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Black Lamb


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Small wonders

The pleasures of owning budgerigars

May 1st, 2016


Just don’t call him “Tweety,” the pet store’s bird keeper teased as she handed off my charge, who was scrambling timorously inside his cardboard carrier. I hesitated to tell her this was precisely the name given both parakeets I’d had as a girl. Sequentially, that is, since Tweety the First had an untimely demise when one of my siblings charged through the heavy swinging door that divided kitchen from dining area in our circa 1864 house, slamming the poor guy against a wall.

karlawithbirdTweety and I had known better days in that old kitchen. We had a ritual where he’d hop about my head and shoulders while I washed the dishes. Truth be told, I’ve blocked details of his death from my memory, not to mention the also distressing end to which his successor succumbed. My mother and I inadvertently roasted Tweety II by following the vet’s instructions to put a heating pad by his cage to treat a respiratory ailment. I do recall that morning vividly. Mom and I anxiously removed his cage cover, hoping for an overnight recovery. The lifeless parakeet we found instead left us so defeated we never attempted another.

No one had a clue then about the physical or emotional needs of what we commonly call “budgies” today. This is a shortened version of the Aborigines’ name for this small Australian parrot. In the 1840s budgerigars became a phenomenon in British households. Yet in the last decade avian owners have become far more informed about these favored flights of fancy. Indeed, my friend who drove me and my still unnamed bird home exclaimed, “I feel like I’ve just been in an episode of Portlandia!” His reaction was triggered by the earnestness with which the bird keeper and I took my responsibilities.

I’d already consumed three separate “Dr. Spock” books on budgies. I knew exactly how many minutes to boil his hard-boiled egg (to kill off all bacteria). I artfully arranged his fruits and vegetables to encourage their appeal. For birds live on seeds alone no more than man lives on bread alone.

I now felt better acquainted with a budgie’s body language than with that of my own species. But the most important factor remained to be addressed. Although I knew having a best feathered friend is their equivalent “BFF,” I was still tentative about taking on more than one budgie.

Once I got my budgie home, I seized upon a name. Perceval it would be, with Percy as his nickname. Although I use the male reference, it’s near impossible to know a budgie’s sex until it reaches one year. And Percy was still a baby.

Anyone observing me would have thought I was the birdbrained one. I spastically returned his bobs to provide some sense of flock. I whistled and I cooed. I shared apples with him. Eager for companionship, Percy perched on me easily and we’d stroll throughout my place. If he was spooked by nighttime shadows, I’d hold him in my hand and stroke his too-cute noggin; then off to bed he’d go.

When we’d pass a mirror on our strolls, I recognized that Percy needed a BFF. He’d fixate on his mirror image, make kissy sounds, and if I dared divert his attention, he’d dash wildly up my arm to keep his mate in sight. But to house him with another in a cage conducive to budgie well-being required funds I didn’t have. Luckily a friend who’s “of a feather” helped out with my investment in Percy’s happiness.

New cage bought and assembled, it was time to introduce Percy and his arranged partner. This one’s name came to me immediately — Val — as nickname for Perceval II. Simultaneous successors, so to speak.

Once they laid eyes on each other, Percy and Val cared not a whit what I chose to call them. If online dating sites could distill such magic, they’d put themselves out of business in no time.

Just as with Percy, I can’t be certain of Val’s sex. But I’d bet my bottom dollar Val’s a “she.” The telltale sign comes when their respective ceres change colors. For now, it’s not a mating bond that passes between them. It’s a consummate platonic love. They gladly share food, drink, baths, toys, and swing. Quite the pair, together they preen, sleep, talk, and simply hang out (or even upside down). I’ve been reassured that even when of opposite sexes, these birds require certain conditions to mate. If one wants to practice budgie birth control, one does not create those conditions. Again, lessons for us.

In this dreary economy, and in a town increasingly overrun by cretins (a town once known for gentility), Percy and Val delight me with their exuberance. They could be with me ten years or more. Enough time to not dwell on that day when one or the other goes first. The books have prepared me for how Percy or Val will respond. Still, as they remind me daily, life is simply a series of ever-present moments. •

From the May 2012 issue

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Powell | Link to this Entry


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