Q: My 35 year old amazon is starting to go blind from old age. What can I do to make him feel comfortable?
-G. Pizaro, Chicago. IL
A: One thing that I have noticed about parrots with disabilities is that they are seldom really troubled by them. It is in a parrot’s nature to work with “problems” rather than against them – something that is more the habit of a human being.
Where a human is likely to spend at least a short time lamenting over questions like “why me” and fretting about what the future may hold, a bird will simply get on with things. If a bird were to lose a foot to injury, it would just make the necessary adaptations to the ways it does things to one that best suits one-footedness.
That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t appreciate a little extra consideration here and there. I suspect that your bird has been aware of the approaching blindness for some time. When WE start noticing the behavioral changes that indicate blindness, the process is usually well under way.
Familiarity will be the key to your bird’s success in getting around the cage and play area as his vision worsens. He will come to rely more and more on things being in the same places. This doesn’t mean that you have to put everything in one spot for your bird. If you have always put food and water on opposite sides of the cage, continue to do so. Also keep perches and toys placed in familiar spots.
You don’t have to make the climb to known places an easy one – your bird will navigate the cage as he always has, only now from memory instead of by sight. Exercise is still necessary even for a blind bird so be sure to continue to give him reasons to move about the cage.
One thing to keep in mind is that your bird’s sense of security is going to be continually challenged. As a prey animal, blindness represents a particularly high level of vulnerability. Ideally, your bird’s other senses will become enhanced and compensate. Your bird can become more reliant on its hearing and will anticipate being alerted to the approach of anything audibly.
However, with an older bird, you should consider the possibility that his hearing might not be what it used to be either. This can be a double whammy in that the bird that doesn’t see you coming now might not hear you coming either. When you suddenly appear, it can be frightening.
I have an aged cockatiel whose vision has been in decline for the past couple of years, especially in one eye. I made it a habit to announce myself before entering what was left of his field of vision so I didn’t send him into a thrashing panic. I have noticed during the last year, however, that this is not as effective as it used to be and I suspect there has been some degree of hearing loss as well. I now make it a habit to use heavier foot fall before I near his room with the expectation that he will feel me coming. So far that has been successful.
You, too, might find it necessary to continually update the ways you do things as your bird’s vision declines. But as long as you make provisions that will keep him feeling safe and secure, you will be amazed at how efficiently your bird will adapt to tackle any hurdle in its path. Some owners have been surprised to find out during a vet visit that their birds are, and have been, completely blind without their knowledge!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.