Caring for a Handicapped Bird

by Jeannine Miesle, MA
Allied Member, Association of Avian Veterinarians 

Charlie - handicapped cockatiel on his platform

When caring for a handicapped bird, we must take into consideration the type of disability it has. If a bird is blind but is otherwise healthy, keeping everything in the cage and surrounding area the same is very important. Providing extra perches so that he cannot fall through to the bottom is crucial. And padding the bottom of the cage with towels is very helpful in case he does fall. If he is able to fly from place to place by judging distance and direction, again, don’t move anything. They do very well as long as nothing is moved. Birds with multiple handicaps must have all of their needs met at the same time. Most handicapped birds suffer from wing and/or leg issues, so this article will deal with those.

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    When dealing with a crippled bird, outfitting the cage can be a challenge. I have four special-needs cockatiels. Bonnie is a female lutino who is old, blind, and crippled. She flies very well, and can get from the counter to the orbiter without difficulty. Outside of that, she’s either with one of us, on a piece of furniture, or in a cage. Ernie, an older male normal, is missing his wingtip, so he cannot fly. The tip bleeds easily should he injure it trying to fly down to the floor. So we must try to falls by putting him on the floor when he indicates he wants to be there. He climbs well and has no other difficulties. Winnie, a very old male normal, just came to us. He is unable to bear weight on his one leg. And Marcie cannot fly due to lack of quality remiges and rectrices (wing and tail feathers) and weak wing muscles. She also has skin and feather issues so must be in a collar at all times to prevent picking.

    BONNIE

    Bonnie is in an HQ cage which is quite roomy. It has to be in order to keep everything in it she needs. It has a wide door and a top that opens. The nice thing about this cage is that it is almost square. There are 3 chrome platforms in this cage, one large one in the back and two smaller ones on the sides. Two perches lie in front of the back perch so that she has a place to stand when she wants to; also, they prevent her from falling to the cage bottom. She walks slowly and carefully, but knows where everything in the cage is and gets around it very well.

    Bonnie's Cage

    On the left side of the cage I have a small platform toward the front and a flat, round wicker mat toward the back. The wicker mat is supported by a perch underneath, and it clips to the cage bars on the right and left sides. I also anchor it with twist ties so it doesn’t move. Overtop these I place bar towels I have cut into fourths so that when I fold them lengthwise they fit perfectly. As you can see, they run from the front to the back. The back area is on a slant. That is accomplished by tilting the wicker toy up and anchoring it to the bars with long twist ties. I have placed a folded towel at the front of the cage on this “bed” to prevent her from falling through the gap and to give her a place to lay her head since she cannot tuck it under her wing unless she is leaning on something. Sometimes she climbs on the towel and uses the cage bars to support her body. You can see that in picture 6.

    On the right side of the cage is another platform and behind it a folded towel to keep her from falling through the gap and also to give her support when she is resting. She needs to keep her head up; if something isn’t there for her to support her head on, she lays her head on the flat surface. That is not good. I put her food and water in little crocks so that she doesn’t have to raise her head very much to access them. I also tie her millet spray on that side, low enough for her to reach without raising her head much. Her disability makes her sit low all the time.

    She doesn’t play much with toys, but I put some in there just in case she’s interested. I change them around just as I do for the other birds. They have to be small, though, so she doesn’t have to try to maneuver around them and, as a result, possibly fall. I put paper towels down on the large back platform because that’s where her wet and dry foods are placed. I anchor them with binder clips and place unclipped paper towels on top for easy cleaning. She gets a dry cereal/pellet/crumble mix on that platform, and it stays there all day. She loves this mix and having it on the paper towels makes it very easy for her access. She can hear me make it up each morning and hurries to the platform, waiting for me to put it down. I give them scrambled eggs some mornings, and that is placed on there too. Any soft foods are placed on there; the unclipped paper towels make clean-up very easy.

    In picture #1, you will see a resting area for her on the counter. I place a long block of balsa wood against the backsplash, then lay a mesh climbing toy on that so the head area is raised. A bar towel covers that, and under the climbing mesh I place another towel for stability on the countertop. She alternates between resting on that, flying to the orbiter a few feet away, being on my shoulder, the sofa, in Marcie’s cage or her own. She can’t maintain any position for very long, and it takes her a long time to get settled in one place. Pictures 7 and 8 show her on the resting place and on her bed platform.

     I place her food under her face, wherever she is, so she can eat without having to travel very far. She needs to move, so sometimes, if she’s moving around more, I’ll put it a few inches away from her, on that bath towel, and have her move to it. It all depends on how she’s doing that day. The fresh food always goes under her face or she’d never touch it!

    Because of the way she sits, she tends to get a sore area on her tarso-metatarsis, or back of the foot; so I rub Gentamicin Sulfate cream (Perrigo, 1%) into it every night. The soft towels help to keep it under control. Since she’s a lutino, she tends toward some Lutino Syndrome difficulties, especially the bald patches on her head and joint areas. She also has cataracts, the cause of her blindness. She tends to stay where I put her, so I have to make sure she gets enough food and water (water from a syringe) and is moved about at least once an hour. She also enjoys sitting on that circular woven toy in picture 1. I like her to do that since it puts her feet in a different position.

    WINNIE

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      Winnie, just rescued July 8, came to me with very poor mobility, cataracts, and one wing tip which had been bleeding often due to his striking it onto the cage bars. I allowed him to be in his roomier cage for a few days, but when I saw how difficult it was for him to stand and to keep his balance, I moved him into a bin. The bin is lined with towels, and they are covered with paper towels for easy clean-up. The bins also work well for birds who are ill and need more warmth, as he did the first week or so. I put a heating pad on the bottom of the bin  and layer as many towels as needed until I’m comfortable with the amount of heat the bird is getting.

      Some birds will attempt to climb up and out of the bin, so I usually pack towels into the openings on the sides to prevent that. I also cover the top with a very large wicker doily and anchor the corners. A piece of screening inside a wood border works well too. I don’t have to do that with Winnie; he doesn’t have the ability to climb.

      I place his small crock of water near him, but I still give him water from a syringe or the liquid Emeraid mixture every couple of hours. He tends not to go to the water dish on his own; it takes too much effort. I put his dry food mix, millet and seed right on the paper towels so he can reach it easily. You can just barely see his water crock in picture #7.

      MARCIE

      Marcie is the youngest of these four birds, probably around 10, and must be protected from falling. As you can see, there are barricades on the counter to prevent falls, and inside, she has many toys which get changed often and which she enjoys. Towels are placed on the counter for easy clean-up, and her food and water are placed there too. The cereal/pellet/crumble mix is placed on the towels. She takes the occasional bath there too. If she goes on the table, the other counter, or anywhere else off the floor, the barricades are moved to enclose the space.

      She is unable to fly due to failure of her wing and tail feathers to grow sufficiently well. Also, her wing muscles are weak, so we work those by having “flying lessons” on the bed. She has suffered since I got her 5 years ago with skin diseases, fungal and bacterial, but now with the help of the collar, she is growing in some beautiful feathers. She was allowed to shed the collar for her photo op! She’s even getting a tail in!

      I hope these pictures and descriptions have given the readers some ideas on how to protect and care for their handicapped birds.             

      1. Resting place for Bonnie when she’s on the counter
      2. Right side of the cage with small platform
      3.  Left side of the cage, front perches, back platform    
      4.  Back platform with cuttle bone, mineral block
      5. Right side of cage, front perches, rolled towel          
      6.  Left side of cage with rolled towel

      7, 8.  Winnie in his bin. Rolled towels for support

      9, 10: Marcie’s play area and cage

      Charlie – Sibylle’s Handicapped Cockatiel

      “Cuddles” aka “Charlie”

      Charlie

      I raised Charlie from the time he was just a tiny baby (a couple of days old). My friend had problems with her tiel parents, who were not experienced yet at raising babies and thus many of the babies died from neglect. We thought our chances of the tiels making it would be better if handraised from very very early. So I took some of the babies, including Charlie. Once we noticed that this baby was handicapped, I decided to keep him as my pet and I am sure glad I did. Charlie (formerly called “Troubles” because he kept attacking our cats 😉 has become an integral part of my family. He is a wonderful pet, who enjoys life.

      During the daytime he likes to stay on his specially made gym. He loses balance easily as his foot reaches into the air. Without the side bars to hang on to, he is helplessly fluttering about. Charlie cannot walk. Even standing upright – without the side bars – is hard for him.

      Here are a couple of photos of him when he was still a “youngster” as is apparent from his plain plumage.

      Cuddles
      Cuddles

      I am certain that Charlie is a happy bird. I can see him look out of the window, get excited when he sees me, greet the incoming rays of sun with his delightful singing, and see his eager face when he knows it’s playtime again. I take his gym and place it next to me and he gets to sit on my lap, or even “fake” being “normal” by sitting on my shoulder (with his “bad” leg securely placed against a pillow behind my head). That he surely loves.

      I dare say that he is so much happier than those poor “perfect” tiels that are kept in their cages all day long, without interaction, love or basic nurturing.

      Sibylle Faye

      Special-abled Birds

       

      Charlie - handicapped cockatiel on his platform

      by Jeannine Miesle, MA
      Allied Member, Association of Avian Veterinarians 

      Charlie - handicapped cockatiel on his platform

      When caring for a handicapped bird, we must take into consideration the type of disability it has. If a bird is blind but is otherwise healthy, keeping everything in the cage and surrounding area the same is very important. Providing extra perches so that he cannot fall through to the bottom is crucial. And padding the bottom of the cage with towels is very helpful in case he does fall. If he is able to fly from place to place by judging distance and direction, again, don’t move anything. They do very well as long as nothing is moved. Birds with multiple handicaps must have all of their needs met at the same time. Most handicapped birds suffer from wing and/or leg issues, so this article will deal with those.

      When dealing with a crippled bird, outfitting the cage can be a challenge. I have four special-needs cockatiels. Bonnie is a female lutino who is old, blind, and crippled. She flies very well, and can get from the counter to the orbiter without difficulty. Outside of that, she’s either with one of us, on a piece of furniture, or in a cage. Ernie, an older male normal, is missing his wingtip, so he cannot fly. The tip bleeds easily should he injure it trying to fly down to the floor. So we must try to falls by putting him on the floor when he indicates he wants to be there. He climbs well and has no other difficulties. Winnie, a very old male normal, just came to us. He is unable to bear weight on his one leg. And Marcie cannot fly due to lack of quality remiges and rectrices (wing and tail feathers) and weak wing muscles. She also has skin and feather issues so must be in a collar at all times to prevent picking.

      BONNIE

      Bonnie is in an HQ cage which is quite roomy. It has to be in order to keep everything in it she needs. It has a wide door and a top that opens. The nice thing about this cage is that it is almost square. There are 3 chrome platforms in this cage, one large one in the back and two smaller ones on the sides. Two perches lie in front of the back perch so that she has a place to stand when she wants to; also, they prevent her from falling to the cage bottom. She walks slowly and carefully, but knows where everything in the cage is and gets around it very well.

