A loose string
dangling from a piece of clothing was always subject to a few good yanks.
He was attracted to an electric Christmas candle. I still remember the night
frost that covered my front room window in all but two warm places: a small
area directly across from the candle's green bulb and an area at its base,
directly across from Byrd's sleeping silhouette.
He had a love-hate relationship with plastic bags. Byrd enjoyed a
romp in the kitchen garbage bag so much that I had to regularly cover the
garbage with newspaper to keep him out. When I removed the trash bag
from the can and placed it near the apartment door for disposal, he'd peck
holes in it. However, if the bag fluttered in the breeze of a fan, he'd become
agitated. Byrd would ping pong from perch to perch when he was in his cage
or fly to another room if he was out of his cage.
Sometimes, Byrd ate his loose feathers. As I watched Byrd preen
himself one day, an orange feather jettisoned from his chest. He snapped
it out of midair and swallowed it. When I saw one of his delicate orange
feathers on the floor, I blew it into the air in front of him. He dove from his
cage top, intercepting it as it flitted downward. Wondering whether this habit
would transfer, I balled a little piece of aluminum foil and tossed it upward.
Byrd vaulted into the air, catching it. He lost interest within a few tosses,
though. At the time, I could not figure how I could reward him for a catch.
He'd be preoccupied with his treat rather than catching the object. Only now
do I realize that if I were to have thrown a waxworm into the air, he would
surely have caught it. We could have worked from that point forward to create
a new set of accomplishments. I regret not adding this feat to his repertoire
of tricks. Our loss.
Byrd and I had a healthy back-and-forth. The little guy liked to make
me jump by pecking my feet, usually when I wasn't paying attention to him.
He got in some good licks. Every now and then, I'd glimpse him just before
the strike. He'd rear back his head like a pickax and drive his beak into my
instep as if it were a railroad spike. When I'd jump from the pain, he'd just
look up at me with innocent, brown eyes. “I'm gonna getcha, Byrd!” was my
usual response. He'd turn tail and gallop away, his long, lean legs propelling
his big body in a full sprint. I'd waddle after him until he flew to a windowsill
or curtain rod. Within a short time, he was back for more play. I tagged
Byrd a few good times, too. When he was unsuspecting, I'd touch his tail.
He'd jump like a coiled spring. One time, he was pecking at my toes while I
undressed. I tossed my underwear on top of him. I can still see that pair of
underwear skittering across the hardwood floor until Byrd escaped through
the leg hole.
We were a boy and his teddy bear. As a child, I had a teddy bear for
many years. That bear would wait for me to return home, to carry him with
me, to hold him as I slept. I gave him life and he gave me comfort. Four
decades later, that teddy bear came to life. Byrd waited for me to return
home, followed me constantly and waited for me to rise from my sleep. When
I faced times of financial desperation and loneliness, Byrd sat beside me.
His mannerisms helped me to forget my worries. His sweet songs calmed
my anxious spirit. As he busied himself by ripping up the newspaper at the
bottom of his cage, I smiled. As he picked the raisins from my raisin bran, I
laughed. How could he ever grow old?
After holding him for a prolonged time, I thought that he may be thirsty. I mixed a weak solution
of bird vitamin water and picked him back up. I dipped my finger into the solution and brushed it
against the side of his beak.
An Old Byrd
I remember the day that Byrd became old. The years following were difficult
for both of us. I needed to return to that Ravenna sidewalk and find Byrd
Byrd's eye. Photo taken 2004.
In Byrd's ninth or tenth year, a subtle change occurred. I raised Byrd's
wooden ring, gave the command, and after bounding from the top of his
cage, he grazed the ring as he landed on my finger to claim his treat. I
didn't think much about it. He may have been hungry or excited that day and
simply didn't fly cleanly through the ring. He did the trick hundreds of times
and probably got sloppy for that one performance.
But the situation persisted. Some of the time, Byrd made it through
the ring and onto my finger. Other times, he perched on the ring, and
then hopped onto my finger. In the worst of times, he simply stared in my
direction, and then flew away from me while squeaking a complaint. Did he
think that I would move the ring to tease him? Was the treat not to his liking?
I couldn't understand why Byrd became reluctant to perform his signature
feat. I persisted to prompt him. Perhaps, he simply needed more positive
reinforcement as he aged. I began to hold the ring close to him, rewarding
him when he flew through it and lighted upon my finger. However, within
months, he looked away when I held the ring. He would do all of his tricks
except the ring.
One day after my repeated prompts, he performed the ring trick his
last time ever. Byrd bounded toward me from across the room. Short, strong,
wing beats powered him forward. Byrd tucked his wings. Arced gracefully.
He was an aerodynamic jet fighter cutting the wind stream. A whizzing arrow.
I knew that he was still sharp! Until… Click. Byrd's shoulder smacked the
sharp edge of the ring. Ssssss. His body spun out of control. Kuhkuhkuh.
Rapid fire wing beats at my chest. Byrd was desperate not to lose control, to
tumble, to fall. He clawed at my shirt, somehow gaining his balance before
bolting away with his wounded pride. I chased him down. Placed my finger
at his feet. As he stepped onto my finger, I gave him his treat while consoling
him in a soft voice. Deep inside, questions were rushing into my mind. What
was going on with him?