A BUDGIE ADVENTURE
MY JOURNEY THROUGH THE BUDGIE WORLD
I was living in an inner city suburb at the time approaching the turn of the century. It wasn't a particularly run-down area but going out at night had it's problems. Youths would gather in groups and sometimes would be intimidating. Vandalism and car crime were average for an inner city suburb and the car park to the tower block was vulnerable. After a spate of thefts the council decided to install an automatic barrier at the entrance which would be operated by the key fob. This system worked but unfortunately suffered a series of teething problems. After the umpteenth breakdown the barrier was never repaired. Within months of this my car was damaged three times and entry gained on the last occasion with the result of further damage to the interior. At that point I decided to move. I was out of work due to a stress related problem and this wasn't helping. During my preparations I parked my car on an open road in an industrial estate less than a mile away. Rather inconvenient for taking home shopping but the peace of mind knowing it was safe more than compensated for this. My destination was to be the Lake district. I had always lived in an urban environment and it was time for a change. I bought a tent and within weeks was camped out on a hillside not far from Windermere. Trawling through the local paper on the Saturday I ringed an advert for a farmhouse tenancy along with other contenders. Luckily the landlord was in when I rang from the mobile and I arranged a viewing later that day.
Driving along the one-track lane on that sunny day through the idyllic surroundings was an exhilarating experience. The contrast to the concrete jungle that I had left couldn't have been starker. But would I get accepted with no job and no references? - I was not very optimistic. The accommodation was a wonderful stone built farm cottage with a low oak beam ceiling. Tastefully furnished with a dining room extension which had been added later. The farmer asked various pertinent questions relating to my background and explained the tenancy agreement. The reference I gave was the Housing department whose flat I was then renting. I promised to supply him with the relevant names and address later. I was buoyed up when he accepted this and then was bomb-shelled when he told me that another person had rang up before me and would get preference. "She's coming round this evening to look at it." he said. "Ring me up tomorrow and I'll let you know." I returned to the tent and continued my search. I had to return the next day and I decided to ring him up at home. The mission although not totally successful had annihilated any lingering doubts about my leaving the city - it was just a matter of time. With mixed feelings I headed down the motorway on another glorious day when the phone rang. I grappled for the phone and said "hello!" It was the farmer. "Can I speak to Paul?" he asked. "Speaking" I answered in anticipation. "Do you still want the cottage?" he asked. ..... A month later I was living there!
THE SEARCH FOR A NEW LIFE
One drawback of such a move is that one is back on the social starting blocks. I was single and left what friends and relatives I had in the city. The weekly visits to the astronomical society were surely missed. I was starting from square one. I enrolled for a beginners German course to find friends and fill some of the time. This was worthwhile as I became acquainted with an approachable but formal person called Richard. We only met at the classes as he ran his own business and therefore was not available during the day - and he wasn't the type to have a jar with in a pub in the evenings. However the weekly visit made a welcome break from the routine. This in conjunction with my electronics projects and monthly visits to the astronomical society kept me ticking over.
I usually took a short daily walk but on one of the longer ones farther afield I came upon an aviary in someones back garden. It was close to the fence so I went right up. All the birds got exited and kept darting back and forth to the grill. I thought "shall I buy a pair and try to breed them in my dining room" - it was open plan so I could watch them from the living area and it would kill the boredom. I was very apprehensive as I would be responsible for them and I didn't know a lot about them. I went home and mulled it over. Half an hour later I was back with a cardboard box! I bought a couple of beautiful lutinos. I then went to town to get a cage and hung it up in the porch.
The two birds were very well bonded and settled in immediately. They understood each other well and would fly to a perch, the cock first followed immediately by the hen. They would then "chit" to each other as if starting a race and fly to another perch. I named the cock Chitty-Chitty because of this. The hen I called Goldie. I was elated that they'd settled in so well and was looking forward to providing for them and producing offspring. My elation however was not to last when the next morning I found Goldie sick in the cage. She was listless and taking no interest in her surroundings - not even the attentions of Chitty-Chitty. I hoped that it may have just been the move but it wasn't the case - that afternoon she died. I was devastated. Whatever she died of was and still is a mystery but mulling over it was not the answer. Two days later during which time her mate was constantly calling for her I decided to get him a replacement. The hen would be the same colour but any attempt to fool him was out of the question - we needed to move on.
She was a young bird who I named Tweety-Pie and on introduction he took to her and his pining was cured immediately. Unfortunately the same could not be said of the new hen. She was a nervous bird and seemed to prefer her own company. When after two days she hadn't settled in or really associated with Chitty I bought another hen from a pet shop. This hopefully would help her to settle in and also provide another breeding opportunity. She was a blue budgie and consequently I named her Blue-Bird. I released her from her box in the center of the living room to give her lots of flying space. She flew off immediately towards the dining room and to my horror collided with the window at full speed. "oh no" I shrieked. Such a collision can be fatal. In trepidation I approached the window and was relieved to find her walking on the window sill - somewhat confused but still alive. I caught her and placed her on the floor in the safety of the porch. After a while she flew to one of the branches and it seemed she had suffered no permanent harm. I had been stupid but lucky and needless to say all the windows were shortly afterwards protected with bubble wrap.
