My daughter named him Popcorn, a cockatiel that came into my possession as a present some years ago. There are many things that come into the unwise-present category, and animals come near the top of the list. I had become uncomfortable seeing birds in cages. Still, there he was, cage and all. I brought him out of his cage soon after he came to us, and let him sit on my hand and shoulder before he explored our living-room. Once he was used to us, I took him outside to let him fly, possibly hoping he would fly away and enjoy at least one day of freedom before being killed and thus relieving me of the guilty burden of keeping a caged bird. But the wily Popcorn knew where his bread was buttered. He flew around, fluttered among the branches of trees for a while before coming down to sit on my shoulder.

He was keen to explore the outside of an old house we moved into. Despite our calling to him, he was still out after dark and didn’t come back the next day either. My daughter thought she could hear him but nobody else could. Another day passed. My daughter became insistent; she could hear him up the chimney. Rubbish! I said, but to satisfy my wife and daughter I climbed on the roof and looked down the old fashioned chimney, and there he was perched on a rough bit of mortar about a broom-pole’s distance down, squawking his demand to be rescued. Elation from down below in the yard as well as, “I told you!”

The chimney was wide, but not wide enough for Popcorn to spread his wings to take off. “Well how did you get down there in the first place, you stupid bird,” I said. But he just squawked more insistently for me to do something, as if it was my fault he was stuck.  However, the space was wide enough for me to gently let down the head of a broom and tilt it beneath our adventurous friend, who was clever enough to hop on board and be raised up as if this was an everyday event. No thanks, of course.

Popcorn was even less grateful to my wife, the carer who diligently fed and watered him, cleaned his cage and brought him treats from the shops. But like an unappreciative child, he pecked her hands viciously every time she came near him. Whereas I, who never cleaned or fed him anything, could do no wrong as far as Popcorn was concerned. I suspect he was friendly with me just to annoy my wife and provide entertainment for my daughter.

I’m glad to say I’ve never had another bird to compare with him, but Popcorn was surprisingly home-loving. If we were outside on our own property he was content to perch on my shoulder, annoyingly so when I was trying to work around the place, or he would fly up to a tree to have a look around his domain. And when I cycled to the dairy for a weekend paper, about ten minutes away, he’d fly onto my shoulder and accompany me. When I got to the shop he’d fly off to perch on telephone wires until I came out, the signal for him to resume his position on my shoulder for the ride home. It was too good to last. One sad day when he flew off to have a look what was happening around the place he never came back. I think a hawk or a cat got him. I prefer to remember him flying freely and having the best of both worlds.

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.