Losing Pets! (Part 1 – Lovebirds)

Birds in cages
Moving into 824 Hollow Mountain Road, Delaps Cove

Imagine our relief to have arrived in Nova Scotia after our 32-hour trek (which followed an emotionally and physically draining week of loading the Uhauls and preparing to leave our farm) with everyone we had started off!  Ian and me, of course, but also our four dogs, five cats and assorted budgies, lovebirds and cockatiels.

We had much for which to be thankful on that first weekend in 2011 in Nova Scotia, which was fittingly Thanksgiving weekend. It was a glorious warm, sunny weekend, so I set the birds outside on the deck in their cages.  We kept our cats  confined as we were familiar with what may be a wives’ tale asserting that cats are likely to attempt a return trip “home” during the first few days after a move.  The dogs were tuckered out and just lay wherever they landed on the lawn watching Ian and me drag items into the house.  They didn’t know what was going on, but since we were there and seemed to have a plan, they would stick around and see what happened next.

I knew the birds weren’t impressed with this change in living conditions.  I always believed in providing as much flying freedom as possible for our parrot-family birds.  I did not like to see them trapped in cages.  At the farm, they’d had a room out in the barn that was just for them (and a few bunny friends).  They could fly freely.   Prior to that they had had a room in the house, which we appropriately dubbed “The Bird Room”.  The Bird Room was moved out to the barn when we put the farm on the market and needed to have everything spic and span (or as close to it as possible) for showings.

Birds in bird room
Our “Bird Room” inside our house — which was moved to a room in the barn after we put our farm on the market

But here they were stuck in a couple of small cages … at least until we had time to rig something up, which wasn’t going to be immediately.  We had lots to do before setting up the new bird room.  As compensation, I thought they might enjoy some fresh air and sunshine.  There were a few wild birds around with whom they could chat.

I popped treats into their cages from time to time so that they would feel more at home.  An opportunist budgie rewarded me by flying out of his cage and into a tree.  He then began one of the most spirited flights I’ve ever witnessed, all around the yard, back and forth.  He was so happy to be free!

But I was mortified.  I’d caught many birds, usually for customers as we sold young budgies, lovebirds and cockatiels at the farm, but there was no catching this little guy with a net.  And it was mid-afternoon.  Not much time left before nightfall!

What to do next?  I decided to use a trick I had used once before back in New York.  A friend from church had called to say she had spotted a lovebird that was flying free.  We spent most of the day luring that lovebird into a cage with food.  The lovebird subsequently became mine (even though we posted found ads).  And I bought a few friends at pet stores to keep him company.

Here at Hollow Mountain, my only hope was to try to entice the little budgie into a cage with food.  He would be missing the others, so he would likely come around to say “hello” to his friends.

The only problem was a shortage of cages.  I’d only been able to bring two.  That’s all that would fit in my little car, even though I had set several good ones aside to pop in before we left.  Great idea, but no space.

Very carefully I moved the occupants of the smallest cage into the bigger cage so that I could use the small one to bait our runaway.  The tactic worked, and I soon had my little budgie back in a cage.

Now to move everyone who belonged in the small cage back into it.  The birds at this point were thoroughly fed up.  They did not like to be touched or handled.  This back and forth nonsense was much too stressful.

A little voice in my head told me that I should as a precaution take the cages inside and move the birds around in the protective environment of the house.  But I reminded myself that I was experienced with handling birds.  And I was in a hurry to get back to unloading and moving as much of the mess into the house as possible before nightfall.  I had handled birds for years so this should be easy…

A lovebird flew out.  He wasn’t even one of the ones I was after, but he was likely so spooked, he just wanted to get away from it all.  I was disgusted (mainly with myself) and packed the birds in the large cage and rushed them inside.  The small cage I left open with food, hoping to coax the lovebird inside.  After all, it had worked with the budgie.

The lovebird flew back and forth across and all around the yard, from tree to tree, and sang loudly for his suddenly missing compatriots. He was quite the dynamo.  I kept an eye on him as well as I could while continuing to move stuff inside. We were soon going to lose our daylight!

