At the start of each year, I tend to reflect on the past. This year I’m asking the question: If you could go back in time to when you got your first bird, what is the one thing that you would tell yourself or wish that you’d known?
I used to think the answer to that would be “Birds don’t just eat seed” because I look back on the birds I had as a kid and I desperately wish I’d known that as a child. Nowadays though, I don’t know that that’s the first thing I’d say to a new bird owner.
If I look back on me as a beginner, it’s not so much the things I didn’t know that strike me. It’s what a different person I was and what a different life I led. I hadn’t realised that allowing pet birds into my life, would change EVERYTHING. I hadn’t realised I was launching onto a different path in becoming a ‘bird person’; it would never have occurred to me that much would change as I was already a pretty extreme ‘animal person’.
It was a subtle beginning for me. I didn’t choose to go out and get a galah/rosebreasted cockatoo. Morgy planted herself in front of my garage and wouldn’t get out of the way of my car – forcing me to park in the street. When I opened the garage door she ran (didn’t fly) into the garage and then into the house. She bit the crap out of anyone who tried to remove her. She dug her claws into the back of the couch and sat there unmovable, glaring at everyone. Occasionally she’d shout “Hello Cocky!” as if it was the worst insult that she knew. She literally decided to move in whether I liked it or not. I found myself buying a cage for her to live in while I spent the next year unsuccessfully trying to track down her previous owner.
I took her to a vet and it grew from there. The vet did screening tests and gave me advice on what a parrot should eat. I meanwhile did a lot of research but I was already on the path to vet school, which in turn just made me more and more interested in learning about parrots. Morgy and I did some behaviour training and before I knew what had happened, a bond had formed and nothing would ever be the same again.
It is not so much that one bird changed my life but more because once you learn how to look after one properly and realise how badly off some other birds are… Inevitably another bird comes along with a terrible sob story and what’s one more, right? I’ve been guilty of asking myself that question more than once when I have taken on a new bird. Then later I will repeat it sarcastically to myself as I scrub pomegranate juice off the ceiling.
I have learned the hard way that birds should not be underestimated. Coming home one day from University I discovered that one of my galahs had thoughtfully removed all the nuts and bolts in one wall of his aviary, then shoved the whole wall off. He’d left Morgy sitting amongst the remaining three walls and gone to visit the neighbours. He was stuck up a tree with a bird eating Labrador waiting below.
That was the day I discovered I could jump 6ft fences simultaneously carrying a galah in a travel cage, a pack of cards and a skipping rope. In retrospect, breaking into their yard, tying their dog to their clothesline (with the skipping rope) wasn’t the best way to introduce myself to my neighbours. They came home and found me sitting under a tree in their garden, playing card games with 2 galahs. They didn’t look overly convinced about my explanation that the card game was what motivated one of the galahs to come down from the top of their tree. (Merlin wanted the treats that Morgy was getting for doing card tricks on the ground, so he literally fell out of the tree to join Morgy and I.) They were also a little surprised about their dog and the skipping rope. Needless to say, the neighbours labelled me the ‘crazy bird lady’.
It amazes me how birds creep in to every aspect of your life. My chiropractor gave me spinal strengthening stretches that he wanted me to do in the shower daily. I snorted when he explained that to me, indicating that there was no way those exercises were going to happen. He was confused and asked: “You do shower every day?” I found myself explaining that my ability to do the stretches would depend on which parrot was in the shower with me at the time. After all, some birds interpret stretching as the beginning of a fun game that I like to call: “Bash the human over the head with wet wings”. Apparently stretching in the shower means you want to be thoroughly drowned. Surprisingly, showering with parrots was a new concept for my chiropractor.
From a very young age, I had been warned about parrots eating walls and I thought I could deal with that. No bird is left out of their cages alone, unsupervised, with the walls in my house. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell me that Macaw beaks could reach through bars to grab curtains, so the macaw could use the curtains like a rope to pull the cage closer to the wall, so that the wall could be decorated with lovely artistic, evenly spaced, beak gouges.
