A few years back when I wrote about our birds, I cautioned that one should never get a pet with a longer life expectancy than yours.
I really, really mean it.
It all started when my older son, Rory, then age 9, talked me into a cockatiel. It was such a simple request. Sure, I said blithely, you can have a cockatiel. Who knew what far reaching ramifications that simple line would have. What I didn’t know I was really saying was, “Sure. I’d be glad to clean bird cages for the next 27 YEARS.”
Rory is now 36 and married to a cat person in Santa Cruz. We still have birds. As for cage cleaning, I am so over it.
While cockatiels can live to 30 years (and ours seemed destined to), it’s the children and grandchildren of the originals who have hung in there with us over the years. We also became an inadvertent avian social service agency for parakeets as neighborhood kids bought them as pets then quickly became bored with them. It was not unheard of to find an abandoned cage with bird – no note – on our front doorstep. Word gets around.
Our bird population expanded as Rory talked us into buying “friends” for the
original one. While our cockatiel population technically lived in cages in the house, they were generally riding around on someone’s shoulder as they had all been hand-tamed by bird-whisperer Rory. But as their population increased, it was clear that we needed a different housing situation for them as a bunch of loose birds were producing an effect around the house that our cleaning lady perceptively termed “too much caca.” Besides, Rory wanted to try bird breeding which required that the birds not only be able to fly freely, but a nesting box as well.
And so we had a 4x4 by 6 foot high cage built into our protected back porch and moved the birds outside. I wasn’t at all disappointed about this as the kids had a tendency to escape to their dad’s house and leave bird doody, er, duty to me.
Rory’s bird breeding project succeeded waaay too well. The birds suddenly began hatching a new baby bird per week. We were starting to feel like our own personal Hitchcock movie. Threatened with an exponentially expanding bird population, we finally did wrest the nesting box from the aviary, leaving the birds nothing to do but sit on their perches looking horny and sullen (not unlike some other members of
the household at the time). The nice thing about an outdoor aviary
is that it didn’t have to be cleaned daily. Still, a burgeoning bird population could cover that newspaper pretty fast.
One thing you may not know about birds: they are phenomenal slobs. Seriously, they put teenagers to shame. Birds like to fling seed everywhere — outside the cage onto the patio and all over inside the cage as well where it becomes entombed in the poop below and thereby unrecyclable. At one point I estimated that out of every five-pound bag of birdseed I bought, only eight ounces actually ended up inside the birds. As I’ve remonstrated with them on more than one occasion as I shoveled up buckets of poopy seed, “Is this how you live in the wild? Throwing seed around like it grows on trees? I think not!”
I admit we are hugely fond of the little guys. At this point, they’re family. We enjoy listening to their morning chirp-a- thon. But after 27 years, I am truly, profoundly sick of cleaning birdcages. When my husband Olof retired last year, he took over feeding the birds in the morning but the cage cleaning was still on
me. Besides changing the newspaper and sweeping up seed, we have a bunch of white PVC perch stands that Olof made for the birds which become encrusted in concrete-like bird excrement. Seriously, if there were ever a cement shortage, I can say with some authority that bird poop would be an excellent substitute. You need a fire hose to get that stuff off.
Last Sunday morning I came out to the patio with my breakfast and the newspaper trying not to look at the seriously overdue cage that I promised myself I would clean right after breakfast. But a blinding light caught my eye. It was the glare of brand new newspaper on the bottom of the cage and the shimmery white of poop-less PVC pipe. Olof had cleaned the aviary for me.
I don’t know whether it was self-defense or the ultimate act of marital kindness. But thank you, Olof. You just racked up two million irrevocable non-conflagratable husband points. And the gratitude of a wife who will never ever utter the words “sure, you can have a cockatiel” again.