OUR BIRDS – May 2021
Let’s talk about birds. Yes, I said birds. Last month when I was preparing to post my monthly blog, a drama unfolded in our home. Our bird, Skipper, a female, pied cockatiel was having trouble laying an egg. That’s her above. I noticed her in an awkward position on her perch with her butt up in the air straining to pass the egg inside her. The other indication was the lack of fresh poop on the floor of her cage—she was constipated.
We lost her partner, Rosie, a female albino cockatiel (white and yellow) when the same thing happened to her. That’s her below. That happened a few years ago. We felt so helpless. We were out for the evening. When we came home Rosie was crunched up in a corner of her cage. Her eyes were squinty and she was barely lucid. We figured the egg would come out by morning but when I uncovered their cage the next morning, Skipper squawked as though something was wrong. Rosie was no longer with us. When I opened the cage to remove her already stiff form, her claws were still gripping the newspaper under her, an indication that she was probably in pain. It was heartbreaking. We loved her so much. She was so sweet, unlike Skipper who could be distant and ornery.
Skipper had laid many eggs. Sometimes as many as six over a one to three-week period. Then she would try to sit on all of them. It was quite humorous to watch her trying to wrangle them all under her. We learned to take the eggs away as soon as she laid one because it was too stressful for her. Rosie had laid a few eggs. One of them before that fatal one, she had trouble getting it out and she was constipated. When that egg finally came out, we thought, hope she doesn’t lay another one. She was not as strong as Skipper; she was smaller and a little on the frail side with this cute little bald spot on the top of her head.
After Rosie passed away, we took Skipper to the vet for a check-up. He said she was strong and healthy. That was a relief. He also said, “They are very good actors. They never let you know there is something wrong with them.”
So how did we get Skipper through this recent ordeal? We took her to the vet and he kept her there for the afternoon in a heated, humid cage. He took an X-ray and it showed an egg inside her. The doctor gave her a muscle relaxer and some vitamins and minerals. He told us she had malnutrition. She had stopped eating her bird food which was loaded with nutrients and would only eat millet, a seed, which she loves. We have since gotten her eating edamame, and Anita crushes her pellet food and mixes it with millet. We hope she’s improving.
We took her home that night, and on the vet’s advice, we continued the warm cage and humidity. The next morning, I found her in the corner of the cage sitting on the soft cloth I had placed there. I opened the cage and she was sitting on the egg. The next day she laid another one. We were so happy that she released them. See Skipper’s little eggs below next to a chicken egg.
This egg-laying usually occurs in the spring and fall when the days get longer in the spring and shorter in the fall. They have a hard time adjusting to the changes. They say it throws off their circadian rhythms. We’ve tried to keep them on the same wake-up and going-to-sleep schedule throughout the year, but I don’t think that system works too well. The other thing to point out is that the eggs are unfertilized. They would need a male bird to fertilize the egg. I guess it can be compared to a woman’s menstrual cycle.
We got Skipper and Rosie from a woman in Montrose, Colorado whose husband was retiring, and they were getting rid of most of their pets to enable them to travel more. She said, “Rosie was called Romeo until she laid an egg.” She thought Skipper was a male, too, thus the name Skipper. But Skipper is a captain of sorts because when Rosie was alive, Skipper bossed the sweet little thing around. When it was time to settle down for the night, she would round up Rosie. No matter what ladder Rosie was sitting on, Skipper would force her off the ladder onto the other ladder or another spot in their cage.
We had birds before Skipper and Rosie. One was a male and the other a female, which we thought was a male as well, until one night she was sitting on Anita’s shoulder when an egg rolled out of her. Our reaction was, “Natie is a girl!” We started calling her Natie Girl, but she never laid another egg. The picture below shows Sushi on the left and Natie on the right.
So how did we get started with Birds? I had found my first professional photographer to take actor headshots. Anita and I went to his house to get my proofs. He had two birds, a large white cockatoo that sat on a big wooden model biplane that hung from the ceiling. His other was a cute, little, albino cockatiel who would walk around outside. Anita fell in love with him.
That same year, 1983, Anita graduated from Columbia College in Hollywood with a degree in film. She was valedictorian, and I wrote her speech for the ceremony held at the Universal Sheraton. I bought her a cockatiel for a graduation present. My photographer had recommended a bird shop in Burbank. The bird and cage cost a mere forty-five dollars. We didn’t know if it was a boy or girl so we named him Sushi since we had recently been introduced to eating Japanese sushi.
