remembrances of

R.R. Holster - PetStation

    Jan. 29, 1999

    TINGA TEXANA - Sun Conure (aratinga solstitialis)
    Hatched: circa 3-31-94 (Mira Loma, California)
    Acquired: 4-21-94 (Mira Loma, California)
    Died: 1-28-99 (Tacoma, Washington)

    Yesterday my beloved sun conure, Tinga, died of a sudden, mysterious illness. Signs point to some type of poisoning from an undetermined household source. I am bereft at losing this special friend. I’m hoping that by recounting some of my recollections it will lessen the pain. If not, at least I will commit to memory notions that otherwise would surely fade away over time and be lost forever. For those of you who may happen upon this essay, I’m certain that it is more than you would ever want to know about me or my pets. If you choose to proceed, know that I appreciate your interest. Maybe you will find something of value here for you and your pet.

    I was living in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, California in the spring of 1994 when my step-daughter, Sarah, and I purchased a five-month-old lovebird, that we named Asha, after an African goddess. Shortly after acquiring Asha, Sarah and I were back at the same pet store and saw a sun conure. We decided we must have one of those as well. We put in an order with a local breeder to deliver us a 6-week old baby that we could hand-feed.

Tinga at approximately 5 weeks old.

    While waiting for our bird, Sarah and I made up a song (to the tune of Fair-a-jocka... or however you spell that song), which went:

      Aratinga, Aratinga, where are you? Where are you?
      In a little eggshell, in a little nestbox,
      Please hatch out, please hatch out.

    Approximately two months later I called the breeder (Stan Acosta in Mira Loma, CA) and asked what was up. He said he had a bird for us. On April, 21 (San Jacinto Day… thus the "Texana" in his name), we went to pick up the bird which we had already decided to name "Tinga". The Latin for the genus of which the sun conure is a part is "aratinga", which actually means "little macaw". I paid $250 cash for Tinga, a typical wholesale rate.

    When we picked Tinga up, as we drove home, with the bird in a box on Sarah’s lap, we sang our little song, slightly altered:

      Aratinga, Aratinga, where are you? Where are you?
      In a little brown box, in a little kid’s lap,
      Going home, going home.

    The problem was the bird was not 6 weeks old, but closer to 4 weeks. Really much younger than I had wanted. The older they are the more hardy. He did not even have all of his feathers yet.

    It was my first experience at hand-feeding, and the first day I didn’t do well. I couldn’t get him to eat anything. Late that first night, I called a lady locally (in Torrance) who knew about hand-feeding. She said bring him over. She fed him, and showed me how to do it right.

    From then on he was a good eater. I put cod liver oil in his baby food, because I had read that the Indians in Brazil do that so their sun conures will be redder than normal. It seemed to work. Tinga always was a bit more red than the typical sun, some of which are very yellow.

    Three-year-old Sarah, looking a bit apprehensive, as five-week-old Tinga flaps his wings.

      He quickly feathered in… mostly green at first, though he always had lot of yellow on his shoulders. He was never as green as some sun youngsters I have seen.

      He never seemed to mind being handled… even from day one. When he didn’t want to be touched he would do a little shrug or wing flip. He would do that often as a baby, but he never did it as an adult.

      Asha (love bird) took to him and vice-versa immediately. She was very maternal toward him, and later on he was very protective of her. He was bigger than she was when we brought him home, and continued to get larger and larger. I don’t think she knew quite what to think about that.

      About a month after we got Tinga, Asha started losing feathers on her chest. I took her to the vet and the worst possible diagnosis came back: Psitticine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). I was distraught about this situation, not only for Asha (who was just seven months old at the time), but also for Tinga. Although South American birds are resistant to PBFD, babies do not have fully developed immune systems, and are the most susceptible. I knew that Tinga had already been exposed to this deadly virus (which is akin to parrot AIDS… it destroys the immune system, and is usually fatal). A few species have been known to defeat the disease (including love birds… more on that later). To survive, Tinga would have to take the virus into his system and blow it right back out. Hopefully, four weeks with his parents had made his immune system strong enough to deal with this deadly problem. At just two months old, he was in for the fight of his life.

      At first, we called Tinga a she. Only after we had a DNA sex test done did we find out that Tinga was a he. (I would repeat this very same error with Inca, three years later).

      As Asha lost more and more feathers, I felt increasingly pessimistic about Tinga’s chances. I watched closely for the telltale sign of the disease to creep over him. But it never did. PBFD could not crack Tinga’s immune system.

      Two-month-old Tinga with Asha, just as the PBFD was beginning to take her feathers out.

        He grew up fast. At about ten weeks he was fully fledged and beginning to test his wings. We would practice by putting him on top of the bookshelf and letting him fly to me or my wife at the time, Lisa. He wouldn’t stay still for long on the bookshelf… he was coming to daddy. I caught one such flight on videotape.

        Tinga adored me, and loved Lisa, but never liked Sarah. I think he could sense that she was a child, not fully in control, and capable of hurting him badly. I shared that concern. I was always concerned that she would step on him or sit on him or something. One day Tinga bit Sarah, drawing blood. I don’t think Sarah ever felt truly close to Tinga after that. For that reason, we discussed someday getting her a "gentler bird" (read, less spirited) for her own. The species we thought might be best was the Blue-headed parrot, from the Pionus family. Tinga, meanwhile, had become strictly my bird.

        My relationship with Lisa was going rapidly downhill by the time we got Tinga. She liked Tinga, but would not allow herself to be completely smitten. Probably because he was mine… or perhaps because she knew our days were numbered.

        By the time he was four or five months old Tinga was freely flying around in the house. One day, before I took Sarah to pre-school and then went on to work myself, I opened the back door, and felt a little whoosh go past my ear. In a flash, Tinga had jetted through the door and was outside. He flew into a very large tree in the neighbor’s front yard.

        Sarah and I quickly spotted him about 30 feet up, midway out on a fairly stout limb. I rushed to get the ladder while instructing Sarah to keep an eye on him. My heart was pounding, hoping against hope he wouldn’t fly away… never to be seen again. I kept thinking, all that work put into this bird is about to fly off into the wild blue yonder. I got the ladder in position and was able to climb up to where the limbs of the tree started. From there I could climb up to the limb Tinga was on. I creeped out on the limb as far as I could, and held my hand out. I couldn’t go out any farther and Tinga was still out of reach. He would have to come to me. He looked at me like, "Aw, do we have to go back in now?"… and then waddled down the branch and got on my hand. I quickly popped him in my shirt and climbed back down. Sarah and I got him put back in his cage and went on to work… my heart still pounding.

        That evening I clipped his wings. It hurt me way more than him. I detested the idea of snipping the royal blue tips off his green flight feathers… his original flight feathers. It seemed a sacrilege. It was the first and last time Tinga would ever be clipped.

        Lisa and Sarah moved out in the fall of ’94, so I had more time to spend with my animals. At that time I had Asha and Tinga, lop bunny Velvet, mouse Pepper, and chinchillas Andy and Pacha. Soon we would have a baby chinchilla, Achi. Of these dear friends, only Andy survives today.

