The Indestructable Mr. Zippers


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Last Sunday we noticed that Cynthia’s Quaker Parrot, Mr. Zippers, was acting strangely. He was not eating his favorite breakfast treats (Cheerios, or as we call them “Zippy-O’s”) and he was very lethargic.

His condition seemed to worsen as the day went on so I called the vet to see if they could see Mr. Zippers that day and they got us in around 3:00 pm.

The doctor on duty said that they would run some tests and keep the bird overnight. The next day the doctor called and said that the ultrasound showed his liver was abnormally large but detected nothing abnormal in his blood and fecal tests. He was still not eating and was being tube fed to make sure he stayed nourished.

I called Tuesday and the doctor said there was no real improvement but suggested they keep him for observation for a few days. She said it could be a tumor and that they could do a biopsy. I said “no thanks” as it seemed too extreme. I talked with Cynthia and we both agreed that Mr. Zippers should not suffer and she asked that I call the doctor to discuss options.

When I called on Wednesday there was a different doctor on duty and he sounded more optimistic. He said it looked like Mr. Zippers liver had shut down due to some event or another, but that he thought given a few days he might turn around but that there was no way to tell for sure.

I told the doctor to keep going and called Cynthia who by this point had resigned herself to the fact that Mr. Zippers was gone. I explained that I had not pulled the plug yet and gave her all the encouragement the doctor had given me.

On Thursday I called to check in and there was a THIRD doctor. She said that while she had not seen his condition previously that he did seem “feisty” and may have actually eaten a little food on his own. On top of that she indicated that Mr. Zippers managed to bite her pretty good. To me, this was very encouraging and when I told Cynthia that Mr. Zippers had bitten the doctor she smiled for the first time all week.

On Friday when I called again, the doctor from Wednesday who seemed so encouraging was back on duty and he said things seemed to be turning in Mr. Zippers favor and he thought we could pick the bird up on Sunday. He explained that while Mr. Zippers was not eating a whole lot, he was eating on his own and hoped that by sending him home he might get his appetite back.

We thought maybe we were just giving him too many fatty treats, but the doctor said he thought the diet was fine and that something just triggered a shutdown of his liver.

Well, we picked him up Sunday afternoon and the doctor explained the situation and they showed us how to administer the medicine he needed and sent us home. When we took Mr. Zippers from the pet carrier and put him in his cage he fluttered his tail quite happily and proceeded to eat a Zippy-O.

As of now, he seems fine. I think he definitely cheated death and so does Cynthia. In fact, Cynthia wrote a poem commemorating the experience:

Zippy we thought you was a gonner
And that you was gonna die
But ya screwed up all your courage
And you beaked death in the eye!

Sounds a bit like a Rudyard Kipling poem, what with the colloquial styling and all. At any rate we are happy to have Mr. Zippers back home. A bit poorer, but happy. Dooley also seems happy to have his friend to talk to.

Don’t Peep In My Ear

Dooley

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Dooley

The one time Dooley tends to get territorial is when it’s time to clean his cage. He just can’t seem to stand it when I put down fresh newspaper or wipe the cage skirt. He doesn’t mind coming close for tickles, treatums or scritchums but hates when he feels his precious filth is being violated.

And what does he do to display his displeasure? He makes what I call the “sonic peep”. It’s not whistle, not a hoot or any sound effect. It’s a high pitched, super short “peep” sound. Imagine the quick toot of a coaches whistle…in your ear.

Dooley has mastered the “sonic peep” and knows how to execute it for maximum pain. He moves to a spot in the cage that puts him as close as he can get and peeps directly into your ear when you are quiet and distracted. And boy does it hurt! And I am fairly sure Dooley knows it.

Early on I discovered that Dooley had three criteria for executing the sonic peep:

1. The distance between him and my ear had to the shortest it could be
2. It had to be quiet
3. No eye contact. It is always a surprise attack.

This has lead to the creation of the “Don’t peep in my ear” song which I sing while performing routine maintenance and cleaning on Dooley’s cage. I also eliminate the element of surprise by looking at him frequently.

Feel lucky, punk?

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Feel lucky, punk?

Dooley

Dooley was doing his irritating “hoot” thing from the other room that indicates he’s not getting the attention he feels he deserves.

Cynthia commented that Dooley was being a very bad bird as she does when Dooley gets like this.

