Sage is a parrot and one of my best friends and closest companions in this life. He was born in captivity in 2005 and I got him from a favorite pet store in Santa Fe., New Mexico. Together we endured his fledgling-hood and ‘terrible twos’ and forged a mutually respectful and caring bond. Being an African Grey, he is considered by biologists to be the most intelligent of birds, comparable to dolphins, some primates and 5 year old human children.

His vocabulary grew quickly as he listened intently to everything going on around him. He was not just ‘parroting’ words. He learned to understand and include meaning and emotion. Plus, he developed a sense of humor! During the years before I moved to Costa Rica, he was always either in a large cage next to my computer or on a perch near me as I worked and always within sight and sound. From his close proximity, he studied and interacted. I learned what his utterances meant. We had an ongoing conversation throughout the day that consisted of some words, comments and whistles. We knew what we meant. If Sage sensed me getting excited about a conversation with someone, he often uttered a long ‘Whew…..’ like – ‘you can tone it down a bit’. If he was bored, he’d start an imaginary phone conversation complete with ringing, pauses and his part of the dialog – “Helloooo” ‘Uh huh”, ‘Really?’ and a lot more. He’d end with ‘Okay, Bye…”. When he noticed me changing clothes and my hair combed, lipstick on he commented, ‘See you later!’. If he noticed anything not okay, his words were, ‘Uh oh!’. I first heard his ‘Uh oh’ as I wrote bills and placed checks in envelopes to stamp and mail. I had accidentally left one check out of an envelope. Sage noticed. “Uh oh!” I could go on and on about the amazing interactions I’ve had with Sage in our 7 years of partnership. Along with my dog, Seurat, Sage is my Costa Rican animal family and in many ways equally as important to me as my human family members – blood relations or chosen.

Jan and Sage in the morning

Here in our Costa Rican home, Sage lives with his two bird companions, Beak (Half Moon Conure) and Flash (African Senegal) in a large aviary attached to my house. Its strategic location enables Sage to see me when I’m in my office, bedroom, bathroom and outdoor studio and kitchen. He knows where I am and what I’m doing all the time – and shouts, “Hell-ooooo” when he hears me return home through the back door. Most mornings we have a comfortable routine with Sage coming with me to the outdoor kitchen while I prepare his morning food of scrambled egg, veggies and fruit. On a Monday morning in January I realized that I hadn’t clipped his wings in quite awhile and decided to do a precautionary trim. Before taking him out of the aviary, I put a towel over his head and did the best I could holding on to him and extending each wing for cutting. Clumsy at best, I should have waited until I had help but I thought it was good enough.

In the outdoor kitchen awhile later, I talked with Shannon, who was staying in one of the cabinas. Sage sat on my shoulder doing what he loves – watching and listening. Suddenly and without thinking, I grabbed a towel to clean something up. It was the same towel I had used earlier while clipping his wings – and Sage panicked. Just as he extended his wings, a breeze caught him with enough force to send him aloft over the open studio ledge and away. Shouting, ‘No….” I watched him disappear beyond my Tico neighbors’ houses below and into the trees beyond. I stood shocked and unbelieving for long minutes as my mind replayed the despair I’d felt over a year ago, when he’d managed to chew his way out of the old Tico house attic before I remodeled. Eternally curious, he flew to investigate his surroundings. He was gone for 3 days and remained in the trees near my house until I was finally able to coax him down.

I instantly understood that this time he was in greater danger. A year ago he was fully flighted and able to fly high into trees, escape predators and maneuver. It was also the rainy season so he had access to water each afternoon. And most importantly, he was not initially afraid. He had chosen to fly instead of bolting in panic. His dilemma now could be analogous to that of a 5 year old child lost in the forest – with the same fear, confusion and inability to figure out how to come home. Plus, he couldn’t now fly up to the higher place on the mountainside where we lived or high enough to view his surroundings. His journey would likely be through trees and forests down-slope and toward the city of San Isidro. He would be very hungry in three days and likely not survive beyond four without water.

For the next three days I did everything I could – walking deep into the trees calling and whistling in the familiar way that Sage and I ‘talked’ with whistles and listening as best I could. Friends helped and I always took someone with me who could compensate for my profound hearing loss since finding him would likely be through his calls. I remembered when he was lost before and called from the top of a nearby tree, ‘Come here!”. I made fliers and took them to all the neighbors below, offering a reward for spotting Sage and calling me. The local radio station began a series of announcements about Sage and I watched as my neighbors began searching the stands of trees and forest lining the coffee fields below. Meanwhile, knowing that African Greys are telepathic, I sent reassuring messages to him and visualized him coming home. On Facebook I told his story and others responded with prayers and visualizations. Monday and Tuesday passed with no sightings.

At the end of the day on Wednesday I drove the ten miles to Rivas to meet my partner, Frank, and simply broke down in tears as he listened. I mostly felt ashamed and angry at myself for letting my dear friend Sage down. He had trusted me to provide food, water, love and emotional support and fully gave his loyalty and affection in return. Frank responded perfectly. He said he imagined that somewhere right now was Sage, perched on a branch thinking the same. He had let me down. We agreed that we had to continue to hope for reunion. What else could we do?

