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I have a 26 year old cockatiel and about 4 weeks ago I noticed white lumps on his legs under the skin and his toe joints and feet are also swollen, the vet thinks it is gout and has given me allopurinol 0.15ml to be given twice a day as well as a pain killer. He now sleeps a lot but is still eating. He cannot fly and it is difficult for him to walk. I have read that allopurinol is not good for birds and that black cherry juice can be given as an alternative, but I don`t know how much cherry juice to give. I
would be glad of your advice. thank you

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Elizabeth -

These types of questions are best directed towards your attending veterinarian. From your description, it sounds like your bird is in trouble, and needs more help. It is true that in some species, specifically red tailed hawks, allopurinol was shown to actually cause kidney problems. For the most part, articular gout is often the result of underlying kidney functional disease issues, and you may want to ask your veterinarian about assessing kidney function to see if there are other diagnostic maneuvers or treatments that may have merit to consider. Articular gout, if present, is quite painful, and you may want to also speak with your veterinarian about using multimodal pain management strategies here. There is much less clear science about the merits or harm that a treatment plan centered on the use of cherry juice has to offer, and for the most part, my best recommendations would be to continue working with your attending veterinarian to work towards the best evidence-based medical approach for diagnosis and management of your bird's problem.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have an 18year old rescue Mexican Red Head. He has been showing a choking motion or trying to push something down his throat. My vet Dr. Hess in Bedford Hills, NY did an upper gi on her. She said she either has esophical (sp) cancer or a fungus. She now wants to take a biopsy which I'm hesitant to do as the bird has to be under anestesia(sp).

If it is cancer and they use chemo to treat it, what are the odds that this would "cure" her. Do you recommend the biopsy or could we treat the fungus first and if it doesn't cure it, then we know it is cancer and then go to chemo treatments?

Please let me know what you think asap. The doctor will be calling next week to make a decision.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Barbara -

The answers to your questions and concerns best come specifically from your attending veterinarian. On-line, and in the absence of having examined your bird, viewed your diagnostic images and other diagnostic findings, it is functionally impossible to guide you with any succinct recommendations.

Part of the reasoning behind a recommendation for obtaining a biopsy is specifically to confirm the nature of the disease process at the identified site. Should this be in the cervical esophagus, surgically obtained biopsies are comparatively easier as compared to lesions that are identified in the thoracic esophagus or glandular stomach. Cervical esophageal cancers are less commonly identified in the literature as compared to tumors lower in the gastrointestinal system, but if present, are more straight forward for potential for surgical removal. For the potential cancers that may be present, chemotherapeutic interventions and successful outcomes are uncommon, at best, in the literature. Oftentimes, with confirmed or strongly suspected cancer in that thoracic esophagus / glandular stomach area, treatments have been palliative with hopes only to comfortably extend quality of life. Your best prognostic hope is that the cause of the observed clinical signs is related to any other factor, excluding cancer.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 1 year old African Grey congo male and I would like to teach him to free fly. Can you let me know how to do this or where to sign up to? His wings were cut when I got him a year ago and still not grown back but I read somewhere there if you pull out the old ones they will grow back fast. Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?

Answered by Lee McGuire:

Hello Maria. You ask several interesting questions. One could write pages and pages about each of your questions but I have tried to keep the answers short and to the point. Let's take your questions one by one and see what we can come up with. I've grouped the two first sentences and the last sentence together since they are very much related.

"I have a 1 year old African Grey Congo male and I would like to teach him to free fly. Can you let me know how to do this or where to sign up to?.....Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?"

Before we dig into your free fly question more, we need to be very clear on what you mean by free fly. Do you mean fly freely inside the home? Do you mean fly free outside at all times only returning for meals or sleep? Or, do you mean flying freely under specific circumstances where you are there to provide some supervision?

Parrots have wings. They fly. Right? Well it isn't quite that simple. Flying is not a trick,, it is a skill that is learned through shaping both in captivity and in the wild. In the wild, the environment provides the initial feedback on how to do it better. After each crash, after each ungainly landing that can include flat and bumpy, abrupt stops; a bird will adjust what he does the next time. As can be seen from the last sentence, flying involves not only flapping the wings but take-off and landing as well as learning how to position the wings in flight for optimum effect to stay aloft. To teach free flying in the outdoors requires a very skilled, and experienced, trainer who has a mentor to help them along. Even then, in most situations birds are trained indoors or in a netted enclosure before ever setting wing outside. No matter where, or if, you decide to fly your bird having a solid recall (that means coming to a specific location when signaled - whether it be an arm or a perch) is another skill that needs to have a very strong learning history before venturing outside.

Answers to each of the above questions asked in the first paragraph come with their own set of risks and rewards for both the caregiver and the parrot. It is also important to know if the parrot was fledged before its wings were clipped. That information can tell a person if the bird has already gained some experience flying for a period of time before being grounded with a wing clip. There are also other important decisions that need to be considered which can impact both the bird and the caregiver such as raptors, windmills and live electrical wires or transformers that are numerous free range.

