EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - I loved my Great-Aunt Fannie. At 97, she still lived alone and worked at her sewing machine every day. Her Yiddish name was Fagelah, which meant little bird. So when a little bird—a blue parakeet to be exact—showed up on my deck the very day Aunt Fannie died in June 2015, it felt like we were being visited by her spirit.

The hungry bird flew right to my husband and devoured the birdseed he held out for her in his hand. This pretty little budgie was obviously somebody's pet, and they would be devastated to have lost her. So I called the East Brunswick police and Animal Control to see if anyone reported a lost bird. I searched online databases for lost and found birds. Finally, I called the Bird House on Route 18, and thought I got my first break. They knew of a little boy who had lost his blue parakeet a few months ago and put us in touch. He came over, but with one glance said sadly, "that's not her."

Finally, we gave up. The little bird had adopted us, and we quickly grew to love her. Of course, we named her Fannie.

Sign Up for Milltown/Spotswood Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Although we rarely closed her cage door, she never left the family room. Perhaps her experience in the outdoors had given her a touch of agoraphobia. She spent her days flying between and peering out the eight windows in the two-story high room. After a busy day, she headed voluntarily to the comfort of her cage before dusk.

Fannie was all spunk and attitude. She seemed indifferent to me but loved my husband and flew to him readily. She climbed on his clothing and kissed his nose on demand. She also did a little mating dance when they played together, especially in spring and summer. (We had to discourage that behavior since it resulted in egg laying).

Fannie treated me as little more than her personal servant. She spent a great deal of time at a little wicker bird house that hung in a window. I filled it with strings of beads, plastic bracelets, bells and earrings. She vigorously “cleaned house,” tossing out each item one by one. Then she called out to me and stared me down, demanding I refill it. Quickly please. If I didn’t jump fast enough, she would dive bomb me to get my attention until I took care of business.

Because we were often not home, I worried about her getting lonely. I set up an old laptop that played parakeet videos for her all day long. She loved her "chirp room" and talked to her virtual friends, peeking around each side of the monitor trying to figure out how the birds got in there. One day last summer I played back the video I had taken of her chatting to her YouTube friends. She went nuts at the recognition of her own voice. For the first time ever, she flew to me, perched on my phone, and chattered at the screen in my hand. After that, she regularly badgered me to play the video on my phone and would walk across my laptop or divebomb me until I did so. She was quite bossy that way, but I was thrilled that, after years together, she would finally perch on my finger.

Considering her size, she seemed unusually sure of herself around dogs. She could confidently stare down and 85-pound canine nose to beak. For this reason, I felt certain that in her life prior to adopting us, she lived in a house with dogs.

In the summer of 2019 Fannie had been in our lives for four years. We had no idea of her age, but she began developing health problems. Just before the new year, our beloved Fannie died. The house felt empty without her. A few months later, I was on the East Brunswick Helping Each Other Facebook page. It occurred to me that someone on this site might have some knowledge about a lost parakeet nearly 5 years earlier. This Facebook group was actually founded the very month Fannie showed up in our yard, but I had not known about it at the time, and they were probably few subscribers back then. But on that day in April 2020 I posted an inquiry about Fannie on the East Brunswick Helping Each Other. In a mere 45 minutes, I heard back from a young woman named Shana who lives barely a mile from me. Her parakeet, Cupcake, then three years old, had flown away around the time Fannie turned up in our yard. It was bittersweet news for her—sad to learn her bird had been “so close and yet so far,” but glad that her Cupcake had survived her dangerous ordeal and, in fact, enjoyed such a happy life. I shared photos, videos, and anecdotes, and learned about Fannie’s previous life as Cupcake. Shana confirmed two things I had suspected: Fannie had always been a picky eater, and she had lived among dogs.

At 1.3 ounces, this little bird had the personality the size of an eagle. Sassy, funny Fannie will be missed.

*East Brunswick resident Rachelle Burk is a writer of children's books.  Click here to find out more about here work.