Buckbeak the princess parrot has full-time house sitter, Clare, at her beck and call. Despite being lovingly blown on and having her beak stroked, Buckbeak suffers an affliction common among the aged of any species. Nobody mention that insensitive Monty P*thon sketch!
18 November 2005
It was with some trepidation that I accepted a house sit with two dogs, a parrot, a fishpond and a burglar alarm. I had never had anything to do with dogs before, aside from viewing them suspiciously from a respectable distance and now I was going to be looking after, not just one, but two dogs – taking them for walks, patting and feeding them, the whole deal. Buckbeak, the princess parrot was going to be the least of my worries I thought happy in my blind delusion.
After a week of quiet polite existence in her cage, Buckbeak finally felt it was time to make her existence widely known. Both she and the dogs considered it was absolutely essential that I should rise at 6 am every morning. One of the dogs would start barking at 6.15 if I was not out of bed and Buckbeak would squawk her agreement long and loudly. I could hear her down the street as I blearily stumbled after the dogs as they took me for their morning walk.
So how does one deal with a stroppy squawking parrot? Step one: ply her with food – sunflower seeds, strawberries, bananas, passionfruit, apple, carrot, lettuce – you name it! But it wasn’t just food she wanted. Step two: stroke her beak. She loved having her beak stroked and was quite prepared to let me do that for hours – if only I had the hours! She also liked me blowing on her and having her feathers stroked – but the beak was her favourite. Step three: it was necessary that I be near her cage at all times so that she could inspect me with interest and for her own amusement. Serious squawking ensued if I disappeared from view, forcing me to heave the cage along with me as I migrated from room to room. This was one seriously bored parrot.
My friends callously had no sympathy for my plight and amused themselves endlessly with questions as to whether she was (or ought to be) nailed to the perch or suggestions that she was perhaps pining for the fjords. The truth was she was most definitely pining for her owners, in particular George, who when he was home would let her out of her cage every night to fly around the house and à la long John Silver would let her parade around on his shoulder and nibble on his ear. George’s wife was disgusted by the whole exhibition: ‘The parrot’s in love with you George!’ Get over it Buckbeak!’ No flying and no George – no wonder the poor parrot was pining. The day before the owners returned the bird was looking decidedly ill and tossed most of the food offerings capriciously to the bottom of her cage and wanted endless stroking. But the next day she was back to smooth feathers and her strident opinionated self.
A few days after leaving (leaving is one of the definite benefits of house sitting) I learned that she had had a stroke. The poor bird had crashed a couple of times on its nightly fly around the house outside its cage and had fallen over while attempting to walk on smooth surfaces. The owners had then urgently sought out bird specialists in Brisbane only to find that every single one had hived off to a bird vets conference in Canberra. The non-specialist vet, however, discerned all the symptoms of a stroke. Happily, apart from her flying and smooth surface ambulatory incapacities, Buckbeak still reigns stroppily from the perch in her cage – accepting all and sundry offerings of food and not hesitating in characteristic style to peck the hand that feeds her. Upon informing various people of this calamity, they merely redoubled their badly stifled laughter, proffering a heartless stream of jokes about parrot sized zimmer frames, CT scans and orthopedic parrot shoes.
Not long after, the automatic email list of the Australian House Sitters Directory sent me an advertisement that included the following information: ‘Plenty of animals such as, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 30 parrots, 1 guinea pig.’ Now the number of home owners (and there are hundreds) who advertise with this directory who have actually rung to offer me house sits can be counted on three fingers. But the owner of the 30 parrots rang. As friends pointed out – I was clearly channeling parrots – it was quite obvious that I had established a cosmic parrot connection.
30 parrots – the owner let me know that she didn’t like loud shrieking parrots and had researched the internet to find quiet species of parrots and had then gone out and bought said varieties. I was almost tempted to accept this house sit just so I could actually meet these quiet parrots. Perhaps she had simply invested in 30 parrot shrieking collars after discovering the empirical unreliability of her sources.