My Wild Parrots, A Confession

31 01 2009



There is nothing else in magic but the wild thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void

I am seeking absolution.

But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.

I love my two conures…my two little old men, who seem to like nothing better than to sit on the front porch or their house and watch the world go by.

Will you grant me

I love these birds and they are as the dead albatross on the neck of the ancient mariner.


My two old parrots are Wiggie and Redbird–acquired in 1996 and 1998 (when I was still a teen…). They are old men now, were adults when we first bought them at a terrible bird store in San Diego. Wiggie, our blue-crowned conure (Aratinga acuticaudata) was in a cage with about 50 other blue crowneds. Small and scraggly, he was constantly picked on and we received a 50% discount on him because of of his picked-over appearance.

May I say that again? I will…

A 50% discount.

What is the price of a life?
What reduction in value of that creature from their own experience of abuse from overcrowding and trauma (of capture…I am ashamed to say, I believe now he was transported to that pet store from the wild. Forgive me.)

Forgive me.

Wiggie is a fabulous wonderful smart bird. He is also a feather picker and biter, has always been and always will be to some extent. He is a beautiful boy but is old, has cataracts and a chronic herpes virus that causes outbreaks on his vent. I just want him to be happy.

His friend is Redbird–a cherry-headed conure (Aratinga erythrogenys) acquired in 1998 from the same bird store. Redbird was isolated in a dark cage at the pet store. He and Wiggie bonded immediately upon introduction which was good–I wanted Wiggie to have a partner, I was leaving for college and leaving him with my parents.

My parents live in San Diego and built a beautiful aviary for the boys. The boys lived in that aviary for many years, receiving visits from the wild parrots of San Diego.

And here is a little aside about urban flocks of feral parrot:
You might have seen the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and/or read the book by Mark Bittner. I recommend both. The film’s integration of footage of the birds and spoken and unspoken investigation of the together/apart relationship of parrots and humans is breathtaking.

There are feral wild parrot flocks all over the world–many in the United States–including San Diego, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Seattle. If you are interested in more information about these birds it is worth reading the little discussion at Ode Magazine and checking out City Parrots.

The birds in the San Francisco flock of wild parrots are the same species as my boys: cherry-headed and blue-crowned. The birds in the San Diego flock are
cherry-headed (or at least, they were, when we lived there). They flew down to the aviary, fatter and fitter than my birds and chatted before flying off.

Should I have let my boys go with them? Of course I wanted to–I wanted them to have that companionship and freedom. But I do not believe they could have survived. They were older and weakened by captivity. They did escape twice but returned to the aviary for they were unable to follow the flock.

As I write this I wish I had a lash–every bit is wrong–the fact they escaped, the fact I didn’t let go of them…none is right. And here–these whiptongued voices in my head are all about me. None are about my boys, are they?

Now they are back with us. They moved with us from California to Washington. We set up the aviary with a heater so they could stay outside. But, over the last year, Wiggie has been ailing and we first brought them in at night and finally bought a brand new cage to keep them inside most of the time.

The transition was easier than I’d anticipated. They seem happy to sit and watch. Originally, they were in the kid’s playroom. Currently, in our rental, they have their own room…but when we move back into our remodeled house, they will either be in my office or the playroom. They call in the morning (they are VERY LOUD) when they want us to wake them up and feed them, and they call in the evening when they want dinner and then again when they want to go to bed (they sleep in a nestbox together–have done so for their entire lives together.

They also give a separate call when they are concerned–an alarm call?–when they spot the letter carrier down the street, or if a crow happens to perch too close to the house. The periodic seagull visitors seem to upset them as well.

I talk to them, give them toys, take them outside (I now have a “birdie backpack” to take them on walks) but I do not hold them or preen them. They preen each other and they do not want to be held by me. My relationship with Wiggie before we obtained Reddie was close–I held him, played with him, kissed him. Last time I made the mistake of trying to kiss him he bit into my lip–OUCH! The bond between Redbird and Wiggie, and the fact that I was pretty much absent from his life for many years, changed our relationship.

Redbird, on the other hand, never bonded with any of us humans. Wiggie is his mate and the only creature he cares about. To try to regain my bond with Wiggie and to train Redbird to tolerate me better I would have to separate them, break their bond, and try to transfer that bond to me. I cannot do that.

I will not do that.

Damn–I fucked up. Somewhere (I am sure you can see the places…all the places I could have done right by them).

They are both old, but Wiggie is also chronically ill. We treat him best as we can–we have an absolutely amazing veterinarian, Dr. Tracy Bennett, with whom we aim at prevention, control of the infection and pain control. But I fear he does not have many years left. I cannot imagine losing him.

