This visit was only just around the corner from my home. So pleasant not to have to drive too far, for once. I pulled in the driveway, and a friendly couple opened the door and invited me in under the house. The first thing was to tend to their lovely old, old, old springer spaniel. He was as rickety as a dog can get, and still be able to move. And what’s more, he only had three legs. One had had to be amputated years ago. He was riddled with arthritis, had lumps all over him, and the waggiest tail known to mankind – I had to visit pretty regularly to top up his supplies of pain relief. He was a palliative case, so we were throwing everything possible at him treatment wise to keep him as comfortable as possible.
“Now you’ve finished with him, I wonder if you might be able to help us with our Galah?” she asked. “I rescued him a while back, and he’s a right little bastard, really. He likes me, but he’ll still take a chunk out of me if he gets the slightest chance. The main problem, though, is that he’s screaming all the time, and the neighbours are starting to get more than a bit antsy. And the ones on that side are really difficult anyway, even without the bloody birds yelling his head off.”
“Let’s go and have a look at him then…”
We walked out the back, and under a big old fig tree, beside the underneath of the house, (a big open area where the dogs and people often hung out – there were some comfy chairs there). So the first thing I noticed was that the Galah couldn’t see what was going on in the house, as the side of his cage facing the house was a solid sheet of metal. The open side was pointed right at the neighbours. Just then, he started squawking like someone was in the cage and attempting to cut his throat with a toothbrush.
“Wow, he’s got a good set of lungs on him, eh?” I had to raise my voice to make myself heard.
We went to the front of the cage, and there he was, a little grey bird with a pink crest and highlights. they are pugnacious little fellows at the best of times, and I could see that this little bloke was more so than usual. His cage was a labyrinth of branches, and pretty big.
“It must have taken you days to set this up for him,” I said – there was a big bunch of fresh grass for him to chew on, several water pots, a tray of seeds, hanging toys and mirrors, and a couple of palm fronds that he had mostly minced up into fragments with his sharp little beak. The was a big tin hanging up there as well, and he suddenly climbed into it and made it swing furiously before hopping back out and taking off on an acrobatic turn around all of the branches before swinging up onto his feet, fixing me with a beady little eye, and whistling piercingly.
“Can I open the door?” I asked.
“Yes, but be careful! He’s bitten me heaps of times, and he likes me better than anyone else. I do try to handle him a bit, but it’s really hard work,” his mum told me.
I opened up the cage, having first armed myself with a stick about 20 cm long. I used the stick to give him a gentle scratch on the tummy, and his eyes hooded with pleasure for a moment before he snatched the end of it with one foot, and started chewing on it, giving me a warning look. I took it back, and went back to giving him some touching attention, while keeping my fingers well and truly out of reach.
“This is a safer way to interact with him with touch. If he nicks the stick, just have two or three of them, and let him take one while you give him a scratch with the other one. That will help you be able to interact and connect with him without ending up bleeding all over the place…”
“What a great idea!” she said “I really do have a soft spot for the little fellow- he’s such a character, you know. He gets the poops when I have to clean his cage out, goes into his tin and sulks for ages. He hates any sort of change, it seems.”
“Yes, they like consistency.”
By now he was making threatening gestures towards me, so I gently shut the door in his face.
“Does he like you much?” I asked the husband.
“You’ve got to be joking!” He laughed. The little bugger hates me with a passion, and threatens me anytime I even go near the cage!”
“I thought as much,” I smiled. “In the wild the mate and pair for life, so when they are domesticated, they nearly always bond really strongly to one member of the family, and hate everyone else with a passion. Now- about the screeching… Can you move the cage so it’s facing the house?”
They gave me a puzzled look – ” I suppose so…”
“I think he’s simply frustrated that he can’t see what’s going on,” I explained. “They are really social creatures, and I reckon that if you pop the cage under that big fig tree there, where it’s cool and shady, and face the front of the cage right at the back of the house, then he’ll be able to see everything that’s going on – when you come out the back door to do anything, when you sit down here to relax – so he’ll feel like a part of the family then.”
“Ok- we’ll give it a go!” they said with a smile.
The next time I dropped in to check up on their old tripod, the cage had been moved…
“You were right, you know! He still talks to us all the living day long, but that awful shrieking has just about stopped completely. Thanks so much for your advice, it’s made the world of difference for us, I tell you. Most importantly though, the little fella’s so much happier. I’ve been able to do more and more touch, with a stick though. I tried without the other day, and the little devil got me!” she told me with a proud smile.