Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Life With Birds

Our household pet population includes birds. Specifically, three parakeets and a cockatiel. (Blue, green, yellow, and white, and no, they don't really have names. Thanks for asking.) The first pet we owned as a couple was a bird (a parakeet); that first parakeet got a deluge of adoring attention (a name, for example; also a hand-built climbing tree, the run of the house, and I believe I could have told you his hobbies). I felt Daring and Unusual in owning a bird, since as a child I'd only had the basic pets (gerbils, goldfish, mollies, a dog, and a stray cat that wandered away and got lost). I may have fantasized about teaching the parakeet to talk, or to fly to my finger. I may have actually tried to do these things, but such attempts belong in the Things Best Forgotten File.

The thing about owning a bird, especially one that you talk about, is this: people will start giving you birds. They will pour their birds upon you. They may make a pretence of asking you to pay for the bird, or at least the cage, but when you hesitate they'll say Never Mind! Please just take the damn thing! It's driving me insane!

So pretty soon we had two birds. A parakeet, Papa, who was sweet and mild, and Muriel, the Lovebird. Muriel was horrible. She shrieked. She bit. She bit when you tried to feed her. She bit when you tried to clean her cage. She liked to fly around the house, and if she didn't get to fly around enough, she bit. She bit if you vacuumed near her cage. Nevertheless, she was kind of endearing, in her own high maintainance way, and it was kind of interesting challenge to be able to interact with her without getting bitten. We had a sort of miserable, co-dependent relationship, she and I.

Lovebirds, due to the shrieking and the biting, tend to be popular birds to give away. Within a year we had four lovebirds, an elderly zebra finch, and the parakeet. We bought a companion for the parakeet, since we just weren't able to give him the attention he needed and deserved, what with the Lovebirds (who had all learned how to get out of their cages and get into his, and once in it, tended to bite him), and also the dog, which automatically demoted all of the birds to second-pet status. At some point a friend of ours found a cockatiel on a tennis court in January, and gave him to us. Seven birds at the peak of our bird-owning career, although soon the elderly finch died and the parakeets caught colds and one of the Lovebirds killed another, so then we had five or so.

Then we had a child, the ultimate pet demoter. There is nothing like being woken up from a desperately needed postpartum nap by a bird. Around this time I read a beautiful scene in a Toni Morrison novel about how a grieving woman lets all her parrots go out the window of her New York apartment in a snowstorm. For years after that I fantasized about letting the damn lovebirds go, especially when I was trying to nap and they were shrieking.

Eventually I sold the lovebirds in a garage sale. The parakeets died and were replaced with more (the birds still made me feel Daring and Unusual; also, we had invested heavily in bird infrastructure and it seemed a waste not to outfit it with birds). When we moved into our last house we bought a big five-foot-by-three-foot cage, and the evolution was complete: from cherished first pet to self-sufficient subculture. We feed them; we cover the cage if they get too noisy; otherwise they're left to their own devices, amusements, love triangles, etc. The cockatiel, a female, keeps falling in love with parakeets, having intense relationships with them, and then getting widowed. The third-wheel parakeets have affairs with the hanging bell. They all like celery, I think. At any rate, I keep giving them celery, and one of them eats it.

Lately, the birds have become something of a burden, noisewise. There is no convenient out-of-the-way spot for them in our new house; they're located in our TV room and at night, with the kids talking and the birds chirpity chirping and the TV blabbing away you can't even hear yourself THINK, let alone pay attention to the children or the TV or your spouse. There has been tense talk of Giving the Birds Away, and also melodramatic statements about how you do not just Get Sick Of Your Pets and Ditch Them. Also, one of us has a problem with the infrastructure investment and just giving THAT away--the big cage was like two hundred dollars. (I know, I know, sunk costs, cut your losses, etc. That's just not how I roll, okay?)

So. I think we will continue being Bird Owners, for a while, at least. Once the cockatiel dies, however, we might let the bird thing slide. Maybe. Unless someone happens to give us another bird.

1 comment:

Jess said...

I was looking at all the pretty birds at Petco recently and thinking about how I'd never considered having a bird as a pet before, and maybe I should. And then Montana caught sight of the birds and went nuts, and the birds started squawking in response, and my head started to ache. And there went that idea.