There were signs of danger but I think I ignored them. I plowed on with my mission and optimistically thought, This will be straightforward. What could go wrong? The first sign of potential trouble should have been the rule about wearing shoes. Closed-toe shoes, specifically. Steel-toed, if necessary. Hmmmm.
The warning came from my good friend, and she would know. She was going out of town for several days and needed a pet sitter. She’d fed our cat while we were away. I wanted to reciprocate and figured it would be easy-peasy. It’s not like she had a saber-toothed tiger as a pet. They were two small birds. How hard could this be? She gave me her keys. I knew where the water and food was. I knew what to expect. Or so I thought.
On the first day I let myself in and the trouble started even before I’d closed the front door behind me. “SQUAAAAAAWK!!!!! SqquaaaAAAACKKK!!!!!!” I heard bird sounds as I shut the front door. Okay, they knew I was here. Fine. They’re greeting me. Could this be bird-speak for, “Hello, kind lady. Thank you for coming to feed us. We appreciate it.” I’m no bird psychologist, but there seemed to be an edge to the squawking. These didn’t seem to be happy chirps. The birds sounded angry. Hmmmmm.
I let myself into their room. Yes, they had their own room. There were two of them, after all, and my bird-loving friend wanted them to have a room to fly around, not just a teeny cage. “I’m here to feed you,” I explained cheerily to them. “I have food. Yum, yum!” The birds did not understand my “I come in peace” greeting and promptly flew to the floor and began pecking at my toes. Thank Heavens I’d followed my friend’s warning about wearing closed-toed shoes. My first attempt to get them to stop involved a nice tone and reasonable words. I said something like, “Please stop that, nice birdies.” Reasoning with them did not work. That’s strange, I thought. I was sure that all members of the animal kingdom knew the first rule of survival: you don’t bite (or peck) the hand that feeds!
When it became clear that they were not going to stop, I gently shook my foot to dislodge the bird that had hopped onto my shoe so as to peck with greater aim and intensity. The bird jumped off and I began trying to feed him and his feathered friend. Same result. More shaking them off my feet. Perhaps a slightly less friendly tone in my voice as I asked, then demanded that the birds stop pecking. Eventually I managed to give them fresh water and food and to escape the room with my shoes and body mostly intact. My heart was racing, yes. My sanity had been a little shaken, sure. The poor birds had been through an ordeal, too. They had puffed out their feathers so as to scare me, the invader. Their tiny hearts were probably thumping a hundred miles an hour. Too much excitement for one day. I think the birds and I were glad that this disturbing transaction would not have to be repeated for another 23 hours and 45 minutes!
The birds’ names are particularly funny given this violent story I’ve shared. I swear I’m not making this up: they were named “Happy” and “Go Lucky.” Happy when their owner was there, sure. “Go pecky” when Sarah, the big, bad intruder is there.
About a year later the birdies both went to the great aviary in the sky. I’m quite sure that they are snuggled in nests made of cashmere, and feast from an endless buffet of delicious vegetables and ripe chunks of fruit. My friend was devastated after her birds went to birdie Heaven. I felt badly for her because while the birds clearly hated me, she was their protector and friend, and they had quite a bond. My animal-loving friend is now a dog owner, and she dotes on her dog the way she loved those birds. Any animal who adopts her will feel loved.
It’s been ten years since my brief career as bird sitter. Yesterday I was thinking of my adventures in bird land as I took my morning walk. I’m not sure why that memory flew into my mind but it might have been because there were lots of bird sounds yesterday morning. Spring is coming and birds are out, feathering their nests, looking for worms, and swooping through the trees.
I laugh now as I look back on my short-lived stint as bird whisperer. It’s funny how much I ruffled the birds’ feathers, and vice versa. But I learned something important from that episode: always heed the rules when shoes and shirt are required.