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The Bad, Bad Parrot

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bill and I love to spend these ravishingly warm spring mornings birding together. It's my favorite thing to do practically in the whole world. I try to imagine what life would be like if I were married to someone with only a passing interest in birds, someone who would respond to my shout of "Gnatcatcher in the prune hedge!" with "That's nice, honey..." instead of roaring up the stairs to see. I can't imagine it. I feel thankful to have a mate who loves so many of the same things I do: music, the outdoors, birds, writing, travel, (yardwork), bizarre humor. May we never lose sight of how rare that really is.

We were out on the deck this morning watching tree swallows circling overhead when we heard a crash from Charlie's private room, a glassed-in room off the studio. "Chuck's raisin' some hell in there!" I laughed, figuring he'd shoved a spray bottle of Glass Plus off his counter or something. He likes to keep his countertops clear. He's always up to something, rumbling around in there.

Bill being packed off to work with his lunch and a kiss, I turned to morning chores, going in to collect the bird dishes. I'm keeping a little female American goldfinch who I found under our feeder on March 16 with a broken hand, probably courtesy of our resident sharp-shinned hawk. She's all healed up now, as good as she'll get after I taped her wing so it would heal mostly straight. I knew when I saw the injury to that delicate hand joint that she'd never fly again. It's the same injury that kept Vanna, a Savannah sparrow, in my studio for 17 years. Because I'm not up for having another longterm boarder, Pippi goes to her forever home at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History tomorrow. (No, she's NOT going to be a specimen--she's going to live in a spacious outdoor aviary with other Ohio birds. How could you think that??)

Pippi was fine. She puts up with Charlie sitting on top of her cage and shredding her papers. They're friends, and he'll miss her when she leaves.

Charlie, on the other hand, was up to absolutely no good.

I've been using a lot of note cards lately to send thank-you notes to all the kind people who donated to the Zick Health Fund. Charlie thought he'd personalize them.

This is what a parrot in the house is good for. Practically good for nothing.

Over the course of the early morning, Charles had completely unloaded my cabinet.

Call it nest excavation behavior, slightly misdirected.

Oh, he was soooo proud of his handiwork, sputtering and squawking and hollering in glee.

What do you do with a macaw who's been so very, very bad? You ask him to step onto your hand, put him on his perch stand, kiss him with a very loud smack (which he imitates at the same time) on his soft warm cheek skin, tell him he's a horrible blight on your life, a veritable nest of vipers, and laugh. Then you kiss him again and get down and salvage what you can while he tries his best to poop on you from above.

What else can you do?

I trust that these last bunch of posts have shown that I am no Pollyanna; no, I don't always find the good in every situation, nor do I reliably bob back up smiling when life rains on me. But even though he destroyed a bunch of really nice note cards and some photos, Charlie did me a huge favor. Among the things in the box he unloaded was a check register that includes my first deposit on his purchase, made on December 27, 1988: $250. Ack. I'd thought I bought him in 1986. So we have at least two more years than I'd thought to enjoy him, and he turns 22 this summer. When I think about having paid $750 for that bird...sometimes I think the breeder should've paid ME to take him! Most of the time I think that. If you're thinking about buying a parrot, don't. Adopt one, rescue one, but don't feed the breeding industry by buying one.

Besides that fond memory of having scraped together $750 in three installments to pay for him, he alerted me to a forgotten stash of precious print photographs that need to be shared. Brace yourself for cuteness:

Concrete evidence that, as parrots go, Charlie is a very good parrot indeed. This is Miss Phoebe, circa 1998.

Charles and Phoebe were the best of friends before Liam arrived, when she needed a pet she could cuddle and love.

He taught her gentleness, even with his immense power. She is gentle to this day.

Don't miss the little bunny I've drawn on her hand...

Even I look at these photos and marvel, but they were that close. I couldn't get near Phoebe when she and Charlie were playing. She was all his.

And he is a good, good parrot, a very naughty one, but dear.


Too, too precious. The whole messy, delightful, heart-string-tugging bundle.

And yes.

Blessed to have a hubby who shares your delight in a gnatcatcher.

Yep. Nuff said.

Is there another kind of parrot besides the "bad, bad" kind? There is, at least at my address, no other kind.

One thing you can say for them, they'll convince you that chickens are, by comparison, good-natured and charming. I have fond childhood memories of our hen house, but the birds here in my office assure me that they would eat a cute little girl soon as look at her.

Aww, thanks for doing a post on Charlie. I am lucky to have found a husband who appreciates birds too, especially my two parrots. Even though the African Grey considers him a rival for my attentions and tries to take him out if I'm not at home....(When I am home he is relatively nice to him!)

Allison, I had a feeling there might be some psittacine confessionals arriving in the comments section. Living with a bird who feels a need to declare ownership of one or more members of the family is...interesting.

I have more to say about Charlie and Phoebe in a subsequent post.

Boy, can I relate to that... once lived with a cockatoo in a mobile home; he chewed up all my record album covers (luckily somehow he spared the records themselves), and though he was well behaved 97% of the time, the other 3% was enough to (cosmetically) destroy the living room -- when I went to sell the trailer it was hard to explain to prospective buyers what had happened!

I always love your posts about Charlie. I kind of like the way you keep him in reserve. Those pictures of him with Phoebe are quite stunning, and convey an awful lot (about both of them, I think). You've written before about how Charlie seems to think that you and he could make beautiful eggs together; you've also written about how good he is with Liam. Is there any chance that he somehow thinks he's had a hand in them? (No offense to anyone!)

Ahead of the curve, as usual, LOG; how I love your insights! Parrots are pretty egocentric creatures, so yes, Charlie likely assumes that by copulating with my foot he has fathered both Phoebe and Liam. More on that little complexity in the next post!