      Bonnie's Cage

      On the left side of the cage I have a small platform toward the front and a flat, round wicker mat toward the back. The wicker mat is supported by a perch underneath, and it clips to the cage bars on the right and left sides. I also anchor it with twist ties so it doesn’t move. Overtop these I place bar towels I have cut into fourths so that when I fold them lengthwise they fit perfectly. As you can see, they run from the front to the back. The back area is on a slant. That is accomplished by tilting the wicker toy up and anchoring it to the bars with long twist ties. I have placed a folded towel at the front of the cage on this “bed” to prevent her from falling through the gap and to give her a place to lay her head since she cannot tuck it under her wing unless she is leaning on something. Sometimes she climbs on the towel and uses the cage bars to support her body. You can see that in picture 6.

      On the right side of the cage is another platform and behind it a folded towel to keep her from falling through the gap and also to give her support when she is resting. She needs to keep her head up; if something isn’t there for her to support her head on, she lays her head on the flat surface. That is not good. I put her food and water in little crocks so that she doesn’t have to raise her head very much to access them. I also tie her millet spray on that side, low enough for her to reach without raising her head much. Her disability makes her sit low all the time.

      She doesn’t play much with toys, but I put some in there just in case she’s interested. I change them around just as I do for the other birds. They have to be small, though, so she doesn’t have to try to maneuver around them and, as a result, possibly fall. I put paper towels down on the large back platform because that’s where her wet and dry foods are placed. I anchor them with binder clips and place unclipped paper towels on top for easy cleaning. She gets a dry cereal/pellet/crumble mix on that platform, and it stays there all day. She loves this mix and having it on the paper towels makes it very easy for her access. She can hear me make it up each morning and hurries to the platform, waiting for me to put it down. I give them scrambled eggs some mornings, and that is placed on there too. Any soft foods are placed on there; the unclipped paper towels make clean-up very easy.

      In picture #1, you will see a resting area for her on the counter. I place a long block of balsa wood against the backsplash, then lay a mesh climbing toy on that so the head area is raised. A bar towel covers that, and under the climbing mesh I place another towel for stability on the countertop. She alternates between resting on that, flying to the orbiter a few feet away, being on my shoulder, the sofa, in Marcie’s cage or her own. She can’t maintain any position for very long, and it takes her a long time to get settled in one place. Pictures 7 and 8 show her on the resting place and on her bed platform.

       I place her food under her face, wherever she is, so she can eat without having to travel very far. She needs to move, so sometimes, if she’s moving around more, I’ll put it a few inches away from her, on that bath towel, and have her move to it. It all depends on how she’s doing that day. The fresh food always goes under her face or she’d never touch it!

      FREE video course:
      Stop Your Bird's Biting

        Because of the way she sits, she tends to get a sore area on her tarso-metatarsis, or back of the foot; so I rub Gentamicin Sulfate cream (Perrigo, 1%) into it every night. The soft towels help to keep it under control. Since she’s a lutino, she tends toward some Lutino Syndrome difficulties, especially the bald patches on her head and joint areas. She also has cataracts, the cause of her blindness. She tends to stay where I put her, so I have to make sure she gets enough food and water (water from a syringe) and is moved about at least once an hour. She also enjoys sitting on that circular woven toy in picture 1. I like her to do that since it puts her feet in a different position.

        WINNIE

        Winnie, just rescued July 8, came to me with very poor mobility, cataracts, and one wing tip which had been bleeding often due to his striking it onto the cage bars. I allowed him to be in his roomier cage for a few days, but when I saw how difficult it was for him to stand and to keep his balance, I moved him into a bin. The bin is lined with towels, and they are covered with paper towels for easy clean-up. The bins also work well for birds who are ill and need more warmth, as he did the first week or so. I put a heating pad on the bottom of the bin  and layer as many towels as needed until I’m comfortable with the amount of heat the bird is getting.

        Some birds will attempt to climb up and out of the bin, so I usually pack towels into the openings on the sides to prevent that. I also cover the top with a very large wicker doily and anchor the corners. A piece of screening inside a wood border works well too. I don’t have to do that with Winnie; he doesn’t have the ability to climb.

