Birds in Fact and fiction.

I have been watching films recently. Moving pictures aren’t really my thing, I prefer to read but if I run out of books and have time on my hands then I will borrow a dvd from my children and watch it. Sometimes I’ll even watch it all the way through.

My son prefers horror movies so that is what I have been watching recently; only the least gory, however.

I watched a couple over the last few evenings and was interested in the way that crows are used to provide atmosphere. You see one sitting on Brandon Lee’s shoulder in the film, “The Crow”, or sitting on a telegraph pole in a windy desert, looking sinister. You know the kind of thing I’m sure. The trouble is that when I see a crow, no matter the setting I see a small, black clown. What’s more, at present I see everything vaguely and blurred as Crow helped himself to my glasses yesterday and I have been unable to locate his hiding place. For once it isn’t the dog’s water bowl – the first place I looked, and they are too large to fit in one of the holes he has poked into the walls of the house. They could be anywhere.

Parrots, however; are never sinister as far as I’m aware. They are pirate’s stooges, and when I was a child, in my favourite stories about adventurous children; a very intelligent parrot helped his owner in many different ways. Parrots are jolly creatures and make you either laugh or leave you in awe at their talent for human speech.

Now I have no doubts as to the intelligence of parrots. However they are not the cute, cuddly mimics they are portrayed as. At any rate, Parrot isn’t, and neither are those parrots who live with friends. To be more accurate, they are cute and cuddly mimics, but they are so much more. For instance they are noisy, messy, destructive and jealous, and incredibly time consuming. They are also very, very intelligent and emotionally needy. If you do not provide the mental and emotional stimulation a parrot needs, he will become a very sad bird indeed. He will become withdrawn, possibly aggressive and is very likely to self mutilate. This tends to take the form of pulling out his own feathers and often enough he will actually eat away his own flesh in his unhappiness.

Parrot is very sweet and loving, in fact he usually comes over for affection in the evening when he is settling down in preparation for bedtime. He is so endearing then, asking for me to rub his head, twisting upside down so that I reach under his chin and around his cheeks. During these sessions he half closes his eyes with bliss.

Any other time of day though, approach at your own peril. I have learned to read his body language extremely well. He has his own agenda, and if you want to interrupt his parrotty doings, it is important that you distract him with something which looks equally fun. Or bribe him.

As with Crow, he spends most of his day loose although unlike Crow he is not allowed the run of the house. Whichever room I am using, I take him with me so that I can keep an eye on what he is up to. Those times he is caged for reasons of safety or just to give everyone else breathing space, he needs a supply of interesting toys and puzzles. I buy baby toys in charity shops and hide treats in crumpled paper inside cardboard boxes. These he shreds happily. Most of his toys are homemade, but they all have to be changed regularly to stop him from being bored.

He will accept lifts on my shoulder from one room to another, he gets rewarded  for good behaviour, including not biting my ear or face when he is in transit. Once I have put him down and started pursuing my own business he can get on with playing with his toys.

Alas, his toys are not nearly so interesting as whatever I am doing. He flies between parrot perch and me, more often than not landing on my head for the fun of me shaking him loose of my hair. If I want to move him from somewhere he wants to be, as when, for instance; he has found and wants to dismantle a mobile phone or a camera; I have to stop what I am doing, calm my breathing right down and ask him to step onto my hand so that I can move him and put away the object of his desire. If I don’t take the time to slow my breathing and relax my muscles, this master of body language will lunge at and bite my hand rather than step onto it.

To say that he is destructive is an understatement that only another parrot owner will empathise with. I have to leave sacrificial objects around that he will find and destroy in order to protect more valuable belongings.  If I am cooking, I will leave bits of vegetables for him to steal, it is the only time he will eat them and it distracts him from the food I am preparing.

Much of what he does is an effort to get my full attention. He wants me to play with him constantly and as I took him in with the full knowledge of his needs, I try to fulfil my side of the bargain and keep him amused. If I go to another room and leave him briefly, he will whistle and chatter loudly and I call back to him that I hear him and will be back shortly.  He is a flock animal and to be left alone is very frightening for him.

His flock is very small, consisting of him, me, my partner, two dogs and a crow. His environment is so unlike the homeland in which he and his kind evolved it could as well be an alien planet. All of us, dogs, crow and humans would be dangerous predators in his natural environment and I try to keep that in mind. Fortunately, Parrot has taken all this in his small stride and accepts us for what we are. In fact all the members of the tribe accept each other which is truly wonderful. I keep an eye on interspecies teasing, but nobody seems to want to really upset anyone else.

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Living with birds.

There are two ways you can adapt to living with a couple of highly intelligent birds.

You can admit defeat as far as having a clean and tidy house is concerned or you can decide that you are not really an ornithologist and have a bird free household. The second option is by far less stressful.

I bought a heavy duty vacuum cleaner when Parrot, the first of the two came to live with me. I figured smugly that as long as I used it daily the worst of the general debris would be kept under control. I soon discovered that twice a day vacuuming was not too much and I still have to constantly pick up used and discarded toys, also used and discarded food. There is a daily supply of chewed up paper, wood, cushions, curtains and furniture, and any time the nearly constant mutterings and swearwords stop;  it is time to go and check what Parrot is up to.

This morning I caught him eating the cable which I use to charge my mobile phone, retrieved him from underneath a chair where he was waging a war of terror on the dogs and from the inside of a cupboard in the Welsh dresser where he was happily going through my craft supplies; especially enjoying the many and varied beads.

