Afterthoughts: Wingin’ It

He’s ruffled my feathers and put a song in my heart.

I’m typing this with one hand as a bird grunts happy little noises into my other, his eyes getting smaller as he snuggles into my palm. I feel his chest vibrate as he purrs ever so quietly. The last thing I want is to disturb him.


Not five minutes ago, he was kicking me in the face, climbing up my glasses and gnawing on my nose. This, after popping the bead out of my earring and almost swallowing it. He only dropped it so he could bite me. Is this what it’s like to have kids?


Wingin’ It
illustration: kim sielbeck


My family had a few pets growing up—guinea pigs, fish, bunnies, budgies—but none as demanding as Captain, a green cheek conure I’ve been taking care of for a friend. When she asked me to watch him, she didn’t specify for how long, just that she was moving and couldn’t take him with her right now.


I was a little hesitant to accept Captain. As much as I love animals and wanted to help, I thought I’d never get another pet after my rabbit died. We had Steve for five years and when he got sick, he went downhill so fast that we couldn’t save him. It sucks outliving a creature you really care about. But no matter how well you treat your pets, their life expectancy is so short compared to ours, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll have to watch them die. I don’t think I can handle doing that again.


What was alluring about Captain, though, was that this would be temporary. I spent the past two summers watching a couple of cats, and while there’s definitely a hefty responsibility in caring for other critters, all I had to do was feed them and empty their litter box. That’s pretty hard to screw up. I got all of the snuggles for barely any work—no checkups at the vet, no nail clipping, no medicine. I left them once for a week to go on vacation, and when I came back, they wouldn’t stop meowing, head-butting me and tapping me on the back to give them belly rubs. Even though someone else was feeding them while I was gone, I could tell they missed spending time with me and it warmed my heart. When summer ended and their father came home, I said goodbye, and that was that. No tears.


Surely I could handle taking care of a bird for a little while, I thought, and maybe we’d become best friends, just like the cats and me. So I said yes to Captain, and he moved into my bedroom.


The first few weeks we were together, we didn’t get along. I made an effort to take him out of his cage every day so he could stretch and socialize, and he took that opportunity to scream and try to fly away from me before eventually settling down. Yet, when I would attempt to put him back into his cage, he refused to leave my shoulder, pecking my hands until they bled whenever they got near him. I couldn’t figure out what he wanted.


It took about a month for him to get used to me and his new surroundings, but now he lovingly rubs his beak against my knuckles, cuddles up to my neck, naps with me on the couch and begs me to play with him as soon as I get home. I give him snacks sometimes, and it’s quite a sight, this little bird balancing on one foot as he holds a piece of popcorn in the other, munching happily while watching sports on TV.


Saying goodbye to Captain will be hard. I’ll miss giving him baths in the kitchen sink every Saturday morning, even when he jumps onto my arm and shakes water all over my face. I’ll miss the way he tilts his head up at me and smizes after I scratch his neck. But I know that when I give him back to his mama, he’ll be where he belongs. I won’t have to be sad. I’ll just be the fun auntie.