the Coby page
note added after I first put up this page:
in my first book, Whipping Girl, I wrote this dedication for Coby

and in loving memory of Coby
our jenday conure
who used to sit contentedly on my shoulder
while I would write
she was one of the sweetest,
quirkiest, and best friends
that I have ever had
she is dearly missed
“love you, Coby. love you!”

This page is dedicated to Coby, our Jenday Conure who would often sit contentedly on my shoulder while I would write. She was sweeter and had more personality than 90% of the people I have ever met. She passed away yesterday, Thursday, August 25, 2005.

We really don’t know much about Coby’s history prior to about two years ago. All we know is that she was about 9 or 10 years old when she was surrendered to a vet in Southern California to be euthanized. This was probably because she was a feather picker and very very loud. Unfortunately, lots of people buy parrots because of their beautiful plumage or because they think it would be fun to have a pet that can talk, but they really don’t know what they are getting into. These people will often keep their parrots locked up all the time in a cage that’s way too small and without any toys, as if the bird was a goldfish or something. But parrots are extraordinarily social creatures – they are pretty much the primates of the bird family when it comes to intelligence. If you don’t socialize with them or work to make their environment full of love and fun, they can become problem cases pretty easily. This is probably why Coby constantly picked her feathers out (all except the ones on her head and wings). I can’t think of any sign of intelligence that is sadder than the compulsion to self-mutilate or take things out on yourself.

Anyway, thankfully the vet passed Coby onto a rescue organization that my wife Dani was involved in at the time. Coby lived temporarily in two different foster homes before coming to us in late June, 2004. I was very busy on the first day or two that she arrived at our home, so I think the first time I really spent any time with her was on her third day here. I was taken with her immediately. She gave me this insane look as she swayed back and forth staring at me and “yip”-ing intermittently. Since she was into swaying, Dani and I thought it might be good to put on some poppy “la-la-la” music, so we put on a Beatles CD, Rubber Soul. I let her stand on my finger and I could not believe how dense she was compared to the other birds I had handled up to that point (budgies and cockatiels). She immediately ran up my arm to my shoulder, which worried me, because she had a fairly big beak and I didn't want her to bite me. But instead, she just rubbed her big orange fluffball of a head up against my cheek. She won me over right there!

The next couple months with her had their ups and downs. Coby was a sweetheart, but she could also be quite a handful. She was so loud that my tinnitus (which was the result of playing loud music without any ear protection for years) began to act up, so I ended up wearing earplugs most of the time around the apartment. Also, most parrots are highly monogamous, so once Coby chose to pair-bond with me, she began seeing Dani as her rival. We worked hard to make sure that Coby respected Dani too, and (with a few exceptions) she learned to trust and to love Dani as well. I’m sure that a lot of her unpredictability at the time came from the fact that she was abandoned by her previous owner and had been passed from foster home to foster home.

But her good qualities so outweighed the annoying ones. Coby was the most boisterous creature I have ever known. When we would come home after being out for a bit, she would stand on her tip-e-toes and shout “ba-do-beep!” and "cah-cah" as loud as she could. And in the mornings, when we put her on her perch on the kitchen table for her morning meal, she would grab whatever pellets or fruit was in her bowl, take a bite, then shake her head back, forth, and then up and down a few times. And if you gave her an almond or an Avicake (her favorite treats), she would get all crazy and repeat her favorite word, “peek-a-boo!” and do these weird silent “yips” over and over again. No matter how tired or down you were, Coby could always cheer you up.

Coby also danced like a fiend. Unfortunately, she had horrible taste in music, so we would often find her yip-ing and bouncing about arhythmically to TV commercials featuring the Blue Man Group. She also loved it when I put on my band Bitesize. I think she got really excited because she could tell it was my voice on the CD and since I was singing along at the same time, she got to hear me in stereo. She also loved it when I would practice my spoken word pieces in front of her. I think she enjoyed it when we sang and danced or performed for her because she was such a ham herself.

When Dani told me that someone else might be interested in permanently adopting Coby, I cried. I couldn’t imagine my life without her. We decided right then to adopt her.

We think Coby figured out that she had found her “forever” home when a friend of Dani’s gave us this giant bird tree. When we wheeled her into the living room, put her on top, and said “for you, Coby,” we could see it in her eyes. She was so grateful. And when we got her a bigger cage than the one the bird rescue organization gave us, she once again became really excited and happy and grateful. Dani and I could tell that she was finally figuring out that she would be with us for the rest of her life.

