Saturday, March 31, 2012

My life with birds

This has been a day to recover from, and as I write this I'm trying simply to let it all go...

It's that window in the dining room. When will I learn? Quite honestly, I thought everything was well under control. We have gone a good long while without incident, and a more-or-less weekly inspection continually gives the green light. The birds used to have headquarters at this window until about 4 years ago when I moved them all to their current home. There was a reason for the move, a very good reason soon to be revealed. ...

When I was just about finished feeding the birds this morning I headed into the dining room to get an ear of corn from the refrigerator. They love the stuff and I figure their successful raising of so many babies is at least partially attributable to corn on the cob. It must be good feed for those tiny little crops. Turning back to the doorway into the bird's room I noticed her (or is it a he? Who knows!) hanging from a branch by her beak. They do that sometimes, feigning to be in trouble, flapping their feet in the air as if helpless. It's pretty endearing really.

She (or he, as the case may be--it requires surgery to determine a lovebird's sex for certain) didn't feel like hanging helpless as soon as she saw me come back into the room so she let go of the branch. That was the beginning of the day's travails. She didn't fly up to perch as she would normally. She flew but didn't make it all the way and ended up landing on the seed platform. Was she weak? Was she struggling? I couldn't tell. It always stops me in my tracks when I perceive--correctly or not--a problem with one of the birds. She didn't look right and I started to brace myself for a hectic and possibly painful day, or at least a bumpy patch in the road.

After impaling the cob of corn on an end of a branch of the "tree" in the bird's room I decided I'd better go get a towel with which to catch her. They don't like human hands--those that are not hand raised--and it works much better to catch them with hands covered by a towel. It also spares me physical pain because their jaws are very strong and their beaks very sharp. My skin is no match. They're not the least interested in biting me only where I have enough fortitude, but seem very often to latch on to the most vulnerable flesh. Finger tips, etc. So off to fetch the towel and when I returned I couldn't find her. "Was she on the floor?", I wondered. No. "Did she fly into the dining room and end up under some furniture?", I worried. An inspection turned up nothing. So perhaps it was all just a momentary blip in this bird's life. Maybe she'd simply become flustered about something and was thrown off her equilibrium. Whatever. She was lost in "the crowd". Oh good. That's a relief. Maybe the day was going to be OK after all. Just a false alarm.

So I went to practice the piano figuring I would check the birds more frequently than normal just to be sure. All went well and I practiced about an hour and a half. It was during the last break I took to check up on them when I saw her again, feigning to be in trouble by handing by her beak. But now I was pretty sure she wasn't faking it. No. This time when she flew up she tried to perch but her feet were paralyzed. Oh damn. Damn. Damn! I recognized the symptoms right away. "Oh crap... This hasn't happened in a while and I really thought we were over it... That damned window...", the thoughts were racing through my head. The problem when everything goes well for quite a while is that it's easy to start taking things for granted.

So I caught her--it's relatively easy to capture a bird that is ill--and placed her in my "hospital" cage, and called the vet. I was able to secure an appointment for 4:30. The timing, at least, was perfect. Something about the day was going well.

The thing about that window in the dining room is that it has many layers of paint on it. Some of the under layers of paint were put on several decades ago when paint contained lead and lead causes neurological disorders when it is ingested. Birds, being of small size with delicate systems have a much lower tolerance for it. Lead poisoning is no joke. While waiting to leave for the vets I poked around that window to see if I could uncover any recent chewing. I had covered over all the spots that caused a problem those 4 years ago--with wood putty--and they were still secure. I lifted the valance at the very top (there are no curtains in this window, just a 12" valance) and there it was: a quarter sized chipping of paint all the way down to the wood. Apparently started from a tiny crack in the paint where the joins of the wood casing come together. If there's a way to get chewing on something, these birds will find it.

I can't believe this has happened again. What's certain is they won't be allowed in the dining room again until I figure out how to remove this dangerous situation. I may end up stripping all the old paint off. I think it has to be done. No matter that I think they're over their penchant for chewing in that area I cannot take the risk again.

Thankfully there are treatments for lead poisoning, and I have had pretty good luck with them in the past. The wallet took a hit: car service to the vets, the vet bill (oooooh la la!), the medicine ($64 alone!), a taxi to get to the pharmacy (I would have taken the subway but I had the bird with me) and a taxi to get home. Beaucoup d'argent.

Well, we're all home now and settled in. The bird will need to be sequestered for the next 5 days while I administer 2 units of chelating agent (Succinor, I think) and 3 units of Baytril twice a day. The Baytril is because the lead can also weaken the immune system. Thankfully these meds can be administered orally. I once had a sick bird (not lead poisoning) that I had to inject with medicine every day for a week. I absolutely hated that.

So, keeping birds isn't always smooth sailing. Especially when they're housed in an old building like mine. I look forward to the day when I can give them some time in an outdoor aviary. Won't that be nice.


  1. Goodness gracious me!!! What a day you've had Bernard. Didn't realize that raising your birds could be so challenging at times. How vigilant you have to be to make sure all is well with them. Will your paint removal be a weekend project or a holiday one? Not one of my favourite jobs but definitely healthier for your birds. I'm amazed that the vet was able to treat your bird. I thought cats and a dog were challenging enough!!!! Maybe tomorrow will be time for some stress relieving knitting : )
    I sure learned a lot from your entry today. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lucky that you were home to observe this activity or should I say lack of it. It could have been so much more drastic had you been away all day. Expensive, huh? But I'll bet you would do all you could to keep your birds healthy. Is there any better way to spend your fortune???

  3. jak, Stripping that window casing will be a big job because it's a double window. If I had to estimate I'd say 4 weekends. A project for this summer I think.

    Do you have a dog, jak? Oh I would so love to have one but I'm too busy to take proper care of one at this time.

  4. crafty1, yes I would do as much as I could. The truth is--and I have on occasion spent considerable money for bird medical services--on average I think I spend less than many dog and cat owners, per year.

    I've often wondered how farmers manage with vet bills. I should enquire.

    fortune??? What? Nobody told me! Wait a minute... I need to go look under the matress... ;)


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