Meet my wild-caught Umbrella Cockatoo, Joey. He is a wild child from the forests of Indonesia and one of the last imports to be allowed in this country. I am not really sure how old he is; but, have made an educated guess using how old we thought he was and added how many years since the ban. Our guesstimate is that Joey is now 43 years old. This is in people years, not dog years. Umbrella’s are known to live 100 years when all goes right. I adopted Joey about 24 years ago and as part of my adoption, agreed that I would never sell him.
A little history about what this bird went through to get sanctuary in my home and heart. Back then, birds were shipped into the country via a shoe box sized cage and fed sunflower seeds. (Now sunflower seeds are equivalent to french fries, and to this day, he has a passion for them. I have gradually removed those seeds from his diet and he gets some only as a treat.) He went through a breeding situation, and when he wouldn’t do the “wild thing” he was sold to a private party. When I found him, he was in a small cage among other birds located in a basement.
I had no idea what it took to have a bird like Joey and wouldn’t have undertaken this task if it wasn’t for my friend Mattie Sue Athan. She is a bird behaviorist and has written a few books on the subject, one of which is “Guide to a Well Behaved Parrot“. Mattie helped me to prepare for his homecoming and instructed me how to care for this wild creature. (Umbi’s require at least 8 hours a day face time). She actually captured him out of the cage and placed him in my carrier. She drove us home, and settled us in. After she left, I was looking at this huge scary looking creature. I told him that we were in this together and we will learn, together.
That evening, I stood near the corner of his cage and he was perched there looking at me. In one swift motion, he flew at me, hit my chest and I allowed him to fall to the floor, as instructed. I picked him up and from that day forward, we worked on gaining each others trust. This bird came from the wild and has never been with a human that was there for him. Every moment when this bird was out of his cage, I would have to have eye to eye contact in order to save myself from injury. One moment he can be as sweet as pie, the next, going for my face. If he does succeed in injuring me, it was an error on my part. Oh yes, he has gotten to me a few times and has inflicted injuries. Once, he got down on the floor, ran under a table and latched onto my big toe. He bit through the nail right at the top near the cuticle. He has also gotten to my face and fingers a few times. When a hook-bill bites, three holes are left in the aftermath. I have to grab him, calmly cage him and then go to pieces in pain to treat my injury. I can say now, that spring time is the time I have to be very aware of his actions when he is near me.
Part of his discipline routine, is called “step-ups”. When we first started doing these, he just wasn’t comfortable being on my hand, much less stepping up to my other hand and repeating the exercise a few times. It took a lot of practice to get him to do it on command. He has learned the word, and at times he will say “UP!” to me. This exercise has a calming effect on birds and I use the command when I want to pick him up. This will also save his life in case of emergency.
I also groom him by clipping the first five feathers on both wing tips. This is for his safety by preventing him getting lift and escape my hand when we are outdoors. He is flighted enough to escape a cat or something like that. I have experimented by allowing his feathers to grow in and discovered that he becomes extremely aggressive in nature. So, I keep them trimmed. I have things in his cage that assist him in maintaining his beak and nails. I give him baths with a sprayer bottle. I keep spraying him until he looks like a drowned rat. Sometimes, I will blow dry him on a cool setting. He really loves it.
I have taken him on company picnics, camping in the mountains, to friends houses for socializing, and he really does well when we are out. I watch him like a hawk, just in case he “breaks bad”.
One evening after work in 1996, I climbed on the bus to go meet up with a new client to give her a tarot reading. She was going to meet my bus in Golden. While on the way there, I got a text message on my pager, that my apartment building was on fire and to get home. I was stunned and was trying to figure out the best course of action. I said a small prayer and asked that Joey be protected. I endured the ride and got off the bus where I was met by my new client.
I reached in her window, shook her hand and said “Hi, glad to meet you, but I have to go. My apartment building is on fire.” She said that she would drive me home. When we drove up, the road was blocked by police and fire trucks and the smoke and flames could be seen coming out of my building. I met up with one of my neighbors and asked if anyone had heard Joey. The policeman close by said that the most intense spot was very close to my apartment and there had been no sound out of him. I was beside myself! I paced and pleaded with the police to find my bird. For 3 hours I anguished and broke down because I knew that birds have a very delicate respiratory system and he most likely died. My new friend never left my side. At about 9 p.m., a policeman walked up to me and asked me if I was the owner of the parrot. I said that I was. He said the fire department was bringing his cage out and he pointed to the location. I asked “Is he ok?” The policeman said that he didn’t know. I walked over to the blanket covered cage expecting to see his lifeless body at the bottom. When the fireman removed the blanket, there was Joey doing his circles at the top of the cage. He was ALIVE! My miracle baby survived. They had to use bolt cutters to take off the lock and I reached in to get him. Immediately he stepped up into my hand and I hugged him to my chest. His little body smelled like smoke. He took a huge breath and leaned into me. I was so happy and relieved.
The fire had been started by kids playing with matches in the basement. The alarm was given and before anyone knew it, the fire spread fast. At one point, the boiler, which was located under the apartment next door, blew up. It took out the floor of the next door apartment and was so hot, it melted their TV situated next to the wall of my apartment. Joey’s cage was right on the other side of that wall. Imagine this bird as the alarms were going off, all the electricity going off, firemen breaking down doors, and water streaming down from the walls and ceiling. My poor baby. Even now when the fire alarms are tested, I watch him alert and head for his cage.
So what happened? That woman, whom I had just met, offered her house to Joey and I. Yep, we stayed there for 3 months while they rebuilt the apartment building. We came back and moved to another apartment and we have been here for 18 years. If there is ever an emergency, the manager always makes sure that Joey and I are safe. I have written permission for him to be here and they love Joey. Anyone moving near us is told about his presence.
So, my bird is so very precious to me. We have been through a lot and he, too, is like a phoenix. When I go on spirit clearings, he stays home, but there is a bond beyond the physical between us. His little feathers have been seen floating in front of me just before something occurs with a spirit. He is my protector in many ways.
The most important thing is… I love him.