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Dibblee, the toast-munching parrotlet, poses for a picture.

Randy Arnowitz

Dibblee, the toast-munching parrotlet, poses for a picture.


My Little Parrot

Bitten Fingers, Mixed Messages, and a Feathered Companion


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I’m not really a bird person. Sure, when I was a kid, we always had a resident parakeet living in our home. When one died, got out, or was inadvertently sucked into the vacuum by the cleaning lady, we’d go back to the pet shop and get another one. Sometimes it would be blue. Sometimes green. Before the advent of hand taming from birth (hatching), we’d put on the talking record and diligently stick a finger in the cage hoping to tame it. Eventually the bird would either agree to the finger and decide to chat or it would not.

My neighbor recently offered me a parrotlet that she had little time for and found to be slightly aggressive. Not crazy about the idea of keeping something in a cage, I agreed to take on this little guy (I knew he was a guy because he has blue cheeks) as long as he could be tamed. I wanted to allow him as much free time out of his cage as possible.

In the very short time since he adopted me, I’ve learned that a parrotlet is just that: a “parrot-let” or little parrot. In fact, they are the smallest, most commonly bred parrot species in captivity. Most of the parrotlet sites online, and there are many, insist that a parrotlet is “a big bird in a very small bird body.”

A couple of, days into this relationship I was still convinced that he was going back to where he came from. He had a knack for finding the most succulent parts of my fingers and hands and removing little pieces of meat from them. I went back online to see if there was any mention of parrotlets being carnivorous.

By the third day, I was charmed by the way he would excitedly chatter his “good morning” to me when I uncovered his cage upon awaking. He was intrigued by the numerous Band-Aids that adorned my war wounds and delighted in picking at them to see what was underneath.

On the fourth day, I felt flattered and amused as he scolded and berated me for spending so many hours at work. After a few minutes of “shoulder time,” he was no longer cross with me.

The Band-Aids came off on the fifth day, and he now enjoys hopping onto my shoulder in the morning to have his toast. After work he’s back up there for a GoLean Crunch cereal snack .

In just under a week, I have found “Dibblee” to be very intelligent and extremely opinionated: especially about toast. When the bread bag comes out, he chirps wildly until his toast is golden brown and crunchy. Patience is not one of his virtues, and I know now that I must never run out of bread.

The Summerland bird lady told me that parrotlets cannot have poppy seeds. Apparently they can become addicted to them and subsequently have to be gently weaned off of them.

Panicked and alarmed, I ran to the label on the bread wrapper to make sure I had not unknowingly contributed to the delinquency of a minor bird. I was relieved to discover that I did not have to contact the Betty Ford Clinic to see if they have a bird rehab unit.

Parrotlets don’t scream or screech, and unlike larger pet birds that pluck out their feathers and toss profanities when confined, these bird-lets seem content to play with their toys and graze through their organic bird rations until they can again take their rightful place on top of your head.

After about a month, I suspected that Dibblee had a cold. He was puffed up, somewhat lethargic, and making a “wheezer” sound when he breathed. I took him to the bird vet and discovered that he did indeed have a respiratory infection, and I was given some special tangerine-flavored bird medicine that I was to administer twice a day for a week.

The vet also informed me that Mr. Dibblee was in fact, Mrs. Dibblee. I’d been relating to my little bird buddy as if he were a boy bird and now I’d have to get used the fact she is actually a girl bird. I can only imagine how Cher is feeling these days.

After I asked the vet a barrage of bird and parrotlet questions, I showed her how Dibblee liked it when I held him/her and gently stroked her velvety back feathers. “Oh no,” the vet said. “You mustn’t do that. That’s what the males do to the females, and you’re likely to stimulate egg production, which is very bad and could shorten her life.” It seems that I still have a lot to learn about birds.

Apparently, when a pet bird bonds with its owner, it’s because the bird basically thinks you are its mate. So if you have a girl bird, you want her to get attached to you in a good way but not so much that she wants to set up housekeeping, or rather nestkeeping, with you and start a family.

So as I understand it, I can be Dibblee’s companion but mustn’t give her mixed messages or lead her on. After the vet told me all this, I realized I had to let Dibblee know that although I am very fond of her, I really just want to be friends and that we should be able to see other birds. What with all the quality time and back rubs, I hoped I hadn’t given her the wrong idea.