As much as I love birds, particularly my Sweet Robin (yes, I am still completely obsessed with him), I prefer them as wildlife, outside, not inside as pets. This is primarily because I have a real phobia of anything that flutters close to me and I’m not talking just about birds here but also butterflies and particularly moths, which I just can’t abide.
How many times have I gone to bed, my children safely tucked up in theirs, safe and sound, only for them to be awoken by their fear-stricken mother calling out for help? Never mind the late hour. Son Number 1 (let’s just call him My Knight In Shining Armour and be done with it) has many – happy? – memories of being summoned in such a way and rising to the challenge of removing the offending thing (I’m talking about moths here, not birds, in case you were wondering) with the furry, pulsing body and vibrating wings from the ceiling or the wall by setting it free outside. I have chills just writing about it.
The other reason that I’m not keen on having a bird as a pet is that my limited foray into bird ownership has not been successful, putting it mildly. Neither has my experience of other people’s pet birds.
Growing up, my family once owned a very sweet canary who we named ‘Fluffbum’. Fluffbum was well, yellow and fluffy. We kept him in our farmhouse kitchen but oneday fumes escaped from the coal-fuelled Aga and finished him off. It’s a wonder they didn’t do the same to us actually, come to think of it. Anyway, that was the end of Fluffbum.
Many years later, my ex-husband once had the bright idea of purchasing a few Zebra Finches which he kept in a huge cage in our bedroom. They were cute, I’ll grant you that, but they bred a little too successfully for my liking and their interminable squeaking (like rusty springs in need of a good dose of 3-in-1 oil) drove me to distraction. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we discovered that the birdseed we fed them with harboured moth eggs which hatched into hundreds of tiny moths which of course invaded our home.
They had to go. We exchanged them at the local pet store for a pair of African Lovebirds. Again, I wasn’t overly keen but they were beautiful and certainly much quieter. Unfortunately, the female died after only a few weeks and the male, broken-hearted, followed suit very quickly after that.
So you can see what I mean.
My experiences with pet birds didn’t end there, however. Some years ago, while living in America, I did some temping work. One such job called for an ‘assistant’ to answer phones and do paperwork for a lady who ran her own business out of her home. It sounded like a cushy little number and it was only for a couple of weeks which suited me fine.
On my first day, I arrived at her beautiful home, sitting as it did on several acres of prime Californian land in the middle of nowhere and was greeted by a friendly young woman. Ushered inside to her kitchen (which looked like something straight out of the pages of ‘Better Homes & Gardens’) she offered me coffee and we had a little chat. So far so good.
She led the way upstairs to the ‘loft’ where the office was and from where I would be working. The first thing I noticed wasn’t the decor but the four, white cockatiels hopping and yes, flying about the room. This is where it all went horribly wrong.
I think that my face must have said it all. “Oh, don’t worry!” she said breezily, “They won’t bother you. If they get in your way or fly onto the desk just shoo them away!” Fly on the desk? Shoo them away? You’ve got to be kidding?
After a two second explanation of what it was I was actually supposed to be doing, she then announced that she would be going out to “run some errands.” Oh, and not to worry if I heard someone coming upstairs, because it would just be her boyfriend who was working out in the ‘gym’ downstairs and would be taking a shower. In the bathroom. Right next to where I was working.
Oh, that’s alright then.
So there I was, alone in this show house, with ‘the boyfriend’ and not one, but four cockatiels. The minute she left they knew. That was it. Up on the desk they flew, one, then the other, pecking at everything in sight, the telephone cable, the pens, me. They wouldn’t go away. The telephone rang. It was chaos, a conspiracy. I wanted to jump out of the window and flee, or should I say, fly away.
When she sauntered in some couple of hours later asking how it was going, she must have noticed something wasn’t right (perhaps it was the fact that I couldn’t speak?) She laughed and said something like, “Oh, are they bothering you? I’ll put them back!”
She then proceeded to tell me all about her sex life.
Dear reader, I did not return to her house ever again and told the temp agency where they could put their ‘job’.
All this came to mind recently as the other day I had another bird ‘encounter’, although not in quite the same way. This time it involved a flock of starlings.
You may recall in my post ‘Robin Feed & A Cute Little Chiffchaff‘ that I mentioned my discovery of some excellent robin food at our local cut price family store. It lived up to its guarantee alright, my Sweet Robin returned time and time again, getting plumper by the day.
Unfortunately, when it ran out I wasn’t able to get into town right away, so as a temporary measure, I replaced it with another kind of bird feed from a different store. It was more expensive but it was good stuff. So good that I think just about every bird in the Kingdom came from near and far just to sample it. Including a flock of bully boys, otherwise known as starlings. Talk about ‘The Boys are Back in Town”.
My poor robin didn’t get a look in. I would hear them first. It was like a great, black wind blowing in from the East, the sky would turn black as thunder and there they would be, groups of them keeping guard while those within their ravenous, vicious little circle devoured the bird feed. Staring at them in horror from the kitchen window I knew that I had to do something.
Rushing outside, my faithful black cat Eddie by my side, I first of all shouted at them to go away. Nothing. Then I clapped my hands while making strange ‘whooshing’ sounds. Still nothing. I even tried rushing at them, flailing my arms like some kind of crazy lady. They did not move. What kind of starlings are they for heaven’s sake? Where do they come from? What must my neighbours think?
They carried on eating, the poor feeder heaving from side to side. How it didn’t break I don’t know. The ‘guards’ stood their ground, and I’m sure that one of them told me to ‘eff’ off.
One in particular stared at me with his black, beady little eye as if sizing me up. I stopped in my tracks and stared back. The mayhem continued all around us, the tensions rose, it was a stand-off. My trusty steed (sorry, I mean cat) crouched low but did absolutely nothing (I should say here that I in no way condone my cat hunting birds but he could have at least pretended and looked somewhat menacing instead of hiding under a bush).
One false move and I would have been like Tippi Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, screaming and running down the road, with devil birds in my hair trying to peck my eyes out.
At last, satiated, they took off, leaving the bird feeder swinging wildly in the tree. This continued for days, I couldn’t stop it.
They took it all.
“My poor Sweet Robin!” I wailed.
Finally, I had a chance to get into town and headed straight to the store with the ‘proper’ robin food. Whilst there, I had a lovely chat with a very nice man who saw me grab a bag off the shelf and started asking me if the birds liked it. He too had a live-in robin and he too had been stunned into shock by the ravenous, bullying starlings. I was so proud that I was able to help the nice man with his purchase. I should get a commission.
This little story ends on a good note. The original feed is back in the feeders and my Sweet Robin and his wife have returned, order has been restored. No more sign of the starlings. My daughter has told me off, telling me that even the starlings have a right to eat and that I shouldn’t be ‘so mean to them’. Well, she is probably right. I do not wish any harm to them (although I ‘m sure the same can’t be said of them about me) and I’m more than happy for them to eat all the food they can get and need.
Just not in my back yard.