In contrast to Tweety-Pie she took to Chitty immediately and followed him everywhere. However by this time he had become besotted with Tweety and showed no interest in her! Tweetys' coldness towards him wore off and in time as she slowly gained confidence and accepted him as a friend. But Chitty didn't want a friend - he wanted a mate and so did I. After five weeks of seeing her constant rejection of him and his constant rejection of Blue-Bird it became clear to me that I was looking at an eternal triangle so I decided to set Blue-Bird free. The passive extractor in the porch could be removed to leave a six inch hole. This I did the following week and placed a perch directly below the opening. When she was alone in the porch I shut the door and removed the extractor. After a while she flew to the opening and looked out. When after ten minutes she hadn't flown out I replaced the extractor and had second thoughts. A few days later I repeated the procedure but this time left the door open. They were all in the dining room when suddenly she flew to the porch and went to the opening. Almost immediately she began to preen with gusto. After a short while she returned to the dining room and flew to the tree near to the other birds. Again she began to preen quickly. It was as if she knew she was going to be set free and was making preparations. She then flew back to the opening and stayed there for a long time. It was then I noticed a jackdaw perched on the fence nearby. Was this the reason for her reticence? I wondered. Then suddenly it flew directly at the opening and landed on the roof. Instead of darting back in fright as one would expect she stayed put and began to preen again and then flew off. A second reason for her reticence then dawned upon me. Was she afraid of an invisible glass barrier fifteen feet away into which she would collide? - the existence of which the crow proved wrong.
Whatever the reason I instantly regretted it. In one fell swoop I'd lost a "pet" plus a good breeding opportunity and vowed never to repeat it. Chitty showed no sign of missing her and continued to devote his attention to Tweety-pie. In comparing his personality to that of humans I came to the conclusion that he was rather immature. Whether one can draw these comparisons was not clear to me at the time but she was a reserved and introspective bird and he the opposite - and being from the same aviary she knew him well. I suspected they would never pair up and decided to get another pair from the same aviary. I took along a cardboard box and chose two natural green birds. I spent a lot of time just watching to spot a bonded pair. Eventually I found a couple who were fussing over each other and who were opposite sexed. I then called the keeper. He had difficulty catching the second one so I put the box on the car bonnet and asked him if I could help. He assured me that everything was under control and that he could manage. I left him to it and eventually he caught it and placed it in the box. I was relieved that the bird hadn't come to any harm. (however I noticed the keepers thumb was bleeding!) I thanked him and drove off.
This time on opening the box in the living room there were no mishaps apart from the fact that there was only one bird in it! I was astounded, I couldn't understand it - he had definitely put two birds in the box and I paid for two! There was a one centimetre gap between the long flaps - had it managed to scramble out while it was on the bonnet and my back was turned? - I never found out. The keeper believed me but was as dumbfounded as I was. "We'd better get him another one" he said to his partner. I chose another green cock but he was not my first choice and I kicked myself: They seemed to be bonded and now I had to choose one at random. Nevertheless I was please to get a replacement and thanked him. This bizarre happening turned out to be the best thing to happen since going on the original walk. This bird turned out to be the Casanova of the flock and mated with every hen that I got from that aviary. I named him "B". The rest of the birds were locked in the porch aviary as I released him from the box. His reaction to the new environment was astonishing - it was if he had been brought up there. No sign of fear, no sign of anxiety but with amazing budgie panache he flew straight from the box into the dining room and landed on the window frame separating the two rooms. And there he stayed for a while calling to the birds in the porch. The new hen recognised him instantly and returned his calling repeatedly.
THE DINING ROOM AVIARY ................................................................... THE PASSIVE EXTRACTOR
Tweety was less pleased and Chitty-Chitty even less! His prowess with the hens had obviously not gone un-noticed. After flying around frantically for ten minutes trying to get to them I opened the door. He flew immediately to the new hen who I named Green-bird. There upon he began to court her. She responded with enthusiasm and the future was looking brighter. Later that week I went back to the keeper to collect a couple of nest-boxes that he promised to make for me. I had previously laid a grass filled basket on the floor of the porch for Tweety-Pie but she had shown no interest in it! I fitted one in the living room and one above the window in the dining room. Within an hour of it's fitting, Green-bird who had already mated with "B" began to check it's suitability as a nest. Neither hen showed interest in the living room box. Consequently I cobbled up a makeshift nest from a cardboard box and fitted it in the porch to avoid any possible contention. This box didn't pass Tweetys' security checks and after five days when the entrance hole was large enough to put a fist through she began to show interest in Green-birds' box. However, it was a lack lustre interest and I suspect her reasons were that she didn't want to become another of "B's" conquests rather than a genuine desire to pair with Chitty-Chitty.