Each caregiver has to decide the amount of time and effort they are willing to put into teaching the parrot the skills that it will need in each of the above free flying situations especially when starting with an older bird where the natural window of opportunity of learning when leaving the nest in the wild has passed. Can one parrot-proof the home so that it is safe for a flying parrot? Windows, doors, water in sinks and tubs are just a few hazards that we need to be aware of. Does one have the personal level of risk tolerance needed to fly outside where predators may attack and birds may well, and do, fly off? Some are lost forever and some are recovered. No matter the outcome, those times are always a very emotional rollercoaster experience for caregivers. Asking those questions now may well prevent heartache later on.

Rather than make the decision immediately, you might want to work on acquiring training skills first. The skills which we, as parrot caregivers, need to have in order to train any bird. First we have to understand how behavior works. The only course I recommend for that is Living and Learning with Parrots at http://www.behaviorworks.org (the Caregiver C). The reason I recommend that course is not simply because I teach it but I fully believe in the systematic way behavior is approached. Dr Susan Friedman had helped thousands of people the world over understand how parrots, and other animals, learn. For hands on experience, go to Steve Martin's Natural Encounters website and take the Caregivers Workshop. http://www.naturalencounters.com/trainingEducationWshopsOwners.html Another resource is Chris Shanks at http://www.cockatoodowns.com/ Finally, find an experienced mentor who free flies and can guide you through the nuances if the choice is made to fly outside.

"His wings were cut when I got him a year ago and still not grown back but I read somewhere there if you pull out the old ones they will grow back fast."

Moving on to your second question, anytime now this grey should start molting out those clipped feathers and new ones will replace them. That is a natural occurrence with parrots. Old used feathers are molted and replaced with new ones.

Pulling a number of feathers can be very painful for the bird, especially flight feather and is not recommended. Think of how painful it is when someone grabs a hank of hair and yanks it out by the roots or a finger nail pulled off by accident. Both hurt and are painful. That is much what pulling out the remaining feather shafts would be like for your grey. On top of causing pain, it can also decrease the trust relationship been the bird and the caregiver as well as teach the bird to fear the caregiver. That's the very last thing that any of us want with companion birds. Trust is something that this bird will have learned after living with you over time. If only positive events and conditions surround the relationship between you and your grey, over time both sides have learned to trust one another.

Rather than run the risk of bankrupting the trust account that you have built up with this bird in the past year, one could use the time productively and start training this bird to recall on foot, to target, to perform simple tricks such as turn around, raise the wings fully and to station to a specific spot/ area. That strategy has a twofold purpose. It will teach you how to teach this bird using positive reinforcement and will teach the bird to learn from you. The overall effect will result in you making many deposits in the trust account you and you grey have while he grey gets to make many choices in his life. Choices are important since those individuals with the most choices are the most behaviorally healthy.

"Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?"

Another great question. Parrots, like humans, learn throughout their lives. If we humans hit a finger with a hammer, then we adjust how we hold the hammer or how we use the hammer to avoid hitting the finger in future when we find ourselves using a hammer again. The same strategy applies to parrots.

Like us, parrots tend to behave in ways that give them access to the most reinforcement. Those behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated more frequently. There you have the short answer to how behavior works. Parrots and humans don't ever stop learning. A 25 year old bird can learn to pick up a cup, dunk a basket ball or to come to a specific station when called as well as a youngster. At one year of age, that is what you have with your Congo African grey, a youngster, a learning machine, who has a lifetime to develop new skills. As I said above, flying is a skill not a trick and like all skills requires practice, practice and more practice in different areas to become proficient. As countless mothers have told their children over the years -- practice is key to developing a skill.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hello. I live in Cyprus and I have 10 non handfed rescue parrots in an outside aviary right next to our terrace of different species each with a mate of its own variety. I also have a hand fed 1 year old male african grey who is one of our house pets. He has mated with me but accepts treats from my son and husband without allowing them to touch him. He seems very happy, talks all day, is allowed out of his cage at his own will (spends most of his time on top of it doing acrobatics) comes on my shoulder for road trips or when I'm in the garden etc. When I put him downstairs with the other parrots when we go out for the day or to clean his area he comes to the part of it which is closest to the house and makes noises until I get him out - he has not been threatened in there he just seems to prefer our company.

I have not clicker trained him as he was given to me by someone and I had not done my research. However, he comes onto my hand when I tell him to step up, unless sometimes he is not interested and wants to stay where he is. He shows me affection but he nips quite hard sometimes, though I don't think its intentional. My husband and I are organic farmers so we work from home and so Loulou the grey is not alone. When we leave for holidays for one month our housekeeper looks after him and he seems to do as she tells him when I am not around, although when I'm here its only me he wants. I will try to clicker train him because I am concerned that if I pass away (I'm still 33) in the future I don't want him to be unworkable.

