12 August 2012

Saga of Pick - a Captive Paroquet

The Life Story of a Bird.

Out of the Realms of Nature Across the Boundary of Civilization.

Hunting in the Green Palmettos - Screams in the Air - A Friend in Green Pantalettes - Away to the Swamp - The Prodigal's Return - Life in a New World - The Escape from Death - Its Affection and Jealousy.

A covey of quail was flushed in the palmetto scrub, three miles southwest of Mosquito Inlet, Fla., on the 28th of December, 1875. Four birds were shot dead. The covey scattered, and individual birds were marked as they settled among the huckleberry bushes and saw palmettos. While moving carefully through the low scrub the sportsmen heard the screams of a flock of parroquets. These birds were coming down on the wind, filling the wind with shrill cries. They swept over the scattered pines that shaded the scrub, and swerved to the left, cutting the atmosphere with the grace of wild pigeons. A long shot was made. One of the green birds sped spirally into the sky with a frantic cry. It arose to a great height, and fell into the top of a tall pine. Dropping from branch to branch, it finally clutched a twig and hung head downward, screaming like a woman in hysterics. parroquets never leave a wounded companion. Its mates circled around the top of the tree, uttering plaintive calls. The suffering bird clung to the twig a full minute, and fell to the ground dead.

The flock alighted in a willow swale a few rods away and kept up an incessant chattering. Here they were ambushed. At each report of a gun dead bodies floated on the dead water. On wading out to them, two wounded birds were found clinging to the willows. One was a small parroquet with a broad head, a white bill, and large eyes. Its orange head was flecked with spots of green. These green spots indicated it was between one and two years old. The root of a wing feather had been broken by a No. 10 shot. Its comrade was larger, and was more seriously wounded. Both birds screamed with afright, and took to the water. When captured, they viciously used their bills, and gave up the fight only when securely tied in a pocket kerchief.

An hour later they were released on the veranda of the Ocean House at New Symrna. The small bird stepped from the handkerchief without a glance at the surroundings. It picked up a straw, and began to play with it. It gave chase to a beetle and destroyed a trellised rosebud. The large bird crouched at the foot of a pillar, and furtively watched the guests of the hotel. It screeched whenever it was approached. Toward sundown the small parroquet hid its head under the wing of its mate, and cuddled itself to rest. At dusk a green branch was nailed to the window casing of a bedroom. The two birds were placed on the branch after dark, and went to roost with uneasy murmurs. In the morning the large parroquet stood among the green leaves stone dead. The little fellow's head was tucked under the wing of the dead bird. The branch was shaken, and the live bird withdrew its head. It called twice. Getting no answer it began to pluck the feathers of the dead bird. A moment afterward it fluttered to the floor, and crept under the bed. The dead parroquet was skinned and prepared for mounting. Its mate crawled from under the bed, climbed the back of a rocking chair, and watched the taxidermist with the utmost gravity. The skin was thrown into a drawer, and the live parroquet was without a companion. He was named pick.

- - -

A man thrown on an unknown planet could not have been more completely isoate, Pick was in a new world, among strange beings. He was as solely dependant upon them as was Gulliver upon the Brobdingnagians. Under the most adverse circumstances, he retained his presence of mind and cheerfulness. A saucer of water was placed before him. Instead of drinking he bathed his wounded wing. He would eat nothing but acorns. The season for these was nearly over, and the woods were scoured for miles before a supply could be secured. One day a Flordian threw a pine cone on the floor. Pick marched to it with evident delight. He split it open and regaled himself with the seeds between the layers of the cone. From pine cones he went to white walnuts, pecan nuts, peanuts, sand spurs, prickly ash berries, and cypress buds. He refused rice and cracked corn, and for a long time would not touch bread. A softshell almond fell into his way, and ever afterward almonds were his favorite food. After some weeks he developed a taste for balls of masticated bread. As he became civilized and attached to persons, he ate nearly everything, onions, bacon, eggs, celery, honey, sugar and preserves of all kinds. Cheese and macaroni were a savory delight. He drank lemonade, orangeade, tea and coffee. His change in diet made him lose that peculiar scent of a parroquet, and probably owing to this lost scent, he was never able to get the slightest recognition from any other bird.

