It’s the first of August 2003 and the attic aviary is teeming with activity. The move from the porch as the main breeding quarters was complete. The four cabinet nests had been built and five standard nesting boxes fitted to the rafters – most were occupied. A segregated pen was constructed in a corner to cater for problem birds but later was also used for breeding. The dining room aviary was still used mainly for those birds using the Budgie House.
A chick had hatched in one of the standard nesting boxes which was being nursed by two hens! – “Spooky-tooth” and “Zj”. They took it in turns to incubate while the other went to feed, but sometimes were together.
“SPOOKY-TOOTH”: (23 months old) was the second chick to hatch from Snowys’ second clutch – a blighted clutch which saw all three of her siblings die prematurely. Her mother Snowy was a very popular and attractive albino hen although she found it difficult to show affection to her offspring. She paired up with “B” a handsome and very promiscuous cock. Their first clutch of four chicks developed normally but Spooky-tooth was born with an undershot beak. This is where the lower mandible covers the upper and is a disfigurement. This left her also vulnerable as the sharp end of the upper mandible is used as a weapon. She was a gentle bird by nature and rarely displayed aggression. She was not at all pretty - and apparently the budgies’ perception of her was no different. She had been more or less ignored by the budgie cocks apart from one with whom she had a stable relationship. He left her after a while and paired off with one of Frosties’ hens, quite possibly due to this disfigurement.
As the time went by she became so desperate that she took up a relationship with her father “B”. She laid eggs with only one hatching but the chick only survived for a short while. It later became clear that he probably carried an abnormal gene and this may have been the cause.
“ZJ”: (18 weeks old) was the only chick to hatch from “Zs’” third Clutch, her father being “G2” – the second chick from the “B” / ”Green-bird“ pairing. He was a rather quiet and introverted bird who was not overgenerous with the body language which made it difficult to assess his personality. He certainly wasn’t shy or timid. He associated as much with the cocks as with the hens and was bisexual. He didn’t have much to do with the rearing of “Zj” as I brought the mother and chick down from the attic to the Budgie House some time after hatching for reasons unclear. I provided her with seed and she continued to raise the chick herself. She was a very intelligent and mature hen and was not strongly bonded to him. She previously had a relationship with “B” which produced two normal chicks. She showed little sign of missing him when he went back to Snowy which didn’t surprise me – her main raison d’être was to raise chicks. She raised them all very well and doted on them. “Zj” developed normally and flew the Budgie House only to land on the kitchen floor! I promptly put her back in the nest until she could fly properly. This occurred the next day. During the short time she was in the aviary she seemed to be a very independent and capable young hen. By and large she was a well behaved bird apart from a couple of occasions in her youth.
1) The Dining room aviary had some birds in it when “MK4” flew the budgie house. She was a poor flyer and I put her in the tree with the rest of the birds. “Zj” who was seven weeks old at the time was seen to have an altercation with her – a quarrel where the two birds were pecking at each other. I sprayed “Zj” away from her and that was that.
2) Again in the Dining room four days later. Spooky-tooth repeatedly approached “MK4” on a branch whereupon “Zj” chased her away. I let this one be.
“S1G”: (ten months old) was the first chick to hatch from Snowys’ seventh clutch, “B” being the father. She was one of the most unpopular hens in the aviary and found it difficult to keep a relationship. Whether this was due to temperament or other factors, I do not know. The only bondings which she had formed were with her father after Snowy died and with her half brother (G3) which I terminated out of principle. Her younger sister who was her only surviving sibling had no problems in this respect. She was a sensual and mature hen who had formed a stable relationship with a cock who I named “Oxygen” – a bright and active bird from Snowys’ fourth clutch. The only cause for concern after “St1b” hatched was that she was found to have a bruised crop some days later. It wasn’t serious and no action was taken. She continued to be looked after by the two hens which had become very close. Things were looking brighter for “S1g” as she’d formed a bond with “G2” and was preparing to lay eggs in one of the vacant Standard nesting boxes on the rafters. This may have been her last chance to raise chicks so I let them be. However, a couple of days later, “Z1” a pragmatic hen in the box next to hers was seen repeatedly chasing her away and squawking. It appeared that there was some contention over “G2”. She’d only been out of the pen four days and possibly had her eye on him. There were no fights so I left it at that. Before settling down with “G2”, “S1g” tried to take a nest from another hen. Her mate was on the perch when she flew at him and tried to dislodge him. But she picked the “wrong one” - this was “White-Left” one of Frosties’ “boys”. Many of her offspring were “rough” but he was also sensible. He paired up for life with the Frostie Babe. I had a lot of respect for him. Many cocks would have flown away and left the challenge to their mates, but not “WL”. He was a cool “customer” and rarely put a foot wrong. Having being attacked by “S1g” he immediately retaliated and pecked her off the perch – she didn’t return! Mind you, she got lucky in a way – his mate wouldn’t have pulled any punches!
