Adventures in parroting

Carrie J. Sidener and her Quaker parrot, Simon.

Little puffs of iridescent green float on air currents I stir while walking through the dining room.

I have been sweeping, I swear.

But Simon, my little green quaker parrot, is molting pretty heavily right now, pushing out the old so beautiful new feathers can grow in their place. These feathers are made to catch the air, suspending my little quarter-pound parrot in the air as he swoops through the house.

Every time I sweep, these little puff balls drift off in the currents wrapping around the broom. I guess I need to get out the vacuum.

Simon is going through probably the heaviest shedding of old feathers he’s had since I adopted him. Beautiful, healthy feathers are important for a parrot to fly, to maintain body heat and to attract the opposite sex — not that Simon has a girl around to look good for.

Simon begs to have his head rubbed a little more than normal as his new plumage comes in. After all, it’s my job to make sure the spiky little sheaths coating his head feathers come off. If I’m not fulfilling my duties, Simon has no trouble headbutting my hand until I comply.

These molts are triggered by changes in available light. Feathers drop symmetrically so that flight isn’t inhibited by the new feather growth process. If you lose a wing feather on the right, the same one will come off on the left. All parrots go through the process to varying degrees once or twice per year.

This time, though, these new feathers are really showing off how far Simon has come since he first moved in with me on April 1, 2017.

When he arrived in my life, Simon had chewed his chest feathers to nubs and balded a portion of one wing. He was underweight. Blood tests showed his liver function and protein levels were off.

Simon even had a seizure during a blood draw to see if his liver function had improved.

A radical diet change, regular showers and lots of cuddles have turned Simon into a new bird.

While he’s still a little light for a green quaker, Simon’s weight has been a steady 106 grams on my home scale for months. He no longer looks scrawny. Now, depending on how he’s puffing out his plumage, he can look downright chubby.

His chest still bears a few damaged feathers but most have been replaced with a pretty grey scalloped pattern. His wing feathers are a sleek, deep green and blue. Feathers that once had a brassy finish now look more vivid and deeply colored. And while Simon still is quite the cuddle bug, he’s grown a little less needy and a little more independent.

Simon recently visited the veterinarian’s office for his annual check up. When I put his little travel cage on the counter to check in, Simon chirped out a call to the receptionist as she spoke with a client on the phone.

“Shh,” I whispered. “We are quiet when people are on the phone.”

After finishing the call, the receptionist told Simon he could be as loud as he wanted. Simon bobbed emphatically in response and she laughed.

In the exam room, Simon nervously groomed his feathers until the veterinarian came in. The two played for a little while before getting down to the business of a head-to-toe check up.

Simon, the veterinarian told me, looked sickly when he first began treating my little quaker. Now, Simon looks like a strong, healthy and happy bird.

And that makes me happy too.

Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

Sidener is the special publications editor for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5539.

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