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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 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!


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!!!

Please feel free to contact me at my email if you wish further consultation. These cases are complex and not all that easy to solve from afar.

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,

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

Hi there, I have a parrotlet called Fynn and I've had him about a year now from when he was a chick (parent-reared, if that helps). I know parrotlets are sometimes territorial and the main thing to do is to teach them to step up. This does not work with him. He bites hard and lunges if I come close to his cage, and I always get bitten getting him out. He won't step up onto a twig either. But when he's in a different room he's a different bird- he loves kisses and stays with me (despite not being clipped- I understand this makes him harder to train as well but he's beautiful when he flies). This problem has got worse now I have moved to Uni with him, and his cage is in my bedroom. Now he won't have anything to do with me and I can't really take him into a different room. Please could you let me know if there are any ways of getting him to be less aggressive about his cage?
>Thanks so much smile

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hi Lauren,

Cory here from Susan Friedman’s ParrotBAS teaching team! Thank you for coming to us with your question. The great news is that biting doesn’t have to be a necessary part of living with a parrot. With careful attention to Fynn’s body language, thoughtful arrangement of his environment, and a positive reinforcement teaching plan, the biting can be reduced and Fynn can be taught a behavior you would like him to do instead of the biting.

It is great that you described the undesired behavior in observable terms (biting when asked to step up in cage), because this is the first step towards predicting and changing it! Biting is something that Fynn does which we can see. Labels such as “territorial” do not describe what Fynn is doing, but rather what we think Fynn is being. Since behavior is defined as something that an animal does which can be observed, given certain conditions, it is best to focus on specific behaviors that we want to see more of - just like you did. We can’t teach “friendly”, it's just a label, but we can teach Fynn to approach hands and step up, or even fly to you on cue, all of which are specific behaviors.

All repeated behaviors, including biting, serve a function, a purpose, for Fynn or he wouldn't keep doing them! Animals, including people, choose behaviors to either avoid something undesirable to them, or to gain something they value. The key to understanding what function the biting behavior serves is to look into the immediate outcome, the change the behavior causes in the environment. The event that happens right before the behaviors occurs, called the antecedent, is a signal or cue to the bird about what to do right now to produce the outcome. Identifying the antecedent helps us predict when the behavior will occur. The event that immediately follows the behavior (called the consequence) determines whether the behavior will increase or decrease in the future. When the antecedent (A) happens, the animal can do the behavior (B), in order to gain or avoid the consequence (C). With the information that you have given me, I suspect that in this case it could be that when you reach your hand into Fynn’s cage (A), Fynn bites (B), in order to remove your hand (C). In other words, it seems like Fynn is biting in order to stop your approach and to create distance between you and his cage.

So, how do we teach Fynn to enjoy having you in close proximity to the cage? Approaching Fynn’s cage will become a signal that good things will happen if you continuously pair yourself with positive reinforcers such as food, and this means that your presence itself will become reinforcing to Fynn. Each time you pair yourself with food you will be making a deposit in Fynn’s trust account and growing a positive balance, so you can do this several times throughout the day by walking up to Fynn’s cage and simply giving him a bite of his favourite food. The key to keeping the trust account from going bankrupt is to avoid any negative or forceful interactions with Fynn. Of course, since Fynn is flighted, he can fly away from anything aversive. Resist calling him names like stubborn, territorial or unfriendly. When that happens, it is good data for you that Fin is escaping your approach and so you need to change what you do and add more trust into the account.

While step up is a great management behavior to teach and it’s your ultimate goal with Fynn, it isn’t necessarily the first thing that you should teach him. A great stepping-stone towards the step up goal is to teach Fynn a behavior called targeting. Targeting is to touch his beak to an object like a chopstick. It sounds (and is!) simple, but it also extremely useful because of it’s versatility and many applications, one being that it can help you avoid being bitten while teaching the step up behavior! The great thing about targeting is that you can teach it to Fynn while he is in his cage so that he isn't pressured to come to your hand, your fingers stay safe and you can work at his pace to continue building trust.

