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                                 PORTRAIT OF A BUDGIE

I have kept Budgies since i was a kid and still do at 80. These cage birds, originally from Australia where they are to be found in the wild, have always fascinated me for their intelligence, beauty, variety , poise, response to humans and their extraordinary behavior. Their relationships, love affairs, rearing of young by both parents and teaching them  how to enter the world of adult birds, their jealousies conflicts, flirtations, animosities, faithfulness to spouse  and even appearance strangely remind me of human traits and behavior. This post is a saga of a few protagonist birds in my aviary and their amazing story illustrated by photographs.

                                         MY AVIARY

My birds were some 30 in a fairly spacious aviary in the backyard of our house and visible at all times from within. While we were all confined because of the Covid  pandemic and lock-downs, a parallel infection of Bird Flu suddenly hit my aviary. Birds started dyeing  on a daily basis and i was quite alarmed. I had two pairs of Skyblue budgies that had mated and were now rearing their young in two earthen nest boxes on either end of the cage with five fledglings each, which both parents diligently spent all their time laboriously feeding and grooming in the nests.

                       A SKYBLUE BUDGIE

Apart from these two pairs the other two dozen were green , the colour found in nature in the wild in Australia. Over a century or more breeders have developed them as cage bird pets very responsive to humans with a wide range of colours through mutations.

Within days most of the the green were wiped out to my horror. The bird version of the Covid Pandemic had entered my cage. I wanted at least my rarer Skyblues who were with young fledglings to survive. After consulting a vet. I bought the recommended antibiotics and other medicines and as directed began mixing them in the seed and water. But it was too late and before long all the green perished and then the Skyblue got infected as well.

One pair of Skyblues had a fledgling that had begun to emerge into freedom from the nest into the aviary. and had learnt to feed and drink water on its own. She must have imbibed the antibiotics just in time and looked as if she was unaffected. But her parents were dead in two days and all her siblings in the nest as well. In the other nest the mother Skyblue and 5 fledglings also perished. Only the father survived. Apart from these two survivals a third also did, a canary yellow recessive pied beauty, a male. Thus the bird flu holocaust took all my birds except these three survivors,  two males and a fledgling female, not dissimilar to a handful of survivors on a ship wreck.

This aviary had become my Titanic. Fortunately the medicines continued to work with the three and they showed no signs of bird flu. The crisis had passed for these lucky birds.

Its then that the Avian  saga  began in my aviary. I named the three as Skyblue (the surviving Skyblue Dad), I called the pied yellow beauty male Casanova Blondie and the young female Opal, as she was an Opaline grey wing mutant. These became the protagonists of my saga.

    BRAVE OPAL THE HEROINE OF THE SAGA

 BLONDIE THE VILLAIN OF THE SAGA

      SKYBLUE & OPAL HERO AND HEROINE OF the SAGA

The three birds left alone in a large cage had to interact with each other. Budgies are very social birds and are perpetually in a state of interaction. Skyblue became fond of Opal and began chatting with her often -this is usually done by knocking beak to beak. He also sought to kiss her and in the process offer her regurgitated food which in Budgie language is the friendliest of acts. A male begins his courtship with this act. If it is accepted by the female it signals acceptance of the proposal but only for friendship. In other circumstances it is merely an act of friendship and two males or any two budgies will make this food offering to indicate friendship and attachment. Opal’s acceptance was at first only a signal that she was not offended by his overtures but would more than tolerate his proximity and friendship. While Skyblue began to secretly pursue his prime goal of making Opal agree to go as far as mating not just budgie friendship, and kept persisting with his wooing to gain that end.

Blondie left to himself became curious about what the other two survivors were up to. Opal being a just emerged fledgling, say a teenager in our terms and therefore had no conception of sex, mating and what follows. Skyblue some 30 years in our terms, aware of her innocence began the strategy of arousing the appropriate feelings in her by making her curious of the earthen nests. He would poke his head in the opening, then encourage her to do the same, as if this were a kind of game they were playing. Most birds show reluctance to enter a nest out of fear, but once having entered they like it there, reminded of their own infancy in a similar nest. Then from familiarity arises maternal feelings and both eggs and desire begin to get generated. Skyblue aware of this, being a mature male stud, finally succeeded in making her enter the nest. This went on for several days to a week. Now whenever she felt any insecurity on approaching humans etc she would promptly enter the nest and remain there till the ‘danger’ had passed. Skyblue now felt secure in his intended purpose and would possessively sit on top of the nest, nursing his secret ambition, while she was inside. Birds get very excited when they see a nest – a basic instinct gets aroused in both males and females.

