Thursday, March 15, 2007
African Grey Pirates and Other Birds
When I started putting animals together on the farm, I thought quite a lot about comfort, safety and compatibility but I never really thought that the animals might start to take over. However, I'm seeing definite signs of a change in the balance of power in the aviary and now small signals in the house. The only bird in the house until recently has been Mona, my one-legged African Grey. She lost her right foot to
predators unknown last year and has made a brilliant recovery, living in state in the living room where she can comment on my taste in music and television. (She likes Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Dave Matthews, and Bob Marley...interesting choices to whistle along to.) Lately a pair of house sparrows has taken to flying into the living room as soon as I open the front door, which stands open most of the day. They spend a lot of time trying to build a nest in some very nice brass lamps that hang in the room and I spend a lot of time telling them to get out. It makes life inside almost as interesting as it is in the aviary.
The aviary is a grouping of three cubes that are each three metres on a side. Each cube has a door that opens on a service room that in turn opens to the outdoors. When I built the aviary at the farm, I'd already built one at my old house and was hoping to move the old one here, but when that couldn't happen I decided to wire the cubes with a wire that has smaller holes than the old aviary, so that a) rats can't get in and b) whatever bit off Mona's foot is kept out. The base of every cube is built of stuccoed brick to a height of a metre to allow the birds the privacy to walk around on the ground without the dogs going ballistic. All very good planning, and then the birds began redecorating the place.
The first thing to happen was that the Cuban Amazons discovered that if they chewed hard enough on the wire, they could make a hole. There is nothing that a parrot likes better than a hole. One of them slipped through the hole causing great concern among my grooms and neighbours, but I noticed that she hung around calling to the other Cuban, who didn't seem to feel that escape was such a brilliant idea. For 36 hours I had one Cuban inside and another one on the outside trying madly to figure out how to get back. The food service just isn't that super on the outside, I guess. Finally we left the service room door open and she flew in, and from there back to her cage. The next thing that they began chewing was the wire mesh between the cubes and the service room. At first I would patch it but after a while I just gave up. No one was escaping to the outside anymore. I had four new budgies that appeared and demanded to be let in, and a pair of lovebirds that even now sometimes leave the cage for an hour or two and then return, usually with some interesting straw or grass for their nest box.
Within a month or two of moving the parrots and budgies in (and having the new budgies and lovebirds appear) we began bringing other rather more useful birds to the aviary. In one cube we added a pair of bronze turkeys, although they turned out to be a pair of hens...that's okay because turkey eggs are delicious. In another cube we added a trio of Muscovy ducks, Donald, Daphne, and Daisy, who hopefully will soon be providing us with some baby ducks. Initially, Fritzi the Grey was sharing the cube with the ducks and budgies, but for a while we had to move him to the cube with Ali the Grey and Bamba the Bahamian Amazon because he was stealing the duck eggs and rolling them around the cube. Monster. The ducks were getting quite perturbed and I caught Frizi dangling by a wing from Donald's beak one day. That's when he got moved. The Cubans shared their cube with a flock of baladi chickens and a rooster to which were added four rabbits.
Once all of these creatures were in place, life REALLY got interesting. Fritzi started the remodeling with a window to the service room so that he could break into the stores of sunflower seeds. Once Ali and the Cubans saw this there was no stopping them. Before you could say "Noah's Ark" the parrots were moving freely all over the aviary and every time I would go in, I would count heads to see that they were all still there. No one ever left but the parrots were having a ball playing musical cages. Oddly enough the budgies and the lovebirds always stay in their own cage with an occasional foray into the service room, or in the case of the lovebirds outside. I've checked the cubes carefully and there are budgie/lovebird/sparrow sized holes to the outside all over the place but the sparrows and lovebirds are the only ones to take advantage of them.
After about six weeks of all this moving, some patterns seem to be stabilising. The two Greys, Ali and Fritz appear to have decided that they like living with the rabbits and chickens most of the time. In fact one of them is often perched in the window between that cube and the service as if to keep the other parrots out. Sometimes we find them walking around on the floor of the cage investigating the nesting boxes of the chickens or the clay pot where the rabbits like to sleep. The chickens and rabbits seem to be comfortable enough with the parrots...at least they don't carry them around like the ducks. I'm a bit apprehensive regarding the imminent arrival of baby rabbits. After twenty years with Ali, I know better than to assume that Greys are just charming vegetarians.
copyright 2007 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani