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Lost Dog Lost

Originally uploaded by yongi.

We lost a dog. Not our dog, we don’t have one–not even before the dog was lost. The lost dog was gone, and we don’t know where it went.

Confused? That was our morning.

Last night we took advantage of the pre-storm coolness and the neighbors’ tendencies to set off fireworks by sitting on the porch. Someone a street over had nice mortars going off (despite the fact that it’s illegal in the city), and we watched purple martins fly around catching bugs. Very relaxing.

A little dog trotted up along the side of the house, and I called him up to the porch to check his collar. No tags! Ugh. He was covered in burrs. The storm had finally arrived, so Yongi led him around to the back yard. We went to the store for a bag of food and a water dish big enough to keep him comfortable during the day. After we came back, Yongi tried to calm him down. Between the thunder and the fireworks, the poor thing just wanted to be inside.

We let him in, tried to get some of the burrs off, and took a few pictures to post around the neighborhood. Yongi got the dog to calm down a bit, but there was no way we could keep him in the house overnight. We set him back outside after the storm passed. He pawed a bit at the door, but eventually settled down.

This morning I opened to door to the back and saw a dove on the step. Half of the dog food was gone, but the step was covered in bird poop. More doves and grackles waited along the roof and in a tree. Most importantly, there was no dog. Yongi and I searched the yard and found no trace of him! The prevailing theory is that it was five grackles in a dog suit trying to scam us.

Seriously, what does one do when a lost dog is lost again?


The Knitting Savant

It’s a folly to make garments of wool in a climate where they could only be worn without fear of heat stroke for two months of the year, but I’ve been gamely plying the needles for the past few days. Something about crafting always draws me back, and I have a strange array of projects tucked in the closet as a result. For a time I built Japanese robot models, starting back when I was single. It seemed like a great way to meet guys who liked robots and the anime from which they came–I even entered a competition for it. I met several guys who were very enthusiastic about anime, but the oldest of them was 13. After I met Yongi I made a few more robots, mostly to vindicate my efforts.

My mother gave me a project she had purchased in the late 1970s, but had never been able to start in the intervening twenty-odd years. It was a simple weaving, on a cardboard loom with Persian rug wool. The colors were appropriately in shades of effluvia (as was the fashion then). After selecting some colors less icky, I set to work on it. The best time to really crank along on it was at the laundromat, where I could work on my little tree wallhanging for a few hours without interruption. I was using a plastic fork to press the newly woven row togehter, but this kept the other laundry-doing loons at bay. No one wanted to talk to the lady who was doing something with yarn and then stabbing it repeatedly with a fork.

So while making a scarf in Texas in June seems ill-advised, it’s much better than I could be doing. Besides, my knitting teacher proclaimed me a genius! I had misunderstood her directions, and somehow figured out how to knit and purl when she was still teachihg us the knit stitch. She predicted that I “would end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for something, someday”. I remain highly dubious, but it is a relaxing way to spend time. The fact that the bits of moving yarn drive the parrots into a frenzy only adds to the fun.


The House is Alive with the Clucks of Toe Humping

Oh, Zoe. Where to begin with this bird?

She has decided that it’s breeding season, and intends to get it on as often as possible. Her toys no longer scratch that itch, so she has moved on to feet. Mostly Yongi’s feet, but mine will do in a pinch (or rub, in this case). As soon as Yongi gets her off her cage for play time she’ll run down his leg and starting wining and dining the toes. She’ll even jump from his leg to the floor if he’s not fast enough to move his leg. For those who have never seen a parrot courtship, this means lots of wigglenecking to bring up only the most delectable bits from their crops to share with their intended. In short, she pukes on our toes and then humps them.

This isn’t quite as gross as it sounds–while unpleasant, bird vomit (or “gurge” as we call it) is not nearly as smelly or liquid as mammal spew. Mostly it’s a few moist seed chunks that smell a bit spoiled. Not fun to extract from between one’s toes, but not as bad as it gets either. The humping is also better than one might fear because it’s less, ah, intrusive than other pets’ activities. There’s nothing to pop out, parrots don’t have external genitalia. Their mating logistics involve what has been described as a “cloacal kiss” (and before you go thinking that would be a great band name, apparently it’s already taken).

