Who’d have known. One spring day, on a trip to the Pet Expo, we met some cute chirping Bourke parakeets and had an introduction to Phoenix Landing that took us on a journey we never expected. We came home soon thereafter with those cute Bourkes and that was the end of it. Or so we thought.
On our trip to The Landing for our parrot care training class, we met some of the many Phoenix Landing foster birds. This included a loud, cantankerous Moluccan cockatoo named Tuki. So many sites tell us to do our homework, prepare for the bird we choose, learn if you have the ability and the time to dedicate to them. This is especially true of large macaws and cockatoos. Kudos to the folks who work diligently to assure them great homes. These large birds live an exceptionally long life, and even under the best of circumstances should outlive more than one home. Sometimes we do not know the background of these intelligent gifted creatures or what they take with them from home to home.
Photo by Paul Howey
As we walked around the building we were introduced to a variety of birds. I was especially fond of a blue and gold macaw named Lily who liked to play catch. HMMM I thought, someday………the bird of my dreams, a large macaw. Beautiful and entertaining. Yes, someday that would be the parrot for me. We stopped at Tuki’s cage. I was sticking my fingers in and giving head scritches, (although the sign told us to NOT to put our hands in the cage and teach the birds to bite!) until he got irritated and struck back. “Oh, don’t worry Ann, I’m fine, it’s just a little blood.” But as he reached his full leg and large nailed foot through the cage bars, we heard the words, “Look, he’s picking YOU.” Really? I have worked with adoption organizations for enough years to know what that means. In their heart of hearts they were thinking, “Maybe? Could this be the family we’re looking for? The folks who would take a chance on this mature, male, Moluccan cockatoo with a history?” In the time he’s been here I’ve learned that big clawed foot reaching through the bars means, “come here my sweetie, the better to bite you.” We learn, we grow, we adapt.
So against all the sage wisdom and hundreds of internet parrot education sites, we decided to give Tuki a chance. Bob drove up the mountain that day, loaded a double macaw cage in the car, got Tuki into a travel cage, got bit 4 times before all was safely packed and loaded, and headed back down the mountain for home. From what I’m told it was an adventure in noise tolerance the entire trip home. One hour and thirty minutes of full blown TOO SCREAMING. Bob swears the truckers kept looking over to see who was being killed in the front seat while he was driving home.
Tuki is 15 yrs old. If history is correct, he had one home for 8 years until he reached sexual maturity, then some of the typical cockatoo challenges began. He then had a series of foster/adoptive homes that for reasons of their own did not last more than a couple years each. His independence and lack of trust, his potential biting and screaming, had earned him quite a reputation with Phoenix Landing folks. Everyone knows of Tuki. Mention his name and heads nod knowingly, sly smiles, whispered mumblings all around you. Lucky for Tuki and us, he is an independent bird. And lucky for us, Tuki likes chaos. Our house is chaos. The noise level is usually high. And Tuki thrives in the environment we are able to provide.
We had Tuki several months before we fully decided to adopt him. Despite the original assumption that Tuki liked Bob, it became readily apparent that Tuki and I were kindred spirits. I do LOUD really well. And thanks to my job experience many years ago working in zoos, I understand wild animals and body language really well also. We’ve had a few bites along the way. I can say with certainty they were our fault. I was told to watch his eyes; his moods would be reflected in his eyes. WHAT? Are you serious? Those inky black pools couldn’t possibly show anything. How wrong that assumption. Those inky black pools are most definitely the windows to his soul.
One of Bob’s mantras is not to develop preset expectations. And since we were relatively ignorant of the ways of Toos, we simply welcomed Tuki into our home and from the first day accepted him as he is. How were we to know otherwise? And we have time on our side. If he lives to be 80, and I’m 54, well you do the math. He has blossomed here; we’ve all learned respect, patience, trust, and mischief together.
The first time he did a step up, scared the bejesus out of me. I had been working with him to shake hands. I reached in to rub his toes and WOW suddenly he was on my hand. I turned to Bob and asked, “WHAT NOW?” Since that first time, we can dance, walk around the house, move from cage to stand to cage. But, of course, only when Tuki is in the mood. He loves showers, outside time, and wandering around on the floor. Since he’s been here he as torn chunks from the sheet rock, shredded my curtains, made kindling out of my dining room chairs and curio cabinet. Toos do like to tear things up. We only forgot to lock his cage doors twice – we learned.
He’s a pain in the butt, he stalks Bob, he loves head scritches, dancing, singing, and barking with the dogs to warn of intruders. He plays ball, shakes and rattles his bells, and shreds as much cardboard and pine blocks as I can bring home. He expertly dismantles every new toy or foraging tool I put in his reach. He flaps and jumps and sings from the cage top in the evenings, usually just as the National News comes on TV. He loves peanut butter, birdie bread, almonds, mangos and toys. Yes, he still screams but mostly at appropriate Too Times. When Tuki screams, Sam (a Great Pyrenees) howls. I think he does it on purpose. He helps me make breakfast on weekend mornings by joining me at the prep table or hanging sideways to supervise my work. He still hates hats and brooms and paper towel tubes.
He is the most beautiful, intelligent, entertaining, companion creature I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Had we done our homework, had we planned for bringing in a large Too, we might also have developed unnecessary expectations of him. And we might never have brought him home. Which is why I call his the “accidental landing”.
Accepting these birds on their terms is critical to their well-being. And to the humans who live with them. As Tuki’s trust grows, so does our bond. On his terms, not mine. He has his days. Hell, I have mine. There is so much I don’t know. There is so much I worry about. He will have a home here until I am no longer able. I hope that when that time comes, his next home will welcome him on the same terms and allow him to be what he is – a great bird. He’s not a child, not a puppy, let me repeat, he’s a mature male Moluccan Cockatoo with attitude. And we love him.
I post videos and photos all the time on my Facebook wall. Tuki has his own fan club. He even has a portrait painted by a good friend. He may not have his own aviary, or bird room, or 8 hours a day of ME time, but he’s ok with that. We’re all ok with what we are able to provide for one another. I marvel at his beauty and intelligence. He makes me laugh every day – sometimes just because he can laugh. Even at appropriate times, like when he sneaks up and startles Bob.
Where I once had a dining room table and chairs, we now have a double flight cage of Bourkes and a single flight with Cricket the Rosella. Where I once had a curio cabinet and guest chair, I have a double macaw cage for Tuki and a monstrous climbing tree. Where I once had curtains – well I don’t have them anymore.
Sometimes you have to just trust your heart. Fate can play an important roll in some decisions we make in life. On those days when I worry, when I think maybe this is not enough, I stop and realize Tuki has been here a relatively short time. And along this journey we’ve met some great new friends. Learned all sorts of new skills. Toy making has become a weekend event. Bob likes to tell folks that I cook for the birds better than I do for him. A leap of faith? Or an adventure in ignorance? Does it really matter? I think not. What matters is Tuki.
Sometimes the most unlikely chance is the one chance that is needed. Thanks to all the Phoenix Landing folks, especially Ann and Mary. Thanks for taking a chance on a couple novices. Thanks for providing new homes for these birds. Thanks to all the folks who work with these magnificent birds. And thank you for trusting us with Tuki. Don’t believe what others tell you, he’s awesome.
Sign painted by Jill Casteel