The Tale of Winston Perchhill – Part One
My name is Winston. Winston Perchhill. I am a happy member of a flock of three cockatiels, but it hasn’t always been like this. I would like to take you back to my earliest memories.
I was six months old and had been left in a bird shop by a man who was teaching me to whistle. He had told the owner of the shop to warn everyone to be careful when they came near me, because I was dangerous. It wasn’t clear to me what that meant, except that I probably wouldn’t get to visit with many people or other birds ever again. There I was, alone in my nice, large cage and separated from all of the other birds, some of whom looked to be close relatives of mine. They paid no attention to me at all, and I mostly contented myself by eating the food I was given and watching the controlled commotion around me, keeping an ear poised for any words I might have heard before. I spent the rest of my time whistling my little ditty, putting all of my heart and soul into every syllable and imagining that I was in a great mansion surrounded by birds of all kinds who were spellbound by my song. I determined not to forget even one note, because I felt in my bones that my song would be the key to me finding a new home, my forever home.
One day as I was busy whistling as usual, this strange-looking lady came in, walked past me, and went directly into the back of the shop where I had noticed most customers usually went. In a few minutes, while she was returning to the front with a package filled to the brim with seed, she stopped to listen to me. This was it; I knew it! I whistled with all my might, my nervous little body bending with the song and my swaying head reaching for the sky. I had won her! It was obvious!
“Does every cockatiel whistle that song, or is that unique to that bird?” she asked the owner, who was too busy with another customer to reply.
“Why is that bird here?”
“On consignment,” she was told.
“Male or female?”
“How old is he?”
“Why is he here?”
“The family couldn’t keep him any longer.”
“How much would he cost?”
“Fifty dollars, and that includes the cage and the toys.”
“I’ll take him! Can I leave him here for a few hours while I do some other errands?”
I was to have my own home again! A strange lady, granted, but she did know her music! When my lady came back, she was very happy to see me again. She put my cage into the back of our car and nestled me close to her in a small clear box. She talked and whistled to me all the way home, which turned out to be less than a great mansion, much less. My disappointment was tempered, however, the moment we went through the front door and I saw a tidy cage, inside of which were two beautiful yellow birds. They were smaller than I and we differed a lot in appearance; but they turned out to be pretty nice. The brighter one was quite talkative, although I could understand only a few of the things he said.
Those days we didn’t have much company, probably because in our house there also was a very old gentleman whom my lady was taking care of. So, although it was quiet, I had my birds, and my lady whistled to me all the while she worked and periodically reviewed my whole vocabulary. Then suddenly the old man was gone, and for two years my lady left our house before breakfast and returned after dark, until one day she came home for good, bringing with her two very tiny birds. We were together and had many visitors, and there was absolutely nothing to complain about.
The tiny birds seemed to enjoy being with the rest of us and my lady kept busy teaching me more things to say. We had settled on what I came to know as “The Marine Corps Hymn” to be “my” song. It fit me like a glove and I could whistle it perfectly within a couple of weeks. Every time strangers came into the house, I treated them to multiple renditions of it, to great acclaim.
The months drifted along uneventfully, and then a crisis came upon us. There were tears, and many people coming and going, measuring and removing furniture, and packing clothes and all the pictures and the pretty little china things that had decorated our house. My birds and I were put into the car and driven down the road for a few minutes, taken out, and carried into… a mansion. I was finally going to live in a great mansion! I stretched my neck to see what we were passing along the way inside and it was beyond my wildest dreams. There were birds in the bushes, birds in the trees, birds on the roof. They greeted us as we were carried inside, me whistling, of course, my Marine Hymn. It was bird heaven and I could have died right then and there and been satisfied!
We were placed in what was described as “our bedroom.” From our cages, we could look outside through a huge picture window, and my lady would put food on the porch for the outdoor birds to eat. They would fly in as one and land on the stone railing, impatiently waiting until the food was ready and my lady was gone, and then they would descend on the food, eating ravenously. This happened twice a day like clockwork and all of us birds, inside and out, would begin to get excited about the routine at least half an hour before feeding time. We were one big flock: the five of us inside watching our members on the other side of the window – little brown birds that chirped and huge mostly gray birds that had a very pleasant way of cooing. In the warm weather, we were joined by birds with red faces and little ones who were brown on the back and white on the front, while black-and-red birds ate down on the grass and noisy blue birds ate up in the trees. Once in a while some enormous black birds would soar overhead and in the evening ugly little birds dove around the porch eating right in the air.
On those warm days, my lady would put my cage in a small alcove on the porch, and I would whistle and talk to my friends from morning until evening, when I would be gently carried into my bedroom to rejoin my indoor birds for sleep. It was a wonderful time. My lady visited me throughout the day and often prompted me to say a few words, but mischievously I would say them only when I wanted to. On cold days, she would sit in a nearby room and talk to the five of us indoor birds, and I in turn would treat her to several choruses of my song. My indoor brothers and sisters would glance at each other in amazement and sit very quietly, listening to us. Life went on like that, and then death came.
First my original birds died, then one of the smaller ones. That left just one tiny gray bird and me in our bedroom. We did our best to keep each other company when the house was quiet and the outdoor birds had gone to their nests. My lady kept constant vigil, and the three of us had our hour together every evening just before sleep. Then one day I was all by myself inside with no tiny bedtime companion at all. I comforted myself with my whistling and of course I had my outdoor flock. I became content to sit in my cage and watch them bustle about and descend as one when hungry and fly away as one when scared or when their stomachs were full. Every year there were new members of the flock and every year I would find that some of those whom I had known in the past were missing. A strange big brown bird began to come regularly and perch on the stone railing, and my lady would hustle out and carry me inside when she saw him! I thus learned that not all birds were my friends, and I began to call a warning when he would arrive.
Article written by Mary Anne Little