The Start to My Shadowing!

I finally got in touch with a vet close to me who has allowed me to come and shadow them.  Currently, I have spent 15 hours shadowing Dr. William Hope from Hope Veterinary Hospital in West Newton.  And so far, it has been an amazing experience! 

Going into a veterinary clinic is a little like walking into a four way highway.  People are walking everywhere and you are constantly in someones way.  As a shadow, you have no idea where to stand, no idea where to go, you have no job to do, and you feel a bit useless.  And you want to see what is going on, but at the same time you don’t want to piss anyone off.   Quite a perdicament. 

Thus far, I have gotten very used to flattening myself in a corner and staying out of the way.  And in return, I have seen and experienced so many great things already.

One of the things I was most dreading, euthinazation, I have seen and lived to tell the tale.  I have seen a dead dog and lived through it.  And I have witnessed a dissection and not puked.  I think I’m on the right track, lol. 

There hasn’t been too much overly exciting.  A blocked cat, lots of shots, puppies getting their tails docked, and lots of stool samples!  Sometimes, they let me look at the eggs in the microscope, and yesterday I got to take a cats temperature!  Moving up in the world!

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any pictures yet.  I’m working on it so I can show you guys!


Our Adventure to Northview Animal Hospital!

Today I took Taylor to Northview Animal Hospital to see what was wrong with his swollen crop.  And it was quite an adventure just getting there! 

I am not by any means a confident driver.  I hate driving in places I don’t know, I hate city driving, and I hate being pressured by other drivers.  And getting to Northview involved all three!  I’m surprised Taylor didn’t die on the way there from fear of my poor driving or my screaming and cussing.  Mapquest lied and said I would be there in a half an hour and its a good thing I left an hour ahead of time, because I arrived just on time. 

Dr. Denise Pleban saw Taylor and I’m pretty sure she is my angel from heaven when it comes to finding an avian vet.  For the first time since I’ve started looking for an avian vet, I didn’t feel rushed with my time with the vet, I didn’t feel cheated, and I didn’t feel like I knew more than the person seeing my animal. 

Taylor had samples taken from his crop as well as stool samples and had grams stains run on both.  He was a little stinker today, and his crop was not nearly as swollen as it had been yesterday, so his physical exam was less than revealing.  His lab tests, however, revealed that Taylor has a yeast infection in his crop. 

I was pretty surprised that it was  yeast infection, because Taylor is 3 years old, and yeast infections are usually common in baby birds!  However, Dr. Pleban said he may have  a compromised immune system due to his rough beginnings.  He could also have a mechanical problem keeping his crop closed and away from bacteria.  If that’s the case, Taylor will have to be on medication for the rest of his life to keep him safe from infections in his crop.

As for right now, Taylor is on medication for ten days that I have to give him twice a day.  I also was advised to change his pellets from Kaytee to either Harrisons, Roudybush, or Zupreem.  So, I picked up a bag of Zupreem from the store on the way home, and amazingly, it seems like Tay really likes them!  Even better, I offered some to Erin to see if I can get them both on the same pellet, and she seems to like them as well!  Erin NEVER likes any other pellets than Lafaebers, which is a good brand, but expensive and messy. 

So now I just have to convince Taylor that his medicine is for his own good.  I already gave him his first dose and he acted as though I gave him a dose of cyanide.  He’s so over dramatic. 

Make Your Own Bird Toys, Issue 1!

As a quick update, Taylor still has a swollen crop, but is looking happy and healthy (other than the large bulge on his chest) in his hospital box.  He has eaten the entire sprig of millet I gave him last night, as well as part of his seed and pellet mixture.  I also caught him drinking this morning, so he is eating, drinking, and pooping, all essential to life!  Tay also has an appointment down at Northview tomorrow at 11:40.  So, hopefully we will find out what is wrong with him and remedy it!

I also found a vet to shadow over the summer on my days off from Petscapes!  I called Dr. Hope today from Hope Veterinary Hospital and he said I was welcome to come anytime, for surgeries on Tuesday and Friday mornings, to office hours throughout the week. I am so pumped!  So, I’m sure I’ll have many good things to write about!

However, today I decided to do a fun installation about making your own bird toys.  Bella enjoys shredding things up, and therefore goes through toys like water.  Because the average bird toy runs around $5-$10 depending on how complex and big it is, I have decided to start making a lot of my own.  So, I am going to share some of my secrets with you.  Shh. 

