For a short time, I found myself working at a large private aviary in the Pacific Northwest. Just before starting that job, Caleb (the caretaker vacating the position) got a phone call from a woman in tears begging him to come and take away this bird that was flying at and attacking the members of the household. Caleb went to her home and returned with the most stunning macaw I have ever seen.
I try really hard not to be weak and give way to pressure or guilt when it comes to bringing home new birds. One thing I have learned over the years is that the more you exceed your limits, the lesser the quality of care becomes for all your birds.
Earlier, I had told a new co-worker there that I did not want to be adding to my personal flock and asked her to give me a stern warning if I appeared to be straying from that plan. The words had barely left my mouth when Morgan came into my life.
At first, I didn't believe that Morgan was a camelot. Jamie and Dave's camelots look nothing like Morgan and I had never seen one with this coloring. I started to search for what other hybrid she might be. Jamie sent me the photo below: at top left is Tusa, top right is Comet and the very red parrot at the bottom is the third member of their clutch. So, yup, Morgan is for sure a camelot.
Seven-year-old Morgan has had a complicated past. She is a Camelot macaw - a third generation hybrid - a cross between a Catalina macaw (a blue and gold/scarlet mix) and a scarlet macaw.
She and all of her siblings are the results of irresponsible breeding. Her parents produced chick after chick with congenital defects varying in severity and were still allowed to breed.
Many of her siblings suffered more severe defects than Morgan and many had brief lives. All of her male siblings were found to be missing an entire gene and none have survived according to someone familiar with Morgan’s past.
Making this even harder to stomach is the knowledge that the breeder was a veterinarian who knows that when a bird has one obvious congenital defect there are often more that don’t present themselves as clearly and additional problems can arise throughout the bird’s life. All this suffering at the hands of a person whose very job it is to heal animals…
There is a big chunk of the story that is missing that might tell us how many homes Morgan has passed through, but more recently she was living in a house with a blue and gold where the movie Practical Magic was filmed and when it was later sold, she and the blue and gold were sold with it. The new owners then turned the birds over to the pet sitter who was well-intentioned but unprepared for what they had taken on. Apparently, Morgan was refusing to step up and was attempting to fly to shoulders instead (a practical choice for a bird with a bad foot because shoulder width offers stability) but she was biting while up there.
Once Caleb was in possession of Morgan, there were no real plans for her future. Rehoming a large bird with behavioral issues was not going to be easy in the best of circumstances, but her foot issues were complicated and were going to require immediate vet care, probably ongoing, and some special caging.
Her left foot is twisted outward and into an upward angle forcing her to walk on what is most clearly described as the ‘ankle’. Normally she would be walking on a foot but her malformation causes her to walk on that joint which remained swollen and inflamed.
Three of her toes were useful inasmuch as they were able to grab and hold food and she could use them to climb. However, one of the toes was very swollen and just…wrong. The toe looked like a toe and it had a perfect nail growing out of it but it was without bones so it tended to fold under her foot.
On the one hand, the toe gave her ankle area some padding when she walked, but since it continued to be swollen and painful, and was utterly useless, the toe needed to be amputated. My concern for her feet was (and is) twofold: 1) how to protect the ankle she walks on from a lifetime of discomfort and inflammation and 2) since her posture and gate is off kilter because of the defect how could I keep her other foot from constant pressure sores while it overcompensates for the bad foot.
This is a lot to expect a potential new home to deal with and I saw in my mind a lifetime of new homes for Morgan. I had literally just met her but I saw something in her eyes that wouldn’t allow me to risk that happening to her and almost without thinking, I spoke up and said that I would take her.
At this point, I would describe her as cautious but handleable. She would step up but sometimes with hesitation. But she always chose not to bite under circumstances where another parrot might not hold back. She might pinch or knock you with her beak when she needed to assert herself but I had a hard time picturing her as the biting bird the pet sitter had described.
I immediately placed her on a broad spectrum antibiotic and a medication that would help with pain and reduce the inflammation. While there was improvement, she needed to get to the vet. Once there, the toe was removed and she was given a full blood workup which later came back showing her to be otherwise healthy. She has an impressive appetite and I was surprised to find she would devour a wide variety of veggies every day.
Her cage was set up with a flat, fleece covered perch that ran along the back for comfort and stability and another along one side of her cage that was covered in cardboard. There was also a regular round perch running from one side of the cage to the other.
Prior to her trip to the vet, medicating her was simple. The meds were mixed into a bit of peanut butter which she willingly ate. But when she returned to me following the amputation, she flatly refused her medication. As much as I hated having to towel her, her need for meds trumped the need for her to trust me at that point and I did what had to be done. It took weeks for her to step up for me again.
She healed up beautifully from the surgery and once the pain was gone and the inflammation was under control (it is still monitored closely) she was preferring the regular perch to her flat perches. There were none of the balancing issues I had anticipated. She made her choice so I see no need to continue with the flat perching. She will need meds to keep the inflammation at bay and she takes them now without hesitation. But still, my hands to date had hardly had the chance to represent anything but force. We have a lot of work to do to build trust.
I have since left the aviary and have moved to Idaho with the Womachs. Generously, Jamie and Dave came to help me move my cages in their truck and left, with Morgan, ahead of me. Jamie started working with Morgan before I even arrived – amazing things started happening right away.
Morgan immediately developed a bond with Jamie and my presence seems to impede their training progress. So after discussion, Jamie and I decided that I would step aside while she took the reigns until the training is finished at which time I will step in with the "language" Jamie has established and transfer her back to me. It is likely that Morgan will grow away from me after a while and it won't feel very good, but in the long run, this is the best possible thing for Morgan. She is going to have an amazing life!
Every step of her training progress is being documented and the intention is to train Morgan for freeflight. If you want to follow her journey, it is all on Youtube. Check out Morgan’s playlist HERE!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.