A Cockatoo Truth

None of us get this right all the time. We are only human, and they are exotic Parrots.

A Cockatoo Truth

A lot of my stories about Rocky are pleasant, or have happy endings even if the beginning and/or middle are due to something we had to overcome.

But I don't want to mislead anyone about having a cockatoo, particularly a male, particularly an umbrella cockatoo with a troubled history who is sometimes darned near impossible to live with. It's not his fault. He's just being a parrot, a large, loud, probably should live in the wild with others of his kind parrot, who is stuck living in a not-very-large house with people and dogs and other birds who are not cockatoos.

So here is that unvarnished truth, written after a couple of days during which I wondered if the decision to bring him home was possibly the stupidest decision I've ever made, and believe me, I've made some stupid ones. I hesitated to even share this because it was born of shattered nerves and increasing frustration that will dissipate with time. Some of these things will remain for the duration of Rocky's life with us and we will handle them with more grace on some days and less on others.

We live on a dead-end road. Across from the house is an open field that was planted in corn or beans when I was a child, and across that field is an industrial park. Our neighbors on either side are not as close as they would be in a modern housing development, but they are definitely close enough to hear a screaming cockatoo, because you can hear him in the industrial park. I know. We walk our dog Jack every day and we can hear Rocky scream for a long, long way from the house. We don't have air conditioning, so our windows are open in the summer, but even in winter, you can hear Rocky that far away. My husband often expresses sympathy for the neighbors aloud. At least we chose to live with a banshee. They didn't get a vote. And one of them works nights so he's trying to sleep during the day. It's a wonder they don't call the cops or come over and punch us, or both.

Rocky screams when he wants attention. He screams when he sees the garbage truck. He screams when we both wander off and he can't see us. He screams when he wants us to get up in the morning. He screams when we put him to bed at night. He screams when Jack barks at people walking by. Sometimes we can't figure out WHY he's screaming. And it's loud. It's exceedingly loud. It's loud enough to make your ears hurt, give you a migraine, and make you, literally, crazy. And there is nothing, not one thing, we can do to make him stop. When Jack is barking, we can tell him to stop. Sometimes we have to tell him several times, but he does stop. Even the other parrots will stop squawking if I tell them to three or four times. Rocky will not stop until Rocky wants to stop. When he's having one of those days, nothing will satisfy him, when he is screaming off and on for seemingly no reason all day long. When I can't so much as go to the bathroom without setting off the screaming that actually makes my ears ring. The days when I wish I had never heard the word “cockatoo” and that he lived anywhere in the whole wide world except at my house.

I want my living room back. I want my life back. I want to spend time with the birds who were there before him, who deserve my time and attention, and who don't get enough of either one because Rocky is so demanding and loud when he doesn't get what he wants. He doesn't want to share. I can't spend time with him and then go play with the other birds or at least change their paper and refill water and food. The moment I'm out of sight, he starts screaming. He continues screaming until I come back. He doesn't care if they get any attention. He doesn't care if I'm mad at him. He doesn't care if every living being in the house wishes he were on the far side of the continent so we could have some peace and quiet and time that was not centered upon Rocky and HIS desires. All he cares about is Rocky.

And I get that. I do. He has spent much of his life being shoved from one home to another – at least as far as we know – and abused, and unloved, and having things thrown at his cage and someone must have hit him because he sometimes flinches when I reach out to pet him. Here he is loved, even if he drives me out of my mind. Here he is not hit and things are not thrown at him. He is fed the best food we can give him. His cage is clean. He has toys and a play stand and gets rocked to sleep at night.

For me to expect him to be a well-behaved and civilized creature when he's only known safety and security for a little more than a year is ridiculous. I know that. Even my cockatiel Freddie, who has lived with us since he was a wee baby birdie and couldn't possibly remember the neglect he endured in the breeder's hands six years ago, is far from well-behaved and civilized. He, too, is a parrot and he acts like a parrot. But at his loudest, he can't aspire to the decibels of a cockatoo, and as many bites as I am accustomed to receiving from six parrots (Ringo Starling only pecks and doesn't even do that often), they can't do the damage Rocky could do. I never know when Rocky's crest will go up and he'll fasten that giant beak to the softest spot of my arm and chomp. He knows exactly how hard to chomp so that it hurts like fury but doesn't break the skin. It just leaves giant bruises that make it look as if I've been in a brawl.

The little birds are so clingy when they do get a scrap of my time that it makes me feel even more guilty about how often they are ignored. They have to stay up later than they want to so I can squeeze in a few minutes with them after Rocky has gone to bed. The long hours of uninterrupted time with mama are gone. We can't watch movies together anymore. I scurry through the cleaning while a cacophony of screaming is making me want to scream, too, and I urge Clyde off my shoulder and onto a perch so I can go try to STOP THE SCREAMING. Jade was beginning to make little gestures of potential baby steps forward in the long and never-ending process of building a normal relationship, and that's gone now, because we haven't the time together that is needed to encourage it. Johnny, who has always been a gentleman tiel, affectionate and sweet, has begun to bite me, albeit gently, when I offer a finger for stepping up. He runs from me. He doesn't want his head scritched anymore and he used to love that.

I hate what we've become. I hate what I've done to my little birds, to my poor dogs' sensitive hearing, that I can't have a quiet evening, that I can't sleep late on days off, that I can't sit down in my own living room or even eat my supper in peace, because Rocky must be on my arm or he screams for me to come and get him, or he scrambles down to the floor and comes to get me, and the floor is no place for him with two dogs also on the floor.

And yet, when we took Rocky in, we promised him that he would not be sent away again to strangers, that we would be his home as long as we physically could provide one, hoping that will be the rest of Rocky's life. Recently a friend visited and brought her two kids, who wanted to see the birds. Rocky let her and her daughter stroke him, though he would not allow her son to, and all the while, he gave me these looks I could not interpret until he said to my friend, “I'm Rocky Road.”

The only time he's ever said that was his first day with us, when he introduced himself to me. I realized then that he thought they were there to take him away, and was introducing himself to the people he assumed were his new family. When they left without him, he was very clingy and affectionate the rest of the day. He does not feel safe and secure. He does not trust that this is his forever home. His love has been thrown back in his face so often that even more than a year since moving in with us, he can't believe he won't be handed off to strangers again, sooner or later.

And that's why, even after a bad few days like we've had with him, and the fact that at one point I was so frustrated that I told him I was going to call my friend who runs a rescue and send him away, Rocky is not going anywhere. I don't know what the answer is to the bad days, or how to squeeze more time with the little birds or fix any of it. I don't expect Rocky to change into a gentleman parrot or stop screaming. I often feel as if I should sell or give away the TV and videos I keep in the little birds' room and probably my piano and flute, too, because Rocky makes it impossible to use any of those things. I'm at a loss.

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