Dozy, Beaky, Nick and Titch were birds of a feather. Parrots to be precise. One Red Browed Amazon, a Quaker, and two African Greys owned by Reverend James and his wife.
Titch was the first African Grey to be acquired.
‘We don’t know much about Parrots,’ said Mrs. Matthews as James heaved the enormous cage containing Titch onto my consulting table. Puffing slightly, the Reverend stood back.
‘Titch seems to be somewhat on the small size,’ he said. ‘Wouldn’t you agree?’
‘Er… yes,’ I said, nodding meekly. Titch did seem undersized. ‘We’ll take a look shall we?’ I said as confidently as I could.
‘Yes, please do,’ urged Mrs. Matthews. ‘But don’t get bitten.’ The Reverend crossed and uncrossed his hands rapidly behind her.
There was growl as I lowered Titch off his perch in the folds of a towel. He hissed, his black beak yawning wide.
‘Thanks for the good view,’ I chuckled, peering into his mouth. All looked well. I felt his chest. There wasn’t much muscle. But otherwise he seemed sound. ‘He just needs fattening up,’ I said as Titch scrambled back onto his perch. Over the ensuing months, Titch matured into a handsome, plump bird.
Beaky appeared next. A Quaker Parrot. He should have been called Peaky instead of Beaky as he was such a moth-eaten specimen. Poor soul. He had chewed away most of his chest feathers.
‘We rescued him from a pet shop,’ said Mrs. Matthews. ‘He seemed so sad, just sitting there, pulling out his feathers. We thought he’d be company for Titch.’
‘And we pray it might stop his feather pulling,’ added Reverend James. ‘You know, company for him. A distraction.’
I agreed that it could help to take his mind of mutilating himself in due course. But that at that moment in time he had savaged himself so much and was persisting in doing so that I had no choice but to fit him with an Elizabethan collar so as to give some new feathers a chance to grow through. That helped to break the cycle.
And Beaky and Titch got on so well together that when the collar was removed Beaky didn’t start feather pecking again and his sleek new plumage continued to grow unscathed.
The Red Browed Amazon appeared six months later. A smart, apple green Parrot with splashes of yellow and red his on head.
I raised my eyebrows at this ever-increasing menagerie.
Reverend James gave an embarrassed cough and glanced at his wife.
‘My fault, yes,’ she confessed. ‘The poor bird was in this pet shop …’
I smiled. ‘What’s he called?’
‘Nick!’ said Reverend James, holding up a hand, three fingers of which were bandaged.
‘He’s a bit of a devil,’ admitted his wife. ‘He doesn’t seem to like my husband.’
I was lucky to complete my examination of Nick unscathed. The overgrowth of his beak I trimmed back amid a babble of shrieks and squawks.
‘He’ll need a beak trim every six weeks or so,’ I yelled above the racket.
Dozy was the last Parrot to be acquired. Another African Grey. Another rescue.
This time I was asked to visit the rectory.
When I arrived, the Matthews showed me through to their drawing room. Displayed around the room on four separate, highly polished occasional tables, were four gleaming metallic cages.
From each a Parrot stared out. Four pairs of beady yellow eyes watched me intently. Each bird silent. Not a sound. No movement.
Mrs Matthews voiced her concern. ‘Dozy’s eating and drinking okay. But ever since he arrived he’s been so quiet. We’re wondering if he’s lost his voice.’
I gingerly placed my medical bag on the sofa. The eerie silence was unsettling. Not a bird moved. They were like stuffed specimens. I tiptoed across to Dozy’s cage, reached in and scooped him up in the towel that Mrs. Matthews had thoughtfully to put by the cage.
He remained quiet as I gently prised open his beak with a pair of forceps. I peered down his throat.
‘Nothing wrong there,’ I whispered.
Dozy remained passive in my hands, breathing a little rapid, but no protestations. Not a squawk. Not a screech. He scrambled back onto his perch, ruffled but silent.
I was about to speak when suddenly he swung round, cocked his head to one side, and blew a large raspberry.
There was a pause. Mrs. Matthews went pink, Reverend James a shade darker.
‘Er, yes, well ...’ he spluttered. ‘At least he’s found his voice.’
We all burst out laughing. And all four Parrots joined in.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
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