Wednesday, January 19, 2005


It is obvious to me now that I was NOT thinking rationally when I sold and gave away my beloved bird family so I could accept my postdoc in NYC, especially when I promised my birds (and myself) that I would bring them all back "home" after my life settled down. I remember dropping them off in pairs at the Continental Airlines desk in Seattle shortly before they flew away to their respective destinations in all parts of the country. I remember looking at them through teary eyes as I fiercely promised, "I will bring you back home to me, as soon as I have a home."

Then I turned my back on them and walked away, even as I could hear their piercing whistles echo through the cavernous building. Even as my heart was breaking.

But I lied. Like all of my fantasies, that's never going to happen because my flock of birds not only moved to new homes, but they are continuing to move beyond this plane of existence, forever beyond my reach. They scatter. They are gone. Fading memories. They glitter in the distance like broken glass. Broken promises. Broken trust.

The first lory I ever had the pleasure of living with, Paris, died yesterday morning. Of course, I try to read my email only once per day, so I did not learn about her death until this morning when I found this message waiting for me from my friend, S, whom Paris lived with for the last 4 years of her life;

This morning my 21-1/2 year old dusky hen, Paris,
died in my hands at the vets. I checked on her this
morning and she was in her dog kennel outside by her
heat lamp and she was panting and acting like
something was wrong. I threw on my coat and headed
to the vet's about 40 min away from home. When they
put us in the examining room and were setting us up,
she died. My vet is doing a necropsy this afternoon
and I'll pick up her body tomorrow. I've got her
old friend, Pierre, in the house now so I can
observe him and keep him company. I've been
dreading the day when she would die. At least I got
to hold her and say goodbye. S

Paris was a female orange-phase dusky lory, Pseudeos fuscata, who was born on the 4th of July, 1984. She was 20 years, 6 months and 2 weeks old when she died. For the first 14 years and 8 (or so) months of her life, she lived with me, first as a pet and then later, with a male of her kind. Paris (and the flock of lories that I purchased and bred over the ensuing years) intrigued and delighted me with her funny voice and her sweet nature. She was a gentle and kind presence in my life who always could cheer me with her goofy antics -- antics that earned her a vast collection of nicknames such as "BatBird". Paris was a brave and unique individual from another culture who generously shared her life with me and my friends and who taught me much of what I needed to know, particularly about social behavior.

Even though no one really knows how long lories live, Paris's longevity was unusual. Most captive lories don't tend to live very long on average, because people tend not to feed them properly. Because lories are parrots, people often feed them seeds or pellets under the misconception that all parrots naturally eat dry seeds (actually, few psittacines naturally eat dry seeds). In fact, because lories are nectivorous, their diet is similar to what the average hummingbird consumes. Further, since they have a soft diet, lories' crops are unable to grind hard objects, so seeds collect and build up like a block of concrete, choking the birds.

Several other common hazards to lories' long term health in captivity are also related to diet; first, they must be fed nectar, fruits and vegetables -- all soft, sweet foods that spoil rapidly and therefore must be replaced often with fresh to avoid bacterial infections that can rapidly kill them. Lories are also susceptible to iron-storage disease, the bird version of the rare but deadly human disease, haemochromatosis. This is a condition where the body captures excessive amounts of dietary iron, a rare essential element, and hoards it in the liver. After a few years of a typical captive diet that is rich in iron, the bird's iron-choked liver is transformed into a hard, blackened mass that resembles the sole of a shoe, and the bird suddenly dies from liver failure. So considering this brief listing of health hazards that easily could have cut her life short, Paris was certainly well-cared for by others in the lory community after she left my care.

But I always thought she would live long enough to come back home to me, even though knowing that she was happy and healthy and living in lovely Seattle gave me much comfort. Almost as if she was my child, I was proud that she was out there in the world, teaching others about birds as she had taught me, that she was giving other people so much pleasure -- she was a true birdie ambassador. But regardless of where she lived, she is -- was -- part of my inner emotional core; my family. Thinking about Paris now almost seems to call her here to me. I can almost hear her silky wings cut through the air as she flies to me, almost feel her push her warm fluffy head under my hand, slowly, slowly ... demanding in her quiet but persistent way that I stroke her soft plumage, just as in days long ago. I wish I could postpone her departure by stroking her again. And again. Stay with me, Paris.

My fascination with Paris and her tribe led me to refine my life's passion. You could say that she changed my life forever. My love for lories quickly embraced all that they touched: I came to know and appreciate the flora, fauna and geology of the islands of the south Pacific, the evolutionary home of the lories. As I learned more about them and their island homes, I was convinced that telling my birds' story will greatly increase our understanding of the molecular mechanics of evolution while also deepening our knowledge of evolution in this compelling geographical region. Because I believe in my birds so much, I carefully prepared for years to pursue my longstanding fantasy called "Plan B" (to sail away to the islands of the south Pacific so I can live with and study my birds' wild relatives); I learned to sail, to cook southeast Asian/Pacific island cuisines and to speak and read Indonesian. Paris and her kind were the focal point and the inspiration that launched the thousand bright, shining ships of my postdoctoral career, the career that eventually led me to give up my flock of lories -- the very same career that has abandoned me now, just as I abandoned my flock of lories several years ago. Karma is a bitch, isn't it?

But I was stupidly optimistic: I thought that making small personal sacrifices, such as temporarily giving up my flock of birds so I could pursue my postdoc work that focuses on lories, would provide me with the credibility necessary to make big advances for my birds in the future. I thought my research would direct scientific interest onto my birds and therefore protect many (most? all?) species from the onrushing extinctions that threaten the continued existence of almost all island species, particularly island-dwelling birds. But as with everything, I was wrong. I failed. Again.

Sleep well, sweet Hallowe'en bird, upside-down BatBird, demanding shriekmeister, loving VelcroBird, gentle sensei who taught me so much. I am so sorry I let you down, dear Paris. I abandoned you. I am just like my parental units.

After all the relocating I've done, I don't have a single picture of Paris to share with you all, so I linked to my favorite photo of a dusky lory. This is a picture of another friend's dusky lory, Tiki, standing on a camera. By seeing this picture, perhaps you can sense the person under the feathers.


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

12 Peer Reviews:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

dearest list hen . .
i remember over a year ago when Q passed away . . . myself, my husband and even my brother; we all sat around the oxygen chamber for a few hours told Q that he was the greatest pet that ever lived, cried and said goodbye . . .

You asked then if there was anything you could do . . . I think that just asking if we were okay . . and the thought that you were there to talk to was very comforting.

And this note is infused with the same feelings of comfort - (i just don't have your wonderous words).

I'm sorry for the loss . . plz let us know if there is something we can do.


7:22 PM  
Blogger sonicfrog said...

Devorah, We are really sorry to hear of the loss of Paris. I just want to remind you of how much you have helped all of us in the lory community. You have been an invaluable resource, not only for information about lorys, but also as a pillar of support for those of us who have also lost our dear winged compaions. I, along with the others, want to return the favor. Let us know if there is any way we can help. Please know that all of us in the community appreciate you very much.

Mike, Greg and Miss Bird.

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Running exhausted today --- busy from five to five, wild.

I just read your post and I'm very sorry about your losing your friend.

You didn't abandon your friends, I'm quite, quite sure you provided good homes to them, and did what you could to make them happy. I'd like to believe that indeed they are all happy, and what better gift could you possibly give someone when you're no longer in a position to give to them what you most want to? They also had the opportunity to contribute to your being happy in your pursuits, and while that may not have quite worked out as you hoped the future still holds many possibilities for you.

I don't know about the details of what your parents did to you, but be assured, it's not what you did with your bird family.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Dani said...

I'm very sorry about Paris's passing.
Know you aren't a failure, and you aren't like your parents. The immense love you have for your birds is quite evident. Please don't mistake your misfortune for failure.

12:43 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks everyone. I went home very late last night, aching all over and feeling that I'd survived a car wreck. I feel somewhat better today. Not all hope is lost, I am still pursuing my birdie career. But I wonder, do you think Paris is still teaching me (and those of us who wish to learn) about birds and about life, even in death?

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the other replies said everything I was going to say, and probably better. You didn't let her down. Being a good parent or a good caregiver isn't about holding onto the little creature forever. It's about ensuring they have a happy, healthy, fulfilling life, whether it's with you or others. It sounds like Paris had that sort of life and I'm sure she would thank you for it.


11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And she'll still be teaching you about birds and life. Death is what teaches us about life. How to deal with it, how important it is, and why it's worth living.


12:15 AM  
Blogger - i said...

Even I know that you are not at all like your parents.

8:28 AM  
Blogger waxwing said...

One who loves another cannot fully recover from the death of the beloved. One can only learn to cover the death with layer upon layer of memories until it makes a weird sort of pearl more precious than any. I have many such pearls myself. Painful as they are at first, I much prefer having them to forgetting my pets.
You wrote a beautiful tribute for your friend. I hope it helped you to write it - I know it helped me to read it. Peace.

8:40 AM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Thanks again, everyone. You are very kind to me. I am feeling stronger (less like a car wreck survivor) every day, too.

WW32: thanks for reading and commenting. Even though you are an invisible electronic friend, like so many other people I seem to know these days, that does not reduce my desire to know that you care about this sad loss. Thanks for caring.

salmoncu: Thanks, you made me laugh.

waxwing: Ah, what a nice name you have! Your name reminds me of why I got started keeping and breeding parrots in the first place ... it all started when a large mixed flock of cedar and bohemian waxwings visited my open-eyed 12 year old self one very snowy morning. Their gorgeous plumage contrasted sharply with the snow as they perched on a six-foot tall wooden fence and passed a brilliant red pyrocantha berry from one bird to the next along the line .. I remember watching them from my bedroom window and asking aloud, "why are you doing that? why doesn't one of you eat it?" After all these years, birds still inspire me to ask questions and that is one of the greatest gifts I can receive.

I also really like your pearl analogy for dealing with the death of those we love. I think it is so appropriate and accurate. Thanks for that.

By the way (because I am sure you want to ask), no one knows why waxwings pass berries amongst themselves, but there are plenty of hypotheses out there.

7:21 PM  
Blogger waxwing said...

It was a waxwing spied when I was ever so much younger that inspired my name. Just one - but I followed it as long as I could before it flew off.
I wish I had your memory instead - I would love to see them doing that. Suppose they are tasting, and finding the berry not overripe and intoxicating, hoping for better luck later? You are probably aware of ravens and their flying games of keep-away with sticks, too. They get only more fascinating the more you know.
JamesN told me of your blog - I'm happy he did - been lurking since but your post stirred me so I had to comment. I glad you found something for you in it.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your page while looking for images using "birdday" as a keyword. I'm so sorry for your loss of Paris, I have gone though the same thing in the past, and will again at least 2 more times in the future.

I, too, committed little and big sins of abandonment, not spending (enough) time with the Feathered People when I should have and could have, pursued "career" dreams which never came to fruition. Recently I moved in with someone else, resulting in a stressful and draining situation for the Feathered People. I feel like a stupid, silly and selfish primate (because I am one). Paris sounds so much like my own special Feather, Morning Sun (budgie).

I hope Paris rests well, and that at some time in the future, you both see each other again in some form. I bet you'll be able to hear her squawking her hellos to you across the ether...

8:36 AM  

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