June 19, 2010

Pilot Pookie Takes an Unscheduled Flight

Photo courtesy of Susie Kidder.

At a bird shop looking for a bird, a clerk, announcing that they were 'new to the states,' showed me a box with about 5 baby grey-cheeked parakeets (grey cheeks) in it. She told me that they were not very popular because of a tendency to be nasty and loud. I put my hand in the box, and, a then nameless and down-feathered, ugly little fluffy thing with huge feet and a big, hook bill stumbled over to my hand. Her beak was so heavy that she dragged it across the floor of the box. When she got to my hand, she sat there with her beak resting in my palm and settled down. I said immediately, "Yes, this is the one for me!" The rest is history.

As someone who has raised birds since I was 12 years old, pets, and I believe particularly birds--due to the strong intellect and sensitivity that birds have--quickly become irreplaceable family members. This increases the devastation of their loss in so many ways. For so small a creature, my Pookie is a very cuddly bird that is sensitive, loving, and caring. She likes to sleep nestled under my neck.

Pookie is very protective of me as well. One year while I was still in high school, I had broken my leg and was in a wheelchair. One day I was in my room with her on my shoulder when a very large friend of mine came into my room very abruptly and noisily and scared both of us. For some reason, my friend used to like to startle me. Never did know why. Anyway, Pookie flew from my shoulder and literally attacked this guy (poor fool!). He wound up in the hospital that evening, requiring two or three stitches under his right eye. She had really latched onto his face with her beak. How can you not love a half-pound, 8 inch little fluffy thing that goes and attacks a 350 pound, 6'4" man, because she thinks you might be in danger?

As a side note on bird intelligence, I have read studies that show birds are smarter than most other animals because of the third dimension added to their movement; non-flighted animals move only in two dimensions while birds can move either in 2 (while walking - lateral or longitudinal) or 3 (in flight - vertical, lateral, and longitudinal). This requires a much different type of thinking. Also, air navigation requires a great amount of photographic memory and the ability to recognize objects at a great distance. This recognition requires a great deal of brain power--smaller more distant objects are compared to memories of larger objects, and position is extrapolated from this comparison. There are pilots with great navigational equipment that STILL can not navigate this well! Also, their eyes refresh the image sent to the brain at nearly 300 times the speed of the human eye (from what I understand). This means that they are much faster thinkers which is required due to the speeds at which the move through the air requiring fast thinking for fast maneuvering. Due to the added third dimension to their intelligence, researchers speculate that if humans had the same brain design, we would be much further advanced than we are currently. Imagine that.

Part of the reason that I am a bird lover is because of my love of flight. The other part is due to my love of airplanes. I love all things that fly. Metal and feathered things, that is minus bugs and bats. Ever since I was a kid, I have marveled at a birds uncanny ability to perform miraculous feats of flight. We have enough trouble landing an aircraft on a runway that is 2500' long, yet a bird can land and perch gracefully on a telephone wire! This has always amazed me. Their abilities for navigation (and particularly in the case of Pookie) have fascinated me as well. When I was 12, my parents wanted me to have a pet that I would relate to, and chose right. I was raised Catholic, and although I am not overly religious, I had always loved the way birds were generally portrayed as messengers of God, and always thought that they fit a very glorious role.

I love to watch Pookie fly, and though she is not as graceful at her landings as I am, she is getting better. She has about the same grace with her landings as a brick, only the landings are much softer.

I believe that I may have been the one that taught her to fly. I had gotten Pookie during a time when not many people knew about these birds. I had been a bird fan for a while and had never even heard of a grey cheek. I got Pookie when she still had down feathers and had to hand feed her with an eye dropper for quite some time. But as she got older, she never flew. She would flutter her wings to catch her balance, but that was about it for the first 3 or 4 months or so. I figured maybe they just were not really flight birds like an ostrich or something.

One day, I stood in front of her flapping my arms up and down, and she flew off of the couch. Granted it was straight down to the floor from there, but it was a start! She began to take the initiative from there on, and she is now a great pilot. I may just have gone too far with her flight training though.

On June 25, 1995, I wanted to spend some time outside with my then 6 year old grey cheek. She is now 9. It was a cloudy day, and we decided to go outside just before it began to rain. I clipped Pookie's wings, as I normally had every few months or so, and off we went. Walking though my back yard, we were having a lot of fun. All of a sudden, my fiance pulled into our driveway, got out, and closed the door. Pookie had not spent much time outside in a while and was a little apprehensive about the loud Geo Trakker that had just pulled up. She was even more uneasy with the closing of the door. Off Pookie went!!!

I couldn't believe it! As a pilot myself, I was absolutely stunned by her clipped-winged flight skills. Broken-hearted, I watched as Pookie climbed about 3 feet for every 15 feet of forward flight with blinding speed. She cleared the lower portion of my house (16') to the west after flying about 90 feet from me. I watched her make a turn to the north, over our very rural neighborhood and then over a large wooded area.

I was so upset. I could not understand how this bird was flying after just having had her wings clipped. My fiance and I looked everywhere for her. It began to rain, and I never thought she was coming back. We went home, both heart-broken. I sat on my roof with her empty cage fighting back tears. I felt that I had betrayed this good little friend of mine who had been there for me through some very hard times by not ensuring her safety before taking her outside. I was hoping that she would maybe fly back in the area, see her cage, and fly to it. She had always seen her cage as her home, not a cage, because the door is nearly always open on it.

After nearly six and a half hours, it began getting dark, and I was by now thoroughly soaked with rain. It was a heavy rain that I was sure my little pilot friend would have been downed by. I decided to turn in for the night and continue looking in the morning.

After bringing her cage in from out on the roof, I went back outside to bring something in that I had left on the ground in my front yard. Through the heavy rain, and darkening sky, I heard her screeching. I looked up in disbelief; she was flying right at me! She touched down on my shoulder and then performed a "go-around", as we pilots refer to it. She missed again, trying to land on my shoulder, and crashed right into the rain-soaked grass. When she got right up, I picked her up, and we danced around my front yard in the rain.

My little Pilot Pookie, as I call her now, had flown around my neighborhood for nearly 7 hours and returned home! Though I can never account for that time, and certainly can not ask her to explain it, I am curious as to what she did during the time, but I know that she must have had the time of her life. She seemed delighted to be home again, though! A happy pair, we went inside and cuddled with my fiancee by the TV as we dried off.

Closer examination revealed that I had, inadvertently, missed two of the required 5 or so feathers that you need to clip, on both wings. Although her climb performance was adversely affected, as I had mentioned, she was none-the-less able to fly. This story should serve as proof, if not as a funny short, that proper wing-clipping for bird owners is essential and needs to be done correctly. I was just lucky that Pookie was able to find her way back to me!

Written by  Joe Castanza
Edited by Ladyhawke

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