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Category: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

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We have two parrots in our living room: a female Congo African Grey born on 24.11.09 and a female Meyers parrot born on 24.03.10. As they do not like each other, they live in separate cages. For quite a while now I am considering to get a companion for our African Grey. The two of them should live in the same cage. Please give me your opinion/advice about that.

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hello Heidy, thank you for your support of World Parrot Trust and for asking about this important issue that affects captive parrots.

First, it’s generally not a good idea to get a parrot as a companion for another parrot. You got your Congo Grey in order to be a companion to you, so if either of you is unhappy or unfulfilled in that relationship, you need to start there, with the relationship between you and your Grey. Make an honest assessment of what you can do to make your Grey’s life as your companion more satisfactory, then do it. If you feel like you don't have time for her, or if you feel like she’s bored or lonely, then you need to alleviate those issues or any others that underlie your concerns.

It’s imperative to work on the dynamic between the two of you. Strengthen and broaden your relationship with her by providing her with parrot-centric enrichments and increasing the amount of quality time you spend together. Observe what she likes to do and give her lots and lots of opportunities to do that and to grow as an individual. Do the same for your Meyer’s.

Another reason not to get a companion parrot for a companion parrot is that we humans aren't infallible choosers. Most often, the parrot a human chooses to be another parrot’s “friend” is not one your Grey would choose. It’s like having someone chose your best friend or spouse – it doesn't work. Too random. Too many variables.

Even if, by sheer improbable luck, you got a parrot your Congo liked, the chances of them being compatible enough to share a single cage is slim to none. Maybe for a little while, and only then if the cage is huge, but not for long. Imagine being locked in the same room with another person – even a person you are wildly crazy in love with -- for hours each day and every night, week in and week out, month after month, never knowing for sure how long you'll be subjected to that confinement. Now imagine that same situation with someone you don't like that much. Or someone you like at first, but after a while they get on your nerves. Or someone you like just fine except for one annoying thing they do over and over and over.

Both of your parrots are young – they still have a lot of growing up to do. As they grow, you'll see them change, which is a large part of the joy of keeping companion parrots. Slowly, over time and with the right provisions, they might even end up liking each other. It will be great fun for you to give them everything you possibly can that helps them build a healthy friendship. Two play gyms placed far enough apart so they can each have their own space, separate, but in view of each other. Shared snack times, shared interactions with you; both of them in the kitchen while you make their breakfast, one on the windowsill, the other on a perch; both out of their cages in the same room, comfortable, preening, chortling, goofing off in that easy companionable way that characterizes friends. Make that happen before you decide that you need or want another parrot for yourself.

We must remember, always, that companion parrots are wild animals. If we could regress each one back into their eggs, and those eggs could be placed in a nest in the wild, they'd hatch and be successful as wild birds. The same cannot be said for puppies or kittens. As wild animals who share our homes, parrots need a super-abundance of concessions made for their happiness and well-being.

Simply put, companion parrots like, need and deserve space and room. Enough so they get to decide for themselves how they want to spend their time, not just a cage to sit in while they wait for a human to give their lives meaning or entertainment. When they get to decide, it’s pleasantly surprising how often they decide to hang out with us.

It’s our responsibility as caregivers to provide big open spaces where they can flap, swing, climb and move about freely. Companion parrots need environments large enough to include a variety of fresh branches thoughtfully arranged and frequently changed, a secure and private sleeping area, feeding stations, foraging places, things to chew, and plenty of access to us, their friends. Their environments should be complex enough so that they get to make choices about what they want to do and when they want to do it. Once those provisions are in place, you can see if your Meyer’s and Grey get along better. Chances are, they'll like each other more when their space is more like a parrot playground than a shared cage.

One of the major lessons my husband and I have learned over the 30+ years we've kept parrots is the larger we make our indoor bird rooms and outdoor aviaries, the happier our parrots. And us. Our happiness depends on them having the spaces they need and deserve. When they get to fly and zoom around a big space designed for them, when they get to choose which bowl they'll eat from, what days they shower or bathe, what they forage with, who they share a perch with, when they need privacy and where they get it – that’s when “captivity” turns into “compatibility.”

With all best wishes,
Phoebe Greene Linden and flock

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hello, I may have received bad advice & would appreciate your help. I live in S Dorset, but the last two winters have been very cold (down to -10C). During both of these my pair of Plumheads were in outside accommodation. They are 5 years old. They had a large indoor section. The female laid eggs and sat but the eggs did not hatch and showed no sign of development. Male too cold + too short day length?

I am no longer able to use this accommodation and have built a new aviary. This is tucked into the corner of our house, sheltered, and they give every sign of contentment. Flight area 7.5ft (L) x 6ft (H) 3.25ft (W). There is an additional security entrance.

I was advised that the birds would be fine with a shelter box. This I constructed from an aluminium locust cage as outer protection. Inside this is a polystyrene fish box for insulation, this being lined with thin ply and the interior space furnished with perches. One perch extends from outside, into the box. The entrance to the shelter is 10(H) x 6(W) inches. It has a 'green roof' of turf to give it a more natural appearance. The internal dimensions are 18(H) x 12 x 12. Dimensions are approximate as I am writing this in London. This accommodation could be kitted out with an electrical heat pad. I could also install artificial lighting to increase the 'day length'.

