Every Good Bird Deserves Feather


I have two African Greys. I acquired Chloe, a 9-year old female, from a pet store, before I considered dealing directly with breeders. Chloe has never been an onlyCTl>ird. She is well-socialized, completely non-neurotic, and she allows other people, even non-members of the family to hold and pet her. She speaks occasionally, but always, appropriately. Her strong suit is imitating household noises, especially fax machines, phones, and microwave timers. She could so accurately replicate my cell phone ring that I had to change it. And, because we had so much construction in our neighborhood when she began her repertoire, she's a dead ringer for a backup signal. Chloe is in perfect feather; I've never known her otherwise. Lucky me!

This is not an article about Chloe, however. I summarize Chloe's attributes only to convey what had become my expectations. This is the story of Pasha that sets forth a re-feathering regimen. It is also a story of how expectations, even perhaps unrealistic ones, can help shape outcomes.

Pasha came into my life in February 2006. Surely it was fate. As much as I loved Chloe, I had no intention of acquiring another African Grey. Pasha was to be re-homed privately, not through any sanctioned adoption program. A friend was supposed to pick her up from her prior home, but when that friend was involved in a traftc accident en route to do just that, I was called upon to collect Pasha from the family who could no longer keep her. They were convinced she was unhappy, as evidenced by her withdrawal and her feather destructive behavior. The family's lifestyle had changed somewhat and apparently Pasha no longer [] in as nicely as she had before.

I was not judgmental. I was on assignment, pinchhitting for a friend who had a history of helping birds in situations. IBiaving re-feathered three birds already in the past year, I imagine my friend thought I was as good a choice as any to deal with Pasha, a bird that she had not yet seen.

 When I arrived at the house, the woman greeted me cheerfully. She explained that Pasha, then approximately four years old, and at one time a great talker, had been the family's darling. She had gone places and done things with them almost since they had bought her as a hand-fed baby. Pasha had even sat poolside eating fruit while they swam. She was deChitely part of the family. According to the woman, their lives changed. The woman's assessment was that Pasha was intelligent enough to notice the difference and she wasn't adjusting well. This was the preamble; I had not yet seen the bird.

The living room of the house was essentially empty, except for a large cage draped with a sheet. I asked where Pasha was and the woman walked over to the cage and uncovered it. There, at last, was Pasha.

I gasped audibly. I am sure I had anticipated a bird looking essentially like Chloe but with a few patches missing feathers here or there. Pasha was plucked unmercifully, more plucked than I had ever seen any bird before. What feathers she hadn't plucked, she had snapped. Snapping her feathers, I was informed, was only a prelude to her pulling them out altogether. Some of the snapped feather shafts had coagulated blood on them. I approached the cage and Pasha began to fret terribly, then she fell off her perch. It was a long way down to the bottom of the cage and Pasha bounced when she hit the bottom. Several feather shafts began to bleed anew. I felt guilty for putting her through it and I apologized to my gracious and equally apologetic host.

The woman, perhaps reasoning that I had changed my mind, asked whether I would please take Pasha. She seemed under tremendous pressure to relieve herself of the bird, which had recently undergone numerous veterinary screenings, all being normal. She asked me whether I thought Pasha, who had plucked for over a year, would ever have feathers again. I said I didn't know, because I honestly didn't. She said she couldn't bear seeing Pasha this way. My only response was that it was hard to blame her. She was absolutely ready to relinquish the bird.

I assured the woman that I would take good care of Pasha, as I wondered exactly what that meant.

I promised her that regardless of the outcome on feather re-growth, Pasha would be loved in a forever home. What was I getting myself into? It was clear that Pasha had been loved very much at one time, but I sensed that the family was emotionally exhausted dealing with the pathetic creature that Pasha had become.