How Droopy Wings Sent Us Flying to Our Avian Vet This Morning
flying gray cockatiel in front of white background

How Droopy Wings Sent Us Flying to Our Avian Vet This Morning

Last Updated on by Mitch Rezman

We keep the apartment at a cool 65° but Popcorn has an oil-filled heater next to her cage and an old-fashioned mercury thermometer next to her cage so we know that she’s in a temperature comfort zone. 

She had been spending a lot more time in her birdcage rather subdued. We attributed it to the cool apartment meaning she enjoyed staying warm in her cage. 

I had run errands earlier and when I got home she had moved from one of her Booda perches that she sleeps and spends most of her time on to her heated perch. I didn’t give it a second thought. 

Then last night Popcorn’s wings were drooping as in she wasn’t holding them tightly to her body. “Droopy wings” is a sign of illness in birds but it’s not a good indicator of any particular illness. 

We practice what we preach and weigh her regularly. Her weight was a little down from a couple of weeks ago which is a good thing because she needed to lose weight and we have been careful to reduce what we offer in terms of millet, Nutri-berries & Avi -Cakes. 

Some of you may recall that late last fall she had become a chronic egg-layer which was taking a toll on her system. We were able to eliminate that issue by subjecting her to 72 hours of constant light at the end of a brooding cycle – you can learn more about that here. 

She hasn’t laid an egg now in four months so the first thing I thought was, “could she be egg bound”?

Catherine’s expert eye determined that although Popcorn was distressed she was not egg bound and we could wait until morning. 

While she examined Popcorn for the possibility that an egg was stuck, Popcorn fought off the examination with her feet. A good sign that she had strength left and had not “given up”. The vet would see us when they opened at 8 AM.

Note: WOOD carrier (no cold metal bars) for a warmer trip than an all-metal summer travel carrier.

Dr. Jennifer Ivankovig (“Dr. Jenny”) has been practicing veterinary medicine at Animal House of Chicago for the past six years.

She grew up in LaPorte, Indiana, and currently resides in Chicago. Dr. Jenny completed her undergraduate studies at Purdue University in 2000 and then went on to earn her DVM degree from the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2004.

Prior to joining us, Dr. Jenny worked at a small animal practice in Wake Forest, North Carolina for nearly two years. Her medical interests include Exotics (small mammals and birds) as well as Feline Medicine.


popcorn white cockatiel in canvas covered metal cage

I worked late into the night once again and didn’t arise until about 11 this morning. The first thing I did was to call Catherine because I didn’t see a bird that had been returned to her cage. 

Catherine related to me that based upon an x-ray there was a mass in her chest cavity pressing on her lungs. It could be ANYTHING from a tumor to a cyst to a fluid build-up – they would need to keep her and run some additional tests. 

I weigh 185 pounds – I do 1000 push-ups almost every day. I ride one of the world’s fastest motorcycles. I will look you in the eye and tell you I am fearless – you will believe me. 

I morphed into a whimpering basket case. 

Better pic than seeing a grown man cry 

Back story: Windy City Parrot where the sun never sets empire, is in a relatively small facility with a second two-story building behind us and a fully functional water-tight basement (take that Chicago sewer system – all it took was plumbers and money) below us. 

It is on Western Avenue (the longest continuous street in the world) – it’s a busy place. Deliveries pickups customers cold calling salespeople bums panhandlers and police – who are caged bird keepers.

We are currently building new offices on the second story of the building in the back. This is because I can get very little accomplished with all the interaction happening in our retail facility. 

I’m working on a highly guarded very classified top-secret project right now which requires an enormous amount of concentration. This means I’ve been using my home office. 

home office and Pixar lamp refugee rescue 

Windy City Parrot empire where the sun never sets command center.

Working from my home office means that I am now interacting with a cockatiel from the time she wakes up till the time she goes to sleep – whose cage doors are always open until birdie bed time .

She and I have been working on a video vignette “a day in the life of a free-flying free-wheeling white cockatiel”.


Having her run of the place has been a giant education and bonding experience with our 118g (as of today) ball of white feathers. She’s all over every room – that I’m in.


I have tinkle turf forging stations throughout our 70-foot-long apartment. She is not allowed in another room alone so my eyeballs are always upon her. She’s developed this routine which seems to be very similar to that of a wild cockatiel. 


When she exits her cage in the morning many times she’ll do two or three kamikaze-like high-speed figure eights throughout the living room and dining room Before returning to her cage for a morning snack. 

She will then hop down to the floor and start foraging her way towards my office chair at which point I pick her off the ground and toss her up in the air because I don’t like her to be on the ground and all. 