                        Skyblue on nest when she is in

Blondie grew more and more curious and excited when he saw Opal enter the nest and like Skyblue was aroused by the entry. When she emerged from the nest and flew to a perch he promptly followed her and began to propose regurgitated food as an offering of love while knocking his beak against her for greater familiarity and to open her mouth and accept his offering of food with an intimate suggestive ‘budgie kiss’  Opal angrily resisted and rejected this offer, not knowing him at all, by pushing him away and flying to the perch where Skyblue was located mainly to get away from his unwanted soliciting.. Blondie  followed her in flight and persisted with his overtures. Skyblue then attacked him and made him fly elsewhere.

Soon, a couple of days later Skyblue’s attempts at mating grew more aggressive while it became plane from her repeated acceptance of beak to beak regurgitation that her system had begun to feel a certain arousal. They flew together to the nest and she boldly entered it. When she returned to the perch at his entreaties shown by strong beak pulling towards himself she finally adopted a posture of submission allowing him to climb on to her back and commence mating.

This was interrupted several times by curious and excited Blondie, but Skyblue responded by frontal attacks and chasing him from point to point in the cage to establish his physical superiority. There were no more interruptions and the mating continued to a completely successful end. These two lovers now spent most of there time mating about four times a day and immediately thereafter she would retreat to the nest and remain there not coming out even to feed, a sign that she was about to lay. Skyblue, a mature male who knew all the signs of a female’s cycle, then fed for two and entered the nest to feed her regurgitated food. About a week later she laid an egg and then became inseparable from the nest as a consequence. As the days passed the number of eggs grew to five. She diligently incubated her eggs till they began to hatch one by one.

                    Hatch-lings and eggs the first clutch of five

 Under the tender care of both parents the chicks developed fast growing by the day with a full plumage of feathers.They began peeping out of the nest and in another week emerged and found perches, took flights tentatively and learnt from demonstrations by parents how to forage for seeds and find the source of water in the cage. Blondie continued to interfere at every stage but once the chicks were all out he lost interest.

                      FIRST CLUTCH OF FIVE FULLY GROWN

Barely had the first clutch emerged from the nest and been taught to feed and drink that Opal started getting curious about an empty nest. Seeing this Skyblue  joined her with growing enthusiasm and began to seduce her again. Blondie noticing these developments joined in as well, trying to ‘beak to beak’ with her and Skyblue resenting the flirtation tried to drive him off.  Whenever she entered the nest he would fly and sit over it and try to peep in. The conflict with Skyblue had resumed in full force.  Once again the loving pair began to mate several times a day, with Blondie interrupting their act. Now she was more often confined in the nest than outside. Ceasing to feed by herself. Skyblue took up the duty of feeding her in the nest. Blondie was always nearby excited with curiosity and jealousy. This time within weeks Opal had broken all records by laying eight eggs!! With the hatching of her first egg the tension in the cage exploded into fights between Blondie and Skyblue. It must have been like love on a deserted island after a ship wreck. He tried several times to enter the nest to the protesting screeches of Opal who was now a fearsome mother as well.

Opal with first born and eggs of second clutch

Blondie’s jealous interventions now assumed alarming proportions. I noticed that Skyblue looked depressed and did not feed Opal as often as he should have. If Opal was not provided food in the nest by her spouse she would not be able to feed the new born and it would die. It required to be fed every few hours or the nest would be a disaster.

        OPAL WITH TWO CHICKS HATCHED, SECOND CLUTCH

 If Skyblue did not recover after fights with Blondie who was getting the upper hand and with daily more mouths to feed as the eight eggs hatched one after the other the result would be mother and brood all perishing. As a first step i introduced another yellow, a  beautiful female acquired from the pet shop, a rare Lutino with red eyes to distract the lonesome Blondie and help the pair with growing number of chicks to succeed in rearing their young. I named her LUTINO. Blondie immediately took to her but she as any self respecting female fully resisted his advances. He then thus rejected, renewed his intrusions into the affairs of Skyblue and Opal with greater vigour and there were daily fights between the two males. If Skyblue got fatally wounded or even disabled it would mean the death of Opals family – a great tragedy after the earlier Bird Flu tragedy.