        It was a sad time for me. I felt lousy about the breakup with Lisa, though I knew it was for the best in the long run for everyone. More than anything, Tinga kept me going. He was changing. His green baby feathers were molting out, being replaced by yellows and oranges. What a handsome boy he was. And ever ready with a nod or screech or silly antic to make me smile. Mostly he was totally devoted, more so than any pet I’ve ever owned… certainly more so than any relationship I have been in. While Lisa’s love turned out to be a shimmering mirage, ultimately empty, Tinga’s love, I knew, was everlasting. I had twice failed at marriage, and thrice more with love before marriage. So fine… enough with fickle, flaky people. With a lifespan of 30 years or more, this little conure would be the love of my life.

        Tinga loved to take a bath in his bowl.
        He would wander over to the sink faucet to let me know it was bath time.

          With Tinga’s wings clipped, and Asha basically with only the scraggliest of wing feathers, I decided to build "jungle gyms" for the birds to play on in the backyard flower garden. With sticks and rope, I made an elaborate setup for them. They could even climb atop the little fence and get inside a large jade plant. Asha especially loved getting in the jade plant. She fancied she was completely camouflaged, and she was for the most part.

          But one day while I was working in my home office there at the Hawthorne house, I heard both birds screaming as loud as they could from their outside play area. I burst through the door in time to see a kestrel (a small hawk) trying to grab and make off with Asha. When the kestrel saw me, he let go of Asha and flew off. I never would have imagined there would be raptor danger in the middle of Los Angeles. That was Asha’s last scrape with them, but Tinga would have further adventures with birds of prey.

          Though Asha and Tinga were fairly bonded, the size discrepancy and Asha’s lessening energy level did not make for a great pairing. I decided that Tinga needed a playmate more his size and with equal spirit. Another conure was called for I thought. I didn’t want Tinga to bond too closely with the new bird, however, and possibly lose some of his bond with me. For that reason, I didn’t want to get another sun or closely related species such as a jenday or a gold-cap. Many of the books and articles I read pointed to the blue-crowned as one of the best pet quality species of conure. This might just be the bird for us.

          At a bird fair in Pomona, California, a fellow named "Wild Man John" had three blue-crowned conures he was exhibiting. One was larger than the other two. I stopped to chat and was told that the larger one was the father of the two male siblings, approximately six months old.

          He was asking $200 each for the two younger birds. All three seemed quite bonded, particularly the two brothers. I told the guy I might be back, and left to peruse the rest of the show. But as I walked aisle after aisle, and saw many tempting birds and prices, I kept thinking about the blue-crowned conures. I found a lady selling cheap cages, and purchased one for $20. Then I maneuvered back to Wild Man John’s booth. All three blue-crowned conures were still there. I told him I would take one of the brothers. He gave me my choice. They looked identical so I just quickly took one. As I placed it in the cage, it objected loudly at this rude separation. Rightly so, for it would never see its father or brother again. I wish now I had purchased the other brother as well. I actually suspect the young birds were a bit older than "Wild Man John" claimed. I figure they were born in the spring or early summer of 1994, which would have made Cisco around 9 months old when I got him. Cisco still wears a leg band imprinted WMJ CA94 (which stands for Wild Man John California 1994). Tinga never had a leg band.

          On the way home, I named the bird "Cisco-Blue". That didn’t impress him at all, and it was plain that he did not like this situation one bit. For weeks Cisco would stay as far away from me as possible. What a contrast to my little cuddler Tinga.

          I kept Cisco quarantined in my bedroom, away from the kitchen wherein resided Asha and Tinga. Though it something I probably should not have done, I felt confident that Cisco would be very resistant to Asha’s PBFD. I had Cisco checked at the vet, and when the tests came back OK, I rushed to bring Tinga in to see his new buddy. Tinga promptly bit Cisco, drawing blood. What an introduction. My best-laid plans were in ruins.

          That was in early 1995, a hectic time for me as I left my job of eight years, started up a new business, forged through a divorce, and prepared to relocate to Washington state. Whenever I felt despair creeping in, a glance at my golden boy would cheer me up and set me back to work getting us out of LA.

          The birds spent many days outside in their play area. Cisco tended to stay away from the other two. Tinga still clung to Asha’s side, seemingly well aware that she was ill, and that he was a bigger, stronger protector. He didn’t like Cisco coming close to Asha. For his part, Cisco had no interest in either one. Instead, Cisco decided the jade plant was all his. And he began systematically snipping leaves off… one by one. If we had stayed there much longer, I’m sure he would have destroyed the plant.

          Quite quickly, actually, Tinga shed his clipped flight feathers and began growing new ones. I knew I had a choice to make. Clip again, or let them grow out. Around that time I read an article about a fellow, Eb Cravens, who had a "free-flying" sun conure named "Kiwani". I began to wonder if Tinga might not be able to do the same.

          I don’t recall a single day or moment when I decided to let Tinga try being a free-flyer… I just never got around to clipping his wings again. Slowly but surely he began flapping around in the backyard of my Hawthorne house. I felt very confident because he would always try to fly to me. No matter where he was, he could be occupied for a short while, but then he would want to be with me. I think this "super-bond" is the primary key to successfully free-flying birds.

          One day Tinga flew up into the avocado tree. It was a tall tree, and I knew if he flew or climbed near the top I would never be able to get him down. I held my breath. I knew this was the critical moment. He was a free bird, free to fly away, go sightseeing all over Los Angeles, free to fly back to his parents’ aviary, or even to his native Brazil if that’s what he so chose to do. I got a bit nervous, and called to him. He flew down to me.

          I don’t know why that one little successful venture emboldened me to allow him to fly free everyday, but it did. And he did. It was fun watching him really learn how to fly. Soon he was spiraling down from the heights of the avocado tree with acrobatic flourish. Something inside me soared as well. Just the notion that I had a pet bird that could fly outside was amazing. I always considered it a treasure to behold. Some people journey thousands of miles to see parrots fly in the wild… I could see it every day.

          (EDITOR'S NOTE: Free-flying pet parrots should be engaged in ONLY by individuals who are well educated in the procedure and fully aware of the rewards and risks involved. Please DO NOT attempt to free-fly your pet parrot without full commitment to the prior study and preparation involved. Visit The FreeFlight E-Mail List for more information on this subject.)

          Tinga playing in the avocado tree.

            Tinga’s free-flying spoke volumes of his love for me. He had the world at his command, and he always chose to return to me. And why wouldn’t he? It all made perfect sense. People always ask me, "How did you train your birds to come back?" And I always reply, "I didn’t. They just know to." Sun conures, like most parrots, are flock birds. They live in large groups. They are never separated from the group. They always return to their home base. It is through that instinct, need and desire that free-flying pet birds is made possible.

            I suspect that thousands upon thousands of pet birds could be successfully free-flown, if they were taken through the proper introductory steps. My belief is that bonded pet birds that escape and don’t come back simply were not able to find their way back home. They probably were desperate to get back, but got lost. Some fortunate ones are found and returned to their keepers. Others are found and kept by a new family. Many die of exposure, hunger, thirst, or are killed by predators or cars. A few, in milder climates, may find a flock of wild parrots to take up with. There are growing colonies of feral parrots in Southern California and Florida.

