A Tale of Two Tiels

     Recently, two of our cockatiels have found their way back into a home. One is living as a single bird but is bonding really well with his human caretakers; the other cockatiel was chosen as a possible companion for a cockatiel already in the home. Both are doing very well, and in the very near future I will be posting updates with photos and these birds and other recent adoptions. Care must be taken when introducing a second bird; never assume that just because two birds are of the same species that they will get along. But it can work out, and I was reminded of two birds that I cared for a number of years ago. I originally wrote the following story back in 2010. It is about two birds that through a twist of fate met and became inseparable, and showed me once again how deeply birds connect.

     Early in 2005, I received a call from a woman looking to place her cockatiel. Although I had been involved with unwanted birds and other animals since 1990 it was always as a volunteer with the animals themselves; seldom did I have direct contact with the person surrendering their pet. Now, as the one in charge of the process, I found myself unprepared and surprised at the reasons for surrender. This little bird was a pet for her children, who soon lost interest, and had therefore lived out her usefulness in this home. Her fate was further compounded by the fact that she had untreated Giardiasis (parasitic infection of the lining of the intestine by Giardia, a protozoan) and was constantly picking her back bloody from the horrible itching. The woman did not tell me she had Giardia; in fact, she would have had no way of knowing as it never occurred to her to have her pet seen by a veterinarian. She did tell me she had a feather picking problem and they were frustrated with the situation. The frustration did not extend to spending any money on her though.

            When I saw the little Lutino I was shocked. She had a cheery and friendly disposition but was in horrible physical shape. I can best describe her back by saying it looked like raw hamburger meat. Her entire back, from underneath her wing to her abdomen was bloody and raw. I stared at the woman, shocked. She had certainly been pleasant enough on the phone, and she appeared to be a nice woman, wasn’t rude or otherwise obnoxious to me. She didn’t seem stupid or uncaring. And yet it never occurred to her to take this bird, which was clearly suffering and miserable, to an avian veterinarian. Her only effort to treat the bird was the purchase of a feather picking spray and when I read the ingredients I cringed. The main ingredient was isopropyl alcohol. She had been liberally spraying this on the bird’s raw back, causing even more pain. She was unwilling to give me any money for taking her in, which of course was not surprising since she hadn’t been willing to spend anything on her care up to this point. I knew it was going to be costly surrender, but there was no hesitation on my part to take the bird and get her some vet care. (Although I was taking in birds and trying to find new homes for them, I was years away from being a nonprofit, so whatever care was not donated by my veterinarian was coming out of my personal finances. But I never hesitated to do what was needed).

      I immediately took her in to our veterinarian, Dr. Baillie at Cedar Pet Clinic. I was not hopeful, but he felt he could treat the Giardia. In addition to the medication, he performed acupuncture treatments around her wound. I brought her in every week for several months for the treatments, which he generously donated to me. She also received immune system booster shots. Slowly her wound healed, and she seemed to get some relief from the terrible itching. Treating Giardia, though, can be very tough on a bird’s system and Magic wasn’t healthy to begin with. She became gravely ill with liver disease. Her liver enlarged to the point that she limped, because it was pressing on her leg nerve. I sadly thought that despite our best efforts, this sweet little bird was going to die.

     But she didn’t. Despite being near death, she rallied, grew stronger, and eventually made a full recovery. I kept her at my house for a few more months though, and continued to have the wound on her back treated. The itching had ceased but due to the large area affected and the fact that it was underneath the wing it was next to impossible to keep the wound from breaking open, despite the injections and multiple attempts at bandaging to immobilize the wing. Finally I felt she was strong enough to come to the store, and eventually her wound did heal completely. I had  switched her over to our fresh food diet of brown rice, mixed vegetables, and other healthy foods and she continued to thrive and gain weight. There were no further signs of the liver disease.

     It was perhaps a month or so later I received a call from someone looking to place a cockatiel. She had bought the bird as a pet for her father, but it wasn’t working out. He was in an assisted living place and other residents were annoyed by the bird. At barely two years old, Pete was younger than most of the birds surrendered to the store. He was very sweet and human bonded, and he talked a little. I knew he would be a quick adoption once we cleared him of any health issues. I’ll never forget the afternoon I brought him to the store after his test results came back. I had Magic back by my desk area, and another cage set up nearby for Pete. He hopped out of the carrier, took one look at Magic, said “I love you” and flew over to her. And that was it. From that moment on he would not leave her side. The two became inseparable, and somewhat unadoptable. I was reluctant to adopt Magic out because of her  fragile health and Pete was so protective of her that human interaction was more difficult, and frankly, unnecessary. He was only interested in Magic. It has always been my policy not to split up bonded pairs when they come in as a pair. This situation was more unique, with the bonding happening with two individual birds who met in their new situation.. Five minutes of observation showed anyone interested in adoption that separating them would be cruel. Magic’s health was also a concern for most, and I also thought she was better off with me so that I could catch any relapses very early. And so they became store birds, and have been very happy for the past five years.

     Grief is never easy, and I am one of those people that believe animals grieve. I have seen it too many times not to believe it. Most people are aware that elephants in the wild have graveyards for dead members of their herd. Apes in the wild have been observed carrying around a dead baby for days. It seems, frankly, the height of speciesism to think that humans are the only sentient beings that can grieve. There are countless examples of animals exhibiting grief, loss, bereavement.

     Pete  lost Magic. I had to make the painful decision to have her euthanized.  She had suffered a prolapsed uterus.  On occasion she had laid eggs but it was never a concern, as it was sporadic and there were never any complications. But it only takes one time. Sometimes a prolapsed uterus can be treated, but hers was too severe and with her health already somewhat fragile, she never would have survived the surgery. My heart ached for Pete. He was frantic with concern and would not leave her side. When birds are euthanized the death is as painless as with dogs or cats but much slower; it takes a minute or two for the drug to enter their system and stop their heart. Pete preened her face as her life faded, and gently nudged her neck. That was about as much as I could take, but however hard it was for me my heart ached more for Pete. When she was gone I placed her gently in the carrier, and Pete immediately followed her in, and sat protectively by her side. I took them back to the shelter and set the carrier on the floor and left Pete to come to terms with his loss. When I returned four hours later he was still by her side. I went in the small bird area and knelt down, planning to take the carrier and bury Magic. Pete was preening her tail feathers. I decided to give him a little more time with her.

    After a few days, Pete began adjusting. When he saw me he would frantically call, recognizing that I was the one that took her away. In fact, that is how I knew something had happened initially. I was in the front of the shelter, in the large bird area, when he began calling loudly and wouldn’t stop. When I went back to investigate that is how I discovered something had happened to Magic. The first day was hard; he was clearly at a loss. He gradually became  more accepting and stopped calling for her as frequently. I buried her near a beautiful grouping of daffodils in my back yard. It seemed like a fitting resting place, and year after year will be a reminder of the little cockatiel with such a strong will to live.

     Pete was never the same after she died, and in fact, only lived a couple of years longer, dying well before his expected lifespan. Although the end for both was sad they shared years of happiness, and  their bond demonstrated to me how deeply birds connect. 

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