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Category: Ethics and Welfare

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Is it unreasonable to try to breed "pet" parrots or tame and interact with a breeding pair. I have pairs of macaws, cockatoos, conures and caiques. I would like to have nice friendly birds that give me an occasional baby. Breeders say you can't have it both ways. Am I wasting my time? Thanks.
John A.

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hello, John. Thank you for writing. Your question about breeding companion parrots and taming/interacting with breeding parrots is interesting and contains many issues.

To answer your question directly, no, I don’t think it’s a waste of time to interact with either breeding or companion parrots, as long as those interactions are comfortable for them and benefit the parrots. Interactions should be primarily designed to improve the welfare of the captives by providing for their physical and emotional needs. The goal of getting something from them, like a baby, is one that deserves serious consideration, which is why I’m really glad you wrote. More on dealing with eventual chicks below.

Take Inventory of Their Environment
Hanging out with parrots, seeing what they want and need and then giving that to them – that’s the primary responsibility of caregivers. So, first and always, provide your captive parrots with the very best environment possible with room to flap, climb, bathe, explore, chew and fly. Environments that allow parrots to act like parrots – loud, flashy, busy, mulch making, foraging entities – these are the environments that enhance parrots’ innate skill sets. Both great parent birds and happy companion birds appreciate environments that allow them to act like parrots. Your job, John, and mine, as caregivers, is to observe them carefully – both when they know we’re doing it, and when they are unaware of our presence – and allow those objective observations, not our desires, to be the basis for decisions that enhance their well-being.

Each potential pair is different, as is each individual. Therefore, each requires a different set of decisions. There is no blanket correct answer to your question.
For instance, you might have a male and female cockatoo that both seek out your attention and are affectionate with you. However, when they cannot see you watching them, you might notice that the hen continually backs away from the male. She may hop to another perch whenever he comes close, or he might strike at her around the food dishes. These parrots would not be candidates for breeding due to unreasonable amounts of stress for the hen.

A Bunch of Questions
You mention having quite a few (8) parrots. That’s a lot to take care of! I have nine in my house, with 40 outside in aviaries, so I know exactly what your daily workload is like. If we were speaking together, I’d ask you a bunch of questions about each parrot before giving you an opinion about which – if any – of your individuals might potentially work as companions who remain friendly breeders and the potential dynamic between them.
There are so many variables between the various species you mention -- cockatoos, macaws, caiques and conures. Each species has its own set of peculiarities, as does each individual. You’d need to dedicate yourself to a new level of education about each species, the conditions considered optimal for them, how well or poorly they typically parent in captivity, and then compare that information to what you know first-hand before deciding to set them up, or not.
Additionally, each individual in your care has their own history, including how they were parented, that has significant impact on their ability to incubate, much less parent, helpless chicks. Chicks who were incubator-hatched and human-raised from Day One probably have a lesser chance of being successful parents than chicks who were parent-raised. Along those lines, if you decide to set up your birds, you’ll need to be ready to incubate eggs, hatch and raise chicks from Day One, and round-the-clock feedings are no picnic.
Even then, if you could listen to conversations of breeders of these species, you’d notice huge differences in the concerns/opinions expressed. Also, a wide variety of opinions as to the “friendliness” of proven pairs among any species would be evident. Also, there are a wide variety of opinions as to which species make good parents.

Any time we’re considering making changes to captive parrots’ lives, a primary area of examination is always, “Is the environment conducive to the desired behaviors?” Macaws, for instance, need a large nesting box and lots of substrate in addition to their regular copious amounts of chewing materials. With so many species in your care, the environmental considerations are myriad.

How Much Time Do Busy Parents of Infants Have for Extraneous Friendships?
I’m sure you’ve noticed how having children affects human friendships. Even best friends – especially best friends – are expected to understand that parents of infants simply no longer have the time to meet for dinner, participate in long conversations, join your book club, or whatever. Parrot parents are the same.

If the myriad conditions and personalities happen to coincide and the parrots successfully breed, lay fertile eggs, incubate, and raise viable chicks, you’ll need to manage your expectations about companionship. Face it, you’ll be extra baggage for about 3 month, minimal. Nest making, love making, laying, incubating and rearing are pretty much full-time endeavors and frankly, even if the parrots still like you, they simply will not have the time nor inclination to hang out with you, watch television, help with the feeding routine, or do whatever else you consider part of companionship.

As a caregiver of parent birds, you’ll be relegated to, “Hello, my name is John, and I’ll be your server for the next three months.” That’s the best-case scenario. In the worst case, you’ll be considered an intruder and possibly attacked – at least during breeding and baby season.

Here Are Babies – Now What Happens?
If the myriad conditions and personalities happen to coincide and the parrots successfully breed, lay fertile eggs, incubate, and raise viable chicks, you will need decide what to do with the babies. You cannot realistically keep them all, correct? Rarely will you get an “occasional baby”. If everything goes “right,” you might get 4 conures, 3 caiques, 2 cockatoos and 2 macaws – eleven babies! In one season. Not counting the very real possibility of 2 clutches per year per pair. (22 babies!) That’s a lot of beaks to feed, boxes to clean, and bodies to care for. And, while extremely challenging, time-consuming, potentially expensive and heartbreaking (yes, you’ll make mistakes – everyone does), hand-rearing the babies is the easier part!

. . . Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution?
Finding great life-long homes for the youngsters is the more difficult challenge because most great parrot caregivers no longer buy babies; they adopt unwanted older parrots instead. And there are thousands of parrots that already, through no fault of their own, need homes. For every adorable baby sold, it’s one less place available for an older homeless parrot.

Anyone thinking of breeding parrots or buying babies must seriously examine the issue of the existing homeless and ask themselves if they want to contribute to this sadness. First, every domestically raised new baby takes one of the limited spaces that might otherwise go to an older parrot. Second, once those young parrots leave your care, they are at risk of becoming one of the homeless. It happens.

Even if you promise to take back any parrot, at any time, for any reason, some will slip through the cracks. People get embarrassed that they can’t handle the parrot, they give the bird to someone else, a “great home,” but that person’s life changes, and the parrot goes to someone else, then the parrot’s name is changed, the people move, and the trail goes cold. As I write these words, they clutch in my throat. If you doubt me, spend some time on the websites for Phoenix Landing, The Gabriel Foundation, The Oasis, Foster Parrots, or any of the other great rescue facilities and take a good hard look at the faces of those parrots – cockatoos, macaws, caiques and conures – who need and deserve great homes. Doubtless, they were bred and harvested by well-meaning people, but those people are no longer part of the solution.

Enjoy What – and Who – You Already Have
So, put in the time and effort to get to know each of your parrots as individuals, and relax into the process; enjoy their company and watch how they change over time. You have at least 8 parrots – there’s a wealth of information, companionship and intrigue for you right within your own home; a lifetime of pleasure and learning. Not all opposite sex parrots of the same species want to breed – many are happy living side-by-side with an opposite sex friend and never breeding. Brother/sister-type relationships happen all the time in captivity and these are optimal.

As months and years pass, you’ll see which, if any, of the parrots bond to each other – you’ll notice them sharing food bowls, destroying the same toy, sleeping on the same perch, becoming increasingly inseparable. You can then decide whether or not to set up a pair, give them a nest box and privacy and let Nature take her course. However, given the state of unwanted parrots, it’s far better to replace potentially viable eggs with fallow eggs and manage your pairs that way. Either that, or firmly commit to keeping every single parrot raised by your parrots for every day of their life and for providing for each individual even beyond your lifespan should it come to that. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. Members of the World Parrot Trust need to know exactly which side of that equation they put themselves on.

All best,
Phoebe Linden

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

Dear EB, Have you ever encountered a hybrid between a Timneh and a Congo Grey Parrot? The pet store near here has one (they say), which is just now being fledged and looks like a Congo, at least right now with very few feathers, etc. They also have a parasol cockatoo, which apparently is a cross between a umbrella and a Goffin (she's about 25 percent larger than a Goffin and has
the coloration of an unbrella, with an umbrella crest. What are the ethical questions, if any of bringing these animals into the world? On one hand, if they are not found in nature, then perhaps we are wadding too deep into the gene pool, so to speak. But, of course, there are other hybrids out there that are taken for granted. Then again, these hybrids may not be able to reproduce.

