New Members of the Family

Phew, how time flies! Last I was in BroadcastAsia in June and suddenly it’s August.

While some of the blame in the lack of updates here is up to me, a fair amount of time during the last three weeks or so have been taken up by this little thing.

That’s right, it’s a cockatiel. It’s name is Cassie, and here’s how it ended up in my home.

A couple of months ago, somehow the parents got the idea that it’d be nice to have a bird. Me being the cat person did not fail to mention the advantages of having  a cat, not to mention how sad caged birds are. Of course said good advice was not taken, and even my suggestions of a budgie or a cockatiel were initially ignored. We ended up with this:

Golden-breasted Starling looking at the camera funny.That, for you all, is a Golden-breasted Starling, one of the members of the glossy starlings, native to East Africa. As the name implies, they have some incredibly beautiful plumage. They are also fairly good at this songbird thing, or so I hear. Errm, that’s all I can think of as advantages.

The downside is fairly simple: No one with any sense of animal welfare (ie most civilised people) gets an animal this wild as a pet. This also means the Internet is devoid of information of how to actually take care of it, or even interact with it. Upon it arriving I panicked a bit and tried my best to get as much information as I could. Finding out that they were insect eaters also meant nearly all commercial bird foods were not suitable for them.

Still after some searching I managed to get some insect food and supplementary feed, so all was well, considering its circumstances. I still worry about whether it is getting enough stimulation, and it still is fearful of humans. It has been weeks and after daily trust exercises I barely just about have it eating from my hand. Actually, make it more like snatching food from my hand and making it to the perches like its tail feathers were on fire.

These wild birds are hard work, or so I thought.

My sis had other ideas, apparently, and thanks to a right moan I had (“Why couldn’t you have gotten a more common bird like a cockatiel?”), she went ahead and did just that. So on 20th July 2014, a 7-week old cockatiel entered our home. That’s the pretty thing you see right here:

Cassie the Cockatiel

7 weeks, as I have learnt, is barely weaning age, with some breeders advocating weaning as late as 10-12 weeks. We really need some kind of measure where pets cannot be sold this young. Another fine example of our culture’s mindset of prioritising money first.

Cassie got off to a rough start. In another lesson that I learnt fairly rapidly, many birds are prey species, unlike dogs and cats, and have the skittishness and fearfulness to go along with it. The first couple of days it would not take its handfeeding liquid formula, just about surviving on millet spray. It wouldn’t even face us! It clearly also had some kind of incident or two before, as it came to us with stained and ragged tail feathers.

By the second day Mom and sis were ready to call it a day and have it returned for another bird. Somehow I shouldn’t have cared, but I did. I said we weren’t going to send the bird back yet, I just needed a bit more time.

The third day was the breakthrough day. After holding the syringe up for many many many minutes, the cockatiel finally decided to take a sip. And another. And then another. Soon it seemed to trust me enough to step up to my hand, and let me carry it around the home.

Cassie taking a nap.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. The bird and I have bond very well. It knows when I’m around, and only screams to get my attention, and no one else’s. It’s a smart bird and even can deduce that the last person unlocking the main door at night is me, and starts squawking before I even open the door! It only asks for scritches from me, and it has figured out that hopping to my shoulder and pressing its face next to my cheek is a good way to get them. Speaking of shoulders, it absolutely loves riding on shoulders, specifically mine. It even likes napping while perched there. So far I have only had one poop incident, and that’s because I forgot to account for one of the 30 minute intervals. Ah, there has to be a downside to a friendly bird, I guess.

As of now, taking care of it is still time-consuming. For one, when they said parrots need interaction and stimulation daily, they weren’t kidding. I’d put them as demanding as a small dog, if not more so. Remember a puppy’s destructive chewing when it gets bored? Well, a parrot is all that and then some, except that beak never stops as it reaches adulthood. As it is, I will need a new laptop at this rate: That way I can still do some work while the bird is out in the dining room. With a cat, at least it goes to sleep after a while.

Then there’s the handfeeding. While the daily number of occasions have reduced (each full syringe takes anywhere from half an hour to an hour for the bird to finish, and that is if it wants to finish it all in one sitting), getting it to eat a variety of foods is a challenge. It seems to like seeds a lot, even though like humans, a balanced diet of a variety of foods is encouraged. At least it doesn’t gorge exclusively on sunflower seeds…

Cassie in a bowl of seeds.

So far, I’ve got mixed feelings. I didn’t really asked for it (I’d rather much have a cat), but Cassie can be so adorable at times, and technically it is under my care now. Cockatiels have long lives, and have average lifespans of 15-20 years, and many are reported to live even longer. I will miss having a cat though. Though having Cassie shed powder and down feathers all over the place is kind of like having a mini-cat around.

I hope this good relationship lasts – there’s still a lot to come. Adolescence and all that it entails; feather molting, a painful time for birds; sexually-linked behaviours, bird-laying for hens, courtship behaviour for cocks (stop sniggering). I still have yet to find a vet too! Also, a bigger cage and more toys. More. Toys.

There goes my wallet.

In the meantime, here’s another photo of Cassie. I’ve got more photos up at Cassie’s Flickr album, and will update them as I take more photos!

Cassie scratching itself.

Oh, and the name? Well, sis calls herself Cassandra, and since she brought it back, it can have her name.