A Three-Can Moving Day

Hi everyone! Paco Taco here.

Paco the Toco toucan

I’m sure you’ve already heard the news but just in case, here it is…. we moved!! All of us – me, Paz, Pepe, David, and the Toucan Lady. It was a big day for us so I thought I’d share some of the details and the Toucan Lady took plenty of pictures (of course – seriously, her and that iPhone!) for me to include. So here goes!

For the whole week, the Toucan Lady (aka Chrissann, aka my BFF, aka my mate, aka my love, aka my One and Only…) kept telling us something but we weren’t sure exactly what. My Humanese is much better than Paz and Pepe (because I am the bestest!) but even I wasn’t 100% sure what she was trying to say. But I knew it was important. So when that morning came and she put Paz and Pepe into their crates, I knew that this must be what she had been talking about. We were going somewhere! I didn’t know if it was just inside the house or if it was far, but I didn’t want to miss out so I hopped right into my backpack and was super duper excited to find out what was happening next.

toucan moving day 1

After me, Paz, and the Pepster were all together, we got into the boat. We were going on a boat ride! Paz was definitely skeptical and Pepe was suspicious but the Toucan Lady sat right next to us, so I wasn’t really that afraid because I am the bravest. I still croaked loud a couple of times to make sure every other boat we passed by knew I was on the boat but also because my voice is amazing. And when I croak, it makes Pepe croak, and that makes me feel powerful. Mwahaha!

Bye bye, Saba Rock!

toucan moving day 2

Here’s another one of me – I’m on a boat!!

toucan moving day 3

Once the boat stopped, David and another friend put Paz and Pepe into the back of a truck because their crates are too big for the car. David sat in the back with them so they wouldn’t be too scared and to make sure they were safe. I’ll admit it – he’s a pretty nice guy – so long as he’s clear that the Toucan Lady is MINE.

toucan moving day 5

I got to ride in the car with the Toucan Lady because I get hot in my backpack and, you know, because I’m awesome.

Shotgun!

toucan moving day 6

The car ride was something new for me. I’ve never really seen one before (at least from what I can remember) but there was air in my face and it felt good. And out the window, I saw cows, sheep, people, and lots of ocean.

Look at those sheep!

toucan moving day 7

I watched Paz and Pepe and David too – they were in front of us the whole time.

We flock together :)

toucan moving day 8

The car ride wasn’t that long and before I knew it, the Toucan Lady let me out of my backpack into what she said was my new house! All mine! It’s much bigger than my old house and it feels like I’m in the jungle!! Plus, my favorite rope perches were there, my swing was in there, a big bowl of papaya (my fav!) was there, and even my favorite toys were there!! And it’s so quiet here – no more tourists!

Check it out – that’s me!!

toucan moving day 9

The Pepster lives right next door, just like before, which is fun so we can still talk to each other and show off our toys to each other. He told me that he was happy to have the same special floor like he had before, so he doesn’t fall down and hurt himself. Plus, he even got some slightly higher perches because he’s getting better at not falling as much.

Here’s Mr. Pepe’s house!

.toucan moving day 10

Paz also lives next door to me and Pepe and has the same size house as me! She was REALLY excited to have more space, flying everywhere and playing on her swing (she’s obsessed with that thing!). Paz seems like she’s the happiest of us all because all the people, kites, and boats at our last home made her nervous. She doesn’t sound off her croak alarm much anymore and has been more confident than ever!

Look how happy Paz is! Almost as happy as me!!

toucan moving day 11

The best part of our new house is that our new aviaries get lots more sunshine and we LOVE to sunbathe. We have been really busy zoning out in the sun and all this writing is keeping me from it, so I really should get back to it…

toucan moving day 12

I hope you all liked the pictures – we just LOVE our new home!!

xo, Paco Taco

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Housing your Pets in a Public Space

The Three-Cans, David, and I are moving off of the little rock we’ve called home for the last few years and onto a slightly bigger rock (island) just a short boat ride away. We’re excited for our move for many reasons, a big one being that we will now be housing Paco, Paz, and Pepe out of the public eye and in our own private space.

When we adopted the Three-Cans two years ago, we made the decision to build their aviaries in the tropical garden of the resort we reside on. David manages the island, which is why we have lived on-property for the past few years. We did not have the space necessary to house the birds in our private apartment, so the resort’s owner kindly allowed us to build their enclosures outdoors. It seemed like the perfect solution for everyone – we had an unbelievably beautiful spot for the toucans to live and the resort got a new attraction for the tourists to enjoy.

Toucanland aviaries

Unfortunately, having not been in this type of situation before, there was a lot I failed to consider about this opportunity. And I can honestly say now that if I had really understood all it would entail, I would never have chosen this for us humans or the birds.

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful or overly negative. We have so much appreciation for the resort and its owner for accommodating the Three-Cans on this little rock for the past two years. But because one of my main goals with this website is to share what I learn with others, I figured I’d list out some of the challenges associated with housing your pets in a public space, should anyone be considering it or be curious as to some of the reasons why I do not recommend it and therefore will never do it again.

DISRESPECTFUL PEOPLE

I have been truly shocked by the behavior of my fellow human beings throughout this experience. We built a rail around the aviaries in hopes that it would keep people a safe distance away from the enclosures, but it is nowhere near enough. It is a perpetual source of stress for me, as I am constantly having to police the area (I can watch over the aviaries from my kitchen window) for people harassing the birds. I can never go out for the day without being worried about what is happening in my absence.

people visiting the toucans

I have been absolutely stunned to witness people screaming/yelling obnoxious sounds at them, throwing things at them (rocks, big almond pods from our tree, orange peels from their drinks, etc.), shoving their cameras and flashes in the Cans’ faces, smoking, and crawling over the rails to further harass the birds by pounding on their aviary walls and sticking things like straws through the wire. It is not just unsupervised children either (though they are the bane of my current existence) but adults of all backgrounds and ages, teenagers, you name it.

PET SAFETY

Do Not Feed the Birds

Besides harassing and frightening the birds, my biggest concern is keeping people from feeding them/giving them hazardous and poisonous items. Toucans have very specific diets and can get sick very easily if fed the wrong thing. They also have a tendency to swallow anything small or interesting. If someone were to give them something dangerous (ie. nails, screws, candy wrappers, mints/gum, straws, chapstick, etc.) they could choke and die. We have signs asking people not to feed the birds, but that doesn’t stop them from trying at times. As much as I try to guard the birds, I still find orange peels, straws, maraschino cherries, chips, and the like around their aviaries. This is why they have moats and high walls around the animals at zoos – it’s not the people they are protecting but the animals from the people.

