Chicago, IL

The Bird Man

Sherry McGuinn

When one meeting leaves an indelible impression.

For several years, my sister, Diane, has lived next to a wonderful older couple. She’s told me about them on several occasions because they’re huge bird lovers and the man converted their yard into what can only be called an “Avian Paradise.”

“The Bird Man” as I think of him, constructed beautiful and intricately-designed feeders and houses for his feathered friends and never went a day without making sure the legions of birds, and also ducks, that flocked to his home, were fed and cared for.

Aside from the wild birds that the couple tended to, they also had two pet birds, Cockatiels, I believe they were, or a similar species.

Beautiful birds with feathers so brilliantly hued, they seemed painted on, and one bird especially was the man’s favorite. He’d had him for many years and was often seen puttering around his yard with the bird perched on his shoulder. Two old friends just going about their day.

Both birds' wings were clipped so they couldn’t fly off. As they were domestic and not wild, it was the proper thing to do. And not cruel, by any means. They were treated like avian royalty!

Now, I’ve always had an affinity for animal lovers, being one myself. I don’t understand people who don’t, frankly. I don’t understand people who believe that the creatures who share our space exist merely to be a source of food, or entertainment, or cruel intent. But that’s a story for another day.

I’d always wanted to meet The Bird Man but he was never around on those days when I visited my sister. And then one day, he was.

Sure enough, he was tending to his flowers and the feeders with his favorite bird on his shoulder! What a kick it was to see this.

Diane introduced us and immediately, I was smitten with this sweet man. With great pride, he showed me around his yard and pointed out all his handiwork. He was so kind and it was clear as day that he loved the attention.

His bird never moved or tried to get away, just bounced along on the man’s shoulder.

The other bird, the younger and more capricious of the two was in the house with the man’s wife. Diane told me that this one was a bit of a “problem child” in that it was more active than the older bird and would try to take to the sky on occasion.

I was charmed that day and looked forward to the next opportunity to talk to The Bird Man. But so often, the universe fails to cooperate…fails to yield to our desires.

One day, Diane called and told me that her neighbor had died. I’m not certain of all the details but I believe that he and his wife were outside with both birds and the younger one suddenly bolted and flew up and into one of their trees.

While his wife ran to retrieve a ladder, the man didn’t wait. As he was very fit from all the exercise he got tending to his “brood,” he started to climb the tree.

When his wife returned with the ladder, she found him on the ground, flat on his back. At first, although she was frightened to death, she was encouraged because he was conscious and talking, and didn’t appear to be in great pain.

She called the paramedics, then climbed up the ladder and rescued the errant bird.

The Bird Man died later, in the hospital. Internal injuries. What a colossal kick in the ass life can be.

I wanted to cry. It seemed so unfair that someone so selfless could be taken from this world while attempting to help another creature.

If I recall correctly, I believe the older bird has passed. And the wife, who still cares for the younger bird, abandoned her husband’s pride and joy as taking care of the birds and the ducks while also working at an outside job, was too much for her. I can understand it, but it breaks my heart.

I hope that this gentle, generous man, who made such a lasting impression, is soaring above us somewhere, flanked by all his “friends.” Wouldn’t that be something?

Finally, I’ve pondered how one would describe The Bird Man’s end. Tragic? Poetic?

Perhaps, both.

© Sherry McGuinn, 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Sherry McGuinn is a slightly-twisted, longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.

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Chicago, IL

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