Sunday, April 30, 2006

weekend bird blogging

Thursday evening, I noticed that my pionus parrot, Aziza, was not acting herself, and she seemed to be thin.

Birds instinctively attempt to hide illness for as long as possible, so you have to know their habits and observe them to know how they are feeling, and I knew she wasn't feeling well. I had Friday off, and I took her to the vet on Friday morning. Hopefully I will find out tomorrow what her lab results were, and we can proceed with treatment or to the next stage of diagnostic tests (an x-ray to look for respiratory problems, if the lab results are inclonclusive). She may have a low-grade bacterial infection, or even possibly aspergillosis, a repiratory fungal infection. I hope it is the former, as that would be much easier to treat; aspergillosis is more difficult to manage, and may never be cured. I worry about it though, given the kind of climate we have, where spores are pretty common.

She seems to have a decent appetite, and though she seemed on Thursday and Friday to be drinking more water than usual, she doesn't seem to be drinking so much yesterday or today. She has enough energy to wrestle with her toys, and can now get around easier (we had her nails clipped while we were at the vet; I had let them get a little overgorwn, because last time I clipped them I felt like I had butchered her - plus, she is really difficult to clip, even with two people; she is really squirmy). I can tell she is still not totally herself, but the vet didn't think she was in any imminent danger (hopefully I caught the changes in her behavior soon enough to turn things around).

I also was chided that I have been guilty of spoiling my birds, and taking some shortcuts on their diets. So, I am back to feeding better, healthier food. Back to Roudybush pellets as the base of their diet, along with cooked grain and legume mixes ("soak-n-cook"), and chopped fruits and veggies, and pretty much eliminate the peanuts and seeds - even the nutriberries have to pretty much go.

So far they are all eating the soak-n-cook, and I'm not getting too much complaint about fewer treats, though I suspect it will be weeks before they really start eating their pellets again. They used to be really good about it, but now, I think the parrotlet may be the only one who has really been eating them. But I guess they will eventually. I want to keep them around, so I need to make time to feed them right. I'm sure the pellets are somewhat bland and boring, so I have to make sure that the soak-n-cook is good enough to be the 'treat' that they look forward to.

On a happier note - I got the most surprising sight yesterday. There has been a pair of downy woodpeckers that I have been seeing daily in the bigleaf maple in the backyard. The male is pretty territorial, chasing redbreasted nuthatches, chickadees, even robins (a slightly larger bird) out of the tree. I was looking out at the tree yesterday when I saw movement - the fluttering of bird wings. "What is that woodpecker flapping about?" I wondered, when I saw him jump to the branch, next to his mate. Yes, folks, I was a witness to hot, arboreal, woodpecker love.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Cool article

I always was interested in cell differentiation, and it looks like some folks are getting ever closer to understanding the underlying mechanisms:

Biologists at the Broad and Whitehead Institutes in Cambridge, Mass., have now delved deep into this process and uncovered what seems to be a crucial feature of how a cell's fate is determined, even though much remains to be understood.

They have discovered a striking new feature of the chromatin, the specialized protein molecules that protect and control the giant molecules of DNA that lie at the center of every chromosome.

The feature explains how embryonic cells are kept in a poised state so that all of the genome's many developmental programs are blocked, yet each is ready to be executed if the cell is assigned to that developmental path.

They still don't understand what triggers differentiation - the signalling that leads to master regulator genes being turned on or off for a given cell, however. I don't know a lot about this (not a biologist or biochemist), but the environment of the cell (who its neighbors are) has a lot to do with the process, so I would think there has to be some mechanism for the chemical signals outside the cell to do something inside the cell (some protein gets made, perhaps) and this would affect what happens in these newly discovered "bivalent domains" on the chromosome, which causes a cascade of genes being turned on or off at different levels (the master regulatory genes control several secondary genes), which tells the cell what proteins to produce, and in effect what function it will have. Very cool stuff.

bird blogging

Kianga is still sitting, though she is coming up onto her perch more in the past week, especially at night. When she's on the perch, she's back to talking and making her usual rude noises. One of the eggs has been gone for about two weeks - she broke it while moving around trying to incubate it, but the other one is still there.

