GREEN parrots bear living testimony to the truth of the Psalmist's complaint that the wicked flourish like the green bay tree. A more aggressively flourishing tribe of wicked birds it would be difficult to imagine. Green parrots live on the fat of the land, and let all the world know it. Nevertheless, their sins do not go altogether unpun¬ished. A very considerable portion of the parrot folk are condemned to lifelong imprisonment in little metal cages, which, when hung out in the sunshine, are as hot as - well, as a tropical country can be! Such an existence, however, does not appear to depress a parrot.
There is something sleek and self-satisfied about the bird which no amount of affliction can obliterate. I have never seen a " pretty Poll" who has not the complaisant air of a self-made man. Some human beings have a parrot-like expression. Such individuals appear to be proud of the fact, for they invariably hold a very good opinion of themselves. And it is but fair to them to add that, in most cases, this opinion is justified. A man with a parrot-like face is usually a good fellow.
Even the self-satisfaction of the green parrot is not without justification; the bird is beautiful. The common form, which haunts most of our compounds in India, is known to men of science as the rose-ringed paroquet, or Palaeornis torquatus. The grass-green plumage of this species must be familiar to every one in England, for the bird is on sale in every fancier's shop. The two sexes do not wear exactly similar plumage. The male has a rose-coloured collar and a black necktie, while his wife has, by way of a collar, to put up with an emerald-green ring round her neck, and, being a mere woman, is obliged to go through life without the luxury of a necktie.
If there be anything in phrenology, the green parrot must have the bump of destructiveness very largely developed. The bird is never so happy as when it is destroying the crop sown by some poor raiyat; and, since parrots are restrained by neither law nor a moral sense, there is no hindrance to their self-indulgence, except the small boys who are told off to watch the crops; but these urchins only serve to add zest to parrot existence.
Polly's larcenies would lose half their charm had not the thief the pleasure of dodging the ill-aimed stones of the small watchmen. The methods of green parrots are copied from those of Indian jungle folk, or perhaps the converse is the case. Of this each man must judge for himself. It is for me but to state the sober fact that if an unsophisticated villager desires the wherewithal to build him a house, and if the aforesaid villager lives in the neighbourhood of a "reserved forest," he forthwith betakes himself into the said forest and proceeds to cut down the twelve most promising saplings upon which he can lay his axe.
In the same way, when a flock of green parrots invades a wheat field, each bird does not confine its depredations to one blade of corn until it is devoured. That would be very poor sport. Every man, woman, and child parrot selects a grain-laden stalk and, having enjoyed one small beakful, bites off the head, and then, with a wicked chuckle, proceeds to mete out similar treatment to another head of corn. Needless to say, the villager is no more fond of the parrot than the forest officer is of the villager.
The diet of green parrots is by no means confined to wheat. No grain crop comes amiss to the bird, and, if there be no corn in Egypt, they make merry among the fruit trees. Green parrots are, however, strict vegetarians. I would earnestly commend this fact to those good people who attribute all sin in this world to the eating of meat. Further, green parrots are teetotalers. This should be borne in mind by those who declare that the origin of all crime is to be found in strong drink. Finally, no green parrot is blessed with so much as two coppers to rub against one another. Let those who assert that money is the root of all evil consider this fact. Parrots are vegetarians, teetotalers, and care not for filthy lucre, yet they are steeped in iniquity from birth to death, from egg to exit. But, we may safely leave these momentous facts to moral philosophers and return to the parrot's bump of destructiveness. It is the large development of this appendage which contributes so largely to the bird's enjoyment of life.
That green parrots do derive an exceptionally large amount of enjoyment from existence, no one, who has watched a flock of them, can for a moment doubt. Other causes contribute to this enjoyment of life. One of these is the pleasure -: pure and unalloyed pleasure -: which these birds derive from annoying other species. A green parrot will gladly take the trouble to deviate from its swift arrow-like course merely to hustle some inoffensive little bird off its perch.
Then again, the tongue of a parrot differs from that of other birds. It is constructed so as to give the bird a strong sense of taste. This is a sense which must be wanting in many birds, else how could they eat worms ? Watch a pigeon feeding. This lovable bird will gobble up a couple of hundred grains of Indian corn in half as many seconds, which reminds me of the fact that our Teutonic cousins seem to have queer ideas regarding what constitutes a compliment.
