Jolliette’s Journey

     About a year ago I received an email from a social worker who had just removed four birds from a home; three cockatiels and a Senegal parrot. Knowing nothing about birds, she had been told what species they were and so in her note she referred to the Senegal as a cynical parrot. This made me laugh; not at her directly but because she unwittingly so aptly described this classification of the generally curmudgeonly  Poicephalus parrot. Dana had the birds in her office, which was not making her boss too happy, and she was looking to place the cockatiels. There were two males and a female, and she thought the female had been abused because her legs were twisted and deformed. This cockatiel could not perch, but instead had to lie on her belly. Dana did not know how old the birds were, or anything about their life before she removed them from the home where they weren’t being cared for properly.

     Dana did not live in the area but was willing to drive the two hours or so to my shelter if I could take the cockatiels. She also graciously donated money toward the cost of a veterinary visit. We do not normally charge a surrender fee when someone is surrendering a bird that they themselves are rescuing. However, I generally find that these people, already being caring and generous with their time, are also more than willing to help financially if they can and will often pay the full surrender fee out of their own pocket. She was interested in keeping the Senegal and planned to learn more about their care. I agreed to take the three cockatiels. I brought them home to my quarantine room where I let them settle in. I generally wait a week or so before taking them to my avian veterinarian for an exam and testing; this gives me a chance to get to know them and I am better able to give my vet enough information about any physical symptoms I may observe. They seemed in reasonably good health; the main issue, especially with the crippled one, was someone had done an incorrect wing clip. Lacking both legs and flight feathers she could barely hold herself upright. I made her as comfortable as I could by creating a nest of sorts out of folded up flour sack towels. The two males were clearly devoted to her, and one in particular would not leave her side. When I took her out of the cage to clean her vent he became frantic and would not settle down until I put her back in with them. They were adventurous eaters and tried everything I gave them, but otherwise seemed nervous and timid around me. They did not want to leave the cage, even with the door wide open. This is common with birds that have been cage bound for years.

     A trip to the vet proved what I already thought; that they were in general good health. The test result for psittacosis also came in negative, and so I would normally at this point move them to the shelter. But the free flight area where I keep our small birds would not be a particularly safe environment for three flightless birds. I was afraid the other cockatiels would pick on them, especially the lame one, whom my son named Jolliette. The boys were named Steve and John. He said Jolliette had a happy disposition and that is why he named her that. Over the months of caring for her, something else became obvious. Jolliette  also had an amazing spirit. She seemed perfectly at ease with her handicap, and I suppose she was, having been that way all her life. For those of you who don’t know,  splayed or deformed legs in captive bred birds is often caused by uneducated  breeders who remove the chicks from the parents but do not keep the legs tucked under the body. As the chick matures the legs form in a twisted manner, often jutting out at the side of the body. It can also be a birth defect, most likely caused by poor nutrition. When dealt with right away it can sometimes be corrected.

     As her flight feathers grew in it was clear she wanted to explore her surroundings, and she would drag herself to the door of the cage and gaze around. I took her out and set her on the floor, and she would scoot around, flapping her wings to move forward. This made Steve and John terribly anxious, but finally gave them the courage they needed to leave the cage as well. Soon all of them were out and about, and while one of the males was less inclined to stay with Jolliette, the other one continued to stay right by her side. When they could all fly reasonably well I brought them to the shelter.

     As the months went on, Jolliette became more and more adept at flying and landing as best she could. We added some small flat shelves so she could perch up high; she also learned to balance on a wide rope while using one curled and deformed foot to hold onto the side of the flight. My flight area is large, approximately 12 feet by 15 feet so that all the birds have enough room to fly around a bit. It truly was uplifting to see how well she could get around, now that her flight feathers had grown in. Gradually, too, the males seem less interested in staying with her. As she became more independent, they did not watch over her as much, and integrated themselves into the flock of cockatiels we have. For her safety, I always put her in a cage at night and Steve and John initially wanted to be in with her. But that changed over time so I stopped putting them in together.

     I had intended the shelter to be her final home, but a very special person contacted me, looking for a companion for one of her cockatiels. It was Jolliette who charmed her, and after careful consideration I decided moving her to a home was the right choice for her. While it wasn’t life threatening, she was getting picked on a bit by some of the other birds in the flight area. It is of course natural for birds to single out a weak member of the flock. In this situation this mostly involved one of the other birds shooing her off if she landed next to them. Without Steve and John by her side, she had become more isolated and vulnerable, and while I didn’t fear her getting injured by another bird, it was perhaps a more stressful environment than I felt she should live in for the rest of her life. Her new caretaker had dealt with disabled birds before, and was also very knowledgeable about cockatiels. I have no doubt that Jolliette will handle her new environment with the optimism and courage I saw from the very first day I met her.

     Most of the time people who adopt birds from the shelter stay in contact with us, and my last communication with Jolliette’s new caretaker was a few weeks ago. All is well; Jolliette is learning to navigate and perch in her new surroundings. As her new caretaker knows how special she was to me, I am sure she will continue to keep me updated on her life.

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