As the lease was coming to an end in the tenancy I decided to let the birds go if they wanted to by leaving the attic window open. But it was to have unforeseen consequences for the next day “S1gs’” new found partner left. “Z1” then paired up with “Turkey” – Frosties’ old mate and things settled down again. However, this changed dramatically when five days later, Spooky-tooth left. “Zj” struck up a friendship with “F1e”, one of Frosties’ offspring who was a bright and cheerful bird from her fifth clutch. “Zj” (Human equivalent age: 10 years) and her young friend were then left to care for the chick, which was now four weeks old. “S1g” then started giving “Zj” hassle - She'd been seen flying away from her. It appears that Spooky-tooth despite her deformity was protecting the nest. “S1g” roosted out of the box that night and apparently had found a new partner – a blue cock which may have been “F1e” although there were other blue males in the aviary. However it didn’t settle her.
On the last day of the month I was downstairs dealing with some newly fledged chicks when I noticed a green bird enter “Zjs’” box on the monitor. The camera was of necessity a cheap one and not very clear. “Zj” was green but something didn’t look right. Then shortly afterwards “S1g” flashed through my mind. She’d been chasing her again the day before and I sprayed her down as a warning. I ran up the stairs banging on the stair bottom and shouting. When I got in the attic I heard continual squawking – it was coming from around “Zjs’” box. I crawled along the floor and braced myself for a shock. “St1b” was standing in the box alone squawking with her head covered in blood. I looked for “S1g” and she was found standing in her own box as if hiding. She immediately flew off when I tried to get her so I sprayed her down and put her in a bucket. I covered the bucket and got “St1b”. I was unsure what to do so I held her under my jumper for warmth and took her downstairs. I doubted that she’d recover. Her scalp wasn’t bleeding as such but oozing with blood and completely denuded of head hair. She’d stopped squawking. When the bleeding stopped I fed her and put her in the Budgie House.
Things were looking better as it was now over four hours after the attack. I then went to get the culprit. I got a cage and returned to the attic and transferred her. When the evening came I decided to return the chick to her own nest rather than bring “Zj” down. She was familiar with it and the environment and it was also warmer. “Zj” was not in the nest and the chick squawked when she joined her shortly afterwards! This disconcerted me somewhat but on reflection it was logical – the chick had no idea that her attacker had been caged.
When I checked the box next morning I breathed a sigh of relief to find the chick still alive. I knew then that the odds were in her favour. She went from strength to strength – she didn’t let the attack affect her one bit – her spirit was amazing. She even pecked at “F1e” when he came to visit on a couple of occasions. I brought him down to the Dining room aviary after the second occasion after he entered the box as a precaution. “Zj” continued to care for the chick herself which flew the nest five days late. She blended into the colony with no further problems. “Zj” began to lay the day she left. She laid six eggs and was befriended by another cock. However she didn’t incubate them all to term and a week later all the eggs had vanished. The preparations for leaving the premises were at an advanced stage with the birds being brought into cages. This drew a close to my journey through the Budgie World .... But little did I know that journey 2 wouldn’t be too far over the horizon!
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF NOTES.
29th AUGUST 2003:
12:00 ... Q2 gone into PP1 (Attic pen) next to B.
Two birds gone, OR2B, Spooky-tooth.
ZJ partnered with F1e, chick okay ...
S1G chasing ZJ (re. F1e probably) ...
18:35 ZJ performing synchronised head movements with chick !!
20:00 Attic okay. S1g roosts out of the box ...
No S1g eggs, partnered with a blue bird.
30th AUGUST 2003:
12:00 "B" moved into cage 3 ... S1g sprayed re. chasing "Zj" or flying to "Zj" box repeatedly ... seed put in Snowy box earlier (St1b)
31st AUGUST 2003:
8:00 Approximately, noises in the attic.
9:30 Queenie-B chicks very quiet in the dining room.
