April 30, 2012

Leash & Leisure for Vinny

Today is Queen's Day in the Netherlands, an official holiday that brings fun for all ages. And today is also the first day of actual nice weather. A comfortable 75 Fahrenheit (over 20 Celsius), nice sun, light breeze, couldn't be better and what a coincidence that we got this today! Actually felt like spring and we even got a little sunburn.

Even better, because this morning we went out to the 'Vrijmarkt' here in Groningen, which is basically a big open free flea market in the streets. We got lots of new cheap toys for Vinny at an average of 60 cents a piece. Vinny will be so happy!

Since the weather was so nice, we decided to do a nice picnic in the neighborhood park and give the Aviator a run for its money. The Aviator is basically a harness on a leash especially developed for parrots. They come in various sizes for different types of parrots and it's very well designed and made. Based on this alone, we think it's an excellent product. We bought it online from Avonturia, a store in the Hague, the Netherlands.

So we went out on our bikes (only a few minute ride), Vinny in a carrier and already in the Aviator harness. You have to understand that, aside from twice in the back yard, this was Vinny's first day out! Since the weather has been bad over the last few months, we didn't really get the chance to try this before, but today was definitely the day.

Here's a little tip, in case you are considering getting the Aviator, or already bought it: watch the instructional DVD that comes with it, and/or read the manual. IT people use the term RTFM (Read The Fricking Manual) regularly. Well, it definitely applies here as well. When you go through the whole loop of getting your parrot used to it gradually (like we did), you will be rewarded! It'll be easy to get the Aviator on and off your parrot, especially if your parrot is used to being touched on the head, back and wings.

Vinny was perfectly fine on the way over in his specially prepped carrier, he even made some cute sounds. Oh yeah, about the carrier: We use your basic plastic cat-carrier, but put a (natural) perch in, leaving some room at the bottom to slide a sheet of paper in.

Anyway, when we arrived in the park, we set out our blanket in the shade and unleashed the beast. He was somewhat anxious at first, but soon got used to being outside, to the big sea gulls flying over, and crows shooting through the canopy. He got settled in for sure when he got some food as well, although he wasn't too sure about hopping through the grass or even our blanket. He did seem to want to sit on our shoulders more than normal (I guess it is his safe spot).

The Aviator did its work perfectly. He flew off a few times, but got gently pulled by the elastic cord and was able to stay in the air, doing a few circles before landing softly on our hands or on the ground. At least it made him more comfortable with the grass and at some point he even rolled around in it 'for funzies'!

We even did some starter recall training and we found out that praise is a very good motivational thing for Vinny's training. Works even better than treats. What a perfect bird!

We did figure out one drawback of the Aviator though. Vinny was picking on the harness a lot. Of course this was a first time that he was wearing it for more than 5 minutes, but he didn't seem to be able to get comfortable wearing it. At some point he even loosened it up himself by pulling the strap from the clasp! Not just a perfect bird, also a very clever bird! We did double check if we put it on correctly, of course, but maybe we still got it twisted or something. Hopefully next time he'll be better about it (or we, for that matter).

All in all we had lots of fun, and so did Vinny. After getting back, he flew to the top of his cage and fell asleep in a matter of minutes.

Do you ever take your parrot out? Do you use some kind of harness or is your bird perfectly trained to fly back to you when you call him/her? What are your experiences with the Aviator or similar products?

New toys for Vinny

Today it's Queen's Day in the Netherlands. April 30th, like every year. Official holiday, celebrations and parties everywhere. Part of the Queen's Day tradition is the 'Vrijmarkt', which literally translates to 'Free Market'. This basically means that anyone can lay out a blanket in the street (designated locations) and put old stuff up for sale. You'll see all kinds of stuff: pots & pans, clothes, weird antiques from the attic, complete collections of whatever people want to get rid of...

Lots of toys to be found that are safe for parrots
One of the things that you will frequently find, is toys. Lots and lots of toys that kids have grown out of. And that's why we went on our own scavenger hunt today at the 'Vrijmarkt' in Groningen City.

Cool people, weird stuff
The things we've been specifically looking for, are small colorful plastic toys that are Eclectus-resistant. No rubber parts that he can chew off, no small parts that can come off, you get the idea. Then of course we were also keeping an eye on safety. No metal parts (unless it's stainless steel), no sharp edges, no toxic paints, no unknown types of wood ... again, you get my drift.

The one thing that we've found quite a number of times, are small plastic 'Fisher Price' type key rings, little spoons and cute things like that. We also found a perfect basket for Vinny to sit on that can hold his toys, so he can pick out one to play with. On the side, we also found a few Coca Cola collector's items that are for the other big kid (me).

