Other Animals

Be inspired By These “Special-abled” Birds

By Lisa A. Bono, CPBC

I have had the pleasure of caring for different species of parrots from a young age. Some, as society would call them, perfect and some with special needs. The best way to learn how to care for a special-needs bird is to surround yourself with people who also care for these perfect creatures to learn and share with each other. While some may not be up to the task, others have opened their hearts and homes to birds who have needed it.

Cricket & Oscar

I was fortunate to be one of the first people in New Jersey to care for a white-faced cockatiel (a unique color mutation back then). A friend of mine owned a store that I would frequent and knew that they were ready to get some babies in. I put a deposit down on an egg. I would go in and check on chick regularly. We noticed that the chick did not seem to use her feet correctly. On further inspection, we discovered that her legs seemed to be fused and she did not have use of her toes. She scooted around on her ankles. The pet store asked me if I wanted to pick out another bird, and I said absolutely not and I took little Cricket home. She started me on the road to helping other birds that might otherwise be considered society’s castaways.

Cricket used a smaller cage with horizontal bars to make it easier for her to climb. I set up ramps and wider flat perches to reduce her falls. Her toys were smaller so she could move around them with ease.

A few years later, Cricket was joined by Oscar-the-Grouch, a lutino cockatiel who I got after visiting another store. I noticed in one of the flight cages that contained parakeets, all of the birds were gathered on the floor in the corner. I tapped on the cage and the parakeets took flight. What was left was cockatiel who was obviously not normal without wing feathers and tail feathers.

When I walked away for a second, the parakeets went back down in the corner and we’re picking on him. I knocked on the cage again and parakeets scattered.

Oscar immediately went to a vet before coming home, only to find out that he also did not have any bones in his toes and he was visually compromised. He shared Cricket’s cage for many years before passing away.

African grey parrot
African grey Emma has a crooked neck and spine, but that doesn’t stop her from flying or using her body language to communicate.

Emma Lynn

After my Sampson Bell (“Sam”) passed on of Aspergillosis I was looking online and saw a picture of a little bird who had the same neck collar and red leg band in her picture for sale, as my Sam was wearing when he died. A Lot of circumstances beyond my control kept Emma at the Breeders for a very long time. Once I had saved up some money, I was able to go down and purchase little Emma and bring her home.

In my first face-to-face meeting with her, she was sitting on top of a little cage. I foolishly walked up to her and at that moment, I realized my face was the same height as she was. This little bird with a twisted neck and spine came running over to me across the top of her cage and planted a big kiss on my nose. I would never think to do that with any other bird I have met but my guard was down with this little broken bird and that was the beginning of our wonderful relationship.

Emma Lynn does not know she is special. Her cage set up is a little lower than the other greys in the event of a fall. She can fly, but not in a straight line. Due to her curvature, she flies like a boomerang. Over the years she has figured out to fly to the right, to end up at a target that is straight ahead.  Emma has never mastered talking, which is probably due to a misaligned syrinx, but she doesn’t have to utter a word for us to know what she wants. Her body language is a clear indicator of her communication.

African grey
African grey Igor was born with a crooked neck

Igor & Ren

Shari is also a caregiver to some special-abled twisted-neck birds. Recently she posted online that she wanted people to know that, “Giving a home to a special-needs parrot isn’t necessarily a difficult thing”.

Shari wrote “My Igor has a crooked neck. I was advised not to adopt him when he was a baby, because it was thought he would have a short, uncomfortable life. I can’t say how comfortable he is (it’s all he knows), but he will be 25 years old in a few months and is medically healthy. I have another grey, Ren, who also has a crooked neck (and a bowed leg) and he’s around the same age. They act just like any other greys.”

Thumper & Sammy

African grey
African grey Sammy

Thumper and Sammy are African grey parrots who do not have feet and are cared for by Jennifer. We have come to understand that some parent birds are a little overzealous when cleaning babies and snip little toes or even feet off. Because this happens early on during rearing, the chicks don’t know any different and adapt very well. It does take a little more care on the owner’s part to make sure the birds are in clean environments so they stay healthy.  

The cages have been modified so if they lose balance, they do not have a far fall. The grate at the cage bottom was removed, and their cages layered with fleece and either newspaper or paper towels on top. This makes cleaning up is a little bit easier. The fleece will break their fall, and they keep their feet clean on the paper towels.

African grey
African Grey Thumper

Jennifer says “the boys,” as she likes to call them, are acrobatic and do some pretty funny and unexpected things, such as hanging by one foot, sliding down the cage legs like a fireman on a firepole, balancing on a thin bar with a ballerina foot, swinging on their toys while hanging from one foot, and flapping like crazy. She also mentions that the boys can keep a very good beat, and they dance, bop and zigzag their heads to music. Thumper is the ham of the two and loves doing funny things to get attention. They both have a good disposition and seem to always look on the bright side of life.

Never discount a bird that is less than perfect and may need your help. There are many disabled birds needing a good place to land. All my relationships with my special-able birds have been very rewarding and I think I’ve bonded just a little more with them as a result. Looking at all the love and joy I’ve shared with them; I would not change a thing.

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