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Archive for the ‘nandays’ Category

At the start of February, my parrot Beaudin died. It was unexpected, because to all appearances he was healthy and active until his last few hours. Suddenly, for the first time in decades, I was sharing the townhouse with a single parrot, and the silence was unsettling.

A few people suggested that I was becoming too old to get another parrot. Besides, some said, pets would only tie me down. However, chances are that I have several decades left, and, really, what worthwhile choices don’t tie you down?

Moreover, the number of abused and neglected parrots made me determined to do what I can to help without becoming a Crazy Old Parrot Man. After mourning Beau, I contacted Greyhaven, the adoption agency from which he had come, and asked whether it had any conures who needed home.

Greyhaven is still reeling from the collapse of the World Parrot Refuge, a well-intentioned effort to provide for domestic parrots that ended with neglect and larger parrots preying on smaller ones, and at first I was told that no smaller birds were currently available. However, then the staff remembered Morrison, a brown-throated conure who had been with the agency for almost two years.

Morrison had been abandoned by his person. His person had not seen fit to take the little bird when he separated, and the wife had no interest in keeping birds. Greyhaven’s volunteers had seen to his basic needs, but his noisy and curious personality was too demanding for most of them to give him more than minimal attention. But that same personality is what has always attracted me to conures, so I agreed to consider him.

Greyhaven’s adoption policy can be rigorous – and rightly so, since the point is counter the cruelty and neglect that domestic parrots often face. I was prepared for questions about my lifestyle and knowledge of parrots, but the adoption coordinator remembered me from Beaudin’s adoption, and the interview was largely a formality. One look at Morrison was enough to delight me, and to let me know that he should have no trouble settling in. Smaller than a nanday, he almost seems delicate, except that is active, almost hyper personality dominates the space around him automatically, with the slightest need for aggression. I had expected some objection from Ram, my remaining parrot and the victor of many dominance competitions, but he is largely indifferent to having a stranger around — perhaps because Morrison is a different species.

I was prepared to spend hours feeding Morrison to help him accept me, teaching him to step up and coaxing him to eat fruits and vegetables. But none of that proved necessary. He was under-socialized, but not abused. Within a few hours, he was sitting on me, and in less than a day eagerly exploring the living room.

He was eager, too, to start what is apparently a ritual with him: exchanging whistles and his limited vocabulary of “Hello” and “Pretty bird” with a person over and over. Probably, he has little understanding of the words, but just as obviously he knows the important of verbalization in human socialization. Pleased with the attention, he will keep the ritual going for as long as ten minutes at a time if I continue to participate.

If anything, he is almost too eager to settle in. He has the habit of flying to Ram’s cage, an invasion of privacy that Ram does not appreciate. Several times, I have had to lunge across the living room before Ram could make his objections known on Morrison’s person.

Still, perhaps I worry too much. After less than a week, Ran and Morrison were sitting on me as I lay watching a video. And as I type now, Ram has claimed my right shoulder and Morrison my left. Sometimes, they studiously ignore each other, each preening his back and making happy chirps while watching intently, and I have to be watch that Morrison keeps to his own side – but mostly all is right with the world, at least when the two birds are on neutral ground.

In years of working with parrots, I have never met one who adjusted so easily as Morrison has. If the first ten days are any indication, I look forward to years of his company. Morrison is nothing like Beaudin, and certainly not a substitute for him, but he is very much his own person, and someone I am overjoyed to know.

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Beaudin Goodfellow, aka Beaudin de la Bec Noir, died today shortly after 4am. I was holding him cupped in my hands on my chest, knowing he was fading. He had been unconscious for twenty minutes, and I was sure he would not wake again, but he suddenly lunged forward, spreading his wings, and collapsed. For a moment I hoped he had rallied, but then I saw the light leave his eyes, and knew that he was gone.

Beau came into our lives in 2006. Trish and I made a practice of not having more than four birds at a time, reasoning that two apiece were the most to which we could pay adequate attention, and the death of Jabberwock the year before had reduced the birds to three, leaving Ram outnumbered by the mated pair of Ning and Sophie.

We wanted a rescue bird, so we adopted him through Greyhaven, the local bird rescue charity. It might have been easier to adopt a human child, considering how we were vetted and interviewed, but since the whole point was to compensate for neglect, Trish and I entirely approved of the process. We were told he had had a mate and lost her, and that he had spent several years locked in his cage in a dimly lit laundry room, and was about seventeen, but all this information was tentative. He might have spent time with cockatiels, since he sounded like a deeper pitched one, but nobody really knew.

