Surviving A Dysfunctional Christmas

Christmas. It’s here. That wonderful time of the year when my entire extended family descend on my house in one hit. I have a big family. I also seem to attract a range of stray ring-ins. It means a lot of people, a lot of noise, weird looking decorations that might flash and worse than any of that – CHILDREN. It’s a stressful time for any animal and I do worry about how my birds are going to handle it. Especially as when it comes to my family, the standard preparations just don’t seem to cut it.

In the past I’ve locked the cats in my room away from the crowd. I have erected a temporary fence in my yard to safely lock away the dogs. I have padlocked my bird aviaries and put up signs saying: “BEWARE the birds bite”. Unfortunately to the kids in my family that is like issuing a challenge. One year they trampled down the dog fence and chased the dogs around with metal garden stakes that they’d dug up from the garden. They stole bolt cutters out of the garage and broke into the aviaries. Then the older kids tried to feed the younger kids to the birds. That same year I had to use a crow bar to dismantle my wardrobe because my cat jammed itself behind the wardrobe to get away from a 3-year-old child (that an older child had shoved into my room).

Fid and I

 It was frustrating because I’d done the respect spiel: “This is their home, not yours. You are a guest, while the animals live here.” The whole do not torture animals thing went straight over their heads. The parents laughed when I said “Don’t leave your kids unattended with my animals, if they scare them badly enough they will bite!” They didn’t believe me. Why would they? On my walls, there are pictures of my birds happily climbing all over people. The birds look harmless enough.

I can’t be everywhere simultaneously and the parents? Well let’s just say they aren’t animal people. We’re talking people that just don’t get the basics of animal care and they have no understanding of how to keep their kids out of trouble. I’ve found myself roaring the words: “GET OUT!!!!!!!” while waving the garden stakes at the offending relatives like a crazy woman. It’s not pretty.

 Last year, I tried a different approach. I gave up on the temporary fence. Putting the dogs and cats together into a large room with a keyed door lock kept them safe and I plan to do the same this year. Hiding the bolt cutters, locking the garage and sheds and using an excessive number of padlocks kept the kids from opening the aviaries. BUT I knew that alone wouldn’t keep their fingers out.

 I gave up on the “BEWARE THE BIRD BITES” signage. Instead I googled bird bite images, printed off the most gory ones and made laminated signs out of them. I plastered the bird room and aviaries with those images. It completely freaked out the children’s parents. The thought of their little ‘angels’ being permanently disfigured if they let them tease a bird, made them a lot more vigilant. It made them take me seriously when I gave the lecture on the correct way to approach a bird.

Fid & Oscar

My Christmas tree is soooooo doomed!

 My birds are actually brilliant with children. Some of them come out to schools with me to educate kids on birds and wildlife. They have a whole talking routine that they do. One of my galahs, Merlin, simply adores children. He has worked out that kids have endless patience when it comes to hand feeding a bird treats. So he in turn has endless patience for performing for kids. BUT my birds are used to normal children, not the evil type that chase animals with garden stakes.

 So I’m thinking a range of locks, the gory pictures and the controlled introduction to the birds where the birds do their educational act to the kids is the way to go again this year. BUT, this year I’m adding one more level of protection.

 I learned from Halloween. I have a human sized witch who has joined my Christmas decorations this year. I might tie some tinsel to her witch’s hat to make her more festive. She has a motion detector in her cauldron that triggers her to become active. She stirs her cauldron that smokes (non-toxic to birds as it’s actually steam), her eyes light up and she squeals out varies phrases very loudly. Basically if someone sets her off she comments on what a nice meal they’d make while laughing evilly. Small children run away screaming. I can’t think of a better motion sensitive alarm to guard the entrance to the bird room! She’ll alert me if someone goes near the birds (she’s loud) and hopefully prevent the older kids from feeding the smaller kids to the birds?



My Halloween witch normally guards the entrance to my study.

