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

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

Thank you in advance,

Answered by Ruud Vonk:

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

Best regards

filed under: General

We currently have two African Grey parrots, Peaches who is five years old and Vincent who is two (nearly three) years old. Peaches has always been a very laid back bird and never shown any signs of stress, we worked through feather destructive behaviours with Vincent when he reached puberty, finding it appeared to be a combination of a food allergy and certain time
of year and fingers crossed he is now fully feathered and not chewing/plucking.

Peaches is much more solitary than Vincent in that she prefers to interact with humans, namely my husband, myself and even my daughters and grandson, where as Vincent wants to become friendly with Peaches, from observations this appears to be stressing Peaches and she tends to “escape” byhiding on us or flying to her favourite perch. It has got so bad in the
last few months or so the Peaches seems so distressed that she wants to come everywhere with me so she is not left with Vincent. Unfortunately this is upsetting Vincent as he now want to be with me too so he can be close to Peaches. It’s almost akin to parrot stalking. Both birds have their own cage and play stands as Peaches has never wanted to interact with Vincent even when we brought him home, we spent weeks slowly introducing them and trying to get them to stand together to no avail, obviously Peaches wasn’t interested in the new addition preferring one of her human mates instead (we are Peaches play stand in effect). I say Peaches is female and Vincent is male but neither bird has been sexed so I could be wrong.

One not very helpful comment I got from a breeder was that Vincent would be happier in a flight with other greys so I should just give him up. This is the last thing I’d want to do as I’d feel I was giving up on him and he is a very loving bird and does interact with us and allows us the privilege of scratching his head and sitting on us. He just wants more interaction with Peaches who couldn’t care less about him. We have thought long and hard how to resolve this but the only solution we feel may help is adopting a new bird to help ease the stress between
Peaches and Vincent , hopefully giving Vincent the companion he wants and letting Peaches revert back to her own stress free world. I’ve also thought of the new bird and yes I have lots of love, time and attention I could give to it to help it adjust to our flock.

I guess my questions are is this likely to cause more stress for my birds is there something else I could do to reduce the tension between my birds.
I feel that I am failing both birds at the moment as I am not meeting either of their needs completely.

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Jo, First of all it is fine to remember that none of us ever meets the needs of our parrots "completely" in a captive situation, and I applaud you for doing the best you can with these two greys.

It is not unusual to find female hand raised psittacines that have absolutely no interest in befriending a male bird of their species. This is one of the pitfalls of being raised as orphans without adult parrot interaction and role models. April and I have the same dysfunctional situation with two of our female macaws. Both crave affections, but disdain the males we have offered them as companions.

Now that being given, it would appear that Peaches is most content with you humans and the best resolution at this time would be to keep her happy and healthy and stress free by being a loved pet. She is the older of the two greys and would both be more likely not to really take to a new arrival as per the two year old Vincent; plus she would be the one to preferably be given the lead where any sexuality enters the situation.

If she were to get nesty and start discovering dark corners and shredding materials, then her mind might be more likely to turn to Vincent for certain need satisfactions. This could happen any year now, but who knows?

It is not something we want to pressure our well-adjusted pet parrots to do, since accepting a mate, choosing to lay eggs, and all that goes with this road can bring as many complications for you and your birds as it solves...

Now, the question of whether to acquire yet another parrot to befriend Vincent and thus satisfy his desires at present is something you must think over carefully. Threesomes in parrot households can be interesting, but changeable and competitive. The best scenario would be if you were able to do a trial with another grey hen and make absolutely sure that Vincent would
like and accept her and vice versa. Otherwise you have gone out and acquired a third bird that may be a third "single" and need things other than what we humans project!

Another way of approaching the problem would be to try and take Vincent's focus off of Peaches. Give them less time in the same sight and sound space, offer him outdoor cage stimulation and natural tree boughs and flowers and grass and sandy soil in a tray to dig around in, perhaps a cardboard play box with several entrance holes to be his own "hideaway." Diversion is a
great tool for obsessive but celibate parrots!

When Peaches gets to see these things happening, she may be attracted to the activities. Shared activities are the best way to get two parrots to befriend one another without letting one dominate the other and cause fears or timidity. That means shared baths, shared foraging, shared exploration of interesting things like hollow logs, palm plants, etc. If Peaches does not
take to such activities readily, chances are you have a hen like our macaws--not coincidentally these two spend very little time entertaining themselves and disdain normal toys and play.

I wish you luck in your endeavor. Please keep in touch with WPT. And keep in mind that if Vincent is only two, he has quite a few phases to go through yet before he becomes a routinely predictable adult male grey.

With aloha, EB

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Do you think that it is a hopeful/useful developement that certain parrot species are living successfully in cities? Should conservation biologists support and aid these developements? IF so would this be world wide or only in the birds natural ranges? IF not, what are your reasons?

Dot Schwarz UK

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

Dear Dot, I believe that would be three questions - actually four because the first is really two bundled together wink.

First, is it hopeful? Absolutely. It’s great to see these parrots showing us how flexible they can be, sorting out all sorts of new challenges and solving the many problems of urban live. To paraphrase ol’ blue eyes, if they can make it there …

Is it useful? Sure, if we’re observant and resourceful, we can learn from parrots regardless of where they dwell, whether that’s in our living rooms, in New York City, or on some lush tropical island. Last time I was watching some of the Amazons in Los Angeles, a small sub-flock was demolishing some dark green, very unripe persimmons with relish. If you’ve ever tried to eat a slightly unripe persimmon, they are extremely astringent, about the nastiest thing you can imagine putting in your mouth! More recently, I had the pleasure of watching some of the famous “Parrots of Telegraph Hill” in San Francisco. Among their many interesting behaviors, they were consuming impressive quantities of the outer bark of a huge elm tree (that wasn't very tasty either). There are a lot of useful things to be learned from watching and living around these birds, things that should help us better care for our captive charges and in some cases even inform our work with wild parrots in their native habitats.

