The Story of Boo Boo
How a Special-Needs Bird Survived the Odds!
Boo-Boo (pronounced like the name of Yogi Bear’s friend Boo-Boo) was a special bird from the beginning. He was smaller than his clutchmates, but he seemed very healthy. While it took him longer to get through the initial developmental stages, my experience has shown me that this is not that unusual for the sixth in a clutch of lovebirds. He was, essentially, the runt of the litter.
The problem started when Boo-Boo was about 4 weeks old. I woke to hear thrashing in the room where the babies are kept. At first I thought there must have been a small earthquake. When I came into the room all the lovebirds were panicking. As they calmed, I heard this very strange cry from one bird. It was still thrashing in the baby brooder. He was having a seizure! I removed him and held him firmly in my hands to protect him from thrashing about. He eventually calmed down, but his body was rigid with partial paralysis. His right leg seemed to have literally bent itself backwards against his body. I was horrified. I couldn’t move the leg at all without him screaming, so I made him up a separate brooder with a small box inside to help cushion him so he could be comfortable until morning. I had a sense of dread, wondering if he would make it until morning when I could take him to an avian veterinarian.
The next morning I checked on the baby lovebird. The leg had relaxed and I was able to reposition it. However, he had right-side weakness. It seemed as if the bird had a stroke of some sort. A vet visit was scheduled immediately. My avian vet decided to put the bird on Baytril, suspecting that some sort of bacterial infection had gone into his brain, causing the seizures. However, results of cultures showed no sign of bacteria. It was baffling! Boo-Boo improved dramatically over the next few days. I kept him separate from his clutchmates and other birds just in case.
I realized pretty quickly that Boo-Boo had suffered some sequelae from his seizure. He had a funny chirp that was very different from the typical lovebird chirp and he just had an odd sort of personality. His right leg seemed to have regained most of its strength, although he did seem to favor it. Just as I thought we were out of the woods, I heard this terrible screeching and banging. I ran out and saw poor Boo thrashing again, in the midst of a terrible seizure. I held him gently until the seizures stopped. I was desperate to figure out what was happening. We started a second, longer course of antibiotics in the hopes that it was some sort of bacterial infection that had not been detected in culture. The seizures again seemed to stop.
While treating Boo-Boo I became very particular about his diet. I wanted him to have the most simple yet nutritious diet possible, so I avoided empty calories and stuck to a basic unflavored, unscented pellet (Roudybush minis), a simple small hookbill seed mix, and vegetables. It was this simple diet that threw light on the cause of Boo’s seizures. I rarely gave him millet. I worried about any type of food that might carry trace amounts of mold or the like, and while I had never had an issue with my lots of millet, I didn’t want to risk it. One day I gave him a little branch as a treat. About an hour later, Boo had his first seizure in weeks. I still didn’t put two and two together. I felt disheartened: all the special treatment of this sweet little bird was to no avail. But then the seizures stopped again. He improved, finished growing, and seemed like a relatively “normal” lovebird.
As a treat, I gave him a sprig of millet many months later. Again, within an hour or so, Boo had a seizure. It suddenly struck me: this bird is allergic to millet! It seemed ridiculous at first, but it made perfect sense. I decided to eliminate it from the diet. Boo never had a seizure again…almost. I switched seed mixes one month because my usual mix was unavailable. Boo had a seizure the day after I gave this new mix. I checked the ingredients and realized that unlike my usual seed mix, this one had bits of millet in it. It seemed to confirm my suspicions. From then on Boo was limited to a very restricted diet. It has been well over a year since Boo had a seizure.
My aviary assistant at the time, a young lady who took wonderful care of my birds, fell in love with Boo-Boo. She knew I hoped to find him a good home where he could get daily attention. The number of birds I have precluded me from spending as much time with him as he deserved. Because of his special needs, I wanted to make sure the person who adopted Boo understood the seriousness of his condition. Kristy understood this and said she wanted to adopt him. We waited a few more months to make sure the seizures did not recur. Kristy has since moved away to Georgia with Boo and I get reports from her on his antics. He’s an extremely sweet and loving bird. He doesn’t have the energy of most lovebirds and likes to crouch down in a hand to sleep. He sometimes wears himself out playing and flitting about so it is important that he not be overstimulated. He loves to cuddle in his Happy Hut. He has a very “odd” personality, more dog-like than bird-like. He even played a game where he would chase a little ball (I have a link to a movie of this below).
Some people might think it is impossible for a bird to be allergic to millet. The only thing I can say is this really seemed to be the problem. Humans are allergic to many foods, so why not birds? Elimination of it from his diet resolved the problem. I know the millet itself was not bad since it was served to well over 70 other birds with no ill effects.
I am relieved that little Boo made it to adulthood and found himself a loving mom who understands his special needs.