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Home > News & Events > MAARSianChronicles > Issue 12: April 2005 > Happy Landings: Tabby & Lindsey: Brothers Through Thick and Thin / Mogwai Meets His Match

Happy Landings

Green-winged Macaws, Tabby and Lindsey, enjoy a beautiful day, supervised outdoors in the sunshine.

Green-winged Macaws, Tabby and Lindsey, enjoy a beautiful day, supervised outdoors in the sunshine.

Tabby & Lindsey: Brothers Through Thick and Thin

by Alayne Rueber, MAARS Placement & Volunteer Director

Adopting a bird is a serious commitment, especially when that bird is a larger or more challenging individual. One must consider the increased cost of care and housing, potential challenges with their behavior, and even the possible damage that the bite of a larger bird can do. When Tabby and Lindsey, two Green-winged Macaws were adopted into my family in 2003, we anticipated challenges ahead, but could never have imagined the impact these two birds would have on our home.

In January 2000, Dale, Alex, and I began volunteering at the MAARS shelter in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. We were already guardians to three smaller birds, yet admittedly, still lacked much knowledge and experience in avian care. Dale and I were particularly drawn to the macaws in MAARS' care, yet we knew that we were not up to the task and did not feel comfortable with such large beaks around our 8-year-old daughter, Alex.

Three years passed and all of us continued to volunteer. Dale and I became shift managers and we developed a real knack for relating with many types of birds. Meanwhile, Alex had grown up considerably and became quite the avian expert. We had all experienced our share of problematic bird behaviors and developed many of the skills we would need to be guardians to such amazing birds. After lengthy family discussions, we submitted an adoption application for Tabby and Lindsey.

Tabby and Lindsey are former display/show birds for the Rainforest Café in the Mall of America. They had been reared together as both brothers and clutchmates in the restaurant's avian housing, being groomed for a life of exhibition and performing tricks for the restaurant's patrons. Tabby and Lindsey came to MAARS in 1999 when the Rainforest Café held a public sale to rid themselves of the birds and related property in their possession.

MAARS staff quickly recognized the special bond that Tabby and Lindsey shared and after seeking the advice of avian experts across the country, they determined that it would be in the birds' best interest if they stayed together. This was not an easy or hastily made decision. Would two male birds continue to cohabitate peacefully as they grew older and more sexually mature? Would they ever find a home for not just one, but two large birds? They did not know the answers, but had concluded that this was best for these birds' long lives ahead of them.

Tabby and Lindsey's transition to their new home with the Ruebers was surprisingly rocky, but when their behavioral mystery was solved, their friendship prevailed.

Tabby and Lindsey's transition to their new home with the Ruebers was surprisingly rocky, but when their behavioral mystery was solved, their friendship prevailed.

Homecoming day in July 2003 was an exciting one. After all, we had been preparing for Tabby and Lindsey's arrival for over three years! Their cage was ready, toys and perches were in place, and they even had a manzanita stand built just for them waiting for them. The honeymoon had begun, and was abruptly put to an end.

Numerous disagreements occurred between Tabby and Lindsey and escalated to all-out violence over the next week. One minute they would be preening each other and the next they would be wrestling on the cage bottom. We were hard at work to determine just what the trigger was for this behavior we had never seen in them before. We were forced to separate them at times, fearing that one of them would be seriously injured.

Then one day, the source of their agitation became unmistakably clear. Dale was outside working in the front yard, in view of Tabby and Lindsey as they sat in their cage. It turns out that every time that Dale passed by the window an argument occurred between them. I was in the house to observe this behavior, and I was relieved to discover the problem and horrified to find out that it was my own husband.

The seriousness of the situation reached an all-time high when Lindsey's wing was injured during an episode. We were determined to make this the last violent episode between them, and we needed to take action quickly. We again consulted with MAARS founder, Eileen McCarthy, avian veterinarian Dr. Vicki Schulz, and experts in Green-winged Macaws across the country. We needed to find out if Tabby and Lindsey were happy living together or if they were beginning to become more sexually mature, instinctually competitive birds.

Our greatest source of help turned out to be animal communicator Nicole Roberts. It turns out that a man that used food as a reward for tricks trained Tabby and Lindsey. Through their experience, they learned that to be in the favor of their trainer equaled food in their stomachs. It was nothing we had done wrong, but rather, something we were perpetuating. Nicole taught us much and offered us advice on how to interact with them. The most important thing that she told us was that Tabby and Lindsey wanted to be together.

