Life with birds

Life with birds

I have heard my entire life, “You don’t want birds!” Birds are messy. Birds are noisy. Birds are stupid. Birds will drive you nuts. Birds live forever!
So YES! some of that is true! Birds are noisy, messy, will drive you crazy, and live much longer than the average pet. However, they are far from stupid and complete my world!

The beginning of my story starts February of 2009 when Gary, Jesse, and I walked into Petco and met the cutest, most affectionate Black Cap Conure. Before we realized it, he stole our hearts and was packed up and going home with us. He was formally named Benjamin, but affectionately known as Benji or Fungus. The first days were like having a new baby at home except this one slept through the night. Benji was constantly needing attention, food, and pottying on everything. We were reading about conures while trying to figure out what that noise was versus the other much louder noise. We were scared to hurt him so we were over careful while he was climbing all over us, the house, and anything else he could get into. Basically, a very small toddler that you couldn’t turn your eyes from. In the end and not so many days later, we started figuring things out and life became much simpler.

After four years, we came across Nikko, a Pineapple Conure, at Petsmart. She became Benji’s companion and a whole different sort of entertainment. Unlike Benji, who is very outgoing and curious, Nikko is playful, but cautious and shy. She prefers to sit on your shoulder, snuggle in your hair or just perch on your finger or the top of her cage. She is much less vocal and doesn’t mind just hanging out. As I’m typing this, she is perched on my right hand as I’m trying to type with my left.

The truth about conures (I’m speaking conures because that is what I have) is they are loving and devoted to the person they bond with. Once the bond is formed, there is no breaking it. Conures love their families, but prefer the company of that one special person they bonded with. For Benji, that person is Jesse. For Nikko, she bonded with Benji who prefers Jesse. However, they will not hesitate to curl up with anyone who will hold them or play with them.

Are conures loud?! Definitely! Benji and Nikko wake me up most mornings singing and talking to the birds and squirrels outside and anyone who may walk by the window. I prefer this to the dull ring of the alarm clock. They will yell out when they are hungry and ready for breakfast, but so will Max, the dog, and Gary, the husband. They will let you know when you are eating something they want you to share with them. They are quite persistent here. They will watch you pull in the drive and start hollering your name the minute they see you. Who else will greet me with that much enthusiasm?

Also, they don’t hesitate to let you know that they are in bed and you had better turn that light off. I find “the loud” to be enjoyable, calming, and interactive. I love not only the loud noises, but the little chirps, squawks, and clicking noises that show they are happy and content.
Did you say messy?! They can be messy! However, messes can be reduced. Conures eat a diet of seeds, fruits, and vegetables. When they crack seeds, they go flying. This mess is easily reduced by buying a cage that has a “skirt” around it to help catch the seed and return them to the cage. I buy plastic table clothes and put under the cages to catch anything that might escape.

This makes clean ups easy! I take the table cloth outside and shake it, run the vacuum to get any missed pieces, and return everything back. I do this once a week. Even with two conures, there is very little mess. As for poo, my birds are small and so is their poo. I have a robe that is for the birds. If they chew on it or poo on it, it is no big deal. I always have an old oversized tee handy for when I have them out. If they have an accident, I just throw in the wash. If it hits the floor, a piece of tissue cleans it right up. This seems to be the part that grosses most people out. I don’t think anything about it. I find picking poop up after a dog much grosser, but that’s just me.

Stupid, you say? Hardly! Conures are small parrots and extremely smart. They are not technically a bird. They have a much more intelligent brain than a typical bird and pick up habits, good and bad, fairly easily. Our conures are one of the smallest of the parrot species and have limited vocal capabilities. However, if you listen close, you will hear things like “whatcha doing?”, “give me kisses”, “love you”, and the word that they say over and over and over again, “JESSE!”. They are curious and like to explore. They will climb, hide, bury themselves, peck on items, attack colorful things (Benj hates the color yellow), and much like cats, they love to knock everything onto the floor.

Benj and Nikko both know the sound of a chip bag opening and will loudly let you know that you need to share. They love juice and won’t think twice about jumping onto the side of your cup and dipping in for a drink. They eat basically the same things as humans so you had better share dinner with them or find them in your plate helping themselves. Bath time is a favorite time of the day.

Whatever water is available is okay with them; that includes and is not limited to your drinking water, sink water, bath water, or their drinking water. Max does not appreciate them bathing in his water so we have to be careful there. Both Benj and Nikko go to bed when it gets dark and get up when it is light outside. Do not wake them up during those times or you will get a lot of attitude and unhappy sounds. Attitude, you say? Yes! Attitude!!

Benji is the king of attitude. He straightens up and fluffs out while doing a slow walk on his perch back and forth. If you want to get bit, then try to touch him during his attitude strut. Once he’s done with his strut, he jumps onto your finger and is ready to go. Crazy Bird!

When the favorite human leaves and goes off to college, this is not only a hard time for Mom, but a devastating time for Benji. I became the soul human for both conures, but that just wasn’t good enough. Benji became quiet and withdrawn. When Jesse’s name was mentioned he would become very active and loud, but when she didn’t appear, he would withdraw back to whatever he was doing.

