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GEORGE AND HAROLD HANGING OUT – Photo by Carmela Cunningham

We used to have a little blue budgie named Harold.

He flew up to our back balcony in Long Beach on January 1, 2000 when Carmela was cutting my hair and trimming my beard. We lived at the time in a second-story apartment on the beach.

Harold was clearly exhausted when he arrived. There was an offshore wind at the time and the next destination for this sweet little blue bird was going to be high above the Pacific Ocean with little chance of making it back to land.

The scientific name for Harold is a budgerigar – a small parakeet native to Australia, but a popular pet for people half the world away. Harold immediately popped on to Carmela’s outstretched finger, then looked at each of us in turn, cocked his head, and jumped up on my shoulder.

Carmela being the kind person that she is, immediately got Harold a little box to live in and placed an ad in the local weekly throw-away paper trying to notify his owner.

Several days went by and Harold had a new name, a new cage, bells, toys, and a mommy who loved him. Then we got the phone call. Somebody had seen the ad.

Although this was an answer to the ad Carmela had posted, by this time, Harold was family, and she was devastated that somebody else might have prior claim. With great foreboding she called the number.

The woman on the other end, who lived just a little inland from us, said she was not the owner, but that Harold had stayed with her for several days before flying away. She would take him back if we didn’t want him, she said.

No, Carmela said firmly. Harold was now a member of the Cunningham family – to be known from that day forward as “Harold Tweedy Cunningham.” And that was that.


Several years later, we could tell Harold was getting older. He was still a daredevil on wings, flying across the room, seemingly ready to crash into furniture, then at the last minute, popping up, skimming across the top of a table, then turning sharply and flying through the rest of the apartment. He still perched on his dad’s hand and fought with his thumb, and he still did tricks. He had just gotten a little slower than he used to be and he tired more easily.

Then one day, exactly 10 years, six months and 28 days after Harold had first flown in, when I was scheduled to give a talk to one of the harbor-area trade associations, Harold died.

I was practicing my talk when we heard a strange cheep from Harold. We rushed over to his cage-home and he was laying on the bottom. Harold never went to the bottom of his cage. I scooped him up and cupped him in the palm of my hand.

Harold raised his head up, gave a little good-bye tweet, and died while I held him. We were devastated. Years later, we are still devastated. We miss that little bird, and we will miss him until we die.

But in our grief, we had to wonder if people should own wild animals. Harold had a good life with us. But even if he certainly would not have lived as long, would he have been happier being in the wild, impregnating a little girl bird, helping take care of their chicks, and being a little wild and free spirit?

There is no answer to that question, but we have never caged another bird. Harold is irreplaceable in our hearts. There is never going to be another Harold.

Now we have wild pets.

This was a concept introduced to us by Carmela’s uncle Ken Cable.

He used to feed wild birds and made sure they had enough to eat so they would come around to his home for frequent visits. From his window and sometimes even closer, he would watch them go about their daily lives, gathering food, raising their offspring, and living their wild and free lives.

HUNTER GETTING FED BY MOM – Photo by Carmela Cunningham


Right now, we have a couple of Orange Crowned Warblers, we have named Honor and Honorie, sharing our lives. They hang out in our courtyard for a good amount of time every day, sipping from the hummingbird feeders, dipping their beaks in the baths, and sticking their noses up all the flowers. Recently they both disappeared for a couple days, but they came back with a smaller, fluffier version of themselves in tow, whom Carmela has named Hunter. He is a noisy little fledgling now, but he seems strong and healthy.





HUNTER GETTING USED TO THE WORLD – Photo by Carmela Cunningham

We are also often visited by hummingbirds, all of whom we have named Anna as a form of private protest against the movement to rename all birds that had previously been named after human beings. This particular hummer was named after Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli. Anna is a beautiful name, and for us it remains the name for all of our hummingbird visitors.

Then there is the finch family, who showed up recently and frequent our feeders, baths, fuschias and petunias. The man – Mr. Redfinch has a beautiful red head. Mama Finch is brown. They have quickly ensconced themselves as members of our wild bird pet collection, and the whole group seems to get along just fine together.

We love watching their interactions, we worry about their safety, and we will miss them when they are gone. We give them food and water and brightly flowered shrubs to shelter in. They give us joy.

That’s a pretty nice trade-off.

– George Lee Cunningham

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