The yellow and gray visits the blue and gray

Spoiler alert: This story about a lost bird has TWO happy endings.

When a cockatiel landed on a light pole on the patio at the George R. Brown Tennis Center shortly before the Rice women’s tennis team played William & Mary March 23, he triggered a sequence of events that included visits to the locker room, the Facilities Engineering and Planning (FE&P) office and a home in Baytown along with some uncanny coincidences.

A cockatiel perched on the hand of Brian Glass, stepfather of tennis player Lindsey Hodge, at George R. Brown Tennis Center

A lost cockatiel landed on the hand of Brian Glass at the George R. Brown Tennis Center. (Photo by Chuck Pool)

Head coach Elizabeth Schmidt noticed the bird and pointed it out to two people who were talking right under the light pole: volunteer assistant coach Anousjka van Exel and Brian Glass, the stepfather of tennis Owl Lindsey Hodge. After Schmidt mentioned that the bird doesn’t look like it belongs in the wild, van Exel and Glass coaxed it down, and the bird jumped onto Glass’ hand.

Schmidt asked Chuck Pool, assistant athletic director for media relations, to take a picture of the bird perched on Glass’ hand and send it to Public Affairs.

The photo of the bird’s distinctive yellow face, orange cheeks and gray feathers suggested that this friendly cockatiel might belong to someone who lives near campus. The conservation organization BirdLife Australia lists cockatiels as the second-most- popular pet bird.

Greg Marshall, Public Affairs’ director of university relations, emailed the picture in a neighborhood news alert in hope of finding the bird’s owner.

Meanwhile, as the tennis match with William & Mary was about to begin, Schmidt decided that the bird should be placed in the women’s coaches’ locker room until someone could figure out what to do with it.

“As I was walking out of the locker room, I told our men’s assistant coach, Bojan Szumanski, to make sure nobody went in there, as there was a bird flying around,” Schmidt said.

Szumanski recalled that FE&P has dealt with animals found on campus and called their office. On this particular Friday afternoon, Becky Hebert, executive assistant II, happened to answer the phone when the call came in. She sent a staff member to the tennis center, and he brought the bird to the FE&P office in a box.

“When I saw the cockatiel in the box and how gentle it was, I knew that this was someone’s pet,” Hebert said. “We bought one for my grandmother when we were young, and she had it for 30-some years.”

Hebert kept the bird in the box and gave it some water. With the weekend approaching, she realized the cockatiel couldn’t stay boxed up in the office for two days without anyone to take care of it, so she took it to her home in Baytown. “I didn’t know how long he would be staying, so I stopped by a pet store and bought a cage, toys and food – everything the bird needed,” she said.

When Hebert walked into her house, she greeted her husband, Bear, with: “Surprise! I hope you like birds.” She added, “Luckily, he was very receptive.”

The bird, however, was not as receptive – at first. “Once Bear took his cowboy hat off, they bonded, and the bird sat on his shoulder,” Hebert said.

While Becky and Bear were getting acquainted with their new feathered friend, Schmidt was searching online for lost cockatiels in Houston. “I felt it had to be the pet of someone who lives in the area,” she said. And she was right.

On Sunday of that weekend, she found a posting on a bird rescue site from 19-year-old Zoe Martin, who lived with her aunt, Leslie Scates, in an apartment complex on Hermann Drive nearly 2 miles northeast of the tennis center. Martin’s pet, Baloux, had flown out of a door that was cracked open while she was watering plants on the balcony of their fifth-floor apartment on March 21 – two days before the tennis match. Baloux was almost 1 year old, and his wings had been clipped only once when Martin acquired him from a local breeder. Later that day he was spotted on the 23rd-floor balcony of the high-rise next to Martin’s apartment building, but by the following morning he was gone.

Martin posted notices on Facebook, Instagram, their apartment building’s website and other portals, and she and Scates walked around putting up flyers. “We walked about 10 miles, including through Hermann Park, but we did not think Baloux had made it as far as Rice,” Scates said.

Schmidt emailed Martin about the cockatiel that landed at Rice, and when Martin told her aunt that her bird might have been found, Scates recognized Schmidt’s name. “I know Elizabeth Schmidt,” Scates said. “I met her when I worked as the assistant director for dance programs at Rice’s Rec Center from 2008 to 2010.”

Scates texted Schmidt, who told her about the bird’s adventures at Rice. Scates got in touch with Hebert, and on the following Tuesday night Scates and Martin drove to Baytown in hope of being reunited with Baloux.

When they arrived at Hebert’s house, the bird was sitting on Bear’s shoulder and then hopped up on Martin. She knew that Baloux likes to have his earholes rubbed, and when she ran her fingers over the bird’s earholes, he laid over, just as he had done many times before when Martin petted him. Scates said they knew then that this was Baloux, but they also checked the numbers engraved on his leg band, which confirmed his identity.

Hebert said Martin had made “the sweetest thank-you card” in which she had written, “Becky is a hero.” Hebert and her husband said “goodbye” to Baloux and his family as they left. She later discovered a $100 bill folded in the shape of a heart inside the card that Martin had given her. She appreciated the thoughtful gesture but mailed the money back to Martin.

Schmidt was very happy with the outcome of this story. “It was truly a team effort with a lot of different people and departments at Rice coming together to help Baloux find his way home,” she said.

And the other happy ending?

Rice beat William & Mary 6-1.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.