Beeeeep. The smoke alarm beeps at me as I grope my way past the darkened dining room. I canʼt see anything as I gingerly try to make my way to the kitchen, so I keep my palms facing forward and my arms stretched zoobie-like straight in front of me in the hopes it will save me from bumping into a piece of furniture.
Beeeep. Beeeep. Beeeep.
The sound of any alarm is by design unpleasant and difﬁcult to ignore. This one is especially grating; itʼs the antithesis of melodic and perfectly suited to its purpose which is to insist that you pay attention to it.
Beeeep. Beeeep. Beeeep.
I momentarily forget that I am in stealth mode and respond, “Beeeep.” Uh oh! I realize the mistake right after I make it, but itʼs too late. Iʼm busted. I can forget about having a quiet cup of coffee and answering my email without interruption. The parrots now know that Iʼm awake. Itʼs only 4:12 am and we all should be asleep. However, if there is action – or food-of any sort, none of the birds want to miss out. A chorus of 8 different voices yell out greetings: “Good morning!” ʻHi, how are you?” “Are you hungry?” “Hello, Hello, Hello.”
Some of them address me by name, my bird name, that is. Shana, a yellow headed Amazon calls me “Pretty Mama.” I like that one. Tico, a Blue and Gold macaw, uses a special whistle when he wants me to come; its not as ﬂattering as Shanaʼs choice, but it is custom designed for me and only me. Amigo uses a wolf whistle.
Mia, an African Grey, who is our newest bird, has named me “Beeep.” She manages to reproduce the exact tone and cadence of the smoke alarm that was malfunctioning and going on and off intermittenly the day she arrived from a foster home, scared and unsure of her future.
The broken alarm was extremely annoying, but I couldnʼt reach it to shut it off. The carpenter I called promised he would come that afternoon, but didnʼt show. Luckily, the alarm was not constant and it was far enough way from my bedroom so that I could escape most of the noise, however, by the time I managed to get the alarm removed, Mia decided it was an important sound in this household.
Iʼd better show off how smart and valuable I am, might have been her thinking. “Beeeep,” she said when that evening I passed her cage. She was looking directly at me, so I went over to her. Every bird that lives with me gets daily attention, but I try especially hard to make newcomers feel welcome and at home by going to them whenever they look as if they need company.
I can easily imagine Mia thinking to herself after I responded to her beep: This new ﬂock mate hears this sound and seems to like it. I will show her that I am adaptable and able to provide the noise that is familiar to her. I will teach her that this is our special language. At my last house, my ﬂock name was Mia. At this house, it will be Beeeep.
Parrots live a long time; some of them have lifespans of 60 or 70 years. Chances are that Mia will outlive me. Iʼd better get used to the sound of a smoke alarm.