Duets

The other day I was in a room at the back of the house when I heard our blind male Congo African Gray Io start to whistle. He has learned to give the first ascending note of the “wolf whistle” and wait for one of us to do the rest of it. He often will whistle the whole thing a few times, as if showing us what is expected, and then do the first part, and wait.

Being a well-trained parrot companion, I finished the whistle. He repeated his part, and I responded again. He then whistled a trill that I hadn’t heard him do before. I walked out to the office where Io’s cage is, and realized I had been whistling a duet with Mike. And doubtless this wasn’t the first time.

We love to talk and sing with our birds. We’re as pleased as parents of a potty-trained toddler when they do something cute or smart, and can talk for hours if someone would just listen about what great companions they are. We wear matching Hawaiian shirts with parrot prints just so strangers will say something and give us an opening.

Ring-neck doves coo and chuckle, and are fun to imitate. But they don’t seem to be aware that we are trying to speak dove. Sky, the female, is docile enough that when we discourage her from laying eggs in the food dish, she will sit on our hands for a long while and be comfortable.

Male cockatiels, tame or not, sing their hearts out at all hours, and don’t mind at all if we sing along. Sometimes the song is a rather boring two notes up and down, that we hope will be over by midnight. But sometimes there are surprises. We had a beautiful cockatiel re-homed to us who sang “Pop Goes the Weasel.” It took him a few weeks to settle in, but then as soon as we were out of the room he would whistle the song. For some reason, Mike never caught him doing it until right before we found a home where the bird could be an only-bird and get the one-on-one attention he craved.

Outside in the aviary, we just placed a re-homed pair of cockatiels this summer. I was out doing yard work when I heard the theme song from “The Andy Griffith Show” float out of the aviary. Pineapple was serenading his girl with the best song he knew.

Mike relates a story from his youth, when a stray cockatiel landed on his brother at a construction site, and decided to stay. Brother Joe took the bird home and with parents’ help, set the bird up in a cage with food and water. The bird was content but not inclined to sing or whistle. Then one morning at sunrise, the cockatiel gave his first performance: The Baby Elephant Walk, a handful of other show tunes, and then nothing again for days.

The best trick the bird could do was wait for the perfect moment, when Mike was out in the front yard, and a pretty girl jogged by. The bird would wolf whistle, and the girl would glare at Mike. Before he realized what she was reacting to and say, “It’s the bird, not me!” she was up the hill and out of sight.

Sometimes the birds like to sing with each other, or pretend to be another bird. Our Indian Ring-neck Parakeet, Wraith, is in a room with finches, canaries, lovebirds, and budgies. He likes to whistle like the cockatiels, and sometimes talks like the CAGs, but never when we are in the room or can hear him.

Sunny the sun conure (I always feel I have to explain or apologize for that name. Come on, how original is that? But she came with the name and knows it. I could have changed it to Money or Honey, but that would have been confusing. But I digress.) likes to make some sounds and wait for me to repeat them. Her Mystery Sound is a soft “chu-chu” whisper. When I make that noise, she stops what she is doing, looks at me, and fluffs up. She makes it back, and if I do it again, she rubs up against me. I guess it means I love you in sun conure. Sunny belonged to an elderly couple who surrendered her to FreeFlight in Del Mar when they could no longer care for her. I still wonder what exactly Sunny associates with that sound.

Speaking of FreeFlight, if you are in Southern California, you should do your level best to go visit the birds there. Their 4th Annual Fund Raiser is coming up on October 12th, and Mike and I will go if at all possible. Last year we went as guests and had a great time. There was some food I could eat on my diet, and lots of birds to talk to and cuddle with. The silent auction is amazing, so worth the time and money and for such a good cause. We wore parrot shirts, of course, and drew some attention and photographers. Two years ago we volunteered and had every bit as much fun as the guests did. Here’s the link: http://www.freeflightbirds.org/

Song is a different thing to different people, cultures, and birds. Hope you have a special songbird in your life!

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