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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

neel after 2 days

It is quite remarkable how an infant is reared to adulthood. A baby at birth looks so fragile that parents hardly believe that it could survive from one day to another. We have most of us known or are in the process of experiencing the challenges which parents face when a baby is brought back home from hospital care – the cradle, the frequent changing of diapers, the feeds, the allergies, the fevers and constant threat of infections. The odds appear insurmountable. Yet as if possessed by some superhuman maternal and paternal powers they are up to the challenge. Parents become dedicated slaves to a natural force, from wakefulness to slumber and the process never ends, continuing from stage to stage, from rocking in a cradle to crawling, to a toddler, to teaching linguistic skills and imparting learning. Each walking adult represents the miraculous outcome of that enormous dedication of decades of unrelenting care and meticulous rearing which we take so much for granted when looking at a crowded street of ‘self reliant’ grown ups. It is simply amazing if we sit back and think about it.

myna with youngWalking in a park I happened to see three Starlings (Mynas) together. The chick now nearly adult would scramble up to one parent and opening its beak wide, flutter its wings to arouse sympathy, begging for a feed.

The parent, ignoring this  normally irresistible pleading, just walked ahead foraging in a pile of rotten leaves and earth for worms. I noticed that it was not actually foraging but putting up a mock show to teach the youngster what needed to be done beyond demanding a feed beak to beak. I also noticed that slyly it was looking back from the corner of its eyes to see if the message had penetrated the thick avian skull! Before long the little Myna began to imitate the process, not very clear what it was looking for. Days later I saw a happy threesome foraging away for worms. The young bird had come of age in nature’s fast-forward for the animal kingdom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain I observed how my pet Budgies diligently reared their young in the nest box. Both parents taking turns would gently pry open their tiny beaks and proceeded to regurgitate processed seed. I also saw how the father later began to feed the mother who now never left the nest box regurgitating into her beak so that she would be fed and be able to feed her chicks as well. Later again when the chicks developed feathers and left the nest both parents would be on either side showing the chick how to pick up seed on its own, by demonstrating through mock pickings with a stern eye on the chick to see if it followed suit.

beta with spawnThen in my fish tank, the Siamese Fighting fish Beta Splenden, after wrapping himself sensuously around the female forced out her eggs, fertilizing them instantly by spewing out his seminal discharge and as the eggs rained down both male and female forgot their sexual antics and quickly began to pluck them as they fell to rush up to a bubble nest created by the gorgeous male, to deposit them one in each bubble of sticky saliva. Then the lady was chased away after a night of orgiastic embraces had exhausted her of all her eggs. If she was not then removed she would have been killed by her paramour. The male considers himself the sole caretaker of his brood. He then kept tending the eggs, mending his nest and diligently picking up falling eggs to replace them in the nest. When the fry burst forth from the eggs he would chase them and gulp them up and returning to the nest spit them out into it. Once they were freely swimming his work was done and then he would allow himself proudly to be surrounded by them. Until this stage was reached he would be fasting. Later when it was time to feed the fry with dry fish food a problem arose – they refused to see it as food. I was then advised to introduce smarter fry of another species the Platy who readily accepted fish food from birth. Once these were introduced the Beta fry learnt from them how to snap up the fish food.

Credit : africanmemories.com

Credit : africanmemories.com

The point here is how every adult whether man, lion, eagle, whale horse or whatever needs instruction on what it can feed on. and where to find it. What may take years to learn through instinct or a process of hit and miss, is quickly grasped in moments through emulation, imitation and duplication. The acquisition of skills can only take place when there is instruction, which the word education encompasses in a larger context. The knowledge that we acquire through a liberal education, learning about skills, acquiring abilities and scientific knowledge in a matter of years, what it has taken mankind millenia to acquire. The specializations that combine to create human technologies, culture and civilization are skills that have to be imparted from generation to generation.

A bird will never know what and where to forage and would die of starvation if the parents died before it could learn those skills. A lion cub would never survive if it never learnt to hunt. The most helpless  of them all, yet the most intelligent, the human child, requires decades of learning to become more than a mere savage.

Instinct is important, it teaches the bird how to make a nest ( there is no school for this) but before that instinct can come into play the rearing is vital for survival – nurture precedes nature. Every generation will require that nurture. But equally Nature will ensure nurture – the maternal or paternal instincts which drive us frantically to provide progeny with nurture, care and protection even if it were to be at the sacrifice of ones life. So in the end Nature ensures nurture and nurture ensures survival.

Senior

S E N I O R

The unity in diversity of creation works on the twin principle of Similarity and difference. In the previous post I sought to  examine this in some depth. Even in the same species we would observe that this is quite marked. No two humans can ever be the same. Nor for that matter two of any kind.