The cage trick didn’t work a second time.  Darkness descended, and the lovebird was still free.  The next day, I left the cage out with food, the birds out to sing and chirp, but we didn’t see any sign of the escapee.  Days and weeks passed, but I didn’t forget him.  I kept a supply of bird food outside that would be attractive to a lovebird.  We never saw him again.  We were left with three lovebirds.  I am not sure if the one who escaped was a male or female.  It is very difficult to sex lovebirds.  Behavior is the easiest way to tell.

Raising Chitter
Chitter: the baby lovebird who was abandoned by her parents

Months passed.   We set the birds up in a spare bedroom with an open-cage policy so that they were able to fly freely.  And nest boxes were put in place so that they would be able to breed. It had been too long since we’d had any babies. One pair of lovebirds managed to produce a nest of eggs!  And a little one hatched.  This was the summer of 2012.  I felt the Lord was providing His replacement for the one we had lost the previous fall.  We would be back to four!

The Lord does act but not always in the way we think He has.

Shortly thereafter we arrived home late from the store as usual.  I went up to check on the birds.  We had to keep their window open because of the heat, but there was a screen on the window.  I found a lovebird-sized hole in the screen.  Our three adult lovebirds had literally flown the coop!  Only the lovebirds, though.  Fortunately the cockatiels and budgies were still in the room.

We quickly packed up the cockatiels and budgies in cages so that we could leave the window open, hole in screen, in case our beautiful lovebirds returned, especially our mother lovebird who was needed to take care of her little one!

I considered myself to be fairly knowledgeable about birds and animals, not so much from formal education but real-life experience and observation on the farm.  A mother lovebird would not take off and leave her nestling behind in the nest.  This nestling was 2-3 weeks old.  Too young to survive without help.  A few pin feathers showed, but overall the little one was still naked.

I was shocked, angered, furious!  How could the birds just abandon this infant?  I still don’t fully understand it as I’ve raised many birds and have seen how selflessly devoted mothers are to their young, even risking their own safety and well-being.  But domesticated wild birds (yes, parrots are wild birds that have been trapped and removed from their natural environment) do not always follow the instincts that the Creator has implanted in their species.

Fortunately I had brought a couple of powdered baby bird formula packages from Ontario.  I have no clue where a person would find such an item in Nova Scotia – maybe New Minas or Halifax.  We had kept them in the freezer.  This was fortunate as the baby could not survive long without nutrition.  Luckily I managed to find some syringes in amongst all the unpacked boxes and totes in the basement.  For the next six weeks, I spent a lot of time hand-feeding little Chitter, as Ian named the small bird.  Chitter had a funny, not very lovebird-like chirp.  A good and willing eater, only so glad to have someone concerned, I think.

Chitter turned out to be yellow, a throwback as our adults had been green peach-faced lovebirds.  She is also female.  I couldn’t stand seeing her alone so bought three companions from a breeder near Kingston.  I think all three may be male, as one stands off to the side while the other two are fully devoted to Chitter.  So far a happy ending to what might have been a tragic story of abandonment.

As far as the three runaway lovebirds go, we never did find them or see any sign of them.  I often wonder if the first one who went missing called the others out of the room that day.  Lovebirds are a small but comparatively spunky parrot that can survive in the wild as long as the climate is not too harsh, and Nova Scotia climate is relatively mild compared to much of the rest of the country.  The winter of 2011-2012 was often described as the “Winter that Wasn’t” because it was such a moderate, open winter.

Chitter is happy with four friends her own age.  And she made the move safely to Smiths Cove last fall.  Unfortunately the freedom she and the others enjoyed at Hollow Mountain has been put on a temporary hold until we create a bird room for them.  The lovebirds, cockatiels, budgies are temporarily in four cages in the basement, where it is warm.  We may set up an indoor aviary in the loft of the big shop behind our new store once it warms up.

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