It’s Just a Bird

It’s just a bird.  The words I hate hearing more than anything else.  I mean, how do you explain to people that your bundle of feathered joy isn’t ‘just a bird’ to you?  The hard facts in life is that if you are not a pet person, or a bird person, you probably won’t get it.  

Obviously, from my past posts, this whole blog, and all the numerous pictures I have posted of my feathered kids (fids for short), you can tell I love my birds.  They are not ‘just birds’ to me.  They are an important member of my family.  They are like my children.  So when I have people telling me that they are ‘just birds’ it definitely gets under my skin.

I especially have this problem when I start explaining the medical care that some of my birds require.  All of their handicaps require unique care and sometimes I have to do things that to normal everyday people are a little crazy.  A good example of this is Taylor.  When I explain to people that he has to be on medication forever to keep yeast from growing in his crop, that he has racked up around $500 in vet bills in his short life, and that his feet are so turned in I have to find or make special shelves to sit on, I get a lot of grumbling about how I am crazy and he is ‘just a bird’.  And sometimes I have a hard time understanding why they can’t see what I can.   About how he has overcome his handicaps, he has learned to be happy with what he has, and he is a terrific, sweet, and funny boy.  To me, he is a success story and he inspires a lot of hope in me and makes me look at life a little differently.  To everyone else, he’s ‘just a bird’.

I even get a lot of people who try to turn my own science major-ness against me and claim that according to Darwin, survival of the fittest rages and if he was in the wild he would be dead.  And I agree.  If any of my birds were in the wild, they would be dead.  But what they don’t understand is my birds would not have these problems if they were in the wild.  My birds are mostly a product of human made mistakes.  Inappropriate diet to the breeding parents, over breeding, in breeding, and just general not understanding what the term ‘bird breeding’ meant are the reason my babies are so crippled.  Also, they are not in the wild.  They are in my house and I have the means to care for them and make them comfortable, so why wouldn’t I?  Our science is great enough to help with the problems that inexperienced humans have created.  

To me, saying ‘its just a bird’ is an insult.  My birds are my choice in life and no one else should question that.  They are my hobby and my calling.  I enjoy caring for them and I enjoy having them in my life.  To me, saying ‘its just a bird’ is like telling a parent ‘its just a child’ or an expectant mother ‘ its just a conglomeration of cells acting as a  parasite off your body’.  Children are not my calling in life, yet I do not question the motives to why other people want to have them.  That is their life choice, and its no ones business but their own.

So my other animal loving friends, how do you deal with people when they say ‘its just a bird’ or ‘its just an animal’?  Leave me a comment!  I’m interested in knowing how everyone else deals with this, because to date I haven’t found a response that just gets people to leave it alone!


Adventure to Northview, Part 2!

I knew as soon as I came home on Friday that Taylor’s yeast infection had returned.  We have been battling this stupid yeast now for several months, and it was time to return to the vet yet again and try something else.  We also decided to take Jules, because he has had very runny poop for quite some time now.  We never took him before because it was so touch and go; one day he would be perfectly fine, the next he would have runny poop, and then he would be fine again.  We also knew that he liked drinking a lot of water and eating wetter foods, so we thought that could be the cause of his mushy droppings.  But, we figured just to be safe we’d take him in with Taylor and have him checked out.  So we made an appointment and yesterday we went on another adventure.  

The thing I hate most about Northview is getting there.  I have to drive from the south hills, through Pittsburgh, into the north hills.  I have to drive on busy highways with evil drivers and people who want to  run me off the road.  Let me admit now, I am not a very good confident driver.  I have never driven to Northview without crying on either the way there or back.  I always feel so bad for Taylor.  I’ll start screaming and crying and saying we are going to die, and he starts talking back from his carrier in a little voice “Pretty bird.  Pretty Pretty. ” and he always says it like a question, like he doesn’t know if he’s a pretty bird or not.  He always tries to make his mama feel better lol.  

So, we got to Northview in, I don’t know how, one piece.  I have a lot of trouble finding someone who can see my birds and actually know what they are talking about, but Dr. Pleban is a saint.  She’s very sweet and soft spoken and gentle with them, and she’s always seems to know what she’s talking about, which is more than I can say for many of the other places I’ve gone to.  A few tests later and we had our results.  

Both Taylor and Jules have a bacterial infection in their gut that is resulting in the smelly, nasty poop.  It’s not something that will make them really, really sick, but it makes a mess out of their feces.  We’re guessing Taylor got it from Jules, because on his last visit he had a clean stool test.  However, its only transmitted through feces, so that means that Taylor had to eat some of Jules’s poop.  Yuck!  Good thing everyone has their own cage so it won’t spread to anyone else.  Taylor also had another yeast infection.  She said that he doesn’t have as much yeast as last time, which means that our boiling water and probiotics were helping, just not enough.  She also said that due to how flabby and flacid his crop looks and feels, she believes that he has a mechanical  problem where his muscles are not fully functional in his crop. She said she has treated another cockatiel with the same condition and feels that it is something that goes along with his handicap.  Taylor is now on a maintenance medication that he will have to take for the rest of his life.    

When we went to check out, I felt like we were taking a pharmacy with us.  We have four different types of medication.  Taylor has three of them, and Jules only has one.  Both are on a medicine for the bacterial infection.  Taylor also has his medicine to get rid of his yeast infection, and then he also has his maintenance medication.  When we left, Lance had sticker shock; we paid more in our visit yesterday than we did for both birds put together.  I was well prepared; to date, Taylor has cost me roughly $500 in health costs.  He was a $40 cockatiel.  

Lance and I came home and bleached everything.  We bleached every cage, every toy, every food and water dish.  We literally bleached and cleaned for three hours.  We shouldn’t have any other outbreaks in the bacterial infection.  Most likely, Taylor picked up bacteria from a toy that Jules had had and hadn’t been washed recently or drinking out of the same water when they were out playing.  The vet also said that Taylor was probably the perfect target for the bacteria because his immune system is weaker than the other birds because of the yeast infection.  She said because white face is such a recessive gene, even though its beautiful, it can also come with other health risks, such as a compromised immune system.  We still don’t know where Jules got sick from initially, but he could have had it since we brought him home.  

So, now our babies are on the mend and everyone should be good and healthy!  


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. 

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.