My first macaw was a five month old Harlequin, named Christmas. Up to that point, I had only owned parakeets and an Amazon. I spotted this big mush of a bird at a local bird club meeting. His price tag was expensive, $2000. Too much for me. But like a magnet, I kept being drawn back to this bright, colorful bird. Within two hours of our introduction, I knew that this bird would be mine and I scraped together funds and he was home within two weeks. Having Christmas was a learning experience. He was constantly crying the first night each time my husband and I walked up the stairs to try and go to bed. He obviously did not want to be left alone. My husband, Dennis, ended up placing a large branch, on a stand, on our dresser and that's where he spent his nights until he was accustomed to his new surroundings. I had always thought of birds belonging in cages and staying there. I soon learned differently. Christmas took showers with me, ate off my dinner plate, climbed up the stairs to greet me each morning. There's nothing like awakening to the pitter patter of little feet and a tug at the blanket and having a beak in your face, preening your eyelashes.
Christmas was a mutt of the bird world, a cross between a Greenwing and a Blue and Gold. I know that many would not approve of my exploiting this species, but he already existed and he had a lovely personality. Within a year, I decided that Christmas needed a companion. Not for breeding, but someone to relate to. Christmas' breeder just happened to have a newborn Blue and Gold. I fell in love again. I had never hand fed a bird before, but I had a few lessons and took Chevy home at the ripe age of six weeks. Back then there wasn't hand feeding formula available, so I had to make it from scratch daily. Each day I mixed pablum, strained carrots, vitamins and peanut butter. I made a quart a day. Since formula cannot be saved, I had to mix up a new batch daily. Then it had to be heated to the right temperature. I used my pinkie to test the temperature. I know now that wasn't the right way, but that was what I had been taught.
I took Chevy straight to the vet for her check up and it seems that she had 3 infections, which were treatable, but I felt slighted that the breeder declined to pay for the medications to treat Chevy. I ended up taking her to court. I remember the audience laughing at me when I said that I paid $1600 for the bird. The judge mocked me when I told him that Chevy was just like my baby and needed to be treated as such. I ended up losing my case because I had nothing in writing. I trusted my breeder and never thought to ask for a receipt. Now I know that all transactions should be in writing. And if there is an infection, than the medication coverage should be stipulated in the contract. Most pet stores cover the bird for 48 hours from the time of purchase. Even though a culture takes a minimum of 24-48 hours to produce a growth, as long as you can prove that the bird was seen by a vet, you are covered if a growth shows up afterward. Another thing that I had noticed was that the breeder was feeding 3 birds from one syringe. I knew that procedure was wrong, but I hesitated to confront the breeder because I did not want to offend her where she might stop my purchase of Chevy. I was in shock when I got the test results back.. I thought, "How sick could a bird be at 6 weeks?" That was in 1989. Chevy received her course of medication and has been fine ever since.
My next macaw was a Greenwing which I named Harley. He was shipped from Texas at the age of 55 days. He was beautiful.. A half naked bundle of skin and feathers. He was lying in such a pile of fecal material that I thought he was missing a few toes. He had spent 6 hours on the plane and he was starving. I fed him and gave him a bath, then wrapped him in a receiving blanket and let him sleep. This time I had a prepared formula. What a joy. I use Kaytee handfeeding formula. All you do is mix with hot water by stirring with a fork, test the temperature and use a 60cc syringe to feed. By now I had acquired a digital thermometer and I used it faithfully at each feeding. If food is too hot, it can cause a severe case of crop burn, which can be deadly. The skin is so tender that it heals slowly, sometimes requiring stitches, which have a hard time adhering to the skin. This never happened to me, but I have heard of the horror stories from friends, so I was especially careful checking the food temperature, carefully stirring and restirring, checking for hot spots. Harley was a complete joy. He got along well with Chevy and Christmas, having passed his vet check. He joined the others in
parrot displays at the Nassau Coliseum Pet Expo, nursing homes, street fairs, hospitals and even appeared on several TV shows such as Good Day New York, The Today Show, The Family Pet, The Gordon Elliott Show, and Court TV. My guys led a very social life.
Through the years I adopted Skippy, a Catalina, and bought another Harlequin, Fred. They were older birds, but hit if off immediately. It was love at first sight. Fred and Skippy can't be separated from each other, for more than a minute, without either one searching and screaming frantically for the other. They are both males, but are strongly bonded and continue to stay so, to this day.
My next macaw was my dream bird, a Hyacinth macaw. I had saved $10 a week for 5 years and I had finally accumulated enough to afford him.. My employer went bankrupt and I was given my profit sharing proceeds. I had $5000 in savings. What should I do with this windfall? What else. Buy a Hyacinth. I had a friend, who had a family member who bred Hyacinths and offered me one at a good price. When the egg was laid, I placed a deposit on this little one inch egg.
