Season’s Greetings

My Beloved is a wonderful person who I care deeply about; he is also a messy slob. Now I’m not too obsessive about having the perfect home and garden myself but he is streets ahead of me when it comes to not having an OCD. Really.
His joy is to start some kind of DIY which generally involves demolishing something, then leaving it partly done. While waiting indefinately for the work to be finished,  I’m not supposed to move any tools or other equipment as he then cannot find them when he feels like doing a bit more work on the project. I am now used to living in a permanent building site, and I don’t really mind; we all have our little quirks. He breaks and rebuilds stuff; I keep an unlikely assortment of animals. We generally rub along very well as neither of us has any  sense of urgency about trivial matters such as having a home that you would be proud to show off to, well; anyone really.

Crows and parrots don’t care much about the decor. If they are warm, have a good diet and plenty to keep themselves mentally, emotionally and physically occupied, they will be happy enough.

Yesterday, I had a rat in the kitchen. Actually I have been aware of the little animal’s presence for a week or more, but was bamboozled as to how to persuade it to move out. Although I don’t begrudge any creature wanting to be warm and sheltered; even I balk at having rats in the house. During the afternoon myself and Beloved decided that as a stern talking to hadn’t produced any noticeable results, we would have to take more definate measures. Accordingly we locked the dogs and birds in another room and started to  check all around the kitchen. Once we knew where Ratty was hiding (behind and under the sink) we started to shift every piece of furniture and random bit of junk; including part used bags of plaster, lots of tools, bits of a small motorcycle – the usual, to the furthest part of the kitchen. The idea was that my hero would demolish the undersink cupboard in stages, and I would catch the rat using a towel when the loss of his refuge became too much for him.

Having done all this whilst avoiding a hernia, somebody knocked at the front door. I foolishly went to answer it, and Ratty chose this moment to make a dash for freedom, ending up in the side of the kitchen with all the stuff in it. Back in the kitchen, I persuaded Beloved that we should make a clear runway to the backdoor, line it with some of the large pieces of perspex lying around to make sure that Ratty took the correct route; and then we started shifting all the junk again. We had to examine every piece very carefully as we moved it as we didn’t know where our rodent guest was hiding. You will hardly be surprised to know that he ended up in the very last piece of furniture, a big, reclining chair which had to be dismantled to evict him. Still, once he realised that mi casa was not his casa; he left home and made it to the big outdoors without any further ado.

Beloved then went around with cement  and filled in the hole in the wall which I suspect had been Ratty’s front door, plus a few other dodgy looking  areas, then left everything else to me to sort while he went for an overnight visit to his mother who he is bringing here today. It is Christmas Eve today and  she is stopping with us tonight, tomorrow night, and he will take her home on Boxing Day. She is a lovely lady and I always look forward to seeing her. I would have been happier still if I had not been left with all the furniture and other debris to rearrange, and a vast amount of cleaning and tidying. I did what I could not live with last night, with a song in my heart and sloe gin in my glass, then went to bed.

Today I got up early, mentally girded my loins, rolled up my sleeves and tackled the job properly. See what I mean about the lack of urgency in my makeup?

Now because I wanted the place to look reasonably civilized when Beloved’s mother is here, I put up most of the decorations I had saved for today. The reason that I waited so long to do this is that parrots are known to be nervous of any change in their immediate environment and I had the vain hope that Parrot would behave himself while my mother in law is here, being too in awe of the garlands etc to get up to much.

Not a bit of it I’m afraid. As fast as I put the scarey stuff up, Parrot followed me and pulled it down again with gusto; shredding tinsel with gay abandon and dropping baubles to Crow who stole them and ran away. He even investigated my singing Santa and reindeer, both ornaments bop around and sing if you clap at, or touch them. I was certain that these would have stopped him in his tracks.

At the point where I started to think that Parrot would have to go back into his house so that I could get on with the festive cheer, he moved over to the chair where the cardboard box was sitting in which I had stored the decorations. He started to chew and shred the cardboard and I was happy to sacrifice the box as it got him out of my hair for a while. Of course, the mess he made was not confined to a relatively small area, since as he dropped bits of chewed cardboard faster than an industrial shredding machine, Crow grabbed them and spread them around the house. He loves paper products.

Time to open a bottle I think, red or white? Who cares anyway . . .

Happy Christmas.

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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.

Feeding Crow.

