Recently, the idea came up to “own your rituals.” This was in reference to my on-going weight-loss program, and the idea was to select a celebration for when I reach my goal weight. I am nearly half way to my goal, and what I want to do is start taking horseback riding lessons. But it got me thinking about the rituals that my flock have every day.
My violet love bird, Jake, knows that when we turn off the ceiling fan, it means he will be getting out time soon. He waits by the door to his cage, and steps out as soon as I open it. Blind Io, an African gray, knows that after being given fresh food and water, I am going to give him some gentle touches. He may fluff up and open his beak, but he is getting very used to the whole process.
Bo Dangles, the toeless African gray, knows when we open the door to her cage, she will get scratches and petting. If she is in a particularly ornery mood, she hangs on the door, hoping I will still open it so she can reach out to Jake’s cage. It’s hard to get her back into her cage when she does that, so I try not to follow through.
Dani, a seriously splay-legged orange front conure, is our doorbell and Early Warning Alarm. The problem is, she thinks a cat in the front yard is worth sounding the alarm, also hawks and crows. And cars driving on the street. And neighbors walking dogs on the sidewalk.
Amazingly, our flock in the living room can distinguish the sound of my car or Mike’s car from the many others in the world. Cockatiels and conures will send up a racket when one of us turns down the street that is a block away from the house. Granted, they occasionally get excited about the same things noted above due to Dani’s alarms, but there’s a subtle difference in the “Mom’s home!” calls and the alarm calls. Some day we may figure out what that is.
Bo Dangles got her name because she loves to hang by her beak from the top of her cage and wave her little stumpy legs in the air. She knows we will laugh and give her attention when she does this, so she will do it a couple times in a row. Mike and I both have taken advantage of the fact that her sharp beak is occupied with keeping herself from falling, to reach in and pet her feathers and Mike got her to “stand” on his arm one time.
Love birds are some of the smartest little parrots in the world. They have always learned very quickly which cage is theirs, and when the lights are turned down at the end of a night of out time, they will soon put themselves back in their cages. Of course, there have been times when one couple would like to move into a different cage, and the current residents have disagreed. But those little problems are easily sorted out, and easily put to rights.
I’ve mentioned before that Piro, a pied peach face love bird, has lost two female mates over the course of his years with us. Both were cherry head lutinos, basically yellow with red hats on. And both times, Piro was trying to tell me what happened. I would walk out into the living room, turn on the lights, and start making eye contact with each bird to say good morning. Finding Piro at the front of the cage, instead of cuddled up in the back with his lady, alerted me to the fact that something was wrong. I felt sad that Piro seemed to believe I could make things all better. The best I could do was find him a new mate as quickly as possible.
You wouldn’t think doves would be intelligent enough to have rituals, and possibly what I think of as a ritual is just their natural reactions. Our pair of doves are very calm and mild, and the most excitement they show is when we pick them up for one reason or another. Male or female, the dove will tuck its head down into its breast and raise one wing. After we have completed the nest check, baby check, or transferring to a new cage, the bird will fluff up and keep the wing up for a minute or two.
Finches, at least zebra finches, are the 1960s hippies of the bird world. Free love is their ritual, and a male will show a female that he is attracted to her by jumping on her and having a really good time. A female may object at first, but soon she realizes there is not much choice, and what’s the big deal anyway? It’s over very soon. Zeebs will attempt to procreate anywhere, everywhere, and under the oddest conditions. When they were originally imported from Australia, they were packed into crates pretty tightly. When the crates were opened on arrival in the United States, some of the birds had made nests from their own feathers and had laid eggs. Not sure how they were shipped or cared for on the trip, but in some versions of this tale, there are chicks already hatched in the nests. It takes 2 weeks and lots of food to hatch a baby zeeb, so I tend to think the eggs may have hatched shortly after the birds were moved to better accommodations.
I have recurring dreams where I discover a cage or several of zebra finches that I have forgotten about, that need food and water immediately. And almost every time, the neglected birds have hatched out babies to overcrowding the cage.
I own the rituals of feeding and watering the birds daily and cleaning the cages as often as possible, and keeping the house clean around them. The ritual of sharing my life with the flock is one of the best I ever participated in, and I am blessed that Mike shares that as well. Even with a reduced flock, we have enough and we are rewarded in abundant measure.