Anthropologists warn us not to anthropomorphize instinctual animal behavior, even when those actions seem so human. What instinct told my cat Darcy, every time I had a suitcase standing by the door waiting for an upcoming trip, to lie in wait for me under the couch and then reach her paws out, grab my ankle, and bite me? It certainly appeared to be a planned protest against my leaving her alone. Over the years that I have shared my home with parakeets, I have often observed behaviors that, if not the same as humans’, require a very different lexicon to describe it. Bob, a green budgie, and blue Dave inhabit a large flight cage. Bob, who is between 10 and 12 years old, was a member of my original pair up until last week. Young Dave, known affectionately as Dave Three, was preceded by Dave One and Dave Two.
I was away when Dave One passed. My daughter told me that the vet advised her to quickly replace the dead bird to prevent the remaining bird from becoming depressed. By the time I returned home from vacation, the two birds were chirping together in apparent friendship—a happy state of compatibility that continued.
However, three years later, Dave Two began to display the tell-tale signs of a sick bird: eating off the bottom of the cage, puffy and shivering, with his tail bobbing. Bob became more attentive, sitting close to her cage-mate, following him around and cooing. It was only a few weeks later that Dave Two lay dead on the cage floor. Bob was frantic—racing across the top of cage, spinning wheels incessantly, and bobbing her head until the noise continued 24 hours a day. I went to find a new Dave—a new blue Dave. Bob was in mourning, anxious and despairing.
It took the new pair a while to bond. Dave Three was bigger and very friendly—so friendly, in fact, that he would sidle up to Bob on the perch. Bob would keep moving away until she was smashed up against the bars, Dave tweeting happily next to her. Dave Three pursued, Bob evaded, and I worried that this new pair would never make a connection. Ultimately, they did link up in what appeared to be a strong bond between two happy birds. Although Dave was the noisier of the two, they played together, shared treats, and chirped.They paid no attention to me. For my part, I kept their cage clean, provided plenty of fresh water, spray millet, and new toys; I also played parakeet sounds on the laptop if I would be gone for the day. They were noisy if I was on a Zoom call and quiet at night. We were a happy threesome. The first signs of distress were misleading. Bob would cuddle up next to Dave. He would raise his wing, and she would shelter her head under it. I read online that this was a behavior designed to protect a sick bird from predators. (How do ornithologists know that?) Bob started eating less millet and more birdseed. Dave would join her and stay close but not eat himself—in fact, he rarely left her side. Their behavior was uncharacteristic, unusual, and alarming. Bob was blown up like a puffball, and Dave had gotten thin. I was sure that Bob was dying, although she exhibited no other symptoms. A week later, I heard a thump in the middle of the night and woke up to Bob lying dead on the cage floor. Dave was on an upper perch, perfectly still; there was no frantic behavior and no noise.
My son-in-law wrapped Bob in clean paper and put her in a small box. Later, he buried Bob under a new hydrangea bush behind the house. I have lost too many friends this past couple of years. Even the loss of Bob was hard, and I was relieved to let Tim handle her death. He said it was “a lovely ceremony.” Somehow, I doubt that there was much ceremony, but at least Bob wasn’t thrown out with the trash. For that, I’m grateful.
I had to go to work early. Even though it was a nine-hour day, I stopped on the way home to purchase a new friend for Dave. I didn’t want him to become obsessed like Bob had been when Dave Two died.
Bob Two is more yellow than green. I think he’s a young male. He sits on a perch, occasionally lets out a chirp, but doesn’t move anywhere near Dave Three. For his part, Dave doesn’t go anywhere near Bob. They just stare at each other . . . like an arranged marriage gone wrong. I hope I did the right thing by getting a new bird so quickly. It’s problematic figuring out how to comfort a pet (more guesswork than certainty), but I figure I owe it to these two little guys to try.