I responded by saying “fine, I’ll get rid of Dooley” to which Cynthia replied “but you love Dooley!” and I said “Not anymore” and without missing a beat Dooley said “I love you” in the most pathetic and heartwarming way you could imagine.

I guess I’ll keep him awhile longer…

Alas, Poor Alex

Via the Alex Foundation

Gifted research parrot Alex found dead

WALTHAM, MA (SEPTEMBER 10, 2007)””Alex, the world renowned African Grey parrot made famous by the ground-breaking cognition and communication research conducted by Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., died at the age of 31 on September 6, 2007. Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species. Pepperberg says that Alex showed the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old. Her research with Alex shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry.

read more

Alex was an amazing African Gray Parrot who may have even understood the mathmatical concept of zero

Dooley News

We have been working on teaching Dooley to say
Dooley’s a bad bird, Dooley’s in biiiiiiiiiiiig trouble

The emphasis has been on the word “big” which
we pronounce “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeg”

Dooley has mastered the first part. Previously he’s been able
to say his name and “I’m a bad bad birdy” so it’s come
pretty easy. Also, he’s nailed “beeeeeeeeeeeg” and loves
that word.

The part he’s struggling with is the word “trouble

When this happens he uses other words he already knows in
an effort to figure out how to say the new word.

This has resulted in the following:

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeg Cynthia!
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeg Zippers!
Tickle the beeeeeeeeeeeeeeg bad birdy!
I’m a beeeeeeeeeeeeeg bird”
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeg …. BUB!
Jingle bad beeeeeeeeeeeeeeg!

Al lthis and endless repetitions of
Beeeeeeg! Beeeeeeg! Beeeeeeg! Beeeeeeg!

He’ll get there. I just heard something that sounded like
the word “trouble” … it’s just a matter of time.

In other Dooley news there’s been a development
that’s not so pleasant.

Dooley is prone to a repetitive hooting when we leave the room
where his cage resides. It can sometimes get very insistent and
is quickly very irritating. The only remedy is to either go back in
the room or cover his cage.

Over the last few mornings there has been a hooting sound that
is just like Dooley’s but comes from the tree in the front yard. It
seems that there’s a mockingbird who loves that sound and has
been hooting on several mornings over the past few weeks.
The problem is that nothing shuts up the bird in the front yard.
Fortunately he’s only been going off in the morning as we are
headed to work.

Fight or flight

Dooley the African Gray parrot is African in name only. I purchased him from a breeder in Katy, TX. Suffice to say, he’s pretty much only known the inside of a cage for the entirety of his life. Sure, he comes out to explore on occasion or when I handle him, but the TV room is pretty much makes up his entire universe.

Dooley has never had to forage for food or defend himself from predators. His hardships, trials and tribulations tend to center around whether or not he gets some of the pasta we’re having for dinner or a piece of tasty pizza.

With that in mind, there was this one event that we still laugh about.

Since Dooley lives in the TV room he gets to watch a lot of TV. He loves the Simpsons and seems to get the jokes because he laughs in all the right spots. It has always been our impression that the TV holds no great mystery for Dooley. That was until the time we happened to be watching this show that featured a visit by Jack Hanna. If you’ve ever seen a guest appearance on The Letterman Show or Larry King Live you know that Jack brings out animals to show the host and the audience.

On this particular occasion Jack had some type of Owl. We weren’t paying all that much attention as it was going on.

We were fairly distracted. We tend to talk while the TV is on and Cynthia often just sit with me and read while I type away on my laptop. It’s a cozy little family scene.

So we’re all sitting there, just hanging out as we do, and that owl decides to launch itself off the arm of it’s handler and flies straight at the camera.

I guess with it’s wings outstretched and with it flying in the direction it was, Dooley must have thought that owl was coming to get him because he let out a lout HOOT and fell backwards right off his perch to bottom of his cage.

Dooley was unhurt and climbed back up the side of his cage to his perch once he determined the coast to be clear.

What does Dooley know about Owls? Much less any other predatory bird? I would have to say NOTHING. But his natural instincts just kicked in when he saw that owl and he did what comes naturally.

It’s also noteworthy to point out that Dooley is completely terrified of a small step stool we use around the house, squawking and retreating whenever he sees it. I guess roving bands of step stools once hunted the jungles of Africa, preying upon unsuspecting gray parrots and that genetic imprint also remains coded in Dooley’s DNA.

