The story of Tango’s Thanksgiving adventure is full of coincidences that are hard to believe. We got Tango the cockatiel when he was just 8 weeks old. He was the runt of his peers, but had the most charisma. We didn’t think twice and chose him without looking at any others. He weighed 88 grams, and it seemed like good luck since that was the year my wife and I were born. He was my first pet and was an important part of our lives for the past 10 months we had him. He would cause mischief dancing on our keyboards when we needed to do work or singing away when we were trying to watch a movie, but we would still love him. Then came the day of Thanksgiving 2012, a day Tango and we will never forget.
The strange beginning to this story was the almost unnatural foreshadowing that preceded it. It seems unbelievable now, but the night before Thanksgiving I was watching the movie Rio by DreamWorks, an animated movie about a parrot. I got tired and stopped watching the movie at the point where the main character lost her bird and was putting flyers up all over.
Thanksgiving morning my wife woke me up, frantically saying Tango flew out the window and was gone. My wife was feeding the birds outside and had left the balcony door open. Tango flew out to her and got taken by the wind. He ended up on the roof and my wife could hear him screaming and confused. After she got me, we couldn’t hear his screaming anymore. My neighbor helped me onto the roof, but when I got up there he was gone. My wife was racked with guilt and we assumed we would never see him again.
My wife went to go print up flyers while I decided to go out looking, both us hoping that we might be lucky enough to find him. I decided to try whistling, and when I did I heard the faintest whistle in the distance. I wasn’t sure if I was just hearing things, but I was desperate so I walked in the direction I heard it come from and kept whistling. I followed it three blocks until I found him in a tree. I felt so relieved, until he flew into the air.
It was a warm day for a Chicago Thanksgiving, but extremely windy. Tango got caught up in the wind and I sprinted after him going yet another block. He was tiny in the sky, getting whipped around but I saw him end up in an Evergreen tree. I couldn’t actually see him in the tree, but I knew he was in it. I called my wife, but she didn’t answer. I called her parents to check if she was there, but she had just left. When I told them I found him, her father and sister rushed over with a ladder, a pole, some duct tape, and a net. In a few minutes my wife called me to tell me she printed the flyers, and I was excited to tell her I found him. She rushed over to where I was with some of his favorite food. While I waited for them, I stared at the tree unblinking, not able to see him, but making sure nothing left that tree. When everyone arrived, we were finally able to spot him, but the tree was 3 stories high and our ladder was only 6 feet tall. We waived the food at him and whistled, but although he’d look at us, he seemed too afraid to move as the tree swayed in the wind. Then, by accident, the ladder fell and, startled by the noise, Tango took off again and flew back across the street, fortunately to a shorter tree. Unfortunately the process repeated itself – the ladder fell again and Tango took off, coming within inches of being hit by a car which scared him even further away. My wife and I chased after him, following a small grey dot in the sky. This time he ended up in the tallest tree yet. It felt so hopeless at this point and we thought things couldn’t get worse, but the worst moment was about to come.
We saw Tango panic as a large hawk emerged in the sky. Tango zig-zagged and looped around evading the hawk, but the hawk persisted chasing him. I yelled “No!” and although I’m sure my wife was yelling too, I couldn’t hear anything; I focused on Tango flying for his life. A bird whose furthest flight just a day ago was 20 feet indoors, was evading a wild hawk. The chase started to head out of view, so I chased after them. Looking up at birds while running led to a rough fall, but I bounced back up and kept chasing. I ran as fast as I could, but they flew over a building and out of sight.
It seemed our last memory of him, was going to be him being chased by predator – a chase which we would likely never know the outcome. That was about the worst way the day could end. I looked for a while more, whistling in the area, but I couldn’t find him. We had to go home not only without our bird, but without knowing if he was still alive.
I don’t think the event would have been as heartbreaking if we had not seen that hawk. It probably would’ve been easier if I hadn’t been able to find him in the tree in the first place. We were left to go over a million what-if’s with absolutely no feeling of closure. We had always been talking about how excited we were to share his first Christmas with him. My mother-in-law was even going to make him his own stocking. Now it felt like that was all over. Then we started to think how he never got to have a birthday, and pretty much every sad thing a person can think of went through our minds.