What was obvious, though, was that he was high-strung. He could be quiet enough while he was on a shoulder, but getting him to step up left my right index finger a bloody mess of scars for over a year before he became calm enough to step up without drawing blood.

Still, we managed to enjoy him from afar, watching him bathe in his water dish while chortling happily, and watching him open the latch on his cage until we had to thwart him by tying the cage shut – a parrot who gets loose when you are not around is a danger to themselves. We even had to tie the barred floor of his cage to the frame, because he soon learned to bounce it loose and slip out the bottom of the bars.

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After several years, though, he became a glutton for affection. He would slip under my finger on the keyboard, chuckling and demanding that I scratch his neck, and grooming my fingernails gently. At other times, he would roll over on his back on the sideboard beside my work station,squeaking and nipping playfully at my fingers. Increasingly, he would fly to me wherever I was, leaving me terrified that he might land just as I opened the oven and tumble into it. He even learned to tolerate sitting twenty centimeters from Ram on the futon by the window, just so he could nestle in the crook of my elbow.

bird-in-the-hand

Perhaps Beau tolerated Ram because Ram is a cripple who never learned to make an adult squawk and seemed no threat (although, as often as not, Ram would win their dominance games). Or perhaps Ram was the enemy of his enemy Ning. Beau never did take to Ning, the mated cock on the other side of the living room. They fought territorial skirmishes until I felt like a UN observer, and Ning would torment Beau by crawling under the table to beneath Beau’s cage, where the angle was too steep to dive bomb him. Beau would always be furious – and totally clueless about how to respond. I could almost see him thinking that he was young and tall and should be dominant, yet somehow he never managed to give Ning a bad moment.

In recent years, with the flock down to Beau and Ram, Beau blossomed. It always touched me to see him showing affection, considering how violent he had been when we first brought him home.

I had spent the last couple of days trying to decide if Beau was ill. But like many parrots, Beau was good at hiding his illness. Besides, he remained a hearty eater up to his final few hours, raiding my dinner plate then retreating with a bit of corn or potato as he had always done, and emptying his seed dish.

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Still, I detected some unsteadiness, and decided to take him to the vet this morning, just to have him checked. I prepared a travel cage, and placed it in him for the night so I could wake and leave as soon as it was late enough. Just to be sure, I placed the travel cage on a chest by my bed, and slept with the lights on so I could check him easily. Once, I woke to see him sleeping in the corner of the cage nearest me.

The next time I woke, his posture seemed unnatural, so I took him from the cage, scratching his ears and stroking his wings, talking and singing to him. I knew by then he would never survive to arrive at the vet’s, and that the most I could do was soothe him in his final moments – and perhaps not even that much.

I was out the door before 8am today to take his body for cremation. When I returned, it would be hard to say if Ram or I were more aware of the Beau-shaped hole in our daily routines. So Ram and I are sitting together, neither of us wanting to go far from the other.

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As I type, two parrots are fighting for dominance not much more than a meter away from me. It is not a fight in the conventional sense, because both participants are careful to avoid actually touching each other, but it is none the less real for that.

The struggle erupted because Beaudin, the large, younger cock discovered the hutch on my printer stand. The color inkjet is small enough that the space between its top and the cupboard on the hutch has all the space that Beau needs to pad about on top of it. Any nanday conure likes a semi-dark place they can peer out of, and since he discovered the space a few days ago, he flies directly to it whenever he is let out of his cage.

At first, I didn’t object, because he can’t damage anything – well, except for the covers showing the ink cartridges used by the printer that I taped to the top for convenience. After all, I would far rather fetch him from on top of the inkjet that from the floor behind the couch, which used to be his favorite place to hide until I blocked access with a collection of bolsters and old towels.

What I didn’t take into account is that the hutch is half a meter from Rambunctious’ cage in the kitchen. Nor did I expect Ram, a crippled cock who used to mostly ignore the contests when his father Ning was alive and keeping Beau thoroughly psyched out, to defend his territory. He certainly has no scruples about sitting close to Beau’s cage, and even flying over to it occasionally.

Apparently, though, such privileges are not reciprocal. When Beau scampers on top of the printer, Ram rushes from his cage, puffing up and hissing, and stands on the edge of the kitchen counter, peering around the edge of the hutch and screaming at the top of his voice.

