Friday, June 1, 2007

Life in a Bird Cage

Life in the Bird Cage

I have an affinity for birds. I would be a bird watcher except for the fact that the humans who do so seem to start their days at about 4 AM. Why? Aren't the birds are up all day? I know there must be a good reason, catch them in the nest, before they have to go out for coffee and worms, that sort of thing, I prefer to watch the birds around 5 PM., with a smooth Rum in my hand, which, I guess, accounts for my lackluster career.

I had a Pekinese Robin as a pet as a teenager. The species was placed on the endangered list and banned from import many years ago. I wanted a parakeet but we lived in Greenwich Village and my brother considered parakeets too plebian so I got a pair of Pekinese Robins, one of whom died swiftly from neglect. The other, named "Alvin" after the chipmunk, became the star of the family.

About the size of a finch, with olive feathers and an orange and red breast plate, orange beak, Alvin was allowed to fly free for several hours a day. We learned that he abhorred bagpipe music, much like the enemies of the Celts. We had a Scottish grandfather and were trained to love it. When we put the music on, he would fly back into his cage and bury himself underneath the gravel paper, so we thought that we "had him trained". We would prop his cage on the windowsill on the fourth floor of our NYC apartment and when a member of the family turned the corner to head down the street, Alvin would let out a particular screech of joy that alerted us to the return of our family.

He lived with us for 9 years. I cried deeply when he died. I still miss him even though he never once sat on my finger.

Later in life I had a pair of Peach Faced Love Birds - sort of a poor man's parrot, a glorified parakeet. But they dutifully loved and bred and we watched the family grow, mourned the death of the mother at the claws of the family cat.

So when I moved here to the tropics, I thought, Perfect! Time for a Parrot! But no, actually I decided to live in the city, and the Botanical Gardens has this big poster about NO CAGED BIRDS. Besides my neighbor to the back has one who screeches all day.

But my little balcony has iron bars (a feature of the developing world) in the shape of the loveliest of birdcages. So I bought some seed, both thistle and sunflower and set out two dishes. They remained ignored for two weeks until one brave finch, the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of Finches, discovered it. If I sit very quietly in the corner inside the cage, they will come inside and share it with me.

Last week; as I mounted the stairs, I saw about 25 birds in a feeding frenzy. I held my breath as I saw one of them-- Alvin?- the same olive colors, the same perky personality, but no, as I looked closer, this fellow had a Zorro-style black mask around his eyes, sort of a speedo mask that certainly made him fly faster.

I contacted a friend who is an expert birder, who told me that I had sighted a Cuatro Ojos (a four eyes), a Black Thatched Palm Tanager, one of the 38 endemic species here in the Dominican Republic. He even has his own postage stamp. If you want to see him, why not come down for a bird trip with our resident expert, Kate Wallace at www. Think of it: 38 species that you could add to your list.

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