I don’t really name these things.  This particular toy is a basic paper shredding toy.  It’s ideal for budgies up to conures or amazons.  I wouldn’t want to make this toy for a macaw, because they would probably look at it and it would fall apart.  So, this is recommended for smaller shredders.


  1. Two or more pieces of colored paper, your choice
  2. Yarn or another type of string
  3. Scissors
  4. a bird to keep you company.  Little Erin is our model today, because she’s just so darn cute.

Step One

cut the pieces of colored paper into strips width wise.  Depending on your birds size, you may need to cut these pieces wider or thinner than mine.  I made a matching toy for Erin and her strips were much thinner.

Step Two

Bend the strips back and forth to make an accordion style piece of paper. Bend each strip separately.  Its faster to bend them all together, but then they all spoon each other and it doesn’t make as fun of a toy.

Step Three

Continue bending until you have enough strips bent to make a decent size wad of paper.

Step Four

place all the strips together at the center and tie with yarn around.  Wrap a few times to make a tougher toy and make sure there are no loops that can easily catch a bird leg.  Leave a tail of yarn for tying into the cage.  Erin decided she wanted this one.

Step Five

Tie new toy into bird-cage.  Here is an angry Bella with her new toy.  She wasn’t happy I let it invade her space.  I kinda like pissing her off though because she looks so dinosaur like when she puts that little ruff of feathers up on the back of her neck!


When It Rains, It Pours

Taylors Swollen Crop

 Taylor has been hanging at the bottom of his cage lately.  I figured it was because I put some new perches in his cage and usually Taylor retreats to the bottom to hiss at them and hate them until he gets used to them.  Today I noticed that he wasnt eating very much and most of his pellets from last night were untouched.  I pulled him out of the cage and discovered that his crop was extremely swollen, almost as if it hasn’t drained.  When you touch it, it feels like the crop is filled with air and if you push hard enough, it causes him to throw up whatever is in his crop.

This happened once before, but it seemed to fix itself within a few days. 

So, tomorrow I’ll be making an appointment to take Taylor to the vet.  I’m hoping to get him in Tuesday morning.  I’m not exceptionally scared for his life, as this did happen before, and he seems to be fine otherwise.  He was eating some seed right before I pulled him out to put him in the hospital box, and he’s now sitting quite smugly in his little box.

Taylor loves my hospital box treatment.  A small Rubbermaid container with holes filled with a deep layer of fluffy carefresh.  The whole box is placed so half is on a heating mat, and pellets and seeds are both offered around the clock as well as herbs and millet.  And hospital birds are on at least a half dose treatment of marvel aid to start with, if not a full dose.   I also check them much more frequently and monitor them more closely than they do when in a cage.

When Taylor gets put in the hospital box, he immediately snuggles down in the carefresh and promptly goes to sleep.  There is no hissing or bitching or biting as he often does in the cage.  It’s like offering him a hotel room.  So, needless to say, he is enjoying himself right now.

Taylors problem with his crop could easily be linked to having his handicap.  He could have other internal problems that we don’t know about.  However, with such a lack in knowledge of avian medicine in my area, at least to whom I’ve found, I cannot seem to find anyone who knows how to fix him.  I’m going to make an appointment at Northview Veterinarian Hospital, which was recommended to me by a blog reader 🙂  Thank you very much!

Unfortunately, it looks like Erin’s appointment is going to have to wait.  I don’t have enough money to take two birds right now, and while feather picking may be ugly and destructive to the bird, it isn’t at the moment, life threatening.  Taylors condition, however, may be.  Plus, Erin’s condition has been improving dramatically with my headstrong and aggressive approach to her picking.  Her vest has been allowing her feathers on the center of her chest to grow back, and I’ve been using Cease under her wings and keeping her out of the cage for long periods of time.  Her number of pin feathers has doubled since I’ve been home and under one wing is almost fully feathered.  The other one is still a problem, but with all the time she’s been out of the cage she’s been doing better with it. 

Taylor is currently sitting very happily in the hospital box chewing on some bedding with his crown high in the air and looking rather content.  I’m hoping as before, this isn’t anything life threatening.  However, I’m also almost hoping that Tay is still showing symptoms when I take him, because it does me no good to take a bird who looks perfectly healthy and then everyone thinks I’m making stuff up.  Through my research, I haven’t found much about a swollen or slow empty crop in adult birds.  However, I have added oregano and thyme to Taylors food mix, which is supposed to boost the immune system and have anti diarrhea properties. 

