Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It is Spring - Where is my Bird?

I recently received this stunning orchid as a gift, and it is a welcome sign of spring! It was already blooming when it arrived, so the real test will be seeing if I can ever get it to bloom again! This is my first try at growing an orchid, and it is called a phalaenopsis.

The arrival of spring means an opportunity to open the windows and let in the fresh air! With that excitement comes certain risks and responsibilities.

The layout of a house, its members and even guest traffic is an important consideration in how we house our birds. While my birds have their own room, the sliding glass doors open onto the deck. So if I have guests, either the screen door is locked, the glass door is locked, or both. If there are children visiting, then it is both, plus a Pinkerton Guard is stationed at the bird room door!

In my 30 years with birds, there have been 3 times when I have had a bird get out. The first time was my yellow naped amazon, Buddy. While I was not home, some guests were visiting. I do not know all the details, but I received the phone call we never want to get... your bird is missing. There is no way to put that feeling in words.

I lived in Florida, and Buddy had a large cage that sat on the patio under an overhang. It did not have a padlock on the cage door (mistake #1), and you can figure out the rest. The only thing worse would be a missing child. Apparently someone decided to open that door, the details being both sketchy and unimportant. I just wanted my baby back.

I rushed home, and surveyed the back yard surrounded by tall hedges. I sent everyone in the house, and went to the corner of the yard. Slowly, I began walking along the hedge, calling Buddy with our personal whistle language. Upon turning the first corner, I nearly broke into tears when I heard Buddy answer! He was deep inside the thicket, and I imagined quite afraid. Lesson learned. A $2.00 padlock was my very next purchase. I kept the one and only key close to my heart at all times. When one lives with roommates, children or has many guests coming in and out,
even if they are bird savvy, there are many opportunities for mistakes.

The other two instances of escapee antics involved Mr. Sammers! Throughout a 28 year relationship there are bound to be a few exciting moments, but that kind of excitement I can do without!

Sammy was on the patio, seemingly safely in his cage, when he decided to help himself out though his food dish door. He managed to push it up, hold it there, and maneuver himself through to the other side. He had not done that trick in about 10 years, so... I did not think he would (mistake #2). What is it they say about

So I followed the same procedure, calling around. I heard him respond and located him in a neighbor's palm tree. With a very tall ladder, I reached him. He immediately stepped up, and sat on my shoulder as we climbed down together. He could have just come when I called, but that would have been much less entertaining for him!

One might think these two lessons would be enough for me to be a staunch security enthusiast, but oh no.... (I am a slow learner it would seem...) A few years later, while still living in Florida but at a different house, I got the
bright idea to clean his cage on the deck with him actually in it. No - I was not drinking at the time... I was simply inebriated with an elixir called stupidity!

The procedure of cleaning a cage outdoors, while the bird is still in it, is akin to washing a 10 carat diamond ring over a sink with an open drain. The next thing I know, Sammy is gone and I am staring at a dot in the sky. I started yelling to my husband, "Sammy is gone... Sammy is gone!" He replied, "Where"? I said, "That little dot way up there!"

Under these circumstances, and given my previous two favorable outcomes, the chances of getting Sammy back were slim and none (with the odds highly favoring 'none'). To get an escaped bird back
once is beyond lucky; to get one back twice means you had better run out and buy a lottery ticket that day!

I followed him with my eyes, best I could, eventually not being sure I was actually looking at the right dot. The cage remained on the patio, me keeping a vigil through a vale of tears.

After awhile, he left my view entirely. I moved the cage further out into the yard, and called his name over and over simply for my own benefit. I needed to do
something, and that was all that I could.

About 20 minutes had passed; we stood in virtual silence. What can you say at a time like that? I had taken an unnecessary and avoidable risk, one that I did not expect to recover from.

As we stared toward the back property line, and I watched the sparrows sitting on the phone wires, suddenly, my eye came upon an
odd looking sparrow... could it be????

