The Tale Of Numero Uno

We nickname him Numero Uno since he was the first chick to hatch in 1990, but what a hard life he’s had.

His problems started when he was still an embryo in the egg. Here in South Florida, we keep our birds in outdoor aviaries where they can flourish in the sun and rain. As long as we offer wind breaks, they can survive temperature decreases into the 40s with no evident discomfort or adverse consequences. An extraordinary cold front arrived in this past December, bringing temperatures down to the mid-30s at night and gale force winds.

Uno’s parents reside in My Mother’s Aviary, which overlooks broad open expanses to the north and west, where these frigid winds were blowing. Our improvised measures to defend the aviary were ineffective. To add some warmth, we placed shop lights with circular basin-like metal shades, one over each cage and many over the stairs.

Uno’s parents, a gorgeous fat cinnamon hen and a magnificent huge gray cock, had been sitting on their eggs for nearly a week when the cold front hit. They were good parents, but the pull of that warmth just outside the nest box was too much for them to resist; they abandoned their eggs and sat cozy and toasty beneath the light, while the eggs quickly went cold.

It took many hours for us to comprehend what was going on, not just with Uno’s parents but also with numerous other pairings. Without much hope, we salvaged the eggs and put them in the incubator. They’d been out in the cold for far too long, but only Uno had survived. We slid him beneath a nesting couple who were sitting on five eggs when we heard his first chirping noises inside the egg and saw his first efforts to break out of the shell. They had shown their value as exceptional parents throughout the previous mating season.

Their eggs weren’t set to hatch for a few days, but they were the closest in age that we had. Uno arrived in the big world the following morning, surprise a huge healthy chick. His foster parents fed him very well for the first five days, and we were overjoyed that he had survived. When their own chicks began to hatch, problems developed. Uno was put to one side of the nest box, and the new babies were given priority attention. He appeared so huge in relation to the small babies that we couldn’t understand the parents for not wanting Uno to stomp on their babies. They refused to incorporate Uno in their little group, and he started to exhibit indications of neglect.

Worried that he might perish as a “step kid,” we brought him in for hand feeding far earlier than is customary. He did not fare well. It was still cold outside, and he seemed chilly and listless. We kept him warm and gave him little quantities of watery, warm formula at regular intervals, but his crop did not empty normally and his feeding response was very poor. He sat calmly in his warm little cage on his nice bed of shavings, looking like the sick little chick that he was. We did not believe he would survive.

When his crop did not empty after six hours, I performed a gastrointestinal lavage on him and then gave him warm water and honey. We finally decided to put him back in the nest box as a last option after considerable deliberation. Their chicks were larger than Uno’s, although being considerably smaller. Their parents were doing a great job feeding their children and want to incorporate Uno in their care.

However, this was not to be. Uno was not only shoved to one side of the nest box, but was also brutally picked at by his unloving foster parents, drawing blood on his small back. Cinderella was never treated so cruelly – at least she got to sit by the fire! We rescued him once again and took him inside the home for some TLC.

His crop was taking a long time to empty, he felt drowsy, and his back was painful and red. He was not a healthy young man in any sense. He gradually began to come around after days of numerous very little feedings, consistent warmth, and periodic repetitions of the crop lavage, honey, and water treatment. He gradually gained the strength to roam about in his cage and call for food whenever he spotted a person coming, just like our other chicks. His feeding schedule and food portions progressively grew more normal as his pin feathers developed and the painful back healed, and he will soon be able to test his wings and learn to eat on his own.

Uno is just a typical gray, and due to his bad start, he will most likely never reach his father’s proportions. He will never be chosen to compete in a bird show, and he is unlikely to ever become a parent himself, but what a joyful loving little bird he is!

Uno may not realize he is a bird because of all the care and handling he gets at such a young age – humans are his greatest buddies. I don’t believe Mother will ever give up this one!

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