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Welcoming a New Bird | Our Prairie Nest
Welcoming a New Bird

Life with one bird is interesting. Life with two is like leveling up.

Avery is challenging. He was our first bird, hatched in 2011 and ours since spring of that year. Having a Black-Headed Caique – or any bird – is like having a baby, toddler, or pre-schooler. You can read up on it all you want, but until you experience it, you can’t know what it will be like. Because just as every child has a different personality and way of interacting with you, so do birds.

Over the years, we’ve trained Avery, kept him entertained with assorted toys, and also learned he enjoys quiet cuddles. He is at his most positive with interaction and trick training, like many birds. We’ve also taught him good shoulder manners, i.e. you only get mommy’s (my) shoulder if you’re willing to step up and come off when someone says so.

My husband always wanted a second bird, preferably an African Grey, but I thought they were too large. Let’s face it, those beaks are a heck of a lot bigger than a caique’s, and I’ve seen the damage an angry, hormonal, territorial small bird can do to a finger (by the way, you should not get bitten if you’ve learned your bird’s signals; respect their space and don’t push/force interaction; that’s a great way to lose their trust).

But I agreed that Avery could use a companion… if they got along. That’s always a chancy thing, too, bringing home a pet that may or may not jive with your existing household. Case in point: our cats. Kobold can’t stand Shiva, and Shiva seems to think it’s hilarious that all he has to do is look at her, and she runs from him.

However, I said yes to a second bird, which is my limit, and asked a friend about finding one who was being rehomed. She was rehoming some of her birds, because as her kids had grown up, gotten full time jobs, and moved out, she and her husband found they couldn’t keep up with the demands of their own full time jobs, plus outside commitments, plus birds. We met their Congo African Grey, and my husband was smitten. He wanted “his” bird, because Avery is bonded to me. Thus, Apollo the 12-year-old Congo African Grey came to us.

Right away, we learned that our birds have two different personalities: Avery is a spaz, playful, strong-willed, and cuddly. Apollo is shy, uncertain, and sweet. He won’t allow petting, but he will express himself with the various sounds he learned living with his previous family and flock.

After a few days of getting to know Apollo, establishing a routine, and also seeing the dynamic between both Apollo and Avery, we’ve determined some new goals for Avery and training goals for Apollo.

They’re both wicked smart birds. Both know the “step up” command, which is appropriate for all parrots to learn. Apollo needs to develop trust in his new family, as well as self-confidence, so training sessions with his new family should instill this in him.

Goals for Avery

I’ve been training Avery ever since we got him 8 years ago. This includes potty training and trick training, but Daniel will also target train him to give him focus. We will also use Avery to demonstrate flying for Apollo as a way to get from point A to point B. Avery flies wherever he wants, usually my shoulder or head (permitted because he has good manners about stepping up when told). We would like Apollo to feel like it’s okay to fly, too.

It’s not that he can’t fly, but when he tries, he just sort of… descends. 🙂 We will also continue trick training Avery, as caiques are clownish little guys who love to play.

Goals for Apollo

Daniel will use target training with Apollo to teach trust and focus, and also help him stop his aggressive preening. He came to us with some plucking and we don’t expect to see that stop right away. If anything, it might get worse, because he’s in a new home with new people, and that’s scary as heck for anyone. But redirecting his focus while building a bond should help.

We would like to teach him enough trust for us to pet him. Daniel is doing this very slowly and, so far, Apollo will let him touch his wing and pet just above his beak. No pushing this. When Apollo uses his beak to gently move your finger, he means no. We respect his no.

Flying will come with time and trust, we think. We hope using Avery to demonstrate will help.

We also hope dietary changes will help Apollo. He enjoys sinking his beak into something substantial and really shredding it, so we have him on a fresh diet of fruits and vegetables (loves his broccoli stems!), with a homemade chopped/blended veggie/fruit/boiled eggshell mix every other day, and seeds and pellets for treats. We will introduce more formulated pellets for a balance between fresh food and optimized bird nutrition.

Like Avery, Apollo is encouraged to forage and shred. They get seeds as treats and stuffed inside foraging/shreddable toys.

A daily routine is in place that we also hope will help instill trust – a morning shower, breakfast, training, some quiet time with this toys, more training, more quiet time with his toys. And then the kids come home from school (4 days a week) and I come home from work (5 days a week), which means BUSY time. We all eat our dinner in the kitchen, birds and humans. All of us are in bed fairly early, because parrots need about 8 to 12 hours of sleep themselves.

And that is life with birds. I think having one stay-at-home person is important when you have pets that need this much attention. That isn’t doable for every family and I know how privileged we are that we can have one stay-at-home parent for the kids and birds!

As I said previously, it’s like having a toddler. Except you have that toddler for 20+ years. Maybe even 40, 50, or 60. Like parenthood, “parronthood”/a bird’s life isn’t for everyone. But those of us who embrace it find it immensely rewarding to watch our “babies” grow.

