Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Greatest of These ..

This previous Saturday, I received a telephone call from a woman, MaryAnne (not her real name), who lives in Greenwich Village and whose pet parrots I care for. After I answered her call, she paused for a long moment and then, very unexpectedly, she offered to give me her pet African grey parrot. I was stunned.

Nearly all of my life, I have wanted a so-called "Congo" African grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus erithacus, but I never got one for a variety of reasons ("my life is not stable enough" or "I can't afford one" were my typical reasons). But really, I am a "lory person": intelligent, energetic, intense, and .. er, eccentric. I was afraid that any grey parrot I lived with would be utterly miserable, and the bird would then punish me for being myself by becoming a terrible feather plucker. Somewhere along the way, I simply accepted that my life would never be "good enough" to share with one of these birds, so I instead became resigned to caring for other people's pet grey parrots.

But then I met Charlie. He is unlike any grey parrot I've met before because he is so openly affectionate. But perhaps his sweetness is a reflection of his youth? He is, after all, only a fledgling parrot, merely five months old, as MaryAnne tells me. She purchased him from a pet store in New York City and, as everyone knows, a pet store is hardly the best place to meet the emotional needs of a young parrot.

Charlie lived with MaryAnne for approximately one month when I met him. When I first saw him, I noticed that he had been quite busy plucking his feathers from his back, neck and wings, leaving his breast mostly feathered. He was downy (or bare) everywhere else, except for his few remaining wing and tail feathers, which were heavily chewed and damaged. MaryAnne said that he was fully feathered when she brought him home, but that obviously didn't last long. What happened?

Parrots begin plucking and chewing their feathers for a variety of reasons, including fear, anxiety, sexual frustration, illness or pain, or a combination of these. Since the bird had already visited the vet several times in the previous month for his feather picking habit and had been pronounced to be in excellent health, his plucking and chewing were probably triggered by some combination of emotional factors. But, as with all behavioral problems, feather picking and chewing must be resolved quickly before it becomes a life long habit; stubbornly persisting after the original triggers for the behavior are long gone and forgotten.

Perhaps the source of this bird's unhappiness was MaryAnne's other pets; one dog, two cats and two other parrots. After caring for her pets, I thought that MaryAnne's three-year-old Ducorps cockatoo, Cacatua ducorpsii, Sammy (not his real name), was certainly part of the problem because of his annoyingly frequent habit of screaming obscenities that he learned from MaryAnne. Or perhaps it was the environment -- a studio apartment -- that they all were living in. Or perhaps, as MaryAnne told me sadly, the source of his unhappiness was MaryAnne herself.

When she admitted this to me, I felt sorrow .. for her. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you cannot meet the needs of those you love, and it takes even more courage than that to say it aloud to a person whom you barely know.

Despite the cramped and emotionally charged environment that these animals live in, I want to make it clear, dear readers, that none of MaryAnne's pets showed any signs of being physically neglected or abused. In fact, all of her pets were healthy, gentle and affectionate. She clearly loves her animals, but had reached a point in her life, for whatever reasons, where she couldn't live with all of them and they responded by driving her and each other crazy.

So it was obvious that this newest addition to the family was deeply unhappy, but despite his melancholy, he somehow still retained a basic optimism and emotional honesty that only the young seem to manage. I think this is what I sensed and was attracted to when we first saw each other. Even though I have lived with birds for most of my life, I've never lived with a feather plucking or chewing bird and I have never wished to do so, even rejecting other offers of free birds (that pluck their feathers) because I have seen the anguish it causes in those who live with such birds. But, surprisingly, despite Charlie's fluffy semi-plucked self and my bias against that, I felt an instant emotional connection with this particular parrot, and he with me. It was like magic.

So needless to say, since I had been acquainted with Charlie in a caretaker role and I was well aware of his fondness for me (but never wanted to encourage it), when MaryAnne asked me if I would consider giving Charlie a permanent home, I immediately accepted.

I am renaming Charlie, too. MaryAnne says this is fine with her, that he is an exceptional parrot, and I agree (although I think that all parrots -- all birds, really -- are exceptional), so I am trying to think of an exceptional name that will fit him. [So far, the names I have thought of are; Gandalf (even though I love this name, it is a really common name for a grey parrot, which makes me want to avoid it), Tesla, or Bix or ... ?]

I think this event revealed that MaryAnne is an exceptional person. She loves her pets as her family, and yet, she is willing to part with them if this is, as she said, "the best thing for them". She could have sold this parrot (and probably should have, these are very expensive birds, after all) but instead, she chose me specifically to give this parrot to, knowing that he and I share a special bond, wishing only that I keep him and love him and help him solve his problems, that I purchase him a nice cage to live in, and that I invite her to my apartment every now and again to visit him.

What she doesn't know is that she gave me something that I had allowed to die, that I never thought I deserved to have; hope. Her gift of this precious bird gave me a glimmer of hope that my own life might improve also, and that my life does have a purpose even if it has been hidden from me for more than a year, that I need to be needed and this little bird definitely needs me right now. And that gives me great joy.

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21 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous ACW said...

Oh, mazal tov. Shall we brainstorm possible names in the comments, or would you rather proceed without such distractions?

9:23 PM  
Anonymous Erica Tesla said...

As a fellow Tesla, I wholeheartedly support that option. A parrot Tesla? CUTE! ^_^

9:34 PM  
Blogger James said...

Very cool - I'm so very happy for you!

As for a name, may I suggest Omid? It means "hope" in Farsi and it's a "boy's" name.

10:00 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

ACW; yes, please brainstorm some names!

Erica Tesla .. are you any relation to THE famous Nicoli Tesla of thunderbolts-in-the-night and electric-hair-halo fame?

