In the Spring of 1992, I was offered a federal job in my hometown,
Cleveland. I planned to move back to the city within a month or two. In the
meantime, my working hours and commute would leave Byrd alone for ten
hours daily. Byrd was not home alone for any extended period except upon
the few weekends that I visited my parents in Cleveland. He tolerated the
situation. A pie plate full of food kept him content. But upon my return, he
would anxiously jump from perch to perch, bolting out of the very dirty cage
as soon as I opened the door.
Since Byrd would be by himself for extended periods of time through
the distant future, I bought a parakeet to keep him company. She was an
albino female, so I named her Pinky. I figured that both of them should get
along, not only because of the extended hours together, but because they
were of opposite sexes. Any same sex dominance issues would seemingly
be minimized. I placed her moderately-sized cage next to Byrd's.
Unfortunately, Pinky liked Byrd more than he liked her. Although
they occasionally slept next to each other on the curtain rod, I detected an
indifference on Byrd's part. While she always wanted to be close to him,
he usually flew away or didn't pay much attention to her. When I returned
home from work, Byrd sat on his favorite perch in the middle of his cage
while Pinky perched as close to Byrd's cage as possible. Occasionally, I left
Pinky's cage open during the day. Upon my return, she would be sitting on
top of Byrd's cage, gazing down upon him. Every now and then, Byrd pecked
at her tiny feet. She jumped back or squawked, but always returned to the
space directly above his head.
Besides the difference in species, perhaps a major difference in
each bird's upbringing affected the dynamics between them. Byrd was
hand-raised, enjoying my company. Pinky was not hand-raised, enjoying the
company of other birds. While Byrd and I spent time together, Pinky stayed
near her cage, anxious for Byrd to return for food or sleep. As much as I tried
to integrate her into our lives, she wanted Byrd to herself. I spent as much
time near them both as I could.
Weeks later, I moved to a southwest Cleveland suburb. Friends helped
me with the move. Pinky was no problem to move in her modest cage. I
anticipated driving with Byrd in his cage in the hatchback of my Omni. After
covering his cage with a blanket, two of us struggled hauling Byrd down the
fire escape. We not only found that the cage didn't fit into the car, but that
we wedged it half way into the hatchback! The foldable sides or the bottom
board must have shifted; the cage fit into my car when I first transported it to
the apartment. My heart raced as Byrd fluttered in his cage, banging against
the sides. He was unfamiliar with such a drastic change of scenery and a
multitude of strangers. If we attempted to work the cage free, Byrd would
have continued the fluttering, possibly pummelling himself to death during
the process.
Byrd needed to be transferred to another container in the parking lot.
A paper lunch bag was the best that I could do at the time. I told my friends
to gather in front of the cage door and begged them to be vigilant about not
letting Byrd fly off. My heart thumped like a bass drum as I opened the cage
door and quickly inserted my hands, head and upper body inside. If he flew
off in a panic, not only would I never see him again, but his survival skills had
to be minimal. I mentally pictured him firmly in my grip. Any negativity may
have further affected Byrd's agitated state. Any doubt may have affected
the steadiness of my hand. As Byrd backed into a corner, I boxed him in
and grabbed him. After securing him in my hand, I backed out and slowly
deposited him headfirst into the paper bag. I ripped a dime-sized hole in
the bag. Byrd stuck his beak out of it. He rode on the front, passenger-side,
floor of the Omni for the journey. Byrd squeaked a few times as his claws
scratched at the bag interior. I talked to him soothingly over our drive.
Byrd easily adjusted to the new apartment. He was still young enough
to be flexible. He liked the big, front room windowsill. The position of his cage,
next to my computer and with a view through the front window, seemed to
please him. Pinky's cage was placed a couple of feet away. If Byrd did not
adjust well, I may have had to draw the curtains for a while or mark the
windows with masking tape in order for him to avoid any collisions into the
The upcoming months were tragic for Pinky. Although she was content
because Byrd was there—his cage was again next to hers—Byrd became
aggressive toward her. His extra month or two of maturation may have
brought Byrd to primal protection of his territory. He began to attack Pinky
as she flew. Byrd, an excellent flyer, pecked at her head and back while she
awkwardly flew. He typically returned to his cage top with a beak full of white
feathers. And rather than avoid contact with Byrd, Pinky continued to fuss
when Byrd was out of his cage, insisting upon being out of her cage when
he was out of his. I began to monitor them when both flew free, but often had
to put a protective hand between both during her vulnerable flights. In spite
of my protection, Byrd caught her during flight. He plucked out the beautiful
crest on her head. Both birds had to be kept apart.
I tried to be Pinky's best friend. The worst of results followed. One
day, as she clung to the side of Byrd's cage pining for him, I gathered her
into my hand and kissed her, then threw her into the air. I did this with Byrd
frequently. He would squirm a bit in my hand; but as I threw him into the air, he
would free fall with his wings outstretched for the first foot before flying away.
Sometimes, he would return and let me pick him up for a second go-round.
After throwing Pinky into the air, she circled in her awkward manner. After she
landed, I chased her playfully and she took to her bumblebee flying again.
She veered into the hall, wings constantly pumping. I laughed as I followed,
not realizing the extent of her exhaustion. She fluttered into the bedroom
and plopped onto a felt hat atop my ironing board. She clutched the side of