Four days later, Green-bird laid her first egg. During that week there were squabbles between the two cocks over her and the original pair were confined to the porch a lot of the time. Her box was the only viable nest and consequently Green-bird slept in it during that week. I decided to get another hen for Chitty-Chitty and a spare box for Tweets. I chose an attractive and mature albino who I named "Snowy". After a short period of pining she settled in and began to show interest along with Chitty-Chitty in the now half demolished cardboard box in the porch. She had demonstrated no interest in nesting with him in the living room so I removed the box and fitted it above the window in the dining room. Within minutes of it being fitted she flew to the perch and began to investigate it, Chitty flew on top: the young albino showed no interest in "B" at all. I was looking forward to two nesting hens harmoniously breeding in my dining room to kick start my new hobby - but it wasn't to be. Within hours of Snowy taking the new nest, Green-bird left her own nest and practically went berserk! She flew to Snowys' nest and began a tirade of squawking which lasted ten minutes. I only fully comprehended this when I realised Snowys' intentions were not to pair up with Chitty-Chitty but with "B" which she later successfully did. Although effectively dumping her as a partner, "B" continued to feed Green-bird and this arrangement worked. In the meantime I fitted the spare box in the opposite corner of the dining room for Tweety-Pie. They eventually paired up and began nesting but I never saw him feeding her. This may have been the reason for her extreme reluctance to pair with him. He was a fun-loving bird who always liked to clown around and although very fond of him he would have made a very poor mate: A brooding budgie hen needs food delivered, as time away from the box is critical - in cold weather seconds count. But despite this Tweety stayed with him and resisted all advances by "B" which were now becoming excessive.
She began to lay and rather than heralding a new calmer phase to the flock it had the opposite effect. The cocks began to fight over her and I decided to move Chitty and Tweety-Pie to the attic. It was a dreadful time to move a laying hen but the consequences of leaving things be would have been worse. The cocks could then concentrate on their respective mates without any distractions. This indeed is what happened and although Tweety lost her three original eggs because of the move, she began to lay again a few weeks later.
"B" settled down with the two hens and fed them both. During the period of turmoil Green-bird quietly attended to her three babies. I would place seed in the box for her as "B" would only feed her in the tree.
SNOWY AT HER NEST ............................................................................ "B" WITH SNOWY
CHITTY - CHITTY ON THE PERCH ................................................................ CHITTY - CHITTY WITH TWEETY - PIE
GREEN - BIRD NESTING ............................................................................ GREEN - BIRD WAITS FOR "B"
Meanwhile Snowys' chicks started to hatch and there were no further problems. Although not an ideal situation for any of the hens, two of them felt confident enough to start to raise a family in the dining room of my home which in turn gave a boost to my own confidence. I was so confident that I paid scant attention to the kitchen window that I'd left open: I was almost certain none of the birds would want to leave. It came as a shock a week later to find Green-bird gone. I was also disappointed - I had wrongly assessed the situation and a hen had deserted her chicks. But why did she leave?: A bird will flee an enclosure for three reasons - Out of fear, for food or for a mate. Snowy was not an aggressive bird but she did attack Green-bird on one occasion when she "jumped" her. This may have played a part but I came to the conclusion that although "B" was fulfilling his paternal duties in feeding her, she was not content with being second best. She was not to know that in time, new birds were being added to the flock and at that point she was left without a mate. Good enough reason to desert your offspring? On the surface NO! Some creatures even budgies will lose their life in protecting their young - this could be regarded as neglect in the extreme. But was this the case? It had become clear from Blue-birds' release that they don't just fly off at the first opportunity but consider things carefully. Whilst I was assessing them, were they assessing me? Was she certain in her own mind that her chicks would be cared for? Had she come to an arrangement with "B" about her plans? Whatever her reasons, I was now left with three orphan chicks which needed to be fed.
It was late afternoon and the oldest was a week away from fledging. Some chicks at that age can feed themselves if given the opportunity but the youngest at three weeks would certainly not be able to. I was hoping "B" would feed them but when after three hours he hadn't been to the box I took it down. All three chicks rejected the bread that I offered them apart from the youngest who took a single bite. I placed them in the corner of the room with some seed and went to bed. I wasn't sure why they wouldn't take the bread but later, on reflection it would seem that porridge would be a better bet. I don't eat porridge but there happened to be an unopened packet in the cupboard left over from the previous tenancy. I prepared some early next morning and was delighted when after a little reluctance the youngest began to eat it with relish. The older two refused to be fed by myself and survived through their own efforts and those of their father who fulfilled his parental obligations. Green-bird had laid three eggs and Snowy five which may provide an indication to the hens' feelings of security: Green-bird stopped laying the day "B" mated with Snowy.
The chicks I named G1, G2 and G3 taking the first letter of their mothers name. G3 developed normally and was taking seed ten days later. He made his first flight a day early and was independent of the porridge within a week. The older two made their first flight well before the normal time of thirty five days and were weaned within a week.
GREEN-BIRDS' CHICKS ............................................................................. G3 VISITS MATE IN THE WINTER OF 2002
Tweety wasn't fairing well in the attic. Chits went up the day before her which shouldn't have made a difference but it did. It had the effect of forcing Tweets the next morning to mate with "B" - the bird she detested. Her reasons were instantly clear: She thought Chitty had gone for good and was desperate for someone to support her - a cad of a bird but nevertheless a reliable one who would give her the opportunity to raise a family. It must have come as a terrible shock when two hours later I took her up to the attic. After rejecting the eggs that I'd saved for her she started to lay again, but the eggs began to go missing. Her interest in the nest and Chitty was low and I decided to break off the laying and bring them down. However it wasn't to last as their presence caused havoc to what was a relatively stable situation and they were back in the attic within days. Although she laid an egg she didn't look after it and I brought them down again a week later. The cocks began to fight over her again and the hens over "B". Snowys' chicks started to fly the nest and during this time they were kept in the porch a lot along with G1 and G2 who were becoming mischievous. It was clear that there was something badly wrong with their relationship and that they would never make a pair and raise young: It was a matter of keeping the peace and working out a long term plan. Tweety-Pie had formed a bond with G1 and despite my earlier resolution never to repeat a "Blue-bird" I let the two hens go.