More weird stuff
Overall we got about 15 to 20 toys for an average of 60 cents a piece. Once run through the dishwasher (if it won't survive the dishwasher, it deserves to be tossed anyway), they're good to go and we'll give Vinny the first batch. See, what we're trying to do, is not give them all at the same time, but spread them out, no more than 4 or 5 at the same time. We've discovered that Vinny gets bored of a toy in about a week, and to keep him stimulated, we need to do some kind of rotation system for his toys.

So, if you're in or anywhere near the Netherlands next year on April 30th (and the night before), make sure you read up on the Vrijmarkt and other events going on. You'll have a blast, for sure! And you'll be able to find good toys for your parrot. Other flea markets and yard sales might also be a good place to look for cheap toys to buy in bulk. Tip of the day!

Where do you get your parrot toys and what do you spend on those per year?

Our loot for the day

General impression of a Dutch Queen's Day's flea market

Be amazed at the stuff people collect over time

April 29, 2012

13 Questions for Vinny

You all know them from elementary school or high school. Lists of questions to get to know someone. We asked Vinny the following 13 questions:

1. What is your favorite color?
Vinny: Green of course

2. What is your favorite food?
Vinny: Corn on the cob!

3. Who is your favorite politician?
Vinny: What is that? Can I eat that?

4. What is your favorite movie?
Vinny: Rio!

5. Who is your favorite musician?
Vinny: I currently listen to lots of music. Doesn't matter, as long as it has soul. And I like ukulele music as well.

6. What is your favorite proverb?
Vinny: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song". I believe it's a Chinese proverb.

7. What is your favorite season?
Vinny: I was born on January 1st of this year. All I know is winter and I have gotten to know spring a bit as well. I like both of them!

8. What is your favorite book?
Vinny: Any book I can take apart.

9. What is your favorite sport?
Vinny: Gymnastics. My cage is one big gym and I like to exercise!

10. What is your favorite website?
Vinny: My blog of course! www.vinnytakescharge.com

11. What is your favorite smell?
Vinny: Nothing beats the smell of fresh corn in the morning!

12. Who is your favorite superhero?
Vinny: That has to be The Green Flash!

And last but not least:
13. What is your favorite pastime?
Vinny: playing with my toys, eating corn, teasing the budgies, flying, snuggling with my parronts, making funny sounds .. should I go on?

Vinny, thank you very much for your cooperation. If we have more questions, we'll definitely get back to you. In the meantime, if readers have more questions, they can put them in the comments (or tweet to @vinnythebird) and Vinny will be answering them asap.

Nine Steps To Happy Hygiene

I'm an evening person. I don't wake up well in the morning and I usually have trouble waking up. Two alarm clocks is the minimum (strategically placed out of reach) and I snooze about 5 times on average.

Here's the morning routine that follows:
Step 1: Final snooze. I'm awake just enough to realize that I have to turn it off and sit up
Step 2: Getting out of the bedroom with some bare essentials, so my girlfriend can continue to sleep a bit more, if she doesn't need to get up. Primarily my glasses and my phone, that is.
Step 3: Find my way to the bathroom for my usual 'first order of business'
Step 4: Find my way to the office while waking up a bit more
Step 5: Sit at computer, check email, news and blogs for 10 minutes
Step 6: Getting mentally ready to continue the morning routine and get ready to leave for work
Step 7: Find clothes and a towel
Step 8: Take my morning shower. Getting reminded of something by a loud squeeky noise.
Step 9: Forgot the bird. Go back and get him.

Yes, I take my morning showers together with Vinny. I don't have any trouble with him seeing me naked, as long as he doesn't say stuff like 'Size Matters'. After all, I do see him naked all the time.

The first few times we took him to the shower, he was reluctantly undergoing the whole process. Since then, we've managed to figure out a few tricks that make it a bit more fun for him and now he likes taking showers very much and is definitely a happy bird when he comes out, soaking wet.

Usually he sits on the shower curtain rail while I shave and wash my hair. He usually makes a few soft scratchy sounds during these few minutes, to let me know that I shouldn't forget about him. Then I turn down the temperature a bit, to a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius (about 85 Fahrenheit). I turn down the power of the water a bit, let him step up on my hand, and get him soaked. Wash off any dirt that might stick to his feathers, and let him drink some water. He likes catching a tiny stream of water with his beak that comes from the shower head.

During the next phase, I let him sit on the curtain rail again while I finish showering myself. This is when he's starting to get playful a little bit. He makes funny noises (sometimes) and plays with the toys that hang from the rail.

