A Prince of a Bird

by Rachael Prewett

As often happens when working with rescue groups – I didn’t have a whole lot of warning and information when I agreed to take on a new foster bird. I knew that he was a male cockatiel, named Prince, who had been a stray and was now looking for a long-term foster home. I knew that he had been to a vet, had received a thorough evaluation that had included blood-testing for contagious disease, and I knew that he had been found to be perfectly healthy. I knew he was shy.

There was one detail that somehow slipped through the cracks, though. This cockatiel was naked.  

I had never seen a naked cockatiel before. Cockatiels are simply not among the species known for feather-destructive behaviors! And yet there Prince was, nothing but fuzz – except for his head and tail feathers, and even his wing feathers were damaged. I quickly realized he was not plucking in the usual sense, he seemed to be barbering – that is, snipping the feathers down without actually pulling the stubs out.

With no history on Prince, I quickly felt overwhelmed. This was the first time I had to deal with a parrot with active feather destructive behavior! I went online to re-read everything I could about plucking parrots. I asked questions on online parrot forums, I pulled out old magazines and parrot care hand- books, and I developed a plan.

Despite the fact that I initially suspected food allergies to be the problem, I decided to see if enrichment alone might help. Since he had tested free of parasites and infectious diseases, I took the risk of allowing him access to my flock of cockatiels, who he took to immediately. Prince, it turns out, is a very social gentleman, like most cockatiels. I also surrounded him with toys he could destroy – balsa wood, shredders, sea grass mats, wicker toys, and other things made of natural fibers. He was placed in a spacious cage, with a view of the backyard where he could watch the chickens and wild birds. I also gave him a varied diet that included a mix of several quality pellet brands, fresh vegetables, and the occasional warm goopy treat.

Pin feathers started to appear almost immediately – and I kept my fingers crossed! I watched him try to make friends with my cockatiel Bumble B., only to be chased away by B.B.’s boyfriend Jack. I watched him flirt with Static, under Galileo’s watchful eye. I watched him learn to eat all those different brands of pellets, and come to enjoy shredding, destroying, and devouring leafy greens. I watched him destroy his toys with gusto. His pin feathers continued to grow, as I traveled home for Thanksgiving and left him in the care of my landlady (also a Mickaboo volunteer).

It was in early December, after a week away, that I came home to be greeted by a delightful surprise – Prince had preened open all of his feathers without destroying them! Only a month after entering foster care, he looked like a different bird.

I was still cautious, worried that he might start destroying those new feathers, but it’s been more than three months now and I’ve yet to see him exhibit any feather-destructive behavior. He still looks scraggly, but Prince continues to blossom into a unique and very endearing little bird. He continues to flirt with the other cockatiels, and he sings more often and with greater variety. He’s started to learn the common songs sung by my permanent flock members, and he makes a habit of mumble-singing to himself while he carefully preens his new beautiful feathers. He’s also the only cockatiel I’ve ever seen who will routinely climb upside-down across the top of his cage to get from one end to the other – rather than going all the way around.

Prince is looking for his forever home with someone who has other cockatiels (or perhaps just one lonely cockatiel) to keep him company. He will need further patience and understanding before he’s ready to physically interact with people. His feather condition isn’t perfect yet - he has a lot of wing feathers that he damaged before coming to Mickaboo that will need molt out before he can grow in new, pristine feathers. He also remains very shy and cautious around people (though he loves it if you chatter and whistle to him). I shudder to think what his life could have been like that it would cause one of the gentlest and most forgiving of parrots to barber, just from lack of stimulation! But the most amazing thing is that, at some point in his life, Prince was loved. Because as he tells me, on a daily basis, over and over again in human words… ‘I love you.’

He’s a sweet, quirky, and utterly adorable bird that will steal your heart once you get to know him – I know he’s earned a special place in mine.