Chitty remained a problem however and continued to challenge "B" over Snowy. "B" was the higher ranking cock and would chase him away most of the time. All the birds would spend a lot of time in the porch during the day and fly to the tree at night to roost. At one point Chitty and Snowy were alone in the Porch near roosting time and I did something which in hindsight was crazy - I closed the door! This gave Chitty - the underdog a chance to spend the night with his dream bird without "B" being present. It was a kind of compensation for a bird who never had any luck. "And why shouldn't he?" I thought. There was little chance of Snowy accepting him and it would knock the arrogant "B" off his pedestal a peg or two. Snowy squawked and so did "B" but to no avail. The night fell and the two birds roosted apart in the porch with "B" on the dining room window sill. Although nothing took place in the porch as expected it had the effect of raising Chitty-Chittys' ranking. His confidence had risen so much that he was prepared to die for her. This became clear as I was doing the dishes in the kitchen the next morning. The porch door had been opened first thing as was usual. "B" had flown to the porch and greeted Snowy and she greeted him. That was that I assumed and things were back to normal. However the blood curdling screams which came from the porch a few minutes later indicated otherwise. I shot into the porch to find "B" pinned down on the floor by Chitty who was apparently trying to kill him. I separated them and they flew to different perches. Neither bird was badly injured and I considered myself very lucky (not to mention "B" ) that I hadn't been away at the time.
EXPLANATION OF NOTES
17th July 2001:
9:45 All birds isolated in the porch. (dining room / porch door closed) pecking off the floor, Snowy pecking in nest box. 11:55 G1 and Tweety-Pie gone. 13:20 Chitty-Chitty isolated in the attic.
4th August 2001:
6:30 Opened curtain: (This was the dividing curtain between the living room and dining room) 6:35 "B" in the porch fussing over Snowy. 7:10 Yelps from the porch - Chitty-Chitty attacking "B" on floor. 7:30 Snowy in G box twice. 7:47 Snowy in the box for 2 minutes, Chitty-Chitty isolated in the dining room.
After the attack on "B" I decided to to try again with a new hen for Chitty-Chitty. She would be a yellow bird as before and if it didn't work out she would be available for future male additions to the flock. This I did the same day and installed Tweety-pies' box for her in the porch. This small extension to the house was going to be the main breeding area for my flock. The extra light and isolation from my domestic activities I assumed would be a more appropriate place for the birds and their breeding. I initially named her "D" and on introduction she settled in rapidly with no pining or "culture shock": The three familiar faces undoubtedly played a large part in this. As it turned out she was a very strong-willed and mature hen who didn't waste her time on "incompatible mates". Unfortunately for Chitty, he fell into this category and although he made advances towards her she didn't respond to them. Her focus of attention became Snowys' nest-box which had previously been moved to the porch after all her chicks had fledged. Snowy had begun to prepare it for her second clutch and it wasn't long before "D" was showing interest in it. I was elated when she was prepared to start a family in such a short time but who was going to be the father? :Chitty had been rejected and after an initial interest, "B" hadn't associated with her and she hadn't shown any particular interest in him. There hadn't been any fights but the new hen and also Chitty were interfering badly with Snowys' preparations. I resolved never to have Snowy to undergo the hassle of her first clutch and within days Chitty and "D" were in the attic. Later it emerged that "D" and "B" very likely had "clicked" but cunningly not made it apparent. Tweety-pies' and G1s' release the previous month may have affected them. They were not to know that they had been set free and may have believed they had come to some harm.
With four adults and six chicks, the management of my small colony was getting complicated. With Chitty and "D" out of the way the breeding quarters had become safer. However, the older chicks were playing up a lot which was natural in a way and acceptable - but not with a brooding hen in a box. I decided to completely fit out the attic as an aviary as opposed to an emergency enclosure for the troublesome birds. This took place over the following weeks with perches, a large tree branch and another nest-box. Floor-boards, a main light and stairs were already in existance. There was also a small sky-light which although insufficient from the point of view of illumination enabled the birds to experience natural daylight which I believe to be important.
Snowy had four chicks of different colours - very pale blue, yellow and deep blue. The youngest Snowy-4 was a very well behaved young cock when at six weeks I moved him up. He had been a dependent chick and caused no trouble. His sister Snowy-3 who he had been close to had been moved up the week before along with Green-birds' chicks and he called her a lot. He settled in fine and enjoyed flying around the extra space of his new quarters. Chits and "Z" as she was now called were pleased to have the company of the youngsters. All the birds were fairly settled and "B" was able to devote his attention to his mate without any distractions. Snowy-1 called a lot and I considered letting him join his siblings later on but for the moment it had to wait: He had flown into the frying-pan the week before and after three attempts to clean him up he still couldn't fly properly. However those plans were scuppered a couple of days later when early in the morning the birds spooked. I was awoken by the noise and with half open eyes climbed the stairs to the attic. By the time I reached the top the birds had returned to the lines and all was quiet. However the silence was interrupted by the sound of eerie whines emanating from behind the nest boxes. This sent a shudder through my body and I froze! I had already counted the birds and none was missing. The sound was like nothing I'd heard before and I couldn't place it. I may or may not have made a search but at three in the morning it was time for bed!
