Living with a parrot is like having a boyfriend all your friends hate. They look at your relationship and can’t understand what you see in him, but it all just reinforces an “us against the world” bond between you.
My eight year old caique, who I have had since he was a few months old, has recently learned how to open the door to his cage, all the better to stalk and attack my seventeen year old son, Django. Not only does he want to kill Django, but just about anyone who comes into our apartment. I have been called back to the apartment: “Luciano’s out!!” to find a member of my family standing on the couch with this small parrot pacing, pigeon toed underneath, just waiting for the opportunity to shred some skin. There have been times I wasn’t fast enough, and he has swung from hair, bitten hands and drawn blood from toes.
Not that I am spared from the wrath of Luciano. If someone he doesn’t like (basically everyone) comes into the room when he is on my shoulder, he will go for my face. What I found stops the attack is cooing “Oh, Luciano” and kissing his beak. It takes courage, but it never fails to stop his aggression. His yellow eyes dilate and go to half mast and he allows me to scratch his fat neck.
So what is the flip side of living with this little dinosaur? He loves affection from me, will go to the bathroom over the sink on command and will actually say “go potty” when he needs to. He has perfected my laugh and seems to know the rhythm of a joke and will laugh at it, even if no one else does.
He is my husband’s best audience.
Living with Luciano is a huge lesson in living mindfully. I watch his behavior and experiment with what makes life good for him. Caiques live in flocks, and call to each other to let their presence be known. During the day, I answer his squawks with one of my own to let him know where I am in the apartment, and he is content. Or I do chores with him on my shoulder.
When I got Luciano, we lived on an acre in New Mexico, and he loved being outside gardening with me. If he saw a hawk, he would climb into my shirt until the danger passed, and eyed the quail with their broods of babies with interest. Living in a New York City apartment made Luciano unhappy. It took months of desperately trying to solve it in various ways until I finally came up with the right answer for him.
I found flight suits for birds online; little coats that Velcro on and
are attached to lanyards. They act as diapers and leashes and as the weather warmed, Luciano and I hit the streets, taking the dogs for walks, having a glass of wine at outdoor cafés, riding the subways to Bloomingdale’s.
Trouble came in the winter. At first I left my little parrot at home, worried naturally about the effect of the cold on my tropical bird. My vet suggested a carrier, but that was just too bulky and not really warm enough. One day as I was taking the dogs out, I put him inside a tight fitting down vest and topped it with my coat. I told him “Lucie, if you try to come out, this will never work,” and he never did. He loves traveling in my vest, and I love having him there. We have been to places in the city together that probably would not appreciate having a bird, but it’s our secret as long as my vest is on. The only indication he is there is his heartbeat next to mine and the odd time he will join me in a laugh when I am talking to someone.
Let me tell you, my vest gets some very confused looks.
Nana Visitor has been unable to live without animal companionship since she was a little girl. Although bitter about it at the time, now that home is NYC, she is grateful to her husband Matthew for discouraging the adoption of the dwarf bull in New Mexico.