A day after the death of her companion, Demon Budgie is sad. At least, she appears sad to me.
Amongst animal behaviourists, anthropomorphism is a deadly sin. Many an ethologist’s career has been blighted by the attribution of ‘human’ emotions to non-human animals. I don’t think it’s a huge leap of faith to say that animals can experience distress at the loss of their companion. However, I can see that the attribution of grief, a more complex emotion, is more problematic. We cannot know the mind of an animal in the way we believe we can another human’s. Other people at least have the ability to explain their emotional state to us using words (though whether even this allows us to see into the mind of another might also be considered doubtful.) This option is not usually available to animals, with the possible exception of primates who have learnt to sign, or birds with some spoken repertoire (see Irene Pepperberg’s iconic work with Alex, an African Grey Parrot – http://alexfoundation.org)
I do not pretend to be a reader of avian minds, however Demon Budgie’s posture radiates “unhappy bird” vibes. When I return from work, I find her hunched in a corner, feathers fluffed up despite the warmth, peering at me through slitty eyes. Her unhappiness becomes mine. I am sad for her, but also worried. Birds can be delicate little beasts, and I’m sure that sometimes, they can die of loneliness.
As a modern human, in the face of emotional and spiritual crisis, I turn to the internet. More specifically, I turn to YouTube. If Demon Budgie is to be denied a real, flesh and feathers companion, perhaps I can find her a virtual friend on the interwebz.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but there are many, many talking budgies on YouTube. I quite liked Disco the budgie, but Demon Budgie was unimpressed. I don’t think she’s ever been much of a talker, so maybe she just views birds like Disco and Ollie as loudmouthed show-offs.
I turned to budgerigar songs. Here, we hit pay dirt. Random clips of budgie flocks singing in their natural habitats, with other birds providing occasional harmonies. The sounds put me in mind of a series of “Camping by a ……” CDs a filmmaker friend used to collect, which he used to calm the nerves of his substance-enhanced housemates. Demon Budgie and I felt better immediately.
I found a website, and downloaded the soundscape of “Budgerigar Country”, from the excellent Listening Earth website http://www.listeningearth.com.au, home to natural soundscapes from all over the planet, narrowly avoiding downloading a heap more for my own entertainment. $15 and two minutes later, the sounds of an ephemeral waterhole at the back of Bourke flood the room. And Demon Budgie begins to sing.