It was a big decision to get a cockatiel—one of those little grey parrots with the cheerful yellow and orange crest. We debated whether or not we had the patience to raise and train a young bird, especially when we’d heard that they could be reclusive and slow to respond to human interaction. We were young and newly married. What did we know?
One young bird was sitting off by herself in the cage, apart from the other cockatiels, and when I extended my finger as a perch, she jumped right on as if she had been waiting for me.
Thus began one of the great relationships of my life.
We called her Birdeaux. She was not reclusive; she was effusive. She was verbal, animated, engaging, funny, and endlessly curious. She didn’t like her cage much but loved to be with us—all the time. She took to sitting on my shoulder while I read or worked. She could hear my car coming home from a half mile away, and she would start squeaking and screeching until I went back to her cage and opened the little door. Then she would jump onto my finger, climb up my arm, and settle onto my shoulder—filled with all the news of the day that she just had to tell me.
Sometimes I would forget she was sitting on my shoulder—she was so much a regular part of my day—and she would remind me that she was being ignored by nibbling at my ear. And then one day I forgot she was there and walked outside—and she flew away.
We could see her climbing higher and higher in the sky, could hear her calling and we called to her, but she didn’t come back. She kept climbing until she was out of sight, and then she was gone.
We were brokenhearted. We drove through the neighborhoods with the car whose sound she knew, posted signs, took out ads in the paper—nothing. Four days went by; it seemed like forever. Her cage was empty. We would have given anything, done anything, to have her home.
Then the phone rang. “I think we’ve got your bird,” the voice said. “She landed on the balcony and she won’t leave us alone. And she won’t stop talking either.”
We had her back. I’m not sure who was the happiest at being reunited, for there was a lot of cooing and talking and scratching of her little head. She wouldn’t leave my shoulder for anything.
Cockatiels weigh about three and a half ounces. They are all feathers and voice box. Their brains are not very big—and if Birdeaux was any indication, they are dedicated entirely to describing the world around them and showing affection and appreciation for the things they recognize, understand, and love. Being loved by a bird—and loving a bird—was one of the purest and most rewarding experiences of my life. Decades after her death (they don’t live forever), I still miss her.
The day she flew away was one of the worst in my life. The day we got her back still shines in my memory.
If losing a bird can break your heart—what can it be like to lose a whole world? No wonder the redemption story is so sweet with emotion and love. No wonder there is great rejoicing over even one who returns to Father’s care. No wonder the reunion is heralded by the greatest song (and winged creatures, I must add!).
Amazing redemption, how sweet the sound!
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.