Have you ever been outwitted by a cockatiel?

Years ago, I kept hand-reared, tame cockatiels which make great companions, though somewhat mischievous. They made cute little bite marks in any pieces of paper I was remiss enough to leave around, and joyfully nipped all the leaves off my Madonna Lilies if I left them within range.

They would back up to the nearest edge to drop their neatly coiled little splots overboard.  One each, every twenty minutes or so.   At least their little poopies dried within five minutes so you could easily sweep them up; not like lorikeets which squirt.  The problem was that the ledge they kept backing up over was the credenza, usually with the paper stationery drawer open.

Now I have a young male and female, neither of them hand-raised.  It took months to get the boy, Jupiter, to allow me to scratch his head and to get him to hop up on my finger.  Chickie doesn’t want to know about hands. To her they’re evil things, but occasionally I’m allowed to play with the tip of her plume.

I started off with Jupiter and another bird which turned out to be a male.  Because they got into a daily scrapping regime, I went back to the shop and asked if they’d give me a female instead.  They agreed, but they couldn’t come to my house to effect the exchange, and gave me instead a little cardboard box and told me to bring the problem male back and they’d give me the new hen.

Photo Theresa Sjoquist

Photo Theresa Sjoquist

I went back home with this box, looked in the cage, and quickly realised that any progress I’d made with Jupiter would be lost if my evil hands suddenly nabbed his companion, stuffed him in a box and took him away. So I got cunning.  I figured if I disguised my hand, then at least Jupiter wouldn’t associate it with bad things. I put on my big, pink, rubber dishwashing gloves.

Well, it was very distressing.  I chased that poor little birdie around the cage with my pink gloved hand making several grabs and failing.  Both birds screeched and flapped, and feathers flew everywhere.  Finally, I succeed in catching the little guy, and he bit.  And I do mean bite.

He bit and he hung on until I could fight the poor little thing into the box and shut it.  That was my first error, because experience has taught me in no uncertain terms that pink dishwashing gloves are no defence against cockatiel bites.

Jupiter stood shouting in his cage at me as I went out the door.  He was severely traumatised.  So was I, but there was more coming.

At the shop, they let my little grey boy fly loose into the aviary and then spent at least ten minutes with a butterfly net batting at the target female who managed to keep evading the net. I learned later that the fellow had been bitten by a bird and this was how he avoided a repeat performance.

By the time he’d plastered my new little female to the wall with his net, she was in a terrible state.  He shoved her into a box and handed it to me. When I got home and carried the box to the cage where Jupiter was now cowering, I realised that I had the same problem.  How to get the new bird out of the box and into the cage.  It hadn’t been effective the first time, but I put the pink dishwashing glove on again and reached for the birdie in the box.

Predictably there began a lot of scrabbling and squawking. She kept evading capture by only a feather.  I got her though. I grabbed her little grey self and started toward the cage.  She was shouting by now, and Jupiter had begun screeching too.

Then she bit me.  And I do mean bite.  Right next to my fingernail, pretty well through my finger.  The pain was outrageous, but if I let her go, two things were going to happen.  One was that she would get away and then undergo a lot of stress in the recapture process, and two, she would learn that biting pays off.

So I had to take it.

That feathered beak was screaming, and biting, at the same time.  And not content with the effect her bite was having at its current site, she opted for another one and sunk that marvellous curved beak all the way up to her nose further down my finger.  We’re talking dripping blood here.  Jupiter was going beserk in the cage, while Chickie was screaming and biting, and I, having to do something with the dreadful pain, was roaring at her full voice.  Oh dear.

Well, I got her in the cage and she left my gloved hand like an arrow loosed and stuck, vacuum-like, to the far side of the cage, panting.

Jupiter was appalled and and screeched a guilt-inducing accusation. ‘ This isn’t my mate. This is a different bird.  What have you done with him?  I don’t want this bird here.’

We’re all friends now but it took the three of us a week to recover.