Once he follows the target stick for a treat, you will be able to target him out of the cage. New behaviors like targeting can be shaped through reinforcing small approximations towards the final behavior goal. When you present the target stick to Fynn at first, be sure to hold it on as close as he remains relaxed. Then some approximations you can reinforce are: 1) Looking at the target stick, 2) Leaning towards the target stick, 3) Touching beak to target stick. Each step should earn him a food treat and should be repeated until he performs that step without hesitation. If he happens to be afraid of the target stick in the beginning, just introduce it gradually at his pace, pairing its presence with a food treat. Body language that could indicate that Fynn is uncomfortable with something could include things like feathers slick against his body and leaning away. Learning to recognize subtle changes in Fynn’s body language and respecting it is a great investment in having a good relationship with him!

Once Fynn is touching the target stick with his beak, you can then teach him to approach it from further away by gradually increasing the distance you hold it out at. You can also teach him to follow a moving target by first reinforce him following it for a step, then a few steps, and so on. To keep the positive reinforcement really effective when teaching new behaviors deliver a food treat every time he does the approximation correctly, and immediately (within a few seconds). A great thing that you can do to improve your timing is to use a word like “yes” as a bridge to mark the exact moment that Fynn does the correct behavior, and then follow it up with food each time.

When Fynn knows how to target, you will have a full trust account and it’s time to zero in on teaching him how to step up onto your hand. To start, you can use the target to move Fynn onto a designated perch in his cage and reinforce him for standing on it while you open the cage door. It’s important to continue to reinforce Fynn for having calm body language as you gradually move your hand closer to him. Here’s where the target comes in handy. You can use it to orient Fynn’s head upwards as you shape him to step onto your hand because he can’t hold his head up and bite you at the same time - they are behaviors that are incompatible with one another. Since Fynn already knows how to follow the target, he can follow the target onto your hand at his pace, and then you can fade the target so that it isn’t needed anymore. Or, you can target Fynn to the top of his cage or to a perch affixed to the inside of his door.

For more ideas, go to and read Susan's and Lisa's article called "Right On Target", under "Written Works." It is always best to focus on what we want the animal to do, since after all, animals are built to behave and we can take advantage of that to empower them to do desired behaviors. There are some wonderful resources available to learn more about this: Dr. Susan Friedman’s excellent articles can be found at, Natural Encounters also has some quality avian training articles at and some great parrot training videos by Barbarah Heideneich can be found through

I wish you the best of luck with training Fynn!

Cory Cordes
Animal Behavior Technologist

filed under: Behaviour and Training

A friend of mine has a Congo African Grey who is exhibiting symptoms of excessive thirst and excessive urinating. The vet investigating this is currently running labwork on the bird to check for things like diabetes, etc. So far, the vet has not come up with anything definitive but suggests that the dyes in pellets such as Pretty Bird could cause these symptoms. Have you ever heard anything like this before? Thanks for your time.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Cindi -

There are a number of investigations that need to be considered with this set of clinical signs. It is good that basic blood testing is being performed as a start. Although this is far from a perfect thing, it is a really good initial component. There are behavioral reasons (psychogenic), and other medical reasons including some viral infections, cardiovascular disease, and malnutrition to name a few. Toxicoses from the artificial dyes used in a formulated product of any brand, to the best of my knowledge, are not a documented event - and exist only in anecdote and belief out there. I am sure that the veterinarian involved will pursue the levels and types of additional diagnostic testing needed to help dramatically narrow down, if not determine a cause of these clinical signs, with time.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a Timneh African Grey who is almost 9 years old. I got him at 3 months and weaned him and he has always been a sweet, non-aggressive animal.

After any stressful experience, for example, the last visit to the avian vet 3 months ago for a beak, wing, and nail trim, he stops eating the Harrison's pellets that he has always loved and drops weight to the point where he loses 15 or more grams. At that point I hand feed him Harrison's juvenile formula with a syringe and he eats just fine. He doesn't want to eat any brand of pellet or prepared bird food, including Nutriberries. He will eat a bite or two of carrots and broccoli but is still thin. My vet wanted him to gain weight when she saw him 3 months ago and he weighed 296 grams. I just hate to see him refuse to eat so I have been giving in and hand feeding him. Last night before I hand fed him he weighed 291 grams. I know he is able to eat because I've seen him eat one or two Harrison's Coarse Pellets. The vet doesn't think he is sick but I have an appointment with her again in 3 weeks.

I believe I have tried everything, from soaking his food in organic apple juice, cooking pasta, eggs, beans, etc., and the stress is getting to ME! I just wonder if a parrot will actually starve himself to death if he has a variety of foods available yet prefers formula? I've been too afraid to take that chance. Thanks for any suggestions you can give me!

