Thursday, August 30, 2012

More on Society Finches

There is a strange dearth of information available on Society Finches.  Before I added them to my aviary late last year, I did what I always do with a new pet: buy at least one book on caring for that pet.  Alas, books on Society Finch care were not to be found.  Now, Zebra Finches- lots of books.  Happily, books about Finches in general acknowledge the Society Finch.  This gives one enough information to care for the birds, but not enough to satisfy the hardcore bird keeper, like me.  Maybe I'll write a book on Society Finch care myself someday.  For now, let me share some things I've learned so far about Society Finches.

Society Finches are less boisterous than Zebra Finches.  Societies chirp and tweet softly- not  infrequently but not frequently either.  Zebra Finches are reactive to the sounds of the house such as oven timers, people whistling and dogs whining.  The Zebras chime in.  The Societies stay out of it.

While other caged Finches tend to pair off (not necessarily as mates, often simply as best friends) Society Finches tend to hang out in threes.  If two of the three were to become a breeding pair, surely that dynamic would change.  Someday I hope to observe this occurrence- when I do, I'll report on it. 

This may be true only with my small group of Societies but nobody seems to like to sit on a swing.  Toys don't seem to appeal to them either.  They do, however,  perform somersaults.  These gymnastics only seem to occur on perches situated high enough in the cage to allow the bird to reach the ceiling with his beak.  The bird grabs a bar above his head which starts the somersault motion.  One of my Societies does several somersaults in a row.

Society Finches enjoy a good seed mix (I have the luxury of an excellent bird store near my home that offers fresh seed mixes for various birds including finches, canaries, parakeets and parrots.  I keep Finches and Canaries, so I mix the two seed mixes together because Canaries and Finches seed needs overlap).   The seeds in the mix include niger, rape, hemp, canary grass, millet and poppy. For added nutrition, a small amount of pellet food is included in the mix. 

Birds need protein but I haven't been able to get any of my birds to eat bugs.  Fresh bugs, alive or dead or even mashed with a fork, are ignored.  However, they love hard boiled egg yolk mixed with couscous or quinoa.  For added calcium (in addition to mineral grit, of which the Societies don't eat much) crushed egg shells. A coffee grinder works great to pulverize the eggshells. Worrywarts warn that it's critical to cook the egg shells to kill any bacteria that may be lurking.  I use a food steamer to hard boil eggs.  This cleans the egg shells just fine.  Still, some folks choose to bake the shells in the oven to double kill the germs.

Societies like vegetables and greens and fruit.  Clip the food to the side of the cage with a clothes pin and they nibble at it.  Occasionally they tear off a chunk and toss it around the cage.  In the spring and summer the birds particularly enjoy dandelion greens.

Societies typically bathe twice a day.  They groom each other now and then.  They squabble occasionally but not with the vigor of Zebra Finches. There is none of that hissing and chasing around the cage going on with Societies.  Their disagreements usually start with a stare.  Seriously, one bird appears to be giving another bird a dirty look!  If the stared upon bird doesn't move away the starer gives him a peck or two upside the head.  The pecked upon bird will sometimes peck back and sometimes move to another part of the cage.  Either way, that is pretty much the whole fight: stare- peck- over.

Even though the birds have plenty of room to spread out, Societies spend time during the day and most of the night huddled up close and sometimes even stacked on top of each other.

How can you tell a male Society Finch from a female Society Finch?  Females lay eggs. 

I'm told that experts can tell male from female by a slight difference in the shape of their bills.  Other than that mysterious possibility, boys and girls look the same.  No fancy colors on the cheeks or wings or even tail feathers (Societies don't have any tail feathers, just a sort of rump tuft) to designate gender.  There doesn't even seem to be a vocal difference between the sexes.

Then again, my little group may be all girls.  I know they aren't all boys; there's been a few eggs. 

I will keep an eye on the goings on and report any new discoveries...

Please see my previous post on  Society Finches

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Malcom the Tortoise

It's summertime.  Malcom's favorite time of year.  In summer, Malcom enjoys snippets of freedom and glimpses of the outside. He basks in the sun.  Does laps.  Eats grass.  Explores the vastness of the backyard.

