Mama Bird's Health and Behavioral Problems 1999-2009
Mama Died Peacefully at Home on December 29, 2009
for This Story and His Battle with Death, The Final Journey  Click Here

By Eleanor McCaffrey
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Mama was my cherished 15 year old, DNA tested male, pied cockatiel. In the picture to the left, Mama has found the "Treat Jar" on Thanksgiving Day, 2008. Mama is now a geriatric bird. His story is being told so that other birds and their owners will not have to go through what that we went through when he was younger and the final ordeal that he is going through now. This website is the  result of my love for Mama Bird and it only exists because of my love for him. I also hope that others will never give up on trying to improve their bird's  health or quality of life. Mama was a seed junkie who refused to eat any other food for the first 5 years of his life.  By 5 years of age, he started losing feathers and he had bare patches on his neck and chest. Mama also stopped eating, singing and he lost most of his energy. Mama also developed behavioral problems. He became territorial and a nasty biter. His biting was so bad that taking him out of the cage was no longer enjoyable for either one of us.

Clinical findings and tests from his first visit to an avian vet confirmed that he was under weight with nutritional deficiencies and that he had developed pre-fatty liver syndrome. All of these conditions and the feather loss were the result of poor nutrition from an all seed diet. Seeds have a very high fat content and they lack nutrients that birds need to stay healthy. The doctor's prognosis was that Mama would probably not live past the age of 8-10 years of age. His doctor also thought that he may have come from poor breeding stock and that some of his problems, like being so nervous, could be genetic. Mama was the smallest bird in the clutch when I purchased him. All of the other cockatiels were twice his size. Because of this, his doctor thinks he may have been the runt of the clutch.

I went home with all of this discouraging information and cried. Mama's diet had to be changed to a pellet based diet with supplemental high protein foods as prescribed by his avian vet. I had to learn behavior techniques to help stop him from biting.  Knowing that he might not be with me much longer and that he might soon die, I was determined to do whatever had to be done to make his remaining years healthy and happy ones. I spent hours each week, chopping different types of vegetables for him,  2 or 3 times a day, hoping that he would at least try one of them. My family thought I was crazy. Day after day, different types of vegetables were prepared then tossed into the trash because he would not even taste them. It was both a discouraging and emotionally draining year for me. 

Then a remarkable transformation took place. Mama finally started eating pellets, vegetables and other healthy table foods. He also stopped biting me after many months of my fingers and cuticles getting bitten so hard that they bled. Mama even started singing and climbing on the cage bars to come out to me in the morning. Mama's follow up visit with her avian vet a year later proved to be one with unexpected good news. We waited 3 days for the results of his new blood test to come in. The results showed that his liver values were all normal and that there was no evidence of a liver problem. Mama's doctor was amazed at the dramatic improvement in his health and his prognosis was that he had the same chance as any other healthy cockatiel of living a normal lifespan, 15-20 years. The doctor attributed this recovery to Mama's change from an all seed diet to a pellet based diet. 

Mama looked so beautiful now, with smooth, thick, feathers. At 100 grams, he had gained 20 grams of weight since that first, life saving, visit to his avian vet but some things in life don't change. Even  at the age of 15, Mama was still a  nervous bird who was easily upset by noise and other unavoidable, stressful situations in life. Since stress impairs the immune system, Mama has had a few infections over the years and I thought I was going to lose him at least 3 more times. One of the worst infections that he had was caught during a routine, yearly check up by a routine gram stain, (lab analysis of droppings). With antibiotics from his avian vet he had always pulled through.  Mama was also prone to getting "Temporary Polyuria", watery droppings. When birds are frightened or upset, their droppings will become very watery but they should return to normal a few minutes or hours later. Mama's  avian vet had prescribed supplements to boost his immune system and to help counteract the effects of stress, Other changes to his diet had been made to keep his digestive tract slightly acidic. This helps to prevent bacteria which is a normal part of the digestive system, from multiplying to excessive amounts and making him sick. If you hope and expect your bird to live the normal 15-20 year lifespan, you're bird is going to need some help from an avian vet along the way.

Despite a shaky start in life because of my lack of knowledge, Mama was now a healthy bird. After many positive changes in his life, both of our lives were now much more enjoyable. Mama enjoyed being bathed with water from a misting bottle. He also loved table foods and shared dinner with us. Scrambled eggs, cooked brown rice, fresh corn, peas, kale, broccoli, carrots and baked sweet potatoes were his favorites. Mama had also learned how to play with toys.  In the past, toys terrified him so much that he would stop eating. I must have spent over $500 on toys over the years. Now I finally knew what types of toys he preferred, natural fiber toys that can be chewed on, shredded and ripped apart. Shredders, Bird Kabobs, Octopus Piñatas, Mardi Gras, Munch Vines and plain white adding machine paper were his favorites. His favorite play area was the kitchen counter, in front of the microwave where he could see his reflection. In the above picture, he was playing with his toy box. It was filled with small scraps of fabric, yarn, paper, Q-Tips, small toys, wicker vines, munch balls and pieces of Shredders. Mama was able to choose what he wanted to play with, chew on or drop onto the floor. I had to sweep the kitchen floor at least 4 times a day.

