Birds of a Feather—My Memorable Experiences

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JACOB EMERSON

Without any prior experience in keeping animals, it came as a great surprise to my parents when I told them I wanted a bird. Hours of late night research left me considering such things as space, time, cost and pet potential and it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that I finally decided a Budgerigar would be the most ideal pet bird to begin with. The next day Mum and I set off to buy a baby budgie from a local breeder. I picked a little olive-green bird and named him Elmo.


Elmo always enjoys a shower on a hot day

Befriending the Budgies

Elmo is one of five tame budgies I have kept over the past four years. In keeping them I have found that they all have individual personalities that can be extremely entertaining. I currently keep three budgies—Elmo, Missy and Chili—inside as house birds and at one time, prior to an unfortunate theft, I also kept two tame budgies in an aviary with other species.


Elmo and Missy are like two peas in a pod

I could barely contain myself as I walked home that day with Elmo. Within a week he was happily standing on my finger or shoulder and he cheerfully stayed with me wherever I went, except when I ventured outside of course! My birds have all their flight feathers and this means that they are confined to the house unless sunning themselves in the safety of their large outdoor cage.
Within a few months, Elmo had become my constant companion and would happily tell himself how pretty he was. He now has quite a large vocabulary but what I find amazing is that he doesn’t necessarily just mimick everything we say. When we cover him up at night he sees the towel come over his cage and tells us ‘Goodnight’—he also impersonates the electric toothbrush when he is in the bathroom! It never ceases to amaze me how smart these psittacines are.

By the time Elmo was one-year-old I had two aviaries in the backyard, each housing a small breeding flock of budgies.
I remember one day, on arriving home from a holiday, I found a grizzly scene. The mother of four little chicks ranging from 1─2 weeks old had kicked the little babies out of the box and onto the concrete floor below. It had only happened recently because one of the chicks was still alive, unscathed and with a full crop. I took this lone chick inside and, after a long nights researching how to handraise birds, I set up a brooder and a feed station and spent the next few weeks watching my little baby grow into a beautiful Sky blue Opaline hen. I named her Missy and she is now one of many birds that I have successfully handraised.

Missy and Elmo immediately hit it off, becoming best friends—to this day they have lived in a large cage together, constantly chattering and preening each other. Despite this close bond they have never shown any signs of wanting to breed and both maintain a close bond to people. I personally feel that the bond Elmo and Missy share is vitally important for the happiness and wellbeing of both birds, but I also feel that their lack of interest in breeding is due to them being subjected to regular human contact from an early age.
Unfortunately the next bird we welcomed into our household was not so used to human contact and was a very powerful force to be reckoned with.

Companionship of a Cockatiel

Bella came into our life in mid-August 2006 as a young ‘handraised’ Cinnamon Cockatiel that had been kicked out of the box by her parents. I was quite excited that the breeder, a distant family friend, had asked me to keep her—the thought of having a larger pet bird in the house was very exciting.


Bella waves for the camers

From my previous experience I had assumed that handraised birds were all incredibly friendly but my theory was soon shot down in flames. Bella was a feral—she hissed and screeched when anyone came within two metres of her cage and she drew blood from any hand that tried to touch her.

I took the cage into a separate room and opened the door. She did a few laps around the room before landing on the curtain rod. Every tiny movement I made sent her flying again. 

 I was starting to wonder if I was in over my head trying to tame this bird, but over the next week I progressed to being able to stand next to her without her flying off and within a month she was standing on my hand. Over the next six months Bella steadily became more and more tame and progressed to discovering new rooms of the house. She is now completely comfortable around people, sitting on my shoulder or crawling all over my body without the slightest fear.

Bella lives in a spacious cage and I managed to get her onto a healthy pelleted diet, although it was not easy! She even began to enjoy receiving tickles under her chin and on the back of her neck.
By some miracle, a year after I received Bella she had transformed into one of the friendliest, cuddliest little Cockatiels anyone could ever want! She would deliberately go out of her way for a tickle or head scratch and was living a very happy and healthy life. It was at this stage that I realised her colours had actually changed to those of a male Cockatiel and that Bella was actually a boy! By this time, however, he knew his name quite well so we decided to keep him as Bella.


Bella loves a tickle

 My brother Ashley—who has Down’s Syndrome—loves to give Bella a scratch on the head and laughs with joy as he watches Bella’s often humorous antics. After receiving a bird training DVD from the USA I have now taught Bella a series of tricks that are all performed on verbal command or using a hand cue. He has learnt to wave, spin in a circle, wolf whistle, nod and shake his head for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and he has even learnt to fly to my hand on command. Not only did these training sessions between Bella and me prove to be a great bonding experience but he genuinely enjoyed the sessions as he worked hard for a millet or sunflower seed reward.

One thing Bella still lacks, however, are the social skills required to communicate with other birds. He still gives Elmo, Missy and Chili a wide berth and thrives on human attention rather than being a part of the budgie flock. Despite this, however, Bella is happy and healthy and I will always see him as one of my closest companions.

Memories


No book or television show could compare to the real experience of feeding these cockatoos

Over the years I have been fortunate enough to have had numerous encounters with a variety of wild and captive birds including varied species of both white and black cockatoos, rosellas, lorikeets and other parrots. Some of my proudest moments include being sung to by a Victoria-crowned Pigeon—the largest pigeon species on earth—and feeding a frightening Andean Condor at Taronga Park Zoo while doing work experience there in early 2008.

My advice to budding bird keepers is to do your best to retain any personal experiences and encounters you have with birds or wildlife in general and to learn from them. I strongly feel that no matter how many books you read about caring for birds, nothing will ever compare to the real life experience!


The author feeding a King Parrot at Pebbly Beach on the south coast of New South Wales

About Jacob Emerson

Jacob Emerson is 16 years old and first started collecting birds in January 2005. After beginning with a single pet budgie, he has since progressed onto breeding and befriending a variety of birds including budgies, Zebra Finches, Cockatiels, King Quail and Green-cheeked Conures. He hopes to one day pursue a career in breeding and researching psittacines and other wild animals for conservation purposes.

Jacob won the 2009 Syd Smith Memorial Young BirdKeeper Writing Competition—Congratulations from ABK Publications!

 

 

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