When Mark and I arrived at this house sit in the beginning of January, ready to care for two different-sized dogs and two African grey parrots, we had no experience with birds (and with little dogs, but that is another story). Well, we actually had taken care of two little birds before, but cockatiels are small and barely require – or request – attention. And, they sure don’t poop as much!
The owner quickly showed us how to handle the parrots with thick gloves, let me pet them on the head (Mark was apprehensive of them) and told us about their feeding, watering and cage cleaning schedule. It all seemed pretty straightforward. Except for one part: every day, the birds were used to leaving their cage for a little exercise. It didn’t appear to be a big deal to get them back home, or so I thought. Mark had his doubts and it soon became clear that the birds would be my domain. I counted on the fact that I am pretty good and confident with animals and reveled in visions of hanging out on the couch with a bird on each shoulder, scratching their heads as they asked for love and return the love…
We were told that birds need a bit of time to get used to new people. I tried to be patient. Unsuccessfully. The first day, I stuck my finger into Koo Koo’s cage to say hi and got pecked. On day four, I patted Tutu’s head, in her cage, to swiftly lose a chunk of skin on another finger. I mistakenly believed that when they bend their head, they want to be patted. After a month, I have become more careful with this habit, but I can’t help myself to try and love them this way.
Every morning when I get up, I open the cages and replace water, food and newspaper. Tutu hesitantly climbs out and either explores the outside of her cage or goes for a walk in the living room, kitchen or hallway. I keep a piece of paper towel ready to clean up after her. To get her back inside the cage, I put the two gloves on (on top of each other, because they have been worn to the point where she pecks at the same spot, it now pierces our skin), she attacks my covered hand and then climbs on. Without protesting, she steps backwards onto a branch in her cage and enjoys the mandarin I feed her. One day, I skipped the glove part, assuming she’d like a sweater covered arm better. I won’t do that again!
Koo Koo’s behavior is quite different. When I appear in the living room, he has been waiting anxiously to get out. From the moment I open the latch on his cage, he swings the door open and climbs along the side to the top of his house. Then, he flies off to the landing, sometimes with a pit stop on the TV cabinet. From there, he flies to the next level, the second floor, where he walks, chatters, plays with his toy, chases Mark’s toes or tries to peck the baseboards. Little dog Mickey keeps him company, barking each time he flaps his wings. I join him, keep an eye on where his droppings end up (to clean up later) and make sure he doesn’t cause too much damage. Birds love to put their beaks to use. When it is time to get my day started, I have to bring him back to his cage. And, therein lies the problem!
Initially, I used the gloves. But, he hates them and after a while of being mad at them, but still getting on eventually, he refused to step on, fiercely protesting with his voice and his beak. For a few days, I could coax him to fly back to the top of his cage and then lure him in with mandarin pieces. One day, instead of flying down, he landed on my shoulder and let me guide him home. Now, we were talking! Since that day, this is his preferred way of going back downstairs, but he can be pretty stubborn about stepping on my arm at times. It is all about patience and having the right treats ready to make him enter his cage at the end of his outing. While I have managed to scratch the parrots’ heads at times, I am still a long way away from cuddling on the couch, with them loving me back…
They are very funny as well, but that is for a future blog!