Pick's greatest trouble was to find a satisfactory place to sleep. His nights has been passed among the members of his flock in hollow trees. In these trees these birds cuddle together with their heads under each other's wings. They never roost, but cling to the edges of the trees with their bills and their feet. Pick at first tried to perch, but with no success. He would lose consciousness, and fall half a dozen times a night. He next crept under the clothes that hung in the wardrobe, but in the dead of night a scream would be heard, followed by a fluttering. The little fellow would drop and wander over the floor uttering cries of abject terror. At last he acquired the habit of sleeping under the blankets with his master. It had its risks, but the bird was never so contented as when sound asleep under an outside blanket, where he could hear the breathing of his friend.

He had a controlling attachment for the man who shot him. His wing healed in about four weeks. Up to that time he repeatedly went fishing with his recognized friend. He crept up the mast of the little sharpie, and watched operations below with the liveliest interest. When a fish was hooked he was all excitement. If the fish broke water he chattered with delight, and screeched for joy when the gaff was brought into play and the fish was landed. As he recovered the use of his wing he amused himself by short excursions among the mangroves, but never allowed himself to get out of hearing. Somehow, "Pickie" invariably brought an [missing] the rattling of an oar would [missing] boat in a jiffy. It was [missing] of departure. When a pelican, a heron, or an eagle flew over the river, he darted to his friends shoulder with a note of alarm, and frequently crept within the bosom of his woolen shirt. He was a favorite with the guests in the hotel, but showed a preference for the society of men. If there were no men in sight he received the attention of the ladies, but it was always under sufferance.

The bird seemed to be without gratitude. He snatched tidbits that were offered as though they belonged to him and had been stolen. He had an imperious will. He walked up to strangers and lowered his head. It was a demand for them to scratch it; but the scratching must be done gently. If the finger was too rude a sharp protest was followed by a bite, and the bite usually drew blood. One day Pick walked up to a pet dog lying on the hearth and soberly lowered his head. The dog paid no attention. The bird chirruped sharply and the head was again lowered. The dog regarded the little fellow with half-closed eyes. Patience exhausted, Pick made a rush and nipped him through the paw. He then flew to the frame of a picture, and watched the movements of the limping animal with evident delight.

- - -

The fishing excursions had lasted several weeks, and Pick began to show signs of dissatisfaction. On the return home he made strange noises, and from his perch at the mast-head stared wistfully toward the great Turnbull swamp, miles away. He seemed to be musing over his former life. Civilization had not wiped out the memories of his youth. On Feb. 21, 1876, the sharpie had just landed at the wharf of the hotel, when the bird piped shrilly and darted in a bee-line for the great swamp. He was out of sight in an instant. The sun went down, and he did not return. He little knew that a life of dependence had already unfitted him for the old bird life. All but one of his flock had been slain. When a parroquet looses its flock it becomes an outcast. It can enter no other community, and no stranger will affiliate with it. It wanders around the woods until it falls a prey to an eagle, an owl, or a hawk.

On Sunday, Feb. 27, six days afterward, a lone parroquet flew over the live oaks surrounding the Ocean House. It cut a great circle above a low mangrove, and screamed lustily. A man walked from the veranda to the yard, and shouted "Pickie!" The little green coat swept around the ruins of the Turnbull palace and alighted on his shoulder. The feathered prodigal had returned in a sad plight. His feathers were ruffled, the eyes were cold, and his little breast bone was a sharp as a razor. His wing was clipped, and he was placed in his corner in the bedroom. He drank orange juice and ate almonds until he cold hardly waddle, and then crawled under the bolster of the bed, and slept from 4 o'clock in the afternoon to 10 the next morning. He bathed twice that day in a large wash bowl, and spent hours in making his toilet. A cleaner bird never breathed. From that day to this he has taken a bath every morning. He goes to the wash bowl and demands it. If it is not forthcoming, he settles himself in the pitcher and screams until his demands are met.

