.

     Aki adjusted well to life in Acton, spent time outside in the sun, and had full spectrum light over her cage.  She ate well and seemed to enjoy the variety of food I offered her. Aki was happy to be out of her cage and happy to be in it.  When she wanted to be picked up she would lower her body and vibrate her wings.  Here she is on our deck munching on some petunias:

       This is where she spent many hours with me while I was at the computer or reading in bed.  That swing was a favorite :


       A few weeks later I was contacted by a woman I talked to earlier about her eclectus.  She asked if was still be looking for a bird and wanted to know if I was still interested in her male eclectus.  She was an excellent caring owner and simply did not have time for Vincent due to changes in her work schedule.  He, too, had begun to pluck.  I decided to take him, as well.  The more I learned about parrots the more I thought Aki would be happier with a companion.  And so Vincent arrived with his own cage which I put next to Aki's.

       I expected an exciting time when they first met but the pair seemed only mildly interested in each other.  When parrots are but a few days old, they are removed from their parents by their breeders.  They are then fed by humans, and become imprinted, essentially thinking they are human, while still having the same needs and behaviors as any wild eclectus living in its native Solomon Islands   Vincent was more interested in regurgitating and sharing his food with me than with Aki.  However, in time they bonded, and Aki happily moved into Vincent's cage.  

       After several trips to the vet, Aki was finally able to close her beak.  She no longer smelled of tobacco smoke, enjoyed baths several times a week, as did Vincent.  

       Yesterday, was another routine trip to the vet for beak and toenail trimming.  Everything seemed normal.  Aki only objected when the vet started using the Dremmel, but she'd always behaved like that, as did Vincent.

       All of a sudden, Dr. Sager rushed out of the room saying that Aki had gone into cardiac arrest.  Despite his best efforts Aki could not be resuscitated.  I was stunned.  Dr. Sager explained that cardiac arrest occasionally occurs with smaller birds, canaries, parakeets, and finches.  This was the first time in his career as an exotic animal vet that a bird Aki's size had died of cardiac arrest. Dr. Sager suggested that there might be some underlying medical  condition that had compromised her health. 

      I will never know whether that was the case,  but certainly, Aki's health had been compromised before I had gotten her.  Her food was not the best and she was exposed 24/7 to second hand smoke.  She didn't receive routine vet care and had been unable to close her beak for God knows how many years.


       Vincent                                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

        Now Vincent is without his mate.  In the wild, of course, he could draw support from his flock.  Sadly, his only flock is me.  Dr. Sager advised that I not get another parrot because there was no guarantee they would bond.  I had just been lucky, it seems with Aki and Vincent.  I decided that I would get a parakeet so Vincent would at least have the company of another bird.  Dr. Sager advised me to wait a week or two.  Vincent would need to mourn for that length of time, and he might view the arrival of a new bird as that of an interloper.  They can't be together, of course, Vincent could do terrible damage to such a little tyke.

       I understand much more about parrots than I did when I was a little girl with a parakeet.  They are highly intelligent and emotionally supersensitive.  Each flock has its own dialect and each baby has been named by its parent.  But why do they talk like us? Deprived of the language of the flock, they learn the language of humans.  Do they understand the English they have learned?  Well, I think it depends on what they have learned.  When my husband is in a rush Vincent will say with a measure of concern in his voice, "What's the matter?" When he caught me wiping away the regurgitated food he'd given me with a paper towel, he said "S_ _ t!!," as he marched over clearly intending to give me a bite for rejecting his nourishing, albeit rather disgusting gift.   Trying to mount Aki when she was not in the mood he kept repeating, "Stop it!  What are you doing?  Stop it?!"

       Vincent was observing Aki getting her beak trimmed from his carrier, and when the vet rushed out of the room with her in his hands, Vincent said, "What's the matter? What are you doing? What's the matter?"  Did Vincent understand the questions he was asking?   I'm certain he did.  

       Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly--




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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Wyoming Mustang Comes To Windflower Part 2

                                                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

        Those of you who have read my blog entries from last winter already know it was the snowiest and coldest on record in Massachusetts, not the optimal time for taking care of five horses. (Missing in the above action is our little ten-hand Shetland Kip.  She had wisely parked herself in the deepest reaches of the run-in shed.)  And it certainly was not the optimal time for me to receive this e-mail from Juliane, my friend, former student, and now fellow trainer whom I've known since she was eight years old:

Hi all:
This would be completely crazy.
But totally a dream come true! I didn't know they were coming to MA but applications are due VERY soon.
What do you all think?
I would need a place to keep the horse from April-Aug and therefore need to come up with a couple months' board . . .  but what a good investment for my career!

An attachment explained why this would be "completely crazy." The "Extreme Mustang Makeover" was coming to Massachusetts. Any announcement that has the words "Extreme" and "Mustang" in its heading certainly gets my immediate attention.

      The Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF), 
in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), supports and facilitates the adoption of mustangs.  The BLM is the federal agency that manages our public lands and the wildlife on it. Every year, in locations throughout the United States, the MHF runs "Mustang Makeovers" so Americans can see up close and personal this symbol of the American West and understand what versatile riding horses they can make.  The "Mustang Makeover" in our area was to be in August at the Topsfield Fairgrounds, less than an hour northeast of my farm.

       If Juliane's application was approved, she and other participants would pick up their unhandled mustangs in April, at a town just under an hour away, this time to the northwest.  The mustangs are randomly assigned, and trainers have no idea what they are getting until they arrive to pick up a horse.  They then have one hundred days to ready their animal for the September competition.  The top ten trainers, those who have done well in their divisions, move on to the final competition, the freestyle.  A freestyle is an original performance designed by the rider and set to music of the rider's choice.  After the freestyle all mustangs are put up for auction, giving the public an opportunity to bid on a gentled mustang.  Cash prizes of $7,000 dollars for the youth division and $20,000 for the adult divisions is awarded.

       I thought it was terrific idea.  Very few people who ride horses have had the experience of training a horse from the start, much less a wild mustang.  It would be a true test of Natural Horsemanship.  I told Juliane that the mustang could stay at Windflower during its training, if she could come up with all expenses concerned, and did all of the training.  We've been doing Natural Horsemanship for over twenty years, and Juliane, though just twenty, was certainly more than qualified to take this on.  She would graduate from college in just two months and then could devote even more time to this extraordinary project.  If things got tight during her exam period I could fill in.

       Her application was approved, and we headed off to Orange, MA, one cold and bleak April morning.  Our party was made up of Juliane, her friend Jon and fellow horse trainer, and two of our students, Zoe and Katie.  While Juliane went off to an office to pick up her paperwork, we went to check out the mustangs in an indoor arena.  
This is what we saw upon entering (I'm sorry the picture quality is poor, but it was cloudy and I didn't dare use my flash): 

  Mustangs   Orange, MA                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015


          The arena was divided into approximately twelve corrals with an aisle devoted to loading that ran through the middle.  There were a total of eighty equids, about seventy horses and ten donkeys.  At first glance they were not an inspiring lot.  Most were dirty and covered with manure stains, all manes and tails hopelessly tangled.  None had ever been handled save being put in a squeeze box to be freeze branded, get their vaccinations, have their feet trimmed, and, if a stallion, be gelded.  These horses had just been shipped across the US, and all they knew was that they were no longer free, no longer in sunshine, and that slowly but surely, one by one, their herd mates were disappearing. Approximately half these horses were going to "Mustang Makeover" trainers while the rest had either been bought during an on line auction or would be auctioned off that day. 

       Here's a sweet picture of Zoe with one of the burros being offered for adoption.  It had obviously been handled some and enjoyed being scratched:

    Wild Burro  Orange, MA
       Juliane returned with the tag number of her mustang and was told it was one of the three pintos in the competition.  This one matched her number.  Meet Rocio ("Dewdrop" in Spanish): 

  Rocio and friend                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      A tobiano (brown and white pinto) with mostly white, she stood somewhere around fourteen hands.  She is also visible, barely, in the the first photo of the mustangs in pens.  I watched her behavior with the eight or so other horses in the pen.  She seemed to be the lowest on the totem pole, always yielding to the slightest aggressive posturing by the others.  That could indicate she was timid, possibly spooky, and it might be quite difficult to earn her trust.  I would soon learn my assessment was incorrect.

