Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Ornithology pathology


Parrot Fashion by Pants

I feed wild birds. I don't put food out every day because if I did, word would get about. The expression, 'a little bird told me', is not without foundation. I like birds but I don't want to encourage welfare dependency. Also, I'm chronically mean and notoriously forgetful.

I dispense 'wild bird seeds', (another name for sunflower seeds), at fiendishly irregular intervals. Birds come every day and look in a special dish I have strategically placed in the middle of the big deck. If there's no food there, they move on. The guy who wrote Who Moved My Cheese was clearly not an ornithologist. I suppose you could say the same for Charlie Parker, but it didn't stop him writing that great tune. Sorry, I'm off-topic already.

This juvenile King Parrot is one of my regular visitors. They squeal like the emergency brakes on a freight train but I've learned to live with that. Almost every bird visiting the seed dish is a parrot of some kind, with a song that makes Sid Vicious sound like Placido Domingo.

Two pairs of Crimson Rosellas come. Usually one arrives and calls out to the others. They like a little preprandial conversation. Perhaps they're just being polite as the menu never alters. They sound like an episode of QI as interpreted by Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Rainbow Lorikeets descend in a pack of up to ten or twelve and attack my largesse with the enthusiasm of cruise liner passengers at an impromptu free midnight buffet. They look like they were designed by Zandra Rhodes after a particularly graphic acid trip.

The King Parrots don't like it when the Rainbow Lorikeets reign over their piroshki and will often flutter over to my balcony and protest by hyperventilating eerily beyond the screen door. Sometimes I shoo the lorikeets away for them. Other times I tell them to stick up for themselves. It's a tough old world out there. Is anyone offering to feed me? I don't think so. (What's that Barney? Oh, I'll have a smoked salmon and haloumi toastie with rocket, char-grilled peppers and cranberry sauce on the side. There's a good chap.)

Occasionally there are Galahs at the dish but mostly they seem to prefer something that lives in the lawn. It's either that or they've all simultaneously misplaced a contact lens. In Australia, 'galah' is a term of endearment for males who are a few canapes short of a corporate fundraiser. Galahs thrive in Larrikin's End.

It is fascinating to me that in a country mostly comprising scrubby, unpretty flora and fauna, the birds are all so extravagantly plumed. They look like they ought to be salsaing around the barrios of Rio rather than paint-balling the gnarly bush of Larrikin's End and environs.

I heard on the radio the other day that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. How is this possible? I suggest that they might just have been better at last-minute travel than their excess-baggaged terrestrial cousins. Perhaps when the giant asteroid that wiped out their Cretaceous cousins 65 million years ago, (or at the miracle of making the big, scary lizardary things disappear performed by Jesus in A.D. 29 or Marc Singer in 1983 or TBC in 2010, depending on your particular religious belief), all the parrots shrieked, grabbed their best dress and got the fuck out of there on the first available thermal.

This might explain why the Psittacidae ended up in all sorts of odd places like Larrikin's End and Monty Python sketches, neither of which are strictly tropical. Troppo? Well maybe that was the best case scenario. I imagine this is also why they have such an impressive command of the language. I hear the English test for migration to Australia is pretty tough, although I can't speak for the Pythons.

There's no mistaking the call of the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo. It sounds like Keith Richards hiccupping backwards at Knebworth. I don't have to put anything out for these as they self-serve. They like to tear the seeds from the trees themselves. Their presence is announced by impressive screaming and the occasional barnstorming swoop. They are an awesome size. Barney thought they might be a hit squad sent by one of his disgruntled voligarch rivals when he first encountered them. That was soon resolved. It turns out that the price of a double agent in birdworld is a generous per diem of Black Russians.

I am usually less pleased to see the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. Never satisfied with 'on the house', they prefer to eat the actual house. Seat of Pants is constructed of fine red cedar, a favourite food of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. Happily, there aren't too many of them around these parts. Occasionally I see them flying over and they are very big birds. I get pangs of sadness when I think that my grand-parents kept one in a cage smaller than a metre square for years. Given that cockatoos can live to be a hundred, that's an awfully long time to be in solitary confinement. Still, 'Cocky' seemed to derive endless pleasure from calling 'Bingo' and then laughing himself sick when the hapless pooch showed up. If Cocky can be found, I'd like him to write my eulogy. I want my funeral to be a joyous affair, and if any awkwardness could be dissipated with a spontaneous, 'here, Bingo!', I'd be halfway to heaven.

I think I truly love parrots. I love that they drop by to see me regularly but with no expectation that I will ever reciprocate. I love the way they pick up the seeds with their little claws and delicately nibble on them, like they're Holly Golightly at a cocktail party or something. I love it that they do so much walking even though they fly with consummate elegance but walk like Charlie Chaplin in a chicken suit. And I just love it that they look like Tex Avery invented them. (Apologies to Animal Liberationists, I know that sounds really, really patronising).