My Feathered Friends
My three birds teach me about human nature. Or should I call it animal nature?
Like us, they have unique personalities and annoying habits. One thing they can’t stand is boredom. They each have a dozen toys, but they get tired of them quickly and squawk until I replace them with new ones. When they see one taking a bath, they all follow suit. Their eating habits differ from one another: one eats all the time, one only plays with bird seed, and the other is finicky, throwing much on the floor, eating only what he likes.
Our 18-year-old Goffin cockatoo named Woody, a handsome white bird with salmon-colored cheeks, is the size of a pigeon. We don’t know much about him because he came from a homeless shelter two summers earlier. Compared with his noisy neighbors — two Quakers named George and Katie — Woody is a thinker. He can be loud when he wants to be. Mostly he enjoys quiet time alone, sitting on the curtain rod that no longer holds curtains. He looks out the window, probably wondering why he isn’t out there with other birds, gliding in the vast blue.
Sometimes, it seems that he misses his original home in the Indonesian jungle, where he might have been captured and smuggled out of the country. Or is he worried that his kind is rapidly vanishing from the face of the earth at the hands of illegal traffickers? Sometimes, his crest up, he strolls about the roof of his cage, and then, without a warning, he turns into a clown: He plays peek-a-boo with himself, dropping his head to his feet and then suddenly straightening up, making his crest sway, and squawking, too.
The Quakers, all green, are four years old and are the size of a blue jay, with rounder middle sections and shorter tails. They can talk and understand English like a-three-year old child. When they hear my footsteps in the morning in the kitchen, adjacent to their room, they say, “Are you okay? Are you okay?” and I reply, “I’m fine. How about you?” They reply, “Come here! Come here!” So I go in.
While they each report the events of the night, I do my daily routine, changing their bath water and filling their food bowl. At the most unexpected moment, they bite my hand. Before I can scold them, they say, “Don’t bite! Don’t bite!”
I never bite them. Where would I, even if I wanted to? The head? The middle section? The wiry feet? It’s not a good feeling when you’re nipped at by your pets, but it’s not the time to go for “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth.” Rather, you must try hard to look at the situation from their point of view. They see you as their possible predator that might eat them alive.
One thing to remember is that birds can express feelings of gratitude, like humans. Once, Katie escaped the cage, and as I attempted to get her back to the cage, yelling and waving, she slipped into the kitchen. She flew to the ceiling and landed on the edge of the skylight, about 15 feet above the floor.
“Peep, peep, peep,” she cried, as if asking me for help. In attempt to bring her down I moved her food bowl onto the counter, so that she could see it. When that didn’t work, I brought the music box and turned it on. Although she didn’t bob her head as she usually does at the sound of the familiar tunes, she sat quietly as if meditating. The power of music therapy!
Two hours passed, and nothing changed. Birds can die of dehydration…. Should I call 911? Call the fire department?
I launched a rescue mission myself. I brought a 6-foot ladder from the basement and climbed on. Katie understood what I was attempting to do and tried to meet me half way, but seeing that she could not reach me, she flew back up, crying. I grabbed a broomstick and lifted it to her. She didn’t land on the broom. Time was ticking away.
What am I doing here in midair, holding a broomstick? Had my grandkids been here, they might have said, “Grandma, Halloween has long passed. Come on down!”
I began to swing the stick, back and forth, and she got the message. She flew down like a rock, landing clumsily on the floor.
Our reunion was heartfelt. While I was holding her, she didn’t bite. Burying her tiny head in my hand, she wailed like a child who had been lost and found, Waaaa, waaa, waaa…
At that moment, I believed that we humans and birds are connected somehow, if not through our primal ancestor, whoever that might be, then some other way. Otherwise, how could Katie show her appreciation by not biting me?
The Kansas City Star Commentary
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