Anybody who's read any of my tales of a 'too knows that cockatoos are not for the faint of heart, or for anyone who likes their sense of hearing intact, or likes their woodwork the way the builder installed it instead of customized with beak marks, but doggone it, there are compensations.
For a parrot who has been through heaven only knows how many homes, and most of them probably horrible homes at that, Rocky has bounced back and become a happy, bossy and affectionate part of the family. He has this way of opening his beak slightly and giving me this limpid, wide-eyed stare like I just said the most amazing thing he's ever heard. I can kiss his beak or his forehead or his cheek and have no fear of a chomp. Trust me, I have Quakers. I'm used to getting chomped. Clyde will demand head scritches and then chomp me for obeying. So I stop, and I get chomped for stopping. Sometimes I get chomped when I haven't even done anything or failed to do a thing. Wanna see the scar on my lip from the time he chomped me for saying “I love you” to him???
Not that Rocky doesn't chomp, but he's careful. He doesn't break the skin. It smarts, and bruises, but doesn't maim. And he doesn't even do that very often. He gives me warning when he's upset or startled – that crest is VERY handy! – but for the most part, I can do anything and he just … lets me. I can preen pinfeathers. I can examine his feet. I can inspect his wings and feel his keel bone to make sure he isn't getting too fat or losing too much weight. I can – wait for it – look at his EAR HOLES. Good grief, if I tried that with any of the other birds I'd need stitches.
I'm not sure how much of this is normal for a 'too and how much is just that he's become so relaxed and at home that he knows if I do a thing, it's not a threat or dangerous and won't hurt. He's the only 'too I know, so I have nothing to compare him to except the other birds, notably Clyde, who is the one I've had longest, the bossiest, and the one we all voted Most Likely to Chomp.
If I do something Rocky doesn't like or that is uncomfortable (bumping a pinfeather that is fresh and sensitive, for example), he makes a sound that I've learned to recognize and pulls away. No chomp. No lunge. Just the 'too equivalent of “ouch.” I reached up to pet him on his play stand a few days ago, and he turned his body just as I did that, so I bumped against his tail. Reflexes kicked in, and up went the crest, out came the wings and he struck like a cobra – except, at the very last moment, he realized it was me and he only grabbed, he didn't chomp. And he looked embarrassed for even doing that. I petted his head and kissed his beak and it was fine. Once in a while, I reach out to stroke his head and he cringes away, as if he expects a blow. He momentarily forgets where he is and reacts from his bad memories, but then he realizes it's me and not one of “them.”
He has days when he's “beaky,” as I call it. He nibbles and pinches and, for fear of something startling him at an inconvenient moment, I discourage beak exploration. He even knows what “beaky” means, so if I say to him, as I did yesterday, “You're being too beaky, cut it out,” he will stop and look at me with that expression of wounded innocence that so clearly says, “Sheesh, I didn't BITE you, did I?” No, but I don't want you to bite me, either.
When he's sleepy and snuggles up with his head under my chin and his eyelids get heavy and I start rocking him to sleep, he mutters and grunts and says things in 'Too and sometimes in English. On very, very good days, he'll look up at me and say, “I wuv oooh!” I have no doubt that he knows exactly what he's saying.
When he's snuggling and not yet sleepy, he holds my hand with his foot. It's different from just standing on me and using my arm for a perch. He wraps his toes around my finger and squeezes exactly like a human holding hands. He's not using that foot for balance or putting weight on it. He just wants to hold hands. When I leave for work in the morning, he scrambles onto his play stand, which is in front of the window that looks out on the driveway, and mournfully watches me get into the car and leave. He knows that when I get my keys and purse, I'm leaving, and he seems to know the difference between going to the store and going to work, and that going to work means I'm going to be gone for hours and hours.
He has recently developed a fascination with helping me wear my clothes. If he can work his head into the collar of my shirt, he'll crawl in there up to his wings and just hang out, grinding his beak, leaving me with half a 'too under my chin and the other half in my shirt sleeve. I have no idea what he thinks he's doing. And he does not want to be removed. We've had actual arguments (Me: “Rocky, Mommy's gotta go to the bathroom/answer the phone/see what Jade is shrieking about.” Rocky: digs talons into my shirt and hangs on for dear life and squawks 'too cuss words as I try to pry him out of my clothes). If I try to prevent him from tunneling into my shirt, I have a very annoyed 'too who threatens to use that beak for the Viking killing tool it is – though of course, he doesn't actually do so. He just threatens to. And the battle tends to make me laugh, which makes him laugh, which probably makes him think this is an activity we should partake of regularly.
Even when I get annoyed at him, and I do, let's face facts, I think of how we're all he's got, and how it might have been years and years since he had people who cared about him. His insecurity is why he screams after me when I leave the room, and why he clambers down off his cage to toddle after me when I go into the kitchen, and why he peers through the window when I get in the car to go to work.