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What Were You Thinking on ></a><a href=Bob Tarte, host of What Were You Thinking on

Bob Tarte
Exotic Pet Expert & Author

The Zero-Degree Weather Show

..........Michigan in Winter

Linda Tarte

Bob and Linda had intended to talk about African grey parrots the whole half-hour. But everything seems harder to accomplish when the weather is cold, and it’s zero degrees in Michigan. So, instead of rambling on about the greys, they discuss the drudgery of doing winter duck chores, while Bob reports a successful heater installation in the barn to safely keep poultry and waterfowl spirits up. Linda tells of a woodpecker population explosion on the ‘suet tree’ outside the back door and follows up on last week’s mouse report. Finally, Bob and Linda describe the cheap and easy parrot toys they’ve been making just in time to bring the show to an end as outdoor temperatures climb to a balmy 12 degrees.

Questions or Comments? Email Bob at:


[music, dog barks]

Woman 1:  You’re listening to

Announcer:  You’ve had a long day at work, and you can’t wait to just get home, take off your shoes, plop yourself down in your favorite chair and relax.  You walk up to your tranquil residential home and your neatly manicured lawn in your quiet suburban neighborhood, put the key in the lock, open the door, and…

[door opening, crashing, bird squawking, monkey screeching]

Announcer:  Yes, the pets have gone wild!  What were you thinking?  Welcome to the show about everything you always wanted to know about exotic pets; where to get them, what to feed them, and how to care for them.  You’ll even find out why some people live with a monkey.  [monkey screeching] 

Now here’s your host, exotic pet expert, and author, Bob Tarte.  [laughs]  Hey, Bob, what were you thinking?

Bob Tarte:  Hi, I’m Bob Tarte, author of the books, “Enslaved By Ducks,” and, “Fowl Weather.”  And you’re listening to, “What Were You Thinking?” and  I’m here with my wife, Linda.  Hi, Linda.

Linda Tarte:  Hello.

Bob Tarte:  We had been doing a show on African Grey Parrots today, and we’re still going to talk about African Grey Parrots; but it is a cold, cold day here in West Michigan.  When we woke up this morning we woke up to a very pleasant balmy temperature of…

Linda Tarte:  Zero.  Zero degrees.

Bob Tarte:  Zero degrees.  Yes.  It is just so hard to get anything done when it’s that cold.  It’s funny, because you can understand why it’s hard doing the outdoor chores, but I think even indoor things are harder to do, aren’t they?

Linda Tarte:  You just feel a little more sluggish in general, probably from having been outside, and coming in, and trying to thaw yourself out.

Bob Tarte:  Yes.  I was trying to do the exercise bike last week because I haven’t done any exercise in 12 or 15 years.  So I thought maybe I would try and work up to maybe…

Linda Tarte:  Get the old heart going.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, get the heart going.  Maybe work up to doing 2 to 2-1/2 minutes on the exercise bike.

Linda Tarte:  Oh, you do a lot more than that.

Bob Tarte:  And I think I tired myself out doing that, too.  But there’s just something about this weather here in Michigan, in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year.

Linda Tarte:  It makes you wish you were a bear hibernating till May.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, and I’ve tried.  But they don’t appreciate that at work, so I have to go in every day.  But even the cats are acting really squirrelish.

Linda Tarte:  Squirrelish, yes.

Bob Tarte:  Well, they want things.  They’re very restless.  We have a cat named Frannie who loves going outdoors, and so she’s not very happy being indoors.  I have one of these little laser lights that’s, you know, a toy, and she wants me to play with that.  Not just in the evening.

Linda Tarte:  Eighteen hours a day, if possible.

Bob Tarte:  Eighteen hours a day.  So already in the evening, when I’m trying to sit and read, I have this cat giving me a sad look, so I have to get out the laser toy and play with her.

Linda Tarte:  You do have to confine that to evenings, don’t you?  Otherwise, if you did that one time any other time of day, you’d be doing that for eternity.

Bob Tarte:  I would.  Because that’s the thing with cats.

Linda Tarte:  That’s the thing with cats. 

Bob Tarte:  You do something for them once…

Linda Tarte:  And it’s as if you’ll have to do it forever.  That’s the way they act about it.

Bob Tarte:  That’s exactly right.

Linda Tarte:  It sets a new precedent.

