Tinkerbell wants to fly. It's not that she is locked in a cage (although she is), but instead an act of fate that has grounded her. She is a beautiful spirit, full of verve, and a quiet majesty who sits daily in her cage, playing with her toys or chewing on her branches. While her cage is large enough to allow her limited flight, she climbs to navigate her surroundings. From time to time she clutches firmly the branch upon which she sits and flaps her wings furiously, as if to take flight into some beautiful sky-scape where she is free and unfettered; but never does she launch into that dream world that surely she can imagine. Tinkerbell is a female Barraband parrot with PBFD (Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease) and is completely bald except for the few poorly developed feathers upon each shoulder.
I first came upon Tinkerbell when a friend told me there was a parrot at one of the local pet stores who seemed to be pulling out her feathers. Hearing of her, I decided to go and see what the situation was, and offer advice to the store owner on diet, or toys to perhaps help curtail such behavior. As it turned out, when I saw Tinkerbell, I instead offered to come daily with a serving of the daily chop or fresh cut veggies and fruits I was offering my own parrot family. She was sitting on the bottom of her cage, not yet bald but well on the way. Her eyes were clear and bright, and she seemed full of energy, foraging around on the bottom, perhaps searching for some dropped morsel she couldn't quite free from beneath the grate. Having made my offer of help, the store owner told me that if I wanted to take her home I could without worrying about money.
At the time, I did not know nearly as much about PBFD, and quite frankly had I known I'm not sure what I would have done. I only knew that the thought of leaving the bird in her round cage eating seeds and bored from total lack of foraging/playing opportunities was not a thought I could long entertain. I spoke to my wife about the situation an hour or so later, and she agreed we should bring her into our care. Of course many reading this, and with the added knowledge that we currently had 2 parrots already in our family may question the wisdom of such an act, and as I stated earlier had I known the full extent of her problem I am not sure how things would have turned out, but as it was she ended up in our home.
Anytime I bring home a new child (all of our fids, both furred and feathered, are our children) are quarantined while further examination of their condition can be determined. And so Tinkerbell came into her new forever home with the plan to first quarantine. I suspected that her problem may be more than just plucking, as I noticed a few missing feathers from the base of her skull, where I decided she was not able to reach, this is when I began my investigation into other possible causes. Ruling out feather mites after close examination, and treating her for internal parasites as a precaution (there are not Avian Vets here on the island for a real examination), I was able to rule out these things as a cause. Then the reality of PBFD began to set in as I searched the internet for alternative causes, and the symptoms that indicate such. As I read various articles, I kept returning to PBFD as the likely culprit, and as I read, as well as consulted with a Vet via email, I began to fear the impact the disease might have on my already established flock.
PBFD is a terrible, and completely untreatable (at least for now) disease, which ultimately leads to a severe weakening of the immune system, and is nearly always fatal as a result. It also affects both feather growth and often beak and foot development. But perhaps one of the worst aspects of the disease may be that it is an airborne disease which can be extremely hard to ensure against in a modern household. On the upside, the disease tends to attack when the bird is young, and before their immune system has had a chance to fully develop. I was hoping that, since she had already been introduced into the home itself, that the relative ages of our current babies, combined with their carefully arranged diets would help ensure against their being affected. Even though Tinkerbell stays secluded, in such a small home as ours it would be nearly impossible not to somehow communicate an airborne disease to the others in our flock. And by the time I understood what we were dealing with, it was surely too late already.
When a bird contracts PBFD, the first signs are likely to show the first molt after, when feathers will begin to grow in misformed, or possibly keep dropping off. The are other signs, but to simplify for the sake of this article I will leave it at that. This is the main, and most evident symptom. And so, when molt time came for each of our babies, I watched closely as the new pins opened, and also any dropped feathers which may show abnormalities. Each of our feathered babies have had more than 1 molt since that time. Until now, everything has been in order. But another problem is that some birds can contract the disease and be a carrier without ever succumbing to the disease itself. But what to do in my situation? This was perhaps the biggest problem of all.
It is very difficult to write this article, knowing that many who read it will think me either callous or irresponsible when I say that for me the only option once Tinkerbell had entered our home and we understood what her problem was, was to keep her in quarantine but to keep her. I love all my babies in a way that goes well beyond putting down in words, and would never knowingly place any of them in harms way, but the truth is that when we understood what Tinkerbell's problem was, she had already been in the home long enough that any risk was beyond stopping. And we came to love her clam beautiful manner, and seeming acceptance of her fate. And so Tinkerbell became a member of the family.
All things considered, the desire to help Tinkerbell was perhaps a rash decision acted on too quickly. BUt it is very hard not to help these little babies when so many suffer such horrible abuse and neglect at the hands of men. I feel very badly for her, as she stays forever confined to her cage (the two times I have attempted to incorporate some out of cage time into her daily regimen, she immediately attempted flight and crashed to the ground just beneath her), I do see to it she always has opportunities for things to keep her occupied, and she gets lots of attention. Her diet is also very good, although I do tend to spoil her with treats at times (walnuts, pine nuts, cashews and such), but overall she is well taken care of. She has been treated for a preen gland infection, which healed nicely, and I do put probiotics in her water in the hope it will somehow help, but I do not expect much. I just hope.
There is a lesson in all of this, perhaps obvious to most of those reading, and that is the importance of vetting. Adding any animal to your family should always come with a trip to the Vet either before, or immediately upon introduction. Also, the importance of clean-up and cage care comes into play, especially when a new animal enters the home. While this alone is not enough to ensure that birds cannot contract disease from other birds, it goes a long way to helping keep things safe for all when a new bird is quarantined into the household.
Today all our babies are fine, with the exception of Tinkerbell. But she, too, is fine in her way. She plays happily, and calls enthusiastically whenever she feels she deserves a treat not forthcoming, or when she feels she is not getting enough attention. But basically she is a quiet soul, and a beautiful being. We do everything we can to ensure her continued happiness, as well as the safety of the rest of our flock.