I found Lena dead on Tuesday October 6th at 7.30 pm.
All yesterday she had hidden herself behind the radiator in the conservatory bird room. That evening, I switched it on and stood her on a soft cloth and left some water and seeds. In the morning she was quite cold so must have died around midnight.
I’d like to tell you about the 13 years she lived here and the two mates she had Archie and then Timi.
Archie and Lena Arrive
In 2002, our local zoo was re-homing some unwanted birds. I chose Archie and Lena, a pair of elderly Orange-winged Amazons (Amazonas Amazonia). As wild caught birds, their full history was unknown. In 1992 a German couple who had kept them for twenty years bequeathed them to the zoo. The curator never explained why the zoo kept them in separate cages.
In late March 2002 the temperature felt too chilly to put them straight into the aviary so I placed them together in the King Cage in my sitting room. In ten seconds, they perched close together on the top of the cage and began to preen one another. For the next eight years they were inseparable. Although Archie could fly, he rarely wanted to be more than a metre away from Lena. They arrived in good health. Archie had several missing toes bitten off by macaws. Lena’s right wing was damaged, perhaps slashed by a machete when she was captured in the Brazilian rainforest, so she was flightless. Within two weeks of being reunited with Archie, Lena laid an egg which smashed on the cage floor.
When the weather improved, I brought them into the aviary. The space must have reminded Lena of her previous life in the rain forest. She made a few poignant attempts to fly. Her mutilated wing could not keep her aloft. Each time she tried, she crashed to the ground so soon stopped. Neither bird was tame but expertly trained by zoo professionals, Lena would step onto a stick; Archie would step onto the hand. Neither could be petted or played with but either could be handled with ease. For a year or so they remembered being stared at by zoo visitors; they’d give a belly laugh and say hello. Eventually they stopped.
Lena tries to breed
It was now April – the breeding season. We hung a home-made nest box in a corner. Archie on guard outside it, fanned his tail, flashed his eyes, doubled himself in size and warned in Amazon language, ‘DO NOT APPROACH.’ Lena laid three more eggs and brooded them all. None hatched. I found one chick dead in shell. She was a devoted mother and once she started sitting, remained in the nest box except for two brief daily exits to drink and to defecate. Archie fed her in the nest box. For seven seasons she laid three to four eggs and incubated them. Apart from the one dead chick, none were ever fertile. I made the mistake the second year of removing empty eggs after a fortnight so she laid a second clutch. Thereafter, I let her sit until she abandoned the eggs herself. By the third mating season, I was trusted enough to approach them while they were nesting. I never found any reason for the empty eggs. Perhaps Archie’s infertility was age-related or perhaps his crippled feet prevented him gripping her firmly enough. She laid 42 eggs in all.
Trouble with Casper
Casper and Artha, my Greys, lived amiably with the two old Amazons. But after a couple of years, Casper, now mature, began to fight with Archie. Or maybe the other way round. – I never let the fight continue long enough to find out. Casper was heavier and several decades younger. The solution was to construct a separate 3×4 metre flight for the old Amazons inside the main aviary and keep the flight door shut unless Casper was indoors.
Amazons Home life
Because of Archie and Lena’s age, I worried each winter that they’d suffer from the cold. Their nest box was at the back of a wooden shed in which were food bowls and perches, an electric light and a greenhouse heater. A porthole, when the shed door was closed, allowed them to come out each morning into their flight. Many strategies were tried to persuade them to roost voluntarily inside their shed; none worked. I had to take them in by hand every winter’s night.
Archie always perched in front of Lena. But when their breakfast bowls arrived each morning, she’d clamber into the shed to eat; Archie never ate until she’d finished and returned outside. If anyone spoke a few words of German, Archie fanned his tail, pinned his eyes and swayed on his perch. He was ready to dance along with you, swaying back and forth. Although I sing out of tune, Archie never seemed to mind. I was always flattered and slightly apprehensive when he landed on my shoulder.
Most afternoons, Archie began squawking. ‘What’s that fearful noise?’ Non-parrot friends would ask. ‘Only Archie asking for his nut,’ I explained. As soon as the kitchen door opened, the noise ceased.