Bob Tarte:  I had a good surprise this morning that went along with the zero degree temperature.  I went into the kitchen, and I had left the faucet dripping a little bit overnight because I didn’t want our pipes to freeze.  The people who designed our house back in 1906 left a channel right next to the outside wall in the basement, and for some reason whoever ran the water pipes decided that that channel where cold air gets in is the best…

Linda Tarte:  It doesn’t need to be insulated.

Bob Tarte:  No, it doesn’t need to be insulated, and that’s a really good place to put the pipes.  So if I don’t leave the water dripping, on days when it gets to zero or below, the water freezes.  And I must have just had the hot water turned on and dripping, because the cold water pipe was frozen.  So I had to go down in the basement, and take a hair dryer and stick it in that little space, and blast it with hot air.  And it’s a very fussy little pipe, and it’s a very hard space to try and wedge anything in to, and it didn’t want to thaw.  And I had to move that thing two or three times until finally it got thawed.  So that was a great start to the morning.

Linda Tarte:  Yes, usually it thaws after a couple of minutes, but didn’t it take, probably 10-12 minutes, or longer?

Bob Tarte:  Yes, it took a while.

Linda Tarte:  It made him think it wasn’t going to thaw.

Bob Tarte:  Well, I thought maybe you would enjoy hearing—especially if you’re somewhere warm, and you’re fairly comfortable, or if you’re in another part of the world where you don’t have to face these kinds of temperatures—that you might enjoy hearing the kinds of things we have to do.

Linda Tarte:  That people go through in Michigan.

Bob Tarte:  Yes.  So, Linda, do you want to talk a little bit about what our chores outside are like this time of year.  You know, what you did this morning—well, I guess I did them this morning—but still…

Linda Tarte:  He did the morning chores while I was making breakfast.  I was out just a few minutes ago…

Bob Tarte:  And you do this every other morning…

Linda Tarte:  …to check the buckets, and to check the pools.  We have the pool down with the geese, and then we’ve got a pool out in the barn.  But now today we’ve got the barn door closed because Bob felt—this is the first day of the year, isn’t it, that we’ve had the barn door closed?

Bob Tarte:  It is, because it’s so cold, why open it up?  Let’s describe the layout a little bit.  In the back yard we have quite a large pen, and that’s our goose pen.  And we have a little…

Linda Tarte:  It’s divided.  There are two pens, and a sort of L-shaped pen, then another separate pen in case we have a goose that needs to go in a separate pen.

Bob Tarte:  In case there’s a naughty goose we have to isolate.

Linda Tarte:  And then there’s a small storage barn attached to it. 

Bob Tarte:  Yes.  And even though we say it’s a storage barn, we don’t store anything in it.  It’s got straw in it…

Linda Tarte:  It’s where they sleep if they feel like it.

Bob Tarte:  So that’s where they go to get out of the cold.  But even though they can go there to get out of the cold, leave it to the geese to be out in the coldest weather.

Linda Tarte:  Although they did sleep in that last night, and I believe if it’s really cold, they break down and sleep in there.

Bob Tarte:  And then, we have a barn, and it’s quite a large old barn.  And attached to the barn in back are two very large pens.  And so we open the doors, typically in warmer weather—in fact we always open the doors—and then our ducks, and hens, and occasionally turkeys, when we have them, they can…

Linda Tarte:  Go out there and play.

Bob Tarte:  They can walk in and out as they wish.

Linda Tarte:  And there’s a children’s swimming pool outside the door, both for the geese and for the ducks.  And we have to fill those a couple times a day.

Bob Tarte:  And also in the goose pen there…

Linda Tarte:  That’s right, yes.  In the goose pen, too, there’s a children’s swimming pool and that has to be changed.  Today that was iced over, and the bucket was definitely iced over.  There was just a very small space they could get their water, so I dumped it all out.  Luckily we use these buckets that are made out of rubber, and you can take your boot and crush them, and get all the ice out, and start over again.

Bob Tarte:  You can literally jump up and down on those.

Linda Tarte:  They’re just wonderful buckets.

Bob Tarte:  They don’t break. 

Linda Tarte:  They’re just wonderful.  You couldn’t live without them in Michigan winters, I’ll tell you that.

Bob Tarte:  So how is it different filling the backyard pools in the summer than in the winter?  What would you say the differences are about how we do it?

Linda Tarte:  Well, I do it the same way all the time.

Bob Tarte:  Except for the hoses.

