A boy and his bird

Preteen boy falls in love with special-needs splay legged bird, agrees to take care of her, and he and his family adopt her.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Every pet adoption is special; it means a life saved, and the beginning of a new friendship. But some take special to a whole new level. These are the adoptions that seem like they were meant to be — as if this person and that animal are made for each other and have waited all their lives to be together.

That’s what happened with a gentle cockatiel with special needs, and a 12-year-old boy who chose her.

Hunter cupping Birdie in his hands

Mother and son volunteer trip

Twelve-year-old Hunter first came to volunteer with his family at Best Friends a few years ago. He was eager to work with the birds in the Parrot Garden because he’d recently gotten to know a relative’s bird back home, and thought they were pretty cool animals.

As Hunter’s mom, Heather, planned a mother and son trip to Best Friends this past summer, she started to think that a feathered friend might be a good pet for him. So when they signed up to volunteer in the Parrot Garden again, both were excited about the prospect of finding a bird to adopt. But it would have to be the right fit, and Hunter had some ideas about who his ideal feathered friend would be.

An instant connection between preteen and rescue bird

At the very top of Hunter’s wish list was a bird who could talk. As Hunter got to work during his volunteer shift, he considered each bird he encountered. There were a few chatty birds, but none that seemed just right. He’d also met a little cockatiel named Birdie, but she doesn’t talk, and nothing about her stood out to him at first.

That is, not until Parrot Garden caregiver Lisa Englund invited Hunter to sit down so that he could spend some time socializing with one of the birds. Lisa brought out Birdie and placed her in Hunter’s lap.

That’s when something magical happened. All the boy’s attention was suddenly focused on the little cockatiel as he petted her and fed her seeds.

“It was the sweetest thing,” says Lisa. “It seemed like Hunter needed a gentle companion, and Birdie was so gentle.”

Hunter’s mom also saw the instant connection between boy and bird. Hunter had made his choice. With Birdie still on his lap, he whispered that she was the one he wanted, and that she needed him.

Hunter’s mom also saw the instant connection between boy and bird

Special care for a splay legged bird

Birdie would need Hunter to be more than a good friend. She would need him to be a good caregiver, too. That’s because Birdie was born splay legged, which means she can’t perch in her cage or on someone’s finger.

She also can’t move around well and needs a bath several times a day to keep dirt from building up on her feathers and skin. Her cage, too, needs constant attention to keep it clean so she stays clean herself. Plus, she needs a special ointment applied to her skin, to keep it from getting irritated.

While many adolescent boys (and girls) might have overlooked a bird with special needs, Hunter didn’t shy away from the extra responsibility. He had found a friend, and the fact that she needs special care wasn’t going to stop him from taking her home and giving her the life she deserves.

Heather couldn’t be happier about Hunter’s dedication to his new friend. “It made me proud to know my 12-year-old son could feel empathy and compassion for this sweet little creature,” she says.

Since bringing Birdie home, Hunter’s commitment hasn’t wavered. Every day, he gets up and takes care of all of Birdie’s needs before getting ready for school. He goes through the same routine when he gets home, and then again before bed. Besides great care, she gets plenty of conversation and head scratches.

Birdie was born splay legged

A truly remarkable adoption

In return, Birdie is Hunter’s constant companion. She keeps him company when he is doing his homework, drawing and reading. “At our house, she is happy and we hang out every day with each other,” Hunter says.

Birdie waited for years to find someone who could look beyond her special needs and see her true beauty. Hunter needed a gentle soul by his side. The two found each other and made a connection at just the right time. And that makes Birdie’s adoption truly remarkable.

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Photos by Sarah Ause Kichas