Diet for a Small Bird, Part II

Quite some time ago, I wrote a post to introduce you all to Tweety, our baby "myna bird." I gave LB a sufficient amount of teasing for bringing the scraggly-looking little fella home (or he might have been a girl, maybe, but his later personality confirmed to us, at least, that he was of the male persuasion), we started feeding him moistened dog food and avoided handling him (for the first few weeks anyway...), and finally rid him of the nasty case of bird mites that he had (one word: ew).

Once he could sort of move around (he had adult-sized legs and feet even as a little guy so it took him a while to be able to get his round little body up on those stilts!), we moved him from the bowl into a box, and soon he had started hopping around his box, getting more feathers and looking more and more like a bird. He also stopped tweeting quite so loudly all the time, except maybe at 5 in the morning, which all-and-all was a welcome change. Then one day, we had (thankfully) stuck him inside for the first time on a window seat in our room while we were gone and came home to find that little Tweety had escaped his box and was sitting on the window sill, just checking things out.

After that, we bought him a cage to keep him safe at night and while we were gone (there are cats in our neighborhood, as well as lots of dogs and cars just over the fence), but left the door open while we were home. With all that "freedom," Tweety started to fly. He wasn't very good at first, and often looked for wider landing spots (including my head/hair), but he was doing it all by himself. He also stopped tweeting and started making really beautiful (and some not so beautiful) calls when he was outside by himself. As he got a little older, he developed a bit of a curious crest of feathers on the top of his head...

Turns out, Tweety wasn't a myna (or mynah) bird at all, he was a red-vented bulbul. While still considered a nuisance species and one that is invasive here in Hawaii, he quickly became part of the family and we, despite our best efforts, fell quickly in love with him. As adults, red-vented bulbuls, or Pycnonotus cantor if you prefer scientific names, have a brilliant red underbelly - or maybe undertail is a better description (see these pictures). Another interesting side note is that they are one of a few species of animals, along with bats and humans, that cannot synthesize their own vitamin C and must get it from their food - thus, perhaps, why they are huge fans of fruit, one of the characteristics that makes them into "pests."

Tweety's personality was vibrant - he would chastise the dogs when they came outside for being in his space, he would call out to us when we went inside, shake his wings with excitement when we came outside and loved to sit on our shoulders in the evenings, nestling up to us as it got cooler towards night and cooing in our ears. Man, he was just plain cute. He loved to be held and petted, especially under his beak and would fall asleep sitting nuzzled against your neck or cradled in your lap as you pet his head (I never thought bird's liked being petted!). He even would occasionally mimic our whistles, although he definitely had his own repertoire of innate bird calls. We stopped caging him at night as soon as he could fly - we didn't want him beating up his feathers trying to get out as soon as he saw us in the mornings - and we never re-caged him after that. He stuck around for most of the day for a while, then was only there in the mornings and the evenings for meals and to enjoy a little nuzzling before bed.

You might notice that I'm using the past tense here. That's because our little Tweety "flew the coop" and left us two weeks ago. He started coming around less and less, leaving the yard to explore the neighborhood, and then one day, after a few minutes of being pet, he cooed and then just flew away...for good. I couldn't even see where he went. For the first week, very time we saw or heard a red-vented bulbul in the yard (we can recognize and distinguish their calls from mynahs, cardinals, java sparrows, finches and other birds in our yard now), we ran outside and started whistling, hoping it was him, looking to see if it was a juvenile bird (no red butt! Tweety had just one or two little red feathers on his underbelly, having not yet gained his stark red coloring) or if the bulbul would come when we whistled. But now it's been two weeks, and I don't think he'll be coming "home" again. This is okay. This is what birds are supposed to do - to prevent inbreeding, most fledglings are evolutionarily primed to leave the nest and the area where they were born.

But I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss him, because I do. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want him to come "home" again, because I do. But I'm happy. I think he's actually going to make it out there in the wild somehow...so long as a cat or a car didn't get him, which I try not to think about. His calls were innate, his ability to fly was innate and the last few weeks he was obviously finding food on his own because...well, let's just say we could tell he wasn't eating stuff other than what we were feeding him. He was strong and healthy when he left - I think you can see that just by looking at the last pictures we have of him (above) - so all we can do is hope that he's well and that he's making his own way...that he's become a wild bird.

Sometimes we have to learn to let go of the things that we love, like the quote by I don't even know who, that we've all heard before:

If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back to you, it was always yours.
If it does not, then it was never yours.
For we do not possess anything in this world...
we only imagine that we do.

And it holds true for birds, people and more. But while it may be true, that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt a little when they go. For me, food is always comforting, no matter where it hurts - on the outside or on the inside. In the winter, when it's cold out, I always want hearty, warm stews and crusty bread to dip in them. But when it's hot, like it is here most of the time, it's too hot to eat something like that, even if you do need some comforting (though a little bird's beating heart and cooing next to your neck is pretty darn comforting too -
boo hoo). This is one comfort-food dish that comforts, no matter what the weather is like: Tri-colored Orzo with Chicken, Veggies and Chickpeas (for Tweety). Think of it as a much healthier version of the comfort that comes from a pint of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream.

The recipe is based on a recent recipe from Bon Appetit magazine, but my version is listed below. The night before I made it, I had grilled some vegetables for a ratatouille, including eggplant, green beans, onions and tomatoes. After grilling the veggies, I put them in a bowl and let the olive oil and juices ran down into the bottom of the bowl. When I took what I wanted out of the bowl that night, I left the rest of the veggies in there, soaking in their juices. I also threw a couple of extra chicken breasts on while I was grilling - seasoned only with salt, pepper and dried oregano. All of that - the veggies, oil, and chicken went into this dish and it was so easy that the whole thing came together quickly and barely felt like cooking ...sometimes a good thing when you're feeling sad.

