Make a little birdhouse in your soul

22 Jun

Although it pales in comparison to all the other horror and tragedy in the world, I had a little loss of my own this week. My budgie Roland died at the not very advanced age of four years. He had been sick for a while with what turned out out to be a liver complaint and died at the weekend, whether from the liver problem or from the stress of being medicated for the liver problem, who can say? (Death from stress is a common problem with birds and small animals in general – apparently the trick is to get them happy taking fluid from a syringe before they ever get ill. Something to remember for next time.) But this is not a sad post – I thought this was a good time to introduce you to the birds who have shared my life. They each had their own unique personality and colouring, kept me company in lonely times and cheered up the house. You can keep your cats and dogs; give me a bird any day.


The Goldfinch by Fabritius
Gandalf’s Gallery on Flickr

My ‘gateway’ bird was a goldfinch called Reddle. I don’t have a photo of him, as I didn’t have him for long and this was (gasp) in the days before smartphones, so you’ll have to make do with this oil-on-panel masterpiece instead. I got him when I was living in Albania. I had never thought about owning a bird before I went to Albania, but they often have wee canaries in cages outside shops and houses (the climate being so nice there) and I got to thinking “I want one of those!” A friend who knew I was drawn by the idea of owning a bird then got me a goldfinch that had been caught from the wild. Yes, this is Not a Good Thing – but it’s not illegal in Albania, as far as I know. (It is in the UK.)

Anyway, it was a time when I was a bit lonely and miserable (living in Gjirokaster – I’ve never liked Gjirokaster) and he was a bit miserable and we suited each other. But when I went home for Christmas, the same friend (who was looking after Reddle) took pity on the bird and released him, which was the right thing to do. However, now I had got the bug, and when I moved back to the UK a few years later, I got…


A singing potplant

Maxim was a canary, the classic cage bird that I had seen all over Albania. He was reared in captivity and bought from a reputable shop, so that was a step in the right direction.

Canaries are not clever birds, and Maxim was basically a pretty, singing house plant. I had been warned not to let him out of the cage but I thought he might enjoy it. This was a mistake; both times I let him out, he flew into something and hurt himself. Once he tried to attack his reflection in the toaster. Not much upstairs, poor soul, but a great voice, and he used to love to belt out a song whenever he could hear violent computer games.

Maxim lived a good number of years. With old age, he gradually became less vocal and developed neuralgia (if I remember rightly) in his legs so he had to have injections. Can you imagine how tiny that needle was?? Eventually I came into the kitchen one day to find him on the floor of his cage, feet in the air. And so passed Maxim.


A flamboyant name for a flamboyantly coloured bird. Gatsby was my first budgie and his purchase came about because I wanted another canary while my husband wanted a huge great parrot that talks. The budgie was a compromise.

Gatsby never talked, in fact, but he (or possibly she – but it’s hard to be certain) was a sweet and gentle soul, as you can see from the photo of him (her) with my niece, Ciara when she was a toddler. (And don’t you just want to eat those chubby wrists!)

Gatsby did not live very long, sadly. He (she) died of some internal complaint at the age of only about six months. Gatsby’s death upset me more than Roland’s, truth be told, because even though I knew Roland longer, Gatsby died way too young and was just so affectionate. Here is my other niece Isla’s artist’s impression of Gatsby.


The pet shop where I got Gatsby gave me Roland for free to make up for Gatsby’s premature death. Roland was not affectionate and was definitely a boy. (This is not based on personality stereotypes, by the way – he just had a much clearer blue cere, the bit above the beak.) He was a wee gymnast, always climbing around his cage and hanging upside down. He was a biter, which was a pain (literally and figuratively) but while he saw fingers as snacks, he enjoyed sitting on shoulders, as in the photo above. He was aggressive and territorial, but also funny and entertaining. In the picture below, he is about to pull over a wine glass, just for kicks. (Don’t worry, I caught it.)

My funniest memory of Roland is probably when he decided to land on my brother-in-law (who is not especially fond of birds) when he had his head in the fridge and he had no idea what was coming. A tiny budgie making a big rugby bloke jump is pretty funny to see.

And Roland did talk! I mean, about once per year, but still. He could say “Peppa Pig”, “Isla” and “kiss kiss”, although he didn’t often deign to speak. He was a fantastic whistler, though. He was definitely trouble, but he was my little trouble, and I’ll miss him.

Who next…?

I’m not getting another bird immediately. I need a bit of time to mourn Roland first, and I have various commitments over the summer which will prevent me having the necessary time for training. One of the reasons for Roland’s poor etiquette was that I didn’t devote as much time to hand taming him as Gatsby, a mistake I would prefer not to repeat.

I’ll probably get another budgie – once you’ve experienced their charming personalities, it’s hard to go back to canaries. And what will I call it? Well I have always given my birds names based on characters in books that I was reading about the time I got them, so it really depends. I’m about to read The King’s Fifth, which is the book The Mysterious Cities of Gold was based on, so if I’m still reading that it’s likely to be something Spanishy like Esteban or Mendoza.

But I may be on to a completely different book by then. However, that’s in the future. For now, here’s to Reddle, Maxim, Gatsby and, of course, Roland, my much-loved feathered companions.


Here is my niece Isla’s montage picture of all of my birds, including the ill-fated Esteban (who only lived two days) and my current companion, the lovely Artemis (named for the heroine of Ready Player One).


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