Today as always I got up, let Crow out and walked the dogs. When I came back with the dogs, I made myself a mug of coffee and opened the parrot cages so that I could clean them out and give them breakfast, not necessarily in that order.

I had an apple for my own breakfast, and cut out a few slices and offered them to the birds. Darling likes apple and took a piece, Parrot turned it down and Crow ended up with her piece and Parrot’s spare piece.

She, Crow; ate one piece immediately and then ran off to cache the second piece.

It has been a gorgeous sunny day, so after breakfast I decided to go and do a bit of gardening. As I did not prepare the ground properly in winter this meant digging a bed for my beans and peas. Hard work, and when I came in at lunch time I was hungry so made myself a bowl of pasta. I made enough to share, and put out my meal, and a bowl on the floor for Sam, the spaniel; first.

Sam tucked straight into his and before I had even sat down Crow came bopping over and peered hopefully into Sam’s dish. Sam likes her a lot, but was not prepared to share his meal and he turned and glared at her.

Not one whit abashed, Crow hopped off and came back a moment later with her piece of apple which she offered to Sam, obviously hoping that Sam would exchange it for some of his pasta.

I could not believe my eyes, even now I can barely believe what I witnessed. Crow was offering to buy her lunch from the dog. I am sad to say that Sam was not at all interested, but I was left reeling at the sophisticated manners of this little bird.


The Birds: Part 2

Two weeks in and how things have changed.

After two days of being afraid that I would open her door and do something unspecified to her, Darling decided that she would come out of her cage at last. She climbed onto the open door and sat and watched me as I was preparing breakfast for the animals and myself. I deliberately pretended not to notice her, so that she would not be afraid and retreat back inside but as I faced away from her I heard her fall to the ground behind me. Evidently she had tried to fly over and not made it, she is quite weak, and her flying is very rusty as she has been locked in her house for such a long time.

I offered her my hand to step up onto, and she came up gratefully and made her way up my arm onto my shoulder where she nestled into my cheek and asked for head rubs. This was such a big step forward that I was very reluctant to move her, indeed; to do anything other than to rub her head while feeling all mushy inside.

Unfortunately, Parrot was loose in the parlour by himself. I had only gone into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the birds. I did not want to take Darling in the other room, as I was unsure how he would react but neither did I want to give him the opportunity to dismantle every piece of electronic equipment he could find while he was unsupervised. In the end I closed my eyes, prayed to the god of high tech psittacines, and kept up a conversation with Parrot from the other room. This seemed to work well, though it is not something I would recommend as a regular occurrence. Eventually I had to put Darling back into her house and close the door, though I felt really mean doing this; and go and sort out Parrot.

Since she had been out once however, there was now no stopping Darling. Every time I opened her door, she would come out and try to fly. After a few attempts she was no longer plummeting to the ground, she cannot fly very far, but she is getting her steering and brakes sorted and I have no doubt that she will be as proficient as Parrot in no time at all. If she does crash land, she will happily climb onto my proffered hand and either climb onto my shoulder or accept a lift to a more suitable perch. My heart is still in my mouth every time she takes off, but I no longer panic about her hurting herself, though for the first few days I nicknamed her Icarus.

Parrot meanwhile; got interested enough in what I was doing without his company to fly through to the kitchen around all the corners, so I decided I may as well move Darling’s cage into the parlour. This has actually worked pretty well, the two parrots can see and talk to each other. If I open cage doors Parrot will fly over and sit on Darling’s cage top. I discouraged this for a while as Darling either growled at him, or screamed; but now she seems quite accepting. If she is out, she will fly over and sit on his cage top. Both birds are interacting now, although cautiously. Parrot is the more garrulous of the two and chats or whistles or sings all day long. Darling is beginning to learn one or two of his more interesting noises. She has a quiet voice, whispering rather than shouting; hopefully Parrot will pick up this habit at least occasionally.

Parrot’s relationship with Crow has also changed. Crow is a friendly person; Parrot has always been incredibly jealous of her and when she comes over to say, “Hello”, Parrot always hopes that he can get a bite in. Crow very sensibly errs on the side of caution around him though and he has not succeeded. At one point Parrot actually flew up the stairs to where Crow was sitting minding her own business, stripping wallpaper. He flew up like a bird of prey and attacked poor Crow. Luckily Crow was able to fend him off while I came thundering up the stairs to rescue her. If she wanted to, she could do him some serious damage with her own beak; she is, after all a predator and they are very similar in size and weight. Fortunately for Parrot she always sees the best in him, heaven knows why. I discourage Parrot from going on the floor as that is where she stays. Occasionally she will hop up onto the chair in the kitchen which Parrot never sits on. This means that they can share the same space but not get in each others’ way.

