Written by Noleen Hanson
Professional photography by Jaco Sapet-Nel
Owen is our much-loved four-year-old cockatiel – a feathered family member we couldn’t imagine being without. My daughter, Jade, raised him from a hatchling and he’s very tame and talkative. So, when he disappeared in mid-January 2018, we were heartbroken – and very worried, as the area we live in is also home to several birds of prey...
Owen’s cage was empty
Hearing Owen chattering away is a normal part of our home life, so it wasn’t long on Monday 15 January before we realised that his cage was empty. Owen was gone. Somehow, he’d escaped from his cage and flown through a window.
Panicking, I immediately posted on the area Facebook page and the community WhatsApp group asking people to keep an eye out. I would do what we could but, deep down, I was sure we’d never see him again.
Not only do we live near a gorge and our area is full of hawks and yellow-billed kites – for which Owen would be an easy target – but a storm had rolled in. As a hand-reared bird, Owen wouldn’t have a clue how to keep himself safe.
We couldn’t sleep
The weather that evening was terrible, with heavy rain and howling wind. We lay in our beds, wide awake, listening to the storm outside; our sweet, pampered cockatiel was somewhere out there. He must be so cold and wet. His tummy must be so empty. He doesn’t know how to fend for himself. Nobody slept a wink that night.
Three days went by with no sign of Owen – a long time for a little tame bird out there all alone. The chances of him surviving were slim, let alone us ever seeing him again... we had all but lost hope.
High up in the trees
Friday morning dawned and our house was so empty without our chirpy little grey-white-and-yellow friend. And then I received a notification on my Facebook page: there’d been a sighting of a cockatiel not far from where we live.
The moment I saw the picture of a cockatiel perched on a windowsill, my heart leapt with joy: it was Owen! I was ecstatic. Now we had to get him back.
I immediately contacted Jamie Rae, who’d posted the sighting, to get the address and then rushed over, taking along Owen’s friend, Sam, in his cage. The idea was that if Owen was too scared to come to us, seeing his friend might coax him.
We soon spotted him in the trees but, although he clearly recognised us, he kept his distance. We called and he responded, but he continued flying around high up in the trees, far out of our reach.
A wild cockatiel chase
After over an hour of trying to get him down, we had to give up. A kind couple living nearby – Paddy and Graham – offered to let us put Sam, along with Owen’s cage, in their garden; we hoped that, once we’d all “disappeared”, Owen would feel confident enough to come down. Sadly, we had no luck – Owen remained elusive.
The following morning, feeling both despondent that Owen was still out there but relieved that he was alive, I fetched the cages. Heavy-hearted, I turned for home and then – ping! – I was tagged in another Facebook post: someone had seen a cockatiel peeking in through the window near the Watercrest Mall Spur.
We hurried over with Sam and some nets, anxious to get there before he flew away. But when I saw that he was four storeys up a building with all the windows sealed, my heart plummeted. How on earth were we going to get to him?
Out on a ledge
Chantal (who’d posted on Facebook) got the security people, who tried to help. People suggested breaking the windows and someone even put forward the idea of getting a crane. While all of this hubbub went on around me, I stood tearfully trying to figure out what to do next.
Owen was clearly absolutely exhausted; he frantically pecked and scrabbled at the window to try and reach me – it was such a powerless feeling that we couldn’t help him.
We decided to actually chase him off the ledge repeatedly until he was so exhausted he’d go towards the ground, where my husband waited with a net and Sam. Unfortunately, Owen was too stubborn for us and he just kept returning to the ledge.
I broke down in tears
A frustrating hour-and-a-half ticked by with absolutely nothing we did working. Heartsore, we were about to give up when some children arrived wanting to help. They chased him to a better spot on the ledge; I sprinted over to Panarotti’s with Sam in his cage. While I held Sam, the manager, Frans, and I loudly called Owen, begging him to come.
Then, wonder of wonders, Owen fluttered across and perched on my outstretched hand. I grabbed him and popped him into his cage where he started scoffing his food as if he’d never eaten in his life.
The relief was so great that I broke down in tears of joy. It was like a party as everybody, from the staff at Panarotti’s and Spur to the children who’d helped us, hugged each other and both cried and laughed with joy.
Today, when we look at Owen safe and snug in his cage with his friend Sam, we still can’t quite believe what happened. How he survived for almost a week out there all alone and how we were reunited is nothing short of miraculous.
None of it could have happened without a community of people rallying around and the social networking site, Facebook.
We are so grateful to everyone who helped reunite us with our boy – those who took the time to post their sightings of Owen, who shared and tagged me; Paddy and Graham, who tried their best to help; everyone at John Dory’s, Spur and Panarotti’s Watercrest – staff and patrons alike; and the awesome Watercrest Mall security guards. It’s incredible what can be achieved when people work together. Thank you to all of you.