So we got a bird...
(and pineapple upside down cake for paid subscribers!)
I was struggling to think of a recipe or a hot kitchen tip to share with you this week and then I remembered that, for better or worse, I don’t have an editor here and I can write about whatever I want.
So this week, I’d like to tell you about our bird.
If you’re sad this week’s newsletter isn’t about food, I have included my recipe for pineapple upside down cake at the bottom of this newsletter for paid subscribers!! It’s SO EASY TO MAKE. You just need one bowl — no special mixer or anything. We made it in my class this past weekend and it was such a hit.
Back to our bird. He is a small parrot, a Meyer’s parrot to be exact. His name is Papaguy (he came with his name; we think it is a version of ‘papagei,’ the German word for parrot). He weighs 112 grams. We thought he was thirteen when he joined our family, but it turns out he is actually twenty-seven years old. We now call him Grandpapaguy. His big back feathers are gray, his chest feathers are a brilliant green, and he has bright blue feathers on his back under the gray ones. We only see those feathers when he lifts up his wings and shows them to us. He has yellow feathers on his head, right above his beak, and he has orange eyes. He has the tiniest eyelashes.
Here he is standing on a lampshade:
He came into our home a couple of months ago, but he came into my spouse Grace’s life over a year ago.
Grace started volunteering at Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation facility that helps injured, ill, and orphaned animals return to the wild. Ravensbeard is most well known for taking in Rocky the Owl, the tiny Saw-whet owl who was found in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree in 2020 (see here). Ellen, who runs Ravensbeard, was able to get Rocky strong enough to be released back into the wild.
Grace loves animals, birds being just one type of animal. Helping to take care of animals who need help brings out Grace’s curiosity, tenderness, and scrappiness. One day I went with Grace to the center to see what it was they did there. I watched Grace feed mice to a bunch of vultures. I watched Grace walk into cages with huge owls and other raptors. It is really cool to see the person you love the most do things you would never do yourself.
Papaguy started his life in a woman’s home where he lived in a cage for many years and then that woman moved to a retirement facility and asked Ravensbeard to take him. He then lived in a cage at Ravensbeard for years. Grace was told that he was very aggressive and to steer clear.
I am not sure of how the following happened, but one day when Grace was at Ravensbeard, Papaguy got out of his cage. He landed on Grace and stayed there. He was sweet with Grace and Grace was not afraid of him and was sweet back to him. They fell into a routine, Grace and Papaguy, and Grace would let him out of his cage whenever Grace was there. They became friends.
A few months ago Grace’s school and work schedule became much busier, and this happened right as Ravensbeard moved locations to somewhere further away from where we live. This all meant driving a far distance once or more a week to volunteer became unsustainable for Grace. So Grace asked if Papaguy could come live at our house since Grace was really Papaguy’s best friend and Papaguy living at our house meant that Grace could continue to get all of the great feelings Grace got from taking care of birds on a daily basis.
So Papaguy came to live with us.
The thing is, I was terrified of him. The first time I meant him he bit me. Hard! It really hurt. And while I love all dogs and have lucked out with our cat Leo and our late cat Turk (may he rest in peace), I am not a quote-unquote bird person. To me, Papaguy is a small dinosaur. He seems like he’s from another time, another world really. I felt like I really did not understand him, nor did I have a big desire to understand him. He was here for Grace. We had that in common. There seemed to be a silent truce.
Grace assured me I would not have to take care of him or even get close to him. He would live in our guest room and it would be great if I visited every so often so that he wasn’t attached only to Grace. I had no problem with this. I thought of him as a fish. I could visit the fish tank, no problem. I did not have to get in the water.
This was our plan. But, like most plans, it fell apart. We quickly found out that if Grace was not in the guest room with him when he was awake, he would screech. Loudly. Continuously.
So he started spending daytime hours with us. At first he’d either be out of his cage with just Grace, or he’d be in a cage that we put in our living room. That way he could be with us (us being not just Grace and me, but also our two dogs Hope and Winky, and Leo, our cat) without any of us threatening him or him threatening us. Winky, for example, doesn’t think of him as a small dinosaur, but as a tiny chicken. Which, for a dog, is very tempting.
The road to integration was not linear. Grace and I had some tense conversations. Winky barked so much as if she was pleading with us. “Does anyone else realize there’s a bird IN THE HOUSE?!” I imagined she was saying.