The pics below shows vividly how the quartet were faring. we see Opal with an assertive Blondie flirting beside her while she is helpless to get rid of him. Skyblue is on the nest desperate to get rid of Blondie and Lutino now showing interest in Blondie is kind of curious to know why he is soliciting Opal if he wants her.

    The quartet rather than a triangle

       Skyblue holding vigil while Opal and brood are fearful within

 Skyblue defends the nest as Blondie wants to claim it as his own

After Skyblue fails, Opal with maternal fury confronts Blondie and drives him away.

The helpless  terror stricken chicks and remaining eggs while Opal was forced to go out and defend the nest. There was a perceived danger that Blondie in fury would enter and harm the chicks as they were not his own.

The sad result of all this was that opal was not being fed and was hard pressed to feed the growing chicks, Skyblue was fighting what appeared to be a losing battle and poor Opal with immense responsibilities and fear had virtually lost her mind and balance. In the days to come this resulted in some terrible consequences. Opal had already four demanding chicks to feed while not being fed herself and unable to go feed herself leaving the nest unprotected. There was also not much help from Skyblue and danger was ever present from Blondie’s aggressive behavior.   As if this was not enough she hatched another egg and now had to start all over again devoting all her time to this youngest fledgling.

The very next day to my horror I found that fledgling on the floor of the cage dead!  I needed expert advice.

On the net i found that such advice was available with  expert Forums on budgies . I placed the facts before one of the forums and sought help in the shape of advice as to what should i do next. Their opinion was firm. A rogue Budgie like Blondie should be separated from the Dad and Mum with responsibilities of rearing their young, else this kind of tragedy would be repeated. I sought their opinion on who could possibly have perpetrated this act. After debate they came to the conclusion that the distraught mum had done this because she was just unable to cope with the tension of feeding yet another chick and threatening the lives of the other four who were developing quite well as she just did not have the resources.  In addition the presence of Blondie and his antics had virtually blown her mind with little help from Dad who himself was facing a crisis when he should have been busy feeding Mum and kids.

I protested that this went against all norms of maternal instinct which i had been given to understand was the primary instinct in nature!! The eminent members of the Forum clarified that in nature it was NOT the maternal instinct that was supreme though it was high up on the scale of instincts. What superseded that was ‘THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST’ instinct. And mum had to concede her maternal instinct in favour of the superior choice, leading to her eviction of the last helpless chick . I was told that this was not uncommon among birds in the wild. They chose to help the fittest if resources were lacking. Further  that Raptors could even go to the extent of feeding the helpless chick to the largest surviving chick!!!  Shocked though I was I came to the new realization that Nature, God’s handmaiden was ruthless when it came to helping God preserve his creation as He had conceived it, and apart from procreation and maternal instinct what alone could do that was to ensure the ‘Survival only of the Fittest’ even if it meant some  unfortunate choices.

I then hastened to separate BLONDIE to save the breeding pair and surviving four and confined him in a smaller cage at least till the loving pair had achieved their goal of feeding and rearing the four almost grown ‘fittest’ and teaching them how to forage and find water without the need of being fed beak to beak by their parents till they learnt the art of survival. The only concession i made was to give him the company of Lutino while in confinement. Here they are shown below confined.

                             BLONDIE IN CONFINEMENT

But the tragedy did not end there. Shaken and confused, but with nature helping her to choose the supreme instinct of ‘survival of the fittest’ and not quite aware that the danger had passed with Blondies separation, considering the stress she had undergone, the two remaining eggs were dutifully hatched according to Maternal instinct, but the new born chicks were ruthlessly evicted  and in the days to follow i found them dead at the bottom of the cage. I discarded my earlier notion that Mum had done the inconceivable only because they may have been still born and dead, for the sake of not endangering the lives of the others through , say infection. No one wants the company of dead beings even ones own progeny. But this was not the case here. She had indeed followed the rule that when resources are limited the fittest alone have the right to survival. Of course i am sure that among humans with intelligence and its corollary morality, and our human maternal instinct, this natural ethics does not apply, at least most of the time i hope.

