Odd memories, part 17

So when the Ancient Lore post started me reminiscing about the various birds that I’d had for a while, a few decades ago, I remembered two different anecdotes that, whether they bear relating or not, I’m going to go ahead and produce because I haven’t heard any protests. In fact, I’m adding a third.

When I’d recently moved to North Carolina and was working at the animal shelter, I was in an apartment with a specific pet policy, but they were pretty cool about birds, and when a pair of budgies got turned into the shelter, I thought they’d be a decent thing to have in the place. I’d grown up with animals all my life and was experiencing the first ever period without any; obviously it didn’t last too long. And so Max (blue, male) and Sprite (yellow-and-green, female) entered the picture.

two budgies and a cockatiel
That’s, left to right, Max, Rio, and Sprite (of course the smallest)
It soon became clear that Max was pretty mellow and undemonstrative, while Sprite was clearly the boss, very dominant and more than passingly aggressive. A little later on, I added a female grey cockatiel named Rio, and from time to time they were allowed out for exercise in the apartment. Rio naturally outmassed Sprite by a considerable amount (like 200%,) but didn’t see the need to contest the smaller bird’s dominance too often, as long as it didn’t become too enthusiastic. Sprite was very possessive of her cage, no surprise, and flew into a fit if anything else ventured inside, which Rio would do on occasion just to see if the food was better.

And then, one of my acquaintances from work wanted to know if I’d take over a large conure, which had been given to her by someone who could no longer care for it. The bird, unidentified in breed or gender, came with its own roomy cage, probably worth several hundred dollars between them. I figured I’d give it a shot. The conure was dubbed “Kublai” (you’ll get it eventually) and proved to be well-behaved and quiet, but a little more forthright than the others.

At one point, during playtime, Kublai was perched atop a bookcase when diminutive little Sprite decided that, no, this would be her perch. She flew over but veered off at the last second, realizing that the conure was many, many times her size, and took a spot further along the bookcase. But then again, she was the alpha bird in the apartment, so she sidled along purposefully with a distinct air of chasing off Kublai. I was watching with a bit of interest, because while it was easy to see that the large conure could easily contest the little budgie’s claims, so could the cockatiel, but she was largely disinclined to do so and accepted the little bird’s dominance most times.

Not so with Kublai, who looked down with disdain at this lemon-lime upstart, almost disbelievingly, but when Sprite made an aggressive move to chase the conure off the perch, Kublai casually opened wide and leaned down. I experienced a moment of horror, since he could easily decapitate the tiny budgie, but Sprite was more-or-less prepared. With an alarm call much like a minibike skidding out on gravel, she shot away from the conure to the relative safety of her cage and sat on top panting, recognizing that she had overstepped her bounds.

I never did learn what species of conure this was
C’mon, these negatives are like 27 years old – you’re lucky I still have them
A bit later on, I was eating lunch with Kublai sitting on my shoulder, where he could snag tidbits if he was so inclined and I had lowered my defenses; he was extraordinarily found of tortellini, and could snatch one off the fork on its way to my mouth. In this case, however, I had just finished something he had no interest in, and with the stereo playing, I was singing along. After a few minutes, I became aware that he was staring intently at my mouth, and I stopped singing and looked at him curiously. “What?” I asked.

In response, he vented the most horribly tortured sound that I’ve heard any species make, ever, as if he was getting tangled in the gears of a large truck. I stared at him in shock, but he seemed in no distress, still looking distinctly at my mouth, though he glanced up at my eyes for a moment before returning his gaze to my teeth. After another moment, he vented another, entirely different sound, exuberantly but with just as much torturous effect, the sound of someone gargling past an angry ferret lodged in their trachea.

“What the hell’s your problem?” I inquired, and he looked away unconcernedly, taking up the manically twitchy way of looking around the room that’s typical of the parrot family. After much thought and given the circumstances, I came to the tentative conclusion that he was attempting to sing, not as a bird, but as a human, or at least as me. Exactly how this reflects on my own abilities I’ll leave you to speculate upon.

There was a pet store that I visited on occasion, and they had a huge blue-and-gold macaw that had the run of the place. Anyone with experience with such birds knows they can be impish, stubborn, and a little emotional. This one had learned to mimic a sardonic chuckle, and used it to remarkable effect. One day as I was standing close to his favorite perch conversing with an employee, he leaned over and ripped a button from my brand new shirt, because macaws. And when it became clear to him that I was chagrined at this, he presented it to me, clasped gently in the tip of his beak, manipulated there by his tongue which (and if you’ve seen this you know I’m being perfectly accurate) resembled nothing more than a tiny black penis. I reached for the button, and with this adept tongue he whipped it down into the depths of his lower beak before my hand closed on it, then presented it again as I lowered my hand. I made another grab and he whisked it away again, then gave forth with his evil little chuckle: “Heh heh heh heh heh.”

Now, I have no reason to believe that he even knew what this meant, nor was using it as anyone would have interpreted it – birds just don’t have that level of cognition. But his timing was impeccable, and maybe he was a very good observer of humans. While I tried not to be mocked by a goddamn parrot, nonetheless that chuckle was irritating. Still standing close by, I began to ignore him and resumed my conversation. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him offering the button again, right there at the very tippy tip of his beak, but he could have it as far as I was concerned. Being ignored was not part of the game, as far as he was concerned, and he leaned closer, very much like an older sibling being a little shit, and offered me the button, tantalizingly, making soft grunts in the back of his throat in case I was unaware of his presence, the bird equivalent of, “It’s right heeeerrre, don’t you want it?”

And still I remained oblivious, or at least affected that air. But he was stretching out over my left hand now. As he attempted to lean into my line of sight, I brought my hand up from underneath his chin, slid two fingers quick as a flash along either side of his lower beak and snatched the button from his grasp. He did that little straighten-up-and-half-flap that startled birds do, and realized the button was missing; just to assure him, I showed it to him from a safe distance. “Heh heh heh heh heh,” I said in return.

Oh, shit, that bird was livid! He vented a very loud squawk and danced back and forth on his perch, pupils dilating and contracting spasmodically, daring me to come any closer, which I declined since I’m quite fond of my nose (god knows why) and all ten fingers. I have little doubt that I started him on a habit of stealing money from patrons of the pet shop so that he could afford a hitman; it might not have been so bad if I hadn’t returned the chuckle. But yeah, I kept a wary distance from him for every visit after that.