Should conservation biologists support and aid these developments? Conserving nature is always a complex and difficult task. The fact that some parrot species can live and even thrive in developed areas is well known, it is hard to ignore, and oftentimes these birds are impressive spectacle to experience. That does not necessarily mean that 1. these populations are a positive development for conservation, or 2. that precious conservation dollars should be spent on them.

As you know, most urban parrots are found well outside their natural ranges and most are recently introduced. Often, what we’re looking at is the first couple of decades after they’ve become established, and sometimes less. What we do not know, and in many cases can not predict, is where these populations are going to go 50 or 100 years from now in terms of numbers of birds, where they will live, and what they will eat. Will they expand their ranges well beyond the developed areas, much as Ring-necked Parakeets have done in parts of the UK and on the continent, and as Monk or Quaker Parakeets have done in many places? Some species clearly do expand, whereas others may not.

When they do expand, their populations create at least two serious issues, conflicts with native birds and conflicts with agriculture. The first can be a conservation concern, particularly since native birds which nest in cavities are often limited by nest site availability (humans and loggers like to cut down dead trees and remove dead branches and other non-natives birds are a problem here too). The second issue – conflict with agriculture - is more likely to be a welfare concern because when dollars/pounds/Euro are involved, people are bound to start killing parrots by the thousands (think Australia and Florida).

In parrot conservation, there is always a lot more work to be done than there is funding available to do it. Ideally then, we would all be extremely careful about how we spend these limited funds, and to be sure that we prioritize our efforts to save the most threatened species first. And given that there are over 90 species considered globally threatened by the IUCN, we clearly have our work cut out for us. So, let’s just say, we’re talking about a high priority species – is it worth studying, supporting, or otherwise investing in individuals of this species living in a city. In most real-life situations, there will be many options available to help support the recovery of a given species, and some of these will include the possibility of saving them in their native habitat. In every case we’ve encountered in our 20 years of saving parrots from extinction, conservation cash has always been far better spent helping these birds in the wild, in their native range, and in their native forests, wetlands, deserts, mountains, or wherever it is the parrot naturally occurs.

And of course, conservation of a parrot species involves more than just making sure there are X thousands of birds of a given species on the planet, it involves understanding and resolving the threats to the species in the wild, ensuring that each species has ample healthy habitat, and that its prospects for the foreseeable future are secure. This can only work when we are able to save the bird and the bird's natural habitat.

There is yet another important benefit from focusing our conservation effort on the birds in their natural ecosystems. Because parrots are among the most spectacular and compelling inhabitants of nearly every place where they naturally occur, they make outstanding ambassadors or conservation 'flagships' which can encourage the preservation of these natural places, including of course all the plants, animals, fungi, etc. living there. In the end, saving a parrot where it belongs saves more than just that one species, it saves the whole ecosystem.

It is maybe worth mentioning as an aside here that in recent years we have encountered some unique situations where parrots have been released in to urban and suburban areas, sometimes with success and sometimes with local conservation consequences. In most cases, these are birds which have been confiscated from traders, rehabilitated and released. Anytime this occurs and the birds establish populations in an area where they have been extirpated, that action is clearly beneficial to those individuals involved as well as the biodiversity of that area. We’ve supported some of this work in past years, most recently the release of confiscated Grey Parrots in Cameroon, but also see a story on the successful release of Gold-capped Conures in Brazil from the November 2002 Psittascene (free download at When done right, these efforts can generate substantial welfare benefits, sparing thousands of birds’ lives, and also send shockwaves through the trafficker and trapper networks.

While we at the Trust more than open to creative approaches to conservation of parrots, for the time being, it appears unlikely that urban parrot populations will make a truly significant contribution to the recovery of a threatened species in the wild. For these reasons, when we work to save wild parrot species, our efforts are nearly always focused on doing so in the species natural range and in their natural habitat.

All best wishes,


filed under: Conservation

Hallo again. A few weeks ago I posted a couple of questions about my 30 year-old blue-front Amazon hen's eye - she was diagnosed by the vet with uveitis and treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, steroids in both oral and eye drop forms. After two weeks in the vet hospital I brought her home with her eye apparantly improved. However, the same afternoon the same symptoms were present again - though her treatment had only been suspended that morning. I seemed to me pointless starting it all again, so I treated her with Metacam for just over a week which did help the pain and inflammation a bit - and also gave her a mix of blueberries mashed up with honey, aloe vera gel, eyebright and echinacea to try and take another route. I stopped the metacam after about 8 days when I noticed her droppings becomeing very watery and she seemed to go off her food a bit. I am told that uveitis is very hard to fix, and she might lost the eye. Do you have any advice to offer? The vet doesn;t really know what to do, other than try the same treatment over again.
thanks for your time!

Question 2: Dear Dr. Speer, Many thanks for your response re my blue-fronted amazon hen's eye. I have now taken her off eye drops, and she is just having metacam and baytril, once a day, in line with the vet's recommendation. So now steroids. What I observe in her (I have her inside now, not in the aviary) is that her pupil in the affected eye does not contract - it is permanently dilated, and the brown part between the pupil and the orange iris is just not there. She keeps this eye closed quite a bit, and I think her vision from it is affected. The other eye has more of the iris showing, contracts and dilates more, but not as much as her mate, whose eyes are working as a normal Amazon's do - pinning and dilating. She is now eating well, however, and apart from resting more, and having periods with her eye closed, and certainly being quieter generally, she still chews up sticks vigourously and has a good shout in the molrnings. The vet has seen her again and not found anything in the eye and little to change his diagnosis. So my question is really, whether you have any other diagostic advice about the symptom of the pupil being permanently dilated, and also a bit dull and greyish? Would blood tests reveal anything about this? Her stools etc are now normal. I am a bit desperate!

