I adopted Erin in October of 2006. At first glance, Erin looks like any other beautiful, affectionate cockatiel. If you look closer, you’ll see that Erin suffers from severely splayed legs, a deformed wing, and a deformed beak. Erin was my first experience into the world of handicapped birds and to this day remains my ‘spokesbird’ for handicapped birds. Erin’s sweet and gentle nature can entice even the most anti parrot people to want to hold her, and her willingness to trust strangers is unmatched.
Erin’s story began with a simple visit to a pet store to buy food for my other cockatiel at the time, Romeo. She was in a modified small animal cage with a large sign boasting ‘Special Adoption!’ At the time, Erin was a freshly weaned scruffy baby cockatiel, and I was an animal loving fifteen year old with a soft spot for the most broken of animals. If you’ve ever had one of epiphany moments where you know you have to do something, you’ll understand how I felt about bringing Erin into my life. I announced that I was bringing the bird home, much to my parents dismay and took my new little rag doll home.
For awhile, Erin looked horrible. Her eyes were too big for her head, her crest was tiny and pointy, her tail was broken from her trying to climb around, and her legs looked gruesome and arthritic. However, from the beginning she was always very sweet and loving and adored people. Her feathers came in, her crest got longer, and her body filled out and when I would take her out, people would notice the disabilities less and the beautiful bird she was more. And she did her best to show everyone what a great little bird she was and what a wonderful life she lead.
I started college in 2010 and I left my birds in the hands of my parents. Erin suffered from separation anxiety and quickly became a feather picker and self mutilator. Never had I been more heartbroken and felt more hopeless about one of my birds before. Erin would quickly strip her chest of all the available feathers, and then proceed to chewing her skin and making herself bleed. Ugly little welts covered her chest and no amount of sprays, vests, or prescription medications slowed her down. Her anti anxiety drugs made her stop eating, her picking vest only caused her to move her picking location from her chest to under her wings, and the sprays and ointments just made her look like she was dirty and covered in oil. I was besides myself with what had happened to my happy little cockatiel. It took a long, hard summer but finally we reached success! Erin is still a mild, stress onset picker, but has improved dramatically. Her picking is now managed by keeping her with me down at school (totally not allowed) and with picking vests for the worst of the days. Its a problem that requires constant management, but it is a total 180 from where she was in 2011!
Erin is a pearl cockatiel hen. Cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus) are found in Australia. Pearl refers to Erin’s color mutation, or the yellow spots on her grey body. Her pearling also reveals that she is a female, without DNA testing, as male pearls will lose those beautiful pearl markings after their first molt and look like a normal grey cockatiel. Pearling was the third color mutation to be established in cockatiels. Erin is still my little spokesbird for handicapped pets. She is beautiful and sweet and a total beacon of hope. She is smart and mischievous and loves to steal my pencils or take my homework while I’m trying to study. She was also my first bird to learn a trick on straight vocal command with no hand signal! Her eyes, which at one time bugged out of her head, are expressive and dark now. She is most definitely the type of bird you only come across once in a lifetime, and I am totally blessed that she is a part of my life.