Many of us who have the pleasure of keeping birds have found that they have come into our lives in an unexpected way. Some people searching for an animal to love at the pet store would come home with a cockatiel unable to explain the attraction to their non-bird friends. One thing is for certain: once a bird grabs a hold of your heart, it will never let go. This is my story:
When I was about nine years old, I woke up one morning to find a big surprise in the house. Inside of a mammal cage that was set up in spare room was a small, gray owl. I squealed with joy and plopped myself down on the floor in front of the cage. After a few minutes, I found myself looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was nearby, and I opened the cage door. To my delight, this beautiful bird stepped right onto my hand.
My mother came into the room, startling me, and the bird jumped off of my hand and ran to the back of the cage. She scolded me harshly for frightening our newest house guest. She reminded me that I knew better than to be so forward with a new animal. And, of course, she was right, I did know better. It was just that we had never taken in a bird before.
He was very careful to instruct us that we should have limited contact so they could be successfully returned to the wild without any human imprinting. It was his opinion, and mine later in life, that it is best for the welfare of a wild animal that it be as far from human civilization as possible. Humans do not always do the right things in the presence of nature. My parents had to keep careful watch over me to see that I followed these instructions. I found it unbearable to not be able to play with my new friends, but I did what I was told. Except in the case of the new owl.
Any hopes of returning this bird to the wild were soon abandoned for two reasons: 1) his wing never healed properly and would not fully extend to support decent flight, and 2) I regularly disobeyed orders to limit contact and this bird now loved his new family. My parents made the announcement that we would be keeping Willy, and shot a stern look in my direction. Later in life, my mother admitted to me that she was happy about this turn of events because she, too, had fallen in love with this sweet bird.
We had a happy life with Willy, who had a particular fondness for me. He spent countless hours on my shoulder while I watched tv or did my homework and chores. He made his home in a new bird appropriate cage that was kept in the kitchen, the center of activity in our house. We did the best by Willy that we knew how. Our direction came from that one kindly, old gentleman whose own knowledge was limited to personal experience. When he died, Willy attended his funeral.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.