and yet, I had absolutely no idea a year ago.
When I walked into a new client’s house to meet her family’s collection of pets, along with two dogs and a snake (a new one for me), there were two bird cages. One had a couple of budgies in it (a small colorful semi-wild bird) and the other had a cockatiel named Clementine. The snake was pretty self-sufficient in the sense that all I had to do was give him fresh water, my client or one of her sons would handle feeding him before she left, so no big deal. But I was completely intimidated by the birds. What if one of them flew out of the window? What if I squashed one trying to grab it to get it back in the cage, something my new client did with amazing ease. Just grabs one up in her hand and puts it away. I promise you, the dances I do with the (now FOUR) budgies are comical and frustrating and they are about as big of fans of me as I am of them. Usually when I walk in the room, they start shouting in terror. Come to think of it though, that’s how they talk to each other as well. Always bickering. LOUDLY. As my client kindly put it after getting a note from me that said, “The budgies are out due to non-compliance on their part.”, “Don’t worry. They’ll get in. Or they’ll sleep on top of the cage. Whatever.” And then she decided that she wanted my note laminated. She’s a very laid back woman and I am a HUGE fan of hers.
But then there was little Clementine. Oh my darling. I had absolutely no idea that birds could be affectionate. I remember my aunt once telling me a story about the small birds she’d grown up with and how incredible they were and thinking, really? Now I understand this deep obsession. Clementine loves to sit on my shoulder and cluck in my ear and peck really lightly at me, giving little birdy kisses. He’ll sit on my finger and put his head down. This indicates that he’d like to be pet, please. Yes, pet. He moves his head all around your hand and shows you that he is in bliss. Another top habit of his is that when he hears you come into the house, he starts shouting at you and keeps it up until he sees you. He hops around in anticipation that you are going to hold him. If you go into another room and leave him, if the shouting doesn’t bring you in, he’ll fly into see you. And instead of flying all the way over to you, he’ll land on the ground and RUN the rest of the way!!! This is one of the greatest things I have EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!!! And then he hops on your legs and climbs up you. I cannot emphasize how surreal and awesome this is! So, Clementine has become the ambassador for birds with personalities for me.
Now, Clementine is very delicate. When he asks me to pet him, sometimes I get nervous that I might hurt him. When you pet the back of his neck and move the feathers around, they go really deep and I think his neck is very very small. I never hold him fully in my hand. I always let him climb on and off, sometimes with prodding as he always wants to stay on and never wants to go back in his cage.
We haven’t seen each other in a number of months and I came singing into the room on Friday night and he was quietly sitting in his cage. I leaned down and put my head close and said hello and he ran over to me and practically tried to squeeze his head through the bars. And he danced around and around. The next morning, when I had time to take him out, he was on my shoulder in a matter of seconds and when he first reached my head, he placed his forehead firmly against mine and just sat there for a minute. A bit later, I was on the ground giving Pippin, the now solo dog (r.i.p. Maddy-Love, I miss swimming with you), giant hugs. So while Pippin was licking my face with my arms wrapped around him, Clemmy was so excited to be around me that his face was 3 inches from Pippin’s and he didn’t even hiss at him! Today, he took a jaunt around the kitchen floor and when he was finished, he climbed up my leg, back to his perch. When I was leaving, I put him on the door of his cage and usually he’ll grumpily stay there as I leave. When I reached the kitchen door to close it, I realized that he was flying full speed at my face and he was about to become the cartoon wherein he smacks into the door, feathers fly around and stars circle his head. Catching him right before it, I promised him I’d be back soon. And although he’s pretty persistent and often threatens to do just that, he’s never actually attempted it. Major attachment on both sides.
Back to Noelle, my new feathered friend, when I got a call from her parents and they mentioned that they have a racing pigeon, I got really excited. A different kind of bird! And what a bird she is! She’s white with beautiful reddish spots. And she’s SOLID. Whereas Clementine is delicate, she is hefty. Where I stick one finger out for Clem to “step up”, I have to stick my hand out flat for Noelle. And where his pecks are not felt at all, she can pull off skin. She certainly has moments where I will attempt the “step up” (Step up is the phrase that Clem’s family uses to get him to “step up” onto their fingers.”), and she’ll start pecking at my hand and I’ve learned to abandon ship for the moment. She’s less confident about being on a hand. Clementine was hand raised at a pet shop so they spent a great deal of time socializing him and acclimating him to being held. While Noelle would have had physical contact with her racer, it might have been just business. (FYI, the reason they know that she used to race is that they found her in their garage and she was tagged.) So sometimes when she’s on my hand, she shakes like crazy. And where Clem is all about the head pets, he’ll bite you (his version, of course) if you pet him on the back. I’m working on petting more and more of his back and have been told by my client that I can get farther than they have been able to when she watched me one time. With Noelle, I can actually pick her up by her body and she doesn’t mind back pets at all. One thing I discovered in my first set of visits to the house was that if we sat out in the living room on the couch, when she got spooked and flew around the room that if I held my hand high in the air, that she’d land on me again. She will climb all over me a lot like Clementine will do. We’ve been having less interaction with Mai-Tai around which is bumming me out but I am thrilled that she is actually is out so it’s hard to get frustrated about it.
Both birds have strong personalities, but with Noelle’s size, she’s capable of bringing more to the table. Clem can talk the talk all he wants but when it comes down to it, he’s about 4 inches long not including his tail feathers. And he only has a couple of them. The other morning, when I was putting Noelle back in her cage, she decided that she was in fact, not going back in. So, she spread out her wings and made herself too big to fit through the substantial cage door. Then she’d jump back on me, then run down my back and stay just out of reach of my hands. Smart lady! We repeated this for about five minutes and she’d alternate between puffing herself out, pecking at me, and dodging me. I thought it was hilarious.
Her coup d’etat was when I cleaned her cage. I was so proud of myself because I used all sorts of folding techniques that would make the newspapers a more unified front. I came up with a cleaning schedule that would include the day of my client’s return so that they would see just what a power house I am in terms of organizational pet area cleaning. I was completely ready for my title of “awesome”. I went into the other room and had my encounter with Mai-Tai and returned twenty minutes later to put Noelle back in her cage. Twenty minutes later!
Are you KIDDING me???
And there she was, in all her beauty on the top of the cage, going, “Yeah, I did it. What are YOU going to do about it?”
Oh well. Cleaning dreams shattered. Now I just have to figure out a way of having Noelle in the room without Mai-Tai running for cover at the sound of her wings. I’m up for a good challenge though.