        I place his small crock of water near him, but I still give him water from a syringe or the liquid Emeraid mixture every couple of hours. He tends not to go to the water dish on his own; it takes too much effort. I put his dry food mix, millet and seed right on the paper towels so he can reach it easily. You can just barely see his water crock in picture #7.

        MARCIE

        Marcie is the youngest of these four birds, probably around 10, and must be protected from falling. As you can see, there are barricades on the counter to prevent falls, and inside, she has many toys which get changed often and which she enjoys. Towels are placed on the counter for easy clean-up, and her food and water are placed there too. The cereal/pellet/crumble mix is placed on the towels. She takes the occasional bath there too. If she goes on the table, the other counter, or anywhere else off the floor, the barricades are moved to enclose the space.

        She is unable to fly due to failure of her wing and tail feathers to grow sufficiently well. Also, her wing muscles are weak, so we work those by having “flying lessons” on the bed. She has suffered since I got her 5 years ago with skin diseases, fungal and bacterial, but now with the help of the collar, she is growing in some beautiful feathers. She was allowed to shed the collar for her photo op! She’s even getting a tail in!

        I hope these pictures and descriptions have given the readers some ideas on how to protect and care for their handicapped birds.             

        1. Resting place for Bonnie when she’s on the counter
        2. Right side of the cage with small platform
        3.  Left side of the cage, front perches, back platform    
        4.  Back platform with cuttle bone, mineral block
        5. Right side of cage, front perches, rolled towel          
        6.  Left side of cage with rolled towel

        7, 8.  Winnie in his bin. Rolled towels for support

        9, 10: Marcie’s play area and cage

        Gazer – the Lovebird Ambassador:

        Gazer, my best friend and companion crossed the rainbow bridge on June 15, 2000 due to visceral gout. (Unfortunately, I didn’t have the information that I have available now — or he might have been still alive.) Necropsy results came back negative for viral or bacterial lesions – this did not lessen the sorrow about having lost my sweet buddy … He is greatly missed by me and everyone who met him.

        As a baby Gazer was severely handicapped. He walked in circles all the time. His head was bent right back. Feeding the baby was difficult, since his head was upside down. It was a challenge. But in the end all the hard work was well worth it. Gazer had turned into the most lovable pet possible and later on was nearly normal.

        I found out that his ‘handicap’ had actually turned into an ‘asset’. He was able to move his head quite normally, but had the additional ability to turn his head fully back, like he always used to do as a baby. He was more ‘fully’ abled than any other lovebird I have seen. People were amazed when he turned his head back like that. They didn’t even realize that this wasn’t normal … I suppose they thought that ALL birds could do that. Every person that met him was charmed and would say: “I didn’t know lovebirds were that wonderful!” Gazer most surely was!

        Anyway, here was Gazer in his “Snuggly”:

        Gazer in his Sleeping Tent

        Below is how he turned his head back. Unfortunately the pictures aren’t very good.

        Gazer

        Species Research by Sibylle Johnson

        Special Bird “Charlie”

         

        Charlie

        Nancy Bowes shares her story with her pet Blue-crowned Conure with our visitors:

        “I have a 26 year old Blue Crown Conure named Charlie that I rescued after hearing about his situation through a family member acquainted with his former owner.

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        Stop Your Bird's Biting

          Charlie was locked in a small cage for his whole life, and suffered extreme neglect. Charlie is also an avian veterinary miracle according to all the avian vets in Massachusetts; he suffers from spondylosis (no one has ever seen this in a bird before), stenosis, and as a result of being locked in a cage for so many years, suffered severe muscle atrophy which resulted in him eventually falling and breaking his back in the lower lumbar area.

          Special-abled Blue Crown Conure named Charlie

          Despite this, Charlie lived, and this is when I heard about him – after he fell. I took him to the vets at Angell Memorial in Boston, and they were able to save him. He now lives as a paralyzed bird; he has no use of either feet or legs and therefore can no longer perch.