Photo_daisy

D A I S Y

Here I am reminded of our four cats. when I arrived in Morocco to take up my diplomatic assignment I found that in addition to the beautiful residence we also inherited three cats left behind by our predecessors. There was Senior the neutered Tom who looked like a mini tiger and Daisy and Sandy, both ladies again neutered. Senior was large, well-mannered and serious given to meditating, I suspect about the next meal. Daisy was attentive and possessive about the house but friendly and  followed us everywhere  as if to keep an eye on us. Sandy was always absent and aloof. Their former mistress would make it a point to visit Morocco from time to time apparently just to see them again. She would arrive at the residence unannounced and tell the guard not to bother us as she had come only to see her cats! We therefore only by chance got to meet her once when the only communication was about how we should look after them. She also always came loaded with gifts of special  meals for her cats. We knew how she felt about her cats and did not impose ourselves on her.

K I T T Y

MATURE KITTY

Then one day a grey cute kitten appeared from nowhere in our yard and we said wo not a fourth cat!! The kitten made herself at home and showed no sign of leaving though we tried to find out if she had strayed from the neighbours. so while we were forced to adopt the three cats left by the predecessors, the fact was that Kitty simply decided to adopt us, no questions asked. ( notice her smile). Alas Sandy could never be found for a pic to be taken lol)

All four were doubtless cats in every shape and form. All given to scratching tress and furniture and if they found a rodent each would display cat-nature by capturing it, playing with it and disabling it sadistically before making a meal of it. One can say that they did all the things which cats do and in this they were identical. But there the similarity ended. It felt as if four beings were housed in cat bodies and the four beings were as different as chalk and cheese. Apart from the fact that they were cats there was absolutely nothing similar about them. Those who have kept pets or observed animal behaviour carefully would understand this well.

For instance my Budgerigars or for that matter my Chinese Paradise Fish, no two were alike and I don’t mean their colours. A father Budgey is meant to share feeding his offspring as much as the mother or they wont survive. But one of my father Budgeys was a pathological killer of his own offspring. Entering the nest he would begin by pretending to feed them and the mother but then would proceed to  wound the chicks rather than feed them, to the horror of the screeching mother Budgey. I could hear it happening in the night not knowing what to do for if I separated him the chicks would die of starvation along with the mother who never left her nest. fortunately the mother kept his pathology in check with her calls and the chicks survived with their wounds. The other males were dutiful fathers.

The external form only defines the animals general traits, habits and diet but beyond that the being within is entirely different from one entity to another. One is tempted to believe that for animals too a law of Karma must apply. Limited intelligence cannot absolve pathological behaviour in an animal. His actions too would be deemed criminal in nature. The animal world must have its own ethics, and actions there would doubtless produce their own consequences. In the Hindu way of thinking, good fathers would graduate to being a more intelligent species if not man!

Coming back to our four cats, they were really more than just cats as individuals with differences that had nothing to do with ‘cat-nature’ or ‘cat-form’. This inspired me to write a poem on our four cats which I would like to share with you:

                                          F O U R    C A T S

Here comes Senior –

We inherited him with the house,

Trusting neutered muscularity,

Full fat cat, deep in thought

About fish meals, sidles

Up against your calf

And as you fondle his head

Salivates involuntarily onto the floor

With love,

Then politely shakes off your touch

As he would the rain drops;

That’s how cats are about us.

 

And then there is Daisy

Looking imploringly up into your eyes

Running ahead with tail up

Boldly into your house,

Grazing door jambs, washing machines, footstools,

Your legs, these are all hers,

Persuasive beggar,

As she opens her pink mouth

And articulates a cat call.

 

Sandy on the other hand

Is a vegetarian

And hardly ever around

From secret missions, once

When I opened a window I found

Her sleeping secretly in the crook

Of the sill, private paradise,

Safe from rain and draughts

And marauding dogs –

She doesn’t enter the house, or salivate

But like the others if you pet her

On the head, after a meal, will

Shrug it off.

 

But Kitty, who adopted us

By just moving in, is different,

She calculates,

You can see her doing it

As she moves her head quickly

To size things up,

One of them was that we’d make

Good pets,

Remarkable thought for just a kitten,

Nor did we have the heart

To neuter her, so she turned full female

And unloaded a belly full of kitten

Who in turn have joined

Their mother

With sad trusting faces

To possess us.

LITTLE   KITTY SHE  ADOPTED  US

LITTLE KITTY
SHE ADOPTED US

LOVE IS THE ONLY HEALER

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