In spite of providing favourite goodies (Russet apples / blackberries) inside this structure, the birds show no inclination to use it, or even venture inside. They just about manage to reach in to pick the blackberries from bramble 'twigs'. They have been in this accommodation since mid July.

The birds insist on roosting under the open shelter I have provided for their food station.

I am just about to provide them with an apple log, hollowed out to the internal dimensions recommended in Jack & Syd Smiths' guide.

I am worried that this set up will not be safe for them over (another hard) winter, even if they can be persuaded to use their insulated shelter.

Any advice very welcome.

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

I would recommend some form of heating over the winter period for these Plumheads.

The aviary you describe is adequate but the shelter box may not be to their liking for a number of reasons. Two things to ensure are that the box is well lit and that the perches within the box are higher than those in the outdoor aviary – as you no doubt know birds often favour a high roosting perch.

Here in Cornwall we maintain and breed Plumheads in enclosures similar to yours – last winter we reached -12 C. Our shelter area is a metal cage with wire front and roof which is under cover and accessed via a pophole which is always open. Above the highest perch in the shelter is suspended a 150w dull emitter infra red lamp which is always on during the winter. The birds are frequently seen under the heat lamp and invariably roost under or near it. Although Plumheads may be able to endure low temperatures they really should not have too. In my opinion they should always have free access to a warm area. Our heated shelter area is also lit on a timer to increase day length and to encourage the birds in to the shelter area as dusk approaches.

David Woolcock - Paradise Park, Cornwall, UK

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hi, I'm planning to build an aviary in the garden of my townhouse in New York City for my rose breasted cockatoo Chirp, so he can spend more time outdoors during the warmer months. The designers have proposed using some type of metal mesh to form the enclosure, and using wrought iron to form some more decorative detail on the outside. What type of material would you recommend for the enclosure (his indoor cage is made of stainless steel), what thickness should the wire be, and how much gap between the wires would be ideal? I imagine that Chirp would get his beak to the decorative metal work made with wrought iron, is that safe? Also, what plants are safe to place inside the aviary? The ground is currently paved with bricks, do you recommend something else? Is there anything else, like pests or other problems, I should be aware of? Thank you so much for your help.

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Jade, My compliments on giving your Rose Breasted Cockatoo a new phase in life with an outdoor play cage. Wire choices are many and difficult in the U.S. these days. Stainless steel wire is available but expensive. we used to use high quality galvanized wire from England....Twilweld it was called, but is is rare in the states these days. Some of the local hardware and building wires are Chinese or imported and of poor quality---one of our main cages rusted all over in four years and had lots of poor galvanizing. You could check with Riverdale Mills on the east coast. http://www.riverdale.com/

For a Rosie I would use half inch by half inch openings in 14 gauge thickness. They are not tremendously strong chewers, preferring to fray things normally. Make sure you bathe the wire down with a vinegar/water solution to remove the zinc that is found on galvanized wire, before finally putting the parrot in the flight. A brick floor may work out, but it is necessary for Rosies to have some sort of applied ground foraging. That either means a section in grasses, wildflowers, seed weeds, and sod where they can scrabble and dig and forage or a large tray from a building center or greenhouse where you can put safe clean sandy soil and plant it or add daily green stuffs (not potting mixes or bagged things, but plain old dirt unsprayed and unfertilized!!) That will give him an area to venture to the ground. The small wire openings will deter most pests, but if you live where there are racoons it can be dangerous. We like to bury a twelve inch section of wire straight out along the ground outside the cage walls and clipped to the walls. That way any rat or cat or such would come up to the wire and try to dig down but only find a wire barrier it cannot dig through.

There are plenty of plants that can be used inside. Google 'safe plants parrots' and you will find a list. Our favorites are mulberry, elm, fruit trees including apple, pear, apricot, crabapple, quince. Also all the cluster palms, any bamboos, and hanging plants like spider plants, geraniums, nasturtiums, marigolds, pansies, etc. A sprouting bin will allow you to sprout uneaten bird seeds and place them in hanging orchid baskets for browse. Also cut branches from neighborhood trees allowing pruning will work for weeks fastened by wires high up on the sides of the cage for privacy and perches--maple, oak, beech, evergreens, etc. Anything that would die in the winter needs to be in a large moveable pot to be taken in when frosts begin.You could even get some fresh timothy or alfalfa hay and spread it on the bricks to make cleanup easier every fortnight or so.

A covered roof on part of the aviary is necessary for wind protection and sun screen, and to hide from hawks.. Also a corner or two with plywood on the sides to give privacy so he has a place to hang out and nap.Wrought iron is basically safe, just buy quality paints that are child safe and keep lots of organic chewables and toys he likes in the cage--that will prevent most birds from ever resorting to chewing on wire or paints. A fake playbox (not a total enclosed nestbox) made out of pine shelving would be fun and even some knotted old jeans legs or tee shirts for the cloth fraying rosebreasteds often enjoy.

Good luck and I hope this information is not too late. Your e mail just reached me a short time ago and I know the summer is getting on.
Cheers, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Dear EB, My aviary is in 6 sections all open. It measures 35 metres. The 17 parakeets use all the space. The parrots less so.

