Bringing Home My First Companion Birds: Two Cockatiels
Recently our family brought home two cockatiels. They are my first animals since childhood, and I am very excited. I read a stack of books while thinking about an animal companion. “Alex and Me,” Irene Pepperberg’s book about the African Grey Parrot she spent several decades training and studying, observed that though Alex weighed only a few pounds, and was dependent on his human keepers for everything, he maintained his independence of mind, and interacted with everyone on his own terms. Many other parrot keepers wrote about this characteristic of their birds: a parrot treats a human as an equal. They can form deep bonds with their people, but unlike a dog, who sees the human as a master, the parrot will view their person as a partner. I was intrigued by this combination of bonding and independence.
I liked the idea of a larger bird, but felt starting with a small member of the parrot family would be the best idea. The commitment would be more manageable. This narrowed the choices to: a parrotlet, a small desert dwelling parrot from the South Americas; a budgerier, native to the grasslands of Australia, in the United States usually called simply a parakeet; and a cockatiel, hailing also from the Australian grasslands. Then, while window shopping in a local pet store, I saw a cockatiel that had escaped his cage. I watched him march around on an upper shelf with a jaunty step. He seemed pleased with himself that he was out of his cage; he seemed to know quite well he wasn’t really supposed to be.
A lovely book about traditional selchie stories.
I bought the cockatiel. I also took his female cage mate. I wanted to give them Irish names, and so the boy became Angus, the Celtic god of love, and subject of “Song of the Wandering Angus,” a lovely and haunting Yeats poem. The girl I called Selchie, for creatures from Irish legend who can take the form of either seals or humans. They were the only two cockatiels in a store that specialized in large parrots, they had shared their small cage for half a year, and I thought depriving them of each other at this point would not be right. Many people advise bringing home only one bird at a time, to facilitate that bird bonding with humans. I imagine that is true, and one bird would warm up more quickly to people, and look to them for all cues instead of having another of its kind to turn to. But in the course of researching birds I came to have a great deal of respect for them as individuals, and I couldn’t help weighing their needs along with my own.
Especially after getting to know them the past few months, I’m very happy with this decision. Losing Angus would have been particularly hard on Selchie, as she tends to depend on him, and follow after him. I think losing her would have been hard on him too, though as the more adventurous of the pair he doesn’t show need the same way. But a recent incident convinced me she is good for him, in unexpected ways.
We are letting Angus and Selchie’s clipped wings grow in, and so they are learning to fly. Angus is more adept: he can propel himself through the air the length of the family room before his strength flags, and he can change direction in midair. Selchie, if she churns her wings vigorously, can fly about half as far, and only in a straight line. So this one day they were both on a perch on the kitchen table, and Angus launched into the air, giving a flock call for Selchie to follow. She did. They headed for their cage, which was straight ahead. The only difficulty was that Selchie works hard at staying airborne, and perhaps as a result she flies rather slowly, at least in comparison to Angus. But just as Angus was reaching the cage, he executed a tight circle in the air, giving Selchie just enough time to catch up, so they could land at the same moment. I can’t think of a better move to show he valued and respected his fellow cockatiel. If he were a person, I might say it was gentlemanly. Maybe I will say that anyway. But if we had done as many suggest and brought home only one bird, there would not have been the chance for that kind of interaction.
After over a year of reading books about birds, I am now in the real feathered world with two individual creatures.
Books about parrots and their people
More About Angus and Selchie
- Organizing Your Home For Companion Birds
Ideas and examples of how to organize indoor space for companion birds. What to look for in a bird tree or stand, and ideas for building one yourself, and things to think about when choosing a cage.
- Why Birds Make Great Pets
Birds make the best pets. They have a great attitude, are very sociable, are not messy when compared to other pets, and bring alot of happiness for their small size.