My feather kid Jackson turned 22 this week and I’ve been his companion since he was a couple of months old. I found out his age taking him to his regular avian vet for the past decade for a well bird check, microchip reading, chlamydia blood test and nail clip. As Dr Grabowski has said, he’s the healthiest bird he’s ever seen and he should be due to the varied diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, sprouts and occasional meat he gets twice a day at dawn and dusk. And truth be known my relationship with him has outlasted those of four marriages, the last of which was about 20 years.
He was hatched by an elderly breeder who was gradually becoming totally disabled due to a degenerative nerve disease. Jackson was the last bird he was able to nurture, feeding him every four hours initially on his chest, stroking him and loving him like a grandkid. Leaned back in his recliner, he talked constantly to Jackson as the TV blared in the background and as was gradually ravaged by the disease that eventually took him. Before he passed, he tearfully sent his little boy to a trusted friend who ran a pet shop at Sydney Markets with the request that he find an exceptional family for Jackson who had a life expectancy of at least 40 years, maybe more. And boyoboy, did the happy happy who was named spoiled big time by his new family!
My ex wife Lisa and I were animal lovers looking to reasonably expand our fur kid family. We had two Dalmatians–Mick and Jerry–no cats or reptiles and we thought a bird would be the most loving addition. She first came home with a pair of conures whose buzzsaw screeches were intolerable and we soon traded them back for a single Ringneck parrot, Roger, who was a most loving, vocal sweet singer with one utterance that sounded like a video game–“Doy Doy Doy” along with other sound effects and vocalisations.
But alas, once brought home and meeting me, he flew off her shoulder and onto mine and pair-bonded with me immediately. Maybe he saw the big guy as a more likely food source.
Lisa didn’t feel betrayed but she did feel abandoned by ‘The Little Guy’ and set her sights on researching the optimal bird for her, settling on the breed known as Eclectus Parrots from Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and the Far North of Australia.
Eclectuses are intelligent, long-lived, talkative, generally healthy if acquired young and well dieted. They are also sexually dimorphic which means visually distinctive by gender. Males and females are vastly different colours; emerald green outer feathers for cocks with red shoulders and blue feathers underwing with an orange beak while females are a stunning redhead with a black beak and violet belly. There are seven different varieties of Eclectus from the South Pacific and Indonesian area as opposed to South and Central American Macaws, Amazons and African Greys.
The Grey with a vocabulary that can exceed 400 words and phrases is the most intelligent parrot in the world and would have been the one I’d prefer but they are a handful, needy and subject to separation anxiety, shrieking and feather picking. But properly trained, they are brilliant as evidenced by this clip of Einstein The Parrot from his TED talk https://www.ted.com/talks/einstein_the_parrot_a_talking_squawking_parrot Jackson has only 40 phrases and words, the longest of which is “I’m the Ladies Man…I’m the Love Machine” which Lisa taught him. In the Eclectus kingdom though, the loveliest is the Vosmaeri with its elegant plumage and the species is pretty stable mentally but demand attention at times. And food, they are prolific eaters. prone to obesity as the Retrievers of the bird world.
We looked at various ‘bappies’ as young birds are called, rejected two on offer due to disease we uncovered on well-bird checks (kinda like taking a used car to the mechanic) administered by the country’s best avian vet, Dr Alex Rosenwax who we dubbed ‘Dr Littlehands’ due to his small frame and tiny fingers; perfect for working on birds. If you are going to have a companion parrot that will live to 50 or beyond, you want to make sure they are healthy with a great start in life as their treatment can be expensive. The well bird checks with blood and feather tests were $250 each and pet insurance only covers dogs and cats, not birds or exotic reptiles. So Jackson passed the tests with flying colours and Lisa brought him home to his new roomy day cage in a huge house which he was free to fly through the two stories. We did not clip his feathers to prevent him flying so he would soar throughout the house and end up back into his open age in the living room with a view of a tropical garden or in my office next to me in another rarely closed cage. He was secure, happy, well fed and a fantastic friend to Roger, at 100 grams only a quarter of his size of 400 grams. Jackson took to the two dogs and even became ‘The Littlest Cowboy’ riding on the back of Jerri throughout the house and office, gripping her collar when the ride got rough. When Jerri tired of being the pack mule for a parrot, she simply ducked under a table causing Jacko to fly off the saddle.
Jackson spoke Jerri and Mick’s language, often summoning them with wolf whistles or the verbal commands that triggered behaviour. From the top of his cage, he might drop nuts to them or the occasional duck bone remnant which they devoured with joy. They had to be restrained from sticking their heads in the huge cage looking for scraps on the paper lining. But they loved Jackson and Jerri would often be found with Jacko perched on her haunches, sharing the heater across from them in winter.
But alas, Dalmatians don’t age well and Mick, always a prodigious smiler dog, funny as hell, got depressed one morning and became inactive, laying in pain in front of Jackson’s cage with a fretting Jerri circling. Jackson was vocal, urging him to “Get Up. Step up, c’mon” from above him as one of my staff came in and we took Mick to the car to be rushed to the nearby vet. As it turned out, he was dying from a twisted bowel and within an hour he was gone, cradled in Lisa’s arms as he was gently euthanised. But as luck would have it, a little rescue Dalmatian we called Scooter ambled into our lives and soon took the alpha male position in the pack. Like Mick and Jerri, he was gentle with Jacko and with his large black patch surrounding his left eye, he looked straight out of the Dead End Kids movies. And he had an appetite to match, once snatching an entire wheel of camembert off the kitchen bench, leaping up and down, devouring it in a flash.