Since Ram was a handfed baby and rewarded with attention for being cute when he grew up, his screams retain a juvenile squeak that probably makes them less effective than they should be. However, his sounds manage to communicate his conviction that Beau is trespassing.

For his part, Beau screams back in kind, his tones deeper and more adult. He is obviously taken by his new refuge, and intent on annexing it to his territory.

After the initial screaming match, Beau and Ram settle in to peering around the edge of the hutch at each other, quickly retreating just before they come beak to beak, both of them fanning their wings to look bigger. Their breathing becomes so agitated that I am mildly worried about one of them having a stroke, although I suspect that neither is in any real danger.

The peering is followed by each tapping with his beak on the side of the hutch. Each is responding to the sound of the other, and the tapping is usually followed by another peer around the corner. After a few rounds of this behavior, both back off and make an elaborate show of ignoring each other, preening, or devouring bits of food. Usually, only the telltale raised neck feathers and stiff posture shows that both are on the alert – that, and the way one will sometimes wave his tale just out of reach, seeming to dare the other to try biting it.

Then one will catch sight of the other again, and the screaming and peering begins again.

In order to get some work done and let one of them sit on me, I often have to put one of the birds in his cage. Otherwise, the behavior can go on for hours.

But let me settle down to watch a DVD on the futon by the window, and Ram will sit on my chest, and Beau on the cushion behind me, not much further away than they are when Beau is on the hutch. Apparently, the futon and I are neutral territory, and the feud has a different and quieter etiquette there.

I’ve considered blocking the space that Beau has infiltrated, or possibly working on another computer on the futon. Yet for all their apparent seriousness, I get the sense that Beau and Ram enjoy their feud, perhaps as a break in routine.

If so, who am I to spoil their fun? Maybe I’ll just invest in a pair of ear plugs instead.

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I’ve lived with Nanday conures – a kind of small, South American parrot – most of my adult life. I knew they were intensely social birds, craving flock and constantly re-negotiating their status. But I never realized just how much the composition of the flock could affect personality until the last few months of watching my bird Beaudin.

Beaudin was a rescued bird we adopted six years ago in a process that could hardly have been more rigorous if we had been adopting a human child. He was about thirteen at the time, and may have lost a mate. When Trish and I brought him home, he had been neglected for several years, kept in a half-dark laundry room and mostly ignored.

We set up Beau’s cage across the room from Ningauble and Sophie‘s. We soon noticed that Ning thoroughly dominated him. Ning’s domination could have been because he was the oldest bird, and had been resident in the living room the longest. Possibly, too, Ning dominated because he was the only cock with a mate. But whatever the reason, Ning had Beau under control from the start.

A large and soon healthy bird, Beau would challenge Ning at every opportunity, answering his calls defiantly with his own. If Ning hopped down on the floor to explore, Beau would dive-bomb him if he crossed the invisible border between their territories. While he wouldn’t come down on the floor himself, he would pace back and forth, squawking furiously if Ning disappeared under the couch or behind it, obviously expecting an ambush at any moment.

Yet, for all Beau’s young machismo, Ning always had the psychological edge. He would sit just centimeters over the border, apparently calmly preening, but actually alert for any attack. When Ning discovered he could use the table to infiltrate to a position directly under Beau’s cage, where the angle was too steep for Beau to dive-bomb, he took full advantage of the fact, lingering there as long as I would let him.

I am ashamed to admit now that I laughed at Beau. He seemed so full of expectations of becoming dominant and so puzzled at the hold Ning had over him that I had to laugh. Partly, my reaction was a pleasure at seeing that age and the death of his mate hadn’t slowed Ning down any, but mostly I laughed because Beau’s reaction seemed so exaggerated.

Then six months ago Ning died, and Beau became the dominant cock at last. Rambunctious, my other surviving parrot, is crippled, so he has never tried to dominate, and suddenly Beau had what he had sought by default.

For several months, he continued to look around cautiously, peering at the places where Ning had liked to hang out as if to be sure he wasn’t about to be attacked. But, almost immediately, Beau became more confident, exploring further from his cage. Now, he spends more time with me at the computer, flying to and from my shoulder as he pleases, hardly ever checking for where Ning might lurk.