A couple of days ago, Crow hopped over to the settee and looked up at Parrot who was sitting on the arm. I watched carefully as she raised her beak up to his, as at this point he usually tries to bite her. To my amazement he leaned over and very gently kissed her. Naturally I didn’t have the camera to hand, it was a very moving sight. I hope that it marks a change for the better in their relationship, but with Parrot it could easily be that he is merely creating a temporary alliance against a common enemy. I don’t think this is the case, and although I am watching them very carefully for the time being I truly hope that they will end up good friends.

The Birds: Part 1

Well here we are. Two parrots and a crow. I was prepared mentally for the actual logistics of keeping the birds, separate rooms and separate time out so that no-one would feel left out. It all worked like a dream, at least in the planning stage.

Alas, a dream is how it stayed. Naturally all my plans were perfect on paper but on the ground, well; anything can happen and usually does.

Having the birds in separate but adjoining rooms worked well for two days. They called to each other and me, and I split my time between kitchen and parlour. I opened Darling’s cage door regularly, but she retreated, growling, to the back of her cage so I decided to leave it locked for the time being. The last thing I wanted to do was to stress her further.

Parrot was interested, but huffy with me for spending time with someone else. I have spent so much time teaching him to come with me when I move from one room to another, since it is not safe to leave him loose in a room by himself. Quite suddenly, he was very keen to come in the kitchen with me, flying across the room to land on my head if I blocked him from sitting on my hand or arm. Poor fellow couldn’t see why I had changed the rules, and was cross when I put him back onto his cage top. I don’t blame him for this at all, he must think that I am quite fickle.

Darling is a friendly little thing, even though she is nervous of her new surroundings. Every time I have walked past her  cage she has sidled over to the bars and put her head down so that I can scratch it. I have taken every opportunity to do this for her, and Parrot is very aware of this. His hearing is phenomenal, he hears everything people say both in the house, and even outside if they are walking past, although the windows are kept closed. It is hardly feasible to hope that he would not hear me murmuring endearments to Darling.

There is also her name. How dare I call someone else, “Darling”? Is he not my darling?

To ensure that we spend time focused on each other, I have started to work with him towards him learning cognitive, human speech. Parrots are very good at this and I had meant to do this a lot sooner than now. As he needs quality time with me it is the perfect opportunity. In time, I hope that Darling will join in with these lessons but for now it is just me and Parrot.

To start with we are working on his recognition of shape and colour. Today when I set out the tray with the objects on which we are using, he came over full of interest. He remembered what we did yesterday and was keen to get going again today. Great. Then Crow came hopping over to see what we were up to, jumped up and managed to grab Parrot’s tail. That was the end of today’s lesson. Poor Parrot.

Crow meanwhile has also become very clingy.  She has returned to her old habit of stabbing me in the lower leg if I am sitting down and ignoring her. Talking to her is not enough, I have to give her my full attention and scratch her head. If I look away while I am doing this, she will immediately bite the end of my finger to remind me that she is there. Hopefully this phase will not last too long. I am a guest at a wedding in two weeks time, and would rather not have a rash of bruises and blood blisters covering my legs.

Introducing Darling.

We have a new addition to the flock.

Darling is an African Grey, the same breed as Parrot. She has been a cherished household member belonging to a family friend; but when my friend’s life started to go downhill a few years ago, Darling got shuffled to one side and started to mutilate herself.

This took the time honoured parrot tradition of plucking herself, but very recently she started to nibble away at her own leg in her unhappiness. Parrots are very sensitive to emotional atmosphere and if, say; their human clan argue among themselves, then parrots will suffer and become ill. Parrot, by whom I mean he who rules this household; recently stopped eating when Beloved’s work pattern changed and he had to start living away from home during the week. Parrot realises now that Beloved comes home every weekend, but it took a little while for him to adjust.

My sister suggested that Beloved takes Parrot with him through the week, but besides not being possible, that would have made Parrot worse, not better as Parrot is bonded to me. When Parrot flies around screaming, or throwing things at me and the dogs, or dismantling electronic equipment; I sometimes dream about what a good idea it would be, however.