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

An important consideration when treating uvitis in any patient is that the hypothetical cause of the inflammation needs also to be treated. In your bird's case it seems that antibacterial therapy is being forwarded as your attempt at primary treatment, with steroids and anti-inflammatory treatments being used to help address the actual inflammation that is believed to be present. Although the drug meloxicam has comparatively few adverse effects known in birds, there are several known potential problems with the use of steroids in birds - including but not limited to immunosuppression with possible secondary infections, abnormal fat metabolic disorders, increases in urinary output, and loss of appetite. These problems are somewhat dependent on dose delivered, the specific steroid being used, the frequency and duration of treatment, and the size and species of bird. In mammals, since they typical patient is much larger than your bird would be, these adverse effects are encountered much less frequently than in birds, and many veterinarians that are most familiar with mammalian practice may be inclined to use steoids more frequently than would a focused avian practitioner. The probable increase in urinary output that you describe, combined with loss of appetite make me concerned that there may be a problem with the steroids in your bird's treatment regime, and I would recommend that these drugs not be used anymore, pending consultation with your veterinarian. The one thing that does not necessaril fit with this possibility though, is that these observed changes in urinary output and appetite seem to have developed over a week or so after the likely discontinuance of steroid treatments. At this point in time, it may be prudent to have some blood testing performed to assess the general systemic health status of your bird (kidney, liver function in particular), have the details of the primary diagnosis of uveitis re-evaluated, and then begin to chart a different course of potential treatment. If your veterinarian is not clear on diagnosis or treatment options for your bird, I would recommend that you ask that they either consider referring you to a colleague who may be better positioned to help, or consult with a specialist about diagnosis, treatment and management options.

Response 2: It is hard to guide you further, in the absence of being able to physically and hands-on evaluate your bird, unfortunately. Dilation of the pupil could be related to a functional blindness being present, or the development of some iris adhesions to the lens or cornea of the eye (synechiae). It is good that the abnormal droppings have returned to normalcy. Blepharospasm (squinting of the eye) may be related to pain or discomfort, but not necessarily always. In the absence of having a more detailed understanding of exactly what is going on, it would be challenging, if not impossible, to recommend specific diagnostic maneuvers that necessarily will help clarify things for you, unfortunately. Some of the basic blood testing is always a fair approach in launching a diagnostic workup in most ill birds, and these would include a baseline CBC and a good biochemistry profile. Was there any possibility of referral or obtaining a more advanced opthalmic examination performed?

filed under:

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.

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

My BF Amazon, 16 years old, has always had normal feces – solid dark “core”, slightly off-white urates, and some “water”. His first evacuation of the morning – a large one - always has more water than those during the day. Lately, I see him drinking several times (3 to 4)
during the day, and there is water with all his feces (the paper I put under his sleeping spot is soaked in the morning – maybe a millilitre of liquid (with the rest of the normal dark and off-white components) and during the day, maybe a half ml or less per defecation. There hasn’t really been any sudden increase in either the drinking or the water in the feces – but I wonder if it just maybe has been increasing gradually over time. Or maybe it is just the contrast with his aviary-mate (also a BFA) whom I almost never see drinking, and whose feces contain almost never any liquid, but are also otherwise normal. His diet includes fruit and veg daily, “egg-food”, a cooked grain mixture, and seeds and Harrison’s pellets “ad lib” – but he seldom eats much of either of the last two. His behaviour and looks are completely normal – he is shiny, active, climbing, playing, preening and allo-preening, and vocalizing, with me and with his aviary-mate. He has always been healthy. I wonder if it couldn't be related to the hot weather, that he eats (or at any rate crumbles) more pellets recently, and/or that it is now rose hip season and he has lots of them to chew on and play with (he doesn't really eat them). Is this something I should be concerned about?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

It would be technically impossible to provide you with a definite "yes" or "no" answer about your concerns here, unfortunately. The best answer to your question would be best arrived at with a proper veterinary examination and with the aid of some baseline laboratory screening. At this age, it is not uncommon for subclinical obesity to begin to show subtle signs, which can include alterations in urinary output in some individuals. On the flip side, there can be some variations in urinary output seen in some individuals due to season, hormonal cyclicity and diet being consumed. A veterinarian who is given the opportunity to actually see your bird and examine it should be best positioned to help you with your concerns.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Steve & staff, I know you're very busy, but I'm hoping you may have time to give your opinion and suggestions to this question. A good friend of mine, Frans, is an experienced bird owner, he currently owns 3 Congo African Greys. His English isn't that good, that's why I'm writing to you on his behalf!

It concerns one of his Greys - he's had this bird for about 5 months now. The bird, Rocco, is 7 years old.The parents and origins of this bird are unknown, as is his first year of life. When the bird was 1 year old, he was bought in a shop. The man who bought him had Rocco for 6 years and told Frans that Rocco was always very scared, particularly of men. However, over the 6 years that he had him, he was able to handle Rocco to some extend - feed him and clean the cage - his wife could indeed do a bit more with Rocco.

So 5 months ago, Rocco came to Frans. Frans has a lot of experience in keeping and training birds (based on positive reinforcement) and managed to solve quite a few behavioural problems in birds over the years. He felt he could also re-train Rocco to get over his extreme fear of men.

5 months on.... there's been no progress in Rocco at all. Frans' wife Susi can occasionally give Rocco a treat or scratch his head a little through the cage bars, but that's all.

Frans himself can't do a thing with Rocco, after having tried different ways of approach - the gentle way in very small steps and later a harder way by taking Rocco out of the cage (with great difficulty) and putting him on the standard with the other Greys to start with. The other Greys seem to feel Rocco's fear, keep their distance from him and didn't interact with him. Personally I thought the flock dynamic might help to overcome the phobia, but Rocco is fearfull of the other Greys as well, so there isn't much contact between the other birds and Rocco.

Rocco refuses to come out of his cage, won't/can't step up. As soon as Susi (let alone Frans) opens the cage and puts her hand into it, Rocco is literally in a blind panic. When Frans approaches the cage, even when still yards away from him, Rocco starts flying through the cage etc in pure blind panic. Frans needed to take a bit of blood from Rocco a while ago to have him tested again, which meant handling Rocco - after which Rocco even went into a kind of coma from fear for a few minutes.

Frans is looking for the one ''way in'' with Rocco, after which he hopes to be able to start training with him, but the problem is he hasn't found this way in yet.

Rocco's quality of life is of course greatly impaired by his fear...

All in all, this really doesn't look like extreme fear but a fully blown phobia. Rocco appears to be an extremely phobic bird, with a clear phobia for men in particular. Frans is at his wits end and running out of ideas and ways to approach Rocco to find a way in to try and break through this fear, which is why I'm writing to you...

Are there any particular ways to try and approach an extremely phobic bird?

Could the flock dynamic play a helpfull part in this and if so, how?

I've searched the internet looking for research on phobia in birds and did find some articles - however, could you suggest any particular research that may be useful to help to understand extreme phobia in birds and ways to deal with this? Frans is considering drugging the bird with a mild sedative, hoping this might take the edge of Rocco's phobia to provide a way in to start training with him - is this an option and if so, what is the best sedative to use?

Your suggestions and opinion on this will be very welcome and on behalf of Frans and from me a big thank you in advance,

Best wishes,

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Dear Miriam,

My name is Corey Derryberry and I am an avian trainer with Natural Encounters, Inc. I received your e-mail and am looking forward to sharing some advice with you, Frans, and Rocco. First of all, I would like to commend all of you for seeking help with Rocco. It is always great to see parrot owners invested in improving the quality of life and the relationships with the birds in their care.

One of the first things we teach new trainers is to understand that every parrot is an individual and each training situation is a study of one. Not only does this mean that each bird’s behavior may be different in the presence of similar environmental changes, such new objects, people, food, or even sounds, but the bird’s behavior may be different with various trainers (as you have seen with Rocco’s interactions with Susi and Frans). Therefore, the best way to build a relationship with Rocco is to allow him to choose when he wants to move on in the training process. What this means is that training is a two-way communication. Just as our body language is telling our bird what we would like them to do, their body language will tell us what they are willing to do.

By watching Rocco’s body language, we can determine the best place to start. If Rocco is showing signs of fear or aggression, such as eyes pinning (the pupils contracting and expanding quickly), tail fanning, raised neck feathers or feathers slicked tightly to the body, lunging and biting, or simply moving away, as Frans enters the room, this should serve as a clear sign that he is uncomfortable, and if Frans would continue to approach the enclosure, it could easily cause the relationship to worsen. There are, however, steps that Frans can take to work to make Rocco more comfortable with his presence. First, it is helpful to find Rocco’s favorite treats to use as reinforcers. A reinforcer is anything that increases the likelihood that a behavior will increase in frequency. Early on, treats such as peanuts, sunflower seeds, or grapes may be the best reinforcers, but again it depends on Rocco’s behavior to tell us what the best reinforcer is. Frans could put a wide variety of treats in Rocco’s food dish and watch which treats he eats first. These are most likely the best reinforcers. Once Frans has found the best treats, they should only be given as part of the training process and not as part of Rocco’s daily food. When Frans enters the room he should go straight to Rocco’s bowl and drop one of these treats in, but then quickly remove himself from the room. Not only will this build the relationship with Frans by pairing him with something positive, but by not lingering, Rocco will learn that the aversive, the source of his discomfort, is only temporary. In time, Rocco’s negative response to Frans’ presence will lessen. Once Rocco does not show any aggressive or fearful behavior, or even better, if Rocco begins to come over to the bowl when Frans enters the room, we know it is time to move on.

At this point, Frans can start increasing the amount of time spent near Rocco’s enclosure and may begin to give Rocco treats directly from the hand through the bars. Again, let Rocco’s body language determine Frans’ behavior. If Rocco begins to show any unwanted body language, it is time for Frans to back away.

When Rocco is comfortable with Frans outside the enclosure, he can start feeding Rocco through the open door. One thing to remember at this point, Rocco seems to have a long history of when hands come into his enclosure it means something bad is about to happen to him. Whether or not this is true, that is how Rocco reacts, so we need to respect this. By allowing Rocco to come to the treat (and therefore Frans) rather than Frans approaching Rocco, his confidence and trust increase. If an aversive, or anything that causes Rocco to be fearful or uncomfortable, enters into his enclosure and Rocco has no way to escape it, it can be a terrible detriment to the relationship. In my opinion, it is highly likely that a long history of this scenario may be the cause of Rocco’s current behavior. My suggestion is to give Rocco a treat through the bars, then open the door gently and offer a second treat at the entrance of the enclosure. If Rocco seems reluctant to come towards the door, use the best treats here, and use a lot of them. This could be a difficult step, so he should get a really good reward for coming to the door.

Once Rocco is comfortable with Frans opening the door and handing him a treat, Frans will have his “In” and can start to train more behaviors and open Rocco up to a whole new world. I suggest starting small, such as training a wave or a turn on the perch using similar steps as mentioned above, before training Rocco to step onto a hand. The more positive interactions Frans has with Rocco before stepping him up and walking into a new, novel area, the more likely Rocco will trust Frans and be comfortable in these new environments. Here at Natural Encounters we often refer to this as a “Trust Account”. The more trust or positive experiences (i.e., “deposits”) we put into the relationship, when we have to break that trust, by catching him up or putting him in another stressful situation, the less of a dent it will put in that account and it is that much easier to build up that trust again.

There are a few things for everyone involved to remember during this process. As I mentioned, every training process is the study of one. Rocco’s behavior at that moment should guide the training process. The bird’s history does not determine his future behavior. We avoid using words such as “phobic” or “fearful” because they describe a mental state which we can never know. As trainers, we can only change the behavior we can see so that is what we focus on. If we label a bird as “phobic”, we have given the bird an excuse for its behavior. We will then begin to expect that behavior, thus allowing it to continue. By avoiding such labels, we also avoid self-imposed obstacles to the training process and allow us to devise strategies to reshape these behaviors and build up positive history.

