Story Bird: Flossie 


Miss Flossie came to live with us on October 10, 1998.  While we were taking our first look at Flossie's general appearance, it seemed to me that Flossie's left wing appeared to be drooping down below the line of the opposite side.  She seemed a little off balance and not centered well when standing on a perch.  Carefully, I turned her over on her back and looked at her legs and feet.  Tickling her tummy and telling her how wonderful she was, I turned her over and held her upright on my hand again.  She still appeared to have one droopy wing.  I stretched open the right wing and it was fine and straight.  Then I went to stretch out the left wing.  She made one little squeal with pain as I started to touch the wing.  At first we thought that it was broken so we looked more carefully and examined again but no signs of a break could be found.  Slowly and cautiously, we began pushing back the soft feathers of her secondaries and looked at the joints and the bends to see what we could see.  Suddenly, the problem was very apparent.  A bare exposed, bone was sticking out through the midst of the feathers.  It was the answer that we were looking for but it was one not what we were prepared to see.  It wasn't a break.  It was actually a partial amputation of Flossie's secondary section on her outermost wing.  It still had dried blood on it and so it was a fairly recent happening probably, within the last 3-5 days prior to us picking the birds up from their previous home.  We carefully cleaned the wound and made the decision to keep the two birds separated from now on for obvious safety concerns.

The next day we made an appointment at Washington State University where several of our birds were going to be seen by the Avian Veterinary Medicine Department.  The final determination was yes; indeed Flossie's wing had been through a recent partial amputation but that she was on the mend and that in his opinion Flossie was going to recover nicely with no adverse affects of any kind.  Flossie received a clean bill of health.  A big kiss applied firmly to the top of her head seemed to be one student's way of applying that final seal of approval.  Flossie was on her way to starting a new life with her new family.  We never imagined that her life with us would be so short.  We never dreamed that she would only live with us for 7 months and that soon she would leave us with only memories.

I didn't have to ask what happened now that I was seeing it with my own eyes.  Flossie was a curious little girl.  Very loving and playful.  She enjoyed her toys and finding lots of interesting things to do.  She especially loved to try and grab the white paper toweling on the bottom of her cage and snatch it up with her tiny toes.  After she was successful with latching on to the paper she would pull it up through the grate on the bottom of the cage and shred it to pieces, thus fully completing her mission of seek and destroy.  It was all a game to her.  The whole world was a game to her in fact and we humans were her most favorite toys in the toy box.  This time the game turned deadly.  Flossie used her beak in attempt to reach down and pull up the white paper, first just a little way I am sure.  When she found out that it wasn't enough to reach the much desired paper at the bottom of the cage she stuck her head in between the spaces on the grate.  I had grown accustomed to the appearance of these spaces and always had considered them to be a safe distance apart for our birds.  I was wrong.  When Flossie stuck her head in between the spaces of the grate she could not remove her head again.  She had her neck hopelessly caught between the spaces of the grate and in effort to remove her head she broke her neck and died on the bottom of the cage.  Babe, was sitting beside her friend now, crying a sad song, and already missing her motionless cagemate.  Chrissy gently picked up Babe and pulled her close to her chest in effort to comfort her.  The tears were already falling down Chrissy's cheek and on to Babe.  The sobs were getting deeper and deeper.  In the other corner of the room Brienne was sitting on the floor, her face buried in her hands.  The silence of the birds was deafening.  Softly, I began to talk to Flossie and telling her I was sorry and the tears were dripping like rain down my cheeks.  I wanted to ask my husband to remove her from the cage but I knew what was best for Flossie and me.  I had one last job that I needed to do for her.  Carefully, I turned her little head to the side and helped her escape from the grate.  As I stroked her soft, little head that one last time I said...there you are sweet Flossie now you are finally free.  I wrapped her in a towel and placed her in the box that would be her tiny casket.  All of us experiencing and feeling the pain as one, but each expressing it uniquely different from the other.

We spent the remainder of the day examining the reasons that the accident happened.  What could we have done to prevent the terrible accident that day?  How could we avoid it happening in the future and is there anything worthwhile to be gained from such an awful experience?  We worked off the frustration of our thoughts by cleaning, sorting and organizing the bird area.  We cleaned cages with a vengeance, threw out cages that we once thought of as safe.  Was it the gates themselves that was the issue or was it the spacing that was the culprit?  Was it a particular manufacturer that was to blame or was it we who were to blame?  Questions, a thousand questions ran through our minds for the next few hours until we could finally bring ourselves to speaking about the death of Flossie to each other.  Finally, in exasperation we set down in the middle of the living room and we looked around at the various cages we had in our collection.   All of them different in color, shape, size, and manufacturer, but we were beginning to see one common denominator.  In the cages that we had purchased as species specific designed for Cockatiels they each one had grates with large spaces.  We found that the spaces of the grate were big enough to lay quarters in between each bar which created a big enough opening for Flossie to get her head in and fatally trapped between the bars.  The spaces were larger even than the birds of the larger species.  Larger than the Cockatoo cages.  Larger than the Amazon cages.  Larger than the Quaker Parrot cages.  Why didn't I see this before?  Why?

