June 1999 Magazine
This story has not appeared in print before. It has not been told aloud. Popcorn and I did not realize that he was a bird, so we did many things inappropriate for a bird. But we loved doing it all wrong.
My wife Carol met a cockatoo when the two of us were visiting a business client. She told me I could buy her a bird like that. A trip to the pet store underscored the fact that cockatoos are big birds and many times heavier than cockatiels. Also many times more expensive. So Carol was given a smaller bird because it would be easier for her to lift less weight. (The fact that it saved me much money was not a consideration. So said I.) He was a lutino with bright orange cheek patches. Carol said he looked like a cup of popcorn like she once purchased in a movie house. So Popcorn came to be named.
The man who owned the pet store said that he was hand fed and finger tame. He wasn't. My fingers had cockatiel nail holes all over them. Popcorn never bit me, but gripped my fingers in fear. He would hiss in protest of being handled, but he didn't bite. I lured him out of the cage and onto my hand using a sprig of millet. He never said a word, but learned to communicate.
The first communication occured after Carol picked up Popcorn in her left hand using an ice-cream cone grip and scratched his cheekpatches with the nail on her right index finger. His eyes closed, his tongue hung out. He hated to be held, but loved that scratch.
From that time on, he would get on her shoulder and close his eyes and twist his head to beg a scratch. When she was reading or working on programming, she concentrated so hard that she wouldn't notice him. So, I would tell Popcorn, 'Blow in her ear and she will do anything you like!' When his beak was near her ear, I would tell Carol, 'Popcorn is begging for a scratch!' and she would do it. After a few weeks, when I said blow in her ear, that little beak would be deep in the middle of her ear. We got away with this until some friends were over and cracked up when I told Popcorn, 'Blow in her ear and she will do anything.' Carol demanded to know why they were laughing. They explained, and after they left, Carol said to me that when I coached little Popcorn I could tell him to 'kiss Carol and she will give you a scratch', or to 'whisper in her ear and she will do it', but I will not say, 'Blow in her ear and she will do anything'. Wives are a strange lot.
We had a cranky furnace during a very cold winter. I remembered that a person's head gives off heat and a bird can take in heat via his feet. So I brought Popcorn across the room to my side of the bed and put him on my head. Popcorn didn't mind when the sun set and the light went gradually dim, but he hated it when the light was turned off by a switch. He hissed and stomped about. I would say, 'You're ok', 'It's sleepy time', 'Go nighty night' and repeat this until he was quiet. After a few nights, when he didn't hiss, I stopped soothing him. So Popcorn banged me with the curved part of his beak until I said 'Nighty night'. After that, he slept on my head every night (regardless of summer or winter) and would not go to sleep until I said good night.
Sometimes Carol would awaken and watch Popcorn and me sleep. When I rolled over in my sleep, ole Pocorn would snap his head from under his right wing and turn to walk up the hill (me). As soon as I became quiet, he would tuck his head back under his right wing and go back to sleep. At first light, he would fly back to his cage.
Whenever I left the room that Popcorn was in, I would point to my shoulder and ask him if he wanted to come with me. Sometimes he did and sometimes he didn't. If he flew to me, he very often would land with a foot on my finger or his foot high on my neck. I would scold him saying, "That was a terrible landing. Go around the traffic pattern and try it again." He would race around the room and then 'spike' a landing exactly between my finger and my neck. I think that the little sucker made bad landings just so I could send him around to do it again.
On the trips to the vet for a checkup, he would go to and from the car in his cage. However, once the car doors were closed, he was allowed out to ride my shoulder. I placed him on my right shoulder, but he climbed around to the left side to look out the window (like a little kid who cries for a seat by the window?). Then we met a big truck (a very big 18 wheeler). After it whooshed by, Popcorn did not squawk or panic. But, he did walk back to my right shoulder to keep my head between him and harm's way. And promply put his head under his right wing, lifted a leg into his feathers to take a nap.
What happened to Popcorn, you ask? He would not go near the kitchen door so after a couple of years I ignored whether it was opened or closed. And the little con artist flew out the door he would not go near. A cat or coon may have eaten him. A snake may have swallowed him whole. He may have died from lack of food or water. For those of you who cry over sad things, we will wait until you have used two or three tissues.
I don't cry because that little guy got the last laugh on me. A woman came into the local pet store and purchased the top of the line cage for a cockatiel, all the books on the subject and food to feed a dozen cockatiels. She told the pet store that she didn't need a bird as she was getting a hand fed, hand tame lutino cockatiel for her 9 year old daughter. The store called all breeders within 50 miles in all directions. No such birds existed. They have Popcorn. But I cannot prove that he is my bird. No band, no DNA record, etc. But I probably would have let it go even if I could have proven they had Popcorn. He flew away from me and found a nine year old girl to feed him when he was hungry. Her mother purchased the top of the line of everything for him. And that rotten little pervert likes to cuddle with a nine year old girl more than to sleep on my head on cold winter nights. She is now 19 and Popcorn is 13. Some nights when I turn off the lights, I wait to see if Popcorn is going to hit me until I say nighty-night. Us all grown up tough guys are not supposed to have a tender spot for perverted (likes 9 year old girls) cockatiels. If you promise not to tell anyone, I will tell you a secret, 'I remember Popcorn'.
Winged Wisdom Note: Ken and wife Carol have owned pet birds for over 13 years and are co-creators of the Birds n Ways, Winged Wisdom and Cockatoo Heaven websites.
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