The Sunshine of My Life

Much of my love of birds is satisfied through on-line communities. I started out with finches, added cockatiels, and lovebirds. I started reviewing these on-line email lists for my bird club’s newsletter, and since I wanted to expand the scope of these reviews, I began to join more and more list communities. I joined the Original Conure list at Yahoo, and began to think I wanted one. Almost every list created that longing in me. But I knew I didn’t have the time to devote to one of the bigger, more demanding birds.

Conures, however, are smaller cousins of the macaw. I hear the phrase “big bird attitude in a little bird body” about lovebirds and parrotlets, but also about conures. So I thought I had found the right parrot for me.

On a general interest bird list, a gentleman listed his sun conure, Zazu, free to a good home. By some wonderful twist of fate, he lived a few miles north of me, not far from a major bird mart my husband, Mike, and I attended every chance we got. I emailed the man, Terry, and asked for more details. Zazu would come with his cage and dishes and toys. He had been Terry’s wife’s bird, but tragically she had died a year before. Terry didn’t have much time to take Zazu out of his cage in that year, and so he wanted to find a better situation for the beautiful bird.

Mike agreed to drive up so we could bring Zazu home. I don’t remember much about the drive to get him, but as soon as I saw this little ray of South American sunshine, I wanted him to be my friend. He had been bonded to a woman before, so I assumed he would take to me in time. I stuck my finger in the cage, crooning his name, and he bit me. Well, no one said he was tame.

Terry assured me that Zazu would calm down when he got to know me, so I helped Mike load the cage, bird inside, into the back of his car. We thanked Terry, and headed home. I talked to Zazu, and he was fairly quiet most of the time. When he would squawk, Mike would talk to him too. We stopped for lunch at a drive-thru so we didn’t have to leave the car. Zazu didn’t seem interested in anything we were eating.

Getting him home and set up in the living room, near the cockatiels and lovebirds and finches was an easy matter. I wanted him to get used to being out with me, so I put him on a perch near me and talked to him. I sat on the couch and held out my hand so he could step up. Zing! He bit my finger hard enough to make it bleed, and fluttered to the floor. Mike came in and picked up Zazu. No bite. Mike talked soothingly to the conure, and put him back in his cage. Okay, I was trying too hard, moving too fast. I’d be patient.

We’ve now had Zazu for almost two years now. I love him as much as ever, but he still attacks me through the bars of his cage. He rapidly moves his head back and forth, warning me off. I have to use a perch to hold him at bay if I need to reach into the cage. He loves Mike, and acts goofy when “Dad” approaches the cage. Za will curl up in his food dish, make a purring sound, fluff up his feathers, to get Mike’s attention. Za will hang by his beak and flutter his wings when Mike comes to him, a typical baby conure behavior, seeking food and attention from a parent. It’s so cute to watch.

Zazu doesn’t talk, but he does make a chuckle sound. Mike will feed him a peanut, and he will chuckle happily. Someday, I will find the time to read the right book on how to get my first conure to stop hating me, but in the meantime I let him attack the bars of the cage and bite my hair. It’s the closest I can get to scratching his head and giving him kisses. I read about a technique called the Iron Fist, and it works enough to let Za think he is attacking me without my getting really hurt. Unless, as did happen, the conure is fast, realizes the part of the hand I am offering to him is not going to be bitten, and lunges for the near-by, softer, chunkier skin. Oh well, it will heal.

One of my biggest problems is a bad case of volunteeritis. I can’t say no to very much of anything. So, my bird club needed a new bird mart chairman, and there I was, raising my hand. Mike shook his head, knowing how much of the hard work would fall to him. But he loves me, so he helped me out.

I won’t go into all the details of that first (for me) bird mart. It’s quite the story in itself. Just before we were to open, I did a last walk through to tell all the vendors that it was about opening time. I stopped at a booth where one of the club’s young members was sitting with a row of cockatoos and a couple of sun conures. Sarah worked at a wonderful facility where parrots of all kinds are often surrendered, and given a complete check by the veterinarian. They are offered for adoption for much less than the going rate for their species. Some people don’t want used birds.

As I stopped and talked to Sarah, I put my hand out to one of the sun conures. This little parrot stepped readily onto my hand, and began rapidly vibrating her beak against my fingernail. She was feeding me! She came up to my shoulder, and played with my hair, and found her way into my heart at that moment. I asked her price, and then put her back on her perch. Somebody sure was going to get a great companion in that conure, Sunny.

Not long after that, Mike came back from his walk-through to ask if I had seen the sun conures. I told him how sweet Sunny was, and I must have gotten that wistful look in my eyes. In a very short time, Sunny had been purchased and was the newest member of the family. She sat on my shoulder all day in that outdoor venue, happy as she could be. People were surprised to hear she had just become my sweet bird hours before. She acted as if she had belonged with me for years and years.

At home, the next day, we introduced Sunny to Zazu. He was very curious about her, but also a little timid. That was odd. Sunny was so mild and sweet, how could she intimidate this big male with the slashing beak. Before long, she was pushing him around and taking over much of the cage they shared. Sunny learned to sneak up to the top of the cage door before Zazu started to lunge at me, so I could have her step up and come away with me. We also had to learn careful maneuvers to get her back into the cage at night.

Sunny loves sunflower seeds, so I keep a container of them on my computer desk. She chirps when she wants one, or sometimes climbs down to the desk to help herself. When she loses interest in the seeds, a temporary state usually, she will climb inside my shirt and snuggle. She croons and purrs and makes some of the funniest noises. Her chicken cluck always makes Mike smile. Then back on my shoulder for more treats and some scratches.

At the bird mart, I learned that Sunny came with a fear of airplanes, and I will always wonder why. She has settled down in the year she has been with us, especially since we aren’t outside with her very often. She cracked me up at the bird mart by barking at all the dogs she saw. But we don’t have a dog, so I don’t know if she would still do that or not. And her most enduring trait is her impatience when I am on the phone while she sits on my shoulder. Her clearest words, “Bye bye!” are repeated over and over during my conversations.

In the year full of Sunny’s sunshine, Zazu has settled down and accepted his cage mate in a way that makes me think he would truly miss her if she were gone. For a couple of weeks, Sunny refused to leave the cage, and I had suspicions that she was hormonal, wanting to nest and lay eggs. Luckily we just ignored it, and soon she was back to her old self, affectionate, loving, clinging, snuggling, and fluffing. The ideal shoulder bird, in every way.

The conure is a great pet bird, and currently I have a green cheek and an orange front. Their stories will come along eventually. But Sunny and Zazu were here long before, and created such a wonderful place in our home and our family, where noise is the least of the things we notice about these parrots. They embody our happily ever after, and we could not imagine a day without this sunshine.

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