Also, because every bird is an individual, what is reinforcing to one bird, may not be reinforcing to another. Treats are not the only reinforcers out there. A special toy or a scratch on the head may be reinforcing, but only if the bird enjoys it and we see the frequency of the behavior increase to obtain that reinforcement. But this may also mean that certain situations are reinforcing in and of themselves. We have birds, that as soon as you open the door they will scramble out of the enclosure and play with anything they find lying around. We also have birds that we could leave the door open for an entire day and they will never leave the comfort of their enclosure. The same principle applies to social interactions as well. Some of our parrots live in large flight enclosures with nine or ten other birds, and do quite well there. But we also have birds that stay alone and when we do put them with other birds they often start aggressing towards the other birds. In similar situations, once again let Rocco’s behavior dictate what to do. A good starting point may be to move the parrots’ enclosures near one another and watch their body language. If they move away from each other or start fighting even in the safety and comfort of their own enclosures, it is a good sign that they should be kept separated. On the other hand, if the parrots show comfortable body language then you can slowly increase their contact until eventually they have full contact with one another.

As you have seen Rocco will also interact differently with different people. As you have seen with Frans and Susi, Rocco seems to have a better relationship with Susi. I do not know how much interaction Susi has with the birds beyond giving the occasional treat or scratch on the head. There may be an advantage to Susi using this process to build a relationship with Rocco first, then have Susi step away and Frans begin building his relationship. This has a few advantages. Because of the more positive starting point, it may improve Rocco’s comfort and quality of life more quickly than if Frans starts the process first. Rocco may also be more comfortable with Frans coming near the enclosure to drop treats in if he already has a strong history of Susi doing the same thing. We have several birds that during a show will fly to a new trainer’s hand even when they have not had other contact simply because of the long history of being reinforced for that behavior.

Susi’s involvement may have another advantage. You mentioned in your e-mail that Rocco will fling himself against the wall of the enclosure if Frans approaches. If this happens every single time Frans enters the room to drop a treat in Rocco’s bowl, Rocco may not connect Frans with the treat. If Rocco is hanging on the side of his enclosure and it takes some time to calm enough to find the treat Frans left, it is as if Frans never left the treat. Studies have shown that the closer the delivery of the reinforcer is to the behavior (in this case Rocco’s calm behavior to Frans’ treat), the quicker the subject will learn the behavior. So in the early stages of training, if Susi could stand near Rocco’s enclosure when Frans walks in the room, she could hand Rocco a treat, then Frans could quickly leave again. Starting out Frans would be able to stay far enough away so that Rocco remains calm. As training progresses Frans can move closer and closer to the enclosure as long as Rocco stays calm, and Susi can reward this calm behavior as it is occurring. If Rocco does show signs of distress, Frans can take a step back. Eventually Rocco will be calm enough with Frans for him to start dropping the treats in. At the same time, once Frans is able to approach and deliver the treats himself, Susi should begin to remove herself, first by moving away from the cage and moving towards leaving the room altogether, such that Rocco’s calm behavior around Frans does not have to completely depend on the additional presence of Susi in the future.

There is one risk to Susi’s involvement, though. In households with multiple people interacting with a parrot, sometimes the parrot will bond with one person and begin to show aggression to the other, especially when both trainers are present. It is important to keep an eye out for signs of this occurring for it can slow down the training process. If this does begin to happen, the person with the better relationship can back out of the training process for the time being, so that the other person can built up the relationship. It does take some vigilance and time, but this can be overcome.

Lastly, be patient. There are birds that will learn to step onto someone’s hand in only a few days and there are birds where it can take several months. As I have mentioned several times, work at the pace Rocco sets. If you try to move on when Rocco is not ready, the relationship, and therefore the behavior, can break down quickly.

If there is one theme I hope you, Frans, and Susi take from this is that Rocco should be empowered to make his own decisions. There are many people in this industry that say you should be a “flock leader” or that you should never allow a bird to be dominant over you. These are ideas that we avoid here at Natural Encounters. When a bird is forced to interact with someone or scooped up onto a hand without being given the choice, the bird can often become apathetic, attempt to avoid people, or even become aggressive to humans. By giving the bird a choice and therefore giving the bird control over its environment, not only does this build trust with the people with whom they interact, but also builds their confidence to explore the world. When we want our birds to step on our hand, we offer our hand a short distance away from them and wait for them to come to us. Not only does this teach our birds that we will not put them in a situation they do not want to be in, but also teaches them that if something does scare them and they fly off our hands, we become the safe point and the birds usually return to us without delay. By empowering our birds and giving them control over their environment, we believe we are giving them a richer, more fulfilling life.

I hope this information helps you, Frans, Susi, and especially Rocco. If you have any more questions, take a look at our website at where you can find papers on training, questions from other pet owners, and much more information. But also feel free to contact me directly with any follow-up questions you have. I will be happy to help out. Good luck to you, Frans, Susi, and Rocco.


Corey Derryberry
Avian Trainer
Natural Encounter, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Our 18 month old Solomon Island Eclectus female is plucking small feathers at what seems to us an alarming rate. She has a large toy in her cage that she likes to "hide" behind. Could this plucking be a nesting behavior, and should we remove the toy? Her diet is good and there have been no changes environmentally. All advise is greatly appreciated, we're worried about our little girl.

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Grant, I have asked Pamela Clark to respond to your question. I know you will find her information very helpful and thought provoking.
All best,
Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D.
Utah State University
Dept of Psychology
Dept of Special Education
Don’t try to be the best in the world; try to be the best for the world.