I once heard a German tell an English girl, who was making a very poor dinner, that she had a stomach like a pigeon. It is possible that he meant that her appetite resembled that of a dove. Whatever he meant, he was very pleased with himself, until he saw the expression of anger and disgust on the girl's face. Then he grew sad. Pigeons are very graceful birds, but their manner of eating does not commend itself to our British ideas.
This, however, is a digression. What I want to emphasize is, that a bird which stows away its food at such a rate cannot possibly taste what it is eating. The same applies, in a lesser degree, to a dog. The parrot, however, is an epicure.
Lastly, Polly has an ear for music. Not that its voice is musical. The call of a parrot is a terrible one, and any less optimistic bird would be greatly depressed at having to go through life with a note which, to put it mildly, is an exceedingly harsh squeak. The parrot, however, so far as one can judge, is very proud of its voice. It never loses an opportunity of making itself heard. During its flight it habitually emits loud screeches. Not only is the note harsh and loud, there is in addition something particularly offensive in it. What exactly this is, it is difficult to say, but I feel sure that every one will agree with me when I say that the bird's call is such as to make one want to punch its head!
Evil though their character be, we must admit that green parrots are very beautiful objects. They are ornaments to the scenery of the country. As they fly through the air, they look truly magnificent; Lockwood Kipling has happily called them "live emeralds in the sun."
Parrots are eminently social birds. They almost invariably hunt in little parties of six or seven. They rarely, if ever, alight upon the ground. They delight to sit upon the topmost boughs of trees. At night, they roost together in large flocks, not infrequently in company with crows and mynas.
Green parrots nest in holes. They, as a rule, excavate their own dwellings, their powerful beak being their spade. Green parrots, 1 think, sometimes utilize a ready-made hole in a tree, if one happens to be available. They certainly often nest in holes in buildings.
I have been assured that these birds sometimes themselves excavate holes in buildings constructed of soft stone. Now, I have very great respect for a parrot's beak; indeed, I positively refuse to handle a strange parrot without first protecting my hands with a pair of driving gloves. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to believe that a green parrot's beak is capable of boring into stone. Even if the feat were possible, I do not think that " poor Polly " would attempt it, for the excavation would certainly give him beak-ache, which must be quite as painful as tooth-ache.
The common green parrot is found all over India, except in the higher hills. Hence those who would escape the noisy cries of our green friends have but to shake the dust of the plains from off their feet and ascend to the abode of the gods. The birds, however, venture up to a height of about five thousand feet in Southern India. Above this they will not trust themselves, for they are tropical birds, and love not a low temperature.
Although green parrots are so widely scattered, they are by no means uniformly distributed through the peninsula. In Bombay, for example, they are almost as numerous as the crows. In Calcutta they are not plentiful, while in Madras one does not see a dozen in the course of the summer. They are more abundant, however, in what those who dwell in the Benighted Presidency speak of as " the cold weather."
This uneven distribution of birds is a curious phenomenon, and many species exhibit it. So far as I know, no satisfactory explanation has been offered. It does not appear to be a question of food-supply or climate, for it often happens that a certain kind of bird is found in only one of two places where the conditions of life appear to be very similar.
There is another common green parrot, the rose-headed paroquet (P. cyanocephalus). This is a very beautiful bird, its green body being set off by a red head, having a bloom like that on a plum. It is better mannered than its commoner cousin. It has a more pleasing voice, and affects forests rather than cultivated land. It is, therefore, from the ryot's point of view, a more desirable bird.
Indian parrots are good mimics, and can be taught to talk. The best instructor is a phonograph, which should continually repeat "poor Polly's" lesson. The instrument should be put near the bird's cage and covered up. Then it should be turned on. At first the parrot will be somewhat alarmed. Then its alarm will give place to surprise and curiosity. It will next put its head on one side and listen to the words. After a time, it will try to repeat them. The first attempts will be very feeble ones. A little practice, however, will make Polly perfect. A word of warning is necessary to the would-be instructor of parrots. The phonograph lesson should not last more than twenty minutes, or the poor bird will get brain fever!
In America they have parrot schools, where for a few dollars Polly is given a complete education !