Shoelace has a number of feathered friends in our house (1 cockatiel, 1 budgie, 1 canary, and, formerly, 2 lovebirds), Bobbin, (now demised) a peach-faced lovebird went blind and was seeking a cage-mate. This is her story.
I recently bought a bird that appeared to have a minor handicap, of one overgrown eyelid. I saw it get picked at by its healthy sighted cage mates and felt sorry for it, had an empty cage at home etc…
So I get “Bobbin” home, feed her, talk to her, get her toys, put her cage near (but not too near) my talkative parakeets. A few days later it becomes clear Bobbin is very sick so I take her to the vet, who gives me general advice (turn your apt heat up from 75 to 80-90–which incidentally boils my poor tropical fish in their tanks) and eye ointment. Despite regular care the infection is so virulent it blinds both eyes over a few days. (her left eye looks normal, but is only able to see light and dark) Now I have a bird that lives in terror of me and my q-tip of ointment, and who can’t see to boot. Lovebirds aren’t exactly talkative, so talking to her doesn’t cheer her, I’ve beat back her infection with fruit juice-laced antibiotics, and regular doses of Mozart and Strauss on a little tape player I bought her when she went blind, but I think she’d be happier with another bird around. Problem is I expect a sighted bird would just harass her. So I post to every bird bulletin board in vain for is a person looking to get rid of ANOTHER blind lovebird, or a person in my own situation who has a lovebird who was blind who wanted to adopt Bobbin. I found no takers.
December 1997. Bobbin still had no cage mate offers, but she has improved. I’ve found that regular playing of those New-Age tapes that include bird calls with calming music (like “Songbirds at Sunrise”) makes all my birds get perky and noisy, including Bobbin. Bobbin is now a noisy bird, especially when I turn on my computer and she hears the “Microsoft Sound” start up. I download a Lovebird noise from a web site, and rig it so that I can make it squeak from my desktop. Now when she hears my computer start she squeaks at me to make the noise and than squeaks in reply each time I push the button. I’ve also planted her a mini-forest in her cage, taken to moving her perches, rolly-nest and food (each 3 weeks or so,) and given her lots of climbing stuff to play with. She has to root around in the “jungle” to get her grit, and explore the rolly nest, the jungle and her dishes to find her favorite treats. The result is she is much more interested in life.
Alas, this Spring I’m obliged to work 12 hour days up at the U, so she gets depressed and lethargic because there is no tape playing or computer playing all day while I am gone. Bobbin stops squeaking, stops eating, and again looks on the brink of demise. Finally I risk buying a sighted bird, the smallest, timidest little yellow and Dutch blue baby bird I can find. I put him in Bobbin’s cage, go off for my workday and pray that they don’t eat each other. I return 12 hours later to see the baby gently grooming bobbin’s head. In the days that follow, the baby, now called Buttercup, figures out Bobbin can’t do certain things, due to her limitations, so he starts doing tasks I didn’t even know needed being done: like shelling the smaller seeds for Bobbin. I had always assumed that bobbin just preferred big seeds and ignored the rest. Buttercup now performs a whole series of care giver tasks for Bobbin, and Bobbin is a new bird. Climbing and dangling about upside-down on the roof of the cage, squeaking with Buttercup in bird shouting matches with the two budgies across the way, chewing apart her rolly nest with vigor, and eating a well rounded diet. Later I get two finches Hook and Snap who live in another nearby cage.
Now all the birds are bigger, and getting stir-crazy, and bored with their toys. I sense that more room and more stimuli are needed. My boyfriend, Chris, and I work for several weekends on making a 2′ x 3′ x 4′ cage. We cover the bottom with grit and river gravel, insert tree branches and artificial nests, and put all six birds inside! After some territorial conflict between the Budgies and Lovebirds, all is well, and everybody has fun interacting, flying about, and playing with one another’s toys and nests. Bobbin, as biggest bird, despite her vision problems, is Queen of the cage, and climbs everywhere, eating everything from everyone’s dishes. The finches attempt to nest, despite Snap’s probable maleness. The Budgies periodically raise hell, to the delight of Shoelace, who will sit on top of the cage to watch, getting ALL to be very quiet for a while. Buttercup lately shows a male tendency to mount Bobbin, so baby birds maybe the next wrinkle in this avian soap opera?
Shoelace and Bobbin. Shoelace has an artificial tree made from a foam Ionic column with plants growing on top from which she can watch Bobbin. While Bobbin had sight, she was not in the least bothered by Shoelace watching over her, and was part way to bonding with the cat instead of me because of my evil Q-tip wielding ways. Shoelace longs to eat the finches, and occasionally displays more interest in the parakeets than they feel comfortable with, but she won’t harass Bobbin even when Bobbin is out of her cage. One day I came home to find Bobbin had escaped from her cage and was blindly walking around the living room carpet under the very nose of Shoelace on the couch, with Shoelace calmly watching her! My theory is that since Bobbin no longer flies like a bird, Shoelace doesn’t think she is edible.
