The First Three Months with Baby Cape Thor
By Dana Parrott
I WAS A NERVOUS WRECK waiting for Delta flight
1655 to touch down at San Jose International Airport.
“What if they forgot to transfer him in Salt Lake
City? He’s probably on his way to Reno instead of
“Well, let’s just worry about that if and when it
happens,” said Craig Harris, an always-calming influence
and the anticipated-arrival’s new daddy. “Let’s go
outside and watch the planes take off and land to pass
the time and relax.”
We were adopting a baby Cape parrot, a Poicephalus
robustus suahelicus, from Scott and Linda Lewis of Old
World Aviaries in Austin, Texas. We had all but decided
to name him Thor but were waiting to actually meet him
to see if the name suited him. It did.
“I’ve got an animal here from Flight 1655,” said
the Delta employee. “It’s a small carrier; must be a
“If it’s a cat, we’ve got a problem,” I said, as
he placed the carrier on the counter. “It’s supposed to
be a bird.”
Craig lifted the taped-on dish cloth covering the
wire mesh door of the carrier. It was a bird, all
right, but the Cape, with its heavy body, at first
impression somewhat resembled a duck, especially when
standing with its large feet on a flat surface and with its neck extended; and
Thor’s first words to us were something of a quacking
From all we had read, we were expecting to have a
terrified, trembling, cowering creature on our hands,
after the traumatic experience he’d just been through,
being taken from the only family he’d ever known and
placed on an airplane for a half a day.
“Wugga wugga,” said Thor, greeting us by sticking
his beak through the wires of the carrier.
Craig stroked Thor’s beak. “Hi, baby,” said
“Wenna wenna,” said Thor.
Thor loved us immediately. He was not afraid, not
traumatized; he didn’t seem to be upset at all. At
least not until we got him home.
“Let’s just put him in his cage and leave him
alone for a few hours so he can chill out, get used to
his new predicament, like the books say to do,” I said.
“Probably a good idea,” agreed Craig. “He’s been
through a lot.”
Letting Thor relax alone for a while was not to
be. He cried unceasingly every time we left the room,
stopping when we returned. He paced back and forth on
the floor of his new cage, crying, seemingly asking to
be let out.
“Well, he doesn’t seem to be afraid of us at all,
and he seems really upset to be in there by himself, so
maybe we should take him out and hold him for a while
and see if that calms his down,” I suggested.
“Probably can’t hurt,” agreed Craig. “Let’s give
it a try.”
“Yeah, he’s probably never been alone in his
life,” I said.
Craig took Thor out of his cage and let him perch
on his hand, and Thor stopped crying instantly. He
seemed to calm down and relax almost completely.
“Wow,” I said, “we sure didn’t anticipate that.”
For the rest of the first day in his new home,
Thor stayed out of his cage with us. He wanted to be
with us constantly and cried whenever we put him back in
his cage. He wanted to be in direct physical contact at
all times. If he stepped off a hand to reach for a toy,
he still kept one foot on the hand at the same time.
The next day, Thor seemed much calmer. He would
still cry when we left the room, but he could now stay
in his cage without crying, as long as we were in the
same room. We also had our vet appointment that
We took Thor to see Dr. Fern Van Sant, an
exclusively avian veterinarian at For The Birds in Los
Gatos, California. We had about a half-hour meeting
with the vet’s assistant, an educational session on how
to care for Thor, where we learned everything from
keeping him away from household cleaners, air
fresheners, “anything with a scent,” to what kind of
toys and cages are safe, to how to feed him his cooked
food to minimize the danger of molds.
Then Dr. Van Sant came in to do the examination.
Thor greeted his new doctor when she came into the room
by flying into her legs. “Well, hello there,” she said.
“Do you have any other Capes as clients?” I asked.
“No, Thor’s the only one,” she said. “He’s a rare
Thor did not like being held in the towel by the
assistant. Dr. Van Sant examined Thor’s mouth. “Look
at those muscles!” she exclaimed.
Thor screamed when Dr. Van Sant did the blood
test, but within minutes he was back to his active,
happy self, playing with his toy barbell and eating a
Nutri-An cake. “Nothing seems to bother him for very
long,” we explained. “He is a very good-natured baby.”
Dr. Van Sant continued with the exam. “He’s in
good feather,” she said. “When I hear of people who buy birds mail-order sight unseen, I cringe. But he’s in very good feather.”
The vet explained the lab tests while Thor played.