            So the second key to successful free-flying is to allow your bird a chance to get comfortable with its surroundings and establish its bearings. It must not panic when outside, and it must know where home base is. The best situation is one where the home base is easily identifiable from the air. Unfortunately, most houses in subdivisions are not like this. They all look alike and a lost bird can’t find his way home.

            Our home in Hawthorne, California was a little tract house, 900 square feet. We did have a large commercial building nearby, which I think Tinga used as a landmark. We also had the avocado tree, which was easily visible for a good distance. But Tinga actually never ventured far. At first he stayed in his own yard. As he grew more confident of his flying ability, and more curious about what was happening at the next house over, he began to go a little further afield. However, the farthest I ever saw Tinga go was four houses down. And when I called, he would usually quickly come back.

            The third key to free-flying is the bird's "comfort zone" away from its "flock," in other words, how far they might venture away from home. I suspect that larger parrots such as macaws and some cockatoos may have comfort zones that are far beyond the comfort zone of their keepers. Indeed, I would find out about the comfort zone of macaws in just a short while.

            Another free-flying consideration is the array of potential dangers that the bird might encounter out in the open. All parrots are "prey species", and certainly when a pet bird flies outside it is entering the food chain. The old "safety in numbers" adage applies to flock birds in the wild, but a free-flying pet bird is generally all alone in its outdoors explorations. In areas where raptors (birds of prey) are common, I would not be confident flying a slow-flying parrot of any size. Thankfully for my little free-flyer, the sun conure species is one of the jets of the parrot realm. The kestrel incident notwithstanding, I knew I had little to fear from the natural world in Los Angeles.

            Yet if we had stayed in Hawthorne, I think Tinga’s free-flying might have become a problem. There are just too many dangers in a congested urban area… mostly people who would gladly snatch a yellow parrot if they could get their hands on it. But I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it, because I knew that our days in the Los Angeles area were coming to an end.

            I had already determined to relocate to Washington state. In July of 1994, I traveled to Gig Harbor to find a place for us to live. I lucked into an incredible bit of timing. A house that had been on the market for a over a year was offered to me as a rental. It was a two-bedroom, 2,500-square foot house on a half acre overlooking Puget Sound. I saw it and knew it was perfect, for me and for the birds. I couldn’t wait to see Tinga flying in these trees.

            Back in California we spent July preparing to move out. By now I had ultimate confidence in Tinga as a free-flyer. One day I took him to the Post Office and was planning on taking him in with me to show to the workers there. But before we got in the door he took off. He went up and up and up and up. Higher and higher. He had never flown that high before. I was really concerned. If he didn’t come straight back down, he would be completely lost. But to my great relief, he did come back down, and alighted on a telephone wire. There he seemed stuck. I called and called to him. People came and went into the Post Office and looked at me like I was crazy. Then they would see the bird, and just shake their heads, surely thinking, "no way, Jose". Finally, though, he bailed off the wire and sailed to my shoulder. And home we went.

            Tinga loved to ride in the car. In Hawthorne the driveway was right next to the door to the house, so Tinga would fly out of the door and perch on top of the Honda. He was ready to go for a ride.

            Tinga letting me know he is ready for a ride.

              A few weeks before we were due to depart for Washington, I decided to drive home to Texas to see my folks and sister and her kids. I decided to take Tinga and Cisco with me on the 1,400 mile (each way) drive. Because Tinga still didn’t get along with Cisco, they could not be out loose in the car at the same time. So they alternated coming out of the travel cage and sitting on my shoulder as I drove. They both seemed to love the extra-long ride… especially during their time out of the cage. A very surprising thing happened on that trip: Cisco bonded with me. It seems the drive and strange scenery, and especially the darkness, along the way was just scary enough for him to seek comfort in the one known factor: which was me. Never again would he keep his distance.

              Cisco’s favorite spot while driving was up on where my shoulder belt attaches to the car frame. So his beak was often right on the driver’s side window. Tinga, meanwhile, liked to hop around, but particularly enjoyed being right up on top of the steering wheel. I guess he thought he was helping. And, of course, he always wanted to be at the center of my attention.

              In Midland, Texas, I showed off Tinga’s free-flying ability. He flew into the lush trees at my parents’ home, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. Cisco’s wings were clipped so he remained earthbound. At one point, I was having trouble getting Tinga to come in. So we got out the secret weapon: ice cream. As soon as he saw what we were having, he made a bee-line for my shoulder.

              The trip to Midland also provided a good scare. I took Cisco down to visit with my grandmother, who has a cat. I should have simply put the cat out, but I didn’t.. and sure enough Cisco popped out of my hands, flapped to the floor, where in an instant he was pounced on by the cat. I grabbed him quickly and noted that he wasn’t severely damaged, but the cat had bitten him just under the wing, drawing blood. Knowing that cat bites and scratches can be extremely dangerous for infection, I had to get Cisco to a vet. I found one and he administered antibiotics. Cisco never seemed too phased by the whole episode, recovered quickly, and has actually never been sick a day in his life.

              On the way out of town, I stopped again at my grandmother’s to say good-bye. It was supposed to be just a quick visit. But Tinga bolted through the open car door and sailed up into a front yard tree. And there he stayed until he was good and ready to come down… some 20 minutes later.

              We made it home from the ’95 Texas trip, and prepared for our last days in Hawthorne. I went to a bird show and put an offer on a pair of Vosmaeri Eclectus parrots, which I hoped to breed. To house these larger birds, I bought an extra large cage. Fortunately (for I really had no business acquiring them), the deal fell through. Yet I had the large cage. It was placed out near Cisco’s play area in the back, and he had fun playing on and in the new cage. Later on it would become the "deck house" in Washington, used primarily by my macaw, Charlie Brown.

              One evening, just a few days before our departure, I went outside to collect the birds and there was no Cisco. It was near dusk, and I became frantic as I called and called for him with no answer. I looked everywhere to no avail. I went scrambling around the neighborhood calling for him. Nothing. I fixated on the notion that a cat must have grabbed him. I looked for feathers or signs of a struggle. There was nothing. Finally darkness fell and I was left with the horrible feeling that Cisco had either been stolen or eaten. I called my friend Luis in tears. That night I slept hardly at all, a huge knot in my stomach.

              Early the next morning I awoke to Cisco’s distinctive little hoarse call. I rushed out the door to the backyard, and sure enough there he was, just pleased and proud of himself. He had spent the night deep inside my giant bird of paradise plant. I admonished him verbally for such insolence, but hugged him over and over again; I was so happy to see him.

              To Tinga, however, it would have been good riddance. He would have preferred that just he and Asha accompany me north. As it was, Cisco came along, too, as did the three chinchillas. By this time, Pepper and Velvet had died. Darn it, pets can sometimes be so fragile. Pepper lived a long life for a mouse, but Velvet was only two years old.