LACK OF PRIVACY

I never realized how much I value my privacy until I had none. Every time I go out to care for the birds – multiple times per day doing training, cleaning, feeding, and enrichment – I can never count on being peacefully alone with them. Tourists stroll up to the aviaries and want to chat and ask me a constant stream of questions, regardless of what other activity I am engaged in. Even the people who don’t wish to converse make me feel uncomfortable, just standing there staring at the Cans and, by association, me. I have come to understand and relate to the unengaged boredom zoo animals have with those who visit them.

on display

The lack of privacy is particularly challenging at times when you just want to focus on your interactions with the birds without distraction, such as during training sessions, vet appointments, and other emergencies. There are also plenty of times when you just want to take care of your birds without worrying if you look presentable or not. When I wake up the Three-Cans at 5:15 am in my PJs with no makeup on, it is really unpleasant to run into people – even more so when they want to engage you in conversation.

ANSWERING THE SAME QUESTIONS OVER AND OVER

I realize this sounds like a petty complaint, but I think it’s worth noting. In the beginning, I really enjoyed educating people about the toucans (at least those not asking the annoying questions I’ve come to loathe) but after two years of giving the same responses to the same questions each and every day so frequently, sometimes within minutes of my last response, over and over again, it gets tiresome. There are many times I wish I could hang a Do Not Disturb  sign off my neck just so I can stop playing the same sentences on repeat, as though I’ve been previously recorded like some animatronic version of myself.

in the aviaries

People generally tend to ask the same handful of questions (a lot of which are answered on the sign in front of them) and while their interest is piqued, mine has long waned as I drone on, repeating for the 718th time what the toucans eat. It’s not the fault of the curious onlooker, but more my decision to put my birds (and therefore, myself) in a public space, which means I can never enjoy my time with them alone. People think I’m a paid zookeeper, here to answer their every wondering, but I’m just a woman who wants to play with her birds over the next hour and a half without constant interruption and having to conduct conversations that exhaust me with their monotony.

DEALING WITH CRITICISM AND JUDGMENT

This has been a particularly difficult one for me and has unfortunately instilled a bit of a defensive edge to my demeanor when strangers approach me and start pummeling me with questions about the birds. I wrote a post on it awhile back called, If You Judge, Investigate  and I often wish I had a printed copy handy to thrust into people’s judgmental palms.

While I share these types of peoples’ sentiments in regards to not liking to see birds in cages, what I cannot justify is their immediate harsh criticism about a situation they know nothing about without doing the smallest bit of research (for example, reading the sign in front of them). I have had people condemn me out loud, directly in front of me, under the guise of explaining their position on people (in this case, me) keeping animals in captivity to their children: “Some people are just very selfish, sweetie, and take away animals’ freedom.” I have had plenty of people approach the aviaries and immediately say to me with unhidden disgust, “Don’t you even feel bad about what you’re doing to these animals?”

Pepe the Toucan

As someone who spends 5+ hours of my time each and every day, working hard to enrich the lives of these birds, this can be tough to take and, at times, downright infuriating. Yes, I do my best to explain to them the reality of the situation – I didn’t import them here, we adopted them out of a crappy setting; This is not their natural habitat and they unfortunately can’t be released – but it gets really old, really quickly having to defend myself so vehemently to people who have no clue. If they were truly animal/bird people, they could clearly see that these birds live in spacious, clean aviaries with tons of enrichment, including a caring human giving them loads of attention. These are not abused, neglected animals and it is upsetting to me having people suggest as much.

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Anyway, I do apologize for the trip to Negative Town! While this experience has not been entirely undesirable – I have been lucky to meet a few wonderful people while out at the aviaries – it is not something I will repeat again for all of the above reasons. It has really only been sustainable for this abbreviated stretch of time and we are all looking forward to moving on. We have great things ahead and lots to look forward to – privacy, bigger aviaries for each Can, and much more. I’ll still be posting daily on our Facebook page and here on the blog with new and interesting developments in our goofy toucan lives. Now – time to get packed!

Paco the Toucan's box

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Managing Mating Season Behaviors

It’s that time of the year again in Toucanland – the hormones are back and the Three-Cans have mating on their minds. I’ve been reading a lot lately from other bird owners about what a bad mating season it’s been for people: lots of stories of aggression and other hormonal behavioral issues that have bird owners pulling their own feathers (ok – hair) out. While not without its added annoyances, I feel grateful that we are not just surviving, but thriving, throughout this mating season.

Keep Calm & Love Toucans

In the spirit of collaboration, I’d thought I’d share some of my techniques in managing hormonal behaviors with our three Toco toucans that has led to less drama and more peaceful interactions in our lives. While there are some basic similarities, each of the Three-Cans has their own unique quirks that require training focus on my end to maintain a positive relationship with them.

First and foremost, we ensure we are setting our environment up for success by removing anything that will encourage or inspire mating behaviors – this includes reassessing the games we play with the Cans this time of year. Toys and games that are typically not a problem for us can increase aggression if we’re not careful.

big boxes are a "no-no" during mating season

big boxes are a “no-no” during mating season

In training, my favored approach in managing mating season behaviors is redirection. Rather than creating a negative experience for the bird by punishing its behavior (whether it be by yelling “no!”/”bad”, forcibly taking things away, etc.), I instead redirect the bird’s focus onto more positive pursuits. This often feels like you’re breaking a spell by snapping the bird out of its hormone-induced fog and back into normalcy. It truly feels like magic sometimes!

Here are some examples:

Paz, our female, becomes very pre-occupied with her desire to mate this time of the year and shows little interest in much else beyond trying to entice the boys with treats through her wall and emptying her toy containers in a nesting-like fashion. We are mindful to not provide her with toy containers (boxes, bags, baskets, etc.) that are too large or cavernous to further add to their nest potential in her eyes. Even still, she has a tendency to become very defensive over her toys, attempting to attack us at times when we need to move them or replace their contents.

Watch out for Ms. Paz

Watch out for Ms. Paz

In these moments, we divert her aggression by simply asking her to move away from the situation that is triggering her. I have target trained each of the Three-Cans and phased out the target stick long ago; now they understand that if I point to a spot and say “perch”, that is where they need to move to. When Paz gets combative with us for touching her toys, we target her to another perch (reward her), cue another learned behavior such as “spin” (reward her), and she calms back down and allows us to handle her toys without intrusion.