Linda Tarte:  I take the broom, turn it upside down, and in the summer we have an outside spigot we hook that up to.  In the winter we have a laundry sink in the basement, that a hose has to be drug into the basement, entirely, so that it doesn’t freeze at any time.  And so that’s what you have to put up with in the winters—having the basement floor covered with a garden hose all the time.  [laughs]

Bob Tarte:  Right.  That’s right.  And what happens when we take that hose out in the wintertime?

Linda Tarte:  It catches in the door.

Bob Tarte:  It catches in the door.

Linda Tarte:  As Bob describes in his book.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, in “Fowl Weather” I write about the hose demon.

Linda Tarte:  The hose demon. 

Bob Tarte:  And that’s some malicious spirit that seems to have possessed our hose.  And if the hose isn’t catching on the smallest little pit in the concrete in the basement—and it can be just maybe a molecule-size pit.

Linda Tarte:  Anything.  Absolutely nothing can hold it down.

Bob Tarte:  Or it catches on the edge of the door.  I couldn’t do that on purpose.

Linda Tarte:  There’s nothing there to hold it, believe me.  But it will find some excuse.  The idea is to get us to walk all the way back up the hill, and walk all the way back down again.  As if we don’t get enough exercise anyway.

Bob Tarte:  And when there is a big snow pack, that’s no fun at all.  Because you’ve really got to dress warm to go outside.  And if the hose isn’t catching on things, it’s kinking.  And so there’s nothing like making it all the way down the hill…

Linda Tarte:  Now the water is not flowing…

Bob Tarte:  No, there’s no water.

Linda Tarte:… for some unaccountable reason, and it’s because there’s a kink in there.

Bob Tarte:  So this morning I went up and I pulled out one kink, and I was all happy, I walked down and I looked at the end of the hose—nothing.  So again, walk up, step over the fence…

Linda Tarte:   A little investigation.

Bob Tarte:  …walk up, and then find where it was twisted again.  And this is some special fancy never-have-a-kink-in-it hose that I paid extra money for. 

Linda Tarte:  Yes.  Of course, it’s a few years old.  Maybe it needs replacing.  But they’re all like that.  Even when they’re brand new.

Bob Tarte:  Yes.  So, that’s what we do.

Linda Tarte:  This is life in the winter. 

Bob Tarte:  This is life in the winter.  And on those days when we forget to empty the pools at night, and it gets very cold…

Linda Tarte:  We got an inch of ice of more.

Bob Tarte:  Yes.  And so how do we get the ice out?

Linda Tarte:  You have to bang it real hard with the back of the broom to get it out of there, to break it.  And then you have to swish it out with the back of the broom, too.

Bob Tarte:  Now you might not think that ducks and geese would care about water when it’s so cold outside.

Linda Tarte:  They do.  They’ll swim any time of the year, 365 days a year. 

Bob Tarte:  And it does make sense, if you think about it, because if the air temperature is zero, water temperature is…

Linda Tarte:  32.

Bob Tarte:  32 degrees.

Linda Tarte:  33.

Bob Tarte:  33.  That’s right, it’s warmer than 32, and so it’s their little sauna.  And it’s certainly a lot warmer than the ground, so I guess it just makes sense.

Linda Tarte:  Even as we speak, I’m looking out the back window, there are two great big fat geese standing in the pool.

Bob Tarte:  I have been feeling sorry for the critters in the barn.  And, Linda especially.  Linda has been after me to try and do something about it, because it gets so cold there.  Isn’t that right?

Linda Tarte:  Yes.  I do worry about that.  Especially for elderly chickens, ducks, geese, anything.  A younger creature is not affected so much by cold, especially these type of animals.  They can put up with just about any temperature.  But as they get very elderly it’s a different story.  They need to have a little more heat. 

Bob Tarte:  We’ve really never known what to do about the cold, because…

Linda Tarte:  We don’t want to burn our barn down with some space heater.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, we’ve talked to people, and they even say you have to be very careful with a heat lamp, because heat lamps get hot enough that maybe they could ignite the straw.

Linda Tarte:  You just don’t know what could happen in the middle of the night.

Bob Tarte:  So we’ve been using this oil-filled radiator heater in our dining room, where we have the birds.  And it looks like an old-fashioned radiator.  It’s on wheels.  And the thing about it is that there’s no exposed heating element, and it never gets so hot that you can’t touch it with your hand.

Linda Tarte:  No, it’s not terribly hot.

Bob Tarte:  You’re not going to want to lay your hand on it for any length of time, but it never…

Linda Tarte:  It’s not dangerously hot.

Bob Tarte:  So I thought maybe there’s some way we could put that out in the barn and do some good with it, without burning the barn down, which is probably to be avoided.

