herald

Monday 20 August 2018

Who's a lucky boy, then?

For a few anxious moments it looked like curtains for sierra when a peanut became lodged in his throat and he had to be rushed to theatre . . .

Sierra is a magnificent parrot. He's a popular and striking bird, with bright colours and long tail feathers. He's the resident bird at a hotel complex where I stayed while at the biggest veterinary conference in the world, which is held in Florida every January.

Sierra has three cages and he moves from one to the other at different times of the day. His main daytime perch is in, or on, a poolside cage. He likes to keep an eye on visitors in the swimming pool, saying hello in his broad southern States accent, or just screeching at them as they pass by.

His second cage is indoors, by the hotel reception. If it's raining or windy, this is where Sierra prefers to stay. His third cage is his night-time base, where he's taken to sleep at the end of the day. This cage is his "snug", and he even has his own bed-side sound system. A specially designed mini-stereo has been set up for him, playing sounds of the rainforest, complete with bird calls, frog croaks and cricket song. This type of background noise is recommended by parrot behaviour specialists, to create a reassuring relaxing atmosphere for a tropical bird like Sierra. He was bred in captivity, so he has never known about life in the wild, but the noises from his ancestors' habitat still have a soothing effect on him.

Parrots can be sensitive birds, and Sierra's owners take his health seriously. He's taken to visit a specialist avian vet every three months for a general health check, even though he always seems to be in sparkling good health. He has his nails clipped, his beak checked and he has his wing feathers trimmed so that he cannot fly too far. If this was not done, there'd be a risk that he'd fly away from home, and he wouldn't be able to survive in the wild in Florida. There are numerous raptor eagles and buzzards, and he'd be unable to take care of himself.

Every six months, the vet collects blood and droppings from Sierra to screen for parasites and any other signs of disease.

These "wellness" checks ensure that any health problem would be spotted in the earliest stages.





He did have one serious health crisis when he was a young bird, and it almost killed him. He swallowed a whole peanut, shell and all, and it became lodged half way down his gullet. At first, nobody knew what was wrong with him; one morning, he suddenly seemed dull and quiet, with difficulty breathing.

He was rushed to the vet, and major emergency surgery was needed to save his life. He made a full recovery, but he still has scar tissue on the left side of his throat; if you look closely, the feathers in this area are grey and sparse.

After the peanut incident, Sierra was put on to a special type of pelleted food, designed to be safe and complete for parrots. He still gets occasional treats, such as grapes or other pieces of fruit. To add a little extra spice to his diet, he also gets a specially designed parrot treat known as 'Hot Pepper Bird Bread'; it sounds strange to us, but for a bird that eats all sorts of tropical fruits and vegetables in the wild, it's very appropriate. Sierra seems like a happy bird.

He enjoys eating his specialised diet and it's easy to see from looking at him that he's in optimal health.

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