Archie and Lena Arrive
Twelve years ago our local zoo contacted me; would I take any of their unwanted birds? The most suitable turned out to be Archie and Lena, a pair of elderly Orange-winged Amazons (Amazona amazonica).
Like most wild caught birds, their history was largely unknown. For twenty years, they’d lived with a German couple, who bequeathed them to the zoo in 1992 or thereabouts; the original documents are lost. The curator never explained why the zoo kept them in separate cages for ten years.
In late March 2002 the temperature felt too chilly to put them straight into the aviary so I placed them in the King’s Cage in my sitting room. They’d been a pair so I put them together again. In ten seconds, they perched close together on the top of the cage and began to preen one another. For the eight years since they have been inseparable.
They arrived in good health with an elaborate diet sheet. 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 took them outside. Lena must have remembered being flighted. In her early days in the large aviary, 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, trained by zoo professionals, Lena would step onto a stick; Archie would step onto the hand. This meant that although you couldn’t pet or play with them, they were easy to handle.
Lena tries to breed
It was April - the breeding season. We hung a homemade nest box in a corner. Archie, on guard outside it, would fan his tail, flash his eyes, double himself in size and warn 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.
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 flight of 3x4 metres for the old Amazons inside the main aviary and keep the flight door shut unless Casper was indoors.
Why won’t you use your shed?
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.
When the shed door was closed, a porthole 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.
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. Their only vocabulary was ‘Hello,’ followed by a belly laugh. This they’d call out from time to time.
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.
In the afternoon, 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 and their flight door open, every other bird would fly in, perch for a short while and fly out again.
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?
I visit the aviary at least twice a day. 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 into the warmed conservatory. 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 a bit 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. The only thing I could think of to do was to give Archie some fluid from a syringe to guard against dehydration.
Later in the evening he appeared worse, he’d gone to the back of the crate. The other six conservatory birds took no notice but Timi Timneh, 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 from the back of the cage. 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.
Should children be exposed to pet deaths? I believe they should be if they wish it. I brought 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.
I unwrapped just his head – a very dead Parrot but peaceful. Naomi insisted on holding and kissing him. I was scared that the wrapping would slide down and she’d realise that Archie’s head was sewn to his body. Fortunately, there were no mishaps.
Lena had been put back into her flight. When I showed her the corpse, she no longer recognized it. She hissed and squawked. 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, who had paralysed feet 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.
This last winter Timi and Lena lived indoors. Both have too much arthritis for a winter outside. They are companions but not a bonded pair. Lena is losing feathers and looks very old. She enjoys her food and being visited.
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