The old Amazons became the doyens of my aviary. When Casper was indoors. I would leave their flight door open, the parakeets would fly in, perch for a short while and fly out again. I like to think out of respect for the aged couple but possibly the fact that the old Amazons had special food in their bowls might have something to do with their popularity. A young pair of re-homed Orange wings, Basil and Cybil, joined the aviary flock and occasionally they’d perch with the old ones.
2009 – 2010 was one of the coldest winters on record. The two pairs of Amazons appeared to cope with sub-zero temperatures. I’d shut them in their respective sheds with 100 watt heaters; even so their water bowls were lightly frozen. However, by March, Archie didn’t seem his habitual self, not calling out his cheery “Hello,” each morning. He looked thin. Had the cold affected him? One afternoon, I found Archie standing on the ground. When I put him back on the perch he wobbled. I brought Archie and Lena indoors. I fitted up a large, dim dog crate with low perches and padded floor. I suspected Archie might have had a stroke. By early evening he seemed brighter and had managed to perch. He even took a few grains of millet from my hand. Unfortunately, the avian vet wasn’t in surgery that day. All I could think of to do was to give Archie some fluid from a syringe to guard against dehydration. Later that evening he appeared worse. He’d gone to the back of the crate. The other six conservatory birds took no notice but Timmi Timneh African Grey, a friend of the old Amazons, perched on top of the dog crate. We went early to bed; I couldn’t sleep. At midnight, Archie hadn’t moved. On my next visit at 1 am, he was lying on his stomach, with his head to one side. I believe that at the actual moment of death, Archie raised his right wing and flapped, as if he was thinking of flying away. His beak and eyes were a little open, his plumage brilliant emerald green. I left the body with Lena overnight. I wanted her to realize that he was gone. At 7 am, she was standing beside him with her head on one side. She left him at 8 am and ate some breakfast in the front of the crate. I asked the vet for a necropsy. Archie had died of heart failure. A condition he must have had for a long time and that would explain why he seemed less active than previously.
With Archie back from the vet’s surgery, my grandchildren wanted to bury him under the walnut tree, where three dogs, two cats and some birds are at rest. Naomi, six years old, insisted on seeing him for one last time. Everyone who visited us had enjoyed Archie’s benign company. The children appreciated his loyalty to Lena and his cheery hallos. He used to dance for them as well by swaying on his perch with his tail fanned out in time to whatever you were singing. Aaron, my grandson dug a small deep hole. We covered Archie with earth; I placed a cement block over the hole in case Mr Fox came around.
I advertised in Cage and Aviary for an old retired Amazon. I was offered a wild caught OWA cock, whose feet were paralysed from a rat bite, so although he could fly, could not mate. I fetched him from Stratford upon Avon; he was timid so I called him Timi. The two birds became friends at first sight.
These last two winters, Timi and Lena lived indoors with my other pet birds. Lena was too arthritic for a winter outside. They were companions but not bonded. Last year Lena started losing feathers and weight. The vet and I decided it was not worth subjecting her to tests. Her eyes remained bright; she continued enjoying her food, particularly soft food like scrambled eggs or mango pulp.
For the last five years she had a thrice weekly syringe of Metical, a painkiller for her arthritis. For the last year, I’ve added a few drops of flax oil and some glucosamine. This herbal medicine has shown good results with both a dog’s and a horse’s arthritis though it is not scientifically accepted.
Last October we had a fright with the two old birds. It was a stormy October afternoon. The pet birds were in the aviary. Someone had left the conservatory outside door open. Everyone in the house claimed that it was not them. Both Amazons went walkabout. Lena walked right round the bungalow and I found her 2 metres up in an apple tree. Timi was nowhere in sight.
I got up at 5 am and put Lena in a crate under the conifers where I thought Timi might have roosted. I hid behind a tree. He came down within minutes to the top of the cage. He flew off when I approached. It was simple to take the cage into the conservatory and hide again. Timi soon walked in. Lena had a sniffly nose for a few days. But the last 12 months of her life passed smoothly. With the advent of Benni, the young macaw I had to shut the Amazons’ cage door when he was free in case he harassed them.
I knew the end was coming a few days ago, when she had difficulty getting onto the perch and preferred to spend a lot of time on the ground. Lena brought so much pleasure into our lives with her dignity but I am happy that wild caught parrots can no longer be imported.