Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Leaving the Nest (Feathered Heart Ache)

The first time I heard about Angel was about fifteen years ago, in a nightclub, at two in the morning.
After a friends gig another friend and I had literally run (and hidden) from an ex-boyfriend who didn't get the 'ex' bit, hopped in a taxi and ended up in one of the basement places in the Melbourne CBD.
When a sweet, soft-spoken guy came up and started talking, it was soothing after all the hurtful drama of the last year and a bit.
We quickly got onto the subject of pets (at the time my family had two dogs, a cat and a score of chickens, mostly roosters, but in the past we'd had ducks, a sheep, and a goat as well) and before long it was agreed that we'd meet again, and he'd introduce me to his cockatoo.
Nhan had found Cocky in a gutter in a road by the zoo with another cockatoo. When Nhan had stopped the car the other cockatoo had flown off, but Cocky hadn't been able to fly. Cocky was presently living in a cage in Nhan's parents shed, being fed meat pies and white rice. Nhan's family had been refugees from Cambodia, spending a long time in camps in Malaysia, and didn't quite see animal welfare the way I did.
A week or so later Cocky came to live with my family. I think we'd both intended it from that first conversation.
As soon as Cocky's cage was placed on the back verandah, we opened the cage door, and never shut it again. We aren't big believers in cages. Cockatoos are as an intelligent as two or three year olds and need stimulation and company.
It took Cocky three days to get up the courage to leave the cage, except on someone's arm.
While Cocky loved Nhan, he was wary about everyone else. While he'd sit on shoulders and forearms, his claws dug in, drawing blood, and he was likely to make sudden bites at people passing, or the person holding him. Within the week Mum and I were covered in scratches and bite marks from times we'd carried him down the garden to show him fruit and wattle trees.
Slowly, Cocky began to explore. He left the cage - he started roosting in the fig tree surrounding the back side of the house over night, peering in the kitchen window to watch Dad cooking, the living room to watch us all talking. Nhan and I took him for trips to the beach, to the country, and while he was cautious of other cockatoos (they tended to swoop him) he loved spending time with Nhan and would cuddle up to his chest and coo.
We took Cocky to the vet, to see if they could mend his damaged wings, but the vet said it was impossible. Cocky could glide twenty metres or so, in emergencies, but couldn't fly. Mum and I started crying when we saw other cockatoos flying, especially in flocks, thinking of what poor Cocky was missing.
Within days we discovered just how destructive cockatoos are. Any time anyone left the back door open, or the dogs opened it to go in or out, Cocky would march in as fast as he could, head straight for the computer keyboard, rip all the keys off, pull apart the mouse and then begin de-covering books, destroying cameras, throwing around heirloom vases and generally creating mayhem.
We got new closing mechanisms for the sliding doors.
We'd been working on a new name and 'Diablo' was a strong contender, but we decided to try a name for Cocky to live up to.
We re-named him Angel.
When he laid his first egg a couple of years later, racing into the house and up the hallway to produce it on dad's pillow - he'd transferred his deep devotion to Nhan to Dad by then, firmly believing they were pair bonded and being very jealous of Mum - we discovered Angel was a girl.
Over the years we tried to find better homes for her, with cockatoo companions, but every time we checked, we discovered that she'd be kept in a not particularly large aviary. Seeing cages jammed with cockatoos, their chests bare from self-harm, none of them realising they were cockatoos, broke our hearts. Sanctuaries had no interest in yet another cockatoo-that-doesn't-know-it's-a-cockatoo. After awhile, we stopped trying.
Over the years Angel mellowed. She stopped scratching and biting and destroying so much stuff (after she ate a couple of holes in our house, trying to get in, and the neighbours house, because it was there) and began exploring more.
Until the last year she didn't leave our garden, having breakfast with my Mum each morning, roosting in the wisteria outside Mum and Dad's bedroom each night, going down to the back of the garden with Mum to do the washing, spending most of the day in the fig tree.
This year, Angel has been more unsettled. During her nesting season she's started wandering up the street, accosting strangers, looking for a mate.
She'd be about seventeen now, a teenager. With luck she'll live to eighty. Who knew birds had troubled teens?
My Mum started going online, searching for a companion for Angel, thinking about a (very large) enclosure. Instead, Mum found a woman with a male cockatoo, looking for a female.
Angel is going to Tasmania, to get married.
The family have a young male cockatoo, who sleeps inside the house on a log, who has a large enclosure outside that includes a fifteen foot tree. Other cockatoos and kookaburras come to visit. The family have a large property, with alpacas and fruit trees, near a river.
I don't know if Angel will fall in love with the young male. So far she's shown no signs of realising she's a cockatoo. But we're hopeful.
We're also heartbroken.
No more sweet 'hello, hello dear' as we come in the front door, no more thoughtful claw held out to be picked up as we pass, no more light, floral scent of clean feathers as we scratch under her crest. No more little general running after us as we wander down the garden path, wanting to be picked up. No more hilarious courtship dances as she tries to impress Dad.
Our Angel-Bird is leaving the nest. Hopefully for a better life. Hopefully to find True Love.
But we'll still miss her.
Goodbye Angel.
It's been a wonderful fifteen years.
Good Luck.

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