Another in a series of "Finish the Sentence" interviews with people who have a few things to say about pet birds. I interviewed Nyla Copp, Proprietor of "Birdie Buddy."
What I did was send Nyla incomplete sentences which you will see in bold type. She then crafted a response by finishing the sentence and revealing her thoughts. She is an amazing craftsperson and her work shows quality, ingenuity and care.
Nyla Copp finishes the sentence:
"My goal for some time had been to hop TARDIS with The Doctor, go back in time and make sure no birds, anywhere, ever, were captive for any reason. But that’s a whole philosophical interview for another time and, looking back now, I’m sure this was just a reflection of my own anguish in keeping a Parrot captive.
Before there was Birdie Buddy, there was Orlando and me. Orlando was a Lovebird. Flying about wild in my neighborhood. Ultimately she became sick, had gotten hurt and ended up on the ground – surely the only reason I was able to catch her. When she survived against all my avian vet’s odds, I didn’t know what to do.
It was horrifying to me to have to put her in a cage – she’d had the whole big sky! Still, she damn near died out there and, she was a non-native species. Arguments pro and con in my head and my heart loved her more everyday. When she was fully recovered, I took my conscience gnashing to my vet.
She was brilliant. Doctor Fern Van Sant has a way of cutting to the chase that has always worked for me and my birds.
“Nyla.” she said, “That ship has sailed. Birds are captive and in our homes whether we like it or not. And they’re going stay there. We could make it illegal and they’d still be captive and/or in our homes.
The question is, what are we going do to make it the best possible situation for everybody?”
So I went home and started building things for Orlando. Natural perches, playscapes, training toys – she did birdie agility, an aviary... anything... everything I could for her best quality of captive life. And meanwhile, our relationship grew.
Birdie Buddy came about a year or so later. Now, with everything I design or build, My biggest goal... is to enhance the quality of life for Companion Birds – and hopefully, their Human’s life too.
For me, It’s all about... Environment. I see it as a major factor in a successful and rewarding relationship with a companion bird.
Parrots are smart and beautiful... They can fly! They’re sociable and fun. Knowing all the joy my birds have brought into my home I seriously couldn’t deny anyone else the same opportunity but the very wonder of parrots being parrots are the things that can make having them as companions a challenge. Keeping them healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally, really takes commitment. What I do is help caregivers to make the shared environment, not only bird friendly but as bird optimal as possible – indoors and out.
Time outdoors is such a big part of any bird’s overall health; beneficial for feathers, D3 synthesis, respiratory health, it can encourage more exercise and these are just a few of the reasons avian veterinarians recommend time outside for companion birds.
Still aviaries and other outdoor options are not one size fits all. I started Birdie Buddy thinking I was going to be makingtoys, playstands and custom playscapes but I ended up building the business by helping folks find aviary and outdoor solutions that worked for them. With all that I do – helping people get their birds more outside time is my favorite thing. Sunshine, fresher, cleaner air (yes, believe it or not, the better air is outdoors), the ever changing view outside is enrichment that happens daily in a backyard or even on an apartment balcony. Life lived solely inside our homes just isn’t enough for our birds to thrive. If I have one message, it’s Get the Flock Out!
Nonetheless, indoors is where we spend most of the time with our bird folk. Indoors, they need choices, enrichment and foraging to keep them from getting bored and working other activities that are not so hot; feather destructive behavior, screaming, chewing up favorite books, knick knacks, our furniture and mouldings...
Parrots need toys, projects, and novelty in their cages and just as (maybe more) importantly, out of their cages – on playstands or at playscapes. For the most part, out of cage time is thought of as social time. Birds are after all, Flock People. Lots of parrots enjoy evening TV time, a social gathering or supper with the human family. Alternative places to perch around our homes give our birds choices and social options; they can join us in the thick of the happenings, hanging out on a table top perch, or enjoy the goings on from someplace they feel safer and more comfortable – hanging perches can be perfect solutions.