Mama was very vocal since he was  a male. He loved to sing to the sound of the electric toothbrush, the dust mop and to his reflection in a mirror and to my hairbrush. Mama was also capable of learning  any song or sound that caught his ear within 2 weeks.  Some of the tunes he could sing included Pop Goes the Weasel, Old MacDonald, Dixie, a Credence Clearwater song, Looking  Out My Back Door, and Shortening Bread.  I enjoyed hearing his natural whistles too, so melodies that only the 2 of us recognize were made up.  Mama was very creative, like most vocal birds, combining sounds to make up his own pretty songs. I never taught Mama to talk but he did pick up a few words on his own. He could say "Mama", "Matthew" and "Morning".  (If you want your bird to learn how to talk, teach him to talk first. Singing is much easier than talking.) Mama was also very good at imitating sounds. He could call a cat with a "pssst, pssst, pssst" sound and he could mimic a cough, sneeze, telephone and a gulping water sound.  Mama rarely screamed but if I did leave the room, like all parrots he would scream. This type of vocalization was normal. Our established flocking call, one special whistle that he recognizes, usually made him stop. Mama responded to this flock call by whistling the same tune back to me.  He needed reassurance that I was close by and that he has not been abandoned.

Mama could perform a few tricks when asked to do so and so can your bird, male or female. This is a picture of him doing the Birdie Ballet, a term used for wing displaying. His cue to perform was the phrase  "Pretty Girl". Mama would also Beat the Drum and tap on objects to make sounds. Tapping was one of our ways of playing and communicating.  He would play the game with anybody who tapped on an object and said "Bop bop bop". He would even start the game himself if he wanted somebody's attention. Beak tapping is a typical male behavior and they use it to attract the attention of a mate. The easiest tricks to teach birds are tricks that take advantage of their natural behaviors and actions. Cockatiels are very intelligent and they are capable of learning to associate  words with actions and objects.  By repeating a specific word over and over for each action or object, cockatiels will perform the action when asked to. Mama would also fly to me on command. When I extended my hand and said "Mama Hop" he flew to me, landing on the palm of my hand. This was easy to teach him too. He flew to me whenever I was eating food. I added the words "Mama hop", then gave him a treat. It took him about 30 seconds to catch on. I loved seeing him fly but knew there's a risk of accidents or escape.  Supervised flight time for birds provides physical and psychological benefits that help birds to cope with the stress of living in captivity. Exercise is also important for a bird to maintain strong muscle tone and to help prevent obesity. 
Mama received a bedtime snack of loose seeds at the end of the day, usually at night right before his cage was covered. He had also becomes very affectionate in the evening as well. Mama let me know when he wanted  me to pet him through the use of body language, bending his head down. Although he  enjoyed being pet with fingers, he loved having the top of his head and neck kissed or stroked by my chin. If he was on my shoulder, he would come very close to my cheek, bending his head down, while pressing his head against my face. Sometimes Mama would let me pet his head, neck and cheeks for 30 minutes. At other times, 5 minutes of "scritches" was all that he wants. When he had enough, he would let me know by hitting my finger with the tip of her beak. If I continued to pet him despite his warning, it was my own fault if did bite me  after "kisses". Then he was kissed, returned to his cage and covered for the night. I always said to him "night night pretty lady" (even if she is a male). He needed his 12 hours of quiet, undisturbed sleep each night to stay healthy. I was usually a bit sad when it was his bedtime. I worried so much that he wouldn't be with me in the morning. Before I went to sleep each night, I thanked God for bringing this precious  little bird into my life and for helping him to recover from so many illnesses. For these blessings I am truly grateful.

Sad Update Friday, October 29, 2009: Mama awoke on Tuesday, October 26, 2009 and was having trouble using his left foot to perch and climb. His avian vet was on vacation so I had to take Mama in to see a different one the next day. The findings were not good. Sudden lameness for a 15 year male bird can have several causes, but the most common 2 causes are tumors on one of the kidneys or testicles. As the tumor grows, it presses on the nerves that control the use of foot and leg. Because of Mama's age, the tumor can not be surgically removed. The avian vet said that tumors are much more common in older birds, in lutinos, in overweight birds, birds on poor diets and in diluted color mutations. She also said that tumors are often linked to genetic background and they can be the result of in-breeding. According to the avian vet, Mama may live for a few days, a few weeks or a few months. Now, 5 days later, Mama is having difficulty walking. He's dragging his foot behind him and pulling himself along the cage bars with his beak. He can no longer lift his foot to perch on my hand without losing his balance and falling.  It's breaking my heart because I can only comfort him while he's in his cage. Mama also has to receive most of his scritches and kisses while he's still inside of his cage. I spoke to the avian vet who saw him on Wednesday again and she has prescribed an anti-inflammatory medication that can be put into his soft foods. Mama took his first dose of Metacam mixed in with a tiny amount of peanut butter, his new favorite food. At this stage of his life, "A healthy diet" is no longer an issue. I'm praying that the medicine works and brings down some of the inflammation of the tumor so Mama can re-gain some of the use of his foot. The perches in his cage have been removed and a 4 inch thick sheet of foam rubber has been put over the grate then covered with several layers of white paper towels. Cage papers have to be changed several times a day so he doesn't step in his droppings or get his tail feathers dirty. All of his toys have been lowered so he can play with them and I also purchased some smaller size versions of his favorite ones, like Bird Kabobs. It's easier for him to shred smaller toys now that he's confined to the bottom of his cage.  My prayers are for his remaining weeks to be painless , as comfortable as possible and enjoyable. Please pray for my little angel.  To follow Mama's progress on his final journey in life, Click Here, or the Next button below, or on the main index page, Mama's Journey 12/13/09.

 

       

 

Please consult an avian veterinarian if your bird has any change in behavior or appearance. These could be symptoms of a serious health problem. Don't waste valuable time treating your bird yourself with over the counter and home remedies. CLICK HERE  to find an avian vet now.

Note: Mama, is referred to by the use of the pronouns "she and her" in several articles on this website. Her avian vet visually identified "her" as being a female several years ago. DNA testing, confirming male gender, was performed in 2005. Since Mama recognizes and responds to these feminine gender pronouns, I continue to use them when talking about her and when talking to her.

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