Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For the Birds

Mr. Feathers 2007-2014
  As you may have read in Daisy and Baxter’s last post our cockatiel Mr. Feathers met an untimely end three weeks ago. Every morning after my walk with the beagles, I would let Mr. Feathers and his cockatiel companion Harry out of their cage at 5am after closing off the living and dining room and clearing the room of Sneezy the cat. I would work on my computer while Daisy and Baxter slept and the birds enjoy a bit of freedom. When it’s time for me to go to work Kathy would take over pet sitting duties until 9am when the birds go back in their cage and Daisy and Baxter go for their morning walk.

  Harry and Mr. Feathers would get startled by a random noise and at times go for a fly around the two rooms, landing on the tops of door and window trim and picking at the wallpaper before being ushered back to the perch on top of their cage. A few times one of the cockatiels would miss their mark and land on the floor or some furniture. This would go unnoticed for the most part by the sleeping beagles. There were rare times when Daisy or Baxter took notice and lunged at the feathered intruders but the beagles invariably proved to be too slow and were met with a swift spank and scolding.

  That all changed two weeks ago when Daisy caught Mr. Feathers with a glancing bite. Mr. Feathers had a small wound on his back and it’s impossible to say if the bite or the shock killed him but he was gone in a few minutes. I was at work and Kathy called me to let me know. Daisy knew she had done something unspeakably wrong and was shivering uncontrollably after the events. Mr. Feathers hadn't been looking too well for a long time. His feathers in the back of his head had fallen out and he was looking pretty raggedy. Whatever was bothering him couldn't have been environmental since Harry looked great. It's entirely possible that Mr. Feathers was already sick and that kept him from eluding Daisy when she snapped at him.

  When you have pets you are going to outlive most of them but this was our first sudden death since Tippy the cat grabbed Matt’s pet mouse Brownie out of his hand and shook it around like a cat toy almost a decade ago. It is a gruesome reminder of the fierce nature of normally docile and pampered creatures.

  Harry and Mr. Feathers were given to us seven years ago when a co-worker’s child had a child and the noisy nature of the cockatiels kept waking the baby up. I like watching birds from a distance and enjoy watching sparrows flocking around a bird feeder or seeing the ducks and geese at the pond in the nearby cemetery but Kathy and I are no strangers to house birds. A few years ago during a dog walk Kathy and I came upon an little green parrot laying on the ground. He had an injured wing and couldn't fly. We took him home and named him Lucky because he was lucky a cat didn't find him before we did. We got Lucky to a vet who set his broken wing and we put him in a spare cage in the basement to rest up. Lucky was almost all healed when his owners (who he had flown away from) called us. They had been canvassing the local vets and the one we brought Lucky to gave them our phone number. The people seemed nice enough and paid the vet bill and took Lucky home with them where he resumed his previous life and name (which I forget)

  Kathy and I had parakeets for a number of years ever since Kathy bought a pair in New Jersey to celebrate her first paycheck at a new job. We named those two Peep and Scratch. They were pleasant enough birds and Peep was my favorite non-beagle pet more for her attitude than any other qualities. Kathy was visiting her relatives and I came home from work to find that our cat Biscuit had knocked over the bird cage even though the cage was secured to a bookshelf. There was birdseed and birdcage pieces all over the floor but no birds. I was ready to pull the parakeets out of Biscuit via her throat when I saw the birds huddled on a door sill well out of reach of the cat.

  I got the birds situated back in their cage and noticed that Peep was standing on one leg like a stork. I looked further and saw that her leg looked like it was broken. I locked the cat in the bathroom and took Peep to an all-night animal clinic where they pulled all the feathers off her leg and set her leg with a tiny splint. I took Peep home and she never let the fact that she had a broken leg stop her. She used her one good leg and her beak to pull herself wherever she needed to go. Years later we had another parakeet that broke its leg but instead of clawing its way around like Peep this parakeet laid on the bottom of the cage and died within two days. Peep went on to live many more years and out lived Scratch and two of the other three companions we got for her. She even started laying eggs but none of them ever hatched. Peep the parakeet showed me that if you want something you have to work for it – she wanted to live and a broken leg wasn’t going to stop her from doing whatever she needed to do to survive.

Do birds mate for life? Do people?

  When Scratch died it seemed natural to get Peep a friend to hang out with but as I mentioned her companions were short-lived. When Peep passed away we had a green parakeet named Chip and we naturally got him a friend to hang out with. This all worked out well and good except Chip’s new friend was the aggressive sort and I think he killed Chip and certainly maimed his next friend (the aforementioned parakeet with the broken leg). The last parakeet lived out his days in his cage in solitary confinement fashion and was not replaced until we were given these two cockatiels and now one of them is gone and we face the same dilemma over whether to get him a friend to hang around with.

  The cockatiels were never quiet and Harry was exceptionally noisy in the weeks since Mr. Feathers passing. I don’t know if he’s waiting for his friend to respond of if he’s calling for company or maybe he is just as noisy as he always been and I’m projecting some sort of grief stricken response that I’d expect an animal to have. The cockatiels have never had eggs and I don’t even know if they were the same sex or not. Most people assume birds mate for life and I wonder if birds think humans mate for life.

  When my beagle Queenie passed away in 2010 at the age of 16 her 14 year old son Tuffy died three weeks later and I’ll always think it was because he missed his mom. If I thought Harry was going to die of loneliness I’d get him another cockatiel right away but that would be the only reason. I told Kathy that is we got a young cockatiel to be a friend for Harry we were probably committing ourselves to having cockatiels for the rest of our lives since once Harry passed away we would have to get his companion a companion, etc., etc. etc….

  In the internet age there is plenty of information to be found about what happens to a cockatiel when his friend dies. While there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on whether cockatiels mate for life, they are very social birds who can become very fond of their cage-mates. It also seems that introducing a new cockatiel is an arduous process involving a 30 to 90 day quarantine, and then separate playtime, then common playtime, and even then the two birds may decide they don’t like each other and you have two cages and no friend for the cockatiel.

Harry's taken an interest in current events and chess...

   Luckily there was another alternative – the cockatiel might bond close to a person instead of having to bond to another bird. This seems like the best of all worlds and since it would take months to even see if Harry would get along with another cockatiel that’s the route we decided to take. And it seems to have worked a little bit. Harry has taken an interest in current events and is perching on Kathy’s shoulder when she reads the paper and I think he’s taken an interest in chess since he has been looking at the ‘Chess Explained’ YouTube videos I’ve taken a liking to. Harry has quieted down considerably since the Mr. Feathers died but having said all that Kathy is starting to feel sorry for our sole cockatiel and I have the feeling a new cockatiel is in our and Harry’s future.

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