Sassy, at work
Our Number One 'Too
By Ann Taylor and Gregory D. Wilkie
There I stood, tired after walking around the First Annual Exotic Bird and Pets Expo for the third time. I leaned against a display and I felt a presence on my shoulder and then something softly touching my cheek. There was a delicate, “Awwww!” and I was hooked on this beautiful, white bird trying to make me feel better. That was our first contact with Sassy, a then nine year-old umbrella cockatoo.
Sure, Ann had a blue-fronted Amazon for many years, but Amazons aren’t cockatoos. Greg had taken semesters of ornithology, ethology, and field biology; but none of the courses addressed exotic birds or their behaviors. Now what do we do?
Thank goodness for the Internet! Thank goodness for a cockatoo who was willing to “work” with us! We all had steep learning curves. We were lucky to have a very socialized cockatoo who had had some very loving humans in his first home. Sassy had been with the same family for all of his nine years. A hand-raised, healthy male umbrella cockatoo who was in a single bird home. What a deal!
Find the cockatoo!
Then, the cockatude began. He had already stolen our hearts, so what were we to do? We set a place at our dining table for him, shared our rice and vegetables with green peas being one of his favorites. Of course what was on OUR plates was always more inviting than the same items on his plate. He believed our plates had much tastier meals on them.
We made friends with the Anders (http://www.cockatoostreet.com) who lived just a few miles away. The Anders had ELEVEN cockatoos! We set a “play date” for Sassy to meet their cockatoos. We learned a lot about cockatoo behavior that afternoon. The Anders are a wealth of knowledge and experience in working with cockatoos. Their flock represented four cockatoo species – Moluccan, umbrella, Goffins, and an Eleonora.
Sassy, looking good!
We learned how manipulative Sassy was being with us. Using his “little girl” voice to say, “I love you,” “Sassy’s a good boy;” and getting us to let him stay awake longer, forgiving him for taking a bite out of the new couch, and much more. Cockatoos need toys, LOTS of toys to chew, destroy, and beat the heck out of. Sassy is our best bird toy tester. If a bird toy can survive a day with Sassy, it’s good for all of our flock members. Cockatoos and all exotic birds need a varied and nutritionally balanced diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates, and watch out for the “hidden” fats in nuts
Over the six years since Sassy entered our lives, his behaviors have mellowed and he has adapted to our other cockatoo flock members by participating in allopreening, practicing flock calls, and showing the newer flock members how to get more skritches from us. Sassy has taught us much about cockatoos and has enriched our lives.
Ann Taylor has worked with companion birds for over 13 years, starting with a blue-fronted Amazon and now having six cockatoos, three macaws and two African grays. Ann is past Membership Chair of The Alaska Bird Club (2006), and works full-time from home as a financial analyst. You can reach Ann at:
Gregory D. Wilkie is a degreed ethologist, associate member of the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC), past-President of The Alaska Bird Club (2006), and works full-time changing organizational cultures. You can reach Greg at: