Birdzilla! - How George Nearly Lost His Happy Home ----      (narrated by Mum)

 
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Innocent - and Ingorant - Beginnings

George came to us as at the age of 2.5 years, not as a baby.  Fortunately for me (and him), he was very well socialized, polite and easy to handle.  We just couldn't ask for a better behaved ekkie.  George would step up for anybody - and was not shy about people he liked.  If he liked the way you look, he'd fly straight to you, land on your shoulder and start kissing your cheek.

He came to us just after Easter, settled in quickly and seemed to handle the change well.  We had about 6 months of bliss - but then October came and the trouble started.

George's became increasingly moody.  He started biting, biting quite hard.  He started growling, snarling at me and when I'd walk by his cage he'd throw himself against the bars with a show of over-the-top aggression.

Up to this point he'd been sleeping in his day cage in the lounge room.  When the sun started to go down he'd bark at us and complain loudly until we covered him with a dark sheet.  Then he'd settle in and be quiet the rest of the evening.  He was pretty consistent, demanding "bed time" at about 6 p.m. or so every evening.

When the moodiness started I theorized that he just wasn't getting enough sleep, and that a bed-cage placed somewhere that would be dark and quiet was in order.  So we set him up with a small cage in my husband's office - and started a routine of putting George in there and covering him at night when he was tired.  

George's disposition improved immediately and I felt we'd solved the problem.

But after a week or so, the moodiness returned and worsened.

He only bit me.  He never acted this way toward my husband.  After several weeks of begin bitten I was handling George less and less.  I was afraid to.  As a direct result, George was spending far too much time in his cage.  This infuriated him even more and he started screaming.

Too Sexy For My Own Good

In mid-November (at about the time of his 3rd birthday) George was clearly experiencing raging hormones.  And it was also clear that he'd selected me as "mate".  This was why he bit me and no-one else.  If I wasn't being bitten, I was being "molested."  

I discovered that he reacted most strongly if I wore anything red or purple.  It was very, very clear that those colors were just too provocative.  I joked at the time that my purple sweatshirt was the equivalent of black lace undies in George's view.  

Just before George's birthday I joined "Eclectus Parrots" - an online forum dedicated to Eclectus parrots.  Thanks to the knowledgeable and helpful people there (especially the owner/administrator, who was incredibly supportive), I finally started to realize that I had not been correctly reading George's body language (ekkie body language is significantly different from macaws and other birds I've been around).  Armed with a better understanding of ekkie body language, I was able to avoid being bitten so much because I stopped taking George out if he displayed aggression.

This was progress in some ways - but because he was being handled less, he was angry more often.  The situation deteriorated to the point where several days would go by without me handling George at all.  And because I play with him and Laka more than my husband does, George's quality of life deteriorated.

The spiral continued downward.  

George was screaming a great deal every day.  Stephen and I began to discuss the possibility of finding a new home for him.

A George Shows Signs of Settling - For A While...

Then came the end of January and a shocking 3-day heat wave.  The temperature shot up to 40 C (in the shade) on Wednesday, then 42 on Thursday, then 43 on Friday!  We don't have air conditioning, and so we and the birds were miserable.  Although George seemed to handle it better than the others, even he was clearly uncomfortable.  I kept our insulated drapes closed, kept a fan blowing on them, and misted them every so often with a little water.  The lounge room that three days was very quiet, with the birds reacting to the heat plus the darkened room.

The heat broke - but a week later we were hit with a record breaking day: November 7th, 2009 - a day that Australians will forever refer to as "Black Saturday."  The temperatures soared higher than any recorded.  We were hit with gale-force winds and temperatures over 45 C.  There were massive bushfires in an arc from our northwest, north, east, and to our south.  We saw the smoke.  We smelled the smoke.  Throughout the day my husband and I discussed the possibility of evacuating - but we kept hoping and praying that we would be alright.  At the end of the day when the temperatures finally came down, hundreds of people were dead, thousands homeless, and the entire state of Victoria was in shock.  We saw what others had been through and were sobered to realize that it could have happened here, too.

Over the next 4 weeks the fires continue to rage, with at least 2 fires erupting quite close to our home.  We had several days when we evacuated, taking the birds with us.