Something changed for me, though, when I found out that he was twenty-seven. This was discovered by an avian veterinarian who came to do a house call and looked up the records corresponding to the number on the tiny band that circles one of Papaguy’s legs that was put there when he was first bred. I think of it as his anklet. I have seen a range of ages on the internet, but it seems the average life expectancy for Meyer’s parrots is about twenty-five years. So he has already exceeded that. I realized that not only is he an old man, he has also lived mostly in a cage for nearly three decades. We are able to offer him freedom. And adjusting to that is probably nerve-wracking. His world is so much bigger than it used to be. That is so much to get used to.
I realized the times he had bitten me were because he was terrified, not because I was.
Our bond was also helped by the fact that he really likes me. I am a Leo and I think Papaguy knows that. He often makes me the center of his attention and I am powerless to that move.
Papaguy looks for tall spots to land when he is scared. He is often scared and the tallest spot in any room I am in is the top of my head. So that’s where he started landing when I was around. At first this scared me. What is he doing up there? But then I realized he was just feeling safe. That’s all he was doing up there. Grace told me I am his safest tree. I really like this job title.
Papaguy has a wonderful schedule. Our guest room is now his room so, first of all, he has his own room. This room contains his spacious sleeping cage where he sleeps for approximately fifteen hours every night. Yes, you read that correctly. He goes to bed around 5:30pm every evening and we don’t wake him up until about 8:30am in the morning. For his bedtime, Grace has developed a very smart routine that involves bringing him into his room, closing the window shades, and then playing a YouTube video of another parrot grinding his beak, which is a thing parrots do when they’re sleepy. Akin to grinding ones’ teeth, some birds grind the top and bottom of their beak together, but instead of communicating stress, it is a way to wind down and express comfort. It is the equivalent of a cat purring. Hearing another bird do this puts him straight to sleep and he takes himself into his cage. We shut the little door and cover the cage with a blanket. He sleeps standing with his head tucked into his body. There is an air purifier in his room and we also put on a sound machine. It is a five star experience.
To wake him up, we uncover the cage and open the window shades. I have recently started waking him up some mornings and he makes very cute sounds when he first gets up. I think of him as an old man clearing his throat, which I guess is exactly what he is. I am still scared of putting him on my hand so I use the handle of a wooden spoon as an extension of my hand and he climbs on that and then I bring him to my shoulder. He climbs on my shoulder and then we walk down the hallway and down the stairs, a parade of two.
He then spends the day between being out and about in our house and his living room cage which holds his water and food. The door to that is almost always open now except if both Grace and I have to do something outside of our home. He has perches everywhere, just like our dogs have multiple dog beds. Grace makes him batches of birdie bread, which comes as a dry mix, almost like a cake mix, which Grace combines with an egg, applesauce, and baking powder and bakes in a big slab which we break apart and give him pieces of. Grace also makes him something called ‘chop’ which is a finely chopped mixture of fresh fruit, vegetables, and cooked grains like rice or quinoa. He also gets lots of seeds and pieces of most things we’re eating. He loves a sweet carb because he is not an idiot. He loves bread of all kinds, including cornbread. He loves a cracker. He even enjoys matzo which makes his Jewish mother (me) happy. I play a fun game of “is it granola or is it bird food?” when I go to our pantry to get something to put on my yogurt.
Papaguy is very expressive and quite funny. He makes all sorts of squeaky sounds and raises his wings and wiggles his neck. He loves to walk across our desks and kitchen counters and he looks like a bird on a mission. He loves when we open a drawer, any drawer!, because he wants to make them his nests. He tries to get into drawers and we try to get him not to. It’s another fun game we play. He loves to bathe in a shallow bowl of water and then preen himself as he air-dries. It seems he completely loves and accepts his body. He is very affectionate. He loves to drop his head down on any surface, his beak making an audible bang, to indicate that he wants his head scratched. I love scratching his head. It is so soft and feels so fragile. Whenever I scratch his head, I am reminded just how small he is under all of those feathers. How delicate he is. Bird bones, I have learned, are hollow.
Every moment with Papaguy reminds me how impossible it seems that he is here with us. He reminds me that I can become comfortable with things I was previously scared of. He reminds me that plans are great to make, but okay to abandon. He reminds me that life with Grace is an endless adventure that regularly invites me into experiences I would never otherwise have. If this makes me a bird person, so be it.
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