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Linda,

Hello and thank you for writing World Parrot Trust about your 9 year old Timneh Grey. It sounds like you really care for him, which is great!

I'm glad he's getting regular check-ups from an avian vet. There is no substitute for regular check-ups and your relationship with an avian vet is great insurance so that if an emergency occurs, s/he has a record of your parrot's normal condition. However, I respectfully question the amount of grooming that's being done on him.

First, the beak. In Clinical Avian Medicine, Vol. 1, Harrison and Lightfoot, 2006 (pg 14), the good doctor writes: "Beak trimming is not necessary in birds unless the beak is overgrown due to underlying health problems or malocclusion." Therefore, unless your parrot's beak is growing unnaturally long or into an unusual shape, you can and should eliminate the beak trims. Beak trimming is not part of standard grooming because it's unnecessary, potentially painful and usually traumatic. It should never be performed for cosmetic reasons. There are ways other than trimming to ensure your parrot's beak stays healthy and those we'll review below.

The rhinotheca, "the final protective/germinal layer" of the upper beak is thin "and can easily be ground through or burned." (p15) You wouldn't necessarily see a burn because the dark beak would cover it, but your parrot would feel it, and that would hurt a lot because what's inside the thin outer covering is super-sensitive blood- and nerve ending-infused tissue. Pain is amplified by these nerve endings. Think of crunching down on hard foods (like pellets) with a broken tooth, or a toothache in all your teeth at once - the pain shoots right to your head - and that's correlative with a beak that's been trimmed.

His beak will need to heal completely (which may take 3 months) before you see him rubbing it to clean/groom it himself, which he will do when you follow the tips below regarding perches.

Next, the wings. Unless you are taking your parrot outside without first putting him into a carrier, or keeping him inside but your household has unavoidable hazards, I'd recommend a moratorium on the wing trims, too. After nine years of trimmed wings, due to muscular atrophy and resultant enhanced caution, your parrot probably wouldn't fly even if his wings grew out completely. Linda, try letting his wings grow in, which they will over time, and you might discover a parrot who flaps more, plays more and is generally more confident than before, even if he never actually flies. From your note, you seem like a very conscientious caregiver - one with great attention to detail - so if you apply that same keen discernment to his flight capabilities, you may discover that wing trims can be either greatly diminished or eliminated altogether.

A diminished wing trim might be one where only 1 - 2" of the first 3 or 4 primary flight feathers are removed. This is the trim I formerly used on young fledglings so they wouldn't zoom around the confines of the house before they gained coordination. As years went by, I made the house increasingly flight-friendly and completely eliminated all wing trims. In your case, you can carefully watch your Timneh and see if he even uses his longer wings. If he's going to fly, he'll most likely give you plenty of notice beforehand by flapping while holding on to a perch, hanging upside down and flapping and generally testing his balance and coordination in ways that clipped parrots do not. Of course, if you let his wings grow out and whether or not you ever see him fly, if his feathers grow back, he will be capable of flight, especially if he's startled. So inside the house, give him plenty of places where he knows it's safe to land and practice "fake flying" with him to safe place A from safe place B. Additionally, you'll always want to keep him in a carrier or put him in an aviary when he goes outside.

Now, for the nails. Nail trims can also be very painful and it's not uncommon for parrots to become depressed after a nail trim, even if only one of the nails bleeds or it's cauterized by a dremmel/drill during the trim. Think about your fingernails and toenails - all of them at once - being trimmed all the way to the quick and then being forced to use those painful digits for everything - eating, sleeping, walking, and standing. Now imagine those same nails being cut into the quick to the point of bleeding and having the bleeding stopped by burning and yeow - you'd want to be hand-fed, too.

Here at our home, our companion parrots rarely need their nails trimmed so I'm surprised when some guests complain about sharp nails. But I realize - with us, our parrots are totally relaxed, so their nails aren't digging in, but with other people, not quite. So when I hand a parrot to someone, I ask if they can feel the nails and if they say yes, I take the parrot back because I don't want the bird to be uncomfortable. (Plus our parrots can fly away if they want to.)So, practice holding him and rotating your arm or hand or shrugging your shoulder ever so slightly to learn which angles allow him to relax the most when he's on you. The more you practice being relaxed together, the less his nails will bother you.

Additionally, sharp nails help parrots with their confidence. In the wild - and your guy is probably only one generation away from the wild, with all those innate wisdoms still inside him - if they can really hang on during a storm, or in strong winds on flexing branches, they survive. Their nails are sharp for reasons that make sense to them.

