TO HAVE COURAGE OR BEAK CAREFUL

In August of 2008, our family adopted a Jenday Conure, which we named Tiki. This story begins about a year ago.

In August of 2008, our family adopted a Sun Conure, which we named Tiki. This story begins about a year ago.

All morning I was imagining how it was going. Today was the day I was hoping my husband would finally “make friends” with our parrot, Tiki.

I very much wanted our bird to bond with him. I was tired of being a caregiver for that damn bird. Of course, the bird liked my older son, but my son was never home and always busy – why not get my husband on board? My hubby and his bird could take showers, go for walks, and even snuggle in bed together while watching TV . . . it was quite simple; I didn’t need to hire a parrot behaviorist to solve this!

The instructions I gave my husband were simple:

“If I’m not there, he can’t be jealous. If the two of you spend more time together alone, I know he’ll fall in love with you. Here’s what we’ll do – I haven’t given Tiki any of his favorite treat in the world, Safflower seeds (There was nothing more exquisitely delicious to that bird). Feeding him those seeds will cement your relationship. Good luck!”

I came home and bounded up the stairs to find out how it went.

My husband held up his hand. He was wearing a bloody bandage. He said, “When I went to give him a seed, he grabbed onto my hand. He wouldn’t let go and I literally shook him off – he went sailing across the room!”

It was a week later, when I actually accepted the finality of the situation. Our bird was always going to hate my husband.

I was in the kitchen, and Tiki was comfortably perched on my shoulder. I was looking for something in the refrigerator, and my husband walked by. Suddenly I looked up and Tiki had managed with his clipped wings to flutter off of me and onto my husband. His beak was locked onto the back of my husband’s neck.

My husband was shrieking. He wanted to swipe the bird off, but was afraid he might kill him. He yelled, “Get this goddamn bird off of me!”

I made sure to get Tiki’s wings clipped again a few days later.

So now my husband who loved birds was resigned to bird banishment/exile. From that day forward, he avoided Tiki and hated him. This bird was my responsibility now. My caregiving was extended even farther beyond the many people and pets I already had to care for!

Here Tiki is peaking out of his little “tent” where he sleeps.

Close to a decade ago, I learned how devoted a bird owner could be. That summer, I experienced a horrifying episode of a true 911 emergency. There was a knock at our door. It was a neighbor from two houses down. It seemed that his bird had escaped and was in our backyard.

I welcomed him into our house and showed him outside. I looked out of my window a few moments later, and he was carrying a ladder down to our pool area. His bird was high up in one of our trees. I went out to watch and it all happened so quickly. He fell off the ladder and came crashing down with a large thud. A wooden fence nearby broke his fall. I raced to where he had fallen and when I reached him he was on his back with a bone protruding through the skin near his elbow. He had also broken both his legs. I called 911, and could see he was going into shock. I stayed with him until the paramedics arrived to take him to the hospital.

His bird’s name was Angel, and the bird actually did return to his house. Years later I saw him walking with a cane. He was my age and had a permanent disability. All of this because of his stupid bird! I was told we were fortunate that he hadn’t sued us, too.

My older son allows Tiki to take food out of his mouth. YUCK! The funniest was seeing the bird pulling out strings of chewing gum!

We do not know if our bird is male or female. In order to find out, I’d have to mail in a feather for a DNA test. I am okay with not knowing our bird’s sex. If he laid an egg, then we’d know he was female! Actually, birds can get hormonal, so we don’t want our bird laying any eggs. If a bird starts getting that “nesting” behavior, it’s time to rearrange the cage. Nesting behavior usually makes a bird very cranky!

What do I know about birds? I was no expert! But I’ve sure learned a lot.

My husband, on the other hand, loves birds. Before we were married, he owned two Cockatiels. They were named Oscar and Felix, after the “Odd Couple.” Only people my age or older remember that. When I joke that I could have named one of our children Felix Unger, sometimes I get strange looks. That’s when I feel that I am definitely fifty!

My husband had a close relationship with his cockatiels. He took showers with his birds. The birds would go under the covers with him. Unfortunately, his father lost both of them, one at a time. It happened while my husband was out-of-town.

I never met Felix. However, his bird, Oscar, hated me.

Tiki flew into our lives about two years ago when my housekeeper, Rosa, came arrived for work and calmly stated that she had a bird in her car. It had flown onto her boyfriend’s shoulder. My children and I ran outside to see the bird. When the car door opened, the bird sailed out and went high up in a tree.

It was gorgeous! This bird was the color of a popsicle – “mango colors” of yellow gradating to orange, with green wings and blue tail-feathers. The bird flapped its wings loudly and fluttered out of the tree and onto my older son’s shoulder. My son ran into our house with the bird still perched on his shoulder.

Our family quickly learned that this bird had the most horrifying screech. The screech of a Conure makes “fingernails on a chalkboard” reminiscent of a symphony in comparison. The pitch and volume was unbelievable. I have probably lost a lot of my hearing because of this bird!

The bird flew around our house, and ended up in my older son’s bedroom atop his ceiling fan. He left plenty of poops there. Over the next few days my husband and son went shopping for bird food, and a few other items. Finally, I couldn’t stand the poops anymore so I went on Craigslist and shopped for a cage. I drove to Topanga Canyon and bought a beautiful, green cage for $75.

I felt remorse that the bird’s prior owner, might be looking for him. I contacted the nearby animal shelter, and filed a report. The shelter kept the bird for five days and no one claimed him. It was also determined there was no implanted chip. A lot of people wanted to adopt our bird, but we were first on the list since we had brought him in.

We needed to name our bird. My older son had no creativity, and wanted to call him Birdie. We decided on Tiki, but my son still calls him Birdie. We have assumed that Tiki is a boy. He seems to be male to me – but what do I know?

This bird loves carbs, so he’s definitely one of our family!

In this picture Tiki is saying, “I love the taste of bloody fingers and ears!”

This is where my story about courage begins.

That very first day having this strange bird in our house was exciting. I decided to go into my son’s bedroom to see the bird. My husband and my older son lectured me and gave me instructions. I was told to move very, very slowly. Suddenly, Tiki flew down onto my shoulder. Within five seconds, he bit me on my ear. I was in shock!

Oh my god, it hurt! I thrashed madly and tried to dislodge him. Both my husband and my son yelled at me for my “panic attack.” I was told to either stay calm or get lost. I ran out of the room in terror; my ear was bleeding.

My husband is very rule oriented. He lectured our household about the fact that Tiki could catch a disease from our cats. They could not be near each other! I know that sounds obvious, but he wanted my children to wash their hands if they had been near the cats before touching the bird. This was solved quickly, since no one wanted to touch this bird. Not if they wanted to keep their fingers intact.

Ironically, Tiki has attacked our cats. He is quite stupid and has been a “hairs breadth” away from becoming a feather toy! One of our two cats would be sleeping soundly, and Tiki would dance over to peck it on the back! My older son would have to quickly intervene.

Tiki bit a lot more ears than mine. He bit my younger son’s, Rosa’s, and her grandson’s. Rosa said, “I was originally thinking to keep this bird. It’s a good thing you took him. If he hurt any of my grandchildren, I might have roasted him for dinner!”

Despite bloody fingers and hands, my older son had the confidence to handle Tiki. So did my husband. My husband and my son were in charge of this “cantankerous creature.” Tiki was terrified of gloves and eventually only my older son was able to get him on his finger.

Tiki has amazing eyes.

Now my story about how to “beak careful” gets interesting for me.

My husband was at work, and my children were in school. My parents had moved out after living with me for over a year; and my house was quiet again. I was home alone with Tiki.

I watched him in his cage. If I put my hand in, I would surely get bitten. I did some reading about parrots.

One day I decided to take a chance. Tiki watched me warily. I put my hand into his cage very slowly and added food to his dish. I tried giving him different things to eat. He was just like my children because he only liked carbs! His diet outside of bird pellets became pizza crust, chips, and cereal. One day, I discovered Tiki liked watermelon rind.

It was risky putting my hand in the cage. I was bitten many, many times. However, his bite became more of a nip that didn’t draw as much blood. Finally the biting stopped. I still cannot believe that I had the courage to take these chances!

The day finally came when Tiki stepped onto my finger. He stood there for a few seconds, and I gingerly took him out of the cage. I was absolutely elated. It turned out that stepping onto my finger was very rare. After that milestone, Tiki refused to do it again for a month. Gradually, it happened more frequently. At those times, I felt like there was something very special going on. Tiki could actually gauge my level of stress. If he trusted me and stepped onto my finger, I felt like I was gifted with “Zen-like” calmness!

As Tiki bonded with me, he began to develop disdain for my husband. Only my older son and I could handle Tiki. Everyone else was viewed as a threat. My younger son’s darting motions made Tiki especially angry. He hated my daughter. Before we had his wings clipped, he hovered over to her and cackled with delight as she ran off in terror.

One day, I decided to try taking Tiki into the shower with me. He walked along the bottom, gingerly avoiding the spray. I was careful not to step on him or get shampoo on his feathered head. Then I put Tiki up on top of the shower doors. He liked it there. I would take my shower, and just before exiting, I would put him on my finger and let the spray cover him.

Here he is atop the shower doors. When he throws down a poop, I can just spray it away! If I forget, my husband lectures me!

Tiki also had another way of showing his delight. He made kissing sounds. Since he’s made me deaf with his screeches, he has made up for everything with his kisses. When Tiki kisses me aloud, my heart jumps for joy.

Tiki has the most intelligent eyes. There are two little nostrils on top of his beak. While showering, I have carefully examined him. When the shower spray covers him, he sneezes! His eyes blink and he is totally delighted with being wet. Tiki cannot go more than a day or two without getting wet. Even in the winter, I will sometimes find him shivering after climbing into his water dish!

Even when his feathers are wet, Tiki is still quite exquisite. He fascinates me! Just as a parent would marvel at a healthy child, I have marveled at our healthy bird. I learned that when birds are unhappy, they pull out their feathers. Thankfully, Tiki has beautiful feathers!

Tiki can feel my stress. When I am stressed, he will not go onto my fingers. I find that very interesting. Most days, I do not have time to visit with him. He is a mess-maker and I have grown tired of the messy poops he has bestowed upon my life. My daughter used to be horrified to see bird poop on my shoulder, especially when I was driving carpool. I used to take him on car rides, but I didn’t have a seatbelt for him!

Sometimes, Tiki joins us at meals, although it isn’t much fun for anyone except my older son and myself. Tiki is very noisy. Our new pet member, Killer, yaps at Tiki – he is such a jealous puppy! The din can be quite overpowering, to say the least!

On most days, I leave Tiki’s cage outside. When I look outside I would describe it as a “Bambi Land.” Tiki doesn’t like his pellets, which are far healthier for him. He will angrily toss the pellets to the ground outside his cage to make his point. Soon squirrels and wild birds surround his cage. Even our puppy will eat what is on the ground. That is why I’ve named it “Bambi Land!”

I never expected that this bird would love me so much. I realize now that there was a lesson for me about courage and making friends with this cantankerous creature. I still remember that very first day when he bit me on my ear.

I am amazed that I was such a courageous woman!

Bird Paradise – the shower!

© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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