Taylor, content in his hospital box

The Inside Scoop on Owning a Handicapped Bird

Upon introducing people to my birds, one of the most common questions I am asked is ‘What is it like to own a handicapped bird?’  Immediately I want to answer “just like owning a non-handicapped bird”.  However, when I actually think about it, that is not the case.  Owning a handicapped bird can be a rewarding experience, however the adventure is not for everyone.

Lets start by my definition of handicapped.  In my opinion, a handicapped bird is any bird that has some sort of disability that hinders it from living the typical way a person would expect to care for the animal.  This means it cannot live in a starter package cage, cannot eat the same as other birds, and requires an owner who is willing to work around the roadblocks and find a way to accommodate and allow the animal to live as normal and happy of a life as they can.  Needless to say, I do not think a bird missing a toe is handicapped.  If they are missing ALL their toes, they are handicapped.  However, one toe does not really count.

I have only had experience with handicaps in the form of leg, wing, and beak deformities.  There are other people in the world who have dealt with blindness, missing beaks, and paralysis.

And from what I have noticed of the bird world, there are also three types of bird owners, each of which is suited for a specific level of bird owning.

The first group is what I call ‘bird likers’.  These people think birds are beautiful and colorful.  They want a bird they can teach to talk and show off to their friends.  However, they feel birds should be ‘cheap and easy pets’ and much less work than a typical dog or cat.  They often buy the cheapest food, feed all seed diets, believe cage cleaning is of a lesser importance than dusting, often complain about the mess or screaming their animal makes, and believes a bird should be available to entertain and come out of the cage when company is around, but has no rights to be let out any other time.  Birds are disposable pets, and need not ever venture to a veterinarian. These people often lose their luster for the animal after they acquire their first one, and will recommend friends against getting a bird as they are ‘loud’ or ‘messy’ or ‘mean’.  The only type of bird suited for these people are stuffed birds, Thanksgiving turkeys, and pictures or statuary.

The second type of bird owner is one I call ‘bird lover’.  They understand a bird needs more than just being locked in its cage.  They try to get their pet out, buy higher quality food, clean the cage regularly and change out toys.  Although they may raise an eyebrow at taking their bird to a vet, understand that a vet may be the only way to save their birds life, and venture in when sick.  However, these people still look at their bird as a bird.  They feel it should entertain itself when they are not around and be able to put it in its cage when they do not feel like handling it or are too busy to get it out.  They also typically have a problem with biting, and will often reduce the amount of time they spend with the animal if they are being painfully bitten when it is out.  These people are well suited to own any range of handfed baby birds and some mildly handicapped birds, and will give their little bird a terrific life.  This is what most bird owners are.

The third type is the ‘bird obsessed’.  These people look to their birds as a member of their family if not children.  They understand the need to take the animal out, feed a varied diet, and buy some of the most outlandish toys.  Their birds are usually well-behaved and happy.  These people are patient to no end, willing to dedicate any amount of time to turn around the life of an unhappy animal.  They have an avian vet on speed dial and a recipe book of treats for the birds.  And honestly, like a computer nerd would spend all his spare cash on his high functioning computer system, so would a bird obsessed person.  Birds are usually a bird obsessed persons biggest hobby or passion.  These people are prepared to own just about any bird, ranging from handfed babies to severely handicapped or behavioral rehabilitation birds.  These people simply have the patience and the drive to help them.

So, at this point lets say you still feel comfortable with your level of interest and the level of the handicap of a bird you are thinking about adopting.  What can you expect?

The Cons to owning a handicapped bird

inability to use store products: whether it be store-bought perches or commercial food, almost every handicapped bird is going to require the owner to use a certain amount of creativity.  For example, three out of four of my birds cannot perch.  So, I have ordered in shelves of different sizes and textures as well as built some of my own. 

underlying health problems:with handicapped birds, you never know what else might have been affected besides their handicap.  This can lead to many visits to the vet, which gets expensive.  Taylor is a great example of this.  Not only are his feet deformed, but he also has an enlarged ‘watery’ crop.  This is some sort of quirk that goes along with his handicap.  Some underlying health problems can even cause a premature death, which can be heartbreaking.

physical appearance: Maybe this isn’t true with all handicapped birds, but with my guys, broken plumage is a big thing.  All of my handicaps look ratty all the time.  They are never sleek and well-groomed with long tails, just because they get around so differently they are always breaking off tail feathers and wing feathers.  For some people, the ratty look can be a problem.  I personally dont mind.  Twisted legs and feet and awkwardly placed leg angles are another thing.  If the handicap is physical, you’re going to look at it for the rest of the birds life.  If it bothers you, do not adopt.

giving up some of the things others can do: Three of my four birds will never ride on my shoulder.  Anytime you adopt a handicapped bird, you are going to be giving up things that a typical bird can do.  You gain from the experience, yet your going to sacrifice as well.

