Her air sac problem healed just in time for the next emergency. One of my older birds came down with a virus; although the diagnosis was not positive, as I’d caught it quite early, there were too many similarities with the dreaded avian disease known as canary pox for comfort, and I was faced with vaccinating the entire flock. Usually, this would not be a problem, the breeding season is fairly well over, but my vet was worried that the vaccine would be too much for the youngest chick – you guessed it – the little cinnamon.
In the end, we went ahead and did it anyway. If I’d left her unvaccinated, she would be at risk of catching the real thing from the vaccinated birds; and I considered it imperative to immunize the rest of the flock immediately.
The vaccination didn’t kill her as I’d feared – quite. For several days she was too weak to properly lift her head to be fed; instead, she tipped her head sideways and opened her beak, and her parents fed her as well as they could from this odd position. Luckily, Two-Bits was dedicated to his babies and always made sure that they were fed, for Mrs. Bits soon became quite disgruntled with all the strange goings-on in her life, and quit feeding anybody at all.
THE TURKEY-NECKED BIRD
Even with all the upheaval in her life, ‘the turkey-neck,’ as my partner now called her, was out of the nest only a week later than the usual time for a young canary to fledge.
I couldn’t fault him for the descriptive name either, for she did look uncannily like a tiny turkey. She’d grown in her contour and wing feathers just fine, but immediately after the vaccination, every feather on her head and neck dropped out. She was completely bald from the wishbone on up and walked with a drunken-looking, lurching sort of gait due to her crooked leg.
Although at first she could not hold a perch with both feet and maintain her balance, she soon found that she could easily grasp the wire of the cage with her bad leg, and so I often found her; one leg on the perch, body level, her bad leg sticking out sideways holding the wire.
That’s when she was sitting still, that is. She didn’t seem to know that crippled and weak usually means difficulty in getting around; she just decided what she wanted to do, and figured out how to do it. And, perhaps in compensation, she flew like, as my partner put it, ‘a greased banana.’
At first, she had quite a few ‘crash landings’ until she figured out how to deal with her duo-level ‘landing gear,’ but figure it out she did, and fast, too. She was still weak enough to need to rest between spurts of activity, and her neck muscles would not support the weight of her head for any length of time, so she would let her head hang between her feet as she rested.
She looked a strange, rather pitiful sight as she sat there at these times; one foot on the perch, the other on the wire, naked head hanging limply between her feet. I often feared that I had prolonged her life only to prolong her suffering.
LIVE AND LEARN
But then I would notice, all over again, how she struggled to survive, throwing herself into the fray with all she possessed, and how she extricated every last scrap of possible enjoyment out of every situation. She met life head-on, and in the face of such determination, who was I to tell her she couldn’t do it?
She had certainly picked the right daddy, too. Long after the rest of his chicks were weaned, right into midsummer when all the other canaries were well into their annual molt, he was patiently feeding and educating his crippled youngest daughter. He seemed to feel responsible for her and spent all his time dancing attendance on the Turk. Once she was not sleeping in the nest at night anymore, I moved the two of them into the living room, to be able to keep a close eye on any potential problems.
Two-Bits was familiar with this environment and made no bones about airing his demand that things return to the routine he’d been used to previously; any time I was around, he expected to be allowed out to ‘supervise.’
To my surprise, he insisted that Turker is accorded the same privileges. To those who think that a canary can’t communicate something along those lines so effectively, I’d like to know what you’d make of a bird who flies over to you, scolding heartily all the way, who then flies back to hang off the cage in question, looking between you and the imprisoned bird while scolding mightily, continuing until he gets his way? Once his goal was accomplished, he set about teaching the Turk everything he knew.
Turker soaked up Two-Bits’ like the curious thing she was, and added a few twists of her own. Like her daddy, and unlike most other canaries I’ve known, she liked to snoop into holes, crannies, nooks and other such interesting places. She figured out how to get into the dish cupboard on her own, and decided that teacups were the perfect place to have a quiet afternoon nap. Anybody going into or out of the cupboard had to be extra cautious, just in case Turker had managed to avoid (again) the ‘Great Canary Roundup.’
I spent more time searching for her, convinced that something had gone wrong and she’d gotten stuck somewhere, than I’ve ever spent on a bird, before or since.
At about six months of age, her head and neck feathers finally began to grow in. She had started sleeping more normally at about five months, tucking her beak into her shoulders rather than letting her head hang.
I had never been able to get used to the sight of her sleeping with her head between her feet, and this sign of improving health relieved me no end. Once her feathers started to fill in, she looked almost normal. You had to watch her closely to realize that she didn’t stand or walk quite on the level.
She was filled with curiosity and a need to explore everything. She loved teasing the other youngsters in the living room flight cage from her privileged position of ‘house canary,’ and would spend hours at a time proving to them that they were never going to get a chance to nip her in the toes!
MISTRESS OF PLAY
Another game involved an open paper bag; it was amazing watching the variations this little bird managed to come up with when playing in her paper bags, or with balls of crumpled paper. This particular trick of hers managed to scare the heebie-jeebies out of my partner and I one night, though.
We had stayed up later than usual watching a movie. Two-Bits and the Turk had gone back to their cages hours before at their usual time, sunset. I distinctly remembered that I’d shut their cage doors on them, and felt that all were safe for the night. What I didn’t know was that Turker had found a spot in the cage, where, if she prodded just so, the wire would bend just enough to let her slip out, and then spring back behind her, looking for all the world like a properly joined weld.
Apparently, she had let herself out for an ‘after dinner stroll’ and happily foraged about on the floor while we were engrossed in the movie. Then, spotting the final remains of the afternoon’s birthday party, a paper bag half full of crumpled up wrapping paper lying on its side nearby, she had crawled in between a couple of the wads and curled up for a little snooze.
I guess we woke her up when we turned off the T.V. All we knew was that we were sitting there having a quiet conversation when suddenly the paper bag began emitting tiny scratchings and began to shudder and rustle. The hair on our necks crawled as we stared at the strange antics of our discarded wrapping paper.
Then there came a louder rustling and a triumphant ‘Chee-eep!’, and there sat the Turk, looking around as if saying, ‘All right, where’s the party!?’ She looked quite annoyed when we burst into slightly hysterical but greatly relieved laughter.
She never did learn to like being laughed at.