Jane, I’ve got a big favour to ask you . . .” “Yes-es” – I have learnt over the years not to agree prematurely. “We are going away as a family next month so there is no-one to look after Dylan.” Oh, I see: parrot sitting. Not just any bird, but one which cost an awful lot of money – I recalled gasping when my friend B. told me the price. No wonder people are tempted to buy a bird “off the back of a lorry” – forest birds that have been trapped, stuffed into cramped cages and smuggled into this country. Tragically a great number of those die. “We’ll bring his big cage and I’ll explain how we look after him”.
I thought of my childhood pet, Polly and how she just had to get on with it. No specialist magazine` with articles on “how to have a happy bird” or “what to do about feather pecking”. Luckily Dylan was used to going in the car in his travel cage and J. and B. were making every effort to socialise him. Pet African Greys can become very attached to one owner and they were determined for his sake that Dylan would be happy with anyone.
Dylan sat in his travel cage watching us with a wary eye as we set up his big cage. Then B. let him out and he climbed on top of the little cage. “Up, Dylan! Up!” He obligingly stepped onto her arm. “This is Jane, Dylan. Come and see Jane.” No way! As she walked towards me he scrambled up her outstretched arm to get as far away from me as possible. He looked at me balefully from the safety of her other shoulder. B. transferred him back to her left hand and said, “Now, to get him back into his cage you need to place your right hand over his head like this.” With Dylan safely on his perch we went through his daily regime and then B. left.
The next morning I opened up the cage and waited for Dylan to step out. Oops! I forgot the essential command! I quickly shut the door and instructed, “Do pooh, Dylan! Do pooh!” He eyed me from his perch the twitched his tail while blowing a very effective raspberry despite his lack of lips. “No, no, Dylan! A proper one.” I really was not prepared to have a battle of wills with a parrot! I walked away – so he obliged and I let him out. “Up, Dylan, Up!” I snatched my arm away as he threatened me with his beak. Yes, I know. I should not have shown fear but that beak can crack open nuts! What to do? I went out into the kitchen to wash his food dishes. As I walked back down the passage there he was. Curiosity had got the better of him and he had somehow climbed down onto the floor and followed me – he was still too young to fly. The interesting thing is that whenever he was on the floor he would always obey the “up” command. So I put him on the worktop next to the sink and gave him his breakfast. In the wild parrots graze the forest floor in flocks, so Dylan likes to eat in company. What a mess! He flicked nuts, pieces of fruit out of the dish to retrieve later – not realising that the floor was one metre below him. I collected them up to put in one of his food dishes in his cage. Time to go back. That evening I allowed him out to play on a cloth on the floor. He watched me hide a couple of his treats inside a small cardboard box. It did not take him long to demolish that box to eat the treats! Like my parrot Polly he loved to shred cardboard, envelopes – anything he was allowed to get his beak on. No, he never spoke while he was with me. But as soon as he went back to B. he said, in my voice, “Stoppit, Dylan! Stoppit!”