Then there are those times that we can't watch out for rouge Eagles or marauding Raccoons, so we put  Malcom in his bricked enclosure.
For more on Malcom see here, here and here

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Herbal Fresh Butts

It's happened before here at Pets and Other Critters:  the emergence of spontaneous themes.  There was the Cicada theme, the Greyhound theme and now, Poop theme.  Come to think of it, the Poop theme has emerged before.  Must be that some themes are just plain popular.  After all, poop is a constant presence, therefore always a timely topic.

Let's face it, after the business of pooping is concluded there remains unsavory residue on the outlet.  People usually make use of toilet paper.  Dogs, on the other hand, don't wipe.

Here's a handy tip for removing unwanted material and leaving the dog's butt clean and fragrant.  Utilize some of those herbs growing in your yard.  Grab a handful!  Fresh herbs are disposal doggy wipes approved by even the greenest of greenies!  And your dog's butt is not only clean; it's clean and piquant. 

Zippy Basil butts and vibrant Pineapple Sage butts, perky Oregano butts and sensational Thyme butts are but a swipe away!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Rock Pigeons

Rock Pigeons are descended from Rock Doves, a coastal cliff dwelling bird.  The Rock Pigeon does not participate in migration, he remains in his territory throughout the year.  Territories include all of the US and southern Canada as well as other areas throughout the world.  The Pigeon is most commonly seen where people live.  Thus, a large percentage of the Rock Pigeon's diet is that which people feed him. 

As Pigeons go, the Rock Pigeon is medium sized, 13-14 inches long.  For comparison, Mourning Doves are 11-13 inches long.  In the above picture: a Mourning Dove is on the top left, two Pigeons are on the right.  Pigeons are stouter than doves as well as more colorful.  Both Rock Pigeons and Mourning Doves have pretty red-orange colored feet.

Pairing off

Rock Pigeons mate for life.  It all begins when their eyes meet across a crowded flock.  He makes his way toward her, presenting his chest in a most virile way.  She simpers.  He Bows and does a Tail-drag.  She pecks at the ground with increasing intensity.  He draws closer.  She coquettishly walks away.  He pursues her (Driving) employing his most manly gait.  This continues until eventually she stops and gives in to the romance.

He opens his beak, she places her beak inside his.  They bob their heads up and down.  He regurgitates into her throat.

They choose a nest site above ground, usually in dark nooks such as in a building facade or under a bridge.  The nest is made out of stiff twigs.  During the nest construction phase, the male can be observed seizing a twig and giving it a shake before adding it to the nest.

The female lays 2 eggs.  Both parents incubate the eggs for 18 days.  (This is quite a bit longer than other birds,  for example the Red Winged Black Bird incubates for 10 days, the Grackle for 11 days).  When the babies hatch, the parents feed them regurgitated food.  Soon, the youngsters are also given solid food such as fruit and caterpillars.  Once the baby Pigeons leave the nest they are nearly as large as their parents.  The adolescent birds are identifiable by a less vibrant iridescence of their feathers and less brightly colored feet than the adults.

Some Rock Pigeon Facts

- life span: 3-5 years in the wild, up to 15 years in captivity
- predators:  Peregrine Falcon, hawks, cats
- feather colors:  iridescent blue-grey, black, blue, red, white
- diet:  grains, seeds, bugs, stuff people feed them such as hamburger buns
- red eyes and reddish feet

See a nice picture of a Rock Pigeon.

Listen to Rock Pigeons.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Big and Small Dogs Together

Do you ever worry that your big dog might inadvertently injure your little dog?

Sure, most little dogs are savvy about keeping clear of tails that can do as much damage as a mace.  Little dogs learn to avoid a flattened foot by scampering out of range when a lumbering pack member high steps in his direction.  Most creatures intuitively look out for their own safety.  We like to think they do.  We hope they do.  The thing is, sometimes we have to act to reduce the risks.

We've all heard horror stories.  Small Dog Slammed in Sliding Door.  Little Mutt Folded Up in Sofa Bed.  The truth is, some small dogs don't seem to know they are small.  They run headlong into the teeth of a big dog as they both go after the same crumb on the floor. 

By the same token, there are big dogs who are not aware of the harm their bigness can pose.

In real life, no amount of instinct, easy going demeanor, or cleverness guarantees safety.

(First we'll state the obvious, don't slam the door without checking that the little dog is out of the way.  Check under the covers for sleeping pets before you fold up the sofa bed.  Don't allow your dogs to pick up stuff off the floor unless they clear it with you first).  Now, let's talk about some ways you can mitigate the danger when big and small dogs live together.