A nervous bird, Beau didn’t calm down completely. But he became a quieter bird. His expressions of surprise or peevishness still sound like a cockatiel’s, but they are usually quieter, and last for a shorter time. Where he had once preened with Trish and I only occasionally, and never for long, he now preens me and presents himself for a neck and wing scratch several times a day, and coos contentedly when I talk to him.. Only occasionally, when the shadow of another bird crosses the window or when I move too quickly does he act like he used to. For the most part, he is a much more confident bird, although I suspect he will always be high-strung.

As for relationships with Ram, Beau is benevolent, as dictators go. He will concede my shoulder to Ram for brief periods, and wait if I feed Ram a piece of peach or some fruit juice first. But he expects his share of both attention, and will fly over to claim it, driving Ram away in his eagerness – although, mindful of Ning’s treatment of Beau, I intervene to keep them from fighting, because, after his initial retreat, Ram has a tendency to lunge and bluff, and I am not sure if either will back down.

Beau’s transformation has convinced me that we often under-estimate just how social parrots really are. To an extent, being plunged into a small flock might have been just what Beau needed to help him recover after years of isolation. There is, after all, a theory, that intelligence develops in social species in order to think about relationships. But, because he was the newcomer and therefore low-status, past a certain point, being in a flock seems to have slowed his recovery from neglect beyond a certain point.

Perhaps the effect of having other nandays about might have been different in a larger space, or with different birds. I don’t know. But I do know that, if another parrot ever comes to live in the townhouse, I will think more about how the personalities involved might interact.

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Today, my nanday conure Ninguable died, surviving his mate Sophie by just under thirteen months. He died in my hands. It was the last act in a relationship that had lasted twenty-eight years.

He had been listless for the past couple of days, but yesterday evening he had seemed to rally. However, the improvement didn’t last, and this morning he was lying on his back when I opened his cage. I thought him dead, and although he roused feebly, I knew he wouldn’t last out the day.

I had no means to euthanize him, and taking him to the vet would only make his last hours uncomfortable, so I sat with him through the day. He seemed to have suffered a stroke, because he struggled to move his left leg, growing testy at times.. Sometimes, he yawned with his beak tilted up. He didn’t show any signs of pain, just frustration. I was just putting him on to a towel in his cage bottom, so I could use the computer with one hand while stroking him with the other, when he collapsed beak first and twisted sideways.

For a moment, I swear I saw a light in his brown eyes. Then he was gone. I waited a few moments, but I knew what was left was no longer him. The time was shortly before 2PM.

Ning was our first parrot, and responsible for most of the others coming into our lives. We had been fascinated by a friend’s dwarf macaw, and had spent over a month looking for our own small parrot. We briefly considered a blue-crowned conure at the Lougheed Mall pet store, but debated if it was quite right. Then we saw Ning at the store in Kingsgate Mall, and immediately knew he was right for us.

Had we known what we knew a few years later, we probably wouldn’t have bought him. He was missing a nail on one foot, and part of a toe on another – a likely sign that he was wild caught, and had had his feet tangled in a net. Plus the store owner swore he was eighteen months old when by his markings he was under a year. Later, we realized he had probably been smuggled into the country, an abusive practice that we wouldn’t have wanted to support.

But he was so feisty among all the much larger birds in the room, hanging from the bars of his cage and trying to attract the attention of the red lory who was the only bird of his size. We put a deposit on him, and stopped on our way to the Vancouver Folk Festival to feed him cherries and grapes, all of which he greedily devoured.

On Trish’s birthday, we brought him home. We left him to acclimatize while we went out to dinner, but we were both so excited that we could hardly eat. We named him Ningauble, after the ever-curious wizard in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser series.

In the next few weeks, I worked with several times a day in the spare room, teaching him to climb up on a presented perch, then on a finger, feeding him and praising him loudly as a reward.

In the evenings, I would take him out and herd him on to my shoulder, where he would sit nervously before starting off. He couldn’t fly much, because we had clipped his wings, but that didn’t slow him much. He would glide as far as he could, and resolutely trudge along the floor and up the furniture until he reached his cage.

One evening, we were sitting reading when he reached over and gently preened my hair. Between my nervousness that he would bite my ear and my delight at this sign of trust, I hardly dared to move. But the next evening, he preened one side of my hair followed by the back, careful not to miss a spot, before giving up.

He seemed relieved to realize finally that he wasn’t responsible for all my hair, and after a few more evenings, settled down to a token preen in return for having his ear holes and neck scratched. He would sit and preen me for a couple of hours, then waddle down the couch to Trish to give her a couple of hours of attention.