 Protecting the bird’s food however is a different story. Last year my uncle opened the bird’s fridge and found all of these amazing quality fruits and vegetables. He accused me of over-buying for Christmas (there was a huge amount of human supplies on hand, there was no need for this fridge’s contents). His eyes lit up at all the possibilities of salads that he could make (he LOVES cooking). He said not to worry he could make the world’s best recipes with these ingredients – NOTHING would be wasted. He’d show me. He’d make the world’s best omelette for a start…

 Well, he didn’t cope so well with being told to get out of the parrot food. He began to lecture me on how it was a waste to give such amazing ingredients to birds. “Birds eat scraps and seed,” he lectured. He obviously hasn’t done the natural feeding course.  He could make something out of this for the next day’s gathering (Mum’s birthday is 26th December) or for Gran’s birthday (27th December). I found myself wishing for serious weather that would result in road closures. Three days of family gatherings was clearly going to result in my killing my uncle for touching my bird food. (Never tell me that birds deserve a diet of scraps, I bite worse than a lorikeet.) I didn’t want him back the next day. I was dreaming of a very white Christmas – which is never going to happen in Australia.


Halloween Witch

Terrifying when her eyes glow and she starts talking...

 It was at that point that another uncle interrupted our argument to try and diffuse the situation, changing the subject, telling me that my ‘green bird’ (Pepi my Eclectus) was insistently screaming: “WET BIRD!” over and over, wasn’t that cute? No, that wasn’t cute – he only says that when he’s getting wet. I did a quick head count. All children were accounted for; no one was shooting my birds with water pistols. Pepi was in an aviary outside and it was sunny, no sign of rain at all. WEIRD.

 Feeling stupid (it was sunny) I got on the Internet and checked the weather radar. It wasn’t pretty. It was black. As in the worst possible rating of storm warning we get. I estimated I had maybe 10-20 minutes before the storm started. Maybe an hour before I got my wish of road closures. Returning to the family, I made the announcement “GET OUT! Leave if you don’t want to get stuck here!” They all looked at me like I was a raving lunatic. It was sunny they all said crossly. It’s just a bird. It’s not like he could really predict a storm? Those weather radars are never right.

 Ignoring the lot of them I threw the kids out of my study (where they were playing computer games) and started to evacuate the birds into their emergency indoor caging (which is in my study). “Maybe she’s drunk?” my cousin said wonderingly, as my whole family watched the crazy bird lady take precautions that they just didn’t understand.



Trying to get the birds to pose for a group Christmas shot, Otto (my musk lorikeet) just wanted to kill the santa bauble or play with the reindeer's tail.

 I had the birds safe within minutes and my elderly grandmother bundled into my car for an earlier than scheduled return trip to her aged care facility. The storm was coming, even if they thought I was nuts. The rain started as I drove off. My family was furious that I was removing gran early, they angrily came out to wave gran off, still saying I was nuts. As the first drops of rain landed on their upturned faces, I heard my cousin say: “Maybe she isn’t crazy? We’d better leave.”


Oscar has fitted in to the family but he's already over Christmas pics!

 45 minutes later, I was returning home from gran’s nursing home as I swerved off the road to miss a falling tree. The floodwaters were halfway up my car door and it belatedly occurred to me that wishing for severe weather wasn’t the best way to safely get through Christmas. I resolved to find a better way to protect my bird’s food in the future. (Although in fairness, the road to my house was closed that night, so it actually worked.) It had been a little too close though. If Pepi hadn’t warned me about the storm, I wouldn’t have taken gran home so early. Gran wouldn’t have made it home that night, which considering that’s where her heart medications were…  I survived (as did my family).

So this year, I’ve got an extra gory bird bite picture printed. Instead of wishing for severe weather to protect my bird’s food, I have attached a sign to my bird fridge’s door. It clearly says: “You are what you eat. This fridge only contains bird food. You eat it – you become my bird food. I WILL FEED YOU TO THE PARROTS. Merry Christmas – Mel.” I think the gory picture really drives my message home.

 I’m hoping all the preparations will pay off and it will be a safe (fight free) Christmas. I have my doubts though. If I can get screamed at for hand making serviette holders in the shape of reindeer heads, I have no idea what will land me in trouble this year? Apparently reindeer heads with a serviette shoved in their mouth make small kids cry because they think you be-headed Santa’s reindeer…

 On that note:


Christmas photo

I got them all to pose in the end!!! Can you find all 9 (real) birds? - MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE VINCENT MENAGERIE.

Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.


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