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The other piece of information about budgies that I retained from my childhood was how to tell the sexes apart: The featherless area around the nostrils is brown in females, blue in males. This bird was female.
All the birds ate. But this time when something scared the flock and it took flight, the budgie stayed behind, calmly continuing her dinner. When one of us stepped a little closer to the feeding plate, she showed no concern, and when the dogs came sniffing, she wasn't bothered at all. No question but that this was a domesticated creature. When she had eaten her fill, she flew off to rejoin the flock—queen of the sparrows.
During the next few days we learned the budgie's habits. About 8 a.m. and again at 5 p.m., the queen and her court would fly in to feed. She usually came with an escort but, being less skittish than her companions, often stayed longer than the sparrows.
The sparrows messily scattered seeds; the budgie ate neatly. The sparrows hopped on two legs, quickly and nervously; the budgie walked, slowly, deliberately and pigeon-toed, her head bobbing with each step. Her gait lent her the aspect of a little old lady, and we decided to name her Gertrude.
We tested her tameness. She would let us get within a couple of feet, but if anyone tried to touch her, she flew away. This bird had spent sufficient time in captivity to know that the touch of a human hand could lead to a cage. While Gertrude, or Gertie, as we began to call her, didn't mind being admired at close range, she obviously had no intention of surrendering her freedom. We gave up trying to touch her and simply enjoyed her presence. We considered ourselves fortunate to have her in the family.
After a couple of weeks I began to imagine that Gertie would like a companion of her own kind. Perhaps I was indulging in anthropomorphism, but I couldn't help thinking that Gertie would be a happier bird if she had another budgie for company.
We presented our idea to the owner of a pet store, who said that there were no guarantees that any two budgies would get along, but that it was possible. She told us how to proceed: Put the male's cage out near the bird dish. After several days the female—if she was interested—would approach the cage and begin talking to the male. The two would then go on to share food and exhibit other intimate behavior. After about a week of that, release the male when the female came to the yard. She would then show him what he needed to know in order to survive on his own in the world. The shop owner also said that, in her opinion, budgies could indeed become acclimatized to the mild California winters.
We chose a green male for his contrasting color and named him Stanley. When Gertie arrived with her entourage that evening, we were disappointed. Several of the sparrows showed interest in the newcomer, landing on his cage and checking him out, but Gertie gave him not so much as a sideways glance.
Four or five days later we were still waiting for some action. Gertie, in her aloof way, had not approached the cage. When we were about to give up hope, the process jumped forward, exactly as predicted. One morning, without any previous indication, Gertie hopped onto Stanley's cage and started chattering. Stanley, who hadn't paid much attention to the sparrows that had been landing on his cage for almost a week, began leaping from perch to perch.
After a few minutes the sparrows flew off, and Gertie left with them. Stanley was extremely agitated, vaulting about and racing back and forth across the bottom of the cage, chirping wildly. Quite soon, Gertie came back, and the two birds held an extended discussion. This time when Gertie left, Stanley was calm, and set about preening his feathers. He began a repeated, one-note warble and, from a distance, we could hear a very musical, liquid answer. Back and forth they chirped until Gertie moved on.