After the separation of Blondie and his now equally interfering hen and further the cruel but ‘NECESSARY’ eviction and death of the three newborn, peace returned to the cage.

    growing plumage

                      peeping at the sun no fear anymore

               First out a real beauty – cobalt opaline greywing

Skyblue resumed his role as devoted father feeding Opal and the kids both within and on emergence from the nest, outside in the cage till the remaining four learnt the art of survival, able to locate the food and water and able to fly to perches and roost

The first out had only to call and Dad dad promptly arrived to feed it

The sacond called out and Dad responded by arriving to feed it while two remained inside awaiting their turn to emerge

eventually the remaining two also emerged and the nest was empty..Outside in the cage Opal, Skyblue, their first clutch of five and second clutch of four all merrily were fine and together with continued guidance from the successful parents.

I was also advised by the Wise Forum that I should not allow the pair to breed again a third time as Opal would be too exhausted. But within a week she began to search for a nesting place with the encouragement of Skyblue now that their preoccupations with the second clutch had come to an end. I noticed Skyblue  making affectionate advances and Opal readily responding. Before long this translated to mating!! I recalled the Forums warnings and had all nests removed. The matings nevertheless continued. This time the forum advised that I isolate her for her own good till she had fully recovered her strength.  The next day i discovered an egg on the floor of the cage. I then decided to isolate Opal.  with her first born beauty the cobalt Opaline for company,to prevent further mating and laying of eggs, for her own sake.

The happy couple wanting to mate again but abortive on account of the curiosity and intervention  of a son from the first clutch!!. Looks as if opal is singing a love balled.

Opal was isolated with her opaline daughter for company and Blondie and Lutino restored to the Aviary.

         Opal in isolation

Blondie and Lutino wasting no time on return to the aviary to find a suitable nest.

OPAL WOULD BE RETURNED TO THE AVIARY AFTER RECOVERING HER STRENGTH AND ONCE HER BREEDING CYCLE WAS BROKEN.

One other thought occurs to me since the blog essentially springs from spirituality and is called Search for the Soul. While we have moral responsibility for what we do as humans with intelligence and conscience, it is not as if animals are without responsibility or that their acts go unnoticed by the Universe. indeed in my view they too have responsibility and are judged for what instinct they find preferable. No punishment for choosing Survival of the Fittest as that is natural ethics but when they defy that  to favour maternal instinct which need not lead to survival of the fittest, then they have graduated from animal status and are probably allowed rebirth as a human. for their advanced sense of morality and ethics.  However in this Saga our heroine OPAL does not fall into that category since her instincts did not go beyond natural ethics. No problem, she displayed enough maternal instinct to qualify as a great Budgie.

            END  OF SAGA IN MY BACKYARD

We imagine that it is only the rich or well to do who are able to take care of their disabled or handicapped members of the family. How do the poor cope in a similar plight.? Most of the time we dont know or do not care to find out. But the burdens of such care and rearing arise universally whether with the rich or the poor. For the poor without resources and facilities its an unimaginable burden with which they struggle to cope. I have two vivid examples which shows how the poor react and cope. Basically it is no different from what the rich my do in such unfortunate circumstances. That is the wonder.

