Monday, February 20, 2012

Farewell, Sir Spudly

Regular readers might have noticed that my blog has been silent for more than a week.

I haven't written, because I haven't known what to say.  We are grieving.  Last Monday, the day before Valentine's Day, we found our dear African Grey parrot, Sir Spudly, dead on the floor of his sleeping cage.  He was 34 years old.

My heart is still broken.  He was my friend, my confidant, and sometimes even my defender.

His intelligence, his sensitivity, and his wisdom never failed to amaze me.

I can remember several times when Danielle had treated me badly, and he'd wait until the end of the day to peck out his petty avian revenge against her.  He would puff up his feathers, and call to Danielle sweetly.  "Come here," he'd say in his most charming voice.  When she reached into the cage to pick him up, he would pay her back by giving her her a nasty pinch on the finger and yelling, "Bad girl!"

It always amazed me when he did this.  The fact that a bird could piece together the understanding that my child was mistreating me, and respond by devising a carefully executed plan of revenge many hours later, was absolutely stunning.

I think the truth is that Dr. Pepperberg has only scratched the surface in terms of the cognitive abilities of these animals.

When Spudly came to live with us nine years ago, he was already 25 years old.  He had been through a series of homes, some good, some bad, some in the middle.  He had been living in a small, grubby cage, and fed a diet that seemed to mostly consist of old, stale sunflower seeds.  When we brought him home, his former owner gave us a five-gallon bucket filled with seeds that were so old, most wouldn't even sprout.  Even though his living conditions weren't ideal, he grieved for his former home, and he gave both FosterEema and I some unpleasant bites.

With time, he grew to love us.  He was my bird.  Although he did accept handling from Danielle and FosterEema, it was me that he wanted.  I was the only person who could rub his ears just the way he liked, and he would sometimes sit on my lap for hours while I rubbed them.

When he wanted me, he would call me by name.  He rarely used my real name, preferring to call me by the name of his previous preferred person.  I didn't mind.  I was proud and I felt honored that he had chosen a name for me.  He didn't call anyone else in our home by name.  If he wanted them, he would look at them and say, "come here."

His passing wasn't a complete surprise.  Some time ago, at his last veterinary visit, the doctor noticed that he had developed a heart murmur.  The vet said there was nothing that could be done for him, and he'd just keep going until he stopped.

And stop he did, in a sudden way.  He had seemed fine the night before, playing on the loveseat with Danielle and eating walnuts.

Our birds sleep just a few feet away from our bed.  When Spudly passed, it was quick and silent.  Birds do not always go quietly when they die.  Our cockatiel Beeper, who died several years ago from a kidney tumor, went squawking and screaming in fright, not wanting to leave this world.  This was not the case for Spudly.  One minute he was alive, sleeping peacefully in his cage.  The next, he was flying to the rainbow bridge after what we thought was a sudden cardiac event.

Just to be sure, we asked the vet to perform a necropsy.  She confirmed what we already suspected.  His failing heart had finally stopped.  There was nothing we could have done, she told us, to save him or to prevent what happened. He died so suddenly that he didn't know what hit him.  He didn't have the opportunity for fright or struggle. 

Knowing that there was nothing to be done, and that he didn't suffer was a small consolation.

Now the house seems eerily silent.  I had grown used to Spudly saying "bye-bye!" when we left, and greeting us with "hello" or a cheerful whistle when we returned.  Although we have other birds, neither Chicken nor Moonie have the amazing verbal abilities that Sir Spudly had.  His absence is palpable, like the silence that occurs in a house after the power has gone out.

There aren't words to describe the feelings of loss that I am experiencing right now.  Sir Spudly was absolutely unique.  His age, his genetics, and his life experiences made him a one-of-a-kind friend. He wasn't just another bird, he was a unique personality, with intelligence, self-awareness, and sense of humor.

Although I was profoundly sad when my one and only dog died, this loss feels much, much worse.  Spudly wasn't just a pet, he was a friend. He was a sentient being, with a mind, thoughts and feelings that were entirely his own.

Our surviving birds, Chicken and Moonie, have been upset by Spudly's passing.  Chicken was allowed to briefly see his remains, because I thought it was the best way to explain to her what had happened.  Although Chicken seems to have an amazing comprehension of English, I wanted to make sure she knew he had died, and hadn't just disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  She witnessed Beeper's passing as well, and although the circumstances were distressing, I think knowing what had happened made the transition easier for her.  Birds do grieve the loss of flock mates, and it will be a while before they adjust to the new normal of the house.

Danielle's reaction to Spudly's passing has surprised me.  She cried when she learned he was gone.  I was stunned, because she didn't shed a single tear for Beeper, even though she was by far our friendliest bird.  She barely cried for Bitey, even though Bitey was her bird.  She wept copiously for Sir Spudly, even though she constantly complained about him, and they had a relationship that wasn't always amicable.  The truth was, he probably nipped at her more than he cuddled with her.

It seems odd that she would cry so much for a bird she claimed to hate, while she barely shed a tear for the ones she purported to love.

The morning Sir Spudly died, it rained.  I thought that it was fitting that the heavens wept along with our family.  Later, when the sun began to peek through the clouds, I knew that somewhere, the inevitable rainbow had formed. I imagined my old friend flying higher, and higher towards that rainbow in the sky.  I silently hoped that the story of the Rainbow Bridge is true, and that one day, we'll meet again.

Fly free, Sir Spudly, we miss you terribly.


  1. So sorry. You have always spoken of him with such love and fondness.

  2. I am so sorry. You have indeed lost a beloved member of your family. There are no words, really, but please accept my sincere condolences.

  3. I am so sorry. He sounds like he was an amazing bird/pet/friend. ::hugs::

  4. I'm so sorry. I still hurt from the loss of my beloved Addy. I hope our birds get to fly together. I'm very very sorry.

  5. So sorry to hear this. I suspect Danielle may have engaged more with Spudly than the other birds precisely because there was some antagonism there - she recognises a kindred spirit. At least he had a good last evening though...

  6. Did you have his death investigated because you wanted to make sure you could not blame Danielle for his death?

    1. Whenever a bird dies, especially in a multi-bird household, it's always a wise precaution to ask for a necropsy. This ensures that if the bird died of something contagious, the others can be properly protected. In this case, even though we were 90% sure Sir Spudly had died of a heart condition, we still wanted to make sure that there weren't other unknown pathogens that might have contributed to his passing.

      We never suspected Danielle had done anything nefarious or contributed to his death in any way.

  7. Very sorry about your loss.
    It seems that Danielle reacted appropriately. I'm wondering if it's because she's a little older than when the other animals passed.

  8. I am so sorry for your loss. I know that you have spoken fondly of Sir Spudly over the last several years.

  9. I am sorry too. From the way you've spoken of him, he sounds like he was a real character.

  10. I'm so sorry your lost your friend, Sir Spudly. He sounds like he was a truly amazing and one of a kind fellow.


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