Craige: No matter how beautiful, I’m only a one-bird woman
By Betty Jean Craige
Yesterday, when I accidentally startled her, Cosmo flew to the floor. That is, she glided very fast to the floor, since her flight feathers have been clipped. I picked up my dear African Grey Parrot and held her against my chest. Her heart was beating very fast.
Cosmo is not a perfect bird. She bites. And she poops on the floor. (See “Areas Requiring Improvement” in her Feb. 5 annual evaluation.)
But Cosmo knows that I love her, that I will always give her attention, that I will always feed her, and that I will never strike her, even when she bites.
Not all parrots are so fortunate.
A couple of months ago I was invited to a dinner party by parrot rescuer Deb Allwein and her husband Bob. Deb and Bob founded the No-”R”-Birds Parrot Sanctuary to provide a home to parrots not as fortunate as Cosmo.
Their lovely house looks perfectly normal on the main floor, inhabited by perfectly normal humans. But the basement: Wow! It’s like none I’ve ever seen. It is large, spotlessly clean, painted lime green, and inhabited by twenty-six colorful, highly intelligent and very vocal birds who reside in big cages full of toys. It has a kitchen dedicated to their feeding and an attached aviary for them to be outside in warm weather. It soon will have a huge flight cage.
I met two hyacinth macaws, the gentle giants of the parrot world; a blue and gold macaw; a scarlet macaw; a green-winged macaw; a severe macaw; a military macaw; two hybrid macaws; two caiques; a parrotlet; three cockatoos; two eclectus; one double yellow-headed Amazon and two African grey parrots — one a Congo African grey like Cosmo, and the other a Congo-Timneh hybrid. Oh yes, and a male, wild-caught Swainson’s toucan, 10 or 11 years old, named T-Bird.
You can meet them too, if you make an appointment to visit. Check the website norbirds.com. There you will get lots of information about parrots, including the fact that all parrots bite. I was relieved to learn that.
The birds’ stories are sad. Many had spent their lives in small cages without the possibility of exercise. Some had plucked out their feathers from anxiety over neglect or abuse. Several had lost their lifelong human companions and had been sent from one unloving home to another. Some had been struck and as a consequence remain to this day afraid of a human hand.
Parrots have a long memory.
T-Bird’s story is typical. T-Bird was illegally captured as a newly hatched chick, probably in Central America, and sold to a pet store. For the next several years he lived in a tiny cage, either on display or in a basement, and ate food with iron, which a Toucan cannot process. The iron stays in the Toucan’s liver and causes iron storage disease. By the time he was rescued, T-Bird was suffering greatly. He was malnourished and depressed. He had no tail feathers.
Now T-Bird, who has glorious plumage, is in great spirits. He loves Deb and Bob, enjoys all the visitors who come to the sanctuary to meet him, and plays catch with anybody who will toss him a little ball. He has a delightful personality.
Secure in the care of Deb and Bob, the rescued birds have finally found happiness. They are getting medical care, proper nourishment — with a hot breakfast every day — and plenty of human attention, which they really enjoy. They have made friends with Bob and Deb, and with each other. Some of them love each other.
And they talk to each other, occasionally calling each other by name. While I was there one of the Cockatoos grew a bit noisy. The Blue and Gold Macaw screamed, “Shut up!”
What an unusual evening that was!
I returned home full of excitement but aware that I myself was a one-parrot human. I want to be Cosmo’s best friend. If I were to get Cosmo an avian companion, Cosmo would choose to be with her fellow bird. My feelings would be hurt.
But I’m glad that when I’m not around Cosmo chooses to be with my dogs. Cosmo is a social bird. She loves the one she’s with.
As I entered the house, Cosmo called out from the dark, “Cosmo wanna go up!” I let her out of her cage so we could cuddle.
• Betty Jean Craige is professor emerita of comparative literature at the University of Georgia and the author of many books, including “Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot” (2010). Her email address is email@example.com. Cosmo’s website address is www.cosmotalks.com.
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