Odd memories, part 27

Doing some scans tonight suddenly reminded me of this little anecdote from something like 25 years ago, and this certainly wasn’t my childhood – god I’m old.

Back then I worked as an on-site caretaker and bookkeeper for a humane society, and I owned a pair of birds at that time, both adopted from the animal shelter: a cockatiel named Rio, and a conure named Pygar, who’s the star of this story. I honestly can’t tell you what species Pygar was, since he was unidentified when turned in and my searches just now turned up no matches, but I can say that he was the exact same size as Rio, brilliant jade green (as conures usually are) but with a peach-colored spot on his forehead and small patches of the same color on his shoulders. Regardless, he was fairly even-tempered, got along with Rio perfectly, and while he wasn’t too enamored of handling, he nonetheless behaved himself, which can be hit-or-miss for the Psitticines.

When the weather was quite warm, day and night, I’d moved their shared cage out onto the porch so they could enjoy the fresh air, sights, and sounds. Pygar would occasionally give voice if some bird nearby seemed to warrant a response, but for the most part they both accepted this outdoor life with aplomb. Both had been captives all their lives of course, so their flying activity was limited to within the cage and occasionally around the apartment, which meant no more than six meters or so at a time.

One morning I went out to feed them and unlatched the cage door, which was hinged at the top and so hung closed regardless unless I held it open. For some reason, Pygar was excited that morning, and as I readied the food dish he flew across the cage to clutch the vertical door, which flew right open with him clinging to it and inverted him outside the cage, which caused him to panic and fly off of it. Being outside now, he could really stretch his wings, but he’d never mastered the arts of either turning or descending, and he ended up flying across the road and pretty damn high up into a tree there. Calling him was worthless – he was very excited about his accomplishment, though now unsure what to do about it. I could see him bobbing his head around and voicing some exuberant cries up there, possessing a vantage he’d never dreamed of.

Knowing that birds will often return once they calm down, I let him be, made sure Rio was fine, and went back to work – he’d be getting hungry at some point. From time to time, I’d go out on the porch and call him, and even went close to the tree. By mid afternoon he was now responding to me quite vocally, but still unable to figure out how to manage this feat; he made a couple of attempts that only put him higher in the tree. He’d never glided in his life and did not possess the ability to imagine it, it seemed.

Come early evening with the light starting to fall, he was beginning to get anxious, responding to me with a desperate note in his voice as I called him from the porch – I figured that, given the distance, he’d be more inclined to manage a gentler descent than if I was close to him. If I recall, Rio was now joining in the coaxing, and finally getting up his nerve, Pygar launched himself on a heading for the porch.

It was actually impressive, given his earlier ineptitude, and he came in right on target for the opening at the side (a bit wider that a normal doorway.) But he also had never experienced nor imagined the concept of deceleration, and he blasted right through the porch from one side and out the other at high speed, tracing a broad curve out behind the house as I ran to follow. He ended up crossing the dog agility fields out back, this time ensuring that he did not gain any altitude, and disappeared into the low scrub and trees off the edge of the property. I cursed his almost-complete lack of avian ability; he clearly wanted to be back home, but had no idea how to correct his mistakes. I grabbed a handful of enticing seeds and trudged out back to find him, having taken a bearing on where he was last seen.

It only took a minute or so of clambering through the bracken and calling before I received Pygar’s now-desperate calls in return, and I tracked him by ear. In another half minute I caught sight of him, comically avoiding any flight at all as he clambered through the branches of the small trees in my direction. I got close and gently extended my hand with the seeds in it, hoping not to spook him again, but he was quite done with his adventure, launching himself onto my hand and scooting up the arm to my shoulder, where he crouched pressed against my neck and stay there panting. It had been a big day for him. He never twitched from the spot as we made our way back to the porch.

Getting him back into the cage was more effortless than it ever had been, and he had a nice little reunion with Rio while remaining well-attached to the main perch. I can confidently say that he never made any seriously exuberant moves, in or out of the cage, again. But yeah, both of them got their wings clipped not too long after that.

[If you’re unfamiliar with this, it’s not as heinous as it sounds. It simply means trimming their primary flight feathers down to about half of their length, which prevents the birds from flying adeptly but allows them to still flit across the cage or arrest their descent. Feathers are like hair and have no nerves once fully grown out, so they feel nothing, but this did not stop either of them from biting the hell out of me as it was going on – just not a kosher activity, to them.]

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