The Grey Roost
Mary and I have had birds on and off throughout our lives, mostly Parakeets and Lovebirds, but I fell in love the first time I saw an African Grey up close. We lost our last lovebird, Peanut, in 1996, shortly after we got our first dog, Sabrina, a Siberian husky. Anyone who has had a husky knows that they have an incredible amount of energy, especially as puppies, and Sabrina absolutely wore us out. We decided to get her a companion when she was two, and added our Chocolate lab, Hannah to the family. Sabrina and Hannah got along wonderfully, and about a year latter we adopted a Springer spaniel named Nina, who was abandoned at the vet because we were told, she had bad hips.
Birds were pretty much out of the picture at this point; although I would stop at a couple of bird stores in our area for a “grey fix” from time to time, I always thought I would get a grey at some point, but I felt that it would be a good idea to move up to a medium size parrot, like a conure, first. I’ve always thought that Sun conures were magnificent, but was wary of the noise level that they produce (that’s a lot of sound out of a little bird), so I continued to wait. Fast forward to 2004, my need for “grey fixes” had diminished, and I really didn’t think too much about getting another bird; that was until my nephew got his Sun conure. The first time I saw him I couldn’t put him down. It had been a long time since I handled a bird, and I knew right there that I was in trouble; I think Mary also knew that we would be getting a bird soon, and I seem remember joking about it on our way home. A short time latter we decided to dive in and get a Sun, so off to the store we went. I took a quick look at the greys before heading over to where the conures were. After handling a few of them we selected one and decided to put a deposit on it; this was a Thursday night, and we decided to bring our new addition home on Saturday so we all had some time to adjust before the new workweek.
As we were finalizing everything, I heard a commotion from over where the greys were. There were branches attached to the tops of the cages and apparently, one of them was loose, and this little grey lost its balance and fluttered to the floor a couple of feet from where I was standing. This had happened a few times while I was in getting my “fixes”, and usually they run away from you when you try to pick them up. Not this time, as I reached down to help the little grey I was surprised when it stepped right up onto my finger and even more surprised when it did not want to get off my hand when I tried to return it to the branches. So there we were, with a deposit on a Sun conure, walking around the store looking at cages with this little grey that seemed very content to be with us. We still had every intention to get the Conure, but… for… some… reason, I took a quick look at its leg band before finally returning it to its cage. I woke up in the middle of the night suffering from a severe case of grey on the brain; and I woke Mary in the morning and told her that I thought I wanted to get the little grey instead of the conure. We returned to the store that night and told them that we (I) had changed our minds, and that we wanted to take the grey instead. Now, I think someone may have been working with this bird because she would step up every time without hesitation, and because they tried to talk us out of taking her. He told us he felt that she didn’t seem to interact with us, but just sat on our hand (nonsense). I asked him to select one that he felt might be a better fit, but every bird he selected could not have cared less that we were there. We changed our deposit to the first grey, but decided to wait until Saturday morning to make the final decision.
On Saturday the decision was easy, two of the other birds bit me, and the rest were not interested in either of us; so on Saturday April 10th, 2004, the day before Easter, the little grey that landed at my feet became ours . We named (him) Truman (those of you that remember my posts on AGO might remember me as Truman’s dad), but when we returned to the store with (him) the following week so they could check his progress, we were told that they thought it was a female. The results of the test confirmed this, so I was still the only thing in the house with a Y chromosome (one wife, three female dogs, one female parrot, and me). So to avoid any confusion we decided to name her Greycee.
Greycee seemed to settle in quickly, however the dogs were another story. Every time she moved, they were at her cage to see what the heck was going on; this went on for months before they finally got used to her being around. We tried to introduce them but we knew early on that the lab and the spaniel could never be allowed around her when she was out; and the husky who mothers everything, was allowed some closely watched interaction, but she mostly annoyed Greycee by trying to sniff her. This made things difficult trying to juggle time spent with all of them. Usually what we did was have Greycee out with us during meal times and the dogs out later in the evening. Speaking of meals, I think there may be sub-species of greys that originated in Italy, because if we were eating anything that had tomato sauce on it, she just had to have it. She loved spaghetti and meatballs (light on the meat of course); it was funny to see her bury her head in her food bowl and come up covered in tomato sauce; we even joked about changing her name again to Sophia. Her other favorites were apples (granny smiths only, like her dad), banana, green beans, some of the Beak Appetite mixes; and I don’t think her eyes could get any larger than when she saw an almond, they were absolutely her favorite. Life was normal for almost the first year that we had her. She began imitating our whistles and did a good cordless phone imitation by about one year old, and started to say a few words at about 15 months. The only thing that seemed a little strange was that Greycee was very laid back. By that I mean she would play, but she wasn’t very energetic; other greys that I’ve seen really attacked their toys, but Greycee was never like that. I don’t know if that’s any indication of anything, and I know that they are all individuals, but it makes me wonder. It was about March or April of ‘05 that we began to notice her make a strange (to us) head shaking motion, almost like she had a fly buzzing around her head. We also began to find the first signs of barbered feathers at the bottom of her cage. Everything else appeared normal, and she showed no signs of being ill, so we decided to keep an eye out for any further changes and wait. I had my hip replaced in May, and I was out of work for three months during rehab. During that time the head shaking seemed to be getting worse; we were also going to have some painting done in our house, so we asked my brother to care for Greycee until the fumes subsided, so I decided to take her to the vet before dropping her off at my brother's home. The avian vet wasn't in that day, so one of the residents did an examination, which revealed nothing; and unfortunately, she did not do blood tests.