We have a maid who comes to sweep our house every morning with a smile on her withered face and a greeting. She lives in the slum near by with a family of husband and son who sweep sewers for a living and a grandchild.  To add to their miserable plight he was born totally disabled, unable to move much or speak or respond. A virtual vegetable. With rare courage and determination  she decided not to let him pass away through neglect. They had no resources and lived from hand to mouth. Earning a pittance for their mean labours. there was no medical support or help from any source. Her name is Anu. Anu took on the entire burden of caring for the unresponsive child, feeding him, bathing and cleaning him, and his waste, dressing him and giving him all her love. He never became a toddler, spoke no endearing words just lay there.  With her heart and soul she did all one would do for a normal child with no compensatory response to egg her on. we did all we could to help the family by paying for the marriage of their daughter. But there was little we could do for her trials with the disabled child apart from suggesting free help from a government hospital. but in such a case they too could do little. so she accepted her fate and carried on like a noble warrior. Thus ten years passed. The child was now no baby but she cared for him as ever before, her life’s purpose. every night she would cling to him and give him her love till he slept. She also cooked for the family cared for her husbands needs and her son and daughter in law who had abandoned all hope for the child. and she was there every morning to do our housework and chat about his welfare. She only talked about her eternal love for him. At ten years he finally passed away and she became inconsolable. If any one deserved to be sanctified as a saint it was Anu. Her resolve, determination  courage and unresponded love speak of a rare humanity in the poorest of the poor which the best of us cannot match in similar circumstances with all our resources and riches. She never smiled again though she was finally blessed with a normal grandchild. In my view she had graduated through her selfless trials to a life of being born again as a queen. How did a poverty stricken outcaste slum dweller achieve this miracle is beyond my imagination. And with no complaint, rather as if it were a gift from god . We always wondered what the family would do when the child turned into a helpless adult. Fortunately they were saved from that eventuality but she remained inconsolable. She fasts on religious occasions with fervour. We asked her why given her sorry circumstances. Her reply, that i be born in my next life not as a sweeper who is not allowed by the conservative to even enter their kitchen!! Fortunately Anu’s daughter thanks to our financial support has married well in their terms and is leading a happy life.

The second case is that of a washer-man family who live down the street in a mud hut. they press and wash the clothes of all our colony. the washer-man is now old bent, and unable to work so he sits in the sun on a cot on the road while his two able sons do all the work. good for him to have fathered such help in old age.  One of his two daughters is married and visits with her children to the old man’s delight but the other daughter was born disabled and mentally incapacitated. She cannot speak though she grins whenever greeted. The remarkable thing is despite their poverty and manual labours they have taken care of her in every conceivable way. The washer man’s old wife washes and combs her hair daily in the sunlight on a winters day. They provide her with all her meals and help her feed herself. they dress her adequately each day and allow her to sit in the sun with her father shoulder to shoulder. When you see and greet them she reruns a wide smile. It is as if she is their good luck mascot and no daughter ever received the care and love she has. Can we compare this to a similar case in say a rich family. There there would be medical help, nurses to care for such a one and the occasional visit from family. i cant imagine more concern from a caring family. But here there is daily care love and unbelievable concern, with no resources to feed and take care of a member who does not contribute in any way. It is quite clear that she is their darling and her broad smile is the only compensation for their untiring efforts.  Its not just the old father who no longer works or the mother either but the two young able sons who have families and children of their own, who see to it that despite their limited resources they work night and day to feed and care for their parents and the beloved disabled sister. What a family to learn lessons from? My heart goes out to them every time my car turns a corner and spots them. What has the good Lord in store for them in their next life i often wonder. They must be great souls who have incarnated to experience these trials and evolve.

These are just two examples but what of the millions in poverty who suffer just not from poverty and the ability merely to feed themselves through hard labour in the sun but to take care of such eventualities with no help from any source. They must be the great souls we never heard about in our complacent comfortable lives. What of those who are well provided for East and West who don’t care a hang about their ailing parents or unfortunate siblings. There are in-numeral examples of people who have deserted their parents and handicapped siblings, particularly in the West where the tradition of joint family no longer exists. In india too as families become more nuclear the same plight effects ageing and disabled people. All they want is an inheritance. So ageing people hang on to their assets lest they suffer a similar plight. Daily one reads about ageing people having been abandoned by their progeny after assets were given over. its sad but true.

For this reason we have found many families with ageing grandparents not letting go of their succeeding generations. All they want is help when being taken to hospital or the ICU and for that they sacrifice the careers of their kids and grand kids. We know of many examples when  young promising youths have been denied the opportunity to build their careers and have never progressed. Well we decided to let our kids free and they are today far away and leading fulfi;lled lives. When the time comes to die in a hospital surely some medical service will take us there. No need to ruin lives for just such an instance. while we learn lessons from the likes of poor people in like circumstances there is no need to subject our own to that if you have enough resources to to take care of yourself

This is a complex issue and i would welcome a feed back from my friends and visitors at word press and elsewhere.

 

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Credit: backtothechoir.wordpress.com

Everything can be reckoned as a gift of God, from oxygen to flowers to oceans to planetary homeostasis, the tilt in the Earth’s axis, its spinning on it, and its circulation around the Sun, which together produce our congenial life supporting atmosphere, our days and nights and seasons. But there are some gifts that are more noteworthy than others, though there is no end to the gratitude we should feel and which is due to God.