Linda Tarte:  Burning the barn is not a pleasant idea.

Bob Tarte:  Because that would warm them up for a little while.  They’d be warm a little bit, but I think a little too warm.  You never know what you’re going to find in our barn, and one of the previous owners left a wooden pallet in the barn.  So I put that in the middle of the floor in the central area of our barn, which is pretty darn big.  And I put that there to elevate the heater off the floor, so that it was away from the straw.  And then I found one of our old rabbit cages and took the metal tray out of there, and put the heater on the tray.  And then to make things even more complicated I stapled some chicken wire to the edges of the pallet and then added another layer on top of that.

Linda Tarte:  Just so they won’t go in there and stand on it, or too close to it.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, leave it to a hen to decide, say, “Oh there’s a little fenced-in area.  I think I’ll fly in there.” 

Linda Tarte:  Right.

Bob Tarte:  They would do that, too.

Linda Tarte:  Because weren’t we thinking about putting chicken wire over the top?  But then they would roost on the top of it, and then debris might fall down.

Bob Tarte:  Or they might get too hot.  So I put that in there for the first time on Friday.  I wasn’t sure if it would do any good at all.  In fact, when I came out there Friday night, I touched the metal fencing that was near the heater, and it was just…

Linda Tarte:  Stone cold.

Bob Tarte:  Stone cold to the touch.  So I came in the house grumbling that that darn thing wasn’t going to do any good.  But Saturday morning it was only 5 degrees, and I walked out into the barn, and it was 30 degrees.

Linda Tarte:  So you know it’s doing something.

Bob Tarte:  I knew the thermometer wasn’t completely lying, because our water buckets were not frozen.  The water wasn’t frozen, so that thing was actually helping. 

Linda Tarte:  That’s right.  And that makes a big difference to those animals. 

Bob Tarte:  And my hope had been—I didn’t think of heating the whole inside of the barn, or at least the center area—but my hope had been that the animals would all huddle around the heater.

Linda Tarte:  They don’t go anywhere near it.

Bob Tarte:  They don’t go anywhere near it. 

Linda Tarte:  No.  And I don’t think it necessarily puts out a direct heat.  I just think it adds a few more degrees of temperature overall.  Which is what they need, really.

Bob Tarte:  But you know in the dining room, when we have that heater going at night, our big fat cat, Lucy is…

Linda Tarte:  Lays near it. 

Bob Tarte:  Lays near it.  So there is some heat coming off of it. 

Linda Tarte:  This is a smaller room and it raises the temperature a few degrees.

Bob Tarte:  Now, in years past we had heat lamps in our little goose house.  And they never took to that.

Linda Tarte:  They never would go in there.  They were red looking and I think they were afraid of them.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, you would look out our window into the backyard and it looked like we had a haunted house.  Because there are the duck pens, and then you have a window in the little shed attached to it, and there’s this red light blazing from that storage shed.  And I don’t think they liked that red light.

Linda Tarte:  Not one animal inside there.

Bob Tarte:  No.  And so we had a winter where we kept those heat lamps going, and they would never go inside to take advantage of it at all.

Linda Tarte:  Nope.  Not at all.  That was no good.

Bob Tarte:  Nope.  Not at all.  We are still trying to think of some way of heating that room.  I have heard of ceramic heat lamps that don’t put out any light.  So I don’t know if that’s a solution or not, because, again, heat lamps I’m a little afraid of, because we have straw on the floor and we don’t want to burn it down.  Linda suggested getting another one of those oil-filled radiator heaters.

Linda Tarte:  Because there is a separate pen in there.  We could put that in there.

Bob Tarte:  I’m just a little nervous about that, because it’s a small area.  Maybe it’d be no problem at all.

Linda Tarte:  If you put it at a low enough temperature it’d probably be all right.

Bob Tarte:  Well I’m also a little bit worried about the wiring in our house.  This is an old house, and if you look at a heater wrong it’ll pop a circuit breaker in our house.

Linda Tarte:  Yes.  It happens in our house frequently.

Bob Tarte:  So that’s all I need would be to put that heater outside and turn it on, and then us to pop…

Linda Tarte:  Three rooms in the house, the lights go off.

Bob Tarte:  Right.  So I don’t know how that’s going to work.  Maybe somebody listening to this will  have an idea.

Linda Tarte:  A brilliant idea about how to heat little areas.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, what I did was, at Linda’s suggestion, and also the suggestion of Peg Markle at Wildlife Rehab Center, I got some tarps—some plastic sheets—and I put them on two sides, so at least there’s a windbreak in the pen.

