How Twitter the Budgie Flew Into My Life
And made me question my fundamental belief system
As I write, a little blue budgie sits perched on the computer monitor in front of me chirping along to the Skrillex orchestral suite. A month ago, this scenario was merely my YouTube-inspired dream, but in a twist of what many are describing as “fate,” this is now my reality.
This past Saturday on the second really warm day of spring, I decided to stay in for the night and work on journalistic things. My roommate was also staying in to work on programming things, and I felt quite pleased that we were being responsible adults, cohabitating soberly and productively while the rest of NYC was out getting sweaty on various dance floors.
I was in my room horribly butchering Bach on my flute when I heard it — the distinctive chirp of Melopsittacus undulatus AKA the budgerigar (budgie for short). I stopped playing and listened into the night. There it was again, the “where are you?” call that budgies bounce back and forth over the Australian tree tops to keep the flock together. I burst into the living room and practically jumped over my roommate to lean out the faux balcony overlooking the courtyard.
I whistled two notes and much to my surprise, got five chirps back! The courtyard was dark except for the electric blue light lining the walkways. I peered around expecting to see a bird cage in an open window, but as most of the inhabitants of the Bushwick artist collective in which I reside didn’t share my Saturday night ambitions, there were only a handful of illuminated windows of the two hundred or so lining the courtyard.
I whistled again, but was met only by silence. I retreated from the window, my roommate eying me quizzically.
“I heard a parakeet,” I told her. She nodded at me with amused understanding. Having been exposed to my collection of avian household accessories for the past six months, from hanging ceramic cockatoos to an Audubon Society wall clock that tweets a different bird call every hour, this was all the explanation she needed.
I headed back to my room to resume post-mortemly offending the world’s greatest composers, when I heard a voice call into the courtyard:
“DID ANYONE LOSE A BUDGIE???” My eyes, widened and I ran back to the window.
“DID SOMEONE FIND A BUDGIE?” I yelled back into the darkness, scanning for the source of the voice.
“YEAH, HE FLEW IN MY APARTMENT. IS HE YOURS?”
I realized that the voice was coming from the unit directly above mine.
“Oh hey, down here!” I said, waiving. “He’s not mine but I heard him out there. Can I come up and see him?”
“Yeah, please come get him!”
I slipped on some flip flops, grabbed my keys and ran out of my apartment. Upstairs, I knocked on the door and was greeted by a chick I once said hi to on the elevator. I wasn’t two feet in before her friend walked over, wild-eyed and cupping the culprit of their disturbed wine party in her outstretched arms. A tiny white budgie head wiggled its way out from between her fingers, followed by a flash of bright blue belly before a hand was cupped over to contain him again. She thrust the budgie at me, and I took the squirming creature from her. They explained how it flew in their apartment and scared the shit out of them before they realized what it was.
“Be careful, he’s bitey,” one of them said. The little guy was absolutely terrified, frantically trying to squeeze himself out from between my fingers such that I had to keep moving one hand in front of the other making a perpetual tunnel. I tried to adjust my grip to keep him still without crushing him, but in full-survival mode he pulled the oldest budgie trick in the book and clamped down on the fleshy skin between my thumb and pointer finger.
I didn’t move, I just let him bite. I’ve been bitten by my fair share of parrots and this little guy was on the weak end of the spectrum, although he was really giving it everything he had. Defeated, his little eyes started to close. He was fainting from fear.
“No no! Don’t do that!” I instructed, loosening my grip afraid that I had somehow managed to squish him. As soon as I did, he awoke and began to squirm again. He definitely needed a place to chill out. I asked my neighbors if they had a box and they presented me with a cardboard box that had once held a Fab.com deliver. I gently put him in and closed the flaps.
We all breathed signs of relief which turned to laughs of disbelief over the absurdity of the situation. They asked me if I would take him because neither of them were equipped to care for a budgie. I said I would, that I would try to find his owner. I gingerly lifted the box and carried it back down to my apartment.
I let him rest in the sanctuary of the box while I made a Craigslist ad for a lost budgie in Bushwick. And I tweeted: “Well, looks like I’m a bird owner again, at least until I find his owner. Happy mother’s day to me! What should I name the little blue one?” “ Eifel 65,” was immediately rejected. Dave Winer suggested Fargo after his new product, which didn’t quite capture the weirdness enough for the situation. Finally, my Twitter friend who I finally met IRL at SXSW this year tweeted: Twitter.