There seemed to be unlimited things reminding us of him. You’d be surprised how many references there are to birds, especially on Thanksgiving. It was pouring rain while we ate, and we could only think about how miserable Tango must be out there. We made it through Thanksgiving, but the next few days were rough. We went searching and put up flyers on Friday, and no matter how we tried to distract ourselves, it was impossible to stop thinking about him. It was sad, but almost comical, how my wife and I would be watching TV then simultaneously turn to each other and say, “I miss him.” We checked the weather every day, and it kept getting colder and we kept getting more worried.
I wasn’t raised religious, and never really went to church, but I didn’t know what else to do at this point besides pray. I prayed that he was alive and would find somebody and they would find us somehow. I prayed on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With every passing day we felt a little better, but the house still felt so empty. We missed waking him up in the morning and putting him to bed at night. We missed even his worst behaviors.
Strangely enough, just as the story’s beginning was preceded with a DreamWorks movie, so was the story’s end. On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were watching the movie Madagascar (a story about zoo animals who try out living in the wild only to realize they want to go back to captivity.) Obviously it reminded me of Tango yet again. Then just as the movie ended, my phone rang with an unknown number.
I answered the phone and a woman asked me, “Did you lose your bird?” I said, “Yes!” and she explained how she had met another woman at the Westin Hotel who had found a bird in the hotel parking garage and was taking care of it. She just happened to see her in the elevator with the bird on her shoulder and asked her about it. Then by sheer luck, traffic was bad on her planned route home so she decided to take a different route where we just happened to have put up a flyer. She said it took her about a minute for things to click, but then she made the connection and called the number on the flyer. It was seemingly a miracle that she even saw our flyer. I thanked her several times and we grabbed his travel cage and sped off to the Westin Hotel, just a mile from our house.
When we got there and talked to the front desk, they explained the bird was kind of a celebrity over at the hotel and had been there all weekend. Everyone seemed to remember the bird. They couldn’t remember the name of the person who was taking care of the bird though. Another person from the hotel walked over and remembered the woman had called the police and left her name with them. The hotel quickly called the police and got her name (Julie) and phone number, but before they said anything, we could tell from their faces this wasn’t going to be simple. Apparently Julie had already left the hotel and was headed back home to Minnesota and was bringing the bird with her (Interestingly, the parrot from the movie Rio was from Minnesota as well).
We called Julie, who was in disbelief. She was carpooling back and was already an hour away. At first she seemed hesitant to return him and offered to buy the bird off of us, which I could understand because Tango is a very charismatic bird, but after all we’d been through that was the last thing I wanted to do. While on the phone, I could see my wife impatiently staring at me wondering why this wasn’t a simple conversation. Julie saw they were near the exit for Rockford and offered to pull over. Tango just went from being 1 mile away to 80 miles away.
She explained how she had found him cold and motionless on the ground of the parking garage. His head tucked close to his body. He likely wouldn’t have lasted much longer and most other people would have assumed he was dead. She said it took an hour of warming him up before he started to move again. We were so lucky that she had found him and taken care of him.
We called the Rockford Police to see if she could leave him with them, but they wouldn’t. We then called a pet store in Rockford, but they said they wouldn’t for liability reasons. Then we called Animal Control and they said they would hold him until we got there. So Julie dropped him off and continued off to Minnesota while we headed off to Rockford. We offered Julie a reward for the good deed and all her hard work, but she refused and only asked that we send her a Christmas card with Tango on it.
When we finally got there, it looked closed, but we went around the side, and I saw someone. I knocked and when the door opened, I heard his distinctive whistle that I had heard before and knew it was him. When we saw him we were in disbelief. This four-day nightmare was finally over. All our worries were washed away and replaced with the same kind of happiness we had that day 10 months ago when we first brought him home.
Tango had the adventure of his lifetime: facing multiple near death experiences, battling the elements, avoiding predators, all while discovering the world was bigger than he ever knew. However after less than a half hour of being home he was back to his old self; and the whole time I’ve been writing about this Thanksgiving miracle, I couldn’t be happier to be constantly interrupted by Tango jumping on the keyboard.
Special thanks to Julie, the woman who called us after seeing the flyer, the front desk staff at the Westin Hotel, my father-in-law Rick, my sister-in-law Jacqui, our neighbor Roger, Winnebago County Animal Services, and especially my wife Kim for never giving up.
Video Version of Story:
Tango doing some of his tricks:
Tango Skateboarding away: