April 1997 Magazine
Bringing two older birds (Ashley and Murphy) into our household was certainly an experience for both us and the birds. It was fascinating to see them begin to settle in and to get used to a new environment. But even more interesting was to see them learning to interact with each other.
When Ashley and Murphy had their first visit with the vet (although Ashley was a life time patient of that vet), we had them DNA sexed. In spite of their lifestyles, the certificates say that they are both males. The pet store owner believed that they were a bonded but not proven pair when we purchased them. But the fact that they were actually both males was all right since Ashley was to be my pet and Murphy was his chosen companion.
From the beginning, it was clear that these guys were (are) an odd couple. Ashley was a little overweight and in full fine feather. He moved slowly, deliberately with a regal bearing. If he was not the king or prince of his castle, he was certainly the lord of the manor. He would bite and throw temper fits to get his way. Ole Murph never bit anyone and followed Ash around like a little shadow. Murphy's idea of heaven was to snuggle against Ash to sleep. But, he is an imp, likes to pick locks and to bug Ash.
We made a play area of pcp pipe and branches (with bowls for food and water) in our den. Ash promptly discovered a branch that is hortizonal and he chewed it until it was exactly to his taste. He would hang upside down by his feet and swing back and forth making happy sounds. Murphy watched and said nothing. But when Ash tried to climb back up onto the branch, Murph would wait until Ash was almost up and then run over and use his beak to push Ash back down. Ash would try to get up and Murphy would push him back down. This would continue until Ash got mad and yelled at Murphy. Then Ash could climb back up to stand on the branch and crow. They did this same routine every day for a couple of months and then came the time when after Ash did his crowing, Murphy walked past him to the end of the branch. He hung upside down on the branch and started to swing back and forth. He pumped harder and harder until he did a complete turn around the branch. He continued to pump and slowly spun around the perch like a little white feathered ferris wheel. When he finished 10 or so revolutions, he climbed up and walked past Ashley without making a sound. Ashley has never swung upside down since. I guess that he couldn't take his little buddy one-upping him like that.
The other game that Murphy liked to play was tug of war. He would take a block or a piece of one of the toys and push it into Ash's face until Ash would grab it. Then Murph would pull him around the cage until Ash let go. And old Murph always went back to do it all over again, until Ash tired of the game and yelled at him.
During this time, both birds improved their diet. Ash lost a little weight and Murphy gained some. Both birds were in fine feather and looked healthy. But Ash was some 100 grams heavier at 660. And Murphy's head looked different. His beak was smaller and his head wasn't as wide as Ashley's. Ash has a great hook beak. We read all we could find about cockatoos but couldn't find anything about two or more subspecies. We decided that maybe Murphy has birth defects. But on the other hand, he seems healthy.
As for me, I'm set for life. While MY pet, Ashley, is becoming CAROL'S, ole Murph is warming up to me. Nothing can go wrong now! Right? No, WRONG! My life was not meant to be serene. Just as my two little white feathered friends are settling in, THEY AWAKEN TO THE FACT THAT THEY ARE BOTH MALES!! So after two years of living in harmony as the perfect odd couple, Murphy decided that he needed to fight Ashley for possession of all female U2's (the fact that there were exactly none around didn't bother him, he wanted to be READY!). Ashley, on the other hand, didn't want to fight Murphy over non-existant U2 females, he wanted to FIGHT ME for Carol.
We tried to keep them from fighting, but to no avail. Murphy had come out of his shell and wanted to be the alpha bird. There was no stopping him. One day Murphy drew blood, so the birds were put into seperate cages. Then they cried at night because thay wanted to snuggle. Yep, they wanted to cuddle together for a good night's rest so they could fight to the death at the next dawn. And if Ash won, he planned to kill ME next.
So, what do we do? It seemed that they need companions, and it was logical to get them girls. We begin to look into this. The first thing that a breeder told us is that the males may fight with and kill the females. Oh my aching bones, I can leave them in two cages and listen to them cry. Or, I can let them out and they may kill each other and maybe me. Or, I can get them some females that they might kill. All I needed to really make my day was for Carol to say, "Aren't you glad we spent $5,000 so you could get into this mess? " I wondered if the French Foreign Legion is still taking recruits?
Part VI - A Solution to Raging Hormones
With two love-sick male U2's and Murphy crying all night for a cage mate, immediate action was called for. [Peace and quiet in the house was rapidly becoming a distant memory.] So I started talking to as many breeders as possible. We learned that although there is a thing called mate aggression in cockatoos, it is not always fatal. Moreover, the breeders reported that most of the time when there was an attack, they knew something was wrong (or not right) but hoped that the birds would work it out for themselves. Additionally, our cages are in the house with us and I sleep lightly when it comes to kids or birds. It is not what I set out to do, but the answer was probably female U2's.
