While I am abroad traveling through Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, my parrots are being cared for back at home. I am posting this blog from Terhan, Iran! Sorry for not being on top of my facebook and other pages lately, the dictatorial regime in Iran blocks much of the web because they are afraid of their people experiencing freedom and good things.
It has only been 2 months since I brought Santina home from the rescue but I already had a scheduled trip. No problem. I worked extensively during the time I had to prepare her as best as possible for my eventual absence. But not only that, I prepared her to receive care from someone other than me.
Kili & Truman are so used to the routine that they don't blink an eye so I won't be discussing them. Santina on the other hand is less accustomed to being cared for by different people. From what I know, she was accustomed to being cared for by a single person until she ended up at the rescue. Even at the rescue it was the same people all the time. Santina had little experience being cared for by different people. Bonding with her in such a short span of time was a major achievement but unbonding her so that she would tolerate someone else was an even bigger one.
In the weeks prior to my departure, I began the process of preparing Santina for the fact that nobody will be around for most of the day. I jumbled her schedule with me or didn't come entirely (except minimum food/water care) to prepare her for this change. I tried to socialize her toward people but at this stage this is complicated because she doesn't want others to handle her.
A week prior to my departure, I began having my brother come over during evenings to begin the transition process. The first time was so that he could watch what I do with her and subsequent times were to take on more and more of the process. Although it would conceivably be possible to change her food/water and wash the floor without ever handling her, this would be difficult. If she were so aggressive that her caretaker could not remove her from the room, then it would be awkward to impossible to get her dishes. Thus we set the goal of two step ups per session. One to come out of the cage room and one to go back in.
During my trip, Santina would be on pellet freefeed. She would not be provided with alternate foods because they are not essential and it would make more difficulty and mess for my brother to take care. The feeding is simple and a non-factor. What was more of a concern was how to get Santina to be good about stepping up for my brother without much motivation for food. If this were Kili or Truman, this would not be a problem as they are used to stepping up for anyone. But Santina is not.
So we decided to leverage Santina's favorite thing to get her to step up, nuts. She would not get any nuts the entire time I was gone except when stepping up. No foraging toys, no training, no freebies. The only way she could have her fill of nuts would be to by stepping up for my brother when needed. We practiced this before I left. Between my brother's confidence in handling her and her desire to get to have a nut, there was no problem teaching her to step up for him. Thus the routine became step up for a nut, eat it outside cage room and watch the clean up, and then step up for another nut to go back inside.
Just to play it safe we also did some practice of having my brother put Santina on a scale and in the carrier so that he would be able to take care of those things if necessary. It was much the same as the other step up exercises and proved to be no problem.
I showed my brother how to clean and take care of all other bird specific business and let him practice a few times before I left. This was both good for him to learn, for me to gain confidence that things will be alright, and to introduce Santina to the way things would be for a few weeks. Here is a video we recorded of the final practice session before I left that shows how my brother would be taking care of Santina while I was away.
This is a special edition of the Trained Parrot blog coming to you from Baghdad, Iraq. Kili & Truman are at my old place, Santina still in quarantine in my new place, and I'm in Iraq. Yet everyone is doing just fine. The reason is that all of my birds have been accustomed to my absence beforehand, including Santina who I got just 2 months ago. I am also fine, knowing that they are handling things with ease.
Obviously Kili & Truman have been used to me going away at times since I've had them as babies. But Santina is different. She's a 14 year old rescue macaw that has known a single home, a rescue, and my home just recently. I did not want to chance coming home to a plucked bald bird. Although I have had this Green-Winged macaw just briefly, she has already bonded to me. So without preparation, my absence could be traumatizing.
Since shortly after acquiring Santina, her preparation for my eventual absence had begun. For the first week or so, I was careful to build schedule, routine, and trust. But once she took to me, the importance of preparing for my absence was even more essential than further taming and bonding. Having a parrot melt down in your absence is even worse than having insufficient bonding. Over-bonding is something best avoided because the psychological ramifications on the parrot in your absence would be devastating.
I talk about absence rather than vacations because there can be many different reasons why your parrot doesn't see you when it may expect to. It could be coming home late, meeting a friend, having a situation to deal with, getting injured/hospitalized, or just having something else that needs to be taken care of. So as much as this article is about preparing a parrot for being absent on vacation, it is also about preparing your parrot for you being gone for any reason.
The first steps in preparing Santina for my eventual absence was to break routine schedule from time to time. Most days I would play with, train, and take care of her at around the same time. Well some days I would do this an hour earlier or later than usual so that she would not absolutely expect me at a certain time. As I removed my own constraints on the timing of her care, I would even go so far as to skip occasional sessions entirely or come at a completely unexpected hour.
When my friend Ginger was in town, that really turned things upside down. Some days we spent a lot more time with Santina and other days I did not do anything with her at all. Ginger and I were busy running around town so this was a healthy introduction to my absence for Santina at the same time.
Usually I don't intentionally skip sessions with my birds. Life happens and I just let it. I try to be routine and there for them 6 out of 7 days a week. Normally I avoid making plans that make me miss my normal parrot sessions but once in a while I allow this to happen full knowing that it is the best thing for my birds in the long run. If I didn't occasionally have reasons to miss my bird sessions, then I would intentionally do so from time to time because it is so important for their long term well-being. But since there are naturally occurrences for this from time to time, I just allow them to happen and don't have to go out of my way to skip bird time.
In this way, little by little, Santina became accustomed to the fact that I usually come to spend time with her at certain times but not always. In the week prior to my departure, I was very busy catching up on work and preparing to leave. This again caused me to miss or delay bird sessions and helped make the transition from being there with her for extensive periods twice a day, to being gone much smoother. Of course I have someone taking care of her while I'm gone but obviously it's not the same. So I began skipping single sessions and at times even both sessions in a day so that she would not be surprised when I was not there at all. On the other hand I also started transitioning in my brother who would be taking care of her while I would be away. Kili & Truman have been through the routine countless times so I did not bother doing anything at all to prepare them this time. I'm sure they had it all figured out from the moment they saw me crack out the suitcase and they were just eagerly awaiting party time the moment I'd be out the door. With Santina, I took stronger precautions as this would be the first time I left her since coming home from the rescue.
Here are some tips for preparing your parrot for your absence: -Practice throughout the year by occasionally not showing up at normal parrot times -Keep routines but sometimes mix them up -Take your parrot places because this prepares it for greater changes -Socialize your parrot to other people so they can be cared for by others -Put lots of favorite toys in the cage a week or two before you go -Ease the transition prior to your departure (if planned) by having the care taker fill a greater role
The most important thing is to start this process NOW! Don't wait until the day or even week before you need to be away to start preparing your parrot. Begin now. Whether or not you have trips or events planned down the line, it is imperative that you begin preparing your parrot for your absence now because it will eventually happen and quite likely unpredictably. To prevent agony to your bird and for your own peace of mind during that inevitable time when you cannot be with them, make these preparations now. And take a break from your birds from time to time. It will do everyone some good and provide for a healthy long lasting relationship.