Chicken Feet - Part 1

Our return flight home, from a month-long trip to Australia, seemed to last forever – a combination of no sleep for 48-straight hours, made worse by a packed flight in which we were seated next to drunken German tourists.
The many hours served to winnow our conversation down to a mantra: “Oh, I can’t wait to get home to my wonderful bed, my quiet home, and sleep, sleep, sleep.”

“Just think”, my husband said,“of all the places we stayed in Australia, and all the flights we’ve tried to catch a little sleep, our home will be the most quiet and relaxing of all. No cars, no people, no loud laughing”. I smiled, enjoying the picture he was painting, sighing with anticipation. I noticed he was frowning.

“What’s wrong?“, I asked.

“It’ll be too quiet”, he said. “No dogs. No parrots. I don’t know if I can sleep.” No matter how tired, we agreed, home wouldn’t be home without them. Once landed, luggage collected and loaded, we headed straight to the veterinarian’s clinic where they were boarded.

Our dogs were the first to greet us, exploding with pure joy, making it difficult to tell tail from head as they spun in circles at our feet. Once they were calmed, we began the process of collecting our eight parrots, one at a time. The first six appeared nonchalant, quite stoic really, a one-eyed once-over satisfying them it was really, truly, finally us.

Buddy, blue and gold macaw, number seven, greeted us in typical blue and gold snit form, every tiny facial feather erect, body feathers tensed, expanding him into I Am a Huge King of the Jungle look. After he seemed to satisfy himself he’d properly chastised us, half-heartedly nipping our arms, he finally gave a shake of his big, beautiful head – a parrot’s way of signaling they’re changing moods – letting loose with one huge vocalization to which I replied, “I love you, too”.

From experience, we learned to save the most vocal parrot until last, KoeKoe the Umbrella Cockatoo. KoeKoe was seldom halfway about anything including expressing his feelings. We were fully prepared for his routine – a top-of-the-lung ear-splitting scream of “I Love You!!!”- one well-rehearsed through many other boarding experiences. There he was – coming around the corner. We grinned expectantly and … nothing. Not a peep. Not even a snicker from him or beak “clacking”, his way of air-kissing.

“KoeKoe?” we asked. His posture bowed down, eyes firmly locked on the floor, crest flat on his head, he didn’t respond.

“Koeiebaby?”, I asked in baby bird talk. Nothing. No standing on tippy-toes screaming his usual greeting, “I LOVE YOU” at the top of his lungs. Absolutely nothing, how eerie. Everyone at the clinic was gathered around, being used to his displays and not wanting to miss a single shriek. I looked at their expectant faces and asked, “anything I should know about how his visit went?”

Stunned, they slowly shook their heads from side-to-side, looking as puzzled as we felt.

Leaving, satisfied he was in good health, and thinking KoeKoe’s issue stemmed from just being a bit disoriented from us having taken an extended vacation, we loaded him up in the car and headed home.

It was uncomfortably quiet. While listening to him screaming “I love you” at the top of his lungs during our other 45-minute trips home from vacations could become irritating, I realized I longed to hear it again.

Unlike other jet-lagged drives, he allowed us the quiet we so badly needed, and once home, we restored our bodies and minds with ten hours of sleep, aware of the unnatural silence.

His subdued mood continued for several days, not at all in keeping with his nature or personality. He broke his silence on the fourth day, while I was cleaning his cage. He reached out to me, grabbing my sleeve with his foot and in a confessional whisper said, “they told me I had chicken feet”.

Being used to conversing with him, I thought nothing of replying, “Oh, no, sweetie, you have beautiful Cockatoo feet”.

He grabbed more tightly, with more passion said, “they told me I had chicken feet“.

I reached for his foot. He instantly grabbed my finger, powerfully wrapping his toes around it. I gently rubbed his feet telling him, “Koeie, you have beautiful, strong Cockatoo feet”. His head hung low.

Later that day, he crawled out of his cage, the first time since coming home. Sitting on the top perch, he held his foot up to his face, peered down with one eye and repeated in his newly developed monotonous tone, “Chicken feet. I have chicken feet.” Throughout the day, he wanted nothing to do with his favorite special foods. No corn. No broccoli. No almonds. Each offer of food was met with a sad response from his barely raised head, “chicken feet”.

Three days later, I could contain myself no longer. I phoned the boarding facility, asking to speak to the vet technician who had spent the majority of their time with our parrots. I explained the situation, reminding him that we returned from another trip to find KoeKoe had learned how to scream “Rock ‘n Roll”, complete with rock star movements, during his visit before the last one. Evidently, his conscience could no longer contain itself and confession was his only option.

“Well, you see,“, the vet tech started off slowly, “we thought it was funny”.

“Funny,” I repeated.

“Yeah, you know, he laughed when someone said, ‘hey you have chicken feet’, and you know, well, he does have a great sense of humor, and he kept laughing or we wouldn’t have kept saying it”, he ended lamely.

I wasn’t sure how to respond. I’d never before had a parrot who had been bullied into low self-esteem.

“Well,” I said, “I’d put him on the phone so you could say you’re sorry, but I have a feeling he doesn’t want to talk to you“.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. I tried to tell everybody to stop but you know, we never expected him to take it so seriously. I’m really sorry”.

I hung up, looked at KoeKoe and passed along the apology. He simply continued to stare down at his feet, the source of his angst.

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