THE 13th OF SEPTEMBER DISASTER
The next morning I made a thorough search of the attic but found nothing untoward. However I felt uneasy enough to bring all the birds down in the afternoon and that's were they stayed for a week. They were allowed to sleep in the porch but were moved to the dining room when problems arose. Although the youngsters were a nuisance Snowy could deal with them but "Z" was becoming a problem again. After challenging Snowy at her box, she was kept more or less in the dining room and was monitored when allowed in the porch. Snowy wasn't totally happy with the arrangement as her chicks were beginning to hatch but order was maintained and "B" was very good under the circumstances. My earlier unease about the attic had subsided and after a week I moved "Z" and Chitty-Chitty back to the attic. G2, G3 and Snowy-3 followed suite the next day. Snowy and "B" settled down with their new offspring only to be distracted by the calling of their other fledglings, Snowy-2 and Snowy-4. The week after, I brought them up to the attic to join their siblings. Calm had again been restored to the household with only Snowy-1 rather depressed: Being the only youngster alone with his parents was understandable. I was very relieved to see Snowy and "B" continue nesting without the constant monitoring and shuffling about - but it wasn't to last. The following morning I found Snowy-4 dead on the floor of the attic. He'd sustained head injuries with no apparent cause and three other birds were missing - Chitty-Chitty, Snowy-2 and Snowy-3. I was stunned by this and spent days analysing the possibilities but came to no conclusions. Had there been a fight, had a mouse attacked him, had he hit the wall in the dark etc etc. The rest of the birds were also upset and remained very quiet after I brought them down. On inspection, I found small holes between the roof and floor of the attic, a few large enough for a budgie to pass. It was very likely that these were the means of escape for the three birds. But why did they leave? - Chitty had had weeks previously to find and use these holes. Something in that attic frightened them. What that was I never found out but it was time to move on. A pair of new budgies were called for and also to make the attic "gas tight". The first task was accomplished two days later at the same aviary.
I chose another albino hen and her turquoise partner and named them Frostie and Turkey. The birds didn't settle in at all well - It was a whole day before I'd actually seen them feeding. Frostie in particular seemed very depressed. One possible reason emerged later on as it appeared that she was in lay. Not only that, despite my efforts to spot her mate at the aviary I may have picked the wrong one - when together they weren't acting like a pair. Turkey turned out to be assertive, tough as old boots and stubborn - not every hens' idea of an ideal mate! However they were very well behaved when they were allowed in the porch and didn't cause "B" any distraction. Frostie showed little interest in Tweety-pies' nest box which I'd brought down, due very probably to the interruption to her breeding plans. The birds appeared to tolerate the new arrivals well and I was looking forward to a calmer period. However these hopes were dispelled a week later as I attended to my domestic chores. I popped into the porch after hearing some calling and was met by a scene of total chaos. The hens were fighting and one of them had a go at a youngster. After clearing all the birds out of the porch apart from Snowy, order had been restored. I pondered later on as to why neither hen didn't use the living room nest box and share "B" like Snowy did instead of risking life and limb for the porch box. The most likely reason was that despite Bs' flirtings he was strongly bonded to Snowy and remained with her till she died. He knew the situation and how I operated and didn't want to push his luck. No bird was injured as a result of these skirmishes which may suggest that they could also have been about "pecking order establishment". Nevertheless the warning signs were there and had to be acted upon.
Shortly after, I brought Frostie, Turkey and "Z" up to the attic along with Green-birds' two remaining youngsters. They were both male and approaching sexual maturity and would provide a possible partner for "Z". Meanwhile Frostie had bonded with Turkey and started nesting within days of the move. "Z" however had no intention of pairing with either of the youngsters who were both vying for her. Although the chemistry between her and Turkey was practically non-existent, she started giving Frostie hassle after she'd laid her first egg so I brought her down again.
Whatever Bs' reason for his previous indifference towards her, it was now over. He greeted her with a massive welcome and mated with her in five minutes. This turned out to be a watershed in my new venture which heralded a period of depression and turmoil for Snowy which nearly cost her her life.
I fitted Tweety-pies' box in the dining room for "Z" but she didn't take it - she was Hell bent on having the porch box but there was still one chick in it. It was three days late and not ready to leave. The door of the box had been permanently open to give it encouragement but to no avail. She began to intimidate it and it fell to the floor on one occasion. This explained it's reluctance to leave - it was unable to fly. It left the nest of it's own accord the next day during which time "Z" had been separated. I immediately made the nest available for her by closing the door and she flew straight to it at the first opportunity. There was still contention over that box and neither hen would let the other have it. However, after taking Snowy-1 to the attic to be with the other youngsters things changed dramatically. There was no more interest in either box and the downstairs went quiet.
