I admit I'm a crazy bird lady. I have eight birds at present and recently lost a canary, who I bought at Petsmart because she was bald and on clearance. CLEARANCE. She only lived here for seven months, but I did my best by her.
So when I saw a cockatoo on the local Facebook rummage sale site (!!!!), I couldn't sit there and do nothing. I posted him on my FB page hoping a fellow crazy bird person would buy him. I didn't have the money myself. And a friend of mine did. I helped her go get him because his huge cage – at least someone had provided a proper cage somewhere along the way – was too big for her SUV. It took up the whole bed of my truck.
The home he was in was appalling. The food they fed him was worse. It looked like an extra-cheap mix you'd buy for wild birds, that is if you didn't mind feeding THEM junk. They said he was 12. Then they said he was 15. They said he'd been in six homes. I don't know if they were counting theirs.
My friend kept him for two days but her 2-year-old granddaughter couldn't be convinced that he isn't a plush toy and my friend was understandably worried about something awful happening. That beak is not to be trifled with. So she called me, said I could pay her off in installments, and begged me to take him.
Hubby and I discussed this at length before agreeing. He'd always wanted a “big” parrot. We have two Quakers, two tiels, a budgie, a pigeon and a starling. I told you I was crazy. The pigeon and the parrots share a bird-safe room with the washer and dryer and are out of their cages all day. However, Benjy the budgie thinks he's an eagle and has already come to grief several times with Jade, a Quaker who has her own sad story (for another time). I envisioned Rocky the 'Too making a snack of him. So Rocky had to live apart from the others. But … so does my starling, whose one unplanned foray into the parrots' sanctuary almost ended in disaster. Even my pigeon considered her an alien. She has her own room. Which left only the living room for Rocky, with the dogs. I was not at all sure that would work out. One reason for the birds' room is Jack, the mutt, who once pulled a couple of feathers out of my pigeon Maggie's tail before we confined the birds away from the dogs.
The bottom line is, we took him in. At first he was a total snuggle bug. He wanted to sit on us, as long as we didn't take him more than a few feet from his cage. That cage is the only constant in his life. He leaned against me and snuggled and wanted to be kissed and petted. I got him proper food and we cleaned up his cage, which didn't look as if anyone had done that for some time. I bought him toys. We discovered that he was terrified of things like TV trays and would run for cover if you picked up something to move it. I discovered a dent in the front of his cage, a heavy-duty California Cage that would take considerable force to dent. Somebody threw something heavy at that cage to do that.
To quote Hubby, that 'Too scream could “make your ears bleed.” It is like nothing you've ever heard. And nothing makes him stop screaming if he's in the mood. I suppose the dent was someone trying to make him stop screaming. Or he bit someone. And he could seriously damage a person if he wanted to. We've watched him turn pieces of 2x4 into splinters with no apparent effort. We respect The Beak. But we also know that parrots are noisy and you have to respect that, too.
After about three or four weeks of being affectionate and mostly nice, we were thinking all the horror stories of militant 'too behavior and scary bites were people who just didn't know how to live with a parrot … and then it happened.
Rocky discovered the courage to climb down to the floor and explore. At first this was okay. But then when Hubby tried to herd him back to his cage, Rocky became militant. We didn't know that was the wrong thing to do. Hubby tried to pick him up one day and Rocky grabbed his wrist with his beak and left a nasty wound that still isn't completely healed.
We thought we'd failed and that Rocky had rejected us and that we'd have to find him a new home. He was still okay with me, but we couldn't have him attacking Hubby, and every time he was out of his cage, unless I was right there, and sometimes even if I was, down he'd come and march across the room, wings and crest up, and go for Hubby. I have weird and long work hours and that meant that he had to be locked up unless I was home and available.
We searched for help everywhere. Kathy sent us a long email with specific instructions and showed us what we'd done wrong. Hubby studied that email and so did I and we stopped doing some wrong things and tried to do the right things. It still wasn't good, but it got a little better. Then the day came when Rocky bit me. ME! His person! Frankly, my feelings were hurt. With me it was more of a warning, like “I could hurt you if I wanted to.” But it hurt and it hurt for hours after he did it.
Now what? Do we give up? Do we send this poor creature to yet another new home? Kathy assured us that it was not the work of a day and that we were doing better than we thought we were. Just stick to the plan. Don't get flustered when he gets agitated; he can tell and then all is lost. Next time Rocky started showing off while on my arm, I laughed. I told him he was a good boy and a pretty bird. He beaked my hand. I told him he can't chew on Mama, that's rude.
Hubby started letting him out again when I wasn't here. He kept a stash of toys to offer to distract him when he went on the march. He didn't try to stop the march or pick him up. Things are better. I'm learning his body language. When he wants to go back to his cage, he will display in a mild way and do the car alarm, but not full volume. Eureka! That's what that means! Big display and big car alarm are a very upset 'too. Little display is a 'too who's had enough of Mama for the time being.
Okay, we can do this. The rules that Clyde the Quaker taught me don't all work on a 'too. Some do. Fluffy feathers mean he's happy and I can pet and kiss him. Slicked down feathers mean he's scared and a scared bird might bite something or somebody. Squeezing my arm with his feet means he doesn't like where we're going, stop. A soft “ooooh” means he wants a hug, and he snuggles into me and works his tongue.
The very first day we brought him home and I was holding him, he looked me in the eye and announced, “I'm Rocky Road!” I'm trying to teach him he's actually Rocky 'Too (I'm a fan of the Rocky movies and thought that was funny) and he understands that but hasn't said it yet. He says “hello” and “how are you” and “I wuv oooh” and some other things I don't understand yet. He chuckles and guffaws. He whistles. He still screams, mostly in the morning and when he wants to go to bed and we're too dull to notice that he wants to go to bed. After he's been covered a while, he starts talking softly and wants us to answer so he knows we're acknowledging how cute he is. He has enough toys for six parrots and an Easter basket for his favorite corner, where he can go to think and plan and ignore us when he's in the mood for Deep Thoughts.
We're trying. He's trying. Eventually, maybe it will all meld together. But he's here to stay, for better or worse.