I say to 'she who must be obeyed' (Carol), says I: "Guess we are going to have to find 2 female U2's for our little guys. With fire in her eyes, she says: "You mean FOUR birds and TWO big cages? We don't have the space or the time!" with such finality that I know that in her mind this is a closed subject.
There have been three or four times in my life that a flash of true brilliance has occurred, and this was one of them. I thought of a King Solomon like solution for ole birdy-mom Carol, who has a heart much softer than she cares to admit. I say in a very calm voice, "Of course, you're right. I'll have to find a good home for Ashley."
Carol: "Why Ashley?"
Me: "Because Ash is out-going and talks. He can probably adjust to a new home in one or two years. Old Murphy is just coming out of his shell. We are his fifth owners in 7 years. Just about the time he gets to trust and love people, they sell him to someone else. If we sell him, he may never be able to trust people again, certainly not for a long time. So as much as it hurts, I'll try to find Ash a new home."
Carol: "He is your pet! Our baby! You can't give him away!"
Me: "You're right, its going to break my heart but I'll try to find the right person for Murphy."
Carol: "You can't put Murphy out into the cold. Husbands are so stupid! The answer is to find two females."
Me: Making the only correct not-that-stupid-husband response, "Yes dear, I wish I'd thought of that."
However, once the decision to find females was reached, I found that the real problem was where to start. And exactly what was I looking for? We can play it safe and look for females the same age as our guys. And of course, we want true/breed umbrellas. But, what does one look for in a female U2? The one with the really big.....eyes? With two male U2's hanging out watching a female U2, does one say to the other, "Look at the beak on that chick! Wouldn't you love to have her preen your tail feathers all the way down?" I couldn't ask Murphy what he wanted because he was just learning to talk and moreover had never seen even one female. Besides, that boy was so ready that a fence post painted white might have worked for him. I decided that I was going to look for a lady because that makes me a match-maker. If I looked for a slut, that'd make me a pimp and I won't do that even for my little buddies with the white feathers.
So, Carol and I went onto the internet and found a female U2 in California (we are in New Jersey) that is the same age as our guys. We called and talked to the woman who owned the U2 named BeBe. The first question she asked was what did we have in mind for BeBe. We said she was to become a companion for one of our pets. If they produced eggs, it would be a happy bonus, but not necessary. As long as she became a good companion. The next question, "If BeBe doesn't work out, will you agree to return her to me?" Not only could we live with this, we were starting to like this lady. And the next question, "If BeBe bonds with one of your males and you are unable to keep the pair, will you agree to sell the pair to me?" And with that request, Sylvia established her credentials as a really good bird person. She said that BeBe was a pet, but when she reached maturity she started to be too noisy to keep in the apartment, so BeBe became a tester for a toy maker. Later, BeBe started to pluck and it was believed it was due to her needing a male. I think that BeBe is a sexy name, French almost.
The BeBe baby (a screaming plucker that we hope will make my life more serene???) arrived and went into isolation after her vet check. I got an immediate unexpected bonus as she became daddy's little girl almost over night. When I picked her up, she became a BeBe-baby-birdie-broach and tucked her head under my chin and moaned. Her favorite toy was/is a bath towel in my lap. She arranges one half of it into a nest and pulls the other half over her head. She pulls my hand under the towel and head butts the palm until I close the thumb and fingers around her head. And she takes a nap.
She taught me a routine. One day, she popped out from under the towel and ran up my chest with the wings out and the crest up. I ducked (which is hard to do when you are sitting in a recliner with your feet up and a bird in your lap). She went back under the towel. I hadn't felt threatened, so I resolved not to duck the next time. And there was a next time. She ran up my chest, wings out, crest up and stopped with her beak about one inch from my nose to stare eye-ball to eye-ball with me. I guessed she wanted me to say something so I said, "Pretty BeBe" which is one of the phrases she says. The wings came in, the crest came down and she said (in agreement), "Pretty BeBe" and went back under the towel. In a couple of minutes, she repeated the act to make sure I would remember my lines. After the third or fourth time, when she said, "Pretty BeBe, she continued to stare into my eyes. It seemed that she wanted me to say or do more, so I added: "I love you". She dove down onto my chest to do the BeBe-baby-birdie-broach thing. Now she does this routine most days she is in my lap. Sound odd? Have you ever seen a little girl run in to ask, "Am I pretty, Daddy?" knowing what answer she is going to get? Well, my little girl has white feathers and answers to the name, BeBe.
During this time of isolation for BeBe, Murphy could hear but not see her. He liked what he heard. He didn't know what to do or even what he wanted to do, but he was READY! Boy, was he READY!
Winged Wisdom Note: Ken Highfill has owned pet birds for over 12 years and is co-creator of the Birds n Ways website.
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