The Indestructable Mr. Zippers

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Last Sunday we noticed that Cynthia’s Quaker Parrot, Mr. Zippers, was acting strangely. He was not eating his favorite breakfast treats (Cheerios, or as we call them “Zippy-O’s”) and he was very lethargic.

His condition seemed to worsen as the day went on so I called the vet to see if they could see Mr. Zippers that day and they got us in around 3:00 pm.

The doctor on duty said that they would run some tests and keep the bird overnight. The next day the doctor called and said that the ultrasound showed his liver was abnormally large but detected nothing abnormal in his blood and fecal tests. He was still not eating and was being tube fed to make sure he stayed nourished.

I called Tuesday and the doctor said there was no real improvement but suggested they keep him for observation for a few days. She said it could be a tumor and that they could do a biopsy. I said “no thanks” as it seemed too extreme. I talked with Cynthia and we both agreed that Mr. Zippers should not suffer and she asked that I call the doctor to discuss options.

When I called on Wednesday there was a different doctor on duty and he sounded more optimistic. He said it looked like Mr. Zippers liver had shut down due to some event or another, but that he thought given a few days he might turn around but that there was no way to tell for sure.

I told the doctor to keep going and called Cynthia who by this point had resigned herself to the fact that Mr. Zippers was gone. I explained that I had not pulled the plug yet and gave her all the encouragement the doctor had given me.

On Thursday I called to check in and there was a THIRD doctor. She said that while she had not seen his condition previously that he did seem “feisty” and may have actually eaten a little food on his own. On top of that she indicated that Mr. Zippers managed to bite her pretty good. To me, this was very encouraging and when I told Cynthia that Mr. Zippers had bitten the doctor she smiled for the first time all week.

On Friday when I called again, the doctor from Wednesday who seemed so encouraging was back on duty and he said things seemed to be turning in Mr. Zippers favor and he thought we could pick the bird up on Sunday. He explained that while Mr. Zippers was not eating a whole lot, he was eating on his own and hoped that by sending him home he might get his appetite back.

We thought maybe we were just giving him too many fatty treats, but the doctor said he thought the diet was fine and that something just triggered a shutdown of his liver.

Well, we picked him up Sunday afternoon and the doctor explained the situation and they showed us how to administer the medicine he needed and sent us home. When we took Mr. Zippers from the pet carrier and put him in his cage he fluttered his tail quite happily and proceeded to eat a Zippy-O.

As of now, he seems fine. I think he definitely cheated death and so does Cynthia. In fact, Cynthia wrote a poem commemorating the experience:

Zippy we thought you was a gonner
And that you was gonna die
But ya screwed up all your courage
And you beaked death in the eye!

Sounds a bit like a Rudyard Kipling poem, what with the colloquial styling and all. At any rate we are happy to have Mr. Zippers back home. A bit poorer, but happy. Dooley also seems happy to have his friend to talk to.

Don’t Peep In My Ear

The one time Dooley tends to get territorial is when it’s time to clean his cage. He just can’t seem to stand it when I put down fresh newspaper or wipe the cage skirt. He doesn’t mind coming close for tickles, treatums or scritchums but hates when he feels his precious filth is being violated.

And what does he do to display his displeasure? He makes what I call the “sonic peep”. It’s not whistle, not a hoot or any sound effect. It’s a high pitched, super short “peep” sound. Imagine the quick toot of a coaches whistle…in your ear.

Dooley has mastered the “sonic peep” and knows how to execute it for maximum pain. He moves to a spot in the cage that puts him as close as he can get and peeps directly into your ear when you are quiet and distracted. And boy does it hurt! And I am fairly sure Dooley knows it.

Early on I discovered that Dooley had three criteria for executing the sonic peep:

1. The distance between him and my ear had to the shortest it could be
2. It had to be quiet
3. No eye contact. It is always a surprise attack.

This has lead to the creation of the “Don’t peep in my ear” song which I sing while performing routine maintenance and cleaning on Dooley’s cage. I also eliminate the element of surprise by looking at him frequently.


Dooley was doing his irritating “hoot” thing from the other room that indicates he’s not getting the attention he feels he deserves.

Cynthia commented that Dooley was being a very bad bird as she does when Dooley gets like this.

I responded by saying “fine, I’ll get rid of Dooley” to which Cynthia replied “but you love Dooley!” and I said “Not anymore” and without missing a beat Dooley said “I love you” in the most pathetic and heartwarming way you could imagine.

I guess I’ll keep him awhile longer…

Alas, Poor Alex

Via the Alex Foundation

Gifted research parrot Alex found dead

WALTHAM, MA (SEPTEMBER 10, 2007)””Alex, the world renowned African Grey parrot made famous by the ground-breaking cognition and communication research conducted by Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., died at the age of 31 on September 6, 2007. Dr. Pepperberg’s pioneering research resulted in Alex learning elements of English speech to identify 50 different objects, 7 colors, 5 shapes, quantities up to and including 6 and a zero-like concept. He used phrases such as “I want X” and “Wanna go Y”, where X and Y were appropriate object and location labels. He acquired concepts of categories, bigger and smaller, same-different, and absence. Alex combined his labels to identify, request, refuse, and categorize more than 100 different items demonstrating a level and scope of cognitive abilities never expected in an avian species. Pepperberg says that Alex showed the emotional equivalent of a 2 year-old child and intellectual equivalent of a 5 year-old. Her research with Alex shattered the generally held notion that parrots are only capable of mindless vocal mimicry.

read more

Alex was an amazing African Gray Parrot who may have even understood the mathmatical concept of zero

Dooley News

We have been working on teaching Dooley to say
Dooley’s a bad bird, Dooley’s in biiiiiiiiiiiig trouble

The emphasis has been on the word “big” which
we pronounce “beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeg”

Dooley has mastered the first part. Previously he’s been able
to say his name and “I’m a bad bad birdy” so it’s come
pretty easy. Also, he’s nailed “beeeeeeeeeeeg” and loves
that word.

The part he’s struggling with is the word “trouble

When this happens he uses other words he already knows in
an effort to figure out how to say the new word.

This has resulted in the following:

Beeeeeeeeeeeeeg Cynthia!
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeg Zippers!
Tickle the beeeeeeeeeeeeeeg bad birdy!
I’m a beeeeeeeeeeeeeg bird”
Beeeeeeeeeeeeeg …. BUB!
Jingle bad beeeeeeeeeeeeeeg!

Al lthis and endless repetitions of
Beeeeeeg! Beeeeeeg! Beeeeeeg! Beeeeeeg!

He’ll get there. I just heard something that sounded like
the word “trouble” … it’s just a matter of time.

In other Dooley news there’s been a development
that’s not so pleasant.

Dooley is prone to a repetitive hooting when we leave the room
where his cage resides. It can sometimes get very insistent and
is quickly very irritating. The only remedy is to either go back in
the room or cover his cage.

Over the last few mornings there has been a hooting sound that
is just like Dooley’s but comes from the tree in the front yard. It
seems that there’s a mockingbird who loves that sound and has
been hooting on several mornings over the past few weeks.
The problem is that nothing shuts up the bird in the front yard.
Fortunately he’s only been going off in the morning as we are
headed to work.