L’il Sis moved to Toronto with her boyfriend a few months ago…or more accurately, she moved into his apartment with him. Her rescue pooch Groucho went with her of course… crippled leg (from a recent run-in with a car) and bent ear (a remnant from the mean streets of The Dominican Republic where he lived before his rescue) and all.
This would have been fine except that the boyfriend has a cat. Groucho and the cat have gradually, over the months, established a DMZ of sorts. Groucho was initially pleased to have a new animal friend of any sort, figuring that any living creature would want to play with him. He quickly found out that, not only did the cat not want to play, it felt Groucho’s presence was an invasion of its territory. But recognizing that L’il Sis and her boyfriend were ‘a thing’ and presented a united front, Grouch figured he’d have to grin and bear the cat’s attitude…as well as its presence on the bed with him. He has gotten over the fact that the cat hisses at him and, although he tolerates the cat’s body on the bed,gives out a constant ‘this is MY bed and you are only here as a result of my good nature and generosity of spirit’ vibe.
The presence of the cat meant, unfortunately, that L’il Sis could not take her two birds with her. I have been boarding them until they can arrange a safe spot away from the threat of the cat. This has not been an imposition for me since L’il Sis’s old room has been an indoor aviary for a few years — home to several canaries and Mrs. Beeton, my pink parakeet. In fact, the addition of these new birds has been a delight. One is a Java Rice bird (a finch- like bird with a sleek grey back, black head,white cheek patches and an oversized pink beak). His cage mate is a bright yellow canary, similar to my other canaries.
I was amazed at first that the two birds could live together peacefully , since I have tried housing canaries together before and it always ended badly — up to and including the death by starvation of one poor bird. Oh, the small birds may look innocent, but they can be vicious. Case in point is the tiny Zebra finch breed — known for their aggressive behavior and often cranky attitudes. So when L’il Sis informed me that her birds, both males, were co-existing peacefully, I was skeptical. I was waiting for feathers to fly, for beaks to be out of joint, as it were.
But things were peaceful. The two birds enjoyed sharing their space and both frolicked in the bath water, shared seed dishes co-operatively, and seemed happy. My house was once again filled with birdsong from morning to night. (My many canaries used to provide a constant chorus of trills, but with most of them long in the beak and one step away from a Dove box in the freezer (my method of disposal after a death– until spring when the soil in the yard can be dug up) the songs have diminished.
Odin (the Java Rice bird) has a unique pattern of notes that is completely different from any birdsong I have heard before. I can’t prove that Chi-Chi sings because I have never actually caught the bird in the act. There is still enough singing done intermittently by other canaries in the room that I can’t pin one bird down as being the source. So I simply assumed, since L’il Sis told me they were both males, that Chi-Chi did sing. Perhaps he was shy and preferred to sing his arias without me as an audience.
But the other day, I panicked. The paper lining their cage was torn up, tiny pieces lying on the floor of the cage. No, they weren’t taking up pent-up anger on the paper…this was mating behavior! I’ve seen it often enough to know the signs.In fact, that’s how I ended up with 25 canaries in the first place. They were horny little things and it didn’t take long before 2 became a large flock…despite my best attempt at home remedies for birth control (cutting down the hours of light in their room, removing dishes that could be re-appropriated as nests). I even resorted to hormones (birth control shots) for one particularly industrious and determined female.
I believe (and fear) that Chi-Chi is a female. When I Skyped with Gill and told her of this development, she was quick to retort:”Ma! You are not to practice more genetic experiments with these birds! You can’t play amateur scientist. Look what happened the last time you let the breeding run rampant. We ended up with ‘One-Eyed Jack'” He was a tiny zebra finch born to an overworked, many times a mother bird who was born without one eye. He didn’t live long and it was tragic.
“Oh, but why not let them breed?” I asked foolishly. “They’d be so cute! Imagine a bright yellow bird with a huge pink beak…it would be the marvel of the natural world!”
“Ma! You can’t play with science. Lord knows, you’ve tried before and look where it got you…and those two birds are not the same species.”
“Well, they’re close…both sort of finches.”
“Ma, in the precise world of genetics, close doesn’t count! Jeez, what are you– Mengele?”
“Well, it’s not as though I’m actually engineering anything…they’re doing what comes naturally. Who am I to interfere with love?”
“Ma, that noise you hear is me groaning. You are to immediately separate those two birds and shut this entire thing down! I mean, look what happened when you had us: we have too many genetic defects to count…arthritis, Crohn’s, migraines, kidney stones, anxiety issues, depression, allergies. You are to call L’il Sis NOW and fix this! Just because you want a weirdly colorful bird is no reason to ruin nature.”
“Oh, all right. But the babies would have been so cute…”
“No,Ma,no. You’re hopeless.”