In Memory of Rocky: On the Death of Our Cockatiel

This is a life-sized "bust" watrcolor I painted of Rocky a few years ago.  I glued one of his real crest feathers on the painting.

This is a life-sized “bust” watrcolor I painted of Rocky a few years ago. I glued one of his real crest feathers on the painting.


[This essay was written four years ago]


“C’m ‘ere, little guy.”   Our 20-year-old son gently talked the frightened Cockatiel into his hand.  “I won’t hurt you.”  Our son was at a cycling race in New Britain with 300 other cyclists plus hundreds of spectators and, out of nowhere, the little bird had chosen him.  He broke a piece off his burger roll and used it to coax the bird into a paper bag, closing it and rolling down the top to seal it.  I arrived home to find the bird happily eating millet seeds in a cage long since vacated by a deceased parakeet.  Our son was the “bird whisperer” in our family.  Birds seemed to know he was a good person.  Three times escaped birds had come to him for rescue so this new bird did not surprise us.  The Cockatiel was a sweet little thing, grey coloration as in the wild with little orange cheek patches, a perky yellow crest and lively eyes.  He was missing his tail, possibly from an encounter with a cat during his period of freedom.  I took him out of the cage and he nestled happily in the crook of my neck.  I scritched him around his head and thought about the poor person he had escaped from.  “We have to try to find his owner,”  I said.  “This is such a sweet bird.  Someone out there is frantic with worry.”

I placed an ad in the New Britain paper:  “Lost bird found, Stanley Park, New Britain, June 25th.  Call x [our telephone number] to identify.”  The calls started coming in.  “The world is full of escaped birds,” I marveled after more than 20 calls.  People asked about parrots of all species.  A few of the callers were missing Cockatiels.  One caller had a distinctive foreign accent:  “I’m a breeder and my sister-in-law was taking care of my birds over the weekend.  She let my Lutino escape,” the woman said.  Lutino’s are yellow, I thought.

“This bird is grey, not a Lutino, and it is an obvious pet.  It can’t be your bird,” I said.  Another caller had left a window open while cleaning their Cockatiel’s cage two weeks before and the bird had escaped.  They had given up hope and replaced the bird but were eager to drive the sixty miles, just to see if their bird was safe.  When they arrived their little boy, a Down syndrome child, ran to the cage “Rocky!” he shouted.  The parents looked the bird over carefully.  “It’s not Rocky,” they said.

“It’s been several days and the owner hasn’t come forward,” I said.  “I don’t mind if you take him since your little boy thinks it’s his bird.”  They declined, having replaced their Rocky but we now had a name that suited him.

The woman with the accent called again:  “My grey, pet Cockatiel escaped,” she said.  You sneaky person, I thought.  You just want to make some money on a hand raised Cockatiel.  I tried to play it cool. “What was the number on the leg band?”  “Oh, I didn’t write it down,” she said.  “Well, this can’t be your bird.  This bird doesn’t have a leg band,” I told her, feeling a little smug.  Two weeks later we were having lunch when she called again.  “My normal grey, pet Cockatiel without a leg band escaped.”  Still playing the game I said “Well, come and identify it.  If he’s your pet, he’ll come to you.”  “Where are you?” she asked.  “All the way down near New York City,” a white lie.  “Aren’t you going to bring it up here for me?”  “No.  I have gone to some expense here, placing ads and making long distance calls.  If you love this bird, come and identify him.”  “Oh, forget it,”  she said.  And so, we got to keep little Rocky.

Our other bird, an African Grey parrot named Charlo, was jealous at first, nipping at Rocky when he thought we weren’t looking.  Despite this unfriendly behavior, Rocky looked up to him and Charlo grudgingly accepted Rocky after it was clear that he regarded Charlo as flock leader.  It took about six months but I gradually weaned Rocky off nutrient poor millet and onto a balanced pelleted food called Pretty Bird, especially designed for Cockatiels.  As the years went by Rocky’s tail was never able to grow back and he looked rather egg-like without it.  He would grow a feather or two but it would break off before reaching full growth.  Mealtimes were his favorites.  The birds would both sit with us at the table and share our food.  Whereas Charlo liked his pasta with sauce and wouldn’t eat his pancake unless it had butter and syrup, Rocky would only eat them plain.  They both gathered around my husband’s cold cereal each morning, eating from his bowl and sharing our English muffins (Rocky’s with no jam; Charlo’s with jam and butter.)

Over the next ten years Rocky and Charlo shared our meals, our vacations, our lives.  One evening Rocky was on his perch when he shuddered and fell on the floor.  I rushed to pick him up and cradled him in my hand.  He was limp but came around after a minute or two.  “What do you think happened?” I asked my physician husband.  “I don’t know, maybe a stroke, certainly a seizure.”  Rocky seemed fine but a few months later it happened again. This time he began bleeding from his mouth and continued having convulsions that racked his tiny body.  My husband examined Rocky and noticed small golden crystals that had collected in his irises.  He felt there was nothing a veterinarian could do in this life or death situation and we decided to wait to see if Rocky made it through the night before seeking help.  I kept vigil all night, talking softly to Rocky who was tucked inside my bathrobe for warmth.  I loved this little bundle of feathers.  What could possibly be happening?  The seizures came frequently at first then lessened.  In the morning he seemed better and I took him to the bird Vet. “This is a very old bird,” the Vet said, “maybe in his mid-twenties.  I’ll do a blood test and we’ll see if we can find out what’s happening with him.”  The blood test showed an extremely high uric acid level.  “Your bird has gout,” he said.  “Gout??”  I thought of dissipated Englishmen in dank manor houses.  “What are you feeding him?”  “I feed him Pretty Bird, especially designed for Cockatiels.” I felt defensive.  “He also shares our table food.”   “Well, the Pretty Bird is killing him.  It’s too rich.  We can medicate for gout but, as to his diet, he’s so elderly, I’d feed him just millet and the table food.  It’s not a real healthy diet but they love it so.  Stop the Pretty Bird and let him be happy.  Even in good health you can’t expect him to live more than a couple more years.”

The medication he prescribed was Allopurinol, which is what humans get for gout except they get one tablet a day.  Rocky gets one tablet a month which is ground up and dissolved in pediatric syrup.  After the third month Rocky’s uric acid level had dropped by more than half and the crystals had cleared from his eyes.  “It’s working,” the Vet said.  “Just keep it up.”  My husband wrote a prescription for 100 Allopurinol tablets made out for “Rocky Bird,” enough for eight years, and we got a pint bottle of the syrup.  That was more than four years ago.  I just bought the second pint bottle of syrup and he’s used up nearly fifty tablets.  His feet are crippled up with gout now and we have a wide heated perch in his cage to warm them.  Every morning he hobbles over to me for tickles after he has his bit of English muffin (without jam or butter) because he can no longer move his foot up to scratch his head.  Charlo looks on and says “Rocky loves tickles,” as Rocky peeps in contentment.  I sometimes wonder about his beginnings, what his owners were like and what his first name was and I rejoice at how much tiny Rocky has enriched our lives, filling the nest vacated by our three sons.


Rocky died this past Tuesday, September 11th, 17½ years after he came to us.  Toward the end of his life, he could no longer perch and he must have been in some pain but he was always cheerful and loved his muffin and tickles.  He lived nearly eight years after his gout diagnosis and may have been as old as thirty, a long life for a Cockatiel.  Charlo had been looking at the empty cage and saying “Rocky, do you want to come out?” but now we have stored the cage in the barn and have nothing but memories of this sweet little bird.  He is so missed.

Rocky loved tickles...

Rocky loved tickles…


7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Tracy said,

    Aunt Kathy, I’m so sorry for your loss. What a special bird Rocky was, he will surely be missed. Love, T


  2. 2

    Denise Hughes said,

    What a great tribute to Rocky. RIP


  3. 3

    Marjorie said,

    Rocky looks like Royalty!


  4. 4

    Douglas said,

    Thank you Mom & Dad for giving Rocky a loving home and the special care he needed all those years. Such a sweet little guy he was, we will all miss him terribly.


  5. 5

    Carla said,

    Rocky was a sweetheart, and will remain a sweetheart in our memories. He sure did love tickles … and pancakes. 🙂


  6. 6

    Denise said,

    So sorry to learn of Rocky’s passing – he must have been a true delight to bring such happiness. How lucky he was to choose such a great family to adopt.


  7. 7

    Amy said,

    Rocky was obviously a very well-loved bird. He had a long happy life with you. He was one lucky little bird.


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