Marteen's Story
Amazona amazonica

Some animals are real treasures and Marteen, my Orange-winged Amazon, was one of them. He lived to a ripe old age of sixty and died quietly in my arms after a very unexpected period of weakness and collapse.

Marteen was not the easiest companion to care for. Like all parrots, he was plenty messy and he had his grouchy moments; and once he even grabbed a sizable chunk of flesh out of my lower lip in a jealous encounter with one of my cats that wanted to sit on my lap. When I moved forward to push the cat away from Marteen I got caught in the middle, ouch!

He was a great whistler and a wonderful companion, overall, and a talker when he felt like it. Orange-wings are not particularly noted for their talking abilities. When the telephone rang he always said "HELLO" in a deep voice after the first ring. When he was bad and I was scolding him he would say "HELLO, ELLEN" in a plaintive, funny, cutsy way, such that it was hard to stay mad at him for long. I will never forget his softly cooing "NO-oooooooooo" back to me whenever I said "No" to him.

He actually knew quite a number of words but what he most liked to do was mimic laughter. He loved to say "ha ha ha ha ha" and would insert all the requisite intonations just as I would, causing everyone present to laugh right along with him. What a card he was, that Marteen!

When he wanted my attention he would drop things and bang his toys around in the cage, or throw his seeds (of course); or he would climb around the top of his big cage and up onto a thick rope that connected his cage to the far end of the kitchen wall. THAT was nirvana to him. Sitting above over the kitchen, he would hang upside down by one foot and spew CAT CALLS until I came running.

He love it when I cooking. He waited patiently for those 'taste treats' that came his way as dinner progressed. And every morning I created a platter of diverse fresh vegetables and fruits for him and then sprinkled his favorite nuts on top for zest. He was a wonderful and appreciative eater.

He lived in my kitchen most of the time because of all the windows and play things in there; but he also had a perch near my desk and another one in the livingroom. He even had one in my bedroom during the cooler months of the year. He was in the middle of everything all the time.

Was he a happy guy? You bet. And he showed it. Marteen traveled willingly with me wherever I went, even on road trips from Virginia to Florida, and from Florida to the Smoky Mountains. I would put him in his traveling cage in the passenger seat of my Mazda and off we went -- he'd hang from one foot and whistle along with the radio and in general treated passing cars to parrot antics of all kinds. I even took Marteen out in a canoe occasionally on Florida's lovely Rainbow River.

As he grew older I elected not to clip his wings any more because I wanted him to be able to land easily if he slipped and fell off his perch or top of his cage, which he did occasionally. He weighed one pound so a jarring fall from a tall cage would not have been good for him.

I gave him showers weekly, which was something that he greatly enjoyed. I would put him in the kitchen sink and open one wing at a time and point the hand-shower under the wing and all around his lower body, then switch to the other side, and to his feet. The colors of his feathers really deepend from these warm, gentle showers. I took great care not to let water get into his ear openings or eyes and nostrils.

That took some doing with an active geriatric parrot, trust me!


Marteen's Diet

I have gotten many emails over the years from folks wondering what to feed their Amazon other than seed. This is what I always tell them:

A variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, the deeper the color the better
A variety of fresh nuts
Enriched and vitamin-fortified (fresh) seed, not the dimestore type; and not birdseed exclusively. Beware of fatting seeds like sunflower seeds. Seed should comprise no more than 1/3 of the avian diet. The rest should be made up of fresh things and also of a dry natural maintenance diet like ZUPREME or HARRISON'S dry high potency diets. [You can get these formulations for all kinds of birds, not just parrots.]
Sprinkle the maintenance food on fresh greens and fruits and also make it available in a separate food bowl a few hours before any seeds are put out. Avians will always go to the seeds first, if you let them.

Fresh water TWICE a day -- no exceptions. I always included a deep bowl of water on top of his cage, big enough so that he could play in it (which he did often).

I also gave Marteen many different little taste treats to keep him interested. For example, he loved a bit of cheese now and then, even a steak bone that he would chew the marrow out of -- although I was always present at the time. He loved a taste of something warm from my dinner plate, too, like a piece of broccoli...hmmm!
Brown rice is especially good for avians, so I kept some cooked brown rice in the refrigerator at all times. I mixed fresh raw vegetables into the brown rice and some times I even added a little chicken broth for flavor...all heated in the microwave for about 20-seconds before serving.


Marteen's Toy Chest

I always got a kick out of finding just the right toys for Marteens to play with. He loved to chew, so any toys had to be bird-proof. Parrots need a variety of interesting jingles and jangles and wood blocks and whatevers. Whenever I was in Florida I always gathered up those extra large pine cones and dried them for several months -- then hung them up in his cage using plastic tie-downs.

The trick, of course, is to hang toys so that your bird doesn't poop on them!

Marteen loved mirrors, too. He was an only bird and this 'friend' in the mirror was someone he commiserated with when I was not there to play with him (you know, like my being at work of something).

He also had big colorful rope perches that gave him plenty of fun 'hanging' time. They also prevented him from getting foot sores like many other kinds of perches can do.

Oh, yes, I had to clip Marteen's toenails every so often but it was not that bad. I rolled him in a big white towel (the same familiar towel every time) with his head sticking out one end and his feet the other. This worked fine. I used heavy-duty dog nail clippers, always careful to do it often enough so that I didn't hit the quick which would then bleed profusely. The more often you clip the better, as it causes the quick to shrink over time. Long nails made maneuvering around a big cage difficult for him.