After his return, at times he showed marked affection for his chosen friend. Toward twilight he perched upon his shoulder and rubbed his hand against his cheek, chirping quaintly for some minutes. Finally he crawled within the bosom of his jacket and went to sleep. The sound of a guitar threw the bird into ecstasies. While it was being played he would cling to the breast of the performer, fluttering a cooing as though charmed by the vibrations of the strings. The bird also developed a new phase of character. Glass buttons, pieces of tin, a silver thimble, anything that glittered, instantly attracted his attention. He would play with such things an hour. A little bucket filled with old trinkets was set apart for him. It kept him from mischief. After ransacking its contents he would pitch everything to the floor. He regarded the basket as his personal property, and woe betided the stranger who touched it. One of the trinkets was a steel watch chain. The chain was a source of never failing delight. He wound it around his legs, lay flat on his back, and rolled over the floor with a new toy.

His curiosity was excessive. If a trunk or drawer was opened, he was in it in a second. He took an annoying interest in the crochet work of the ladies, and was ever ready to assist any one in writing a letter. He quickly learned that his supply of almonds was kept in a cigar box on the mantle, and when hungry, he raised the lid and helped himself.

To bring him North, a cage was required. No wooden house would answer. He could gnaw his way from a box as easily as a rat. A wire cage was bought from the Captain of a live-oak schooner. The bird divined its use. He gazed at it from a distance and would not alight near it. Placed within the bars after dark, he loosened the fastening of the door, and fought his way out. When this egress failed, he unraveled the wiry knots that held the bottom of the cage, and worked his way to liberty. Three weeks were spent in circumventing him, and months elapsed before he remained in prison at all contentedly. If left alone he screamed with passion. His friend would lie on the floor at the side of the cage smoking by the hour and trying to pacify him. The bird clung to the side of the cage until overcome by sleep. When his little eyes were closed, an attempt to steal away, however noiseless, would reopen them, and he would utter a low protest. He never hid his head under his wing, and unlike a parrot, never laid it over his back before going to sleep. At dark a blanket was wrapped about the cage, and the guitar was thrummed until the bird-like expressions of satisfaction ceased, and he was left to his rest. As the door of the room was closed he made his last protest — a collection of quaint sounds that meant, "I'll be quiet if you are not gone too long."

- - -

Pick was brought to New York on April 15, 1876. He had passed the boundary of civilization, and now entered one of its centres. The noise of the city dazzled him. He was given the freedom of the house, and during his friend's absence he sat for hours upon the window sill, watching passing vehicles and listening to the cries of licensed vendors. His affection for the man who shot him increased. When home the bird was perched on his shoulder. He rubbed his head against the man's cheek, are from his mouth, crawled into his pockets after nuts and candy, walked lame, fluttering is wings, and performed of his own accord various antics for the amusement of his friend. If the man was inattentive a delicate pinch of the ear reminded him of it. It was a persistent friendship, and demanded and received the warmest friendship in return. The friends dined together. The bird took soup and sampled the various dishes at will. He was obedient. Warned not to touch a dish he kept away from it. He was allowed to chip the frame of a certain picture, and he chipped no other. Sand paper was pinned to the wall, and he used it to keep his bill smooth. He had a given perch near the stove, where he dried himself after a bath. He quickly learned his privileges, and though at times he evinced a disposition to overstep the bounds, he never did so against the protest of his friend.

In June he went to Henderson Harbor, on Lake Ontario. Here the fishing excursions were resumed. Pick had the freedom of the air. He darted among the apple trees, chased by swallows, robins and phoebe birds. He tumbled around the barn-yard, frightening the doves, and alarming the chickens. He knew the favorite fishing grounds near the farm-house and visited them at odd intervals, but he never crossed the bay on an excursion to the lake. He was the last to leave his friend when these excursions were made, and the first to welcome him on his return. At sun-down he sat upon the boat house, on the lookout for the returning boat. Strange craft he hailed with an inquiring cry, but when the blue boat of his friend hove in sight, he flew to it with joyful utterances, and rubbed his head against the fisherman's cheek, until a landing was made.

The bird demanded society. The company of a dog was preferable to no company. When left alone he was in terror. He seemed to see shadows in the air, and skulked at every noise. Locked in a room at one time, when the door was reopened he was missing. After a long search he was discovered asleep under a shawl at the side of a small black and tan terrier.