I have only one son 2 years old who is very good with animals and do not want more kids so I'm hoping I can instill in my son the love and care for Loulou for the future. I am being overly pessimistic I know but I like to plan ahead- way ahead! My question is - should I get another african grey (same/opp sex) or another parrot species for Loulou as a bird mate? I have time for her and all that, I'm just thinking ahead again and have read that it is easier for a parrot to accept another when at a young age than later on, although not sure if this is true. Our friends have a one year old rescue Umbrella Cockatoo and Loulou loves it when the former preens him, whenever I take him for a visit. And he always asks for preens from our dogs - puts his fluffed up head forward bent over in front of their nose, and then proceeds to gently nip them if they don't respond. Thanks for any suggestions.

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Maria,

Thank you for writing the World Parrot Trust about your 1 year old African Grey, Loulou. You are doing so many things right with him and it's great to hear from someone who thinks into the future as you do. It's wonderful that you and your family have 10 rescued parrots, too, and that you provide an outdoor aviary for them with others of their kind. Thank you for your daily care of parrots in need. This is very meaningful.

You give a great description of Loulou and I can see him in my mind quite clearly. Even at only 1 year old, he shows some behaviors common in captive African Grey: one person favoritism the most predominant potential "problem" behavior. Now, while he's young, please begin to form your relationship with Loulou so that he considers you a Mom, flock member, friend, and buddy, but NOT his mate. This happens through diversity of engagements, and diversity is key for a high-caliber captive life. You can always be his main favorite, but he needs to receive reinforcement that's meaningful to him from other people, too.

This starts when you are in the same room so you can praise him, too, when he takes treats from and interacts with others, and then you'll step further away so the secondary people deliver more and more of the reinforcement and interaction. You increase your distance from Loulou as he increases his willingness to interact with (whistle with, bob/dance with and take treats from) others. All members of the household are flock members and it's important for Loulou to understand first through your actions that you are pleased when he takes treats from and makes flock noises with others, climbs into his cage when asked by others, and plays independently. Gradually, when you notice that he's getting the appropriate amounts of reinforcement from others and is interacting with them, you can leave the room and know that Loulou is having a good time. These skills will grow as everyone practices them.

You ask about getting another African Grey parrot as a potential friend for Loulou. I think, given your experience with rescue and Loulou's willingness to be preened by a cockatoo and your dogs, another African Grey will come in to your lives if and when that is what's supposed to happen. You probably won't need to look for one. One will find you and Loulou. If this happens (it may not), the two Greys – regardless of their sexes -- may develop a deeply meaningful relationship, a casual friendship, lasting animosity, or anything in between. Yes, it seems that older parrots who lose their mates choose younger replacements, but that could also be younger parrots choosing more experienced friends. In general, younger captive parrots are more accepting of change than many older captives, but in my experience, an easy-going personality trumps age every time. Parrots proficient with change are those who are physically adept – they stand on a variety of surfaces, flap their wings, climb, bounce, fly, land, and walk like athletes because they are athletic and live in spaces provisioned for athleticism.

You also mention clicker training. Yes, clicker training can yield effective training rewards mainly because 1) the person clicker training gives undivided attention to the parrot, therefore, 2) the rewards (treats and clicks) are delivered immediately (contiguously). In other words, clicker training works because people are attentive and the parrots get instantaneous rewards for appropriate behavior. Certainly clicker training can enhance interaction and is an effective learning tool: it helps build relationships that are based on undivided attention and positive reinforcement.

Whether you use a clicker or not, the key elements of successful training remain unchanged: undivided attention by a trainer who notices every nuance of body language and who consistently delivers continuous reinforcement and that only for desired behaviors. There are many ways to engage in positive reinforcement training; clicker training is one, but multitudes of meaningful and positive relationships develop without clicker training, too.

I recommend that you and Loulou get him comfortable stepping up on a few different surfaces. Sure, he might always step up on your hand for his whole life, but many Greys I've known are more willing to step onto the rim of their food bowl, for instance, or on to a basket or stick, for less-favored persons. Stepping onto inanimate objects is less stressful for parrots than stepping onto a non-favored hand, plus it offers a great degree of success for people, so it's doubly rewarding. It will be quite easy for you to train Loulou to step onto any or all of these types of objects, starting with his food bowl.

For this lesson, I recommend that you ask him to step onto his food bowl and he probably will as soon as you ask. Once he's situated, carry him while he's perched on his bowl to his play gym, aviary, play baskets or other places where he's allowed to go (not your shoulder). Ask him to step off, then practice a little if that feels right to both of you. I'm sure you already know not to rush Loulou or any parrots during this learning process – they learn behaviors that benefit captive lives at their own individual paces. Behaviors that increase their chances of survival in the wild are probably learned more quickly, but behaviors that their wild parents, grandparents and wild cousins never need to learn require very clear instructions from us as we carefully observe their novel understanding and appreciate their industry.