Never Knowing when its going to happen: you don’t contact a breeder and put yourself on a waiting list for a handicapped bird.  Most of the time, you stumble upon them unexpectantly.  I did not intend to buy any of the birds I have now, but just happened upon them. 

The pros of owning a handicapped bird

Knowing you saved a life: many handicapped animals are looked at as being imperfect and are destroyed.  By adopting one, you get to know you saved a life.

the gratefulness: like shelter dogs, handicapped and rescued birds are grateful. Although they may still bite you and scream, there’s just something about them that you can tell they are grateful.  And its a nice feeling. 

The uniqueness: Theres something special about each little handicapped bird that is different from all the others, and as an owner you get to enjoy that.  Also, how many other people announce that they have not just a cockatiel, but a handicapped cockatiel?

If you can’t tell already, handicapped and rescued birds are my passion.  And if after reading this you feel that you are interested and capable in adopting a handicapped or rescued bird, I encourage you to keep your eyes open for the next little angel that needs a home!

PS: in the close ups of the feet, I know my birds nails are too long.  These are all old pictures and when I took them, I was clipping their nails that day.  I then realized I should have clipped nails and then taken picture, but I’m dopey and did it backwards. I assure you, everyones nails are under control and healthy.


The Frustrations of Dealing with a Feather Picker

So, going away to school caused a lot more problems than I originally thought it would.  While I was away, my beautiful pearl cockatiel, Erin, decided to turn into a horrible feather picker.  And while up until this point I have dealt with a lot of problems in my birds, I had never dealt with picking.  And I can now say it is one of the most frustrating and heart killing conditions a bird owner will ever have to deal with.

I live down on campus during the school year because my course load is very heavy and my house is very distracting.  If I lived at home, I would want to work, which takes up a lot of time.  Then, I would also have four birds, a dog, a cat, a rat, a pig, a lizard, and some odd fish to distract me.  Plus, my father and mother, who when I attended CCAC did not seem to understand that I needed to study and would constantly interrupt me and try to get me to spend time with the family, my sister Leah and our friend who lives with us, Jamie, who share a room with me and would never allow me ample time to study, and my brother Lucas, who has friends over often, and who when he wants to go out, it is my job to taxi him around.  So, living at home would not help my education.  When I’m down at school, I have a lot of homework, so I don’t come home very often.  So, I rely heavily on my family to maintain my animals and give them the attention they need.

Well, they don’t do it like I do to say the least.

So I came home for spring break and on the car ride home my mother decides to tell me that Erin had started ripping her feathers out a while ago and hadn’t stopped.  Nice to tell me then.  At the time, Erin had only managed a patch the size of a dime on her left breast. 

I got online and looked up avian vets in the area and made an appointment to take Erin to see Dr. Dorn.

I have a huge gripe with so-called ‘avian’ vets in the area.  Most of them see dogs and cats and really do not work on birds, nor do they have any real experience working with birds.  Most of them, I know more than they do.  I took Taylor to Metvet once because he was puffed up at the bottom of his cage and not being himself, but I couldn’t pay the emergency fee to take him that day.  So I made an appointment for the next open appointment, two days later, put him in a hospital box on a heat mat and started him on marvel-aid, and when I took him to the vet, they charged me $70 and told me to keep doing what I was doing.

Well, my trip with Erin was roughly the same way.  I made an appointment and took her in.  I very firmly said I wanted tests run on her and I didn’t just want to have her looked at and told to keep doing what I was doing. I also mentioned at the desk that Erin was handicapped, but that wasn’t the reason she was at the vet, the feather picking was.  However, as soon as we got into the room, I was asked “Whats with her legs?  Has she been like this all her life?”  I tried hard not to roll my eyes and bit back answering that no, she was born normal and I twisted her legs like that so she’d look cool. 

