Outdoor adventures with Caesar the Linnie (Barred Parakeet)
As many of you know my best buddy was Pesto, my Barred Parakeet (A.K.A. Lineolated Parakeet, Linnie) who passed away last year. With time, Caesar came into my life at just 10 weeks old. One project I had in mind was introducing Caesar to a bird harness so that we could enjoy a whole new world of outings without having to lug around a bird carrier or a Pak-O-Bird. Pesto was already four years old when I first met him and the introduction to a harness was just not what a mature bird wanted to try and I had to respect that.
Barred parakeet on perch after bathPesto the lineolated parakeet drying on a perch after taking a bath
Caesar being much younger and ready to learn, I had to try again. My first experience was with a Flight Suit (Bird Diaper) harness by Avian Fashions. I wasn't very thrilled by the whole diaper aspect of having my bird sit in its own excrements. Linnies are known at times for disproportionately large poops, especially the first of the morning. Linnies don't poop little balls that roll off your shoulder like Conures or Budgies do. Barred Parakeets have a high metabolism to compensate for some of the colder mountain climates they live in. They eat throughout the day and their stools are usually looser and wetter than other parakeets.
Caesar with his Avian Fashion Hawaiian Print Flight Suit
After trying several harnesses, I settled on the Pet Designz Petite harness for birds 40g to 90g. I'm now also considering the new similar design MINI Aviator Harness as the Pet Designz harness now seems to only be available in Australia and vendors are no longer shipping them internationally. Please avoid cheap harnesses with metal hardware that protrudes through the harness. With small birds, I feel there's a risk of injury. I would avoid them altogether regardless of the bird's size. A cheap harness remains a cheap harness and poor design and materials come with a risk that's not worth the monetary savings.
Understanding Your Bird
Although a pet bird may seem like all fun, they are fragile and at times temperamental pets that rely on our care, especially when leaving the security of their home for an outdoor adventure with their human friends. This brings me to the reason I'm writing this little blog relating to my outings with Caesar, my Lineolated parakeet. I'm not a vet, but I've worked and helped rehabilitate animals of all kinds, especially wolves and birds of prey. Pet birds have special needs and I want to make sure people understand that it's not just fun and games. Parrots and parakeets need special care and due to their high intelligence can have behavioral issues based on their point of view of the world around them and especially their hormone cycles throughout the seasons. Birds also go through a teenage period as they develop to full maturity. Depending on the longevity and the size of the specific species, teenagehood may come later and last longer, turning your perfectly behaved loving bird into an evil feathered monster for the duration of their teenage phase. It's important to understand a species specific cycle of life and the challenges they impose before adopting such a magnificent companion.
I'm going to keep these related to Barred Parakeets as that's where the bulk of my experiences is. Although there are many similarities that are shared throughout the Psittacidae, each species may have very unique nutritional and environmental needs that have to be respected in order to maintain a happy and healthy social relationship with your bird.
Linnies like the Pacific Parrotlet are distant cousins of the Amazon Parrot, a bird that not only has the tools to inflict pain but has a temper and its moments of aggressivity. Although Linnies have a very soft disposition showing very little to no aggressive behavior, knowing that these traits are present in their genes is a good starting point. A small Linnie, especially a male Linnie can get very territorial and aggressive as Spring Hormones kick in. In Caesar's case he's also a teenager this Spring. There are mornings where approaching food and water are met with an aggressive and protective response. A shriek that can surprise you and make the hair stand on your back. Nothing personal, he tends to be grumpy in the morning and the first thing he does when he wakes up, is to clear his cage of any unwanted visitors, even his preening companion Max. It's temporary and escalated by Spring and Teenage hormones as he himself learns to grow up as a mature Linnie. There's no disciplinary action except a firm NO, and to back off and give him his space. Sure I can impose myself, but birds, especially young ones with limited experience, tend to see our actions as being nice to them or not. No need in escalating the situation to what could be interpreted as a bad experience for Caesar. He's just acting upon the hormonal signals in his body. It's important to understand that because most birds are abandoned during their teenage phase. Most people don't understand it's temporary and that their wonderful companion will be back once that little episode is over...
Education is vital in caring for your bird. They are extremely intelligent and Linnies appear to be even more emotional than most parakeets. They can be happy and social just like they can hold a grudge for a few hours, days and even weeks just for taking them to the vet or clipping their nails. That's why it's important to fully interact with your bird while it's young. Never be afraid to ask for help from a professional. On online forums weigh everyone's opinion and use common sense. There are plenty of resources online written by vets, professional breeders and Bird Lovers. For Linnies, the Lineolated Parakeet Society is a great place to start. The most important thing to remember is positive reinforcement and lots of time and patience as birds do things on their own time.
Getting Your Linnie Used to a Harness
The worst thing you can ever do is rush the process. If you take that harness and force it on your bird, it's probably going to be game over, at least for many months to come. This is a long process before the harness is even fitted on your bird. Most harnesses will have to fit around your bird's neck (Except for the Flight Suit) and your bird will need to be comfortable with you manipulating its head and its wings while perched and in your hands. That in itself is a long process of trust building. Remember a Linnie takes around eighteen months to reach full maturity. That's a long time of growing up for such a little bird.
I took the time to get Caesar accustomed to the presence of the harness near his cage for a few days to a week. Caesar is not a Linnie that likes being touched near his head by the human finger. However I was able to use the end of the harness lead to caress him and he accepted that. After a few weeks of interacting with him and his harness, the time came to put his head through the harness. I was fully prepared to get bitten.
It took time and patience to get there and a great deal of verbal and physical communication. Once you're there, you'll appreciate the hard work because it will be easy and fun. Each bird will be different and each owner as well. You will have to develop your relationship and use the motivational tools that work for you and your bird. Just take it slow and don't force the process...
The Right Time for an Outing
Each bird is different but one main consideration is understanding your bird's need for sleep and naps. Some birds will need up to 16 hours of sleep in a day. Caesar wakes up groggy after about 10 to 12 hours of sleep and will take naps late morning, afternoon and early evening. Just like a child he'll snooze in the car. If your bird is ready for a nap, you need to understand that and adapt. A young bird and/or a molting bird will expend more energy and will therefore need more rest. I will take him out knowing that he will sleep in the car. However I won't take him out if I'm going for a walk around the neighborhood. I'll let him get his rest as it will make the outing all that more enjoyable for both of us.
Water and Snacks
Linnies tend to live in higher elevations in Southern Mexico, Central America and North Western South America. In the wild they've even been spotted in snow in the Sierra Nevadas but they tend to descend to lower elevations when temperatures fall below seasonal averages. In order to survive these colder climates in higher elevations, Linnies tend to eat throughout the day to generate heat.
You will have to provide your Linnie with food, snacks and treats for your outing. I personally bring Spray Millet and Organic Sunflower seeds as a treat. I also bring some pieces of fresh fruit and vegetables he can hold with his foot and eat by himself.
Your Linnie will also have to drink, it's not a budgie and it's not used to arid habitats. You will need to teach your Linnie to drink out of a bottle cap, a bottle or a serving container of your choice. If your bird has never shared food and water with you, better start slowly. There's a great deal of debate on spreading deadly germs from your mouth to your bird. Yes domestic animals like cats and dogs are more likely to transmit germs from their saliva with a negative impact on your bird's health. We all have germs in our mouths and some can harm our birds. Proper oral hygiene especially if you suffer from gingivitis or other oral related diseases like gum infections should be taken seriously. If you're going to share with your bird, make sure your mouth is as clean as possible. It will take time for your bird's immune system to adjust to your particular brand of mouth germs. I add apple cider vinegar and/or Grapefruit Seed Extract to help asepticize the water that I share. Caesar can drink comfortably from a glass, any small container or directly from the bottle. Avoid caffeinated, sweat or salty drinks.
With time your bird will find ways to communicate with you and let you know they want water or food. Caesar will peck at my lips or make a pasty sound with his tongue when he's thirsty. He will also reach for the bottle opening if I take a sip. If he wants food, he'll make another chirp which I've learned to associate with food. When I don't get the message, a louder sequence of squawks will be used to get my attention so that I can tend to his needs.
Sun and Heat
We've established that a Linnie is designed to handle colder weather better than some other parakeets. However any drastic change in temperature is to be avoided for our bird's health. A Linnie has a fantastic immune system, there's however no sense to put it needlessly under stress. Even though Linnies are hardy little birds, they can get nasal infections, especially in dusty areas and/or while molting. Bathing your bird regularly with the use of a bird bath, spray bottle's gentle mist or in the shower is necessary to clean out dandruff and dust. Cage maintenance, especially their tent is crucial. Should my bird show signs of the sniffles, I treat those with grapefruit seed extract diluted in water and applied gently and sparingly to the nostrils with a Q-tip 3 times a day.
