A Growing Passion

January 3, 2011 was just like any other morning—except for one key difference. It was the morning I would travel into the city to get my long-awaited, desperately desired, handraised Green-cheeked Conure.

It was end-of-year school holidays and for weeks I had been ringing around pet shops and breeders searching for a young, handraised, preferably male, Green-cheeked Conure—the one bird I had finally convinced my Mum (after about two years of begging) to allow me to keep. I had already purchased a large new cage with all sorts of fancy features and it was set up, all ready for its new occupant. My search finally came to an end when I rang the bird shop, Birdsville in Rosebery, which had two Green-cheeks left of unknown sex. After all the previous disappointing dead-ends, I decided to take a chance on the gender. I couldn’t wait any longer.

With a small bird cage in hand, I walked to the station and caught a train into the city where my Dad picked me up and we drove to the shop—an effort of travelling I would do for no other occasion but this! At the shop there were so many birds I could hardly believe my eyes! Rainbow Lorikeets, Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, lories of all varieties, Eclectus Parrots, Corellas, Cockatiels, a small lorikeet (which I had never seen before) and of course, the two Green-cheeked Conures. After some discussion with a young man (who didn’t even work there), I was advised on the smaller of the two birds, which was probably younger, and all of a sudden I found myself the brand new owner of a Green-cheeked Conure.

I decided to name him Phoenix, although ‘he’ became known as Nicky. He settled in extremely well and by the second day he was busting to come out and play. He was beautiful, with emerald green feathers on his back and wings, tail feathers of crimson, barred grey on his breast feathers, stunning blue primary flight feathers (sadly cut short) and the most intelligent-looking eyes I had ever seen in a bird, rimmed with white and constantly surveying his surroundings.
For months I had been researching parrot training, proper care and feeding, but I was still terrified something would go wrong or I would make a mistake in training and ‘ruin’ him. I have kept many birds before, primarily budgies, chickens and quail, but had never had much of a go at proper training.
  Nicky, a handraised pet Green-cheeked Conure

After meeting all the family (even my usually disinterested older brother, who found him to be quite a character) Nicky was comfortable enough to go from person to person and get used to them all. I even had a few friends over to meet him, and he was almost too trusting.

Feeding

Although I thought I would be ready for it, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the full extent of Nicky’s voice, which rang out in high-pitched screeches and squeals at all times of the day when he was left in his cage. I had the rest of the holidays to bond with him, and every morning I would get up, uncover his cage, remove his seed, water and fruit bowls and prepare his meals, which included slicing up a range of fruit and vegetables such as carrots, corn, peas, round beans, mung bean sprouts, broccoli, snow pea sprouts, apple, strawberries, apricot, grapes, banana and a variety of nuts and dried fruit. It’s amazing to have an animal that tries a piece of everything he is offered! I’m a little ashamed to say he eats better than I do…

Training

The seed I buy for him has sunflower seeds spread throughout the mix which I have to painstakingly remove each time to prevent him from solely eating them from the mix, and also to use as treats for training.

With a clicker in hand, Nicky’s training began well, as I tried a few basic things such as waving, which he mastered with ease—to this day he seems to think it will get him a little piece of whatever you happen to be eating. I was amazed when, after about two days of training, I had him turning circles on his perch on cue and even pooping whenever I took him to his stand! He is the most intelligent pet I’ve ever had. His repertoire has since included lying on his back in my hand, head-bobbing on cue and retrieving a variety of objects such as bottle caps, pen lids, pens, chocolate wrappers, paper clips, bobby pins and coins—I toss them away and when told to ‘fetch’ he runs over to them, picks them up and brings them straight back to my hand, or puts them in a bowl when I tap it. He seems to not only love the amount of sunflower seeds he gets in reward, but also the attention and head scratches I give him for doing such a good job.

General Husbandry

Although I am in my final year of high school and have found myself to be extremely busy and preoccupied with school work and study, I must still find time for my Nicky. Though mornings are rushed, I still prepare his meals every day and make sure his toys are rotated. He has various natural objects to investigate, fresh native branches and the radio is left on.
I hear him screeching whenever I put the key in the door, and I am touched at how he misses me. I clean his cage every weekend and he receives the option of a bath whenever the weather is good outside and he can dry off in the sun. After saturating himself in a bowl in the sink, he waits expectantly for me to lift him out and take him outside where we sit in the sun and he fluffs and preens himself dry. He loves to play on small tree branches outside and enjoys tearing and shredding the bark off and continuously climbing. Although some of his blue primary feathers have grown back, he cannot fly and it’s safe to take him outside.

Bird Therapy

Though I already knew how amazing Nicky was, he now acts as an unofficial therapy bird to an old couple my family knows who love birds as much as myself and used to own a Cockatiel. The husband Peter has early Alzheimer’s but you wouldn’t know it the way his face lights up when he sees Nicky. As my bird clambers over him, nibbling on his clothes and rubbing his face close to Peter’s, I can’t help but smile.

I love to have Nicky out in my room when I am studying because he is such a great distraction and always puts a smile on my face when he takes a chomp out of my notes. I even had him out at my 18th birthday party to get him used to lots of people and it didn’t phase him one bit. He jumped from person to person, performed his tricks (much to everyone’s amazement) and got his picture taken a number of times. He is forever investigating and loves to visit my budgies, who live outside in the small aviary I built for them from an old cupboard. He has also met my chickens (at a distance) who seemed to be more afraid of him than he was of them!

Conclusion

I don’t think I realised my true passion for birds and bird keeping until Nicky came into my life, and I decided to dedicate my visual art major work at school to him and the concept of his captivity. Although I have had him for less than a year, Nicky has already become such an important part of my life and my family.

Like everyone, he has his bad habits such as noise and biting (though sometimes deserved), but we are working on them. I regret not being able to take him with me everywhere I go, but I know he will be waiting for me at home, eager to come out and play. As%2