2015 In The Rear View Mirror

So long, 2015. We hardly knew ye. Seriously. It went by so fast that’s actually what it feels like.

I am not a fan of the “New Year’s resolution”. I have never understood the value in it. It seems wrong to commit to being a better version of yourself only once a year. I feel we should carry that commitment with us always and re-evaluate to adjust our trajectory as it is needed.

I prefer “New Year’s Reflections” at which time I look back on the previous year as a whole to try to extract the most important lessons. Every year I try to share a lesson that my birds have taught me.

In review, one idea stands out above the others: never complacently expect “status quo” with your birds.

I have said in many of my posts here that the relationship you have with your bird is a work in progress. These bonds are fragile and require maintenance and upgrading to keep them in good working condition. The same can be said about the relationships between your birds.

This past year pointed out to me that I had been taking my 20+ year history with my two cockatiels for granted and I was forced to adapt to keeping up with a new set of needs as their own relationships were changing.

The two cockatiels have been happily housed together since shortly after the second one arrived. They didn’t like to be separated for any reason. If one needed an unscheduled vet appointment, the other had to go along as well. I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving a frantically pacing and screaming bird behind.

Their out of cage time would always begin as an adventure of exploration together and would eventually end with one of the birds coming to spend time on my shoulder while the other would perch on my knee or somewhere else nearby.

I have an entirely different relationship with each bird. Tinky has always been about physical attention and does not tolerate an inactive hand which could be lavishing attention on him. DeeDee is the opposite. He will step up cooperatively and agree to handling when necessary, but would prefer not to be touched. He is happy to sit with me, or on me, as long as I keep my hands to myself.

I have always respected DeeDee’s wishes in that area. He has gotten plenty of attention from Tinky and that has been good enough for him. This past year, however, there has been drastic change in their relationship.

Bathing together in more amicable times

In the wild, when a member of a flock becomes noticeably ill, they are ostracized. A weak, young, old or sick bird attracts the attention of predators who opportunistically target an easy kill. This puts the flock as a whole in jeopardy.

This behavior is so hard wired into a bird it is also present in captive bird society where their experience has likely been that predators are not a threat.  Knowing this didn’t help me to not feel devastated watching DeeDee forcibly shun Tinky who was had started struggling with an old foot injury – he was actually blocking Tinky’s path to the food. I posted about it on Facebook.

The behavior change in DeeDee was dramatic enough that I also had Tinky’s blood work done to see if there was anything else going on and the results were not good. There was fat found in Tinky’s blood. However, there is no indication of liver disease. While that sounds like a good thing, it is not. It means that his liver is no longer processing properly, likely due to his age. There will be continued testing, of course, but the best scenario will have him on liver supportive supplements for the rest of his life.

So the cockatiels are divorced and have been living in separate homes for a while now and I am discovering changes in each bird as a result.

DeeDee still targets Tinky, so I can’t let them out together at all anymore. Having run off his preening partner, DeeDee eventually got around to coming to me for these services and will occasionally prompt me for a little extra attention as well. He explores less and spends more time sitting with me now. It’s a very “love the one you’re with” thing and hardly flattering, but it sure does feel good to finally be allowed to touch him.

Tinky, out of the blue, has reinstated an old tune he made up years ago which he used to whistle all day long. He sings his name over and over again like he used to. He is initiating old games that I had forgotten about. With DeeDee away, Tinky reminds me more of the bird he was years ago when we first got him. He does not like the twice daily medications, but he lets go of those unpleasantries quickly and doesn’t seem to blame my hands for them.

My lesson from 2015 is this:

Never presume that things will carry on as is and never change. The most surprising turn of events might be just around the corner.

For years now, I have been accustomed to Tinky and DeeDee focusing on each other and going about their cockatiel business together, including me when they are ready. I presumed the tiels were going to be paired together forever. Recent changes have made my role in their lives bigger. I have to release old expectations now and step up to help fill their voids.

Thank you, my precious long-time friends, for the important reminder.


Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.

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