Stumpy … my Tweetie Pie

3rd June 2015


Was it murder?

I want to write about something that happened quite a few years ago that was the result of a favour I did for a sick woman. It is something that I and a considerable number of other people have never forgotten.

It was 1990. Life was good for the family. We lived in a beautiful cottage with gardens extending over the banks of a river to the water’s edge. It was an idyllic setting. I was nursing at the time and worked as a Sister on a cardio thoracic unit. My husband was in engineering, often working away from home, my daughter in the Navy and my son…not at University as I had hoped.

Whilst at work one day a member of staff brought a patient to my attention who was crying and distraught following a visit by her husband. She was due to undergo open heart surgery the next day and so it was really essential that she remained calm and in a positive frame of mind before the event. I went to talk to her to try and determine the cause of her anxiety and to try and restore the settled state she had been in until her husband’s visit on this particular day. The problem was soon shared. Her anxiety was caused by a canary. Apparently the couple bred Gloster canaries and one had hatched while the woman was in hospital but it had ‘deformities’ she said, so her husband was going to kill it, as was the norm, because it was no good for showing, selling or breeding.
This had really upset her. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up saying I would take the stricken canary home and keep it myself. Now I didn’t and still don’t know anything about keeping birds. The cottage we lived in had had an aviary when we first moved in but it was the first thing I  had my husband dismantle! Anyway, I made a promise to take the bird but after the end of my shift, thought no more of it. Obviously, the husband, having been informed of my pledge to take the canary, had thought about it a lot! The very next day I was handed a list of things to buy before the bird was delivered that evening. So, I bought a cage, dispensers for food and water, seed, sandpaper and cuttlefish and waited…

What a delight! The canary made me laugh immediately. He was tiny and yellow all over apart from his head which supported a beautiful crop of brown feathers resembling a Beatle haircut. We transferred the bird from a cardboard box to the nice shiny new cage. He landed on the sandpaper lined floor and it wasn’t long before he was flying up to the lovely clean, round perches and trying to settle. It was impossible, he just couldn’t balance. He fluttered around a bit on the floor and we were able to see the full extent of his disability. He had only one claw on his right leg and none on the left. He rested on stumps and elbows. When I eventually got him home, my husband immediately christened him ‘Stumpy’.

Gloster Canary with distinctive Beatle haircut! Note in this picture the canary’s claws are intact.

So, Stumpy entered our lives. It was apparent his ability to balance was severely limited and this was overcome when my husband made him some flat, wooden 2×1 perches and placed them at various levels in the cage. He was much happier after this and after a short while started to sing and fly about the cage as happy as you like.

He provided us with much laughter over the next several years and provided a talking point whenever anyone visited us.

There were two problems:

1. He was messy.
2. Sometimes we’d get up in a morning and find the cage door open and Stumpy fluttering about the floor or on the worktops.Should we call him Houdini?

We had to put up with the latter and blamed it on Molly, the previous occupant of the house who had died there. It became a joke and every creak we heard, door slam or extra flush of the loo that occurred when we were all in the same place…and Stumpy’s cage door frequently being found open, we blamed on Molly and laughed about it. Was it a coincidence that there was an aviary at the house when we bought it and Molly kept many birds in there, flying free?

One day, I came downstairs ready to go to work. John had already left. Stumpy’s cage door was wide open and Stumpy was in the utility room behind the fridge. There was seed and droppings everywhere so I presumed that he had been out for quite some time. He was a little devil to catch once out but I was mad at the mess, late for work and I couldn’t risk him being out all day so I put all my effort into catching him, placed him back in the cage and made sure, as I always did, that the door was closed securely. I opened the conservatory door and the windows and put his cage and stand in there before feeding and watering him and quickly hoovering up before going to work. I didn’t give Stumpy another thought.

I didn’t know that by the time I got home, Stumpy would be dead, killed by the heat in the conservatory allegedly. John found him in his cage, on his back with his pathetic little stumps in the air. We presumed my thoughtlessness had killed him and I am eternally sorry for that. At least we had extended his life by a few years and it had been a good one.

The story was told and re told in the village and I became the infamous canary killer. People still mention it to this day.


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