I was in grad school at the time, and used to work in the spare room we had converted into a library. For a while, I used to take Ning into the library, since he would scream for me if I left him in the living room. Unfortunately, he would not only wander the shelves flinging books off, but also produce what our local used bookseller called parroted editions that had been thoroughly chewed to the point where they were unsellable.

After a couple of years, we decided he needed a mate, so we brought home Sophie, a malnourished, abused bird. Our plans to quarantine her for a month were immediately overturned when the only way to keep them from calling from room to room was to introduce them. Under our anxious eye, Ning jumped into Sophie’s cage and immediately started regurgitating to her.

If Sophie could talk, I swear she would have said, “Excuse me, sir? Have we been introduced?” but they immediately became inseparable, eventually going on to produce six chicks, one of whom is still with me, and one who returned to us before dying at a young age from the second hand smoke in a home where he briefly lived.

Ning wasn’t that skilled at feeding babies. But he kept Sophie fed while she was brooding, and delighted in teaching them the basics when they left the nest. At that point, Sophie was glad to pass along the responsibility, and Ning always pined when the babies went to other homes.

Because of the trouble and heartbreak of finding new homes for the babies, we eventually stopped allowing eggs to hatch. But Ning and Sophie didn’t seem unduly troubled. They continued in happy monogamy, with Ning in the adventurous lead and Sophie chirping nervously behind, but following him – on to the floor, or up on my shoulder, where they would sit preening each other and occasionally me while I worked on the computer.

In between, Ning would have territorial wars with the other male birds housed in the living room, always with the psychological edge. Although not particularly large for a nanday, his electric blue and green feathers showed he was the epitome of health. And, anyway, he was the cock with the hen.

He also showed an uncanny ability to find what unsettled his rivals the most at the least risk to him – for instance, sitting just inside another male’s territory on the floor, in a spot where he couldn’t be dive bombed.

And so things went on, the living room full of bird calls, affection and avian macho, until I got into the habit of thinking they might go on forever. But Trish sickened and died, and, five months later, Sophie died. Ning responded by a fit of macho, rampaging around the dining table until it was clear that this previously neutral ground was now his. He was also inclined to mope unless he spent as much time as possible with me – something I didn’t mind in the least, considering we were widowers together.

In the mornings, when I came to open the curtains, he would greet the sound of my voice with a liquid trill that would continue for up to a minute — one of the most beautiful sounds I ever heard, and one I wish now that I had got around to recording.

Despite his increasing age, Ning showed few signs of slowing down until the last four months of his life. One day, waddling over the carpet, he stopped and began biting furiously at his right wing. When I picked him up, I could find no damage, but he never flew far again. Instead, he would call anxiously to me, squirming until I picked him up and carried him to where he wanted to be. By this time, I could guess his destination with almost total accuracy.

I had seen similar signs in Sophie, but, considering Ning’s better health, I had hopes that his senior years would be prolonged. Until a few days ago, I even had hopes that with therapy he might fly freely again, since several times he managed short flights when frustrated.

As I write, it’s six hours after his death. I’ve taken his body to be cremated, and removed his cage from the living room – and I still keep looking for him as I type. He’s the one who taught me that parrots had sentience and limited planning abilities. He’s the one who kept me amused with his unabashed enthusiasm, and supported me with a preen and by hanging out when I was discouraged or grieving. He’s the one who taught me that parrots can purr.

Given all this, what could I do but sit with him in his final hours? I talked to him about our years together, sang him his favorite silly songs, and repeated my pet names for him. I cried over the inevitable before it happened and I hoped for a miracle, knowing I wouldn’t get one.

And you know what? I’m not ashamed of any of it. Because those are the sort of things you do for a friend. The only shame would have been to leave him to die alone, and my only comfort is that I did for him what I could.

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Four days ago, my Nanday conure Ning lost Sophy, his mate of 24 years, to old age. They had nested successfully four times, producing six chicks, and were a model of happy monogamy, constantly preening and never moving more than a few meters from each other. Ning had cared for her as though she were a chick in her final days, standing over her and preening and regurgitating to make sure she was fed. He was beside her when she died, and I have been able to observe first hand how he grieves. Being a widower myself, I feel a certain identification with what he is going through.