Things that Crow used to eat. Day old chicks, mice and young rats. Mealworms (only live ones mind you), crickets, fresh offal, the more gory the better.
Things that Crow eats now. Roast chicken, especially the crispy, seasoned skin if he can pinch it. Tuna casserole. Pasta with mince and cheese. Liver and bacon. Cheese and ham sandwiches. He also likes fresh tomato, brambles and elderberries. And dog treats, especially if Dog is watching.
Yesterday I put some raw, chopped, lamb’s liver into his dish. Crow looked at it and ignored it. Three hours later I took it out, cooked it with a little garlic and tomato sauce, with a side portion of baked potato; and he scoffed it down.
If I put dog food into his dish he will turn his beak up at it. If there is dog food in Dog’s dish and Young Dog is eating it, it becomes instantly desirable and Crow will sidle up to Young Dog who eats and growls at the same time in the vain hope of scaring Crow away. After a pretence at begging from Young Dog, Crow will hop onto the dish and grab a morsel before running away and either eating it straight away or caching it for later. Young Dog loves looking for these caching sites and emptying them, so it evens out in the end.
Interestingly Crow wouldn’t dream of trying the same trick with Old Dog who, when he growls, “Bugger off!” at Crow, really means it.
This wild creature, Crow; Master of the Skies, Freedom Personified and all that; could not cope with the weather last night. The wind was battering the house, shrieking and howling and Crow started to call for me in his baby voice until I went downstairs and sat and comforted him.
Today the wind has dropped, but he still wanted to sit with me, or on my knee to be more precise; holding onto my finger with his beak which is his version of cuddling up. My Beloved still hopes that Crow will return to his corvid family, though surely he knows in his heart that we are Crow’s family now.

Cooking with Parrot and Crow.

So, you’ve spent the whole day trying to fit a new back door with your Beloved.You’ve managed to shop, walk the dogs and clean the kitchen in preparation for the baking you have promised to do for your friend’s party tomorrow. Now you have cleaned and fed the birds this morning, but because you haven’t had time, they have been stuck in their houses all day. Parrot has been whistling, belching and singing, “The Bright Side of Life” in the front room in an attempt to catch your attention. Crow has been shouting for food and pretending he can’t possibly eat from a dish and needs to be hand fed. Both are bored and needing quality time with you.

You look at their little faces; one black, one gray, and feel sorry for them, and so you should. They are used to being out and about.

You decide that they can mooch about while you make the quiches and cakes; after all, you can keep an eye on them to make sure that they don’t get up to anything. Can’t you?

Bring Parrot into kitchen and sit him on a towel folded over the sink as he is the most destructive, and you can watch him more easily there. Put  a few vegetables nearby and tell him they are; “MINE!”, in the vain hope that he will steal and eat them. Put Crow on floor and throw a paper ball for him to run after and play with.

Put on new apron, present from sister, with, “Domestic Goddess” written across the front in big letters. Pose in front of the mirror which is well splattered with water, as Crow has his bath and then shakes himself dry in front of it. Pick up an electric hand mixer, hold this in one hand while holding a large vodka and orange in the other.Pose in front of the murky mirror again. 

Put down the mixer, take a slug of the vodka and put that down too, then move Parrot away from spice rack which he is emptying, throwing cardamom and paprika onto the floor. Put him back onto his towel being careful not to trip over Crow who is begging for tidbits at your ankle.

Wash your hands then line a large tray with pastry you have prepared earlier. Oh all right, so the preparation consisted of buying it from the supermarket and thawing it out, but what the heck. Chuck a piece of pastry at Crow who is begging at your ankle again.

Remove Parrot from window where he has climbed and is now beheading your geraniums; throwing scarlet petals everywhere. Put him back on his towel and try not to trip over Crow.

Take another large slug of vodka, and start to cut up bacon to put into quiche. 

Drop a bacon rind to Crow who is begging at your ankle and move Parrot onto his towel, first retrieving from him the stock cubes he has broken into. Sprinkle bacon bits into quiche base and nudge Crow away with foot as he is tapping your ankle quite hard now in an effort to attract your attention. Retrieve Parrot from spice rack

Vodka. Now.

Decide that Crow can go into other room by himself, after all; how much trouble can one flightless bird get into? Shut door between you and Crow, refill glass with vodka and take Parrot away from the geraniums again.

Quickly slice mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers and whisk up some eggs. Throw the lot on top of the bacon. Sprinkle some cheese on top – yes, it was already grated, by me – and shove the damn thing in the oven.

Swear at the dog who has opened the door to escape from Crow, who has also come back in to beg. Send dog upstairs so he can have some peace and send Crow back into front room.

Take Parrot upstairs and pass to Beloved telling him that Parrot needs quality time with him. Downstairs again, try not to slip on shredded vegetables strewn across floor.

Take a deep breath and a slug of vodka. Notice with alarm that glass is nearly empty. Refill.

You are now beginning to feel quite mellow.  Start making cakes which is surprisingly difficult as your fingers are going numb. Once the cakes are in the oven you realise that all is quiet next door. Check on Crow.

He has removed the cork from a demijon of your homemade rocket fuel. Having sampled the contents he is now trying to pick the lock on Ruby’s vivarium. Ruby is a boa constrictor and is watching him from the other side of the glass with great interest. Put Crow back in kitchen, check that rocket fuel is reasonably uncontaminated by Crow, and stick bung and airlock back in top.

Decide you have had enough and put Crow into his house when he comes over and taps your ankle again. Tell him to bugger off and ignore his outraged look. Surprisingly it does not hurt but will be bruised in the morning and you will wonder what has happened.

Beloved brings Parrot back downstairs. Parrot looks smug when he realises that Crow has been put to bed, but then is put to bed himself. Pretend you don’t hear him farting when you leave the room.

Take cakes which are now done out of the oven and put them on a cooling rack. They look and smell great. Ignore the bird induced mayhem in the kitchen and sit down and pour yourself a drink. You deserve it.