That’s when Coby really began coming out of her shell. While she was always a real big flirt and wanted to be the center of attention whenever strangers would come over, she was also a real big scared-y-cat. Although she was fully-flighted, she would never fly unless she was absolutely frightened. So we developed a game to give her excercise; we called it psychotic peek-a-boo. It was based on the fact that she liked to attack blankets and pillows, and would shout “peek-a-boo” as she bit them voraciously. Dani and I would hold the pillow up in the air on the other side of the room and count “1, 2, 3!” And of course, Coby would fly across the room to get it.

Over time, we finally got her to enjoy taking showers and baths too. Afterwards, as she stood on her bathroom perch as I got ready for work, I would always say “Love you, Coby. Love you!” And I’ll never forget the first time she answered me: “Love you.” Coby could say a hand full of words before that point (“peek-a-boo”, “OK”, “come here”, and words that were similar to “yes” and “no”), although she had a croaky conure voice that made it a bit difficult to understand her sometimes. But “Love you” was the first and only words that I ever taught her. I could tell she knew what it meant (at least to a certain extent) because she said it whenever she was grateful to Dani and me, whenever she missed me and was happy to finally happy to be spending some time with me, and whenever I was upset and she wanted to cheer me up.

Coby and I had a special bond. And while I cherished the moments we had together, Dani and I knew that we had to be careful that Coby didn’t get too attached. Since Coby was female, we had to try to nip any nesting-like behavior in the bud, because if she got too hormonal (particularly during the summer months), she could start laying unfertilized eggs. While birds usually lay eggs without too much of a problem, sometimes something may go wrong and the bird could die in much the same way that some human mothers inexplicably die during childbirth.

In the early summer this year, Coby started to get a bit nesty and would occasionally bite my finger or ear (if she was on my shoulder), which is sort of birdy talk for “let’s get it on.” We had to limit shoulder time for a while and we had to stop playing psychotic peek-a-boo because it got her too worked up. Things seemed to get a bit better though, as she got a little less nesty as the summer progressed.

In mid July, I went away for a week to visit my family and Coby missed me dearly. Dani said that she was sad the whole time I was gone. When I got home, I gave her a bunch of shoulder time. Maybe it was too much. Or maybe not. Either way, in early August, we noticed that her abdomen had gotten bulgy. At first we thought it was an egg, but when we felt the bulge, it was soft. We brought her to the vet. The doctor said it may be a mass of some sort, or it could just be the hormones. He gave her a shot of Lupron – a hormone that should shut down her hormones and nesting behavior. However, it didn’t change anything. All signs seemed to indicate that she had a mass or a growth that was producing extra estrogen. The doctor asked us to bring her in and he recommended surgery. This veterinary practice is widely regarded as one of the best avian vets in the world, so we trusted his opinion and skills. But at the same time, we also feared the worst. While he said the chances were really good that she’d do well, as with any surgery, there are always risks involved. When I handed Coby over to the vet tech, Coby did the “magnet bird” (where she would lean in the direction she wanted to go) towards me and fluttered her wings. She made the “svelte” Coby face, where her head feathers all laid flat and aerodynamic-like. She wanted me to save her. I told Coby that it was “OK” – the word she would repeat when she needed reassurance. The vet tech then prepared her for surgery.

The doctor ended up removing two follicles (eggs in the early stages of development), her oviduct (which was abnormally large and swollen), and two unrecogniziable “masses” – which may have been cancerous, we’re not sure. There was little blood loss during surgery, so the doctor was optimistic. We got to see her shortly afterwards. She was lying in an incubator with her head pressed up against the side. It was so sad. We scritched her head and told her that we loved her. I sang the Coby song, which I would often sing to her, particularly during shower time:

I love the Coby because she’s oh so nice
I love the Coby because she gives me good advice
I love the Coby because her name is Cob
I love the Coby because she is not like Job
I love the Coby because she is so good
I love the Coby because she’s not made of wood
I love the Coby because she’s so adorable
I love the Coby even though she’s so incorrigible
I love the Coby because she is so smart
I love the Coby because she is such a tart
I love the Coby because she is so grand
I love the Coby because we go hand in hand
She’s the best in all the land

She was very groggy and out of it post-surgery, but that was to be expected. The vet would be closing soon and the doctor assured us that things seemed fine and that he would stay with her until he was confident that she was stable. So we headed home.

Just before we got home, he called to let us know that she was breathing shallow and that he was worried that she wasn’t becoming more perky. He said he would try a couple things to turn her condition around. So we turned around and drove back to the vet (about an hour drive away).

