First Blog of 2015 – In which I save a Budgie but lose Two Cockatiels

The Miracle of Pretzel – No morning starts out well with my husband saying we have a bird in trouble. One look at the little blue and white budgie (parakeet in American English) with blood on his head, wing tips, and legs, curled backwards into a crescent, and I knew we would be saying good bye to him shortly. I washed him gently while he tried to bite me. The lack of strength in his bite told me more of his probable injury. He’d been thrashing around the bottom of the flight cage, which explained the blood. Not even a year old yet, and he’d had a stroke or seizure.

The first rule of helping a sick or injured bird is to get them warm. I put a hot rock into a small carrier, put in a dish of water, some millet, a soft furry thing for him to lay on, and placed the little guy inside. At this point, he could not perch. He laid on his back or his side, and flapped his wings, which only served to move him around in circles. He became agitated when we walked past, so I covered the carrier with a cloth and checked him a couple times a day.

At the time, I was handfeeding chicks, and when I finished with them, I would take Pretzel, as I started calling him, and offer him the food. He would eat a little bit, but not much at all. Several times, I would put just water and Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar in a syringe and give him that. He took that a little better than the baby food.

My heart ached as it became clear he would probably starve to death before anything else. I discussed with a friend the moral choice of letting him go that way versus continuing to attempt to feed him. He did have millet in the carrier, so maybe he was eating more than I knew.

A week went by. Pretzel began to chatter. Budgies are happy, noisy birds but not very loud. I had to get up and check that he was, indeed, making noise. That was a good sign. The next morning, I heard a furious flapping of wings from the carrier. Looking under the cloth, I gasped. Pretzel was perched on the snuggle thing and flapping his wings with exuberance. Today, he’s in his own cage and perching pretty well. He is still wobbly and obvious not at 100% but he chirps and chatters and is a constant reminder that miracles may happen when you least expect them.

Playing God – Maybe because I never gave birth to any children but still had the pleasure of raising my stepson and daughter, I often try to give my unproven couples a chance to raise a chick. Proven simply means the pair have produced fertile eggs and successfully raised them. In other words they are male and female and know what to do. I have some pairs that are male and female and don’t know what to do. And it’s hard to get them to pay attention to sex education videos. Now and again, if one pair is being very successful and another is not, I will remove an egg carefully from the successful nest and place it in the unsuccessful nest. With the pair of lovebirds, I know the male is male because he has fathered many chicks for me. The female was DNA tested, but she was a pet before she came to me for breeding. She has no clue that she needs to let the male do something before she lays the eggs. The couple next to them had three chicks last clutch and four chicks this clutch. I moved an egg from the successful nest before the four chicks hatched. But for some reason it never hatched under the foster pair.

I did the same with the cockatiels, placing an egg from a fertile pair into another nest box. Two weeks later, a fluffy little chick lifted its head when I looked into the box. But when I checked again a few days later, the chick was cold and dead, and might have been attacked by something. I know many birds get agitated when breeders do a nest check. I have been doing them for years, and never lost a chick before. I guess my lesson here is, don’t risk the life of the chicks in the eggs.

Beloved Dinky – The hardest thing to admit is that my actions caused the death of a bird. This isn’t the first time, it’s just one of the times I had become very attached to the bird in question. Coco and Dinky were clutchmates, pulled a few weeks apart, and my first attempt at handfeeding. Along with two lovebird chicks, I had fun with them, even bringing them with me to a party and having to interrupt a movie so I could feed them. In fact, Dinky got her name from the heroine in the movie we watched that night.

The cockatiels had very different personalities. Coco was co-dependent. He could not believe I would remember to feed him again, so he constantly begged whenever someone walked by the brooder and then the fledgling cage. He is the most beautiful brown-gray I have ever seen. Dinky was quieter, and as soon as she finished eating, she wanted to cuddle. A lovely red-eyed lutino, she charmed me completely.

I tried to force these two to finish weaning. They readily ate the millet in the cage, and the other food like chopped apples and broccoli, but they were still wanting at least one feeding before bed. I couldn’t see a reason for that except habit. So I put them in the large population cage to see what would happen.

Coco still begged for food when I walked by. He also followed one of the adult tiels around, maybe trying to keep warm. Dinky found a perch no one else wanted, and slept. She slept a lot. Any time I passed the cage, she would be sleeping. I think that should have been my first clue.

We went out for dinner. Dinky was alive when we left. When we came back, only a couple hours later, she had passed away. The shock of it made it nearly impossible to tell Mike what had happened, but when I cradled her cold body against my chest, he hugged me and let me cry.

Was she not eating in the big cage? Did she not know where the water was? Did I want to be free of handfeeding too much, and force her to wean too soon? She was a couple weeks younger than Coco, so she should have been fed longer. I forgot that at the time, but now it’s crystal clear. I lost a sweet bird through impatience.

There are more lovebirds to hand feed, and more cockatiels might be right behind them. I am going to stop the breeding once the weather gets a bit warmer, because right now I think the nest boxes provide a warm spot for the birds. I will be patient for Dinky’s sake, and I will be kinder while I have the babies with me. This lesson was certainly learned the hardest way possible.

Thanks for reading. Happy New Year! I’ll be back on Sunday.

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