The last days of Chester budgie

In the summer of 2012, Chester budgie had a narrow escape. This August, as we prepared to go away for a week’s vacation, I noticed that his poop was abnormal. I wasn’t overly concerned, but I warned our pet sitter.

When we returned at the end of the month, Chester was clearly not doing well. Unlike the last time, he wasn’t throwing up, but he was sitting fluffed up and sleeping a lot. Weighing him revealed that he’d lost a lot of weight, from 42-44g down to 36g. We took him to the vet.

It was the same story as before. His (probably cancerous) growth was pushing on his intestines, and making it hard for him to digest food. He probably had some sort of infection too. We left with some Baytril, the antibiotic he had responded to the last time.

For the first few days, things looked a bit better. He perked up, spent half a day eating, and managed some fairly normal looking poop. However, by the end of the two weeks of Baytril, he was back into a slow decline.

We tried a different antibiotic. He rapidly got worse, so we switched back to the Baytril. The vet told us there wasn’t any hope of any sort of surgical intervention — there was no infected fluid to drain, no intestinal infection, just a big cancerous mass.

By September 20th Chester was clearly weaker. He wasn’t barfing or acting sick, but he was steadily losing weight, down to 32g. In the morning he would fly in to my office, gasp from the exertion for a while, and then immediately try to take a nap. When it was time to dose him with antibiotics mornings and evenings, he barely put up a fight. I realized I was now a budgie hospice nurse, facing the difficult decision of how long to let the situation go on for. It’s difficult with birds, because they do their best to hide when they are sick; they don’t want to show weakness, because that’s what makes predators target them in the wild. I didn’t want Chester to suffer, but I also didn’t want to end his life before it was necessary. He was still climbing the curtains and flying with the other birds, so I kept dosing him and hoping for a miracle.

By September 21th, I had the feeling we were about to have our last weekend together. As it turned out, he got dramatically worse overnight. On the 22nd he woke up and went straight to wandering the floor, wings drooped, looking for anything different that might be edible, because he had lost his appetite for regular food. Gently feeling his body, it felt like he was mostly tumor; the rest of him was almost skeletal. He had trouble flying back up to the windowsill, and ended up clinging to a curtain, panting. Needless to say, he didn’t join the others in races across the house any more, let alone instigate them.

Then I realized the biggest clue of all: He wasn’t singing any more. He had always been more vocal than Lola. Now he didn’t even tweet to the rest of the flock in the mornings. He had no joy any more.

We called the emergency vet. They said we could bring him in. We sat in a waiting room, and Chester sat quietly hunched over on my shoulder. I could hear a ragged crackling noise as he breathed; no wonder he couldn’t gain altitude any more.

Chester on my shoulder

We buried him under my office window, beneath the spot where he used to enjoy sitting and watching the world and singing to me.

That night Lola came out to look for Chester. She sat at the back windows and looked down at the floor, in case he was foraging hopelessly there the way he had been on previous days. I took her back to the cage. When I covered it up to go upstairs, something else unusual happened: Lola and Rita started gently tweeting, to call Chester home if he was still out.

At least I have no guilt or regrets. Chester reached an average lifespan for a budgie in the wild. He never wanted for anything. He spent his days uncaged, with budgie flockmates. The vet even commented that she was surprised he’d lived for another year after his first treatment.

I’m very glad that we got Margarita this year. Having two other birds has made the whole process much more bearable.

It turned out that Chester was solely responsible for throwing about half of the expensive organic budgie food on the floor. Still, if I could bring him back, I would.

New budgie

We hadn’t been planning on a third budgie. However, Chester’s close call last year had me thinking about what we would do if he suddenly keeled over. I realized Lola would be left alone, and budgies really need to be part of a flock. The two of them are both over 5 years old now, so it seemed like a reasonable time to get a third bird. That way when one of them eventually departs, we’ll still be left with two.

So, we put our names down for a hand-raised budgie. They’re pretty rare, because they don’t fetch as much money as large parrots, so it’s not really a very profitable endeavor, more of a hobby for budgie enthusiasts. It took months of waiting, but at the start of July we were told a bird was available. She’s a greywing, a beautiful lemon-lime color with touches of darkness on the chest. We’re calling her Rita, short for Margarita.

She’s currently upstairs in the quarantine cage. Since the other birds have never worked out the whole staircase thing, the upstairs spare room has made a good quarantine zone.

When we first got her home, she didn’t move or make a sound — until I started reading something aloud, and she suddenly began tweeting. I worked out that she was used to the noise of the pet store, and the silence of the house was freaking her out. So I bought the “Happy Budgies” album from Listening Earth, rigged up some speakers, and played it. It wasn’t long before she felt safe to move around the cage. She found the food and water, and started eating.

So I’d play morning budgie noises in the morning, evening ones in the evening, and loop the others during the rest of the day, along with some other nature recordings from the Australian outback. Over the next couple of days I gradually reduced the volume until she was settled in and used to the new environment and only hearing the occasional tweet or squawk from downstairs.

I work from home office; generally I come down in the morning, open up the cage downstairs, and let Chester and Lola come and go as they please all day. Sometimes they’ll have breakfast with me in the office; sometimes Lola likes to snuggle my neck in the afternoons.