She’ll make her way to my keyboard and head-butt my mouse hand until I stop what I’m doing and provide undivided attention in the form of very particular scritches in very particular places on her head, cheeks & neck.

When I need my hand back I toss her up in the air. Sometimes she goes back to her cage and sometimes she just boomerangs. 

Once Catherine arrived home with Popcorn I was provided with an explanation of the malady. She has an unidentified mass of some sort that has moved her gizzard and other organs.

This mass also triggered a fluid buildup – 8 ml to be exact that had accumulated in her abdomen pushing against her lungs causing the discomfort. The fluid was drawn out of her small body with a syringe having a long needle.

x-ray full body cockatiel

She’s home now in much better spirits. Eating and trying to preen off the yucky stuff from the wet feathers on her abdomen where they performed the procedure. She was sent home with antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory to help reduce the pain.

 Hey Mitch – remind me again what a gizzard is.

You haven’t lived until Falcon pellets drop your lap.

The only way to know for certain about the mass is through surgery. For now, we don’t want to subject her to that so we will watch her very closely for a couple of weeks.

We’ll determine at the follow-up visit if the fluid returns or she has pain. If it does then we may move toward some procedure – until then we’re very happy to have her back home. 

Popcorn was a rescue bird, a foundling. She was “free”. Many of you may have rescue birds and perhaps a dog or cats.

You may have paid a small fee to acquire said animals. We are of the firm belief that if you bring an animal into your home you are officially bequeathed (by some higher power) with the responsibility as the caregiver for that animal.

If that animal escapes from your home its likelihood of survival diminishes rapidly. Yes – its life depends on you. 

Nothing in life is free, especially our animals. Besides “well care” regular checkups you have to assume there will be a veterinary emergency in your future. Especially considering that on average most parrots can live five times longer than a dog. 

vet bill from animal house of Chicago for cockatiel treatment

That bird that you have in your home has a standing heart rate of something like 200 bpm. It has the ability to FLY which makes it pretty damn special. The very nature of birds being prey animals is to disguise illness.  

We may have seen Popcorn’s ailment sooner but instinct told her not to go public with it. I’m posting the Animal House Veterinary Hospitals Bill above to remind you that there will be some pretty big speed bumps while providing care for your caged birds over the next several decades.

We will take Popcorn in for a follow-up visit in about two weeks incurring another bill smaller but money out of pocket nonetheless. 

You’ve been warned. (but they are worth it).

Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing

Update: Popcorn passed on 6/09/2016. She was loved.

Your zygodactyl footnote – wing droop – who knew they wrote a song about it?

*Catherine here. I like using the wood carrier when I take Popcorn to the vet because it is small, cozy, has a fleece pad that won’t catch nails, and is nice for an unwell bird. There is no need for food or water on such a trip. Yes, it is wood, if I had a bird with an infectious illness I would steam the carrier after every use or use a plastic carrier”.

Mitch Rezman

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I am sending my wishes that your beautiful Popcorn will be alright. I feel your pain and totally empathize with your situation. I currently have 2 cockatiels and a budgie and I lost 2 mated senior cockatiels last year that I had rescued (owner passed away, no one in the family wanted the birds, so I gave them a good and loving home, knowing they were elderly and I might not have them long. And I still fell in love with them and was broken-hearted when they died – the female died from congestive heart failure and her mate departed 7 months later from either a heart attack or a stroke. I know they got the best food/care/attention in my home but I don’t know anything about their lives before I rescued them and I only had them 1-1/2 to 2 years. They were both around 18 years old.) I totally understand the obligation and need to get vet care for our pets – we OWE them that. I have had many arguments with people who won’t spend the money to help their pets and I believe if you won’t spend what it costs to help them when they are sick, you should not have them. It is part of the cost you MUST factor in, no different than having a human child and refusing to take him or her to a doctor. Having said that, it is nonetheless frustrating when even vet care cannot save them.
    I hope your story has a happy resolution and you will have Popcorn for a long time to come. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. My Pionus is forty years old and probably has a similar issue..he no longer sleeps with his head tucked and he has droopy wings also. His balance and grip strength are not good either,so I have made his house ‘handicapped accessible’ (and he is never shut inside ).
    The thing is, at his age, a trip to the vet is so stressful I might lose him then and there.
    This happened to my Senegal, Siddy, when he was 27..he had some kind of cancer and I took him in to see about palliative care. He had a heart attack in the office and died on my chest.
    Lance is still snuggly and eating well, so I am choosing to no subject him to any undue stress beyond a nail trim when it’s absolutely needed.

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