On the Universal Appeal of Birds

Two days ago, one of our beloved companion parrots, Java, left us forever.  (The picture is not of Java–that’s Citrus, my cockatiel.)

Java was a Derbyan parrot who took utter delight in destroying toys and swinging the day away.  He loved pistachios and toast and pizza as an occasional treat.  He spoke exactly two phrases–“Java bird”, and “Tres-er-racer” (which was what we called our third dog, whose real name was Tres), but somehow he was very well-articulated.  He gazed around his world in wonder and he spoke with his expressions rather than his beak.  Java was the picture of what humans should strive for more often–recognizing the world around you for the sheer wonder and awesomeness of it and living every day to the fullest.

We lost him from liver failure.  All you bird owners out there, please don’t worry that we were irresponsible–Java was on a very good diet consisting of mainly pellets and vegetables with nuts, seeds, and bits of “human food” as treats.  But when he was younger, he suffered an unfortunate bite wound from one of our bird-hunting dogs from which we didn’t think he would recover.  He did pull through though, and we got to experience several more joyful years with his cheerful demeanor.  The condition of his liver had been steadily declining, however, and this week it shut down completely.

We all miss him sorely.  The tragic loss of Java got me thinking, though–what is it that makes humans so drawn to birds?  As far back as ancient China and Egypt, you can unearth proverbs mentioning birds or see intricate hieroglyphs depicting breathtaking “bird gods”.  Birds manage to make an appearance in quite a bit of prolific American and English poetry.  They are wonderfully metaphoric.  A rooster is a constant in hectic life, a crow can be an omen or a source of delight, a hummingbird’s tiny body suspended in midair in front of a nectar feeder is stunning in the way it can defy nature.  It doesn’t seem like it should be possible to have something so small and so beautiful.  Birds are the picture of contradiction.  Fierce yet light on their feet, elegant yet goofy and charming.  My cockatiel is beautiful in the most divine sense of the term, from the swooping fringed crest feathers on top of his head to the careful pearling on his back.  His orange cheek patches are beacons of the rising Australian sun.  (Not that I live in Australia, but that’s where cockatiels hail from.)  And yet, he isn’t “elegant” in behavior.  I love to laugh with him as he falls off his perches, gets busy trying to make a nest in my hair, or (sniff sniff) drops his Nutri-berries through the grate of his cage.

My pet birds have a love for me that is overwhelming.  While they will sometimes sass me (yes, birds can have attitude issues), they absolutely adore me; they are the only beings on this earth that have never judged or belittled me, and will love me unconditionally no matter what I do.  It’s just…incredible.  Why can’t people be more like that?  I realize that there are some people who love me unconditionally as well, but, let’s face it, they’ve judged me, whether for the good or the bad.  Citrus couldn’t care less whether I was a health-nut vegetarian or a full-on steak-and-potatoes cowgirl.  He doesn’t notice (or politely declines to comment) when my hair looks like I just spent an hour in front of a wind turbine, or when my face is blotchy or my shirt has a gaping hole in the armpit.  He looks through all those things and only sees…me.

This is why I believe pet birds are so popular.  Wild birds have a different sort of grace, a beautiful untamability about them.  They are so lovely, wild and free, that everyone knows the metaphor “like a caged bird”.  It seems like a crime more profound than murder to lock up something with that beautiful of a soul.  They are nature’s greatest work–singers, quarrelers, chortlers, berry-munchers, worm-feeders, feather-preeners, flying up, up, up and away, just out of our grasp no matter how hard we try to emulate them.

Java, you were amazing.  You were amazing because you were a bird and because you were Java.  I hope you enjoyed your stay with us here on Earth.  May you have a swing in heaven. ❤

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