My daughter loves birds. She always has done, since she was tiny.
Her aunt bought her a budgerigar a few months ago; a pretty, sweet, pale blue bird that had been hand-fed but not hand-raised. While comfortable enough with people, you can’t touch it.
The bird’s name is Star. Star is most definitely a male bird. But my Bump steadfastly refuses to accept this. “No, mummy. Star is a girl birdie!!!” So Star has been given official pronoun status.
As much as my daughter adores her bird– she sings and chats to him, enquires about his day and if he’s “okay”, hugs his cage to say goodnight– there’s something about keeping a bird in a cage that feels shameful and sad.
My dad kept birds when I was a teenager– I remember feeding tiny ugly baby birds with a spoon, their spiky quill feathers just sprouting and their beaks huge compared to their scrawny bodies. But that felt different. Those birds were either outside, together, in conjoined cages, or hand raised and kept inside as companions; almost flightless but free to roam by foot, or on a human shoulder– for hours each day.
They say Leonardo DaVinci made a habit of buying caged birds and releasing them back into the wild.
I don’t think breaking my daughter’s heart like that is an option here. And Star seems happy enough. He chatters away to himself, plays in his cage. He sings and squeaks. He’s taken to imitating the sound on rubber-soled shoes walking on our vinyl floor.
But occasionally, during the day when I move his cage to sit it in the sun streaming through the lounge room windows, Star will hear the calls of native birds in the gum trees outside. And he’ll respond, loudly and furtively.
The sound gives me a funny pang of hurting somewhere deep in my guts. It makes me ask questions about myself.