I have 2 pairs of rescue small birds - Plumheaded parakeets, a male aged 4 and a female 1, and Kakarikis both one years old. If they try want to breed next year will I have to separate them from the others. If so which month? The Rock Pebbler Parakeets that are housed there have bred twice with no problems.

Thank you.

Regards, Dot in UK

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Dot, 'Tis not easy to flatly answer your question as I do not know the birds personally and observation usually tells whether certain pairs in a mixed colony will disrupt breeding of themselves or other pairs.

That said, the species in question have been colony bred by others in the past (Kakarikis less so...) and are basically decent candidates for success in your large spaces.

The rule is usually offer two or more extra nest boxes beyond your number of pairs to lessen fighting over spots. If several pairs all want the same box, just take it down and put it elsewhere or exchange it for a different one.

If you are very careful about the entrance holes for each of the boxes, you can eliminate the larger parrots from getting inside the smaller openings. Some Kakarikis prefer tight entrances or tube-like passages to a box.

Food dishes too, should be non-competitive and extra for the number of pairs or else the greedier birds will fly from one to another getting all the best and fattiest foods.

Once compatibility is established and the birds feed without aggressive competition, the most dangerous time is when new peeps are heard in a box. Other more curious and excitable birds could enter the newly hatched clutch site and endanger babies. You will have to be diligent in watching out for same.

Of course, actual production of babies is not always the goal in such situations; more so, is the enjoyment the pairs get of copulating, inter-feeding, laying, hatching and such over the weeks of the season, so I would say, give it a try and keep notes. It will certainly teach you a lot about your pairs, and may make the content for a future magazine article.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment



Dear Phoebe, My Blue-fronted Amazon parrots live in a double-glazed conservatory. It has two doors, two windows, two skylights and the sides and roof are glass. I would be grateful if you would advise me about combining both temperature and humidity to keep my parrots comfortable. Both winter and summers weathers create different problems. During the summer the temperature is hotter inside the conservatory than outside. This year it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit causing dryness and low humidity. In the winter I keep the conservatory at 50 degrees Fahrenheit but I am unsure what temperature combined with humidity would protect the birds from a chill. The heating used is economy seven electric radiators and oil filled radiator. The heating dries the room, causing low humidity.

Please would you advise me what methods can be used to increase or decrease humidity?

I hope you are able to help resolve this problem.
Thank you, Sara Mylam

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Sara, Thanks for writing World Parrot Trust and for your desire to provide optimal environments for your Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva).

First, I recommend that you immerse yourself in knowledge of wild Blue-fronted Amazon’s habitats.

Read everything you can, including all the info and links on parrots.org. Including
http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1648/0273-8570%282002%29073%5B0399%3ANSAHSO%5D2.0.CO%3B2?journalCode=forn

"Nesting success and hatching survival of the Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil"

Abstract:
We studied the reproductive biology of a population of Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul State, Brazil, between 1997 and 1999. Nesting occurred from August to December. We monitored 94 nests, which were found in trees of different sizes. Nesting trees were distributed in all major vegetation associations (floodplains, grasslands, scrub savanna, savanna, arboreal savanna, riparian forests, and pastures). (emphasis mine, pgl)

I find this research fascinating and hope you do, too, because it gives us vast amounts of inspiration as we provide optimal habitats for our flocks. Now that we know that wild Blue-fronted Amazons live and nest in "all major vegetation associations," we can build habitats commensurate with their physiology.

Congratulations on the conservatory – we have one, too – a glass enclosed building, double-paned. It’s a space dedicated to parrots and people sharing, but it’s not inherently a “friendly” parrot environment. Modifications are needed, or so I’ve found. Additionally, it can be arid here in Santa Barbara, so, like you, I deal with issues of heat, humidity and sunlight.

We added retractable awnings to the outdoor roof of our conservatory and these are key. Decadent, I know, but pushing that button and having those awnings go out over the roof really helps the parrots’ environment stay viable. We also have an indoor sprinkler system, which was easy to install and is simple to use. On hot days, it’s a godsend.

With all the glass in the room, it can become weirdly reflective, so I use bamboo, rattan or other chewable mats which strategically drape and are affixed over cage sides and tops to allow for privacy and visual rest from windows and other forms of stimulation. Some of our parrots have three such shields: One or two on cage top, depending on how the sun at its brightest hits the cage; another on the side, depending on individual preference. So please, Sara, check your parrots and their cages / enclosures at various times throughout the day and provide full-body shade whenever they desire.

These natural fiber mats serve not only as privacy panels, but also as moisture holders and dispersers. Sprayed with water, moistened mats will cool the room for hours. Easily removable and cleanable, I find mats indispensable. If they get dirty, they get scrubbed, dried and re-used.

Additionally, we use three or more outdoor decorative movable screens that we simply prop against the windows where the sun hits hardest (this varies by season, of course) to cut down intensity. These cool the room considerably. Every day, as much as possible, I open the windows so that real natural sunlight and humidity enters the room.

On hot days, we open the windows plus drape thick wet towels on the outdoor screens. Now air entering the room is moist and cool.

Indoor plants with lots of foliage inside the room are beneficial water-retainers. Keep the area right outside the room also well hydrated with plants that provide shade, moisture, interest and loveliness. Potted plants can work – just be sure they are tall and robust enough to provide shade. Keep these areas hydrated and keep the windows open so the parrots have at least part of a sun-lit environment, too. Drenched plants, mats and screens, inspire parrots to get drenched, too.

