At this time yesterday, my hands were speckled with bird blood.

I own a teeny tiny little parrotlet. His name is Zerby and he’s hysterically funny — I’ve trained him to play peekaboo, do somersaults, and whip pens and other items off of tables. (I kind of regret that last one. There are at least five or six pens on my apartment floor right now.)

I’m so proud of him — and myself, really, for having the patience to train him to do tricks and talk. If he hears another bird chirping outside, he looks at me and asks, “Who’s the birdie?”.

And when he climbs down to the bottom of his cage every morning to play around in his water bowl, he proudly announces the impending activity: “Birdie bathtime! Birdie bathtime!”

Oh, and he LAUGHS. Seriously. I taught him how to laugh — this video proves it:

He looks fine in the video above — I filmed it about two weeks before he started self-mutilating.

And to answer your next question, yes: birds do self-mutilate sometimes. It’s not uncommon. They either pick their feathers out, break their feathers, or pick at their skin. Zerby started plucking and breaking his feathers last year during the spring. Our veterinarian assured us that Zerby was healthy and was just responding to the crazy birdie hormonal blast that comes along with the lengthening sunlight of springtime.

But it grew into a habit. Weeks and then months passed, and our tiny little blue bird started looking like a little blue hamster. He’d plucked all of his flight feathers and all of his tail feathers. The only feathers left were the fuzzy little downy feathers that usually grow underneath the “real” ones.

We tried spraying him with anti-feather-picking spray. Upon our vet’s recommendation, we even tried creating a little cone for his neck — like the kind you see on dogs who lick their wounds too much — but it didn’t work. Zerby hated it and refused to even move, and I sat there, looking at his shaky little bird body standing on the kitchen table, and I cried. I was convinced he’d have a heart attack while wearing that thing.

So, we simply learned to love our mostly-featherless bird. Playful as ever, his lack of feathers didn’t seem to bother him and, over time, we didn’t let it bother us.

But things have gotten a bit more difficult now. In the next half of this post, we’ll return to the bird-blood story.