Gaia, my African grey parrot, is eyeballing the new "toy," which has been inching ever closer to her cage this past week, with a curious mix of anxiety and anticipation.

Gaia, my African grey parrot, is eyeballing the new "toy," which has been inching ever closer to her cage this past week, with a curious mix of anxiety and anticipation.

Her initial concerns that the humongous parrot playstation might eat her alive have eased considerably from the moment I wheeled the multilevel monster into our abode.

And, as sure as I know my funny feathered child, there will soon come a day when her little red butt will be clambering all over this wonderland. For there are bells to ring, and swings to rock and toys to attack with the squawking fierceness of a drunken, marauding pirate.

But she's not there yet. And that's OK. It's just how she rolls. Much like her humanoid mama, Gaia is a combo Pollyanna/Henny Penny creature. Her blithe spirit seeks new adventures. But her intellect can create consternation around the unknown.

I rolled the big, gray monster into the kitchen last Saturday. As it clattered and banged across the floor, I made sure to make a fuss about what a fun treat was in store for us all. I also made sure to halt the skeery contraption far enough from her cage so she could give it a proper look-see. And also feel safe.

A couple days later, I nudged the play stand considerably closer during the day. Then moved it back again at night. Each time, Gaia and her little cockatiel brother, Goose, flapped their feathers a little less. I was ignoring their fussing anyway. When it comes to parrots and kids, you don't wanna reward those negative behaviors with too much attention.

Two days ago, I rolled that sucker right up next to Gaia's cage whilst singing merrily away like an escapee from a Broadway musical. Something from "Flower Drum Song," if memory serves. "When I have a brand-new hairdo ..."

Gaia was eye-rolling and head-cocking, but also standing her ground. No more scrambling to the far side of her cage, muttering dire incantations of doom and gloom. In fact, she peered closely at the stand, and back up at me. She'd spied one of her most favorite things.

I give the metal arch attached to the wooden dowel a solid push. It was easy to tell by the pinning and flaring of the pupils in her golden eyes that it was rocking her world.

"Yeah, Baby. Swingy," I said, flashing back a dozen years.

When I first brought Gaia home, she was still a dark-eyed baby. Barely fully feathered, she was only half-weaned. The breeder insisted I finish her handfeeding regime. I thought he was nuts. But he was adamant. So several times a day, I mixed up her warm formula and shot it into her crop via a large syringe. Lord have mercy. I'm having flashback flop sweats.

While Gaia cheerfully chugged and glugged the mixture, I would fret myself to flinders that my fumbling fingers were gonna cause her to aspirate formula into her lungs and die of pneumonia.

I'd wipe her messy beak and weigh her after each feeding. Then later I'd check what came out the other end of my precious poopsie, posting the results on a parrot message board like a first-time mother with a colicky baby. Experienced "parronts" were endlessly patient. And, thankfully, Gaia not only survived my nervous piserinctoms, she thrived.

Her breeder had kept her in a breadbox-sized cage. I wanted her to have as much room as possible to spread her wings. So I purchased her a macaw-sized cage.

She looked so small, sitting all alone, in that huge cage. But it didn't take my intrepid baby long to adjust to her new digs. Or to discover her inner gymnast. One afternoon, Gaia figured out how to slide down the cage's vertical side bars — upside down and backwards. Another morning, I discovered her hanging from the top bars of the cage. She was dangling only by her beak, wings clamped firmly to her sides, legs stretched down toward the bottom of the cage. She resembled nothing so much as a ridiculous rubber chicken. She'll still sometimes assume the position on demand if I make "bok-bok" noises.

I didn't load her cage with too many toys. But her favorite, by far, was a set of three colorful interlocking rings. She'd sit in the bottom ring and swing for hours. Then one day she opted to climb to the middle ring and swing in that one for awhile. The capper was the day she figured out how to wind herself up in all three rings — then with a wicked chortle, let herself go and spiraled out of the rings.

I was sure she was headed toward the cage floor. But the little maniac caught herself on the bottom ring and swung upside down by her toes, screaming "Wheee! Wheee!"

Yep. Flygirl loves her a good swing. And she's gonna love this play stand.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or