Get-a-Grips (sold in WPT on-line store) by Star Bird, are perfect companions to hot rooms because they, too, can be sprayed down. The moisture released throughout the day helps reduce aridity. Our parrots and parrot room would be greatly impoverished without our Get-A-Grips.

Do use and maintain clean cool air humidifiers, too. I’ve found that reverse-osmosis (RO) water (available at stores that sell saltwater fish) keeps humidifiers clean and running great. I think 85oF is not too hot for Blue-fronted Amazons as long as the air is gently moving, humid and moist. Healthy parrots can also easily live in 50oF.

Finally, don’t stress too much about all but the most drastic extremes. Scientists tell us that wild Blue-fronted Amazons inhabit a variety of habitats. Encourage a fully realized relationship between you and your flock so that you are all tuned in to each other's levels of comfort, camaraderie and companionship. Stay open to signals from your parrots on what they like and use, where they go during different times of the day, and so forth. Keep tweaking the environment to make it better and better for them.

Last but not least, encourage your Blue-fronted Amazons to love bathing and showering. If you provide multiple water bowls or large shallow bowls (8 x 11 glass baking pans work) and they learn to get silly and wet in it, that’s great! Lots of showers, misting, water bowl bathing, plant leaf bathing – yay! That way, if you’re stuck in traffic on a hot day, your parrots can be having a blast in their water bowls.

All best, Phoebe Greene Linden and flock

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

My husband and I have adopted a galerita cockatoo, a goffin's cockatoo and a jandaya conure, all of whom were in various states of disrepair. To provide sunlight and exercise, we are building a small 8' X 10' (8' in height) outdoor aviary. The entire aviary will be wire meshed on the inside and screened on the outside with a wire mesh floor covered with crusher dust. We have a few questions and would be very thankful for some help.

1. We have fire ants here in Valrico, Florida. Does anyone have advice on how to keep them out of the aviary?

2. We were advised that we should roof the entire aviary (not leaving an open area for sun and rain) because of a disease transmitted through opossum droppings. Since the aviary will be small and only 8' tall, it is entirely possible that a possum could climb onto the top. We had hoped to have open areas for sun and rain, but we do not want to endanger the birds.
Any advice?

3. We had also hoped to provide an area for foraging in dirt and grasses, but were advised not to do this since soil could harbor harmful parasites or fungus. We were planning on building a raised, tiered foraging area planted with grasses and millets. Can you please advise us?

Unfortunately, the three birds each came from homes where they were isolated and never socialized with other birds, so they will be taking turns in the aviary. We are exicited about this project and hope you can provide some advice. Thank you very much.

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Peggy and Jay, You have some very good questions. I’ll see if I can answer them. I too live in Florida and have an outdoor structure for my birds, so I think I have some insight on your issues.

As far as the fire ants, they are a problem, and I don’t like using the baits and insecticides around my birds. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) seems to be the best non toxic solution. There are also some bio solutions in the form of beneficial nematodes available, which I haven’t tried, and don’t know that I would, depending on what they are.

Diatomaceous earth is formed from the skeletal remains of the algae Bacillariophyceae and is in the form of an abrasive silica dust. When an insect comes in contact with the razor-sharp edges of these particles it causes abrasions, resulting in the loss of body fluids and ultimately death. DE works well as a protective barrier against many insects. It’s now being sold as an insecticide in most major hardware-chains and in many cases is mixed with a pyrethrin. It can be expensive, and I don’t like the fact they are mixing it with something completely unnecessary. The best way to purchase it is to leave the pesticide department and walk around to the pool department. DE is used extensively in pool filters and can be purchased in large boxes for next to nothing.

The disease you are referring to that may be transmitted through opossum droppings is sarcocystis, which is actually a protozoa. There is a whole chain of events that has to take place in the right order for this to happen, but it is somewhat common in Florida.

Since your enclosure is covered with screen on the outside, I don’t see too much of a problem. The screen would catch any droppings. Make sure that any water bowls or food bowls are not directly below any of the open area. The protozoa can be spread by cockroaches, which have injested the feces too. If that’s the ultimate threat covering the entire roof isn’t going to solve the problem, and I don’t know of much that will accept maybe the DE barrier mentioned above.

What I recommend is that the walls of the structure have a 2-foot tall kick-plate around the whole perimeter at the bottom of the walls. If the screen goes to the ground you are going to have a lot more problems with mice, rats, raccoons, and stray cats chewing or tearing through the screen than you are going to have with opossums. In my area I have to also be aware of bobcats, and here lately, a stray black bear or two. If you have a screen door for entry into the enclosure the installer can easily dismantle the door and add a taller kick-plate to the door than what comes in it. I have found through experience that a 2-foot kick plate will stop almost all mice and rats. At the rail that the top of the kick-plate is attached to you will need to add a commercially available electric fence using plastic isolators. The combination of the kick-plate and the electric fence around the top of the kick-plate will keep everything out as well as from climbing the walls to gain access to the roof. Trim back any branches that overhang the structure and could allow access by dropping down from the branches. If you don’t like the thought of using an electric fence there are motion activated sprinklers available that are made to deter most anything of the size of a squirrel on up. They are called scarecrow sprinklers. They move very quickly and do scare off most anything. They are not sensitive enough for the mice and rats, so you will still need the kick-plate.