I have learned to cook because of my birds. I used to hate the kitchen. Now I know the vitamin content of every fruit, vegetable and grain on the planet, let alone how to prepare them for consumption. My own diet has changed because I found myself buying healthier food than I ever wanted to. My local organic grocer knows be name and has this weird idea that I’m a vegetarian just because I MUST be because of the amount I buy.
My wardrobe has changed since birds came into my life. I’m not the type to be overly fussed about what others think of the way I look. Apparently though, some birds have this thing about certain colours. If wearing a certain colour makes your lorikeet want to tear strips off you, believe me – you stop wearing that colour pretty fast. Don’t get me started on jewellery either. One of my galahs actually screams: “It’s not a swing!!!!!” He would be referring to my favourite pair of hoop earrings, that don’t see the light of day much anymore.
Then there’s the cleaning side of things. I bought a new steam mop that I was very excited about. The sales assistant at the shop I bought it from called me “weird” to my face. Apparently asking him if the water canister falls out if you use the mop upside down, is not a normal question? I did explain that I’d only be holding it upside down when mopping the ceiling, but he wanted to know what kind of freak does that? The answer to that is the same kind of freak who now gets overly excited about a cordless robotic vacuum cleaner television advertisement. Excited enough to ‘like’ the vacuum’s Facebook fan page. I mean wow – it does under the cages all by itself!!
Which brings me to Facebook. Mention you like birds on social media and suddenly your Facebook wall has endless threads containing graphic descriptions of the colour of everyone’s pet bird’s poo. Add a bird to your life and suddenly those sorts of threads become fascinating and fun to read. Yup and the ones about who your bird chooses to vomit on – they’re priceless too. I think I’ve actually scared most of my ‘normal’ friends off and replaced them with ‘bird people’ and I can’t pretend I’m overly upset about that. In fact, I have trained my birds to poop on command and may have accidentally on purpose used that command to make unwanted guests leave my house earlier than they’d planned to because they suddenly needed to change their clothes. Oops!
I now live in a world where screwdrivers are kept in my cutlery drawer because it is conveniently close to my sink. Unlike my parrots, I seem to struggle to undo the nuts, bolts and screws that hold foraging toys together. My cordless drill is never far away either.
Meanwhile, one of my lorikeets introduced me to yet another neighbour happily educating me on his character in the process. Lori achieved this by undoing the screw that holds on her food bowl door. She’s fortunately trained to return my whistle so I was able to locate her at the top of a tree at the end of my street. Unfortunately, she timed her escape for first thing in the morning (before I had dressed) and the only way I could get her attention was to do this daggy lorikeet dance that she loves. She happily recalled to my head (because why land anywhere else) but unfortunately my neighbour videotaped the whole thing.
My neighbour tried to blackmail to keep a video private and off YouTube. He has a recording of me doing a daggy lorikeet dance, barefoot in his front yard wearing some fairly skimpy nightwear (think negligee). He seemed disappointed when I told him he’s welcome to make it public. I figure my birds will get me into worse scrapes in the future anyway, so why pretend different? Besides, there’s always revenge. It’s not wise to upset someone who has access to an endless supply of bird poo.
The constant way my now sizeable flock of 9 makes me want to study and learn more keeps me motivated. I’m never bored and I never find myself with nothing to do. I’ve met some extraordinary people thanks to my birds and as bizarre as my life can now get – I wouldn’t change it for anything. Although, as I type I’m currently regretting letting my Eclectus play with my hair after eating capsicum. Regurgitated red capsicum (some of you call them peppers) just doesn’t seem to suit me.
I look back on the time when my Galah Morgy first moved in and I laugh at how I just shrugged and bought the largest cage I could find in a pet store. I had no real idea of what I was getting into and sometimes I think that’s half the fun. I wouldn’t rush back in time now and tell myself: “Birds don’t eat seed”. I’d go back to say get involved with other bird owners; the shared knowledge in the bird community is pretty amazing and you can make some great friends there that really will change your perspective on bird poo if not on life itself.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.