First things first: training.  If you have trained your dogs to obey simple commands like come and sit, you can teach them just about anything.  For example, if your big dog uses body blocks (this is like a pick in basketball.  The dog puts his body between you and another dog or person for gain.  Gain, such as first to be petted, first out the door etc).  You must let the big dog know he can't pull a pick on the small dog.  Tell him no when he tries it.  Reinforce the command by body blocking him.  He'll quit using body blocks once he realizes they earn him nothing but censure.

Another good thing to teach your dogs is the "watch where you're going" command.  When Mable the Mastiff was a puppy she often flung herself around heedless of other's feet.  This command taught her to pause; to pay attention to what she was doing.  How do you teach this, you ask?  Say the command while interrupting the dog's action.  Thus, when Mable was running willy nilly through the living room, she heard, "watch where you're going" and there I was blocking her path, forcing her to stop.  This command also works when dogs are playing together and things get a little rough.  If your dog knows how to pause he is less likely to accidentally hurt somebody.  There is no reason small dogs can't be taught this command too.

The most helpful strategy for avoiding mishaps between big and small dogs is basic awareness on your part.  If the 10 pound dog and the 100 pound dog both enjoy chasing tennis balls, play with them separately!  If they both want the couch to themselves and they don't peacefully work it out by sharing the couch- don't let either one of them have the couch.  An important caveat:  if anybody snarls or snaps, consult an expert. 

Usually big and small dogs can live together in harmony.  Sometimes you just have to micro manage a little.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Breed Profile: Greyhound

Greyhounds are sight hounds.  They see a little scurrying critter and are driven to chase it.  Designed  for speed; the Greyhound is muscular yet lean, powerful yet agile. Greyhounds have a deep chest for maximum oxygen intake, long legs, and a body design that enables the dog to contract and stretch his back to add extra propulsion to a double legged gallop.  The long tail works both as a rudder and a brake.

Some Greyhound Facts

- weight:  60-70 pounds
- height at shoulder:  26-30 inches
- lifespan:  10-13 years
- short hair:  solid, brindle and spotted in lots of colors: red, fawn, white, black, brown, blue

The origin of the Greyhound is often described as ancient.  Egyptian tomb carvings, circa 2900 BC display Greyhounds.  The Roman, Ovid wrote about Greyhounds in 43 BC. 

Greyhounds were plentiful in Britain during Saxon times.  Both nobility and commoners used Greyhounds to hunt game such as deer, fox and rabbit.  In 1014 Forest Laws prohibited all but nobility to chase game with dogs unless "lamed".  Commoners poached of course, but by the time the Forest Laws were repealed, some 400 years later, most commoners had turned to farming and were eating domestic meat.  Therefore, the commoners were now working farm and herding dogs.  Greyhounds were kept mostly by nobility for hunting and by the 1800's for the sport of lure coursing.

Lure coursing made it's way to the New World where formal tracks were developed and the live hare was replaced by a mechanical lure.

Greyhound Manifesto

- I'm a sprinter, not an endurance runner.  If you are training for a marathon and need a running buddy, get a Dalmatian

- sure I'm sweet and easy going.  I'm also a hound, so I've got an independent streak I plan to keep

- I need a coat in cold weather not for fashion but because I feel chilly

Greyhounds are affectionate with their people and with other dogs.  Interestingly, they get along well with little pets as long as they are raised with them.  Non family members who are small are considered game to be chased. 

Greyhounds come in two types:  show and racing.  The two types are not typically interbred.  The racers are smaller and faster than the show dogs.  Both types are sweet, reserved with strangers and occasionally timid.

See some nice pics

Next Breed Profile:  Weimaraner!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Many people have heard but never seen a Cicada.  That whirring buzzing clicking sound you hear in the summer air is a male Cicada.  Vibrating membranes on the insect's abdomen create this sound.  You might call it a love song.

After the loving, the female cuts a slit in a young twig and deposits eggs.  Now the parent Cicadas have fulfilled their life's purpose and die.

When the eggs hatch the nymphs (wingless segmented creatures resembling a grub with sturdy legs and big eyes) fall to the ground and burrow into the dirt.  They remain underground sucking on root juices and growing for years, the number of years depends on the species and things like latitude and weather and other mysterious forces that effect bugs.

