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Snow Day | Our Prairie Nest
Snow Days

What are your memories of snow days in your youth?

Mine is of listening to WBCN Boston 104.1, hoping for the snow song. It was a parody of Monty Python’s “Spam,” except it went, “Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow…” When you heard that, you knew there was a possibility of a snow day!

If Bridgewater schools came up, we’d get giddy with excitement and prepare for a day of fun. Staying home, reading books, watching HBO, or playing on our Nintendo was fun, but it was even better if we could go sledding.

We had two favorite places for sledding. One was Tower Hill, behind Bridgewater State College (now Bridgewater State University). This was long before the commuter lots and MBTA parking, before the T Station, when the college was just a college. You’d walk up the hill to the tower for the best sledding in town, and what a walk it was!

We’d trudge up there through the snow, sled in hand, all the way to the top of the steep hill. It was lined on either side by trees and, at the bottom, the brick building now used for the campus police posed a potential threat if you picked up too much speed and didn’t stop in time. It was a good 4 or 5 minute walk just to get to the top of the hill, but well worth it. Because once you reached the summit, you had a view of that part of the campus and one heck of a trip ahead of you!

That was probably our favorite place to sled, because the hill was steep, smooth, and fast. With the campus building at the bottom, there was just enough potential danger to make it extra exciting. Would you crash into the building or avert calamity? That’s all any kid wanted when they were sledding – the wind in their face and the thrill of the ride.

The other place we’d go occasionally was informally known as Strawberry Hill at the Strawberry Valley Golf Course in Abington. It wasn’t as smooth, steep, or fast as Tower Hill in Bridgewater, but it had the added excitement of more bumps and potential jumps. The photo below shows my sister (in purple) joining many sledders on the hill for a day of fun.

I would love to take my own children to these places someday, or somewhere similar. In eastern Nebraska, we have beautiful rolling hills known as the Loess Hills. There are some unexpectedly sharp peaks and steep inclines. Most people think of Nebraska as flat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth along the east coast (yes, they call it a coast because of the Missouri River; technically, it’s a bank, but that’s neither here nor there; “Coaster” pride is all that matters).

Despite these glorious hill views, I’ve yet to find the perfect sledding spot. Our backyard is unsafe for sledding and I have to act as catcher to keep my daughter from ending up in the icy pond! We’ll do that from time to time, but it’s not at the top of my list of snow day activities. The front yard also isn’t that great. The incline is much too gentle.

About 2 lots up the street from us is a pretty good hill on another property. If the snow falls just right on this east-facing incline (and that’s not always a guarantee), it offers good sledding with an effortless climb back up to the top. The property owner built a workshop/garage at the bottom of the hill, so we have to be mindful of that, but otherwise it’s convenient and pretty safe.

We went out last weekend for some sledding in our backyard, since the hill up the street didn’t have any snow on it. Of course, with so little snow, our playtime turned into us basically flinging powdery white stuff at each other. That’s another thing about Nebraska snow – it’s just powder most of the time. Not wet enough to build anything or make a proper snowball, unlike wet, heavy New England snow.

But we still have fun and love a good snow day!

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.