Second Obsession of 2020: Mango

Second Obsession of 2020: Mango

Thank goodness for these new obsessions too because 2020 is shaping up to be an interesting year in a really not-great way.

Bradley and I had been discussing adopting a bird or two for over a year now. We were thinking maybe a pair of parakeets or perhaps a cockatiel if we were feeling brave. But we decided when we were still living in our town home, that we should wait at least until we got back from our Denmark trip, whenever that happened. Arranging for a cat sitter is one thing, but a bird is not exactly standard, and we figured it would be easier if we didn’t adopt a pet and then take off for a week.

Then we ended up deciding not to renew our lease. Instead, we moved into a house with our two lovely roommates in June/July of 2019. The rest of summer was absorbed into settling in. Then came the Denmark trip, subsequently followed by my transition to freelance work. It was a busy year!

The prospect of a bird was entirely lost in all that glorious muck of change. Until Mango popped up on our radar, entirely by chance, when brother was giving me a general life update, venting a bit, and mentioned he was harboring a bird who needed a new home.

Introducing Mango the sun conure.

Rare photo op of the Mango Birb in a mostly normal stance

We adopted Mango (affectionately referred to as “Birb” on social media) during a trip to the family conglomerate on January 25th and brought her home the next day.

Here are some things we have learned leading up to the adoption, upon the adoption itself, and during the settling in phase:

Sun conures are considered an endangered species in the wild, primarily due to the exotic bird trade and habitat loss. However, importing sun conures into the United States has been illegal since 1992 thanks to the protections and restrictions enshrined in the Wild Bird Conservation Act. Most if not all sun conures available today were bred domestically.

Sun conures can live anywhere between 20-30 years with the proper care! Their varied diet has a big impact on this number. When they were first imported as tamed pets, not much was known about their natural diet or behavior. As a result, they were fed seed-based diets, which often resulted in a life span of less than ten years.

Now, much more is known about conures. Even better, for birds that are hesitant to try new foods (like our Birb), there are specially designed pellets that contain much of what they need. So Mango is in pretty great form, even though she doesn’t eat her veggies (yet…)

Sun conures are one of the loudest species of tamed birds. When they work up to their specialty (Incessant Screaming), they can get up to and even possibly exceed 120dB. For reference, a jet engine measures around 140dB.

In spite of their propensity for vocalization, sun conures are not known for their aptitude in mimicking human speech. Some inclined individuals can pick up a few words, but they are more prone to imitate household noises, such as doorbells, microwave beepers, and similar sounds.

Anatomy of a Sun Conure, available as pillow or t-shirt design on Etsy.

Mango is not a snuggly bird, but she does like to sing (read: scream) and dance. Her favorite song is the Toes Song, invented by my brother while gently petting her toes. The lyrics: “toes, toes, toes! Toes, toes, toes!”

Occasional improvisations are acceptable but only up to a point. Mango prefers the original version and a select few remixes. She also likes the sound of typing and will often click along with the beat.

In the wild, the diet of a sun conures is made up of fresh fruits and veggies, as well as a wide variety of seeds and nuts.

Our Mango, as a general rule, is incredibly suspicious of fresh fruits and vegetables. Part of her “settling in” period has been us experimenting. A lot.

This process includes us eating a little bit of what we’re trying to feed her while making “mmm” noises to convince her it’s not poison. This is how they learn in the wild which foods are safe to eat from older flock members.

It still feels ridiculous and I’m sure Mango has not been convinced on many occasions. Because of this hesitation, we introduce her to new foods more than once. I tried showing her blueberries on four separate occasions (and had to peel the skin off them each time…) To no avail.

She was similarly leery of apples. But by the third time, she actually started making treat chirps upon catching sight of the apple in my hand. Victory! Pears received similar treatment, as did the juice from a mandarin orange slice.

We have also tried to change up food presentation to see if Mango likes something based on texture. E.g. she loves banana mash and she will take your whole hand off for a banana chip. But she will fling banana bits all over her cage and eat only a small portion of it, after mashing it in her beak.

There was no hesitation on Bradley face. Bradley face may be one of her favorite treats (provided that it is is a Bradley week).

It remains undetermined if Mango likes mango. That will have to wait for summer when they come into season.

On a related note, about 70% of all sun conures are named Mango. 29% are named Rio. 1% other.