He knew at once when she died. Within a few seconds after she died, he nuzzled her once with her beak, and then moved twenty-five centimeters away, looking very small, with his feathers pressed tightly against his body, which is a sign of unhappiness in any parrot. He did not attack me when I placed her body in a shoe box to take to the vet (as I had half-expected), but went quietly up on my hand and into the cage.

When I returned from the vet, he was in the same position and had eaten little from his dish. But he screeched excitedly when I opened the door, and climbed up to my shoulder, pressing as tightly as he could against my neck and staying there for a couple of hours. I neglected the other birds to give him some time, stroking his back far more than he usually allows.

I was worrying that I might need to feed him and that, without his mate, he might no longer be able to hold his own against his arch-rival Beau, but my concerns proved needless.

As soon as I let the other birds out, Ning became manic. So much as 230 grams of bird can, he stamped around the table and the floor, trying to be everywhere at once. He seemed to have decided that he was going to prove his dominance once and for all by a frantic display. If so, it worked incredibly well – Beau is still reluctant to leave his cage when Ning is out. Now, as a result of Ning’s display, the dining room table is no longer a No-Go area for all the birds, but has been thoroughly annexed by Ning.

That evening, Ning preened me more than he had since the days after we brought him home, and he decided I was flock. But he would stop periodically to cheep for Sophy, and would occasionally fly off to the cage, and peer around it as though hoping she was somehow there. Later, when I put the cover on the cage, I could hear him cheeping for her again. I admit that went to bed early that night, because I could not stand to hear him.

The next morning was even harder. Ning went to Sophy’s convalescence cage, and seemed bewildered when neither she nor the towel I had arranged for her was there. After a moment, he moved down to the perch and started regurgitating. For a moment, it felt to me as though he was responding to Sophy’s ghost, and I was glad when he climbed to the top of the cage.

Fortunately, he started eating again on the second day, and his appetite is hearty. But he will take all the chew toys and attention that I tend to give him, and his efforts to preen me have a gentleness and a desperation that they never had before. He obviously needs the closeness – and, to be honest, so do I. At the same time, he regularly asserts his dominance by inspection tours of the area he claims.

It seems to me that the ability to mourn is a sign of sentience. After all, if a creature does not have a sense of itself, how can it feel loss? If it does not have a sense of others, then how can it mourn? If I did not already know from both personal experience and from Irene Pepperberg’s scientific studies that the intelligence of parrots overlaps with the lower levels of human intelligence, Ning’s behavior over the last few days would have proven his sentience ten times over. We’re supporting each other through our mutual loss – and I can only hope that I provide him with half the comfort that he gives me.

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“In the West End of Derby lives a working man
He says, ‘I can’t fly but me pigeons can
And when I set them free
It’s just like part of me
Gets lifted up on shining wings’”
– “Charlie and the King of Rome”

This morning when I took the cover off the cage, my parrot Sophy was lying on one side, with her mate Ning hovering over her. She didn’t open her eyes, and her breathing was labored. I scooped her up and put her on the table, and she barely opened her eyes. I knew then that she was dying, so I decided that cleaning the cages would wait.

Sophy had been in a convalescence cage for the last few days after she slipped from a perch and started favoring her left leg. But her appetite was healthy and she was otherwise acting normally; the convalescence cage was just so she wouldn’t climb until her leg was better. Last night when I put her and Ning to bed, she was moving better, and I was cautiously optimistic that she was healing.

But she was thirty years old – old for her species — and had been growing quieter over the last year, so her condition this morning was not a total surprise. I debated taking her to the vet, and decided she was better at home, where she could be in the company of her flock when she died. Besides, the way she looked, I was not sure she would live long enough to arrive at the vet, or that the vet could do anything I couldn’t.

So I sat there as the sun rose, scratching her ear and trying to fed her corn. She refused the corn, and the loving regurgitation of Ning. In fact, she seemed to have trouble waking at all.

When the sun poured into the living room, I stood with her for a while so she could bask in the light, something she would do for hours, given a chance. The sun on her feathers roused her, but only a little. I placed her back on the table and continued waiting, scratching her neck feathers.

A few minutes later, she shifted her head awkwardly once or twice, as though trying to get comfortable. The eye that I could see grew misty. She seemed to stiffen, and all at once she had stopped breathing. Ning prodded her with his beak, and, when she did not respond, moved a body’s length away, preening himself with an air of apprehension.