Because you and your husband are organic farmers, you probably have some good, well-enriched surfaces available where Loulou can hang out. So next, I recommend that you add a nice basket or two (or three) to places where Loulou goes; baskets that function like mini-playgyms. Find some with nice flat bottoms and a good sturdy handle, then put a flat rock in the bottom to weight the basket which is then covered with papers for easy clean-up. My parrots perch on these baskets, play on them, dig in them, and the shy non-hand-tame ones get carried here and there while perched on them, or fly to them when they choose to do so. When my husband and I travel, our caregivers use baskets and food bowls for conveyances for many parrots.

Put these baskets in various places where Loulou will see them and draw his attention to them. Chances are, he'll be really interested in them and want to explore them which you should facilitate. Once he knows they are his, you can offer these basket handles to Loulou when it's time for him to come out of his cage. When he's fluent with this skill, others can and should do the same.

These baskets that function as conveyances and mini-gyms are also useful tools that provide variety to parrots who like to sit on their favored person's shoulder, an activity that needs to be monitored. So the third thing I'm going to recommend is for you to prioritize getting Loulou comfortable in a variety of settings, baskets included, that are not your shoulder. Limit should time. Many parrots who spend the majority of their free time on their favored-person's shoulder tend to get entrenched in that position, and so excessive shoulder time works against variety. You may want to think of the amount of time that Loulou is interacting with people and be sure that only about 30 – 40% or even less of that time is on your shoulder.

Just as he eventually allows interaction with your caregiver during your annual holiday, he can and will learn to consent to interaction from others while you are in the same room or in adjacent rooms, but that takes work and dedication on the parts of others, not you. It's so rewarding, though, that your family and friends will have no trouble learning how to interact like friendly flock members with Loulou. You will set up the programs for your husband and friends and eventually for your son when he's older, but the caliber of relationship they have with Loulou will depend on their consistent efforts and how rewarding the experiences are for them, as well as for Loulou.

Captive parrots who have a positive response to lots of variety and who are physically adept fliers/athletes are most proficient at navigating whatever life brings, and super-engaging companions, so set Loulou up for his life-long success and the entire family/flock is sure to enjoy the experience.

Regarding the interaction between Loulou and your dogs. This may be difficult to understand, but it’s not a good idea to have your parrot and dogs interacting. There are too many horrible true stories about dogs who suddenly lunge at parrots. We cannot ignore these sad cases, many of which happen in surprise, even with dogs and parrots who are “friends.”

In any physical conflict between parrots and dogs, the odds can never be even. The odds are always that parrots run the risk of injury or death.

Loulou has the most to lose. Even the best people cannot control all possible scenarios between dogs and parrots. In cases of dog-to-parrot aggression, the odds are stacked against parrots and for this reason I recommend that dogs and parrots do not interact.

Maria, thank you again for the opportunity to participate in the wonderful relationship you already have with Loulou. I hope you find these suggestions helpful and I wish you and your family and flock all the best.

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm
Santa Barbara CA

filed under: Behaviour and Training

I have a male cockatiel who is suffering from chronic coccidiosis. I already treated him 2 years ago with tiamulin and he seemed to be healthy, but now the vet has found oocysts in feces again, so it was just a remission instead of curing. The vet told me to treat it with Baycox this time.

The problem is that my bird has problems with hepar and pancreas since the day I purchased him, and even the treatment with tiamulin nearly killed him while Baycox is even heavier. I'm afraid that such treatment will kill him much faster than coccidiosis itself, and there's a lot of feedback from bird breeders whose birds were poisoned Baycox.

Are there any alternative ways to treat this infection? Maybe there are some new medications that my vet aren't aware of? I already lost my companion female cockatiel 2 years ago, and I'm really scared to make another mistake with my male.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

I am not sure what part of the world you live in, Nataly, but at least here in the USA, the more common species associated with Coccidiosis are not often encountered. There are other coccidioidal organism that can be more often seen, including but not limited to Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium.

First up, you may ask your veterinarian to confirm the species of coccidian that may be present, in order to help best choose what forms of treatment may or may not be most appropriate. Not all coccidioidal infections are treated the same way. Also, you have mentioned that there are problems with liver and pancreas - and you may want to ask your veterinarian about options to diagnose what those problems may specifically be, as their contribution to the bigger picture may also have merit to address.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

How can I determine whether my 21 year old orange-winged amazon that has been diagnosed with a inoperable cancer tumor, is in pain?

