Friday, December 8, 2017

Thoughts on living with a bird

Our Lutino Cockatiel has died, and I have been reflecting on how it has been to live with a bird.  His bird wife Briea (beautiful in Gaelic) passed many years ago at the appropriate age of 16—apparently Cockatiels have a life expectancy of from 15 to 20 years—but Airee (song in Gaelic) did not get that memo, and lived for 28 years, 4 months.  So, these thoughts are not unduly sad or regretful as his life was long and full; they are more a reflection on the dynamic of living at the bottom of a bird cage.  Just to be clear, that would be John and I living there, since Airee was fully flighted and rarely inside the actual cage.   

 When we moved from Nova Scotia to Cortes Island to continue my painting and drum making, and to become oyster farmers, “How to move the birds?” was an up-front issue.  Turned out the solution was also up front.  A hamster cage was converted into a flight deck.  We understood to keep the box high enough for them to see out the front window, but to cover the sides of the travel cage.  Apparently, birds get car sick if they watch scenery whizzing by out the side window.  Go figure. 

We were driving a moving van and a pickup with a camper so after a day on the road the kids (dog included) were all shifted into the wee camper space in a sort of layer cake arrangement.  Birds above, humans in the middle, dog at floor level.   Birds had an aerial diaper fashioned of washable nylon so the upper and middle zones did not interact unpleasantly.

Our first landing on Cortes Island was in a housesitting arrangement, with Airee and Briea taking residence in my studio space.  They promptly took up their own housekeeping and began making egg babies. We discovered that to keep these from becoming bird babies, one was required to hard boil and then replace the tiny eggs.  I know this sounds harsh, but we learned that eggs don’t hatch in the wild for many reasons and birds are not troubled by this.  They sit for the required 21 days and then roll the white ball out of the nest.  It is much more traumatic for eggs to disappear (as they are also wont to do in the wild).  This initiates much stressful bird parent searching and beeping and flying about. 

When we built and moved into our own house, the bird story shifted to include a cat. Mesia was a cat with considerable attitude, even within the arc of cat attitude, which is already considerable.

She had a great affection for boxes.

And quite a nuanced definition of what constitutes a box. 

Mesia’s passing overlapped with the arrival of Losha, a young beauty who clearly had at one time belonged to a family, but had fallen on hard times and was living rough.

Losha combined the family and the box, and suddenly the birds were looking down on 6 cats.   When the bird dust settled (birds are actually quite dusty, and when they accidently fly too close to an inside window and graze it with wings or body, they leave a white dust imprint the glass) we were a family of 8, representing the entire food chain if one counted the fish in the garden pond. 

All three cats were remarkably uninterested in the inside birds, and then just the one bird, while ridding our dooryard and surrounding woods of many many birds and mice, the latter for which I admit gratitude.

You will have to take our word for it, since I never managed a photo, but John would regularly sit with Airee on his shoulder and a cat in his lap. 

Long before Airee became old, we discovered ways for life on top of a bird cage to be easeful.  Why struggle over bars when pressboard makes a good roof-top floor; why keep food and water inside when the recipient is outside?  And why not have a fresh warm breakfast every morning?  We do.  And then on November 29th he was gone. 

Long ago, I used to collect epitaphs, in anticipation of having a selection to choose from for my tombstone, but since my life with birds, there is really only one:

You could not say she was refined,
You could not say she was unrefined.
She was the sort of person who kept a parrot.
Mark Twain