Linda Tarte:  She said that’s what’s important.  And she said make the straw 12” thick so they have a place to lay down, both inside their storage barn, and in the main barn.  And in the pen outside I put it real thick there, too, because they like to lie outside a lot. 

Bob Tarte:  So we’ll see how that works. 

OK, you are listening to, “What Were You Thinking?” with Bob and Linda, and we will be right back after this word from our sponsor.

Announcer:  [music, ducks quacking]  “What Were You Thinking?” will be right back, after Bob gets the ducks out of his living room.  Don’t go away.



Announcer:  Let’s talk pets, on


Announcer:  OK, ducks are in the pond, rabbit’s in his hutch, and monkeys—Ow, in my car?  [monkey screeching]  Oh, oh.  [car honks]  OK, while I go check my insurance policy, we’ll turn you back over to Bob.

Bob Tarte:  Hi.  Welcome back to “What Were You Thinking?”  And this is our zero degree weather show, and it’s very cold out.  I shouldn’t say zero degree, because, boy, that thermometer has really climbed.  It’s…

Linda Tarte:  14 degrees.

Bob Tarte:  14 degrees, and it’s 2:30 almost, in the afternoon.  I think we’re not going to see it much higher.  Maybe it’ll go up to 16.

Linda Tarte:  It was 10 for a long time.

Bob Tarte:  One kind of nice thing about this weather is the number of woodpeckers that we’re seeing outside.  You want to talk about them a little bit, Linda?

Linda Tarte:  Well, this tree right outside our back window beside the deck, I counted five or six.  There’s a suet block hanging there, and Bob was in the other room, and I counted at least five, but I think there was one more, so six.  There were some Downies and a Hairy.  The Red Belly was somewhere else.  But we have all three kinds that go out there.

And there were three of them right on the suet block, on opposite sides of the suet block.  And there were two more, one above and one below, and then there was another one floating around somewhere else near the tree, so just that whole tree.  We’re starting to call that tree the woodpecker tree, because we get so many.  We keep the suet out 365 days a year, and so we just have a huge amount of woodpeckers that come.  We just love them.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, there was a time yesterday when Linda told me to look outside, and we saw on or around that tree three male Red Belly Woodpeckers.  And then on the suet or near it, there were two Hairy Woodpeckers.  And then around the tree and up further on the tree how many Downies were there, four or five, maybe?

Linda Tarte:  Yes, I’m wondering if they’re from the same family.  Just a lot of them.

Bob Tarte:  We had a really nice bird sighting Friday, and it’s not often that I see birds that get me really excited, that I see in our own driveway when I pull in.  Friday I had just come home from work after a hard one hour—well it was a little more than an hour—but I only work mornings.  And I was unloading some feed, and I heard this real exuberant woodpecker sound from across the street.  And I looked, and there was a Pileated Woodpecker. 

Our cat Maynard just came in to bother us.  Maynard, go downstairs. 

So we don’t see Pileated Woodpeckers very often do we.

Linda Tarte:  [laughs]  No, it was a thrill.

Bob Tarte:  And what was the female doing?

Linda Tarte:  She was up on this cluster of grapevine that had some little tiny grapes that were frozen and shriveled up, but she had found that and she was all excited about it.  She was kind of popping around in there eating grapes, and she was just kind of cuddled in this viney retreat there, eating grapes. 

And even though I think she saw us, she didn’t seem too afraid.  And I ran and got my binoculars—and I thought it was a male, but Bob said it was a female.  They have kind of a red tufty thing on top of their head, but Bob said it was smaller than what the males are.  Beautiful bird.

Bob Tarte:  Well, they both have the red on the head, but the males have a red sort of a mustache line, and on her it was black—and that’s by the mouth.

Linda Tarte:  She stayed there a long time.  Just beautiful.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, these Pileateds are usually fairly shy.  We don’t see them all that often, so that’s why it was amazing to see them right out in the open.

Linda Tarte:  A real treat.  Straight across the street, very close.

Bob Tarte:  Now, while I was watching her, and trying to take pictures of her, she flew away.

Linda Tarte:  Over the top of our house, and who knows where she went.  She could have gone across the river.  We’ve been looking for her every since.  I haven’t seen her.  But who knows, maybe she’ll get the nerve up to go to our suet block sometime. 

Bob Tarte:  But there was an interesting reason why she flew off. 