              All the way up to Washington I had to keep the two conures separated lest they would get into a fight. Once more they did wonderfully on the long drive, even through the hot Central California valley. I was more concerned with Asha than with the conure boys. She wasn’t too keen on the bouncing and pounding we took in the front of the van.

              Unfortunately, my chinchillas did not do so wonderfully. The chins were in a cage in the backseat of my Honda, which we were towing. The windows of the car were down so they could get plenty of air circulating… or so I thought. But I made the critical error of not placing containers of ice in their cage, and the drive through the valley was too much for them. I stopped on the slopes of Mt. Shasta to check on them, and found little Achi dead, and Pacha and Andy near death from heat stroke. I grabbed Pacha and Andy and put them, limp and still but breathing, into an ice cooler. Andy revived, but Pacha did not. We raced on to the nearest town, Yreka, California. A vet took Pacha in and did his best to revive her, and succeeded partially, but then she collapsed and died. She was almost full-term pregnant with twins.

              I think that is the most distraught I have ever been. The grief of losing my pets… the sheer stupidity which led to the death of Achi, Pacha and the twins… the uncertainty of my life ahead…. all combined to nearly overwhelm me. Shocked and depressed I drove on toward Oregon, and finally we made it to Washington. I called it "the beautiful, terrible drive."

              Over and over along the way I looked to my birds, particularly Tinga, for strength and some tiny shred of joy. As he always had, Tinga found a way to make me smile.

              I was so relieved when we pulled into the Raft Island house. We were home at last. I let Tinga out to fly, and he immediately soared up and away to the maples and alders in the backyard. Out before him stretched the water, a quarter of a mile or so to the other side. All around were trees of many kinds. Our only neighbor was over 100 yards away. I could see in his body language that Tinga considered this paradise. And though I was still anguished over the death of the chins, because Tinga was happy, I sensed that everything would be alright.

              At our home on Raft Island, Tinga could fly like never before. He had room to maneuver, and so he did. He would come plunging out of the treetops, intentionally, playfully, dipping and swerving, showing off all his aerial skills. I delighted in his command of flight. Somebody else did, too: Cisco. On the outside deck, Asha, Cisco and I would watch as Tinga flew. It was very obvious Cisco was thinking to himself, "I wish I could do that."

              And so he tried. Several times, with clipped wings, Cisco bailed off the deck or out of the upstairs window. Sometimes I would luck out and he would land in an easily retrievable spot, but at least two or three times he landed square in the middle of the blackberry bush patch. I would have to hack, crawl and otherwise battle my way through the thorns to rescue him. When I would finally reach him, he would look at me like, "That was fun, huh?" Meanwhile, Tinga would look down on us from high above, and shake his head like, "You guys really aren’t too good at this."

              It was decision time again. To clip or not to clip? Could Cisco be a free-flyer, too? Once more, the clippers just never came out. Cisco was getting better and better at flapping from perch to perch on the deck. One day he flew to a nearby low branch. I went over and was nearly eye-level with him, but he was out of reach beyond a bramble. I said, "Well, it’s up to you, Cis. What’s it going to be?" He stayed there a few minutes and then flew back to the deck. He’s been free-flying ever since.

              For whatever reason, perhaps because he had never had practice flying around in the house like Tinga had, or maybe because he is just a different species, heavier and not as flexible, Cisco has never been the flyer Tinga was. He was downright clumsy at first, coming for near-crash landings on the deck, and often obviously missing his intended mark. Occasionally he would come in so fast that he couldn’t stop, and would swoop right back out without landing to try again. Slowly but surely, he got the hang of it, and is certainly a proficient flyer, if not the most graceful. Even in the house, where Tinga could turn on a dime, Cisco needs more of a straight flypath to feel comfortable.

              It was sheer joy and wonderment to see the conure boys fly together. At last Tinga had a flymate, if not a soulmate. Tinga was the leader, Cisco the follower, and they would sail from tree to tree. Wherever Tinga was, Cisco would be nearby. In the fullness of summer, both birds were often invisible in the trees, but you could locate them by watching for falling leaves and twigs they were happily snipping. If you looked close enough, you could see Tinga’s flashy yellow. Cisco could be almost impossible to spot. In the fall, when the maple leaves turn burnt orange and the alder leaves yellow, the situation was reversed: Tinga disappeared into the rusting foliage, while Cisco’s fresh, spring green stood out. In the winter, when both tree species were entirely bare, each bird was easily visible, especially Tinga, flashing like a yellow warning beacon. No wonder the most colorful birds are found in the tropics where the foliage is ever lush.

              The conure boys spent many happy minutes up in the trees. I say minutes because rarely would they stay out more than about half an hour before they were back to see what I was up to. Only when I was out with them, perhaps working the yard, would they willingly stay up in the trees longer.

              Tinga surveying his domain
              from the cedar tree in our yard.

              Tinga in the plum tree.

                We have a resident pair of bald eagles just around the corner on the island. This has been a wonderful thing for my free-flyers. Eagles are not interested in the least in scrawny conures, and could not possibly catch them if they were. Hawks and falcons are potentially interested in such a snack, yet are wary of encroaching upon eagle territory. So Raft Island is not regular hunting ground for the many types of raptors that populate the region. However, we do occasionally get the solitary killer cruising through.

                Tinga and Cisco were chased at least four or five times by various birds of prey. Usually it was a red-tailed hawk. I was always scared to death when one of these episodes would occur. I would always wish that the birds would simply fly to me… it seems logical enough. But to a flock of parrots in the wild, that would be the worst thing they could do. To lead a predator back to the nest? No way. So their instinct tells them to scatter, and fly as far and as fast as they can. It makes perfect sense.

                Several times I watched as hawks chased my conures. With my heart pounding, I would scream and yell to possibly scare the raptor away, and entice my boys back, but invariably they would scramble in different directions. The hawk would have to choose which one to go for, and often by the time it made up its mind, they were gone. It would be the very lucky red-tailed hawk that could catch a sun conure. A blue-crowned conure would be slightly easier, but still a lucky catch. No red-tail has gotten lucky with my boys yet.

                When a raptor, including the eagles, would fly by, Tinga and Cisco would usually go in different directions. Tinga would often fly east over to my neighbor Bob’s house, while Cisco would head west toward the island bridge. As far as I know, Tinga never roamed more than 100-150 yards away from the house, even when being chased by a predator. Cisco, I know has flown much further. Yet both would always find their way back. Tinga would usually cruise back quickly, and silently. Cisco, you could hear making his way, closer and closer, stopping on a branch to call before proceeding in.

                I was always amazed at how nonchalant the boys would be after one of these "close-calls". A few minutes after returning to the house, they would be snacking on grapes and looking at me like, "what you worried about? Ain’t no big, fat hawk gonna catch us."

                Once or twice a year I will get a call from my neighbor Bob saying, "Hey Rusty, get your birds in. I saw a peregrine."

                As much as a conservation success story as the peregrine falcon is, it is my greatest fear. They are still rare, but they are around, and if any bird could take out a free-flying conure, it would be the peregrine falcon, the world’s fastest living thing, diving at well over 100 miles per hour.