This brings up another point about dear Zoe. She said a clear “Zoe! Pretty girl! Skronk!” last night, but we honestly don’t know if she’s a boy or girl. We could pluck a feather and send it to the lab or pay the vet to check for gonads with a special scope, but it’s really not worth the effort. Parrots are much easier to deal with than children: not only do they live in cages, but a little gender confusion doesn’t result in years of pain and therapy for all involved. It’s a matter of convenience, really, as Piepmatz already had a lock on being the “good boy” of the house.

So how does a parrot hump, lacking external genitalia? Any way it can! Zoe will go to absurd lengths to get a leg up on our feet and position her abdomen on the toes. Then the clucking begins! After we recover from the shock (we go barefoot in the house), we try to distract her. For while, we’d encourage her to wander around on the floor to explore the living room. For parrots, exploring means putting everything within reach in the beak. If it’s soft enough, chew a piece off. If it’s too hard, chew longer. That picture is the third time in one night she put her head in the VCR.

All of the various things at floor level kept her distracted for a while, until she spotted… shoes! After all, the next best thing to feet are the things in which feet go! She’d wiggleneck a bit for the shoes and then cluck some more. The first night she did this, Yongi was able to lure her back by saying, “Zoe! Come here!” He still tries it, but it hasn’t worked since. Most of the time the best bet is to make fart noises. Raspberries, Bronx cheers, however you call them, that’s Zoe’s favorite noise. Lacking lips, she has no idea how to make the sound herself. Often she’ll come up as close as she can to the face to see what weird magic we’ve got. Recently she has started making a sort of buzzing sound that might be her attempt to blow a raspberry.

After her adventures in the Land of Shoes, she’s usually fine for the rest of the night. Sitting on my knee or on my shoulder, she’ll seductively blink and made a sound like a rolled R. I’ll do my best approximation, and we’ll go back and forth like this for the rest of the night. Other favorite call and responses are variations on her name and singing songs. After 45 minutes it’s back to the cage for snacks and a drink, and to unwind before bedtime. It’s a hard life that Zoe has!



Guyana Gyal has reminded me of one aspect of having parrots: the poop. It’s not like I needed reminding, they do it about once every 20 minutes… but some times you have to revisit the things you take for granted! Besides, the referrer logs show at least one person coming here to find out what healthy parrot poop looks like. Notice there’s no picture attached; I do have the decency to spare you some things!

Since pet parrots are just a few generations from wild animals, they retain the tendency to hide any weakness until they are simply too weak to put up a front. It’s a great survival skill when there are predators afoot, but it’s a tremendous burden on their owners. You’ve got to be on the lookout for anything that seems suspicious. Poo is a veritable ticker tape of information–mini health reports delivered conveniently for your inspection! It’s science!

The anatomy of a poo: it is really a three part affair. The cloaca is the single egress point for waste on birds, and it all comes out at once. The solid part (usually green or brown), urates (kidney waste: white or cream color around the solid), and urine (clear, odorless). Much more specific detail can be found at Poopology 101. However, the first rule of poop is simple: what goes in comes out again. Their digestive systems are primitive compared to ours, so the food doesn’t change as much. Sweet potatoes go in, orange poo comes out. Pieps and Zoe have bright green poo most of the time, since they get a lot of fresh vegetables in their diet. If pomegranate or beets are on the menu, expect a small heart attack the first time you see a red poo.

Thankfully the stuff doesn’t really smell, and can be easily cleaned off most surfaces. Wipe it up fresh with a tissue (blot for the urine), or if it’s a more delicate or textured thing let it dry and use a brush to get the urates off (they crumble to a powder). Enzyme cleaners tend to work very well, but you don’t want to get dried poo wet again or it will smear everywhere. Yes, we go through alot of tissues and do laundry frequently.