I have often pondered on those gifts that may be really special and finally put together a handful of such extraordinary gifts which we tend to take for granted. Gravity is at the top of that list. The force which attaches us to the planet, prevents the oceans and the atmosphere from escaping, gives us weight and defines our physicality. We know what happens to astronauts in space denied gravity. Here of course you jump and land firmly back to earth and your substance begins to have meaning. All the labour-saving miracles of wheels are entirely on account of gravity. Often when I take a trolley full of purchases in a supermarket, I thank gravity ( and the Earth) for lifting the weight which otherwise I might have had to carry. We can go to the Moon and back because of that gravity, and now the Rosetta has landed a lander from its probe on a comet because of the gift of gravitational pulls. No wonder the word gravitas has been coined to indicate a charismatic personality with admirable qualities – a person having his own gravity. Poetically we can thank gravity for waterfalls, flowering, rainfall, flowing rivers, ball games, finding things where we left them, swallowing – the list is endless. But you are warned not to misuse, or be careless with the gift – no jumping from skyscrapers, no dropping of bombs.

Another rare gift is sexual procreation. There are organisms like the amoeba, bacteria and virus that can multiply without need of a partner through asexual reproduction. But the sexual kind is a gift of a higher order which creates empathy, attraction affection and love which otherwise may not have been necessary. It makes beings less hedonistic. If we could all procreate without a partner, happily producing clones identical to ourselves (a narcissistic act if ever there was one), we would be chasing one another not out of attraction but for elimination, out of hate not love. Imagine a world full of ego maniacs concerned only with their own survival, not even concerned for their cloned progeny. From asexual to bipolar love comes compassion, caring, sacrifice, art, culture, civilization and humanity, though its misuse as with jumping from a skyscraper can also be equally disastrous with crimes of self-serving passion. But that is not why it was created – equally true for sexuality as for gravity.

Another rare gift is the deeply embedded maternal instinct which creates the best examples of humanity and altruism we know of. The instinctive maternal compulsion to preserve, protect and nurture progeny is a vital implant and gift. It produces the rarest altruism in all species of living beings, even the extreme sacrifice of life itself for the sake of progeny and that wonderful word mother, which is perhaps the most beautiful noun in any language. It ensures that there are no natural orphans among living things – can you think of a better gift? The maternal instinct improves upon the sexual instinct in raising life to a higher order of altruism. From birds rearing their chicks to mothers suckling their young, it makes living beings fully worthy of existence as admirable and beautiful as opposed to hateful and disgusting, when hedonism alone is at play.

Life of course is the ultimate gift, the infusion of matter with soul. Imagine being a block of stone or metal. Even that is actually quite dynamic, if one looks at atomic structures whirring and being condensed into packets of energy with some form. A form that is neither able to be aware of its existence nor its environment. A form without consciousness. The gift of life enables material forms to experience, move and interact with its environment. Thus organic matter has a gift greater than the inorganic.

But the human form has the greatest gift, that of intelligence and not merely consciousness but self-consciousness. That gift enables it to know itself, not merely sense its environment but to harness it and finally to look beyond at the stars, the universe and creation itself, if not the creator. That gift enables it to seek the creator, much like a child is constantly assisted with skills by its parent to begin a relationship with the parent.

The final gift is the gift of death. Mortality is a subtle and less appreciated gift of finitude, which infinite and ethereal beings must envy.Startling change from moment to moment, from when you first crawled to when you first walked, from when you first grew pubescent hair to when it turned grey, from when you began to read to when you began to write, from love for a mother to love for a partner, from love of a child to love of a grandchild – yes, from infancy to youth to senility, constant experiential  changes from moment to moment, which neither a stone nor an ethereal entity  can experience. Mortality within a given time-frame becomes another rare gift to cherish. An ageless coming into being would be dour, full of endless routine and with a scary changelessness. Who wants to be a vampire. No wonder souls incarnate and reincarnate.

Thus the special gifts of God are, gravity, sexuality, maternal instinct, life and death. Please do share your thoughts about any other such rare gifts that may occur to you.

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