Lindsey and Tabby relax and play in the Ruebers' well-equipped bird room.

Lindsey and Tabby relax and play in the Ruebers' well-equipped bird room.

It has required a huge amount of dedication and patience to attempt to teach Tabby and Lindsey a new and healthier relationship they can have with Dale. We have never viewed birds as playthings or had expectations of them learning to do tricks, talk, or even be sweet and cuddly with us. We do not give treats when either of them "performs," and Dale has learned to share his time with both birds and to not favor one over the other. We purchased a second 3' x 4' x 6' cage and they are placed in a room with the rest of the feathered family. We are attempting to teach them to be part of a flock, a family, and to understand that they are with us through any/all of the challenges they may be part of.

Tabby and Lindsey now spend much time together on tree stands, in their outdoor aviary, and on their macaw sized branches in front of the downstairs patio window. They are comfortable with every member of our family, and show favor to Alex and myself for cuddling time. Lindsey was the first to welcome hugs, and has shown Tabby that it is safe to let your guard down with the family. Tabby continues to be the best tongue kisser and Lindsey prefers to give you a beak kiss. Their favorite foods are "birdie burritos" and any kind of citrus fruit they can squeeze the juice out of. They have become a huge part of our family and flock, and we are all proud to be their guardians. We are blessed.

Undoubtedly, the saga will continue for the next 50–75 years. There will be more challenges ahead, but we have the support and commitment it takes to work through them. I like to consider this a happy beginning.

Hahn's Macaw, Mogwai, went home with Nicole, Kaisa, and Orange-fronted Conure, Ellie, right before Christmas 2004.

Hahn's Macaw, Mogwai, went home with Nicole (left), Kaisa, and Orange-fronted Conure, Ellie, right before Christmas 2004.

Mogwai Meets His Match

by Nicole Adams Blume, MAARS Adopter

Mogwai, a Hahn's Macaw, came into our home exactly one week before Christmas, on December 18, 2004. We — myself, my housemate Kaisa, and Ellie, the Orange-fronted Conure we had previously adopted from MAARS — had been visiting The Landing regularly as we sought the perfect companion for Ellie. It had been a trying experience, as Ellie has a tendency toward rather dysfunctional relationships with other birds. There had already been failed attempts to find her a suitable companion, and another foster-stay had ended in disappointment all around when Ellie's love for Sassy turned violently possessive. However, we knew that our flock would not be complete until we had another avian member and we wanted so much for Ellie to have a companion to play with while Kaisa and I are at work, so we pressed forward.

The first day we met Mogwai we had overlooked him in our rounds through the room introducing Ellie to various birds, while she completely ignored most of the birds, harassed a few others and sent others into hiding from her overzealous affections. A MAARS volunteer turned our attention to Mogwai and asked if he had been introduced to Ellie. I had only glanced at the mostly plucked Hahn's Macaw in his solo cage — at first glance I had mistaken him for Sparky, who had most certainly not meshed well with Ellie. On a closer look, however, we saw that we had been mistaken.

While Ellie seemed interested and a little friendly toward him, she was not showing her customary over-zealous infatuation, which had lead to violence in the past. Things progressed well from there; we continued to visit Mogwai at least once per week. And so, near the end of Advent, as we awaited the celebration of a miraculous birth, we welcomed Mogwai into our home.

Ellie (right) became anxious when Mogwai plucked his own feathers, but Mogwai remained aloof for some time to her vigilant attempts at friendship.

Ellie (right) became anxious when Mogwai plucked his own feathers, but Mogwai remained aloof for some time to her vigilant attempts at friendship.

He settled into our day-to-day life smoothly and Kaisa and I felt that this was the one. Still Mogwai was feather-plucking, which injured himself and caused sorrow for the household. Poor Ellie seemed distressed that she didn't know how to save her friend from himself. She had taken to squawking loudly when he plucked, which alerted me to go give him kisses and attempt to distract him from his self-destruction. At night I cringed each time I heard a particular yelp of pain from Mogwai, which was an indication that he had injured himself once more. There were times that I did not think I could bear it anymore and was racked with guilt over being unable to make Mogwai happy enough to stop his destructive behavior.