Pamela wrote:

Dear Grant,
Thanks so much for your question. Your Eclectus is a lucky parrot to be in your hands. Feather destructive behavior (FDB) is a complex problem that can be very difficult to resolve. The best chance for resolution occurs when help is sought very early on after the behavior starts, just as you have done.

Rarely is there just one cause for this problem. In the vast majority of cases, several factors combine together to push the bird over the edge into this extreme behavior. These can include (1) incorrect nutrition, (2) increased hormone production, (3) chronic stress or anxiety, (4) boredom and/or lack of independent play behavior , (5) an inappropriately close bond with the owner, (6) lack of exercise, (7) lack of mental stimulation and/or learning opportunities, (8) social isolation of some sort (too much time in the cage), (9) lack of bathing opportunities, (10) increasing or decreasing day length, (11) the fact that the behavior has been reinforced (rewarded) in some way, and (12) medical problems such as chronic bacterial or parasitical infections.

While I have listed medical conditions last, this is the very first possible cause to rule out. If you do not currently have an experienced avian veterinarian, try if at all possible to identify a vet whom you trust and have a thorough exam done, including lab tests that will identify hidden physical causes. It is possible for a parrot to have a chronic disease process present, while still appearing quite healthy.

In the meantime, you can begin to assess each of the other areas. With regard to your specific voiced concern, at the age of 18 months it is possible that the FDB is occurring as a result of increased production of reproductive hormones. However, I think it unlikely that this is the sole cause.

It is possible that there are other factors present in your bird’s environment which are also contributing to the problem. However, without further information about diet and environment it isn’t possible for me to offer much further guidance. That said, however, I’ll attempt to give you some general guidelines to help you assess these areas yourself.

First, though, increased production of reproductive hormones usually occurs as a result of certain environmental stimuli. Those most commonly implicated include (1) a diet that contains excess levels of carbohydrates and/or fats, (2) the presence of a perceived mate and the ability to spend time physically close to that person or bird, (3) access to small, dark places, and (4) a degree of sameness to the environment. If your bird spends long periods on your shoulder or lap (more than 5 to 10 minutes once or twice a day), and also likes to hang out in kitchen drawers, the bathroom, cardboard boxes, sleeping tents, etc, there is more of a chance that production of these hormones is playing a role. Diet I will address below. One simple way to help decrease reproductive hormone production is to vary the bird’s existence, introducing new perches and toys, taking him for trips out of the house, or perhaps spending time an outdoor aviary.

You’ve indicated that your parrot is on a good diet, but without knowing what that is, it is difficult to assess. A good diet for one parrot might not be a good diet for another parrot. The single best guideline I know of for assessing diet is this: Any staple in the diet should be a whole food. A staple can be defined as a food that constitutes more than 10 percent of what the parrot consumes. A whole food can be defined as a source for complete protein, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Thus, formulated diets would be good staples, while a seed mix would not. Table food can be a valuable part of a good diet, if it contains adequate amounts of protein and relatively low amounts of fats and simple carbohydrates.

Fats and carbohydrates are categories of nutrients used for energy. Unfortunately, our captive parrots have relatively low energy requirements, and a diet containing excess amounts of these foods will contribute to an increase in reproductive hormone production in some individuals. Thus, feeding more than 5 % of the diet in seed mix, a large percentage of the diet in fruit, human snack foods, or lots of starchy foods like white rice and potatoes can cause problems.

There has been much written about Eclectus species being sensitive to components of formulated diets. This sensitivity reportedly manifests itself as FDB, toe tapping or wing flipping. I know a great many Eclectus parrots who eat a pelleted diet with no signs of such symptoms. However, I hear enough anecdotal reports about this topic that it might make sense for you to explore this area further if your bird is eating a formulated diet. Again, I would seek the advice of an experienced avian veterinarian or a consultant who is knowledgeable about parrot nutrition. It can be challenging to create a balanced diet for a parrot if formulated foods are not included.

Stress and anxiety can be assessed by observing body language and behavior is a variety of contexts. If you think this might be a part of the problem, you can easily implement stress reduction measures. For more information about this area, you can read an article I wrote some time ago titled, “Stress Reduction for Companion Parrots.” You may find this at

In regards to the other possible factors listed above, I’d suggest that you assess the environment and his response to it with a critical, unbiased eye. Does he keep himself busy? If not, identifying appropriate foraging opportunities and destroyable toys, and then providing positive reinforcement for interacting with them, will help immensely. A wonderful resource for ideas for keeping parrots busy is Make sure that he has plenty of “chewables” that will distract him from his feathers. A whole roll of white, unscented toilet paper, for instance, is often a great help with parrots who barber their feathers.

Does he get a good drenching bath at least once a week? Many cases of FDB are improved simply by increasing bathing opportunities. Does he get out of the cage for at least 3 to 4 hours each day? In my experience, this is about the minimum for maintaining a contented parrot. Does he fly or flap his wings or get other forms of aerobic exercise? If not, teaching him to enjoy flapping will be helpful. Does he have regular learning opportunities? A terrific way to decrease unwanted behaviors is to teach new ones. A wonderful resource for this is Good Bird Magazine, published by Barbara Heidenreich. You can subscribe to this by going to She also has very valuable DVDs available at that site which can help you to get started with training.

Lastly, it is important that you do not reinforce (reward) this behavior with your attention. If you do, it will likely increase in frequency rather than decrease. Social attention is a strong reinforcer for many parrots. If a given behavior earns them that attention, they will learn to offer that behavior more often. Instead, when you are sure that he is destroying his feathers (rather than preening normally) you can distract him as follows:

When you notice that he is engaged in pulling or chewing feathers, ostensibly ignore him, but create some sort of auditory or visual distraction, such as tapping a spoon against a pan. This should not frighten him, but merely distract him. He should have no idea that this distraction is in any way related to his activities. As soon as he looks up, reinforce him with some sort of verbal recognition, such as “Good Boy!” Immediately approach him and offer him a small foot toy or food treat. If he takes it and begins to play with it or eat it, praise him and walk away. If he takes it and drops it immediately, or will not take it at all, step him up and transfer him to another perch.

