When my oldest daughter was three years-old she wanted a pet cockatiel so I found a sweet lady in Orangevale, California who lovingly hand-raised birds from her home. She was so devoted that she even carried the newborn chicks to work in her purse to feed them throughout the day at her desk job. Her aviaries were incredible, clean, and meticulously maintained which impressed me.
I’ve often heard that a good breeder is the key to a bird’s longevity, along with proper food and exercise. I tend to agree. Many years later, I asked people in a state wide cockatiel society if they had heard of her and many had, although she was no longer living. She had quite a reputation as an outstanding breeder who produced beautiful and healthy birds.
The day we found this devoted breeder, we spent the afternoon getting to know her and touring her aviaries. My sweet three year-old daughter finally chose her young bird, a male, normal, and and we drove home along Madison Avenue near Sacramento, with her new friend. I asked Laura what she would like to name her cockatiel. She looked up at the street sign and said, “Madison!” The name stuck for over two decades.
Madison matured into a handsome and colorful bird and as Laura grew up she taught him over the next few years to say several short phrases of two or three words. She taught him to whistle “Happy Birthday to You” and often took him with us when we went places, even camping. He was a well-traveled bird.
As our family grew, Madison added a few other songs to his repertoire and my husband and our other children taught him to whistle “The Bridge On The River Kwai.” Many family dinners were spent around the table singing along with Madison. When my mom bird-sat him, she always insisted on playing music for him while she was at work. He was a well-loved and cared for bird.
He was never sick in his whole life and he was always happy to greet us each and every morning with cheerful noises and antics. He loved watching me cook, and he had a sweet spot for blonde girls. Anyone with brown hair, males especially, including my husband, got the cold shoulder when taking him out to play or exercise.
My middle daughter, Faith, often took him in the shower and played with him frequently spoiling him with special bird toys. She even sat him on her piano to accompany her.
10-20 years is an average life expectancy for a cockatiel but at 20 years-old Madison was still, healthy, happy, and showing no signs of slowing down. We fed him a very nutritious and varied diet and whenever I cooked, I always saved little bits of celery tops for him which seemed to be his favorite treat. He traveled across the United States with us several times. He was quite the bird.
At his ripe old age of 22, I began to keep a watchful eye on Madison as I knew every year at this point was simply a gift. I hoped that when his time came, that he would make a peaceful transition into the great sky for birds.
One day, just months ago, in Madison’s 24th year, my daughter Faith got up in the morning for work and discovered him sitting motionless on the bottom of the cage. She asked me to assess the situation and at first we both thought he was gone. After several minutes I saw the tiniest movement and then he blinked when I petted him, so I determined he was just barely hanging on. It appeared he had not touched his food or water since the day before.
Faith told her boss, who just happens to be my friend Marcie’s husband, that our beloved pet was dying and he kindly excused her from work that day.
Faith and I sat on the sofa for several hours while Faith caressed Madison tenderly as he kept his eyes closed almost constantly and hardly moved for three hours. We told him how much we loved him and what a good bird he had been. I had a very odd but strong feeling that if I held him he would die so Faith continued to hold him. I stroked him and spoke to him while he sat in her hands, but I could not bring myself to hold him myself.
That afternoon we had a meeting an hour away at my youngest daughter’s private school so we decided to take him with us. We felt he would die if we left him at home and both Faith and I agreed he deserved to have our love and companionship as he made his passing. We couldn’t bare the thought of him dying alone.
Faith held the dying bird throughout the school meeting over an hour away. The school staff was compassionate but I couldn’t help but wonder if we were the first to ever hold a dying bird during a school meeting.
About a half hour after we left the school, we were driving home past Madison Avenue where Laura had named him over 23 years before. The traffic light at Hazel Avenue and Madison Avenue turned red and while we were stopped I snapped a photo of the sign and mentioned to Faith that that had been the exact spot where he was named.
Then, oddly, I felt for the first time all day, that I should hold him, just then. I reached over and tenderly took him from Faith and cuddled him in my hands for a few moments until the light turned green. Then I handed him back to Faith. We crossed the intersection and moments later, passed the exact house of the lady where I had bought him so many years ago. At that very moment he began to move oddly like he was having a stroke and then his body went limp, he closed his eyes, and he died. He was literally born and died on the same street and we live over an hour away.
I pulled over, totally shocked that this bird had made it across the United States multiple times but chose to leave us at the precise spot where he had come into our lives so long ago.
Faith asked fittingly, if we should call my best friend Tracy who lives only blocks away, off of Hazel Avenue, to ask if we could bury him there on her property. Faith knew Tracy loved Madison also. Many times Tracy, over the years, had cared for Madison when we had traveled.
We called Tracy and she agreed. Five minutes later we pulled up to Tracy’s and she had already dug a grave for Madison under my favorite lemon tree in her yard and she had even made a little casket for him.
He is buried, at Tracy’s house, a few blocks from where he was born and loved by his original mama.
It’s only been a few months since he’s been gone. The house is quieter and mornings are void of his cheerful noises and song. When I cook, I have to remind myself not to save the celery tops. The first few weeks I would begin to wash and prepare them, only to remember he was gone.
I can hardly fathom that after traveling thousands of miles, he chose to leave us right where he met us. We are blessed to have had such a bird as this and blessed to have comforted him in his last hours as he prepared to fly free.