Ah, to be casually riding my bike, savoring the warm, inviting wind, when a woman bursts out of her house shouting at me, tears pouring down her face, and….wait, this doesn’t sound so happy any more.
I’m glad that my unofficial title “neighborhood watch biker” came in handy for once. Because people know that I ride every day, multiple times per day, it’s not unusual for someone to walk up and ask me to keep an eye out for a wandering dog or a ball that rolled away. I know everyone on the routes that I ride, and they know me. So when Marilyn, normally quite calm and pleasant, comes bursting out of her garage to flag me down, I know something is up.
Truth be told, I was just getting ready to ride past her house to head back home and finish my circuit. But I pulled into her driveway to see her, tears welled up at the corners of her eyes, as she half-jogged toward me and said, “Can you keep an eye out for my bird? She got out.”
“A cockatiel?” I said, knowing that Marilyn has owned many in the past.
“Yeah. She went that way.” Marilyn pointed toward the forge far out in her back yard. A bird. The woods. The thick, deep woods characteristic of the valley in which I live. Did I mention that this was a bird, not a dog? Fantastic.
To be perfectly honest, I was sincerely concerned for her bird because of my own experience with Goldie, a cockatiel I owned who had also escaped from her cage to the outside world. In Goldie’s case, a robin with a bad attitude gored the living snot out of her and tore out all of her feathers, leaving her nearly as bald as a Thanksgiving turkey. It was after that incident that I received her as a pet from the friend who had originally been trying to take care of her. Even more than ten years after the attack, she could never grow her feathers back and would even continue to pluck them out herself from the trauma of the event. I would never wish that on a friend’s pet, least of all Marilyn, who has always been incredibly close to her birds.
My first concern was that another bird (or the cat I spoke of in the last birdie rehab post) would find her before I could. Meadville’s a small town — until you lose a bird in the woods. Then, it becomes a vastly unsearchable wilderness. I took to my bike and circled the neighborhood multiple times for about an hour, hopping off when I couldn’t find a trace of her. I headed back to a stand of small pine trees, trying to think about Goldie and my other cockatiel, Oreo’s, behavior. Neither of them would ever sit out in the open if I were not around. I scoured the bases of the pine trees — to no avail.
I headed deeper into the woods, listening. The high-pitched chirping of the chipmunks distracted and annoyed me, making it more difficult to listen for the cockatiel.
Each footstep frustrated me with the crunching of leaves and the seemingly amplified hiss of grass rubbing against my shoes. Suddenly, a sharp chirp caught my attention, but it was quite far off. Still, as someone who has owned cockatiels, I knew that it was the unmistakable sound of exactly the bird I was looking for. It echoed, and I couldn’t tell which direction the sound had come from. About half a mile from me I saw the cat that wanders our neighborhood, so I approached him and tried to get him to follow me. I had no doubt that he could find the bird when I couldn’t — but I wasn’t so sure that, when he did, I could get there in time. Better to take that chance than let the bird get away all together and never come home? It was a tough choice.
By now, nearly an hour and a half had passed, and I knew that each moment longer decreased my chances of bringing the bird home safely, as she had ample time to wander far away from the house and deeper into the woods. Two more soft chirps drew my attention, and this time, I was able to pinpoint where they had come from. We played Marco-Polo like this for quite a while — she would chirp, and I would head vaguely in her direction. For a while I lost her, but I picked up the trail again shortly afterward.
As I got closer to a tall Blue Pine, her chirping became more punctuated and urgent, as if she knew that she needed help and that I was close enough to help her. She was so close, but I just couldn’t spot her! She chirped again, and I looked down to finally find her not a foot away from me. I reached out my hands slowly, walking towards her to push her against the tree so that she could not fly away. I knew how to catch her from having practiced for years on my own flighty birds.
You had better not fly away. That was the only thing going through my mind. Finally, I was able to distract her with one hand while scooping her up with the other. Once she was in my hands, I held her to my chest and covered her eyes to keep her calm, then quickly headed back to her owner’s house. Poor Marilyn, who had long since had to leave in order to judge an event at the Crawford County Fair, had no idea that her precious bird was safe. Her husband, David, was waiting anxiously on the back porch and eagerly opened the doors to her cage as I placed her inside.
Once the doors were closed, he just couldn’t stop talking about how thankful and relieved he was. I’m glad I was able to make someone’s day. Marilyn will certainly have a pleasant surprise to return home to!