Julia's Weekly Midsussex Times Column

Smaller pets can sometimes give us vets just as much trouble as bigger ones!

Fred is gorgeous and possibly the smallest patient I am currently looking after: a finch.

He weighs less than 40 grams, but you know character has entered the room each time he visits.

It seemed like an easy task. Fred’s beak was overgrowing and needed trimming back if he was to continue enjoying his food. I just needed a tiny tool, very steady hands, and of course to catch the little fellow.

He arrived in a huge carry cage, which could only just fit through the consulting room door. There was no chance I could put my hand in and pluck him off one of his perches - he would just keep flying round and round evading my relatively clumsy clutches. His flying agility was far too impressive. I was also worried that he might do himself an injury or get so anxious that his heart would stop.

Thinking back to the days when I used to see many birds, I remembered a useful tip and chose my only consulting room with no windows - perfect for examining the inside of eyes, or for catching birds. Cage birds cannot see at all well in the dark.

We turned out the lights and waited for our human eyes to adjust to the dark. Fred settled

quietly on a perch, and gradually his form became visible to me in the near darkness. I quietly slipped my hand into his cage and lifted him up, without upsetting him at all. His owners seemed deeply impressed!

I trimmed his beak to the correct length, and was just mentally congratulating myself when

somehow he slipped away. He flew off round the room, to my immense embarrassment. We left him to settle, and naturally he chose the highest place in the room, landing on top of the air conditioning unit.

Trying to ban mental images of him being sucked into the unit, we made a plan and switched the lights back off. Slipping my shoes off, I climbed up onto a stool with Fred’s owner steadying its wheels, and reached for him once again.

Luckily, I was able to immediately grasp him round his wings again, very gently, and climb down one-handed. I replaced him into his cage expecting all ruffled feathers now to calm down, including my own.

But Fred had one more trick to play. He fluttered to the floor of his cage and collapsed onto his side. I couldn’t believe it. I knew I had done him no harm, but maybe the experience had been too much for him?

But the calm voice of his owner reassured me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “He’s just playing dead!”

And sure enough, within a few moments he hopped back up onto the perch again. I could almost hear his laughter at my expense. I think it was me that nearly had the heart attack that day!

14th February 2018