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Friday, June 6, 2008
The Tipping Point

By Melissa L. Kauffman, Editorial Director of BIRD TALK and BirdChannel.com
Share in the adventures of Melissa Kauffman's experiences in bird ownership in Life in the Bird House

Melissa Kauffman at her tipping point
The experience has brought Melissa and her family to their tipping point.

How many birds is too many? This is something the bird team has chatted about a lot over the years. I’ve seen people live quite happily with anything from one bird to 10 birds. I’ve seen people be miserable with one bird or 10 birds. Some people believe one cockatiel is enough, and others think nothing of having five cockatoos. Personally, I believe everyone has their own individual tipping point, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, there are some things that, over the years, I have come to believe should be concrete rules for bird owners, no matter what:

1. Keep the number of pets to a minimum if you rent. As a person who rented for many, many years, there are just some things you can’t get around: noise, space and property damage. You need to keep the noise to a respectful minimum for your neighbors, you need to keep a small space organized and sanitary for the health and sanity of you and your pets, and you need to leave the rental space as you left it with only the minimal wear and tear.

2. Don’t adopt more birds or other pets than you can handle in the worst-case scenario. If you lose your job, your home or if your health is impaired to a certain extent, can you keep your birds? If you get married or divorced, have children or children move out and go to college, can you keep the birds? This is where a lot of birds lose their home. Pet birds do not suddenly become disposable because you are facing a serious life challenge. If you can’t keep your pets under these circumstances, don’t get them.

3. A life crisis is something you may not be able to overcome, such as a paralyzing health issue or death of a loved one. You should always have someone who has agreed to take in your pets in case the unthinkable happens. If you have no one to do this, you probably are not at the right point in your life to adopt a pet.

4. Do not become a bird breeder or a bird shelter operator by accident or happenstance. Both take planning, money and a lot of time. If you don’t handle either with first-rate business practices, then it will quickly overwhelm and both you and the birds will lose. You need a place that you own, that is zoned correctly, you need manpower and someone to take over if something happens to you. You also need professional help for vet care, training and behavior issues and legal and financial issues – in short, you need a great support system. Without all this, it is just a matter of time before everything implodes.

I have always tried to be careful and not to go over my tipping point, as I’ve talked to so many other people who have gone over theirs, and my heart has broken for them and their birds. But even my best made plans have recently been thwarted. This is what happened.

Many years ago, after I got my first bird, Carlisle, I received a second bird as a gift. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle both birds, a busy work schedule and my social life. However, I did and my fears soon melted away. Not too much time had passed when I adopted a third bird. Once again, I didn’t choose to adopt another bird. Natty, another cockatiel, lost his home when his owners moved away and I took him in after letting myself be guilted into it. So there I was with three small birds, three medium cages and a playgym in my bedroom. I was a renter and low on the workplace food chain. I made a vow — no more than three birds. This happened more than 15 years ago, but I kept that vow. I didn’t have any more room, time or money. And frankly, I just didn’t have enough in me to give to another relationship. Sadly Kistler passed away a few years later and I was left with my two cockatiels and a new vow — no more birds until I buy a house, then I’ll adopt one more.

Though I kept my bird vow, despite constant pressure from other bird people and my inner bird person, I did adopt a guinea pig. So I still had the three pets and vowed, no more. Of course, when I got married, a dog came with my husband. This added to my time drain. Now I had dog walks, dog baths, dog vets and more trips to the pet store for food. So I thought, four pets, how did this happen. I vowed no more. We then bought a house, but I didn’t have time for any more pets, so we stayed with the four. They were all older pets, so we fell easily into a routine and we were all happy. Tragedy struck and my guinea pig died. We were back down to three pets. I decided no more guinea pigs for me, but perhaps at would get one more bird, but in another year.

Since our dog is 13 years old, we had discussed getting another dog. My husband took me to look at this dog, and of course there was this poor shelter puppy ... so we adopted a puppy. This time I was terrified that I had reached my tipping point. Although the three older pets were pretty easy, the puppy was nothing but the cutest little loving time drain. As much as we loved the new one, we decided that this was it.

Then it happened. A Meyer’s parrot lost his home and was taken in by a friend of mine. However, the Meyer’s is so loud that her roommate doesn’t want her to keep the bird. So the Meyer’s is living with me until she figures out what to do.

This is where I said I would never be. All those years of drawing the line have led me to this moment. My friend would love if I adopted the Meyer’s. The problem is that my older dog seems to actually be depressed with all the animals in the house. Carlisle and Natty are not getting much interaction with me. The puppy needs more play time with us, and he is already forgetting his basic training. He seems to have forgotten the command, Sit, something he used to do readily and easily.

And the Meyer’s. The Meyer’s doesn’t know how to Step-up on a perch, and he won’t Step-up onto your hand unless he has flown to the floor. He has no problem using his beak to get his way – ouch. He doesn’t know how to play with toys. I can take his noise, I just don’t know if I can take training two animals at once, working on our house, having a full time job and being married, plus giving the love and attention our three older animals deserve.

I can’t imagine what is going through this bird’s pretty head – losing his home of 12 years, going from one place to the next. The original owner made some basic but serious mistakes. She adopted a bird but didn’t train it, didn’t teach it to play with toys, didn’t work to keep the Meyer’s noise level from getting out of control and then got rid of the bird after 12 years because her husband told her to.  This is why we tell people over and over that you’ve got to work with your bird in case the unthinkable happens and he needs to go to another home. This is why I tell people, don’t marry the type of person that will demand you get rid of something so important to you. (Life-threatening allergies aside, sometimes a health reason forces the issue, but not the person’s desires.) Which reminds me, Chris Davis wrote a fantastic article for Bird Talk one year called, “Hello, Love! Bye-Bye Birdie?” which addresses this sad, sad issue. But I digress.

This experience has really brought home to me what is the tipping point for me and my family. And I am sure that this poor Meyer’s has reached his. No matter what, I am determined that parrot will have a bright future. Whether he stays with me or goes to a Poicephalus loving household, he will be able to Step-up and keep himself entertained with toys. We’ll work on his noise frequency and most of all make sure he feels loved. That is one point I’m sure we both can agree on.

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The Tipping Point

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Reader Comments
I live with 3 cockatiels in my house and 8 aviary birds(five 'tiels,2 small doves and one budgie). I'm a busy person (university student). I have an average social life. But one thing I will always do is find time for my birds. And I manage quite well. One thing I will never ever do however is give my birds away because someone tells me. They have given me so much love and if someone ever said "It's me or them birds" I'd choose them birds every time.
Casey, New Zealand
Posted: 11/20/2009 9:14:10 PM
Its a great true life experience that many of us share the woes and joys of.
Barbie, Pittsburgh, PA
Posted: 6/26/2008 12:00:53 PM
Some of this is true. I am 16 and I live with my dad, and we have 2 aviaries, one for sick birds, and the other is for the rest. But we have about 25 parakeets, 12 finches, 4 quails, 2 cockatiels, 2 lovebirds, 2 doves, 2 weavers, and a saffron. They are all happy, and although they all live together, they never fight. It just depends on the person and the birds attitude towards other birds.
Nichole, Fontucky, CA
Posted: 6/10/2008 3:30:05 PM
Excellent advice in this article.
joan, franklin square, NY
Posted: 6/10/2008 4:33:58 AM
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