Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Polly Wants Proper Care

"Mommy go to work, Mommy go to work," Lacey Jo warbles as Jackie Vore flies out the door. When Vore returns and perches at the dinner table, her 2-year-old's likely to come over, pleading "want some, want some."
The wee one can be loud. And messy. And bite Vore. And even damage the furniture. It's at times like these the woman may want to send the little rascal to her roost.
A Congo African Grey, Lacey Jo's part of a flock tended by Vore and friend Laurie Florio.
Also included in the feathered family of parrots at the women's home are Moluccan cockatoo, Apollo; Hahn's macaw, Sarah; Quaker Parrot, Peanut; Congo African Grey, Louie; and Timneh African Grey, Sammie.
Aware of their "parrotal" responsibilities, the women urge others to note the care parrots require before adopting one.
Parrot precautions
"People get them because they're pretty and they make a 'living decoration,'" said Florio of her avian intimates. But, parrots "can't live life in a cage being pretty."
"They need a lot of socialization and stimulation," said Linda McFatridge of the Kokomo Humane Society. Without companionship, she said, such birds can get stressed and will pluck out their feathers.
"Basically, they're not domestic," Vore reminded parrot parent-wannabees. While it's in their nature to roam the skies -- they fly all day long -- foraging for food, "we take them and put them in cages. It's like putting a kid in a cage" Florio said.
Ignored, birds "get bored and stressed and can start mutilating themselves."
"When you take them away from their flock, you have to become their 'flock,'" Vore said.
To help relieve the problem, Vore suggests giving the birds some variety through different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Their diets must be watched carefully, Vore said, adding calcium deficiencies are especially important if the parrot is a female and laying eggs.
Many African Greys, prone to fatty liver disease, also are susceptible to mites, as are other birds.
Because her feathered charges have delicate respiratory systems, the guardians can't wear perfume.
Vore said chemicals can't be sprayed in the house. As a result, she cleans with vinegar.
The birds require much bathing to take care of their "almost like baby powder" dander.
The taloned "tykes" also relieve themselves often and are generally messy. As such, Vore said, office mats around the house are cleaned daily.
And, "the bigger the beak, the bigger the bite," Vore continued. Not unlike an eager puppy, a parrot may bite if rough-housing becomes too rough.
Fingers and arms aren't the parrots' only targets.
Vore said they chew their entire lives; "cardboard, window moldings, every piece of furniture, anything and everything."
Cockatiels and other small birds can live 15 to 20 years. Some parrots can live to be 100.
Potential owners might want to consider who will get the bird in case of a divorce or human death.
Time with birds rewarding
While birds require a lot of attention, that can be rewarding for the guardian, too.
Casey was one of four cockatiels dropped by the Kokomo Humane Society shelter, said facility employee Vore. Casey found a home there and also caught Vore's attention. She said she also became fond of an African Grey "kind of dumped" on a friend.
And that affection has grown.
"They're very social; they consider you part of their flock," she said. "They love chaos and noise."
The birds' demands for attention also can make them pleasant companions.
"We talk, we sing," she said, noting she has just to start whistling the tune "Tequila" and they'll whistle and sing along.
Vore claims her charges are far from "bird brains," saying Lacey and others have the ability to put together words and express themselves.
The birds fly throughout the house and are even allowed -- on occasion -- to play outside.
The women love their winged ones. They're quick to overlook and even forgive their charges' errant behavior because "they love to sing ... they're playful, loving; they're like having kids."

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