Reg our cockatiel has finally passed on. It was a sad morning when we arrived downstairs to find the little body supine with rigor mortis on the bottom of the cage. Mini son who had become attached to the grumpy old bird was distraught; first with the loss and then guilt that he had not been feeding him enough. (I had in fact been topping up when I thought mini son had forgotten or with water on hot days, so maybe, the bird had been overfed and it was my fault!)
We acquired Reg in rather different circumstances than you might imagine. I returned home some years ago
to be told we now had a bird. Expecting a homing pigeon or robin with a broken wing I peered under the lid of the shoebox to see trembling in the corner a small grey bundle of feathers and fury spitting angrily at the injustices of being caught. I was told how it had been flying around all day, landing on our garage, on the fence at the back of the garden and down near the rabbits. As the children approached, it flew off only to return a few minutes later. Despite the children and their noisy friends playing and chasing the poor bird, it continued returning to the mayhem.
As the day wore on the bird whistled angrily at them, ventured closer, never too near to be caught. Finally it had flown into the garage and perched exhausted on a dresser at the back. A path through the cluttered garage was cleared and the bird approached tentatively. Any hand held out was pecked at viciously. Brave and fearless Sexy Sporty Dad was called upon to retrieve the now exhausted bird. Despite several attempts to attack the restrictive hands the bird allowed himself to be caught.
By the time I arrived home Middle Son had already acquired a small handful of food for the bird from friends who owned love birds. We tried to identify the tiny bird; grey feathers all over his back with strips of white down his wings. A little yellow face had two very distinctive red spots on his cheeks hence he had already been named Reg to tie in with red. Later I discovered these are actually orange in colour but he was Reg for ever more. The most striking feature was the tuft of yellow feathers on his head.
The bird was shaking and spitting but had no real fight left in him. I was convinced it had flown into the dark garage to be left alone and die as wild creatures have a tendency to do. Later that evening a knock on the door revealed just a bird cage. My enterprising Middle Son, had been around the estate before my return asking if people had a cage. He had been directed to the house of someone I knew through school vaguely. The girl at the house told him they did have a cage and later left it on our doorstep. Months after, I ran into her mother who was a little surprised at my thanks; a few days later the stand for the cage was delivered for me at school. She apparently had no idea we’d had the cage and now wanted the stand out of the loft as well.
An unhappy and trembling Reg was placed in the newly cleaned and fresh cage with water and food overnight. Tomorrow if he survived, I would locate the owner and return him, much to the dismay of my children. Reg did survive but I never found the owner.
I did try, and I tried hard. I made posters leaving them all round town. I put them up at the vets who would listen out for anyone lamenting the loss of their bird. I handed in a poster to the pet food shop in town, who told me it was a cockatiel and sold me a small amount of food to keep going along with a book on cockatiel care. She also gave me some toys from a stack of old stock for him to play with. I also trawled the internet and discovered a weekly magazine devoted to bird care in which I placed a notice saying that we had found one, whether it ever got printed I do not know.
I had only one reply saying “her friend had lost a very valuable parakeet and this must be it, could she come and pick it up”. When I quizzed the lady in question she seemed reluctant to say any more and she was even less knowledgeable about birds than I was. I suggested the friend call if she thought the bird was hers. I heard nothing.
Reg soon became part of the family. We believe after watching his behaviour particularly in those early days, that he had not been treated as well as he might. He certainly did not like Sexy Sporty Dad or Middle Son who’s voice was becoming nearly as deep as his fathers. He would back up in the cage and spit if he heard their voices. He tolerated me, Mini Son and initially No 1 Son. It became apparent very early on that he was very grumpy and would not allow us any contact with him. Not what it says in the books about them being very friendly birds and easy to look after.
They are described as sociable birds and live in groups in the wild so I was worn down by the constant demands of three caring children that he was lonely during the day. I sucummed in the end or I would have had to allow them to take it in turns to stay at home during the day not sure the schools would have been quite so understanding. We acquired Summer, a young female who had already been trained to come out of the cage and fly around the room and then hop on to your hand and go back. They became quite attached to each other and although it took a long time before we allowed them in the same cage they would yell the house down if one was out of sight. Reg did not pick up on any of her tameness and could not be trained to allow us near, which made us think he was on the older side, young birds are trained easily. One morning after 6 months or so of living together Summer developed a chill or cold of some kind and I arranged to take her to the vets in the afternoon. She did not make it through the morning and the appointment had to be cancelled.
Reg went downhill very fast after that. He would not sing, warble or even whistle, he seemed even more grumpy than usual. It took less convincing this time that he needed a friend. We allowed him some grief time; giving us a chance to know he did not have the same chill as Summer before I was dispatched to purchase a new bird.
Peaches arrived having been removed from a cage of siblings so was already used to having company, but we slowly introduced her. It did not take them long for the alpha male to be replaced by the alpha female. It was Reg who was henpecked in this relationship.
Peaches and Reg had some humdingers of arguments but they hated it when separated. We did for Reg’s sake keep them next to each other in different cages. It was while we were on holiday some months later that Natty my neighbour rang to say Peaches had died in the night and the only explanation we could find was that we had had one of the very few mini heatwaves and it had all been too much for her.
Reg missed her but after a week or so he began to come out of his reclused state and started joining in conversation at table, more often than not taking over as we could not be heard. He loved company in the form of humans talking to him and he would warble back. He flourished on attention and attitude. He actually made a good companion to complain to as he never answered back or if he did it was automatically what you wanted or needed to hear. Middle son began feeding him from his hand without pecking and he would come to the edge of the cage and whistle if he thought I was ignoring him.
Reg’s noise and high pitched notice grabbing squeak became as normal as the children fighting over the last potato, or squabbling to watch their chosen channel on the TV. He developed a method of calling to me and sitting on the feed tray if he was hungry or thirsty, as soon as I approached he would hop of so we didn’t brush together as I removed it. If I didn’t see or answer his needs he would continue, the volume going up in decibels till I did. Once satiated, he would whistle his thanks and expect me to attempt to whistle the same tune back. It delighted him to chat in this way; he would whistle and I had to copy his chords. My whistling is bad at the best of times so Reg would whistle more and more complex notes and he would always win with a final little song of such triumphant difficulty I learnt to accept defeat quickly and graciously.
The other morning I came down to start work and there was no little birdsong to greet me. I could hear the dawn chorus outside but the cage was not responding. Reg was on his way to meet Summer and Peaches and live out eternity in bird heaven.
I am selling the cages, so the temptation does not have the convenience of already having…….
Sad times but we feel he had a good end of life.
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