the floor newspaper in the middle of the night. Apparently, he shifted during
his sleep, too.
At dawn, Byrd regularly returned to my bedroom. He sang sweet
songs from the windowsill, the floor beside my bed or my nightstand. I've
never felt such peacefulness and comfort. He even slept with me in early
morning hours, nestling on a small towel on the portion of mattress beside
my pillow.
The apartment door didn't divert Byrd from his duties. One summer
evening, I left the apartment to see a drive-in movie. A bowl of food didn't
entice him to enter his cage, so I withdrew most of the food and left the cage
door open. I departed with my usual “Goodbye. I love you, Byrd. Be a good
bird.” I guessed that he would follow his nightly routine of spending the final
45 minutes of sunlight sitting on the front room windowsill watching birds,
bugs, people and traffic on the main road. With the final strands of daylight
as his guide, Byrd would retire to the highest perch of his cage, where I
would typically see his crouched, sleeping, one-legged shadow upon my
return in the darkness.
As I left the back door of the apartment complex and crossed the
courtyard on my way to the parking lot, my feet stopped. An emotional force
whispered to me “Turn around.” With a plastic cooler in one hand and a lawn
chair in the other, I looked up to my third floor apartment. From 75 feet away,
I saw a dab of orange on the bedroom windowsill. Byrd's tiny face came into
focus. I stood still. Did Byrd crisscross the apartment, dashing from window
to window, until he found me? I remembered my childhood anxiety, and a
few tears, when my mom and dad would leave me for an evening. Did Byrd
feel that same anxiety? I felt like running back up the stairs, throwing the
door open, gathering him in my hands, giving him 100 kisses and never
leaving him again.
Byrd knew that I was somewhere else when I disappeared behind the
apartment door, but still in need of his care. On a summer evening, I decided
to read a book outdoors. As I walked out of the building, I again felt the need
to look upward. Byrd's little face was intently watching from the front room
windowsill, his beak following my movements. I placed my lawn chair under
a shade tree within his view. Every once in a while, I found it reassuring to
look up from my book to see him looking right back at me. Although other
spots near the backyard pool could have been more interesting, I always
read at that spot on the front lawn for its superior comfort.
Byrd also had to physically protect me. While sweeping the rug,
my vintage canister vacuum cleaner growled as it pursued me. Then, a
pinging noise began to emanate from the vacuum. As I turned to check for
a mechanical problem, there was Byrd—pecking that monstrosity! Although
the vacuum was armored and much bigger than he, Byrd stood toe-to-toe
with it, tirelessly attacking. When the vacuum wand approached him, he
pecked that, too. Some days while vacuuming, I would make him jump by
brushing his tail feathers with the wand. One day, I swept too close to him.
Upon raising the wand, I found Byrd pinned to end of it by his chest! He
squeaked before I could shut off the vacuum. I worried that I may have
traumatized him, but duty overcame any fear. He continued to battle the
vacuum, in spite of the size and power differential. What a brave heart!
Territorial threats were not taken lightly. Byrd defended the apartment
on at least two occasions. I observed the first when I emerged from the
kitchen on a summer afternoon. Byrd was gazing at what seemed to be
his reflection in the front room window. When the reflection moved in the
opposite direction, I realized that an invader was at the homeland border. Both
birds began to peck at the window separating them, then took to dogfighting.
Byrd strategically retreated to the top of the curtain rod. As the outdoor
robin sat on the windowsill quizzically cocking his head back-and-forth,
Byrd attacked from above. The outdoor robin peeled off, leaving Byrd king
of the windowsill. Seconds later, the robin counterattacked from below. Byrd
vaulted to the top of my computer monitor, then wheeled around. The other
robin fell back as Byrd dove with outstretched claws. The aerial parrying
continued until the outdoor robin retreated to an awning, frustrated at the
window border and at Byrd's determination to hold his ground. Both birds
eyed each other for a while afterward. Byrd had one other windowsill battle.
He dove from the shower curtain rod to surprise a sparrow at my bathroom
window bird feeder. The sparrow instantly charged, angrily nipping at the
screen directly in front of Byrd. Byrd sprang back to the curtain rod, not to
attack again. That sparrow was too crazy for him.
Byrd's loyalty was a gift. A little someone was always waiting for
me to come home from work. If in his cage, he'd hop from perch to perch,
squeaking all of the time as I entered the apartment. When the cage door
was promptly opened, he'd bolt out, sometimes leaving an orange feather
floating in his wake. At times, I would leave him out of his cage when I ran
an errand. He developed the habit of waiting on the windowsills. Upon my
return, I could look from outdoors to my front room window. His orange chest
stood out like a candle. If he was perched on the lamp in front of the window,
he stood out like a lighthouse beacon. Byrd must have known that I would
return, as I always did. And while I was at home, he constantly watched over
me—from the bathroom windowsill as I showered, from the floor as I wrote,
from my chest or big toe as I napped, from the top of an open cabinet door
as I prepared our meals. When I was depressed with the futility of my federal
job or upset with a failed relationship, Byrd sat next to me, just listening.
When life wasn't worth living, I knew that I had to return home. Byrd was
depending upon me.
Other than 40 weekly hours at my job and workouts at the gym, I
didn't spend much time away from Byrd. His life revolved around me, and
to a large degree, my life revolved around him. I owed him that obligation.