“He is definitely a male,” Dr. Fern said. “I would have
known he was a male even if you hadn’t told me. You can
tell by the way he acts. He’s all male. It’s probably
the flat head that gave him away!” She turned to Craig.
Everyone in the vet’s office came into the room to
see Thor, because most of them had never seen a Cape
before. “I just wanted to take a peek at your bird.
I’ve never seen one of these before. Just look at that
face!” they’d say. “He’s a real cutie.”
“He’s a cool customer,” concluded the doctor, who
called us a week later to tell us that all of his tests
came back perfect. “Feel free to call us if you have
any questions at all.”
Thor was much more relaxed by this time than when
he arrived, but now we had a new problem: Thor was
losing weight. He’d lost about 25 grams since he’d left
“Well, the book says that a 10 percent weight loss
isn’t unusual when they’re put through a trauma, so
let’s keep an eye on it and call Scott if he loses too
much more,” I decided.
“He seems healthy,” said Craig.
Thor did seem healthy. He was very active,
playing with all his toys and learning his way around
his new cage. He did eat, but he apparently wasn’t
eating enough. We’d asked the vet about it, and she
said he would probably settle in and the problem would
take care of itself. But by the fourth morning when I
weighed him, he’d lost 37 grams, close to 10 percent of
his highest weight of 387 grams. I emailed Scott Lewis,
the breeder, and asked him what to do. Scott phoned
“Get some baby bird formula and feed it to him at
night in a 20cc syringe,” Scott instructed. He gave me
explicit instructions on what to do, how to take the
temperature of the formula, and what else to feed Thor.
“Don’t worry, it’s easy to do on a baby this age. Call
me if you have any more questions or concerns,” said
Scott. “You get lifetime tech support when you buy a
bird from me.”
So I gave Thor his formula that night, which he
ate voraciously. Each night after that, he seemed to
want less and less of it.
“I understand how he was too excited to eat,” I
later told my girlfriend. “I myself lost three pounds
the first week he was here!”
Thor’s favorite foods, when he decides to eat, are
grapes, corn on the cob, papaya, cantaloupe, homemade
applesauce and peas. He picks through his soak-n-cook
mix and eats only the soybeans. He picks through his
nuts, which we give him to help him get his weight up,
and eats only the pine nuts. He eats Roudybush or
Harrison’s pellets, and he likes both. He also gets
Lafebre’s Nutri-An cakes as a treat. He loves just
about anything crunchy, and likes foods that he can hold
in his foot to eat. Dr. Van Sant instructed us to feed
Thor only organic produce. I’ve recently discovered
that he eats better if he is offered only one food at a
time. If he is given a mixture of anything, most of it
will get tossed out of the bowl. For example, he never
ate his filbert nuts when I gave him his nuts mixed;
now, if he is only given a small bowl of filberts, he
will eat them. It may be a coincidence, but he’s been
eating a lot more this week, and his weight has been
higher, since I started feeding him this way.
Thor seems to be what our vet calls a “social
eater.” Often, when I get home after a few hours’ time,
there is little evidence that he’s eaten. But as soon
as I come in the room, he goes right for the food bowl.
He seems strangely disinterested in food much of the
time and seems to be more interested in playing and
socializing with his people than in eating. He’s never
put the lost weight back on, but he has stabilized.
A few weeks after our breeder Scott Lewis
instructed me on the handfeeding, I wrote back to ask
him if he thought Thor’s inability to gain weight was a
problem. Scott’s wry, dry sense of humor came through
in his response.
“Let’s say I put you in a 8 x 8 room with food in
front of you from sunup to sundown and not a lot to do
except play with your brothers and sisters inside that
room and eat, except for two 30-minute exercise periods
per day. I suspect you might end up carrying a little
extra weight. Now let’s say that you then move to a big
house that borders on a park with lots of fun things to
do other than eat. Would you expect to lose some weight
and stabilize at a new weight that was lower than when
you were sitting in the room staring at food? If he’s
eating and pooping and playing and preening and
perching, I’m sure he’s fine. I wonder if it is also
natural for them to be less in a rush to eat when they
are removed from a situation where they think they are
competing with siblings for food.”
So, Thor is settling in at an athletic weight,
between 350 and 360 grams.
The first few weeks we had Thor, he was driving us
crazy because he would not stay put. He was flying
constantly. He only had four primaries clipped on each
side because, as a heavy-bodied bird, he had to be
prevented from crashing to the floor and hurting
himself. Having only four feathers clipped allowed him
to drift, rather than crash, to the floor. Thor soon
learned to compensate for the lack of flying feathers
and flew the entire length of my apartment. He flies
less now, but when he wants to be with one of us,
especially Craig, he will fly to him. We haven’t
trained him to stay put yet.
