Today, a 22 week old Eclectus hen named Clarity takes a splashing bath along the kitchen window sill.

Seeing Clarity: December 2001

A 22 week old Eclectus hen named Clarity takes a splashing bath along the kitchen window sill. Head down, Clarity skims her beak along the sill dotted with chard leaves and dripping with water. The vertical blinds click as she passes behind them. Half way down the sill, she peeks out to see if I am watching. She laughs out loud, shakes her gold-banded tail, fluffs her wings, and romps to the other end of the sill.

Plop, she jumps onto a basket handle, munches a piece of chard, then hops back to the sill to continue her toilette. While these behaviors might seem “normal” for most well developed 20 week old psittacine birds, Clarity’s accomplishments of such feats are special.

Clarity was hatched with visual impairment. While she is not blind, her vision was first diagnosed and then physically confirmed as deficient by Christine Sellers, DVM. A long and complex developmental program devised by Dr. Sellers and myself brings Clarity to the window sill, bath, and the wet wiggly girl before me now. Additionally, I thank the watchful expertise of Harry Linden, Margo Rose, Lori Reilly Walton and Jody Bright, and her own indomitable spunk, for the Clarity I see today.

A Brief History

I consulted with an avian expert on Clarity’s development. I scheduled a telephone consultation with Christine Sellers, DVM, avian veterinarian for SBBF and owner of the Cat and Bird Clinic in Santa Barbara. On 9/05/01, Dr. Sellers heard my version of the story.

“It sounds to me like she might have impaired vision,” said Dr. Sellers. “Birds who cannot see well are often on guard. She probably thinks the world is scary and somehow knows that she is not perfectly equipped,” she explained. However, there was good news: “As do the tissues of the G.I. tract, avian eye tissues have a rapid cellular turn-over,” Dr. Sellers explained. “That’s why chemotherapy is so devastating to both types of tissue. The tincture of time and a very controlled dark environment are needed for optimal avian eye development,” she instructed. Then she offered even better news: “Still, it is not unusual to see birds with impaired vision. Tissue types that have a rapid turn-over may also have the ability to regenerate. Even when left with some impairment, psittacine birds can learn to accommodate.” Upon further discussion, the light went on for me and I immediately named this fledgling Clarity.

With incisive clarity of her own, Dr. Sellers helped me see the following: “This little girl knows she has a disability,” she asserts, “so she perceives the world as a threat. When you can interpret her disability for her, her accommodation skills will increase.”

Our discussion continued to incorporate management techniques for Clarity, all of which made perfect sense to me. Additionally, I scheduled a physical exam for Clarity, her clutch mate and for Cella, (our 18 year old vos companion) so that Dr. Sellers could examine three pairs of Eclectus eyes in one visit. The oscilloscope revealed that Clarity’s eyes look very different from the other Eclectus’ eyes Dr. Sellers looked at that day.

Back at home, I changed first my attitude, then my management of Clarity. I acclimated her increasingly to being held in a towel and she still enjoys that comfort. Upon Dr. Seller’s recommendations, I limited the amount of change in her physical environment and set the baskets and box on the counter in recognizable configurations for her. Lots of stability was provided. Additionally, I continued to test her eyes, to gently challenge her to look and see, and discovered that she seems far sighted with one eye and close sighted with the other. Further, I discontinued the non-discretionary use of artificial light and chose instead to keep maximum amounts of real UV suffused sunlight as Clarity’s primary source of illumination.

Clarity Progresses

As the weeks pass, Clarity’s physical skills progress nicely. By now, she knows many different basket/perch/box configurations and navigates them with good coordination. When she flies, she lands on white towel covered landing spots. In natural light, she walks towards me with confidence and readily steps up and down and enters and exits a variety of cages with complete compliance. She manages quite well in two cages of disparate sizes and configurations and is always willing to enter and exit the cages upon my clear request.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Clarity demonstrates precocious vocal skills. She already says three distinct greetings and every day increases her repertoire of expressive vocalizations. She sings under her breath while playing and praises me when I open the windows every morning.

Clarity’s Future

As a Santa Barbara Bird Farm bird, Clarity’s long term future is secure. My fascination with her developmental progress continues in direct proportion to the joy in both learning from and teaching this remarkable girl, the latest addition to our flock.