What are the signs he would exhibit, even the subtle ones?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Caroll -

The bulk of your answer should be able to be provided by your diagnosing veterinarian, and is dependent on the type of tumor, its location and what tissues / organ systems are involved, what secondary health issues are present, and perhaps most importantly, how your bird feels and behaves. Many of our indicators for pain that we see in birds are based on their behavior. Simplistically, one would seek the kinds of behaviors you may imagine yourself show if you have a painful migraine headache. These may include social withdrawal (you don't want to interact with your friends and family), decreased activity (you just don't feel like it), decreased appetite, decreased comfort behaviors (you no longer care how you dress or look - you just don't feel like it).

Many aspects of disease (not all) include chronic pain, and pain can be pharmacologically treated in birds with monomodal, bimodal or even trimodal forms of intervention in many cases. The patient's response to your treatment at least in part can be used to monitor effectiveness of your pain intervention strategy, in that the above behaviors that were noted should be able to be reduced if you are maintaining the balance well., Some forms of inoperable cancers can be treated in other means to reduce and sometimes resolve them too - and you may want to ask your doctor about more details and options that could be present, should they apply in your bird's case.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Please can you advise me about worming?

I have an aviary of budgies with three 'tiels in the mix. I usually worm with 'solubenol'. However I recently noticed that it contains the same active ingredient as my chicken wormer (flubendazole). Is there any reason why I can't use 'Flubenvet' for my aviary birds? If so - what should the ratio be?

Also - still on the subject of worming. Should I consider worming my two pet parrots occasionally as they do spend a little time in an outside aviary on nice days. The floor is concrete slabs not earth.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Helen -

Your questions are fair, but specifically should be answered by the attending veterinarian who is familiar with your flock, their associated risks (or lack thereof) for intestinal parasitism. In part, dependent on what is known or not known in regards to your budgerigars and cockatiels (and pet parrots) in regard to their medical conditions or what preventative health maneuvers may be most appropriate, your veterinarian is best positioned to provide evidence-based recommendations that meet the needs of the birds in question. From the outside, I am unable to validate the need for treatment for intestinal parasites, what kind(s) of parasites may or may not be present, the epidemiologic risks of recurrent parasitism, or balance treatment choices optimally with the husbandry and overall health status of your flock.

There are potential health risks for yourself with empirical deworming of your chickens; drug residues can be passed through the eggs and can potentially adversely effect human health. It is for this reason that the use of those products in commercial layers is typically forbidden in most countries. Although these practices (empirical deworming) are commonly done and the availability of many of those products over the counter is also common, this does not negate some risk. My advice in that regard would also be to discuss with your attending veterinarian if there is a true need for the use of those drugs in your chickens,

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 20 week old Blue and Gold Macaw called Tyson who is coming along nicely with training. I work during the day and when I come home from work he runs around the cage frantically until I get him out. I have a few chores to do before I can let him out each day so I make him wait. Also on the weekends when I'm home all day he runs around frantically for the first hour if he can see me (his cage is in the kitchen/dining) Will this behaviour settle? He usually gets at least two hours a day out of his cage in the later afternoons/early night. I have taught him to fly to me on command, only problem is when is he out he flies to me constantly. Will he ever stay on his cage or play stand and play with his toys?? He has numerous toys, foraging material and sticks to chew but when he's out I am flavour of the month. This gets difficult as I need to get dinner etc.
Thanks, Sue

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Sue,

Thanks for your questions about Tyson's behavior. My experience tells me the behavior you describe is not uncommon for birds in your situation, and these behaviors are just a few of the reasons parrots make challenging animals to share a home with. Wild macaws spend their lives with a companion by their sides. They are almost never alone in the wild. So, it makes perfect sense that a parrot in a home would do everything it can to be with you, his companion, when you come home. His behavior of running around the cage before you let him out is very likely a behavior that started out of his frustration and was reinforced by the action of you taking him out of the cage.

A behavior that is repeated has quite likely been reinforced in the past. The very act of letting Tyson out of the cage when he is pacing is likely to increase the pacing behavior. The goal now is to replace the pacing behavior with sitting on the perch behavior. If you encourage Tyson to climb up to the perch and reinforce that behavior with a treat, or even opening the door to let him out of the cage, it is likely that he will come to understand that he needs to be on the perch before you will let him out of the cage. You can also gradually extend the amount of time before you let him out of the cage so he will learn to sit on the perch a bit longer when you are home.

You asked if he will ever stay on his play stand instead of flying to you. The answer is; he will stay on his play stand when it is more reinforcing than flying to you. As yourself, "why should Tyson stay on the play stand?" What's in it for him? If being with you is more desirable to Tyson than staying on the play stand, why should he stay on the stand? Birds don't do things because they are "supposed to." They do things that the want to do. So, how do you arrange the environment so that Tyson would prefer to stay on the perch? You may be able to make it more appealing to him with toys and other enrichment items. Or, you can use treats of various types to reinforce the behavior of sitting on the perch. If he likes the treats, you can teach him that sitting on the perch a bit longer between treats will earn him a larger or more desirable reward. That variable schedule of reinforcement is similar to what I mentioned above with the pacing behavior.

