Cookie's Story

By Eleanor McCaffrey
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printed or reproduced for re-distribution without owner's written permission.

The picture to the left was taken the day I adopted Cookie. The picture on the right and on top were taken 4 months later.  As you can see, medical care from an avian veterinarian and changing a bird's diet and environment can result in some remarkable changes in a bird's appearance.  Cookie's story begins  on Christmas Day 2005 and it's much like the story of other neglected and unwanted previously owned birds.  During a holiday visit, a  neighbor's niece asked me if I would give Cookie a new home. Although I really didn't want another bird, the good Lord had a different plan for me. I asked Melissa all of the right questions about diet, behavior and general health, and she gave me all of the right answers. After our conversation, I was certain that Cookie was a healthy, friendly 8 year old lutino who would be a good companion for Mama. Even though I would not get to meet Cookie until May, I agreed to adopt her and give her a forever home.

The months passed quickly and on May 17, 2005, the door bell rang, and Melissa's parents walked in with a big bird cage that contained a frightened little bird who looked sick. We quickly scooted them into a bedroom which was set up for quarantine. I was appalled at how neglected this poor bird was. There were no toys inside of the cage and Cookie had feathers missing from her back, neck and  wings. She also had raw, inflamed patches of skin on her shoulders and under her wings. Melissa's parents told me that Cookie was left home alone for more than 8 hours a day, and that she was on an all seed diet. The parents also told me that  they did not like Cookie because she had an attitude problem. This was not the same bird who was described to me on Christmas Day and I realized that I had just adopted a bird who was a feather plucker. My heart broke for Cookie because she had been denied the attention, nutrition and medical care that she desperately needed. 

As soon as the parents left, Cookie's  new life began. She was coaxed out of her cage with millet seeds within a few hours and she was moved into a new, smaller cage that was cleaner and filled with natural fiber toys.  Cookie did not know how to step up but it only took her a few days to learn that stepping up and coming out of the cage equaled a reward. Cookie was  very attached to her cage, always flying back to the top when she had finished her treat. She seemed happy and she was spending more time shredding woven palm strips, colorful wicker munch balls and bird kabobs then chewing on her feathers. Cookie was also spending more out of cage time perched on my hand. It did not take long before Cookie convinced me that she did not have an attitude problem because within a few days, she was cuddling her forehead up against my chin and preening my hair. This is when I  noticed that her feathers had a terrible odor, much like that of a wet dog. Cookie was  given a water misting bath to see if bathing would remove some of the awful smell. Water did not roll off of her back the way it did on Mama's feathers.  Cookie became drenched and she smelled even worst. It would be  another week before the cause of the odor and soggy feathers would be diagnosed.

Cookie went to Mama's avian vet for her first check-up and lab tests a week after she was adopted. She only weighed 80 grams. She had a mass of debris accumulating in her nares and she had an abnormal choana, (an opening in the upper palate of a bird's the mouth that leads to the sinuses. ) Both findings were highly suggestive of malnutrition and a vitamin A deficiency. When her preening gland was checked, several abnormal growths containing a thick matter were found and determined to be the cause of her feather odor and inability to repel water. The growths were manually drained. Two weeks later we went back to vet so he could put a collar around Cookie's neck to prevent more feather plucking. Cookie reacted violently to having a collar around her neck. She started thrashing her body on the bottom of the cage, then she just laid motionless. The vet said this was how all birds initially reacted. When Cookie finally stabilized, we were allowed to come home  Wearing a collar was a horrible experience for Cookie and the next 6 weeks were very stressful for her. She lost her appetite, was depressed and she constantly chewed and tugged at the collar, trying to remove it herself.

Cookie went back to her vet in 6 weeks for a follow up and to have her collar removed. The growths on her preening gland had filled with matter again and they were even larger. The doctor's recommendation was to surgically remove the entire preening gland.  Since the preening gland is an external organ, surgery would be less invasive. The doctor explained the risks associated with avian surgery because of anesthesia, blood loss and infection, Even though the cost of Cookie's initial examination, lab tests, collar, surgery, follow up visits and other medical care  would be over $1000 during her first few months in her new home,  I  knew in my heart that this little bird deserved a second chance for a better life. Surgery was scheduled for the following week. Cookie's collar was not removed that day because she would have to wear a collar after surgery anyway, to prevent her from pulling out stitches.

