The Celebrity Caique: Spikey LeBecby Sally Blanchard, Editor, Companion Parrot Quarterly
Reprinted with permission
Spike and I had a terrific time at the Midwest Avian Research Expo in Indianapolis. I was suffering a bit from an energy lag but Spike more than made up for it with his effervescent personality. Sometimes I am amazed at how well-behaved he is at these events. He is a wonderful visual aid and even though he doesn't always do exactly what he is supposed to, it usually works out and I can make some sort of valid point from his behavior. It's been awhile since I wrote my PBR article on caiques (The Bird That Would Be King, Issue #4, Reprint #4.20) so I thought I would write exclusively about my buddy Spike in his column.
Spike has become so well-known that I'll walk into a room unrecognized but the minute people see him they'll greet him emphatically, "Hi Spike!" I am generally not offended he comes first - after all Frankenstein's monster is more famous than Dr Frankenstein. I had a part in creating Spike's personality and popularity -- after all, I am the one who taught him to bounce on command. I'm just waiting for his announcement one day that he has found an agent who can get him better bookings!
Every time the celebrity caique makes an appearance, people who see him end up coveting him. I don't blame them because he can be a real charmer and I too, am charmed by his delightful antics. Several caique breeders credit Spike with a high percentage of their sales but he never gets a kick-back. Perhaps Spike is the quintessential parrot, embodying just about all of the aspects people love about them. All of this packed into a compact 8 inches from stem to stern -- he is literally a handful. Spike's colors are beautiful - although I was told in high school home economics class that green and orange did not go together in the grand scheme of design (Hey, as I remember, the same teacher told us girls we could get pregnant from sitting on a boys lap unless we put a newspaper between us -- what did she know???).
Spike is more than just a green and orange bird. His thick belly and chest feathers are light grey with buttermilk white tips. On his chest they become flecked with light yellow. His pantaloons (which he puffs out for expression) are deep orange sherbet with school bus yellow tips. His shoulders, back and tail are almost iridescent emerald green ranging from forest green to yellow green depending on how the light touches them. The underside of his tail is yellow brown with long fluffy orange and yellow vent feathers covering much of it. The wing feathers are green and black with ever so subtle shades of deep blue in the first flights. His throat and cheeks (which he also puffs out for expression) are yellow with occasional white and orange flecks turning to a deeper orangey-red on the sides to the back of his neck.
The lores in front of his eyes are emerald green and he has grey fleshy eye rings giving him a wide-eyed alert appearance. His eyes are deep orange with a grey green circle around the pupil. He has a thick cushion of glossy black feathers on the top of his head. Sometimes they become ruffled and out of place. I like to tease him about his cowlicks. The transition from his black cap to his nape contains a spattering of unique almost turquoise feathers, some of them part black and some part orange. The same multicolored feathers occur in the transition from his nape to his back and shoulders.
His colors are brilliant with velvety sheen (of course, that could have something to do with the quality of nutrition in his diet which includes lots of high vitamin A vegetables). I remember about the same time Spike came into my life, I saw a cage full of imported caiques for sale at an avicultural seminar. There was nothing but seed in the cage and the importer was making it quite clear to potential buyers that caiques thrived on a seed only diet. I had just done my homework (very difficult to find any information at the time) and knew that as a high energy bird, they needed lots of nutritious fruits and veggies. I've always hoped that no one who bought the birds believed him!
A "Used" Bird
I got Spike at about 9 months old as a "used" bird from someone who seemed to belong to the "bird of the month" club. None of the birds ever lived up to his expectations so he would tire of them after a while and they would go to new homes. Although my intent was to find another home for him, he wormed his way into my heart very quickly. This is not to say he was a well behaved bird. He had lived with no rules for too long and thought he could get away with anything. He was also on what seemed to be a classic "fruit loops" and pepsi cola diet and was so hyper, he had the attention span of a seed moth.
His aggressive attitude when I insisted that he do something was - You and what army is gonna make me? He was a shoulder bird and it took me a good month or so of constantly "upping" him as he ran up my arm to convince him that he was not allowed on my shoulder unless I put him there. Just because Spike knows that I am the flock leader doesn't mean he always respects it. I have to work continually to let him know his behavioral boundaries but he is an exceptional student.
Spike is also clever - very clever. Sometimes too clever for me. If there is mischief, he will find it. If there is a way out of his cage, no matter how hard he has to work, he will find his way out. He is not the type of bird who can be trusted to stay alive out of his cage without close supervision. He has learned several tricks in less time than it takes me to think of them. Of course, many of the tricks he does well are based on a natural behavior. For example hopping, playing on his back, swaggering with wings spread, and leaf-bathing are all behaviors that Spike would do on his own. But I have turned them into tricks by patterning him to hop when I "wind him up", to do a somersault in my hand (over and over and over and over...), to fall on his back when I either shoot him with my finger or blow him over, and to spread his wings in response to applause. He loves to play Aliens -- he crawls around in my blouse and then pops his head out between the buttons. About the hair-surfing thing, this IS his obsession. Layne Dicker still holds the record of 45 minutes although a few people at M.A.R.E. came close.
But can he talk?
Yes, he says a couple of dozen things from "babeeee" to "What are you doing?" but he doesn't enunciate very well. So ... I can understand him!
Spike is exceptional in crowds of people. He is fearless (except for balloons which terrify him!) and will generally go to and be delightfully tame to almost anyone. Sometimes it even surprises me because he can be a real butt around his cage at home - especially if he is involved with a favorite food. Spike and the other caiques I know are real gluttons when it comes to food. They love to eat almost anything and become very possessive about their favorite foods. Like most narcissists, Spike is not into sharing. I think the only food he has ever rejected was a small piece of smoked oyster. Since that shouldn't be a part of his diet, it didn't matter anyway.
Are They All Like Spike?
I am often asked if all caiques are just like Spike. Everyone wants their own little Spikey LeBec. I am reminded of the saying "Be Careful What You Wish For". While there is nothing wrong with wanting or owning a caique, it is important to realize that they are not all just like Spike and even if they were, their high-energy dominant personalities could be a serious challenge for many. Rules and guidance are extremely important for these jam-packed little parrots. They need a cage as large as birds three times their size, endless toys, abundant exercise, and lots of in-your-face cuddle wrestling plus generous mood altering quiet-time for face skritching.
It is hard not to anthropomorphize a bird like Spike - he could have easily jumped out of a Disney cartoon. Spikey is the consummate party animal (most of the time) but he can be equally happy playing with his toys by himself - especially if I let him know I am entertained!
Would I recommend a caique as a pet for everyone - absolutely not! Would I recommend one to a knowledgeable bird owner willing and able to do "the right thing" for their avian companion - absolutely!
Reprinted From Companion Parrot Quarterly, March 1992
(formerly Pet Bird Report)
Laughing Parrot Gallery
239 E 4th St, Loveland, CO 80527
COPYRIGHT 1992. All text and drawings by Sally Blanchard
Reproduction in whole or part is prohibited without written authorization.