          He has been slowly nursed back to health with proper supplements and diet, but will never regain use of his legs or feet. He is the most spirited animal that I have ever known, and has such a zest for life despite his handicap. And amazingly, he has learned to trust and enjoy people again! He is very bonded to both me and my fiance.”

          Special-abled Blue Crown Conure named Charlie

          Accommodating Charlie

          “Because Charlie has no use of his feet or legs, he lives leaning on his keelbone. There was concern that his keelbone would puncture through the skin; and in the beginning this did happen, but fortunately it healed beautifully and has not occurred since.

          Charlie is kept in a regular bird cage that is extra wide on the bottom for room to move around. The bottom is lined with towels for padding, and on top of that I use non-pilling fleece which you can buy at local arts and crafts stores. This is a soft lining that does not irritate his skin, and helps reduce the risk of bedsores. Charlie is able to get around by gathering up the fleece in his beak to pull himself forward, and by using the bars of the cage.

          Charlie also has a medical grade sheepskin rug, commonly used for people who are paralyzed to reduce the risk of bedsores. It is easy to clean and very soft.

          Inside the cage, the water and food bowls are set up low, so they are level with the bedding; all Charlie needs to do is reach down into his water bowl and food bowl. He also has a flat dish for treats which he happily tosses around like a frisbee after he’s done eating!

          Special-abled Blue Crown Conure named Charlie

          As for cleaning, I have to spot clean his fleece two times per day, and despite this Charlie does sometimes end up dragging himself through his messes, but I remedy this by giving him a daily “sponge bath” at the sink. I use cotton balls soaked with tepid water and some of the Avix Soother Spray to help reduce any irritations.

          Charlie does still have the use of his wings; however he cannot land properly, he “crash lands” on his chest, therefore I keep him in safe situations so he does not get spooked and take off flying when he is out. The occasions when he has taken off flying, I reach out with my hands and he circles around to me and lands safely in my palm. I do allow him to exercise his wings by holding him securely and dropping my hand through the air. Charlie also holds on to the lower bars of his cage with his beak and flaps his wings.

          He was an unsociable bird when I first got him due to his years of neglect and being ignored, but he quickly warmed up to me once he realized that he needed me to help him. I did wear a glove in the beginning when he was in pain and unsociable to protect myself from any bites, but he is now a complete cuddle-bug! He loves having his ears and head scratched, and always wants to be taken out to rest on our stomachs or chests and cuddle. He hangs out with us whenever we are home, either on my bed with his sheepskin rug or in a sling I made that I wear around my neck; this keeps my hands free while still being able to have Charlie with me as I go about the house, just like birds who are able to perch ride around on their owner’s shoulders while they go about their business.

          Charlie has been an inspiration to me, and I can not recommend enough the importance of taking a bird to a certified avian vet or one with extensive bird experience to give the bird the best chance possible to make it through any traumas they may suffer such as Charlie has.

          Because Charlie had “nothing to lose” at the point when I rescued him, we chose to give him a chance. Charlie also made it very clear that he wanted to live; he was not in shock after his accident, just clearly in poor shape and not feeling well. The proper veterinary care and home care enabled Charlie to get healthy and continue living a fulfilling life despite the paralysis!”

          Photo of author

          Jeannine Miesle

          Jeannine Miesle, M.A., M.Ed, Allied Member, Association of Avian Veterinarians is an important contributor to Beauty of Birds. Jeannine has done considerable writing, proofreading and editing for journals and newsletters over the years. She had taught English and music in the schools and presently is an organist at Bethany Church in West Chester, Ohio. She also administrates a Facebook group, The Science of Avian Health.

          Jeannine takes in rescued cockatiels and presently has twelve birds. When they come to her they remain as part of her flock.

          1 thought on “Caring for a Handicapped Bird”

          1. Charlie
            Amazing! Is Nancy able to spend the entire day at home, with Charlie? How wonderfully kind. Thank you for this story!

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