Cookie could not have anything to eat or drink after midnight, the day before surgery. She was taken in to the clinic early the next morning and I came home and cried. I knew I might never see her again if she did not survive surgery and even if she did, if she had cancer, the prognosis would be a gloomy one.  The doctor called me at noon and said Cookie came through surgery like a little trooper. As soon as she came out of the anesthesia, she started eating her pellets. Cookie was brought home later that evening with pain medication and antibiotics that had to be administered 3 times a day for 10 days. This meant toweling and restraining an already frightened,  traumatized,  new bird to administer medicine directly into the beak. Cookie's recovery was difficult the first few weeks after surgery, but the incision healed well without infection and the stitches dissolved quickly. When the biopsy report finally did come in, the news was good. The tumors were benign and Cookie did not have cancer. 

Cookie was subjected to a series of negative, unpleasant and painful experiences during the first few months in her new home. By the time her collar was removed after surgery, it was no surprise that she was still plucking her feathers and that she was now very afraid of humans, especially their hands. Hands were no longer the "nice" place to perch for cuddling or the wonderful serving platter that held  millet seeds. Cookie did not want to come out of her cage anymore and she did not  want me to be near me for months. If her cage door was left open she would come out by herself, climb to the top and play with her toy box. Sometimes she would just stare at me from the top of her cage, postured like a hawk ready to attack. It took several months before she was courageous enough to come out of the cage by stepping up again, but it came with a price tag.  Cookie started to bite and she showed me exactly how hard she could bite if she did not want to be disturbed. On one occasion she bit right through the middle of my fingernail, taking a chunk of skin off of my finger.

Cookie has shown us how bold and bossy she is now that she feels secure being in her new home. She squawks at anything that displeases her, like Mama singing or me talking to her when she's busy eating. Although Cookie takes great pleasure in coming out of the cage and cuddling with me, her out of cage activities do not included Mama. If both birds are  having a treat on the  kitchen table, Cookie will confidently walk over to Mama's food dish, squawk and scare him away so she can have his food after she finishes eating her own. Mama tried his best to be friendly to her by singing, displaying wings, bowing his head but Cookie always responds with aggression. Cookie is showing some signs of warming up to Mama. Almost 3 years after adopting her, she flew across the room from the top of her cage to be with both of us.  I was at the computer and Mama was playing next to the computer with some toys. She's also edging a little closer to Mama when they play on the table. I will never give up the hope that someday Cookie will enjoy being with Mama as much as I do.

Cookie's story would be incomplete without mentioning how much she loves to eat. She will eat anything and everything and the more the better. Once  her head goes into a food dish, she does not comes up for air. There was no problem getting Cookie to eat fresh vegetables and other table foods like kale, broccoli, corn, peas,  grated carrots, and scrambled eggs as soon as she was adopted. Her favorite food is baked sweet potatoes and she eats them with as much gusto as a kid eating an ice-cream cone. She even started chirping after her first serving of warm, cooked brown rice. Cookie also  converted to pellets in 1 day, after offering them to her in the palm of my hand as a treat.  She did not seem to notice the difference between pellets and seeds. Food was food and any kind of food was just fine with her.  However, she has a definite preference for the more expensive Zupreem gourmet pellets, Avian Entrées Garden Goodness, so that's what she gets because she's worth it. 

Cookie has responded  positively to having her nutritional, physical, psychological and environmental needs met. She will always have some bare patches because of the damage caused to feather follicles from years of repeated feather pulling. The bare spots are only noticeable after she has been flying or bathing and when she molts. Even though her avian vet prescribed nutritional supplements, allergy medications, herbs and special baths for her, Cookie will occasionally pull out a feather  screaming from self-inflicted pain.  Her feather plucking corresponds with having visitors in our home, stress and with being over tired at night. So before she's covered for the night, she spends 10 minutes out of her cage preening my hair while I pet the back of her crest. While I'm sharing these special moments with Cookie I think about all of the neglected and unwanted birds that are living unhappy lives the way she did for so many years.  When we adopt birds and bring them into our lives, we have to make a life time commitment to provide for all of their needs.  We also have to love them for who they are, not for what we would like them to be.  Cookie was not at all what I expected but I'm very grateful that she is a part of my life.  Even though she may look tattered  when her bare patches are showing, I think she's beautiful and  I tell her how beautiful she is every single day. 

  New Pictures July 2008 Update  
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Please consult an avian veterinarian if your bird is chewing on feathers, plucking feathers, self-mutilating or has bare patches on wings, chest, abdomen or tail. Feather plucking is a complex behavior that can have a medical, psychological, environmental or nutritional basis. Although difficult to treat, an avian vet can rule out medical problems.
CLICK HERE to find an avian vet now.

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Ritva's Gallery
Lisa's Country Clipart
Jeannes Country Cottage

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