Justin R. Cannon, Guest Writer

My fiancé Max and I are members of the UC Botanical Garden and find it to be a truly magical place. It’s one of our favorite places in the world and we visit at least weekly. Our latest visit to the garden led to an unforgettable adventure. Strolling through the herb garden toward the tropical house I heard this unique birdcall I had never heard before in the garden. As I approached the noise, which echoed from some nearby milkweed, I saw the most beautiful lutino cockatiel. I called Max over and we talked soothingly and whistled with the bird. Only a minute into this ‘conversation’ she suddenly flew onto the top of his cap. As exciting as that was, it was only the beginning of this adventure! Reaching up slowly, she confidently landed on my arm. Excitement filled me head to toe—and truth be told it tickled having her delicate feet on my arm, and then, neck, as she explored my shoulders and played with my necklace.

While there are wild Amazon parrots in the Bay Area, it was clear she was not a wild bird. I wondered, would she be safe from birds of prey? Could she forage enough food to survive? We walked with her to the main entrance to find a staff person to talk to. We were willing to try and find her home or adopt her if that would be better than leaving her in the garden. Before we could talk to someone, she was startled and flew forty feet into a nearby tree. As she scooted back and forth on a branch, it was clear she was uncomfortable and not in her element. So, we stood below the tree and whistled and talked to her to encourage her to come back down. After about ten minutes of this, slowly she came down and graced us once again with her gentle friendliness.

Botanical garden staff agreed it would be best to take her home. While we were trying to figure out how to get her safely to the car and to transport her, Nancy (a staff member) sought out a box. To our surprise, another garden visitor named Pedro came over and lent us his cat carrier that he retrieved from his car. The cockatiel did not resist going in the carrier and we headed straight to a bird shop on College Avenue. There the owner, Claudia, taught us the basics about caring for a cockatiel and we purchased a small cage (she’d would have gotten a bigger upgrade if we became her ‘forever home’).

Within hours we found a post on the Craigslist “Lost and Found” page – just the day before a gal in Berkeley named Nicole posted that she had lost her female cockatiel. We connected with her by email, then text, and after she sent us a handful of photos, we were able to confirm the bird was indeed her lost sweetheart cockatiel named Rita. As the sun was setting, Nicole came over and the two were reunited. She reimbursed us the cost of what we had purchased, and we now have an invitation to visit this sweet bird who turned our Sunday afternoon into one amazing adventure. Honestly, looking back on this whole journey with Rita, I feel like she chose us to bring her home. She called until we came over, and even returned to us after flying into the tree. You never know what will happen when you visit UC Botanical Garden. As I said, it’s a truly magical place.

Justin R. Cannon is a UC Botanical Garden member and our inaugural guest blogger. He is the pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church, San Leandro (www.saintsalive.net) and founder/director of Holy Hikes (www.holyhikes.org), a nationwide hiking network. He and his fiancé Max regularly visit the garden and plan to get married in the Oakland redwoods this December!

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