                I’m not convinced that every bird that Bob thinks is a peregrine actually is, but I have seen at least one pass through. I admired its stealth and speed, knowing that my birds were safe inside the house.

              Tinga playing in the bird room, house on Raft Island.

                The last time that Tinga and Cisco were chased by a predator was by a small hawk of some type. I’m certain that it was not a peregrine, but it was fast. It happened in the fall of ’98. The trees were half bare, but a lot of yellow leaves remained. Tinga was outside playing in the trees. I came out on the deck to get him in. Cisco was on my shoulder. I tripped over something on the deck and briefly stumbled. Cisco flew off my shoulder and up toward the trees. Immediately, the small hawk, which I had not noticed before, and must have been casing Tinga, came swooping in. For some reason, for the first time ever, Tinga came directly to me. I was very surprised. It almost seemed like he assessed the situation, and thought to himself, "I can’t outrun that; I’m heading for the house." I popped him inside and quickly returned to find Cisco. There was no sign of him anywhere. I called and called. No answer. I got in my car and drove down toward the bridge, the direction he usually flies when scared. I stopped to call about every 200 yards. No answer. I drove back to the house, and noticed a couple of crows diving on a small hawk up high in a tree on the grounds of the church camp across the road from my house. I couldn’t really tell what it was, aside that it probably wasn’t a peregrine. Suddenly the little hawk turned on the crows and began chasing them! The crows seemed stunned. They love to pester raptors, but rarely are turned upon. The little hawk showed its speed and maneuverability, swooping circles around and striking at the flustered crows. At this point I was wondering if there might be two of the raptors, a hunting pair. I envisioned this hawk’s mate chomping on Cisco somewhere nearby. The little hawk and crows disappeared into the forest, and I was left alone calling for Cisco. Still nothing. I decided to walk across the church camp field to the other side of the island. Maybe I could find a sign of him… perhaps feathers on the ground. I walked with my head down looking for feathers. On the other side of the field, I heard a little call. Cisco? I called back and he answered. I followed his voice to a derelict cabin, halfway sliding off its foundation. Cisco was underneath the cabin. Smart boy. I gathered him up, put him in my shirt, and we headed back across the field. He was looking out all the way, surveying for that "bad bird". Both of us were relieved to be back in the house. That was our closest call with birds of prey, well, except for the kestrel-Asha incident.

                That was three or four months ago, and Cisco has not wanted to take a long fly since. The weather has been windy and rainy and cold, but I wonder if he is still thinking about that little hawk being out there. I also wonder if he will want to free-fly much without Tinga, the flight leader. Cisco was always last out, first in. Tinga was first out, last in. Will Cisco fly solo?

                But for every day when they had to dodge raptors, there were dozens of days when the boys flew without fear of any kind. Crows, seagulls, herons, jays, etc. they seem to instinctively know are not dangerous. Conversely, they can spot a raptor on the other side of the water, and start screaming at it. Their eyesight must be incredible, and I still don’t know quite what it is they are homing in on to distinguish bad bird from good. Perhaps the shrouded eye or hooked beak.

                Their happiest days were when I was working in the yard. Then they had an excuse to stay out for hours at a time. The boys would usually follow me around, flying from tree to tree to stay close to wherever I was. Neither one has ever liked going too close to the water. They will visit the young trees down near the bulkhead, but they won’t go closer. I think Cisco inadvertently flew over the water slightly on one of his races down toward the bridge, but as far as I know, Tinga never flew directly over the water ever.

                In the early spring of ’96, Asha began to grow her feathers back. I was elated. She had defeated PBFD! As she feathered back in, she even pulled a Cisco... bailing off the deck and sailing out into the blackberry thicket. I had to hack my way out to rescue her. A week or so after that episode, she laid an egg! A positive sign that her body was recovering from the usually fatal disease. Unfortunately, though PBFD could not kill her, the egg did. She apparently developed an infection from the egg-laying process and became very sick. I waited too long to take her to the vet. As I rushed her to the emergency clinic, she died in my hands.

                Tinga was perplexed and disheartened that Asha was gone. He went through a short period of depression. Asha was his best bird buddy. I buried her down in the pet cemetery, with Pacha, Achi and a few other baby chinchillas that did not make it. Tinga was with me when I buried her. I let him see her body just before I laid her to rest.

                Like a vacuum being filled, just shortly after we lost Asha, we acquired Charlie Brown. A business client of mine, Pacific Rim Wildlife Art Show director Bob Farrelly, called and said a friend of his, a wildlife sculptor named Steve Kensrue, who lived in Gig Harbor, needed desperately to find a home for his military macaw. So I called Steve to see what the situation was. He explained that he had had Charlie Brown for 22 years, but that he was now married with kids, and that Charlie didn’t get along with any of them. Steve offered Charlie and his large wrought-iron cage to me for free. I was a bit reluctant. Although I had a long list of parrots I wanted, a macaw was not on it. But I took Charlie Brown home.

                Of course, the very first thing Tinga the Terrible needed to do was bite him. It was like a crow dive-bombing an eagle… Tinga swooped down, popped him on the head and poor Charlie Brown couldn’t do a thing about it, except vow that one day he would nail that yellow bird. Day after day for a month it was the same… Tinga dive-bombing, Charlie ducking. I knew Tinga was thinking, "That darned blue-headed lug was bad enough, but this monstrosity has got to go. I’m running this guy out of town."

                Though the dive-bombing eventually stopped as Tinga resigned himself to the fact that Charlie wasn’t going anywhere, those two never did make their peace. And Charlie never did get Tinga back.

                I think one of the happiest days of Tinga’s life, though certainly not mine, was the day Charlie Brown flew away. It was the week of sheer hell in May of 1997, when on Monday I lost Cloudy, the chinchilla, to the raccoons, and thought I had lost Andy (though he was found later… in the dryer exhaust hose of all places), and on Thursday, Charlie sailed off the deck and into the trees. Steve had told me that Charlie wouldn’t ever fly off. Yeah sure, Steve! I guess Charlie saw Tinga and Cisco and decided he needed to be up there, too. I knew I was in trouble when it took Charlie about three wing flaps to cover the distance between the trees, which Tinga and Cisco needed about 20 flaps to cross.

                With all three birds in the trees, I swear I heard Tinga yell to Charlie, "Hey big guy, go see if you can make it to that mountain over there." Sure enough Charlie headed directly south toward Mt. Rainier, which is 60 miles distant. He was across the water in four or five flaps. Tinga and Cisco watched in amazement. I watched in horror as my macaw sailed into the distance.

                Charlie Brown ended up returning to the house the next day (this story is chronicled in another piece... and is a free-flying success saga in its own right). Cisco helped guide him back in, by calling to him. I’m sure Tinga was saying, "Cisco, shut up, shut up. He’ll find us."

                The bird collection increased to four in the fall of ’97 when I traded some web site work for a six-month-old bronze-winged Pionus, that I named Inca. Ever since my days with Sarah exploring the Pionus parrots, I have wanted one. I always thought I would prefer the blue-headed parrot, but at a bird show I saw a bronze-wing and was converted. Besides, I already have a blue-headed parrot, Cisco.

                As usual, Tinga welcomed Inca to the fold with a bite. I was always furious with Tinga for these displays of jealous aggression. Yet I knew there was nothing I could really do about it if I wanted the birds to get along eventually. I knew Tinga wasn’t going to change (unless I sacrificed our close relationship), probably couldn’t do much real harm, and it was just a phase we had to get over as quickly as possible. It took a few months, but eventually Tinga accepted Inca. Indeed, being bigger and stronger, Inca came to be the dominant one in that relationship… though they actually got along pretty well. Toward the end of Tinga’s life, I occasionally saw him and Inca sitting together on their playpen, watching me at work through the window. Once, I even saw Tinga preen Inca. But only that once. Maybe if Tinga had lived, they would have become even closer buddies.

                I never clipped Inca’s wings, though they were clipped when I got him. They are grown out now and he flies around the house. I’m dubious of him being an outside free-flyer because he is such a slow flyer. I say he flies like a helicopter, or as Sarah used to call it a "hectopater". He might be easy pickings for a hawk. I’m hoping that someday I’ll have my own place, and some type of large outdoor flight for my birds… something like a greenhouse perhaps.

                So for a about a year I had four parrots, one for each hand and one for each shoulder. I was a sight coming down the stairs in the morning with all four birds. Charlie would always be standing on my gloved right hand (his claws are so sharp), Inca on my left hand, Cisco on my shoulder, and Tinga on the other shoulder or inside my jacket biting "Tinga holes" in my shirt and glowering in jealousy at Charlie Brown. I remember often thinking that this is all the birds I can handle.

                But in the summer of ’98, the four-bird balance was upset. We acquired Laika. An acquaintance of mine called one day and asked if I wanted one of his family's African Grey parrots. I asked what the situation was, and he said that it was unhappy and plucking and they were willing to give it away to a good home. So I went to check it out, and brought him home.

                They didn’t seem to have a name for it… so I named him Malaika, Swahili for "angel". He had been plucking his legs and chest… not for long apparently. They had him in a cage with another Grey, and beside a cage with a Moluccan cockatoo. All three were down in a laundry room where there was no window. Laika stopped plucking immediately upon moving to our house. That was just last summer, and I’m afraid I haven’t had a lot of time to spend with him (or haven’t made the time, more accurately) to get him better socialized and bonded. He is a bit timid, but will let me rub him all over at bedtime… not during the day. He gets frightened when you try to pick him up and often jumps off my hand. He has clipped wings, so she lands with a thud. I’m scared he might hurt himself, so I’m going to let his wings grow out. I’m not thinking he will ever be an outside free-flyer though.

                Obviously, I am an outlaw when it comes to the sacrosanct "clip your bird’s wings" mantra within the pet bird industry. I truly believe that this notion… along with the notion of keeping just one pet bird… will become regarded as balderdash within the next generation as we move closer to more natural ways of pet-keeping. Yes, perhaps there are some birds that should have their wings clipped. I can’t personally think of any, but let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. But I can’t imagine my birds not being able to fly. They so enjoy the ability to flap from spot to spot in the house. Even big, old Charlie Brown will sail across the living room, and flap off the floor up to one of his perches. I think it is tremendously important for their pride, self-esteem and psychological well-being to be able to fly. To those bird-keepers who say, "Oh, my bird is perfectly happy not being able to fly" (and also "my bird is perfectly happy alone"), I say, "poppycock."

                I have a buddy who has a scarlet macaw. He’s a great guy, who keeps Charlie Brown when I have to leave town. He always admonishes me to clip Charlie’s wings. I look at Charlie, who always looks magnificent in his feathered glory… then I look at my buddy’s macaw who is all feather-plucked and ragged, and has clipped wings. I say to my buddy, "you should let your macaw’s wings grow out."

                Laika, the African Grey, received the customary Tinga welcome to the household. He calmed down toward him shortly thereafter, but he always remained afraid of him. I’m thinking that if any of the birds prosper because of Tinga being gone, it will be Laika.

                My morning routine included waking up to the birds calling. One by one I would hear them. Often Charlie is the first to stir. He will scream, oftentimes very loudly. Sometimes though it is Laika who is first to start babbling away. She doesn’t scream. Tinga was an early riser, and his vaunted conure screech could hold its own in waking you up… though not in the decibel range of Charlie by any stretch. Cisco would usually sound off only after Tinga did. Inca quite often doesn’t sound off at all… or only in the quietest little "scream" possible.

                Tinga would always do his morning poop in his cage, in the same spot. But immediately upon letting him out, he would fly to another place and do another little poop. I tried to keep him contained to the bird room, but often he would fly to the den doorway, and poop off that. Thank goodness parrot poop cleans up easily. Cisco would wait until I let him out to do his morning poop. I would position him on Charlie’s cage, either directly over newspaper or the trashcan so he could go. Inca would go in his cage, always in the same spot, and would usually not go again for a while. Charlie would go in his cage, and would be ready to come out as Cisco was pooping in the trashcan. Laika would go in her cage, and I would leave her there. I could only handle four birds at a time, and Laika was the one left out of the equation. She liked it that way.

                So I would go with four birds on my arm to the bathroom. Tinga would immediately go to his plant and start eating the dirt. I don’t know what the attraction was to that, but it may well have been what killed him. I should never have allowed that, but he had so much fun with it I never stopped it. Charlie goes up on the glass wall near the sink. While I brush my teeth, Cisco is hanging out on my shoulder. Tinga used to like to do that too, often trying to get a taste of toothpaste. Lately, Inca has been hanging on my shoulder, and bopping Cisco off.

                Then we would all go downstairs to fix breakfast. Charlie goes up on his perch on the playpen above Tinga’s old cage. Cisco goes on top of the lamp over the sink. Inca goes on the counter, and then immediately wants to climb back on me. Tinga went on the cutting board to be my "helper" and get first dibs on everything.

                The first thing he wanted in the morning was his cracker, Rye-Crisp with sesame seeds. He would pick the top off… first his, then whichever of the other’s crackers he could get hold of. I would then put out cheese for all the birds. Tinga used to like cheese more than he did lately. Often he would stick his head inside the zip-loc bag to personally select his own piece of grated cheese. It wasn’t good if I selected it for him.

                After getting the four birds set up with some initial food, usually crackers and cheese, I would go back upstairs to bring Laika down. Tinga would almost always accompany me. Because Laika was scared of him, I would post Tinga on the den door and he would stay there while I collected Laika out of his cage, watch him jump off my arm, pick him up again, and then head downstairs, reaching for Tinga on the way out. He would step lightly on my outstretched finger and then cuddle into my chest. I would pet him on the way down so he would be distracted from Laika.

                Back downstairs, Tinga would usually go back to eating his cracker until I cut apple, then he would be finished with the cracker and ready to do apple. He also loved papaya, which we call "paya", and buy in jars pre-cut. Breakfast was laid out in a "priority" order... favorite things, first.

