THE TALE OF NUMERO UNO

by Linda Greeson

We call him Numero Uno because he was the first chick to hatch in 1990 - but what a difficult life the poor fellow has had.

His troubles began while still an embryo in the egg. Here in South Florida we keep our birds in outside aviaries where with the sun and the rain they thrive best. They withstand drops in temperature to the 40's with no visible discomfort or ill effects as long as we provide wind breaks. This past December an unusual cold front moved in, dropping temperatures down to the mid 30's at night and accompanied by gale force winds.

My Mother's aviary, where Uno's parents live, faces wide open spaces on the north west, from where these cold winds were blowing. Our makeshift attempts to protect the aviary were not very effectual. We used shop lights, those with round basin-like metal shades, one over each cage and several over the flights, to provide a little warmth.

Uno's parents, a beautiful big gray cock and a lovely plump cinnamon hen, had been faithfully sitting on their eggs for about a week when the cold front arrived. They were excellent parents but the lure of that warmth just outside the nest box was just too much to resist; they deserted their eggs and sat cozily under the lamp, snug and warm while the eggs rapidly grew cold.

Quite a few hours passed before we realized what was happening, not only with Uno's parents but with several other pairs. We rescued the eggs and placed them in the incubator without much hope. They had been cold too long, but somehow out of all of them Uno managed to survive. When we heard his little chirping sounds inside the egg and observed his beginning attempts to break out of the shell we slipped him under a nesting pair who were sitting on five eggs. They had proved their worth as excellent parents last breeding season.

Their eggs were not due to hatch for some days but were the closest in age that we had available. Uno made it out to the big world by the next morning, surprisingly enough a big healthy chick. His foster parents fed him very well for the first five days and we were elated that he had made it. Problems arose when their own chicks started to hatch. Uno was pushed to one side of the nest box and the new babys were cared for first. He seemed so large in comparison to the tiny babys we couldn't blame the parents for avoiding having their little ones trampled on by Uno. They refused to include him in their close little circle and Uno began to show signs of this neglect.

Worried that he would not survive being a "step child" we brought him in for hand feeding much earlier than is normally done. He did not do well at all.It was still not really warm out there; he seemed chilled and listless. We kept him warm, fed him small amounts of watery, warm formula at frequent intervals, but his crop did not empty at a normal rate and his feeding response was very poor. He sat quietly on his soft bed of shavings in his warm little box, looking like the sick little chick that he was. We did not think that he would survive.

When his crop did not empty at all in six hours I did my bird version of a gastric lavage and then gave him warm water and honey. After much indecision we decided to try him back in the nest box as a last resort. Although still much smaller than Uno, their chicks were a better size. Their parents were doing an excellent job of feeding their own and hopefully would include Uno in their care.

But it was not to be. Poor Uno was again not only pushed to one side of the nest box but badly picked at by his unloving foster parents, enough to draw blood on his little back. Cinderella was never treated as badly - at least she sat by the fire! Again we rescued him and brought him into the house for TLC.

His crop was slow to empty, he was listless, and his back was sore and red. He was not a healthy chick in any way. After days of frequent very small feedings, constant warmth, and occasional repeats of the crop lavage and honey and water treatment, he finally started to come around. Little by little he grew strong enough to move around in his box and to cry for food whenever he saw a human approaching just as our other chicks do. Pin feathers developed and the sore back healed, his feeding schedule and amounts of food gradually became more normal, and now he will soon be ready to try his wings and to learn to eat on his own.

Uno is only a normal gray and because of his poor start he will probably never attain his father's size. He will never be among those selected for competition in a bird show, and it is most unlikely that he will ever become a father himself, but what a cheerful loving little bird he is!

Perhaps because of all the attention and handling he received at such an early age, Uno has no idea that he is a bird - humans are his best friends. I don't think that Mother will ever give this one up!

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