Innocent - and Ingorant -
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
Just before George's birthday I joined
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
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.
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. ..."
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
I've also made some adjustments to his
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
"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).