I was sitting on my screened porch gazing out into a backyard of tropical hardwoods and butterfly plants. This was not something unusual as I am sure I spend more downtime doing just that than say watching TV or cruising the internet. Probably, there was a cold beer at hand, but that specific detail I do not remember.
What I do remember was that my left ankle was propped upon my right knee, which put my left knee just about at chin level. And upon that knee perched a little green parrot, as usual. His name is Noodge and whenever I am home he is my constant companion. We have been together for about 5 years now, ever since he landed on my head outside the front door of where I work. His ankle bracelet indicates that he was born in captivity for the pet trade. His previous owners had clipped his wings but failed to monitor and maintain the flight deterrent. They also likely underestimated his intelligence and absolute hatred for being locked in a cage.
At my home he is cage free. The screen porch is his domain. When I am home the entire back of my house is wide open and at those times he has even more room to roam. I have never clipped his wings. He has escaped from the porch three times, and each time he stayed outdoors for a shorter duration. As of now I doubt anyone could throw him out the door. We seem to both realize that he is ill equipped to survive without human help and protection. Between the feral cats and native hawks outside he would not last very long at all.
His obvious desire to be in a flock is both humorous and sometimes annoying, but it has allowed me plenty of opportunity to observe his genetic programming. He is quite pretty and a great pet, being both intelligent and affectionate, so it is easy to understand why his species would be desirable to “tame”. But, on the other hand I think it is a tragic mistake. While canines and housecats, somewhere in their ancestry, obviously decided to cozy up to humans and become domesticated, I suspect Noodge’s ancestors were simply trapped and caged whether they agreed to it or not.
The evolution of his species makes him ill equipped for domestication. The breed is sometimes referred to as a “Quaker” as they commonly shudder as if freezing to death, but they are actually quite comfortable in colder temperatures. And it sure isn’t cold here in South Florida. It is my suspicion they shudder simply to shed excess energy. They are a high-energy species that can noisily travel many miles each day, in flocks, to distant feeding grounds and then returns to their roost each night. Locking a high-energy animal in a small cage, no matter how pretty and entertaining, is simply inhuman. But, here we are.
There are wild feral flocks of this noisy and boisterous species that have become established throughout South Florida, and they can be heard around my house daily. Noodge pays them absolutely no attention. He has no clue that they are his kin. I really think he believes he is people.
We both are beginning to understand each other. We have made some progress. I have learned that he gets frustrated easily and will not stand for being fucked with, and he has learned that he needs to control his bowels when in the house. It is still a work in progress.
Beyond Noodge, outside the screen, my eyes were focusing upon a Grey Catbird, flitting about, that has returned now for the third summer. Catbirds are rather common further south in the wilds of Everglades National Park, but they are somewhat rare up here on the suburban east coast. Most people who are not “birders” probably would not recognize that they are different from the ubiquitous Mockingbird. It is likely that this particular bird finds my yard of native seed-producing trees and shrubs to be worthy of his dedication. Sadly, over the last few years I do not believe he has ever enticed a mate to join him up here.
It is not that he hasn’t tried. Each evening he calls out in his comparatively plain song, part of which sound somewhat like a cat’s “mew”, which is how the species got its name. Occasionally, I have enjoined the conversation with recorded Catbird songs that I downloaded from the internet. It seems to really cheer him up, but then I sometimes wonder if it is not actually a mean thing to do.
It was while watching him, and comparing his lot to that of Noodge, that I began to consider something far more metaphysical.
The Catbird has a routine. He flies to one heavily seeded shrub, say a Beautyberry on the east side of my yard, then returns to a dark and heavily leafed tree in the middle where he likes to hang out. After a while, and maybe a call or two, he will fly out to a different seed source, then return. This goes on all day. The only interruption occurs when a much larger and aggressive bird, usually a Mockingbird or Blue Jay, will greedily chase him from his current feeding location. After a while, it becomes rather impressive how dedicated he is. In simple terms, he is driven.
The Catbird is driven to feed, stay alive, and breed. Noodge likely still has some of those drives, but his lot in life has him far removed from the wild. For Noodge, feeding is obviously still a concern, and he has a vestige of a desire to build a nest. Each evening he flies about almost to exhaustion, in what I believe is his instinct to return to the roost. His drive to flock is dominant and approaches hilarity! When I am not around, or otherwise unavailable, he will attempt to flock with my rescued feral yard-cat that lives beyond the screens. The cat has gotten used to it, but she was quite perplexed in the beginning.
A bird trying to hang out with a cat is, almost by definition, crazy: suicidal. But it looks like that is what happens when natural archetypical drives remain in an animal that has been taken out of the wild.
Now, can that concept be translated onto the human animal? Maybe the term “trapped and caged” is not particularly accurate, but we, well most of us anyway, have definitely been taken out of the wilds. What has happened to those drives?
I once read that what differentiates us from other animals is that we can consciously decide not to procreate. I guess we could add that we can also consciously decide not to individually survive. But can we consciously decide not to be driven by unconscious archetypical drives?
Maybe that explains some of the perplexing and crazy shit that some people do? War, greed, sexual perversion, terrorism… are these all manifestations of natural underlying drives that have no use anymore but are still encoded in our DNA?
It is a theory, and maybe a palatable excuse. And while finding a way to give despicable humans a pass makes me feel like I am closer to understanding the confounding actions of others, it does not draw me any closer to them. I think tranquil evenings in my backyard with Noodge, the Catbird, and my feral cat will continue to be a preferred form of socializing. And yes, maybe a cold can of beer might be in the mix too.