Friday, January 04, 2008

I won't give a finch!

By Kevin Duling

Animals typically rule the roost at my place. I always presumed I would just have a dog and maybe even a cat. Throughout time and a few unfortunate events, I was left with two cats, fourteen chickens, a barn full of guinea hens, a pet steer, a dog, some wild quail which must be fed daily, and lastly, two finches.

When I leave for a small vacation, (all my vacations must be small with that many animals) I have to print out a detailed map of instructions on the appropriate care of each animal. The two finches, Frederick and Francine Finch, are by far the highest maintenance of all.

Daily care for finches involves simply changing their water, blowing the chaff off their food dish, giving them five fresh leaves of spinach, replacing the millet stalk, and wiping the poop off the perches. For the sake of time and entertainment value, I did not mention the cage cleaning, mite control, the proper mixing of charcoal with the gravel, the cuttlebone, and keeping the thermostat constantly above 65 degrees.

A few years back I was contemplating whether to give them to someone else or keep them. Frederick was busy trying to get a small piece of a millet branch into their nest. It was slightly too big and too slippery to stay inside. Frederick would place it in position and the branch would slide back out, falling the far twelve inches to the cage floor.

Two hours later, Frederick was still trying to get the small stick to stay up in his nest, while Francine waited patiently on the nearby perch. Finally, after hours of work and toil, Frederick got his branch to stay. With a cheerful little song he decided to get some approval from Francine.

As they sat together on the perch looking horizontally at their nest, the branch decided to fall back out. Frederick’s reaction was an ear piercing “CHIRP!” I do not speak finch well, but I do know this was not a kind word. After Frederick’s sinful outburst, Francine glanced at Frederick and began to verbally let him have it.

It was not until evening when I discovered the extent of Frederick’s verbal discharge. For the first time, Francine would not let Frederick into the nest. He had crossed a line and he was in big trouble. For a full week Frederick slept on top of the nest, while his spouse slept inside.
Finally, after trying for seven long nights, she allowed him to come back in and sleep in the bedroom. The happy little couple hasn’t had a problem like that since. I have managed to witness at least a dozen traits from these two that would correspond directly to a married couple.

Being engaged, I have to ask myself what verbal outburst I am capable of that will end with me on the couch for a week. I am also curious what I will have to do to get me off the couch. One would not think one could learn so much from a pair of birds, whose aggregate weight equals about 2 ounces.

Life hasn’t always been perfectly rosy for the two finches. They have suffered through a week of paint thinner fumes, a week of staying at the grandparents while the paint dried, numerous temporary furnace outages, some heat waves, a cat dangling from the cage, and the time I tried to start a fire with the chimney completely plugged. All of these events were life-threatening to the finches, but together they made it through.

Hardship comes every spring and fall when I clean out their nest, which requires them to rebuild with tiny sticks and pieces of napkin. After a couple of hours of remorse and complaining, they get to work.

These little guys may be the highest maintenance pets in the world, but their character, perseverance, trust, and loyalty make them almost worth it. I won’t give a finch.

Kevin Duling is a wheat farmer from Maupin, Ore. His stories will be posted on the Capital Press blog every Friday. Comments are welcomed at .

Copyright, January 2008, Kevin Duling

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