21 years down, sixty-plus still to go??! Hard to believe, but Jerry Parrot celebrated her 21st birthday….or hatchday….this month, a day that was marked with a little bit of ankle biting, a few swear words, some manic playing with an empty vitamins bottle and plenty of tuneless whistling (all her, not me, I hasten to add, though the ankles, of course, were mine). It was a day just like the 7,665 that have led up to this momentous occasion, for such is the reality of owning a parrot, or at least owning a parrot like Jerry.
If I knew then…
As with so many things, if I had known 21 years ago what I know now, I’m fairly certain I would never have agreed to bringing a parrot into my life. Yes, it definitely wasn’t my decision….but that’s by the by: given the chance to get rid of her now, I simply couldn’t do it. How quiet the house would become! And despite all the challenges that arise from sharing your life with a parrot, the joy and laughs inevitably outweigh the endless mopping up of poop that comes with parrot ownership. (Who knew that teaching the bird to cry “toilet on my cage” would, 21 years later, still not result in the corresponding desired action? I’m clearly no Dr Pepperberg and Jerry is no Alex – but more of that later. The truth is, Jerry will shout “toilet on my cage”, crap on the floor, turn round to check her work, and then waddle off tutting “Oh Jerry, bad parrot”.)
Love is a fickle thing…
It’s been 21 years of such highs and lows. The highs have come relatively recently as, forced to spend all her time with me, Jerry has finally succumbed to my feminine charms and now allows herself to be stroked and tickled by me (as opposed to trying to bite my face off, as was her habit in the early days). She will happily watch TV with me at night, settling down quite contentedly on my hand. Mind you, I still have to know my place in the pecking order. When my partner is in the house, she will abandon me without a second glance and devotedly follow him wherever he goes, tapping impatiently at the bathroom door if he has the nerve to go to the loo without letting her in.
The lows of parrot ownership, I suppose, are knowing that you’ll never again have that pristine show-home you always promised yourself. If it’s not the chewed edges, ledges, books and anything else she can get her beak on, it’s the fine white dust or clumps of down being spread from her endless preening. Or maybe it’s the spray of food up your walls as she tucks into a good meal. Really, watch how they eat. Everything has to be “peeled” first, meaning that much of their food ends up discarded on the floor (deliberately, and even in the wild apparently). Couple that with the devil-may-care head-shaking as they eat and suddenly your kitchen walls have been painted spag-bol red.
Didn’t know parrots eat spaghetti bolognese? Oh but they do. In fact, they eat whatever you eat, whenever you eat it. Porridge. Toast. Sushi. (But Jerry will only have salmon, not tuna, thank you very much.) Feeding time has become a bit like I imagine prison feeding time to be. You hunch over your plate and eat as quickly as you can before the bird has a chance to get her beak in and steal all the best bits.
Jerry is not shy about asking for her preferred dishes either. Calls for ‘cheese on toast’, ‘rice for lunch’, ‘pasta’, ‘Chinese for lunch’ start ringing out about an hour before mealtimes. Sometimes I have been stupid enough to rethink meal plans based purely on those calls, only to serve it up and find she has changed her mind since then. More fool me, I guess.
It’s only words…
But after so long of having a pet that actually talks to me, it would seem unnatural to have one that didn’t. Speech can often be random, I’ll grant you, and invariably occurs when you’d rather she was quiet. Running a home office with her is challenging to say the least, especially as she starts holding her own very loud phone conversation (complete with built-in pauses and chuckles) as soon as she sees you reach for the telephone.
But despite the haphazard cacophony of parrot-speak, a few phrases will be chosen appropriately, thus proving that the ability to communicate with parrots is real. She tells me when she wants to go to bed, for instance, whether she’s thirsty or wants fruit. I realise that leaves her woefully behind Alex, the famous African Grey who learned how to identify colours, shapes and numbers as well as generating questions and learning how to spell. (Check out Alex on YouTube.) In fact, with Alex in mind, I thought during lockdown, with all that extra time on my hands, I would teach Jerry to count to five. Sadly, I gave up long before she did, which leaves me woefully behind Dr Irene Pepperberg, Alex’s trainer and renowned animal psychologist. Turns out, like everything else, you have to really work hard at it to make a difference.
Key of the Door
So 21 years have been and gone. She now officially has the key to the door, not that she needs it. I once came home from work to find she had let herself out of her cage and was sitting waiting for me on top of the TV.
I guess barring getting herself a driving licence and taking a drunken holiday in Ayia Napa, her only remaining rite of passage is to find a mate.
NAME Jerry Parrot
LIKES Cheese on toast
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