Within 4 weeks, the egg hatched and I received weekly reports and pictures of my little angel. Since Hyacinths require a high fat content diet and can be difficult to wean, the breeder did not want to release him until he was 4 months old. I waited patiently until the day finally came for my little bundle of blue to arrive. I was going to fly to Florida to pick up my baby, but the breeder was visiting in NJ, so my husband and I drove to Newark Airport to get my baby. I felt like I was doing something illegal, transferring funds and a bird in the middle of the airport parking lot. I was waiting for the police to swoop down on a "smuggler" any minute. I had to pick out a special name for this baby. I had gotten married in Hawaii, and loved its beauty. I decided that I wanted a Hawaiian name for my Hyacinth. I approached Pat Laws, President of the Hawaiian Bird Club, for some ideas. Out of some 10 names submitted, I chose Haikina, which means Hyacinth in Hawaiian. His nickname is Kina. Kina had a Klebsiella infection when he was a few weeks old, of which the medication to treat him caused his feathers to turn black. The infection had cleared up, but it would take a year for his feathers to turn that lovely shade of Hyacinth blue. What a good bird. He was potty trained almost immediately. The first time I fed him, he was gasping and bobbing his head in a way that I had never seen. I had stopped at a friends house, Dennis and Kerry Cleary who were Cockatiel breeders. Besides wanting to show off my baby, I wanted an experienced person around when I first handfed the baby. This bird had only been gavage fed and was not used to tasting food. The bobbing it was doing, was his reaction to food. Breeders gavage feed to save time. Plus a tube is introduced down into the stomach and the food is injected. Besides not feeling comfortable following this procedure, I had always liked the idea of playing with my babies and watching them waddle up to the syringe at feeding time. I had fed Kina 4 times a day at first and gradually reduced it to once a day. Kina was spoiled. He continued with the formula for almost 2 years, before he was weaned. Finally. The average Hyacinth weans at about a year. To this day, Kina is a pig, eating his macadamia nuts, apples, scrambled eggs, pork chops, steak and chicken. I call him my $7000 nutcracker. At first the others picked on him, but as time passed, all the babies got along great.
Life seemed good. My birds were happy and healthy. I earned a reasonable salary to keep by birds well supplied in nuts and fruits. I then decided that it was time to renovate my kitchen. I bought a refrigerator with an ice maker. The guys loved their bowl of ice each evening. Ice all over the place, but it was a small price to pay for their meltable toys. Then one day my oven that I had for twelve years broke down. I decided that as long as I was buying a new oven, that I would purchase a selfcleaning oven. I know of the dangers of PTFE in Teflon and other nonstick cookware, so I questioned the salesperson and was assured that this ingredient was not in the oven. I even explained the dangers of teflon to the saleslady and we had a laugh because she had never heard of an oven killing a bird. She had worked at Sears for 20 years and seemed very knowledgeable. I bought the oven. My husband hooked it up. It worked fine. I am a fast food person, using the oven on a limited basis. On March 15, 1998, I decided that my oven needed cleaning. I got home from work, and turned on the selfcleaning mode. I went upstairs to take a shower. When I got out, I heard some thumping around. I was trying to figure out what macaw was getting into trouble. I went downstairs and saw Christmas all fuzzed up and staggering. I realized immediately that it was the oven. I tried to shut the oven off but realized, in horror, that it was automatically locked. I picked Christmas up and hugged him, realizing that I had sealed his fate.
My beloved baby died in my arms in a matter of minutes. I had to think quick. I still had 17 other birds to worry about. In the 30 degree weather, I opened my dining room window and threw my assortment of Cockatoos, Amazons and remaining Macaws into the cold. The birds were used to going outdoors in the warmer weather and went to their assigned trees and bushes. Meanwhile, I called my friend, Diana baker, who came over immediately. We started gathering the birds to put in our cars. Harley, my greenwing, was very lethargic. Diana handed him to me and he also died in my arms within a few minutes. I was hysterical. I have two vets that I use, Dr. Heidi Hoefer who has an office about 30 minutes away, and Dr. Bob Corona who had a house call practice. Heidi and Bob conferred and said that only time could tell if my other birds would be affected. Then needed steroid shots and oxygen. All the birds were loaded up into my Blazer and taken to Bob's, where he proceeded to dispense steroid shots to all the birds right in his driveway. It was cold, but that was the least of my worries. As I was driving over, Fred and Kina fell off the back of the seat. Kina crawled into my lap. He was going to die next. After everyone got their shots, I went to Diana's and she set up makeshift perches and cages. I needed oxygen. A friend had a tank and we improvised a mask, by placing a canula through a styrofoam cup and holding it over Fred's and Kina's nares, intermittently for the next 4 hours. It was a long wait. The other guys seemed okay. Fred and Kina were flat on their backs and I was just waiting for them to go next. After 4 hours, both birds got off their backs and started to stagger around. Their strength seemed to be coming back. Was it too much to hope for? Would they make it? I was so lucky. They did pull through, although it was touch and go for several days.
