A Traumatized Bird Gets Picky

I’ve had plenty of avian patients over the years, and each has a different squawk: cockatiels, love birds and sun conures head the list.

The bird with the most diverse vocal range and skills at mimicry is the African Gray parrot. Their vocal prowess and high intelligence have been known for some time in the world of bird enthusiasts.

Their intelligence, however, can cause other health issues, as it did for a patient of mine.

Mrs. Santos brought Hugo, her 12-year-old male African Gray parrot, to our clinic for a condition called feather picking.

“Well, Doc, it has happened again. Hugo plucked out a bunch of his feathers. It seems to get worse every time. This time, his chest and under his wings are completely bare. What am I going to do?” lamented Mrs. Santos.

Hugo sat in his carrier cage, muttering to himself.

Although he looked rather odd with so many feathers missing, I couldn’t help but be amazed at his vocalizations that sounded so much like a muffled conversation.

We went over all the possible causes of Hugo’s self-mutilation. Skin conditions, external parasites, metabolic diseases and toxins were all discussed at some length.

I explained to Mrs. Santos that despite all the testing that can be performed, in the end, it often boils down to a psychological stressor.

“Hmmm …” Mrs. Santos pensively uttered, “I don’t think Hugo is stressed. I mean, he gets home-cooked meals and enjoys interactive play time with me and my husband.”

“Did you remove any of his toys?” I probed. “Are there loud noises from construction next door? Are there any new pets in the house?”

“Actually, we don’t have any new pets but we did lose a cockatiel the other day,” replied Mrs. Santos. “Poor Petey was eaten by our dogs.”

Hold on. Eaten by dogs?

Mrs. Santos explained how they let their birds out of the cage in the morning before going to work.

Their wing feathers are trimmed so that they can’t fly far but with time the feathers grow back and some of their flock fly before their wings are trimmed again. Their three dogs are fenced in the kitchen and on occasion, one of their cockatiels flies into the fenced area.

“So Petey was the most recent casualty. When we return home from work, all that’s left are a few feathers which mean the dogs … well, you know. We’re down to our last two cockatiels,” explained Mrs. Santos.

“By any chance, can Hugo see the kitchen area?” I inquired. “Could he have seen what happened to Petey?”

“Actually, his cage is the closest to the kitchen. He has a good view into … ”

Mrs. Santos stopped and went wide-eyed. She had just realized that Hugo was witness to the crime scene.

In fact, we traced the history of his feather picking and linked it to each of the previous cockatiel disappearances.

We both gazed sadly into Hugo’s cage. Hugo paced back and forth while muttering to himself incoherently.

What was he saying? Who knows? My skill at interpreting bird sounds had its limits, as did Hugo’s sanity. johnkaya808@gmail.com