Flipping the Bird

In a certain light, there’s someting around his eyes that reminds me of my father. Truth be told, I didn’t notice it at first. Once I did, a certain confirmation bias crept in every time I spent time with him.

His behaviours began to echo my father’s. When he sees himself in a mirror, he puffs out his chest and holds himself high, turning this way and that, giving himself the once-over of approval. He demands that I listen to him, attend to his needs over mine. He becomes increasingly more insistent. I pretend not to notice, yet, I cannot maintain it: I always acquiesce.


He is Tweety, an Indian Red-Necked Parakeet. My mother, in her infinite wisdom and totally out of the blue, gave me her then two-year-old bird and all his worldly possessions as a gift 11 years ago. Have you ever tried to say no when your mother gives you a living being as a gift??

I was worried.

Her previous bird, Boaz, a cockatoo, did not like the fact that my mother paid attention to anyone but him. He showed me his displeasure one evening as I visited. He flew to the dinner table, landed, took a moment to settle his feathers and proceeded to waddle over toward me, stopping at the edge of my plate. There, Boaz tilted his head and fixed his beady little eyes on me. He then hopped ONTO my plate and stomped all around in my spaghetti. My mother nearly peed herself laughing.

At the time Tweety came to live with me, I had two cats. That first night, the younger cat, Sam-I-Am, was keenly interested in this new food on feet. I had Tweety out of the cage, on the counter and as Sam came up to sniff, Tweety cocked his head at the cat and said loudly: “HI!” Sam froze, left paw mid-air. I am sure I heard him think, “Waitaminute! Food is not supposed to talk.” He high-tailed it off the counter.

A few minutes later I poured bird seed into one cup and placed it on the counter. I’d turned to fill the other cup with water so did not see Sam jump back up. When I turned around, there was Sam, trying desperately to get birdseed off his tongue. Did you know that cats hate it when you laugh at them?

My name is Tweety

Life with Tweety is surprisingly a lot like a life with any being that you have a relationship with. He needs about a solid hour a day. We have our special time him and me: he lies on his back in my hand, his long tail sticking straight up, his little drumstick legs in the air. He says his happy words and makes his happy noises as he gets massaged, cuddled and groomed. Then he falls asleep. A bird on its back is an amazing act of trust: imagine lying with your tummy exposed in the hand of a creature some 10 – 20 times your size.

He talks. And trills, tweets, shrill whistles and makes kissing sounds all for my benefit. If I am slow — in his opinion — to  pay to attention to him, he’ll do his Mission Impossible slide down his cage and come looking for me.

There are routines that Tweety seems to enjoy more than others, judging by his reaction of hopping, skipping and jumping on the top of his cage. Choosing a jelly belly, for example:  he runs ontop of his cage his beak becoming a shade of deep coral. When the bowl is close enough he steps up on edge of it digging through to find either a yellow, orange, or red one. He does not like the dark ones and never chooses them.

Next favourite time seems to be morning time when he, Parker poodle and me all have breakfast together. Often we share a a mix of some or all the following: yogurt, cashews (or almonds), apples or pears or blueberries. We’re healthy that way.

I am under no illusions: not like we’re bonding in the same way that humans bond. But I am surprised about the bond nonetheless. I did not know that birds required as much one-on-one time as they do. It would not have occurred to me that my heart, filled with people and cats and later dogs, would also have room and time for a hugely demanding little twit of a very messy bird. Did I mention parakeets are the messiest birds?

Once upon a time, I thought that birds were just to be looked at, admired from afar. Apparently, some species of parrots have the intelligence of an average five-year old human child. If that’s true, I guesstimate Tweety’s intelligence correlates to somewhere between that of 18 to 28-month old  human, with a bit of acrobatic chimpanzee thrown in for fun. That’s not an admire from afar relationship: it’s a close-up, personal and interactive. Maybe even loving.

I’ve talked with my mother — in my mind since she’s no longer here — about her gift, who happens to be calling for me right now. When he’s being a noisy bird, I sometimes pick him up, flip him on his back and ask him what he wants.  He settles back and answers: “Huh?” his voice going up at the end, like a question. I repeat myself and so does he. We play that game for a while. I am reminded he is a bird, a creature with needs to be met that are not my needs. To his instinct or mind —  I am here to take care of him.

Lately, as I take Tweety back to his cage, he has started to give big, noisy kisses, just as I put him inside. Something he started doing all by himself.


About FS

Toronto, Canada. Writing about slices of life, the moments and minor details of which come into awareness or out of imagination and the spaces inbetween.
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3 Responses to Flipping the Bird

  1. letempspasse says:

    Adorable post…
    Having so many animals interacting must keep you good company. But how can you get any work done? 😉

  2. me says:

    Thank you, and thank you. You know, there are days when I swear he’s human, and expect him to behave like one when I ask him to do something, and he does it. He goes home when he’s told to go to his cage. Now if only he’d clean up, and be a little quieter…he’d be perfect. Take care, you. (((love + hugs)))

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