"What makes you think she's egg-bound?" asked Michelle, an avian vet tech at Shively Animal Hospital.
"She's been lethargic, she's grunting, straining, pushing off and on, has had diarrhea, been constipated, and her lower belly is hard and swollen," I answered, holding back tears.
|Sweet Pea and me last week|
I knew this was serious, potentially fatal, to the macaw the rescue took in just 6 weeks prior.
"Dr. Mary Jane wants to know what you guys have been doing at home that could make her want to lay an egg, and become egg-bound," was Michelle's next question.
|Sweet Pea on top of her cage, last week|
The question could've surprised, and even offended me, had I not already asked myself that very same thing.
Upon suspecting Sweet Pea was egg bound, I quickly took to (reliable sources) on the internet, and reviewed symptoms, causes and treatment for the condition. I rapidly confirmed she had virtually every symptom of the deadly disorder. And as for potential causes, as one would guess, there's a wide array of suspected ones from which to choose!
Diet and Deficiencies... but Sweet Pea was eating and drinking an ideal diet with us, wasn't she?
-When we took Sweet Pea in, she was on a pellet-only diet, with occasional treats. So I did all this research, trying to discover the 'ideal parrot diet,' and started cooking for her... organic buckwheat, couscous, brown rice, growing sprouts, giving her a few bird-favorite nuts daily, lots of good stuff! She LOVED it, but, 'soft, warm foods' were on one of the lists as a 'potential cause for egg production.' It's a nurturing food, and gives a nurturing (motherly?) feel. -I guess I can kind of see this. She gets a very healthy parrot diet here, this I know.
|One of Sweet Pea's recent yummy meals|
Lighting: an increase in light can trigger a bird's biological clock into thinking it's spring and 'time to get busy.'
-Hmmm, one of the first things we did, upon her vet's advice, was to get Sweet Pea a UVA/UVB broad spectrum light to help her body be able to absorb some vital nutrients. This lighting is necessary for a long life in parrots in cold environments. But, after Sweet Pea became egg bound, I learned that 'with hormonal birds,' you really want to limit that direct light exposure to about 8 hours/day. We had been leaving it on for 10 hours daily, as had been instructed.
Age: Between 3-4 years of age is prime egg-laying-time for blue and yellow macaws.
-But wait, Sweet Pea's 25! And I found out (from the prior owner's daughter) she had never been known to lay eggs before now. So that's strange, and interesting.
Affection and Increased Attention: The page admin of one of the bird groups I follow recently posted something like, 'Birds who are not used to lots of hands-on attention can take this kind treatment as meaning something more. Birds who see caregivers in a sexual way (particularly females) are at risk of hormone, behavior & reproductive issues.'
|Cozy, too cozy??!|
-As a longtime bird owner, I know the rules of appropriate bird contact, no touching below the neck because it can be taken 'the wrong way' by the bird. And we followed this rule with Sweet Pea, but nonetheless she has received much more physical interaction here; she wasn't handled in the prior owner's home. She's a very sweet, loving bird that will go up on just about anyone's arm that will let her. She has thrived on and delighted in this type of interaction.
Nesting Behavior and Opportunity: In Dr. Mary Jane's medical opinion, this in the only category I should be considering in regards to Sweet Pea's condition. She doesn't believe it's the enriching diet, the increased physical interaction, or the lighting. Her expert knowledge, fact and experience-based opinion is that: if the bird has nowhere to act out the nesting and/or mating behavior, she will not produce eggs, and won't become egg-bound.
-Wow. Sweet Pea has no nesting opportunity whatsoever inside of her spacious cage. Although, as a 20+ year plucker, Sweet Pea took great joy in shredding a sheet that would sit in the top, back corner of her cage. She'd climb up there daily and 'fix that area' up so nicely. She was happy, intent and focused her 'work' up there. I did know it looked like nesting behavior, but I thought it harmless since it wasn't inside her cage. I was just glad she was finding ways to self-entertain and stay busy. -That shredded sheet went in the garbage before she came home. As Dr. Mary Jane says, shredding is bedding! Sweet Pea also loves regurgitating onto my hand or Fabricio's hand. This is also a common mating/young-rearing behavior in birds, and should be discouraged. I did discourage it, but allowed her to do it sometimes, as I thought it harmless. Note: we went through my lovebird's hormonal phase around 9 years ago, and dealt with some of the same things we've dealt with with Sweet Pea. But Guapo, my lovebird, is a male, so egg binding was never a concern.
Sweet Pea is back home now, resting up, but isn't out of the woods. 'Birds die from this procedure up to a week afterwards sometimes,' Dr. Mary Jane warned, as I left with Sweet Pea on Sunday afternoon.
And I truly thought I'd get her home and she'd go back to her usual bubbly, silly, engaging self. But she has not, not yet. She's sleeping almost all day, and hasn't wanted to come out of the cage with me (not like her at all). I'm not convinced that there's not another small egg in her to pass. She passed 2 underdeveloped eggs after the large, developed one was manually removed from her on Saturday (by the vet, while she was sedated).
|This is what she's doing post-procedure. Poor girl. I've covered her up, as she prefers that for now.|
I believe that: with all the love Sweet Pea has felt here, from us, from everyone that comes into the home, the increased lighting, and the place she had to shred, all made her incline to produce an egg.
The act of wanting to procreate, the body's innate desire to produce is born of love. -Was she so full of love that she just formed a big egg with it, but too big for her sweet body to pass? It's sad. The whole thing is sad. We love her. She's so smart. These birds are so smart.
-And large exotic birds shouldn't be kept as pets (that's my opinion). But since they are, and they have been for decades, maybe centuries (in this country), bird rescue is needed. Bird sanctuaries are needed. If you want a large, exotic, or any bird for that matter... please rescue!!! There are good bird rescues out there. You just have to look.
And if you're a bird owner, a pet owner, please make a will and include the bird and/or other pets in it!! Put it on your calendar. ~And work with an attorney, don't try to do it on your own.
Some of the sites I used in researching egg binding online: