Living With Chester
This is Chester. He is a White Fronted or Red Spectacled Amazon. Chester's species of Amazon parrot is not known as one of the better "talkers". He only says a few things clearly, most frequently, "Hello, Chester".
But he can do amazing things with his voice. He has a single, very loud scream that he does often -- when he wants something. This scream is ear piercing if you are in the room with him. It is nerve wracking if you are outside. It is monotonous, repetitive and he can keep it up for five full minutes, which seems more like an hour, when he's in scream mode.
If I don't respond to him within a reasonable length of time, he will divide his voice and it sounds like there are two birds screaming. This racket is more irritating and infuriating than any other noise I have ever encountered, one hundred times worse than any barking dog or even a lawn blower or a revved up motorcycle. It is one of those things you have to experience before you can fully understand what I'm talking about.
I have to cover his cage if I want to take a nap. Often when I do this, he starts crying like a lonely puppy. He can divide his voice into several different pitches and sound like a whole litter of puppies. When this doesn't get his cage uncovered, he'll often add, "Oh, Chester. Poor Chester." to his repertoire.
He is quite the drama queen.
I've read and unfortunately figured out that it is absolutely true, that ignoring him is the best way to deal with his screaming. If I can stand it, eventually, he gets it out of his system and shuts up. Then the rest of the day is relatively quiet.
But other people live with me. They haven't figure out that when you charge him, yelling and swatting his cage with the flyswatter, he is fully entertained.
Parrots are extremely intelligent. Chester acts very much like a kid who wants attention and negative attention is preferable to being ignored. He is as manipulative as any two or three year old child.
I didn't want a parrot. A friend had given me a baby cockatiel and I was having plenty of fun with him. My husband, Ronnie, liked the cockatiel, but the Tiel was mine and Ronnie wanted his own bird -- a little side note here -- Ronnie was born a bird lover -- so we ended up with Chester.
From what I am able to ascertain, Chester was wild caught in Mexico and smuggled into the United States as a gift. If you want to see this bird freak out, put on a pair of leather gloves and approach his cage.
Handling a parrot with leather gloves, though, is not going to keep it from making you invent new curse words. With the ability to clamp down with close to 1000 lbs of pressure, the only thing a glove will prevent is your finger being fully detached.
The woman from whom we bought Chester, was dying. Her husband couldn't deal with Chester, which was obvious because a heavy quilt was draped over the back of Chester's small cage, clear evidence that he stayed covered in the laundry room most of the time. Being the animal lover that I am, there was no way I could leave that house without Chester.
All of Chester's feathers had developed an outward curl which gave him an unnatural fluffy appearance. A visit to the vet revealed that he was suffering from malnutrition. The husband had admitted that since it seemed that Chester only ate the sunflower seeds out of his seed mixture, the husband had stopped buying the parrot mix and just bought sunflower seeds.
So we changed Chester's diet. I bought a good mixture which didn't have any sunflower seeds in it. We added fresh vegetables and fruits to his cups every morning and found out he loved it all. Very soon, he was back to being the beautiful bird he is supposed to be.
I knew it had to be very traumatic for Chester to leave the home he had been in for sixteen years and get accustomed to all new things, but we persevered -- and so did he. After ten years, we eventually got to a place where he went nearly every where we went when we were not at work. We often took him in the car and on walks. We even took him to estate sales and to rent movies. I'd offer my shoulder to him and if he wanted to go, he'd step off onto me.
During this time, we had a much loved but old Pomeranian, who didn't much want our attention, so Chester and the cockatiel got a lot of it. When the Pom passed away, we got two puppies and life for Chester began to change again..
I didn't realize what an adverse affect the arrival of the pups had on Chester until he began to chew his feathers. He wasn't plucking them, but he had them so gnawed up on the ends, he looked like he was fluffy again.
So Ronnie and I both made a special effort to pay more attention to Chester. And since I had to take him off the cockatiel's cage every night at bedtime, I let him go live with the Tiels. That helped a lot as far as keeping him occupied.
The simple truth, though, is that dogs and parrots are two totally different animals. Dogs naturally love us. Parrots are much more complex.
Chester often bites the hand that feeds him -- still -- and I never know when he might do it again. He is probably still mad at me because we ignored him when we got the pups -- eight years ago.
Then Ronnie was diagnosed with cancer on his spine, a condition that within a few months paralyzed him from the waist down. I found myself with a tremendous work load. Chester's screaming was getting on all our nerves, so in an effort to make things easier on all of us, I made arrangements for a friend to take Chester for the duration of Ronnie's illness, which from the outset was deemed terminal. The day I was supposed to take him to my friend, Ronnie was sitting in his power chair in the living room. As I passed Ronnie, I realized that if I took Chester away, he and Ronnie would never see each other again. I felt like I should say something, so, talking for Chester, I said, "I hope you get better, Daddy, so I can come home."
Ronnie was already crying. I was crying, even my daughter and son who are petrified of Chester were crying. Ronnie looked up at me and said, "Don't take him away. We'll deal with it." So Chester stayed. Did he scream less because of his brush with banishment? I'd like to say he did, but, no, he didn't. We all just got very accurate with a spray bottle, filled with water turned to "stream".
By now, I'm sure you are wondering why I still have this ornery bird.
Actually, I don't know. It is very complicated.
I have had Chester for nearly twenty years. He is one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. He is one of the very few beings on this earth who can get me riled to point I want to be physically violent.
Against his will, Chester was taken from his natural environment and forced to live in mine. He doesn't know where to forage for food in this country. Most of his natural diet doesn't even grow here. Even if he could find food, he probably wouldn't survive the winter out doors, so releasing him is not an option.
I know from experience how infuriating he can be, so I don't feel comfortable passing him off to someone else. It is easy to imagine him being mistreated or killed.
He deserves better than that. He is who he is. He is what he is and he should never have been brought here.
The rescue facilities for exotic birds like Chester are popping up all over the world – mostly due to the private breeding and selling of these guys for profit, with little if any regard for their future welfare. I personally know five people who have paid big bucks for these birds and ended up passing them along to someone else for a minimal charge, just like Chester. The rescue facilities – like all rescue facilities are understaffed and under funded.
In captivity, the life span of an Amazon is 60 - 80years. He's about 40 now. I'm 63, the chances are high that he would have to go to a new owner when I'm gone, but, as I said, my kids are scared of him and I don't trust anyone else to take good care of him. So, I've decided to have him euthanized and cremated with me. I would like to see laws enacted preventing the breeding and selling of any exotic bird who has a natural life span over twenty years.
But for me, there is something magical about having a relationship with an animal like Chester. It is special beyond my ability to express in words when he steps off his cage onto my shoulder. It is satisfying in ways that I don't understand when he allows me to file his toenails or gently takes a treat from between my fingers. When these kinds of things happen, it feels like all the frustration, all the pain and fury that he caused me to feel in the past are deleted, and we start a new chapter.
Chester and I made a connection long years ago, a connection of trust on his part and responsibility on mine.