The curious habit of my girl, Harold

Harold on my head

Early morning bird-head.

I have this 16 year old female blue crown conure (a small parrot) named Harold. My friend Joanna who loaned me the $400 to buy her when she was 10 weeks old was the one who named her. This breed, like most in the parrot kingdom, is not sexually dimorphic (both sexes look the same), so naming them is just making a guess anyway. So for the first 8 years of Harold’s life, she got male pronouns. And then, to my great surprise, she laid her first clutch of eggs. It took awhile, but I figured the least I could do would be to give her proper female pronouns. And sometimes I call her by her full name, Haroldina. That’s usually reserved for when she’s being a jerk.

She is my only pet at this point, and will likely be my last. Statistically, she’s probably at mid-life, so I’ll likely have her a good while longer yet. She’s been with me through a lot, and like me, she did not emerge completely unscathed. She has been a habitual feather plucker only slightly longer than she has been known to be a “she.” It’s a nasty habit for birds, and a product of captivity. They simply do not do that at all in the wild. If a parrot’s missing feathers in the wild, it’s likely due to a fight, or a quarrel with their mate. But Harold does it, and rather than make her even more miserable by attempting to discourage the habit, I just let her be. We all have our vices, after all.

After Harold first laid eggs, it was several years after that before she laid more. I hoped she was only going to do it that once, let me know she was a girl, and be done with it. Since she’s the only bird, the eggs are unfertilized (like the chicken’s eggs you eat in your omelets). The process is hard on her little body, so it’s really best for her not to lay eggs, especially being older.

But she has laid eggs again several times in the past few years. And when she starts nesting and getting ready for eggs, it correlates more with times of massive change in my life than it does with the seasons. The typical time for birds to nest and lay eggs is in the spring. The time of sunlight gets longer, and that lets them know it’s time to raise some babies. Not Harold… She has laid eggs in the fall, middle of winter and now in summertime.

In September 2011, I had just broken up with my boyfriend and moved out of his house, my time trying to be a programmer had come to an end and I was staying with my parents briefly until the house I’m living in now was ready for me to move into. Harold was acting so strange the whole time she was at my parents’ house. I forgot that what she was doing was nesting. She tore up the newspapers at the bottom of her cage, and would hide under the papers. She seemed lethargic, and also took to making an awful sound much of the day.



I moved us into my little old lady house, and the night I put her cage in the room she’s in now (my office), she laid her first egg in awhile. It was an odd time of year for that, but that’s how it went.

Last November, my last contract as a DBA ended and I got back to the business of trying to figure out what I want to do for a living again. I got really sick with bronchitis (or something like it) just before Thanksgiving, and stayed that way for a few solid weeks. Again, my feathered friend laid some eggs. I went through a lot of changes that aren’t so easy to describe. Digging through stuff in therapy changes. Significant changes to the core of who I am… Or rather, peeling back layers of the onion to reveal more of that core.

So far this spring, she had been fine. Perhaps a bit more noisy than usual, but that comes and goes. I had a brief contract doing UX work in May, and I worked on a startup for a few weeks after that. A few weeks ago, I felt like I needed to let the startup go, and I did. Since then, I’ve been quietly reassessing. And I feel that something big is coming. I felt like I had a good idea of what that was, but now I’m not so sure. It just feels like another major shift. And sure enough, my little bird is nesting in the next room.

I wish I could stop her from doing that. I’ve read plenty of blogs about how to discourage breeding behavior in pet birds. I’ve done everything they’ve suggested except for getting her hormone injections of some sort. Unlike cats and dogs, you can’t easily spay or neuter birds. They’re not generally prolific enough breeders to warrant such a thing, anyway. I just don’t want her putting her non-spring chicken body through that for nothing. But it does make me wonder what’s coming up next thanks to the bird who lays the golden change.

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