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Pepe can be very Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde during mating season. One moment, he’s as sweet as can be, taking treats and allowing me to kiss his beak and the next minute, he turns into his hormone-pumped alter ego, Little Dragon. While Little Dragon is still just as hilariously adorable as The Pepster (perhaps even more so in his tiny fury), Little Dragon is angry and wants to bite me.

catch makes Little Dragon disappear  :)

“catch” makes Little Dragon disappear :)

This mating season, Pepe tends to get very territorial and defensive of his food bowls with me. For reasons I have not been able to determine, Little Dragon always makes his appearance at the lunchtime feeding. In order for me to access Pepe’s food bowls, I must reach my arm into his enclosure and under the perch where he is typically always sitting when the door is open. Most of the time, this is a non-issue and I can reach around Pepe all I want without him making a fuss. But when Little Dragon is in full swing, he’s prepared to defend his bowls with a wild snapping beak. To avoid getting bitten and, more importantly, avoid reinforcing aggressive behavior, I redirect Little Dragon’s attention with a game of catch. By enticing him with his favorite activity, Pepe quickly snaps back to his old self, happily tossing his toys and allowing me to exchange his food bowls without incident.

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Paco, while typically our quietest Can, is much more croak-y during mating season, frequently calling out to me, his chosen”mate”, throughout the day. And while his croaks aren’t super loud like a parrot’s piercing screams, the monotony of it can still get aggravating, particularly because I am always worried that something is actually wrong. Most of the rest of the year, if the Cans are croaking, it’s because something (or someone) is upsetting them and I always go to check. However, during mating season, it is imperative that Paco doesn’t see me answering his call with my presence (read: rewarding him), which can increase both the frequency and the insistence of his croaking.

minding the croakster

minding the croakster

Beyond simply not rewarding it, the other way I minimize Paco’s increased croaking is by not encouraging any mating behaviors with me: I do not provide him with nest-like toys to “call” me to; I always redirect his advances and never allow him to hump me; I do not allow him to stick his head in my shirts (a nest-y behavior he tried to start this season); and I try not to encourage him feeding me.

A Toco toucan courtship behavior is passing food or other valued objects between their beaks. And while this is a toucan trait that I adore, it can get exhausting during mating season. This time of the year, Paco can get very insistent about wanting to give me things so I do my best to either ignore him (if I am outside of his aviary) or redirect his attention (if I am inside of his aviary).

offering me his blueberry

offering me his blueberry

When Paco wants to give me something, he will hold it in the tip of his beak and purr constantly until I take it from him. He then expectantly waits for me to give it back to him, so we can continue the courtship passing game. He can literally continue this for 20+ passes if I let him so to redirect his attention, I cue behaviors in between the passes and conduct an impromptu training session. Not only does this lower the number of repetitions in passing, but it re-focuses his mind on training and he’s learning much more quickly than usual due to the higher number of training sessions I’m able to sneak in. Win win!

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For me, I’ve found that the key to making it through mating season without damaging my relationship with my birds is to keep things focused on the positive and remain highly vigilant that I’m not reinforcing any negative behaviors that could potentially continue once mating season is over. While it’s not my favorite time of the year, mating season is made manageable with training and we all come out of it just as close, if not closer, than we were at the start of it.

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Focusing Paco’s Time Indoors on Positive Pursuits

Well, it’s finally happened. I knew this day would come and have been dreading it with nervous anticipation for awhile now. Paco has officially started to lose interest in most of his favorite things about the indoors. Suddenly, flying back and forth between the tops of the windows and pillow wrestling are not enough to hold his attention. Just as some of his most obsessed-over toys have lost their entertainment value – the slinky, the sponge, the Tiger Balm cap, (I could go on and on) – so has the everyday sameness of the indoors.

Paco the Toucan on the Couch

While I fully expected this transition to arrive, I wasn’t sure how long it would take and was hoping I could ride the novelty factor for as long as possible; especially since he only comes inside for a few hours at a time, a few days per week. However, toucans are so incredibly intelligent and boundlessly energetic, they tend to get bored of pretty much everything much more rapidly than your average bear.

Paco’s ease with the indoors has been a gradual one. Those of you who have been following our adventures from the beginning will remember how he used to be incredibly fearful of coming inside the house, I suspect because he had probably never been inside before in his life. But with time and training, we were able to overcome his fear together and replace it with a sense of wonder. If I really think about it, we’ve had a good run just exploring every little household item and its new-to-him-ness over this past year or so. Now, the things in the house that were once so full of intrigue have become mundane: the mirrors are now just mirrors, not another invading toucan in our midst; the pillows are still sort of fun to wrestle with, but because we’ve now determined that they’re not  monsters, they no longer need to be attacked with such vigor.

Paco the Toucan in the Mirror

Our house is not very big. We live in a two-bedroom apartment whose best feature is the bright turquoise sea that surrounds us and shines its way through every window. I would never dream of housing a toucan inside with us completely not only due to the lack of space, but more because I am finding out just how high-maintenance having a toucan share your living space can be. Now that Paco’s interest in his original keep-myself-busy-in-a-safe-way  activities has waned, he is looking for more and because “more” is not easily discovered, he’s starting to move on to a get-myself-into-trouble-in-places-I’m-not-supposed-to-be  phase. There are not many more obvious things left for him to explore on his own. And until we move house altogether someday, that leaves me to get creative and MAKE something else to explore.

Paco in the bookshelf 2

It is very important to me that the time Paco spends in the house is always associated positively in his mind. I want him to think of it as a fun, non-scary space that he looks forward to coming to. A big part of that is avoiding any punishers during his time inside, while still maintaining dependable obedience in the times it’s required to keep him safe. I strive to maintain a consistently positive reinforcement style of training, which means I don’t want to constantly be telling him “no!” or pushing him away from things I don’t want him to touch. So a big part of what I am working on now that he is in a bit more of a mischief-mode is setting the environment up for success.

Paco the Toucan foraging

My main strategies for keeping Paco out of trouble are redirection/distraction and removing troublesome stimuli altogether. For example, I have three small tabletop plants that would be unsafe and/or damaging to the plant if he were allowed to “play” with them; but of course, they are irresistible to him. So instead of testing his resolve each time he’s in the house and putting myself in a situation where I create a negative experience by scolding him away from them constantly, I simply move them out of his reach for the periods of time he is inside. The same is true for when he goes to places I don’t want him to be (ie. the stove-top, the floor, the desk). I am hyper-aware that I don’t reinforce/reward him in any way while he is there and am sure to give him big rewards (exuberant praise and/or treats) when he hops on my arm when asked away from those places.