If you take the steps outlined above and find that the problem persists, I’d encourage you to get the assistance of a consultant who can help guide you through this process. This is a most discouraging problem with which to deal and it can be very difficult for an owner to do so alone. Please do not take your bird’s feather destruction as any “report card” of your care-giving efforts. There are a great many happy parrots who do engage in some form of this behavior at times. However, the fact that you’ve sought help so quickly is wonderful. I have no doubt that you will find the solutions you seek.

Pamela Clark, CVT, CPBC

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Good afternoon all. We are new to this group and would really appreciate any help we can get…

We recently relocated to the Republic of Panama. We are situated in the mountains about midway in the country. Some of the indigenous folks gave us a young (told to be male) toucan. We are not sure how long they had had him, but he looks very scruffy and missing feathers, as well as a 1/4 inch hole at the end of his upper beak. We didn’t think he would be able to go back into the wild so we have done research on food etc.. which is limited it seems to birds that have been breed. Please if anyone could give us suggestions to his care we would greatly appreciate it. BTW he is a KEEL BILLED.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

I am attaching some links to Jerry Jenning's website at Emerald Forest Bird Gardens for a series of leads that should help you with several of your husbandry concerns.

Home page:
Preparation of food:
Care sheet:
Information sheet for this species:

filed under:

My Question: Eye problems - I have noticed in the last two that my aviary-kept Blue Front hen has one eye closed most of the time. It doesn't look red or inflamed, and I can't see any discharge - but the lid looks a little swollen. She is otherwise in excellent health, in an outdoor aviary, under trees, great diet etc. She has a long-term breeding mate. I can't see any injury. But the eye when she opens it slightly looks cloudy - no bright orange iris is visible. Catching her would be a bit traumatic, she is only semi-tame; should I try an oral antibiotic in food? Any ideas of what it might be? thanks!

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Suzanne - it would be inappropriate for a healthcare professional to hypothesize what may be wrong with your bird and recommend treatment. There may very well be a number of issues present here, necessitating examination and diagnosis. Blepharospasm (holding the eyelids closed) should be presumed to be associated with pain in your bird. Although it may be somewhat traumatic to obtain this diagnosis, your potential options for treatment or lack of need for treatment then should be quite clearly delineated. I'd strongly recommend a proper veterinary evaluation for your bird as soon as you can arrange it.

filed under:

Hi, I am a new member, v glad to have found your site. Altho not a parrot
owner at present I have long been a fan of these wonderful creatures. In
the past I worked for many years with wild bird rescue and care in S
Africa. Recently I was minding an African Grey, and was surprised to notice
a pigeon fly [Hippoboscid Fly] on his back, which scurried underneath his
plumage before I could catch it. I know these flies well from the many wild
pigeons and doves that came my way in SA, and understood that the birds were
not bothered by the flies, but I was surprised to see this on a pet bird,
here in England! I believe this parrot came originally from Belgium, and is
not a wild-bred bird. He grooms/chews his feathers quite a lot, and has
quite rough, chewed feathers generally, tho no bald patches.

Can you explain or advise on this subject?
Many thanks
ros baillie-sparkes

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Thanks for this interesting question, ros!

The Hippoboscid fly (also called a flatfly or lousefly), is actually a louse with wings. The fly is flat so that it may slide between a bird's feathers. All lice suck blood and are very species-specific in their choice of animals to parasitize. This means that a parrot lousefly would not bother a pigeon or a crow or a person (we get our own species of lice).

Louseflies are found in birds all over the world, although, as you noted, they are rarely found on parrots kept in captivity. Of course, the biting of the lousefly can be very irritating and may be causing the bird to chew his feathers. I would also be concerned about other diseases: birds with lice often have underlying diseases which make the bird more likely to be parasitized.

I would definitely be taking this grey to your avian veterinarian for examination, diagnostic tests to determine other problems and treatment for the lice. Good luck!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question: I have a three month old budgie who has been diagnosed with coccidia. My avian vet has seen him and prescribed baycox and baytril. I have used the baycox as follows: 2 days on, 5 days off, two days on. baytril was used for ten days as he was very poorly and we nearly lost him (also fed him with critical care formula). I finally was able to let him back in the aviary on Sunday as he is very much better and has his appetite back. The problem is that he has got undigested seed in his droppings again -this was one of the first signs of the coccidia infection. Should I use the baycox again for two days, and how long can I safely go on using it this way? Otherwise he is not showing any ill signs.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

At least in the United States, coccidiosis is comparatively uncommonly diagnosed in the Budgerigar. In other parts of the globe, however, this can be seen more often, however. Australia is one example where this diagnosis may be more common. Baycox is the brand name of the drug Toltrazuril, which is active on the intracellular phase of infection, usually requiring a very short two day treatment period. Passage of undigested seed in the droppings is an uncommon clinical sign that would be linked to Coccidiosis. The broad spectrum antibiotic, Baytril (Enrofloxacin) has no activity against this parasite (coccidia). In general, I would suggest that you ask your veterinarian to repeat a physical examination on your young budgie, and to consider screening for intestinal parasites, Gastric Yeast (Macrorhabdus) and other more likely explanations for the clinical signs you see.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hello. I'm reading Luescher's, "Manual of Parrot Behavior," and I have a question. On page 204 of chapter 17 you find this statement in reference toPBFD:

"Diagnosis is made through histopathology of an affected feather in combination with a PCR probe to help confirm the disease."

Can you tell me what a PCR probe is? Thank you.

Cindi Eppers

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Cindi, A PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) probe is a DNA test done on a blood sample to determine the presence of DNA segments of specific viruses or other organisms (Chlamydia, Mycoplasma) in the bird's blood. This does not always mean the presence of disease. Laboratory tests must be interpreted in the light of a complete history and physical examination by a qualified avian veterinarian.

