June 25, 2018

A Tête-à-Tête With a Cockatoo Named Peanut

This is Peanut. I don't know for sure whether Peanut is a boy or a girl, but I think he's a boy.

The dark eyes and a smaller size gave him away.

Besides, female birds sometimes don't like female humans. And this bird most definitely took a liking to me.

When I first spotted Peanut at the Free Flight bird sanctuary in Del Mar, just around the corner from the San Diego County Fairgrounds, he was showing off.

Surrounded by a couple of young girls also visiting the sanctuary, he was taking snacks and bobbing his dead, doing that little dance that Western humans love to see exotic birds do.

He was a showman, for sure, but part of that isn't his particular personality but rather interwoven into his genetic code. As most parrots are pretty good mimics (hence, speech), the Moluccan cockatoo is particularly good.

So, if you bounce, he'll bounce.

And he's got quite the vocabulary, too, which of course also draws a crowd. While the macaws, conures, Amazons, and parakeets chirped and squawked in utterances that sounded more like "Leave me alone" than "come hither," Peanut was asking, "How are you?"

He was even asking visitors to stay when they tried to walk away.

Now, upon entry, the staff tells you that you're free to try to pet and even hold the birds, just keep the caressing to their heads and only let them perch on forearms and not shoulders or heads. And sure, it was allowed by the facility, but mostly it wasn't permitted by the individual birds. In fact, most of them gave the very distinct impression that they were not in the mood.

So I'd already struck out with nearly everybody by the time I'd gotten to Peanut. To my relief, there was at least one bird that seemed interested in hanging out.

After all, some birds (and other animals) will tolerate a little affection, but they won't necessarily like it. And I didn't feel like being tolerated. I wanted to give some love to a bird that wanted to be loved.

And Peanut turned out to be that bird.

Shortly after starting to pet the crest of feathers on the top of his head, careful to not irritate the quills still stuck in his skin after some serious plucking had occurred (and for God-knows-how long), he started to lean into me a bit, allowing me to stroke across his eyes as he blissfully closed them.

He reminded me of my cat.

And then he bent over, but not for the reason I initially thought. He wasn't trying to pluck a hard-to-reach spot in a fit of trichotillomania.

He was bowing to me to give me the back of his neck and, ultimately, the entire underside of his feathered head.

Imagine the long, salmon-colored feathers of a parrot flipped over and my fingers gingerly squeezing in between them, massaging his scalp in small circles as he cooed. Others tried to come over and pet the bird, but the bird was having none of that.

Peanut wanted me, and he showed me how he wanted me to love him, no matter how odd or unexpected it seemed.

He never left his perch to climb up on my arm. He never snapped his beak at me, though he gave me soft little love bites, leaving just enough space for his tongue to reach out and dab my arm. When a neighboring bird left a gash in my arm, Peanut inspected the wound thoroughly.

Peanut isn't the most beautiful of birds at Free Flight, mostly because so many of his feathers are missing and most people find the exposed, gray skin of a parrot somewhat unsettling. But he was charming and loving and willing to be loved, despite his anxieties and compulsions that ultimately push more people away than draw them in.

It was hard to say goodbye to him as he shivered in the cool, Pacific breeze, ruffling his wing feathers and holding his body close for warmth.

But someone else had taken a liking to him and was feeding him carrots. He was shaking (perhaps from nerves and not the cold), and he was showing off again.

And I left with only a whisper and a wave.

Related Posts:
Meet Simon, The Red Fox of the Radioactive Red Forest
A Chance Encounter, This Side of the Rainbow Bridge

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