By this time, we're in the bathroom for over 15 minutes. I used to take 5-10 minute showers, now I have to reserve almost half an hour for the whole process. But it's all fine and dandy, it's a fun ritual.

When the formal part of the showering is done, that is, the actual cleaning, it's play time !!

I set the shower head to the misty power spray setting, take Vinny on my hand, and give him a good steam bath from all sides. He sneezes a bit when he gets a few drops in his nose, but other than that, he's visibly enjoying it. Once in a while he's so happy that he actually spreads his wings and takes in the water as much as he can.

At some point enough is enough. I'll be in a hurry to make sure I'm not late for work, and Vinny is letting me know that he's starting to get hungry. So we get out, I place him on the top perch of the cage and give him some food. As soon as we leave the bathroom, he starts shivering. Well, actually, it's not shivering. His chest muscles contract rapidly, which is a bird's way of creating extra heat to to dry off the feathers faster.

Before leaving, I check his cage and put some clean paper in the bottom tray. I open the blinds to a little crack to give him some daylight, and leave him in the trusty hands of my girlfriend.

Do you and your parrot have similar routines, or do you take a completely different approach? Feel free to let us know by commenting.

April 21, 2012

Wanna play, boy?

In the previous posts I already mentioned a bunch of recognizable moods, at least so far. There's sleepy, hungry, quiet, playful, vocal and nosy. In that post, we went into the nosy a bit.

I guess we can add angry/upset to that list as well, but more about that later.

So what is Vinny like when he's playful?

Well, to be honest, this can mean a bunch of things. Basically it means that he's into everything. It can be anything in his toy basket, but could easily also be his play stand or swing, our couch, the food cup, you name it.

In our office, we have 2 desks set up, with a table in the middle and an Ikea Expedit 2x2 up against the wall. On top of that, there's a small play stand which he loves. It's high enough up so that he has the feeling of it being his 'throne' (good view of both of us and the rest of his room), plus it's where he gets playful.

We did this by getting a wooden tray at a dollar store that's easy to clean. Then we got 2 wooden ladders from a pet store, screwed them to the tray, screwed 2 sticks of natural wood to the top like perches, and there you go. Of course we used stainless steel screws/washers (not zinc or galvanized, since it's poisonous). And for natural wood we used de-barked willow. Took about 15 minutes to make. It's actually inspired by a similar play stand we made for the budgies (see 2nd picture, with the 2 ladders sideways on top).

He loves it! He climbs around on it, he hangs from it with one foot while grooming himself, he picks at the wood a bit, but mostly he just realizes he can be himself there. Actually, he's not just playful there, he can have any type of mood up there. Sitting quietly, observing everything we do or singing along with Youtubes that we play for him. Then of course sometimes he throws in some drama when he's grabbing hold, flapping his wings as if he wants to take off with the whole thing and growling.

Playing seems to come in two flavors for Vinny. Either he's in the aggressive 'attack the toy' mode, or he's just rolling any type of toy around in his beak, trying to take it apart. We asked the family in the USA send over a bunch of discarded baby toys and selected a bunch that were bird-safe. There's a few that he really really loves, including the yellow-green-orange (his 'fav' colors!) monkey-ring-thingy. He'll be happy just laying on his back, and picking at it.

Then there's the aggressive playing as well, where I think he's pretending it to be some sort of enemy. This is where we're on guard because we've had a few occasions where we thought it would be fun to join the 'fight' playfully but discovered that that's probably why our hands now look pretty banged up lately.

Another example of how to keep a parrot entertained for quite a while:
Go to your local hardware or DIY store, get a few yards of plastic chain, hang it from the ceiling or make a swing out of it (just use tie-wraps to put it together). And there you go!

We'll be making a lot more toys for Vinny and we'll definitely keep you informed! Just remember: 'Playful' is one of the better moods for any parrot to be in, and making toys or designated places to play is just so easy.

Till next time!

April 15, 2012

Nosy bird!

We've had Vinny for a month now, and we can distinguish Vinny's various moods. There's sleepy, hungry, playful, quiet, vocal and nosy. Well, that's so far. Sometimes we're able to help him get into another mood, if our moods don't match Vinny's and if we need him to quiet down or if we have time to play with him.

Vocal is the most fun for us, at the moment. Every time he gets giggles and laughs from us when he's making all the cute sounds and is mumbling along with music (he likes 60s and 70s the most so far). When he's playful, he sometimes growls in a funny way, at his toys, at the perch, and once in a while we think he has an imaginary friend.

And then there's nosy. Or maybe curious is a better word. At those time's he's just into everything. And by that, I mean everything! If he's in this mood, the term 'attention span' is not in his vocabulary.

