Strength and Balance

Again, this was another trial and error process.  Ethel was unable to perch on most perches.  However, I did find that she had a better hold on the bottle brush perches.  So, I bought different sizes in order to get her to use her feet and work on her strength and dexterity.  The all started low because she was weak and unsteady on her feet…but within a month or so they were being moved up little by little.  I also found swing perches amazing!  She loved it.  Oh she would fall!  BUT she loved that perch so much she kept trying..which was a godsend!  It forced her to use different muscles in her legs and concentrate even more on her balance…and soon…believe it or not…she was swinging on it..not like most birds…not back and forth…but from side to side..another muscle strengthener!  Hooray!  I know it sounds funny…but I really believe that Ethel challenged herself more than I challenged her!  She had a will and determination that I fail to see in most people around me.

It makes me laugh when people tell me that I did something wonderful by bringing her where she is today.  I really didn’t do it. Ethel did.  She wanted to learn.  She wanted to break out of that shell..and she her own her own way.  I simply gave her a few tools to do that.

Through the months I found that Ethel also responded to music..whether it was me singing or the widow literally brought her out of the fog that she had been in.  She became more responsive…more alert.  To this day..Ethel still has a radio playing all day in the bird room.

Today…Ethel is a loving…strong-willed…and yes, slightly spoiled…mature macaw!  Unless I told you what to look for – you wouldn’t know she was any different from any other four year old macaw.  Yes…sometimes I have to remind her to open her right talon…but she does…and it’s as strong as the other.  BUT other than that…she is a macaw who will scream without her bananas on her chop, protest when I put her on her tree (she would rather me carry her around everywhere), and when mad….believe it or starts with toe tapping on her cage…when that’s ignored…it’s a full protest of swinging from the top of her cage while yelling for me.

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Teaching Ethel to Eat…

I just realized the my first post made it sound like I went in to the store and asked to take Ethel home..and poof that was it..home she went.  That’s not really how it happened.  I told one of the store owners that I needed two weeks to learn how to hand feed her.  I wasn’t going to take her home and risk aspirating her with her first feeding.  He the staff set out teaching me how to syringe feed her.  I can’t tell you how nervous I was.  I stayed nervous for a very long time.  I also took that two weeks to research or try to find stories like Ethel’s…to no avail.  Nothing fit her symptoms and the wide range of problems she had.  BUT I was determined and I hoped she was too…and lucky for me…she was.

The research did bring to light how important nutrition was for a bird.  I mean I always knew that they needed a balanced diet, but I didn’t realize that if they were not getting the nutrition they needed that they could very well revert back to baby stages.  So my first undertaking was to actually increase rather than decrease her handfeedings when she came home.  If nothing else, I wanted her strong and she needed the extra nutrition to do that.  I kept her at two feedings a day but increased the amount of food she was getting.  Within a week I noticed that she was getting at least slightly stronger. She still favored her left side, had no balance and and continued to act like a baby..but she was getting stronger!

If you find yourself in a position where you need to hand feed a bird, there are many handfeeding formulas out there.   I used Zupreme Embrace with Ethel.  There are quite a few places on the internet that sell syringes.  Syringes are hit and miss. I ordered several different types of syringes until I found one I was comfortable with.  Some people may want decide to spoon feed their bird..that’s great too!  If you have never hand-fed before, I do suggest either asking an avian vet, a breeder or even a bird store to show you how and to keep going back until you are comfortable with it.


Once Ethel was a bit stronger, I experimented with different soft foods…from baby food to chop to soaked pellets.  It took weeks before I found something Ethel was interested in enough to attempt eating it on her own.  It was bananas!  Ethel loved bananas!  Bananas became the key to getting her to try other foods.  I went from putting bananas on the top of different foods, to putting them in the middle…she could see them BUT not eat them without getting some of the surrounding food.  It was during this time that I learned how to make chop.  If she was only eating small amounts, I was going to make sure that food was as healthy and nutritious as I could make it.

Within 6 months Ethel was eating soft foods and slowly being weaned from the syringe feedings and within 8 months..she was eating seed!  It took time, patience and a whole lot of experimenting but she did it!  She came out the other end of that hurdle and she would many more to come!  She was a determined.

Ethel was 26 months old before she was weaned.  But weaned she was!

Life with Ethel

I first met Ethel in the bird store that I frequent.  She was on a perch..bobbing, flapping and making baby noises.  When I asked about her, I found out that she was 1.5 years old and still being hand fed!  No one was sure what was going on with her.  Blood work and tests had been done..and they all came back negative.  The consensus was that she had had a baby stroke. From first glance to this day, I do not disagree.  Some of her symptoms were much like those of a human who had suffered a stroke.  She favored one side, had no strength and no balance.  Needless to say, after some sole searching, I went back and asked them to allow me to take her home and work with her…and they did..and Ethel has been with me ever since.  This blog is about my life with Ethel as well as my other special needs birds.  I will talk about what helped them and/or what didn’t.  It has been a learning experience and I hope that the knowledge I have gained will help others in similar circumstances.

I have a sister website as well as a sister facebook and twitter page to this blog.

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I would love to hear from others who have special needs birds and who have found solutions that others may not have discovered yet.  I do have a page on the above website for “Special Stories,”  if you would like to share, I would love to add your bird and your experiences.  Please let me know.

More importantly, if you are someone whose bird has suddenly had to face a disability or a change, please know it is not the end..these babies overcome…they learn and they have a strong will to survive.  The way they do things may change, BUT they do figure out a way to live with their disability and they live long, healthy lives.  Where there’s hope..there’s a way.