Do it for the right reasons.
Remember, your bird is not a toy. Your bird's welfare and enjoyment should be top priority. I make sure my bird is enjoying his outing with plenty of attention. If we stop and talk to people, Caesar remains my center of attention. When he makes a sound, I will respond to him prior to the humans around us. I believe that fresh air, outdoor stimulus, the added attention and socializing are all beneficial to a domesticated parakeet. Parakeets love attention and Linnies will get bored without the proper stimulus in their lives. I truly believe he is better off outdoors on a harness as I provide care and safety for him than stuck in a cage at home.
I've also introduced children with intellectual learning disabilities to nature and wildlife photography. I would like Caesar to participate as an ambassador bird to help in these children's learning experience and build awareness for birds, wildlife and nature in general. Through socializing and real-life experiences, Caesar will eventually become comfortable and self-confident in a classroom environment.
Because Caesar can repeat/imitate human speech and even comprehend the meaning of some words, I have to remain conscious of the words he hears in order to keep his vocabulary family appropriate. In a social environment he's even started trying to get involved in the conversation and laughing with all of us when we laugh. He's learning and mimicking us, an incredible learning experience for both of us. I believe he's finally aware and appreciative of when he's the center of attention and he's starting to capitalize on it.
Because birds are more sensitive to fumes and chemicals than even small mammals are, it is important to think bird safety at all times. If there's a risk of mosquitos, you can't just spray yourself with DEET as the chemical is harmful to your bird if ingested or if it breathes the spray. Same with sunscreen. As far as repelling bugs you can buy essential oils based insect repellent or make your own by diluting essential oils in water and spray them on your arms still making sure your bird won't be licking it off your skin. You should avoid mosquitos and other areas rich in parasites as they can also transmit deadly diseases to your bird such as the Nile Virus.
There are also stories of birds of prey sweeping in to capture and eat your little companion. The stories are abundant but there's a lack of actual witnesses to such events. I still believe it's better to be safe than sorry.
In either case, it may be a good idea to install a set of eyes on the back of your hat or a little stuffed animal with big eyes on your backpack... It intimidates Red-Winged Blackbirds as they feel you have an eye on them from behind...
Familiarize yourself with the local vegetation. There are safe plants and trees just like there are toxic plants and trees for your bird. A simple Google search should give you the proper resources to identify your local flora.
Use Common Sense Destinations
Just like with any pet, a dog for example, many places that sell and prepare foods are not a destination for you and your bird. If in doubt, always ask if it's OK to enter a place of business with your feathered friend.
Never Ever Leave Your Little Friend Unattended
Common sense goes a long way in caring for your Linnie. Never leave your Linnie unattended on a harness, especially outdoors. There's always the risk of getting tangled in the harness, especially if left alone in a cage. Even outdoor in a cage without the harness is risky, especially with less solid cages. There might a lack of documented facts on predators attacking your bird while in your care but there's enough to know that your bird is at risk without your care and supervision. A bird left alone on a harness is vulnerable to all sorts of predation including cats and local wildlife. Even in a cage, hawks and mammals have been known to break in with ease leaving your Linnie with no way to escape.
The Fun Part
It may seem like too much to worry about, but as long as you're not neurotic and remain well-grounded to reason, it all becomes second nature.
Your bird will take some time to get used to the outdoors, it's probably all new and probably quite overwhelming. Although Caesar had spent time outdoors last summer through fall, his first spring outing was a little overwhelming with all the wild birds around us. I spend time in nature and birds are curious of Caesar as well. Just the other day I had an American Redstart showing interest and trying to get our attention. Our world is full of interesting stimulus and with time you will see your bird become more and more comfortable with your outdoor environment and the humans that cohabitate with us. Eventually your bird will even get excited at the prospect of going out, meeting people and doing things together with you.
To learn more about Lineolated Parakeets visit the Lineolated Parakeet Society - http://linniesociety.org/
Site dedicated to Linnies in German and English http://www.katharinasittiche.de/en/
Please note that all links to Amazon are affiliated marketing links.
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