                He would usually sample some of this, and then be ready to get inside my shirt or jacket, while the corn and peas boiled. I have dozens of shirts and jackets and sweaters with "Tinga holes" in them. Up here in Washington I started buying them at thrift stores for a dollar or two, knowing that Tinga was going to perforate them very quickly. The shirts and jackets were no matter to me, though. I loved every second that my special boy's soft and warm little body was snuggled under my shirt and against my chest, only his head showing popping out of my collar. He was the only one of my birds who would willingly climb into my shirt.

                He would be out of the shirt or jacket though as soon as the corn was ready. I would pour the corn and peas mixture from the pan into a strainer, and then rinse the strainer with cold water. He would be right on the strainer, ready to sample. I would tell him hot, hot, and he would wait while the cold water poured over, just an inch or so from his head. Then he would usually want to take a corn kernel before I lifted him off the strainer and placed him down on the cutting board near his bowl. All the birds loved chomping on their hot corn.

                This was our routine. If I spaced out and did something out of order, Tinga would look up at me like, "hey, you’re not doing it right."

                After getting the birds’ food, I would then go to the storeroom to feed the chinchillas. Cisco often goes with me on this chore. I can trust that he won’t fly off into the trees. I could not trust Tinga to not race to the trees as soon as he got out. While I was with the chins, Tinga would usually go to "his office".. the cabinet above the refrigerator where he would chew on stuff. He would open bags of chips and make a huge mess. I also knew that he was chewing on the plastic matting that was on the bottom of the cabinet. This could have been a source of toxins as well. I should never have let him do that. But he spent hours and hours happily working in his office.

                I don’t recall the last time Tinga flew outside. I think it was a few weeks ago. Just a brief foray out and back in. It’s been a bit cold and blustery. He never was too interested in going outside in the wind. The cold didn’t bother him, nor did rain. In fact, he loved to roll around in the wet leaves in the trees. He would even fly out in the snow. For awhile there, every time I put Charlie Brown out on the deck cage, Tinga would swoop outside. He was so fast. One time he barely made it though the opening before the sliding glass door closed. But as always, he wouldn’t stay up in the trees for long… and lately he had only been staying up for a few minutes.

                He would fly back down to the deck, or sometimes to the side door or the upstairs window and let me know he wanted back in. Or if the sliding glass door was open, he would just zip right back in the kitchen. Cisco has never flown in… or out… the sliding door, even when it is wide open.

              Tinga at the back door, "Hey, let me in!"

                I remember about three or four weeks ago. I think it was after Christmas, he was out one morning when I went to get the paper down at the corner, about 250 yards away. I never liked for him to be out when I walked down to get the paper because I didn’t want to train him to leave the yard. But that day he had zoomed out the sliding door when I put Charlie out. He watched me go down the road, and came out to one of the trees on the neighbor’s property but no further. Then waited for me to return, and when I came back around the side steps, he met me on the deck.

                One fun little interaction with Tinga was our "striking game". I would snap my mouth, like a bird striking with his beak, and Tinga would snap his beak. I would do my mouth twice, and he would do his twice. I would do three or more and he would copy. He loved doing this.

                Although he could be counted on to bite strangers, people as well as birds, Tinga was also the only bird in my flock that would come to like other people, and actually make friends and seek them out. He bit my dad on the ear, drawing blood, then a few days later was hopping on his shoulder. He loved my friend Barbara, but only after nipping her as well. I remember watching through the kitchen window Tinga on Barbara’s shoulder outside in the yard. He was snuggling with her. I felt a little tinge of jealousy myself, "Hey, that’s my little lovebug".

                His very favorite thing was cuddling on my shoulder, and having me rub my chin on his back and wings. He would open his wings and hunch his back. It was the ultimate massage I guess.

                Just a few weeks ago, I was taking a shower and he decided he wanted in on the action. So he flew around and around, landed on my head and let me put him up to the spray. He had not wanted to do that before.

                He usually liked to take his bath in one of my cereal bowls. The minute I would fill one with water, he would be in it. And he loved it best when I would let the faucet flow down into the bowl, and he could get under that. He would linger a few seconds with the water pouring on his back and next. He would splash and flutter in the water, getting every feather absolutely drenched, and me as well. None of the other birds ever get such a good soaking as Tinga with his baths. And yes, he could certainly still fly soaking wet. Not as well, of course, but he could fly.

                During the day he wanted to be with me as much as possible. When I had my computer in the bird room, he would spend hours and hours and hours on my shoulder. When I moved my computer into the den, which has a window into the bird room, he would sit on the playpen and watch me. Of course, his other duty was to watch for "bad birds" outside. He would usually be the first to sound the alarm if an eagle or hawk happened by. Oftentimes I would come into the bird room upon such an alarm, and catch a glimpse of the raptor he had seen.

                I know he loved living here on Raft Island. He loved watching the birds outside… the continuous parade of crows and seagulls and herons and robins and starlings and ducks and geese and, of course, the raptors. And though he never did bond completely with any of the other birds, I know they kept him company when I was gone.

                He knew the sound of the car, and would be the first to start screaming in excitement when my car pulled into the driveway. He used to do that in Hawthorne, too. He loved to ride in the car, but since we moved to Raft Island, he didn’t get to go much. I regret that.

                He was a smart little cuss. Flying free inside the house, it was sometimes hard to catch him to put him in his cage when I had to go during the day. I had to devise various methods of tricking him… usually by taking unfair advantage of his love for me. He would want to be on my shoulder, but as soon as I would try to get him to step up on my finger, he would know what was up and would fly away. So I would do things like walking in the closet where I could get him easier. But I could only do the same trick once or twice, and he would get wise to that and see it coming. At night I didn’t have to worry about putting him in his cage. He would go in voluntarily just after dark, unless I would let him stay up with me. But even when I would let him stay up late, he would eventually head to his cage, unlike Cisco who will stay up as long as I do. Tinga always slept in his nestbox inside his cage.

                He loved raisins, and I didn’t give him enough. He was messy with them, eating the inside and leaving the pulp... however that is accomplished with a raisin! We used to eat a lot of ice cream in Hawthorne, but that came to an end up here. I wish we had done that more often. But he did share hundreds of meals with me. Just about anything I ate, he wanted to sample. He was good about trying things. He would sit right on my plate or bowl, and quite frequently I would get mad at him because he was slinging food. I usually eat a combination of Total and GrapeNuts for breakfast. After I had the birds and chinchillas fed, and had gone down to retrieve the morning paper, I would come back in the kitchen and Tinga would fly to the cabinet, his office, where we kept the cereal, to remind me of what was next. Then, as I poured the Total into the bowl, he would sample a few flakes, but he really like the GrapeNuts best. Perched on the bowl, he would know to move his head so I could spread honey evenly on the cereal, then he would sample the honey. And then he would ride on the bowl over to the kitchen table where he would pick out milk and honey-covered GrapeNuts bits, slinging milk everywhere in the process. When he was finished, his beak would be covered with crunched, mulched GrapeNuts, and he would climb on my sleeve to wipe his face. My clothes were his favorite napkin. Often I would try to wipe his beak with a real napkin. He never liked getting his face wiped… even when he was a baby.