We got there and she was in critical condition. We got to scritch her head again and to let her know we were by her side. Just afterwards, she started flapping her wings like crazy – she was going into cardiac arrest. The doctor tried to revive her, but it was no use. Dani and I completely lost it. We balled in each other’s arms.

It’s the following morning now and I didn’t sleep much. I feel like my chest and abdomen are one giant, gaping hole. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was so alive earlier last morning. I had no idea that when we got her up in the morning, shared breakfast with her, gave her a shower, it was all the last time ever. I miss her more than words can describe, and it’s only been about twelve hours since she passed away.

I want to say that I loved her more than any animal companion that I have ever had, but that just doesn’t do it justice. Next to my wife Dani, Coby was my bestest buddy in the world. She was smart and quirky and fun and loving. She cared about me and I cared about her. She counted on me to protect her. She was a huge part of me and we spent lots of time together. Now I feel empty inside. I can’t believe that I will never hear her “cah-cah” again when I walk into to our apartment; never again hear her say peek-a-boo when she’s happy; never again give her a peck on the beak and enjoy hearing her make the kissy sound along with me.

On top of all this, our oldest cat Kitten passed away about two and a half weeks ago. While I miss the Kittens, her death was very different. She was sixteen and her health had been slowly deteriorating over the last year. Plus she had become senile and had not been her same old self in about two years. It was sad when she died, but she had had a happy and full life. Coby, on the other hand, was passed around from person to person for years. She had a sad life. Things were just beginning to turn around for her: she finally found a permanent home with people who loved her and took good care of her and enjoyed her company. She was only about ten or eleven, and conures can easily live for twenty-five years. We were supposed to have fifteen more years together. A whole life together. Many more happy times to come.

I can’t help but blame myself, thinking of all the things I could have done differently to prevent this from happening. Coby trusted me, wanted me to save her. I feel like I let her down. I know it’s not my fault, but I can’t help feeling like this. It’s all so pointless...

I know people will tell me that I will always have the memories. But memories are no substitute for one of the most unique and amazing creatures I have ever known. I want my Coby back, but I will never see her again. I don’t have any words to describe how much I miss her. My only consolation is that I know that we gave her the happiest year of her life, and we were right by her side at the very end, so that she knew we would always be there for her. She knew that she finally found her true “forever” home, even though it was a short forever...

Love you, Coby. Love you...

Coby is survived by her Julie and Dani, fellow birds Muttychop, Bean-Bean, Tengu, PJ, and Francis, and our cats Malcom, Emma, and Flutie M'lar.

Here are a few videos of Coby:

This is one the last films we shot of Coby - we are having fun with a used paper towell roll

This is Dani & I improvising a song for Coby while she's eating birdy-bread. She loved it when we sang for her.

This is a very low res film of Coby and I rubbing cheeks and giving each other kisses. You can't hear it, but she would actually make a kissing sound when we would do it.

Again, low res and no sound. In this one, I am singing to Coby and she is swaying back and forth and yip-ing with me. Our Kittens makes a brief appearence in the film, and you can see Coby try to scare her away by spreading her wings. I can't believe they are both gone...

This second post was written two days later, on Sunday, August 28, 2005:

I just woke up after another fairly restless night. It’s funny, but that first night after Coby died I imagined that I might drift off and then wake up having forgotten about what happened, only later to be hit by a wave off sadness as it all came flooding back to me. But that’s not what happened. I am aware that Coby is dead in my dreams and upon waking up. I’ve had lots of dreams about packing stuff up in boxes, giving away things that I no longer need, and collecting Coby memorabilia. It’s as if my brain is trying to restructure itself around the fact that she is no longer here, no longer an active part of my life.

Dani and I keep talking about how quiet it is in the house. Granted, we have five other birds and three cats, but it still seems eerily silent. Coby used to be so loud, always making noise of some kind. But it’s not just the lack of noise that we notice. Coby was always ecstatic and enthusiastic about everything that was going on in the house – probably because she was so happy being here. She filled our apartment up with her life, her presence, her joy. And now there is a giant hole in our home.

I used to get annoyed sometimes about the fact that I couldn’t leave the room that Coby was in without her calling out for me, without having to reassure her that I would be right back. Now it feels wrong to be able to move around the house freely and to step outside for a minute without having anyone calling out for me. All Coby ever wanted was to be in the same room with me, to be on my shoulder and just hang out. I miss feeling so needed. I would do anything to be able to hear her incessantly tapping her perch with her beak in order to get my attention or to insist that I put her on my shoulder. That was all she ever asked for, was to be with me.