Emma Anna Murphy | Our Prairie Nest
Emma Anna Murphy Regan Shaw

I like to go shopping at 7 a.m. Okay, that’s not true. I just so happen to be up at 6:30 to get the kids out the door by 7, and it’s convenient for me to go shopping as soon as they get on the bus. I don’t actually enjoy driving into town that early, but the store is pretty empty, the line at Starbucks is non-existent, and the drive home is peaceful.

Peaceful enough to make me think about the ancestors who are as much a part of my life as if they were still alive. Hello, I’m talking to you, great-great grandma Emma!

I’ve been blogging about Emma since, gosh 2004? Earlier? Emma has been a source of frustration ever since I was 18. I’m now 44, so that’s 26 years of said frustration.

Known records on her start in 1888, when she’s already 25 and marrying her second husband, my great-great grandfather Erastus Bartlett Shaw in Middleborough, Massachusetts. The 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses all give conflicting information about her origin. So do her marriage certificate, her death certificate, and her one and only child’s birth, marriage, and death certificates.

Great-grandpa Harrison Clifford Shaw, their only child, died before I was born and his wife, my great-grandma Nina (Blake) Shaw, died in January 1975, one month after I was born. So I never got to ask either of them questions. I interviewed their daughter, my grandmother, and typed my entire transcript, but she didn’t know precisely where her grandma Emma was born. My closest living link to Emma now is her great-grandchildren – my father and my aunt. Both have been kind enough to test their DNA (thanks to Uncle Pete for his help!).

And that’s been wonderful. In fact, I’ve found likely cousins on that side of the family. Not close cousins – there’s still a gap that needs to be bridged – but there is hope.

Anyway, I’m rambling as usual and here’s the thing about those quiet morning drives alongside the cornfields of rural eastern Nebraska: I have plenty of time to think.

Today I thought about money and my great-great grandma’s relationship to it. The family stories about her almost always mention money:

  1. She was business-minded and ran her own store;
  2. She showed her grandkids pictures of schooners owned by wealthy relatives;
  3. She buried thousands of dollars inside coffee cans in her yard, according to rumor;
  4. She sewed over $4000 in paper money in her dress/es, another rumor.

I started muttering to myself, as I often do when I have nothing but 15 minutes alone in my truck with a cup of coffee and NPR on in the background.

“Why do so many of the stories about Emma center around money? What was Emma’s relationship with money? What in her life informed her views on money?”

I thought about the Great Depression (1929-1939), but decided that had little relevance to Emma’s mentality about money. For contrast and additional context, I considered my great-grandmother, Mildred Marian (Burrell) (St. Onge) Haley.

Mildred Burrell St. Onge Haley | Our Prairie Nest
Mildred Marian Burrell St. Onge Haley

I remember being 32 and how that was still a formative time in my life, learning, growing, and realizing so many things about myself. I simply can’t imagine being that age and having given birth to 7 children, all living in various homes because I couldn’t or wouldn’t care for them. Times were hard throughout the 1920s and I think Mildred never got to a place where she fully recovered or got ahead in life.

So when I consider how her life turned out and compare it to Emma’s supposed money hoarding, I think Emma’s handling of money came from a very different place than Mildred’s.

My meandering thought process led me back to my current hypothesis on Emma: that she was born an illegitimate child, that her mother was a Murphy and the daughter of the couple named as Emma’s parents on her marriage and death certificates, thus meaning her supposed parents were actually her maternal grandparents. Furthermore, it appears Emma was reared by another family. I credit Barbara Poole with discovering the only likely pre-1888 census entry for my Emma many years ago.

Sometime between 1871 and 1888, Emma decided to get out of Manchester, Guysborough County, Nova Scotia and find a better life. If she is the Emma I think she is, I can narrow that even further to between 1879, when she was a sponsor at a baptism in Manchester, and 1888. Her first marriage supposedly happened when she was 16, according to one census, but I have yet to find a marriage record for her and Mr. No-First-Name Regan.

Have I been able to absolutely prove my hypothesis? No. Do I think I will eventually? I hope so. It’s the one question that actually keeps me up at night. I have a consultation with Melanie McComb at NEHGS this month and hope she will give me some other avenues to pursue, because Emma remains a brick wall in my family history. I think, in the end, that it will be a combination of hitting upon the right record and my DNA network that makes it happen. But it might not be 2019, as I’d hoped…

Fall is On the Way | Our Prairie Nest
Fall is On the Way…

Don’t deny it – you know it is. At least, I know it is by mid-August. Many people follow the calendar-marked days for when the seasons begin, but not me. I pay attention to other cues, the ones I see in nature every year. Mid-August to December is my absolute favorite time of year and here’s why.

For me, August signals the end of summer. The days are still long, but you can tell it’s getting darker earlier. The singing of cicadas and crickets gentles from the more obnoxious tones we heard throughout June and July. Here in the Midwest, the cornfields go from tall and green to flat tracts of land, corn harvested to leave behind stalks that quickly turn golden-brown.