He would not come out of his cage without being coaxed. He was going to bed earlier and earlier. His attitude was horrible and I got bit frequently. When Jesse would call, Benj would attack the phone trying to get to her. When she would come home to visit, he would not leave her side. When she would pack to go back to college, he would perch on her bag waiting to go with her.

This was hard on both Benji and Jesse, but as the months went by, everyone started accepting the hard truth, I was the human that was taking care of Benji and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. The old Benji started returning and he became playful and affectionate once again. However, when Jesse visited, I was a no one! I would get bit before he’d let me anywhere near him.

This last part is the hardest to write…when tragedy strikes!
Earlier this year, we lost Sam our Cocker Spaniel. Until we got Nikko, Sam was Benji’s best non-human friend. We rescued Max, a German shepherd/lab mix, 6 years ago. Sam was getting older and we thought a dog friend would be good for him. Max had no interest in the conures and has never shown any interest in the conures. He does get upset when they make a certain noise and will go running in to check on them, but will go back to what he was doing when he realizes they are okay.

Last Friday night, I went after school with some teacher friends for a drink and pizza. When I got home, Benji was in bed and Nikko was perched outside his bed. I went in and talked to them. Benji barely acknowledged me which is unusual. I got ready to walk away when I noticed something on the floor. I bent over and looked closely and was like “that can’t be what I think it is”. I went and turned the light on. Yes, it was exactly what I was hoping it wouldn’t be…Benji’s leg. Somehow, Max had gotten a hold of Benji inside his cage and ripped his leg out of his body. I’m talking leg, muscle, and all. Immediately, I opened the cage and Benji would not come out.

I ended up removing his entire bed from his cage in order to get to him. I laid him in my hand with his belly up so I could see the wound. It was a bloody mess and he was limp and his eyes were glassy and barely opened. I was loosing my baby. During all of this, I am crying my eyes out! This has been my baby for 12 years and tonight I’m going to have to say good-bye.

The first thing I did was facetimed Jesse who lives in Lake Charles. I told her what happened. She began crying and said “Momma you’ve got to get him to a vet”. I called the local emergency clinic and they said they were sorry, but they don’t do exotics. The closest exotic vet that could help would be LSU in Baton Rouge, almost 4 hours from here. That wasn’t even an option. Luckily, we have a vet friend that has worked with exotics. She said if he’s not bleeding out then we have to keep him from going into shock. She said get a heating pad and keep him warm.

If he goes into shock, we would lose him. I found our heating pad, a box, and a blanket. I wrapped him in the blanket and laid him on the heating pad in the box. I quickly changed clothes and took him to the spare bedroom and laid him in bed with me. He was limp and his eyes were rolling into the back of his head. I just knew at this point I was going to lose him. I was exhausted, but I laid there and watched him, talked to him, and occasionally rubbed his little head. After about an hour, he turned and buried his head into the blanket (his favorite way to sleep). I thought this is either good or its about to get really bad. He was very still for about 30 minutes so I decided to make sure he was still hanging in there. I lifted the blanket and he opened his eyes to look at me. Huge relief! After about another 30 minutes or so, he crawled out of his blanket and onto my chest.

We laid there for a while and just snuggled. From there, he moved from one location to another trying to find a comfortable place to rest. His breathing was fast and I knew he was hurting, but I didn’t know what to do other than to let him know I love him. Around midnight, he curled up on my chest. I wrapped a blanket around him, covered him with my hands, and just laid there.

At 1:33 in the morning, Jess gets arrives from Lake Charles (3 hours from here). She comes into the bedroom and says “Benji”. Benji gets up and moves as quickly as he could to his “human”, curled up on her chest, and went fast to sleep. His momma was home and the world would be okay. The next morning, I checked in on them. Jesse said he was asleep on her shoulder blade and to not disturb him.

After the local famers market, I got home and he was laying in his cage on a t-shirt watching Jess clean out her truck. I went in the house, got him out of his cage, and check his wound. Other than a missing leg, you could not even tell there had been trauma less than 24 hours ago. The area was clean, blood free, and no open wound. In fact, you couldn’t even see where a leg had once been. It was simply an area of perfectly groomed feathers. “Wow!” is all I could say. Since we weren’t sure how he would recuperate, Benji went home later that day to Lake Charles with Jesse.

Since he’s been there, he has learned to make do without his leg. He can climb, snuggle, eat, and enjoy life just as he once did. Jesse and Benji are inseparable. Jesse opens the window to her apartment so he can talk to her while she works on the farm. She takes him fishing and sits on the front porch with him. They ride around Lake Charles enjoying the sights of the land. He is living his best and happiest life! Miraculously our story with Benjamin has not ended!

The flip side to this story is Nikko who is bonded with Benji. Since I wasn’t sure how much time Benji would need to recoup, Nikko stayed here with me. She misses her partner very much. She is more anxious and nervous than before. When I get her out of her cage, she directs me straight to the den, where her and Benji’s cage used to be, to see if Benji is there. You can almost feel the disappointment when she sees he’s not. I am trying to be there for her as much as I can. To be honest, one bird is much easier to handle than two.

With that being said, I have Nikko out for hours on end. She perches on my shoulder with only occasionally getting down to explore or share a bite of food with me. As I finish typing this, she has decided my finger isn’t the best place to perch when I’m typing so she has gone back to her cage and is watching the squirrels play outside.
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