I am bonded to him. I love him even though he bites the hell out of me when he gets a chance. He is beautiful, and dances, sings and speaks–he still loves me but is more tied to Redbird now than me…I am supplanted.

But if he goes first, what will happen to Redbird? It terrifies me to think of how that bird will grieve, feel alone and scared–utterly isolated and bereft. What can I do for him? We have discussed the possibilities–Wiggie had surgery recently and we had to face the possibility of cancer (but it wasn’t…it wasn’t). Redbird cannot be alone. If Wiggie passes first, I will try my best bond with Red bird but I suspect we will have to adopt another aging conure assuming we can find a bird to whom he will bond–

These birds live into their thirties–the boys were adults when we acquired them 20+ years ago.

I do not think parrots should be pets.

For certain THERE SHOULD BE NO TRADE IN WILD PARROTS. They should never be taken from the wild. Their wild lives are full of environmental and social complexity–we could never provide this–NEVER. They may bond with us, dance, sing, but how can we not see their lives as poor in comparison to the lives they live in the wild.

Of course, many wild parrot populations are threatened–the pet trade of the 1970’s and 80’s and habitat loss are primary threats. While the blue-crowned conures still show robust populations across their range in Argentina, Paraguay, Uraguay and Brazil, according to the IUCN the cherry-headed birds are near-threatened in their range of south Ecuador and Northern Peru. Perhaps, as someone said to me recently, one of the only hopes for the salvation of some of these species is through aviculture.


And I want to say clearly that I believe many parrot caregivers are devoted to their birds–those who are able to allow their birds to free-fly (as did the macaws in San Diego) give those birds a bit of wildness back.

but these birds live 30-100 years, depending on the species. Who lives a life that can encompass this sort of longevity.

These birds are very, very, VERY intelligent.

Here is a story Dr. T. Wright told me of watching his parrots in the field. A pair (for the pair is generally the central unit of parrot social systems) crosses from one “vocalization neighborhood” [my terms] into another. They first called in the dialect of the neighborhood they had left. They then called in the dialect of the neighborhood they joined.

What did they need to know to do this? They needed to know both dialects. They needed to know the geography of the neighborhoods (this is in the incredibly complex environment of the Costa Rican rainforest. They needed to know when they had crossed the boundary.

How do we provide a life for these birds that provides this level of richness? We can’t. That is the simple answer.

There is so much more I have to write about this…it wishes to come pouring out in an online confession, to you, my confessors–I want absolution and I want to share my sense of wonder.

Addendum 10/19/09:  Redbird died 10/07/09.  For his obituary, please follow this link:  Redbird, in Memoriam.

quotes are from Susannah Clarke (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) and the King James Bible (Psalms)



25 01 2009


Perhaps calling this intermezzo is not correct. Perhaps…

It may not be the best of strategies on my part to bookend random wanderings with something with some sort of organization, at least in title, if nothing else. Are not these “between” postings as worth reading as The Quail Diaries? [Don’t Answer That…]

Today, however, it is intermezzo, because

the moon is new


I am almost older


had you not met him…you would have taken my place here on this gibbet.


place the head on a pillow of oat chaff

the body…protect it from dust

I am not one given to faith other than the sort of faith bound up in the steps of a pigeon pecking up grain. But you must know this by now–haven’t the quail yet proven this?

Could it be Madness–this?

I should note, the quartet I admired during President Obama’s Inauguration was not truly live. You know this by now, I’m sure. They were playing to a recording because of the cold and the instruments and string breakages and such.

How much does it matter? Any thoughts? I seem to have grown numb again. Perhaps it is the medication or perhaps it is just that I am waiting

the seas lay heavy

I do miss the sea…but that is not it.

trees in silence


That is more like it…do you wait as well?

My next post will be about my parrots, Aratinga species both–a sort of seeking of forgiveness and absolution for keeping them as pets because they have been in captivity too long to be free (and because I love them, of course, but if I could give them freedom I would I so crave it for them).

But this post, and I apologize, will be an end of such, at least for now, of the dialogue about my friend.

this nothingness is the non-being of evil

I apologize. And you will likely move on…why not.

Here are words I never thought I would hear seriously spoken by apparently clear thinking adults: possession, Satanic potion, black reiki, the dangers of moldy pot,

you are allowed to be crazy in the state of Washington

I suppose I should be grateful that I’ve been spared this sort of morass–although I’ve been tangentially involved with other ones [As I’ve said elsewhere:

The mother,
wore handcuffs like bracelets
elegant and casual.

