When Spike and I travel to offer lectures and programs, I am always impressed by how well-behaved he is at the majority of these gatherings.
He’s not only a terrific companion parrot, but he’s also an excellent visual assistance. Even if he doesn’t always do exactly what he’s intended to do, it generally works out and I can make some type of fair argument from his behavior.
Spike has become so well-known that if I go into a room unnoticed, the first thing people say to him is, “Hi Spike!” I’m not bothered that he comes first; after all, Frankenstein’s monster is more renowned than Dr. Frankenstein. I surely contributed to Spike’s charm and appeal; after all, I trained him to bounce on demand. I’m simply waiting for him to say that he’s found an agent who can get him greater gigs one day!
People who witness the famous caique find themselves wanting him every time he appears. I don’t blame them since he can be a true charmer, and his amusing antics enchant me as well. Several caique breeders attribute a large portion of their sales to Spike, yet he never receives a commission.
Perhaps Spike is the ideal parrot, representing almost everything that people like about them. He’s a handful with all of stuff crammed into an 8-inch package from stem to stern. Spike’s colors are lovely, despite the fact that I was told in high school home economics class that green and orange did not go together in the grand scheme of design (hey, the same teacher told us girls we could get pregnant sitting on a boy’s lap unless we put a newspaper between us – what did she know???).
Spike is much more than a green and orange bird. His light grey belly and breast feathers with buttermilk white tips. They get flecked with bright yellow across his chest. His pantaloons are a rich orange sherbet with school bus yellow tips (which he pushes out for expressiveness). His shoulders, back, and tail are an almost iridescent emerald green that varies from forest to golden green depending on how the light hits them. His tail is golden brown on the underside, with long fluffy orange and yellow vent feathers covering most of it. In the initial flights, the wing feathers are green and black with delicate hues of deep blue. His throat and cheeks (which he pushes out for expression) are yellow with white and orange specks that fade to a darker orangey-red on the sides and rear of his neck.
His lores are emerald green, and he has grey meaty eye rings, giving him a wide-eyed alert aspect.
His pupils are a grey green circle surrounded by a vivid orange circle. On top of his head is a thick pillow of glossy black feathers. They may get ruffled and out of place at times.
I like to make fun of his cowlicks. The transition from his black crown to his neck is adorned with a splatter of rare nearly turquoise feathers, some of which are half black and part orange.
The transition from his neck to his back and shoulders has the same colorful feathers.
His colors are vibrant, with a velvety shine (this might be attributed to the excellent quality of nutrients in his diet, which includes plenty of rich vitamin A vegetables). I recall seeing a cage full of imported caiques for sale at an avicultural lecture about the same time Spike entered my life.
The cage contained nothing but seed, and the importer made it very obvious to prospective purchasers that caiques thrived on a seed-only diet. I had just finished my research (which was tough to come by at the time) and understood that as a high-energy bird, they required plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables.
I’ve always hoped that the people who purchased the birds didn’t believe him!
A “Used” Bird
Spike was around 9 months old when I obtained him as a “used” bird from someone who looked to be a member of the “bird of the month” club. None of the birds ever lived up to his expectations, so he became tired of them and moved them to other homes. Although my intention was to find another home for the caique, the tenacious little fella swiftly wormed his way into my heart. This is not to suggest he was a good bird. He’d been living without restrictions for far too long, believing he could get away with anything. He also appeared to be on a standard “fruit loops” and Pepsi Cola diet. He had the attention span of a seed moth because he was so energetic.
When I insisted on his doing anything, his violent response was, “You and what army is going to make me?” He was a shoulder bird, and it took me about a month of repeatedly “upping” him as he raced up my arm to persuade him that he couldn’t be on my shoulder until I placed him there. Spike recognizes that I am the flock leader, although he does not always appreciate this notion. I have to work hard to remind him of his behavioral limits, but he is an excellent learner.
Very Clever Little Fellow
Spike is also highly intelligent, perhaps too intelligent for me. He will track down any mischief. If there is a way out of his cage, he will find it, no matter how hard he has to work. He is not the sort of bird that can be trusted to remain alive outside of his cage without constant monitoring. He’s picked up a few tricks in less time than it takes me to conceive of them. Of course, many of his antics are based on his natural tendencies. Spike’s natural habits include hopping, playing on his back, strutting about with his wings wide, and leaf-bathing. But I’ve converted them into tricks by teaching him to hop when I “wrap him up,” and to perform a somersault in my palm (again and over and over…). When I shot him with my finger or blow him over, he likewise falls on his back. Spikey stretched his wings in response to the thunderous ovation during one of his programs a few years back.
The more acclaim he receives, the more he puffs up, sways, and extends his wings. What a jerk! He enjoys playing Aliens, crawling around in my shirt and poking his head out between the buttons. This is his amazing fixation, the hair-surfing thing he’s so renowned for. He enjoys rubbing his face and torso through other people’s hair, which can be pretty amusing to witness. Leaf bathing is a natural activity for many parrots in the wild.
This entails rubbing their heads and bodies on moist leaves that may contain oils or natural compounds that aid in preening. Spike’s passion of hair surfing is, I assume, a substitute for leaf bathing. The record is 45 minutes, although other individuals have gotten close since then.
But can he communicate? Yes, he speaks a few hundred things ranging from “babeeee” to “What are you doing?” but he lacks enunciation. So… now I understand him! He recently yelled, “Oh my God, Spike,” as a buddy turned on the tap near his cage. This was said emphatically and with a hint of frustration. He is such a daring parrot that I’m sure I’ve said it many times when I’ve had to draw him back from the brink of danger.
Spike performs well in large gatherings. He is fearless (except for balloons, which frighten him!) and will go to practically anybody and be pleasantly gentle to them. It even amazes me at times since he can be a real jerk around his cage at home, particularly if he’s connected with a favorite meal. When it comes to food, Spike and the other caiques I know are absolute gluttons. They eat nearly everything and get highly attached to their favorite meals. Spike, like other narcissists, dislikes sharing.
I believe he has only ever refused a little piece of smoked oyster. It didn’t matter since it shouldn’t be in his diet.
Spike thrives on attention. He really enjoys it when I have him do his routines at home simply for fun. If I respond to his “sonar beeps,” he is content to play by himself while I am in the room. These are his contact calls, which he uses to ensure that his flock is close. If he beeps at me and I respond with a beep or say, “Hi, Spike, are you having fun?” he returns to his game. He begins screaming if I do not answer after a couple of beeps. Since I’ve realized this, I must accept responsibility for his screams if I disregard his cries to the flock.
Are They All Like Spike?
I’m often asked whether all caiques are like Spike.
Everyone wants their own Spikey LeBec. “Be Careful What You Wish For,” as the adage goes. I just read on the Internet that no caique ever remained tame beyond the age of sexual maturity. Spike most emphatically refutes that broad assumption! While there is nothing wrong with desiring or having a caique, it is vital to understand that they are not all the same as Spike, and even if they were, their high-energy domineering personalities might provide a severe issue for many.
Rules and instruction are important for these rambunctious tiny parrots. Because of their great activity, they need a cage as big as birds five times their size, a plenty of toys, plenty of exercise, and lots of in-your-face cuddle wrestling, as well as enough of quiet time for face skritching.
It’s difficult not to anthropomorphize a bird like Spike, who might easily have leaped out of a Disney cartoon.
Spikey is the perfect party animal (most of the time), but he can also be content playing with his toys by himself – particularly if I tell him I’m entertained!
I would not suggest a caique as a pet for everyone! I would highly suggest one to an experienced bird owner who is ready and able to do the right thing for their high-maintenance avian friend.
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