Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Birds of a feather

Last Friday night I declared that Saturday would to be a "pajama day." No one ever participates in pajama day but me, but I always feel if I declare it ahead of time, my housemates won't look down their noses at me like I'm some kind of sloth. Pajama days aren't necessarily about being lazy, although naps are often a natural side effect of the comfy, cozy feeling that pajamas bring. Wearing pj's all day is just a way of saying, I don't think I'll go anywhere today.

Well, you know what they say about best laid plans and mice and men; or in this case, birds and pajama girls. Once I was up and moving, but still comfortably encased in flannel, I mosied out to the kitchen to fill the morning's breakfast orders. As I was saying hello to the birds, I couldn't help but notice that Hoppin' John, my red-headed, yellow Gouldian finch, was hopping with less finesse than usual. In fact he looked more like a tequila-tippling Mexican jumping bean that a bird. At one point he fell off his perch, and landed in a lump in the corner of the cage which must have reached out and grabbed his right foot. Clearly he wasn't getting very far very fast.

Upon closer inspection the problem became evident. The claw on his back toe had somehow wrapped itself around his upper leg. Granted his nail was a little too long, but how he mastered this acrobatic feat I'll never know. Luckily, I was able to grab him, unhook him and get him back in the cage without hurting him anymore. Once back on his perch, however, his hopping had slowed to a one-legged flamingo imitation. He wasn't putting any weight on his left foot. This did not bode well for my little feathered friend.

Although I had no idea what a vet could do for a broken or sprained bird leg that is all of an inch long and so thin you can just about see through it, I knew I had to call to find out. The Exotic Animal vet is really just another name for the "come-on-in-and-drop-some-money-in-the-till" veterinarian that people with birds have to frequent because most dog and cat vets don't handle parrots, finches, canaries or other feathered and scaled animals that are considered exotic.

All my interactions with the people at the Exotic Animal Pet Clinic have been good ones, and except for the case of one little bird who was just too sick to save, my birds have been well-cared for. Maybe too well.

It took three visits, a bunch of lab tests, some antibiotics, and some bright green, fishy smelling spirulina supplement to boost the immune system before determining that the reason our canary had stopped singing because his circadian rhythm had gotten all screwed up (don't ask me how). The relatively simple (and cost-free) solution was simply to cover him up earlier in the evening so he had more hours of darkness. In no time at all, he was back to singing canary arias.

Regardless, when one is a pet owner, one needs to consult the experts when it looks like a leg might be broken or something could be seriously wrong. Erring on the side of caution, off to the vet we went. Maybe he thought we were going on vacation and not to the doctor, because I couldn't help but notice that as soon as I packed him up and had his cage strapped in the back seat of the car, his leg no longer seemed to be bothering him. Is there such a thing as a bird hypochondriac?

After a good going over and having his nails clipped, we got the good news that nothing was broken, bruised, or swollen. In other words the Hoppin' John was A-okay. Whew! Except for having to pay an extra emergency visit fee, I got out of the place with my wallet in tact.

I came home energized (so much for pajama day). It made perfect sense to me, that good bird care demands good nail hygiene, so I decided to have a nail clipping party. While Ewell (another Gouldian) wasn't particularly keen on the idea, he took his medicine like the half-pound man that he is. Ernie, the canary, however, was another story.

Every time I came near him, he flitted around his cage, crying for help in his pathetic bird voice to anyone who would listen. When I finally cornered him you'd have thought I was coming at him with a chainsaw instead of little birdie nail clippers. He bit and clawed with the last vestiges of his pterodactyl ancestory. Somewhere in the process, he got away from me; he flew right out of my hands and smacked into the wall. The term bird-brained comes to mind!


He must have knocked the wind out of himself, because I managed to catch him, finish the trimming, and put him back in his cage with little more trouble. He sat in the corner sulking; his ruffled feathers told me to stay away. He wasn't even interested in the piece of lettuce I offered as a gesture of peace. There he sat, staring into the corner of his cage, perhaps nursing a headache, but definitely not feeling like being social or singing.

I was a little alarmed to find him in the same place the next morning. Who knew a bird could hold a grudge for so long? Then I noticed that he was favoring his left leg; like an avian version of Long John Silver, when he moved to the opposite side of the cage, he did it by dragging a leg. Not again! I gave him a few more hours to shake it off, but it soon became clear I needed to call my friends at the bird hospital again.

I made the appointment and treated Ernie to what they told me was hospital cage. It resembled a room in a mid-sized bird hotel - small, but comfortable. First, I moved him to a smaller cage and stocked it with all his favorite food - a spray of millet, a honey treat bar, some fresh water. Everything was close enough for him to reach without exerting any pressure on his leg. Then I wrapped the cage with a heating pad and covered that with his nightie night cloth. "Sweet dreams, Ernie. I hope you feel better tomorrow," I cooed, but even with his new surroundings he wasn't speaking to me.

The next morning, Ernest was like a new bird. No limp. No droopy wing. He even serenaded Dad with a short rendition of his favorite trill. I've read that birds can hide their injuries (for what reason I'm not sure) so I wasn't totally convinced he'd had an overnight recovery. Like the true worry wort that I am, I insisted we go to the doctor. Not only was it important that the bird be examined, but I felt the need to have my bird nursing credentials verified. I really didn't want to believe that a bird who is no bigger than my fist could have outsmarted me.

So back we went, and sure enough, after a thorough examination, he was given a clean bill of health. On the way home I gave the disgruntled bird my best "it was for your own good" speech but it was clear he wasn't buying any of it. Like a sullen child he sat on his perch refusing to even look at me. When we got home and I put him back in his every day cage sans the heating pad, he puffed himself up and plopped himself down with what might have been a canary-sized hrumpf. I don't know whether to expect him to sing tomorrow or not.

They say bad things come in threes. I happen to have three birds. But I've already decided, anything short of Bird Flu I can handle right here at home, because tomorrow's going to be a pajama day.

Merry ME

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