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Life With Birds or Our Feathered Family | Our Prairie Nes
Our Feathered Family

“I want a bird,” you might say. Or think. Or you might go out and get one. And, for the most part, people imagine a pet bird as a tiny yellow canary, sitting in a cage, chirping quietly or not at all. Or maybe a parakeet that’s just cute and sweet, and the perfect accessory. However, the reality of owning a bird is very different than the imagined dream.

First of all, there’s a lot of information out there about which birds are “best for beginners” or most affectionate or least noisy or less likely to make a huge mess. The truth is, these ideas aren’t applicable in every situation. In fact, the most you can generalize about owning a bird is as follows:

  • They are messy.
  • They are noisy.
  • They aren’t cuddly.
  • They are also expensive.
  • They’re probably going to outlive you, especially if they’re a larger parrot.
  • Their care takes more research and education than a dog or cat ever will, so you’re better off with a dog or cat. Really.

And these generalizations are going to vary from bird to bird and person to person. If I’m starting off sounding negative, it’s because the cold, hard truth about birds is that they aren’t easy to have in your home. It’s like having a 3 to 7-year-old that never grows up, never leaves, never goes off to start their own life without relying on you (and even some humans don’t do that!). However, if you want one, here’s a glimpse into our feathered family and how we got here.

“Hold birb gentle like hamburger.”

Our First Bird

We started off with bird ownership because they’re, like, soooo cute! Okay, that wasn’t the only reason my husband practically begged me to go to a bird breeder when we lived in England. But what were the reasons for bird ownership, really, and were we ready? My husband knew more about birds than me. Just as some people are dog lovers or cat lovers or horse lovers or snake lovers, or whatever, he was a bird lover. I wasn’t sure about having a bird in a house with cats… or at all. So I did the same thing I did when I was expecting my first child: I researched the heck out of having a parrot. Especially because our first bird was going to be one that was considered not a beginner’s bird – a black-headed caique.

Here’s what I learned from countless books, websites, and forums – as with children, nothing will be the way you expect. This bird is going to come to you with pretty high-level intelligence, and the ability to both melt your heart and surprise you every single day.

We picked up Avery in a small English town right before Daniel had to go TDY at the time. That meant I was left all alone to care for a new bird with only recently-acquired knowledge, while the bird-lover who’d been into the idea of owning a parrot for at least several years was gone!

Avery and I became the absolute best of friends. He melted my heart from the moment he first fell asleep on me. Black-headed caiques are, as we would say back home in Massachusetts, wicked smaht, and he caught on fast with potty training. He was also a snugglebug (something I didn’t expect), talked to me while I showered if I let him come in the bathroom with me, and basically turned me into the bird mom I’ve become today.

Caique love.

He is now 9 years old, a sweetheart some days, a holy terror other days. If his hormones are surging, he thinks I’m his girlfriend and my husband is the enemy. If he’s feeling content, he’ll fall asleep nestled down on my chest or in the crook of my neck. He says his own name and “Step up.” He growls if he spots danger… or if he thinks you’re coming too close while he’s nibbling on a walnut. He’s smart enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong, but just as his intelligence is on par with a 3-year-old toddler’s, so is his self-control!

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. For me, birds are superior to dogs (though I’m still a cat person, as my head-butting, scritch-demanding, terrified-of-the-parrots felines can attest). I don’t have to go outside to clean up the birds’ poop. In fact, we don’t have to set foot outside on cold days for any of their needs. Warm days are another matter, in which case they get to spend the majority of the day outside, soaking up the sun!

Also, unlike dogs, birds don’t smell bad. Avery smells like wet cardboard, which is the telltale sign of a healthy caique who eats a good diet. They fly around the house freely, but trust me – there’s no pooping on your head mid-flight. Or at all if you’ve potty-trained your parrots.

A case of the zoomies…

Our Second Bird

In the summer of 2019, a friend reached out and let us know she was looking to downsize her flock. This is how Apollo, an approximately 12-year-old Congo African Grey came to us. I had no intention of buying another bird in the near future, but maybe to foster or adopt one after we finished renovating our home. I also had no intention if that bird being larger than Avery. Daniel said time and again that he wanted an African Grey, but I thought they were immense, like larger Macaw breeds.

However, just as Avery turned me into a bird mom, Apollo has me saying, “Hey, how about a Macaw in a few years?” Because this new addition to our family has also brought many lovely surprises.

Here’s another thing: if you aren’t ready to stand still and be calm when you hear the sound of flapping wings, you aren’t ready for a bird. Avery’s flight is more of a rapid flutter and he can almost hover like a hummingbird, but Apollo sounds like a helicopter! His body size is roughly equivalent to some of the smaller hawks out there.