That said, mitigating nail trims for captive African Greys is usually simple because they like to dig. Our Congo Greys in the aviary (4 adults each at least 30 years old) are incessant diggers. They've never needed their nails trimmed because those tips are blunt from digging in the fresh dirt we provide. There is nothing cuter than to see them, beaks down, red tails up, feet going a mile a minute, flinging dirt in long arcs behind them. Happily, there are ways to replicate this enrichment in the house that aren't so messy. Your guy may like to dig in an open-faced woven rattan basket that's stuffed with paper towels, or in brown paper bags stuffed inside each other - some natural-material container that sits flat on a surface for him to tear into using beak and toes will do the trick.

If he doesn't already have them, be sure your guy has natural fresh perches covered with bark in his cage and on his play gyms. After eating, he'll rub his beak on the surface and clean it himself. Similarly, he'll keep the tips of his nails blunt by walking on natural perches. Outside the cage, give him a natural wood platform to walk on for playtime and chewing. Vertical wood branches lashed to the walls of the cage using tie wraps are great natural beak cleaners. When they get soiled, refresh them by scrubbing with a wire brush and warm water, and then rinse them well. Perches should never be allowed to get slick - keep them rough-to-the-touch with regular wire-brushing and he'll learn to groom himself. Some parrots groom their beaks and nails on twisted cotton rope perches which you might also try. In any case, the more grooming tools you provide him - and calm compliments when you see him using them - the more likely his chances of good personal hygiene.

Now, in the case of a truly mal-formed beak, or if he absolutely cannot be trusted with any wing growth whatsoever and you cannot change those circumstances even with your best efforts, or if his nails are so sharp that you're left bleeding from contact with him, I'm going to recommend that you choose only one or at the most two most essential grooming options to be performed in the least degree possible at one time. Minimize the grooming. Dramatically.

Even with the greatly reduced grooming, ask your vet for MetaCam, a liquid analgesic (pain reliever) that we keep on hand in case of emergency. After a vet visit, or after anything where he might be feeling pain (like after a clumsy landing if he tries to fly), give him a drop. Our older arthritic Galah cockatoo eats it right off the kitchen counter and our other birds relish it (when needed) on a bit of cracker or toast.

Also, you may want to use some of the training tips that are wonderfully explained by other WPT experts to get him to increasingly accept your gentle manipulation of his toes and wings. Over time with consistent training, the two of you may establish a non-traumatic grooming routine so that his annual vet visits become a "Well Bird Check-Up," not a cause for stress.

Finally, in the case of unavoidable stress, yes, give him a little hand-feeding formula. After all, you hand-fed him so he'd trust you, and he does, which is great! I don't know if he'd actually starve himself to death, but he could definitely dehydrate and become fatally ill as a result of that, so it's far better to error on the side of caution and hand-feed him when he becomes anorexic. As a stop-gap measure, to be used when needed, a bit of hand-feeding formula now and then is fine, especially if it stimulates his appetite and makes you both feel better! Trust your instincts, Linda - they seem to be sound and you have his best interests at heart.

Thank you for your support of World Parrot Trust and for the opportunity to respond to this good and very valid question.

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I live in Northern Virginia with 2 macaws, I'd like to know what type of wood from trees in my yard etc I can give to my birds. Can I just bring them in from outside or do I have to do something to make them safe? I have multiple trees (pines, oak, poplar) in my yard and 2 parrots that would LOVE to snack on the wood. Thanks, BJ

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear BJ...

I remember a time when I was travelling through Virgina and stopped to visit a friend who had several pet caiques. One morning I went outside for a stroll around his neighborhood, and came back with an armload of chewable boughs and greenery for his parrots.

There were many trees and other plants available: maples, beech, oak with tiny acorns, fruit trees of many sorts in early spring bud, elm, poplar, even some flowering bushes like quince, lilac, forsythia, roses, and the like. Psittacines can also chew on conifers--pine, spruce, fir, juniper, tamarack, etc. though we only utilize these for birds in the winter months when deciduous leaves have wilted and fallen. If you go online and google safe plants for parrots you will find a host of other things to offer your macaws. The most nutritious portions of greenery are the new growth buds--sepioles and petioles and often hookbills will spend hours removing each leaf or flower, eating the succulent attachment node and moving on to the next. We also like to give our birds flowers such as snapdragons, geraniums, pansies, asters, chrysanthemum, orchids, marigolds and other safe blooms. If you have berry bushes psittacines often like the berries at the tart stage. Small crabapples and thronapples are the same. Tannins appeal to most parrots and offer gastro and other health benefits, as does the often mineral rich bark form limbs. I personally keep a woodpile of older dry branches that my parrots love to tear into. It can make a mess in the house, but I feel it is much more interesting and healthy than finished lumber and wood.

