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Bringing Back the Magic: A Transformational Memior
By Heather Scott

I got Ziva, my African Grey parrot, in August 2009. She had spent the first 6 years of her life in a very small wire rabbit cage (about 18"X18" cube) with a wire floor, no perches, and no toys. She had plucked her entire chest, legs, neck, and upper back. She had been purchased by someone who also bought a male to place with her, in order to 'breed them'. This person had zero experience in breeding, this was for money. The male grey attacked her, so she placed an ad on Craigslist for both of them. I only saw the ad for Ziva (who was then known as Polly). I was at first told she was 'very friendly' but later was told that she'd only stepped up one time in the few months that this family had had her. Ziva was terrified of men and would bite any man who came near her. The woman in the house appeared afraid of her, refusing to touch her at all.


I drove for over an hour to go meet her. I have loved Greys for years, but had never had one. The first day I met Ziva she came toward me and tilted her head. I reached up slowly to give her scritches, and she turned to strike at me. Unfamiliar with Greys, I assumed she didn't like me, and I told the woman I would have to think about it. I am not overly comfortable with big beaks. I had just rehabbed two conures that had been housed together and basically had become feral. However, this was a Grey…uncharted waters for me. I contacted every rescue I could find around me in an attempt to find someone 'qualified' to take her in and work with her. The response was always, “We don't have room at this time" or "We don't have the funds to pay for a bird...we take in those that are given to us". My heart sank, as I knew that Ziva had a chance of going to a home where "a talking parrot" may be a good 'display'. The current owners were looking for money or "something cool for my husband". Time was of the essence.
I contacted a woman whom I had come to know who does rescue in a state on the other side of the country. I told her of my dilemma about Ziva: her past and my feelings that I wasn't 'qualified' to have a grey, who obviously needed some help and work. We talked for a long time. I was told about the "Bait and Switch" game that Greys seem to love so much. She didn't dislike me… she was actually attempting to PLAY with me!! I was assured that if I couldn't handle her, this rescue would take her in. We talked about the urgency of the situation and that getting her to a safe place was the first step, but it needed to be done quickly. I contacted the woman who had her and struck a deal on the price.

The next day, I went again to pick up this beautiful girl. She came right up to me as soon as she saw me this time, and she lowered her head. She allowed me to scritch her head without playing any games. She was placed back in the awful wire cage that she'd lived in for most of her life, and we were off. I was scared to death. On the way home, a dance song played with a very upbeat tune. I looked in the rearview mirror to see a parrot hanging from the roof of the cage, swinging wildly back and forth to the music. I couldn't help but laugh. She looked as though she were celebrating! The rest of the way she made noises of barking, cat fights, and sirens. She'd already amazed me, made me laugh, made me cry, and had stolen my heart. The name "Polly" just seemed thoughtless for such a divine and intelligent creature. It was also associated with her awful past, which was now my job to help her overcome. She was re-named Ziva, meaning "Brilliance Beloved,” which she certainly was. In just three days time, she said her new name.


Picking up Ziva was a challenge for me.  I could not have her step up onto my hand, so I had to use a dowel, which made her very afraid. She said "Polly" in an angry man's voice whenever she was frightened. In the first few days, the whole family spent hours and hours with her, talking softly to her and giving her treats. She had toys that just hung there. She had no idea what to do with them. One evening, she gingerly touched one of the toys. I said "Good girl!" very excitedly. She turned to look at me, studied my face, and then touched the toy again to get the same response. This went on for a few weeks. She would touch a toy and then look to me for her 'reward'. That evolved into her touching other toys and eventually learning to 'play'.

Ziva's vocabulary started to widen. She mimicked everything in the house she heard that thrilled her. She also kept some of the noises that she came with. As the months passed, she said "Polly," less and less when frightened. She was becoming more confident. She was underweight, but otherwise healthy and DNA'd as a female. Her chest muscles were very weak, and when she opened her wings, they were like rice paper. She'd not been able to open her wings or fly since she was just a chick. We had a long way to go. She flapped her wings, but because of the weakness, she still is unable to get any lift.
She got a huge new cage. 40" long by 30" deep. I filled it with a variety of toys. She had a fleece 'snuggly' that was donated by someone. She now loves her cage. She has plenty of room to climb on the cagetop, hang upside down, flap, and attack her toys in grey fashion. We went from me having to wear a glove to have her step up… to her now stepping up on a bare hand without ever striking.

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve made tremendous breakthroughs. Although she'd been blushing at me and making 'cows eyes' at me for weeks, she'd only allow brief scritches through the cage bars. Then she allowed me to give her scritches outside the cage. I was still afraid of her beak, though. She seemed to know this and would bite on the cage bar and look at me, as if to say, "You can pet me… I promise I won't strike at you". Soon after, she got bolder and would allow me long head and face scritches, while she rubbed her face and head against my hand. In the last week, she's started to very gently grab my fingers and preen them. Then, on Christmas Eve, she stuck her face up to the bars… and gave me a kiss. I was so excited, it was hard not to laugh and yell. Instead, tears started flowing as I thought about what she'd been through and the great amount of forgiveness towards humans that she holds.

She had her fears and I had mine. We seemed to understand each other's fears, and we both did our best to reassure the other that nothing bad would happen. She has come out of her 'shell' and is acting more and more like a 'typical grey'. She will laugh, then sigh at the end of it and say, "That's too funny,” and many other phrases. Her language and cognitive abilities astound me. More than that though, her ability to trust again. She is allowing more and more 'hands on' and as she does, she becomes more and more energetic and happy. I am so happy that she's come into my life. She's taught me a lot about patience, love, trust, and overcoming. She will probably always remember the years of abuse and neglect, but she doesn't let that stop her from giving love and interacting with my family. She is a happy grey now. I am chronically ill, and she has become my beacon and my hero for how to get past the things that are wrong in life and enjoy the good times. She is truly a gift.

Meet My Ziva!

Ziva in her original rabbit cage.

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