Parrots, conures included need lots of toys. So many toys. Mostly so they can feed their insatiable desire for destruction. We bought her a ladder so she could walk from the outside of her cage to her gym on my desk. She completely destroyed one of the rungs in 15 minutes. Mulched it across my desk. She’s currently working on another one. Even as she tries to use the ladder, routinely tripping over the gaps.

And then glares at us as if we are responsible for the missing rungs.

Such precious Birb.

When she shifts high-gear into destruction mode, she makes her “attack and destroy” noise, which can be considered similar to a laser beam powering up, followed by a staccato of high pitched bird snarls. Ferocious.

This was highly concerning the first time I heard it, but apparently this behavior is called “jousting.” Sometimes parrots will actually joust with each other, where they will try to grab onto each other’s beaks.

In Mango’s case, she just targets an unfortunate toy and does her best to send a chunk flying. Interspersed with biting her own leg. Apparently this is also a normal parrot thing, but still strange to see.

In addition to pulverizing wood and dismantling the non-wood parts of her toys, Mango is a water bird! She loves to take baths, in whatever receptacle that holds water and can fit her beak. Including her actual bath bowl. A casserole dish we found for her. My glass of water. Her water cup. Etc.

Sun conures need a lot of sleep! 10-12 hours per night, plus several day time naps that may or may not last a few hours. After waking up in the morning, conures vocalize a lot, generally thought to be a celebration of having lived through another night.

Our Mango makes a rooster crow sound to celebrate her continued existence and our presence. Followed by a truly astonishing morning poop that I’m sure has shaken the foundations of this house when it lands on the bottom of her cage.

If they don’t get enough sleep or if the wiring shorts out, sun conures need to be turned off and turned back on again. This is done by pulling the blanket down over the cage, giving it about 10 minutes, and lifting up the blanket again. Usually this results in a fully-functioning Birb.

A sun conure yawn could break the world with how cute it is, if distilled properly.

Sometimes Mango is really a dragon. Or a bat, when she’s being a little acrobat after her toys. Or a frog – she loves to croak throughout the day, almost like she’s checking we’re still paying attention to her. Or a rooster, as seen (heard) in her crowing video.

It’s a very precise combination of pose/action and noise. I’m guessing many of these are common sun conures noises, but I can’t say I’ve found many videos of other conures crowing like she does.

When conures (especially sun conures) are overcome with delight, they do this unique move called “head pumping” or “head bobbing” – which is effectively them bobbing their head at hyper-sonic speed while making little click-clip noises.

Mango Birb loves in shifts – it’s always someone’s week, she typically does not love more than one person at a time, and everyone else in the house is effectively furniture or shunned. We are now keeping a calendar to try to track the pattern, but so far, our data is inconclusive.

Considering her very precise care requirements, her bed time, her moods and tantrums, her theoretical intelligence — said to be equivalent to that of a toddler’s — her heartbreaking charm and affection, and her ingrained need to destroy, we have dubbed her our feathertot (a derivative of furbaby). In addition to all the other nicknames she has collected.

She is enormously precious to us, a fluffy ball of sunshine that makes our quarantine (and prospectively many years to come!) 1,000 times brighter.

From researching conure care and training to interacting with Mango (and taking so many photos), shopping for bird toys and reconstructing said toys after she disassembles them, googling specific behavior because “is that normal? What is she doing” is a common occurrence throughout the household, crooning and crowing with Mango in the mornings and putting her to bed at night while she hoots and chirps in protest, cleaning up after her thousand poops a day, setting up her bird bath for so much entertainment, doing bird-related laundry, marveling at her preening acrobatics/Birb yoga, offering shoulders to see if she wants to go on house-adventures, trying to scrape her off said shoulders when bird kisses turn into bird nibbles, and laughing when she’s tickling us mercilessly by sticking her beak in our ear or preening our hair —

I could go on. Simply put, I can think of no better distraction than Mango. My camera roll is filled with Birb and my tweets are almost exclusively Mango updates. I now have a YouTube channel just to hold the videos that I can’t stop taking to try to capture when she does something else that is cute or weird or funny.

And we’re still only four months in. So yeah. I’d say this qualifies as an obsession, one that will hopefully last for the next 20+ years.

(Our next challenge: nail trimming. At least we can count on her love of peanuts to help her overcome this trial.)

Mango is excited to say hello.