Old Jorge is gone. Poor old guy. Have you ever had a pet where every morning he looked back at you, it was a miracle he was still alive? His arthritis was so bad I finally lined the bottom of his cage with a “mattress” so when he fell off his perch he wouldn’t get hurt. I bought him a little bird heater and he spent most of his final days huddled up to it, and I found a little corner platform perch so he didn’t have to worry about falling down. He had his own food and water at the bottom of the cage, and seemed happier to eat down there than up at the regular water and food dish above. At bedtime, he took forever to decide where to sleep: which one of his favorite places would it be? By his heater? Near the doves, at the top of the cage? Early years, he liked his swing. But this past year, I would say goodnight and wait by the light switch for him to decide. He’d slowly clamber up and down ladders and finally settle in, usually up by the doves. I would wait patiently, watching in case he took a tumble, and then I would turn off the light and go to bed myself. Now I just call “goodnight” to the birds, and go to bed. Sadly.
Jorge (pronounced Hor-hay) arrived here in 2006. My petsitter had rescued him around 2002. She heard him shrieking every day which is how she found him, a few doors down, in a cage in the carport, hardly a safe situation. The owner wanted to get rid of him, “How about $50?” Judy couldn’t afford him, and I couldn’t take him in, because at the time I had a cockatiel who was feather picking, and we didn’t think a screamer would be any help to my guy. Judy eventually bought him and cared for him four years. Until she developed ovarian cancer, when she asked me to take her birds. Jorge had never tamed down but we never blamed him for that, and respected his wariness. We suspected he spent time in an unpleasant situation, maybe worse than the carport. My feather-picker had passed and my remaining cockatiel, a rescue named Butterfree, proved to be a worthy companion for Jorge until he, too, passed.
Jorge was devastated by this loss. He wasn’t friendly to people, but he had bonded to beautiful Butterfree. I decided to look for an old male to become a companion to Jorge, and found Vincent. Vincent was a friendly older bird needing a new situation and he immediately bonded to Jorge. The two old males ate together, explored together, and groomed each other until Jorge passed last week.
When Vincent arrived, Jorge had a large cage outfitted with climbing ladders, swings, and toys. I thought they were about the same age, and they might have been, but Jorge seemed to age, while Vincent seems to be the same age he was when he arrived here 12 years ago. That’s not possible of course, but Jorge became a crotchety, stiff old man and fell off a perch one day.
The second time he fell off his perch, I realized I was dealing with a much older bird who would need a safer environment. The tall cage was no longer suitable.
By now I had a motley collection of birds: the two cockatiels, Spike the budgie, and two handicapped doves, The Pirate and her mother Snow White. Dobby was starting to eat the pink cloth “cage diapers” I put at the bottom of the cages to catch miscellaneous bird debris: he discovered he could get at the forbidden bird food by tearing open the fabric. The cages are in his area, after all.
My volunteer, Jillian, and I put together two new cages and we transferred everyone over. I divided Jorge and Vincent’s cage into two “flats” and Spike moved downstairs. (That’s where Spitfire lives, now that little Spike has passed.) I made a fleece covered mattress for the bottom of the cockatiel cage and arranged ladders to accommodate Jorge. The handicapped doves had a new matching cage, also with a mattress. Everyone was surprisingly blasé about their new homes. It helped that the location and neighbors were the same.
After years of mis-matched hand-me-down cages, it is nice to have new ones that I can customize. The ladders in the cockatiel cage allowed Jorge to climb to every perch, toy, food and water dish. The new cages are larger and easier to clean. The fleece at the bottom of the cages results in “bird laundry” to add to my rabbit and capybara laundry, but that’s why I have an industrial oversized washer.
Here’s a gratuitous photo of Dobby, checking out the new cages the following day. He notices everything. Poor Dobby, with no “cage diapers” to destroy, he soon learned to get directly into the bags of bird food stored below.
The left cage is customized for the two handicapped doves: One can’t walk, the other can’t fly. If you can’t walk, you can’t perch, so The Pirate has a hammock at the top. She can fly up to it. The ramps are for the walker, Snow White. I lift her up onto a perch every night at bedtime, and in the morning she hops down onto the mattress below. Flying down is a lot easier than flying up.
One advantage to the new cages didn’t become clear until months later: it reinforced the flocking behavior of all the birds. Jorge and Vincent started to roost high on the left side, as near as possible to the two snoozing doves. They ate together, too, and eating my lunch in the kitchen was a signal for them to join me. Birds are funny that way.
About a year ago, Jorge began to spend more time on the floor of his cage, so I added a lower food dish (with supplements added) and crock of water. On signal, when I brought fresh water, he would amble down the nearest ladder and take two sips. “Thank you!” Then came the wall-mounted cage heater and platform. He had been blind in his right eye for about the past six months and he took longer and longer to decide where to sleep. The seasons changed from winter to spring, yet Jorge chose to spend more and more time by his heater. His passing was unexpected, I honestly thought he might live on forever. I will spend the rest of my days wondering how old he really was.