The head shaking and picking continued, so in July I brought Greycee to an avian vet that was recommended by a friend. Greycee’s first appointment was on July 18, 2005, and outwardly, there was no indication that she was ill, unless you considered the feather chewing, which I certainly did because it was one of the indications to me that something was not right. Little did we know, this was the beginning of sixteen months of vet visits, numerous blood tests and other diagnostic procedures, all of which left us with no clear cause of her illness. I didn’t want to dwell here on that part, but the fact is that Greycee was ill for over half of her short life. Greycee was initially treated for Aspergillosis in August and September, and after about six weeks of treatment with Sporonox, her blood tests returned to normal and her feather chewing seemed to stop. We thought she was in the clear until the end of October, when we noticed her begin to pick at her feathers again. I contacted the vet and asked if it was possible that the infection returned; he replied that he didn’t think that that was the cause of the picking, that it was just an “African Grey thing”. He made that statement while offering no advice on how to work through it if was in fact a behavioral issue. We decided to find another vet.
Greycee’s new doctor reviewed her records and did more blood tests, and gave me information on feather destructive behaviors, foraging activities, and other ideas to keep her stimulated. However, Greycee’s blood tests came back abnormal again; the vet tested for Asper, which came back negative, so, she recommended treating her with Doxycycline. After running the full course of injections, her blood levels returned to normal once again, however this time the feather picking did not stop; this was mid December, 2005. The next three months was when we got our only real look at Greycee’s personality. She learned several new words and sounds, starting with a telephone conversation that mimicked Mary’s tone. She also learned to whistle “charge” and the opening to Beethoven’s fifth. When you offered her your finger, she would say along with us “Step up…good girl!” She learned to bark, and meow, would ask the dogs “wanna go out”? She also said “peek-a-boo”, “oops”, “hello”, “hello Greycee”, and “Greycee’s a good girl?” and when you gave her a treat, she would usually respond with “mmmmmm”. As I would begin to scritch the back of her neck I would say “petza, petza?” It wasn’t long before she would walk up to me, put her head down, and ask “petza, petza?” Her imitations were not usually perfect, for example, when she mimicked the phone, you could tell it was Greycee. However, there was one sound that she learned that she absolutely nailed, and sadly, it was the last thing that I believe she learned. One night while I was sitting at the computer, I heard what I thought was Mary setting the house alarm; there is a shortcut where you press two keys (which beep), and the alarm sets with three quick beeps. The tone is beep …beep … beep beep beep. It was early in the evening, so I asked Mary “did you set the alarm?” she told me no, and with that we heard “beep … beep … beep beep beep”; we both broke out laughing at what our little girl had learned. It was a few weeks after that when we realized that something was wrong again with Greycee. We began to notice that she was not talking as much; her favorite sound was the telephone, and that stopped early in April, followed by all but the easiest sounds. In addition, she seemed to frighten very easily, she became very skittish; the final piece was Easter Sunday, we had family over, and our neighbors stopped by for dessert later in the evening. Their children were playing, they were a little loud, but were in the kitchen, I found Greycee clinging to the back of her cage in the living room, shaking uncontrollably. Back to the vet we went for more blood tests, which confirmed that she indeed was sick again, but unlike the past times, she was now showing physical signs of illness. She became weak, was starting to have trouble perching, and her feather picking now became full plucking of her chest neck and wings. Over the next month, Greycee had several x-rays done, an endoscopy to look for signs of Asper, and a biopsy when the x-rays showed an inflammation in her intestines; all of these tests were inconclusive. She now was very weak, especially on her left side, which made us wonder if she had suffered a stroke. After consultations with other vets, and with Greycee near death, we decided to start treatment for Avian TB. She received her first dose on May 25th. She hovered unchanged for the first week, and then we started to slowly see improvement.