There were moments of frustration between the birds, as Ellie's love for Mogwai grew. Ellie became more and more insistent on sitting next to Mogwai at all times. Mogwai, while he did not seem particularly angry or scared, understandably tried to get a little personal space, which Ellie didn't take terribly well. In order to reduce stress for him, Kaisa and I used a couple of tactics. First, had tried to impress upon Ellie from the start that when Mogwai decides to climb into his cage, she cannot chase after him (he needs to have some personal space). Naturally, it took her quite a while to get used to this rule, but she came to understand, although in the first weeks she objected sharply and our hands bore the marks of her beak every time we pulled her out of Mogwai's cage.

We also worked on having one-on-one or two-on-one time with each of the birds. For example, sometimes Mogwai hung out in his cage while Ellie was out cuddling with me. The chance for my undivided attention was sufficient motivation to relinquish her constant supervision of Mogwai. At night, Kaisa and I put Ellie to bed at her regular time, but kept Mogwai up with us for a while so that we could hang out without Ellie constantly vying for attention, and he seemed quite content to "converse" with us, teaching us new macaw sounds and praising us when we got them right. This still remains a favorite activity of Mogwai's – we take turns imitating one another and Mogwai loves the opportunity to teach the members of his flock. Over time, he has displayed a number of delightful, and often surprising, sounds, and his "ruff" (accompanied by much head bobbing) has become a favorite with everyone.

Shortly after the New Year, Ellie (left) and Mogwai (right) had a breakthrough in their previously tentative relationship.

Shortly after the New Year, Ellie (left) and Mogwai (right) had a breakthrough in their previously tentative relationship.

On January 4, 2005, the birds had a breakthrough in their relationship. I got up from reading on the couch and as I turned I saw Ellie & Mogwai, who had been sitting behind me. Mogwai was resting comfortably and Ellie was carefully and thoroughly preening his head! I almost cried. It as one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen — outgoing, vivacious Ellie tending carefully to the pinfeathers of Mogwai, who has experienced such under-appreciation and loneliness in his life. Although most of his little body is plucked and bare, for that moment in time he seemed to know how beautiful he is, as Ellie lavished attention on the exquisite feathers that remain on his head, neck and wings.

This was a first for them. Mogwai tended to be a little jumpy and in the past he had been startled and somewhat alarmed by Ellie's attempts to preen him. It happened again the next night, and as Ellie preened him, Mogwai lifted one wing and placed it carefully over her, something that I have never witnessed before. This has since become a regular occurrence in our household, but still there are days when I stop what I am doing to drink in the beauty of the love that has blossomed under my roof.

Our home feels complete now, and at night, when Kaisa and I huddle together with the birds to give goodnight head scratches and kisses all around, the contentment in the air is almost palpable. When they have been put into the sleeping cage that they now share, with Ellie purring like a cat in a field of catnip, Ellie starts "tucking Mogwai in," making the same nighttime sounds for him that I have always made for her at the end of the day.

We still have our rough days, and Mogwai has not ceased his plucking. However, it has diminished. Through the winter we kept a humidifier on by the cage most of the time, so that his exposed skin would not get so dry and irritated and thus drive on his plucking. Nonetheless, we are working to come to terms with the fact that this behavior has become so firmly established that it may never fully stop. So, we rejoice over each new feather and praise him for his beauty. Learning to preen Ellie has also given him practice that he is learning to apply to himself. At first, he was so out of practice that he would pull too hard on Ellie's feathers, which obviously upset them both. But Ellie seems to understand the importance of being patient with him, and that trust has boosted Mogwai's confidence.

Ellie (left) and Mogwai (right) are now trusting friends.

Ellie (left) and Mogwai (right) are now trusting friends.

This willingness to take risks in the pursuit of love has been most rewarding aspect having Mogwai in our home. He is an inspiration to me and his ability to forgive the human race is something that I am not sure I could duplicate were I in his position. The very people who had been blessed with the responsibility of keeping this beautiful creature safe and happy had betrayed his trust more than once. As he moved from home to home, feeling the sting of abandonment and rejection, he still held onto his yearning for a forever flock. His vulnerability in asking for love from us is sometimes overwhelming to me. For all the joy he has found in our home, from our human and avian flock, it can never measure up to the gift that we have received from him. As he learns to take care of himself, how to preen instead of pluck, to gently tend Ellie's pinfeathers, to snuggle and give kisses to us, we learn the power of hope that any creature can find love.

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