Safety wise, avoid plants with milky sap, Hawaiian type tropical plants such as oleander and dieffenbachia, magnolia. There are lots of toxic plant lists online also though some are designed for people and are not up to date about parrots. If you wish to have an indoor plant for your birds, though of course macaws can destroy things rather quickly, I would recommend a bamboo or a Ficus benjamina. We also like to cut a large branch and fasten it into a Christmas tree stand for our birds to climb and chew on throughout the year.

You can rinse off outdoor greenery in the shower or with an outdoor hose, but by and large clean branches and plants away from roadside or neighboring spray areas are chemical free and perfectly fine for our birds.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Parrot Care

I adopted a 16 year old Cameroon African Grey and I would like to learn how to encourage him to eat something other than seeds. He won't eat pellets, cooked grains or vegetables, all fruit except grapes & he even refuses to eat AviCakes or Healthy Bits - a picky eater?

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Donna,

Thank you for your question. Red-tailed grey parrots can be some of the pickiest eaters one can keep, especially if the bird was formerly living wild and free.

That said, it is best to begin modifying a parrot's diet by making changes within the realm of foods that the bird does like to eat eat. As African greys are rather high on the list of medium sized psittacines that need an extra amount of fat and oil in the diet, usually nutmeats fit into this process rather well.

Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias and such are all fine foods to expand a picky grey's daily nutritional regime. As most Africans species are not noted for overeating habits (unless they are fully deficient in some nutrients and try very hard on a mono-diet to acquire those things...)one does not usually have to worry about ending up with a fat parrot. Still within reason, try to keep the bird from consuming too much of one item; excess fat can affect liver, heart, kidneys, etc.

Other items we have fed to picky Africans include boiled peanuts, boiled pine nuts, boiled edamame soybeans which are green and often loved by the birds. Germinating mung beans, buckwheat, safflower, and sunflower for 24 to 48 hours makes a great way to reduce the fat content once the seed has "popped," and increase the micro-ingredients not found in the dry seed. Millet sprays may also be germinated and are accepted by some picky eaters.

Getting your grey to eat veggies (fruits, too, though they are less important as nourishment) can be problematic. Start by emphasizing texture. That means crunchy stems only, no wilted leaves, of watercress, carrot tops, beet greens, parsley, and a variety of herbs or flower tops from safe garden plants--just google safe flowers for parrots and you will get a whole list. We also cut green shoots and buds off of our outdoor vegetables and fruit trees for the birds to nibble.

As parrots go through "phases" of eating greenstuffs depending upon season, weather, hormones, and bodily needs, one has to keep up the crunchy green offerings steadily, watching what the pet prefers or will sample.

Large chunks can be easily thrown out onto the floor, keep things smaller at first so it is more work to rid the bowl of the green. Some picky pets are not real fond of items in the cabbage and broccoli and collards families.In many cases we have just grated beetroot or carrot or turnip or sweet potato or greens onto the bird's dish and allowed the released juices to get into the items that the bird is consuming. There are also some wonderful whole food powders such as alfalfa, barley grass, wheatgrass, spirulina and the like which can be sparingly sprinkled on food items and ingested that way. If your parrot will not touch a mineral block or cuttlebone, just scrape the powder onto his food.

One of our favorite ways of getting fresh fare into our hookbill's tummies is to choose fruits with pips. Pomegranate, passionfruit, papaya, guava, fig, even melon, pear, apple, pumpkin, etc. We will scoop out the seeds--sometimes washing them well to get rid of sticky pulp-- and feed them to our flock.

One last point. In the choice of oil seeds, sunflower seeds are much preferable to safflower seeds for an addicted parrot to consume. Also, persons with warm temperatures in the local climate can find palm fruits in red (like a grey's tail!) or orange which many parrots adore...

Good luck, Donna. Don't give up, get imaginative and remember, VARIETY is your friend in psittacine feeding.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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