When the nymph reaches adulthood he emerges from the ground and climbs a tree.  The skin on his back splits open, peels back and out comes the adult Cicada. 

Some Cicada Facts

approximately 3,000 species
-  adult life span:  1 week
-  nymph life span:  1 to 20 years
-  adults have 4 wings
-  range:  throughout the US and southern Canada
-  adult size:  1 - 2.5 inches long 

picture shared by:

Friday, August 3, 2012

Walt vs Cicada

Yesterday I witnessed a fight to the death.  Happily, one of the combatants was already on the verge of death when the battle began. 

Wait.  Happily?  It was probably not all that happy for the Cicada.

The fight began as Walt and I were walking down the sidewalk, as we are on most weekdays around noon.  Walter and I have a working relationship.  I come over to Walter's house while his daddy is at work and we take a walk.

Mid and late summer here in southern Michigan is often hot.  It seems like the sidewalks glow with a  hostile power this time of year.  Mid and late summer is also a time when one notices Cicadas dropping well, like flies.  Lots of times these death throeing insects do it right there on the sidewalk.  Once the Cicada hits the sidewalk he is pretty much out of energy.  His life force nearly spent, he gasps desperately to retain the remnants of his vigor as the concrete steams beneath him. When threatened, he cannot fly away.  However, he can manage a strange buzzing sound that vibrates his body, causing it to zip around.  

This is just what happened on that fateful Thursday, otherwise known as yesterday.  Walt felt compelled to pursue the zipping bug.  He got his lips on it but recoiled at the weird vibration.  That didn't stop him, he went back for another go,  gingerly pushing his nose on the now motionless Cicada.  Another bzzz another zip.  The bug was moving slowly, but managed to slip himself into the cover of some ornamental grass.  Now Walt could not reach the Cicada.  He glanced up at me. The bug was valiantly struggling to dig himself in between two shoots of grass.  I am loathe to admit this, but I bent down and parted the grass, giving Walt another shot at his ever weakening opponent.

Walt thrust his face in the grass, grasped the Cicada in his mouth and bit down.  He backed away from the clump of grass and dropped his vanquished foe onto the sidewalk. 

The Cicada moved no more.  I waited, certain that Walter would eat the Cicada.  Surely, a macho guy like Walt has some sort of warrior code that requires him to consume the flesh of his enemy to possess the enemy's strength -or something.  Failing romantic heroic reasons,  I thought at the very least Walt would eat the bug because he could. 

He didn't.   Walt and I continued with our walk.  The defeated Cicada lay on the hot sidewalk.


**Walter is a pseudonym.  This pugnacious terrier has been fooling folks for years with a soft and fuzzy persona.  I will keep his secret.

***we at Pets and Other Critters lack the technological ability to alter photographs to hide ones identity....remarkably an "artist" happened by and agreed to render a drawing to help bring the action to life.  Cool, huh?  It's almost like those court scene drawings you see on the news!

!!!!! Coming Soon! Fun Facts about Cicadas!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Butcher's Secret

There is a smallish store in my town where I shop for groceries.  Smallish, in that it is big enough to have a decent selection of items, but not so big that you need a compass to find your way from the  soup to the cereal.  And being a regular customer affords me the pleasure of banter with some of the staff. 

Take the meat department for instance.  This is a cheerful group.  Raucous laughter is generally heard from the deli area.  The meat gang is slightly more restrained but typically jolly.  (Ever notice that the disposition of meat eaters leans to the convivial as opposed to the often gloomy manner of the vegan crowd?).

I home cook for my dogs and husband (omnivores all, but clearly flesh aficionados) so I am always on the lookout for good meat deals.  The butchers know me because I buy in bulk.  Today pork chops and chicken thighs are on sale.  As my favorite butcher wraps my order, I happen to notice a little note on the back wall near the time clock. 

It reads:  Bill's Blasting Zone A. 

I chuckle and ask if that is where Bill (my other favorite butcher) goes to fart. 

Yes, she says.  You would not believe the gaseousness of that guy! 

Bill is always friendly and pleasant.  Now I know why.  No pent up gas.  Ever notice how pent up people are usually not so very friendly or pleasant? 

Advice well worth putting into practice.  Let it rip.  But please confine your releases to the designated blasting zone.

Thank you and happy digestion to all!

**the name of the flatulent butcher has been changed to protect him from, well, fart jokes.  Enough is enough.  pfffft