The foraging area is difficult. Parasites and nematodes are everywhere in the soil in Florida, so I don’t know that you can be assured that any way you go about it is going to be 100% safe. First off what ever you do have your parrots de-wormed prior to putting them in the enclosure. Your foraging area is only going to be as parasite free as your birds.

My cages actually go to the ground, so I had a similar issue. What I have done is put a layer of commercial grade weed cloth down. I then covered it in a layer of crushed concrete, which should be completely void of parasites and nematodes just because of what it is. I then put a thick layer of crushed oyster/clam shell down as something natural for my birds to walk around on that is safe even if they chew on it. It’s available all over Florida where bulk garden covering and ground covers are sold. Once I put it down I rented a steam cleaner and pressure washed it with steam to both remove any remaining soil that may be trapped in the shells and to also sterilize it as best as I could.

I think you could take this one step farther and go with another layer of weed cloth on top of the crushed shell and then cover that with a very thick layer sterilized compost or garden soil. Good quality garden soil should have been heat treated to kill off any nematodes. You could then plant your grass and millet. Make sure that when you are building your frame for this area that you don’t use treated lumber.

Keep in mind that wild birds come in contact with all these things your are trying to protect your birds from. I understand your concerns and intentions. I have taken many steps in a similar direction. The best protection you can give your birds is a healthy diet and habitat to encourage a strong immune system. Sunlight, rain, and fresh air play a big roll in doing so. Take advantage of what you have to offer that so many who live in other regions cannot offer to their parrots.

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Can you suggest some good -- safe -- toys one can make for cockatiels? I have purchased many toys from the local pet shop, which are not only expensive but my 'tiels don't seem to like them very much. I suspect this is because they are intended for larger parrots, so would like some ideas for ways to keep my 'tiels happy. Thanks for any suggestions!

Answered by Kris Porter:

Hello and thank you for sending your question to WPT. I'm delighted for the chance to respond to this question as I had experienced similar challenges when our cockatiels and budgerigar came into our home. Personally, I have not found much success with parrot toys purchased from local pet stores. My cockatiels like chewing on natural branches, grass mats and small pieces of vegetable tanned leather. Recently I discovered I can peak their interest if I string some whole grain pasta pieces on a toy along with leather and plastic beads. They like crunching the dried pasta.

A mirror is a popular item for the budgerigars and cockatiels. I take a mirror purchased at the local pet store and attach a string of beads, small leather pieces and one or two small stainless steel bells to the mirror. This creates something for them to do when they are looking in the mirror, as they can spend time beaking the beads, chewing on the leather and they seem to like moving the bells to make noise.

For rope to use as a base to make toys or add beads and other items of interest to a toy, I prefer to use small natural hemp rope (found at most craft stores), or the 1/8 inch vegetable tanned leather strips. I have also used paulie rope that is sold at online parrot toy sites, however you do need to check that frequently as that product can fray and catch toes. The same is true for some cotton ropes. No parrot toy or parrot toy part is 100 percent safe, but I have not had the fraying problem with the hemp rope or leather that I have had with paulie rope and cotton ropes.

For added enrichment you may find success with placing a shallow plastic container in the bottom of the cage to create a foraging experience. I explain how I taught my cockatiel to forage and show a video of how to create this foraging experience at http://www.parrotenrichment.com/foraging.html.

Leaf bathing is another activity that my small parrots enjoy. Hang wet greens (mustard, collard or turnip) from the top of the cage. There is a video demonstrating this activity at ParrotEnrichment.com. You can also weave greens in between the cage bars for them to chew on.

Many people have had great success with clicker training the smaller parrots. Most parrots enjoy clicker training and it is a wonderful means of providing enrichment to your bird. I think training is often overlooked when we consider forms of enrichment, perhaps because some of us think of training as a discipline and overlook the fun side of training. At ParrotEnrichment.com I have devoted a few web pages to training. There are lists of resources as well as videos to help you get started with clicker training.

Both Version 1 and 2 of The Parrot Enrichment Activity Books are available for you to download free of charge at ParrotEnrichment.com. In The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book, Version 2, you will find several ideas for toys and how to create foraging opportunities for smaller parrots such as cockatiels, budgerigars and lovebirds along with photos of the parrots foraging and playing with the toys. Both books lists sources for you to find products and parts to make many of the toys you will see there and on the website.

Thank you again for your question and for providing me the opportunity to offer suggestions.

Kris Porter

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

My Question: An apple orchard in our vicinity is being renewed and all the old trees have been cut down and I can get as many branches as I, and the parrots, could wish. But I know that the trees have been sprayed with pesticides and what all for as long as they have been there. Is there any way to make them usable for parrots, or is it better just to forget it? Thanks so much.
Gina

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Gina, Sorry it has taken so long to get back. We have been away on and off for November. It is hard to say what effects the spraying would have on the tree system, but I could find no information on that. I would probably use the newer growth branches with my flock after hosing them off or washing in the shower in the house.

