Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Saving Of Hedwig

Hedwig in her early days with her bedroom box in the background.

When I was a child my Nana was given a baby galah with a crippled leg and wing. Nana raised her and sort veterinary help for the crooked leg and wing, but it had been left too long before the galah was given to Nana for the vet to be able to fix.  Rosie O'Grady as she was named learned to walk with a distinct limp, resembling the rolling gate peg leg pirates made famous in movies.  Once Nana moved in with us and I grew a bit older,  Rosie O’Grady  became my responsibility, mostly due to a firm friendship that had grown between us. Being responsible for Rosie O’Grady entailed getting out of bed at dawn when Rosie woke and began calling “Rosemary!!” at the top of her lungs, and taking her out to her aviary. Rosie O’Grady was a bird of few words only learning the names of those she truly loved. Therefore her repertoire was limited to “Rosemary!”, "Chick" my father's name, until they had a major falling out and she stopped calling him forever after, and later when we started going out together, “Graeme!”

She would call, “Graeme!” as soon as he started his car outside the house where he lived around the corner from my house. She continued to call his name until he arrived to say good-bye to me prior to heading off for work and stopping by her indoor cage to say good morning to Rosie who was bobbing up and down shrieking "Graeme" until he did so. After Graeme had stopped at Rosie O’Grady’s cage, given her a scratch and said hello, Rosie would quieten down, have breakfast and then after Graeme had left, ask to be let out of her cage for a stroll around the house. Her aviary had been converted to a stable for my pony Christie by this time.

Rosie O'Grady died when I was in my 20's and was deeply missed by me.

Needless to say, after that I’ve always had a soft spot for galahs, but not being a caged bird person, I didn't make any effort to acquire one of my own.  Well, to tell the truth with all the members of the menagerie, the vast majority came into my life invited and unsort.

I was on my way to a doctor’s appointments few days before Christmas in 2001 when I saw a young galah sitting on the side of the road. It didn't move as I passed by, but it did sort of topple slightly. I couldn’t pick it up and take it with me to the surgery so I marked the spot in my mind and vowed to check on the way back. Sure enough, as I came up to the spot where I’d last seen it, there was the obviously injured young galah still sitting there. I pulled up and searched the car for something in which to wrap the injured bird. Of course, there was nothing in the car even remotely suitable to wrap a young bird with a very powerful beak and most likely a very short temper, so being the brave (Graeme has another word for it, but I won't mention it!) woman that I am, I picked the galah up with my bare hands. My bare hands were soon reduced to mince meat, but I didn't let go, I yelled a bit, but I didn't let go. I finally got the bird into the car and drove home to the tune of outraged screeching from the floor.

Once home, I found a towel to throw over the galah, ascertained that it was a girl (I'll explain how I knew this later) and a very young girl at that. Young galahs have grey breasts instead of the beautiful pink of the adult and this galah had far more grey feathers than pink on her front. I also discovered that she had a damaged wing and leg. O.K. I thought, I know what to do in cases like these - ring the local animal rescue group!

I found the number in the phone book and rang them. The fellow at the other end obviously had planned to have a hassle free and presumably, galah free Christmas season. He recommended that I hit her on the head and even told me the exact place to do so to ensure instant death. I was a bit put off by this unexpected advice from a member of a group that claimed to rescue animals, but after I had picked my jaw up, I explained that I was hoping to save the bird. I also told him that I had owned a galah when I was young and knew a little bit about them. He said, fine, he'd trust me with her (a strange way to put it after his detailed instructions for putting paid to her existence), said good-bye and most probably went back to his guaranteed galah free and peaceful holiday.

I put the galah in a large box with some of our home grown, prime quality wheat and water then closed the lid. I had no worries about her not liking the wheat, unless her recent accident had given her a dislike for the grain. She had been pecking at grains a local wheat truck had dropped on the road when she almost became another road statistic. I then considered it best to leave her to herself for the night. She certainly didn’t sound like a galah who wanted my company!

When she was still with us the next morning I named her Hedwig after Harry Potter’s owl and sought and provided her with medical attention.  Unlike the owl, Hedwig the galah hated all mankind and especially the one particular member of womankind (me) who had a habit of foisting herself on Hedwig at every opportunity! Whenever I gave her food or water she immediately went on the attack. I wore thick gardening gloves to give me some chance of coming out of the encounter with my normal quota of fingers. As Hedwig's recuperation progressed, her dislike of us seemed to increase. She began physical therapy by walking around the kitchen floor each day, all the while telling us what she thought of people who kidnapped innocent birds from the side of the road. The days progressed much like each other. We'd all be nice to Hedwig, Hedwig would screech at us, flap her wings and call us all the obscenities her young vocabulary contained, in between trying to get hold of our more fleshy parts with her beak.

When she was fully mended Hedwig had a slightly wonky wing, a tail that listed to the left and a slight limp. The listing tail and wonky wing meant that there was little chance she'd survive in the wild. I had intended to set her free once she was rehabilitated but her physical problems meant that Hedwig was going to be a permanent resident of the Spring Rock menagerie. “Oh Joy, Oh Joy!” I could hear Graeme thinking (he thinks quite loudly when a new animal moves in). When all our kids were visiting for Christmas, Rebecca, Frances and I set about making Hedwig fit for human ears and safety. Little by little we handled her with the gloves, scratching her where her ears should be and making a fuss of her. We calmly explained that we were not going to leave her in peace until she accepted the fact that no-one wished her any harm. I mean really, you have to wonder about some creatures. Here we were, feeding and caring for her comfort and safety every day, fending off attacks from her beak without trying to retaliate, and never once behaving in a manner that could be interpreted as even slightly aggressive. Our Chinese water torture strategies finally worked and she learned to love humans and to be kind to them most of the time.

Now that Hedwig was to be a permanent family member we realised that the box was not going to be a permanent galah home. Rebecca and Grant built Hedwig an almost palatial aviary while Graeme, Justin and I were on holidays and this met with Hedwig’s instant approval. Once ensconced comfortably in the aviary, Hedwig forgot all her wild bird roots and became anxious if left out in the dark. She was therefore brought in just before sunset each night to socialise with the family and pretend that the dark aviary didn’t worry her one little bit.

Hedwig spent her visits catching up on all our news, sitting on my lap, drinking some of my tea and cadging scratches from whoever was nearest. She also spent a fair bit of the time watching whatever was on TV, although I have to admit, Cricket was her favourite program. I just know she was cheering for the Aussie team. Graeme volunteered for the job of putting her out each morning by placing his hand into her cage (we had to buy an inside cage for her night time visits), letting her climb on and then walk up to his shoulder. From this great lookout she rode out to her aviary, surveying the country side like a queen being conveyed by her slaves to her palace.

Hedwig continued her single galah existance for a couple of years, until I encountered another galah road accident statistic who again came only to stay as long as his recovery took and be set free, but fell in love with Hedwig and refused to leave.  Thus Hermes entered our lives and Hedwig settled into a happy couples status and could finally spend her nights in the aviary with a big strong male galah to protect her (womens' lib is a closed book to Hedwig).

And how do you tell a female galah from a male? It’s quite simple really. A female galah has brown eyes while a male has black coloured eyes.

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