Lieutenant Columbo and I (Life with a Double-Yellow Headed Amazon)
by Shari Beaudoin
Lieutenant Columbo was hatched on April 28th, 1995, the day the good parts of my life began. Terry Beaudoin of Parrot Island, who is now my husband, raised Columbo from approximately three weeks of age. I will never forget the first day I saw Columbo in a small incubator. He had only a few pinfeathers. He looked so different from Terry's beautiful Double Yellow Head, Sam. It was Sam that I first fell in love with and I knew that some day a bird such as Sam would share my life.
I went to Parrot Island every day to just sit and hold Columbo. If there is any truth to a bond at first sight, we had it. Now I had to convince Terry that Columbo and I were meant for each other. Terry was concerned that my experience with larger parrots was limited and explained to me the developmental hurdles I would need to handle correctly (i.e., screaming, biting, etc…). I took in everything I was told and was not discouraged. I continued to visit Columbo every day. Finally after several weeks of visits, Terry decided I would be a good home for Columbo, and my dream came true. Columbo and I would be lifetime companions.
I learned to hand feed Columbo and he loved his formula. He also loved to eat on his own. By offering a wide variety of foods he became a well-adjusted bird that would eat most anything. His socialization continued and I would sit with him for hours holding him in a towel. I would lift up his wings and play with his feet and beak. Then I would lay him on his back and we would wrestle. Columbo seemed very comfortable going through these exercises and seemed to enjoy them as much as I did.
When Columbo was ready to come home we continued all of the things we had learned. The more I worked with Columbo, the more he seemed no different than raising my son, Troy. Columbo's actions were very much that of a 3 - 5 year old child and the mom in me took over. We would sing children's songs together and play with toys on his blanket on the floor. He ate healthy dry foods and warm organic high vitamin "A" veggies and fruits. I did notice that Columbo did much better with his veggies than my son did with his. He still does for that matter.
At the age of about 6 months Columbo went through a testing stage - to see where he was in the flock. This was short lived and he accepted me as the flock leader with little resistance.
In 1999 Terry and I were married. Now not only do I have Lieutenant Columbo, but beautiful Sam as well. I love to watch Sam and Columbo. It is very interesting to see their similarities and differences.
Sam was hatched in October of 1991, making her 3½ years Columbo's senior. Sam and Columbo are half siblings, sharing a father. The aviary that produced them had been working towards breeding an Amazon with an excellent temperament. Sam and Columbo were both part of that breeding program.
Columbo is my rough and tough boisterous boy. He is almost always gentle and loves to wrestle, talk, and sing. There is nothing better than a day out in the sunshine and a cool bath. He talks to everyone in the neighborhood and sings silly songs. This only adds to his charm.
Sam loves these things as well but talks mostly to blonde women and takes things much slower in her very lady-like manner. Her voice is softer and sweeter and she always wants to be handled with the utmost gentleness. She is not the wrestler that Columbo is, nor is he the sweet quiet one that she is. It is a very refreshing personality difference. Both Sam and Columbo are very gentle to most anyone but Sam definitely prefers Terry as Columbo prefers me.
Because of Columbo's love for life, and for himself, he does get loud at times. Some noise had to be acceptable but it was important to teach him other ways to express himself. We did this by choosing certain things that we enjoyed seeing him do and gave him a lot of praise when he did them. There are times when we are very busy at work and we turn to see Columbo hanging upside down by one foot and making clapping sounds. He has learned that we, and most of our customers, will drop what we are doing and come over to praise him. Mission accomplished! Just as he knows he will not be brought out of his cage when he is screaming, a soft, or sometimes not so soft, "Let me out" will always do the trick.
Terry and I have always believed that companion birds do not know how to live safely in our world, just as we would not know how to live safely in theirs. For this reason we keep our birds wings trimmed both for their safety and to prevent negative behaviors. We advocate graduated clipping to allow our birds to learn the basics of flight.
One of the common health concerns for Amazon parrots is their ability to become overweight. We make sure they are kept on the best diet possible and are offered a low fat diet when they not molting. They also get plenty of exercise. This is when we learned that our birds did not need to be flighted to enjoy the art of flight. Yes, they are not flighted but they fly. Here is how we do it. First we ask them, "Do you want to fly?" This always gets a squeal of excitement out of Columbo and his wings start flapping as fast as they can. I gently cup my hands under his belly so that he is simply resting on them. It is very important that you do not hold on too tight as you may constrict the bird's chest and effect breathing. Then I run. Columbo flaps for all he is worth and I try to keep up. He easily does five or six laps around our store or home. We also 'fly' our birds outside if the weather permits. Usually Columbo does about two more laps than I can do, but I am getting better. Columbo simulates the entire flight behavior. He has his legs laid back straight and when it is time to land he turns toward the play tree he intends to land on and his feet come forward as his wings cup for the landing. He is full out panting after his flight and he can go further each day. I really believe he thinks he is flying and pulling me along with him. When I first began this exercise with him he had no idea what to do. I would hold him and run and he would look straight ahead with his body stiff and his wings plastered tight to his body. He reminded me of a hood ornament on an old car. The more we worked at it the better he got until now it is his favorite thing to do.
Bedtime is always fun at our house. Columbo, my rough and tough wrestler, winds down every night at 9:30. Now he is mush and all he wants to do is fluff his head feathers for parrot rubs and snuggle up with me. Sam finds Terry's lap most comforting. When I bring them into their room to settle down for bed our ritual continues. We have a snow globe that when wound plays Puff The Magic Dragon. I tell Columbo and Sam, "it is time for bed" and ask if they want to hear 'Puff'. When I step Columbo down into his cage he lets out a soft "Woo Hoo" tucks back his head and settles in for the night.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I love Double Yellows. They are independent (able to play on their own), incredibly smart, loving, and good eaters. Amazon parrots are also very easy to read. It is quite easy to look at Columbo or Sam and determine their attitude, emotions, etc. When they are wound up, in Amazon overload, their eyes are pinning, their posture is straight and tall showing as much feather color as possible. They will usually move up and down turning in circles on their perch. Any person who does not know a Double Yellow Head well, or any bird for that matter would not be wise in attempting to step them up at this time. Columbo often exhibits this behavior when Terry walks past him and I am in the room. After making sure I am watching and Terry is not he very deliberately will take a quick shot at him and then display. He then looks at me again as if to let me know that he has rid our territory of his competition. I have to turn my head so as not to laugh. If Terry catches Columbo out of the corner of his eye he quickly turns and steps him up. I can feel Columbo's embarrassment. Yes, Amazons need to know who is boss but with good early socialization and nurturing guidance a Double Yellow Head can be a wonderful companion bird.
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