Crow in the meantime found a supply of clout nails which he took from the packet and strewed across the floor. Many of them ended up in the dogs’ water bowl which is his favourite storage area. The dogs have long preferred to drink from puddles and streams. I cannot say I blame them, looking at the disgusting mess of torn paper, stolen clout nails, plastic bottle tops and feathers which are usually to be found in their water dish. Crow also considers this water to be his personal bathing area. I can and do clean the bowl and provide fresh water several times a day, but the dogs have to be fast if they want a drink as it reverts to revolting in about ten minutes. Dogs aren’t generally renowned for being fussy but my two have a tough time even so.

I have two dogs, an elderly collie, Fly; who just wants to sleep in peace all day and a younger spaniel, Sam; who wants to play. This is great as Crow likes to play, too. He likes to jump high in the air in front of the younger dog. If he is lucky the younger dog will be startled enough to jump up and snap at the empty air. It is always better though when Sam chases him, barking, for which Sam then gets told off. Crow can play this game for hours without tiring.

Fly is more of a challenge. He does not want to play with crows. When I fostered a magpie some years back, he learned that corvids will torment a dog unmercifully, secure in the knowledge that the dog is not allowed to fight back. Crow’s answer to this is to pretend that he wishes to sit with Fly on the dog’s bed. He will hop alongside the poor dog and pick, almost absentmindedly at his long hair.

Fly will open his eyes and watch him warily, but say nothing. Crow will then hop off the bed and bring along one of his many treasures which he will play with while staying close to Fly. He will throw these objects and then run and pick them up, before coming back to the dog. Finally he will start trying to bury the toy under the dog. He starts gently enough, pushing it towards the poor dog but cannot keep this up for long. I have to intervene at this point as otherwise Crow will start trying to poke holes in the dog bed and accidentally in the dog too, to hide the toy in.

Next there is the issue of flight. Parrot came to me with clipped wings, but it is fairly well accepted nowadays that flighted birds should be allowed to fly. It is excellent exercise and has strong psychological benefits, too. In any case, I think it is sad to keep a bird and not let it fly, so allowed Parrot’s flight feathers to grow back in and I have delighted in watching him learn to use his wings properly. Of course, a flying bird has access to areas I would perhaps, prefer him not to be. I spend a lot of time retrieving him from the living room lightshade. It is a game for him to fly up and hang on the lampshade knowing that I will come after him. It is time to replace the light with one that hugs the ceiling smoothly and closely, leaving nothing for a determined parrot to cling onto.

Recently, when I went to lift him down from a high spot, I offered him a long stick to climb onto; I am not so agile these days and climbing up to collect him is not easy for me.

To my delight, Parrot decided that the stick was far too frightening to climb onto and flew off. It is now known as “the scary stick”. I can point it at him wherever he is (and should not be) and he will immediately fly somewhere else. I can often just move my hand slightly as though I am going to pick it up, or touch it while saying, “No”, and Parrot will stop doing things I would prefer him not to; chewing computer monitors or whatever.

Of course, it is important not to overuse it. He is no longer afraid of the stick, it is merely a signal which we both understand to mean, “Stop”. Soon, I hope to be able to dispense with the stick entirely and just use the word, “No”. It is also important that when he does stop doing something inappropriate he is immediately rewarded with either a treat or praise for behaving well.

Unfortunately Crow seems unable to fly. I say “seems” because there are some indications that he could now fly if he wanted to, but chooses not to do so. I think that he perhaps sees the air as Parrot’s territory. I have found toys in the dogs’ water dish which have been kept up a height and out of sight. I have never caught Crow on the worktops, but I am fairly sure he sneaks onto them when nobody is looking and to do this he must fly up to them.

Certainly he does not seem to be hampered by not flying. He can go wherever he wishes in the house and is easy enough to find. Just follow the trail of torn paper, bits of plaster poked from out of the walls and dropped, and the small sharp objects that you always step on if you are foolish enough to walk around the house barefooted.

When I get up in the morning, I open the door to his cage and he hops straight out and gets busy. He stays out the whole day and about 10 0’clock at night I lift him back in and lock the door. He never puts himself to bed, I have to lift him there and even though I am certain he is ready for bed he always crouches down, clacking his beak at me threateningly when I go to pick him up. If he is not ready to go to bed, he merely runs away.

So, back to the two options. I chose the first and I would not have it any other way.

Mealtime.

It has been a long day. I had to go to the funeral of an old, very dear friend. I was glad to see various folk who rarely cross my path and stood and talked for too long in the car park afterwards. It is a cold day, and as I result I was cold and very stiff with arthritic pains when I finally got home.
I could have made a proper meal but I was starving and sore, so I decided a cup of coffee, and an egg and mayonnaise tortilla eaten sitting in front of the fire would be just the thing.
Five minutes later, and I was sitting by the fire with two tortillas. One for me, one to share out between dogs and birds.
Parrot made appreciative noises, “mmmm”; and smacking of lips sounds as he came  sidling over for his portion. He is quite a dainty eater when he feels like it, so I gave him a tiny amount on a plate. If he doesn’t like the food he gets to play with the plate, and I have a chance to eat my meal in peace. As he was eating I cut a large-ish piece off for the old dog, a similar one for the young dog and the piece left over was for Crow.
Giving Old Dog his piece first, Crow came running up, stole it from his mouth and ran off leaving Old Dog looking bemused. I then gave Old Dog the younger dog’s piece. By this time Crow had hidden his loot and come back in to see if there were any further pickings.
Young Dog went off to see where Crow had cached his stolen goods, and while he found and ate them, I gave Crow the piece I had originally apportioned him.
And this is how I feed the family.