Laka's Adoption Story ----      (narrated by "Mum")

A Typical Day Laka's Adoption 
Window Warrior Harness Training for Laka  

In 2006, Stephen and I moved to Australia.  Because we were not allowed to bring our parrots with us, we had to re-home Aussie, Bubba, Forte, Jesse, and Pakshi.

We arrived in Melbourne in mid-November.  Between then and early February, we were terrifically busy just getting settled, buying a house, and doing all the things that we had to do to begin our new life.  We adopted Ned and Kelly just before Christmas, but even as sweet as they are, we both still longed to once again have a large macaw.

During our "new bird checkup" with Ned and Kelly, we asked our new avian vet about macaw breeders.  He gave us the phone number of a breeder who turned out to be living not far from where we'd settled.  In early February we finally decided we were ready, and we phoned John, the breeder.

Over the phone, John told me that he had one Blue and Gold Macaw ("B&G") left, a bird about 7 months old.  Someone else had expressed an interest in the bird the week before, but because that other person hadn't contacted John since, and hadn't put down a deposit, he agreed to allow us to come and see her.

We drove the 30 minutes to John's home.  He and his wife Miriam made us feel welcome and at home right away, and John was even kind enough to take us on a brief tour of his aviary.  I was impressed with his spacious and well-built cages and how clean the entire aviary was.  This was clearly a breeder who cares about his birds and was giving them the best possible environment, food, and care. 

Laka with 2 of her clutchmates (siblings) 
(Dec, 2006).

Laka with John as he loads a syringe with baby forumula.  (2006)  John was, and continues to be, Laka's all-time favorite human.

(Update:  Not long after we adopted Laka, John decided to stop breeding parrots.  Although we certainly understand his reasons - bird breeding is an amazingly demanding business - we were sorry he stopped because he truly is a caring person and an excellent, responsible breeder.)


Laka on her first day with us (Feb. 8, 2007).  You can tell by her perching stance that she was one very tired bird.

At the end, he introduced us to his remaining baby macaw.

The bird was clearly tame, but was very bonded to John and didn't much care for me and Stephen at first.  I knew the bird was young (7 months) and could see for myself how she allowed John to handle her freely.  Clearly it was simply a matter of establishing trust - and a little bit of dominance.

(Feb 8, 2007)  After a long, tough day, our new "girl" wanted a cuddle, even if it was only from me.
I know it's hard to believe after looking at this picture, but the bird really didn't like me much at first ("like me much"?  well.. .she wanted me GONE!!!).  She tolerated Stephen, but just didn't want anything to do with me.  John kept a close eye as I handled her and commented several times that he could tell I'd handled birds before.  Stephen and I stayed at John and Miriam's for quite a long time (several hours).  

The bird growled, snapped, and lunged at me.  She refused to "step" for me and made quite a show with "feint" attacks.  

A good friend (someone very experienced with handling macaws) in Ohio had taught me about feints and that when a bird acts like that, sometimes you have to push a little and not back down.  I'd also had the opportunity to observe Jesse's new parents' handling of her when they adopted her (similar situation, similar behavior).  So I didn't back down, but kept gently pushing her.  I kept talking to her in a calm but firm voice, kept insisting that she step on my hand (or arm), and so on.  

Now - as I'm saying this, I also have to say that if you're not experienced with handling large macaws and reading the body language, you should NOT push yourself on a bird who is clearly objecting to you.  

What I'm describing is not something for a novice to do.  It's important that you know what you are doing, you know what the risks are, and you know how to read macaw body language.  I was taking quite a risk with this bird; she could have hurt me if she'd really wanted to.  But I could tell she was just angry, not frightened, and I had the assurances of the breeder that she's a fairly calm and loving bird.  At one point, she did bite me to bleed (just broke the skin at the base of my index finger) but I knew that she was just testing me (she bit me after I'd been handling her successfully for about 40 minutes).  So I didn't react to the bite (other than asking for a bandaid) and didn't back down.

(Feb 8, 2007) Could this be the same bird that bit me to bleeding just a few hours before?

The breeder observed all this and said that he was convinced that she'd settle down once we had her in our home and once he was "out of the picture".  I was hoping he was right, but I know the level of tameness I want in a bird this size and was a little concerned that I might not get that with her.  Finally he asked us if we'd take her "on trial" for a few days.  He said he just knew we'd be good parronts and he wanted this bird (who he'd clearly fallen in love with himself) to go to someone who would bring out her naturally loving nature.  With a "no risk" guarantee from John, there was no reason to hesitate.

(Feb 9, 2007) "How could you believe that I'd bite you?  Really?!?!"

We'd taken a carrier with us, and John put her into it.  As he did, there was something in his manner that told me he was truly sad she was leaving; my heart went out to him.  

We drove home and I held the carrier on my lap.  The bird was clearly enjoying the car ride, but about 20 minutes into the trip she became mildly car sick.  Poor little thing!  She'd had an awful day and it was taking it's toll on her.

When we got home, we opened the carrier.  I reached in and took her out, being careful to keep her away from the spot on the towel where she'd been sick.  She growled at my hands, but let me lift her up.  I set her on a T-stand and we left her there for a while as we hurried around to get fresh water and food set up in her new "day cage".

Within an hour of coming home with us, she was letting me pick her up (still growling a little, but not striking at me) and finally ended the evening clinging close to my chest and letting me "love on her" (scritches, petting, and I sang to her a little).

Our first night with her was rocky.  I've learned that macaws must have plenty of sleep every night (10-12 hours of quiet and dark).  Without adequate sleep, you get a large cranky bird.  We had a "sleep cage" for her, and although she let me put her in it without a fuss, I could hear her thumping and clanging around.  She'd never been in a cage before, and it just wasn't going over well with her.  I finally got up and took her out.  I put a small table-sized T-stand on top of the sleep cage (one with a macaw sized perch on it so her feet would be comfortable) and  put her up there.  
(Feb. 9, 2007)  Laka figured out pretty fast that things here wouldn't be so bad.

After about an hour of shuffling around, she finally quieted down; I'm pretty sure she went to sleep.  She did better than I, however, as I was so worried about her that I was up pretty much all night listening.

On her first morning with us she seemed quite calm.  John rang us mid-morning and asked after her.  "Do you want to bring her back?" he asked in a tone that sounded almost hopeful.  "No," Stephen answered, "She seems to be settling in."  

(Feb 10, 2007) Laka doing Tai Chi. 
On her second morning she was even more relaxed.  Although she still growled when we'd reach for her, she was quicker to step on our hands and loved to sit with us and be scritched and petted.

I talked to John that morning and although he said he was pleased that things were going well, he also had a slight pang of regret; he was clearly in love with Laka, saying she's one of the most loving birds he'd ever raised.  But he also said he was happy that she was with us, and that he was confident we'd give her lots of love and attention.  We talked about John and Miriam coming for a visit to see her, and he agreed to do that in a month or so (waiting a while to let Laka adjust to the change).

She had us by the heart strings.  It was time to name her.

I like to involve my birds in the name selection process.  Stephen and I searched the web and our own memories to come up with a names that we liked, names that we thought might be appropriate.  We narrowed the list down to 5 options:

  • Fancy

  • Gypsy

  • Laka

  • Maya 

  • Sassy

We then consulted our new baby girl.  We said the names to her to see which she'd react to.  She listened to the list of names twice without any reaction.  Then she looked up and said "Laka" quite clearly.  This is the first time I've had a bird select it's name by repeating it (they usually respond with body language).  We said the other names one more time and then asked her if she liked "Laka".  

"Laka" she repeated.

She chose well.  "Laka" is a Hawaiian word that means "gentle/tame".  Laka certainly is that.  Laka is also the name of the Hawaiian goddess of forests, rain, and the hula.

(Feb 9, 2007) Laka listening to her favorite vocal group "Celtic Woman".

Like every other bird I've ever had, Laka loves music.  She's a very quiet, almost "sedate" bird (well, for a B&G Macaw, that is...) - and she likes her music that way.  She shows a strong preference for vocals, and likes love songs that have a soft, harmonious sound.

She loves the vocal group "Celtic Woman" and just about melts whenever I play their version of "Danny Boy".  She also likes male singers, especially Josh Groban.  Anything that has  a slow, gentle beat makes her very happy.

When she was first learning to accept her harness I  would play my " Notting Hillbillies" album (Mark Knopfler's collection of gentle old-time cowboy songs) to get her all mellowed out (it made getting the harness on her very, very easy).  She likes the gentle rocking feel to the "..Hillbillies" album.