Rita is the inspiration for the title of this blog. I thought I should finally credit her. After all, if your byline is based on the life of a character, you ought to say a little something about her, don’t you think? I don’t have many followers who are parrot keepers. The reason I know that is because nobody asks questions about her. If you aren’t a parrot keeper, you probably think parrots are just messy birds who sometimes entertain us by parroting what we say or performing silly tricks for our amusement.
This is the earliest picture I have of Rita and me. I am sharing it although it is a bad photo of both of us, because it illustrates Rita’s general attitude. I was amused that she was suspicious of the camera in anybody’s hands except mine. Her wariness of people persists to this day.
We had an unusual snowfall in the winter of 2004. Even Rita liked it. She ate the snow and loved the snow cream that Miss Sarah and I made.
I suppose I should start at the beginning for those of you who don’t already know. Our life together started when our paths crossed in a local feed store in the spring of 2003. Rita was in a crate in the middle level of a wall filled with crates of parrots of various species. I knew nothing of parrots. As I walked by the stack of crates, I heard a loud call pierce the general din of parrot chatter. Ariba! I would learn much later the meaning of that Spanish word: UP! It is the first command a parrot learns. He is asked to step up onto a hand or a stick perch as an absolute requirement for his care and safety. In that fateful moment, I simply thought it was cute. I turned back and spoke to the friend who would become my alter ego. She tilted her head and listened with curious eyes. I told her she could come home with me. And she did.
When I got home with Rita, I had no idea what to do. She was frightened. I did all the wrong things so she bit chunks out of my arms and hands in self defense. Eventually, I read enough about parrot behavior to understand what I was doing wrong in this budding relationship. I apologized and started over. Parrots have long memories. Finally, we came to an agreement and I was accepted. Parrots demand mutual respect in their relationships. Absent that, somebody is gonna’ get hurt. Much the way of people too. Parrots want desperately to understand what you want of them. If you make it clear, they are happy to oblige.
After we made our peace, Rita began to discover what I wanted her to do, and I began to understand what she was saying to me with her body language, her tone of voice, her calls and her expressions. Parrots understand human behavior and emotion. They are sentient, empathetic creatures. Living with a parrot is comparable to living with a child. Or so they say. Uncontrolled, a parrot would be impossible to keep. Rita spent the first years of her life on her six-by-eight-foot Java Tree behind the sofa in the living room. She could see everything that happened all day in the house. She played, ate, napped and walked back and forth from her tree to the sofa. On nice days, she played on her open-top cages on the open porch. She sometimes became bored and walked back into the house if she saw the open door. She belonged and she knew it. She takes her bath in the shower in the winter and on her porch tree in the summer. She loves the water and acts really silly. She tells herself she’s a “pretty girl” the entire time!
Rita spends her days on her Java Tree or on her play stand beside my desk. Sometimes, when she is in a bad mood, she fusses and stays in her cage. She lets me know what she wants by calling out: ”Come here, Granny!’ or “Want a cracker!”. I always respond. Sometimes she just wants to talk. We call back and forth from wherever I am. She dog whistles and I respond, “Pretty Girl, Rita! Then we go through the repertoire of everything she knows how to say. If the phone rings, she answers. If I call the dogs, she calls them too. Amazons can be moody, but Rita rarely exhibits that behavior although her species is one of the most difficult to handle of the hookbills. I think parrots who don’t have enough human interaction become depressed and difficult.
This out-of-focus photograph is the result of my trying to get Rita to be still for a closeup of scratching her under the chin. Since she has seen the full-frame Nikon for years, she pays no attention to it, but the little Lumix is somehow offensive to her. When I reached out my hand, she wanted to bite n’ play as I call it. She can feel the crunch of the cartilege and ligaments in the joints and she loves it. She doesn’t bite hard, of course. I finally clamped down on her beak and held her head with the other finger in an effort to make her be still. Of course, it didn’t work.
Rita shares meals with me. I bring doggie bags home from restaurants for her too. She eats anything I eat with the exception of onions, avocado, cabbage and other foods that are toxic to parrots. They don’t automatically eat foods that they don’t recognize. You have to show them that you eat the food. Then, they will eat it too. Parrots can’t smell food. They taste it to determine if they like it. I tried eating parrot pellets, making all kinds of yummy noises, but Rita didn’t buy it. Sigh… :-)
She loves steamed broccoli that is still crunchy. China Inn broccoli is her favorite! I always bring a piece home to her. I think she’s telling me it’s delicious here.
Rita sleeps and sometimes rests in her large cage in the living room. Paul Draper made it. He lives in a rural area of New York. He is a wonderful craftsman, designer, and fabricator. He also made Che’s cage. His cages are comparable in price to retail market cages. I highly recommend him. (The black rope perch is from the original over-spray on the cage.)
My husband died in July 2009. He was confined to a hospital bed for a couple of weeks before he died. We installed it in the living room where Rita’s cage is located. The phenomenal thing about it all was that Rita didn’t say a word during that time. She sat quietly in her cage and watched. She didn’t call out or demand a cookie. Sometimes, I remembered to take her out to the porch, but if I failed to take her, she didn’t complain. During all of the nursing traffic, late hours, and confusion, she never called out her usual “Ariba” when strangers came and went. That was entirely remarkable. If I had any doubt about the ability of my friend to understand, I no longer could have doubted her. She knew. She had called Pops for years when she wanted something. Now, she knew he was dying. I have no doubt about that. She still calls him sometimes. I often think she knows something about him that I don’t understand. She is my loyal friend and companion. Yes, I suppose I am the kind of woman who keeps a parrot, after all.