“What kind of bird is that?” asked my husband, as I sat typing at the computer. I was busy, but turned to look out the window at the patio. This is where our bird feeders hang – one with regular seed, used mainly by plain brown sparrows, and another filled with thistle seed, pecked at more daintily by finches and the occasional chickadee. I thought it might be something rare, a rock wren or indigo bunting, one of those birds that turn up once in a blue moon in Iowa.
It was blue, all right, but the sight of it did not make my heart sing. Instead, it filled me with dread. “That’s a parakeet!” I replied sadly, taking in the pastel hue of this slim bird eating at our feeder. The fat sparrows seemed to regard him with deference, as if a fairy tale prince had come to call, and let him have first dibs. Lately I’ve had to refill it daily, because winter will be coming soon enough, and they’ve been gorging themselves in preparation.
A friend who is more of a birder than I tells me these missing house pets are called “escapes.” I know people who let their birds fly about the house to give them a sense of freedom. So I can understand how simple it would be for one of them to fly the coop when someone, an unwitting child perhaps, leaves the door open too long. It’s happened to us with our wily cat, but we know how to coax him back. Just offer some food, and Leo will swallow his pride and return.
But a bird? Not so easy. Bob tried going out and approaching him, but there was nothing doing. As soon as he got within a few yards, the bird flew into the crab apple tree and sat peering at him until he came back into the house. Then back the bird soared, to eat at the feeder again.
What to do? Would Animal Control come if we called? How would they catch an escaped house bird, anyway? With a butterfly net? A handful of sunflower seeds? Fat chance, with feeders hanging all over town, offering a free lunch, and supper and breakfast, too. Should we blanket the neighborhood with signs crying “Found: Blue parakeet”? But how found is he, really, when he could easily fly over the river and through the woods to East Dubuque tomorrow?
Once a black-and-white cat showed up at the house where I raised my two children on University Avenue. We named him Spot, for the few weeks we had him, and he was a cutie. One day my daughter came home and when she said hello, he gave a muffled reply, because his mouth was full of freshly caught mouse. He was a decidedly outdoor cat. That time, I wrote an essay for the TH and, thank goodness, his owner recognized him by something I said he did – wrapping himself around our necks while we sat at the patio table. So she called, and there was a happy reunion. (His real name, it turned out, was Con Man. How fitting.)
I wrote a poem about this bird, the day after we first saw him, but that made me feel guilty, like taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune for my own benefit. I mean, it was a good poem; my best poet friend told me so. But did it do the bird any good? It did not.
I suppose this happens all the time. I’ve seen “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” a marvelous film about this large flock of birds that lives free in the trees of San Francisco. The original birds, of course, were all escapes, or, worse yet, birds purposely let go by owners who could not, or would not, care for them. Parrots can live to be fifty years old, something too many buyers don’t take into account. The filmmakers show how each bird has a personality of its own, and how a certain homeless man develops an amazing relationship with the flock, coming out of his shell as he begins to care for them. To say it’s a heartwarming film is an understatement. To say it will also break your heart is, too.
Parakeets, I’ve learned, can live to be fifteen. I’ve also learned that they shouldn’t be kept in cages all day, so whoever let this one out may have been trying to do the right thing. It’s just the open door or window that was the problem. The information I found also says that they can learn to speak up to 200 words, and that they are technically parrots, and come from Australia, not South America, as I assumed.
It’s been over two weeks since we’ve seen this bird at our feeder. So I’m making up happy scenarios about his fate. My worst nightmare, of course, was finding him dead in the grass. My best fantasy is that he returned to his own yard, knocked his beak on the window, and was joyously let in by his anxious family.
It could happen. I know this for a fact. Because my husband has told me that when he was a kid growing up on a farm in central Iowa, the only animals that were strictly house pets were a couple of parakeets. (Even the cats were mostly consigned to the barn.) Once in awhile, they would get out. But by going outside with a handful of seed, someone from the family could always persuade them to come back inside. So it could happen to our little friend. It’s what I have to believe.