When I got home last Sunday night, after unpacking just enough, the birds were all chattering busily as usual, welcoming me, I guess. At some point doing my chores, I stopped for a moment and remembered Gregorio, but before I could say his name he started singing an extra long version of his song, repeating and repeating, “Gregorio, Gregorio, Gregorio…” I could have had no better welcome.
I haven’t dared write about Gregorio’s trials until I was sure of a happy ending.
Backtrack a few weeks before I went to Ohio: on a beautiful Saturday I was out working in the yard. After a couple hours I went back in the house. There, in the kitchen sink, was a fallen moth trap with a bird stuck in it. A zebra finch male, to be exact. I was horrified, and I felt terrible, because I should have known better than to put moth traps in the kitchen. But I had been getting so tired of the Indian flour moths, I stuck a couple traps on top of the crowded little shelves that jut out over the sink, thinking the birds were too busy elsewhere to get into it, or just relaxed with the thought that the birds have lived in the house for so long with few mishaps, I stopped paying attention to the fact that just in the past few days the zebra finches were starting to explore regions they had ignored for ages.
I was just too distracted, lackadaisical, thoughtless to make the connection.
So there he was, my little finch, alive but very still, stuck in the trap, having lost a lot of feathers due to struggling with the adhesive. I reached in and pulled him out as gently as possible. A few of his remaining secondary feathers were stuck together so I washed him gently under warm running water and dried him in a towel. What to do with him? I couldn’t release him, because he wouldn’t be able to fly around high enough to reach the middle door of any one of the finch cages, which is essential if a bird is going to eat in this house. The only solution was to incarcerate him temporarily. And he would have to grow some feathers before my trip, because I didn’t want to add yet another cage to the burden for my bird care person. I had no idea how long it would take for him to grow back his feathers. Right now all I could be concerned about was his survival. (By the way, I could not bring myself to take pictures of him in his worst state.)
I put him inside one of the finch cages temporarily and closed the door while I went down to the basement to find the infirmary. It’s a dumb little cage that I picked up years ago for not a lot of money, and whenever I have a bird to isolate from the rest, I use it. I started thinking about preparing an extra little breakfast tray every morning. I found a water dish and a few accoutrements to make the cage as homey as possible. I knew he would hate being confined, but there was no other option.
When I had the cage ready, I stuck my little bald creature inside and started to look for a place to put the cage, out of the way, perhaps, in the dining room. No, no, no! was the reaction I got from my little prisoner. He vehemently objected to being away from the action, hopping up and down and throwing himself against the sides of the cage, so I set him on top of the coffee table in the middle of the living room, where he could see and hear all the other birds and vice versa. Looking back, I realize that was already a good indicator that he was going to fight his predicament and overcome it.
It wasn’t until maybe the middle of the next day that I figured out it was Gregorio, when I had taken inventory of the other male zebra finch’s songs and he was the only one not singing. Poor little Gregorio. I felt even worse: the past week almost every tape I listened to, Gregorio was singing on it, and I thought I had grown tired of hearing him. Now I didn’t know if I’d ever hear him sing again.
The first few days were extremely awkward. A couple times he hopped out of the cage past my hand when the door was open while I was changing this or that other dish, only to flop down to the floor, where I’d catch him easily. Once he was a little harder to catch, underneath the butcher block island in the kitchen, but I scooted him out and picked him up. He finally got the idea that he couldn’t fly and became somewhat resigned to his fate. I was afraid he wasn’t eating well either, seeming to eat only spray millet, and I lectured him about eating better if he wanted to grow back his feathers. Eat your vegetables! I have a feeling spray millet is like dessert for birds, but even if that was all he was eating I didn’t have the resolve to remove it from the cage to force him to eat something else. It must have been comfort food too.
I don’t think it was quite a week when I heard him vocalize for the first time. He wasn’t singing yet but he was calling. That was encouraging. He was growing little fluffy feathers around his head. I couldn’t tell what was happening with his other feathers; he had lost most of his primaries and secondaries on one wing, and I knew he had a lot of contour feathers to grow back as well. Then one afternoon when I was sitting writing on the futon, his cage right next to me on the coffee table, he sang a little. “Gregorio, Gregorio.” I knew he was on the mend!
A few days before I wanted to release him, calculating his release date was going be five days before I left for Ohio, I had his cage perched on the kitchen counter where I took him every morning and evening to clean and refill things, and I explained I wanted to make sure he could fly high enough to get into a finch cage to eat and that was why he was still locked up. As if to challenge my protective caution, he flung himself all the way up to the top of his little cage. Look at me, I can fly this high, I can reach the cage door. Patience, my little man, patience. It’s only a few days, and we’ll let you out.
Gregorio was eating more of his food, and the fuzz on his head was filling in. Saturday came, and I set him up with his breakfast just in case he had to return to the cage. I put the cage on the coffee table and opened the door. Within seconds he was out. He first tried flying all the way up to a curtain rod and fell down to the floor, disgusted he didn’t make it. But as soon as I thought he might be able to break up his flight into stages, he did exactly that, landing on top of a cage, and then eventually making his way to the curtain rod. You know what they say about great minds thinking alike…
It wasn’t until then that I took a few pictures of him.
When I saw him eating spray millet inside a cage, I knew he was going to be all right.
One time I looked up and he was snuggling with a Society Finch. Another time I saw him paired up with another male zebra finch, which is how it’s gotten to be in this house with only one female zebra finch left, so the guys choose partners, not for sex but for companionship, and it’s really a nice thing to see. I hadn’t been worried about the other birds picking on him, but it was yet another reason to incarcerate him until he got back on his wings.
Well here we are now and I barely recognize him. He still looks a little flat-headed and his tail feathers are a little stiff, but he’s zipping around with all the other birds, up to his old mischievous ways, and needless to say I don’t have any moth traps anywhere the birds can get to.
All the while as I was writing this Gregorio was singing his song. He knows I’m writing about him, and I’m sure he’s trying to add his two cents. He just started up again. Gregorio, Gregor, Gregorio, Gregor…