Home for Wayward Birds: A Memoir


Once upon a time, my husband and I ran a boarding house for wayward birds.  It started with my son who was desperate for any kind of pet.  My allergies to dogs, cats and fur, made this impossible. Although I loved my son, I wasn’t prepared to go around with hives, a cough and a runny nose for the duration of his childhood.

When he was about 12, my pet-starved son, came home with a little finch in a bird-cage. “Alicia’s father can’t keep this bird. He’s going to have to stick a knife through its neck and kill it.” My son, who rarely cried, was sobbing. What could I do? I gave in. It was a pretty little bird. What harm was it going to do?  (I didn’t personally know Alicia’s father, but I doubted that he was capable of sticking a knife in the bird’s throat.)

We put the little cage in our family room,  and Pearl (later renamed Tweety) became our first guest at our birdie boarding house.

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niaga...

A pair of Zebra finches at Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The finch looked happy enough to me, but my husband thought she could use a boyfriend. So, he went out and bought another bird, (named Sylvester) to keep Tweety company. My son was quite happy with this whole arrangement.  It wasn’t a dog, but at least we cared enough about him to get him another living creature. My two daughters weren’t as thrilled as the rest of us about the birds. They were a little messy with their seeds. They could be noisy at times.

My husband would sometimes let the finches out of their cages, and they would fly around the house. We did this when the kids were at camp. Maybe we missed them. I knew it wasn’t the best idea, but I did think a cage might be a sad place to live. I’m all for freedom. (I didn’t even like keeping my toddlers in playpens).

The finches liked to sit on top of the family room vertical blinds and look down at us. I also noticed that they chirped when we played music.  The birds were pretty happy by themselves for a while. Although we didn’t have much of a relationship, they kept us company. It didn’t cost much to feed them.

The Parakeets Arrive

Parakeets and their young!

Parakeets and their young!

When my son entered middle school, he brought home a parakeet for the weekend. It seemed a lot more interesting than the finches. It was bigger and prettier.  I heard parakeets could talk, so I thought that might be fun.  (Little did I know that this creature, (Clark)  would never utter one word to me for the duration of his long life.)

Summer came, and the bird suddenly became homeless.  Nobody  in the class wanted it, except for my son. So, we adopted the parakeet. My husband became busy making it a large inventive cage that he cleverly built into our family room.  He made the bird  some really unique perches out of wood.  The parakeet  was quite happy hopping from perch to perch in the nice big spacious cage. He longingly looked at the finches, but they weren’t the least bit interested in him.

We thought the parakeet was a male. So, we got it another male to keep it company. Pretty soon we figured out that we had purchased Lois to go along with Clark.  We could tell this because of Clark’s behavior toward Lois. He ruffled her feathers.

Just for fun, we got them a wooden nesting box. Lois went in there to lay eggs. These birds were quite fertile and before we knew it, other little birds came into the cage.  It was interesting watching these birds build nests, sit on the eggs and watch the little birds hatch. The parents dutifully fed their young.  We supplied some materials to make the nests, and they all did a fine job. The father sometimes sat on the eggs, so the mother could get some seeds . It was a beautiful thing to watch, an equal partnership.

It was exciting to wait for the little birds to hatch. The little birds looked like worms when they were born. It was fun to watch them develop. Once in a while, we’d hold one. Life, on any level, is fun and exciting to watch.

It was funny how the baby birds held their mouths wide open while awaiting their food. The mother ate it first, then gave it to the baby birds.  Pretty soon, the baby bird’s feathers were as pretty as their parents. It was pretty funny to watch them learn to sit on the perches. It took a little doing. (kind of like a human learning to walk.)

After the little birds were big enough and could sit on those perches by themselves, the mother didn’t want another thing to do with them.  As a matter of fact, the parents forgot it was their baby. I thought that was a good lesson for human beings. When the kids grow up, stop coddling them. They are on their own!

We didn’t want the finches to feel left out, so we got them a nesting box too. We had a couple of extra finches come into our birdie boarding house.  Their nests were just as intricate and fancy. The tiny finches were adorable.

The birds believed in a definite routine. They ate in order, and went to sleep on the perches in order.  The best part was listening to them react to music. They all tweeted away. (The real kind of tweeting.)   It was sweet and nice.

My daughters were embarrassed about the whole thing. They just thought it was a little abnormal. I sometimes complained too. It got a little too much. There were a lot of birds (10-12) and they seemed to take over part of the family room. They made quite a racket when they talked to each other. Most of the time they just sat there, and looked at us.

I used to put my Kathy Smith workout on my DVD player on my TV,  and they’d sit and politely watch. They seemed to enjoy the whole thing. They tweeted to  Beethoven and Mozart music. The birds in our birdie boarding house had excellent taste in music.

Once they were grown-up, the birds didn’t fly on our shoulders, or want to be held. They definitely stuck to their own kind. Birds of a feather really do stick together. We tried putting the finches and parakeets together once or twice, but that wasn’t going to work. The parakeets wanted to kill the finches.

The birds lasted for around 10 or 11 years. Eventually, one bird after another would get inactive, and then pass away.  (We’d find them on the bottom of the cage). My husband would  say a prayer for each bird before he’d bury them in the backyard. They deserved a little dignity. After all, they’d been a member of our birdie boarding house.  I’d attend each funeral. One day we agreed to put the nesting box away.

When the last bird, a finch,  died my husband and I were both sad. By then, the kids had all left home.  We were finally alone. It was like we’d never had kids or a flock of birds living in our family room. He took down the cage, and the family room was no longer a bird sanctuary.

Sometimes I think we should just get one little bird to keep us company. Maybe we’d finally get one to talk, or fly onto our shoulders.  But, for some reason, it’s just like the kids. When they flew the coop, we just got used to the silence.

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12 thoughts on “Home for Wayward Birds: A Memoir

  1. I bred parakeets when I was is elementary school. Your photos bring back wonderful memories. What a lovely post and what wonderful memories for you. If you buy one bird young. It will bond completey with you and your husband, sit on your shoulders and your fingers and maybe even talk. You can tame a young cockatiel in around ten minutes.
    Bring out the bird cage and bring a tweeter home…….Oh and take more photos please!

    • I think a cockatiel would outlive me. I do have pictures of my birds somewhere, but I got those off the internet. I couldn’t remember if birthing box was the right term. Thanks for commenting. I do have quite a bird cemetery in my backyard.

  2. Loved your Home for Wayward Birds! I, too, am a 60 year old Baby Boomer and my husband and I are “empty nesters” for several years. I’d love a dog…but my husband knows he would have to do most of the work; plus he’s allergic, so no pets. We go to the park on weekends and feed the ducks in the winter.

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