Lay of the Land: I finally know why the freed bird can sing
It's three years today since I started writing this column, with a piece about refugees of a feathered kind: two budgerigars who came to live with me after they were abandoned in my late brother's workplace.
These seemingly inconsequential creatures were once popular pets, for I regularly meet people who had one as a child. They invariably relate how the bird soon died, either from the loneliness of life cooped up in a cage, with perhaps a plastic bird acting as a pathetic placebo for a mate, or by flying out an open window. For budgerigars originally hail from Down Under, so escapees have a hard time finding birds of a feather with which to flock together. Instead of fat cats relishing the prospect of getting more than cream.
For 11 years, those beautiful birdbrains ruined my TV viewing, chirping and squawking at the sound, which seemed to trigger an instinctual memory of when they lived in noisy flocks. If I turned up the volume, they gamely followed suit. Despite her delicate appearance, the lemony hen in particular could honk for Ireland.
They were lucky to have each other. But the male had a bee in his brightly-coloured bonnet. He would mutter sourly back at me through the bars, as if angry with his lot.
Who could blame him? The people who dumped him probably shouted the prattling pair into silence before putting them through a bumpy bus ride into the city and life in a cage on top of a filing cabinet. A plastic red rose made their prison look pretty, but their lives no more lovely.
I bought a swing, which the green-and-yellow fellow took to rocking on grimly, hunched over and still bellyaching. Finally I opened the cage door - and discovered that they had never flown before, as they sat looking out, unsure what to do.
But you know what they say about a will finding a way. I bird-proofed my home and established an open door policy. Never once after they flew did the male bird use the swing again. And they found their voice - with a vengeance, emitting thrilling new sounds.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is the poignant title of Maya Angelou's autobiography. Well, I think I know why the free bird does. Because it's fun.
Their end came soon after I moved to the country, with the lemony hen passing first.
Her loyal mate spent his final months among a colony of his own. Where, true to his nature, he took on the role of elder lemon, escorting chicks to the food and water stations.
Luckily, there is no shortage of their species around me in this country town. A visitor from Dublin once exclaimed that there was an escaped pet bird outside. I looked at the green finch on the feeder with a smile and remembered my feathered friends; now faraway but free forever.