If it’s on the Internet, it’s gotta be true!

A while back I wrote a very “tongue-in-cheek” post about Dooley, my African Gray parrot.
The post was titled Dooley and the ice cube and was a humorous look at Dooley as he struggled to eat an ice cube. Complete with hilalrious photos it still makes me laugh and is one of my favorite posts.

The cool thing about this WordPress blog is that it gets indexed by all the search engines which leads to my posts showing up as results to various search queries. That means that people Googling search terms like “African Gray Parrot” or “Timneh” will stumble upon my posts about Dooley.

Apparently a gentleman named Bob over at Pecan Acres Pets stumbled upon my post about Dooley and the ice cube from just such a search and took to heart my statement about the migration of African Grays to Antarctica to feed on the ice.

He e-mailed me for more information about this behavior.

I did a google search for Greys and cold temperatures and the heading under your website name had the following:

Another little know fact about African Gray parrots is that every winter
they migrate to Antarctica to feed on life sustaining ice collected from
the…

Please tell me where I can find additional information about this?

Thank you,

Bob

Ok, I am NOT an authority on African Gray parrots. But it does not take a genius to know that these birds do not migrate to Antarctica. To make matters worse, Pecan Acres Pets is an outfit that SPECIALIZES in breeding and raising AFRICAN GRAY PARROTS

They should know better!

I would have thought the joke obvious, especially after the line “African Gray parrots are sustained on a steady diet of french fries which grow wild and plentiful in the deepest jungles of Africa.”

It just goes to show that you can’t trust the Internet. Obviously my site is leading people astray with false information about the migratory behavior of African Gray parrots and it is apparent that Pecan Acres Pets needs to redefine “specialize”

The other bird

We all know Dooley. He’s my Timneh African Grey parrot. I’ve had him for nearly 10 years and he’s my buddy.

Alas, Dooley is not the only bird in this house.

About 5 or 6 years ago Cynthia decided she wanted a parrot of her own. We shopped around and considered Amazons and even looked into getting a scarlet red female Eclectus. After much consideration we decided that these birds might be a bit too intimidating for her due to their size. Our friends at Adventures in Birds suggested a smaller bird and told us about the Monk Parrot, also known as a Quaker Parrot.

This sounded like a fine bird but they did not have any ready for adoption at the time nor did they have a clutch being raised.

As we were leaving one of the shop keepers said “What about Mr. Zippers?” and Cynthia turned around and said “Mr. Zippers? What ABOUT Mr. Zippers?” You could see it in her eyes that she loved the name.

They introduced us to Mr. Zippers and told us the story of how he came to be named.

As Mr. Zippers was being raised and hand fed the caretaker of this particular bird managed to botch a batch of the feeding formula. Traditionally you prepare the formula in a bottle while it sits in a pot of water over a flame.

The keeper was unable to prepare it in this manner (for reasons I don’t recall) and proceeded to heat it in the microwave. This resulted in a formula that was, unbeknownst to the caretaker, scalding hot on the inside and only warm on the outside.

When the formula was drawn into an eye dropper and then fed to the young Quaker chick it scalded his crop and did some severe damage. Being the humanitarians they are they took the young injured parrot to the vet and had his crop stitched up to repair the damage. The end result was a baby parrot with stitches in his neck that looked like a zipper which led to the name.

They did not know if the bird would ever talk and at the time he was still being hand fed. Cynthia is a bit of sucker for a hard luck story (which explains our longevity) and decided she wanted to adopt Mr. Zippers. The folks at Adventures in Birds agreed to let us adopt Mr. Zippers and arranged for us to collect him in a few weeks, once he was eating solid food.

When we brought Mr. Zippers home we were thinking here’s a nice, sweet birdy who will be Cynthia’s little green companion. He’ll sit on her shoulder and eat tasty treats and nobody will care if he can talk or not because he’s a sweet little guy who’s had a rough tough life of toil and strife but now has a home with a loving couple who will care for him for the rest of his little green life.

Fast forward a few years.

Mr. Zippers can talk!
He can say “I love you” and “I’m a bad bad birdy” and he sings a little song that Cynthia made up that goes:

“Handsome little Zipper-zoo!
Just a bird
Yes he is
A baby bird”

He clucks and whistles and he just adores Cynthia. Yes, he’s completely devoted to Cynthia.

And as much as he loves her, he HATES me.