Cyberthrush, I know you're a Charlie fan, and probably just as happy to read about him rather than have one of your own these days, no?

What precious early pics of Phoebe!
Thanks for sharing!

Posted by BrendaC April 8, 2010 at 1:27 PM

He's quite the bird!
I've never thought of macaws as tenderhearted, but I can tell from those photos how much he loves Phoebe....sweet!

Just the kind of post my virally-challenged self needs today! I love the pics of Charlie and Phoebe, who was an absolutely precious toddler (not that I'm surprised). Funny how parrots and cats share the paper shredding penchant. With cats, I figure it has something to do with (you may wanna cover Charlie's ear holes) getting the feathers or fur off a kill -- not that mine will ever have a chance to put that skill into practice.

Okay, so I did think that Pippi was going to be a specimen. Very glad she is not.

What wonderful photos of Charlie and Phoebe. Are they still close?

I remember when I was very poor and living with my first cat, Bill. He inadvertently got locked in my closet when I was at work one day and shredded my one and only special dress. I was so upset but what could you do? My sister immediately told me to get rid of him. I asked her if she would get rid of her 6 year old daughter who had recently broken a family heirloom. She never said another word about it.

Ooooh! Great find! I think anyone could get Pollyana-ish with a bad, bad parrot after seeing those. It's always so interesting to me to see how baby and toddler pictures bring out family resemblances - before everyone grows up to be a willowy young lady with long auburn hair or a tall young man with a blonde head. CUTE.
I'm revelling in tales of 'bad' pet behavior these days as our family has (finally!) bought our first home together and (also finally!) our first dog. We rescued Fender, a 2 year old Lab/Shar Pei mix from a local humane society. I feel a lot like a first time parent as this is my first dog. We're doing our best to get him acclimated, continue his obedience and leash training and keep his mind and body occupied...lots of fun and lots of shredded paper towel tubes to show for it :)

Oh, Jen, I'm so happy for you. I know it's been a long road to having your first house. And Lab/Shar-pei-- what an interesting mix-- I knew your first dog would be a rescue. Hope your house isn't!

Good luck with everything!

Catbird, sorry to hear you're feeling ehh. So am I--I think it's my rabies antibodies kicking in after shot #2--I feel sooo blaaaa. Really not looking forward to shot 3 but at least I get a 2 week break.

Charlie is feeling sad because Pippi is gone. He liked having another bird around, even a teeny one. He'll probably get another friend before too long, the way things have been going.

Wow, what fabulous photos of Phoebe and Charlie.

Maybe I misunderstood but did you say that Vanna lived for 17 years??!

This is precious. Charlie is good, bad, and hilarious! And, let's face it, those of us with dogs have seen bigger messes. I would have chuckled and kissed him, too.

Does it tug at your heart to hold these photos taken so long ago? They tug at my heart and they aren't mine! I'll bet you remember that day, so clearly. Sweet Phoebe. Look at her now!

And I thought bunnies in the house were the masters of destruction!


Such a sweet post, both of them looking so young...


The complete and utter sweetness of those photos of Phoebe and Charlie (esp. #2) blow me away. More so because, I'm not ashamed to admit, I am terrified of Charlie and would never kiss his warm cheek skin - it is entirely too close to his sharp, pointy beak! I have seen parrots break pencils, and I have all kinds of respect for the strength of their bites. I can't believe you weren't worried that your parrot would pierce your baby girl. It must have been a riot to see them together. Are they still buddies?


To sort of answer your question, KatDoc, Charlie isn't the kind of macaw who strikes without warning. When he's in a lovey mood he's in a lovey mood. When he's feeling feisty he lets you know with pinned pupils and raised hair. The flat crown feathers and dilated pupils say he's safe to cuddle.
Phoebe's relationship with Charlie is still good, but nothing like when she was a toddler. I plan a follow-up post to tell how it's changed and why I think that's happened.
Charlie and I have been solid for 22 years--I can always love on him and probably always will be able to. The doeskin cheeks are deliciously soft, mmm. Made for kisses.

I can't find words for the pictures of them. I just want to sit and examine them in minute detail, drinking every bit of Phoebe-and-Charlie essence in. And to think you got to witness it firsthand.

The photos of Charlie and Phoebe are just beautiful. What a delightful pair.

Some of Charlies's bad behavior reminds me of our kitty cat, who also gets coddled and smooched even when he's shredded things we really wanted not to be shredded. I guess the bright side is that he doesn't try to poop on us from above!

Sorry to hear that you're feeling some of the effects of the vaccine. I hope it passes quickly.

Stunning - gorgeous and surreal and possibly the most amazing portraits of girl and bird you may ever take. Wow. Can't believe you had them buried in a cabinet... Good boy, Charlie!

Like others have mentioned, cats are right up there in mischief-making. (Dogs too, but they are not quite so agile.) I so far have avoided the temptation to take on any parrot more "advanced" than my cockatiel, so I get my fruity feathers fix (how do you describe that macaw aroma?) at my local feed store; they've inherited a couple of macaws and while one is not my friend (although she deigned to accept a peanut from me this week), the other definitely is. I can't get him to blush quite so furiously as he did the first time we met, but you can't help but love those cheeks!

Oh - Beautiful little Phoebe. Like an angel in tie-dye. Nice to read a story about Charlie, too!

Darling pictures. I didn't know parrots and children could be trusted together. I never fail to learn something, and be moved emotionally, by a visit to your site.

Posted by Anonymous April 15, 2010 at 8:25 AM

I'd love to have a parrot but with 2 dogs it's impossible. By the way, were you able to finish writing all your thank-you notes?

Very nice post :)

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