Behavior is a product of consequences. When we see a behavior occur in a predictable or repeated manner, we know there is something reinforcing that behavior. We usually only need to look into the recent past to see that our actions have reinforced the unwanted behavior we are experiencing. I often hear people complain about biting, screaming, pacing and many other behaviors that they see in their birds. It is most likely that these problems are repeated because the person has reinforced the behaviors with something as simple as giving the bird some attention. Our goal should always be to replace unwanted behavior with more desirable behavior instead of trying to stop the unwanted behavior. To try and stop behavior is to try to punish the behavior, and punishment is a poor training tool when compared to positive reinforcement. We always want to stay in the positive reinforcement behavior change system to give our birds the best welfare and most enjoyable life.

I hope that helps.

Steve

Steve Martin
President, Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi we have a male blue fronted amazon parrot around 2 years old, we have had him since 20 weeks old bought from a pet shop near us. There are a few of his behaviours that we just cant correct; after reading various parrot training books etc everyone says different things. He has always had a very close bond with my partner, we have never been able to touch him until a few months ago he now occasionally lets my partner scratch his beak + neck, the main behaviour we cannot seem to correct is screaming. Although I understand it is a natural behaviour and parrots do scream, we knew that before we got him but he screams a lot of the time. I myself talk to him a lot and he gets a lot of attention, although I admit we do not regularly let him out of the cage because of the second problem... biting on numerous occasions when my partner attempts to interact with him he will grab his finger with his foot and bite it. Almost like he's playing, but very hard, so when he is out of his cage he bites when we try to get him back in. We would love to have him out all the time otherwise... also when we bought him he was in a cage with another blue fronted amazon assumed to be his sister/brother, as a question could his behaviour relate to wanting company from another bird? If so would you recommend to try another bird after so long?
Thanks, Becky

Answered by Hillary Hankey:

Hello Becky,

It sounds like you have a lot going on with your young Blue Fronted Amazon, and I applaud your efforts for seeking out quality information. As you have observed, each behavior challenge doesn't exist in a vacuum, but rather, they are often all intertwined. Almost always there is one particular behavior that takes priority over the others to address; in this case you mentioned your Amazon's screaming. While screaming is a natural behavior as you noted, we can influence the intensity, frequency and duration by managing our own behavior in response to our parrot's calling. This behavior easily creeps into the realm of excessiveness because it is 1) natural for the parrot and thus readily performed and 2) annoying and easy for us to reinforce inadvertently.

Many times we are given the advice to ignore all screaming without any qualification of what exactly "ignoring" looks like, and in application, ignoring means different things to each of us. Even if we could ignore the behavior all of the time, that is only half of the equation to providing a sustainable solution. So first, we need to find the triggers that are likely to set that stage for you bird to start screaming. These could be hearing a familiar car pull up, talking on the phone, leaving the room, playing the tv or radio, to name a few common ones. Once we have identified those likely precursors that are specific to your bird's screaming, then we should identify specifically what we want him to do instead. What is he good at? Does he talk? Play with certain toys? Know how to forage for goodies in destroyable, safe items like paper bags filled with shredded paper? These are all things that he can do instead of scream that are rewarding for him. For those triggers that we can predict, like playing the tv, we can keep him busy with some favorite foraging items before we turn it on. As he stays busy, we can continue to walk over to the cage and drop a treat or lavish praise for what a wonderful boy he is.

For those events that we can't always predict, we can give him other tools to get our attention. As an example, we can teach him that making pleasant noises and talking produces our happy faces into the room, treats in the bowl, lots of talking from us, praise, and other things that he might value. If he starts to scream, we immediately leave the room and stay out until he quiets or makes a desirable sound. After a few repetitions, he should start to get a hang of the differentiation. One of the more difficult parts is staying consistent. This is why keeping him occupied with many wonderful forms of enrichment is so important... a busy beak is one that isn't focused on making all that noise!

With regard to biting, whether it's occurring during playing or other types of interactions, it's important to understand that this is a type of communication that is on the extreme side and can lead to more intense biting if ignored. When your partner is playing with him and these occur, he should be aware of your bird's body language before the biting occurs and back off and let the bird calm down for a minute or two. Are there pinned eyes, flared neck or tail feathers or an open beak? If your parrot doesn't give off much warning during these times, but the general conditions are the same, then it's best to avoid those conditions to make sure to prevent the biting. Returning to the cage can be a very common scenario for bites to occur. This is because he gets so much social stimulation and enrichment from being outside and the balance of stimulation in the cage is a little off. Try making sure his toys are regularly rotated and offering him so new ones every few days to make that cage more stimulating. And as you become more comfortable with him and learn more about his body language indicating a bite and how to prevent it, he might even get more out-time, which will help him feel more satiated with his social interactions. And finally, if your Blue Front has a favorite treat, like a whole nut in the shell, try offering him that when he steps off your hand into the cage to reinforce that behavior of returning to the cage. He will really start to look forward to it, especially if that is a rare treat that he doesn't get too often.