I may end up pulling the remaining egg and next within the next week, if she doesn't completely tire of it first. Normal incubation period is 26-28 days, and she has had over 30 so far. I think she's getting a little bored, but she's trying to be diligent, even though the egg isn't fertile. I even noticed that this year she even plucked a brood patch on her chest - she didn't do that in 2003. She's such a good bird.

Koga, one of the timneh greys, has been getting very attached to this one toy with a bell that she's had for a long, long time. It came with her cage when we got her, and she likes to ring the bell aggressively when she is frustrated. But lately she also has been nuzzling it as if to scratch her head with it, and this causes it to bump the side of the cage. Not a problems, except that she is doing this increasingly early in the morning - one morning about two weeks ago, she started at 4:20 am; and the birds are all in my bedroom, so I don't get a full night's sleep when she does this. So, I have started taking her beloved bell out of her cage at night. I'm sure she misses it early in the morning, but she has been a good sport about it so far.

In wild bird news: This year, our northern flickers are back; also at least one pair of red-breasted nuthatches. And to my surprise, we also have a pair of downy woodpeckers around as well. That the yard might have habitat enough for two families in the woodpecker family is pretty cool. I don't know exactly where the downies' nest is, though.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

how about, "inappropriate"

Oh, the GOP (Grand Old Perverts) just don't get it:

The leaders of the Republican and Democratic committees in Warminster are calling for the resignation of GOP Supervisor Fred Gold, who sent an e-mail with a photo of a topless woman promoting Jan. 15 as "Breast Appreciation Day."


Gold sent the e-mail from his personal account, and apologized if anyone who received or saw it was offended.

"I certainly don't think I did anything immoral or unethical," he said. "To resign because of this, I don't think so."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

my city in Europe

I can totally see this:

You Belong in Amsterdam

A little old fashioned, a little modern - you're the best of both worlds. And so is Amsterdam.
Whether you want to be a squatter graffiti artist or a great novelist, Amsterdam has all that you want in Europe (in one small city).

Thanks to John over at Stranger Fruit.

Monday, April 10, 2006

LL Cool P

The ladies love them some Patrick Fitzgerald:

In Fitz’s case, the stakes are so much higher: massive political corruption, terrorism, mafia racketeering, Presidential advisors and high level political payback. But it was telling to me that Fitz would use his time with these students not to brag about himself, but to teach them the value of putting others first and of paying off your debts rather than living extravagantly, so that you could put yourself in a position to serve others.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Americans are starved for public figures with actual integrity. So I hope Mr. Fitzgerald doesn't mind the attention.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

bird blogging

My Congo African grey parrot, Kianga, is sitting on two eggs.

She laid the first egg on March 21, the second on March 26. Though they aren't fertile, she's tending them very conscientiously, though she did crush the first one a little, and it has dried out a bit. She is getting to the stage now in her brooding where she doesn't even want to get off the nest to eat or drink, so I have to feed her specially. Right now, she isn't really interested in eating much of anything except warmed frozen corn or soak-and-cook (a mixture of rice, split peas, nuts, and dried fruit, cooked up together into a cereal) mixed with peanut butter.

This is the second time in her 15 years that she has laid eggs, the first time was in 2003. I figure she has about another two weeks before she gets over he broodiness and starts acting like herself again, eating her nutriberries, sleeping on her perch, and making rude noises at us. In the meantime, I'm going to be worrying over her, fussing over what and how much she's eating, though I think she's eating more than last time, and she was fine then, though she did slim down an awful lot.

She still has the energy, just before bedtime, to climb up to the top of her cage, hang upside down, and flap her wings furiously, so I take it as a sign that she's doing OK.

I got her when she was 6 1/2 weeks old and not even fully feathered or weaned, and she just turned 15 on March 31st, so yes, I'm sort of attached to her.

not quite...

...dumb enough to qualify for a Darwin Award:

A teacher who kept a 40 mm shell on his desk as a paperweight blew off part of his hand when he apparently used the object to try to squash a bug, authorities say.

Seldom is the question asked: is our teachers learning?