A bird with a physical handicap presents special challenges for those who love them and want to provide them a full and enjoyable life. A handicap can range from mild disabilities like missing toes, an upcurved beak, splayed legs, amputated feet, missing wings, dislocated hips, burn injuries to blindness. Animals have a different attitude about disabilities - if they were born with them, they know no other way to live and seem to adapt in the most amazing ways. Even animals who are injured later in life seem to possess the drive and determination to get on with the task of survival. They even find ways to enjoy life in spite of their disabilities.
When dealing with a bird with physical challenges, it is helpful to "put yourself in their feathers" and visualize
their situation. For instance, if your bird is missing some toes, then his ability to grip wood perches and keep his balance are compromised. Providing rough textured perches and rope perches can greatly enhance their ability to perch, as well as increase their comfort because they are not having to grip the perches so tightly with their few remaining toes.
SPLAYED LEGS: Splayed legs is a condition that usually happens in the nest box, where the chick's legs are spread apart at the hip or at the knee joint, making it impossible for the bird to stand upright with both legs parallel. Sometimes the condition can be corrected while the baby bird is still very tiny by taping their legs together in the correct position, but that is not 100% successful. (Once a bird has matured, the
nent condition, unless x-rays reveal the problem is due to a hip dislocation or defect that can be corrected with surgery.) One owner has found that by providing V-shaped perches, her little Lovebird can put one foot on each perch of the "V" and perch quite comfortably with his legs in their natural splayed position. He eats, plays, and is generally a happy and sassy little creature.
DEFORMED FEET: Quaker parakeet "Gimpy" was obviously handicapped when purchased nine years ago. Gimpy has always been full of life and like many Quakers just loves to have fun. He has one foot that has been crippled since birth. The only thing that his owner had to do to help this handicap is to make sure that he has very comfortable perches. If you didn't already know he was crippled you would never expect it. It does not stop him from doing what he wants to do. He is very active. energetic and extremely loving parrot.
DEFORMED BEAK: Blue - fronted Amazon "C.B.," named for his crooked beak, is a bird rescued from deplorable conditions five years ago. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of the poor care and unsanitary conditions of his previous home is a permanently deformed beak. C.B. apparently had a sinus infection that went untreated. The infection of the tissue in the sinuses also infected the beak bed (which is similar to a nail bed in humans), and his beak now grows straight out with no curve to it at all. It needs trimming now and then by the owner's vet. He also has one nostril that has grown almost shut. Because of this beak deformity, C.B. is not able to enjoy chewing wood like other parrots, nor is he able to crack nuts or bite into hard foods like almonds, carrots, or big pieces of apple. His owner is able to provide him a good diet by using small sized pellets, and smaller diced fresh foods.
Other than his deformed beak and his inability to shred wood, crack nuts, or bite into firm foods, C.B. is a normal parrot in all other ways. He is full of conversation, whistles and squawks, as well as charm, personality and that typical Amazon attitude. He has even taught one family member to hop up and give him treats at the ring of his bell!
MISSING TOES: In the last year, I have had personal experience with two handicapped birds. Buster is a 13 year old Quaker parakeet who came to live with me last fall. In his previous home, two of his front toes on his left foot were "amputated" by the beak of a larger bird. On his right foot, another front toe was severely crushed and then twisted so that the remnant of a toenail is turned upward and the toe itself is very sensitive to any touch or pressure. This leaves him with only ONE functioning toe in front, and his two rear toes on the back of each foot.
When I first got Buster, he had quite an aggressive attitude and his cage set-up included a hard manzanita and a regular small dowel perch in his cage. His activity level was very little other than when he was climbing around the
bars of the cage. But when on a perch, he gripped on as tightly as he could and didn't move for fear of slipping off the perches. The first thing I did was to get rid of that slippery manzanita perch and dowel perch. Instead, I bought several rope perches (braided rope and sisal rope) for him, as well as a square perch that is easier for him to grip. I also installed a very fat sandblasted manzanita perch (lots of knots and bumps) so he could perch on it flat-footed and not lose his balance. This became his nighttime sleeping perch and made an immediate difference in his attitude when he could get a good night's rest and not fall off his perch in the middle of the night.
It was amazing how quickly Buster started moving around with his new perches. Before long, he was scampering from one perch to another, flipping upside down to go from one place to the other, with only his hind toenails holding onto the perches for stability. He will also stretch to reach a toy, gripping the perch with just his rear toenails, and stretched forward with his foot and beak doing damage to whatever toy he is playing with. Such simple changes in perches made a tremendous improvement in his quality of life ... Buster rarely climbs on the bars of his cage anymore - the rope perches have removed the fear of failing and greatly improved his confidence in himself. Buster is now master of his entire world in his cage and he is a delight to watch scamper and flip and hop around his cage with total abandon. Of course, an improvement in his diet from all-seed to pellets and fresh foods, as well as some serious behavior modification were also needed to bring out Buster's true potential as Mr. Charm, which is how most people think of him now. But I think that improving his activity level by providing safe ways for him to move around, and restoring his confidence to allow him to play aggressively and enthusiastically with his toys, were the most important changes.