Because their day cages are so huge (and impossible to take along), George and Laka were housed in small, temporary cages for the duration.  For George this was his 24 inch cube-shaped "bed-cage."  I was certain that he'd be furious about being confined in such a small cage.  We braced ourselves for a blast of ekkie screams.  To my surprise he seemed fine.  

While we were evacuated George's hormonal rages seemed to be in check.  I was even able to handle him several times, only getting one or two nips during that time.

By mid-March the weather had cooled and the bushfire threat was no longer a constant worry.  We were back at home again and George resumed his tirades. 

Breakthrough

I was in despair.  George was so unhappy and I just couldn't see how we could continue.  Stephen and I decided it was time to find a new home for him.  

At the same time, however, I discussed this situation with Frank, a good friend who works with "problem birds" and has been very successful helping them.  I told him about the worsening problem, George's surprisingly good behaviour during evacuations, and about my increasing frustration.  He had a number of observations, including this:

"...  Eclecti may need to be only birds. They are very possessive and competitive. George has a bone to pick with you, most likely connected with the mere fact that Laka (who herself is no longer worth his attention) is in the house. Try spending *all*day* with him one day.  If he settles down and stays settled down after the first hour, and then he's all cuddles the next morning, I'd take that to support my theory.  ..." 

 (an excerpt from Frank's email)

I wasn't sure I wanted to spend an entire day with George snarling and snapping at me...  but it was something I hadn't tried.  Given George's behaviour when we were evacuated, it seemed feasible (when evacuated, George was in the company of humans for most of the day).  I waited until a morning when George seemed to be in good spirits.  Immediately after he'd eaten his morning meal, I opened his cage door and offered him my arm (this took considerable courage, as I'd not been able to handle him the previous 4 days).  He stepped on my arm easily.  I brought him into my office and we spent the day together with George sitting on me at times and in his bed-cage at times.  I played his favorite music for him to enhance his mood.

To my great surprise, he behaved beautifully all day.  Frank had been right.

And Now We Make Changes

We have a new routine.  On any day when I am going to spend more than a few minutes in my office, I bring George with me.  His bed-cage stays in the office now - and he seems happy to amuse himself chattering, singing, or playing his toys so long as I am right here where he can see me.  He is out of the cage a good bit of the time, only being put back in if he is being a little too "helpful" when I'm trying to get something done.  

I've also made some adjustments to his diet.  

After discussing quantities of certain foods with the folks on the Eclectus Parrots forum, I learned that we were probably adding to the problem.  I'd been giving George an almond a day - with occasionally a macadamia as well.  I was advised that this was too much fat for him, and that it should be reduced to a couple of almonds a week!  I immediately dropped back on nuts.  I also withdrew the pellets I'd been giving him, noting the pellet was not something designed for ekkies, and theorizing there might be too much fat in those as well.  The dietary changes may or may not be contributing to better behaviour (I've been told that diet changes take a while to show effect, so it's probably too soon to know).

There are days when George must spend the entire day in his day cage, and days when his "office hours" are abbreviated because I have other things to do.  When that happens, he reverts to "Birdzilla", snarling and lunging as before.  But I know that it's not permanent, and that he'll sweeten up again as soon as "office hours" commence again.

As of this writing, it's been nearly four weeks with the new routine (now April 2009).  I am aware that when October comes around we may have to deal with ekkie hormone surges again, and things could change.  But I'm hopeful that George and I will have arrived at an understanding by then, and that the upsets will be relatively minor.


George's new "office" (and bed cage)

As a show of good faith, my husband and I ordered a new "office cage" for George.  

The new cage is more than twice the size of his bed-cage (although not as roomy as his day cage).  Its more comfortable for him and easier to clean than his current bed-cage is and will allow a better variety of toys.  I've left the seed "wings" off the sides because they make it just a little too large to fit easily through the door.

The cage's design isn't the best.  In this photo you can see there's a large open gap between the grate and the paper tray, allowing the bird to escape when the grate is taken out for cleaning.  Even so, it's just so much easier to clean than the old cage.

You can never be sure how a bird will react to any kind of change - but George seemed to take to the new office without much fuss. 

 
George enjoys the view from the top of his new office

Have we come to a happy ending?  For now, it appears we have.

... (April 13, 2009 - I am working on obtaining some photos and videos for this article - including a video of his "Birdzilla" behaviour - which he continues to exhibit when forced to spend more than an hour in his day cage).