I write this story with pain and embarrassment at my stupidity. I wouldn’t write it at all, except that the tale might prevent a similar sad experience for another person and another bird.
Perry Noid, a senegal that I had hand fed, couldn’t fly more than about 10 feet in my house, as he had no visible primaries on his left wing and only a couple on the right.
It was Christmas day and I was visiting my parents in a rural area. I took Perry Noid and a couple of other senegals along, and had the totally stupid (in retrospect) idea that it would be OK to take PN outside. He freaked (as expected) and flew off, losing altitude (as expected), but managed to clear the edge of a canyon by about a foot – which gave him lots of room to gain airspeed. He did, and to my astonishment and horror, flew clear across the canyon, turned left, flew a ways and disappeared into the brush. There was one shriek of alarm and then silence.
I carefully made a mental picture of where he had gone down and set off to search for him. The brush was very thick there, so thick it was difficult to tell where I was. I searched until dark with no success and finally gave up. With visions of PN sitting in a bush enduring freezing weather, I spent a restless night and arose before dawn to resume the search.
I kept my fingers crossed for Perry Noid. It had turned into a sad Christmas for me, but I feared that for Perry Noid it might have been his last – and it was my fault. I had learned a very dear lesson. No matter how poorly your bird flies indoors, circumstance and adrenaline can turn a feathered brick into a lost bird.
The night before, I had driven two stakes into the ground to mark my recollection of the point where PN had disappeared, since I thought there was a good chance he would not try to fly again. But the distance he had flown was much less certain. My best guess was an area about 75 yards deep, starting about 65 yards away. The uncertainty of the direction, combined with the large uncertainty of the distance, left a large area to search. The terrain was very steep and covered with brush ranging from 3′ scrub to 10′ scrub oak, some so thick that the only way to penetrate it was on my hands and knees.
At first light, I started searching, calling often, in the hope that Perry Noid would answer back. No such luck. The huge area with thousands of bushes made it seem hopeless that I would ever be able to see PN hidden in one of them without an auditory clue. The rough terrain combined with the thick and high brush often made it impossible to tell where I was, and I frequently found myself in an area I had already been to, as revealed by my footprints.
After about an hour and a half, I started working my way back, planning to take a break, get some coffee, and warm up. I paused, scanning a stand of scrub oak about 10′ high, and saw a bit of green and orange! It was PN.
I started talking to him, and tried to approach him with as little disturbance to the thick brush as possible. It spooked him anyway. He was about 5′ up in a bush about 10′ tall, and let me touch his beak, but he would not let me touch his body and started to climb further up. The bank was very steep and if he took off, he would have lots of altitude to use. If that happened, I knew that there was little chance that I’d be able to see where he landed.
I had one best chance; grab him and not miss. I did, he squawked, nipped me, and then in less than a minute settled down to nibbling my hand. I put him in a small canvas bag and struggled through the brush back to the house.
Perry Noid was hungry and tired, but showed no other symptoms of distress. After about an hour he started playing with his favorite toy! That night, after food and a nap, he seemed back to his usual self.
I’m not a religious person, but the odds of finding a bit of green and orange in that relatively huge area were very small indeed. Who am I to say that it wasn’t prayers that made the difference?
That night a storm moved in and it rained. I sat indoors, looking at PN and feeling very lucky indeed.