Good luck.
EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hello and thank you for the opportunity to ask my question. I live with three large macaws and one small conure. I want to convert my oversized two-car garage to an aviary in order to give my parrots a better quality of life and more fly time/space. I'd also like to attach an outdoor section off one wall. I am having a devil of a time trying to find resources for building out what I have in mind. Obviously I want to build areas that encourage the parrots to exercise and explore in safety. I also want to give consideration to cleanability and functional access to systems (HVAC/water). I've even tried contacting experts at local zoos, but to no avail. Are there resources for building something like this in a residential home? What are the best, low or no VOC materials to use? Can I incorporate a running water filtration system or should I stick to bowls? What is the best flooring material to use? Wall material? How do I incorporate 3 different bird sizes plus a sitting/TV area so we can have a place for the whole family to hang out? This is quite a list I know, but I'd like a good shot at getting this right the first time. Thank you!

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day Heather,
Thankyou for sending in your questions to the WPT. I have to say that the concept of a large indoor/outdoor flight area for your parrots is one that really gets me excited! I have worked with a few clients down here in Australia on the design of enrichment flights for their pet birds and it’s absolutely one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the consultancy work that I do. Given that I can’t actually be on-site, and that I haven’t seen the environment that you are talking about, my response will be fairly general but will hopefully set you up with a few ideas to help you stay on track with this project. Even if some of the considerations below do not apply to your specific situation, they may apply for others considering a similar idea so hopefully this can be a relevant posting for other parrot owners as well ☺

Avoiding Neighborly `Issues’...
First up, given that you are considering a significant modification to the home then you should make sure that you have gained any necessary council approvals first. There would be nothing worse than investing a few thousand dollars to make this sort of set up a reality, only to find that your neighbours aren’t sympathetic to Macaws saying `Hello’ to them now that they have access to an outdoor environment. Council authorities can really give you grief over any unapproved modifications to your home if they result in complaints from neighbours. At the very least, talk to your neighbours if they are close and likely to be affected in some way by bird noise. Make sure that they’re cool with the possibility of a bit of colourful parrot action happening over the fence in the future wink

You have asked a lot of questions about the design aspects so I will attempt to offer some suggestions for each. Ultimately, the choice will be yours so take the following advice onboard where it works for your specific situation and continue to seek advice where my suggestions may not offer the best solution for you ☺

Where to start...
The first stage is to actually draw up some 2D plans of what you want to construct – the same as a top elevation and side elevation on a house plan. Measure up your garage area, plus the additional outdoor extension and draw these plans to scale. Once you have a basic 2D plan you can contact a local sheet metal or metal fabrication business and talk to them about building the extension for the outdoor area. The base materials that you should use should be galvanized steel square tubing for the frame and a combination of galvanized weldmesh and flat steel sheeting for the walls. My advice is to not waste your money on anything other than steel – it simply won’t stand up to the wear, tear and weathering. A metal fabrication business should be able to construct the panels you need for the outdoor extension and hopefully install them onsite.

The exact materials and common dimensions used vary from country to country so talk to your manufacturer/metal fabricator to work out the specifics. With all new weldmesh wire, make sure it is free of small lumps of weld on the joins as these can be picked off by parrots, resulting in heavy metal poisoning. It is also a good idea to scrub down the weldmesh with vinegar and allow it to weather for a week before placing birds in the enclosure, once again to avoid potential hazards with new wire. Avoid using cheap weldmesh as it is inevitably problematic. I also paint all of my outdoor enclosures using a water based low sheen black outdoor paint. It is harmless to the birds, fast drying, and if you use low sheen black you can see straight through the wire – it almost disappears as the black paint reflects very little light.

Flooring Substrate...
For outdoor enclosures it is best, in my opinion, to use a substrate that drains well and can be easily surface raked clean each day or hosed clean on a regular basis. I never use concrete outdoors as it requires a lot of water to clean and inevitably you experience algae and mould build up if it is left damp. Once this happens you’re backed into using chemicals to get it clean again. I prefer to use decomposed granite as a flooring substrate as it is earthy and natural in aesthetic appearance, drains well, compacts down to form a very hard flooring, surface rakes well and only requires a top dressing a few times a year to keep it looking fantastic. You can also use crusher dust, although this is a blue-grey colour, looks less natural and can get dusty when raked if it is very dry. A good alternative though if that's all that is available or if you're on a budget. There are a number of other alternatives but you would need to discuss what is available with your landscape supplier.

Water Systems...
Having a water mister linked to your outdoor tap is fantastic for parrots in outdoor enclosures – especially tropical species such as Conures and Macaws. Once again, your best resource here is a local landscape gardener. You will use standard outdoor black irrigation hosing and you can select from a whole range of nozzles that can be easily added to the length or irrigation tube to offer a variety of sprays from drips to 360 degree misting. Once connected to an outdoor hose, you will be able to run the irrigation pipe above the aviary and offer your birds a misting rain shower `on tap’ ☺ Just make sure that the irrigation pipe is elevated off the wire and out of the reach of beaks. Running a length of additional steel tubing across the roof to facilitate this is something that you can incorporate into the design with your metal fabricator. Personally I would just stick with bowls inside the aviary. Running internal water systems, small ponds etc can really become a maintenance chore and any opportunity for pools of water to become stagnated or neglected will eventually become a hazard. With an overhead mister on the outdoor section of the enclosure you have covered that need well enough for the parrots.

Further Ideas...
There is an excellent reference with loads of pictures and ideas for enrichment in indoor/outdoor areas for parrots called the `The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book’. This has been compiled by Kris Porter and is a free download that is available from the WPT website at http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/behaviourandenviroenrich/ You might also like to check out Kris’s own website for video clips at http://www.parrotenrichment.com
I’ve also attached a couple of images with this posting of a flight area that a friend of mine had constructed for her three African Greys and another enclosure that a client had built for her Macaw. Both are integrated into the existing home design. It is similar in concept to what you are trying to achieve. If you would like to contact her directly then just send me an e-mail and I will pass the details on. Also, you can have a look at some of the images of my aviaries via my gallery page on my website at http://www.pbec.com.au/gallery.html Hopefully there will be some more ideas in there for you as well ☺

There are a huge number of design areas that I haven’t discussed here so perhaps if you get some basic plans worked out for what you want to achieve, the sizes and some of your furnishing ideas then perhaps you can e-mail me and I can give you some feedback on what will work well and what might become an issue.
Good luck with your project – I would love to see some photographs when you have finished!

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

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filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

I acquired a green cheeked conure 11 months ago. He/she is approximately 16 months old, is very active, playful, healthy and seems very well adjusted. I am trying my best to ensure that he gets the best care and most optimal enrichment that I can provide. After doing a little research, an avian companion for Cosmo might be a good idea (as confirmed by the replies written by WPT experts such as Jim McKendry). I am hoping that you can share advice on the most suitable type of flock-mate and how best to introduce the two, so that they have the best chance of becoming good friends. Considering personality and size, I am leaning towards another green-cheeked conure, but my local bird store does have several orphans up for adoption that have captured my interest (African Greys, a Quaker, and male Eclectus, amongst others). Also, several local parrot owners have recommended that the birds be kept in separate cages, only sharing supervised playtime together to reduce the risk of injuries. I would greatly appreciate your advice.
Sincerely,
Pam

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Thank you for considering an adoption parrot for your Cosmo's companion. In doing so, you are performing two compassionate acts at once!

The proper size parrot to become friends with a Green-cheeked Conure would be another conure or something in the lovebird, Senegal or larger/not as large as a grey size range...

The Quaker up for adoption is a really perfect possibility as we have found monk parakeets to be social and friendly, they allo-preen like conures do, and tend to be laid back and accepting of other parrots.

The questions about that particular quaker would be is it the opposite gender to your green cheek (not necessary but adds a bit of spice to a friendship!), whether it is a healthy parrot, and why is it up for adoption--i.e. does it have behavior issues like extreme jealousy of human keepers, attacks other smaller birds, food bowl competition anxieties, those kinds of things.

Consider noise and whether one or both of the birds are flying pets.

You are correct that the parrots will need TWO cages. Friendship among psittacines depends upon the birds and cannot be forced by humans. They will determine where and when they play together or begin touching, and when they wish to be in their own private space (like for eating and sleeping). If after several months, they begin hanging out together and sleeping in the same cage, the other cage--hopefully the smaller of the two--can be moved out.

It is essential that you ask yourself "does Cosmo really want another parrot in the house." Human feelings about what we think is best for our birds can confuse an issue about what the parrot actually wishes. Green cheeks can be territorial or devoted to one person and this can express as macho and dislike if another parrot is introduced. That is why it is best to always bring another bird into a home slowy--like in a different room where it can be heard but not seen for some weeks. This also solves the problems of quarantine for even if two birds are healthy, they sometimes have microbes that are not so compatible once the two share a close air space or food bowl.

Another consideration is whether the Quaker is handleable by human keepers (biting?) and whether the two birds would become so close that you become the third creature in a triangle of affections. I consider this an acceptable scenario for my birds in that it is more natural than human dependence, but it will change the dynamics of your affections with Cosmo, should the two buddies become very bonded.

At the bird store in Santa Fe, we used to have the owner bring his or her pet in for a meeting with the potential companion. That is not the same as seeing what happens in Cosmos' home, but it does allow first impressions. Absolutely perfect would be to have permission to take the Quaker home for a trial with the option of bringing it back if things did not work out. Responsible bird stores do not "stick" new owners with a pet sale or adoption that is detrimental to the birds or the humans involved!

Good luck and keep the list informed on your progress.
With aloha, EB Cravens

[Update September 29, 2009]
Hi EB! Thank you very much for your advice regarding my green-cheeked conure, Cosmo, and the things to consider when seeking an avian companion. Unfortunately or fortunately, the Quaker parrot was adopted before I returned to the store. There was however, a wonderfully tempered pineapple green-cheek for sale. He (or she) is the same age as Cosmo, and has resided in the store for the past year. The store owner was not in favor of a "trial sale" for me to determine the compatability of the birds, and so I relied on my own judgement (after several visits) and crossed my fingers. I brought Noodles home, kept him in another room (in ear-shot of Cosmo) for the quarantine period. Slowly, I started to introduce them, moved the cages closer, and now they are at the point of enjoying supervised play time together. They allopreen and contact-call when one is out of sight. Cosmo is a little territorial about his favorite foods, so I make sure to eliminate that concern when they're together. I'm amazed to see how different their personalities are, and am very glad that they enjoy each others company. I am not sure if they will ever share the same cage, but their daytime and sleeping cages are close and they have plenty of opportunity to spend with each other, as well as their human companions.

I greatly appreciate your expert advice and enjoy learning more from the WPT forums and blogs!

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Dear Mr Cravens, RE:Phoenix roebelenii - Pygmy Date Palm, Rhapis Excelsa - The Lady Palm

Thank you for your reply regarding safe plants for our conservatory.We have removed the unsafe Sago palm and listed above are the two palms now under consideration.

I would be grateful if you would kindly confirm that the aforementioned Palms are safe for our conservatory as our parrots are allowed to fly free out there some of the time.

Thank you for your help and advice which is very much appreciated.

Yours sincerely, Sara

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Sara, I am by no means a palm expert!

(Perhaps if there is one who reads this site, he or she might make themselves available to be our full palm resource:):))

As I understand it both those palms and most all the true palms are safe for parrots.

You might want to use a pruning shears to keep the spines on the date palm trimmed to a non-piercing level....

Cheers, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hi. I'd like to provide my parrots (especially Basil, my female Goffin's cockatoo who chews her feathers) with fresh browse as a form of enrichment. I have a crabapple tree and an apple tree in my backyard (neither have ever been sprayed with pesticides). Is it safe to give my birds branches (including the leaves) from these trees? From what I've been able to find online, the branches look safe, but I don't seem to be able to find out anything about the safety of the leaves (which I think Basil would love to shred). Also, I've read varying suggestions on ensuring the cleanliness of browse - ranging from simply washing it with water to using diluted bleach.

What's the best approach? Many thanks!

Debbie

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Debbie, Both crabapple and regular apple are safe trees. In fact, most temperate fruit tree foliage we have found are not toxic in moderate amounts, including plum, peach and cherry. A great time to feed crabapple and other trees is during and after first fruit set when tiny flowers and buds and green fruit starts make nutritious fare for psittacines.

Cleaning of foliage involves a brief visual inspection to make sure leaves are fairly free of wild bird droppings. Pluck or prune any suspect twigs or leaves. You can either hose the branch off in the yard or put it under your bath shower for a few minutes on warm. Boughs collected near considerable automobile traffic should also be rinsed for dust, etc. There is no need to bleach or sterilize tree chewing material.

Here is a picture of Chen, our hawkhead parrot, learning to eat in the apple tree!

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Cheers, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hi EB, I was considering adding a female Cape Parrot to my flock. She's about 1 year old now and I've know her as long as she could see. She's very socialized but has never met any of my birds:2 male Quakers 4 & 5 years old and a male Sun Conure 3 years old. They all get along in a common aviary and play area.

Would this Poicephalus wreck the balance of our happy home? And, I have not found the life expectancy in captivity of a Cape Parrot, and that's very important to me as I do not wish my birds to outlive my love. Thank you so much for your help.
Kit

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Kit, That is a very difficult question. Flock dynamics depend on so many things. For example, how protective of their home cage are your three male conure/quakers? These birds can be protective of their territory, especially in threes which constitutes a sort of birdie "gang."

More to the point, it is never a good idea to acquire a new parrot and then place it in a cage with bird or birds already in the home. All sorts of things can go wrong until you are sure the birds get along--bit toes, competition at the food dishes, stress. An extra cage is essential.

As to cape parrots and other birds. We have had many capes here since first getting into the species in 1994. To a bird, they do not like other parrots (sometimes even their own kind if not raised correctly). Capes are one of the most jealous psittacines we have discovered, right up there with hawkheads and some large lories. Our cape young babies get along okay with others in the house, and if raised into an environment where other birds already are living. Capes are one of the few full sized parrots we have encountered that will go after budgerigars in their cage!

Without knowing the birds and seeing your home, I would give it a 20% chance of success to bring in a cape parrot and expect it to get along in a cage with strange birds. Still, you never know if you had two cages and went very slowly. What about a trial meeting between your birds and she...?

A healthy, active cape parrot should live to be 35 or more.

I would also like to add that there is never any guarantee that any of us keepers will outlive our flock. Some sun conures can live into their 30s and human life can be frail also! There is plenty of parrot love in this world to take care of pets that are left behind if any of us die. It only takes planning ahead and getting the right people or organization in your will so that you need not worry yourself about such time frames.

With aloha, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

I'm moving to a house where I can have an outdoor aviary for my Moluccan Cockatoo. Space is about 6 feet wide by 8 feet long. What kind should I get? Any recommendations?

Thanks,
Kim

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Kim, For a cockatoo you need to get very strong caging wire. Twelve or ten gauge twilweld from England is one of the best. Smaller the opening like half inch by three means less likelihood of rodents passing in and out. We normally do not put an extra safety space on the door area of smaller cages, since it takes up what the cockatoo would have as play space. They need the ground of course and lots of plants in pots or planted in the ground or cut branches hung from the ceiling. I would say it should be at least eight to ten feet high--at least on one end so the bird can experience perching up above human heads. Partially roofed for shade and open for sun and rain on the other side. A big food and water station, toys and logs and stuff to chew on, swinging ropes perhaps, or log on a chain. Some privacy boards in one corner for a place to hide out and nap if wished. Natural wood perches. Maybe a misting system for hot days.

Good luck, EB

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

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