Loving Vi: Health Realities of Parrot Rescue Birds

I just returned from the (amazing, incredible, fabulous) Exotic Bird Vet of Jacksonville, AKA by far the best of the best bird vets I have had the pleasure of seeing across three different states.

The conversation I had with Vi’s veterinarian regarding my beloved Amazon parrot was… well, it was hard today.

Vi was due for her annual physical next month, but in the past week or so, her feet have started bizarrely peeling, and she’s been doing this odd yawning thing. So, I took her to the vet a little early; the concern is either hypothyroidism (I cannot seem to get away from this malady!) or heart disease.

Image shows peeling skin off of an Amazon parrot's toes.

As a rescue, Vi not only brought difficult behaviors with her, but health problems too.

In spite of our best efforts, in spite of a diet of organic, low-fat pellets, fruit and vegetables and chop every day, and extremely limited seed treats (we still offer some in the form of nutriberries, which the vet said is okay and good for her health), it seems we cannot undo her prior twenty-five years of less-than-stellar nutrition.

If she has heart disease, it looks like we will get to put her on daily medication (no problem, I have a super simple method)–but that also means that, from now on, even with medications, she is one heart-attack or stroke away from dropping dead.

I asked the vet about the actual life expectancy for birds like Vi. She smiled, but it couldn’t hide her sadness as she told me that double yellow-headed Amazons with heart problems tend to max out between 30 to 40 years–that she’s known exactly one Amazon who lived past fifty years old.

“If you’d had her your entire life, yes, the way you care for her, I would absolutely say she would live to be seventy or eighty. However… some things cannot be undone.”

So, here we are.

I’ve had the pleasure of loving Vi for the last four and a half years.

When she tumbled into my life, I wasn’t looking for another bird, especially not an Amazon, a species notorious for their difficult behaviors and explosive anger; in spite of my weekly volunteering at a local bird shop, I had never actually successfully handled an Amazon parrot. Cockatoo? Sure. Scary, but doable. Macaw? You got it. But Amazons? …yeah, they freaked me out.

However, a friend of a friend of a friend needed to “get rid of her” and was threatening to put her down if she couldn’t find a home “by Friday”.

And I couldn’t let that happen to a healthy bird whose only real problem was the family she was trapped living with.

Meet Waddles!

When they dropped her off, she was a cage-bound, perch-potato in a rusty cage that was likely as old as she was. She did not step up, but was only restrained with a towel if they needed to take her out for some reason. Her one or two toys were positively ancient and covered in dust from another companion, an African Grey who went to a different home.

I am beyond grateful that I have been able to provide her a stable, loving, kind home where she has learned to be her feisty self again. She was worth every bite, scratch, set-back, and scream I’ve ever put up with. My constant companion, she has lived with me through a divorce, five new residences, two cross-state moves, and now, this pandemic.

I worry endlessly about this pandemic–if something happens to me, to Jason, I don’t want her rotting away in a cage for the rest of her life. That was what I had rescued her from and I will be damned if I send her back to that.

I love this little extroverted girl who has recently learned to dance; who tells me, “I love you bird,” when she is particularly happy; who snuggles down with me in the evenings and preens my dresses; who climbs up and down her cage like the little monkey she’s turned into and coos into boxes and charms every single person she has the (currently limited) pleasure of seeing with a litany of silly phrases.

It took four years, but with love, patience, and positive attention, she has absolutely blossomed.

It hasn’t always been this easy–there are definitely some days where all I want to do is throttle her screaming, needy feathered butt, but of course I refrain. It took literal months before she trusted me enough to step up, and then years before I could count on her to do so reliably, or for my partner or his mother. Some days, in spite of the fact that she is out, has all new toys to destroy, a box to tear apart, morning cuddles, and Disney sing-alongs that make her eyes go wild and her voice ring off-key, she will scream for HOURS if I’m in her proximity.

Still… the news that she and I have ten, maybe twenty more years together at best… it’s sobering.

Sometimes, there just isn’t enough love in the world to undo the damage wrought by former homes. And that is the truly hard part with parrots.

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