THE "SPARK" THAT IGNITED MY LOVE FOR PARROT-FAMILY BIRDS
By Sally Blanchard
My First Budgie Mickie
The painting was painted by my father when I was a little girl. It shows me with Mickie and a white-fronted sparrow because I loved Mickie and I was learning to love wild birds.
Some people get parrots and they never “get it.” Others have unrealistic expectations and may not have the patience to figure out what living with a parrot is all about. When the personality of the person and the personality of the parrot mesh together in a positive bond, it seems as if there is a spark. When people feel this ‘spark’, they will want to learn as much as they can so that their relationship stays positive. One of these “sparks” often happens when a companion parrot does something endearing that is amazingly cute and/or smart. I had several smaller birds that I adored after Mickey but he was the reason that I loved birds. Most parrot lovers enjoy both telling stories about their parrots and hearing other people’s stories. I am no exception and in the over 43 years that I have worked with parrots, I have a lot of stories about my parrots and stories that people have told me and I love sharing the photos.
It seems that a lot of parrot lovers started with a childhood budgie. I was no exception. My first ‘spark’ happened when I was in the fourth grade. My father had told us for years about an African grey parrot he met at a dinner party in Paris right after WWII. He often talked about getting an African grey but instead, he bought us a budgie. Back then, they were just called parakeets. My father named him Mickie Finn. Mickie quickly became my best buddy. I would take him up to my room so he could help me with my homework. As I wrote numbers and letters down on the paper, Mickie would do his best to eat them but couldn’t get a hold of them with his beak. Every night I would imagine telling my teacher that I couldn’t get my homework done because my parakeet was eating all of my words, yet I always knew that would not be an acceptable excuse.
I was a talker even back then and I told him everything I was doing and asked him lots of questions. It didn’t take him long to become a good talker. He would ask me, “Whatcha doin’?” and I would tell him what I was doing and he would say. “How nice for you.” I thought that was hysterical because even back then, he learned it with a touch of sarcasm. My brother, Roger, and I had to share Mickie and Roger was jealous that Mickie talked in my little girl voice. No matter how hard he tried to teach the talented parakeet to say something, Mickie never talked in his voice. However, he learned at least one expression in my father’s voice from hearing my father admonish us on a frequent basis. We were kids and we went in and out all of the time with our friends in tow. My grandmother was visiting and she walked out the door with Mickie on her shoulder. As she started down the front steps, she realized that Mickie was on her shoulder and he said in a clear but squeaky little voice, “Shut the door stupid, the bird’s out!” My grandmother hurried back in the house with our flighted little kamikaze bird on her shoulder. When my grandmother got home, she immediately got her first of many parakeets.
My father was an Air Force colonel at a purchasing center in downtown Philadelphia. He dealt with important civilians a lot and my parents often entertained. My brother and I usually got to meet the guests but then we had to go upstairs to our rooms and be quiet. One night a very proper couple came for dinner and just before we greeted the guests, my brother let Mickie out. Normally this would not present a problem but it turned out that the woman was phobic about birds and Mickie terrified her. This was even before Alfred Hitchcock’s movie ‘The Birds’, which created a whole generation of aviphobes. Of course, the more she screamed the more excited Mickie, Roger and I became. Roger was jumping on the furniture trying to catch Mickie and, of course, it became a game where none of us could catch him. Finally, my father firmly told my brother and me to sit down and calm down. Mickie loved my father and flew right to him and my father put him back in his cage. This was not good enough for the woman who said that if the bird wasn’t taken away, she and her husband would have to leave right then. My brother trudged up the stairs with the tired Budgie in his cage and peace was restored.
Mickie also picked up expressions from television and would come up with statements that often surprised up. One day as my mother took him out of his cage, he emphatically exclaimed, “You’re in a jam, Gracie!” Of course, this gives my age away since George Burns and Gracie Allen was our favorite show to watch with a gregarious budgie going from one shoulder to another.
The Lone Ranger was also one of our favorite shows back then. Mickie had only lived with us for a couple of years. Who knew back then how to properly take care of a beloved little bird? We were sold a whole bunch of boxes of different seeds and were told that was all he needed. We were also told not to feed him and ‘human food’ because it would give him diarrhea. We believe this bad information. Although the bad diet was a problem, the worst thing was that my father shared his evening cocktail with Mickie. One evening, Mickie Finn was flying around the dining room while my mother was ironing. As I remember it, the Lone Ranger fired his gun and Mickie landed on the ironing board and died. I was one little girl with a broken heart. The next day in school, I was leaning against the wall crying while the other girls were jump roping. My teacher asked me what was wrong and between sobs, I told her that my parakeet Mickey had died. Her response has stayed with me all of these years, “Honey, he was just a little bird.” "JUST A LITTLE BIRD!!!" He was my best buddy! I really do believe that Mickey motivated me to start learning about birds all of those years ago. I started paying a lot of attention to wild birds after my beloved budgie came to live with us.
As soon as was possible, my parents bought another budgie but he was sick and went back to the pet shop. We got a Siamese cat instead – I loved the cat too! When I was in college, my parents got a wonderful little Blue budgie we named Tippy. He had a lot of personality and was a good talker. I missed him a lot when I transferred to another university and moved away. Years later when I was an adult I got a wonderful cockatiel named Rosie who was an excellent talker. Then came my first “big parrot” a double yellow-head and the spark turned into a flame as my life evolved around my parrots and helping other people finding the spark.