As he always does, Shimon started something in my head. He’s bad that way.
What Shimon said was: “Pity the poor parrot that cannot fly… hope that the advantages of living with a human outweigh the disadvantages…”
I don’t know the answer to that, and neither does Rita. Her life was always this way. At least, it was always this way after she came to live with me. So it has been for centuries of parrot keepers and the kept.
I was walking through a local feed store ten years or so ago barely paying attention to the dozens of crates filled with parrots. All kinds of parrots. I was not interested in parrots. Much less interested in keeping one. What I knew about them was that they were loud, messy and would probably bite. Then I heard somebody behind me yelling “Ariba”…rolling the drawn-out “R” perfectly. When I turned to see who was making the sound, she did it again. There was Rita. I laughed and walked over to talk to her. She looked dead at me and said it again. I thought she was being friendly. On a whim, I invited her to come home with me. She did. Oh, she did.
She spent the next six months trying her best to teach me to respect a parrot. She didn’t give up and I didn’t give up. I lost a lot of flesh from my hands and arms in the process. I read everything I could find about parrot care, feeding, taming, training… I acquired a small library of books on the subject. Most of it bunk, by the way. Slowly, we became friends. Either she gave up or I learned her language. The most amusing thing I learned was that the Amazona Oratrix is “recommended only for experienced bird keepers”. Ha! So it was. Finally, Rita had taught me how to be an experienced bird keeper.
I did not know she was wild and terrified. She had never been handled kindly. She had not known her parents. She had not learned to fly. She had never known life in a flock. I doubt she had ever seen the sun. She was, no doubt, “tube-fed” as a chick. Tube feeding is a process by which a feeder moves from one chick to another grabbing the chick and forcing a tube filled with a thin gruel into its throat to fill its crop. Over-filled crops “burn” so he has to feel the crop as it fills. If he overfills, the chick can develop crop burn. It is called “burn” because it literally stretches the crop until the skin breaks open resembling a burn. Chicks who develop crop burn are simply thrown out.
When Rita survived to eat on her own, an aluminum band was slipped onto her leg to identify where and when she was born. Breeders keep track of their stock by this banding method. Rita’s band reads, “NICTX337”. Her life began somewhere in Texas. She will wear the band until the end of it. She could live to be as old as I am now.
I should have named her “Nic”.
I offer this photograph from the old house to Shimon. When you think of Rita, think of her in this way.