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Cageful of Parakeets

Most people seeing a cageful of parakeets would probably assume that they are all the same, clones of each other. Having been owned by an ongoing flock of parakeets for the last 15 years (yes, they own me), I can assure anyone that they are all unique individuals and there is nothing clonelike about any of them.

My association with St. Marks’s Veterinary Hospital began 11 years ago with twin parakeets, Bonheur and Bonne Chance, aqua and yellow beauties, who arrived in my life when they were about six weeks old. Annoyed at having been separated from their friends at a breeder’s shop, their attitude when I brought them home was, “What is this place? Do you know who we are? We’re very special and used to every consideration! Why are we here?” Complain, complain, complain. They had me enslaved in a matter of minutes. Bonheur was the living personification of his name, happiness. He sang by the hour and was an early awakener. During the summer he was up before the crack of dawn, at 5:00am, flying and singing, waking the other birds, and then going back to bed himself for an additional snooze. I never needed an alarm clock. Invariably cheerful and debonair, a born leader, he was the ‘spokes bird’ for the group and the undisputed first among equals.

Bonne Chance was Bonheur’s twin sister and as unlike him as day is from night. Indignation was her preferred mode of being and I often thought of her as my budgie feminist. For a number of years she was the sole female in a group of four parakeets and was utterly unimpressed by male antics or posturing. She would entertain herself by playing one male against another and watching the fallout. For all her ferocity, she was often surprisingly tender and very fond of having the back of her neck gently massaged, after which she sometimes would not bite me.

Nearly two years after their arrival, my beautiful blue and white Bontemps arrived, in a dreadful state, rescued from my kitchen window one April evening just as the temperature was dropping back to near freezing. Whether he had been abandoned or escaped from an apartment, I never knew. Seriously ill with leg mites and scales, the outlook for him was very grave. Bonheur and Bonne Chance decided otherwise and gave him many reasons for living. Dr. Haddock’s skill played a major part in his recovery, but I’ve always thought that Bonheur and Bonne Chance deserved the greater share of the credit. Bontemps was the peacemaker, the group diplomat, and never went to bed until he was sure that all the others were tucked in first. He was Bonne Chance’s cavalier, Bonheur’s buddy and Benison’s big brother. He died too early of a hereditary hemorrhagic kidney tumor. A truly noble being, I think of him as my knight in shining feathers.

A year and a day later, one month old Benison (whose name means blessing), gloriously green and yellow, arrived from a shop that slated him for destruction because of his bent right leg. A bird of great self-assurance, but never an egotist, he was the entertainer, the class clown. In his spare time, he enjoyed hanging upside down on a lace curtain, for hours, in front of his favorite mirror. Madly in love with Bonne Chance, his day always began with a rapturous greeting and dance for her, which she invariably appeared to ignore. However, let Benison be diverted in any way from these morning attentions and she immediately manifested her displeasure in his apparent lapse. Her sudden death at the age of nine and a half robbed him of the center of his existence and his interest in living; he died nearly five months later of avian diabetes.

Bonte, who entered the group in the aftermath of Bontemp’s untimely death, is a lady in every sense of that word. Deeply in love with Bonheur, the two had quite a love life. She took exquisite care of Benison in his last weeks, grooming him with great sensitivity when he was too weak to groom himself and sitting by his side throughout the day. After he died, she became both a mother and big sister to Bonne Amie, taught her how to fly and initiated her into the ways of the flock, of which she is currently the reigning grande dame.

Bonnie Amie, at one year, is the smallest of the group with a will of forged and tempered steel and utterly determined to have her way in all things. She is fond of expostulating spontaneously in a voice so loud that she can be heard at the elevator. Perhaps her small size is accountable for her apparent desire not to be overlooked (as if anyone could); she is very sweet and mischievous and loves teasing Bonte, and never fails to get a rise out of her. Both are a lovely blue and white and although six years apart in age, identical in coloring; but for their sizes they could pass for twins.

The newest member of the ongoing flock are Bel Ami and Cher Ami, a pair of male English Budgerigars, rather than parakeets, with dispositions of great sweetness. Bel Ami, blue, violet and pale yellow, is another songster. Cher Ami, brilliant green and pale yellow, is somewhat reserved and very watchful of Bel Ami in a guardian angel kind of way. Cooped up in a cage much too small for them over four months in a local store, they can also be considered rescues. Since they came home with me in early April, they have been flourishing and now that their quarantine has been lifted, a newly formed avian quartet has begun to operate, forming alliances, thinking up pranks and keeping me on my toes.

Through the past 11 years, the staff at St. Mark’s Veterinary Hospital have been, and are, an integral part of all my parakeets’ lives and well-being. The staff were also there for me each time a bird died. Freddie’s hugs, Emily’s sympathy and Jimma’s concern helped me more than I can describe and my memories of their spontaneous kindness are continuing blessings, as are the wonderful sympathy cards, with personal messages, from staff members. The staff technicians are unusually skilled and sensitive, especially when necessary treatments or procedures are prescribed, and sense a budgie’s anxiety, knowing instinctively how to administer what is necessary without unduly stressing the bird. Don, Erica and Lorelei are my parakeet’s technicians of choice, especially when it comes to needle sticks, talon or break trims. The veterinarians are second to none as are their medical and diagnostic skills and expertise. Drs. Burya and Brisky, and Drs. Antinoff and McLean before them, are first rate. Above all and foremost is Dr. Sallly Haddock, who is living proof that the success of an endeavor is determined from the top. Her own interest in birds has brought a special personal dimension to avian medicine as practiced at SMVH and makes her, for my parakeets, the first line of care and prevention. Bonte, Bonne Amie, Bel Ami, Cher Ami and I all look forward to an ongoing experience with SMVH, although I think the budgies rather wish for long, very long, intervals between visits.

-Marina Papaj
June 8, 2000