We talk about our relationship with birds: how they uplift us, inspire us, bring us peace, make us smile. It certainly sparks my imagination to see a bird in the wild, but I believe my fascination with birds started with captive birds. When I was a small child, my parents took care of a neighbor’s parakeet. Though I have few memories of Soupy, I can’t help but think he made an impression on me. All my life, I’ve wanted to have feathers around me. I’ve loved the cheerfulness of their song, and the comic good nature of the parakeet personality.
Then there was the time the dog brought in a baby sparrow from the yard. This was in the early 1980s, and wildlife rehabilitation was not something we knew about. We put her in a box and cared for her until she was big enough to fledge and learn the ways of the world. I was in junior high at the time, and she became my science project. I documented feeding times and growth. On her first days out, I watched her observe the wild birds in the yard. She mimicked them to learn what was good to eat, to find safe roosts, and how to have a good wild bird life. One day, she flew away, and I hope she had the best life possible.
My good experiences made me believe I was a “bird whisperer” of sorts, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. One day I discovered a near-fledgeling starling in a nest at my sister’s school. I wanted it so badly, I actually flushed it from the nest and took it home. The starling was not a willing captive, and died several days later. It was a grave lesson.
I grew up and left my own nest, studied biology and eventually worked with birds in a zoo environment. It is really kind of funny, because I didn’t set out to do that. I loved birds, but as a child, it didn’t really occur to me that it could be a job. And then, there I went. I fell into working with birds. Through my work I have met dozens of birds, each a beautiful individual with quirks and fears and delights. When I see a bird, I appreciate the beauty and the inspiration, but I also want to get to know it as a friend.
Several years ago, I read the children’s book Hawk, I’m your Brother, by Byrd Baylor. I identified strongly with the protagonist, Rudy Soto, who wanted to fly. Rudy steals a hawk from the nest and tries to be its brother, but after recognizing the bird’s misery at captivity, he decides to set it free. It is a beautiful story, one that moves me just about every time I read it. It touched me so personally, and said what I wanted to say about my own experience of loving birds: the desire, the work, the grief over the loss of a friend, and the peace that comes from knowing you have set a captive free.
This is my musical version of it: https://soundcloud.com/jen-hajj/hawk-you-are-my-brother .
About the Author
Jen Hajj has a background in zoo and conservation education. She coordinates the San Diego Bird Festival, presented by the San Diego Audubon Society. She is also an award-winning performing songwriter. Listen to samples of her music and view her tour schedule at www.jenhajj.com. Buy her songs and CDs at iTunes, Amazon.com, CDbaby.com, Spotify.com, ReverbNation.com and StandingOproject.com.