When Apollo first came to us, he was an uncertain flyer. Now, he gets the zoomies on a regular basis. And when you have an almost 1-pound feathered missile darting around your home, you might want to duck for cover! But that’s something you absolutely cannot do, because a parrot is smart enough to look for the safest perch. That just might be you, so this is your second reminder that being able to stay calm when something is flying around or at you is important. If the very idea of a bird flying toward you terrifies you, you are probably better off with four-legged family members.

Parrots pick up many of their emotional cues from their environment. A calm, stable environment, with a steady routine of feeding, play time, flying time, and alone time (yes, even parrots need quiet and time to themselves) is important.

As with human toddlers, a bored parrot is often a loud and/or destructive parrot. An unsocialized parrot can become a sad or even spiteful one. And while you might think flighting a parrot (clipping their wings) is going to help them “behave,” it’s no more humane than declawing a cat. I’m going to put this bluntly: If you have to physically alter an animal to fit your personal preferences, you shouldn’t own an animal.

Having parrots is a lot like having children. They’re unique. They’re individuals. They have distinct personalities, likes and dislikes. They need to have some control or they’re going to give you a hard time. They need choices and options, and also the ability and freedom to refuse you. If they don’t want to be with you, they should be able to fly away from you. If they won’t eat their broccoli, you need to be open to trying different greens with them, because a well-balanced diet includes fruits, veggies, and pellets, with fatty treats like nuts and seeds kept to a minimum, and used for training or as special rewards.

Keep in mind these birds have cognitive ability ranging from that of a human toddler (a parakeet or caique, or other small parrot) to that of a kindergartner or first grader (an African Grey). Yes, a first grader. And that’s only based on what little we know about bird and parrot behavior.

You’ll clean up after me, won’t you, human?

Oh, and let’s not forget about those long life spans. When we get a dog or a cat, we figure on about twelve to twenty years with them. Even now, I joke that my eldest cat is an “old man” because he’s thirteen. But Apollo is also roughly thirteen or so… and this is barely a quarter of his life. Since I’m forty-five and he’s thirteen or maybe fourteen, a calculation of “possible years left” basically shows that either of us could outlive the other. And that’s not taking into consideration something happening to me or my husband sooner. Who gets the bird(s) if you die?

That isn’t a fun question to answer, but it’s something to have in mind before you commit to a parrot. Even worse is the fact that social media will be happy to remind you of that. “We welcomed an African Grey to our family!” I shared one day on Twitter. Someone decided it was then their duty to scold me about the fact that said African Grey will probably live to be sixty, and that I needed to think about that. My response was that my parrots are written into my Will and there is a home waiting for them, should something happen to me in the foreseeable future. I will also change my Will accordingly, as necessary (i.e. if my daughter still expresses a desire to have our birds when she reaches adulthood).

More Birds?

So after being a bird mom for nearly ten years (which isn’t a lot, but sometimes it feels like we’ve been a family forever), what’s in my future? More birds. My daughter wants a bird. We’ve told her that we know they look like a lot of fun to her and we realize she’s had birds in her home her entire life, since she just turned seven. However, we want her to be absolutely sure. If she still wants a bird when she’s twelve, we’ve agreed on a cockatiel (not to be confused with a cockatoo).

She is also taking an active part in training our caique. She works with him on step up, step down, and his continued potty training, as well as treating him for good behavior.

I also want to add a medium to large macaw to the mix but, again, not just yet. Our home renovation needs to be completed first and then we would like to build an outdoor aviary. But I might be about fifty-years-old by then, and I’m not sure I feel comfortable committing to a bird at that point in my life. It won’t be fair to a bird, unless we go for a much older rescue, which we’re open to. Knowing what I know about parrots, I wouldn’t get a baby again, simply on principle. But I’m glad we had Avery from his early days and wouldn’t change a thing!

Having parrots is a lot like getting a tattoo. The first one is exciting and you feel a little rebellious for doing it. It’s like a gateway into getting more and more. But, it’s more like a cross between getting a tattoo and having children, because it’s a living creature with needs and feelings. It’s something you have to really think about, because meeting their needs is so important. Give yourself time to consider what it would be like, because your life will change once you enter parronthood.

Brick Wall or Research Question | Our Prairie Nest
Brick Wall or Research Question?

This year, I’ve decided it’s time to be more specific about exploring my brick wall ancestors, as well as those who aren’t brick walls, but leave me with questions. Sometimes, it’s easy to mix up the two. What we think is a brick wall might actually be a research question, one that’s easily answered if we focus on it.