For those of us with folk that fly, hanging perches are indispensable. Flighted birds especially need loads of places to fly to, land on and hang out. The more places that are decked with favorite toys, foraging and healthy parrot activities, the less likely something as mundane as drapery rods or our picture frames will attract any attention at all.
What I find a lot of caregivers forget is that out of cage time can also foster independent activity as well. Sociable as our Parrot Folk can be, toys, projects and some novelty can give them skills for independent activity that is enriching for them and great for you & me and our furnishings. We don’t have to be the home entertainment center for our flock when they’re out and when out of cage time works for you and me, let’s face it, that’s when it happens for our birds more often. I like to think I’m helping set up, my parrots at least, for their next good home. If I do my job right, all of my birds will outlive me and I really want to give them all the skills they need to get the most from their next good home.
That really is a lot about why environment is so important to me in my work. But it is important to all of us with birds of any species. It’s not just about the environmental contribution to a bird’s mental, physical and emotional health. Environment has a whole lot to do with behaviour.
One of the most exciting things I’ve learned studying Applied Behaviour Analysis is that if we can change the environment, we can change the behaviour.
While not a panacea for all undesired behaviours, this is golden knowledge for those of us living with parrots. We can set the environment up for their best physical health and foster healthy, engaging activities that let our birds be birds while mitigating some of the challenges that come along with parrots as companion animals.
When I’m working with my clients, I try to...find ways that set the environment up for the success of the Birds and the Humans.
People contact me about aviaries or other outdoor solutions because they’re looking to bump their birds’ health with the sunshine, fresh air and wonderful enrichment that time outdoors is. Or they want playstands that will provide more choices, more out of cage time and more opportunity for interacting with their parrot. They get toys and natural perches to give their folk more variety, fun and activity in and out of the cage. My clients and I have the same goal. I don’t forget that. I want to make sure to the best of my ability that they get their needs met too. For example – who says bird furniture has to be ugly? I’m not trying to be funny or cast aspersions. Many of my clients have asked me if I can make a playstation engaging for their bird AND attractive for them. I’ll do my damnedest! If it’s pretty enough for the sitting room and great fun for the parrot, everybody wins!
An outdoor solution that’s easy for a caregiver to maintain means the bird may get outside more often. And it’s really bonus when the space can be enjoyed by the Humans and the Parrots – morning coffee or a little supper al fresco together.
One thing I’ve learned... is that every situation is singular. And when I can help meet the needs of both the Human People and the Bird People, it becomes an environment that sets everybody up for more success. It’s been my experience that when Parrots get to act in and on their environment in ways that come fairly naturally to them but they are engaged in activities a caregiver is happy and comfortable with, the stage is set for positive interaction to happen more often. A relationship between the two individuals can really grow.
My best ideas... most often come from clients. AviStations came about by client request. Laura specifically asked for PVC because it is easy to clean but she wanted natural branch perches. She needed a small footprint for small rooms and wanted it versatile enough to use for a playstand or training. It also had to stand up to a boisterous, fully flighted Red Fronted Macaw. I wasn’t enthusiastic – I’m not crazy about PVC stands – but, I did want to come up with something that Laura, both her Macaw Boys and I were happy with. When I told another client, what I was trying to do, he had some brilliant thoughts that pulled the whole thing together. I ended up being a convert to my own product. And later AviHangs came out of a great conversation with Pam Clark. AviHangs are now some of my favorite things to make.
Most days at work... are most days! Days off are few and far between. I love what I do and I really don’t sit well, so I’m always working on something. Pictures of my projects are usually posted on the Birdie Buddy Facebook page. It’s rare that I don’t have something going for a client and I have plenty I want to do for our birds too. I have a roommate who has parrots of her own. I’m lucky because we have similar philosophies around training and behaviour as well as the way we like to share our lives and home with our birds.
