What comes with multiple birds is the danger of scuffles. These guys settle their difference with physical force and their beaks can be formidable weapons. My Pacific Parrotlet, Ricki, is bonded to me and anyone whose owned a Parrotlet can tell you that they are the little bulldogs of the bird world. They can be bossy, pugnacious, and territorial -- along with equal portions of fun, full of life, and so impossibly sweet. They also seem absolutely clueless that they are 4inches long weigh only 30 grams.
Last night, we got home a little later than normal and needed to get he birds calmed down and into bed before we celebrated my partners birthday. There was lots of multitasking going on and I broke one of my rules. Ricki comes out for a while AFTER everyone else goes to bed. We, in fact, almost never have her out of her cage at the same time as the other birds. This is for her and the other birds protection. Ricki had actually, and quite accidentally I might add, killed one of my birds before. Our very first bird, a Red Factor Canary, Pepito. This was a few months after we brought Ricki home. Ricki was outside her cage, exploring at her leisure, and landed on the canary's cage. At some point the canary flew over and hung onto the side of the cage to investigate. Ricki was then presented with a perfectly new toy in the form of a canary toe and she bit.
A few minutes later, I discovered the canary on standing on the bottom of the cage, which was not normal, and then I saw the quarter-sized pool of blood on the paper beneath the grate. The next 30 minutes were a flurry, with emergency calls to the vet and a 20 minute car-ride, to the office for an emergency visit. Everything was done that could be done to save Pito, and when we left him in the incubator that night he was still alive, but when we called to check on him the next morning, and despite every possible intervention, Pito slipped away that night, his blood loss just too severe for him to recover.
Blood loss is an EXTREME concern for birds, small birds especially. Their blood volume is incredibly small, because they themselves are incredibly small. That tiny pool of blood at the bottom of the cage represented an enormous blood volume for a canary.
So again, back to last night, we broke the Ricki rule. She comes out separately from the other birds. On this evening I walked into the living room with Ricki on my shoulder. My Gold-Capped conure, Spero, ready for bed, and impatiently waiting to be taken to bed, did something that he is usually inclined not to do. He flew from the play stand on which he had been perching and landed on my shoulder.
Now, it must be said that Spero, a gold cap conure, which is almost 10 times as heavy as my 4 inch Parrotlet and almost 13 inches long, is a very "chill" bird. In fact, he has one of the least aggressive personalities of any bird I've ever met. He is not inclined to violence at all. He flew to the shoulder opposite of Ricki, and would have been fine to stay right there. Ricki on the other hand would have none of this and immediately charged with the tenacity of a T. rex straight at the naive Spero. No one was allowed to alight upon her human. There was a flurry of wing beats and a tussel that lasted maybe one second. The next thing I hear is loud chirp, chirp, chirp from Ricki who is fast retreating through the air to a perch on the other side of the room.
I could hear from Ricki's vocalizations that she had taken a hit of some kind. Spero remained on my shoulder with a countenance that said, "What did I do?" I quickly took Spero to his cage and went to check on Ricki. To my relief I saw her on her perch full of the same tenacity as usual. And then, I saw it. She was bleeding from the mouth and had taken a bite to the beak.
The beak is arguably, even more than wings, a birds most vital organ. It is the structure by which they interact with the world, the organ with which they nourish themselves. It is a conundrum. It is hard and sharp, dangerous even. Yet at the same time birds use their beak for their most gentle and tender interactions. It is immensely strong, while, at the same time, a construction of extreme delicacy. Birds have evolved to make use of the most economical physical means being. Much of the redundancy has been removed from their anatomy in order to save weight, a necessary compromise that allows them to grace the skies. So, when a beak is damaged it can be an extreme issue.
So as one can imagine, the sight of the beak bite and my previous experience with tiny birds and bleeding put me in emergency mode, doing my very best not to freak out, because that little parrotlet is my "sugar-buger." I have a very close and wonderful relationship with the proprietor of my local bird store and I gave her a call first, to gage the level of immediacy. It looked as though the bleeding wasn't too severe and an after-hours emergency visit to the vets office is tremendously expensive. I took a picture and texted it to her as well to get her advice. She was very helpful in keeping me in good spirits and confirmed for me the potential seroiousness of the injury. So there was then another call to the emergency line of my vets office with whom I also enjoy a very good relationship. There was a little delay from the time that I left a message with the emergency answering service and when the doctor called in which time it became clear that the bleeding had stopped and the most immediate danger was over. I emailed the pictures I had taken to my vet and he was able to give me some good instructions for the evening with a definite prescription for a visit to the office first thing in the morning.
That is where I am now as I write these lines. The good news is that Ricki's injuries were largely superficial and none of the major underlying structures of her beak were damaged. This means pain medication for the week, a little acrylic repair work on her beak, soft foods like cornbread and baby food for a couple of weeks, and six months to a year before the damage to her beak grows out.
Everything, turned out find in this case and all I was out was a little convenience and a few dollars for the visit to the vet. However a bullet was definitely dodged here and it could have been much worse. The moral of this story is: never forget that deep inside that cuddly cute bird that you love is a dinosaur. One must be extra careful with how ones birds are flocked. It takes as little as a split second for pleasant to become an emergency. Be mindful of your birds and if you know there are issues that could make trouble avoid them. Make some rules and procedures for handling your birds and don't break them. Like I did. That cuddly cute bundle of feathers can lash out like T-Rex.