James; thanks for the name .. I think that "hope" would be a fine name, but in Swahili or another African language, in honor of the lands where this bird's ancestors live.

If I recall correctly, you also are thinking of names for a new family addition .. odd how these things seem to be contageous, eh?

10:11 AM  
Blogger Alon Levy said...

Well, it's so good to hear your life's improving at least as far as birds go. Just make sure you never slip into poverty so deep that you'll have to sell this wonderful gift.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous ACW said...

OK, I propose Bix, after the Protoceratops guide in James Gurney's Dinotopia.

11:27 AM  
Blogger John said...

Congratulations on the new roommate.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

I couldn't be happier for you. This is such wonderful news, and your new feathered friend is truly lucky to have scored such a fine and worthy companion.
Many long years of bliss to you both.
Mazel tov.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Chris Clarke said...

What a wonderful new addition to your life, GS. As another person who has often wished for an African grey friend, there's a little part of me that's envious.

I once knew an African grey whose humans had named him Onan.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Shari said...

According to the "Kamusi Project" an online Swahili-English Dictionary, the noun hope is "Tamaa" or "Tama" (and different variations of same).

My sweet double yellow-headed Amazon, PeeBee, who shares our home, and I, wish you the greatest joy and a wonderful present and future with this new addition to you life.

2:36 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Alon; hopefully, things won't get that bad. Of course, if I am stuck sleeping on a heat grate, the bird can sleep there with me.

ACW; cuuute .. I had no idea that there was a such book. I was thinking of the jazz musician when I proposed that name.

John; thanks!

RD; I hope I am worthy of him. I am certainly doing my best; I bought him a nice cage that should be arriving next week. I put it on my credit card *gulp* but hey. I made a promise.

Chris; considering the amount of seed that this bird has spilled so far, I ought to name him Onan, too. (He at least has the decency to keep his fruits and vegetables in his bowl instead of flinging them everywhere).

Shari; thanks for the names. Oddly, your Amazon's name made me think of "Buzz" for this bird. What do you think of that for a name for a grey parrot? I am thinking that I like it .. Hrm. Buzz .. does that sound like the name of an exceptional parrot?

GrrlScientist

3:02 PM  
Blogger miranda_rhiannon said...

Your life is about to become very interesting. There is never a dull moment with a parrot in the house and your feathered friend's antics will surely give your spirits a boost. Ours also serves as a sort of security guard because he throws a fit if someone he doesn't know is in the house. When the plumber comes I have to put him in his cage upstairs.

3:39 PM  
Anonymous Shari said...

I love the name Buzz -- and.. it will be easy for the bird to learn to say also! I'll look forward to any updates on your adventures with your new friend and companion.
--Shari

3:51 PM  
Anonymous ACW said...

Hedwig_the_owl: Oh, Dinotopia is definitely worth a look. Very pretty artwork, cute idea, so-so story.

The weird thing is, I didn't consciously see your proposal of the name "Bix". I must have been reading too fast. But it must have registered subconsciously; I thought I was suggesting the name out of my own creativity. I've never heard of the jazz musician. But the fictional character is a dinosaur, a little one with a parrot-like beak, so I thought it was appropriate. (Not a psittacosaurid, though.)

Anyway, "Buzz" is nice too.

Is he (are you sure of its sex?) a very vocal bird? Let us know how he settles in.

12:32 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Shari; thanks! I'll probably post something each week or so. I am hoping to get a digital camera so I can put pictures on my blog as he grows his feathers back (I hope that's what he will do anyway!).

ACW; I was told the bird was a "DNA sexed male", so I hope that whomever carried out the test is competent to identify the sex of birds without mixing up the samples. The bird appears to be female to me because his pluamge is exceptionally pale, but I was told he is male, so .. I guess he is male.

By the way, I convinced myself that I am taking too much time to think of a name, so I finally settled on a name that I have liked for the past 48 hours. The name is (drum roll, please!)

Zazu

GrrlScientist

11:51 AM  
Anonymous ACW said...

"Zazu" is cute too. Keep us posted!

6:05 PM  
Anonymous ina said...

Zazu is a brilliant name. It's so wonderful that "he" is going from one loving home to another. If you set up a paypal contribution site for his maintenance, I for one would be happy to throw in my bit (I'm sure many other things will too - he sounds incredibly wonderful).

Congrats, and patty-whistly-cooing things to Zazu - ina

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Firebyrd said...

Congrats on the new addition! While I much prefer Timnehs, I'm sure Zazu will be a wonderful member of your family.

While pluckers aren't necessarily pretty, once you've eliminated the physical possibilities, picking isn't the worst thing to live with. If you just accept the bird as it is, feathered or not, it knows and may even become more comfortable with leaving those darned feathers be. While my citron cockatoo still is very naked, she at least has tail and wing feathers now, which was not the case when I adopted her a year and a half ago.

8:28 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I like the name Phil.

I have an umbrella cockatoo who was a feather plucker when I got him. He was 5 years old and loved to chew on plastic items. I just made a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and ran out of peanut butter. I tighten the lid down real tight and gave it to Baby. Have a ball Baby, and he did. He spent 2 days getting the lid off and then it was time to eat the remnant peanut butter. He loved it. I re-smear peanut butter on the jar every few days. And his feather plucking has gone away.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Erica Tesla said...

Heh, sort of. My husband and I took the last name Tesla when we got married instead of one of us taking the other's last name. We chose it because we're... fans, though that seems like a perverse word to use for a dead guy.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous TJ Lange said...

Wow, what a lucky gift you were given. I think Zazu is a very fitting name for the new addition to your family.

8:35 PM  

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