Thor is an extremely social creature. As a
deposition court reporter, I do much of my work at home,
and Thor shares my office space with me, so he is used
to being with someone most of the day. So far, he’s
never been alone for more than a five-and-a-half-hour
stretch of time. He usually cries whenever I leave the
room, even if he can still look down the hall and see
me. He stops crying as soon as I come back in the room.
Craig works at home as well, so Thor always has plenty
of company; probably too much, as he often has
difficulty amusing himself when he’s alone. The
majority of the time when we come home after being out,
even if it’s for several hours, Thor is just sitting on
his perch, not playing, though he’s had plenty of time
to rest, seemingly just waiting for us to return.
Thor is a very active baby, and since his first
day with us has needed to take a couple of “power naps”
throughout the day, lasting 20 minutes or so, which
rejuvenate him to go back to his playing. Thor’s
favorite toys are hanging toys with knots and wood
disks, and anything he can hold in a foot and chew.
He’s already untied several knots, and pulled three of
his foot toys apart, and made toothpicks out of several
toy pieces. He loves being on his playpen with his
hanging toys, but his favorite place to play is in the
big tray that is on top of his cage. He goes through a
20-minute period a couple times a day that we call
“brain-dead birdie,” when he seems to get overstimulated
and chases his toys around, screams, jumps and hops,
“barks” and lunges at his toys, as if they were
attacking him back. He growls and whines, and sometimes
even rolls onto his side, holding onto a toy with his
beak and one foot; he even shakes his head with a toy in
his mouth, like a puppy. He tugs on a hanging plastic
chain and growls and lunges at it. He plays soccer with
a little plastic wiffle ball. He stalks his toys,
pretending he doesn’t notice them, and then attacks
them. He also loves to drop a toy to the floor, just
for the joy of watching one of us pick it up for him.
His favorite toy for the longest time, until he
destroyed it, was a plastic keyring with four plastic
keys and a red heart on it, a gift from his Grandma and
Grandpa Parrott, whom he met last month. “I think you
should come live with me,” said Grandma.
If there is something that frightens him, it
doesn’t take him long to get used to it, such as his
bell, which scared him at first when it rang. He is
still scared stiff by his birdie jukebox, which he’s
only set off a few times. But we’re sure he’ll be
abusing it soon too.
Thor refused to be placed on his back for the
first couple of weeks, but we got him used to it,
gradually, by mesmerizing him with a head or beak rub
while on his back. Now, he puts himself on his back
with a silly game he invented that we call “Oopsie.”
While perched on a hand, he’ll very slowly start to fall
backwards, acting as if he’s doing it by accident. If I
could read his mind, I think he would be saying to
himself, “Uh-oh, I think I’m slipping. No, I’m not.
Yes, yes, I am slipping. I can’t hold myself up. I’m
going to fall over backwards. Oopsie!” Occasionally,
the oopsie is a forward fall.
Thor doesn’t much care for playing in a towel,
which we’re trying to acclimate him to. He loves having
his head and beak rubbed, especially now that he’s
molting. At first, he had to be talked into it, but
once we started, he was putty in our hands. Now he
actually asks for a pet by putting his head close to
one’s hand. When he wants a scratch, he’ll get as close
to me as he can on his perch, and lean way over so I can
reach him. If I stop, he’ll follow me for more. He
will now lay on his back in my lap until I get tired of
holding and scratching him. The longest time so far has
been 25 minutes.
Thor is remarkably similar to a human child. He
wants to put everything in his mouth, and he hates
having his face wiped. When he is tired and falling
asleep, and we put him in his cage, he wakes up and
calls for us. “But I don’t want to go to bed!” And he
always wants what I have. If I have food, he’ll
drop his own food to try to get mine. If I have a
toy, he’ll drop the toy he’s playing with because he’s
sure the one I have is better. If he’s not eating out
of his own food bowl, he’ll eat if I hold his food.
He vacillates between, “Hold me! Scratch me! Cuddle
me!” and “Leave me alone, I’m busy!”