On June 18th, we had our last truly bright moments. Greycee’s improvement had picked up noticeably toward the end of the second week of medication; she gained strength, and on this Sunday evening, we thought we were finally turning the corner. After a couple of days of mumbling, Greycee began talking again! We had put her back in her cage after dinner, and as I was sitting next to her, she clearly said “hellooo”, “peek-a-boo”, “wanna go out”, and a few others. We were overjoyed thinking that we had finally found the root of her problem, and that she would recover. But almost cruelly, this also did not last. Shortly after this, her improvement began to level off; at first we thought that since TB treatments were of such long duration, that she would continue to improve but at a slower rate. However early in August, she began to weaken again, and this downturn we were not able to reverse, try as we did. There were still a few lighthearted moments; on one visit to the vet, the Dr. took Greycee from her carrier and held her up to look at her, Greycee stood on her finger, looked her in the eye, and said… “Woof”. She would brighten when we entered the room, or greet us with “peek-a-boo” when we uncovered her in the morning, but it was clear that she was declining again. One of the last things that brings me a smile happened the weekend before she passed. I was lying on the couch with Greycee on my chest, covered up to her neck with a blanket; and, as she was falling off to sleep she starting grinding her beak. She had never done this outside of her cage, and it was a wonderful feeling knowing that even though she was so sick, she at least felt content and secure with me.
On the last couple of days she had reverted to making baby sounds when you approached her, as if she was begging to be fed; she continued to eat but her weight was dropping badly; and although she never stopped perching, you could see that she was getting very weak. Finally, her long ordeal ended November 7th, in Mary’s arms, about one month short of her third hatchday. The vet had begun to prepare us during her last couple of visits for the possibility that we would not be able to save Greycee, and we discussed doing a necropsy. As hard as it was to allow this, we knew that we had to try to find what had taken her from us. She was sent to the University of Connecticut for an extensive post mortem. We still have not received all of the results, but the visual examination revealed that Greycee might have had a small hemorrhage in her brain; which may have been the cause of her left side weakness. I will post the results when we get them. When we first got Greycee, we thought we had our pet to grow old with, and even talked about who would care for her when we were gone. We never thought she would be taken from us so young. When she became sick again in the spring, I really believed that there was a reason that she “chose” us; especially when we thought she began to recover. I thought she was guided to us because we were the ones who wouldn’t give up, and would find a way to make her well, now sometimes I don’t know what to believe. People have told us we were crazy to spend the money that we did on Greycee, but now that all is said and done, the only thing we regret is the outcome. Someday there will be other birds, but right now, priorities in life have changed for us. I’ve never mentioned it before but Mary and I are adopting a little girl from China, a process that has been going on almost two years now. We hope to finally bring her home in the spring. I hope that when we all settle in there will be time for more birds; until then, as long as nobody minds, I’d like to hang around here and pick people’s brains. One of the things I learned through all of this is that I have a lot to learn; and that there is an abundance of knowledge here, and more importantly, people who are generous enough to share it.
Finally, something I found online shortly after Greycee passed:
One Last Head Rub Dave Fox
When you were young you flew wild and free
Then you were downed, then you met me.
I hoped to be around when you needed me most
That would have made me your ideal host.
To love you my friend I was duty bound
We had each other, we’d both been found.
Who owned whom I will never know.
If the truth be told, I just loved you so.
I had hoped forever to learn your ways
Unknowing your life was restricted to days.
All the love you gave I would gladly receive
You’re at peace right now, that I believe.
It was the only way for you to cut out the pain.
Close your eyes, go to sleep, you’re flying again.
I had no idea losing you would cut like a knife
But unlike you, I didn’t know it was the end of your life.
Now heaven is calling, I know you must fly
I can see in your eyes you’re not scared to die.
It’ll be me you wait for at the pearly gate
You’d say, "Come on, hurry up, don’t make me wait."
I’m sure you would stand at the entrance alone
While lesser friends would rush the throne.
Your death as it was I should not resent
Knowing as I do, you were heaven sent.
You’re back up there where the flock now sings
My angel has come to collect her new wings.
You fought for your life as it passed you by
Now you’re at peace, and it’s my turn to cry.
Every challenge in life you tried not to snub
You even held in there for that One Last Head rub
Fly Free Sweet Greycee - A gentler creature never graced God's earth