These diary selections detail the events leading to my bringing my favorite parrot in the flock into the house. At the time her name was Smith (I initially thought she was male), which I later changed to Dogen (Doe-gun). She wasn’t my favorite bird then, but I had to care for her for two years, and we ended up getting very close. Her parents were Guy and Doll and she had a sibling, Jones. She used to let me kiss her on the back while she ate. This, before she came into captivity. That was rare. These entries were the basis for the chapter called “Dogen” in my book The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.

5/26/95 Friday

Smith is unsteady on his feet today. Is he sick or is it the berries?

5/27/95 Saturday

Smith still unsteady. He has black stains all around his beak. Many of them do. It’s berry juice, I’m pretty sure–but I’m dubious that this is his problem. Stella still hanging in there. [Stella had been showing signs of instability.]

I’m down at the Greenwich cottage. [There is a guest in the main house.] Today I received confirmation that the flock recognizes me away from the fire escape. A bunch of them were sitting in the loquat tree resting while I was sweeping the Greenwich sidewalk. I stopped to look at and to talk to them. Suddenly they broke for the fire escape–screaming. Feed us!

Dogen (Smith)

I saw Connor do something extraordinary yesterday. He was sort of squatting and holding his wings out in a very aggressive stance and moving forward in an ominous way. But there was no one there. Today he did the same, but in an actual attack. He lost.

To make a note of something I’ve observed rather often: when Smith or Jones is on my right hand, and I use that hand to stroke either Mandela or Stella they bite my hand (the back of it) as if to “defend the flock”.

5/28/95 Sunday

I saw Smith above the cottage alone on the wires. He does not look good. I tried to lure him down with peanuts. No luck. If I’d been at the main house I might have been able to catch him.

It’s 8:05 and there’s a group of conures outside squawking. This may be the third group this morning. It’s odd that they seem to be coming early again–and I can’t do anything! Connor and Catherine are in this group–a very small one.

I saw Mandela doing the “display” for the first time. Then he jumped up on my hand.

Smith’s in bad shape, and I’m thinking of trying to catch him.

5/29/95 Monday

I’m back at the main house.

Smith was flying around and around the garden, but unable to land where he wanted (my hand)–he’s too unsteady. He kept returning to the trees. He crashes into them. I don’t expect to see him much longer.

Both Eric and Erica are banded. There was a point when only Eric and Erica were on the bowl and then Blue hopped on a ways away from them.

I have Smith. He was having too hard of a time. Even Connor was chasing him. As I said he kept trying to land, but was unsuccessful. Once he made it to my head, but fell eventually as I remember. It finally got to be too much. Connor was attacking him as he lay helpless on the fire escape floor. I picked him up and stuck him inside my jacket, and brought him inside the house–in front of the entire flock. They didn’t take any special notice that I saw.

Inside the cage he did the same thing Mandela did. He crawled around crazily. I had to go back out to tend to the flock. Once I finished feeding I came back in to tend to Smith. I called Jamie and got some advice (Ornicyclene).

He has finally stopped crawling around the cage and has perched. He’s calm now. He doesn’t seem too concerned. He had that dazed look that Mandela had at first (and that I’d forgotten about). He’s taking seeds through the bars. Even had some peanuts. His vent is clean–it’s his face that’s a dirty, dirty mess. All stained from the berries I presume. He’s let out a few screams in response to the flock. But they just left for the day and he was pretty quiet about it. He’s hungry. I’m hopeful that he’ll be okay. Same promise that I made to Mandela. [My promise was to take care of them until they were able to be released.]

His shit is in decent shape.

He’s so relaxed! But he can still bite…I might have to change his name.

5/30/95 Tuesday

He was quiet and on the perch all night.

He’s eating heartily, his eyes are bright, his shit’s good–but he’s still unstable. I hope he’s just “drunk”. He can still bite hard.

He’s crawling around the cage now, talking a little. Reflexes are sharp. He was startled when I coughed near him. He drank some water enthusiastically when I held it up to him.

I got home from a house cleaning job and saw that he’d been eating. He gave me a real nasty bite–the worst I’ve ever received. He loves the millet spray, and is drinking his medicine. I’m not sure, but I think he’s trembling. He is alert. It’s 2:30 and he’s getting sleepy-eyed.

A contingent of 18 birds came through. Only Guy and Connor were willing to eat from my right hand (and only Connor without encouragement). They were afraid of the band-aid. They are very observant.

Smith seems absolutely fine–except that he’s so unstable and dirty.

I took off the band-aid and they stopped being afraid.

I took Smith out during a feeding. He crawled around the cage frantically. Scrapper, Jones, and someone else took special notice. They lined up on the railing to look at him.

I squirted him with some water in an effort to get him to clean himself. It was useless, and I think I’m trying to do too much.

I reached in to clean off his perch and he got out. I was able to grab him and get him back in, but not until after he banged into a window and gave me a new bite wound. (finger)

His first instinct is to bite me now.

5/31/95 Wednesday

Flock flew by (stopped here even, although briefly) at 5:52.

I covered up the cage and he was quiet until I uncovered it at 6:30. Before he went to sleep he was leaning heavily to one side. In the morning he was sitting up straight.

He’s crawling around the cage now and talking a little. He scratched his head, which shows improved balance. He still falls from his perch though.

7:40 He lets out four quick “honks”. It’s Jones and some other bird. Jones acts fearful of me, keeps approaching me, then flying away. Finally they both leave. I can see when comparing him to the others that he still has a way to go before he’s a healthy bird. But he does seem to be improving. Even in this short time.

I put Smith out on the east balcony (before I go to work, and I’m bringing him back in before I leave) and Jones and the other (an adult bowl bird, I believe) came back and ate from the bowl which I put out this time. At some point Jones and the other bird became aware of Smith and flew over to the balcony railing. They wouldn’t fly to the cage itself. They “talked” for a while, then left. Smith is calling out now–they respond. Jones and Al (we’ll call him or her) are back. Smith does try to fly through the cage bars. Jones and Al keep leaving, then coming back. They are loyal.

Mandela just had a bad wing. Smith is sick.

When I got home everything inside the cage was tipped over. He calls out to the flock; they call back to him. After a lot of excitement he seems more unstable. He was definitely trembling at one point. Perhaps from stress. He is doing relatively well. It was unusual. Even though he wasn’t out on the east balcony there were about 6 or 7 parrots on the railing. I assume Al or Jones led them there.

I’m not having any negative reactions from the flock. And Stella seems to be improving.

I put my hand in there again trying to get him used to it and he sliced me open again. He’s biting much more seriously in the present situation. Later I started rubbing his beak through the bars and then scratching his head–of which he accepted a good deal.

He spends a lot of time climbing around his cage (beak and claws) upside down from the top and around the sides. Occasionally perching, sticking his beak through the bars, biting the bars, maybe looking for weaknesses. He often spreads his wings in position to take off.

6/1/95 Thursday

     5:53 the flock flies by. They stop briefly then leave, except for two adults that I’m not able to identify. They’ve been squawking, and Smith calls back. At one point they flew to the east balcony where they can see him through the window. Smith is all feisty and excited. One just flew to and clung to the window sill! I wonder if it’s Guy and Doll.

I brought him down to the Greenwich cottage. He was weaker than I supposed. His flying is poor–he flies backward. When on the floor he sits around kind of dazed. After many attempts he finally made it to the perches that I made. At one point he started cleaning his belly a little bit. He’s definitely more alert and confidant looking when he’s perched.

There was an interesting image: Smith sitting in the window sill, Blue [scrub jay] just on the other side of the window perched on a fuchsia branch, and for a little while a hummingbird hovering about two feet from Blue.

I took him back upstairs. He didn’t hate me (although he tried to escape) for grabbing him with the gloves.

Back down in the studio around noon, he finally flies up to the ropes where he sits now as I write.

