Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Bird's a Bitch

"As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, Dr. Pepperberg said, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”He was found dead in his cage the next morning, and was determined to have died late Thursday night."-Alex, a Parrot Who Had a Way With Words, Dies.

Cody on my sister's shoulder

Cockatiels are supposed to talk. Our cockatiel was Dad's sad attempt at pacifying our nightly hair-tearing pleas for a dog. We named him Cody, then two years later changed the masculine pronoun to "her" when some gross-ish bloody eggs showed up on the bottom of her cage.

From the beginning, Cody was housed in my little sister's room next to a giant mirror we set up to trick her into thinking she had an identical bird companion. She didn't like me. She had a tendency to hiss when I entered the room. Then again, we were instructed not to take her out of the cage for two weeks after buying her. Cockatiels need time to get adjusted to new people and surroundings and feel safer in a confined space initially. All we were supposed to do was sit by the cage and play a "Teach Your Cockatiel To Talk!" cassette tape with a speaker who sounded like Shirley MacLaine (maybe it was?) reciting, "Hello! How are you today?" over and over and over. Cockatiels, if they're going to talk, learn to do so within their first few months of life.

Three days after Cody became an anointed family member, I found myself alone in the house with her. I don't like being alone, I like attention, preferably human, but I'll take bird, whatever. So I went in my sister's room, sat on the bed across from Cody, turned on the MacLaine tape, and started making friendly eyes at the bird. At first she shuffled back and forth on her ledge nervously, but after some time went by she seemed more at ease. Perhaps even curious to meet me. She was maybe lookin' like she wanted to hop on my shoulder and give me a little k-close on my cheek. So I opened the cage door and she wobbled out tentatively.

That's when I made what was in retrospect an overeager grab for her and she took off with a terrified "bekaw!" and started flying laps around the room. This went on for a long time and I started crying which I think distracted her for a moment, because she flew into the wall and fell kinda hard to the ground. I ran over to her just as she was taking her last running steps under the bed. I got down on my hands and knees and tried to grab her. I was kind of pissed. I guess I was swearing, groaning "you fucking bitch" a lot, but I wasn't too conscious of it. After 45 minutes I finally grabbed her with a peck-proof oven mitt, and stuffed her back in the cage. Bonding initiative: aborted.

The next morning my little sister woke me up at an ungodly hour to say that she was woken up at an ungodlier hour by Cody screeching "ucking bitch! ucking bitch!" repeatedly. My sister was pissed, understandably. Though to this day Cody has never uttered another human word. I like to think of that incident as her own little "the horror! the horror!" Heart of Darkness moment. I also hope that sometime in her still-to-come 20 years of life, she whips my one great teaching out again. Preferably the night before she goes to bird heaven.