Chrissann & Paco the Toucan

Redirecting his attention onto activities I have deemed suitable is by far the best way I have found to keep him out of toucan trouble-making. Here are some of the things that I am doing now to keep Paco safely entertained in the house:

FOCUS ON FORAGING

Prior to bringing Paco inside, I set the house up as a foraging zone for him. I hide toys in all of the places that I’d like him to focus his attention: behind the pillows and the couch cushions; on the tops of our two highest windows that he likes to sunbathe on; in the ceiling eaves; on top of the TV armoire; and on a couple of shelves that he can easily access without knocking everything down. This activity keeps him engaged in his surroundings and rewards him for spending time in the spots that I’ve pre-selected for him. Plus, as an added bonus, finding things on his own, rather than having them simply handed to him, has sparked a renewed interest in old toys previously shunned.

Here is a video of him in foraging action:

PLAYING HUMAN JUNGLE GYM ON THE FLOOR

I discovered while I was doing some quick yoga stretches with Paco in the house that my body, bent in two, apparently makes the ideal toucan jungle gym. Now one of Paco’s favorite activities is when I roll around on the floor with him, creating tunnels with my body for him to craw under and through. I think he would agree with John Mayer that My Body is a Wonderland.

Toucan on the floor playtime

Initially, I was worried about encouraging this activity because “No Toucans on the Floor” has always been a rule of mine. Paco has a tendency to want to attack feet and I have heard of unfortunate accidents of birds being tripped over while hanging out underfoot. However, I have instead used this game to reinforce Paco’s “up” behavior. When we’re playing on the floor, I will sporadically get up and cue him to come “up” onto my hand. When he complies, I reward him ecstatically and thus, the consistent obedience of this behavior has become even stronger than before.

BUILDING FORTS

Building Forts for Paco the Toucan

Paco has been really into crawling under and out of dark spaces lately. It’s not in a nesty way, but more out of a curious desire to explore the mysterious crevices of the house. Because he is not behaving hormonally when he’s doing it, I decided it was okay to encourage the behavior and create more opportunities for him to tunnel. Also, by creating safe tunneling options, I am able to redirect him away from spaces I don’t want him exploring such as underneath the couch. Besides striking the aforementioned yoga poses for him, I have also started building forts for him out of pillows and blankets.

Here is an example of one I made by simply draping a blanket over two chairs:

INVOLVING PACO IN HOUSEHOLD TASKS

Because he mostly only comes inside for a few hours at a time, I often leave most tasks to be accomplished for the times when I don’t have Paco in the house. Besides work on the computer which is in the same area that he plays, I leave myself free to give him my full supervision (and he needs it!). But lately, while searching for things to keep him occupied, I’ve started to integrate him as my “helper-can” in some basic household chores. Surprisingly, he has found some of these to be highly entertaining and it’s been easier than I thought to find him a role to play.

One of Paco’s current favorite chores is when he helps me water the plants. Splashing his beak in and out of the stream of water each time I fill the watering can and then chomping at the spout as we water the plants is an exciting purr-fest. He also enjoys attacking the paper towels and shredding them as I clean the mirrors and tabletops that he’s smeared with his papaya juiced beak. Lately, he also gets a big kick out of watching me chop vegetables in preparation for cooking dinner later, especially when he is given pieces to play with – chunky carrot sticks being a particular treasure.

Chrissann & Paco

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As with everything with these curious Three-Cans, I fully expect to have to keep creating new activities to keep Paco’s time in the house focused on positive pursuits. While it’s certainly a lot of effort, it is well worth it for him to be so enriched both mentally and physically. Our bond has continued to strengthen and it’s really amazing to see how much he trusts me as we explore new things together. At the end of a day inside, nothing is more rewarding to me than to watch my exhausted toucan head up to his sleeping perch a bit earlier than usual, tail up, ready for bedtime.

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The Toucan Lady Goes to Parrot School

~ scarlet macaw flight training

~ scarlet macaw flight training

I recently had the good fortune to be able to attend the annual Behavior Apps: Training with Art and Science Workshop for companion parrot owners at the Natural Encounters training facility in Florida. The course is designed to introduce you to the science of behavior and provide you with practical techniques of how you can apply it in training with your own pet birds. It was an incredible week that I am really excited to share with you, as it has left me feeling so inspired and much better equipped in my “work” with the Three-Cans.

I originally found Natural Encounters through some bird training articles I had read online that were written by the President, Steve Martin. Duly impressed, I added them to my list of training resources and began following the company on Facebook. Last July, they posted that they were accepting applications for the workshop (only 24 spots available!) and I applied on a hopeful whim, asking if there was any way I could attend even though I do not own parrots. Thankfully, they were not species-ist and were willing to allow in a toucan interloper into their parrot group. I would only later learn that the methods they were teaching are not just for parrots, but are applicable to every animal in the world – including humans!

~ Harpy eagle flight training

~ Harpy eagle flight training

I didn’t know exactly what to expect going into the workshop. I had read through the synopsis online and it sounded fantastic (obviously, the reason I applied in the first place!) but I had no idea how it would be structured. The course summary stated that the workshop was “under the leadership of Steve Martin and Dr. Susan Friedman”, so I went in hoping that I would get a chance to meet them, but understood that that might not be possible. I’ve been to plenty of events in the past that were advertised as such, discovering later that that simply meant that the leaders approved of and helped design the material being presented. Overall, I was just hoping to get a few useful take aways from the week, perhaps even a bit of hands-on training time.

~ Hyacinth macaw at Natural Encounters

~ Hyacinth macaw at Natural Encounters

I am delighted to say that my expectations were blown out of the water and the workshop ended up delivering so much more than I could have even anticipated. For starters, not only were both Steve and Susan present from the beginning at the kick-off ice breaker event, they were with our group throughout the entire workshop – lecturing, giving training demonstrations, and answering any and all questions our over-eager minds were dying to ask them.

I won’t reinvent the wheel, as you can find thorough bios for Steve Martin here and Dr. Susan Friedman here. However, I will say that one could not ask for better teachers. They are the top minds in their related fields, yet are so easy going and down to earth. Both are entertaining, dynamic teachers who make it clear from the get-go that the most important thing to them is that you understand – that means they welcome any comments, feedback, differing opinions, and questions about things that may be unclear to you. They have a unique way of making subjects that once seemed complicated and highly specialized into easily understandable “no brainers” that you can excitedly see immediate application for in your own life.

~ White-collared raven training

~ White-collared raven training

In line with the quality of leadership, the rest of the workshop was also a thoroughly organized, professional operation. The entire Natural Encounters team was committed to making sure we were getting the most out of our experience there. Virtually no time was wasted as they strived to make every moment count. Each day was separated into 4 hours of lecture time, 4 hours of hands-on training time with their birds, and applicable training reviews and demonstrations to help us anchor in what we had just learned.