A brick wall is a place where you are at a standstill. You have unanswered questions and until you get those answers, can’t move any further back to previous generations. A research question can apply to both brick walls and ancestors for whom you’ve learned a lot, but might need confirmation of certain facts.

In the interest of putting some “cousin bait” out there, here is my list of brick walls and research questions for 2020:

Paternal

7th Generation: John Wood (circa 1800 – aft 1871) & Ann Siddall (circa 1810 – aft 1871), Marple to Ancoats and Chapel-en-le-Frith to Ancoats, England – Brick Wall

7th Generation: William Gray (circa 1815 – bet 1891-1901) & Ann Jane Mason (1815 – aft 1901), Ireland to Stockport to Ancoats and Woolrich to Stockport to Ancoats – Brick Wall

5th Generation: Emma Anna Wallace/Murphy (1861-1945) & Unknown Reagan, Guysborough, NS to Middleborough, MA – Research Question: Who was her first husband? When were they married? How did their marriage end (death or divorce)?

6th Generation: Francis Wallace (unk – aft 1867) & Elizabeth Murphy (1838 – aft 1861), Port Mulgrave, NS and Guysborough, NS – Brick Wall and Research Question: Did either of them every marry? If so, whom? Did they have other children? When did Francis and Elizabeth, and their potential spouses, die?

7th Generation: John Patrick Murphy (abt 1793 – 1873) & Mary Ann (Fraser) Lowery (abt 1806 – 1882), County Wexford, Ire to Guysborough, NS and Guysborough, NS – Brick Wall

8th Generation: Esther Unknown, wife of Edward Curtis (circa 1747 – 1840), Dudley, MA – Brick Wall and Research Question: What is her maiden name? DNA potentially points to Burrell or Short. Also mtDNA ancestor of Dad/paternal aunt. Willing to test their mtDNA?

Maternal

6th Generation: Giovanni Feola & Teresa Sofia, Campora, Italy – Brick Wall, not yet explored.

6th Generation: Nicola Tomeo & Francesca Trotta, Campora, Italy – Brick Wall, not yet explored.

8th Generation: Elizabeth, wife of William Parks & Mr. Johnston (circa 1795 – bet 1881-1890), Halifax, NS – Brick Wall and Research Question: What is her maiden name? What was her second husband’s name? When did she die? DNA potentially points to Johnston as a maiden name, as well.

8th Generation: Levi Benson (circa 1765 – 1815), Wareham, MA – Research Question: Were his parents Elisha Benson (1731-1813) and Sarah Steward (1732-1790)? Prove his paternity using Vermont probate record found for Elisha. Need to view at FHL or affiliate library.

6th Generation: Michele Galfre (1836 – unknown) & Francesca Manassero (1839 to unknown), Spinetta Italy – Research Question: Where were they born, married, and died?

7th Generation: Giovanni Battista Bartolomeo Galfre & Teresa DeMatteis, Spinetta, Italy? – Brick Wall

7th Generation: Giovanni Manassero & Teresa Cavallo, Spinetta, Italy? – Brick Wall

6th Generation: Giuseppe Bergamasco (abt 1837 – 1941), Cairo Montenotte to Moneglia, Italy – Research Question: When was Guiseppe born? Continue trying to decipher the handwriting on his birth record from the Allegati. When did he die? Possibly in or after 1941, supposedly 104 at the time of his death. No death record for him in Moneglia up to 1941. Died after 1941 or elsewhere?

7th Generation: Antonio Bergamasco & Maddalena Bozzolasco, Cairo Montenotte, Italy – Brick Wall (one of the witnesses to their son, Giuseppe’s, birth was Joseph Bozzolasco, perhaps a relative?)

7th Generation – Tomaso Pedemonte & Angela Giusto, Cogoleto, Italy – Brick Wall. Angela is the farthest back I can go on my mtDNA line thus far.

Prettier on the Outside | Our Prairie Nest
Prettier on the Outside

This incubator of plague and sower of dissent is my daughter. I love her with all my heart, but motherhood isn’t easy, no matter how cute the child appears. Sure, plenty of people do tell me she’s cute – “So cute!” “How adorable!” “I just love her.” “She’s no trouble at all.” To the outside world, what you see is what you get.

But we know the truth about our children. We know no amount of dreamy, Instagram-filtered photos can convince us otherwise. Our children are tiny monsters of varying degrees, with superpowers we never knew existed until they were born.

