Thursday, March 15, 2007

African Grey Pirates and Other Birds

When I started putting animals together on the farm, I thought quite a lot about comfort, safety and compatibility but I never really thought that the animals might start to take over. However, I'm seeing definite signs of a change in the balance of power in the aviary and now small signals in the house. The only bird in the house until recently has been Mona, my one-legged African Grey. She lost her right foot to
predators unknown last year and has made a brilliant recovery, living in state in the living room where she can comment on my taste in music and television. (She likes Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, and Bob Marley...interesting choices to whistle along to.) Lately a pair of house sparrows has taken to flying into the living room as soon as I open the front door, which stands open most of the day. They spend a lot of time trying to build a nest in some very nice brass lamps that hang in the room and I spend a lot of time telling them to get out. It makes life inside almost as interesting as it is in the aviary.

The aviary is a grouping of three cubes that are each three metres on a side. Each cube has a door that opens on a service room that in turn opens to the outdoors. When I built the aviary at the farm, I'd already built one at my old house and was hoping to move the old one here, but when that couldn't happen I decided to wire the cubes with a wire that has smaller holes than the old aviary, so that a) rats can't get in and b) whatever bit off Mona's foot is kept out. The base of every cube is built of stuccoed brick to a height of a metre to allow the birds the privacy to walk around on the ground without the dogs going ballistic. All very good planning, and then the birds began redecorating the place.

The first thing to happen was that the Cuban Amazons discovered that if they chewed hard enough on the wire, they could make a hole. There is nothing that a parrot likes better than a hole. One of them slipped through the hole causing great concern among my grooms and neighbours, but I noticed that she hung around calling to the other Cuban, who didn't seem to feel that escape was such a brilliant idea. For 36 hours I had one Cuban inside and another one on the outside trying madly to figure out how to get back. The food service just isn't that super on the outside, I guess. Finally we left the service room door open and she flew in, and from there back to her cage. The next thing that they began chewing was the wire mesh between the cubes and the service room. At first I would patch it but after a while I just gave up. No one was escaping to the outside anymore. I had four new budgies that appeared and demanded to be let in, and a pair of lovebirds that even now sometimes leave the cage for an hour or two and then return, usually with some interesting straw or grass for their nest box.

Within a month or two of moving the parrots and budgies in (and having the new budgies and lovebirds appear) we began bringing other rather more useful birds to the aviary. In one cube we added a pair of bronze turkeys, although they turned out to be a pair of hens...that's okay because turkey eggs are delicious. In another cube we added a trio of Muscovy ducks, Donald, Daphne, and Daisy, who hopefully will soon be providing us with some baby ducks. Initially, Fritzi the Grey was sharing the cube with the ducks and budgies, but for a while we had to move him to the cube with Ali the Grey and Bamba the Bahamian Amazon because he was stealing the duck eggs and rolling them around the cube. Monster. The ducks were getting quite perturbed and I caught Frizi dangling by a wing from Donald's beak one day. That's when he got moved. The Cubans shared their cube with a flock of baladi chickens and a rooster to which were added four rabbits.

Once all of these creatures were in place, life REALLY got interesting. Fritzi started the remodeling with a window to the service room so that he could break into the stores of sunflower seeds. Once Ali and the Cubans saw this there was no stopping them. Before you could say "Noah's Ark" the parrots were moving freely all over the aviary and every time I would go in, I would count heads to see that they were all still there. No one ever left but the parrots were having a ball playing musical cages. Oddly enough the budgies and the lovebirds always stay in their own cage with an occasional foray into the service room, or in the case of the lovebirds outside. I've checked the cubes carefully and there are budgie/lovebird/sparrow sized holes to the outside all over the place but the sparrows and lovebirds are the only ones to take advantage of them.

