Saturday, June 27, 2009

Speaker for the Dead...

I first came across this concept from the book titled "Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card. The concept as I recall it (my memory is way corrupted these days) is that after someone dies, a person interviews people and compiles a more or less true portrait of that person, good and bad, and then presents the compilation publicly. I want to do something here that is similar for our Cockatiel, Choker, who died on May 19, 2009.

In 1991, a Cockatiel was hatched to a breeder in Tampa, FL. This Cockatiel was hand-fed. A short time later, my brother Brian and his girlfriend Rocquel went to this breeder to purchase a Cockatiel. They chose this particular Cockatiel.

A short time after they brought the bird home, Rocquel was very concerned when she saw the bird was opening it's beak wide repetitively. She called to get Brian out of class because she thought the bird was choking. Thereafter, they called the bird Choker.

Living with a couple of college students can be dangerous. Choker's middle name must have been Danger though. Choker lived through a small fire and various other potentially life threatening events.

It was during this time period that I first made my acquaintance with Choker. I was in the Navy and visiting my brother while my submarine was temporarily in Port Canaveral. Choker and I got along pretty well at our first meeting.

I met Choker again when I attended my brother's graduation from the University of Southern Florida in 1993. Soon after Brian and Rocquel moved to North Carolina so that Brian could pursue his Master's degree at UNC (He never said, but I guess he couldn't get into Duke...just kidding!).

Brian, Rocquel, Choker, and their dog Zaney lived in NC up until December 2006. During that time Brian and Rocquel got married, moved within NC, went on many adventures, and eventually had two children. When I would visit, I would always take some time to whistle with Choker, hold him, and scratch his neck. Rocquel would make the comment that the bird really loved me as he really didn't take to many people. Brian would say that they sometimes forget they have a bird until I come over.

Choker was very well taken care of. He still had some mishaps though. Once or twice his cage was left outside when it got a bit colder than anyone expected it to get. I was there one time when we had to pull the cage out of the bushes where it either fell or was pushed by a cat.

Choker learned to whistle the Adam's Family theme song, the "Charge" tune, and various other things. Sometimes he could immediately imitate something, and sometimes it took repetition. Choker really liked to greet the morning with a series of shrill whistles. :-) The reality is that he was probably looking for Brian. Cockatiels tend to bond with an owner and often shrilly whistle when they cannot see that person.

In December 2006, after the birth of their second child, they asked if I wanted to keep Choker. Trying to take care of two pets and two children was a little much for them. I instantly agreed. My son was ecstatic.

So, for two and a half years Choker lived with us in Virginia Beach. Every day I would come home and Choker would start squawking as soon as my key went in the door. As I ambled about the house, I would whistle and Choker would answer. Occasionally the bird would break out into song. One night when I was up fairly late, a car alarm was set off in the neighborhood. Choker immediately started mimicking it and I couldn't stop laughing.

In December 2007, Brandon and I got a much bigger cage for Choker, and then he really started singing. I was teaching myself how to play piano and Choker learned The Entertainer from that. Often, Brandon would be sitting quietly after school doing his homework and I would be in another room working on something else. Choker would just start belting out The Entertainer and both Brandon and I would start laughing. When I would leave the room, Choker would start chirping, I would answer, and it was like our own version of Marco Polo.

One time I set him out on our patio, with the umbrella up to cover him. He would squawk every time I walked away. Then he started squawking and wouldn't stop. I looked over to see what was wrong and realized that there was a wasp nest under the umbrella. A big one. The wasps weren't bothering him, but I rushed over to grab the cage and take him back inside.

Choker loved to have his neck scratched. I would pick him up, and scratch his neck, picking off the sheaths over his feathers until I was covered in that and dander. He would perch on my shoulder pulling at the hairs on my neck. He would submit to having other people pick him up and scratch his neck, but only if I wasn't in the room. If I were there, he pretty much wouldn't have anyone else pick him up, and he would flap, claw, nibble, and climb to get to me.

On the afternoon of May 19th, 2009, we found Choker dead in his cage. He was about 18 years old. He had been through a lot with our two families. Even now I still whistle out, expecting a reply, but one doesn't come.


  1. I'm not the biggest bird fan, but that was really touching. I'm sorry about the loss of Choker....

  2. HTL,
    Thank you. I always found birds to be interesting, but never really thought of them as being any sort of affectionate attachment until my interactions with Choker the past two years.

  3. Choker rocked out... even if he tried to give me bird flu.

  4. It was between a bird or a ferret, and as usual, Brian's choice won out with promises that, yes, birds have personalities. His first name was Guy, not Choker, and had issues as a result of the name change. He also had issues with women, me being that woman. Either it was my nailpolish or jealousy that we had to share my husband, either way, Choker only seemed to like me when I brought him in the shower, a place he would gleefully spread his wings and welcome the mist in sheer dancing in the rain.

  5. Finished reading Speaker for the Dead. It was great. I'd say it was a bigger commentary on religion than I would truth/perception about people. Either way, pretty profound ideas.


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