Snowy and "B" called for a while and he returned the calls. The attic birds were elated to have him back with them especially the youngsters. He'd been up previously before the disaster for a few hours and flew back later. The next day, "B" was still "pining" over him so I brought him up to assure him that he was okay. They had become very close and the attic was an unknown zone to him. He was pleased to see his son again but then his insatiable appetite for variety took over. His attentions were then directed towards Frostie who was sitting on four eggs. There was no problem in this respect as "B" was not a violent bird and wouldn't attack Turkey or even challenge him. Nevertheless I brought him back the next day on account of "Z". He immediately flew to her and I assumed she would soon start nesting but it wasn't the case.
There followed a period of calm during which time I noticed that Snowys' second chick had an undershot beak. The implication of this, which I found out later, was that it would need attention for the rest of its life. At the moment it was feeding okay and not in any discomfort. Meanwhile, Green-birds' "chicks" took a fancy to Snowy-1 in the attic. He was an attractive and effeminate cock who I took to be a hen for a long time. He was very popular with the other birds and had a gentle nature. He became particularly attached to G2 who would chase his younger brother away a lot. In view of the lack of video monitoring I brought G3 down. I released him on the landing after which he flew to the dining room. Almost immediately, "Z", Snowy-2b and Snowy-4b, one after the other approached him and pecked at him. Why this happened is not clear. Snowy-4b in particular had only left the nest a few weeks previously! He didn't retaliate but flew off each time and finally tucked himself up in the tree.
I read into this that there was a consensus amongst the hens regarding his behaviour in the attic which they considered inappropriate. What this was and how they knew about it is still a mystery. I was still pondering over it when to my amazement Snowy-1 came flying down the stairs. Had he heard the rumours about G3 and came to put the record straight! Whatever the reason, his return caused total pandemonium amongst the flock. The dining room burst into life with the birds chasing him back and forth repeatedly to greet him. It was only when the plant mister came into action that they settled down.
The next day on the 29th October 2001, Snowy started nesting again. During the quiet period, "B" had more or less gone back to Snowy and when she entered the box, "Z", in a desperate bid to win him back challenged her. I tried to re-create a stable "threesome" environment as I did with Green-bird but it didn't work. Neither hen was prepared to share "B" and started fighting over the porch box. It was only when "Z" was repeatedly confined to the dining room along with "B" that she accepted that box. Snowy started to lay again while "Z" begrudgingly prepared the Tweety-pie box for laying.
Later that week I went for a day out and returned about tea-time. I checked on the birds and found Snowy not well in the nest. She was off her eggs and appeared lethargic. I left her be and checked her later on. It was after roosting time and she appeared a lot worse. There was sputum on the walls of the box and I feared that she wouldn't make the night. "B" was sleeping in the dining room with the rest of the birds. I switched the light on and opened the porch door. The birds woke up and within minutes "B" flew into the porch. He flew straight to her and gave a shriek that made my hair crawl. He seemed to sense that she was seriously ill. He fed her and preened her head. There were no hospitals at the time and on closing the door I wished her luck and went to bed.
Losing Snowy would have been a big blow - a beautiful fertile hen who was Queen of the flock. It came as a great relief the next morning to find her not only still alive but perky.
Controlling Bs' visits to the hens became impractical and after a week before "Z" had laid her first egg I moved her box to the corner of the porch in a final attempt at a threesome. This time it worked with "Z" accepting the nest in its new position and no skirmishes over Snowys' box. She had laid five eggs and "Z" laid her first five days later and "B" fed them both. At last the hens had learned to compromise and accept the situation and concentrated on what they do best - incubating eggs and rearing chicks. I was elated and relieved in succeeding in something that I was beginning to think was impossible. But Snowy wasn't Green-bird. She was a hen of intense pride and insecurity. Having to share "B" with another hen led to tragic consequences.
After "Z" laid her egg, "B" would follow her into the box a lot and she would come out a few seconds later. At one point there was some commotion in the box while they were both together. It seemed odd but as there was no sign of injuries when they both emerged, I thought nothing of it. The next day however on checking "Z"s nest I found the egg missing. There was no trace of it either inside or outside of the box and although I wasn't certain what had happened to it at the time one can only conclude that it was highly likely that it had been consumed. Both sexes destroy eggs but generally cocks destroy eggs fertilized by another bird. This was "his own" egg which would practically rule him out. But why should "Z" destroy her own egg? Her maternal instincts turned out to be the strongest of the whole flock. She basically lived for chicks and nothing else - the relationship was secondary. I went to town the previous afternoon and came back late. Had Snowy gone into "Z"s nest while I was away? It was certainly possible but I came to the conclusion that "B" destroyed the egg on Snowys' instruction. The commotion in the box was "Z"s attempt to save the egg. "B"s strong sex drive made him vulnerable and despite his relationship with "Z" his heart remained with Snowy.
After this however, "B" continued to spend a lot of time in "Z"s nest, sometimes with her not present. She began to lay again shortly after during which time I covered the box with thermal fleece. This material has good insulation properties and can raise the internal temperature by two to three degrees. (See Nature of Budgies - Birds try to help trapped budgie, regarding possible hazards with this material.)