- - -

The two friends returned to Florida in December, 1876. The bird had a vivid remembrance of his old haunts. Agaves, orange trees, mangrove bushes, fig trees and guava shrubs, all were revisited with delight. One day the bird followed its friends to the woods, and actually stood on the barrel of the gun while fox-squirrels were shot. The report of the fowling piece created no astonishment. Pick fluttered over the game after it was killed, and was willing to assist in skinning the squirrels.

In February, 1877, two wounded parroquets were brought to the hotel. Their wounds healed rapidly. They were the first fellow countrymen that Pick had seen in fifteen months. Robinson Crusoe could not have been more overjoyed at the sight of white visitors. The stranger birds were absorbed in each other. They fed from the same cup, and plumed and solaced each other like companions in misfortune. Their happiness made Pick miserable. He lost his affection for his quondam friend. He could neither eat nor sleep. Vainly he tried to attract the attention of the strangers. He thrust himself between them, brought choice delicacies, offered to plume them, and did the honors of the house like a feathered nobleman; but the guests were stern high-caste Brahmine. They would not accept the least civility. They would neither touch nor taste anything laid before them by the renegade. Pick's presence was a contamination and they acted as though the very air that he breathed was poisonous. For six days the lone bird treated the strangers with the utmost courtesy. At times he absolutely implored recognition. Suddenly his bearing changed. He assumed the manners of a ruffian, and used them like interlopers. He picked their heads, stripped them of their feathers, and deludged them with the choicest epithets in the parroquet dialect. The strangers bore all indignities with the resignation of religious martyrs. They would not even gaze at their persecutor. His rage increased. To save their lives the two birds were presented to the wife of the Minneapolis Tribune, who gave them a home in the great Northwest.

A month elapsed before Pick became himself again. His affection for the man who had shot him then increased three-fold. For weeks he could scarcely bear him out of sight. When absent he would neither eat, drink nor sleep, and from that time to this no bird had been able to attract his attention for a moment.

Pick returned to New York in May, 1877. In June he went to Jacob Garrison's, three miles from Milford, Pa., trout fishing. He took wing daily, and followed his friend down the Sawkill, alighting in the trees over the best pools, and watching the casting of the flies as though personally interested. When out of sight every call was answered. The friends lunched, and assorted flies together on the bank of the purting stream. Pick's assortments were not those of an amateur. He selected grizzly kings, gray professors, and showy flies, and manifested disappointment because they were not used. He insisted that the yellow May fly was preferable to the ugly stone gnat, and one day, determined to have his way, severed the shells of the stone gnats in the book. We returned to New York at midnight June 20.

- - -

The New York Herald of June 22, 1877, contains the following advertisement:

$10 REWARD. — Flew away from 114 Varick St., a small parrot of parroquet.

On the morning after his return from Milford, the bird shot through the open door and disappeared over the roofs of the neighboring houses. He probably fancied that he was still in the country. He lost his bearings in the smoke and uproar of the city, and could not retrace his flight. Washington square and all shaded streets were searched for him without result. He passed the night away from home. As his friend was passing a bird store in Canal street, near Varick, on the following day, he heard a familiar cry. On turning he saw half a dozen Florida parroquets imprisoned in a large cage. One was on the bottom of the cage, working with might and main to escape, and the others were continually pecking at him. It was Pick, but so changed that his own mother would not have known him. Every tail feather was gone, he was partially bald, and there was a black and blue spot on his bill that suggested the story of the parrot and the monkey. He had been run to earth by gamins of the Eighth Ward, who had struck him over the nose with a stick, and sold him to slavery. When reasoned, the door of his prison was opened, and he flew to the shoulder of his friend with a scream of joy and rubbed his head against his cheek. A child who had lost its parents would not have shown more delight. It was fully six months before the bird regained his plumage. The extravagated blood mark on his bill did not disappear in a year.

The summer was spent on Lake Ontario where Pick again had full freedom of wing. He recognized old faces, and darted among the apple trees, pursued by the same swallows and robins. Twice has he revisited the spot since then, and twice has he followed the course of the Sawkill at Milford. He has also shaken his wings under the Starucca viaduct, and cast a reflection in the blue Susquehanna at Windsor, N.Y. The remainder of the time has been spent in New York. Three times he has been lost. Once, when left alone in the house, he turned the button of a screen at the kitchen window, pulled it open, and wafted himself toward the North River. He was found clinging to the shoulder of a stranger, in a tenement house at 9 o'clock that evening. The stranger's wife, while in the yard, heard him screaming, and saw him circling in the air over the Spring street tower late in the afternoon. She shouted, and the bird descended and perched on her shoulder. When taken into the house he left her, and clung to her husband. Last summer he escaped from the residence of his friend in Charlton street. After being chased and stoned by the boys in the street for more than an hour, he returned to the house of his own accord.