He's active, won't sit still, plays on his jungle jim, but also wants a taste of everything that he can find. Whether it's a mouse cord, a pen, a cap from a soda bottle, it really doesn't matter. We sit upstairs in our office a lot, so this is the place where he has most of his toys. He also has a few stands and swings here. Downstairs is his big cage, but in the office is where he sleeps, in a smaller cage.

This cage sits by the window (can be 100% blinded if we need darkness for Vinny), and there's also our solution for when he's curious. We just put him on top of the cage, right with his nose touching the window. He can just look outside and will sit there happily for quite a while. He'll growl, make funny sounds, or just look at the birds outside, cars and buses driving past, and so forth.

Last week it was sunny outside and we took a few snapshots of him, when he was in the nosy mood. He was staring outside and I could swear he was saying 'bus', when he saw a moped racing by. Of course, that could have just been my imagination.

We'll go into Vinny's various moods and how to swing those moods in another post. In the meantime, here are a few pictures of Vinny, on top of his cage, looking outside.

Vinny goes social!

Vinny isn't very skilled at the computer. As you can see, he did have a go at it (especially the scroll-wheel of my mouse). Had to get a new one, but it was time for that anyway. My 'punishment' for not paying attention for a few seconds.

We'll go into what we sometimes call 'Vinny karma' later.

Anyway, the point of this is that my girlfriend and I see ourselves as Vinny's 'publicists'. We post on his behalf, so to speak. Why? Well, as we said in the welcome post, we think that the info we've gathered so far  might help people who just got a young parrot themselves (even though we hardly call ourselves experts). And hopefully it's a nice read at the same time.

At the moment, Vinny is working his way through a mini-pumpkin filled with more fruity goodies and looking at me with those big cute googly eyes, and I can see him thinking: "Hey you, keep concentrating on that blog! And why haven't you tweeted yet today? What the hell am I paying you for? Oh, and don't forget, I'll be asking for more food later and demand some attention. Just so you know! And I might poop on you or wipe my pumpkin-beak on your shirt".

Yes, we love him anyway.

We have our own social media channels like Twitter, Google+ and YouTube, so we figured it might be fun for Vinny to have his own ways of communicating with the world through the internet. For the last few weeks, we've been doing that in those various ways, but as of now, we're concentrating everything around the centerpiece of it all, and you're reading it right now.

So, since this blog is now the epicenter of Vinny's online presence, from here it's easy to find your way to his other social media channels.


Before writing this blog, from the moment that Vinny moved in with us, we kept a diary on a Dutch forum for parrot owners. Feel free to visit this one as well and read up. Don't forget to go to the other pages as well. Four pages so far.

Diary on Sennapapegaaien.nl
Diary on Sennapapegaaien.nl, with Google Translate

On this forum, you'll also find some baby pictures of Vinny. We'll post those snapshots on here as well, later on.

Take care, and see you in the next post!

April 14, 2012

Vinny: the movie!

Yes, Vinny has it all! Straight from Vinny's YouTube channel, here's Vinny's first motion picture!

This video shows how Vinny (at the age of about 12 weeks) is still having a bit of trouble with his eye-talon coordination. At the time of writing (2 weeks later), he's already a lot better at this than he was 2 weeks ago, but still fun to see.

Have fun watching!


Alright, before we get on with some more stories about Vinny, how about just a few photos? A few weeks ago, we did a little photoshoot with Vinny as the main star of course. Check these out!

Ps. Vinny is 12 weeks of age in these pics.

April 08, 2012

Decisions, decisions!

Since my girlfriend moved from the States to the Netherlands, we've been thinking about getting a companion pet. My girlfriend has had pets all her life, from fish to horses and everything in between, and when I was a kid, we had turtles and more.

Darwin, one of the 'Bubbleheads'
Birds have always had a special place in our hearts, even more so since we got the 2 budgies last year, that we affectionately call the 'Bubbleheads'. In all honesty, they're worth a whole new blog. I'll tell you more about them later.

For our 'family expansion', at first we were looking at Parrotlets, Cockatiels, Greencheeks, Caiques and many more types of smaller parrot-kin. Especially the Caiques got our attention and we were seriously looking for them, but quickly found out that they're quite hard to find in the Netherlands.

At some point in September '11, we went to this huge bird fair. We were amazed and disappointed at the same time. We've never seen so many different kinds of birds in one place, but the quality got lost in the huge quantity. We did almost get 3 Caiques that we came across, about the only ones there, but in the end decided against it. We weren't quite ready to 'settle' on the Caiques.

