Suddenly we have extended night warmth into late September, leading to pollinators stockpiling pollen all day long from the fall blossoms around the farm. Hoping this will mean the honeybees all have a safe winter. We don’t keep bees, but we do have quite a few humming around the land here. I intended to make a “Honey Cow” hive this year but never got around to it, that’s ok, but I do aspire to it at some point, maybe next year.
Here’s little piece I’m working on, examining my life with birds.
“Oh Blackbird please come down to me, you have something I wish to see. My pockets never seem to show, yours are all red with gold below.”
– a song my mom used to sing when the redwing blackbirds appeared in the spring
Birds of all sorts have been flying in and out of my life since my adolescence. It all started with one little baby-blue colored parakeet named Lily. My initial teenager foray into avian adventures with pet birds indirectly led me to my current scenario of being a small scale farmer tending a flock of over 1,000 ducks, as well as geese, chickens and turkeys.
I grew up on a hobby farm in South Dakota as a little girl, a truly beautiful childhood full of wildness and adventures. In the 80’s though, my dad couldn’t find steady-enough employment in the rural countryside to support the family, so we moved to the Twin Cities and lived in a series of suburban apartments. Though we had left South Dakota when I was just 7, I never forgot one of my favorite parts of the country; Smokey, my sweet smelling grey pony. No matter how much I wanted to move back to the country though, it was just not feasible for our family. Once it was apparent that my horsey-dreams would not be coming true again, like any other youngster, I found a new obsession; pet birds.
Parakeets were my gateway drug to the avian world. As a 12 year old, I fixated on getting one, pouring over all the library books I could find on the subject of pet birds. Under my sheets in bed with a flashlight, I stayed up way too late researching cages, breeds, behavior, feeding, colors, wing trimming and bird toys while I saved up all the money I made doing babysitting jobs in our apartment building. Finally the day came, and with my parents’ relieved-I’d-given-up-on-ponies blessing, we went to our favorite pet store (nearly every Saturday we toured pet shops with my Dad.) My sister and I stared through the window at the rows of caged birds, and I picked out a pretty female parakeet who’s feathers were blue with black striations. She fit the name I had already picked for her, Lily.
Lily was not too keen on having been chosen, with what must have seemed like a huge monster with large flesh colored branch-like fingers reaching into her cage at the pet store. She fluttered amongst the chaos of her panicked cagemates, flying from side to side, clinging to the metal bars and then sliding down. My heart raced. Eventually the pet shop owner grasped her then made sure she was the one I wanted, and then showed us how to trim the flight feathers so that she wouldn’t accidentally fly out a window. I had studied this in book, so to see him so deftly clip the feathers made me nervous- would she get hurt? He placed her in a cardboard box with air holes punched out on the sides. How I had longed for this day, when I would be the one leaving the pet shop with a little box that said “live animals inside” clutched to my chest. I remember Lily nibbling on my finger tips through the air holes on the ride home.
She turned out to be very affectionate and smart, a perfect companion pet, that unlike a pony, fit in an apartment. Soon I wanted a friend for Lily, and the bedroom my sister and I shared slowly filled with more cages and more birds, and eventually after we moved from our apartment into a house, our new bedroom soon sported a ramshackle aviary my Dad built us for the growing flock of keets. I branched into cockatiels, who got along very well with the parakeets. I remember feeling so much pride when Lily and her new budgie partner made a nest and she succeeded in hatching out her first clutch of baby parakeets. They were so naked and so tiny, but Lily did a wonderful job regurgitating food for them, and the 4 babies all survived and thrived into adulthood. My flock was multiplying!
Still I wanted more and kept reading and researching, feeling eager and ready to dive into the larger parrot world. My first parrot was a little Senegal parrot who I named Sysco (after seeing this on food trucks, I liked the unique spelling, how silly.) Sysco, who’d been handfed as a baby, identified with humans and bonded to me- a whole other type of bird experience. She became much more attached to me than lily had, shrieking with a high pitched whistle/scream when I left the room. After school and at night she was attentive and cuddly, snuggling alongside my neck as I read as much bird material as I could get my hands on. My sights were set on more parrots. I had outgrown my parakeet obsession, and the next parrot I had in mind was a Pionus. They were said to be quiet and shy, yet intelligent parrots, a small to medium size- not as intimidating as a big macaw or cockatoo.
I ended up getting a job at an exotic bird specialty shop when I was just 14, after I purchased a baby Pionus parrot from the owner. She had been so impressed with my enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of all things bird that she offered me a part-time job, as long as my parents were ok with it. Oh my goodness the thrill of this- being surrounded by hundreds of beautiful parrots, cleaning the cages out, chopping up their veggies and fruits, engaging with potential parrot-parents, working in an entirely adult atmosphere, and finally being trusted enough to learn about handfeeding the expensive baby cockatoos, macaws, amazons and eclectus parrots. There was something about the baby macaws that really called to me, their giant beak-jowls, their jumbly movements and jerks towards the feeding syringe. The absolutely adorable way their head feathers would raise up in pleasure when you scratched their chin.
Sylvester, my Pionus parrot, was not what I had hoped he’d be- he was beyond shy and turned out rather neurotic, entering my world saying “who are you, you are not my mom” even though I’d raised him up as a baby. More research verified my findings, these were not the best type of wild parrot species to keep as a pet, even if they were handfed by humans from the start, they just were a bit too nervous and flock oriented to be kept as a single pet. Sylvester had a big flock of other birds around him, but he pined for one of his own. My sights kept getting set further, on the most ideal parrot in my mind- a macaw. Macaws were enormous, intelligent, gregarious, affectionate, playful, loud and adorable. I wanted one. They were extremely expensive for a 16 year old, but nonetheless, I managed to save up not only the $1200 needed to buy my baby redwing macaw, but also another $400 for her enormous hard-core cage. The original store I had been working at closed as the two owners parted ways, but the original owner delivered me my baby macaw at my family’s house after all that went down. Valentyne arrived as a giant 6 week old pinfeathered dinosaur looking chick, full of awkward noises and movements, as well as bottom-less hunger.