Sushi had two great traits, he could fly and sing. He would fly around our two-story house upstairs and down. Singing was the other thing he did so well. If he really got going, he would produce a beautiful melody. He liked the color blue and had a blue and white checkered kitchen towel that he loved. If you waved it in front of him, he would just belt out his idea of a tune. Once when our friends were taking care of him, they got him going with the towel and he hyperventilated and collapsed. They panicked but he recovered quickly. Nevertheless, they rushed him to the vet where the actress Shelley Duvall’s dog stuck its snout by Sushi’s cage and scared the heck out of him.
I trained Sushi to come to me and became his main man. I felt bad about that because I had bought him for Anita, and he became more attached to me than her. We must have had him about ten years and decided he needed a new and bigger cage. We went to our favorite bird shop and while we were looking at cages, I noticed two sun conures outside of their cage. One was outgoing and climbed up my arm and sat on my shoulder. That day, we didn’t get a new cage for Sushi and came home, instead, with a sun conure.
It was around Christmas time, so we named the new bird Natale (Christmas in Italian) which remained until he laid the egg I mentioned earlier. She loved to chew the buttons on my shirt. It was always a point of contention so I wouldn’t let her sit on me. She found another sucker—Anita—and that resulted in her becoming more attached to Anita. She loved sitting on Anita every night before she went to bed. The downside to Natie was that she was very loud. We were at the bird store shortly after we got her, to buy Sushi that new cage, and some people were returning Natie’s partner because they said it was too loud.
Sushi never liked the new intruder but tolerated her. He was a pretty unique little guy. We used to say he had nine lives. He liked coming into the bathroom in the morning when we were getting ready for the day. He liked to sit on the top of our shower doors. One day, he fell into the shower where the water had backed up a little. We quickly got him out and he was a little shaken up. He flew to the electric wall heater and grabbed onto the metal grate. We had to pry him loose, and he fell into the toilet bowl. He managed to survive the incident unharmed, physically.
Another time, we had a big rainstorm that knocked out our telephone service. I had our front door open, and I was talking to our next-door neighbor who was trying to get someone out to restore our service when Sushi went flying out the door and kept spiraling upward. There was no ceiling to stop him until he wound up in our neighbor across the street’s pine tree. We tried a bunch of silly things to get him out, until our neighbor, Rich, came home and asked, “What’s going on?”
“Our bird’s up in your tree.”
“Oh! I’ll climb up and get him.” That’s what he did. When he got to the branch where Sushi was huffing and puffing. Rich said, “Oh, here he is. What should I do?”
Anita who was holding his small travel cage down below, said, “Nothing, he’ll come over to you.”
And Sushi hopped along the large branch and flew onto Rich’s shoulder. Rich got about halfway down, and Sushi saw Anita and flew to her. She quickly put him in his cage. Following that, we took him to have his wings clipped so he couldn’t fly. But it changed his personality so much we never had them clipped again. We were very careful after that whenever he was out of his cage. He loved people, especially tall ones, he would fly onto their shoulders and would usually freak them out it they weren’t used to pet birds flying to them.
We moved to Colorado in 1998 and drove from L.A. to our new home with the two birds. I had found a Hilton Hotel where we could bring the birds for our one-night stay on the road. We told them we had a loud bird, and they gave us a room at the end of the hall. When the room service guy delivered our dinner, he said, “I heard them all the way down the hall.”
Their travel cages sat on one of the two beds and when we covered them for the night they settled down. The day and a half car trip wore on them. When we got about an hour from our final destination, they were fed up with riding in the car and vocally let us know about it. Our new home was in the mountains at 9200 feet elevation. Probably not the best place for little exotic birds. They never really liked looking out at the snow in the winter.
Nevertheless, Sushi lived to twenty-five. We had a birthday party for his twenty-fifth birthday. Our friends came over with their much larger parrot for the party. Natie Girl missed Sushi when he was gone. When we would say, “Say night, night to Sushi,” she would make a kissing sound.
Unfortunately, Natie Girl who we thought would live to at least thirty passed away suddenly at seventeen. We were on our way home from a trip. We called our friend to tell her we stopped for lunch and would be there real soon to pick up Natie. Our friend told Natie we were on our way and as she prepared her to go home the bird collapsed. Our friend called us to say Natie was unresponsive. We thought she would recover by the time we got there; she never did. Anita said, “She probably got so excited about going home, she had a heart attack.” Her passing shook our world. We lived without birds for the first time since 1983.
In retrospect, we loved all our birds. None of them talked We tried with Sushi but he wasn’t interested. We did think he would say, “What are you doing?” because that’s what we always said to him. Most people don’t know much about birds, but each one has a unique personality. Our birds have given us so much joy and unconditional love. We couldn’t ask for more.