Yellow crested cockatoo
I think if someone who knew about such things were to analyse my current state of mind, they would probably suggest that I am yearning for some kind of freedom that eludes me. I can’t recall another time in my life when I was so obsessed with birds. I’m no ornithologist – but I am always watching them, imagining myself soaring above it all.
I had several pet canaries when I was about 7. One at a time. They lived and rather quickly died in a small metal cage in my bedroom. They were cheap back then – under a dollar for a pretty yellow bird. I don’t ever remember giving them food or water, though I suppose my mother would have (though I could not swear to that…) But when I was a teenager my mother confessed that Tweety had died several times and she just went to the pet shop and replaced him without us even noticing. We were shocked to actually find a dead one in the cage one morning. I don’t know what happened to it. But since we lived on the second story of a tall, red brick apartment building in the Bronx, there was no chance of a decent burial. That was the end of the canaries. The rest of the birds in my life back then were pigeons or seagulls when we went to the beach. No robin red-breast or blue-sky blue-jay in the dark and dirty Bronx.
When I got a bit older we moved out of the city – but even in the wide expanse of the countryside of Dorloo, New York, we rarely saw birds on the property since we had as many as 40 cats at a time. And no pet birds other than Ducktor the Duck. (For the complete rundown on the family pets, please go here.) I must say though – I was always fascinated by migrating flocks – coming or going – usually further north or further south, not hanging around Dorloo.
As a young adult I lived in Rochester – where I did have a wonderfully noisy woodpecker in the back yard and lots of sparrows, who loved to forage in the garden for my freshly planted seeds. But mostly I remember the crows – enormous, chicken-sized crows, shrieking and cawing and crying, a sort of sadistic soundtrack to my lamentation at having ended up in such a place. I suppose that was my caged-bird period. The wrongest thing about that was I hadn’t ended up anywhere yet. Still haven’t for that matter.
Here in New Zealand the primary wildlife is birds – there are no native land mammals other than bats and a few seals and sea lions who wander ashore to bask in the sun. And I do love the birds. Since our property is 90% bush, we have so many species – tui, keruru (wood pigeons), black robins, fantail, waxeye, rosella, and – though I’ve only heard, not seen them – moreporks, the NZ owl. A few minutes walk and I am on the beach with its oyster catchers, pied stilts, herons, terns, godwits and gulls… I foray further afield in search of gannets, takahe, pukekos, cormorants, albatross and penguins…
And as if that is not enough, every so often I climb into the belly of a big steel bird that will take me somewhere far away, where I can meet new birds that I can’t find at home… Like this gorgeous yellow crested cockatoo in my friend’s back garden in a suburb south of Sydney. What a pretty bird…