One day I got a call from the zoo asking whether I’d be interested in trying to rehabilitate a cockatoo. This bird was 14 years old and had been surrendered to the zoo by her owner, who just couldn’t handle her any more. For some reason this parrot had been mutilating herself for years, and her owner had reached the end of her tether. As the zoo had neither the time nor the resources to care for the bird, (she ate a huge hole in her chest which required some major stitching whilst in the zoo’s hospital wing), it was decided that it would be kindest to euthenase her. However, one of the medical staff knew of me and how I had been taking in orphaned and damaged birds since I was knee high to a cricket, and contacted me to see whether I was up to the challenge. I knew absolutely nothing about cockatoos, having never had one before, so of course I said Yes, I’d love to take on the bird.
With all the paper work duly completed, I was allowed to go and see my new pet for the first time. She is a Medium Sulpher Crested Cockatoo, a bird that originated in Indonesia. (as opposed to the Sulpher Crested and Lesser Sulpher Crested Cockatoos that come from Australia). What a bedraggled specimen she turned out to be!! She had eaten a nice big hole in her chest, which looked pretty gory. Her flight feathers on both wings had been hacked off by her previous owner, and her overall appearance was one of neglect and disinterest in life.
The first thing I had to do was to take her to a specialist avian veterinarian to have her wound stitched closed. In order to prevent her from being able to pull her stitches out, the veterinarian, Dr Chris Kingsley, encased her neck in a pool noodle(*1) strapped on with surgical bandage. This allowed her to eat and drink, but she couldn’t get her beak anywhere near her chest or stomach area. Unlike the Elizabethan collar, the noodle also allowed her full vision, which is a huge thing for animal that is predated upon. For weeks we had been playing around with names that we could call her, and nothing really sounded right. (My mother suggested “Plucky”). But now that her dreadful wound was closed and she had her neck encased in bandage, there was only one name for her – Noodle!!
I had been warned by everyone that she had an incredibly dangerous bite and that we must watch out for her taking a chunk out of us. With some trepidation I took my now drowsy parrot back home to the lovely inside aviary that I had bought for her. She was very subdued for the first few weeks. No doubt all the strange happenings had taken their toll. On top of that she was frightened of dogs, of which we had eleven. After a while she started to explore her new environment, and once she had come to terms with the room she was living in, she decided it was time to remove her noodle. Every day she assiduously chomped another bit of foam out from under the bandage. Of course the day came when she was once again able to reach her breastbone, and sure enough, she took some more flesh out of herself. So it was back to the vet for more stitches and another noodle. She did this a few times, and I have to tell you it is the most awful thing watching a bird tear its own flesh from its body, crying with pain as it does it. I was very traumatised with the whole experience, and eventually agreed to let the vet keep the bird for a few weeks. When I got her back, I felt much more relaxed, although for about six months we had to file her beak weekly and her nails fortnightly, so as the lessen the damage she could do to herself. This proved to be very traumatic for both parties, but at least it stopped the lacerations. I had purchased another aviary and had set it up alongside the other outdoor aviaries. As soon as the weather warmed up Noodle was carefully wrapped in a towel and carried outside every morning and let go in her own personal aviary. There she could see and interact with the other birds, but no-one could get to her. And every evening she was carried back to her inside aviary to sleep. Now she is confident enough to climb on to your hand or shoulder and can be carried about anywhere.
Before getting Noodle, I’d done some research in to cockatoos, as I needed to know a bit about their behavioural problems, characteristics, likes and dislikes, etc. I discovered that I was very lucky indeed that the bird I had been offered was a Medium Sulpher Crested Cockatoo. Apparently of all the cockatoos in the world, this one has the least offensive shriek. The noise that a Moloccun cockatoo makes, on the other hand, exceeds the decibel range of a 747 jumbo jet taking off!!!
The major contributors to behavioural problems in cockatoos include:
Offensive odours – particularly cigarette or tobacco smoke
Lack of adequate stimulation
Boredom and/or loneliness
Badly cut wings
Fear of something in the environment (e.g. a cat or dog)
Not knowing anything about her previous home, I decided to attack all fronts at once. No-one in the house smokes, so that solved problem number one. I bought lots of toys for her, which she regarded with horror and kept well away from. Perhaps she’d never been given a toy before? A parrots’ diet contains mainly fruit and vegetables, so her access to sunflower seed was abruptly curtailed. She now gets fruit and vegetables during the day and dry food (a propriety brand mix) at night. I refused to believe that she was vicious, and so began to handle her. Every day she comes in to the lounge on her own for some quality time. She runs along the floor and over the couches, burrows under jackets and generally makes a pest of herself.
Her wings were allowed to grow out completely (this against all advise from the specialists), and although she now can, she still lacks the confidence to fly. Occasionally she will get caught in an updraft and have to flap her wings to prevent a crash, but in the main she still walks around. She is now happy to jump from branch to branch or sofa to shoulder.
Noodle has been part of the family for over a year now. She still likes to peck little holes in herself, but these are not noticeable unless you part the feathers and look closely at her flesh. One of my medical friends likened this to the thumb sucking of children. She makes certain noises when she wants attention, and gets daily one-on-one time with a human, either inside the house or walking around the garden. She has become the most affectionate and loving pet anyone could wish for. I thank her daily for the pleasure she gives me, and for what she has taught me.
(*1) Pool Noodle – a spaghetti looking piece of foam used to keep children afloat in a pool.