So, they ran a gram stain on her.  I learned a little about gram stains in bio, but I didn’t know if it would test for giardia or not, which is what I really wanted her tested for, but I assumed a ‘avian vet’ would know to test a cockatiel who was picking her feathers out for giardia.  So, I trusted him and assumed she was tested and came back negative. He immediately wrote it off as behavioral, charged me $95, and gave me some anti anxiety drugs to give Erin.

I started Erin on the meds and almost immediately she lost her appetite and stopped eating.  Weighting only 76 grams, Erin is a small cockatiel and cannot afford to lose anymore weight.   I pulled her off the medicine and began treating her myself again.  I also got suspicious about a gram stain checking for giardia, because I know giardia is a protist while gram stains detect bacteria.  So, I asked Dr. Morrow, the vet at Duquesne who has become my unofficial advisor, and she confirmed that a gram stain will not check for giardia.  So, currently I am surfing the web looking for an avian testing lab that I can send samples to check for giardia.  In the mean time, Erin has oregano on every meal, which is supposed to be able to kill giardia naturally.

So, after my wasted $95 at the vet, I was back to figuring it out on my own.  I read every piece of literature I could on feather picking and ways to cure it.  I bought her a vest from the same site that sells my beloved bird diapers.  However, the vest only covers the front of her chest, so Erin just moved up to plucking under her wing.  I also can’t leave the vest on her all the time, for fear she will develop sores where the straps go, or it will rub her feathers off.  So, I take the vest off when I am home and downstairs to watch her, and spray her chest and under her wings with Cease, which works for a little while.  I invested $50 in new shelf perches and toys and re did her cage.  I gave her toys with coconut fibers to rip up instead of her feathers and paper shreddable toys to pull  apart.  I bought her a foraging toy and filled it with cut up pieces of millet spray and ripped up paper, hoping she will decide foraging is better than picking.  However, Erin refuses to use her new shelves and perches, and hasn’t touched a new toy once.  She gets daily showers with warm water or bird bath spray.  I moved her cage away from the other birds, thinking maybe she needed a new change of scenery or felt threatened being so close to Bella.  She also has spent an increased time out of her cage each day. Nothing was a solution.

My next step is to change Erin’s diet to a different formula of food for birds with allergies.  Although it’s a shot in the dark, as Erin has been eating the same pellets since I brought her home and she has never had a problem before, its worth at least trying.

I feel that Erin may have started her feather picking from an itch or stress, but now it has become such a habit that she just does it out of boredom.  Not only does she pull her feathers out, but she will also bite and irritate the pore where the follicle comes out, mostly because I’m guessing the feathers itch when they grow back in.  So she takes them out before they can even feather.  And although I am trying my best to have Erin out of the cage as much as possible, lets face it: I can’t always be there to entertain her.  Next year, I’m going to take Erin to school with me, and she will have the three other girls in my suite as well as me to spend as much time as we can with her.  But shhh!  Don’t tell Duquesne!

Out of all my birds, I would have thought Erin was the most secure, most well-adjusted, and least likely to pick her feathers out.  However, I was wrong.

Feather picking is exceptionally heart breaking to the owner because the owner is the only one at fault.  Other than medical reasons, such as bacterial infections or giardia, there is no cause for feather picking that is not human induced.  Your bird is too bored, or too stressed, or too unhappy.  And that’s really hard for me to try to deal with, because I have always tried to make my birds have the best life possible.  I know they don’t understand the whole ‘going away to school thing’ but honestly, what other choice do I have?

Dealing with Erin’s feather picking is a day by day battle.  We have good days and bad days, ups and downs.  Some days she’s very good and has a whole chest of pin feathers and I start to feel confident we’re going to beat it, and the next day she has pulled them all out.  Some days her chest looks great, and the next day it is red and irritated from her biting it.  It’s a hard battle.

I want to take Erin back to a vet and be tested again for anything else that can be causing it.  And I would like to take her to see an animal behaviorist who may be able to help me  figure out what is causing the picking.  But I’m wary of taking my birds to anyone anymore.  It seems like it’s always a waste of money.

I’m going to keep trying to combat Erin’s feather picking.  I can only hope I can cure it before she has destroyed the feather follicles and her feathers won’t grow back anymore.  Without her feathers, Erin looks like a sad, weak, plucked chicken, and it’s quite heart breaking.

If anyone has dealt with, cured, or has suggestions about feather picking, please contact me either by email or comment and let me know anything that might be helpful.  I just want my little girl to be happy again.