Feathers, memories linger to recall Sundin

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 4, 2005

Sometimes I still find yellow feathers when I open a box or a trunk that’s rarely used.

I usually close it quickly and pretend I didn’t see it.

When I moved to Vicksburg, I had two cats and a bird.

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I had cared for several kittens and cats, and I considered myself a pro at caring for animals. Little did I know of the nature of birds.

Adopting a sun conure into a house with two cats wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but it was one of the most educational.

Sun conures are beautiful parrots about the size of a cockatiel. They typically have brilliant yellow bodies with orange heads and wings in gradated shades of blue and green.

He came into our lives when he was just five weeks old. He slept in a tiny box and his feathers were downy gray. We handfed him. The first several weeks of his life were a round of feedings and protecting him from the inquiring nature that is natural to the cat.

He was named Sundin (pronounced SUN-deen) after Toronto Maple Leafs center Matts Sundin.

They can learn to talk but it’s not common. More common is that they learn to mimic sounds, such as a wolf whistle. But they are loud. Really, really loud.

Sundin would mock our laughter. But only if it was genuine. He couldn’t be fooled or coaxed.

He grew into a beautiful, loud, obnoxious, sweet pet, and I adored him. I had never had an inkling that a bird could have a personality. I had thought of them primarily as pretty things that stay in cages. Not so.

He was about 3 when he started to get aggressive about flying towards the screen door when I’d let him out of his cage for a while.

There was one close call where he flew right out the back door of my Baum Street apartment. It took an hour, much coaxing and cracker persuasion before he finally lit on a fence low enough that I was able to seize him with both hands.

So when he flew past out the screen door out the front porch a few months later, I figured it would be the same kind of situation. I figured I would write a funny column about it.

I tracked him for several hours. I could see him and hear him, but he made his way quickly across Cherry Street.

Night fell, and I had no luck finding him.

The next morning I got up before daylight when I knew it would be quiet except for birds and near Harris Street, I heard him. If you’ve ever heard a sun conure, you know what I mean. There’s no mistaking it.

I tried luring him with his cage, with my voice, with his crackers.

I last spotted him on May 19, 2002 flying in Marcus Botton near Lane Street. He was headed across Halls Ferry for the trees. I stopped yelling his name for a minute as I watched his yellow body soar against a blue backdrop.

He was beautiful and he was free.

Still, for weeks, in boots and overalls, at dawn and dusk, when you can hear the birds best, I trekked down in the woods calling for him. I felt lost myself and horrible.

A week after he’d gone, I found one of his blue tail feathers in the apartment. These birds shed them frequently. I tucked it away in an armoire, hoping it was a good luck charm.

But I left the cage in the woods when I moved from my apartment to the house I bought. I couldn’t bear to bring it with me.

When I lost a little kitten I named Gus not long after I’d adopted him, I plunged back in and adopted Jake almost right away. It’s not that cats are more easily replaced; but I understand the nature of the cat, and I can live with the risks.

But the nature of the bird led me down a sad path.

I’ll never keep a bird as a pet again.

It’s not that far as the crow flies from my new neighborhood to the old.

And, I still half listen for a conure’s squawk when I wander through my neighborhood.

I think I probably always will.