~ training demonstration by Steve Martin

~ training demonstration by Steve Martin

From a very young age, I have always had an interest in animal training and behavior. However, I often found myself at odds with a lot of the training styles popularly available, especially those focused on dominating the animal and removing its ability to think and make its own choices. This was definitely what I loved most about Natural Encounters. Their entire philosophy is based upon empowering the animal and they see unprecedented results through their positive reinforcement training techniques. At no point do they force themselves upon their birds, always respecting the birds by waiting to be invited into their space. They place a high level of importance on building up your relationship account with any animal you choose to work with and completely avoid the use of common bird training methods that create trust deficits such as holding feet, training on small perches, and other mainstream techniques which take away a bird’s freedom to choose to interact with you or not.

~ Hyacinth macaw target training

~ Hyacinth macaw target training

While I got my fair share of hands-on parrot training time (mostly with an adorable Scarlet macaw named Earth), Steve was also kind enough to pair me with a Trumpeter hornbill named Neo as my main “challenge bird”. Hornbills are much more similar to toucans than parrots are in their movements, high-energy demeanor, and appetite. In the times that I was not directly training with Neo, I gleaned a lot through observational learning, watching my teammates as they trained their assigned birds – Blue-throated macaws, a Hyacinth macaw, and even our other team bird, an incredibly intelligent White-collared raven.

~ training with Neo the Trumpeter hornbill

~ training with Neo the Trumpeter hornbill

There were so many a-ha moments for me throughout the workshop but probably my biggest take-away would be what they refer to as antecedent arrangement, which essentially means setting your training environment up for success. A lot of the training roadblocks I have been experiencing back at home are largely due to me not setting myself (and the Three-Cans, for that matter) up to succeed by arranging a setting conducive to what I am attempting to train. Watching the professional trainers at Natural Encounters built my confidence back up. They weren’t performing magic; they were just highly in-tune with the training environment as it could be seen through their subject’s (the bird’s) perspective and always remained flexible to make adjustments as need be. Now that I am back home with the Cans, I have begun making small tweaks to our training environment and have already seen noticeable improvements in their levels of responsiveness. I look forward to sharing more details with you in future posts.

~ scarlet macaw scale training

~ scarlet macaw scale training

As if I wasn’t impressed enough with their conservation-minded operation, they also have an incredibly successful breeding program in place for the critically endangered Blue-throated macaws. They are to be releasing their first group back into the wild in Bolivia this year.

Blue-throated macaws at Natural Encounters

~ Blue-throated macaws

I highly recommend this workshop for anyone who has an interest in better understanding the animals in their life. It will make you see the world around you in a whole new light and offer an endless array of simple solutions to overcoming behavioral issues, great and small. Beyond the invaluable opportunity of learning from the best in the business, this workshop is also a fantastic value – I honestly can’t believe that they are able to offer it at the price they do; I felt like I should be paying more! Each day, they host breakfast, lunch, and happy hour (yes, happy hour !) at the training facility, as well as two group dinners. Your final evening, they host a celebration banquet at a beautiful historic restaurant nearby. They also take care of all of your transportation, including round trip from the airport. If you have the opportunity to attend one of their trainings, take it!

~ Scarlet macaw at Natural Encounters

~ Scarlet macaw at Natural Encounters

If you would like to see more pictures from my time at the workshop, I will be adding them to an album on Adventures in Toucanland’s Facebook page.

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Building a Handicapped Aviary for a Disabled Toucan

Handicapped Toucan Aviary

After Pepe’s last fall, we were forced to move him out of the large aviary he shared with Paz and give him some time to recuperate in our house over this past month. What began as full on “cage rest” (time spent solely in his crate while he was weakest so he could recover without injuring himself further) eventually led to half and half crate time and out-of-crate time on a set of low perches in the house that we jury rigged for him.

Pepe's indoor set-up

And while he has definitely made positive strides in his strength and mobility over the past few weeks, it is clear to us at this point that he has reached a bit of a standstill in his forward momentum. He now believes he is stronger than he actually is, which was starting to get dangerous during his out-of-crate time. In moments of bravado, Pepe would try and take flights towards the windows (he was dying to be back outside) and we were having to monitor him incredibly closely to keep him from hurting himself. It was time for a new plan for Pepe’s future.

Our Three-Cans have had the pleasure of living outdoors for all of their lives (from what I know) and being inside the house 100% of the time was a huge bummer for Pepe. I feel like all birds, and especially toucans, really thrive when they are provided with access to the outdoors. It is where they would live naturally and being deprived of the fresh air, sunshine, and other outdoor stimuli is simply unnatural. Towards the end of his time inside with us, we really noticed a difference in Pepe’s mental and emotional state – he seemed dejected and spent a lot of time croaking plaintively and making repeated attempts to go for the windows. We knew we needed to find a way to get him back outside, for his sanity and ours, but there were a lot of issues we needed to sort out in order to keep him safe and not put him in a situation that would lead to more opportunities for injury.

Pepe in the house

We decided to utilize the space next to the main toucan enclosure that we had previously built as an outdoor play gym for Paco. Seeing as how Paco completely disregards the play gym and instead prefers the railing in front of it, we figured the loss would be negligible. We built it before we really knew that toucans don’t have the focus or desire to stay put on a single play gym anyway, so we were happy to put it to good use and build Pepe an aviary around the existing structure.

Paco's play gym

The main predicament we had in designing Pepe’s new “handicapped” aviary (as we have come to call it) was to figure out a way for him to be up high, yet not high enough that he could injure himself when he would inevitably fall at some point from his perches. It really seemed to make Pepe feel panicky (as any bird would feel) when he was placed in his crate below our eye line. Birds naturally feel safest when they can be up higher than any perceived danger. We wanted to give Pepe that sense of security when he was back outside, insuring he could always be above people’s heads who are standing near his enclosure.

The solution that we* came up with was to make a half-floor for Pepe’s aviary. That way, he would have the top half of the space and be comforted with the feeling of being up high, yet protected from falling the full height to the bottom of the aviary. We made the floor out of two separate frames on hinges that can be let down during the times we need to enter the aviary ourselves. When they are lifted, they are secured from below where they meet in the middle, as well as with additional bolts that insert from the outside.

Aviary false floor

Deciding what to place on the false floor as a substrate was another conundrum. We of course wanted it to be easy to clean, but most importantly, wanted to provide some cushion for Pepe’s falls. Our first try was with some rubber entry mats that had a plastic weave on one side that we were hoping would add some “give”. We placed them weave side down though, as we were concerned he could get his toes caught in it. Unfortunately, it was evident that these were a bad choice from the start. After his first couple of falls, he was not able to turn himself over from his back without our assistance due to the mat being too slippery and not giving him anything to grip.

solid rubber mat substrate

We replaced the solid rubber mats with rubber mats with holes in them, the kind you frequently find in restaurant / commercial kitchens. These new mats will not only be easier to clean and allow better drainage, but will also give Pepe something to grip onto to turn himself over when he falls.