I took Snowy-1 along with all of her second round chicks to the attic that week to give Snowy a break. But Snowy-4b was taken after being knocked off the cage by her father. I brought her down the next day after I found her on the floor in a weak state. She couldn't fly but recovered quickly during which time Frosties' first chick flew the nest in the attic. Whatever one thinks of "B", he was the most logical, sensible and level headed bird of the flock. He was also highly intelligent. Why he attacked his daughter is a mystery. To compound the young hens' troubles, she was also pecked at by Frostie and G3 in the attic after going there.
Humans shunned or even attacked invalids in the past. Was this a reversion to pre-historic instincts in one of the most intelligent species on the planet? Was this colony of mine or any colony for that matter a fractal of human existence with all its characteristics - birth, marriage, death etc and all the complex human emotions and behaviour? It's difficult to say. However, such philosophical thoughts weren't with me at the time and the mob on Frosties' box needed sortin! Spooky-tooth (Snowy-2b) as she was now called was the main culprit which saw her downstairs again within hours!
Two of Snowys' third round eggs had already hatched and "B" continued to feed both hens and would spend time with them in their nests.
That evening after roosting time, I heard a commotion in the attic. The birds had clearly spooked and I rushed upstairs. On getting to the top, I found Frostie flying around squawking and Snowys' first 'b' chick on the floor frightened. When I nudged it to get it back on the line it flew off in panic striking the beams and walls. I caught it and brought it down to the living room and released it. Again it began to fly uncontrollably around the room. I grabbed a card-board box and put it in it and moved it to the dining-room aviary and put the light on. I opened the box and flushed it out and expected it to settle down in the tree, but again it flew around the room crazily hitting the window and walls. I put it back in the box and returned to the attic to check on the rest. The birds had returned to the lines apart from Frostie and Turkey who hadn't moved. After falling in the stair-well, Frostie flew to the line with the rest. When the birds had settled I returned downstairs and checked on Snowy-1b about an hour later. I found it dead in the box. This disturbing turn of events stunned me for a while and again question marks regarding the attic emerged.
It's normal for hens to roost out some days before the chicks leave the nest which is what Frostie did. A couple of days later after returning from town I found her in the box again. Not only that but her second chick who had flown the nest that morning was missing. I searched the whole of the attic and couldn't find it. Immediately the attic "Demon" came to mind. Something had happened and although the birds had settled for the night, I decided to bring them down. I brought Frostie-1 down first then went back for the rest. I was relieved but further unsettled to find the missing chick safe and well back in the box with the rest. It's unusual for a chick to re-enter the nest when it can fly. This reinforced my sense of urgency to move them. All the birds apart from Green-birds' "boys" were in the dining-room that evening. All the chicks settled in well considering the upset to their plans and rhythms with their parents continuing to feed them as before.
A couple of days later a "mini" spook occurred downstairs. Frosties' third chick who had presumably slept in the tree in the dining-room was missing. Turkey was calling him and as I searched for him, he suddenly emerged and started flying erratically around the rooms. He soon settled down with no intervention apart from switching the dining-room light on and he came to no harm. However, shortly afterwards the same thing happened to Frostie who finally fell to the floor squawking. She returned to the tree shaken but otherwise okay and attended to her youngest chick. I was highly likely the cause of the chicks' spook in searching for it in the dark. The cause of Frosties' fright is unknown.
Later on however she had "another go" at Snowy-4b. This bird, although a hen was too young in my opinion to present any threat regarding her mate Turkey, and also too weak to be of any physical threat. What the problem was, I didn't know but it wasn't in order and she got sprayed. However, later on I realized that I may have been wrong as I discovered that a two month old hen can indeed present a sexual threat to a bonded pair. Within fifteen minutes of this chastisement, Snowy who had been quiet all morning, left her nest and flew to "Z"s box, and appeared to have a tantrum - squawking and tearing at the fleece on the box! "B" was not present but in the dining-room with the rest. "Z" continued brooding and didn't emerge. What this was about is still a mystery.
I began to work that afternoon on a new nest for Frostie as it appeared she was in lay. It would be a temporary nest to see her through her next clutch. This nest was of the brick-wood type which became so popular. I initially built it on the bureau in the dining-room but she showed no interest in it so I put her youngest chick Frostie-4 in the nest to act as a beacon but to no effect. Then the reason became clear - I found her egg on the floor shortly afterwards. With no nest available for her, Turkey began to show interest in the other hens which added to her problems. She was still in lay and began to fight Snowy over her box. I moved the nest to the porch and put it on a coffee table. However, when she was in the porch she still showed no sign of taking it. I insulated the nest the next day and made it waterproof as the porch was not completely water-tight. Later in the afternoon I brought the "G" birds down which resulted in mayhem! The rest of the birds were pleased to see them back apart from Frostie who repeatedly had to peck off "G2"s advances. Snowy-1 later on practically repeated his mothers' strange behaviour earlier by flying to "Z"s box and throwing a tantrum! I don't think they were trying to communicate anything to me and when I looked in I saw nothing untoward.