Partly this is a philosophical thing — I don’t think it’s right to keep birds in cages their whole lives. There are other advantages, though. I try to persuade the birds to go back in the cage voluntarily when we want to go out somewhere, and I’ve only had to grab them from the main cage once or twice, for vet appointments. So they don’t view the cage as a place of captivity; instead, it’s the budgie house, a place they can go and feel safe and know that we won’t mess with them. They’ll often take an afternoon nap in the cage out of choice.

We’ve been trying to give Rita the same sort of freedom, and once she was settled in, we started spending time upstairs in the spare room with her, with the quarantine cage open. The door drops down to form a horizontal platform, which makes it easier for her to get in and out.

So, over the 4th of July long weekend we opened the cage door, then we sat back and read books and browsed the Internet. Rita was basically left to do her thing under our discreet supervision. After a while, she hopped out of the cage and looked around. Then she hopped back in, and looked around some more. Then out, and another scan of the surroundings. She kept doing this for the best part of a day, head often tilted sideways with a quizzical expression, like she was having trouble believing that she was suddenly free to decide whether to be in the cage or not.

After a while she tried some flying. She’s been gradually getting better at that, she’s not colliding with things any more and her landings are quite graceful now. She’s fully flighted — happily the pet store hadn’t clipped her wings, so when we introduce her to the rest of the flock they’ll all be able to fly around together.

Though she’s still nervous, she’s stepping up onto my hand, with less and less reluctance. The best so far has been a walk across the house on my finger. She’s incredibly gentle — not a single bite, not even a gentle one.

She’s extremely vocal and somewhat imitative, and her cere has changed color a couple of times, so we’re not entirely certain about the gender; if she turns out to be male, she’ll be renamed Rico Mojito.

Chester budgie is unwell

When we returned from our vacation, Chestina the parakeet didn’t look too good. She had terrible itching and feather loss around the eyes, a dirty vent, and generally appeared ragged. Her head feathers had some kind of yellow material on them. I was concerned that she might have early stage scaly face, a mite infestation that’s a common budgie illness. We took her to the vet, and a physical examination revealed a serious abnormality, so we agreed to pay for X-rays. (Crazy bird parents!)

It turns out that her body cavity is full of tissue, and her belly and digestive tract have been pushed down out of position. She is having trouble breathing, and trouble digesting food. The yellow on her face is from her regurgitating to try and clear the way to digest her meals.

It’s probably some sort of cancerous growth on the liver or some other internal organ. There’s a very faint chance that it’s merely a bad inflammation from some internal bacterial infection. The vet suggested that euthanizing her was an option to consider. I wasn’t ready to give up, though, so I have antibiotics to dose her with for the next week or so.

Chances aren’t good, though. She’s spending her time fluffed up and wanting to sleep. If there’s no improvement by midweek, it’s probably going to be time to send her to the big outback in the sky.

Here’s a photo of her in happier days:

Chester budgie

She’s not even 5 years old. I really expected her to live longer. If there’s any consolation in this situation, it’s that there’s really nothing we could have done about this. It’s just cruel random fate.

It’s not all fun and tweeting

For Christmas, we got the budgies a new toy. It dispenses clean white paper in a long strip, so they can chew and shred it. Since they finished demolishing their Xmas tree last night, I put the new toy in the cage.

As soon as he got a good look at it, Chester went into a full scale panic attack. He was flying frantically back and forth, shedding feathers. Lola followed Chester’s lead and panicked too, though she clearly wasn’t sure what exactly she was supposed to be panicking about. I had to hurriedly take the toy back out and hide it away.

As soon as I opened the cage doors again, they both came out and demanded to sit on my shoulders in the office for comfort. Chester’s still a bit jumpy, and unfortunately unlike Lola he hasn’t worked out that I don’t like having my ear preened.

So, looks like I’ll have to introduce the new toy really gradually… Probably starting by hanging it up just outside the cage for a week or so for Chester to get used to it.

The song of one-foot budgie

One Foot Budgie

One-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To sit on his perch all day.

One-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To relax in an avian way.

He’s got two feet,

He can climb and tweet,

Chew on his toys and play;

But one-foot budgie only needs one foot

To sit on his perch all day.

He wakes up every morning,

Stretches out his wings.

Stuffs his face with bird seed,

Sometimes even sings.

If the sun is out, he’ll jump about,

And use his time exploring.

But if it’s gray, he’ll spend the day

Being rather boring.

[Chorus:]

‘Cause one-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To sit on his perch all day.

One-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To relax in an avian way.

He’s got two feet,

He can climb and tweet,

Chew on his toys and play;

But one-foot budgie only needs one foot

To sit on his perch all day.

Sitting on his play gym,

He preens his fluffy rump.

It’s surely been ten minutes,

Time to take a dump.

He’s got a beak, knows how to shriek,

No training is required;

He may not talk, but he sure could squawk,

Except that he’s too tired…

[Chorus:]

So one-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To sit on his perch all day.

One-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To relax in an avian way.

He’s got two feet,

He can climb and tweet,

Chew on his toys and play;

But one-foot budgie only needs one foot

To sit on his perch all day.

His disco ball is very small,

But still extremely shiny.

Although he is a parrot,

He’s really rather tiny.

He’ll gladly stand upon your hand,

As long as you’ve got millet;

But he’s got a crop that just won’t stop,

So you’d best be sure you fill it…

[Chorus:]

So that one-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To sit on his perch all day.

One-foot budgie only needs one foot,

To relax in an avian way.

He’s got two feet,

He can climb and tweet,

Chew on his toys and play;

But one-foot budgie only needs one foot

To sit on his perch all day.