After about six weeks of all this moving, some patterns seem to be stabilising. The two Greys, Ali and Fritz appear to have decided that they like living with the rabbits and chickens most of the time. In fact one of them is often perched in the window between that cube and the service as if to keep the other parrots out. Sometimes we find them walking around on the floor of the cage investigating the nesting boxes of the chickens or the clay pot where the rabbits like to sleep. The chickens and rabbits seem to be comfortable enough with the least they don't carry them around like the ducks. I'm a bit apprehensive regarding the imminent arrival of baby rabbits. After twenty years with Ali, I know better than to assume that Greys are just charming vegetarians.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Arrivals

As a horse owner you try hard to monitor a pregnant mare as she approaches her foaling date. When Diva, my young bay mare, came near her expected delivery date, we moved her and her best friend Shaboura, another young mare, to a paddock near the grooms' room so that they could watch her more closely. Just before foaling, there are usually signs that we were hoping to catch so that she would start spending nights in the box, which would be a safer place for her to give birth. Diva, however, had other ideas. The evening of March 8, one of a neighbour's grooms stopped by to give us the sad news that the stallion who had sired Diva's foal had died that evening just as one of my grooms was setting out to check the horses. I got an almost unintelligible phone call to say that Diva had given birth in the paddock.

Making sure that the dogs were securely stuck inside the house garden so that they couldn't run amok and terrify the new mother, I dashed outside with a flashlight. There in the middle paddock stood Diva over her soaking wet daughter. We gathered the baby up and walked the mare to the box at the end of the row of paddocks where clean dry straw was waiting. We carefully laid the filly on the straw and watched Diva as she nuzzled and cleaned the little creature. As we rubbed her with straw to dry her and stimulate circulation she began to struggle to stand. Organising four long legs under a tiny body isn't easy at all. We called the owner of the sire who lives just down the road and he came over to help us get her nursing properly and taking her first poop, both the essential tasks of birth. It all took until about 2 am, time well spent in assuaging the pain of the loss of the stallion. We named the filly Negmat Sallamat (Greetings' Star) as her father had been a very well bred Arabian stallion Sallamat.

The next morning, we put the mother and filly out in one of the paddocks in the sun to give her a chance to meet the world during the daylight. We had allowed the dogs out the night before once the horses were in the box and they had all lined up at the door to greet the new arrival, who wobbled over to sniff noses. Now they lined up at the paddock fence and waited for permission to enter to meet the filly. Sabah the Sloughi and her partner in crime Demon were the first ones in to greet. Mother stood quietly just watching as they approached. Negmat was interested at first but quickly decided that it was naptime and dogs just weren't interesting enough to keep her awake. At this point most of the dogs decided to come and have a good sniff while the filly slept. She was utterly fascinating. The other horses also watched carefully from the other paddocks nearby, Shaboura crying out every so often to Diva. She had been extremely upset the evening before when we moved Diva and her daughter to the box. When we'd arrived we found the donkey family, Shaboura, and the gelding Jack in the next paddock all standing along the fenceline watching intently.The horses and dogs have a very good relationship for some reason. The dogs occasionally go into the large paddock and bark to see which horses will run so that they can chase them. I don't understand why the horses don't kick the dogs, but they don't. They seem to tolerate the canine foolishness very well, much better than I do. Both Negmat and Fagr, Dorika's last foal who is now about four and a half have made friends with the dogs immediately on birth.A foal's first few weeks are very much a matter of nursing, sleeping, and a bit of play, with a great deal of time spent asleep. The soundness of the sleep of a baby anything is a wonder to behold. I couldn't have slept a wink with a dozen dogs nosing me, but she certainly managed to. After a short nap, however, Negmat decided that it was time to get up again.The next day we had yet another arrival when one of the goats who share the paddock with the donkey family had two daughters as well. Baby goats are tiny, about the size of a cat, and have to be some of the most adorable creatures in the world. Our new ones are both black with some white spots on the face, ears and legs. The grooms decided that the best solution for these tiny babies was to spend the nights in the room with the groom who would be sleeping over, to be sure that no one bothered the newborns and that they would be warm enough.So far all the new ones are doing very well. Negmat is proving to be an easy handler with all the cuddling that she's getting. She's gaining control of those long legs and promises to be much taller than her mother. She's also going to be grey eventually rather than the pale chestnut colour that she currently sports, but the process will take years and she will turn a new colour every time she sheds. I had a birthday barbecue yesterday evening, just a group of my neighbours and friends, and after dinner we all went trooping about to visit the babies. The kids were a big hit and the experience of holding a sleepy baby goat in your arms is unforgettable.

copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani