Forums & Experts

Ask An Expert

Category: General

Browse by category: Parrot Care, Behaviour and Training, Conservation, Ethics and Welfare, Housing and Environmental Enrichment, General, Health and Nutrition

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Nicole, The dilemma that arises given an opportunity to help a needy parrot vs. keeping a well functioning apple cart upright is one that tugs at many people’s heartstrings, mine included. The great news is that your concern demonstrates that you have the sensitivity and impulse control to be a successful caregiver for this Congo African Grey (CAG): The not-so-great news is that without a crystal ball, no one can predict with certainty the outcome of bringing these two birds together.

I do have some questions for you to ponder that I hope will help you get closer to making a confident decision. First, before getting another bird, ask yourself how getting the new bird helps or improves the quality of life for your current bird. Are the resources (for example, time, energy, and money) that would be allocated to the new bird better spent on improving your current bird’s life style, such as buying a bigger enclosure, spending more time preparing a fresh diet, building a bigger trust account through positive reinforcement activities, increasing mental stimulation with foraging opportunties and complex enrichment items, or arranging for more sunshine and other experiences outdoors?

If getting the CAG doesn’t improve the quality of life for your Galah cockatoo, or in fact reduces the quality of life for your Galah, you may want to think twice before adding the CAG.

Second, ask yourself, can I live with the worst-case scenario should that be the outcome of adding a second bird? Perhaps the worst-case scenario is that you have two birds who don’t show any interest in one another, or perhaps the worst case scenario is two birds who cannot tolerate being near one another as evidenced by aggressive behavior. Given either of these outcomes, can you manage them safely and provide two separate, enriched environments for each bird? If so, you may not need to think twice before adding the CAG.

Since I am a behavior analyst, I usually consider how the science of behavior change can inform answers to our questions. We know that the behavior we see today is influenced by an animal’s genetic history, learning history, and current conditions. I wonder what information about each bird’s behavioral history would predict success living together. For example, does either bird have experience living among other birds, or are they both from 1-parrot homes? Does each bird, or at least your current bird, have a history of empowerment that produces flexible individuals?

Another idea to consider is your level of interest about how behavior works, behavior-change technology, and your current skill level teaching new behaviors to learners in your care. Knowledgeable positive reinforcement teachers can often teach parrots the skills they need to live peaceably with one another. Animals are more likely to accept a new animal in the home when doing so has value to them. They are less likely to accept a new animal in the home when doing so produces aversive outcomes like less time with a favorite person. Of course every bird is a study of one, a unique individual; and that brings us full circle to why there is no single or easy answer to your question.

I hope I’ve given you some helpful ways to discover the answer that will work best for your family.
All the very best!
S.
Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D.
Utah State University
Dept of Psychology
Dept of Special Education

Dont try to be the best in the world; try to be the best for the world.


filed under: General

Hello, My name is Heidy. I am living in the Netherlands. There is something on my mind for quite a long time and I still don't know what to do. In February 2010 we bought our female Congo African Grey Sammy. For me it was love at first sight. Sammy and I have a wonderful relationship. At least I think so. Right from the start I was sure I wanted to buy another parrot because I wanted to have some bird company for Sammy.

So in May of 2010 we were at the same parrot shop where we bought our Sammy. The owner had some young Meyers parrots. We decided not to buy one of them right away but to think it over for a couple of days. In the car on our way home we decided against it. A few days later however, after done a bit of reading, we decided to buy one of the Meyers parrot after all. Right at their first encounter Buddhi (the Meyers parrot) attacked Sammy. They dislike each other ever since. And to be quite honest I myself have a bit of a love/hate relationship towards Buddhi. On the one hand I think she is a cute little parrot (she likes to crawl very much) but on the other hand I don't really like her (although she has grown on me) and I think made a mistake buying her. I never imagined and was never told that there was such a big difference in character between an African Grey and a Meyers parrot.

Where I can read Sammy almost like an open book and Sammy is to me at least very predictable, Buddhi is quite often a closed book to me and she attacks quite often. I have no idea what is going on inside of her. To be honest I did not know very much about parrots at the time I bought Buddhi. I the meantime a have done quite a lot of reading and I also attended a course on parrot behaviour. I really do not know what to do. Last year I talked to my avian vet and decided to put Buddhi in one of our outdoor aviaries. But neither Buddhi nor I felt comfortable with that. So after 1,5 days Buddhi moved in to our living room again. To be honest it was in October. But still I don't know what to do with Buddhi. Should I keep her or should I 'get rid of her'? When I keep her, I know for sure that she will have a good life and I of course do not know for sure what will happen to her even if she goes to good people.

Could I put her, with a mate in an aviary with kakarikies? I really don't know what to do. Can anyone please help me with this? I am very much looking forward to your advice on this.

Thank you very much in advance,

Heidy

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hi Heidy, My name is Bobby Brett and I work for Steve Martin’s Natural Encounters, Inc. in Orlando, Florida. I will try and help you with Sammy and Buddhi. First of all, I would like to thank you for being so considerate towards your parrot’s future and being willing to ask for input. Hopefully, together, we can come up with a solution to help you, Sammy, and Buddhi.

With all new challenges, I try to gather as much information as possible to best decide my strategies. Therefore, there will be some points throughout this brainstorm that I would like to ask some questions to try and fill in some gaps. Hopefully, with this new information, we can decipher a strategy that will be helpful.

Firstly, you mentioned before that you don’t particularly care for Buddhi, but she is growing on you. I assume that it is because she doesn’t seem to want to be around Sammy that she is not as appealing to you. Does she show aggression or other signs that she doesn’t like to interact with you or does she seem to enjoy being with you when you two are alone together? The reason for this thought process is to try and determine how you feel about Buddhi based solely on the interactions between the two of you. I know that you originally got her to be a companion for Sammy. However, if it turns out that this will not be the case would you be willing to keep her as a part of your family as another separate individual instead of as part of a pair of parrots? If it seems that she is content to be willing to interact with you then it may be beneficial for you to keep her with you and your family instead of sending her away to another family. On the flip side, if Buddhi is showing no indications that she is content with all of her current situation (family members, enclosure, etc.) then it may be possible that it would be better to find a better fit.

In your email you wrote that you can read Sammy’s body language very well and considered her behavior to be fairly predictable. Buddhi was a completely different story for you, however. It sounds like you have had a large amount of time living and interacting with Sammy (possibly due to the fact that you find her personality or demeanor more appealing to you) therefore leading to a very strong relationship built on trust and mutual understanding of each other’s body language. Have you noticed that you spend more time with Sammy than Buddhi? If there is a noticeable difference, the “unpredictability” of her behavior could be that there is just not as strong of a relationship with her as there is between you and Sammy.

As with all animal relationships (and people relationships as well) it takes time and respect to gain trust and build a strong relationship. Through training and a history of positive interactions, relationships can be built where there have been some problems in the past. Around work, we relate this relationship status to a bank account. Positive interactions (delivery of positive interactions – treats, scratches, freedom to leave, etc.) put trust into your Relationship Bank Account. Negative interactions (removal of positive stimuli- freedom of space, grabbing for vet procedures, punishing for incorrect behaviors, etc.) withdraw trust from your Relationship Account. Keeping your relationship and interactions as positive as possible makes for an overflowing Trust Account at your Bank of Relationships. Through these strategies, a good relationship between yourself and Buddhi (and even possibly Buddhi and Sammy) could mean the difference between having your current situation being a good fit and it not making the cut.

Here are some ideas I have for you to consider:

• Try and consider your interactions with Buddhi and determine your relationship status. By doing this we can work towards making interactions with you a more positive experience and eventually make future training sessions more successful and less stressful.

• Consider the idea that, if interactions between Sammy and Buddhi show that they are not likely to want to interact with each other directly, is it still satisfactory for you and your family to maintain a two-parrot household with the birds living separately. Maybe it would be possible for them to live in separate enclosures in the same room so they can still see and hear one another but there will be no risk of invading each other’s personal space. Many parrot owners are able to give multiple birds stimulating and enriched lives with this type of set up. With this strategy they can be a form of environmental enrichment for each other, even if they are not having physical contact with each other.

• One strategy you can try is what’s called a Howdy. You can try placing their enclosures (that they live in separately) next to one another so that they can see each other but have a barrier that will prevent interactions that could cause injury. Then you can reinforce them with treats they like (Sunflower Seeds, Peanuts, Veggies, Peanut Butter, whatever they love the most) when they are calm and not displaying any negative behaviors. However, if they do not seem to want to be in close proximity to each other, the next step below could help with this.

• It is possible, over time and training sessions, to work up to having animals live in close proximity to each other and be calm and comfortable with the situation. This can take a fair amount of time (amount of time completely determined on the behavior of the birds – some adjust quickly, others never accept the newcomer) but if you have the patience the reward could possibly be at the end of the tunnel. You might try and have Sammy and Buddhi living in separate enclosures in the same room and see how they behave. If you see signs of aggression (eyes pinning, tail fanning, feathers ruffled to enlarge body appearance, loud and insistent vocalizations, etc.) then you now have a starting point and know where they stand with each other. You can give them treats for calm behavior (feathers comfortably arranged, slow and deliberate movements, eye pupil size consistent, etc.) which will increase the likelihood of this behavior in the future. If you see signs of aggression you can move them farther away from each other until they are showing signs that they are more comfortable. What I would advise to avoid is putting them together and “wait for them to work it out”. This will lead to them practicing that aggressive behavior and not only increase the likelihood of them continuing it in the future, it could also increase the chances of them redirecting that aggression to you since they cannot reach the actual source of their frustration. Over time, it is possible for you to slowly be able to move them closer together and have them continue with their calm body language that you have so carefully trained.

• One thing that may be possible for Buddhi (from what I have been able to deduce from your email that she is the one with the likelihood of instigating aggressive behaviors) is to give her some extra enrichment. Enrichment can be many things in different shapes and forms that promote different behaviors. Shreddibles (newspaper, paper bags, cardboard, phonebooks, etc.) can help distract her from other stimuli or things that could promote aggressive behaviors. Also, the activity of interacting with these enrichment types that require a lot of energy could help her to burn off some of that frustration that could be building up. If it appears that she starts showing an inclination to misdirect her aggressive behaviors to a toy or other enrichment items that could be a great indication to you that the current situation is not to her liking and that you may need to adjust your current strategy.

• As far as putting Buddhi with a mate in an aviary with other birds, I would ask you very carefully consider your motivation. If she is already showing signs that she does not want to interact with other birds then, to me, there is a fairly good chance that she will not be willing to share space with them in the future, especially if she has a mate that could give the potential for breeding. This could actually increase her desire to repel other birds from her “territory” and threaten other animals (not just birds) from her defined area. The most important thing to keep in mind is Buddhi’s safety, as well as the safety of any other birds she may interact with.

So Heidy, I know that I have given you A LOT of information to look over and consider and I truly hope that some of it could possibly prove fruitful for you. As far as the question of whether or not you should keep Buddhi – only you and your family members can make that decision. You need to make a decision that works for you and your bird. However, I do have one question for you to consider at this point: If you let go of the idea that Buddhi was intended for Sammy and think about the way that it seems to be – that you have another parrot in your house – is it the situation that will be the best for that bird, and your family?

If you have any more questions or would like more clarification on something I suggested please do not hesitate to contact me again. I would very much like to make sure that whatever you choose works the best for you and your situation at home. If you would like some additional information on training, behavior, and enrichment then check out our website at http://www.naturalencounters.com. It has some great literature in the “Papers and Presentations” section.

Sincerely,

Bobby Brett
Trainer, Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: General

Hi, I'm looking for information on the social behavior of wild Budgerigars, Cockatiels and Agapornis roseicollis, Cacatua sulphurea and Psittacus erithacus, including e.g. relationships between mates (how long they stay together, interactions between them etc), interactions with other members of the flock, grooming etc... Do you know of the social behavior of these birds, or do you know of any literature or articles that deals with social behaviors of particular species of wild birds? I find that most books deals with the social behavior in a very general way...

Very thankful for some help in answering these questions! smile

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

Dear Christina, Most parrots form long-term monogamous pair bonds, generally for life, although 'divorces' do occur in some cases. Budgies may be the exception here, although I'm not sure that has yet been studied. These topics are very hard to study on wild parrots, so you may be asking a lot of questions that are simply not yet answered.

I would recommend you start with Forshaw and Cooper's "Parrots of the World" the 3rd edition if you haven't had a look at that already, and also review the sources referenced in there. You can then look for newer literature on the subject by doing a Google "Scholar" search on the species names you've listed here and other key words like "social" or "flock" to see what you get. If you're not familiar with that part of Google, look for the "more" tab at the top of the Google page, and depending on your browser, you may need to select 'even more' to get all the Google options. We also link to Google Scholar from within the Parrot Encyclopedia found on our website. To do so, simply go to the encyclopedia, select the parrot you would like to research and then scroll down the text on the main profile page. Near the bottom, you will see a link for 'Recent Academic Research'. Click on that link and you will be sent to a predefined search at Google scholar for the species that you are researching.

Good luck with your research!
Jamie-

filed under: General

I have a rose breasted cockatoo and also three ex battery hens and two rescue turtles. I am now thinking of getting a dog. A non terrier type as they tend to chase or hunt dogs. Obviously I would always supervise. The pets I have now are my first priority. I am giving this lots of thought as I am aware dogs are predators, and birds are often prey. I have heard of multi-pet households working. Anyone have this set up?

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Bravo for approaching this decision so thoughtfully. Multi-species households can be very enjoyable but also problematic. At least one author has referred to turtles as "doggie sushi"! Nevertheless, cockatoos, hens, turtles and dogs have lived together, compatibly, in my household for many years. Let's take a look at some of the steps that help us achieve that compatibility.

When bringing home a new dog, breed characteristics can be an important consideration. As you note, some breeds have been bred for specific behaviors. Knowing the breed characteristics might help us to understand certain behavioral tendencies, for instance, why a Dachshund might choose to dig holes in the yard (the breed was bred to flush small animals from underground dens). It is very important to also note that wide variations in behavior can be found within the individuals of the various breeds or species.

1. Recognizing that individuality and setting each individual up for success is the key to a successful multi-species environment, whether we are talking about one parrot and one human or many, many species living together harmoniously.

How do we set an individual up for success? By skillfully arranging and enriching the environment to meet the unique needs of each individual. Each of us, no matter the species, needs safety, fresh food and water and jobs we choose to do. Often, as caregivers with multiple species, in our zest to ensure safety we can sometimes overlook the very important need for jobs suitable to each individual. All species are built to behave and studies have shown individuals who are empowered to operate on their environment are more likely to be behaviorally healthy than those who are not empowered. Providing foraging opportunities suitable for each individual is just one way to enrich the environment for each of your charges. A pup who is digging up toys in his own special digging area is not digging in the turtle enclosure!

2. Clear communication. As caregivers, it is important to learn the body language other species use to communicate with us. Whether it is the cockatoo's raised crest or the dog's raised fur, they are telling us something if we are willing to listen and learn. Clearly communicating to them is equally important. Positive reinforcement training is an enjoyable and effective way to facilitate clear communication. Immediately after the desired behavior is emitted, we mark the behavior with a sound or word, such as "good". The immediacy of the marker after the behavior increases the effectiveness of the learning. The teacher then, quickly, follows the marker with a reinforcer, something the individual values such as a food treat. At the very minimum, a few basic behaviors should be put on cue, practiced and reinforced regularly. "Come" (recall) and "drop it" are two "musts" for both parrots and dogs. Targeting is another great behavior to teach. Positive reinforcement training has been shown to be effective with a multitude of species, including humans. When training hens using positive reinforcement, the use of a clicking sound to mark the target behavior (clicker training) might be especially helpful. One of my turtles will often enthusiastically run to me when he hears the clicker. Time spent training with positive reinforcement is quality time for the learner and the teacher. Only a few minutes a day with each individual can greatly enrich their lives and our relationships with them.

3. As you have wisely noted: Constant Supervision!!! No matter how long or how successful our relationships have been in a multi-species household, we must maintain careful observation and remain alert to possible changes in each individual's behavior. For instance, age, illness or injury can cause profound changes in the relationships amongst the members of the household.

For further reading:
Environmental enrichment resources on the World Parrot Trust website: http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/behaviourandenviroenrich/
Additional articles on behavior and positive reinforcement training: http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/articles_behavior_change.html
An excellent behavior tool: http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/downloads_toolkit.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YY7IhoebQo
A positive reinforcement training classic: "Don't Shoot The Dog! The New Art Of Teaching And Training" by Karen Pryor.

Wishing you much success.
Cynthia Whitehead, and The LLP Team

filed under: General

Dear EB, I have a 3 year old rose breasted cockatoo and I have been thinking about
getting him a companion. What is the best way to introduce a new bird to
him? Is it better for the new bird to be younger? Is he more likely to get
along with another rose breasted cockatoo or will another bird his size be
alright?
Thanks Jade

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Jade, That is a very difficult question to answer, especially from afar. As rose-breasted cockatoos can be quite aggressive to mates or perceived mates in a captivity situation, it follows that you must proceed very carefully.

First analyse whether your pet in fact WANTS another bird in the house or a companion. Many parrots are so attached to their owners that they resent a newcomer.

To choose another rose-breasted cockatoo would be a challenge. Again, dominance and jealousy and abuse can enter the scene and make matters problematic if not outright dangerous.

Under no circumstances would I choose a young female rose-breasted as your male will know it is a hen right away, and will try to get sexual with it long before she is ever ready to accept him as a partner. This means he will more than likely get aggressive and put fear into her at some point--leading to little chance she will be his preen partner for many many months if at all.

You could try another cockatoo species such as Goffin's, even try a male bird in hopes that the two would become buddies without copulation or breeding needs being a serious issue. But the challenge here would be to find a trial basis for a companion before purchase (perhaps an understanding adoption agency) since if you purchase on speculation and the two birds do not get along, you will not be stuck with a second dilemma.

I have know lorikeets to befriend rose-breasteds, also amazons and greys have been know to befriend these pink cockatoos--Rosies by and large are touchy feely psittacines and take well to any affectionate bird as long as they are not jealous of you or intimidated by being pushed too quickly towards acceptance.

If you do decide on a parrot from another geographical continent--amazon or grey, then it would normally be okay to get a baby bird, either gender, and allow the two to interact slowly and gradually--sexual issues are usually minimal between parrot friends of totally unrelated genera.

Good luck, and keep the list posted.
You did not give your cockatoo's name!

Aloha, EB

filed under: General

Hello, I was wondering how to get wild galahs hand-tame because but we got one today from the side of the road and it is a girl and it has bit me and I don’t know how to get it hand-tame. Can you tell me please?
Thanky ou from Zali.

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day Zali,
All Australian wildlife is protected under our various Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection Acts at State, Territory and National levels. Wild Galahs are protected by these laws and as such, when found injured in the wild need to be taken to a registered wildlife carer where they can be assessed for re-release potential and provided with any necessary health care. I would encourage you to seek the advice and support of such a carer in your local area rather than to try and tame such a bird to keep as a pet. A `wild’ Galah is exactly that – it needs to be released back into the wild if healthy.

If your local wildlife carer or veterinarian assesses the bird and considers that its injuries or condition make it unsuitable for re-release then you can apply for a permit to keep the bird from the relevant State wildlife management authority. If that’s the situation and you intend to work with the bird to hopefully have some level of interactivity with it then you will find the articles available via the WPT Reference Library the best place to start learning how. Try the following link to get you on that learning journey...
http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/beginnerguidetoparrots/

Kind Regards, Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations
http://www.pbec.com.au

filed under: General

Dear Mr. Vonk, I am trying to find information on a Orange-winged Amazon parrot I purchased 4 weeks ago in England.

Is there any information you can find out with the ring number NL/I3K3?

Thank you in advance,
Pat

Answered by Ruud Vonk:

Dear Pat, Thank you for your question. This ring number is very specific and probably a private one. Unfortunately, no parrot societies or similar groups use such a short number and therefore we are not able to find out from whom this bird comes.

Best regards
Ruud

filed under: General

Hi,
How important is it for parrots to be kept together or by themselves? I have owned several parrots over the years and found that some get along great, whereas other do not. I am convinced that a few of them consider themselves to be human and prefer our company to those other funny looking things with feathers. Would appreciate your advice.


Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day,
My personal philosophy is that it is extremely important for parrots to share their environment with other parrots, if the social enrichment and companionship of humans is inconsistent and highly variable. Apart from that classic exception to just about every psittacine rule, the Kakapo, the two most unnatural situations that many captive parrots seem to struggle to adapt to are lack of flight, and lack of opportunities for stimulation and socialisation with other parrots. Along with a lack of foraging opportunity, those deficiencies are often the key contributors to the development of many behavioural problems we deal with in companion parrots.

I have travelled throughout Australia, Asia and Central America observing parrots in the wild. It is an extreme rarity to ever observe a parrot without either a bonded partner, small family group, or a seasonal flock close by. In the rare circumstances when parrots are observed on their own in the wild there is a reason for this. It is always a temporary situation and one that, among other things, potentially leaves them vulnerable to predation. So much of the behavioural ecology of a wild parrot is intimately linked to having evolved and been naturally selected as a social, flocking creature that it really does confound me that humans consider it acceptable to keep them on their own and wonder why problems arise as a direct or indirect result.

We also need to have realistic expectations when it comes to species, and even individual, compatibility. The common misconception is that we look at `parrots’ as a single organism that comes in many different shapes, sizes and colours. The reality is that we’re looking at 350+ different species, each offering a suite of different behavioural characteristics that may not immediately cater for compatibility with other species of significantly different taxa. There are however, plenty of indications that much of the social behaviour we observe is learned, rather than innate. This sets up opportunities for mixed species groupings to work when individuals of different species groups are raised around each other in captivity. Parrots are also socially adaptable, so in the absence of their own species, it is not uncommon for an individual to develop relationships with other parrots of different species. This gravitation towards developing a pair bond, even outside of a conspecific, is indeed the basic characteristic that results in parrots bonding to humans and endearing themselves to us.

Of course, there are many parrots out there who are kept on their own and perhaps, all observations indicate they are doing fine. I am inclined to suggest that in those cases, the interaction schedule with their human owners is high and they live in a great and stimulating environment that caters for their needs well. I would also suggest that these are the exceptions, rather than the rule, when it comes to parrots on their own. Indeed, in such cases, the parrot isn't really on its `own' - the humans are with them most of the time. Over the years, I have developed an extensive amount of first hand experience observing the behavioural results of parrots making a transition from an isolated life to one that offers exposure to other psittacines. Everything from flocking of mixed species in large zoo exhibits as a keeper to simply housing pet parrots in seperate enclsures near each other in a home enrvironment. Given an appropriate set of conditions, this transition almost always results in an enhanced degree of behavioural activity, on many levels. Of course, there are many considerations that need to be made to successfully achieve such a transition. Some parrots kept in isolation from other parrots for many years may lack the socialisation skills necessary to avoid conflict. I have one such bird, and although we are yet to find a parrot that he will tolerate co-habitation with in the same enclosure, you only need to observe the degree to which he interacts vocally with the other parrots in our environment, and how he responds to the subtleties of their behaviours, to know that there is a really intense interaction dynamic at play, and one that I am certain he is benefiting from. Species compatibility, housing and enclosure design, access to food and perching resources in mixed flock enclosures and monitoring incompatibility stress are all essential considerations for the welfare of parrots kept with or near other parrots.

Just finally – rather than thinking your parrots consider themselves `human’, perhaps is it more likely that they indeed know they’re birds and look at us as funny looking birds without feathers? Hmm. I guess we’ll never know ☺

Kind Regards from `Down Under’
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations
http://www.pbec.com.au

filed under: General

Page 1 of 1 pages