Linda Tarte:  The eagle.  We saw an eagle, too.  A Bald Headed Eagle.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, I saw a shadow, and in the warmer weather when you see a shadow like that from a big bird, I usually just assume a soaring bird like that is a Turkey Vulture.  We don’t get them this time of year, but I glanced up and there was a Bald Eagle just at treetop level, soaring over.  We don’t see those very often.  We see them a few times a year.

Linda Tarte:  It was very clearly a Baldy.  It had the white head, the black body.  It was just gorgeous.

Bob Tarte:  So just getting out of my car, I see a Pileated Woodpecker and I see a Bald Eagle.  So that’s pretty good.

Linda Tarte:  It was a great day.

Bob Tarte:  Now we had an unusual show last week, and that was this very scripted show in the first half, with Book Character Bill Holm and Marci Davis.  Let us know what you think of that.  This show is completely unscripted, and if it’s better or worse.  It’s got to be better than that.  But let us know what you think of that.

I wanted to correct something that I said.  Luckily it was on the first portion of the show in which everything was essentially a lie, anyway.  But I had said that “Enslaved By Ducks” was the #1 pet book on  I meant to say that it has been the #1 pet bird book on  It’s not #1 right now, I think it’s 2 or 3.

Linda Tarte:  It changes all the time.

Bob Tarte:  yes, it changes.  But for a long period last year it was the #1 best selling pet bird book.

Linda Tarte:  Pretty good.

Bob Tarte:  And one of these weeks—not today—one of these weeks we’re going to have a big announcement to make about “Enslaved By Ducks.”

Linda Tarte:  Something really nice.

Bob Tarte:  Oh, it’s something amazing.

Linda Tarte:  It’s really nice.

Bob Tarte:  So we’ve been asked not to say anything.  We have to hold our announcement until someone else makes their announcement.  So we might have some really big news about the book. 

If you want to be on our show talking about your exotic pet—and that means anything but a cat or a dog, just because they’re not considered exotics…

Linda Tarte:  Give us a call.

Bob Tarte:  Well, I don’t think they can call us, but they can email me at  Some people email me at, and that’s quite a coincidence, because info is my middle name.  So I don’t know how that happened.  But please, if you email us, tell us that you’re emailing because you want to be on this show.  Because sometimes people email me and they’ll tell me a story about a bird, or something like that, and it’s a good story but I’m not sure if that means they want to be on the show. 

Linda Tarte:  Just tell us if you do want to.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, don’t be shy.  We’re going to be talking to somebody later this week for next week’s show.  Linda’s going to interview a woman who owns chinchillas.  And we don’t know anything about chinchillas, and she actually claims that some chinchillas—get ready for this—can talk.  So we’re going to find out about that.

Last week we also talked about our mouse problem.  Do you want to recap that a little bit?  You know, basically what was our mouse problem?

Linda Tarte:  My car, the lights came on on the dashboard.  I didn’t know what the problem was.  Bob took it into the dealership.  They said a  mouse had chewed on the O2 censor, and it cost big bucks to get it fixed.  Luckily the car insurance place did fix it, and we got it fixed.  But it was just an incredible thing that a little tiny part about the size of a spark plug with wires coming out of it would have been at the dealership, like $526.  I guess they ended up doing it at my car place for $468.  But to think this little tiny mouse could cause all this trouble.

Bob Tarte:  I haven’t taken my car in yet.  I’m sort of afraid to because the same day Linda’s light, sort of the Check Engine light on her dashboard, went on—it was actually three different lights—the Check Engine light went on in my car too.  So I’m assuming what…

Linda Tarte:  Let’s hope it’s not the same thing. 

Bob Tarte:  Yes, but I’m thinking whatever mouse dined on your wires also dined on my wires.

Linda Tarte:  It’s the same place in your car.

Bob Tarte:  I was surprised in checking the web to find out that this is not an isolated problem.

Linda Tarte:  Hundreds of people.

Bob Tarte:  I found one website—I can’t remember the name of it, I’ll try and have that somewhere for you, but it has the name Wombat in it—and there were hundreds of people reporting the problem of having mice eating up their car.  And some people claim they’ve had thousands of dollars worth of damage from this.  So it’s a problem.  And one reason that this is happening—according to some of the posters—is that the car manufacturers, in their infinite wisdom, are using a soy-based coating on wires.

Linda Tarte:  Gee, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Bob Tarte:  Yes, I would suggest they go right to a cheese coating.