Jackson grieved Mick though as did Jerri. Normally an avid cannabis seed and hemp seed aficionado which made his feathers lustrous due to the Omega 3 oils, he soon became withdrawn and hollow eyed at the top back of his cage. One day we caught him making a bong with a discarded paper towel roll among his toys. We had to put him on a 12-step-up parrot rehab program and restrict his seed input to hemp only. (Sorry, I just had to inject this to swing the mood back up!)
Some might say that Eclectuses must take dope with their big appetites. Jacko’s breakfast this morning started with small cubes of red papaya, kiwifruit, sliced carrot, shredded red cabbage, mashed pumpkin, passionfruit, and banana topped with hemp seed. Dinner last night was Parrot Chop ( a combo of finely chopped greens and orange vegetables), brown rice, quinoa, pomegranate avrils, two kinds of passionfruit (Yellow and Panama red) again with a scattering of hemp seed and the treat of a warm duck bone fresh off the drumstick.
Back then in the years 2008 to 2010, Jackson got easy access to cannabis seed through me as an enabler but I soon decided to cut out smoking pot or hash and haven’t resumed it to this day. Imagine going to see Little Feat in Jamaica for a week and not even rolling a spliff! I cut back on wine too as my relationship with my wife eroded in the last two years and seeing the end coming, I made my long awaited move to divest my company IMMEDIA!, its successful media assets, six staff and all other work. I kept representing SXSW (South by Southwest) as I had since 2002. Lisa and I negotiated a settlement; she got the dogs and I got the two birds since paralysis ticks are epidemic in the North Coast where I was planning to move into an investment house we had bought a decade earlier.
She got Urban Animal magazine–a quarterly, glossy, tabloid sized 40K copy print and online publication for upmarket pet owners, kinda like street press for adult animals. I got all the music, media and conference assets and culminated a two year psyops campaign to unearth likely media buyers pitting two street press companies (Brag Media/The Music Network and Adam Zammit was one), trade press publishers Intermedia, marketing/advertising mag Mumbrella, Reed Media and B&T against each other. Finally I called final bids on them all and like a well oiled auction, the hammer fell on a six figures buyout covered by an NDA.
On my 60th birthday in 2010, with Lisa and my Newtown home/office sold and settled, I struck a deal with the Treweek Brothers of Inpress and Drum street press to sell my 22 year old twice yearly print and constantly updated online Australasian Music Industry Directory as well as the website TheMusic.com.au and kinda retired to a huge house on a tall hill overlooking the ocean in Coffs Harbour. I am blessed with staggering sunrises, birds and wildlife all around me, peace and quiet, no immediate neighbours and a position that lets me rock out to music all day at ’11’ without disturbing anyone.
Also, I have the love of my life as a companion to me. Jackson fills my days from greeting me in bed for breakfast calls through interacting and entertaining throughout day and his soft billing coos and whistles at bedtime through the night as we sleep together. We play each afternoon in bed, tussling and battling beaks with him occasionally getting jiggy with an arm or leg. We eat together at dusk watching the news And he has a ball with his perspex intellectual toys which he has to figure out in order to get pistachios in the shell out. He’s never bored
Just above his day cage, overlooking the balcony and his kingdom down the hills, there is a camera keeping watch as there is with the office cage so I can see and hear him if I am out and away. Jackson is super smart, knowing how to get my attention by ringing my bell.
Since Jacko will probably outlive me, I have a succession plan for him. I’m almost 70 and he just turned 22 so you have to plan ahead. You can’t leave property or money to an animal or make them a beneficiary in a will. Same with setting up a trust for them. But I have a unique arrangement where I have deposited $5000 with the two people empowered to take him over on my death or disability if I am unable to take care of him (think stroke). My avian vet locally and the head of Parrot Rescue in the Gold Coast (Zarita who has boarded Jacko when I go to Hawaii each year) can use that money for his initial care and any medical bills before the will is probated which leaves them with $20,000 more to administer to properly rehome him with the right people. Both will make decisions together in any instance and I trust them implicitly to pay future bills for his care.
If I had to choose an Auntie or Uncle right now, it would be my dear friend Keven Oxford who has taken care of Jacko in my home for up to six weeks at a time when I’ve gone to SXSW and the US in March each year or wintering in Hawaii. He and his wife Karin had their own male Eccy, Chico, about 5 years younger than Jacko which flew away when the two moved down here from Byron Bay. Karin dotes over Jacko and Keven is my doppelgänger–same bald head, glasses, stout figure, soft hands, loving nature and touch as I have and Jackson absolutely adores him probably because it’s like a new chef moving into the hacienda and showering him with attention and new psittacine cuisine.
He loves to look out over the hills and ocean observing sea eagles soaring in circles and hawks fluttering almost motionless looking for prey to suddenly swoop down on; or he’s spying on family groups of King Parrots fighting off chattering Rainbow Lorikeets for food and watching in awe as the yellow tailed black cockatoos careen around the macadamia tree, screaming in delight.
Yep, I love “The Little Green Man” who has enriched my life beyond belief every day. His unconditional love and cool antics entertain and inspire me to return the love and fun. We wake up and go to sleep together as the sun rises and sets through the year, spend time in the bedroom jousting beaks, parrot roughhousing, napping together with him guarding me perched on my hand or the head of the bed. He’s a watch parrot alerting me to tradies coming up the stairs (the hi-viz yellow shirts a dead giveaway) and he can even sound the alarm by the distant sound of gravel crunching on the driveway as a car comes up The Hill.