I will note, that mother is not me…I’ve been other mothers but not that cuffed one].

When they took her back in cuffs



What does it mean, here are some other words, words I’ve used to fight those listed above: AIDS related Dementia, HIV in the brain, psychosis, mania, sexual aggression

but nothing fits…nothing is as it seems and the facade keeps being pulled away. I do not know if my friend is dying. I only know that this friend is a danger…I only know this friend had many emergency treatments. I only know this friend will not take medication this friend went farther in his/her exploration of a certain form of energy manipulation, if you believe in such like, than most other folks. That this friend came to [I cannot be more specific] damaged, and I mean damaged [aren’t we all…but to differing extents, really…]and was saved and lost again. I sensed this damage and this place of darkness, the pit resting just behind my friend, somewhat obscured but really not if I’d been so willing. But I wanted lessons and not the sense that something dangerous was running it’s tongue along my arm. I’d already played on the edges of these sorts of things and realized them for the empty packages of destruction that they were…

it is a secret fire in which flame and smoke are in conflict

Damn it–you know it really is banal, isn’t it.

the vehicle of that light and that shadow.

I only know I’ve given up, pulled back, moved on, refused to spend my emotional energy

dark rage

I only know it is that waiting, that numbness, something is moving down that dusty road

the sterile madness

towards me…but for you, who cares? And for my friend…

in men’s hearts

Forgive me

Quotes are from Anatole Le Braz (The Celtic Legend of the Beyond), Dickinson, Stevie Smith, Foucault (Madness and Civilization), Calkins, Washington State Department of Health, Foucault

I cannot help it

20 01 2009

It is beautiful.

Personal Inaugural Reflections…[I know plenty have been posted…but]

20 01 2009

Former Vice-President Cheney is being wheeled away, thank the [insert your deity or nondeity] ABOVE!

just sent the children off to school–this is my son’s first day late since he started elementary school.  But I wanted them both to watch and listen (as much as they could with their wiggly little bodies could).  My daughter took pictures and asked about the red ties, my son was concerned when we talked about President Obama’s need for protection and the glass wall set up to protect the luminaries–he wanted to be sure it did not catch on fire.

[Former President Bush, Former First Lady Bush, President Obama and First Lady Obama hugged, kissed, and said goodbye–bush is getting on the helicopter to take him away away away away…..and there goes the helicopter into the grey grey grey mouth of the sky

Things I noticed and I’m sure you did to–the speech was, I thought, a strong call for what I’ve been despairing of–humility and a sense of history.  And of course, the inclusion of science, universities, schools as things to focus on made me particularly happy.  As did the recognition that some of us are nonbelievers.

The John Williams music was nice–but what was nicer was the image of those four musicians playing with joy in the cold was lovely

I have not decided about the poem–

But I will say, Pastor Rick Warren’s sad little invocation was blown away by Aretha Franklin’s rendering of My Country Tis of Thee.  I’d say, if there is a God, she is the closer to that being.

It is over


18 01 2009

I apologize for the rambling post below…I am letting it stand.

The Quail Diaries, El Segundo–Final

18 01 2009


This is the final post of The Quail Diaries, El Segundo. What the next series will be you will or will not find out. But as the poison oak is finally fading, and the quail are as quail are. For these reasons, and more, I am concluding tonight.

Trash litters the site and this week I received some of that trash, refuse, detritus, contents of a midden

garbage is spiritual, believable, enough

evidence, relics,debris, junk, leavings, litter, remains, rubbish, scraps, waste, fragments,

what else deflects us from the errors

mementos, memorials, remnants, tokens, testimonials, traces, vestiges.

of our illusionary ways

The relics sit in our basement in a brown cardboard box. I am scared to open it.

everything is marvelous

If nothing else, I do not want any more outbreaks of poison oak–really, I don’t.

everything is


but it is also, of course, that spiritual element to the debris. Or perhaps I should say metaphysical? Or occult? I cannot grasp the correct word. What has happened is that the objects now have developed into part of something strange and otherworldy in my mind; to do with humans, and nonhuman animals at the intersection–where feces is purity and plastic wrapping is dirty and soiling. And more than that.


It is ghostridden.

My limbs may issue

It is that which has been soiled by touch and use.

from your smoky mouths.

There is the link to what is human being a house, a container, with cleanable surfaces and indoor plumbing. This assumption that once you are a human without a house, your being changes. Once you cannot be contained, your detritus in pails, your dirt down the sink, your body wrapped in clean clothing, you are something else. There are borderlands that are crossed, when we camp, or when we live in a vehicle that was made to be lived in–but then there are the other states, where houseless is the state itself. What does this mean about my conception of what is a human? What does this mean about my understanding of these objects. Why do they scare me? And make me feel sad?

spittle is the soul in movement.