Linda Tarte:  Cheese flavored.  Smokey cheese flavored coating.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, that way they can replace even more parts, and make even more money.

Linda Tarte:  More money.  Well, it helps them, I guess.

Bob Tarte:  Well, what we’re going to do is, we are going to try a couple of things to keep the mice away from the car—suggestions we found on this website.  One are these pellets, which are either real or synthesized—I think they’re fox urine.

Linda Tarte:  Because mice are afraid of foxes.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, and we want to check in to that.  I don’t think that they’re harming them in any way.  I don’t know.  But we’re going to find out.

Linda Tarte:  It might be.  We don’t know.

Bob Tarte:  We’d like to check in to that.  But, anyway, you sprinkle these crystals in a circle around your car, and that’s supposed to keep them out.  And then there’s also a spray product that tastes really bad, but it’s not poisonous.  There’s a little video where the man who runs the company sprays some of this on his hand and actually eats it.  And he says it doesn’t taste good, but it’s not poisonous.

Linda Tarte:  It’s nothing poisonous.

Bob Tarte:  If you have suggestions let us know.  Let us know how you’re keeping mice away from your car without using poisons.

Linda Tarte:  And then they said you could use a wastebasket, or some kind of plastic container, tall sides.  You put some kind of food in it that mice like, near your car, and that the mice will go in there to get whatever it is.  And because of the slippery sides of this container, they can’t get out.  And then, in my case, I’d carry them down the street or somewhere.

Bob Tarte:  Right.  You put a ramp on the outside so that…

Linda Tarte:  Oh yes, I forgot that.

 Bob Tarte:  …they can follow the ramp and go in to get the food, and they can’t come out again.

Linda Tarte:  They can’t get out.

Bob Tarte:  And so then we would take them and carry them down the street, and give them a whole new place to live.

Linda Tarte:  Yes.

Bob Tarte:  We would relocate them.

Linda Tarte:  Yes.

Bob Tarte:  We have a few minutes left, and so why we don’t get to what we were originally going to talk about?  We were going to talk about African Grey Parrots.  We have two.  We have Dusty and Bella, and they’re very quiet now.  They’re in the room, but you would know that while we’re sitting down to do a show, they’re quiet.  If we had the radio on…

Linda Tarte:  If we had the radio on, they’d pipe right up. 

Bob Tarte:  They’d be singing along—not singing along, sorry—they’d be talking.  But we thought we would talk just a little bit about the toys we make for them.  Originally we used to buy toys, for Dusty especially.

Linda Tarte:  They were like $15.00 a toy.

Bob Tarte:  $15.00 a toy.

Linda Tarte:  And they last, what, one hour?

Bob Tarte:  Yes.

Linda Tarte:  Maybe five hours.

Bob Tarte:  There have been occasions where they last a couple of days, but that’s kind of a lot of money for two days’ entertainment.  And the toys that last any longer than that, he doesn’t want them. 

Linda Tarte:  No.  The only reason, if they lasted longer than that, it would mean there’s something wrong with it that he doesn’t like about it.  And he never touches it.

Bob Tarte:  So he wants toys that he can destroy.

Linda Tarte:  That’s it.  Their beaks need to be used, and so they like something they can chew on.

Bob Tarte:  So what we do is, we have this block of wood that we drilled holes in, and then we poke leather shoelaces through those holes, and we string these wooden stars that we found on…

Linda Tarte:  He orders them.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, I ordered them from Windy City Parrot.  And I put those on there and tie knots, and then he likes to destroy the stars, because they’re only about 1/4“ thick.  But it’s interesting how he gets them off the string—off the shoelaces.  I would have thought originally that he would have simply clipped the shoelaces with his beak.

Linda Tarte:  Nope.  He unties them.

Bob Tarte:  That’s right.  He unties the knots.  And it’s very remarkable.  And he used to get a lot of praise for us for untying knots, because he just does it with his beak, and I don’t even think he holds them in his foot.  And after a little while Dusty decided that we weren’t praising him quite enough for that any more, so he did a new trick.  He would take those shoelaces, after he got the wooden pieces off them, and he would tie a knot of his own, and he would leave them in his water dish for me.  He hasn’t done that recently, but for a while he did it fairly consistently.  Consistently enough that I built up a little collection  of them

Linda Tarte:  Yes, we had a little collection of these things that—I don’t know if he actually tied knots, or just wadded them all up somehow.

Bob Tarte:  Well, he might be wadding them up, but they do form knots.

