Words from an Imperfect Parrot Parent
-by Lisa Bolstad
Peeves has an unnatural affinity for his water bowl. Nobody knows why. Perhaps he was a camel in a previous life, or maybe a deep sea fish. It could be that he suffers from Impulsive Control Disorder. It could be that he dreams about being lost in the Sahara. It’s a mystery.
Peeves is named for the ornery poltergeist in the Harry Potter books. He is a Green-naped Lorikeet, full of energy, always into mischief and occasionally terrifying. He is a beautiful mix of blue, green, yellow and red, with warm orangey-red eyes that flicker like embers in a campfire. He hops in circles on the floor, squealing with delight; he hangs upside down from my hand while twirling and shouting “Good job! Good job”; he dances, gives sharp little kisses and loves life with an exuberance I’ve never seen before. But Peeves has a dark side, a dark side that reveals itself anytime I get close to his water bowl.
At one time Peeves was housed in a flight cage that provided lots of room for jumping, chasing balls and barrel-rolling. The downside was that there was no outside access to his bowls; I had to actually reach inside his cage to access them. Peeves no longer resides in this cage, and I’ll tell you why.
One summer morning last year I had finished feeding all my birds except for Peeves. As a Lorikeet, he has special dietary needs and it’s often easiest to leave him until last. He has several bowls: a nectar bowl, a powder bowl, a lory gel/fruit smoothie bowl, and…the dreaded water bowl.
One by one I removed the bowls while Peeves hopped happily from perch to perch shouting “Good job! Good job!” Finally, all that was left was his water bowl. I knew from experience to remove Peeves from the cage before attempting to touch this precious possession. I had already attempted to use treats, distractions and other tactics to no avail. So, as I regularly did, I had Peeves hop onto my hand and I put him on top of the cage. Or rather, I attempted to put him on top of his cage. That morning he clung to my fingers and merely flopped around as I struggled to convince him to let go and hop to the cage top. “Come on, Peever-Weever,” I crooned. “Let go. Step off. Come on. Let go with your sweetie-feety. Step off sweet boy, step—“
At this point he jabbed that sharp red beak into my thumb like a hypodermic needle. I let out a shriek and he immediately tore a clunk from the pad of my thumb. Now, had I bitten my lip and stayed calm, Peeves would have calmed down and that would have been that. But being the pillar of parrot wisdom that I am, I hollered like a banshee and proceeded to shake my hand in a frantic attempt to make him let go. That worked really well and he bit several more chunks from my hand as I screeched and cussed like a trucker.
Eventually, I was able to get him loose, at which point he fluttered to the floor and bit my big toe hard enough to cause a geyser of blood to begin spurting onto the tile floor. Then he got my other toe. I hopped hysterically around the room, trying to keep him off my feet, while also being careful not to step on him. I snatched a discarded tee shirt off the ground, thankful for once that my children are incapable of hanging anything up. Quickly, I covered Peeves, wrapped him up and put him in the first place I saw that might contain him for a few precious seconds: a big pink gift bag.
Breathing hard, I examined my bloody feet and hands and after determining that I wasn’t going to bleed to death, I reached into the cage and grabbed the awful water bowl. As I was setting it down on my carry tray, I heard an ominous rustle behind me. I spun around to see Peeves, perched on the top edge of the bag, glaring at the bowl in my hand. His red eyes were diabolical. Clearly, he wanted to kill me and eat my soul. “Good job! Good job!” he screeched, leaping to the floor and hopping after me like some sort of evil, rainbow-colored imp.
After several more minutes of running around the room, I managed to bundle him up again. I carried him in one arm like an enraged infant while I got his food and water prepared and back into his cage. Several days later he was safely lodged in a new cage that allowed me to reach his water bowl from the outside.
I spent some time picturing myself leaving Peeves in a carrier on the front porch of someone I really hated. Ultimately, I realized several things: One, I will never tour the country demonstrating my amazing parrot training abilities. Two, no amount of training is going to make Peeves okay with having his water bowl taken. Three, sometimes you just have to love someone for who they are, faults and all. It’s like the saying goes: If you love something, set it free. If it comes back and mutilates your toes, love it anyway…