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Sailors visited by unexpected guest

Jan 1, 2003

Occasionally, while at sea, we have hosted wild birds that have been blown offshore, but imagine our surprise when a tame cockatiel blew into our cockpit while we were anchored in Biscayne Bay. He announced his presence loudly and immediately hopped on my husband's hand and came below with him. When the bird had rested he flew to our shoulders, nibbled gently on our ears and offered kisses. We were hooked! What could we do? We put screens in the hatches since our new arrival couldn't be trusted not to take a potentially fatal flight. We were intrigued by the thought of a pet and thought it might be fun.

The next morning, after distributing dry cereal far and wide, he was most uncooperative about returning to his cabin when we wanted to remove the screens and get on with the day. We sailed up to Miami and got birdseed and a small cage, which the pet shop owner said would be okay as long as we let the bird out frequently. Our routine as we traveled through the Keys was to let Fluffy out for breakfast and again from dinner until bedtime, when he liked to play Scrabble and attend to our grooming. We had to chase him around the boat to cage him for the main part of the day and overnight. We found he ate anything as long as it was on our plates and was so sociable that he couldn't tolerate our being out of his sight. We kept him in his cage in the cockpit while we were at anchor or sailing, as long as conditions were settled. In heavier weather we had to keep him below. He screeched continuously to be rescued from his loneliness.

After a few weeks our boat had become a giant birdcage. There was seed everywhere. The table and settee cushions were covered with newspaper to protect them from Fluffy's high-spirited eating and unfortunate bathroom habits. When he was out of his cage we were prisoners since the boat had to be closed up. This pet thing was not working out. By the time our trip was over we were desperate to find our little friend a better home. In a stroke of good fortune we found an acquaintance who was looking for a mate for her female cockatiel. Fluffy got lucky after all. So did we.


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