I had left my 4 Timnehs behind in their breeding boxes, in the basement. Dennis Cleary had stuffed wet towels under the door to their room. These were not tame birds and they refused to leave their boxes. In the meantime, my husband returned home to a eerily quiet house and found two dead macaws on the bed. He was heartsick. They were his babies also. After investigating the scene at Diana's, he went back home. Another friend, Carol had proceeded to scrub walls and floors, to try and rid the house of the odor of death. I returned that night and prepared meals to take back to Diana's. The birds picked a little, but on the whole, they seemed to be adjusting well to their emergency outing. I bought the birds back home after 36 hours. The house had a strange smell to it and my eyes burnt a little. I had called Sears and they had sent a repair man over who stated that the cavity of the oven is coated with a resin to prevent rust, mold and mildew while it sits in the factory. There is also a fan in the oven, that shot the fumes directly at Christmas and Harley. It seems that there was product liability insurance to cover losses, even though they claimed that something like this had never happened before. No matter what the explanation, it would never bring back my babies. I was just starting to deal with my losses, when I noticed that my paralyzed Amazon, Petey, was having difficulty breathing. (Petey had become paralyzed after obtaining a spinal cord injury four years earlier), It was three days later, I thought the fumes were out of the house. I immediately took Petey to the vet. He was wheezing during the whole drive. He was looking at me with those trusting eyes. He made it to the vets alive. I gave him a last hug and kiss. His breathing was deteriorating. I knew once I handed him to the technicians, that I would never see him alive again. He was dead within a half hour. All this pain and death because Sears and GE did not give out correct information about their product. After much threatening about lawsuits, Sears and GE settled out of court with me. Sears being the seller, and GE being the manufacturer. The amount would never cover the cost of my personal loss, but NY state laws dictated that a pet owner only be reimbursed for the cost of the pet, not for pain and suffering. At this point, I am on a crusade to force GE to label their ovens with a warning. They refuse to do so, so I am having petitions signed and hope to eventually get this passed a law.
Meanwhile, with the settlement, I bought a 2 week old Greenwing Macaw, named Aloha. He is an adorable bird, but has nowhere near the personality of Harley. Sometimes I look at him and expect him to act like Harley, but the personalities are totally different. I then saw an ad for adorable macaws sale. The breeder was selling Blue and Golds, and I told her that I wanted a Harlequin. Luck was with me that day. She had two Harlequins and a Scarlet for sale. When I went to her home, she placed three babies, less than two weeks old in my arms. Then the breeder made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. Buy two and get a discount, so I ended up getting the larger Harlequin, Rainbow and Scarlet, Sturgis. I had vacation time coming so I took time off and bought the home 2 babies under 3 weeks of age. Maybe some people couldn't have replaced their babies so soon, but this was my way to deal with my grief. I soon was handfeeding every 3-4 hours, 3 adorable babies. I had all 3 in an incubator and I enjoyed every minute of handfeeding and cleaning up my babies. I have a friend, Sally, who works at Petco. She called me up with an offer to buy an 8 week old Blue throated Macaw. Was she crazy? I already had three babies. What would I do with a fourth? Guess!!! Within a week I had the brother, Topaz, while Sally had the sister, Indigo... It's been an adventurous year. All the babies get along so well. They passed their vet checks with flying colors. They are spoiled, still taking one handfeeding a night. They really don't need it, but they enjoy tapping the syringe every night and they all come running into the kitchen for their snack. Kina had shown a little jealously and resumed his hand feedings. Now I wake up in the morning to the pitter patter of lots of feet. I look at the landing and Kina, Sturgis, Aloha, Topaz, and Rainbow racing up the stairs to join me in bed. I am so happy with my macaw family. Sometimes I think Rainbow is Christmas reincarnated. His personality is exactly like Christmas'. He's got his markings and even has a growth above his left eye like Christmas did. Climbs up the kitchen draws and onto the kitchen counter like Christmas did. I have not forgotten my babies, but I have wonderful memories. And the macaw fever still grows. Just when I think eight is enough, Sally makes another call saying that another two blue throats available but that's another story.
To those who are thinking about owning a macaw, please be aware of the following:
*Macaws can live to the ripe old age of 90-100 years. You will have to leave them in your will to another person who will be able to devote the time and attention that you have given them. Macaws are fully grown at approximately 7 weeks, with feathers to be filled in and a tail to grow longer. It's chest will get broader and its length will grow up to 36 inches, requiring a large cage.
*Macaws, as in most parrots, have to be DNA blood sexed as there are no external genital organs.
*Macaws, as in other parrots, all have the capability of talking, but not necessarily do so. All my babies first words were hello, usually spoken between 2-3 months.
*All parrots introduced into a home, with existing parrots should be examined by a qualified avian vet. Tests should include blood or stool testing for psittacosis, cultures of the throat and cloaca and blood screening. Birds tend to mask their illness' and should receive a yearly checkup.
*Birds develop a strong bond with their primary caretaker, so think seriously before making this purchase that could last your lifetime.
*If a macaws beak intimidates you, it should. It can do a lot of damage. Macaws think all jewelry and wood is for their beak destroying pleasure. If uncertain at all, please reconsider and purchase a smaller bird that you can handle.
*A cage should be as large as a birds' wing span, so take the birds' size and your cage space availability into consideration.
*Most of all love your bird and treat him or her with respect that you would expect.