Pepe's new floor 2

For perches, we mainly used manila rope, which Pepe seems to prefer – no doubt due to it being easiest to grip. We included a few other branches from our almond tree to add sizing variety for his feet. All of the perches are currently placed quite low to the false floor, making them all an accessible hop up from the floor.

Pepe's new floor & perches

Pepe is extremely happy to be back outside. He has perked up considerably – bathing with signature toucan gusto, sunbathing with signature toucan fanaticism, and generally acting jolly with signature toucan joviality. His mobility has also improved slightly – he seems to land more solidly on his perches when he hops and he moves about with more confidence. While we still have a few kinks to sort out with the new aviary, overall we’re all very pleased with Pepe’s new accommodations. We remain hopeful that one day, if he continues to improve, we may even be able to expand his aviary access further. For now, he’s enjoying the new space and his time back within sight of his flock mates.

Pepe sunbathing

Toucanland aviaries

*NOTE: I would just like to note that while I say “we” a lot in this post, I am mostly referring to David and giving myself a whole heap of undue credit. David is the true creative genius behind this aviary design and without him, I’m afraid I would have come up with something haphazard and made of yoga mats. The Three-Cans and I are incredibly lucky to have David on our team, making all of our lives much happier and much more interesting with his input!

Pepe's aviary sign

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Nest Logs for Toco Toucans: Part 2, It’s a Box!

our newly designed nest box

our newly designed nest box

Prior to Pepe’s fall and subsequent “divorce” from Paz, we had just completed a newly designed nest box for the pair to use in this upcoming mating season. You may remember from my original post on Nest Logs for Toco Toucans that for our first mating season with the Cans this past year, we had opted to use the basic palm tree trunk design as specified in the Toucan Husbandry Manual by the AZA, also used by Emerald Forest Bird Gardens in California. However, we had had a few issues with it and approached the new season looking for a change.

For starters, our nest log was slightly smaller than the recommended dimensions due to our availability of palm tree trunks. While we were fortunate to even have one to begin with, we would have preferred something slightly larger. At the time, we had just cut down one of our big palms that had died so we used its thick base for the nest. Not wanting to chop down any bigger live trees, we settled for what we could get.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The other main issue we were looking to resolve was finding a way to provide the Cans with more space and easier access in the hopes that they would not lose as many eggs this time around. They lost every egg from all three clutches they laid last season (11 total) and while we did not have a camera in the nest to know for certain, we suspect they were breaking many, if not all, of the eggs as they clumsily entered and exited the nest. To get in, they would have to slide down, beak first. To exit, they would have to leap upward, cling to the door entrance, and pull themselves out through the hole. Both of these maneuvers, as well as all of the shuffling in between, could certainly have led to some broken eggs in the cramped quarters.

sliding into the nest

sliding into the nest

Lastly, we really wanted to create a back door that would allow us exterior access to the nest without alarming the pair by messing around near their main entrance. Between checking on the eggs and eventually needing to handle the babies should any hatch, this was an essential step that we had skipped in our first attempt and definitely regretted it down the line.

In my search for new nest options, I came across some photos in my fellow Toucan Lady Mairee Vincent’s Chasing Toucans album. While working at the Leed’s Castle Aviaries, they had developed a nest box radically different than the palm trunk log idea and had actually had fully-fledged toucan baby success with them. Plus, the nest boxes appeared to rectify all of the issues we had with our original nest log:

  • they were made out of wood instead of tree trunks, so we could make them ourselves with the supplies we had available to us here
  • they were designed with an exterior access door
  • they were designed with a ramp, allowing the toucans a smoother transition on their way into and out of the nest
  • toucan babies had actually hatched and survived in them – what more of an endorsement did we need?
nest box design from Mairee

nest box design from Mairee

 

nest box design from Mairee

nest box design from Mairee

So with Mairee’s help in answering many of our questions, we had our new nest built based on their design. The main change we made was to make the base of the box,.the actual nest portion, into a flat surface rather than keeping it on an incline. We were concerned that if we left it on an incline, the Cans would have difficulty properly incubating the eggs, which could get stuck always resting in the corner. Mairee’s work had not experienced this issue due to their dilligence in constantly refilling the nesting materials. However, since we were starting from scratch and also remembering how insistent our pair was in removing every scrap of nesting material, we just decided to build the base flat, as they were accustomed to with their last nest. Additionally, we placed the access door in the back instead of the side and of course, our nest box was a little bit smaller due to the size of our aviary.

our new nest box design

our new nest box design

exterior access door

exterior access door

we used a mix of cork and dried leaves to stuff the nest for them to "excavate"

we used a mix of cork and dried leaves to stuff the nest for them to “excavate”

My favorite feature of the new nest was the idea from Mairee to initially cover the entrance hole with cork. Because Toco toucans tend to nest in hollowed out tree trunks in the wild, especially the soft, porous palm ones, it is a natural behavior of theirs to woodpecker their way in and excavate the nest to their liking. Paz had a great time focusing on the task of pecking her way into the nest.

Paz works her way into the nest

Paz works her way into the nest

At this point though, we have sadly had to remove the nest box from Paz’s enclosure. The presence of it was inspiring an array of unnecessary nesting behaviors that we needed to stop for her mental and physical well-being. We didn’t want to encourage her obsessive mating behaviors now that Pepe was not to be returning and she would be living without a mate. It was important to prevent the potential stress on her body that would eventually come if she were to lay unfertilized eggs. So as awesome as the new nest box is, unfortunately, it is no longer something we are able to use. Bad timing, c’est la vie!

We will never know if this nest design would have worked for us or not. But, in the spirit of sharing, I just wanted to put the information out there for anyone in need of a new toucan nest design idea.

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Not Meant to Be: The Failed Socialization of Paz & Paco

Paz (left) & Paco (right)

Paz (left) & Paco (right)

It has been over three weeks since Pepe’s fall and subsequent move out of the aviary he shared with Paz. In true animal/Buddhist fashion, always existing in the present moment, Paz has also moved on with her life. Due to some truly unfortunate timing, we had just completed and installed Paz and Pepe’s newly designed nest box just prior to Pepe’s incident, as they were beginning to exhibit a lot of their mating season behaviors. It has been such a bummer to watch Paz, now alone and without a mate, commit fully to the task of preparing her nest, which she seems to adore.

