The Day Our Cockatiel Flew Away
Her wings weren't clipped.
You see them all the time - classified ads in the local paper describing escaped pets. A dog or cat may be found rather quickly, especially if it has unusual markings and is used to being fed regularly. A bird, however, is another story. If its wings aren't clipped and it takes to the air, the chances of ever seeing it again are remote.
Hanna was our first pet bird, a cockatiel. She was often let out of her cage, and flew happily about. We didn't have her wings clipped because we were new and inexperienced bird owners, and it was fun watching her fly. We were very careful about keeping the doors closed when she was out of her cage, and didn't have many visitors, so it seemed perfectly safe. She was always closely supervised.
Hanna enjoyed being around people, and liked to have her neck scratched. She would perch on the most convenient shoulder, but was also an explorer, constantly scavenging the floor or countertops for the odd bit of interesting debris. A socialite, she one day wandered too close when my wife was touching up a bit of paint on the wall, and ended up with a smudge of white paint on her tail.
For some months things went along quite well, but then one day disaster struck. I received a call at work from my distraught wife saying that the unthinkable had happened. A friend who was visiting had briefly left the door open, and Hanna had escaped. My two young sons witnessed as she flew high into the sky, made two circles, and then sped out of sight.
I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to do. As a man, I am genetically constructed to immediately attempt to solve the problem, but this seemed beyond any solution in my repertoire. Find one bird out of millions?
I went home to at least be supportive, and as a course of action—because men must take a course of action—my sons and I went looking for Hanna. We thought that she might linger near our house, so we carried her cage and walked around the neighborhood, calling her name, whistling, and hoping she would fly to something familiar. We walked for hours. It felt as though we had lost a family member and were powerless to do anything about it. Finally it grew too dark to continue, and I called the search off.
The next day we continued to look, and in addition I put an ad in the ‘lost pets’ section of the local paper. We spent several more days of walking around, to no effect. There were two severe thunderstorms after she flew away that concerned us, and talk began to turn towards the reality that Hanna was gone.
A week following Hanna's escape the family agreed that the house seemed too empty, so we decided to purchase another cockatiel. There was a bird store nearby, and by noon we were the proud new owners of a gray and yellow male, who we named Charlie. The kids were enchanted with the new pet, and I think it helped to ease some of the anguish that my wife felt about Hanna.
The next day when the phone rang, I have to admit the last thing I was thinking about was Hanna. My wife answered, and the excitement on her face was startling. She covered the mouthpiece and half whispered to me.
"Someone found Hanna! They have to give you directions." She handed me the phone, and I wrote down the address. I knew that this was a false alarm, and that hopes were about to be dashed, but we had to go through the motions. Within minutes we were on the road.
The address was almost ten miles away, in a heavily wooded area alongside a small river. We knocked on the front door, and the owners answered, graciously inviting us in, and directed us to a back room. There was a bird cage with a cockatiel inside, which started squawking immediately. It looked like Hanna. It looked like almost every cockatiel.
"Is it her?" they asked.
"I...think so." I was doubtful.
My wife approached the cage. "Let me see her tail." Incredibly, the streak of white paint left no room for doubt. Hanna was alive. But how did she come to be here? The people who found her explained.
"Some men were working near the road and saw her fly down from the trees. She was trying to eat stones off the ground. They tried to catch her, but she flew back into a tree, so they came and got us because they know we have a bird ourselves. I brought some food out, and a spare cage, and coaxed her down. Then we looked for an ad in the paper, and saw yours."
We chatted for a short time, and then left, now the owners of two cockatiels. The odds of getting Hanna back were slim, but it did happen. Had we not been remiss in caring for her, though, she never would have flown away. Proper care of such birds includes having their wings and claws clipped by a professional, as well as constant supervision when they are out of their cage. Following her return we had Hanna's wings clipped, and were fortunate to enjoy her for many years that followed. In this case the brief lapse which nearly caused Hanna her life instead taught a valuable lesson, which has hopefully now been passed on.