The pet store is only about 500 meters from my house. Divine and I made a quick trip to it two days after picking up the squawky awkward (squawkward?) cockatiels after deciding that we wanted to add to our little menagerie.
We squeezed into a trike and five minutes later arrived at the open air store to do some bird shopping. Right off the bat I spotted a cage full of some lively little yellow ones with reddish head markings. They were "eye candy" and I had to have some. The sales kid said they were African Love Birds, and it turned out he was correct; they are lutinos to be exact. I told the young fellow to net us a male and female, which he carefully did using a small net.
An extra large cage loaded with some orange beaked little feathered creatures caught my eye next. I recognized them to be finches but not the kind I’ve seen in my home state of Michigan. Not nearly as colorful as my new pair of lutinos, the lively little finches weren’t exactly sparrow-drab either. Actually, they showed a lot of variety, everything from off white, to tan and salt-and-pepper. They were mostly lighter on the bottom, darker on the top and head; some having bands of black and white on the tail and other areas, along with some showing off speckles around their heads and on the neck. On close examination, no two are exactly alike.
Aside from their appearance, I particularly loved the chirpy little finches' apparently friendly and curious attitude. Even better than chirpy, they were cheap, less than half the cost of the other more colorful and larger fowl. I bought 8 figuring their small size would more easily allow my big cage to accommodate that many.
I brought them home, keeping the two kinds of birds segregated in different carrying cages. Placing the cages on the ground inside the big cage I opened the tiny sliding doors. Once again it didn’t seem to occur to any of the birds to try to exit their little jail cells.
I didn’t wait this time and just stuck my hand inside with them to force them out. That mostly did the trick. The two yellow Africans immediately made good their escape, while all but three of the finches also decided to get away from “Mr. Hand.” I was easily able to catch two of the last three cage-bound finches and promptly let them fly up to the top beams with their fellow finch buddies. The last one I left alone and it came out a few minutes later; I would bet that it had never been that alone since the moment it was hatched.
For days I could not get enough of watching the interplay of the three bird types in my little aviary. In doing so I began to learn a few things about bird keeping. Lesson one: be careful how you mix bird types, even in a cage as big as what I have.
With their bright plumage the yellow African love birds were pretty to look at; nevertheless, I soon developed a distinct distaste for them. I relabeled them my little a$$hole birds. Basically, I saw them as thugs. They strutted around the cage bullying every single other bird in there; even the much larger cockatiels were victimized by the much smaller yet more brazen lutinos.
For instance, if one of the lutinos happened to spot a finch or a cockatiel at one of the feed dishes, evidently depending on how aggressive they felt at the moment, one of these mean-spirited yellow love thugs would fly across the cage at their “offending” fellow cage dweller to drive them away. It was obvious that the “love” in their name only applied to the affinity they felt for their mate, if that.
Another immediate problem caused by both the cockatiels and lutinos was their destructiveness when it comes to foliage. Within hours they began to buzz saw through my beautiful pair of potted palms. This was especially true of the Africans. They would alight on a long frond and chew away until it bent in half before moving on to the next. They chewed and chewed until there was almost nothing left. I went through five different plants before finally giving up on having palms in the cage.
Less than a week after acquiring the birds I had lost three of them. Two of the finches were able to flit through the open bamboo cage door in the split second I had it open, although I only actually saw this happen once. I have to assume the other got out the same way when I wasn’t watching.
As for the third escapee, it was one of the love birds. One afternoon it appeared on the outside of the cage as if by magic. Thinking I must be seeing things I noticed this little yellow Houdini sitting on the mesh roof next to its mate still on the inside, which caused me no end of worry for about 30 minutes until I found the one 6 inch area of netting that was not entirely secure.
I used thumbtacks to close up the loose netting but the veritable horse was out of the barn with no real way to get it back in. I tried leaving out an open cage containing bird seed and water hoping that I could recatch the wayward lutino, but by day two of it's escape it was no longer hanging around. I suppose the so-called love it felt for its new mate was not all that strong after all. Truthfully, I didn’t miss the darn thing at all and kind of wished they had both gotten out.
As the days go by I love the sweet little finches more and more while liking less and less the cockatiels and the remaining love bird. My clan of finches is far more interesting than any of the other larger and more colorful birds put together.
Both the love birds and cockatiels got better and better at flying but still mostly get around by flinging themselves into the net which they awkwardly grab onto with their sharp claws. They then pull themselves around on the enclosing mesh by using a combination of beak and claws. It’s really creepy and unnatural to see, especially compared to the amazing flight capabilities of the finches that actually have the ability to hover in mid air, something that I thought only hummingbirds could manage.
So far, I have developed a huge fascination for my low-key yet charming little finches, while developing an equal and opposite dislike for the more conspicuous cockatiels and the African. You know, I can go and on about my family of finches and I think I will in my next post.