Snowys' elder chick was now two weeks old and had been whining on and off during the day. When I checked on it, I found it to be lame in the right leg but otherwise okay. I put it back and continued with what I was doing. Half an hour later I was alerted to the sound of squawking in the porch. I rushed to the porch just in time to see Frostie enter Snowys' nest. I could hear the sound of scuffling inside. Then all went quiet. I opened the box quickly ... Then lo and behold, Frostie laid her egg right in front of my eyes! I closed the door and shortly afterwards she left the nest. My determination to solve her problem intensified. I was very reluctant to bring down her attic box after specially making her a new home. I placed her in the nest a couple of times but after flying out, she couldn't locate it. It occurred to me that she may not have recognised it as a nest because of its low position and unusual appearance. I had an idea. I placed a long piece of wood from a perch where they often used to gather to the nest to act as a guide - but would it work? Within the hour she was in the nest!
The porch aviary began to settle down with no serious problems or contentions. Frostie began to locate the nest faster and was looked after by Turkey. "B" continued to feed his hens with only moderate hassle from the youngsters. Snowy-1C was still whining occasionally and when I checked it a few days later it was dead. There were no injuries and I was at a loss for an explanation. I checked on the remaining chick for the next two days and it appeared okay but on the third day it had also died. Snowys' illness the previous month sprung to mind. Was there still some bacteria present which infected the chicks? I didn't know. Snowy cleared her nest of the remaining eggs in the afternoon which had gone well past term and roosted out.
Frostie laid her first egg that morning and I continued to work on the nest. I replaced the back board with a small picture-frame window to monitor the progress of the chicks without opening the box. A small heater had previously been installed to give the hens more social time out of the nest in cold weather.
Meanwhile Spooky-tooth had bonded with "G3" and the pair were showing great interest in "Z"s nest. She dealt with this unwanted attention by completely ignoring them! Her eggs were about to hatch and a hen with a deformed beak presented little threat.
Snowy immediately started nesting again and "B" continued to look after both hens. Any doubts about the gender of Snowy-1 were put to rest when I found him trying to mount Snowy-4b on the floor of the porch. Although accepting food off him previously, at three months she was not only immature but clearly un-consenting and I placed her in a cage. After this she was kept in the cage a lot as she was finding it difficult to perch.
Work was begun on a new nest to go in the living room with a front observation window. A dimmable lamp was also included and a water trough. When it was completed I moved Frostie and her four chicks into the nest followed later by Turkey. Frostie took to the new nest immediately and was feeding her chicks soon after. Turkey thought the nest was still in the porch and kept flying there. It was only when I removed the roof from the old nest that he began to appreciate what had happened. It was two days before he could find his own way to the nest during which time I physically brought him to the nest. At that time I netted the birds rather than spraying. After going through the same process with Frostie, both birds were competent in locating the nest and flying to it at will.
The budgie house as I called it was again of the brick-wood type using small paving stones and had a much larger interior area. The location of the nest in my own quarters posed certain limitations to my activities regarding noise and light especially after roosting, but the closer contact with the birds and a better understanding of the goings on in the nest more than compensated for this. "Z"s chicks who were both hens flew the nest that week and three of Snowys' fourth round eggs had hatched - Snowy-1d, Snowy-2d and Snowy-3d. Twelve days after hatching I found Snowy-1d dead in the box. There were no injuries and the other two chicks were okay.
This sequence of events reminded me of something James Bond said in one of his books - Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, thrice is "enemy action". There was something wrong here. Whatever was causing this, Snowy-2d wasn't going to be the next victim. Within half an hour both chicks were in the care of Frostie. She willingly accepted the orphans and along with her mate Turkey, fed them as her own.
I assumed the first chick died of an illness and made a cursory check for anything unusual but found nothing. I made a fuller examination of the last two chicks and found no sign of injury or discharge. But there was also no sign of a crop in either chick. This in conjunction with the strange circumstances of Snowys' own death led me to believe that she had stopped feeding the chicks on account of "B"s' relationship with "Z". However, during the days prior to "S1d"s' death, "B" had not associated with "Z" or fed her chicks and he hadn't interfered with the Frostie-Turkey relationship. He devoted all his attentions to Snowy. It was highly likely that there was a genetic fault in the "B" line as all three of "Z2"s' chicks were spastic and unable to fly. All three of Snowys' chicks died around the second week stage which MAY suggest there was a genetic connection. After being certain Snowy was responsible I am now left in some doubt.
It was two months before she was allowed to breed again during which time I gained valuable experience on the normal rearing and behaviour of a budgie pair. Snowy-2d who I named MK, grew up to be a gentle hen who raised four chicks of her own in the following year. The youngest MK4 became seriously ill and was saved by one of "Z"s' daughters (Orange right) from her second clutch. Snowy-3d who I named Oxygen turned out to be a very bright and attractive cock who later sang the haunting intro tune to
one of three videos I made over improved living conditions for budgies. The following years saw an explosion of offspring which sparked the construction of the cabinet nests and the installation of monitoring equipment. This latter measure proved very useful in managing the colony.
The attic became the main breeding area with the porch being used for the resting hens and troublesome birds. Unexplained losses were few and far between and the attic "Demon" may have been nothing more (or less) sinister than mice.
FROSTIE IN THE BUDGIE HOUSE WITH THE INVALID Z2-2
'Z' AT THE BACK OF THE BUDGIE HOUSE ...................................................... THE ATTIC AVIARY
THE PORCH AVIARY ABOVE AND THE DINING-ROOM AVIARY BELOW
THE END … of the beginning.
The relationships of the birds can be found from the
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