Home & Design

Green Acre #109: One for the Birds

Shakira (he, on the left) and Vinnie (she, on the right) make kissie-face bird-style. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I’M MISSING my birds this morning. It’s years since they’ve been here, but they brought such pleasure.

The avian incursion occurred shortly after My Prince turned the little upstairs back porch off my similarly little office into a little greenhouse, a place to keep the increasing number of tropical plants that summer in the garden but need to be coddled when the temperature dips.

The birds happened thus:

I was admiring an antique wire birdcage at Ginkgo Gardens, the charming little garden shop on DC’s Capitol Hill that mixes such odds and ends with the gardenias and pansies, and suggested to Baby that we buy it for Daddy for Christmas, figuring I could convince him it was for him. She found this idea a bit shabby. Instead she (secretly) bought it for me.

When she returned to Austin, which she was then calling home, The Prince and I had a what-to-do-with over the cage and concluded that we needed a bird. Off we went to Petco or PetSmart or whatever it’s called and sat on the floor in front of the cages for an hour, watching the parakeet activity. The Prince was surprisingly involved.

There were two that were clearly a pair. One was doing tricks, hanging by its beak from a set of brightly colored hoops then twisting around, looking for appreciation from the other—who obliged with grating squawks and fluttered wings. Then they’d sit together on a branch and make out.

The docile one was the peacock of the pair, a very pretty bird. Mostly a soft shade of green, with a blue-tinged tail. A keeper, we agreed.

The gymnast, however, was a hesitation. This was the homeliest parakeet I’d ever seen, with a horny beak, like an old toenail with a mild case of fungus, and rumpled-looking feathers that were a glaring, fluorescent-spray-paint green that hurt the eye. There were tiny buggy-looking black dots on its head.

While we weren’t understanding the attraction, they were obviously in love and clearly couldn’t be parted. So home they both came.


Bird action: Watch as Vinnie works at destroying her own house.


In a completely sexist decision, we assumed the ugly gymnast was male and named it Vinnie—after Vincent, the beast in the old TV series “Beauty and the Beast.” The more docile bird, who we thought was female, was named Shakira because it danced and squawked whenever Shakira, the singer, launched into “Hips Don’t Lie,” my favorite dusting music at the time.

We didn’t know Shakira was a he and Vinnie a she until several months later when their nose holes or snouts or whatever you call them changed to their mature color—males’ are blue, females’ tan. Oops.

For a couple of weeks they sat quietly in their cage. At night I’d carry them downstairs and we’d spend the evening en famille. Just me and The Prince and our sweet little birdies watching “House” or a film on TCM. Really boring.

Then I thought, why not . . . let them loose? It’s a greenhouse-solarium! What could be more enchanting than a pair of parakeets fluttering colorfully about? And since a screened door is the only separation between this room and my office, I’ll add some extra amusement (distraction) to my days.

They were so timid at first, sticking their skinny clawed feet out the cage door as if they were dipping those toes in a freezing bath, but eventually freedom caught on.

Unfortunately, what I assumed would be delightful, instead, proved a nuisance. They’d sleep in the branches of the hibiscus and when they’d awake they’d shred its leaves and throw them about, then they’d swoop, perching here and there, dropping bitty birdy turds as they flew. They were also very loud.

Much of the morning Vinnie (the female) was busy digging up the dirt in the greenhouse pots and tossing it on the floor while Shakira chirruped his encouragement. Sometimes Vinnie napped and you’d think she was dead, but no, she was just resting up for her really serious work, gnawing at the inside of a bird house we’d bought them; white it was and resembled a wooden chapel.

Grand-dog Tallula, not to be trusted around birds, had her way with one. It wasn’t pretty. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Scritch scritch, she’d claw at the thin wood, chipping it away and heaving the shavings out the openings (which she had enlarged to better suit her healthy girth). Every so often she’d look out, searching for Shakira, who’d be nervously pacing around and around the house, muttering to himself.

This was all a noisy and messy business, and obviously very time-consuming for me.

Shakira’s day, meanwhile, flapped between cheering Vinnie’s deconstructions, trying to lure her from the birdhouse and attempting to consummate their relationship.

Vinnie would be wooed out and they’d kiss. Oh, would they kiss! Shakira’s eyes would roll back, his body trembling and so forth and he’d try to climb on top of her—a very funny-looking process that involved kicking a leg out sideways and trying to slide onto her back—and she’d promptly knock him over and go back to work.

And then, one day, Baby came to visit with our beloved grand-dog Lula, who did not like birds, specifically Vinnie.

This had a tragic ending. I saved one of her (ugly) feathers in a locket.

Shakira was inconsolable, moping about, and so was I. Amazing how that ugly little creature had wormed her way into my heart too.

We added another bird, Boychic. But Shakira didn’t take to him, or her. Joining them very briefly were Blue, who was blue, and Yolko, who was yellow. But it was never the same, just dirtier, smellier and louder by a magnitude of four.

And then, one horrible night, something did them all in. All four in one swoop. They were buried in the garden. A pot holding the Meyer lemon summers over the spot.

As you know, I never assess any blame, though I suspect My Prince had something to do with this, just as I suspect his culpability in the mysterious death of the pond fish last year, which is neither here nor there.

Some years after these events, my older sister sent me a large, fake, turquoise parrot, with feathers covered in glitter and sequined paillettes.  He (or she) is very glamorous perched upon a potted palm on the downstairs porch. Last night one of his (or her) legs fell off.

So much for birds.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” reports every Thursday on the state of her greenhouse, backyard and whatever else is on her mind.

One thought on “Green Acre #109: One for the Birds

  1. Jean B. Gordon says:

    Just love the way you write, Stephanie… while this one was amusing and funny at times it was sad.. No name for the fake one….perhaps Peg Leg!! Keep writing…..more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.