In her first 6 years, my daughter:

  1. Informed me that she thinks I hate her and wish I never had her (this is because we grounded her for sneaking outside with her unwanted dinner and trying to throw it in our trash can to fool us into thinking she’d eaten);
  2. Had various colds and hand, foot and mouth disease (something I, as a city-bred New Englander, thought only hoofed animals contracted);
  3. Managed to make up fantastic stories to explain mundane things, like how a Raggedy Ann doll got all the way up on top of a bookshelf (according to her, our smallest parrot found a way out of his cage, picked up the doll, and flew it up there; another time, she informed me that a monkey farted on her finger, causing her pain… what?).

When my husband and I fight, it’s only about one thing: how to parent our daughter. While my daughter is rolling in mud, organizing her spiders to worship their queen, and plotting how to hide the evidence that she didn’t eat her broccoli, my 17-year-old son is calmly ambivalent about his sexuality, strumming a guitar, and going with friends to Taco Bell.

I never had these challenges with my son. I am one of the moms who was duped into thinking, “Wow, the first child is so easy, the second will be a breeze!” Why, why, why did I think that?

Here’s something else I’m also guilty of thinking: that other kids suck. When I see a child screaming in a grocery store or a mother with 5 kids clinging to her, I look at my daughter and say, “I’m so grateful for you.”

But I think most moms don’t actually suck at parenting. I think most of us are doing the best we can, and most of us only see what others allow us to see. I think we all make our parenting choices and hope for the best. And, honestly, we need to let it be that way.

So next time your child is organizing a household mutiny or you suspect them of seditious intentions, don’t despair. I’m pretty sure you aren’t alone.

Snow Day | Our Prairie Nest
Snow Days

What are your memories of snow days in your youth?

Mine is of listening to WBCN Boston 104.1, hoping for the snow song. It was a parody of Monty Python’s “Spam,” except it went, “Snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow, snow…” When you heard that, you knew there was a possibility of a snow day!

If Bridgewater schools came up, we’d get giddy with excitement and prepare for a day of fun. Staying home, reading books, watching HBO, or playing on our Nintendo was fun, but it was even better if we could go sledding.

We had two favorite places for sledding. One was Tower Hill, behind Bridgewater State College (now Bridgewater State University). This was long before the commuter lots and MBTA parking, before the T Station, when the college was just a college. You’d walk up the hill to the tower for the best sledding in town, and what a walk it was!

We’d trudge up there through the snow, sled in hand, all the way to the top of the steep hill. It was lined on either side by trees and, at the bottom, the brick building now used for the campus police posed a potential threat if you picked up too much speed and didn’t stop in time. It was a good 4 or 5 minute walk just to get to the top of the hill, but well worth it. Because once you reached the summit, you had a view of that part of the campus and one heck of a trip ahead of you!

That was probably our favorite place to sled, because the hill was steep, smooth, and fast. With the campus building at the bottom, there was just enough potential danger to make it extra exciting. Would you crash into the building or avert calamity? That’s all any kid wanted when they were sledding – the wind in their face and the thrill of the ride.

The other place we’d go occasionally was informally known as Strawberry Hill at the Strawberry Valley Golf Course in Abington. It wasn’t as smooth, steep, or fast as Tower Hill in Bridgewater, but it had the added excitement of more bumps and potential jumps. The photo below shows my sister (in purple) joining many sledders on the hill for a day of fun.

I would love to take my own children to these places someday, or somewhere similar. In eastern Nebraska, we have beautiful rolling hills known as the Loess Hills. There are some unexpectedly sharp peaks and steep inclines. Most people think of Nebraska as flat, but that couldn’t be further from the truth along the east coast (yes, they call it a coast because of the Missouri River; technically, it’s a bank, but that’s neither here nor there; “Coaster” pride is all that matters).

Despite these glorious hill views, I’ve yet to find the perfect sledding spot. Our backyard is unsafe for sledding and I have to act as catcher to keep my daughter from ending up in the icy pond! We’ll do that from time to time, but it’s not at the top of my list of snow day activities. The front yard also isn’t that great. The incline is much too gentle.

About 2 lots up the street from us is a pretty good hill on another property. If the snow falls just right on this east-facing incline (and that’s not always a guarantee), it offers good sledding with an effortless climb back up to the top. The property owner built a workshop/garage at the bottom of the hill, so we have to be mindful of that, but otherwise it’s convenient and pretty safe.

We went out last weekend for some sledding in our backyard, since the hill up the street didn’t have any snow on it. Of course, with so little snow, our playtime turned into us basically flinging powdery white stuff at each other. That’s another thing about Nebraska snow – it’s just powder most of the time. Not wet enough to build anything or make a proper snowball, unlike wet, heavy New England snow.

But we still have fun and love a good snow day!