Rosemary Low has advice on coping with losing a bird.
The hardest part of living with a beloved Parrot for many years is coping with its death. This is especially true of the larger Parrots. Their great longevity means that we could spend a large part of our life with the same precious companion. Its death lives a terrible hole in our lives.
Such a loss could in some cases, even leave a deep sense of guilt. But this can be avoided by ensuring that we do everything possible to prolong a healthy life with correct diet and other factors that contribute to a happy life. That is almost too obvious to state. It is end-of-life care to which we should pay particular attention.
Grief without guilt
If they fulfil their maximum potential regarding lifespan, a Parrot or any other bird is likely to be afflicted with blindness or severe arthritis. Then its own comfort and welfare must come before a natural reluctance to have it put to sleep. I can speak from experience of my own dilemma.
The male of my breeding pair of Yellow-streaked Lories spent the last three years of his life in my house with me, due to arthritis which left him unable to fly and also affected his feet. He had been an aviary bird for more than 30 years and was not hand-reared but his sweet nature meant that in his old age I could handle him and take him out of his cage every day.
All he wanted to do was to sit quietly with me, while I rubbed his head.
He became badly crippled with arthritis so that he could not perch and he must have been in pain. I knew then I had to make the hard decision and take him to a vet. As he had been with me for 38 years this was very sad but when the quality of a bird’s life is so severely affected, the owner must always put the welfare of the bird first. A photo of him still hangs on my kitchen wall.
I have related this history because if a bird dies when it has had a good life, and a kind ending, we feel sorrow but no guilt. The death of a beloved bird must be harder to bear if it is associated with neglect or failure to act at the right time.
Perhaps the most intense guilt and loss is felt when a bird dies as the result of a needless accident. I have heard too many stories which result in me gasping: “How could the owner have been so careless?”
So here I would put out a plea to owners to look carefully at everything in a bird’s environment and consider the risk that even innocent-looking items could pose. Strangulation (toys), swallowing or dismantling items left within reach of a bird’s beak (with fatal consequences) and even being hit by a ceiling fan are just some of the fates that have befallen Parrots.
To a degree, we can delay the day when we have to grieve the loss of a wonderful companion by ensuring its well-being. Remember that comparatively few captive Parrots die of old age; incorrect diet and management cause too many premature deaths.
Early veterinary investigation could save the lives of many birds. Any vet will tell you that a large proportion of the birds they see were brought to the surgery or clinic too late. It is imperative to seek advice the moment abnormal behaviour or decreased food consumption is observed.
So, the first rule of avoiding prolonged grief and guilt over a bird’s death is to ensure that care and loving attention are always bestowed upon it. But when you outlive it, then what?
Coping with the loss
How people cope with the loss of a beloved companion animal depends partly on the circumstances. The loss of the sole companion of a person who lives alone is probably the most difficult to endure. If there are several birds in the household and other family members, there are always distractions.
But in a one to one relationship, the loss leaves a gaping hole. It is the same when a precious dog dies. Some people will rush out and buy a new puppy. Is this the right thing to do? We are all different in this respect and the distraction of a new bird will help many people. However, it must be chosen very carefully. Snap decisions and impulse purchases must be avoided. The wrong bird can be worse than no bird.
Should the purchase be of the same species? I think that depends on the sensitivity of the person. Does he or she want to be forever reminded of the departed bird with the presence of a new look-a-like? If the relationship was a deep one, I think nothing can replace that Parrot and a different species is advisable.
I am sure some people would disagree if they had a fondness for one particular species — the Grey Parrot for example. But certain species, such as Greys, have such highly individual personalities, that a comparison will probably never be made.
Taking on a bird that needs a new home can be very rewarding. This could be a good option for an experienced owner who must be aware that an older bird might not bond with him or her and might have a preference for one human gender. There is a lot to think about.
Before a big decision is made it could be a good idea to buy a baby Budgie. This is likely to be a delightful companion and if a larger Parrot is acquired later its presence will probably be agreeable for another Parrot.
Some Parrot rescue organisations foster Parrots out until they can find permanent homes. This could be a very good way of finding a new companion.
When a special bird dies, what do you do with it? If it dies at home and you own your house, you could bury it in a special place in your garden. This is not permitted in rented properties.
If you do not have a garden you could use a pet burial service. The ashes will be returned to you. If your bird was with a veterinary practise, they can arrange for disposal.
To celebrate the life of your bird, and to keep remembering it, why not donate to a Parrot conservation organisation or project? Do this on the anniversary of the death, to keep its memory alive, along with the treasured photos. Or you might wish for your bird to be remembered with the planting of a tree in its name. Contact the American Bird Conservancy at email@example.com
You might also want to look on-line for garden memorials for pets. They can be made of brass or slate or other materials that can be engraved with any inscription you want. For a budget version, simply paint the words in white on to a slate. They will be a lasting memory to a companion who will never be forgotten.