Thanks, Bill C.

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Bill,

I am probably not the best person to be answering this question, and I would welcome comments from Jamie or Dr. Speer, Sam Williams or Eva Sargent or others. We have encountered hybrid cockatoos in the past; and have hard about Greys being interbred.

There are, of course ethical questions involved--as there are in most areas of the live animal trade. I do not personally approve of hybridization between species of psittacine, nor of subspecies interbreeding when the types are known to be different, though the latter happened all to often in the past between races of parrots that were thought to be identical or mistaken for the same subspecies.

An interesting quote from Catherine A. Toft, Department of Zoology, University of California-Davis:

"Hybridization is the fastest and surest way to destroy the genetic make-up of a species. It breaks up complexes of genes that allow species to be adapted to their natural environment and to be recognized as potential mates."

Many rationale have been used over the years as justification by those breeders who produce hybrids--from "we are combining the best traits of both species" which of course is absurd, to "they are only being produced for the pet trade," which is a fallacy as we shall see here.

It is easy for us to see a hybrid Ara macaw, for example, because of the distorted coloration. But in aviaries of breeding birds, I have encountered macaws with faint "ruby" (Greenwing/Scarlet) or mili-gold bloodlines in their past. Such birds may only show only one quarter of the original hybridization because they have descended from lines that were bred back to nominate species. This is where the real hidden long term damage of hybrid production "for the pet trade" enters the scene.

Amateurish breeders with few ethical considerations and even less patience will procure at low price a hybrid former pet, then pair it up for commercial breeding with the first candidate to come along.

"We are trying for new and different colors, I have been told." I find such reasoning shallow, and such odd colored parrots lacking in the symmetry and beauty that the gods initially gave them.

Of course, money is usually the bottom line when it comes to such ethical decisions as producing hybrids at a facility.

But , when one tries to disassociate captive and pet industry psittacines from those living in the wilds, merely because there is little likelihood that the former will ever be released to help repopulate dwindling numbers, I think one does conservation of these birds a real disservice.

Is it the role of the bird breeder to assume this disassociation and accordingly condemn all captive parrots, with their valuable gene characteristics, to a second rate role in world psittacine conservation?

I think not, and as an aviculturist who tries to propose conservation logic first--I would beg to differ with such a reasoning.

My role as I see it is to protect for the future; to save and guard and conserve all that is possible in my tiny little piece of captive parrotdom. And when it comes to hybrids, this means I will refuse to dilute any of my pure natural species for any minimalist reason--nor will I ever condone it amongst other true aviculturists.

We either face the fact that we are stewards of a precious god-given gift for the generations ahead, or we play at bird breeding and pay lip service to conservation in order to stave off the animal activists who might just see through our ethical ruse.

I hope this sheds some light on your inquiry. As I said, I am not the most capable person to answer this question.
Best, EB

[Editor's note: As Cathy Toft was noted in the above, we asked her to comment on this issue. Here is her reply.]

Dear Bill:

E.B. has taken a quote from me from one of the articles that I wrote explaining population genetics to aviculturists precisely for the reason of persuading them not to hybridize parrots in captivity. (A comprehensive summary is in Toft, C.A. 1994. The genetics of captive propagation: A manual for aviculturists. Special Publications of Psittacine Research Project, Number 1. Ann Brice, Ed. Department of Avian Sciences, University of California, Davis.) I also wrote several articles for bird publications and proceedings asking whether hybridization has a place in aviculture.

In many ways, I hold E.B.'s position. As a conservation biologist, ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I prefer parrots in captivity to stay as they are in the wild.

Originally, I took (and still take) the position that private aviculture holds a treasure in the form of established breeding populations of species that are threatened or endangered in the wild. I imagined what would have happened had the aviculturists in Europe had the foresight to maintain a population of Carolina Parakeets Conuropsis carolinensis for long enough, so that their offspring could restore this species to its original range in the United States. To do so would require a sufficiently large population and sound breeding practices. Importantly, the genetic architecture would still be in place to allow those individuals to survive and reproduce in the environments in which their ancestral populations originally evolved. Hybridization was not the only threat to achieving this goal, but it was certainly the gravest.

Since the early 1990's, my position has softened somewhat, or should I say, diversified. My colleague, Jamie Gilardi, has pointed out to me that as many parrot individuals live in captivity as in the wild. As E.B. says, by far most of those individuals would not be released to the wild and moreover could not survive there. Also, other threats to the feasibility of using captive-bred individuals to augment or re-establish wild populations have become clearer. One of those is the inevitable transfer of viruses from their original host populations to those of species that the viruses would never encounter in the wild. And, once established, these viruses will never be eradicated. This spectre of epidemic makes re-introductions all the more problematic.

For these and other reasons, I have changed my position on the domestication of parrots. Now, I say "Why not?"

For one, captive life is nothing like life in the wild. If aviculture develops lines of parrots more suited to lives with humans, then those individuals will lead higher quality lives. Perhaps parrots that are less jealous of their mates will be happier as pets—in their wild state, by far most parrots are life-long monogamous. This trait often results in their misery as pets, as well-meaning pet owners keep parrots each in solitary confinement or at least without a same-species companion so that the parrot will bond more to the human. Unfortunately, the human does not keep his or her end of the bargain and worse, objects to the parrot’s natural behaviors related to monogamous bonding with the human. Parrot with lower metabolic rates or different physiologies might fare better on captive foods, for example, not gain as much weight or need as much protein. Changing these traits is possible with "artificial selection" which humans have practiced for thousands of years to domesticate many species of plants and animals. And if humans practice this sort of captive selective breeding, then why not make the parrots look really different than their wild counterparts? As Rick Jordan once challenged me, why not breed a black macaw? Or a purple, pink polka dot macaw? Their appearance would hardly matter if domesticated parrots had other genetic traits suited for captivity but not for the wild.

Another reason is that espoused by my colleague, Nate Flesness, Science Director of I.S.I.S. Long ago Nate introduced me to the idea that connection with nature through animals in captivity was a good thing, even if there were tradeoffs involved, such as the domestication of parrots might create. After all, how many of us can travel at will to a rainforest in Peru to see parrots? Having parrots living in harmony with us in our homes is a powerful conservation tool that I am sure is appreciated also by the staff and members of WPT.

Yet, my bias would still be E.B.'s viewpoint. Why lose optimism that captive parrots can be released to re-establish populations in their native ranges? Jamie has told me about many, very successful ventures, quite a few supported by the WPT, to introduce captive-bred and confiscated parrots back to free-living existences. I am thrilled and heartened by these efforts. Although pristine, primary rainforest and other non-disturbed habitats are vanishing, parrot populations can nevertheless thrive in the presence of humans. Parrots are intelligent, social, and usually generalist in their habits. Released individuals can easily establish healthy populations in the presence of humans, provided that their chicks are not relentlessly poached for the pet trade. The increasing populations of feral parrots around the world attest to this fact. Poaching in the native range should decrease with a combination of legal bans (I co-authored a paper with Tim Wright and others that spoke to the efficacy of legal bans) and thriving captive populations of those species maintained to preserve their wild characteristics.

In the end, I encourage aviculturists to maintain their interest in and support of conservation. One important way that they may do so is to continue to breed parrots with practices aimed to maintain the genetic architecture of wild populations, just in case descendents from their lines may be needed in restoration projects. While I no longer denounce domestication of parrots, and I even encourage it, I see no reason why we should abandon conservation breeding. It is my hope that many parrot enthusiasts of all stripes will continue to support the conservation of wild parrots in any way that they can.

Cathy Toft
Professor Emerita
Department of Evolution & Ecology
Center for Population Biology
University of California Davis.

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

Jamie, I have been studying the Parrot Action Plan, trying to find a way to help the WPT with the small amount that I have to donate. I have a few questions for you:

3.) Last question, I promise. (LOL) I have 18 parrots who are rescued birds. Only one was purchased at a pet shop for a pet, and he was my first parrot. Because of him I've learned about the plight of parrots in the USA and other countries who are in great need of love and attention because people buy them on a whim, then toss them away like yesterday's bath water because they don't want to bother with them. Although I adore each and every one of my birds, I would like to see exotic animals staying in their natural habitats, living as God intended. I don't want to deny responsible people the opportunity to love their birds, but I see so much abuse, neglect, and plain meanness when it comes to these wonderful animals that I'd rather see them flying free. The reason I have so many is because I've taken them out of bad situations and am trying to give them a better life. It's not like they can be returned to the wild. And shelters are overflowing, refusing more birds, and even closing down due to lack of funds. The shelter I adopted most of my birds from had to close down because they couldn't afford to stay open any longer. The lady who ran it even took a second job, struggling to maintain her shelter, but couldn't keep it going.

My birds all get the best care I can give them. In fact, I have not left my home for an overnight trip except twice (once a hospitalization) since I started adopting them. This is mainly because it's too darn hard to get someone to care properly for them while I'm gone. While I would absolutely love to go to a parrot symposium, to Rio del Negro to see the Patagonians in the wild, etc., I can't trust anyone enough to care for my feathered children the way I do. So, needless to say, I would rather that pet shops and breeders did NOT sell birds. Period. They end up as victims, not pets, on a large scale. That doesn't mean I am for the HR 669. It just means that I wish there was NOT a pet trade. The HR 669 has a lot of flaws in the way it's written, i.e., wanting people to not cross state lines with their beloved birds, suggesting shelters or euthanization when a birdowner dies instead of allowing them to choose the new home for their birds, and so forth. I enjoyed reading your response to the Bill, by the way.

My question is this: Is it possible for the WPT to gracefully advocate ending the pet trade in exotic species in order to save all the future suffering, in particular, of parrots? Would this help in improving their status in the wild in their indigenous habitats?

Thanks for 'listening.' Cindi


Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

Dear Cindi,

We sympathize with your situation and applaud your impressive commitment to help so many of these birds in need of good homes. There are of course many factors which have contributed to the situation here in the USA; many of these birds are wild caught birds which were legally imported in the past, some have been illegally imported since, and certainly many people bred and bought birds which they never should have bred or bought in the first place.

Just as we all must make choices about our time and efforts as an individual, we must do the same at the Trust. With regard to parrot welfare, we feel at this time that we are able to do the most for the largest number of parrots by focusing our expertise and resources on the wild parrot trade, both legal and illegal, around the world. Although it is unrealistic to hope for successes on the scale of the EU import ban to come along every year – changes which spare millions of wild birds – there is still a great deal of trade involving tens of thousands of wild parrots annually. Focusing our attention on the major exporter and importer nations is by far the most effective way we feel we can make a significant difference for parrots and their welfare.

Naturally, we do a lot of educational work as well, both in developed and developing countries, to raise awareness about parrots in captivity, their proper care, and the huge commitment involved in taking responsibility for one of these birds. While there remains a lot of work to be done, I feel there is now a great deal more understanding about these issues than there was even five or ten years ago,

I’ll answer your second question first as it’s much more straightforward. For the most part, in the USA, Europe, and Australia, the ‘pet trade in exotic species’ is effectively decoupled from the fate of wild parrots. That is, buying or not buying, breeding or not breeding parrots here in the USA (etc) really has no direct bearing on the conservation status of wild parrots. In the past, this was not the case, but import bans and other regulations have been quite effective in ensuring that such markets are, by-and-large, unrelated. That cannot be said for domestic markets within parrot range states, where local demand and price is very much related to harvest of birds from the wild. In these cases, however, one can easily argue (and many do) that widespread captive breeding is the best way to reduce demand for the wild birds.

Your first question is really a series of questions packed into one, including:

a. Can the Trust advocate for ending all exotic pet trade?
b. Could we do this gracefully?
c. Would ending this trade save all the future suffering of parrots?

The short answers are a. yes, b. probably not, and c. no; here’s why: In our focus on the conservation and welfare of all parrots, we could as an organization advocate for just about anything we feel would substantially further those aims. Our expertise, however, is limited primarily to parrots and other birds, and we know little about trade in lizards, frogs, snakes, fish, anemones, shrimp, live rock, small mammals, etc.. So it is unlikely we would ever be in a position to advocate for the elimination of trade in exotic species in general - or for the promotion of it for that matter - simply because we know so little about it.

Although it never ceased to amaze me how complex and multi-faceted our campaign to end EU imports became over the years, that effort was a million times more straightforward than attempting to end all exotic pet keeping in the developed world. So, could we do it gracefully? I really can’t see how, even if we completely changed who we are as an organization, and redirected all our resources in this direction.

