Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Birds Of A Feather

Flying with your bird

We're all part bird, aren't we? We have wings, but unfortunately they're only a steely imitation of the real thing. Like most avian-ators, I have feather envy. I've always loved birds and think perhaps I was a bird in a former lifetime or maybe will be in the next. Whichever, I have no interest in living in a world without birds, or without airplanes for that matter. When you combine the two, it can be a sublime experience.

I had always wanted a parrot, but my journey of flying with birds started with a baby mockingbird. After shopping one day, I noticed a tiny bird with an injured wing huddled behind the rear tire of my Porsche. Its frantic mother was crying and flapping her wings, but what could I do? I put the little guy in a shoe box and brought him home. I didn't think he would survive the ride, but when I opened the box, I saw him look up at me and chirp! My relationship with Parker (named after the parking lot) began.

Parker and I quickly grew attached, and I became his flockmate and mother. He slept on my shoulder, in my hand or at the head of my bed. I fed him an exotic mixture of baby-parrot formula and live mealworms, and bought him a little cage for when I had to go out. Like any good parent, I worried about his future, but was told that in time his instincts would lead him to being a "real" bird. Birds are very territorial, and in order to make his life a success, I had to introduce him to the local mockingbirds, so I gave him plenty of screened-porch time outdoors to get socialized with the neighborhood flock.

Baby birds and air-show season are both born in early spring. What to do? The care and feeding of a baby mockingbird is very specific, and I couldn't leave him, so off to air shows we went. My support airplane, a B-55 Baron, was fast, comfortable and carried a load. It also gave Parker a big "cage" to fly around in, and he was super happy to travel. He mostly liked to sit on the panel and hop around looking outside. He was really content. When I arrived at an air show, I'd put him in his little cage, and after we got our car, he could fly around inside it and sit on my shoulder again.

Andrews AFB 1999 was a memorable air show not only because I was thrown on the ground and handcuffed (in my flight suit) by overeager security forces for driving across an imaginary line, but also because photographer Erik Hildebrandt featured Parker in the first book of his Front Row Center series. Parker flew around our air-show van, much to the amazement of friends, and as he was becoming a fledgling, I helped teach him to fly on a grassy area by the hangars. I'm a CFI, after all.


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