(submitted by Tom Marshall)
The uninitiated, upon seeing my caiques for the first time, always pose the question, "do they talk?"
I am quick to reply that they are not known for that ability, but, as I invariably respond, albeit, somewhat defensibly; I like them for their beauty and for their personality. At that point,assuming that there is nothing more to know, my non-bird friends lose interest in my flock of eight and climb back up the stairs to join their human companions and partake of whatever refreshments are available. Occasionally, an individual lingers in my basement aviary to learn more about why I maintain a collection exclusively of caiques. It is hard to explain. You have to be around caiques for a while to appreciate their personality. They can be lovable and aggressive; they are self-sufficient, yet can be demanding. They love to be with their own kind, but love to be with their favorite humans, too. They are feathered paradoxes as illustrated by the short story that follows, that I think epitomizes the caique.
There once was a man named "Bill", who during a mid-life crisis, had gone to work at a wood processing mill hundreds of miles into the interior of Brazil. This rather disenchanted individual heard a commotion outside of his makeshift home one day and discovered his workers were exceptionally excited by a flock of 18 or 20 small parrots that had descended into the midst of their camp. The flock was flying back and forth, screaming and calling, swooping in formation through the mill area and the nearby jungle. Their agitation was apparently caused by the fact that one of their members was standing on the ground surrounded by a gaggle of fascinated workers, and refused to fly up to safety of the group. The nine-inch White-bellied Caique stood firm despite the confusion all around it . It then started to hop around in a comical dance, bobbing its head back and forth. Bill, who towered above his companions, was smiling from ear to ear as he admired this little bit of a birdıs bright colors and amusing antics,
Bill's foreman explained that two years earlier this same caique had lived with another American family, but had returned to the jungle when they had left. Despite warnings from his fellow workers that the caique was capable of biting and biting hard, Bill squatted on the ground and offered his index finger to what just happened to be the first bright thing that had come his way in a very long time. After watching Bill from first the left eye and then the right eye, Little Bit (as this intriguing little parrot was eventually dubbed ) finally hopped twice, walked two steps, hopped twice more and approached the offered finger-perch. Mutual trust was immediate. Little Bit extended its beak, gently hooking it on Bill's finger. Bill remained steady, despite concerns about being bitten. Little Bit turned around on Billıs finger facing the crowd and his cousins in the nearby tree and let out a high-pitched screech to let everyone and every parrot assembled there know that Little Bit and Bill belonged to each other. Little Bit proceeded up Billıs arm, found a comfortable spot on his shoulder, repeated the screech, did a little ear nibbling and the adoption was completed.
With Little Bit on his shoulder, Bill went to his rustic home followed by the flock of wild parrots that circled and screamed, but to no avail. Little Bit had come home. Thus began a bizarre relationship between man and bird. Bill decided that Little Bit must be a female as she was so affectionate and so demanding of his time, and; she had quite a temper!
Like some people, Little Bit was not interested in expressing herself until after she had her breakfast and coffee. Their routine was the same. Bill got up before dawn and prepared the coffee and whatever was to be breakfast. As the sun started to come up, Little Bit would enter the room yawning and stretching, crawl up Billıs pant leg, hop onto the table without uttering a sound. She would have a few sips of coffee, nibble on the repast provided, hop over to the edge of the table, turn around and present her tail feathers to the space at the edge and relieve herself of the night's accumulation of droppings. If Bill left his cigarette unattended, Little Bit would grab it and shred it to pieces to express her displeasure of this offensive habit. In fact, she would often shred things that appeared to offend her or as a way to express her anger. Little Bit could become angry when her routine was interrupted or delayed --- a caique-specific characteristic. Little Bit was also capable of scolding Bill if he failed to fulfill his role in their routine --- if he failed to come home on time or skipped their shower together. Frequently, if Bill was not in the house when Little Bit expected him, she would walk-hop to the mill to find him. Everyone became aware of this habit, and if work went past break time or quitting time, all eyes watched for the lady of the roost to appear and begin her avian tirade.
The funk that led to Bill taking a job in the Brazilian jungle in the first place was mitigated by time and time spent living with Little Bit. He had sent out his resumes and was contemplating returning to the U.S. and getting his life together. Bill had wondered what would become of Little Bit once he returned. They had developed a great rapport based on mutual tolerance and affection. He knew that many of his friends at the camp would eagerly offer to take her, but he also knew that their bond was special and might not replicate itself. Should he leave his tapes they listened to in the evening for Little Bit to enjoy with his new owner? Would her new house mate sleep with her in the hammock at siesta time? Would the new person invite the neighbor children over on Sunday for a game of gin rummy, played the way Little Bit insisted it be played? The day before he was to depart, Bill still had not fully resolved how he would say good-bye to Little Bit and who would care for her because he couldn't answer any of these questions.
Then, literally out of the blue, the flock of caiques that had been present that first day when Bill and Little Bit met, landed in the big mango tree just outside the home they shared together and started to signal to Little Bit to return to them. Little Bit hopped over to the window, then back to the side of the table where Bill sat with his coffee. She climbed to his shoulder, nibbled his ear, stuck her head under his chin for a scratch, then climbed down to the table and flew out of the window to join her flock members in the tree. When the flock rose into the air, Little Bit hesitated, emitted a strange little whine, flew around the house once and rejoined her brethren as they flew further up and out of sight into the jungle canopy.
Bill consoled himself that Little Bit knew that this time together was over, for now, and that it was time for both of them to move on and to get their lives together in their own different worlds. "One day I will come back here", he said to himself, "Our give and take relationship is not really over, it is just on hold for a little bit".