We were frustrated, tired, upset and disappointed. We were letting out our frustration and then it hit us. Whatever bird was on our list, would still be an intermediate step. As we were on the way home, we had one of those moments where we both said the same thing at the same time: African Grey!

From that moment on, our research changed completely. We ritually burned our old list (as a figure of speech), and started a new one. African Grey at the top, soon followed by Galah, Amazon, Cockatoo, etc. We discovered about the many character traits and pros/cons of the various birds, and made the Timneh African Grey our top priority. More frustration! Nowhere to find, at least not in the Netherlands. And we're not the kind of people that drive 4 to 5 hours to another country on a whim.

It was early November when we had our epiphany moment. My girlfriend was doing her usual information gathering, when she re-discovered the majestic Eclectus. Of course she knew those, but also was under the assumption that this type of bird was completely out of our league, mostly price-wise. Back in the old days in the USA, this bird was as expensive as a Hiacynth Macaw. Turns out they're not like that at all anymore, and even better: those incredibly beautiful birds are pretty easy to find around here.

The most important reason that made us decide on the Eclectus, after gathering loads of information, is the fact that they're such easy birds, especially in social situations. They're not one-person birds! They'll love anyone and everyone, as long as they're treated right. And that we swore to do, of course.

The fact that their feathers are oil-based, was an additional advantage. As opposed to Greys, who will put a nice thick layer of dust on everything in the house within days. There were some other facts as well, that confirmed our choice for the Eclectus.

After this point, which we reached in october/november, it all went pretty smoothly. We looked online, we called pet stores, we re-visited our favorite ones a few times, got to talk to the owners of a few, and got introduced to a very reputable breeder. Picking the right breeder is a completely different story all together and we'll go into that another time. The same goes for the decision of male or female. That's a whole different show.

And as of now, that we've had Vinny for a month. We have no regrets whatsoever, even after experiencing various kinds of parrots, for example at the local parrot rescue and re-visiting our old research. We're very happy that we decided on the Eclectus, and we're extremely happy with Vinny.

Welcome to Vinny Takes Charge!

This is Vinny's blog. He lives in Groningen, in the northern part of the Netherlands. He's a funny bird! He's also a young one, still. At the time of writing, he's about 14 weeks old, can't speak yet, but is definitely discovering the world around him, bit by bit.

Just to get this clear right away, Vinny is not proficient in typing (yet). Yes, he can walk on a keyboard and anything that comes out would probably look something like this: 'aaaaaaaAAAAAAAAASDFFFFFF <<<<///////' before hitting some key that would shut down the writing screen open at the time. So, it's Vinny's proud 'parronts' (parrot parents) who are writing this blog.

In short, this blog will tell you about Vinny's adventures and show some photos and videos, but also try to talk from a parrot owner's view and explain the problems we've encountered, how we solved them and the wonders we've discovered. We'll try to deal with all of this topic by topic.

See, the thing is: we've noticed that there's a LOT of info available on blogs, forums and other informational websites. However, there aren't a lot that deal with first time baby parrot stuff. So, even though we have had our baby parrot for over 3 weeks now, we'll start from the top.

Why did we pick the species of parrot that we liked, how did we go about selecting a cage, how did we find a breeder, etcetera. After that, we'll tell you a bit about Vinny specifically, and things that we've discovered.

As you may have noticed if you looked at Vinny's Google+ profile, he's a male Eclectus. For this reason, plus given the fact that we don't have experience with other large parrots, we can only talk from an Eclectus owner's point of view. But some of the stuff that we talk about, will definitely be solid information, regardless of the species of parrot you have.

So, what will you get when you read this blog?
- fun read
- info for new parrot owners
- anecdotes about Vinny

At this point, before getting to the good stuff, just a few tiny disclaimers:
- 'Fun' is very subjective. If you don't think it's a fun read, please let us know by giving constructive criticism. If you do think it's fun to read this blog, you can send us flowers, lots 'o money, front-row tickets to 2012 Olympics events, but of course just compliments by email are very welcome as well.
- Info for new parrot owners: please realize that in no way we're experts. We're handling anything that concerns Vinny in the best possible way we see fit, by finding info on various websites but also by trial-and-error. However, we strongly believe that it can be very helpful to learn from other people's mistakes and experience, so hopefully the info we give you will be of help to you.
- Anecdotes about Vinny: actually this falls under the header 'fun read', we hope. We'll put some pics and vids in here for fun as well. The only reason I'm mentioning this under 'disclaimer', is that we provide most of the stories and pictures and video's for this blog ourselves. And where we don't, we'll tell you the source.

Alright, on with it, enough of the boring babble!
Have fun reading this blog!