I’m sure to some people, this might sound like unconditional love, but it wasn’t. It was earned. When we first got Coby, we really hit it off, but she would sometimes bite me for no reason or refuse to get down from my shoulder, etc. Over time I was able to handle her better. At first I thought that this was because I simply got better at handling her, but looking back now, I realize that it had way more to do with me having earned her trust. She grew to trust me with her life. Literally. In fact, the last time that I ever saw Coby as her same old self was at the vet that day, when it was time to hand her over for surgery. Coby was super-frightened. The previous time she was a the vet, she was handled by doctors, poked with needles, and restrained with her wings spread out (an incredibly vulnerable position for a bird to be in) so that X-rays could be taken. This time, she spent most of the visit hiding behind my ponytail. When it was time to hand her over to the vet tech, I reached back to get her, but she didn’t want to step up. All I had to do was say, “Coby, step up,” and she did, as scared as she was. I can’t get that picture out of my head, of her on the vet tech’s finger fluttering her wings and magenet-birding towards me. All she wanted me to do was save her. But she didn’t put up a fight because she trusted me. With her life...

Looking up at the clock now, I see that it’s 8:30am. Coby never would have let us sleep this late. By now, she would have started letting out intermittent high-pitched squeaks. She would keep on doing it if we didn’t get up right away. And after a while, they would start descending in pitch. It was annoying but cute. Some morning she would make the alarm sound even before 8am (our usual wake up time) and I would sneak out to the front to get her. I’d bring her into the workroom (where I usually do my writing in the mornings) and she was so happy to be getting special time with me. She was so happy to just be on my shoulder while I was writing. She would rub her head against my cheek and give me kisses and say “love you.”

Dani and I aren’t the only ones missing Coby. Bean-bean, our green cheek conure, loved Coby – I think she always looked up to her as her big sister. A lot of her sounds and mannerisms are much like Coby’s. It’s hard to tell which of these she might have learned from Coby and which come from the fact that they are both conures. Beany always tried to make friends with Coby, but Coby was too anxious to let Beany near her. But in the last two weeks before Coby’s death, she finally let Beany close to her and the two of them began preening one another. It was so sweet. I remember scritching Coby’s head on her last day and noticing how Bean-bean had cleaned up of all of Coby’s pin feathers (husks that cover feathers when they first grow in). Beany keeps motioning towards the door, bobbing her head up and down. I think she wants us to go out there and look for Coby. It’s so sad. She doesn’t quite get it. Parrots are so smart, but there are some concepts for which the few words they do know do not suffice. I wish I could give Bean-bean my thoughts, so that she could know what happened, why Dani and I left with Coby that morning but didn’t bring her back with us.

I wish I could have shared my thoughts with Coby too, let her know how much she meant to me. Although I think she knew that already. I wish I knew this was to be my last month with her, so I could shower her with attention and treats. Sadly, during her last few weeks, because she was acting nesty, I worked to limit the time I let her on my shoulder. We also stopped giving her nuts because apparently eating high protein & fat foods only encourages them to lay eggs. Had I known what was to come, I would have given her a great last month rather than a mediocre one. I would have played psychotic peek-a-boo with her every night and wouldn’t have minded if she sometimes bit me....

I know the grief will pass with time, but right now I can’t even be in our house without noticing things and how they relate with Coby. I look in the fruit basket and see a papaya and think about how it was her favorite fruit. I look at the bag of her favorite pellets and remember how she would grab them and methodically spin the pellet around in her foot and tonguing it before she would finally bite into it. I can’t be in the living room without seeing her play gym, her empty cage.

Last night we had sofa time with the birds as Dani and I watched a movie. It felt like a betrayal, to have sofa time without Coby. Normally, after dinner, when we would bring all the birds into the living room for sofa time, Coby would yip-yip for a couple of minutes. She loved the family time together. When Dani made popcorn last night (one of the birds’ favorites), Coby should have been there on my shoulder shaking her head back and forth and yip-ing in delight. My shirt should have been covered in popcorn crumbs, but it wasn’t.

Last night was supposed to be a good night. We had scheduled to pick up Coby from the bird hospital earlier that day – that’s when the doctors said she would be recovered enough from her surgery to go home. Last night should have been a celebration. Beany would have been so excited to see her. We all would have.

Now it’s after 9am and I can’t believe the other birds haven’t started calling for us to have breakfast. I guess that was Coby’s job. She was a focal point for all of our family rituals. We are all trying to learn how to do things without her.

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