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The Parrot Diaries - The Butter Wars

Mira Tweti | Jun 25, 2007


Lories, a variety of parrot,  are nectar and pollen eaters. Their diet is similar to Hummingbirds. They are beautiful in their many colorful varieties which even includes black lories.  In their pursuit of pollen and nectar they pollinate many species of flowers in the jungle areas of Australia and New Guinea where they primarily are found.

In captivity, Mango, my rainbow lorikeet companion,  does his best by trying to pollinate my table flowers.  There, though they live a harmless existence,  they are terrorized by deforestation, poachers and locals,  children and adults alike,  armed with slingshots who knock them out of the trees, tear of their wings, cook them and eat them (though they are not needed for sustenance). The birds are also coveted for their feathers to use in native costumes.  I contemplate these fates often when I feel guilty keeping this beautiful creature in a cage (albeit a large, toy-filled one next to a window). 

Plus there is the issue of lifespan. It is supposed that the birds live longer in captivity though there is no knowing because not enough of any species of parrot have been banded and tracked for the length of their lifetimes. I have been told that rainbow lorikeets could live to 35 in captivity but I have never heard of one doing so and especially on a captive diet.

Speaking of dietary issues... Mango and I ritually have breakfast together and beyond that there is something else we have in common…

It all started one morning when he and I simultaneously discovered he loved butter. I turned around to find him beak deep in the yellow stuff.  He was making the bird equivalent of a purring sound as he gorged himself in my tub of unsalted whipped.  Of course,  I took it away immediately. His body can't really process fats (as was witnessed by the fact that the bottom of his cage was covered with butter the next day—it had gone right through him, his little body not knowing what to make of it).  I couldn't believe he actually liked it.  Where would he see anything like it in the wild?  A girlfriend of mine pointed out that it's not good for me either but I like it too.

Things have escalated since then.  I still like to have butter and he doesn't know how to take "no" for an answer. Now, when I want to have some on a piece of toast (a simple enough wish) for breakfast I brace myself and begin a new battle in the BUTTER WARS.

Mango eyes me constantly while we eat breakfast. Covert operations are needed if butter is to make it to toast, and then to my mouth without being intercepted. First I give him fresh Lory food.  He eats out of bowls on the kitchen counter (like a dog or cat would). While he's busy eating I quickly sneak the butter out of the fridge, hiding it behind me as I go past him.  When the toast is ready I butter it,  my back to the bird, across from him on the opposite kitchen counter. I glance over my shoulder, huddled over my meager piece of toast in the hopes that he doesn't sight the yellow stuff. But old eagle eye is not easily fooled. 

Usually, while I'm still clandestinely buttering at breakneck speed he's flown onto a shoulder for a better view of my activities. If he spies anything resembling butter he'll streamline down an arm faster than you can say the word and eat it out of my hand. He is persistent to say the least.  If I switch hands, so does he. Over my head doesn't help because he'll try to land on the toast—he can fly remember. The usual result is a Mexican stand-off: I get a couple of quick bites, he manages to get a little butter off the top, the toast then goes in the garbage and we both settle for a neutral bowl of cereal (milk and soaked bread is what the first imported Lories were fed by British merchants who brought them home to England).

I recently found myself hovering over a piece of cherished warm buttered toast in a corner of my kitchen glancing over my shoulder to make sure he was none the wiser until I realized that I was being terrorized by a bird the size of a banana.

Leave him in his cage you say?  It's hard to break a bird (or a person) of habits, especially ones they enjoy. Breakfast with me is one of the things Mango looks forward to.  When I've tried to leave him in he lets me know in his loudest voice—while he paces back and forth in his cage like a little Napoleon—that he wants out, especially if he sees me eating without him so I feel twice as guilty (does this make me avian co-dependent?).  He doesn't like butter substitutes so that is one recourse. But, then neither do I.

The sad truth is Weight Watchers is calling my name so the butter wars with Mango may be my karma to giving up the fattening yellow stuff* myself.

*I have since gone vegan and the fattening yellow stuff is now a thing of the distant past…

Mango, the butter-lover :