Growing up on a small farm, we had quite a menagerie of pets over the years.
Horses were our main interest and my parents always had a few dogs. But my sister and I kept a veritable zoo of small pets than ran the gamut from kittens to killifish, parakeets to pythons and hermit crabs to hamsters.
One of our first farm pets was a rabbit we bought at a livestock auction in Charlotte Hall. The Amish man who sold him to us assured us he was male. “Peter” had babies a few weeks later and thus started a long and prosperous line of rabbit progeny that kept us busy for many, many years.
And today, although we don’t live on a farm, I try to give my kids the same kind of fun and unconventional upbringing. We’ve had our fair share of pets over the years, and our friends know that if there’s a guinea pig that needs a home or a classroom aquarium that needs tending during the summer, there’s a pretty good chance we can help out.
That’s how we got interested in birds. One was endowed to us when friends of a friend got divorced. Another lost his luster as a new pet and was no longer wanted. The learning curve was steep with cockatiels. As we learned the hard way, those little twisty ties that come on a loaf of bread can be very important tools for keeping birds in — and squirrels out — of their cages.
We’ve been pretty successful bird keepers the past few years, until just last month. Our precocious cockatiel “Chives” had somehow gotten outside. We searched the yard for him, walked all the roads in our neighborhood calling his name and put his cage on the porch to beckon him back.
It’s hard to find a needle in a haystack. It might be even harder to find a pet bird in the wild because a haystack is a lot smaller area to search. Luckily our bird absconded during a warm spell. Temperatures neared 90 degrees the first two days he was gone. I was worried about him getting dehydrated. The rainstorms that rolled through later in the week fixed that, but brought with them cooler temperatures that were just too low for a house-kept cockatiel.
We hung posters all over the neighborhood hoping someone would spot him, although my husband indicated more than once that he doubted the posters would help. He thought Chives was pretty smart for a bird, but chances were one-in-a-million we’d see him again. It was a somber mood as I called the vet offices in the area and the local animal shelter to leave missing pet reports.
I started to worry that the hawk that visits our birdfeeder looking for an easy meal or one of the many bluejays or crows in our backyard had already dispatched of Chives before we had even noticed that he was gone. One night was so cold that by the next morning, I had given up hope.
A few days later, exactly one week from when he disappeared, I received a text from a nice lady who sent the message, “I think I found your bird.”
She had been driving in our neighborhood over the weekend and had seen one of the signs we posted. A few days later, a cockatiel landed next to her on some playground equipment at the preschool where she works. She quickly recognized him from his photo on the poster, since not too many cockatiels are roaming around Leonardtown. He stepped up into her hand and she put him in a container. Once she got him safely inside, she called the vet’s office and they gave her my phone number.
Chives, normally quite outspoken, didn’t have much to say when we were reunited. He’d flown nearly 10 miles from home and I thought maybe he’d have some good stories to tell about his adventure, but he had other things on his mind. Looking like he’d lost a significant chunk of body weight,
he was surely glad to see his food and water dishes again. His feet were so tired from hanging on for dear life out in the elements that he slept on the bottom of his cage for several days as he recovered from his incredible journey.
The nice lady, Georgia, didn’t want to take the reward money we offered, and as I was driving home with Chives once again at my side, a one-in-a-million miracle, I pondered what I could do to repay her kindness. The opportunity presented itself the next day.
It happened to be Election Day, and my kids accompanied me to the polling station while I voted. We had stashed our fishing poles and a cooler in my trunk and were planning to head to Hughesville to do some fishing on their day off from school. Driving out of the neighborhood, we stopped to take down the remaining missing bird signs that were still hanging.
Down one of the side streets, I nearly ran over an adult cedar waxwing standing in the street. It didn’t move when we approached it, which made me think it had possibly flown into a car and been injured. So I did what any responsible parent would do — I left my 10-year-old in the street with my cell phone (in case of an emergency) and told her to guard the bird from cars until I returned with a box and gloves.
It took about three minutes and I was back with the proper equipment. The bird didn’t move when we gently placed it in the shoebox. Something was definitely wrong and we knew where it would get the help it needed.
The Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center in Lusby is teeming with birds, raccoons and other orphaned or injured creatures in the springtime that are raised or rehabilitated so they can be released back in the wild. As it turns out, the cedar waxwing had a broken wing. I knew he would be in good hands.
So Georgia, thank you for your kindness to our bird and helping us get him back. There are four happy children and a cockatiel who very much appreciate your quick thinking. And I made good on that reward and donated it to OWRC. And also my husband has changed his mind and thinks those posters were a good idea after all.