A few days ago my friend rang and asked if I would like to take Darling, and I jumped at the chance. She lives in a very remote area, so it took me a couple of days to get transport, but two days ago I went up there and picked up the little lady.

She is a very sad looking person at the moment. She has plucked all of her feathers down to the bare flesh, other than on her head, wings and tail. I have no doubt that these would have been removed too, apart from the head which parrots cannot physically reach to pluck. In addition she has self inflicted wounds to the back of her neck – I don’t know how she managed that one, and the top of one leg, but these are already beginning to heal up.

In the car, she sat on Beloved’s knee in the carrier, and did not seem too worried by the dramatic change in her circumstances. Beloved chatted away to her, and Darling showed interest in her surroundings, and in Beloved; too.

Once home, we moved her cage into the kitchen away from the other residents. Beloved managed to put it up a height so that Darling would feel more comfortable; after all, parrots are both prey and treetop animals so the fact that she is as high as we could get her should make her feel more secure until she settles in.

Crow has been moved into the parlour with Parrot. The dogs have been kept out of the kitchen to give Darling breathing space while she gets used to her new home. Kitchen and parlour are only separated by a door which is always open, though because of the way the house is built it opens into what was a hall, rather than directly into the parlour. This is handy as it means that everyone can hear everyone else and nothing should be too much of a shock when they finally meet officially. Of course everyone is as aware of the new arrival as Darling is of them.

Parrot is certainly curious, but also is insecure. I expected this to happen and so have been taking as much time as I can to play with Parrot and focus on him, so that he knows he is still as important to me. Since Darling turned up though, he has been flying around the parlour screaming and chucking things about in an effort to prove that he still has all of my attention. This will pass.

Crow likes being in the front room, but keeps hopping into the kitchen as that is where the dogs’ water bowl is kept and she needs to hide treasures, bathe and generally throw the contents of the bowl around. I have noticed that Darling puts a lot of her food into her water bowl too, so when she starts coming out to play I think the dogs’ water is going to need cleaning and replenishing even more frequently.

Last night after taking the dogs out for a last quick run before bed, I went in the kitchen and Crow; that loveliest of people; had clambered to the top of a chair next to Darling’s cage. She and Darling were roosting as closely to each other as they could get with the cage bars in the way. To see Crow offering comfort to this little waif makes me quite teary.

It is very early days, but I am quite hopeful that my little flock are eventually going to be happy together.

A day in the life.

When I come downstairs in the morning I open Crow’s cage without even looking. I’m normally half asleep as Crow is waking me up more and more early these days.

She hops straight out and keeps herself busy for the rest of the day. I take the blanket from Parrot’s cage, tell him, “Good morning”, in as cheery a voice as I can muster. When you sound happy or excited, parrots are far more likely to repeat what you say. So far Parrot does not greet me first thing in the morning, perhaps he also thinks that Crow is too much of an early bird.

I stagger through to the living room, trying to avoid tripping over the dogs who are awake and ecstatic to see me after a whole night, clip their leads on and take them and a ball out for their morning’s ablutions. Fortunately I am surrounded by fields so the young dog can race around like a lunatic burning up all the energy he has stored through the night, while the old lad and myself follow at a more sedate pace.

The young dog carries the ball, and when he feels he has had enough dashing about aimlessly, he brings the ball, drops it and looks at me expectantly.

I have one of those plastic launchers and throw the ball as far as I can, he races after it and the old dog trots after him. Sam has the enthusiasm and usually gets the ball, sometimes before it lands; but occasionally he dashes off before the ball has left the launcher, and as my aim is not the best he often ends up in the wrong part of the field.

Fly may be old and crippled with arthritis these days, but he isn’t stupid. He is likely to get the ball at this stage while Sam is looking at me questioningly from across the field. If Fly gets to it first, Sam has had it as Fly does not give it up.

By the time we get back to the house, I have woken up somewhat. The dogs get a small treat, as does Crow who hops over and waits with them. If Fly is not fast enough in taking his treat, then Crow will jump up and steal it from under his nose. Since I expect this to happen, I hold the smaller treat out first, then Fly gets the larger one while Crow scuttles off with her booty.