I’ve just gotten my home office/bedroom decked for my folk to hang out while I do computer work and it’s now comfortable and safe for all of them to sleep in at night. I’ve built a decently-sized enclosure out the window – it’s almost done. It will be set up so the birds can choose to go outside or come in as they will. Additionally, it’s a nice alternative for outside when there are bird folk who don’t play well together.
I’ve been working on our front room since I moved in. Ideally, it will be a place where those who get along can be out of cage most of the time. There will be a good sized walk in enclosure, double wired, against those who do not play nicely. We want a water feature and plants as well as a by-choice outdoor option out one of those windows too.
Loads of perching and toys are already out for supervised time now, I boxed in some wiring and have some full spectrum lighting up. I recently picked up a cabinet at urban salvage for storing toys, first aid and all bird related accoutrements. Maybe should have gotten something bigger. I love doing this stuff for our folk and all the while, I’m figuring out tips, tricks, materials, sources and options for future client projects. I really try to stay on the cutting edge of what can be done, to what and with what.
I’ve never regretted... the first half of my life without Parrots. All those tips, tricks, the materials I know and know how to work – that all came from life and jobs and experiences that happened before Orlando flew in.
As Birdie Buddy, I use every bit of career training and job experience I’ve ever had. I had full solo access to my father’s shop and tools by the time I was 10 years old. I did handiwork, construction, technical theater (construction, electrics, lights, sound and props) and had my own cabinet making company all the while I went to acting school. While the contribution to my manual skills are obvious, the actor’s training plays in when I speak at bird clubs or conventions – a 45-50 minute monologue downstage center!
I went from there to building mechanics – more construction, electric, plumbing – but I also learned an awful lot about heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). I worked for a place that tested products for consumer safety so, I got to work on a lot of the test rigs and met a whole bunch of new materials and learned how best to work with them. I don’t think I’d have been a good companion for a Parrot in those days. Too many long weird hours and too much rigid “How-To” mentality.
I was still very old school about behaviour and training. I had only shared my life with furry domestic animals – no one with wings to fly away if they didn’t want to deal with me. I thought I knew how to train compliant behaviours but I knew little about least aversive methods. By the time Orlando came to live with me I had a dog companion that had taught me it was okay (In fact it was a joy) to allow my Creature Family choices and more dominion over their own activities.
I had a lot to learn about Parrots but I had great Parrot Care Mentors (Top 3 in order of acquaintance– Doctor Fern Van Sant, Barbara Heidenreich and Pam Clark) and, I had to upgrade my knowledge and technique around training. Luckily, I had reached a place in my life where I could challenge what I thought I knew. As family and companions to Parrot Folk, I think that’s important for all of us.
What I’d eventually like to see happen... is every Human doing their homework. Not only before they bring home a Companion Bird but all along the way of the lives they share together. Things have changed so radically in the Companion Parrot world since I was younger. Some of my friends had bird folk and they ate seed mix from the grocery store pet food section. Most hung out in the cozy kitchen with the nonstick cookware and pine scented cleaners. None that I knew went outdoors and rarely out of the cage. Sadly, there are still people and parrots that live that way though it’s become widely known there are better choices for us to make on behalf of our parrots.
We live in a world where technology changes so quickly. We must constantly be on the learning curve just to run a TV remote. The news in avian husbandry and medicine updates pretty frequently. We finally have (or have decided to use) some of our science to help us measure the effects of our caregiving, as well as, to begin to understand the wonder that birds really are. I’d like to see us as caregivers keep up with that information like we keep up with the best apps for our phones.
If we want to stay employed, we need to keep learning and working our craft. If we want to stay healthy, we are frequently faced with evaluating our habits, our diet and our exercise options with respect to our age and condition. The short story is, if we can’t challenge what we think we know, this is just the wrong time in history to be alive.
I would that we all become stellar learners - for the sake of all the Companion Animals we live with and are responsible for. In the case of Companion Birds, I believe the call to action is finally hitting stride. We need to keep up.