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parakeet loss > In Memory of my first parakeet

In memory of my first parakeet

This was the memorial I dreaded writing. My first parakeet, the one that was part of the inspiration for this website, has died. My nickname for him was Homer because he was yellow and loved to eat; his thumb-shaped head and constant mastication affectionately reminded me of his Simpson's counterpart.

I got Homer 10 years ago. I was taking an ornithology class at the time and was smitten with the tiny creatures. The world opened up to me as I learned about birdsong and identification, it was like becoming literate. Suddenly sounds I'd always heard in the background came alive and I could recognize, "OH, that's a robin!" Birds I saw hopping around everyday now had a name and associated behavior that I could recognize. I loved it. My world opened up a dimension and I felt more alive for being able to experience it in this new way.

Fast forward to the pet store. I'd spent a couple of months deliberating whether to get a parakeet or not. I read about them and wanted to make sure I would be a good pet owner, that I would understand about their care. Even after mulling this over for months I still wasn't sure I was ready; I was standing there in the pet store and I almost walked out. I decided I would buy the materials first (cage, food, etc.) as a sort of "step one" and then come back for the parakeet once I had everything at home. I had one foot out the door when Dan said, "Look, you have the cage, the food, the toys and everything, and you know you've wanted a parakeet for the longest time, if not now, when?"

I stood still a moment, digesting what he'd said. When? I didn't know. I decided to wing it and marched upstairs. I pointed to the only yellow parakeet in a cage and said, "that one."

The owner slowly opened the door and then, like a snake swiftly snatching its prey, swiped the bird from a perch before I'd even finished blinking. (Clearly this was someone very comfortable with birds.) The rest of the cage exploded in a panic but my bird -- the one I'd picked -- was clutched in the owner's fist, eyes wide and panting with fear. I was immediately horrified. I was convinced I'd just done something terrible by altering its destiny, by my flippant pointing at the pretty bird that stood out from all the others.

They put the bird in my chosen cage and I headed home. I remember we had to stop off to run an errand in a crappy neighborhood right afterwards. I was sitting in the car with the birdcage on my lap, cooing softly and hoping to drown out the shouts, booming bass radios and other intrusive sounds of human nature. I felt so protective and also so earnest, I wanted so badly for the bird to feel safe.

We took her home and named her. It took her a year to seem to fully bond with me, but there was huge progress in just a few weeks; she would sit on my hand and sing. I taught her to cluck like a chicken. I would crow and she'd lunge at my lips for a good peck (not a bite -- just a pressing of closed beak against lips, a sign of affection in parakeets) and sometimes cluck back. I called her my "pretty girl."

Then I learned she wasn't a girl. She was a he (take a walk on the wild side!). And thus was born the entire basis of this website -- a hatchling from what I thought were two females (but obviously were not).

I wasn't the only one who'd thought he was a female, a vet had told me so in the beginning. And so I learned, the hard way, the importance of using only an avian vet or one who specializes in birds. I compiled that with everything else I learned from my avian vet to make the FAQs section of this site.

The past decade of Homer's life was spent blissfully, with much freedom and a companion (Runt). He was so gentle and sweet. I've never seen a parakeet quite like him. They say male parakeets sing more than females and he was always warbling these beautiful complex notes that filled my heart with light and joy. I have recorded some and will post the audio files as soon as I can.

The downfall happened a couple of weeks ago. Homer molted and fluffed up; I didn't realize right away that his fluffing up was a sign of poor health, orignally thought it was from molting. After a few days, however, I knew something was wrong so we brought him to a vet. There were no obvious problems but they gave me antibiotics anyway.

Administering antibiotics to a bird is pretty traumatic. I followed advice, using a cloth to grab him so he wouldn't associate my hand with the grabbing, but I'm not skilled in putting the meds in his crop. Most dribbled into his mouth.

He violently rejected this and ended up regurgitating everything in his crop to the point where he was covered with the slime of half-digested seed turned into liquid.

The second time this happened, I decided I could not give him antibiotics anymore, the cure could be worse than the disease. I called the vet back for advice and they said to try administering it more slowly but I never got a chance to try because my dear sweet bird passed away the next day.

So many questions -- could something else have been done? Did I take him to the vet fast enough? Was he just old? Or could he have lived another 5 years (I have heard parakeets can live 5-15 years and this guy was only 10)? Did he get sicker after regurgitating his food, did he lose necessary electrolytes and nutrients that led to his eventual death? I wish I knew.

I was holding him tonight when he passed away. He was such a beautiful bird, tiny eyelashes and a gentle black eye. My first parakeet, who used to hide in my hair as a youngster when he wanted to feel safe. I have so many pictures but they are not the same as the full dimensionality of seeing him and interacting with him. Now he is gone forever and I will never see him again and it just hurts so bad.

My pretty yellow parakeet, this is my memorial to you. You were my first parakeet. I loved listening to you warble when I would tap away on the computer. Now the house will seem so quiet and empty without your sweet voice trilling through it. You were such a special bird, so innocent and trusting of me. I always wanted you to feel safe and happy and I am grateful for our time together even if it was too short. I miss you dearly. (May 18, 1998-May 4, 2008)

Mary Oliver, "The Three Things" (from American Primitive)

Every year
everything I have ever learned in my lifetime
leads back to this:

the fires and the black river of loss
whose other side is salvation,
whose meaning none of us will ever know,

To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones
knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

sick parakeet
Me cupping my sweet parakeet in my shirt during his last moments. :(

Parakeets love millet. Here are a bunch of photos when Homer was healthy. (Click to enlarge.)

hunched near millet


eating millet


parakeets love millet!


parakeet tongue


keet on my computer
Sometimes he'd land on my hand while I was working on the computer.


Homer and Runt
Homer with his best friend, Runt.

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This site is dedicated to Dr. Piety, without whose kindness, wisdom, and sharing of knowledge this would not be possible. You are missed.
Holly Russo     ...when I am not playing with my keets, I design web pages.
Please note that I am not always able to respond to e-mail due to the large volume received, but I am happy to collect questions & suggestions to add to the FAQ page. Please check the FAQ first to see if your question has already been addressed before emailing. Thank you so much for stopping by!
I am not a vet; my only source of knowledge is my own experience.
For definitive advice, please consult with a veterinarian that specializes in birds.
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