That was the end of my twenty-four year relationship with Sophia J. (for Jabberwock) Bandersnatch. It was an end that I could hardly have predicted from the start.

When we bought Sophy from the bird-sitter, she had been neglected and abused for several years. She had no tail-feathers, and she had plucked her breast. Recognizing her as a nanday conure was so hard that we almost had to take the fact on faith.

We were told that she had locked in a cage for at least three years, and fed only on sunflower seeds. When she made a noise, a hand or a thrown boot hit the side of her cage. The only noise she could make was an outraged squawk.

Under these conditions, what could we do? If ever a bird needed rescuing, it was Sophy. When the bird-sitter reported back to her original owner that we found that she had a sweet personality, his reply was, “Sophy has a personality?” – more proof, if we had needed any, that he had no idea how to care for her.

When we brought her home, we placed her in the spare room, thinking to quarantine her for a month before introducing her to Ning. But the two birds started calling so excitedly that after a couple of hours, we brought Ning in for a visit.

We were ready to supervise, but there was no need. Ning leaped down off my shoulder and sidled up to her on the perch and immediately started regurgitating. Sophy made a stifled sound of surprise, as though to say, “Excuse me, sir, but have we been introduced?” but her objections could not have been too serious. Moments later, they were mating.

After that, Sophy and Ning were nearly inseparable, eating, bathing, playing with chew toys, climbing up on me. Always, in season and out, they mated, even on my shoulder. If one of them strayed more than the width of the living room, the other would start making anxious squawks. Ning was the more independent and aggressive of the two, but we soon noticed that anything Sophy wanted, she got. In anything she cared about, she was the dominant bird.

With Ning as her companion, Sophy blossomed and started to accept us. She would go everywhere with him, even occasionally down on the floor, which she obviously regarded as a dangerous place. I remember the two of them constantly worrying a small tin back and forth as though playing football.

One time, she crawled into one of Trish’s boots that was lying flat on the floor. She made an inquisitive cheep and, frightened by the echo, retreated squawking.

Over the next couple of years, her feathers grew in. But she remained an over-zealous preener, so that her feathers often looked ragged and you could see the gray of her down on her breast.

A few years later, she was healthy enough that she started laying eggs. The first one surprised her as much as it did us. She kept looking behind her at the egg, as if she could not quite believe that she had produced it.

Other eggs followed – so many at first, that she became egg-bound had to visit the vet just after Christmas. Ning moped around, and, early on New Years’ Day, we took him to pick her up. His rapturous purr as he started preening her in the examination room was as true a sign of devotion as you could see anywhere.

We bought a nest box, and watched her excavate the peat moss that lined it to her liking. Soon, eggs and hatchlings followed – Frumious (because what else should a Bandersnatch produce?), Jabberwock, and Rambunctious, Rogue and Rapscallion, and Madrigal, all born in the living room. Sophy would spend hours cooing over her hatchlings, over-preening them but caring for them fastidiously until they were weaned. Once they were eating for themselves, they were Ning’s concern for a few months so far as she was concerned, and she always seemed relieved when her offspring left for new homes.

A flock, a mate, and babies mellowed Sophy immensely. She never was much for hands after her previous experience, but she came to trust us enough that she would simply press her beak firmly around an encroaching finger, instead of drawing blood.

We knew that she trusted us, because every morning, she would lean from the top of the cage to preen our faces, more gently than any parrot I have ever met. She was the only bird I trusted to preen my eyes, because even a sudden noise would not excite her into nipping me. When I lowered a shoulder, she would scramble across the cage, careless of any obstacles, to climb up on me.

She would sit for hours on my shoulder, with or without Ning, as I worked at the computer. Sometimes, I would sing silly songs to her, and she would shake her tall and fluff out contentedly just at the corner of my vision.

I could go on and on – but I see that I already have. But I can hardly remember a time that her playful and loving presence was not part of my home life. All the birds were a comfort to me in the weeks after my wife died, but she was the one who sat with me the most, and seemed most sensitive to my grief. In return, remembering her sitting contentedly on one leg on the back of the cage, I like to think that we helped her put the years of abuse and neglect behind her.

As I type, Ning is restless, hopping from my shoulder to the table to the floor, and flying up to the cage. He keeps looking around as though expecting to see her, and is unable to keep still.

Without any anthropomorphizing whatsoever, I know exactly how he feels. Even after watching her die, I still can’t believe that gallant little Sophy is gone.

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