       We arrived at the farm early, so there was only one mustang to load before us.  We found out all mustangs present for the competition were mares, which made sense.  Having  the competitors train only mares (or only geldings, as is the case with some other mustang venues) would level the playing field.  As many of you know, mares tend to be a little more opinionated and a little more concerned about their environment than are geldings.

      The lady wrangler somehow managed to separate her from her herd mates and get her into the long aisle.  Within seconds the wrangler got directly behind the horse then waved a whip.  The mustang got the message and shot down the aisle like a bullet. With the young woman running and waving her whip behind him, the terrified mustang jumped into the stock trailer.  Two gentlemen wranglers immediately slammed the door shut and the mare was off to her new hundred-day home.

     Juliane's pinto was next.  Because she seemed so timid in the corral I thought loading her would be as easy as the one we'd just seen.  Wrong!  

Here's Rocio now in the aisle.  Everything seems to be going according to plan:

  Rocio    Orange, MA                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      Halfway down the aisle, Rocio, however, did one of the tightest and quickest about faces I have ever seen.  Rocio galloped by the young lady and her whip.

Sorry about the blur, but that is exactly what she was:

  Rocio       Orange, MA                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

Once again:
    Rocio       Orange, MA                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

Heading back:
  Rocio   Orange, MA                                    Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       Another try, and Rocio whipped around and headed back to her paddock friends.  The third time, however, was the charm:

   Third attempt                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

She was in!

  Rocio in trailer                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       It was difficult to watch this.  Rocio was terrified but, really, there was no other way.  I just wished she could have understood that her life was about to change for the better.  She was a former member of the 50,000 mustangs held in holding pens and corrals in ten western states.  The BLM has determined that, with a lack of predators, the herds of wild mustangs must be culled.  They believe that in four years the wild mustang population, estimated at 45,000, will double. 

       As I mentioned in my previous blog, the ratio of cattle to mustangs on BLM leased land is approximately thirty to one. There is no end to complaints about the mustangs drinking the cattles' water and eating their grass.  The anti-mustang groups complain that the mustangs are not truly wild but feral.  Well, the cows eating the grass on BLM land aren't exactly wild either, not even feral.

        This appetite for red meat is not only hurting our hearts but hurting our poor planet.  It has been six years of unprecedented drought in the west, with California the hardest hit.  Were some herds not captured by the BLM, they would die of starvation. Scientists are convinced that climate disruption in the form of greenhouse gases increased the severity of the California drought by twenty percent.  Mother Nature knows best, we do not!  We need to listen to her.  She is screaming at us! 

     A scared Rocio:

  Rocio in Trailer                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

     In the foreground, Juliane, Rocio's trainer, is the cowboy booted blonde, Katie is manning the video camera, and then Zoe on the right:

   About To Leave                                                         Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       One hour later we arrived at Windflower.  Juliane's friend Jon managed to back the trailer into the round pen that we'd set up.  I wished it had been drier.  The mud was the result of our hideous winter and its record-breaking snowfalls.

  Rocio arrives at Windflower                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       On the way home Juliane was able to decipher what her papers said about Rocio.  She hailed from Adobe Town, Wyoming, was five years old, and stood in a holding pen for (we think) four and a half years.  She was probably still nursing when her herd was captured.  That was good news.  She wasn't going to be really wild.  She's been people around most her life.  She was just unhandled.  It was the same for the other mares.  All had spent the majority of their lives in holding pens.

       Once in the round pen, Rocio wandered about and had a meet and greet with some of our horses.  Juliane and Jon stood by watching:

              Juliane and John                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      Here she meets Elementa and Dolly:

   Rocio's Meet and Greet                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 20115    

       Then Tica:

          Rocio Meeting Tica                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

      On to the humans:  Here she is with Zoe:

    Rocio and Zoe                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015


      And finally with the young, talented trainer who would make this all happen for her:

         Rocio and Juliane                                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2015

       Stay tuned for Part 3 of  "A Mustang Comes To Windflower" when Juliane starts her training in the round pen.

       See you soon, and thanks for reading "The Windflower Weekly."




Looking for equine and pet related gifts?  Check out the photo pendants in my Etsy shop.