grate.gif (79981 bytes) (click picture to enlarge)

This particular cage was given to us with a Cockatiel that was placed with us a few years ago.  The cage is still manufactured today.  It was and still is in very good condition.  It appeared to be a cage that was worth keeping as part of our cage inventory.  We made a few repairs to the cage such as replacing the plexiglass seed catchers on the side and replacing the seed and water cups with new ones.  It was not a big investment in making the repairs and it was completely usable again.  We decided to look for this particular type of cage whenever we went in to pet shops and to determine how many of these cages are actually being purchased for resale by the retailers.  The cage retails for approximately $79.00 at most retail pet stores and mail order outlets.  Pet store sales personnel often refer it as a basic Cockatiel cage.  It is classified as medium parrot cage and it is manufactured by a reputable company which makes it all the more attractive as a popular sales item in any given pet shop on any given day.

Recently, we visited a pet shop and we asked the owner of the store to come with us while we pointed out the dangers of this cage that he had on display and ready for sale to the potential customer.  We told him our story of Flossie's accident and we showed him why it would not be a safe consideration when thinking of purchasing a new cage.  We further explained that the cage was not even designed to be used without a grate since without the grate the bottom tray left a very large space where the metal drawer could not only trap the birds head in between the cage and the tray but potentially serve as a guillotine in the right situation.  The owner of the store smiled sympathetically and said yes, that he was aware this "could" happen but it is a very good selling cage.  I asked, him if he explained this to the customers prior to them purchasing the cage in order to make certain that they would understand the hidden dangers involved in this cage.  His answer...yeah, sure. With this simple response, I found the answer to all of my many questions regarding the accidental death of Flossie.

When we the consumer make our way to the numerous retail outlets where we buy our pet supplies we expect that we will find good quality merchandise and informed salespeople to help us with our decisions regarding our purchases.  We expect helpful and informative salespeople and we count on and rely on their expertise and skill to help us make the right decisions.  We enter the world of the retail market with a need. The market meets that need by supplying us with a countless array of items from which to choose.  From the lower line economy model to the ultimate luxury model of anything and everything that our hearts could possibly desire.  We enter expecting to find the perfect item that we are looking for and we are met with a variety that becomes overwhelming.  Now, we must count on making the right choice.  How we make our choice may change our lives drastically in ways that are wonderful or not so wonderful depending upon how we arrive at the final decision.  I didn't buy this particular cage but I have most definitely bought similar cages with the very same type of problem.  Had I not bought the cage then it would have remained there in the pet shop until some other unsuspecting bird owner came along and probably bought it.  By informing and sharing our experiences then we make each other aware of the hidden dangers involved in cage and supply purchases.  The inferior cages and supplies will remain on pet store and mail order company's shelves where it may finally be determined to be a worthless sales item.  The manufacturer would be forced to either redesign the cage for better marketing purposes or cease making the faulty cage.  We determine the items that are popular and available.  We hold the key that determines if a company makes it or not as a retailer and our choices are very important indeed.  How we spend our dollars sets the marketing trend and we are all accountable to each other as well as our birds for how we spend our money.  The ultimate responsibility for safety is our own and we must be wise and careful buyers when it comes to anything that concerns the health and well being of our companion birds.  I finally had to accept the responsibility for not noticing the spacing of the grate.  It was a horrible accident - but it is one that we hope to prevent in the future and one that we will continue to share with others so that someone else won't make the same fatal mistake that we did.
The sun had dropped down behind the mountains and it was getting late.  When I finally decided to go to bed for the night my mind drifted back to the very beginning of the day.  Once again, I thought to myself.  Memorial Day.  It really has been a time for reflecting and remembering those who had once crossed our paths and changed our lives in a very special way.  But also it was a time of reflecting on things that we could have done differently for our birds and perhaps safer.  Maybe Flossie wouldn't have died if I had been more aware of an existing problem with the grates.  Maybe it was a great day for reflecting on a way that we can be more aware of safety issues and maybe tomorrow will be better for all of our birds.  Although, it certainly didn't turn out to be the day that I had expected it to be, it would forever be a lasting memory of what happened that day and indeed a lesson was learned in the process of dealing with Flossie's death.   While busy families had been off making preparations for picnics and family gatherings, we found ourselves having to bury one of our cherished avian companions. We will continue to enjoy the fond memories of Flossie that we have stored within our hearts and we will not soon forget the many lessons that we have learned in the process of loosing her.  In our great sadness, even today we are still very much aware that there is one less voice singing in our own avian choir, but in joy we know that there is a new little voice that has joined a most heavenly choir...and I know that God is smiling as Flossie sings her little song with the others in the heavenly band.

Many thanks to Providence House Avian Rescue for Flossie' story, and for loving Flossie.  Flossie is free, but she is hopefully helping others like her through her story.