Now I open the door for Parrot who steps onto my hand and offers me a kiss. If I am stupid enough to fall for this, then he will bite my nose quick as a flash when my face is close enough. Then he’ll cackle at me. He caught me recently this way, and I told him, “You’re a monster, a horrible monster!” to which he promptly replied, “No, you’re a monster.”

Breakfast time and Parrot comes with me into the kitchen while I make myself a coffee. If it’s cold I make porridge for the birds and myself. Both birds get added vitamins and calcium in their porridge and sometime I just add it to the pan and eat porridge myself which is full of birdie vitamins. It’s easier than adding it to individual bowls, and Parrot is suspicious if my food is not exactly the same as his. If I don’t make porridge, then Parrot gets sprouted seeds, sprinkled with his calcium, while Crow gets Parrot pellets which are already enriched with vitamins. I feed these to Crow by hand. She loves them but refuses to eat them from a bowl.  

After everyone has eaten, Parrot gets down to the serious business of the day, which involves looking for things to destroy. I spend a good deal of time making him toys from chewable and shreddable materials. As I move from one room to another, I ask Parrot to come with me. He used to refuse, but now will fly to my hand as he knows that he will get a tiny piece of peanut, his favourite treat; as a reward for following me around the house. He is not allowed peanuts in any other situation.

If I leave Parrot unattended in a different room, he will wait for a short while for me to come back, and if I don’t he will go somewhere he knows that he is not allowed and do something I would prefer him not to do.

I was in the kitchen a couple of weeks ago, and he flew to the top of the Welsh dresser in the parlour, and after clearing his throat once or twice and getting no response, he picked up my Beloved’s drill bits and dropped them on the dog. I  went in to remove Parrot and rescue the dog, and the little feathered pest picked up another drill bit, deliberately dropped it then looked me in the eye and said, “Oops”.

Crow meanwhile, is entertaining herself. If I’m standing at the cooker, she will stand looking up and tugging at the hem of my jeans to remind me of her presence in case I have any morsels which need removing. Sam sits a little way behind her watching every move I make too, not wishing to be left out. He knows that if Crow is given something, then he will receive a piece, too. Both bird and dog have learned that if they chase and try to steal from each other, then there will be no treats handed out. This keeps them quiet.

Crow’s beak is prone to getting overgrown, her upper mandible tends to hook slightly over the lower, so I have brought bricks into the house and piled them up in corners. Crows beaks are hooked at the end, but hers grows excessively. The bricks give her somewhere to hide her treasures and the constant poking in between them keeps her beak trimmed. It won’t win me any awards in “Homes and Gardens”, but I try to pretend to visitors that it is a zany, new décor.

This does not, of course; stop Crow from discovering or making new hiding places. Much of the wall which is Crow height, is covered with perspex to protect it, as she loves excavating. Today while I was attempting to stop Parrot from shredding Beloved’s correspondence -which I cannot persuade him to lock away from avian pests – Crow was quietly poking the tiles loose from the hearth in the parlour. I didn’t realise until I heard the rattling and found her trying to hide one of the tiles under the carpet.

The biggest part of me is sad that Crow cannot fly, the more practical part counts my blessings as nothing would ever be safe if she could go where she wanted to.

Around three in the afternoon, both birds have a quiet time. Parrot will nap on the top of his cage, Crow will nap on the strut underneath her favourite chair. You can tell it’s her favourite by all the beak marks. Sometimes she will hop onto the dog’s bed and sit quietly beside Sam, her friend; which always makes me feel gooey inside.

At teatime I lock both birds in their cages so that the dogs and humans can eat in peace. Later I will let them both out.

Both birds tend to want affection and cuddles after tea. Parrot comes over and twists his head upside down so that I can rub the feathers on his head, and cheeks. If I have a hot drink, Parrot is in ecstasy if I use the warm cup to rub his head, Crow will tug at my hem while I’m sitting down and I reach down and scratch the top of her head. Often she will hold my finger in her beak while I reach with another finger to rub her head.Image

Parrot goes to bed finally about 9 o’clock. I cover his cage with his blanket, he hangs upside down while I tell him goodnight and give him a little treat, then retreats to the back of his cage and goes to sleep. Crow mooches around until I lift her into her cage around 10:30. Occasionally she will go and stand underneath her cage and ask to be put to bed, but this is rare. More likely I will have to corner her and pick her up while she snaps at my hand.

I then give the dogs a final walk and head off to bed myself.