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First week of work, and a psychotic parrot episode

So far at my new job I’ve been immersing myself in reports and files and getting up to speed on the subject matter and my projects. The subject matter is fascinating but the projects are a little intimidating because there are so many, and some of them require skills I’m not sure I have, like facilitation, and some of them require a prescription for Ativan, like public speaking.

But I love reading the literature. It’s all about social determinants of health and how they influence the vulnerability of particular groups of people to HIV/AIDS. My portfolio is women and trans people, so gender is an integral part of the analysis. I’m looking at trans women, Aboriginal women, intravenous drug users, incarcerated women, women from countries where HIV/AIDS is endemic, sex workers…and considering the influence of poverty, violence, power dynamics, sexism, stigma, discrimination, marginalization, criminalization, inequity, mental illness, homelessness, etc. As most of you know, these are some of my favourite subjects to think about and write about, but I’ll be going a step further to actually doing stuff.

In addition to spending 8 hours working, I’ve been walking to and from work, which takes two and a half hours. GC and Rosie walk part of the way with me. On Thursday we were walking along the path beside the O-Train tracks, and I saw some little birds trying to get a drink of water from a frozen puddle, so I broke the ice for them. Then I broke all the ice on all the puddles for all the birds along the path. The last puddle was tough. I had to jump on it, and then suddenly I was up to my ankle in ice water. That woke me up!

Speaking of waking up, I think my birds woke up the whole neighbourhood this morning.

I always let them out of their houses for an hour or so before breakfast. Simon has been going through a difficult stage, and this morning was worse than usual – he was being unusually aggressive to all of us, and then he attacked Kazoo and made her scream long and loud, from pain and trauma. I think he bit her tongue or beak or stabbed her in the throat or something – I witnessed it but it all happened so quickly. The screaming went on long after the attack ended. There was no blood but she was retching and her beak was opening and closing and she was crying. Even though Simon created the situation, it traumatized him, too, and he was very upset and scared. He wasn’t even interested in his breakfast half an hour later, which is very unusual for him.

Everybody seems to be okay now, except me. I’m worried about Simon’s aggression, and wondering what I need to do about it. It was bad enough when he was just biting me, but I can’t let him bully the other animals. (The experts say to let the birds work it out between themselves and establish their pecking order, and I was going along with that…but you should have heard the blood-curdling screams that came out of Kazoo.)

The other day Simone was sitting on my knee and Rosie came over to see me. He bit Rosie’s ear. She didn’t know it was him; she just looked shocked, and then went upstairs to find GC . This morning Simon and Duncan had a rare close-up encounter on the couch, and frankly I was more concerned about Duncan’s safety than Simon’s. He’s one scary bird when he wants to be.

I think I’m going to talk to the avian vet and see if she can recommend an avian psychologist or a bird behaviourist or something. African Greys are notoriously sensitive, empathic and neurotic, but I fear Simon’s becoming intermittently psychotic.


13 comments to First week of work, and a psychotic parrot episode

  • torro

    your work sounds interesting.

  • Mo

    Poor Kazoo and Rosie. Is Simon getting a timeout in his cage for his bad behavior? How do you set boundaries of behavior with young growing birds?

    I hope the vet and animal behaviorist can help with Simon so his interactions with his family will be more kind and less painful.

    Your new job sounds great!

    • See, that’s the thing – discipline has to be so subtle with African Greys. You can damage them emotionally by just looking at them with anger. Everything has to be based on positive reinforcement.

  • Lesley

    Did you see the article in the citizen last week about the parrot trainer? Maybe you should contact her about Simon.

    • Yes, actually GC and I went out to visit her and her birds a couple of months ago. I meant to blog about it but didn’t get around to it. I did talk to her a little about Simon’s issues, but mostly I was just fascinated with her birds.

  • Leanne

    Your job sounds amazing! And those skills you don’t have that you need for your job – you can develop them. Will your employer pay for you to take a facilitation skills workshop? Or do you have a colleague that has some of the skills you’re lacking? If so, perhaps you could observe that person in action and get pointers. Don’t hesitate to ask for help where you need it. You were hired for the skills you do have. It’s okay to need to develop some others.

  • Have you thought about checking in with Parrot Partner? I was so amazed with the work she was doing when I went there.

    (also, congratulations on what sounds like a truly wonderful, worthwhile job!)

    • Yes, I expect I’ll be seeing Judy at the Parrot Club meeting on Sunday. You should come! It’s at the Jack Purcell Community Centre, at 7:00 (I think that’s the time…you might want to look it up). Maybe there’s a parrot in your future?

  • Marion

    You don’t need a behaviourist or anything. Your grey is going through the phase of “MINE MINE MINE” and is being a complete brat. I had to keep my grey separate from my quaker b/c she would have killed her.

    What I did to keep my quaker safe – I bought some material they use to make veils (for weddings) and I put it around my quaker’s cage (she can’t fly). So her cage sits on a table that’s 3×3 and I put a piece of mdf board that’s 3×5 on the table, and her cage sits on that. I staped the veil fabric to the ceiling and let it drape down, and then used clips to clip the fabric to the mdf board. This gives my quaker lots of room to move around (again, she can’t fly) and now my grey can’t access her, and my quaker feels and IS safe.

    Have fun at your job!

    • Thanks Marion. I ended up getting Simon trimmed, since the other birds are flighted. It’s not the ideal solution but it’ll have to do for now, because at times it was like he was straight out of The Exorcist. He’s much less intimidating now. But I want to work with him on training too, and to provide him with more things to do while he’s out of his cage.

  • I’d love to spend more time with parrots but I don’t think I’m ready to live with one. :)