The Psitta (plural: Psittae), also known as the Chatterbird, is a small winged creature which is able to mimic sounds made by other creatures or races. It prefers a warm climate and enjoys eating mainly fruit. Popular as cagebirds among the nobility, the Chatterbird can be trained to repeat simple sequences of sounds and even sentences in various languages, although it is not sentient.
Psittae are small and dainty birds, about two palms long from beak to the tip of
the long feathery tail. Their heads are almost perfectly round, with a matching
bright black eye set on each side, sometimes ringed with various colours. A
sharp curved triangular beak is good for taking bites out of soft fruits, and
incautious handlers, although a trained Psitta seems to enjoy perching on its
human’s shoulder or finger and being carried
around. A small greyish tongue is unusually flexibly mounted in the bottom half
of the beak, and may be the key to this bird’s unusual facility of mimicry.
Short legs emerge from feathery sheaths along the base of the body, faintly
scaled and with typical three-toed claw structure (not including the spur claw
at the back which curls round the perch to assist the bird in remaining upright
even during slumber).
A delicate body shaped like an elongated feathery egg is finished off with a long, stiff-feathered tail. The colours of the Psitta vary widely, and are genetically transferable, so Psitta-philes often enjoy breeding to select for brighter hues. Reflective greens and blues are common, yellow and orange less so, and deep red and purple fairly rare. Duke Havilard of Truban was recently able to produce several pale silvery Psittae with iridescent mottling, which he calls the Ikharrilene variety (after the dwarven word for opal) but so far they have not bred true.
Male and female are coloured alike, but the female can be identified by her heavy dappling of a darker shade over her primary feathers. The male tends not to have markings save for the ring around the eye, and possibly some shading in the tail. The female, however, is always spotted, striked, mottled, dotted, or striped with dark green, dark blue, or black.
The Psittae seem to enjoy mimicking sounds around them, especially those which
are unusual, melodic, or repeated. In nature they will imitate other birds,
animal howls, water running, and even wind or squeaking branches. They can
repeat long musical sequences and reproduce the sound of flutes and other
instruments with extraordinary accuracy. When trained they can ‘speak’ Tharian,
Styrásh - in fact, any language
to which they are exposed. However, our philosophers do not believe that the
birds are able to comprehend or choose sounds with which to express themselves,
as they lack any measurable sentience. Their extremely flexible tongue and some
unusual structures in the throat which resemble fish gills may be responsible
for their gift.
Territory. The Chatterbirds are native to the warmer areas of Nybelmar, but are frequently imported to Santharia as cagebirds. They seem to thrive indoors as long as they are not exposed to drafts or any drastic changes in their environment (sudden loud noises or unfamiliar people trying to touch them, for example, seem to terrify them, sometimes even to death). Since they prefer perching in low trees, hedges, and thick herbage, when kept in cages they should be provided with a potted plant or a lush section of vine, which reassures them.
Habitat/Behaviour. Psittae prefer to flock, making large clusters of birds in one tree. These clusters have been nicknamed "Chatters"; it is unsure whether this title derives from the alternate name of the bird, or the other way around! At any rate, a chatter of Psittae is usually comprised of equal numbers of male and female, and often in the same colour tones.
They forage as a group during the day, diving and swooping in a bright display among the green of the foliage, and they will often form a chatter in one particular fruit tree until it is completely stripped, jabbering and chirping to themselves the entire while.
As has been noted, Psittae prefer to roost in lower trees, thick bushes, or vines - although oddly enough their nests are never near their roosts, being located much higher, presumably for safety’s sake.
Diet. Fresh fruit is the mainstay of the Psittaen diet; in fact, almost exclusively the wild grape and the wingecherry. It does not seem to be affected by even the fermented grape, or the sourness of the wingecherry, and will gulp down the small fruits seeds and all. This is an excellent dispersion system, as the Psitta will most likely later deposit its castings in a completely new area. In captivity they are successfully fed on most fruits, and their diet can be diversified to greens and seeds with no apparent ill effect. However, the wild grape is the most popular, and as such the vines have come to be associated with the bird in song and art as much as reality.
Mating. The Psittae construct small, tightly-woven cups of thin vine and supple twigs, deep and lined with their own breast feathers. The time of year does not seem to be important, as they live in warmer climates, so nest-building and mating can occur year-round. However, once they have chosen a mate, they appear to be bonded for life (and for this reason they are generally sold in male-female pairs for the bird-fancier market).
A tiny Psitta egg. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.
Mating takes place in the usual bird-fashion, with plenty of fluttering, coy
dancing around each other, and feathers flying. The gestation period is short
and the female lays one to three greenish-white round eggs about the size of a
dwarven thumbnail in diameter. The female
remains on the nest for the duration, with the male loyally bringing her grapes
and cherries daily.
Fledglings are tiny, ugly, pinkish things, which don’t really become attractive until their little pinfeathers are replaced by the fine green, blue, or other main-coloured fuzz which will become their primary shade. The parents behave anxiously during its adolescence and first flights, and remain concerned until the young bird demonstrates competent food-gathering behavior, at which point all three desert the nest and roost with their main flock.
Myth/Lore. The Chatterbird features in a number of children’s songs and is a popular decorative device, particularly when combined with the grape vine. The Vine & Psitta is also a common pub name in rural parts, for obvious reasons! A common central Santharian children’s counting-out rhyme featuring the Psitta is given below; the variant form was collected in Strata.
one on the mountain,
Researchers. Quite a few bird-fanciers have collected and bred the Psitta, most notably in coastal areas where they can receive regular shipments of new stock, so much is known about their habits, appetites, and behaviour. The Duke of Truban was kind enough to provide us with a stack of “Cage-Byrds - The Care & Feading Thereof” journals, mostly written by these same fanciers. However, we felt that in our readers’ best interests we should summarize and provide the most basic information, which we trust will be sufficient. Those desiring more information should apply directly to Duke Havilard, or may subscribe to the CBCFT Journal at their pleasure.
Information provided by Bard Judith