Pick has had numerous escapes from death. A hawk came very near snatching him from the top of a weather-cock, where he had gone to sleep. He escaped the claws of a hungry cat while asleep on a gate-post. He came within a hair of being caught in a closing door, and was once badly mangled while sleeping on a rope near the wheel of a dumb waiter. His narrowest escape was last February. A merschaum pipe had been removed from a white marble mantel, leaving behind it the amber stain of nicotine. The stain attracted the attention of the bird. He had barely touched his fly-like tongue to it when he fell over on his back apparently dead. He was carried into the yard and rolled in the snow. Faint screams gave signs of life. He was then taken by the legs and swept through the air, forcing him to use his wings. "Appleton's American Encyclopedia: said that tea was an antidote for nicotine poisoning. The mouth of Pick's friend was filled with hot tea. He ground the bill of the bird between his teeth, forced it open, and wet his tongue with the decoction. Muscular action followed. The little fellow swallowed some of the tea and began to vomit. The tea was administered at regular intervals, and the drowsy bird was not allowed to close its eyes. Within two hours he became excessively angry and uttered passionate screams. From that hour, however, his life was safe. He rapidly recovered, and ever afterward avoided yellow stains.

- - -

Pick is still alive. He sleeps in the swing of a covered cage, but at precisely 5 o'clock in the morning awakes, and insists upon getting into bed with his friend. Once there he nestles near his bosom, and sleeps until breakfast time. He bathes when his friend washes, and takes an interest in his toilet. He frequently flies to him with a necktie, and has tried to bring a comb and hairbrush. The mystery of the toothbrush he is unable to solve. He perches on his friend's shoulder while the brush is being used, chattering merrily, as though seeking an explanation.

His thoughts are eternally on his friend, absent or present. After the gas is lighted he takes his stand over the door of the sitting room, and awaits his coming. When the outside door is opened he screams a welcome, and expresses much disappointment when he finds himself mistaken in his man. At 9 he is put in his cage, but asleep or awake he does not forget his attachment. His hearing is remarkable. The rattle of a night key on the stoop, will startle him at 6 o'clock in the morning, and he will squeak with joy. Nor will he cease his endearing chatter until his friend taps on the cage, and assures him that he is safe.

The bird has become civilized. He has developed intellectual and affective faculties. Phrenologically considered, he has shown:

Affective Faculties
Domestic Group — Friendship, inhabitiveness, and continuity
Selfish Group — Vivativeness combativeness, destructiveness, alimentiveness cautiousness, approbativeness, self-esteem, and firmness.
Moral Group — Hope.
Self-Perfecting Group — Imitation and mirthfulness.

Intellectual Faculties
Perceptive Group — Curiosity, locality, eventuality, time, tune, and language.
Reflective Group — Casuality, human nature, and agreeableness.

And these have all been developed by experience and association. With large destructiveness his head is no longer above the ears than the head of any other parroquet. His affection and constancy are shown in his attachments; his jealousy, in hatred of a pet parrot, who mimics him and calls him the livelong day; his revenge, in biting those who have imposed on him; and his vanity, in pluming himself by the hour before a mirror. At first he tried to get behind the glass to find the other bird; but since than has apparently become satisfied that the supposed bird is a refection of himself, and therefore he uses the glass same as a woman.

When seated before a glowing grate, thrumming the guitar for his delectation, on a cold winter evening, I cannot forget that, though a small bird, with mutton-chop whiskers and green pantalettes, he is a true friend.

Anonymous. February 8, 1880. The life story of a bird. Out of the realms of nature across the boundary of civilization. Hunting in the green palmettos - screams in the air... .New York Sun 47(161): 1. Also: Watertown Re-Union, page 3. Issued February 19, 1880.