It was! There was Sammy sitting in the line of sparrows trying to blend in with the other kids on the block! He began chirping and seemed to be having a wonderful time (while I was suffering... the little booger!)

Imagine my thrill, while tempered with the reality that we were far from out of the woods. I certainly was in no position to begin scaling a phone pole and playing with wires. He seemed quite content socializing with his new friends! One can only hope that at some point, a bird will see his cage and get hungry or thirsty enough to return to it.

We called and called.... Suddenly, Sammy left the phone wires, flying over the top of the house and toward the front yard. My heart once again fell. The opportunity for rescue just lessened as I had once again lost visual contact as he cleared the top of the house. Running to the front yard, we arrived just in time to see him circle around and land in a large deciduous tree. My prayers had been answered - there was a glimmer of hope!

Without thought, I started climbing the tree. My husband yelled to me to get down, and that I should let him do it... (yeah, right....) Tell a mother not to jump into the water to rescue her drowning child despite her inability to swim! For your own safety, you had best stay out of her way!

He decided we should not take a risk, and ran into the house returning with a pillowcase. At that point, I was hanging off the tree, oh, about 8 inches or so off the ground. Determined and insistent, but going nowhere fast! He tied the pillowcase to my belt loop and gave me a push-hoist into the tree.

As I approached him, I felt confidently hopeful he would step up. Thankfully, he did. I gently lowered my hand into the pillow case, climbed down far enough to hand him off to my husband, and into the house we went! Anyone who has been through this experience understands the torture. These stories rarely have happy endings, and the odds are not in favor of recovering the loved one. The third time I had skated through my stupidity unharmed, and we needed to make that the last!

I know a number of people who follow the "two barrier" rule. This means that at all times there are at least two barriers between the birds and the open outdoors. For example, if a bird is traveling inside a cage in a car, the first barrier is the door to the cage, the second barrier is the closed windows in the vehicle. Opening a window in the car while driving means only one barrier exists, and risk rises. Of course, properly applying padlocks or other means of making the doors and bowl-entrances impenetrable is a prudent. If you are like me, you've known at least one bird that could have given Houdini a run for his money!

This spring, the beauty of the mountain top is bursting forth. While there is still a bit of coolness to the breeze,
I love this time of year, and it is a real joy to have the fresh air flowing through the house again! The bears should be out of hibernation soon, and if I am blessed, I might finally be able to snap a picture of the elusive black bear! If so, you will be the first to see them!

Happy (and safe) spring everyone!

If you lose your bird:
What to do if your bird is lost
Tips on Lost Birds
Recovering Lost Birds
911 Parrot Alert



wolfgirl1987 said...

Such terrifying stories! I am so glad that Buddy came back to you, and that Sammy was able to be rescued both times too. Scary!

Anonymous said...

I have experienced the "dot in the sky", sinking feeling before... again with my little cockatiel (we were -JUST- about to leave, too! Driving approx 9h to where I was moving for 5 months!). Luckily for everyone, it started raining (cold rain! EWW!) and he got cold... and mommy was so warm and dry! As soon as he stepped up on a branch, then onto my hand, he was promptly stuffed into my jacket until we could secure him into the cage!

Robin said...

It is a terrifying experience... anyone like us that has seen that dot in the sky does not forget the feeling. I am so glad your story had a happy ending too! What is it with cockatiels?! LOL!

Anonymous said...

My own little butthead, Puffles, once was lost when my mum was replacing his water. My husband and I were on vacation (this was 2006) and Puffles was staying with my parents. He was a single bird then, and the cage door was HALF open and another quarter was occupied with my mum's arm. They live on the 18th floor, and it was night time. Regardless, butthead (who's wings had been clipped when we got him, who could still BARELY fly, and was merely 4 months old)took advantage of the remaining open quarter of space, and dashed out.

He managed to find the balcony door (which wasn't even open all the way) and out he disappeared into the night.

Good thing I didn't hear about this until he was SAFE and HOME (our home to be exact!). Sheesh. I am SO glad she waited!

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