This is pretty much all I see when I look at Mr. Zippers

That is 120 grams of the most spiteful, beaky, hateful little bird I have ever seen in my life! I am a giant of a creature to him. I could crush him like a bug but he could give a hoot. He will come for me with his beak wide open just itching to chomp on me and cause me as much pain as he can. He is absolutely FEARLESS!

When I walk across the room his head follows me with his beak wide open as if he’s just hoping I’ll fall into this open maw. If I kiss or hug Cynthia in his presence he gets infuriated and squawks and hisses until it stops.

That bird hates me with every fibre of his being.

But he loves Cynthia and she loves him.

I pray to God he never gets loose lest I find myself being angrily beaked to death in my sleep by a one bird version of Hitchcock nightmare. In fact I better make sure his cage is secure before I turn in tonight.

Dooley vocabulary update

Just recently we heard a strange noise being made by Dooley.
It took us awhile to figure it out, but then it was obvious.
It’s the sounds of dominos on the dining room table being shuffled by swirling them around. Very intricate clicking and grinding sound. It’s amazing.

In this video Cynthia says “What do you say?” and he says “I love you Cynthia.”

For sure he knows she is Cynthia. And he knows that saying that gets him a pistachio.
He perks up as soon as the jar is opened.

He does other amazing things. If I pick up my keys from the counter he knows how many seconds (on average) it takes me to arm the house alarm and makes the EXACT sound at almost the exact time I arm it.

He also knows that in the evening when the lights go out that it is evening. He says “Good night”…and in the morning he says “Good morning”…

He replicates the sound of my pager to get me to come visit him.
He replicates the sound of the phone ringing, both cell and cordless.
He makes the sound of the microwave when he wants popcorn or we are heating anything up. He chastizes the other bird when he gets too loud.

His ability to associate one event with another is uncanny.
I can start a phrase he knows and he finishes it. He doesn’t have to start at the beginning.

His phrases include:

Yarr! me name be Dooley
Yo Ho Ho and may variant with extra ho ho ho’s
I’ll get you my pretty (followed by an evil laugh)
I love you (for me)
Pretty pretty Cynthia
Cookie
Cookie, cookie, cookie, cookie, cookie (and on and on when he get’s excited)
It’s Zippers! (the other bird)
It’s Zippoo (a name he made up for Zippers)
It’s Zipper-zu (the name I made up for Zippers)
Hey Zippy! (enthusiastic like Cynthia says when she comes in the room).
Hi Dooley (very deadpan the way Cynthia says it after she greets Zippers)
Zippers and Cynthia (two names he put together for when he see Cythia and Zipper together)
What’s all the hubub (2 second pause) Buuuuub!
Whistles the theme from the Simpsons
Laughs at the jokes in the Simpsons even though there is no laugh track. Like he knows comedic timing.
Want a scritchim
Want a tickle
tickle tickle tickle
I’m a bad bad birdy. Sometimes adding extra bads for emphasis
Honey! (like when I call out to Cynthia)
Makes a kissing sound (no lips)
Makes the sound of a dripping faucet
Makes the sound of the garbage truck backing up
Makes the sound of the sprinkler hitting the window
Makes the sound of a hammer pounding a nail
Meows like a cat
Wolf whistles
Quacking like a duck
A perfect replication of my belch (unfortunate)
A perfect replication of my sneeze (not so bad) always in pairs, just like me.
Makes up his own songs using variations of do doot doodle dooty and often appends zippers, zippoo, cynthia or cynthiaaaaaaaa at the end.
Makes up his own humming songs.
Makes up his own whistling songs.
He’s working on some several more things but they are not discernable yet. Although one of them sounds suspiciously close to the choral “ahhhh” beginning of the Simpson’s theme song and another sounds like it’s going to be “Honey, I’m going to the store. Can I get you anything?”

His favorite foods include ritz crackers, pizza, pasta of any kind, Mcdonalds french fries, scrambled eggs, chicken, apples, grapes, dried peppers, cheetos, biscuits, apple pie, waffles, pancakes and donuts. Most all of which he holds in one claw while balanced on the other.

When eating a pistachio he pops half the shell and uses the other half like a bowl to keep crumbs from falling away. Then he dunks the other half and uses it like a cup to drink the remaining salt.

He’s only about 8 years old now and will live to be 60-70. So who knows what he’ll learn in the coming years.