I'm sure you've read stories about pet birds that fly away and never come back, but this time, it didn't work out that way...
Update - I have a post that lists 10 things to do when your bird flies away. I hope it helps you get your feathered family member back quickly!
My 11 year old (in the picture down the page) started asking for a pet when he was a little older than 10, but I kept putting it off. We already have two dogs that we adore, and of course an 8 year old that is definitely not ready for a pet of his own.
I didn't want to take on the responsibility for another animal, and if he didn't take care of it that's exactly what would end up happening. Mom's, I'm sure you can relate to this. We're never just going to let a pet go unattended, that's not how we're wired.
When he turned 11, I decided to give in to his requests to at least "look" at potential pets. I had him look up the animals he thought he might like, I even had him fill out questionnaires thinking it might wear him down. Maybe if he really understood how much work was going to go into a pet, he'd decide it wasn't for him.
We went to pet stores all over the area. We looked at hamsters of every variety (there are a lot), gerbils, guinea pigs, even rats. No judgement to you rat people, I hear they're incredibly smart, but man I could not get over the ick factor.
Having two German Shepherds in the house, we quickly decided a land dwelling animal probably wasn't the best idea, so we moved on to birds.
Finches, Budgies, Love Birds, Cockatiels, we looked at them all. We knew we wanted one that would bond with him, so the very small birds were out, and Cockatiels have that really cool crest...
Four months after starting the "pet journey" we got in touch with a breeder in our area who hand raises his babies, meaning they're super friendly and very tame. My husband and son went to pick one out, and they came home with Tuko.
If you didn't know, he was named after the character in "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly".
Here's the day they brought him home.
My son took to this bird like a duck to water. He cleaned the cage, fed and watered, spent endless hours with Tuko perched on his shoulder, and we all fell in love.
I taught him to whistle "Addams Family", complete with a double "squeak squeak" when you snap. My husband taught him a Bobwhite call, "coo coooo, coo coooo". From the time Tuko woke up in the morning until we put him to bed at dark, he was with us...until he wasn't.
See, when we got him, the breeder clipped his wings, explaining that it would make Tuko more dependent on us at first and he would bond with us faster. He could still "sort of" fly, but it was more like a falling glide, and after a couple of incidents where his lack of control got him hurt (he glided into a cup of hot coffee, and into the light bowl of a ceiling fan) we decided to let his wings grow out.
Now, I should say right here that I don't know what the right thing is to do with a bird's wings. Clipping or not clipping, that's up to the owner, and I really have no feelings about it one way or the other. I'm pretty sure that every pet owner (just like every parent), does what they think will be best for those in their care.
Our feathered friend went from rug bound to free flying in the course of a few months, but we made sure to be super vigilant. The fans got turned off when he was out with us, we made sure he was secure before opening doors. The dogs and bird weren't ever out and about at the same time, etc.
Basically, we should have been those people who never lost a bird. But...we got complacent. What I mean by that is that we started going in and out of the house without worrying that he'd try to fly away, after all, he loved us, we were his flock, and he'd never tried to leave, so we just figured he wouldn't.
There's a reason they're called accidents.
Last night (December 23rd), after spending a fantastic day with family for an early Christmas gathering, we arrived home just as the sun was setting. I ran over to the neighboring fence line to give our neighbors a present, and then I went back inside to feed the dogs.
My oldest had already taken Tuko out of his cage and he was sitting in the bathroom happily talking to himself in the mirror (Tuko, not my son). He wasn't in the same room as me, not even in eye shot, so I didn't think twice when I opened the back door to get the dog food.
Tuko must have seen me as I was going. He loves to be wherever we are, so I think he was going to perch. Only he doesn't like to perch on shoulders, not unless you put him there. He likes to perch on your head.
So there I was, door open, when he landed on my head.
What I should have done was close the door, but habit had me reaching up to retrieve him so he could transfer to my hand and then to my shoulder.
That delay was all it took, Tuko flew out the door, and out of the garage.
As soon as he hit the outside I knew he hadn't meant to take off. He started flock calling, a piercing "Wheep! Wheep!" that lets us know he's looking for us and wants us to call back.
