One cold late spring day in our South Australian garden, Priscilla our darling Maltese came across something near the big pine tree. I investigated immediately in this snake ridden part of the world only to find a tiny bird with no feathers at all, save for a hint of a fluffy top knot, lying on the ground. The poor creature was covered in biting black ants. Priscilla was gravely worried about this hapless foundling. I managed to pick off all the ants and cupped the icy cold creature in my hand. I placed the bird next to the bird bath in the vain hope that it’s mother would commence feeding. Of course, I had to remove Priscilla from the garden because she insisted in lying down right next to the bird, protecting it. At Priscilla’s insistence, I brought the creature inside and the road to recovery commenced. Chipper was never going to have a free life like this clutch of Willy Wagtails I had managed to photograph in the same tree.
Priscilla was quite assiduous in her attentions towards her little fluffy “baby” as we shared the feeding routines closely watched by this little Maltese who missed nothing at all. The post feeding routines were closely followed up by canine inspection and a few licks for good measure to “clean up the baby”. Chipper did not complain at all as the first animals he saw was myself and Prissy. There was no fear of us. The assiduous post meal cleaning and attention routines stopped abruptly one day when Chipper gave Prissy a tiny little peck on her nose. That act of individuality was enough to scare Prissy; hence Prissy’s inhouse moniker of “Priscilla Piddly Pants” was born.
Chipper grew up and enjoyed baths in the kitchen sink and generally poking around my person; with a particular fascination for a tiny mole I have on the back of my neck.
Teddy was added to our pack of animals and fitted in very well into our household full of unwanted animals.
And grew up quickly to become Chipper’s defender, alongside a general favourite of the abandoned cat down the lane (rehoused) and big black Harry, one of several cats that enjoyed having a permanent home in our mad household.
Teddy developed protective habits towards Chipper and has, for the past few years, ensured that no cats were permitted within a certain distance of the big parrot cage that was Chipper’s home. Chipper had a safe haven and a protector in our Teddy. Chipper flourished and even mimicked certain words in our household; especially old Ralph’s name and the sneezing that Ralph did towards the end of his life when the melanoma had spread into his breathing passages.
Full conversations were to be heard from Chipper’s cage every day and Teddy could understand when Chipper was concerned about any household cat approaching just a tad too close to his cage. Teddy would growl and rush into the lounge room and give the cats the “bum’s rush”. No cats were harmed in this process but their egos did take a beating as Teddy chastised them and shoved them out of the room into the foyer where he pinioned them down with a hard, chastising stare for good measure. The cats however, would slink up to Teddy and wrap their boa tails around his person, all the while being studiously “ignored” by the self appointed “boss” of the house.
A few years have passed and dear Chipper came to the end of his life this week. For a few weeks now, I have had to put this little darling to bed every night high up on a perch that this canny creature had carved out of a block of bird seed. Earlier nights and late lie ins told us that Chipper’s brief but quality life was coming to an end. The noisy conversations had stopped as had Chipper’s ability to fly up to his perch.
On 7th March, Chipper had reached the end. I picked him up and he lay in my hand. A little “cheep” emanated as I whispered his name. Towards the end, Chipper’s last communication was to grind his beak, something he did every night at me as I whispered his name whilst he perched on his seed bed and I covered his cage with warm blankets. The routine never varied.
As Chipper slipped away forever, I held his tiny body down for our two dogs to see. Priscilla who is blind with SARDS, was very excited at smelling “her baby” once again but did not realise that Chipper had died. Teddy on the other hand, stalwart bossy, dependable Teddy, defender of birds and the household proper, looked up at me with terribly sad, pitiful brown eyes full of the pain of comprehension and cried long and loud.