Driving back to my house just as the sun went down I rounded the last turn on the dusty San Rafael road and saw my neighbor and builder, Oscar’s car approaching. In response to Oscar’s waving arm, I pulled over and rolled down my window. They were all smiling and talking at once in excited Spanish. There were Bernicia, Oscar and the two kids, daughter, Bernicia, 14 and 12 year old David. Another neighbor and friend, Billy rode up on his horse and was able to translate their excited Spanish. They said they had Sage in their house and would bring him up to me after they returned from an appointment in town. My mind reeled in disbelief and I tried to brush aside the fear that they had found some other bird to replace my lost friend in an effort to make me happy. But my heart was beating faster as I drove home to wait for their return.

David and his father, Oscar

About an hour later I heard David and I ran to open the gate for him. He carried a small box with holes punched in the top, much as you’d poke holes for a captive insect. We went inside the house and I closed the door before he removed the taped box top. And there was Sage, uttering his consoling “ooooooooooooo”, which was his mimic of my whispered expression of love and reassurance. I reached for him and held him close while he simply allowed it and chirped softly. Absolute joy and amazement. Seurat, my smallish hound, jumped high in the air trying to give us both a wet dog lick! The family was together again! Sage leaned toward the office and the door to the aviary. I let him enter to eat all the walnuts and grapes he wanted as I talked with David about how he found Sage.

Sage on alert

David’s story of the rescue. David had been looking for Sage with other neighbor adults and children for two days. On Wednesday afternoon he noticed a large flock of parrots fly overhead. He watched as they appeared to gather in a tree near a coffee field below, perhaps a mile from his house. He said he thought they were wanting him to follow and would lead him to Sage. It was difficult walking – down steep grades and through several properties. Eventually he came to the tree where the flock of white crowned parrots were noisily gathered. From there he began to look up into the branches. Noticing some quick movement, he saw that it was Sage, rocking side to side. He climbed up into the tree until he was very close to Sage, who just watched. Suddenly Sage became frightened and flew down to the ground below. As David scrambled back down the tree, a neighbor’s dog began approaching Sage, who remained quiet on the ground. Just as the dog looked as if it was about to attack, David reached out for Sage, who quickly jumped onto his finger and out of reach of the dog. Clutching Sage close to his body, David began the trek back to his house. Once home, the family offered water and Sage drank thirstily and also accepted some offered bread. They decided to place Sage in an empty shoe box where he would be safe until they were able to take him to me.

Is there more to the story?

Neighbors and friends reacted in different ways to David’s story. My Tica friend, Anita, proclaimed a miracle. A Gringa friend said it was, ‘God Stuff’. I came up with two viewpoints. While my scientific mind claimed coincidence and luck, what I call my more evolved conscious mind saw that it was interestingly complex and simultaneously more wonderfully simple.

  • How did David know where to go? While it may be difficult to believe that a flock of wild parrots actually led David to the tree where Sage perched, this is exactly how David found Sage. Did the parakeets know about Sage? Was Sage able to telepathically communicate with the parakeets and perhaps even to David? David said he just knew to follow. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that David, the parrots and Sage participated in an invisible vibratory connection with each other. Additionally, telepathy among animals and humans has been proven, particularly among African Greys. Perhaps this is simply a beautiful example of our quantum interconnectedness.
  • Why did Sage accept David? Sage willingly stepped onto David’s finger and allowed himself to be held closely and petted. He never tried to bite or get away. Though I would expect Sage to act like this with me, it is certainly not a way I’ve ever seen him act with anyone else. He is cautious, wary of strangers. Perhaps he remembered David as someone he’d seen here at the house with his father. Or, he sensed safety with David. Either way he accepted the help that David offered in an instant. The two of them established a trusting bond in the moment. And at the same time, David did not fear Sage, who has a powerful beak that can inflict serious pain.
  • Why David? David is probably the most genuinely honest and sensitive child in my neighborhood. His intentions were pure. Although I had offered a reward, it really seemed that David wanted only to help me and Sage reunite. Moreover, David was able to dart beyond reason and common sense into his intuition – and act.

There is joy in the neighborhood and David is seen as a hero. His heroism has been awarded for saving an animal and is far more noble, in my view, than that often reserved for the hunter or warrior. Through this simple event of loss and rescue, the neighborhood has found a way to come together. Perhaps now a Tico will more willingly step forward to protect an animal from human cruelty. Perhaps there will be a little more respect for the gentle, soft spoken kid. Perhaps a Gringa who loved and understood a particular animal was able to show some Ticos a new way to see animals. Simultaneously, perhaps a Tico child was able to show all of us the interconnections and magic in the natural world.

After Sage went to sleep in his favorite perch, he woke several times in the night to call out to me with his usual soft whistle – kind of means, ‘are you still there?’… He usually never utters a sound during the night. I replied with the whistle of reassurance and drifted back to sleep.


Jan and Sage in close conversation