Saturday, November 28, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinners to Shut-ins

This isn't going to be about birds... For the past five Thanksgivings, my husband and I have delivered meals to shut-ins. The turkey dinners are provided by 13 area churches. Our kids and grandkids aren't close by, so this is a way to make something special out of Thanksgiving. It's always rewarding, but this year meant the most. It seems we are always put where we are needed ... those invisible hands again.

At our fourth stop, I carried a box of goodies to a house in a nice older neighborhood and rapped on the door. Thankfully, I have good hearing because a tiny voice said, "Open the door." I did and inside sat an elderly woman on a couch. "I can't get up," she said. I tried to help her, and didn't realize how weak I've become (I'm not so young myself any more).

I retrieved my husband and he lifted her while I pushed until she was standing and able to grab onto her walker. She complained that it was cold and it was. Her thermometer read 63 degrees! While I assisted her to the bathroom and helped her change clothes, my husband checked the heater. It was set at over 80, but turned off!  He reset it for 72 and turned it back on. In moments it was warm.  He also made coffee at her request.

I'm not sure how long we were there, but it threw our other deliveries back. Once warm, she was moving around much better, but didn't know it was Thanksgiving and was confused. Between our church and Senior and Disabled Services, we're going to get some help for her. She shouldn't be living alone...

By our last delivery in Lakeside we were tired and just wanted to get home. We'd only had breakfast, expecting to eat with the other volunteers. However, we ran so late, that we skipped lunch in order to make the deliveries to Lakeside.  We were headachy and complained all the way to our last stop. "Why would anyone request someone to bring a single meal all the way out here?" we fussed. We drove past the Shutter Creek prison, onto a gravel road, down hills, over potholes, that went on and on and on, through fields, across bridges, and back up the other side of hills. I phoned the number and got directions for the last leg of the trip ... it was pouring down rain that ran in wide rivelets across the gravel road. It was a mess! More grousing from us... We finally pulled onto a long driveway (not unlike our own), and said we'd never do this to anyone... We parked, but the occupant didn't appear. I walked around the house to the front of the A-frame, but no one answered. I peeked through the window and could see the occupant walking to the opposite end of the house, near where we'd parked ... there was a back door there that was hidden by her SUV.

I walked through the rain and mud back to our car and greeted her. As my husband attempted to hand the box of food to her, I looked at her closely. "Would you like me to carry it inside for you?"

"Yes, please," she said. I took the box and entered her house. Although not elderly, she used a walker. The house was littered with boxes and odds and ends. "I have an open house on Saturday," she said, "and I'm trying to get things ready, but it's hard. I've had three surgeries on a broken leg, but I'm getting it done. I need to sell the house."

I asked her how long she'd lived there. It turns out she and her husband had been there over 20 years, but he had died just three months before. I felt awful that I'd begrudged the trip up there with a turkey dinner. She hadn't requested it ... someone from their church had. I wondered if he'd died in the same accident that broke her leg, but I didn't ask. To top it all off, her water pump had quit and she had no running water.

There she was, living way back in the hinterlands, a new widow, alone, injured and disabled, without water. "There, but for the grace of God, go I." 

We drove home with an entirely different outlook on things. May God bless you and your family this Holiday Season.   

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Privacy Please ...

Mated bliss photos show male on top of hen below. Spicy, is a tame male Bourke with normal coloring. He is also the tiny, newly hatched chick being handfed in a side column photo. His Rosy mate, shown here, is Sugar. Photos may not be the best ... I didn't want to move in close enough to disturb them. Smile.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Birds & the Bees, if You Please …

Birds do it, Bees do it, Even educated fleas do it, let's do it, let's fall in love… Sorry, this is only about birds.

The photo is of Budgies doing it, not unlike other varieties of parakeet. Bourke and Splendid cocks attract a hen by calling to them. Bourkes have a lovely song that includes a natural wolf whistle. Splendid calls are not as pretty, but seem to get the job done.

Once the lady enters his area, a male attempts to woo her by trying to feed her. If she is attracted to him, she will allow this. The quality of the regurgitated food probably proves what competent fathers they can be. A hen may wait a few days to get to know the gent, or she may decide she’s ready immediately.

Hens signal a willingness to mate by hunching down and raising their tails in the air. They also cheep loudly, issuing their “come on big boy!” call. During the mating process they often continue their encouraging cheeping. But not always…maybe it depends on his expertise.

Males tentatively place a foot on the back of the female. When they think she’s standing steady enough they will step up onto her back. They usually extend their wings for balance. Experienced males don’t have to dance back and forth, but inexperienced ones may wobble before proceeding. Sometimes the hen is knocked off her perch and may scold as she falls. To successfully mate, the male must lean to one side of the female and fold his tail under hers – all while keeping two feet securely on her back…a real balancing act for them both.

The male bird attempts to touch his vent area to hers. He doesn’t have a penis, but both birds seem to enjoy vent to vent contact as his sperm enters her. It’s all over in a matter of seconds and he hops off. It’s referred to as the “cloacal kiss.” If contact was made, she will sit still for a moment or two afterwards.

Some scientists believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs. Try to conjure up an image of two Tyrannosauruses based on the foregoing information. Tee Hee!

It’s assumed that the reason birds lay eggs is so that the babies can develop outside the hen, allowing her to fly without carrying the extra weight. That’s also an argument for why cocks carry their sexual organs inside; although there can be some swelling during mating season, allowing sperm to be farther from the body and kept cooler. If you’re interested in more details, there’s more information on the internet.


SPLENDIDS: Young Splendid parakeets all look alike. The scarlet chest develops on the males as they mature, and the timing of this varies. I had a young clutch of three all get scarlet chests before another male who was hatched a few months earlier. So, it can vary. However, sometimes sex can be determined by looking under their wings. Males tend to have a black band beneath their wings, whereas, females have white bands. If the bands are broken, you may have to wait and see whether the white bands fill in or disappear.

BOURKES: Bourke parakeets are harder to sex. Yet, males often display at an early age. They throw their shoulders back and slightly flair their wings. I’ve never seen a female do this. It’s a male display activity. Females tend to have darker faces than the males, and supposedly the top of their head is flatter. However, good luck with either of those methods. Pink and Rosy Bourke colorations vary widely. Normal Bourke males will develop a tiny ridge of blue feathers above their cere (nostrils). If you look closely at a mature bird, this will be present in the males and absent in females.

Rosy Bourke colorations are sex linked. Because of that, if you have a mixed pair (a Rosy and a Normal brown); you will know what sexes you have as soon as pin feathers begin to show on the babies. Their offspring will typically be the color of the parent of the opposite sex. So a Rosy father will have Rosy daughters. The Normal hen will produce Normal sons. The opposite is true too. A Rosy hen will have Rosy sons and a Normal cock with have Normal daughters.

I have one pair of Normals who actually produce 50% Rosies. The male in the pair had a Rosy father, so he is a split Normal. All the Rosies have been daughters and all the Normals have been males. If you want to learn more about this, you can search for Homozygous and Heterozygous traits in birds.

An interesting website, Visual Wings, describes a number of Australian parakeets. It’s at:

By the way, Fuchsia is doing fine and eating on her own now. Her mother is back on eggs, so to protect those offspring, I expect to pull them within a week of their hatch and hand feed them. As I mentioned earlier one of the parents (unsure which one) killed Fuchsia’s younger sibling and injured Fuchsia’s wing. The parents are in a cage of their own, so another bird didn’t do this. I suspect it was the father, but he successfully raised three babies with another hen (who scolded him constantly, maybe to protect her babies). All our other pairs have proven themselves to be reliable parents and I believe this is very unusual.

Until next time. Enjoy your birds.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weaning Babies

The easiest "starter" food for baby parakeets is spray millet. Fuchsia is now sharing a cage with other babies who were reared by their parents. They all have spray millet available, as well as Petamine breeding formula because it has a soft powder mixture that may make it easier to eat. Typical parakeet seed is also present.

Several water sources are also in place. I have two cups of water and two bottles hanging on cage sides. Smart youngsters will find everything they need, but I have one that seems slow to mature and want to make finding water and food easy. Although all the others learned to eat right on time, one had to go home to his parents twice in the past week because he wasn't eating on his own and begged the other babies to feed him. They didn't.

Watch your babies closely to be sure they're eating. If not, you may need to put them back with their parents and wait a few days before taking them away again. Sometimes you will know it's time to remove them when their father starts chasing them instead of feeding them.

Most often, however, you will see them in the feed dish eating and leaving seed hulls behind. Empty hulls are a sign that they are successfully eating on their own.

Temporary Housing for Babies

If you're hand feeding babies, you need to keep them warm. Fuchsia is in a small cardboard box, shown here. The top folds down to keep her safely inside. the bottom of the box has pine shavings, and I put a folded paper towel, napkin and/or tissue over the shavings. when I take her out to feed her, I can throw the "diaper" away and replace it with a fresh, clean one.

Baby droppings are very wet, so something absorbent helps. If moisture still soaks into the pine shavings, they can be "stirred" to help them dry while you're feeding babies. You can change shavings too anytime you want to. That's most likely necessary with multiple babies than with one.

Notice in the photo that there is an oil heater off to the side. In order to keep Fuchsia warm, we put the oil heater near her box. The rest of the house may be only 68 to 70 degrees, but her area stays much warmer. I taped her box to the table with duct tape so that it couldn't accidentally be knocked onto the floor since it sits near the edge where it's close to the heater. I often check the corner of the box nearest the heater to make sure it isn't getting too hot. As the day warms up, I turn the heater off, but turn it back on at dusk when the house starts to cool.

You don't want to "cook" or dehydrate your babies, but you do want them to stay nice and warm ... just as they would be if their mother was next to them. Once they feather, they are able to stay warm on their own, but before that they need extra warmth. I've found a portable oil heater nearby works perfectly.

Fuchsia will go into a cage as soon as she shows that she's able to fly. She will continue to be handfed after that, perhaps for another week, or even two.