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Fly free, Poppy
Fly free, Poppy

Someone I’ve come to know, admire and respect through the internet lost her Cockatoo, Poppy, to another bird in her “flock” last Sunday. She has kept birds for many years and is someone I would trust to care for my Charly – my ultimate seal of approval. For years she had kept her Cockatoo in one room and Amazon parrots in a different room of the house. Some of her birds were allowed to be out of their cages virtually all the time. She left home early on this past Sunday and left the doors to all of the bird rooms open. Poppy appears to have gone looking for her – first in all the usual places and finally in the Amazon room. He was savagely attacked by a hyper-territorial Amazon and was dying by the time my friend returned home. Although she lives in a large metropolitan city, none of the emergency veterinarians she called would see “an exotic” and the nearest available avian vet was four hours distant. Poppy didn’t have that much time left and died in his mom’s arms.

My friend is in shock & profoundly unhappy. She feels she failed Poppy and caused his death. She has all the classic symptoms of depression: inability to eat and sleep, periodic bouts of crying, withdrawal from contact with others, etc. My heart aches for her. I know she’s surrounded by loving and caring friends who will be with her as she struggles to move ahead and on to closure.

Why, you might ask, is this dark story featured in a special edition of the blog? I believe there’s a lesson to be learned from this woman’s devastating loss. In my opinion, allowing a bird full liberty within a home is acceptable provided the bird is carefully supervised. Their formidable intelligence and curiosity, bolstered by the security of being on “home turf” can quickly result in profound consequences; hence human oversight on a regular, periodic basis is essential. Our companion birds are genetically programmed for caution relative to the risks they would face in the wild. Parrots will duck or flinch when an overhead shadow appears because it might be a raptor that preys on parrots. Our parrots have, however, no understanding of the risks in a human home: chewing on exposed electric wires, ingesting toxic substances such as household cleaners and/or chemicals commonly found in the home, etc. Similarly, respect for and caution regarding other species is taught in the wild by parents and others in the flock and, sadly, is absent in our companion parrots.

Some may disagree with me about the extent to which a companion bird needs supervision when out of their cage – I can accept a diversity of opinions in this regard. There is, however, a larger issue which I’m highly confident is correct: No one expects bad things to happen to them. From this unrealistic expectation two likelihoods arise: 1) we don’t carefully think through decisions we make about our responsibilities. My friend will likely be forever kicking herself in the behind for not closing the doors to the bird rooms and may well rethink the decision to allow birds to be out of their cages when no one’s home to provide some supervision. 2) We need to identify best available resources for our birds in the event of an emergency. Emergency resource availability may vary by day of the week, time of day, and month of the year. Emergency resource availability may change from year to year. When an emergency situation affecting the bird arises is categorically not the time to start making a plan. Our birds are totally dependent on us for their well being: their safety, their health, their nourishment, their entertainment and the love of their family or clan. It’s a responsibility we must take most seriously,

My eyes fill with tears each time I think of my friend’s loss, pain and guilt. She will be prominent in my prayers and wishes while she heals. I understand from my own past that some wounds are never fully healed. Her burden would, I believe, be lightened if others can learn from her misfortune and avert a misfortune of their own. 

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