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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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Who's a pretty birdie?
Who's a pretty birdie?

The bird catcher

I open the door to the most daunting place in our home – the garage.

I gasp as some sort of airborne hellion descends from the ceiling and across the man cave. I think to myself, "This is why I do not mess with this place. Menacing flying creatures may attack at any moment."

But, the garage is the only passage into my car and the husband is in Europe – too far too save me from what my mind has exaggerated as a "Wizard of Oz"-ish flying monkey, so I am forced to investigate on my own what is lurking on high.

My greatest fear is that this is a bat or perhaps some sort of overgrown insect waiting to gain entry to my home or find roost on my person.

The winged invader is clearly stressed and reveals itself to be only a trapped little birdie. I am unable to discern what type of bird this is ... she is tiny, maybe only slightly bigger than a hummingbird with wings flapping so quickly I can barely even see them.

I decide the quickest remedy is to leave the garage door open and hope she finds escape.

A day passes and no progress, the little bird remains and is now taking up residence in one of the beamed hollows.

I am forced to bring in assistance.

My teenage stepdaughter has been catching insects, birds and lizards since she could crawl, so clearly she is the proper authority to free this petite critter.

However, I know a thing or two about Alisha and if she gets close enough to snare this bird, we will not be rid of the fowl anytime soon.

I alert Alisha to the situation anyway and am pleased at her knowledge and enthusiasm for the project. She enlightens me that the reason the bird cannot exit is that when they sense danger, they only fly upwards ... thus imprisoning the avian in our garage. There is no end to what this girl teaches me.

I leave her to "Operation: Free Bird."

An hour later, my stepdaughter, whose outward glamor belies the tomboy that lives within her, emerges with oversized Callaway-mittened hands and the varmint encased within her covered palms.

"Linds, we need to keep her."

Ahhhhh, just as I thought – and secretly hoped. We have a new pet.

I decide to go with it momentarily, knowing that we will ultimately have to release this wild beast. We rig a latticed wicker lampshade with art canvases and rocks as an outdoor wildlife sanctuary.

I then lose all common sense, but see a way to get the teen to straighten up her room, so I offer to buy a cage and food if she completes her autumn room clean-out first. She obliges with great aplomb. Garbage bags are filled, retained clothes are hung and neatly folded in drawers, books are placed neatly on shelves, the bed is made and the carpet is vacuumed in 30 minutes flat. Bribery is a powerfully effective tactic.

We then depart the house and leave our new friend in her lampshade enclosure to run separate errands. I venture out on the ultimate suburban stereotypical trip to Costco to replenish our barren cupboards and Alisha goes to get the potential new family member a proper pen.

I return home to a distressed phone call from Alisha.

"Linds, I went to Petco, bought the cage and food ... but, when I got home, I went outside to get the bird and she was gone. She wasn't in the cage! So, now I am at the most amazing place ... a parrot store ... and I am going to buy a bird. Please come meet me here – you will fall in love."

OK. I started this. I have to finish it. And of course, she is correct. If I step into the store, we will exit with a new friend ... even though purchasing animals from pet stores seems contradictory to my nature.

I put off the visit because I have to work – really I do.

As I toil at my day job, my mind cannot help wonder how the bird escaped the improvised corral. I hope that Alisha does not think I released her, as I certainly did not. She must have squeezed her little body through an opening and found her getaway. Or maybe an accomplice birdie or two came and broke her out of her jail.

Whatever the case, I agree to go to the store the next day before work. As scheduling would have it, Chuck would be home from his trip and able to go too, complete with a nasty case of jet lag and hence, more vulnerable to agreeing to a new pet.

I should add that my husband and I are not "bird people." Or at least we did not classify ourselves as such until this point. Dogs, for sure. Cats, no, due to allergies. Horses, yes. Even goats, chickens, llamas and mini ponies. In fact, smallish furry farm animals in general get a resounding "OK" from us. Country living near the city is a fantasy of ours.

But, birds – we leave those to my mother-in-law, who keeps "doves" (I think these "doves" may actually be pigeons, but I dare not break her heart or even touch this subject), and to Alisha, who has briefly had a parakeet or two in her younger years. She has begged us for a larger bird the last two years to no avail. But, the tides are turning ...

We venture out on a family trip to the parrot store the next morning.

Entering this place is like entering a psych ward full of screaming patients. The joint is filled with laughter, echoing "hellos," high-pitched screaming and wings flapping.

Alisha goes to wheel and deal on the bird that has caught her eye – the smallest of this talkative bunch, a Cinnamon Green Cheek Conure – while Chuck and I are mesmerized by the enormity, wild shading and eerily articulate chatter emanating from the menagerie on display.

"Hello!"

"Pretty bird!"

"Whit Whooooo!" (The whistle emitted by construction workers at foxy ladies.) (And thank you Chuck Garric for the input on how to spell that.)

I am involved in a chuckling volley as a humongous Moluccan Cockatoo is mocking my giggle. Each time the bird echoes my very own chortle, I am sent into a more violent fit of laughter.

Alisha approaches with a much more compact, exquisitely feathered comrade on her shoulder.

She takes the mini version of a parrot off her shoulder and engages in a full-on lip-to-beak smooch session.

She does the expected, handing the bird over to Chuck, who seems to have an instant bond with the little birdie. He declares how "cool" this little fellow is.

I, on the other hand, have to overcome my fear of being pecked to death – even by this smallish adversary.

As I contemplate offering my pointer finger as a perch for the little guy, whose name we now have learned is Rio, the owner of the store launches into the orphaned bird's story.

Rio was hand fed as a baby here and bought by a very nice couple three years ago. They now were getting divorced and being forced to move into non-bird-friendly residences. They relinquished poor Rio to the store in hopes she would be adopted.

Hence, Rio was a sort of rescue bird ... making taking her into our home an unavoidable circumstance.

I decide to harness my bravery and offer my digit to Rio, who is snuggling with Chuck. She looks at me as if to ask, "Are you sure you want to do this, scared-of-a-birdie lady?"

I take a deep breath and she steps onto my extended human branch. She quickly saunters up my arm and onto my shoulder where she buries herself in my hair.

She stays happily in my mane while we give the store owner the "Cinnamon Green Cheek Conure Inquisition of 2012" and badger Alisha about her responsibilities with the incoming creature.

Chuck does the necessary pulling me aside to ask if we are "doing this." And I readily say yes for a slew of reasons, most prominently the instant affection I am feeling for this plumed sweetie.

And so, Rio becomes the next member of our kooky clan.

She has flown new life and humor into our home. The relationship between Rio and our dog Sookie is slowly developing. Once Sookie realized the bird was not brought into the house as a "treat" for her, her family loyalty won out over her salivation. Plus, Rio is a sassy defender of her own life, clearly seeing Sookie as a natural predator, using her beak to let Sook know who is boss.

And although "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," we are one species closer to living in the petting zoo I've always dreamed of.

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