I got to stroke his head a little while he sat on the ropes. He resists some.

He’s starting to preen a little.

The flock had been pretty loud and crazy outside and I brought him up to the fire escape for a feeding. Before I brought the cage out it had been covered with birds. When the cage came out they all left except for Connor. Slowly they drifted back. I counted 26 (including Smith), but didn’t see Marlon, so presumably Murphy wasn’t there either and perhaps another. Smith gets really excited when he goes out–loud and active. I’m not sure it’s best for him.

Back downstairs again after dinner. He’s getting his flying together. And his landings. Mostly he just sits on the ropes, looking around, however. I’m fairly hopeful.

The amazing thing is how serene he is. He doesn’t seem worried about this at all. He gets feisty, but that’s all. He’s desperate when he sees and hears the flock, but it passes.

6/2/95 Friday

     It’s 7:00 am and for the second time already this morning a group of three showed up on the lines calling out. Smith responds. He’s shaky this morning, but he usually is in the morning.

I bring him down to the cottage around 7:30 and he’s much more disoriented than I thought. But we were seen by the 3 overhead and there was a lot of shouting back and forth. Sometimes I think he gets worse when he’s excited.

The three continue to remain in the area calling. He flew into the window wanting to join them. He’s at the window now, wings spread. It’s possible that Jones is one of the three from what I was able to see. He’s trembling a lot. But he looks alert, acts normal when not moving.

He’s falling to his (right?) side when he walks. He seems worse so far today. He is not flying well. He’s leaning heavily to his right up on the ropes.

I brought him back up to the main house. He has definitely taken a turn for the worse. He’s moved to the lower perch. When he’s on the cage floor he falls over a lot. Crawls under the perch. Still eating.

Around 1:00 pm. He sits on the lower perch, head hung down and usually to the right side. Eyes open. He closes them occasionally.

Connor came and was so preoccupied with something he was looking at that he ignored me stroking his wing.

Stella  came. She’s still wobbly, but obviously maintaining. She’s never been as bad as Smith and she’s been worse than she is now. At one point some of the flock was coming in while she was on the cup and she screamed “in coming” so loud! Chomsky joined her and they both started screaming–much louder than usual. I felt it in my ears. She’s mild and disoriented enough that I was able to stroke her back quite a bit (with my finger). She eventually made me stop.

Smith is getting worse and worse as the day goes on. He can’t climb the bars, falls off the perch. He still eats and bites. I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll make it through the day.

About 2:30. Smith is sitting on the bottom of the cage, head tilted heavily to the right. Struggles to keep his eyes open. But they are still bright and clear. He’s trembling. Maybe he’s just sleepy, but I don’t think so. He hears a squawk and picks his head up. He’s basically laying on the bottom now, his head touching the floor, then he picks it up again. He’s sitting up taller again. He got up to eat–so maybe he was napping.

(It got extremely heavy for me there. I thought he was dying right before my eyes. He’s having a real bad day–but not as bad as I feared.)

I was out feeding the flock around 5:00 and they were really screaming. So of course Smith was all worked up inside the house here. At one point I looked out the window and saw that he had got a toe wedged in between a cage bar and the clothes pin I use to keep the slat immobile. I had to come back in to free him.

In answer to an old question: yes, they do eat in silence sometimes. I noticed it earlier in the day.

I think he’s having a bad day because of the excessive exercise he had yesterday. He needs rest. The excitement of the flock being around is not good for him either. He screams loudly and crawls around and wastes himself. I’m going to have to start minimizing his exposure to the flock.

It is strange how some things happen. I would not have even known about the infrared bulb if I hadn’t had to change it recently. Finally pulled it out after hearing and reading “heat, heat!!” He took to it immediately. He’s just sitting there absorbing it quietly. And back on the top perch as well! He’s not trembling. His head is still hanging down and to the right, but I think we’re on the right track now. Keep him quiet, too, and rested. I should add that the inspiration for this was going down to the library and picking up four books on parrots.

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