                His irises turned from dark brown to greyish as he got older. I was looking forward to see if they would get even lighter. They were beautiful, expressive eyes, always, always on me.

                A week before he died, I watched a video movie in bed. Tinga snuggled inside the sleeping bag with me, just happy as a clam. Two nights before he died, Tinga spent a lot of time with me while I worked at the computer. He got in "his spot" on my shoulder where I could rub him with my chin. Cisco, the pest, was also on my shoulder and periodically trying to squabble with Tinga. Then, the night before he died, he seemed a little depressed. I put the birds to bed early so I could work uninterrupted. He looked at me from his cage through the window, wanting out.

                I knew his body language quite well. And so it was immediately obvious to me the morning of January 28, 1999 that he was very ill. He had been sick before, several times in fact. Each time he had been remarkably better the next day. I thought maybe this would be the same thing. But something prompted me to get him in to the vet as quickly as possible this time. He did not eat or drink a thing that morning. He just stayed in my shirt. Even when the corn was cooked he wouldn’t come out. While I dealt with Charlie and the chinchillas he flew on top of the microwave and sat there, fluffed up. He stayed there while I had my breakfast.

                I had a business appointment at 1:30 that day, so I arranged to drop Tinga off at the vet’s office at 1:00. They took him, and I told them I would call in a couple of hours. I called about 2:30 and talked to Dr. Shaffer. She said he was very ill. She had drawn blood from two toenails. He wouldn't give much. She had injected him with antibiotics, and gauvaged him with a charcoal mixture to diffuse toxins. She said he looked bad. I went over immediately to see him. She brought him out and he was in the bottom of the cage. I picked him up and he whimpered, and then flew to my shoulder. I tried to stroke him with my chin and each time I did he whimpered. He was hurting.

                Dr. Shaffer said she would like to give him another antibiotic shot and a toxic-metals shot around 6:00, and that she would like to keep him overnight. I said no, that I would take him home after those later treatments. So we arranged that I should be back at 6:00. It was about 3:30 then.

                I should never have left the building. I should have kept him on my shoulder that whole time. My bird was dying! What was I thinking? Instead, I drove back across the bridge to my office in Gig Harbor. I checked phone mail, and then drove back over to the vet’s. On the way, my intuition was screaming the worst. But when I got to the vet’s office at about 5:15, the clerk said that Tinga was feeling better, that he was climbing around on his cage. Right then, I should have said let me see him. I want him with me. I could have held him until it was time for the next injection… or perhaps if he seemed particularly better I might have decided to forego the next round of medications altogether. Instead, with 45 minutes until time for his treatment, I decided I would just let him rest, and I went to get coffee. I returned at 10 till 6. They had me sit down, and in five minutes or so, Dr. Shaffer called me into one of the treatment rooms and said that they had bad news. Tinga had expired just minutes before. He was on his perch and had fallen off and gone into a seizure. The vet techs immediately put on oxygen and administered some type of drug specified in such a circumstance, but he did not recover. I asked to see the body. It was already stiff. I stayed with him for twenty minutes or so, holding him, stroking him, admiring his beauty even in death. I placed him in "his spot" on my shoulder one last time.

                I will never forgive myself for not staying with my bird. On my shoulder, under my jacket, keeping warm, would he have stressed to the point of collapse? I think not. Instead, he was in a strange environment, surrounded by strangers, scared, hurting, abandoned… and went over the edge. Maybe he would have gone over anyway… but at least he would have died with me, not feeling alone and abandoned. I believe with all my heart that Tinga would be alive today if I would have stayed with him.

                Pet lovers, especially bird keepers… heed this hard lesson that I learned! DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS IN CRITICAL DISTRESS if you can possibly help it. PRIORITIZE IMMEDIATELY… what is more important, some business appointment, the vet’s "rules and regulations" or the life of your pet? Stay by your pet. They need you. Your presence could be the factor which keeps them from going over the edge.

                Vets… please PROVIDE OWNER-CARE FACILITIES within your clinic… where critically ill pets that need to remain on the premises for a short while can be accompanied by their keepers. The idea of separating patient from bonded keeper is clearly contrary to the health of the animal, and must be minimized, if not eliminated entirely. Make it practical. This is too important.

                Despite extensive testing and a necropsy, no clear conclusion about the cause of Tinga’s death was reached. His blood tests revealed serious problems in both the liver and kidneys. I suspect toxicity. Dr. Shaffer concurs. Where it came from, we still don’t know. I suspect either the plant dirt or the plastic in Tinga’s office.

                I had many nicknames for Tinga: Tinga-tang. Ting-tang, Tinga-lu, Tingle, Tingy, Bubba (with Cisco being Boo-Boo), Punkin’ (cause he kinda looked like a pumpkin, at least colorwise), but mostly just "Ting". I have caught myself several times since he passed away, calling to the other birds, "Come on, Ting". It seems I always started with him. He was the epicenter of the flock, at least in my mind. He was my special boy. My pride and joy. The bird I was always most anxious to show to friends… even though he would introduce himself with a bite. He was super-bonded to me, and extremely jealous of anything that might come between him and me. He was my magnificent free-flyer. And the hawks never caught him...

                His cage is now empty. His final, not very substantial, poop still on the newspaper. His last seed hulls and empty nut shells are still there. His nest box remains just the way he left it, well worn and chewed.

                Dr. Shaffer saved some feathers for me from the autopsy. I have many others from years of previous molts. I have his olive and blue tail feathers, his green and blue flight feathers, red-orange and yellow and green coverts and contours. Feathers from one of the most beautiful birds in the world. I had been collecting feathers from all the birds to give to Bob, who was going to give them to a friend who makes fishing flies. I think I’ll keep them instead.

                I buried him in my little pet cemetery, which happens to be located directly beneath his favorite tree in the backyard. From there he can hear the seagulls and crows and songbirds, listen to the wild Northwestern wind blowing through the trees, feel the passing of the seasons on the island that he loved. He’s down there near Asha, his sweet little friend from what seems long ago. But no, it really wasn’t very long at all. Tinga was not yet five years old. I was hoping he would live to thirty. I was hoping to get old with my Tinga, and the other special members of my flock of parrots.

                The remaining four birds are remarkable in their own right. Each is a unique personality… very unique. It is truly like having a passle of two or three-year-old children around. Yet I am a sucker for punishment, I suppose. I’ll probably get more birds down the line. I would love to have an Eclectus. I would love to have a Blue Mountain rainbow lorikeet. But I just don’t think I want to live my life without a sun conure. I won’t feel right again until we return the sun to our flock. It will be breeding season soon, and I will find a way to go back to the beginning of my "life with sun conure". Though there will surely never be another Tinga… hopefully another little punkin’ will come along to free-fly to the treetops and willingly return to me.

                Only then might this wound to my heart be healed, if it ever is. So long my darling Tinga.

                * * * * *

                The story continues... as the sun also rises!

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