Saturday, November 28, 2009

Meet Alphonse



I kept an eye on Craigslist for the right cockatiel. Requirements were simple: not more than half an hour's drive away and not ridiculously costly. Craigslist, I discovered, is downright scary with ads like this: 5 month old blue healer lab mix hes a amazing puppy!! :) he knoes sit stay and hes potty trained he goes to the door hes great with kids and other animals he loves to play and also loves to watch tv and listen to music hes a incredable boyyy. There is a Re-homing fee of 175.00 to ensure hes safefy. How did these people graduate from high school? As for the number of people who've grown tired of their mixed breed dogs and expect to be paid, reading their ads is like watching a car wreck.

I bought Alphonse from this person: HELLO I HAVE A MALE COCKATIEL HE KNOWS HOT TO SAY PRETTY BIRD BUT WERE I BOUGHT HIM THEY SAID HE KNOWS HOW TO SAY WERES THE CAT BUT I HAVENT HERD HIM SO IF YOU HAVE A CAT HE MIGHT SAY THAT I DONT HAVE A CAT SO THAT MIGHT BE THE REASON WHY HE DOESNT SAY THAT HE IS A FANTASTIC BIRD BUT WEVE GOT TO MANY PETS.... Maybe the owner just couldn't type?

In the old days I would quarantine any new bird for at least 30 days before letting it near the flock but the whole point here was to find a companion bird quickly. Alphonse came from a one-bird household, so I wasn't worried about his carrying disease. I put the birds' cages side by side for a few hours, then gently grabbed Alphonse and popped him into Little Bee's cage. First they just sat around in the cage on the kitchen table, as in photo #1.

Then they had a little discussion about who's boss, as is typical.

 I gave them some millet, a treat cockatiels can't resist. They approached cautiously--

and finally began to eat.


I moved the cage back to the laundry room because I need the kitchen table for incidentals like eating. A & B are not perfect buddies yet. They spend most of the day in separate parts of the cage; but last night after I turned out the light and checked on them later, they were sitting on opposite sides of the same perch. Instead of spending the day calling piteously, Little Bee just sounds off every now and then. We're getting back to normal.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Barf war

I was running an eye (or two) down the subject list of my email and saw one that said "Thanksgiving turkey in half the time." My first thought was that somebody was writing in about their Airedale stealing and eating half a turkey, quickly.

My impression was probably due to the fact that that morning, just as I started reviving with a first sip of coffee, Alanis barfed on the dining room carpet and Miro roared in with the force of a rhinoceros to knock her out of the way and devour the mostly intact, if slimy, kibble. Some blasphemy ensued as I wrestled Miro away from the prize and poured half a bottle of Nature's Miracle on it. Woke me right up, that did.

After much scrubbing and blotting, I left it to dry and gave the carpet no further thought. A day or so later, when vacuuming up the latest pile of broken bits, I noticed the barf-patch was scored with claw marks as if somebody had been digging for the last bits of regurgitated kibble. An Airedale never gives up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not a good week for birds

On Wednesday my rescue cockatiel died, leaving Bee as the last one. I bred and handraised whitefaced cockatiels Bee and his brother Cookie, my favorite who died last year. The rescue, mostly known as Herself, was a normal gray cockatiel who never liked me.  Around twelve years ago she flew into my yard and I lured her down by putting out a cage with Cookie in it. They called back and forth until she flew down to his cage and I grabbed her. Fortunately cockatiels aren't strong biters.

No one responded to my "found bird" notices and signs. I suspected she had escaped "accidentally on purpose" from her former home. She wasn't hand tamed like mine and, for all the years I had her, she screeched at me every time I opened the cage door to put in food or take out dirty dishes. She even tried to bite the hand that fed her. She did, however, enjoy her spray baths even though I was the person holding the spray bottle of water.  When I started spraying, she'd  hop to the highest perch, raise her crest and spread her wings like somebody going, "Aaahhh."

I'd known for a week that she was sick. Although cockatiels like to forage on the ground and spend lots of time on the floors of their cages, Herself was spending more time sitting there than usual or up on a perch sleeping too much. I did not take her to the vet. Here's why:

Birds are masters at concealing infirmity; by the time they look ill, they're  very ill. For years I took sick birds on stressful trips to the avian vet. I'd stuff medicine down their throats, return to the vet, spend more and more money, only to see the birds die of the complaint anyway.


I wasn't particularly fond of Herself but Bee (at left), mostly known as "Hello Bee" for his way of trying to say "Hello, Baby," courted her unsuccessfully during their time together. When the mood struck, he twirtled and chortled just for her while she ignored him completely. Since she died, he has been calling for her, day and evening until I turn out the light. I put a mirrored toy in his cage but he isn't fooled. So I'm looking around for an older female. Sometimes there are unwanted cockatiels all over the place--except when you want to find one.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nora missing, presumed dead


For a week I've been carefully checking the yard before letting the dogs out, looking for a small, black shape no bigger than a pigeon but with long legs. She's not there.

The lower edge of the chicken pen is double-reinforced on all sides. The netting over the top was secured after Nora found her way out the first time. I hooked down the netting over the gate whenever I opened and closed it. Still, she twice found a way out that the other chickens, even Edna the other Modern Game bantam, never discovered.

I'd find her in the yard near the pen or even running back and forth, wanting to get back in. Once out, a chicken never remembers where the exit was. I would open the gate, throw down scratch feed for the other hens and there would be Nora on the opposite side running back and forth along the fence until she finally found her way around to my side where the gate was open.

One morning I didn't know she was out. Everything had been rechecked and secured the day before; she couldn't possibly have escaped. But there she was. I saw her a second before Miro shot across the yard after her, one second too late to stop him. She flew up, paused on top of the fence, then took off.

It was pouring down rain and I knew from experience that I wouldn't find her in the bushes of the possible three yards she landed in. As before, she would have to find her way home that evening. But she didn't. Just before dusk I walked the perimeter of the yard, peering through the slits in the wood fence, listening carefully for any peep or rustle. Every moving shadow drew my attention. Nothing. When there was no sign of her the next morning, I guessed she was gone permanently.

What you know and what you feel can be two different things. I still check the yard before letting the dogs out. I stand beside the fence, listening for her distinctive sing-song peeping or any rustle of leaves. I run after the movement of something dark and discover it was only a leaf shifting in the wind. I feel guilty, though I know Nora's fate is typical for chickens. Few live out a full lifespan.

Now the symmetry is gone from the flock. There are two Polish hens, two Americauna, one bantam. From my upstairs study, I can see down to the pen and the fence behind it. Branches swaying in the wind or a squirrel running across the fence catches my attention and I lean toward the window to look, even though I know Nora has made her final escape.