I gave him some water and snapped his inaugural Instagram pic. I’d always wanted an internet celebrity bird.
And herein lies the weird part of this whole situation, the thing that makes everyone go, “AYFKM?” It’s not so much that I found a parrot in Bushwick, a newly revitalized industrial sector of Brooklyn where budgies are no where near indigenous. It’s that *I* found a parrot in Bushwick.
If you know me even remotely, it doesn’t take long to realize that I am obsessed with birds — parrots in particular. It’s not like how some people say they’re obsessed with dogs just because they enjoy the company of dogs. People actually call me “the parrot whisperer.”
I suspect it all started with my mother taking me to Parrot Jungle to feed the macaws before I could walk. Growing up, I wanted an entire aviary of parrots, and I had posters detailing all the different color mutations of budgies and cockatiels. In addition to teen heartthrobs like Rider Strong and JTT, six-year-old me pinned centerfolds of parrots from Bird Talk magazine on her bedroom wall.
Finally, when I was in second grade, my only-child dreams came true and my mother presented me with a pair of blue budgies — almost identical to Twitter — whom I named Skateboard (after my favorite hobby at the time) and Skeeter (after my favorite Muppet baby). I had a wedding for them and invited my entire class to witness me ceremoniously unite my budgies in avian matrimony.
Still vying for that full-aviary, I got a cockatiel (lutino, my favorite color mutation) and we were BFFs for a few years until one day when I went outside to look at a rainbow, Speedy flew after me, got disoriented, and kept on going.
Inconsolable is the only word to describe me after that incident. Unfortunately, Kiwi the quaker parrot had a similar departure, which, nine years later, can still drive me to tears if I’m in the mood to wallow. I’ll never stop blaming myself for being irresponsible, even though it wasn’t really my fault. From time to time I’ll stay up all night scouring animal rescue forum archives for a green parrot that was found near Ann Arbor Michigan in the Summer of 2005 with a Florida ID band reading “BEB696.” I’m tempted to do it right now, but I know I should just let it go.
Over the years, friends have asked why I don’t get a new bird, to which I give the same excuses for everything else that involves any kind of commitment — I work too much, I want to travel, I can barely take care of myself. All the while, I’ve been planning for the day I can get a parrot, getting fixes here and there by visiting the wild quaker parrots of Brooklyn and befriending bird owners. I even dragged some friends with me from Art Basel to Parrot Jungle this past winter. They were skeptical, and I think enjoyed seeing me happy more than feeding the parrots, but it was a good time for all.
And so, to answer your question, yes, I realize how weird this is. Everyone is either a cat person or a dog person, but within any given group of friends, there are only ever a few “parrot people,” and they are usually the ones you try to avoid. This is why so many of my friends, upon seeing pictures of Twitter and hearing that I didn’t purposely seek him out, that he simply flew into my life, are describing the event as “fate.” They say it’s “a sign” that I can’t leave New York as I have been planning to do.
“C’mon, what are the chances, Arikia?”
Look, I worked with Nate Silver for two years so don’t talk to me about chances. Sure, it’s an unlikely event, but when you combine all the factors — a budgie escaping on a warm day, flying to one of the only green areas in the middle of the concrete shit pile that is Bushwick, where there happens to live a woman with a freakish, encyclopaedic knowledge of parrots who whistled to the bird, which flew in her general direction — it really isn’t that hard to understand why Twitter and I would find each other.
OK, so maybe I questioned my belief system a few times over this impromptu bird. The bird that also happened to match my fingernail polish AND the spare budgie cage a neighbor just happened to have lying around.
The bird that, when I opened the box the following day, flew right on my shoulder and has been hanging on as my astoundingly tame little buddy ever since.
The bird that can vanquish the slightest hint of stress or blues with the tiniest of tweets and gestures…
Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter why Twitter flew into my life. He is here now, and I am loving every minute of my time with him. But if I have to leave him behind for a year while I travel, it will be in the best of homes where “fate” can still apply. I’m not going to cancel my trip because I’m worried that rejecting this gift from the Universe will result in bad luck around the world — which, let’s face it, is what the concept of “fate” is really there to do: provide people with justification to make decisions that reduce fear and benefit them. So friends, I know you want me to stay, but please don’t use Twitter as your pawn. I’ll be back. And after being reminded that having a little bird around makes me so much happier and results in endless Instagram fodder, I’ll make it a point to keep finding and helping out the ones in need.