10:00 Approximately, S1g gone into ZJ box? monitored. Shortly afterwards I
go to the attic. St1b squawking repeatedly for a long time,
injured in the box, very bad. S1g in M-box, put in a bucket.
St1b taken away. S1g didn't squawk (on apprehending) ...
14:05 I fed St1b lots.
14:22 I put her in the Budgie house. Before that she was kept
under my jumper.
15:00 S1g moved into cage 2 ...
18:10 Q2 called repeatedly (in the Dining room), St1b called back.
19:00 St1b returned to her box. Shortly afterwards, ZJ entered the box, St1b squawked.
Afterwards Z called repeatedly (in the Attic).
SPOOKY-TOOTH AFTER ONE OF HER TRIMMING SESSIONS
SPOOKY-TOOTH (ON PERCH) AND ZJ
PREPARE THE NEST FOR LAYING
THE ROAD TO FREEDOM?
ZJ (ON PERCH) CHECKS ON S1G
THE CULPRIT: It has to be pointed out that the attack wasn’t actually seen. There was at least one other green bird in the aviary at the time. “Z1” had taken the next but one box on the rafters and was in lay. There’s no record of her or her mate Turkey ever interfering with “Zj” or her friend. It’s conceivable that “S1g” had heard the chicks’ cries and went to her aid. “Zj” was not an aggressive bird. The incidences in her youth are common in budgies and may have been about something specific or “pecking order establishment”. Indeed, “Z1” used to tease the chicks when I removed them from the nest to clean it and “F1e”, the chick she fostered prevented a flightless hen from returning to her nest. This is bad behaviour but it doesn’t mean the bird is dangerous. After eight years in the hobby I haven’t had a single case of feather plucking which I believe is due to forced pairing. “Zj” was not only free to choose when to start a family but also to choose her own mate. If “Zj” was responsible it would constitute a pattern as all three birds were weaker than her and all were hens. This is probably a statistical aberration with no significance. She was very close to her mother, had many suitors and was well balanced. Since the early incidences there were no records of any problems with this hen.
Cocks can also injure chicks. It’s rare but it does happen. “F1es’” presence in the box was clearly not wanted by the chick. What this was about is not clear, however a chick is more likely to squawk rather than just peck at a bird when in danger. No other cock in the aviary had given rise to concerns over the welfare of “Zj” or the chick.
“S1g” was an aggressive hen and had previously attempted unsuccessfully to take two nests. The chance of any other bird being involved is remote. Why she did this can only be speculated upon. The most likely reason is that she wanted a mate. She had failed to attain a normal relationship for one reason or another which made her feel inadequate and her younger sisters’ successful pairing compounded those feelings. Having lost the relationships with her father and half brothers she became more aggressive. This led to a vicious circle and she became desperate. By disposing of the hen and chick she would then be left with the mate.
However it appears that her intention was not to kill the chick but to rid her from the nest by virtue of the fact that she was still alive when I got there. Also her injuries were commensurate with feather plucking and not stabbing.
Alternatively, she’d found a mate and didn’t want a competing hen in the vicinity of her nest.
She spent 9 days isolated in a cage after which she was moved to a larger cage with other birds in preparation for the move.
During “Journey 2” I constructed a special
to cater for such birds and a minimum age of nine months was set before permitting breeding.
I don’t know whether a fifteen week old budgie hen can lay a fertile egg – I’ve always believed Spooky-tooth was the mother – hence “ST1B” and not “Zj1”. But what indications are there that this may not be the case?
a) “ZJ” had entered another vacant nest-box at least three times a couple of weeks before the eggs were laid – SIGNIFICANT.
b) “ZJ” had been fed by a blue cock the day before the eggs were laid – VERY SIGNIFICANT. And the cock which was 19 months old had never previously had a stable relationship with a hen which may suggest that he was inadequate and the relationship failed.
c) “ZJ” laid exactly the same number of eggs (6) two months later – NOT SIGNIFICANT.
The only indications (apart from being a mature hen and incubating the eggs) that Spooky-Tooth was the mother is that she had been following her father “B” around a lot 10 days prior to the laying – SIGNIFICANT.
At the end of the day “ST1bs'” parents are unknown, but what is certain is that a budgie hen had willingly gone to the aid of another which had no partner. And the chick after the attack had shown remarkable strength of character to recover with no apparent psychological consequences.
Quotes “” = Non Standard English, phrases or names of birds.