The End

Alas, my Amazon friend died of old age finally. It was a very sad day for me. He was just two months shy of his 60th birthday!

Because of Marteen's advanced age I had an autopsy done at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Teaching Hospital. They had never had access to a bird of his advanced age. He was then cremated and his ashes returned me to.

Read my .pdf TRIBUTE to Marteen.


Things Marteen Would Like Owners of Parrots to Know

As with us humans, diet is extremely important in a parrot's overall health and well-being, and longevity.
Also important is the proper amount and quality of daylight for a bird. Keep the cage near natural sunlight but also supplement natural light with a full-spectrum lamp. I have gotten such lamps for many years from -- if this link changes, search for [NaturesSunlight Full Spectrum 20 watt Compact Spiral (#NS20W]
Do not buy a parrot (or any animal for that matter) if you don't expect to keep it for its natural lifetime. If you can't commit to that, then don't do it. I know things happen...but too often people get a parrot 'for fun' and then end up giving it away when the fun is over and the messes get to be too messy. A PARROT IS A LIFETIME COMMITMENT. Thousands of parrots end up being moved around from home to home over the course of their life, which is highly stressful for them. And it produces an unruly and unhappy parrot in short order. I can tell you hair-raising stories so please, DO NOT DO THIS TO YOUR PARROT.
Parrots live a very long time, so make advance arrangements for your avian friend in your Last Will and Testament. Make sure that your choice for a new caretaker is both willing and in a position to assume these new responsibilities; and will carry them out with utter regard for your avian friend. [If not, then euthanasia would be in your parrot's best interests, trust me.]
Parrots will pick at the feathers around their neck (1) when left alone too much, (2) when they are continually stressed, (3) when their diet is solely seed-based or otherwise unsatisfactory, (4) when deprived of sustained sunlight; or under any combination of the above conditions. Parrots are extremely intelligent. They are also keen observers of their environment (and you!) and do not let things pass unnoticed.
Do not buy a parrot on a whim. When you are ready, get the parrot from a reputable independent breeder in your local area. Get references for them and follow up on those references. Inspect the premises where the breeding activity takes place, and also talk to people who have purchased birds in the past from that breeder. If the breeder is reputable they will gladly give references for you to contact.

Do [NOT] get any animal or bird from a large chain that sells animals and birds.You do not know where they really come from. There is a huge problem in the U.S. and around the world concerning the exotic bird trade, something you don't want to support. Learn about CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora), which is an international agreement between governments, the aim of which is to ensure that international trade in species of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

[What Amazons sound like in the wild]

Remember, too, you can always adopt an adult parrot that is in need of a good home. The adult bird will take extra care and TLC in the beginning to acclimate to their new surroundings, and to you; but the rewards are great if you persevere. Join a local network of avian enthusiasts -- these folks will be extremely helpful in the process of acquiring an adult parrot that will bring joy to you for its lifetime.
Find a veterinarian who is a Board-certified Avian Specialist. No one else will do. Specialists are more expensive but also far more knowledgeable about Exotics than a regular veterinarian will ever be. Be sure to take your parrot in for annual checkups.
The LARGER the cage for your parrot, the better. Small cages are claustrophobic and many cages on the market are dreary and hard to keep clean. Ask for recommendations from other parrot owners and/or from the breeder you bought your parrot from. Make sure it has good rollers so you can move it easily around your house.
Drafts can kill your parrot.
All parrots can bite mightily, so be careful, particularly around your face and eyes. I was always respectful of Marteen's beak and moved him around on a 1.5-inch -- 18-inch long -- wood dowel that. He stepped up and down from the dowel readily, and it prevented psosible bites by not letting him get too close to my face. It also allowed other caretakers (in my absence) to do the same.
More about bites: parrots can be very territorial around their food, which is a big part of their life. Bites can occur around feeding times, or when they are fearful or made suddenly anxious by some change in their environment. They can also be quite protective, even jealous when strangers are around.
I played music for Marteen all the time. He loved music and learned to whistle and sing (in his own unique way) along with music. I had a collection of about 15 children's sing-along CDs that I played for him. He recognized all of them over time and sang loudly along with them -- oh, you know, it was mostly toots and whistles but it came from the heart, evidenced by his dancing and flapping wings. His favorite song was Michael Row Your Boat Ashore. I sang those verses to him, after which he was ready to be covered for the night.

You can only really sex a bird through a DNA sample, It is otherwise extremely difficult to determine whether a bird is male or female based on its behavior and/or appearance alone. Some people would like to tell you this is possible but it isn't. Marteen was sexed and he was, indeed, a male, even though the owner of my local avian shop was sure that [he] was a [she] -- she thought this mainly because he was so adaptable at such an advanced age. She clipped Marteen's nails and sent those clippings off for a DNA sample. Easy! That's all there is to it. And I just wanted to know this fact about him.

Finally, Marteen hopes you will treat his cousins well. REPORT any local cases of avian abuse and follow-up on them. Make sure that the bird involved is rescued and finds a better life elsewhere. It is the right thing to do.

Many many parrots languish in unhappy circumstances for their entire lives. This wouldn't happen if owners knew upfront what they were getting into and re-arranged their lives to accommodate this truly remarkable creature. It is like taking a two-year into your home that remains a two-year old for his entire life.

YOU become the center of his universe...


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