Wounded birds had a thing for me, appearing on doorsteps I frequented, pavement, balconies, my favorite beach, displaying their injuries, pitiful gimpings, tragic wing breaks, dangling broken legs. I could be out walking and my eye would be caught by a flutter I knew instantly was a message, a flutter-cry for help. I don’t know how I knew, but I was always right. I responded to every SOS, cradling the injured party in my hoodie or pocket of my purse, zooming it for rescue and a Bird Person or vet experienced in optimism and bird bodies. Once, I saved a house finch who had a run-in with a pop-up sprinkler when the pop-up popped down and took her leg with it. The vet I found was the same Dr. responsible for removing the voiceboxes from the peacocks residing on the green, green (and apparently bird-hushed) grounds of the Playboy Mansion. As this vet cooed over my bemused wild finch, he suddenly amputated the mangled leg. Snip. Just like that. The finch didn’t even flinch. He told me Amelia (I was prone to naming my rescues) would probably live two years in the wild if I nursed her back to health and released her, three years if I kept her in a cage. Of course I was going to give her an extra year of life! Once Amelia was hopping expertly around the cage I purchased for her (a definite mansion, a Tara cage–huge and white and perch-filled), hopping blithely from her swing down into her seed bowl for a feeding-frenzy, then back up to perches as though she’d never lost a leg, my conscience took over. Setting the cage on my patio, I opened the white bars and retreated inside my apartment. Amelia’s cousins (at least, I hope they were her cousins) sailed down from the trees and perched on the cage, tweeting madly, as if urging escape before the huge hairy monster watching at the window changed her mind. When they flew off, Amelia followed. Bye-bye, sweet house finch. Though I scanned the trees with my opera glasses, I never saw her again. For months her cage sat empty on my patio, gathering dust from the Hollywood Hills, the abandoned birdie-mirrors reflecting me solo in hideous smog-light with a glass of wine and a pen poised over the notebook on my lap, nervously watching the world zipping by, alone but for Charlotte (the man-hating cat), utterly birdless.
But then I saved Mr. Peabody, a cobalt budgie who fainted in front of my security gate. I almost stepped on him. It was as if he’d been placed there for me to rescue. I cupped him in my palms, ferried him to my kitchen and moistened his beak with water until he came to. And then I set him in Amelia’s cage. He clung woefully to a perch for 24 hours, then switched on. Alert, chirpy, checking me and his new digs out, Mr. Peabody proceeded to be delightfully trill and entertaining for the next 4 years.
Mr. Peabody and Charlotte were my homies. They moved with me up North for a year, moved back with me to Echo Park, were comfort when I came home from a dubious date or party that failed to produce Mr. Wonderful (oh yes, I was searching). Sweet, funny, full of whistles and fond of preening strands of my hair if I pushed them into his cage, Mr. P was the epitomy of affection. He would never let me hold him, refused to leave his cage (unlike Amelia), but he encouraged me to spray water on him for a bath and on rare, magical occasions, he would press his head against the bars and let my fingers sift his warm down. He thrilled visitors with his terminally merry, vibrant sounds, joining in the conversation during my potato soup parties, lemon drop socials, or poetry get-togethers.
Sometime during my sojourn in Echo Park, I had a blind date with Mr. Wonderful, S, my future husband and a year and a half later I was traveling with S before moving in with him. During my absence, bird-sat by a friend of mine, Mr. Peabody expired, fell off his perch, whether dead before, after or because of the fall, no one will ever know. My friend was devastated. He handed me Mr. Peabody in a white box we both sobbed over. Mr. Peabody was the Tom Hanks of parakeets, the Jimmy Stewart of budgies. Everybody f****** liked him.
Meaning to bury Mr. Peabody, but wanting a perfect place, I stored my dead bird in S’s freezer. And there he has stayed for three years. S suggested we bury him in North Hollywood Park, but what if a dog or one of the park’s aggressive squirrels dug him up and—? Too horrible to contemplate. S suggested a mountain burial, but we started trying to get pregnant and stopped going on hikes. We frequent the beach, but that won’t do. And although my mother offered a portion of her yard as funeral plot, we keep forgetting to take Mr. Peabody out of the freezer when packing the minivan for Santa Barbara. This time, we won’t forget Mr. P, S and I proclaim, but we always forget, our arms loaded with T and his million things. My sister the Santa Barbara gallerina contacted an artist who specializes in painting dead birds. This artist expressed interest in painting Mr. Peabody and his frozen cobalt glisten—but what would happen to my bird after the session? Cremation? Burial? Dumpster? I’ve never been contacted to organize a dead-bird-drop-off and I don’t ask my sister about this artist anymore. Although a portrait would be nice…
But soon we will be moving into our very own house with an extremely large yard. There I plan to bury Mr. Peabody. Finally, a resting place I am comfortable with! Also, S made it very clear that Mr. Peabody is not to go anywhere near our new refrigerator. For three years my husband has organized our freezer to make room for the white box, framing it in Trader Joe’s soy chicken nuggets, sliding slim packets of vegetarian bacon over the top of Mr. Peabody’s crude coffin. How I miss my bird! And yet I’m so relieved to give him a burial after all this time. “Yeah. Couldn’t come fast enough,” S says wryly, side-stepping Charlotte (even though she has decided not to hate S and tattoo his arms with her claws, but tolerate him, especially because he’s the one who feeds her). But S knew Mr. Peabody and he, too, was smitten. We wish he could have survived the transition to our married life.
Farewell, Mr. Peabody. You were immensely loved. We will hang hummingbird feeders and seedbags from our new eaves in your honor and a place a birdbath in our rose garden. I would, in a budgie’s heartbeat, save you again if I could.
UPDATE: Dead mockingbird in the carport, saw it just as I was pulling in. I think it’s the same one that’s been dive bombing cats prowling the area. It’s birdie Spring madness around here, many swoopings and noisy complaints and birds on the wall holding twigs in their beaks. I’m sorry the MB was dead, but as a still fairly sleepless mother I am also a little relieved I didn’t have to do the rushing to the vet thing—although in the name of Mr. Peabody, I would have.