I think I am sad because of time. Time, of course, is one of the defining features of our human consciousness–the source of our existential crisis. Others assumed that the awareness of time and mortality do not factor into the consciousness of other species. I refuse to be so bold as to suggest we know this. Who knows the world inside the head of the wren, quail or crow? Really? You are arrogant to suggest you know–and I bet you would be proved wrong, if proving were possible.

the womb of all the creatures in the three worlds

But, time…my birthday is nearly upon me and I approaching the start of my last year of my thirties. Meaning, next year I’ll be looking at forty. Kali coming upon me as time seems inevitable.

without you, o supreme fierce Goddess, we would be dead ghosts

The objects are about time–perhaps this is obvious to you, because they were used by people who are gone–past, alive or dead but existing in something other than what they were in this space. And yet, none of these objects can be very very old. And yet, all is changed.

What is the time, my limber lad,
What is the time, I pray?
I am old and blind
And weak in my mind,
But what is the time of day?

About time. And about madness.

He took the youth by his golden hair
He dragged him up a crooked stair
Never more was Hughie seen,
Be warned, my child, while the grass is green.

They are about madness because I am mad to collect them. I am no ragpicker–this is not a way to feed my family.


Atget's "Ragpicker's Hut"

What am I? (No don’t answer that, I’m not ready for what you have to say after placing this here for you)

In collecting, I felt possessed with a sort of insanity. I was driven as I gathered and documented the objects in that space, in situ, with a desire to see the objects in a different sort of space. In a sterile white room–the clothing on hangers, the cans on stands, lit overhead and glowing inside–contact the earth, contact the humanity, contact the plants and the critters…contact the night sky and the moon and stars–the coyote yip and the woodrat scrape.

The sun moved, and the earth, in other times.

This obsession of mine is a fool’s errand and like to produce naught. For where am I to hold this little show of detritus? (And this perhaps is my own personal intersection of trash, time and madness–for I have no time to find a place to show the trash I collected in my madness).

Now…mute…above the chimes.

The box is also about madness because of the man who started the fire and because of the madness of my friend, a fever of the brain that, though it smoldered a year, really burst into flame this autumn and that continues to destroy everything in its path.

A raging attempt by the insanity to break of all connection–

only [dis]connect

You–and all is ailment (1)

But the trash–here is a piece


A shoe with a plant–can you see the seedling?


And my data for the location and collection of this shoe:

cross to S. unburned.

location:N33º 04’ 00.1”, W117º 16’ 12.0”
3 shoes/fabri

I collected 30 pieces, and for each I collected these same data.

These are stones


Found at:

N33º 04’ 3.8”
W117º 16’ 15.3”

The red one makes me think of prehistoric figurines–those ancient women.

Mycenaean Figure

Mycenaean Figure

What does my red stone share with that figure?

What do I and this old earth share?

Near the stone was a sagging tarp. I don’t think it was being used currently but to be honest, I was not comfortable messing around it on my own. I did not want to violate privacy, if someone was still using it, and I did not feel safe. This was the day after the friend and I had heard the man in the brush speaking to himself.

Something’s odd


Do you know what I think now, however? I think he was harmless and I wonder at my fear. It disgusts me.

My friend is far more frightening. And I keep thinking I can help.
We are an impoverished people.

The quail are distant but I saw one of Dr. Marzluff’s banded crows outside the window of the conference room while listening to a practice talk about abalone and plant reproductive proteins. It hopped near as if to listen, and the speaker invited it to join, but it was behind glass and it flew away.

I wander, do I not? (If I were a Romantic it might seem appropriate, though those old poets had more control over a single word than I have over any piece of writing I have ever tried to shape). The last thing I wanted to talk about. It is coming. Yes, I started with trash, but now I want to talk about the exotic. The exotic bird–for, as must be obvious to you, the exotic depends on where you stand most of the time in space and where to you turn your eyes. I was amazed the first time I saw a bald eagle. And I am still amazed. One flew low over us as I pushed my daughter in the swing at the park next door to our house–a bald eagle flying low over us! huge and gorgeous and WHAT THE HECK WAS IT DOING THERE and OH MY and…






quotes are from A. R. Ammons, C. Marlowe, M. Griaule, Brhannila Tantra, Emily Dickinson


1 A Footnote to My Friend Who Has Gone Crazy And Is Beyond My Help: there is nothing to be done–You are allowed to wander in your madness, we have no recourse except to hope you will attack us and bring us to fear for our lives. You are allowed to destroy yourself as long as you do not use a blade, knife or pills. As long as you stay off bridges you can tear down whatever you had created of yourself, through whatever hard work and sweat. That damaged part of you, that you became and came through, that you thought you’d left behind you’d never really left. It was waiting around the corner, for your illness, your physical prostration, to take down all barriers you’d erected. If, my friend, the you of six months ago, saw the you today, I suspect that you-that-was would commit homicide to make the mad-you-you-are vanish. But you are going to die, I suspect, sooner rather than later, when your poor body gives it all up to the earth and to your viral inhabitats, acquired so many years ago, but now ready to kill you and I just wish you had taken the medicine and that you were living and here instead of dying and gone.

The Quail Diaries, El Segundo, 7

11 01 2009

a fierce little wren was singing loud, and high
while his eyes, insisting on their own life,
gave legs to the lie
that there was world, and time

We are approaching the end of “El Segundo.”  I have been back nearly a week and am still suffering the ravages of poison oak.  The Tecnu is helping with the itching…and likely slowing its spread, but it’s been a long while since I’ve actually experienced the joy of a full on reaction to the oil produced by poison oak, urushiol

And there are, nicely enough, wrens in the garden

But at my back I always hear

The quail, by the way, are back.  My mother saw them on a slightly different portion of the site as I was talking to her on the phone.  They do that to tease me.

And yonder all before us lie

Actually, I do know that they don’t.  They aren’t teasing me.  I suspect I form no real part of their cognitive world.  I like it that way.  Surely, their experience in the trap, as well as their experience being handled by me, is lodged somewhere neurologically–some synaptic connections, perhaps, have been modified by that experience.  But…unlike the captive birds one might study, these quail do not have me as a constant in their world.  They exist outside of me and I truly do not matter to them.  That feels so very nice.

(Except, of course, when it doesn’t

It is unfortunate that my mom did not get band combinations, so I’m not sure who is doing what.  But, at least they are around, down there, in what is presumably the sun. (I, on the other hand, itch but don’t scratch, discuss star wars, fractions, the growth of plants and the wizard of oz, prepare my PCR reactions, feed my children, cats, birds, rats, fresh water creatures and wild Seattle birds, and deal with a friend’s calamity, all in the dark of the Seattle winter.  I feel worlds away.  And by the way…about my own captive parrots more later–).

Thy beauty shall no more be found

I am not sure when I will go back down.  I have a lot of things to do up here, including be with my family and work, and the quail are, of course, a side project.  I hope to get back there soon.

thy willing soul transpires

When I first started working with the quail, I sat in the spot pictured above while the trap just below was set.  I could take observations when not trapping and stay close when I was trapping.  I visited this spot every morning, and, after a week or so, I started finding coyote scat in exactly where I had sat the day before.  Day after day the coyote apparently tried, in vain I might add, to tell me something (I assume, to warn me off…but I am not sure).  It was like a discussion that we were having, except I did not know what the words really meant.

into ashes all my

Coyote scat was preferable, of course, to the human feces that littered another portion of the site.  This was when the hills were full of migrant workers, living in the brush and working on farms.  The scent of feces mingled with eucalyptus in these makeshift privies.

No longer.

The migrant workers were cleared from the hills when the site was developed, incidentally coinciding with the crackdown on immigration at the Mexican-American border, and now the only folk who camp there do not appear to be laborers, but rather drifters.

Deserts of vast eternity.

The fire revealed the camps, and what was left behind.  Which objects are from the laborers, which from the drifters, and which are just dumped is sometimes hard to know.  I collected quite a number of objects to send home–artifacts for the notebook project (a fool’s quest, I suppose).


Knife hilt

I think, in packing up the objects, I might have contracted the poison oak.  When I was in the field, I was careful upon my return to wash with Tecnu–but not after packing up the objects.  I apparently did not think clearly.  The objects were in the ravine where the poison oak was coming up en masse, many had been washed down the hill, perhaps brushing up against the plant and  collecting urushiol on their exterior.  I should have recognized the likelihood of at least one thing being covered with the oil…but no….


Perhaps I should be glad of the oil–a keepsake, or memento of the field.  I’ll try to think of it that way and not feel irritated about it.  I’ll try not to feel irritated about a lot of things, nor feel time rushing past…I am nearly one year older and feel myself tilting down the decline, rather than the incline, of life.   And all those critters I so love…

though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


quotes are from Shearwater and Andrew Marvell