The bruises on his face soon may heal, but the broken heart of Victor Vasquez — the Birdman of San Diego’s East Village — may take a while longer.
“Sydney, the day before he died, I told him, ‘You’re the reason I wake up in the morning,” Vasquez said recently of his 31-year-old medium sulphur-crested cockatoo from Papua New Guinea, one of his three feathered companions.
“He was just an amazing soul.”
The bird was killed during an attack on Vasquez, which he said occurred Wednesday in front of the San Diego Central Library. Vasquez said he was punched, kicked and knocked to the ground by two unknown assailants.
While Vasquez was being beaten, two of his birds got loose from their cages. One of them, Sydney, flew into the path of a passing trolley and was killed.
Vasquez, 54, had become known as the Birdman of East Village for his daily walks around downtown and Balboa Park with a tower of three birdcages strapped to his back. He and his three-tiered backpacks and squawking birds had become a fun and quirky sight in the year and a half he’s lived downtown, and he was featured in a San Diego Reader article in March.
On Wednesday morning, he said, he slipped on his birdcage backpack and headed out of his small apartment on Market Street to the library to return a rented DVD.
He dropped off the DVD in a slot without entering the library, and said a security guard told him to move along. Vasquez said he was leaving when a young man sitting on a nearby wall said something like, “Yeah, get out of here with your dirty clothes.”
Words were exchanged, but Vasquez said he walked away. When he saw the young man heading toward him, he called 911. The San Diego Police Department reported receiving the call at 9:47 a.m.
Vasquez said the man struck him, knocked him down and was joined by a female companion who also hit and kicked him. He said both assailants appeared young, around 18 years old.
The cages popped open. Ginger, a Goffin’s cockatoo from Australia, flew into a nearby tree. Between blows, Vasquez said he could see Sydney flying toward the trolley.
He remembers a woman saying Sydney had been run over. Vasquez managed to get to his feet and walk to the tracks. He scooped up Sydney’s mangled body.
“I can’t get the image out of my mind,” he said through tears.
Vasquez said police arrived but he felt they did not believe his story until they saw security camera video. (The Union-Tribune was unable to confirm Friday whether police had obtained or reviewed any surveillance video, and the newspaper was not able to locate the video independently.)
He said he hopes witnesses will come forward to help identify the assailants.
He was able to retrieve Ginger and also still has Coocooberry, a red-lored green Amazon parrot about 20 years old.
“They’re my life,” he said about his birds, which have helped him deal with some tough times.
Vasquez was homeless off and on for about 10 years and said he is HIV positive and has PTSD from injuries sustained in an encounter with police during a demonstration in San Francisco in 1989.
Sydney was his favorite of the three birds, and even through his grief, Vasquez is able to smile at the bird’s memory.
“He gave me so much,” he said. “That’s what I have to hold on to. He was so intelligent. He loved to be held and praised. Sydney was my best friend.”