Maybe more importantly, would we stand a chance of succeeding if we did decide this was our highest priority? There are massive organizations and big money on both sides of this issue, so any one organization would have very little chance to make a meaningful difference. When we have been able to make a difference on a policy like this as in the EU trade ban, it was because there were lots of big groups who were willing to join us and imports were very much against the interests of the EU ... so it was mostly a matter of helping them see that truth.

Ending all future suffering of parrots? That’s certainly a laudable goal, but I think I’d be much more comfortable with language like “eliminating unnecessary” suffering, or “minimizing” suffering whenever possible. There are a few of issues worth bearing in mind here: two about wild birds, one about captive birds. First, there are millions of parrots in the wild. Their lives generally end in ways that are very unpleasant and involve considerable suffering – most often being eaten alive by predators, but also suffering debilitating diseases, sustaining life-threatening injury … and then in their weakened state, often being taken by a predator in the end. Although it is nearly impossible to study, most available evidence suggest that very few of these birds thrive for decades and peacefully die in their sleep.

Second, wild parrots generally live in places where there are a number of serious predators; cats, snakes, primates, and other birds like hawks, eagles, and owls. Their only protection from these threats is to be smart, alert, and to hope for the best. It is fascinating to watch parrots go to roost in the wild for example, as their behaviors suggest that darkness brings with it a number of very substantial fears … every night of their lives. And judging from the piles of parrot feathers one finds on the forest floor at frequent intervals, these fears are not imaginary, they are very real. Of course, this fear at dusk is not suffering in the sense of feeling physical discomfort, but many would argue that experiencing intense fear is suffering on another level, particularly for highly intelligent species like parrots. Note that while we wouldn't for a moment suggest that these are reasons for taking birds from the wild - such experiences are entirely natural and parrots evolved in exactly such environments - that doesn't for a second mean that life in the wild is one that lacks suffering.

Third, you are absolutely right that there is a lot of suffering among captive birds as well; sometimes this is due to ignorance, sometimes it’s because people just don’t care, and sometimes it’s because they are simply unable to provide the bird with what it needs to thrive. Some of our closest friends and colleagues feel there should be no parrots in captivity. While we respect that view, we do not share it. In our collective experience, there are many parrots which are very well cared for in captivity, they live stimulating, healthy, fear-free, and often very long lives, and they often enrich our lives in many and profound ways. Perhaps more importantly, as a result of our being captivated by them, we have a deep appreciation for these creatures and we are powerfully motivated to save both the parrots and their habitats around the world.

So, no, I don’t think ending the exotic pet trade would “save all future suffering” of parrots. Such a step may in fact severely curtail awareness, appreciation, and respect for these birds, as well as potentially undermining support for their conservation. That said, we can do a lot to minimize this suffering by eliminating the trade in wild caught birds, and further educating people around the world about how to care for parrots, and about the many challenges of providing captive parrots with healthy and happy homes.

All best wishes,

Jamie

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

I am writing because it is clear to me how difficult it is for the average person who shares his or her home with a parrot to create an environment where their parrot will actually thrive. Most parrot are social animals and need interaction with members of their social group. Since people often have to work, single parrots are left alone a large part of the day. Parrots evolved to fly in the open sky and we are often forced to keep them in cages. Given the complex nutritional requirements of these animals, it is not always easy to know what to provide as an appropriate diet. Parrots are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures and often do better with people who have taken the time to learn training techniques involving positive reinforcement. How many people can afford the time it really takes to learn effective ways to interact with their parrot? The number of abandoned parrots is powerful evidence of our failure to provide an environment where
both parrots and people can thrive. In addition to parrots that need to be re-homed, another indication of the difficulty of providing a reasonable environment for parrots is the number of plucked and mutilated birds that exist within our communities [see Joe Arbogast’s tribute to featherpickers: http://www.bird-tube.com/absolutevc/avc-view.aspx?videoid=127&categoryid= ].

If you share your life with a dog and you care about your dog, you have a reasonably good chance of meeting a dog’s need for social interaction, adequate diet and exercise. Your job is made a lot easier because a dog is a domesticated animal and has evolved to share its life with humans. In order for a dog to get exercise, it is possible to take a dog running or let it free in the backyard for a period of time. The average parrot person does not have the resources to provide an aviary for their parrots and parrots cannot be set free in the average backyard to enjoy the outdoors.
Parrots are often deprived of adequate social interaction either with their human companions or members of their own species and it is very difficult to give them opportunities to adequately exercise, forage for food and fly. Unlike dogs, parrots have not really evolved to live with humans. Although they are raised in captivity, parrots clearly retain their wild instincts and these instincts shape the behaviors that parrots display in our homes [e.g. parrot vocalizations] and new parrot owners are usually not educated to this reality. Since dogs are relatively common in our communities, people absorb information about how to care for them over time. Most people who share their home with parrots do not have this built-in educational advantage and essential parrot information must be sought out from a variety of experts who have spent their life working and living with parrots. The bottom line is that even if you are fortunate to have learned
about the basic needs of pscittacines, most people will have great difficulty providing an environment where these amazing animals can thrive.

So my question is this: Can we design and build community “Parrot Day Care” aviaries that might meet the needs of our parrots for foraging, social interaction and flight? I know that I, for one, would be willing to pay for “parrot day care” if I thought that my bird was safe & enjoyed the time it got to spend in an environment much closer to its natural environment. I would also be willing to drop my bird off at a facility like this. Further, it might be possible to help other parrot owners learn about how to better meet the basic needs of their birds if concrete examples were available for them to see at a “Parrot Center”. I realize that there would be issues with health concerns & aggression from other birds but I am hoping that these issues might be addressed by requiring health checks/vaccines [frequently already required before you can board a parrot], housing compatible species together (along with monitoring the birds while they were together). So the question is: is this a viable concept? And, if this concept does have the potential to solve more problems than it creates, can we develop guidelines for designing and building a “parrot day care” facility that would minimize dangers and maximize enrichment for our birds?
Thanks.
Terry-

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Your inquiry was long and there are so many aspects of it that merit comment.

Yes, keeping parrots in captivity is a challenge and many owners fall short in providing stimulating environments, foods, activity, etc. for their birds. On the other hand huge progress in education of psittacine owners has been accomplished in the last 10 years or so and many keepers ARE using imagination and foresight in providing for their pets.

But, it is kind of a glass-half -mpty/half-full discussion since there were so many hundreds of thousands of parrots going into homes the past 20 plus years that it is only logical that many hundreds are going to end up neglected or less than adequately cared for.

In that, parrots are much like dogs and cats and fish and horses and other captive animals living their lives "by human leave." Many are ill treated. Your feeling that meeting needs of these animals is easier is a bit rosy colored. Dogs are abandoned and kept inside or penned or tied up without room to run; cats are let out to fight or fed overly rich foods, or allowed to produce unwanted kittens by the half dozen by some owners; horses overworked or under tended orsimply turned out on lean pastures and expected to stay healthy during poor grass growth; shucks, people even keep bee hives without any consideration to giving the bees water to drink....

Anyway, I disagree that most owners do not have the resources to provide an aviary for their parrots. I find most bird people, even the well meaning ones, tend to spend thousands of dollars a year on themselves, but neglect to get a new cage or an extra special expensive food diet for their bird.

In addition my parrots always get time out in the back yard even for short stretches in winter.....those former wing trimmed ones were placed in trees to climb and chew or hung in carry cages while I was out supervising; the flighted ones were trained to stay put with me watching over them nearby. Harnesses, screen gazebos--all sorts of ways can get parrots outside.

As to your basic question: I think it as a wonderful idea and should someone in an agreeable setting choose to do the day care thing, it would certainly be financially viable. After all, people pay significant daily sums to have their pets boarded at vets, bird stores or other facilities. The same protocols for health checks and safe intermixing of only healthy birds would apply in your case, with the added benefit of having outdoor air and sunlight conditions lessening the chances of many microbes being as highly contagious.

So, I concur, it is a good idea, and one which has infinite possibilities for some enterprising parrot lover. Unfortunately, you will have to move it forward; I have neither enterprising time nor enough parrots in need in my neighborhood to get such a project off the ground....

With aloha, EB

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

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