The parrots have become somewhat sensitive to our desires regarding poo. Even though it happens often, we’re not thrilled to have to stop everything and get a tissue. Between our negative reactions and Yongi’s careful positive reinforcement, Piepmatz has learned to hold his poo and signal that he needs to go. Unfortuantely, he gets nervous if you put a tissue under him, and it gives him performance anxiety. A quick trip back to his cage and the command, “Piepmatz, poo!” and he’s good to go for another 20 minutes or so. The signal is a little squat, about halfway to the full on poo squat. As a result of all the praise and attention, Piepmatz is very proud of pooping on command, and, really, pooping in general. Each squit is a minor triumph for him, and he’ll sound a happy trill to announce it. Zoe, on the other hand, has shown little interest in pooping on command. We call her the stealth pooper, because her poo squat is hard to spot (especially in tme to distract her and get her to her cage to give the command). She’ll let one go while scuttling across the floor without so much as a pause. Her oblivion extend to stepping in her own poo, so there’s been several occasions where a squawking, screechingly displeased Zoe has been restrained to clean her feet. Piepmatz avoids stepping in his own poo and has only done so by mistake. He reacts to it as anyone would, but his hysteria over the tissue approaching his feet makes having a bit of poo foot preferable.

If you’ve gotten this far, you must wonder how on earth we put up with these amazing poo machines in the house. It’s all a matter of decide what effluvia you’re willing to accept. I’m comfortable with bird poo and bird snot. Other folks cope with the myriad of things that come out of human infants, or cats.

Tune in next time as I describe yet more things you didn’t think you needed to know about parrots! Or not. I haven’t even gotten into regurgitating as a sign of affection yet!


Excuses revisited

Still have a lingering cough and the malaise of the recently sick. Yongi said, after hearing one of my coughing fits, “If you die of consumption, I’ll shoot myself with a flintlock pistol.” That, dear readers, is romance! The laptop will make its return this evening, at which point it must prove to me that it’s not going to suffer a major failure before I go and get attached to it again. Damn seductive technology!

Yes, I know that I left you all hanging with the whole “part 1″ thing regarding the excitements of spring, but (hint) the second part hasn’t officially started yet. I’ve also got more records to review, and a couple of meandering rambles about music. On pins and needles, I’ll bet you all are.

Celebrating the small successes: one of the pencilfish was doing poorly in the main tank–someone had picked out one of his eyes and was just waiting for the rest of him to be fair game. Yongi spotted this and we got the Rev. Fountain Roy Memorial Hospital Tank set up. I’m very proud to tell you that Patch is doing just fine, eating and enjoying his exclusive suite. We’ll be getting him some small and docile companion, perhaps to serve as Hobson to his Arthur–which begs the question: who is the John Gielgud of the freshwater fish?


The Fearless Parrot Handlers or Pardon Me, But Your Beak is in My Neck

Last night, just as I was in the middle of praising Piepmatz for his good behavior (I wish I were kidding), I got this memento. The picture is from 24 hours later. You can clearly see the imprints of the upper and lower beak, which is unusual for his bites–normally he grabs a bit and grinds it. At least this way it looks less like a hickey.

This is from a 95 gram bird. The subsequent bite on my finger isn’t so photogenic, but it also didn’t draw blood.

Know what hurts almost as much as the bite? That it’s my fault. That’s the thing with parrots: if they bite you, it’s because you did something wrong. Biting is another form of communication for them, to warn of danger or if they’re peevish. One is supposed to observe their behavior and react accordingly. I reacted by howling in pain and weeping openly.

Pirates didn’t just have those eye patches because of their hooks, after all!


Worth two in the bush?

Bit of a rough weekend–the weather and my allergies colluded to make me wretched. As I slouched toward bed at the not-fun hour of 9 pm on Sunday, I left Piepmatz and Zoe hanging out on top of their cages. Pieps had already been to sit with us, but Zoe was still waiting her turn. Apparently Zoe sat quietly with Yongi for a while, and then decided to fly down to the floor and walk to the bedroom in search of me. Yongi didn’t want to tell me, but I rallied for a bit to make the dear girl happy. We sat and watched Match Game 74 for a bit, before we all went to bed feeling a bit better. Hooray for the healing power of parrots and old game shows.

