Kakapo died on Monday after living with a benign tumour for the past nine months. Back then I had noticed her pecking at her rump and drawing blood. It looked gruesome to see bright red circles of blood splattered on the bottom of the cage. I had to take her in to the vet, and all my birds ever since I started caring for budgies in 1989 have gone to The Links Road Animal and Bird Clinic. I was assured by Dr. Mavromatis that Kakapo’s tumour was benign yet the position of it on her body meant that he could not operate on it. Tumours in old birds is rather common and one of my first birds from over twenty years ago, Beejay, had a tumour successfully removed. In Kakapo’s case, however, the operation would likely do more damage than good and the vet recommended that we leave her as is. And so, for the next seven months, Kakapo continued to peck and blood drops continued to splatter all over the bottom of the birdcage and on the plastic sheet surrounding it. In spite of this my little white bird never appeared to be in distress. She ate and flew like any normal bird.
As the tumour grew she lost the ability to fly. She could still fly from the cage to the floor yet could not gain any lift to get back. Thus for the past four weeks I removed the cage from its wire base and set it on the floor. Kakapo could still climb up by grasping the overhanging towel ends that I draped over the cage bottom. Birds use their beaks as another appendage and she used it to help her climb all over the cage, both inside and out. She could not keep her balance on perches since the tumour had made her so bottom-heavy, and in her constant pecking she had pulled out all but two of her long tail feathers, which help keep a bird stable. In the last couple weeks climbing was a struggle and she could not easily walk across the wired top of the cage. She stumbled with each step and would hop to the bottom of the cage to forage for dropped seeds. She also crept outside the cage and ate seed which had fallen onto the plastic sheet.
I knew from having budgies for over thirty years that when they have difficulty walking, then the end is near. I have seen my own budgies struggle with climbing up the bars of the cage and then a week and a half later, they have died. Kakapo was whimpering–the saddest sound to hear from a small bird like this–yet still eating and moving around. In her last week she was drinking more water each day than she had ever drunk before. She chose to hang herself upside down from the cage bars and drink water from the bottom water bowl instead of choosing to drink it from the side dispenser while sitting upright. It was probably easier to drink upside down versus balancing on a perch. Over this past weekend I picked her up from inside the cage and held her in my hands for hours. She never struggled to be free. Sometimes she whimpered. It wasn’t until Monday morning that she took a turn for the worst. Over the last days of her life I washed her under warm water–without any squirming from her–to remove the caked-on poop which had accumulated around her vent and on her feet. She could no longer groom herself or eliminate since her rump tumour had grown so large. I dried her and placed her in a washcloth and held her all morning. As I got ready for work I put her, still wrapped but loosely, on the plastic sheet and put some seed before her. I was seconds before leaving for work when she crawled out from under the washcloth and tried to eat.
I knew that she would die when I was at work. When I got in at 9:15 I found her huddled next to the front corner of the left side of the cage. She was an old bird, and her patient profile from the vet put her year of birth as June 2005. I used to take my new budgies for a checkup at the vet shortly after buying them. I bought her as a juvenile. In this age where people take photos of every meal and every thing, I rarely took pictures of my budgies. This is still the story of my life where I seem only to take pictures when I am on vacation. The oldest picture I have of her is from 2010 (above). She is already an adult in that photo. At fourteen years old, Kakapo was the longest-lived of all my budgies.
Kakapo, Grey and Kelly
Kakapo and Mango from this past August, taken by one of my budgies’ caregivers
This video was shot by one of my budgies’ caregivers while I was on holiday in February. The blinds in the living room are gone. I got new ones installed last week. I will post photos of my blinds in a few days.