Ms. Charly's tale - Sulfer Crested Cockatoo
by Bill Wasserman
Charly with crest raised in pleasure
Charly is a female Lesser Sulphur Crested Cockatoo. She was hatched in the fall of 1998 and came to live with Kathy and me in January 1999 shortly after the death of Pookie, a 35 year old Blue Fronted Amazon.
Although fascinated by Kathy, she tends to be aggressive and assert her dominance over Kathy. Accordingly, Kathy has become afraid of her and will not handle her. She's indicated she wants to go to other persons (she lifted her foot for our neighbor Brandon on a recent visit), but I'm unwilling to allow contact with others due to what I judge to be a high likelihood of aggression.
She loves to have her head scratched and tolerates me helping with the quill sheaths of new feathers on her head.
She has vegetables (broccoli, snap peas and lettuce) and (cold) whole grain pasta for breakfast together with two pistachio nuts (favorite treat) supplemented with a mix of Harrison's and TOP pellets, "hot" (dried) Just Veggie mix and baked egg shells (a source of calcium recommended by her vet). Dinner consists of a few small red beans & a small bit of cooked ground beef which I take from the pot of chilli I cook each week. (I'm no longer certain if I make the chilli for myself of for her :) ). Evening treat is three pistachio nuts in her forage toy - which she enjoys very much. She usually gets a small piece of whatever I'm eating as well - she knows the sounds of our kitchen and calls out whenever she hears Kathy or me in that room.
Each morning starts with the same routine:
Wake up between 7:30 - 8:00 AM. She immediately puts her beak in the corner of the cage for head scratches (the first thing allowed when we were getting to know one another). As soon as I finish scratching her head I open the door and she perches on my shoulder and insists (by leaning strongly) that we visit the closet opposite her cage as well as one, two or more of the closets in the bedroom. This behavior waxes and wanes as breeding seasons come and go, but is always present to some degree.
After the first set of closet visits we go to the kitchen to prepare breakfast - veggies & pasta for her and OJ & coffee for me. We then clean her cage and clean and restock food and water cups. We then go the bathroom to brush my teeth & run a comb through the few hairs I have left. The BR trip begins with a visit to the corner of the shelf where she rapidly bangs her beak on the Q-tip box.
Although she doesn't like the taste of toothpaste, she never fails to take a taste from my lips - I presume she figures if it's good enough for me it's worth doing. We then have breakfast - OJ, coffee & toast. She'll drink a bit of OJ and has a piece of my toast once we leave the kitchen for the den (her room). We then alternate between closet visits, eating some of her breakfast and sitting on her (my) desk chair while I check my e-mail, etc.
When Kathy brushes her teeth she'll jump on my shoulder and lean towards the BR until we visit with Kathy and share in brushing her teeth too! A few more closet visits and goodbye to Kathy (who still works FT). She'll go back into her cage & settle down shortly for the remainder of the morning and first part of the afternoon (consistent with her behavior I believe when both of us were leaving for work all day. By about 5PM she's looking for her dinner and evening treats.
She'll watch a bit of TV with me before dinner if it's punctuated with visits to her favorite closets and head scratching. She stays out of her cage until bed time (8:30-9:00 PM) with the occasional time out for unapproved behavior (climbing off the cage and going to visit Kathy at her PC although unwelcome there for years - apparently "NO" means "try again later" to a cockatoo). She is not as well behaved as she should be about stepping up to go into the cage, but can usually be coaxed to comply in a couple of minutes.
For the last year there's a new twist to bedtime - when she hears Kathy go to the BR to brush her teeth she'll squawk until Kathy comes in to her room to say goodnight and scratch her head a bit. Frequently she'll also call for me, but less reliably than for Kathy - go figure.
Favorite toys include forage toy (green plastic cylinder with nut size holes on top and sides), vine balls and brightly colored wood sticks for shredding as well as the occasional cardboard box when she's feeling particularly "nesty".
Charly visits the vet annually and has her nails done at the vet 3-4 times per year. I located a trained Veterinary Assistant who operates a pet sitting service and have used her for several years. Prior to that I boarded her at the bird store where she contracted an illness which required a week of antibiotic therapy at the vet & could have taken her from me. Being cared for in her own home is the best option and (because we travel infrequently) much less pricy than a week of in-hospital care at the animal hospital.
She speaks a bit and both uses and combines words in proper context - she was called "Baby Bird" when juvenile, but grew out of it as I took to calling her "Sweety". She astounded me by subsequently saying "Sweety Bird" and "Goodbye Sweety". She uses "Goodbye" in the correct context - although she views it as appropriate for all types of leaving - me departing the house, wanting to leave whatever room she's in, going to bed and after meeting a neighbor in the laundry room (she waits until the person is out of sight and hearing-purposeful or inadvertent I don't know).
I love Charly a great deal, but she's quite a handful. An hour of my time in the AM and another in the PM were acceptable (and what she learned as normal when she first came to live with us) when Kathy & I went out to work. Now that I'm retired and home a lot of the time, she expects more of my time regardless of what I have have or want to do. She's been a cause of friction between Kathy and me over her (normal hookbill) destructive tendencies, loudness and conflict between her bedtime (important for her well being) and Kathy's need to use her PC for work during the evenings.
Charly plucked a brood patch once she turned 5 or 6 which has been enlarged this year. The vet considers it a cosmetic issue at present and counsels against medications or collars at this stage. I know it's wise advice, but her plucking makes me feel I'm not doing something right and is a constant piece of sadness in my life.
I expect Charly to outlive me, and I have been unsuccessful in locating someone who will give her a good forever home once I die. I've found no shelters within a fifty mile radius of our home, and the news from shelters is not encouraging - overcrowded, underfunded and short of volunteer help. This troubles me greatly.
Cockatoos are challenging to live with. They're demanding and emotionally vulnerable. Charly's much smarter than her predecessor, but much more difficult as well. Each bird had bitten me (and others) & drawn blood although Cockatoos seem unwilling to let go once they chomp down.
Similarly, they're expensive to maintain - vet bills are about $500 per year (healthy bird), food about $500 as well. Toys are 200 - 300 per year and household articles that get damaged (such as my last desk chair and the shower curtain) - well you get the picture.