Tri-colored Orzo with Chicken, Veggies and Chickpeas, serves 4 - 6
adapted from Bon Appetit
  • 1 1/2 cup tri-colored dry orzo
  • 2 cups veggies - tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, whatever
  • 1 large chicken breast, or two small ones (more if you want more meat)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for chicken and tossing veggies
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup or so of feta cheese
  • 2 (small) cloves of garlic, minced
Rub the chicken breasts with a little olive oil and season with salt, pepper and oregano. Toss the veggies (sliced or not sliced for grilling - depends on what you're cooking) with olive oil, salt and pepper (oregano too, if you'd like) and grill over medium heat until the veggies are soft, the chicken is done and both have pretty grill marks (it's all about the pretty grill marks, people!). Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling water until al dente and drain. Put the veggies in a bowl after they come off the grill and let them rest just as you would the chicken - for about 15 minutes...you should get most of the oil and juices draining down into the bottom of the bowl.

When everything is ready, cut up the veggies and chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss them with the olive oil. Rinse and drain (well) the garbanzo beans and add that to the mix. To the bowl with all of the veggie juices, whisk together and add another 1/4 cup of olive oil, a little more salt and pepper, a bit more oregano (add the tsp, then adjust to taste) and the garlic cloves. Pour over the pasta and veggies, add the feta (crumbled) then toss everything together. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

13 comments from you:

Nerissa said...

awww... I loved your story of the Tweetymeister. I hope he does well and I hope he surprises you one day with an unexpected visit.

They comfort looks...well... comforting. I love anything with chickpeas and with feta.

Karen said...

Hi Michelle,
What an interesting bird story. In Chiang Mai, we used to get red-whiskered bulbuls on our patio (they, too, loved the nearby fruit trees). They have such a beautiful song—we were lucky to have them as neighbors. In southern Thailand and Malaysia, the birds are caged and used in singing competitions.

It's been a long time—I hope you are well!


genkitummy said...

your story about tweety was so sweet. what a lucky bird to receive all your love and care.

zavorka said...

Hi, Michelle,
nice to read from you. It is a moving story of cohabitation between Tweety and you. Not for ever. I grew a brood of magpies free, just to see the birds growing and then flying away, two drowned later on,as adults.
Have you tried to do composting covering it with a layer of soil?
cockroaches will not dig in it...

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh goodness Michelle. I remember when you found him! What an amazing experience you've had with tweety! And even if he comes back for a visit anytime this is a gorgeous conclusion: remember the goal of childhood is adulthood. He got there so successfully with your help.

Ann said...

I was so glad to see this follow-up about Tweety and to learn that you raised him successfully. I confess to getting a bit teary-eyed over it. :-)

Dianne said...

Awww that tweetypie looked so cute, shame they have to grow up and fly the nest!

take care :)

Debinhawaii said...

How sweet--I am sure little Tweety is out there exploring and having a great time in the wide world. Kudos to you for raising him right and letting him fly! I "rescued" a just hatched baby bird a couple of months ago--the nest was in a palm in my front yard and the frond fell. There were no parents in sight and the baby was on the sidewalk with the egg shells around him. I wrapped him up and drove him to the Humane Society and they put him under a heat lamp and called the Bird Sanctuary. Such trauma and drama! But raising Tweety yourself is amazing! PS. The orzo looks great too!

Michelle said...

Hi Nerissa! Me too; I keep hoping he'll come by someday. I love chickpeas and feta too - and we've found a great source for good, local feta here!

Hi Karen! Great to hear from you too! That's so interesting about the singing competitions - they really do have some beautiful, almost melancholy calls.

Hi Genki Tummy! Thanks ;)

Hi Zavorka! Thanks for stopping by and saying hello! We raised magpies when I was growing up and they flew away too (but we like to think they are still out there - somewhere!). Thanks for the composting tip - we'll keep that in mind when we finally get to start ours!

Hi Tanna! Thanks for the excellent reminder. And I wouldn't trade the experience for anything (even though I didn't want to bring him home at first...I'm glad we did).

Hi Ann! I confess to being a bit teary-eyed too ;)

Hi Diane! It is! But it's a good thing too.

Hi Debbie! Aw, that's how we found Tweety too. You were probably smart to take him to the Humane Society - for whatever reason, we never even thought of that!

Julie said...

Years ago I raised an orphaned baby robin. It was the first experience I'd ever had with a bird and I was amazed at how responsive he was, and how attached I was to him. Eventually, when he began to fly I took him to a wild life rehabilitator who had him for awhile, acclimating him to the wild, before he took off.

There's something about a baby bird that just makes you want to respond. Or at least makes me want to respond.

Tweety is adorable and I am sure he's happily living the life he's meant to thanks to you and LB.

Michelle said...

Julie, awww...it is amazing, isn't it. I think I never really thought about how much personality birds have until Tweety - even though I had a parakeet way back when I was a child. That was a really great idea to take your little guy to a rehabilitator before releasing him. I'm sure it helped him adjust to the wild even better!

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Such a sweet (bittersweet) story! My heart aches thinking about him flying away from you, but what a good mama bird you must have been for him to stay alive and adapt.

Michelle said...

Sally, thanks. My heart aches too! I hope we were good birdie parents to him - we tried our best!