Thursday, February 23, 2006

Birds, Birds Everywhere

I wander through several blogs on a near-daily basis, and one happy day I'll figure out that blog-roller-thing and can organize 'em. That'll be cool. At any rate, today I stopped by to visit Rurality, where she had posted a bit about her budgie. Her pictures of her birdie chowing on a banana took me back to the birds I've known. [Whoot! I think I've figured out linking! Yay, me!]

When my mom was young, she had a parakeet named "Teako." (I'm pretty sure I just spelled it wrong.) One winter day, Mom and her mom were sitting in the living room and heard something tapping on the window. When they went to look, there was a little green parakeet perched, half-frozen, on the window sill. Mom opened the window and let him in and so began a close relationship that lasted for years. Her mother didn't believe that the bird would ever talk, but Mom worked diligently with him for weeks. One morning, Grams was greeted with 'hello, I'm a pretty bird' when she uncovered his cage.

Fast forward many years, and Teako was a fond memory. During a stop at the pet shop for rodent food, Mom saw a beautiful pair of finches called 'red cheeked cordon bleu finches.' (Uraeginthus bengalus for the more technically minded.) Thus begins our family's adventures in birding.

Shortly after the finches moved in, my brother got a parakeet named Fancy and I got a Fischer's lovebird named Bippo. Bippo was very loving and friendly, but he was an escape artist extraordinaire. We had to tape his water and food dishes to the cage, and put a padlock on his cage door, and he still figured out ways to get out. Most mornings I would wake up to find him sitting on my pillow over my head, grooming my hair. I hadn't had him long when he caught a cold and was gone before we could get him to the vet.

Fischer's lovebirds were difficult to find, and some time passed before we went to the pet store and came home with Aurora. I've come to believe that Aurora was wild caught, because she was so scared of us. As much as she seemed to want to make up, she just couldn't bring herself to total trust. She was less scared of my dad, since the big-giant-hand-that-grabbed-at-her never came from him. She lived in the same cage that Bippo had for a while, and she was also very capable of exiting it any time she felt like it. Her favorite perch was my ceiling fan. She was hang over the edge and chatter at me. If I pretended to be asleep, she would fly down and land next to my head and creep closer until she could feel along my face with her beak and tongue. It tickled and my laughter would cause her to skitter back and take flight.

Aurora loved salad greens, millet, pasta, eggs, and picking the seeds off a strawberry. The leafy tops of celery were her favorite, but she dove into more than one salad bowl. Poor little thing - one of the most traumatic occasions during her life with us was when she dove into a bowl of salad - with dressing on it. The traumatic part was the bath I had to give her to get the oil off. She learned from that to test for dressing before diving into the bowl. We learned to make up a salad bowl just for her, set on the table close to the door of her cage so she could escape to her cave if any of us ventured too close. It was an arrangement that worked well for everyone.

She and Fancy did NOT get along. We couldn't let them out at the same time. As soon as my brother would open Fancy's door, he'd fly over to Aurora's cage. She would chase him all over and bite his feet, then they'd get into squawking battles. My little darling won the noise wars handily.

A couple of years after she moved in, I noticed a bald spot under a wing. In fairly short order, her feathers were gone. She looked like a tiny little chicken, although some of the feathers on her head remained. We had her for several more years, but her feathers never returned. I used to make bridges for her from yard sticks so she could explore beyond the kitchen table. She got very good at zipping along those pathways, and she never seemed to really mind her lack of feathers. We hung a soft toy in her cage that she cuddled up to at night. One winter day, however, someone came in the kitchen door and left the metal door open. She caught a chill and was gone soon after.

Fancy was my brother's bird and didn't really care for the rest of us that much. He talked when he wanted to, and fought with all the other birds, and generally didn't make much of an impression on me. We had him for several years, and he'd been an adult when we got him, so I think it was just old age that took him away in the end.

We'd had Aurora for a couple of years when Mom went to the pet store to find that they had just gotten in a clutch of cockatiels. They weren't full grown yet - less than a year old. One in particular ran over to Mom and zipped up her arm to coo at her from her shoulder. Not looking to add a fifth voice to the zoo, she put him back and walked away. A man came over and tried to get the same bird to climb onto his hand, and the bird would have none of it. He tried to fly to Mom, even though he didn't yet know how and ended up crashing to the floor. Mom was hooked, and Fred came home with her that day. (I could, and probably will, babble on about Fred - he was such a little character.)

We are a nocturnal family, and the birds in our lives were the same. Even the finches went to bed around 10 pm and got up around 11 am. We had to have strict rules about where the bird cages spent the night, because we had a cat. A 25 pound Maine Coon cat that REALLY liked birds and was strong enough to disassemble cages to get to them. As a matter of fact, Mom brought home a pair of green singing finches that were smaller than we thought - they could get between the bars of the cage. That night, they got out... and the cat had little birds for a midnight snack. At any rate, Aurora went upstairs with me at night, Fancy went upstairs with Scott and then the finches and Fred lived in Mom and Dad's room. Even after Snuggles (hey, I was six - cool pet names were beyond me at that age) was gone, the finches and Fred went to the bedroom for the night.

The last pair of cordon bleus that Mom had developed quite the personalities. The female (Sarah) really enjoyed flying around the house and then landing among the plants in the sunroom. She'd spend hours picking around the plants and watching the outside birds (while the cat spent quality time in the basement, behind tightly shut doors). The male (Slash) would call frantically trying to get her to return to the cage. He was a homebody and never ventured out on his own, even with the door clipped open. They both loved their baths and would drench the entire kitchen flipping around. One day, a small moth fluttered into their cage. They both eyed it, but Slash flashed forward and snarfed it down. That was how we learned that they really enjoyed live food. From that point forward, regular stops at the bait store for maggots and mealy worms were in order. It was a bit disturbing to think of these tiny, delicate-looking bits of fluff as avid, skilled hunters but watching them take after their bugs was remarkably like watching the velociraptors in "Jurassic Park" moving in for the kill. Slash was a wife-abuser and so their cage was divided into 2 smaller ones to give Sarah some peace. Sarah spent a lot of time making eggs. Lots of 'em. We provided every possible source of additional calcium we could think of, but one morning Sarah was dead - we think she became egg-bound. Slash lived on for several years after that, well past the maximum age that the books said talked about.

Eventually, we were a one bird family and Fred was the undisputed head of the household. When Lady moved in, she seemed to respect that Fred had been there first. She was curious about him and was always trying to sniff at him. He bit her on the nose more than once for the indignity. She got her own back though. Fred's favorite place to perch was on Dad's shoes, and Lady would walk by and, in all innocence, whack him with her tail. Then he'd squawk and grumble, and I swear she laughed every time.

Fred was getting to be elderly when the calico cat moved in. She was a stray, and made it very clear that she considered Fred to be a foodstuff. So, Fred's outside the cage time was curtailed to when Dad or I put the cat in the basement. By then, Scott had been out of the house for a couple years. Then I moved here. Fred was so glad to us when we made it home. He's been gone for a bit over two years now, and I still miss him so.

I'd love to have another bird, but it's just not practical right now. I don't have enough space to contain the cat to give a bird outside the cage time, and I'm barely there enough for the cat. *sigh* One day...

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