Aug2006 TAGs



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A Tale of Two TAGs
(Part 1)

In late 2000 I had done my research, and knew that the 'right' bird for me was an African Grey.  I wasn't sure whether I wanted a Congo or a Timneh, but I knew it had to be an African Grey.  I'd spent months trying to decide, and then found that there was going to be a bird show here in Tucson in October, and figured that I'd go look.  I'd already purchased a cage and some play perches, and I thought it was time to see a few birds.  I was assured by a couple of women who I'd been corresponding with through email that there would be an excellent local breeder at the show who they would be happy to introduce me to.  I met the breeder, who introduced me to the bird who would soon be named Sammy, a (fully weaned) lovely little female Timneh African Grey.  It was instant love, and she came home with me after the breeder was assured that she'd be well-caged, well-fed, and well-loved.

Sammy entered our home and became my constant companion and side-kick.  Where I went, Sammy went with me.  The breeder checked up on us often, and I asked him for quite a bit of advice.  He sent me off to a good local avian vet where she was given a clean bill of health, and a DNA test confirmed that she was female.

I went online and purchased my first few toys for Sammy from – who else?  Busy Beaks!  A fast friendship soon developed between Jan and myself, and I was amazed to learn that she and the breeder were good friends.  So began my "real" parrot education!

Since Sammy was my first bird, I did a whole lot of things wrong.  I allowed her to get overly attached to me, so that she became aggressive toward other people.  I allowed her so much freedom around the house that it became impossible to put her away without a constant barrage of complaining from her cage.  I allowed her to sleep on the bed next to me, in a ferret bed (nothin' cuter than a tiny bird butt sticking out of a denim and fleece ferret bed!) 

I'll be perfectly honest here.  I don't always see a lot of that when people talk about their parrots online, but I hear it from folks at bird shows all the time.  My bird – my sweet little love – would bite the ever living snot out of anyone who tried to touch her, other than me.  And sometimes, if she didn't want to do what I wanted her to do, she'd even bite me!  And when Sammy bit, it was no small matter.  She drew blood, and seemed to take pleasure in it. 

Despite her slight – ahem – aggression, I loved her beyond measure, and with complete and utter abandon.  Sammy was my bird, my friend, my companion.  While I've always loved the companionship my dogs and cats have given me, Sammy was different.  She didn't exist solely to please me (as my dogs always seem to want to do).  She didn't exist solely to give me something to do (the way my cats seem to feel.  Sammy existed in order to do what Sammy wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted, and as often as she wanted.  She welcomed me on her journey of learning, just so long as I left the other humans out of the equation.

Sammy came with me to bird shows.  She was the Busy Beaks "demo bird."  I never worried that someone would walk off with her, because they'd more likely leave with a severed digit than escape with my bird.  Only very experienced bird people were even brave enough to make the attempt and, because of their calm, un-fearful approach, often got the opportunity to hold her and interact with her.

 Sammy's wings were always kept trimmed, because she did have plenty of 'out of cage' time.  Then the Exotic Newcastle's Disease (END) outbreak occurred.  Parrot owners were advised not to let their birds come in contact with other birds.  I stopped taking Sammy with me to bird shows, as did most responsible parrot parents, and even stopped letting her perch outside in the sun, because I was afraid wild birds might carry the disease.  I decided that since she was not going to shows (or to Home Depot on my shoulder, or to PetSmart to ride on the handle of the cart) that I would allow her to be fully flighted for a while, in order for her to remember how to soar around the house, and get in touch with her 'birdy roots'.  She loved it.  She was able to take herself from one room to another, and taunt the dogs from even more varied vantage points around the house.  I loved it because despite being a fairly calm and reasonable pet owner, I had the fear of 'beak injury' drilled into me, and I knew if she was fully flighted that she would be much less likely to do a face plant in the middle of the tile floor.

Then one day the neighbor came over to ask a favor.  I headed for the front door, and Sammy flew to me.  I was going to hand her over to my (then) boyfriend, but I knew she'd mangle him to within an inch of his life if he tried to hold her toes while I walked out the door.  A tiny voice in the back of my brain told me, "this is a stupid move, don't do it."  I ignored the little voice and went out the front door with Sammy on my finger.  She had a wonderful grapevine perch on the front porch that she loved to use as a jungle gym, but she hadn't been on it for several months, during the time that she had been fully flighted.  I put her down on the perch and she began to reacquaint herself with the various boings and bells and chewy things on it while I had a short conversation with my neighbor.  He turned to go, and I asked Sammy to 'step up', which she did with no complaint.  I turned to go in the door, and she was gone.  She flapped, let go of my finger, and went up and over the house.

I was flabbergasted.  Stunned and shocked and terrified.  I ran in the house to find my housemate and boyfriend, and we went searching for her.  We spent hours calling to her and trying to discern a small, grey bird from the thousands of doves and pigeons that call Tucson home.  Sammy had one peculiarity that made this very difficult.  When she felt she was in danger, she stood stock still and made no noise. 

Over the course of the next seven days we took many steps to try to find her.  I notified all the 'bird people' I knew, both here in Tucson and through Jan at Busy Beaks, because she has so many bird contacts.  We walked a 3 mile radius around our neighborhood, looking, calling and asking people if they'd seen or heard her.  We made full-color flyers with her picture on them, and went to every veterinarian in Tucson to ask them to post them, or to call me if a new Timneh came into their practice.  I assured them I could identify her because of her band, which had her breeder's initials, the year of her birth, and the number he gave her based on hatch order.  I put ads in all the local newspapers, and went online to place ads on every lost bird website I could find.  Despite all of our efforts, she didn't come back. 

I was crushed.  She was my responsibility and I let her down.  The more I thought about it, the more hopeless it became.  I realized that despite her being intimately familiar with our house and front yard, from the sky, it would look different, and if she'd gone more than a few houses away, there'd be little chance of her ever finding her way back.


To be continued ...

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This page was last updated on 08/17/2012

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