In September, certain animals pass through our yard with increase frequency. We see more deer, hear more coyote laughter, receive a visit from the ducks and geese on their way to warmer climates, and then one last hurrah from the blue herons. Everything that was green goes golden, and the leaves will start changing before the end of the month.

This time of year, I get extra nostalgic for home. While I like living in the Midwest, I will never love it. It’s “home” in the sense that I have a dwelling built here, but my heart 1500 miles away, north and east. Still, the nice thing about Nebraska is that the seasons are similar to New England’s, if a few weeks behind. So I can almost pretend I’m where I want to be.

As far as this time of year, I think most Witches prefer autumn, wherever they live. Why do we feel this way? Various reasons, of course. For those who follow the Oak King/Holly King mythos, the Holly King defeated the Oak King at the Summer Solstice and now reigns. I tend to go with the Wheel of the Year imagery. The wheel turns to the dark half of the year. Why do I love it?

Something about the “hibernation” brings out the desire to work harder, to prepare for and push and survive through winter. The longer nights make me want to cozy up with books or family history research. Genealogy is a wonderfully productive passion that has many facets – not just finding out ancestors’ stories, but also sharing them. I love the sights and smells of autumn, from the leaves to the crackling fire on the hearth.

Daniel cooks and bakes all kinds of comfort food this time of year. Some days, I come home to cookies, pies, and breads. Maybe there will be shepherd’s pie or beef stew for dinner. Who knows? Whatever it is, it will warm me up and make me think of the times my family got together for dinner.

I love to look back on the year and see what goals I reached, and then look forward and set goals for the new year. And, on a very basic, personal comfort level, I don’t miss sweating in the heat! I think I’m actually allergic to summer, since my skin flushes the moment I step outside when it’s 80+ degrees. 😉

This turning inward is more productive and useful than the “lazy days” of summer. And while I prefer it, I recognize that we need both. Hence, my effort (is that an oxymoron?) to relax and let go over the summer months. In the fall, I don’t feel so bad about giving in to my desire to go, go, GO! Because even sitting in front of the fireplace with my laptop, working on genealogy or writing means I’m getting something done.

Of course, it’s not fall without a look at death. As a Witch, I have no issue with this. It’s going to come, eventually, and I think it’s better to look it in the face than worry about what it brings. The earth slumbers and we know its “death” is temporary. Bulbs will bloom again in the spring, leaves will return, and the long nights of darkness will give way to more hours of daylight. Many of us who identify as Pagan take this time to honor those who have passed, to visit with them, and share our remembrances.

As the Autumnal Equinox approaches, I’m not filled with dread for the coming winter – not even of the practical “Hope it doesn’t snow when I have to drive to work” variety. I’m ready to follow wherever the darkness of the days leads and come out on the other side.

To the Cass County Fair | Our Prairie Nest
Many Things & Not Enough

So I need to write this now or forget entirely. Though there is no forgetting how remiss I’ve been in giving my blog love. I have this beautiful website and haven’t posted in an age. Not that it matters to anyone but me, but I do like sharing, especially when it comes to genealogy and witchcraft. It needs to happen more often.

Summer isn’t an excuse. Yes, I slowed down and enjoyed every moment until recently. In fact, I think I’ve learned to slow down in general. At least a little…

If you look at what I do – work full time, write full time, lead Girl Scouts (and I’m probably going to flail helplessly there for the next few years – eek!), and find time for family and hobbies – you would probably disagree. But, honestly, that’s “slow” for me, even if you include binge-watching “Outlander” and cross-stitching and trying to read a book a month.

Fall hasn’t gotten off to the best start, either. My beloved great-aunt Jo passed away on August 30. Simply put, it sucks. Aunt Jo meant so much to so many people. She never married or had children of her own. In a way, all of us were her children and grandchildren. She was the keeper of the family history, one of the people I picked up the genealogy bug from, and the person who wanted to keep family together.

I got the news on Friday when I got home from work. When I did, I closed the bedroom door and cried. I hate grieving in front of people. Ever since then, I’ve had a lump in the center of my chest. Sometimes, it loosens and I can breathe. Other times, it’s so tight, I can’t help but cry. I know it’ll come and go, and the idea of Aunt Jo being gone is surreal at the moment. If I could be in Massachusetts for her funeral, I would. But I can’t and that sucks, too.

Life doesn’t really slow down until you die, does it? Maybe there’s a trick to it or maybe all we can do is pretend to stop and smell the roses, all the while knowing time is doing its own thing, whether we like it or not.

Daniel asked me earlier this year when I’ll “stop” doing genealogy. I couldn’t help but squawk back at him, “When I answer all the questions!”

I guess that’s what keeps this inquisitive Sagittarius pushing so hard from day to day. That’s how I live my life – trying to answer the questions. What about you?