Linda Tarte:  It does look like a knot.  I don’t know how he does it, I really don’t.

Bob Tarte:  They are quite aesthetically pleasing, and when I did a few talks I would…

Linda Tarte:  Take one along.

Bob Tarte:  I would take them along and then pass them around to people, and they would always be astounded that a parrot could do that.  They’re quite attractive.

Linda Tarte:  Yes.

Bob Tarte:  We have come up with a new idea now for a cheap toy, because we’re always looking for ways to make cheap toys.  And so we use Dixie Cups—I shouldn’t call them Dixie Cups, because they’re generics—they’re those little tiny, what they used to call bathroom cups, I guess.

Linda Tarte:  Right.  You get a large package of them, it has 200 in it or something like that, for little or nothing.  And the same string that we put those wooden stars on—on one end I put some wooden stars, and then I thread it through, and on the other end I put a couple Dixie Cups.  And because this wooden piece has 1, 2, 3 sets of holes in it, or more, you can put the thread through the various holes, with Dixie Cups on each one.  So he has various Dixie Cups he can take off, and the wooden stars too.  So he likes that, having that diversity.

Bob Tarte:  He loves it.  And our parrot, Bella, loves them too.

Linda Tarte:  She has a little fight with the Dixie Cups.

Bob Tarte:  Yes, I’m going to have to do a video, because she will start punching them.  You’d think it was a person with a punching bag.

Linda Tarte:  Oh, she just has a ball.

Bob Tarte:  She loves it, and she tears them all apart.  I’m looking at the sad remains of three of them on the floor of her cage right now.

Linda Tarte:  Yes, she finishes them off pretty good.

Bob Tarte:  So if you have any suggestions for cheap parrot toys, let us know.  At one point we bought wooden ice cream spoons that came pre-drilled from, I think it was Bird Supply of New Hampshire, or something like that.  I found it on the web.  Dusty liked those pretty well, but they were a little too easy.

Linda Tarte:  He wrecks them too fast. 

Bob Tarte:  Yes, they are a little too easy for him.  If they had been twice as thick.  But I thought that was a good idea, because, again you’re not spending a lot of money on toys.

Linda Tarte:  Nope.  And I go to the thrift shop and I buy belts that I drape over the top of his cage, that as it goes down inside the cage he likes to grab them, and he bites them up into pieces.  Especially the buckle; he usually starts with the buckle and he works his way down, and he just breaks them into pieces.  They used to cost like 10 cents a piece.  Now, since they know I come in to get those, I think they upped them to 50 cents apiece.  But still.

Bob Tarte:  Supply and demand.

Linda Tarte:  Yes, it’s something like that.  But he likes certain ones.  He doesn’t like real thick leather or anything like that.  He likes kind of like thin vinyl ones.  So I always have to look for the kind that he likes.  But there’s usually a pretty good supply of stuff that he does like.  And that’s actually one of his favorite toys of all, and look how cheap it is, 50 cents.  Especially the buckle, he always bites the buckle off first, that’s his biggest challenge.  And I’d say that makes just a great toy for not very much money.

Bob Tarte:  We haven’t tried it with Bella, have we?  I don’t know, she might be afraid of it.

Linda Tarte:  Yes, some of the birds are afraid of different things in their cages.  She might like it after a while.

Bob Tarte:  They’re both African Greys, but Dusty is a Congo.  And we’ve found that the Congos seem to be…

Linda Tarte:  A little more aggressive.

Bob Tarte:  A little more aggressive.  And Bella is a Tymna—she’s our second Tymna, and they’re a little bit…

Linda Tarte:  Nicer disposition.

Bob Tarte:  Nicer disposition, but a little bit shy, or a little bit more timid of things.  Oh, look at the snow blowing out there.

Linda Tarte:  Oh.  It’s very pretty.


Bob Tarte:  Well, that’s the end of our show.  We’ve gone through a half hour, and this has been our zero degree weather show.  This is “What Were You Thinking?”  I’m Bob Tarte, and I’m here with Linda.

Linda Tarte:  Hello.

Bob Tarte:  [laughs]  And so, that’s the end of this week’s show.  Thanks for listening, and thanks to our producer.  And please give us an email at  Bye bye.

Announcer:  Thinking about buying a monkey?  How about a ferret, or a skunk?  Then check out the show that will answer the burning questions:  Where do you get them?  What do you feed them?  How do you take care of them?  And, most of all, what were you thinking?  With exotic pet expert and author, Bob Tarte, every week on demand from



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