Birds of a feather flock together, but not all birds in a flock are destined to become best friends. Birds are complex, sensitive and intelligent individuals with behaviors that are often influenced by the strategies they have developed to ensure their survival.
In the wild, a bird’s flock is an important source of safety and security. Birds carefully select a mate and form bonds so strong that the bird world is devoid of divorce attorneys. Nice, right?
Not all flocks are created equal, and research has shown that some species favor diversity while others prefer to remain segregated. For instance, Macaws and Amazons often peacefully coexist in the same flock while African Grey parrots live in a single-species flock. This is not because the African Grey parrots are prejudiced against other parrots; it is because being in a flock where everyone looks the same allows for safer foraging while on the ground. It is more difficult for predators to single out a victim when the birds all blend together.
In the wild, fights do occur, however, the fight or flight impulse typically results in one of the squabbling parrots taking the high road and avoiding the confrontation by flying away from it.
In our homes, our birds have less options. Therefore, bird on bird crime does happen, and when it does, the results can be devastating. Our patient Jambo, a charming 10-year-old Congo African Grey, was recently a victim of bird on bird crime.
They say curiosity killed the cat, but curiosity is not a trait that is limited to our feline friends. Jambo was out of his cage exploring his surroundings when curiosity got the best of him and led him to the cage of another bird in his household.
The other bird viewed Jambo’s uninvited arrival as the birdie equivalent of breaking and entering and decided to defend his home by attacking Jambo’s foot.
When Jambo was brought to our clinic, he had multiple puncture wounds on his right foot and a couple of his nails were missing. Our doctors were concerned because there was significant swelling accompanying his injuries. Poor Jambo was also clearly in pain and growled while being examined.
Jambo was immediately hospitalized and given injections along with medications to prevent pain and fight infection. We also gave Jambo hand-feeding formula which was the part of his treatment that he enjoyed.
Our doctors and staff kept a close watch on Jambo, and within a few days it was apparent that although the bruising of his toes was less substantial, one of his toes was very fleshy, and he was not moving it. A Complete Blood Count (CBC), which is a blood test that measures components in the blood like oxygen-carrying red blood cells and infection-battling white blood cells, was performed, and the test revealed that Jambo’s white blood cells were elevated, indicating the presence of an infection. We kept his foot clean, applied antibiotic ointment to his wounds and gave him medications to fight the infection and ease his discomfort, but upon examination, our doctors discovered that the toe had no blood supply. Little Jambo’s toe would have to be amputated.
Once our doctors informed Jambo’s worried owners about their findings, his owners agreed that his continued recovery was worth the loss of his toe. Jambo was taken into surgery and given anesthesia which allowed him to be completely unaware during the procedure. Once the toe was removed and sutures were in place, a groggy and slightly grumpy Jambo woke up with a bandage on his foot. Jambo was given post-op pain medications, and the toe that was removed was cultured along with his crop and cloaca. Part of Jambo’s toe was sent off for histopathology to determine if it was the source of his elevated white blood cell count. Jambo’s owners were given constant updates and were relieved that everything went so well.
Despite the success of the surgery, Jambo was not out of the woods yet. Jambo still had to be monitored because he continued to be at risk for infection. Another CBC was performed, and the test indicated that Jambo’s white blood cells were indeed elevated which signified that an infection was still present.
Our doctors were able to modify Jambo’s medications, and soon we all began to see improvement. Jambo became less sensitive using his foot, and he even started talking to us! (Earlier in his treatment, Jambo was giving us the silent treatment.)
Throughout his ordeal, Jambo’s concerned owners looked forward to the day they could take him home, but they did confess that they were reluctant to try to give him medications because he could be difficult at times. Once we were aware of the fact that handling Jambo was sometimes a challenge, we worked with Jambo to teach him to politely step up onto a towel. We also mixed Jambo’s medications in his hand feeding formula to make giving medications easier for his owners at home.
Once Jambo’s infection was under control, we were introduced to a lively, happy parrot. We are pleased to report that although Jambo lost a toe, he did not lose his charming personality or his rhythm. One of Jambo’s favorite activities is dancing!
Jambo is now at home with his family, and since he is easier for them to handle, they are enjoying a closer relationship with the delightful parrot. What happened to Jambo was a terrible accident, but sadly, it happens quite frequently.
In multiple parrot households, it is necessary that when parrots are allowed out of the cage, constant supervision is a must to prevent these kinds of incidents from occurring. Many parrots seem to go looking for trouble the moment our backs are turned, so owners must be incredibly vigilant. In one of our recent cases, a small parrot inflicted terrible injuries on a much larger parrot, so size does not always determine the outcome of an attack. We also want to mention that some parrots have Houdini-like escape abilities, so even parrots safely in their cages sometimes manage to escape and get into trouble. Make sure all cages are secure, and when out of the cage, always supervise your feathered friends. Also, some birds are quite territorial about their cages which is why toes are so often attacked. Even if you only have one bird, your bird is capable of getting into plenty of solitary trouble, and for multiple bird homes, remember that not every bird is destined to be friends with other birds in the household.
Jambo survived his attack because his caring owners acted immediately. If his owners had decided to just wait and see, it is likely that Jambo would have succumbed to the infection.
In a perfect world, we would never have to deal with accidents, but we all know accidents do sometimes happen. Our doctors and staff are always here to help, so don’t hesitate to call us if you ever need us. Also, if your bird happens to be a bit difficult to handle, we are always happy to offer advice and assist with behavior modification. We always want the best for you and your pets!