"Tuko!" I yelled as I ran around the house following his cries, but it was already dark. I could hardly see his little silhouette in the sky as he went over our back yard and into the neighboring yard.
We live on acreage, a lot of land, and we have neighbors who have a lot of land. Behind us, there's a lot of land. I couldn't see him, I couldn't chase him, and since he roosts when it's dark, he quickly stopped calling to us at all.
My husband went outside and used a whistle to do the Bobwhite call, my son watched, beside himself, and I just stood there, completely helpless and totally at fault.
The worst part was that there was nothing we could do. It was pitch black, Tuko was asleep, and we were not going to find him.
So we went inside and made plans.
I brought his cage outside and hooked it up to the heater we have for him. I filled his food and water bowl, giving him his favorite treats, all the while hoping that some how, some way, he might be there when we woke up in the morning.
Of course he wasn't.
I didn't call anyone in my family, I couldn't bear to talk about it. The only person I texted was my niece because I knew she'd been through the exact same thing. I asked if she had any advice, and that was that.
Then I texted my neighbors. I sent them Tuko's picture, explained what happened and asked them to keep an eye out. They said they would.
My husband and son decided to go look for him at first light. Sunrise was 7:17 a.m. so we knew first light would be 30 minutes before that. They set their alarms and headed out to the 800 acres of land behind our house, whistling, calling, doing everything they could to lure Tuko out.
It didn't work.
I walked the perimeter of our land, a youtube video of a flock call playing on repeat. Play, stop, listen, over and over and over.
Still, no Tuko.
After 7 hours of searching, I'd honestly given up. I couldn't even bear to look at my son, even though he swore he didn't blame me.
We were due at my in laws in just a couple of hours to have early Christmas, and I couldn't imagine how we'd get through it. How could we put on happy faces while one of our family was out in the cold, lost, alone, and probably very frightened.
I'd looked up a Cockatiel's habitat the night before and I knew they would experience temperatures anywhere form 40F to 109F in the wild, but Tuko wasn't wild, and the temperature the night before had been 48F.
What if he hadn't even made it through the night?
I felt useless, by this point I'd done everything I could think of, putting ads on Craigslist, Facebook and every pet forum I could think of. I was in the process of printing flyers, taping them to cardboard and then to sticks so we could tape them to stop sign poles in the area, when my husband suggested my son go outside and play, just in case Tuko started flock calling.
He hadn't been out there two minutes when he came pounding back into the house, frantic.
"He called! Mom, it was him! I know it was him!"
My husband and I ran outside, listening intently.
I heard it, and I ran as fast as I could. Through our yard, over the fence, into the street and to the neighbor's fence. Our neighbor just happened to be pulling out of his driveway, headed to his own family gathering.
"Did you find him?" He yelled over to me.
"He's in your yard! Can I hop your fence!?"
"Yes, hop it!"
I found the latch, which was good because it was a tall gate, and ran into the yard, searching for the plaintive "Wheep!" coming from above my head.
"Tuko! Tuko! Where are you buddy!?" I ran toward a huge tree, and there he was, perched on the largest branch, our little, gray, fluffy, orange cheeked love bug.
I raised my hand, extending my fingers, "Come on, Tuko. Come to mommy!" He wasn't moving though, clearly exhausted, terrified, and probably a little relieved at seeing a familiar face.
By this time our neighbor and his wife had gotten out of their car and come over to help. The tree was 6 feet higher than my head, I couldn't reach him, and while my husband was coming behind me, he had to deal with the dogs.
"I need a ladder!" I yelled back to him. "Get a ladder!"
"I've got a ladder," my neighbor said, pulling one from the side of his house.
My husband climbed up, stuck out his finger, and without any extra effort, Tuko stepped up, clearly happy to be with his flock once again.
"Thank you so much," I told my neighbor, then I hugged he and his wife hard enough to embarrass them both.
My son walked up at this point and stuck out his hand. "Thank you sir," he said, delivering a very manly shake, "Thank you very much."
We took Tuko home, fed him, watered him and cuddled him until he couldn't stand us, then we put him to bed, warm, full, and safe.
So, while we're on the way to our gathering and looking forward to the celebration, we can tell you for sure that this Christmas, we already have everything we want.