Thor most definitely has a favorite human. He
likes me a lot, but he loves and adores Craig. Thor
gets super excited whenever he sees Craig after a period
of days of not seeing him. If Thor had little birdie
pants on, he would wet them. He goes crazy as soon as
he is aware of Craig, and he doesn’t even have to see
him first, he can simply hear him and go nuts. He
chirps and quivers and gets very, very excited. As soon
as Craig holds him, Thor will put his head back in a
baby-bird position and say, “Waaaaaa.” He’ll bob his
head up and down in a feeding action. He can sit on
Craig’s shoulder and preen his hair for an hour. But
just as Craig gets the adoration, he also gets the other
end of the spectrum of rowdy, uncontrollable,
aggressive, biting behaviors more than I do.
Thor has exhibited some territorial behaviors.
When he is on his play top or in his cage, or anyplace
he thinks of as “his place,” he will occasionally lunge
at us if he thinks we’re getting too close or if he
doesn’t want to come off. Repeating “Step up” sternly a
few times usually ends the aggression and he’ll obey.
If it doesn’t, I have him step up onto a hand-held
perch, after he’s finished attacking it.
Thor has a huge beak, but he has never bitten
either of us very hard. He has punctured us a couple
times with the sharp point of his beak, but we don’t
think he intentionally wounded us. His lunges and bites
have more of a playing quality than a violent quality,
and getting him to release a finger from his beak is
easy; we just gently lift up his upper mandible and he
Thor has a birdie harness that Craig can actually
get on him, but Thor then spends all his time trying to
get out of it rather than enjoying being outside. He
seems to be slowly getting more used to it, but it can
only remain on him for ten minutes at the most before he
starts to panic about having it on.
The most impressive thing that Thor does is poop
on command. He was doing it right nearly one hundred
percent of the time but is now going through a phase of
refusing to do it. He associated the verbal command,
“Poop!” with the action of pooping. That’s not to say
that he won’t go if he doesn’t get the command, because
he does. We are very careful, but accidents still
Thor has decided he loves the shower. We were
misting him for the first couple of weeks. At first, he
seemed to tolerate it but not really enjoy it. Then he
started to actually like it. Now, he gets in the shower
with Craig and voluntarily soaks himself under the
spray, flapping and chirping sometimes; at times he gets
so relaxed that he almost falls asleep. He occasionally
tries to bathe in his water bowl. He sometimes sticks
his head too far into his water bowl and makes himself
Thor doesn’t say any actual words yet, but he
spends a good part of every day practicing the sounds he
knows, adding to his repertoire frequently. He is not a
quiet bird, as Capes are purported to be. He is capable
of a very high-pitched call, which we get to enjoy
often, that is so loud the reverberations can be heard
and felt in the room. If he lets one of these calls off
while you’re near him, your ear literally rings for a
few minutes afterwards. He has many other sounds, most
of which are pleasant, including cackles, clicks,
clucks, gargles, growls, meows, whimpers, whines, and
whistles. He makes a quacking sound in the cadence of
“Step up” and often says it as he’s actually stepping
up. He makes little “wugga wugga” or “wenna wenna” or
“grobble grobble” sounds. Just last week he started
what sounds like an imitation either of his birdie
jukebox, Craig’s cell phone, or a bird outside. We’ve
had warm weather, so we’ve had the windows open
(screened, of course) and there is a songbird outside
that Thor might be imitating. He sings up to eight
notes, and it is very melodic and amusing. He makes
noises that sound like a cat screeching and a puppy
whining. This week he started making sounds that
resemble a person talking, although there are no
Thor’s personality is evolving and changing all
the time. He’s gone from a somewhat nervous, hyper,
intelligent baby to a silly, amusing, pleasant, even
more intelligent child. He is extremely curious and
very active. He is getting more bold and acrobatic as
time passes. Thor’s brother Dudley, who now lives in
New York, had a reputation for being the bigger, rowdier
sibling; if that’s so, his new family must be exhausted,
because Thor is quite a handful. He requires a lot of
attention, and having him around is quite time
consuming. Thor will not allow himself to go unnoticed.
He is noisy, demanding, and ohmygodthemess. His
constant, loud chirping whenever I leave the room is at
times quite bothersome, and I sometimes cover his cage
for ten minutes to quiet him down, so that I can be in
another part of the house and have some peace. At the
same time, he is sometimes so funny, especially when
he’s attacking his toys, that he has us in stitches. He
has a funny little whine when he has his morning
stretch, just like a human. He is super cuddly and
affectionate, when he’s in a quiet mood. He is friendly
with strangers and steals their hearts. Though he is
our first bird, so we don’t have any experiences to
compare to, all in all, living with Thor is an absolute
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