Individual birds have different thresholds for how they feel about being touched and scratched. It's wonderful that you both have been moving slowly and carefully with his comfort level. As long as you keep allowing his body language to show you his acceptance of your advances and choose your timing carefully, it sounds like you will continue on this path. And though it is hard to know how he would react with another bird, what we do know is that many parrots do well both as single birds and in multiple bird homes, and many birds also experience behavior problems in both types. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are lonely; they act the way that do based off of the cues they receive from us, whether we realize what cues we give them or not. As you have found out, many people have many different ideas how to manage those cues. It can get confusing to you and damaging to your bird to try the chef salad approach of "a little bit of everything." You did an excellent job of seeking out information from a well-supported and learned organization. You are off to a good start already!


Hillary Hankey
Learning Parrots
Avian Behavior International LLC

filed under: Behaviour and Training


I have a male seven year old galah cockatoo. He is hand reared and I've had him from a baby.He has lots of enrichment opportunities including access to an outside aviary, I've done the online living and learning with parrots course and feed him a good diet. I've noticed just over a week that every now and again when preening that he will really tug hard at a feather. Sometimes he will pull out a pin feather, this could be twice a day. I think he's going through a moult, I've been providing him with shredding toys that he will happily play with as my big fear is the start of a plucking problem. I know how prone these human imprinted birds, especially toos, can be to this problem. He doesn't appear to have any bold patches.We did have a holiday of five days about five weeks ago also I took on a rescue bird five months ago so a few changes and when we were away we had people coming in to see the birds regularly not ideal at all. If a bird is plucking how quickly does it progress? I am ignoring him when he tugs at a feather.I'm hoping its just an itchy moult.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Nicole -

There are a myriad of reasons why a bird, Galah included, may or may not be damaging its feathers. Your hopes that there may be a normal moulting process are entirely possible as well. If you have not already done so, I would strongly suggest that you have a good physical examination done by your veterinarian to assess if there is indeed, feather damage occurring, or if there is reason to suspect a dermatitis or other issue that could require medical address.

filed under: Health and Nutrition


Hi EB, I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat.

But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight.

PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!

Linda

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Linda, I hope that your Panama (You did not mention a name) is stable and eating properly. In cases such as these I would prescribe a full sprouts diet plus added items.

Now this need not be fully sprouted seeds, but can be germinated seeds--that is, twenty-four to forty-eight hours of soaking with many rinses during the day, and then feed the following. Take her off the pellets and foods she has been eating but add a certain amount of dried seed to the sprouts mix, such as canary seed, red proso millet, hemp. Our favorite sprouting seeds are mung beans, safflower, organic buckwheat from the health food store, and organic sunflower from the health food store. Also good quality spray millet will sprout overnight...Do not worry about the sunflower being too fattening as when sprouted and fed in mixed amounts with other grains, it has many more benifts for the parrot.

In addition, birds that overeat are often seeking micro ingredients in their diet that they are not receiving through processed foods and veggies and fruits. I would recommend a supplement from China Prairie Co. (online in Northern California) called Micracine Enhance which is both an avian probiotic and a montmorillonite clay base. It will provide trace minerals and digestive aids. There are of course other vitamin mineral supplements that are good and you could use if you prefer.

Now if you are dealing with fatty liver, you should begin to mix up herbal milk thistle into a tea and substitute it for the water in your parrot's bowl at leat four times a week if not regularly. It does not taste bad to parrots and it will slowly begin to heal damaged liver tissue. We also like to give sprinklings of spirulina on food to birds with immune problems fighting any health problem. Especially if they are not big vegetable eaters.

Vegetable stems are the best, chard, carrot, beet, watercress, celery, etc. You can grate them to release juices on the foodstuffs if your bird throws the pieces out of the bowl.

Fruit pips are a wonderful way to get natural and not fattening items into an amazon diet. papaya, pomegranate, melon, kiwi, guava, fig, passion fruit, anything that has ripe seeds in it that are raw. Snap peas and beans are great. If you make feeding an adventure and supplement it with an almond, walnut or two, your amazon will not go hungry and will soon transform her dietary choices into a greener, less habitual fattening diet. It may take up to three months. Drop the nutriberries as they are sweetened. If your bird likes smoothies or protein shakes, that is a good way to supplement feed as liquid foods absorb quickly and free up the liver to begin to cleanse itself. I have had amazons that like to think they were lories!!!