For those who like to do their birdwatching on the printed page, this is a delight: Bird Hand Book. Have a look at the pelican–it’s almost a chimaera.

Now back to my tissues and a mug of tea!

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Groundhog Day

I think this qualifies as our strangest national holiday, if only because Punxsutawney Phil makes his home in a piece of geography known as Gobbler’s Knob (and while looking for that I discovered it’s not the only Gobbler’s Knob in the U.S.). If you ever decide to visit, you can commemorate the occasion with a tote bag.

The groundhog (or marmot), known carrier of the Bubonic Plague, pokes its head out of its burrow, and if it sees its shadow we have 6 more weeks of winter (as happened this morning); otherwise, spring is supposed to arrive early. That’s it, folks. No special foods, no reason to drink to excess (unless you live where 6 more weeks of winter is a threat to your sanity, in which case you don’t need an excuse to drink). We don’t even get the damned day off from work. The film is much better (and how often can you say that about an Andie MacDowell project?).

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On keeping birds, or a ramble about love

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,

A lot of bird people come off as absolute loons, especially to those who’ve never known the company of a parrot.

“She was not quite what you would call refined.
She was not quite what you would call unrefined.
She was the kind of person that keeps a parrot.”

Mark Twain

I’ll admit to being a crazy bird lady because they have become a part of who I am now, and keeping birds is something different from having other pets. Every time the subject of pets comes up, or someone asks how I spent my evening/weekend/holiday, I get the same responses:
“Do they talk?” Yes.
“Do they show affection?” Hell yes. And displeasure. And curiosity. And…
“Do they bite?” All bird bite. No refunds!

And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

I moved to Austin in 1997 knowing essentially no one in the entire state of Texas. I worked a crap job to pay the bills and establish residency so that I could afford the folly of graduate school, first attempt. When I needed something–anything!–that would show that it cared about my existence, I decided that a pet was in order. I’m not a cat person, dogs don’t work in apartments, fish don’t cuddle, ferrets smell… that left an assortment of exotic species that for one reason or another were unsuitable), and birds. The boyfriend at the time suggested birds, having kept them in the past (the keen reader has noticed that said boyfriend is not mentioned as something that would care about my existence… ah the folly of dating in one’s twenties).

At the pet store, it was recommended that a quaker parrot would be an excellent starter bird. They had two babies, just weaned, and I was handed one of them to inspect. He was smaller than the other one, and had brighter eyes. I wrote the check (a significant chunk of what I made each month) and the little guy rode home on my shoulder.

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I knew precious little about birds before I got Piepmatz. I didn’t know that a creature that weighs barely 100 grams could make such a loud noise. I didn’t know that he would be afraid of every new thing he saw, and screechily skitter in terror when the new object would be brought near him. I didn’t know that a bird could look into your eyes and listen, nodding after everything you said like it was important. I didn’t know that they could learn to give kisses on the cheek or fluff up their feathers and snuggle next to your neck for comfort. I didn’t know that I’d be expected to whistle if I went out of the room, to reassure him that I hadn’t disappeared. I never thought that a parrot would ever learn to dance if I sang along with Johnny Cash. I didn’t know that naming him Piepmatz–it’s German for “cute little birdie”, much as one in the States would say Tweety–would cause everyone to think that I had a thing for peat moss.

I certainly never thought I’d learn to know how the colors of bird poop relates to the bird’s health.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

It’s been a long time since August 1997 with lots of changes for both of us. He’s had a couple of minor health issues recently, but he’s in great shape and with any luck will be around for about thirty more years to make the sound of a zipper every time I put on my shoes.

He’s insinuated himself into the deepest parts of my heart simply by being himself–a happy green bird who thinks that I am the best thing in the world.