Ceenie and Zilly, the blue and green parakeets. They indulge in constant conversation and acrobatics.
I don’t have any good photos of the Zebra finches, Hook (male) and Snap (?). Snap was very interesting since he/she wasn’t clearly one gender or another. Zebra finches usually have clear, obvious markings, but Snap was marked about 80-90% like a female, 10-20% like a male. Snap was also smarter and more fearless than Hook when he/she was allowed out. Whatever Snap’s gender, he/she was a superior finch. Hooks, by the by are “male” (in costume terminology), eyes and bars are “female”. Snaps, in contrast, come in both male and female types, and it is often difficult for a beginner to distinguish between the gender of male and female snaps.
Hook and Snap went the way of all finches, and I moved up to a pair of female Cockatiels: Blondie, a pure yellow one, and Trotsky a paranoid pearl grey one who laid eggs like a chicken. I also got two more lovebirds, Squeak and squawk, one of whom died in a freak accident with his cage a few months later.
Trotsky went the way of all birds quite suddenly one day after we had her almost two years, and she is buried in the garden, along with the mouse, Lillith, that got out of her cage to play with the cats (not bright).
The cage is kept open so that the flighted birds can fly around our computer room when they are bored. However in the cage, Bobbin incidentally was the dominant bird, able to chase the others by feeling their location through vibrations on the cage walls with her feet. In normal circumstances she never left the cage.
Recently Buttercup simply dropped dead one day with no warning (according to our summer house sitter) then shortly thereafter, Bobbin, who never leaves the cage, wondering where her cohort went, decided to go out of the cage looking for her mate and disappeared. Most probably the house sitter forgot to latch the screen door on the back porch, and she blindly managed to wander out and get eaten by neighbor cats. Very sad to come home to find our two favorite birds were dead.
Now the remaining 3 birds live in the one big communal cage where they have fun driving each other nuts.
A Graduating student also left her rats with us after moving to NYC.
Another student had us cat sit her 20 lb beast, “Jessie” whose two main attributes are Buddha like calm, and constant appetite.
Another student gave us two “very old” male hand trained ring neck doves.
Within a month they delivered ample proof they were nothing of the kind: to wit a new baby dove, which will be named in honor of the late lamented Trotsky, as Trotz2. All three doves lived with the three love birds, two parakeets and the cockatiel in the huge cage. The baby bird was born there. Apparently, contrary to every book on bird breeding we have read, these doves prefer the communal cage, and didn’t start breeding until they were with a bunch of wacky, noisy parrotlets.
After the doves produced yet another offspring, we found parents and baby a new home with somebody who wanted to breed doves. Trotsky2 we kept. When Zilly the green parakeet died, Ceenie, the blue one decided to bond with the dove instead. This went from a friendly bonding to a kind of heavy duty sexual harassment a few weeks later. At first we tried separating Ceenie out to another cage, but he kept squawking trying to communicate with Trotz. Trotz reciprocated, driving us nuts. So we began the “Parakeet liberation program” where we let Cennie to live on the outside of the cage (he had to avoid the cats, but he does that pretty well), so he could be closer to Trotz. This went ok for a while, but then the lovebirds wanted out too. One day they did just that, not only getting out of the cage, but out of the house and into the yard. Buttercup we managed to lure back with the sound of Bobbin’s voice, but Squawk was never seen again.
So we repaired our screen door, built landing perches on the doors (to catch bird droppings) and let any bird who wanted to fly free do so about twice a week. The dove, Trotz, stayed outside the cage nearly all the time, and was abysmally stupid about the cats, but was too big to catch for our little cats. Ceenie was kept in most of the time, but let out regularly till he started driving Trotz nuts with his amorous advances (Trotz was also male, in addition to being three or four times the idiot parakeet’s size). Finally we found a new home for Trotz, where he would be safe from horny parakeets.
Another cockatiel became ours when bizarrely, a mysterious man came to our door, asked me if I had a cockatiel, and when I said I did, handed me a large cardboard box with another bird in it. This bird has survived the yellow one, (as well as Ceenie II, another elderly “gift” parakeet who died after a rather unsuccessful but expensive bit of surgery). We call him “Fuller” after the door to door brush salesmen of our youth. So we are down to 3 birds now, a cockatiel, a parakeet, and a canary, all given to us since we seem to have developed into a retirement home for unwanted birds. The canary actually stays in a separate cage since it is so arthritic and non-aggressive it would have a lousy time in the communal cage. The two present communal birds loathe getting out of the cage, so we don’t have fly-overs anymore, but they do enjoy sitting in the spot near the window and shouting rude bird noises at passing ravens who reply in kind.