Be well and good luck,
EB Cravens

filed under: Health and Nutrition


I recently took my sun conure who lives in the same cage with four cockatiels to the vet. The bird never laid and an egg and it is almost 15 years old. I got the bird DNA sexed. The vet said that the bird had elevated calcium levels and stated let's hope it is having eggy thoughts. Well it's a she. Will she lay eggs?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi Heather,

Although it is true that many hens that are mobilizing calcium in preparation for potential egg laying will show elevations in total blood calcium levels, these changes are not necessarily a predictive set for all that egg laying will occur, and there can be variations in interpretation what "elevated" numbers may be. Minor elevations over a published set of "normal" values may lack in significance over a 2-3 fold increase in those levels, for example. Not all hens will lay eggs, not all observed elevations in serum calcium levels will indicate impending egg laying activity.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

URGENT - I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat. But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight. PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Linda -

First qualifiers - since I have not examined your bird, I cannot factually corroborate or deny your working premise and diagnosis of obesity and true need for your bird to lose weight. This call should be made with the examining veterinarian you are currently working with. There is considerable variation in body weight for this species - just as there is in human beings! A large bodied and well-muscled bird may weigh easily as much as the numbers you report, and others may be quite obese at those same numbers. Be careful of managing a number (weight) instead of the true bird before you. Ideal weight should be somewhat individually defined, based on the presence of good pectoral muscle mass and an absence of visible or identifiable subcutaneous fat over the abdomen and lateral flanks. This requires the periodic physical examinations of you and your veterinarian. Many Amazon parrots can be maintained in excellent health on a predominately pelletized diet - this data has been around for quite some time.

So, I am somewhat unable to make factual recommendations that will be most appropriate for you and your bird - if clinical obesity is known to be present, work with your veterinarian to reduce caloric intake and increase foraging and caloric burn activities via enrichment of other behaviors. Make sure that weight management is not being based on mere deprivation of calories, but by enrichment. If your bird has gained weight (muscle) but lost fat - you actually may be in a good position at present time. It all depends on the hand's on evaluation and assessments of you and your attending veterinarian.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a mexican red head (green cheeked amazon) that I rescued about 10 years ago. She seems to have gotten an infection (white stuff inside her mouth) and was losing her red feathers on her head)Vet said she had a vitamin a deficiency and so gave her an a/b vitamin shot. He also sent out a culture of the white stuff and then gave me an antibiotic to put in her water daily for 30 days. Last year she got the same thing and we did the same things except the antibiotic was used for 2 weeks. I'm worried that this will be a recurring thing or we aren't treating it properly. Maybe I should get a second opinion. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Barbara -

It is true that vitamin A deficiency can certainly set the stage for the kinds of symptoms you describe. Should this be the primary situation in your bird's case, unless the general nutritional plane of your bird has been corrected and other underlying contributing conditions identified and removed, those secondary or even tertiary infection problems often can and do repeatedly return. Additionally, some infections require much more direct treatments than water-based antibiotic treatments.

I would recommend that you have your bird examined after your course of treatment is concluded, and make sure that diet and underlying health of your bird is optimally supported and maintained.

filed under: Health and Nutrition


I have a question about my Congo African Grey Charlie. I re-homed Charlie as his owner didn't have the time to commit to him. He came to me as a nervous bird with Feather plucking issues. I worked hard over several months to vary his diet, introducing grains and pulses and fresh veg. Providing lots of foraging opportunities and eventually the feather plucking resolved and Charlie became a friendly outgoing bird. Then one day I noticed him having difficulty going to the toilet. He kept throwing his foot back to scratch his vent it seemed. I inspected him and noticed a small injury around his vent so I took him to the avian vet. The vet explained that he had either bitten or scratched the skin round part of his vent. We decided I would wash with salt water and apply homeopathic healing balm and see if that helped. It has helped and is healing well and he has stopped throwing his leg back and scratching. However he seems to have developed a 'twitch' almost which causes him to stick his leg out straight in front of him and sort of wave. This is accompanied by a tail wag from side to side rapidly and a quick flick of his wings. He has never done this until his injury and it only happens when he is still on his perch. If he is active and foraging there seems to be no 'twitch'. I am concerned as to what this might be as his vent is healing well, almost completely and he is going to the toilet as normal. Any light shed on this would be greatly appreciated.

Many Thanks,
Daniel

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Daniel,
It is challenging to clearly visualize what you may be seeing, unfortunately. Here are a few suggestions, however. I would recommend that you video record the behavior, and present this as well as your bird for a repeat examination to your veterinarian. Presuming that there may be pain and discomfort present (from whatever the primary cause may be), you may want to enquire about the use of anti-inflammatory treatments or pain management for your bird. You may also want to inquire about the possibility of a problem within the cloaca itself, which in some circumstances could require additional maneuvers for visualization of this area.

Good on you for enriching this bird's life, adding to its behavioral inventory and doing such a good level of stewardship!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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