We let Jade be Jade

Companion Parrots are like us, they will change their minds and attitudes.

We let Jade be Jade

Most of my tales are about Rocky, who is the biggest, loudest and most demanding member of the flock, and in some ways the neediest. 

But not in all ways. 

Jade, one of two Quaker parrots, was once a beloved companion, spoiled and talked to and given baths in the birdbath (outdoors!!!!!) by the family who acquired her from a breeder. She has a suitably large and nice cage, and the toys and perches that she had when she came to our house had once been nice, too. But at some point between bringing her home from the breeder and moving away, leaving her behind in an empty house with a neighbor to look in on her a couple of times a day, that family shut her cage door and left it shut. She was no longer taken out. No longer played with, handled or, in my opinion, loved. I don't know what happened. I know there was a child in the house, likely a small girl, based on the things that Jade says in a little girl's voice. Maybe Jade bit the child. Parrots bite. They even bite people they love. It's just what parrots do. The adults fought a lot. Jade also repeats things in both a man's and woman's voice that are clearly bits of arguments, and she had to hear it pretty often to learn those things. 

“Make your point! Make your point! Make your (very bad word) POINT!” 

At any rate, Jade's new caretaker posted on a forum I frequent that Jade needed a new home, and we went to get her. That was in January of 2009, when Jade was 4 ½ years old. Until very recently, our interactions with Jade, no matter what we tried, have been verbal only. Over the years, she did finally agree to let me occasionally, and very briefly, touch her beak. But just as often as she allows that, she lunges and tries to bite. We finally concluded that we'd never be able to handle her, and that would have to be okay.

For her birthday a couple of years ago, I took out all her perches and toys and replaced them with new ones. Considering that Jade defines the term “cage aggressive,” this was no simple task. I had to distract her and use my Super Speed to unhook a toy, jerk my hand out of harm's way, distract her again, yank the toy out, wash, rinse and repeat until I had it all removed. Jade sat on top of her cage and alternated between attack mode and cussing at me in Quaker and grabbing stuff and playing tug-of-war with it the whole time. Putting new stuff in was the same process in reverse. But at last it was done and to give credit where it's due, Jade accepted the changes with good grace once the job was complete. 

This was not a magical turning point, but it did seem to help in a few ways. Reaching in to get dishes to clean and refill them started to be, maybe not all right, but closer to all right. She wanted to pull my hair and sit on her cage and chat with me more. She would occasionally fly over to sit on the nearest cage and hang out when I was sitting with the other birds on my shoulder or chair or hand. 

Then Maggie, the Pigeon Queen, died. With one fewer bird in the room, Jade seemed to decide there was a job opening, and the occasional sitting on a nearby cage or perch became an everyday occurrence. In the mornings, when I open cages, she lands on my shoulder, usually just for a moment or two, but sometimes longer. Or when I'm opening Benjy's cage, she'll fly over and sit on top of it (it's opposite hers) and want me to stroke her beak. On really, exceptionally good days, I can sneak in a quick stroke of the top of her head. A few times she has even flown over and landed on my arm. Usually she gives me a good chomp when she's on my arm, but as crazy as it sounds, this is progress. Jade sitting on my arm, even for a minute or so, is HUGE.

Clyde does not like this, or Jade. He's never liked Jade, and she periodically attempts to be friends with him, but he's having none of it. He tolerates Benjy the budgie. He chases the tiels away if they dare to sit on his boing or his mama. But he actively dislikes Jade. I don't know why. They talk to each other. She whistles, he whistles back. She says “peekaboo,” he says it back. He chuckles, she chuckles. I don't get it. If I talk to Jade without him, he comes flying over to put a stop to it. He lunges at her or bites me, or both. Even if I try to share my attention between them equally, any attention Jade gets is too much.

Jade defers to Clyde, but she still wants to play with me, and every day there's a miniscule bit of progress toward what I think of as “normal” parrot behavior – normal as compared to the others, not as compared to wild ones. A friend with an autistic child read a description of Jade's behavior and said it sounds just like her child. She wants interaction, but she doesn't know how to go about it, and resorts to violence (biting) due to frustration and inability to figure it out. She watches the others and wants to do what they do, but she can't quite make herself do it, and that also causes frustration. If I'm not close enough to bite, she bites a toy or perch. Once she's bitten a toy or perch, I can touch her beak or let her pull my hair and for a brief moment, she's okay, but then she has to bite something again. I wish I knew what made her this way, because the neighbor who cared for her after her family moved away said that she didn't know what had happened, only that the family played with her and spoiled her and then … they didn't. At one time, she sat on their fingers and shoulders and was “normal.” 

So we let Jade be Jade in her own way. When she offers a tiny bit of interaction, I take it without pushing for more than she wants to give. I offer a tiny bit back, and if she accepts, maybe a tiny bit more. Inch by inch. Millimeter by millimeter, even.

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