Dot Schwarz talks about her first Macaw Benni.
Should someone over 70 accept a Macaw? Rationally no, but one day I will have to find homes anyway for my other pet Parrots. And living with a Macaw has been a dream. A friend for whom I’d done a favour, offered me one out of his next clutch of blue and gold Macaws.
My interests are enrichment and the interface between wild and captive birds.
I’ve always believed that free flight can be a viable option with the right birds, training and luck. So I accepted Benni in the hope that I’d use all the skills and education I’ve gained and pass them on to him.
It’s a great adventure because I don’t know whether I can achieve my ambitions. So far the journey has proved more exciting -and easier – than I could have dreamed of.
So here’s the first report of Benni from 30 days to 105 days. Will I succeed in my ambition to rear a socialised free-flying blue and gold Macaw? Let’s wait and see
(from my notes) Friday 3pm Barrett Watson (well-known Suffolk breeder) arrived; he was promised the other two chicks. We had the parents eating nuts on the feeding tray. I held up a double duvet so that they did not see Barrett slip behind them and pull the chicks out of their whisky barrel nest box. They must have been between 30 and 35 days old. Pin feathers just emerging. The parents had a much less stressful experience then if someone less competent had pulled the babies.
In the kitchen, Barrett fed all three with a curved spoon – his technique the same as I’ve used with hand-feeding parakeets. A syringe is faster but I feel the spoon is more like a Parrot’s beak and the chick can refuse more easily. I’ll be feeding the chick (named Benni after Ben, the parents’ owner’s name) every four hours to start with.
Friday 6pm. Fed Benni – no problems, a few spoonfuls, growled like crazy. Hopefully if he does not get ill raising him should go as easily as hand-feeding parakeets which I’m used to.
Saturday August 30th
Woke up anxious at 6.30am. Weighed Benni.780 grams. Less than the chart in my Macaw book. I weighed out 100 grams of dry food and will portion it 4 times. Benni took the first portion at 7am with no trouble. Not growling like yesterday but does not know me yet.
He’s living in a plastic tub at the cage bottom covered with a blanket. The heating is an oil radiator turned up. Other birds took no notice.
2nd feeding at noon. Benni took his food – still lunging at me. He appears warm enough.
3rd feed Benni still growling at me but less so.
Last feed at 10pm no problem except that I’m sleepy
Sunday August 31st
Benni weighs 804 grams. Seems a reasonable gain. He growls less. I measured out 10% of his body weight in dry hand feeding formula and fed him about a quarter. He ate it all.
Other birds take no notice.
(I cannot imagine how much work it must be to hand feed several babies. Maybe that’s why the syringe is popular)
Friday September 5th
Chick weighs 880 grams but hard to tell as he wriggles on the scale. He is not gaining weight like the chart in my Macaw book but he looks fit and well with bright eyes and his feathers are growing. He has stopped growling but is not tame yet…
I soon slipped into the routine of 4-times-a day feeding. A couple of panics in the first week due to inexperience. The first one was about weight. Benni had lost weight according to the scale, a lot, but he looked OK.
I’d just decided to visit the vets when I realised that the scale had been turned to lbs and oz instead of kg and grams. Next panic: were his kidneys functioning? Then I realised that the urine had soaked through the shavings onto the folded newspaper. They were well damp; there was nothing to worry about.
By the time Benni reached 50 days, I stopped panicking. He was growing, standing up well and flapping – also giving little chirps of cautious pleasure when someone held him. Four feedings went down to three and then twice a day.
This is really easy with a baby bird. When I fed Benni I spread out his wings and said ‘wings, wings’. He accepted that easily. Put the harness over his head for a few seconds, took it off and fed him. No bother.
2pm Put harness on Benni, 63 days old, before his lunch. He did not seem to notice that it was on. Waited a couple of minutes and took it off. More because I did not want it to get splashed with formula. After that I put the harness on for a few minutes every day.
Milestone October 11th Benni = 75 days old
Anguel and Wayne (experienced Parrot people) came for a weekend. Anguel is a confident handler. ‘Step up,’ he asked Benni who put one claw on his hand. ‘Step up,’ repeated Anguel. Benni put both claws on his hand HIS FIRST STEP UP.
Then he repeated the behaviour onto my hand which he had never done before. Anguel then put on Benni’s harness and took him for a walk round the garden. Benni accepted this with an alert air but no obvious frights or alarms. Since that time Benni has taken short harnessed walks with me in the garden every few days. He also wears the harness to be taken to the aviary.
I’m always happy that my Greys are fully socialised, will step up for strangers and don’t bite. I cannot swear to this in court because Casper has been known to nip but as far as I know Artha in 16 years has never bitten a human being. I intend Benni to be equally as well socialised with birds and people. Benni shares the conservatory with the two Greys and Perdy the lesser sulphur crested Cockatoo.
Alfie, blue and gold Macaw, aged 10, arrived for a few days visit. Benni’s tub was now laid on its side in the bottom of the cage so he can see whoever is in the conservatory.
The two Macaws appeared aware of one another but made no contact. Alfie, though, perched near to Benni.
Alfie is a single bird and very well socialised. Flies outside at home occasionally. Alfie’s owner Debbie who is very gentle with birds had a couple of play times with Benni cuddled on her lap, making cooing noises.
Once Benni feathered up and started walking and flapping, I tried to develop a routine to suit his development and not dominate my life. In the early evening, I cover the carpet, put down some logs and a selection of toys. Whoever is in the house then interacts with him until 6pm which is his last feed.
These playtimes began in the conservatory but have now moved to the sitting room because I want Benni to socialise in any environment. Because he’s has met new people since he was 30 days old, he reacts well to anyone he hasn’t seen before.
So far he’s shared cuddles with me and my husband Wal, my son, my granddaughter and various friends. As it gets nearer his bedtime he becomes more babyish and snuggles down and makes a little cooing noise. His other sounds are quite frankly horrid. But up to now he doesn’t exaggerate them.
My intention is that all Benni’s training is carried out using positive reinforcement methods. That’s the absolute minimum of negative reinforcement, any forms of punishments and even avoiding the use of the word no.
All easier said than done. Sometimes if I ask step up and he does not, I HAVE to pick him up.
Will this turn out to be a mistake? I don’t yet know but Benni flies to me and scuttles up to my shoulder. I haven’t yet been able to train him to stay on the hand.
Benni was flapping his wings from 48 days old. Took first hop flights at 11 weeks old. Now at 15 weeks old, during his morning visit to the aviary he can fly 30 metres and perch at the end. When asked to fly to me he complies about two times out of three. In a friend’s barn at 15 weeks old, he managed several flights from a perch to my hand and then he sat on top of a rail and waited to be brought down…
A milestone was one Sunday when I was clearing up the end of the aviary where the hens live. ‘Hi Benni,’ I called, just to be sociable.
He was perched at the other end on the thick Macaw rope. There was a whoosh and a wobble and a Macaw landed on my arm and said ‘Hello’.
So the tasks ahead are to teach a reliable recall before we venture outside. Find out what happens soon by reading her blog here.
Find everything you need for Large Macaws such as Benni here.
So these are Dot’s memories of her very first Macaw, but how old were you and what are your recollections of owning your first Parrot? Do let us know in the comments.