Tuesday, August 01, 2006
It's For The Birds
Moving into a new house is So Much Fun, especially when everything has to be installed. Like lawns. Any idea what it's like to live in a house where you have 76 feet tracking sand into the living room? I've been taking care of Tracy's dog Buffy while Tracy's been in California and my friend Cristina's dog Evie while her family is in Italy, but frankly two more dogs don't really make that much difference. The extra feet are some belonging to Magda (my housekeeper), her daughter Amal, various neighbour kids and myself. We probably were sweeping an average of 2 kg of sand out of the house every day.
But then the sod came. With temperatures running from 37 to 40 degrees C, we are doing a lot of watering, but the sand level is now down to about half a kg peday. Progress, right? And as you can see, we even have a couple of trees installed around the house. And it is amazing how much cooler the garden feels with the grass in it. As they say here, slowly slowly, bit by bit.
Another addition to the household has been more chickens. The last pair took up residence in the freezer when there was an outbreak of bird flu nearby, but we haven't had any flu around here for some time now. While no one imagines that bird flu is going to just disappear, neither is the need for eggs. The other day a man came around on a bicycle with three palm branch baskets filled with half grown hens and roosters. I picked a dozen of the prettiest...naturally, since they are planned to be decorations that produce eggs rather than to end up in a roasting pan. Half a dozen are living with the Cuban Amazons and half a dozen with Ali the African Grey and Bamba the Bahamian Amazon. In a couple of months we should have plenty of eggs for my grooms and myself. The vets have made rounds here explaining how to spot chickens who have gotten sick..apparently they have blue combs which are pretty hard to miss. So now we are learning to live with bird flu. It was driving me crazy to just throw away the leftovers from the parrots, but there are some corn plants, various melons and probably cucumbers coming up along the fenceline.
The avian population has gone through some ups and downs lately. I bought two pair of budgies to keep Fritz company, even though I was warned that he would eat them. After spending two years with a zillion sparrows, I figured that he was probably used to smaller birds and I was right. They've settled right in and provide a lovely soprano twitter harmony to the whistles and hoots of the Greys. It took them a day to decide that it was safe to eat in the new cage; they were probably traumatised by being able to fly instead of being crammed into a tiny space. Now Fritz has four little buddies diving into his fruit and vegetable dish at meal times and he seems pretty happy with the situation. Budgies were my first experience with birds and I have to admit to having a weak spot for them. They are the aviary clowns and so full of life they have me laughing every morning.
In an effort to reduce the depradations of the house sparrows and rats I decided to build this cage with chicken wire instead of the very heavy wide gauge wire I used in the old house. As I discovered the other day this was Not A Good Idea. One of the Cubans spent some time chewing a hole in the roof of her cage and appeared on the roof of it just at dusk. She stood around looking at all of us and appearing quite pleased with herself before flying off to a tree in the neighbour's garden. The neighbourhood children were almost beside themselves wanting to catch her for me, but I pointed out that a) she could fly and they couldn't, b) if they grabbed her she might just bite one of their fingers off, and c) all the other birds would call her back to the place where there was plenty of easy food and water. Sure enough, 48 hours later she'd come back to the aviary and my grooms tossed a light hammock over her (just string, no wood or metal) and recaptured her. We had closed down the escape hatch, so we released her into the cage and she shows no current interest in further breakouts, but I am changing the wire.
Ali and Bamba have plenty of experience as chicken partners. They seem to be quite happy with the chickens cleaning up after them, and with Mona in the house still recuperating, he's sometimes quite friendly on a random basis. Having a dish of watermelon seeds increases the likelihood of friendliness quite a bit. He does love his seeds...and his macaroni, and his apple, and his cookies. Rather a good eater, Mr. Ali is. Mona, on the other hand, is still skinny, even though she gets less exercise than anyone else in the flock. We had another bout of infection, I believe, that instigated another leg chewing episode and we had to amputate another section. It's now too short to be able to wrap it but it's also too short for her to be able to chew as well. She'd better not chew it because if anything goes wrong, we've had it. So far so good. She has sticks in her cage that she turns into sawdust and whistles at me in demanding tones until she gets her cuddles.
Bamba is a sweetheart and a lesson in birdie prejudice. Until a year or so ago, I assumed that she was a Cuban Amazon like Rosa and Blanca. Then those two chased her out of their cage with a ferocity that was startling. I let her move in with Ali and the chickens (and Mona whenever she decided that she liked Ali better than Fritz, the tart), a spot that she's very happy in. When I began looking to see why they might have driven her out, I discovered that there are some Cuban subspecies and I believe that she is a Bahamian...even though the expensive DNA testing that I had done when I first got the three birds said that they were all Cubans. I guess subspecies only count to the birds. Funny, I know a lot of people like that too.