Having fully accepted that Pepe would not be returning, she diverted her attention to Paco. Even with the original canvas wall in place and no visual contact between the two, she would spend portions of her day devoted to purring and trying to feed him through their shared wall. When she was not actively courting him, she would station herself in her nest, peering out through the entrance hole as though she were waiting for his arrival.

Paz the Toucan's new nest

As you can imagine, this tugged heavily on my heart strings. Looking out at the aviaries, seeing Paz and Paco living side by side with a wall in between them began to feel a bit unnatural. Because we knew that Pepe would never be returning to the large aviary, we began to see the potentially huge benefit of being able to open up the entire space and turn the two aviaries into one big flight for Paz and Paco to enjoy together. I also longed for them to both enjoy the companionship of another bird, as I often worry about them being lonely.

But there were also obviously many potential downsides to their pairing that gave us pause. The emotional roller coaster that was Paz and Pepe’s relationship made us leery to jump into it again. I was also concerned about what would happen to the loving, pet-like relationship I had worked so hard to achieve with Paco. I frequently have heard people in the bird world say that you either have pet birds or you have breeder birds, implying that you cannot have both. When I made the original decision to pair Paz and Pepe, I had decided that was a risk I was willing to take, as my relationships with each of them had never been as developed due to their more reserved personalities. But now that the choice was back on the table for my beloved baby Paco, the decision weighed heavily on me – was that something I was willing to potentially sacrifice?

In love with a Toucan

Ever since we adopted the Three-Cans, it was never my intention to breed them. I know nothing about breeding birds and I’ve always felt that I lack the emotional fortitude that is required, as loss of life is often inevitable in the early stages with fragile baby birds. But with Paz and Pepe, we ended up allowing them to be together and breed because we felt it was what they really wanted, that it was only natural for them to live as a pair. And in the end, we made this same decision for Paz and Paco. I felt that my reasons for not allowing them to be together would ultimately be selfish. If there was an opportunity to potentially enrich their lives with companionship within their own species and much larger living accommodations, I needed to set my pet desires aside and give them that chance.

We went about socializing Paz and Paco in much the same way we had originally socialized Paz and Pepe. Moving in small steps as we tested the waters, we started by rolling up the canvas between them to see if they would fight or interact peacefully through their shared wire wall. While there was no fighting, there was definitely a lack of interest on Paco’s part. Paz would court him with her favorite toys and food and he would largely ignore her, as if to say, “Sorry, sweetheart…I’m already seeing someone.”. Because Paco had chosen me as his “mate” early on, I tried to back off a lot of the attention I was giving him to hopefully allow him to make room for Paz in his heart.

First interactions - toucan socialization

After a couple of days of mellow interactions through the wall, we decided it was time to introduce them. I brought Paco next door in his backpack to meet Paz for two short sessions the first day and then a full 8 hours the following day.

Paco arrives in his backpack

Let me just say that socializing animals has got to be one of my least favorite things to do. While it can be an interesting study in body language, it is also not for the weak at heart (ie. me). I remember as a child, we had pairs of bunnies and each time one of them would die (bunnies only average about 4 years at best in their tiny little lives), we would bring in a new bunny as a companion for the one that remained. They would always eventually grow to love and snuggle with each other, but only after days of shockingly vicious fighting you would never associate with the word “bunny”. The same can be said about toucans.

Paz and Pepe went through the initial getting-to-know-you beak fencing that is typical of toucan socialization and courtship. I was prepared to go through the same with Paz and Paco – and it was the same in a lot of ways. Neither one chased the other down to the point of exhaustion, however, their fencing was much more intense than what we had witnessed with Paz and Pepe. I think a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that they are more closely matched in attitude and mobility than Paz and Pepe ever were. Neither can was quite willing to back down, as Pepe had always done being the smaller, weaker can. I even had to intervene a few times when they were getting too close to poking each other’s eyes out in a fit of fury.

Toco toucan socialization

My 8 hour day in the aviaries alternated between crushing boredom and intense bouts of stress. At first, Paco had the upper hand, probably surprising Paz with his scrappiness. I always call him my “little ninja” and this was one of those times that he really lived up to the moniker. They would fence a bit, then separate and go about their individual business. But as time wore on, they became unable to focus on anything other than fighting with each other and Paz’s larger size and greater strength eventually won out.

As they fenced, they kept reaching points where they would lock beaks together and she would use her size to dominate over him and literally fling him across the enclosure. Because he is so agile, he would never fall, but instead, glide to a stop and quickly hop back up from the ground onto a low perch. I believe this was key to him making it for as long as he did with her, as this is where Pepe got himself into danger. Paz fights a bit on the dirty side – her strategy seems to be to kick them when they are down. In these moments, she would rush down to go for the final blow with Paco, but he would already be up and postured to defend himself before she could trap him.

Paz (left) & Paco (right)

Paz (left) & Paco (right)

I’m sure you’re wondering why I hadn’t already separated them at this point. The fact is, I was just trying to gauge the situation as best I could as the day progressed, trying to give them as much time as possible to hopefully sort out their trust issues and move on to the next stage in their relationship. Neither appeared exhausted and they were giving each other short break periods to recover after each match. However, it all culminated in the afternoon and gave us our final sign for their future (or lack thereof) as a pair.

During what would be their final round of beak fencing, Paz saw an opportunity to make a quick grab for Paco’s neck and she took it. She locked in and tossed him down, still attached and shaking him as he flailed. It all happened in a sickening flash before they were on the ground, with Paco fighting for his life. It was the single worst moment I have experienced with the Three-Cans so far. David and I lunged in immediately and pried them apart. Thankfully, the only damage Paz seemed to have done was ripping out a few of Paco’s neck feathers, but that was enough for me. I brought Paco back to the safety of his aviary and cried like a baby because I almost lost my baby.

Me & Paco cuddle time

Paz really confuses me from a behavioral standpoint and out of curiosity’s sake, I wish I could find more answers about why she acts the way she does. With both of the males, she always seemed eager to court them into mating, yet when given an opportunity during a moment of weakness, she was also always ready to move in for the kill. Perhaps this is a female Toco thing or maybe it’s just a Paz thing. Maybe it’s just because she is so much bigger and stronger than the males available to her. I am also aware that there could be environmental aspects that contribute to her seemingly confused behavior (rough past, aviary size, lack of early socialization with other birds, human interference, etc.). But whatever it may be, I’m done with breeding (or at least attempting to breed) toucans and am ready to leave it to the professionals.

I hearby announce the official conclusion of our foray into toucan breeding. I must say, as much as I actually did wish for it all to work out on the Cans’ behalf, I find that I’m quite relieved with this outcome. We are beyond fortunate that we were able to intervene at the times we did and still have both of our males alive and healthy with us. We gave it our best shot and it’s time to move on with our lives. From here on out, my energies will be focused on enriching the Three-Cans’ individual lives as best I can.

Paco the Toco toucan

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My Pepe is Broken and I Don’t Know How to Fix Him

Pepe the Toco Toucan

It’s time for me to share some sad news about The Pepster. Things have been quite stressful for the last couple of weeks in Toucanland and while they’re starting to look up a bit, we still have a lot of adjustments ahead for all of us. Here is what happened…

On December 21st, Pepe had a bad fall in the early morning. I often check on the Three-Cans throughout the day through our kitchen window and luckily happened to peek out at them in the nick of time. Because I couldn’t see Paz or Pepe, I went outside to investigate and was fortunately able to intervene just as Paz was about to attack Pepe, who was motionless on the ground on his back, unable to defend himself. If I hadn’t stepped in when I did, I’m pretty certain she would have killed him. It was an incredibly scary moment, not just due to her aggression, but also because I have never seen Pepe so helpless – for a few breathless beats, I thought he was already dead.

Pepe's temporary indoor set-up

Pepe’s temporary indoor set-up

Thankfully, he was not, but my concern quickly evolved as he didn’t recover as fast as he usually does after a fall. This time, he couldn’t even hold himself up on a perch initially without me holding his body upright. If you have been following Pepe’s story, you probably remember that falls aren’t new to him. He has always been our clumsy-can who’s had inexplicable balance issues since we adopted him – but this time was much worse than anything we’ve experienced with him thus far.

Once he was able to perch again, we realized that he was not going to be able to remain safely in his aviary without injuring himself further in his weakened state. We brought him into the house in his crate and he’s been in here recovering ever since. We are beyond grateful to our wonderfully caring vets who have had to make several trips to visit Pepe since the fall. At first, he resisted drinking and had to have fluids pumped into him several times to keep him hydrated. They have also taken extensive x-rays which show no signs of fractures or breaks. He shows no signs of infection and his blood results indicate only slightly elevated liver enzymes, which apparently, can mean a number of things when it comes to birds.

Pepe napping in the house

Pepe napping in the house

Pepe is now back to eating, drinking, and otherwise behaving normally with the exception of his mobility. His ability to balance and move about remains very limited – we have to keep a close watch on him all day because when he falls, he still cannot manage to turn himself over from his back without our assistance. It’s heartbreaking and also so frustrating to not know what exactly is wrong with him, leaving us unable to proactively “fix” him. The Three-Can’s past is a complete mystery to us so information that would be incredibly helpful in Pepe’s diagnosis remain unknown such as his age and medical history.

The vets are cautiously optimistic. It’s still inconclusive whether it’s really Hemochromatosis, the iron storage disease common to toucans, as it can only be definitively diagnosed through a liver biopsy. We are currently treating him with some anti-inflammatory medication that may give us some more answers about his future, depending on how his body reacts to it.

Paco visiting & providing entertainment

Paco visiting & providing entertainment

We are able to let him out of his crate for periods throughout the day onto some low perches we have arranged for him in the house. It is nice to see him bright-eyed and perked up a bit more like his old self again, but unfortunately, his brain is at a level his body is not. He still attempts to fly off and make jumps he is not ready for, so we are having to guard his out-of-crate time closely, in an effort to prevent any further injuries. Our current situation with him living in his crate in the house is not ideal for any of us. While Paco would relish in all of the extra attention, Pepe is a bird-bird, preferring the company of his toucan flock to us humans. He also craves the outdoors and is constantly yearning for it through the windows, in hopes that he can return outside.

In his current state, with no recent signs of further improvement, we feel it would be too dangerous to allow him to live in his old aviary – it is simply too large and too high. And, as sad as this is, it is also pretty definitive that he cannot live with Paz ever again either. She has always been so much bigger and stronger than him and if we are really being honest with ourselves, she was probably never a good match for Pepe mobility-wise in the first place, even when he was at his personal 100%.

Pepe recovering inside

At this point, it has been almost three weeks and we’re ready to accept his situation as a potentially lasting way of life that needs to be accommodated. We have started exploring our options in building him an altered aviary which would prevent him from falling from great heights. We are also working on some ideas for a larger indoor enclosure for him to live in for now, in place of the crate, as he still needs to be closely monitored. I sure wish there was someone out there who could provide some clarity – it is exhausting not knowing what exactly to do! In the meantime, just keeping calm and carrying on. I’ll keep you updated with what we learn and Pepe’s continued (hopefully) improvement.

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Relationships Change Us All

 

photo by Dave Womach

No matter how independent we consider ourselves, no matter how set in our own ways we may be, we have all no doubt made some changes within ourselves over the course of a romantic relationship at some point in our lives. Whether it be re-training ourselves to sort our dirty laundry into baskets rather than strewing it about on the floor or teaching ourselves to cook to be able to surprise the object of our desire with something sweet – it is often times something we would not have done for another, something we would not have been motivated to even try, had we not been so smitten. As I have watched the relationship of Paz and Pepe develop, I have found that toucans are no exception to this relationship eventuality.

When we adopted the Three-Cans, we had given them two water options – a large pan, stationed near their food, to drink from and a large bowl on the aviary floor to bathe in – in an effort to meet their instinctual needs based on what we had researched regarding their natural behaviors. The bathing bowl on the floor was a new concept for all three of them, as they had not been provided with one in their past living situation. While Paz immediately embraced the bathing bowl as the civilized female she is, Paco and Pepe remained set in their old ways, continuing to bathe in the same water pan they drank from. Both boys refused to even dip a toe into their bathing bowls, no matter how enticing I tried to make them appear. But love ended up being the impetus that changed things for Mr. Pepe.

When Pepe first moved in with Paz, she was highly disapproving of his bathing habits. Anytime Pepe would begin a bath in one of their now shared drinking pans, Paz would chase him away, irritating him ceaselessly with her persistent harassment until he would finally give up on his bathing pursuits for the day. This worried us at first – we didn’t want her to bully Pepe out of being able to take baths altogether and were concerned that this would lead to her bullying him out of even more important things in the future, such as food. So we kept a close watch on the pair and have been nothing short of amazed as we’ve witness the transition as Paz worked diligently to recondition Pepe’s behavior “problem” to suit her cleanliness standards.

Using negative reinforcement (against all bird training advice!) and observational learning, Paz has now officially trained her toucan-man to bathe in the correct bowl, preserving the cleanliness of their shared drinking water from his “dirty” bootie. Pepe converted at last and now routinely bathes in the lower bathing bowl, forgoing convenience to please his beloved.

Here is the latest awww-inspiring bath time footage of The Pepster:

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