Thanks for the great question!

Dr. Cook

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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,


filed under: Ethics and Welfare

My 15 year old blue crowned conure, Dookie, is laying eggs again. She's been doing this for the last few years and it always happens around summer. I've noticed her eating all of her wood toys so I took them out of her cage but now she's trying to eat the wooden tree playground she perches on. Why is she so obsessed with the wood and is there anything I can feed her instead? Also, my vet told me to give her a Tums after she lays her egg in order to help out with calcium depletion, is that good advice? One more thing, She's had problems with the eggs forming in the past, I took her to the vet and he put her on cipro to get the process going, is there anything I can give her to prevent this from happening this time around?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Laura - there are must be environmental, behavioral and nutritional stimuli that are responsible for supporting your birds reproductive drive during those times of year. Realistically, these need to be carefully evaluated and corrected, using ethically and ornicologically sound principles. The wood chewing behavior, realistically, is probably associated with nest building behaviors, I would anticipate. Although the calcium carbonate present in Tums is a good source of Calcium, unless a large number of other variables are addressed (dietary fat content modification, etc), this will at best be a short term solution - kind of consistent with your experiences, to-date. Furthermore, I would not anticipate that the antibiotic, Ciprofloxacin, should have much of any merit in treatment of most birds with the clinical signs as you describe - uterine bacterial infections are generally far less common in parrots as compared to the metabolic issues that should be present. I would strongly recommend that you consult with your attending veterinarian and make sure that you are approaching this issue in the most balanced manner possible.

Pasted below are some excerpts from a prior conference proceedings for veterinarians that I have published in the past:

Chronic egg-laying in the pet bird poses a significant threat to the health and behavioral well being of many pet birds. When a hen lays repeated clutches or larger than normal clutch size without regard to the presence of a normal mate or confined breeding season, a myriad of secondary problems can follow. Ultimately, functional exhaustion of the reproductive tract poses risk of metabolic and physiological drain on the bird, particularly on calcium and energy stores. All of these ultimately predispose the hen to egg binding, dystocia, yolk coelomitis, oviductal impaction, oviductal torsion, cloacal prolapse and osteoporosis. Although chronic egg laying is seen in many companion bird species, it is most commonly described in the smaller species, including budgerigars, cockatiels, lovebirds and finches. Medical intervention has traditionally focused combinations of environmental management, counter-hormonal therapies and surgery. In general avian medical practice, counter-hormonal therapies, including leuprolide acetate (lupron), seem to be the more common treatments recommended for chronic egg laying, and salpingohysterectomy, and environmental/behavioral recommendations seem to be less commonly implemented. The purpose of this paper and presentation is to outline the function of the female reproductive tract, the etiopathogenesis of chronic egg-laying, and to critically review and ethically prioritize potential medical interventions to resolve or address the problem.

Unlike many of the more common pet domestic mammal species, avian reproductive function is predominately initiated by extrinsic or environmental stimuli, as opposed to intrinsic cyclicity. Once the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis is triggered, a predictable cascade of events and consequences can occur. These events include endocrine, physiologic, behavioral and anatomic changes and activities in birds. Even what has been described as signs of reproductive behavior (paper shredding, nest building, hiding under papers, and/or seeking dark places), in reality, are predominately controlled by activity of the pituitary-gonadal axis, and are not necessarily involved with the triggering of its activity. In this sense, nest-seeking behaviors are merely the result of an already activated pituitary-gonadal axis, and are predictive of more direct reproductive activity in birds. In an ideal clinical preventative setting, by effectively controlling the triggers of the pituitary-gonadal axis should be most preventative, if not curative. In clinical settings with more advanced reproductively linked disorders, after the immediate clinical problem has been successfully addressed, efforts on a preventative level still are an essential part of complete medical care.

Most non-domestic avian species are breed opportunistically, and are reproductively active only when favorable environmental conditions exist. These are typically birds adapted to tropical or desert climates, and, if the climate allows, these birds may breed. In the absence of supportive environmental conditions, reproduction does not occur. In a given year, the proportion of birds in a wild population that actually breed can be low, and some species breed only every other year or every few years. Parrots are mainly monogamous and, in the case of larger species at least, pair for life. The bond between pairs is constantly reinforced by a variety of behaviors, such as allopreening and feeding. This strategy is perhaps adaptive, because of the high proportion of learned (as compared to instinctive) behavior exhibited in parrots: pairs that know each other well and have experience of one another breed more successfully.

Environmental cues that can stimulate reproductive activity and ultimately lead to oviposition in avian species include photoperiod, temperature, rainfall, available food supply, the presence of nesting material, and/or the presence of a mate (real or perceived). The perceived photoperiod by birds is understood by many as a very important environmental cue for reproductive activity in most avian species. Its role in parrot species is not as well studied as it is in many other taxonomic groups of birds. Rainfall is known to stimulate reproductive behavior in many tropical and desert-dwelling species of birds. Rainfall and temperature often directly affect the available food supply, which is another critical factor affecting reproductive activity. The presence of nesting sites and appropriate nesting materials is a powerful reproductive cue for many parrot species. Abnormal “mates” can include an owner or other human, some items within the cage, and toys. Another bird housed in the same cage, the same room, or even simply within hearing distance may strongly stimulate reproductive drive. In some species, there is a genetic predisposition for chronic egg-laying and lack of normal reproductive hormonal balance. Pet chickens and waterfowl are common species representations of the genetic predisposition for chronic egg laying. Pair-bond enriching behaviors such as include regurgitative feeding, copulatory behaviors, nest site inspection and mutual preening are acknowledged as triggering cues for reproductive activity.

Medical intervention generally is guided along the ethical guidelines of “Least intrusive, most effective”. A hierarchy of treatment options that progressively move up this scale, as-indicated in specific cases is vastly important. Many of the more intrusive treatment options, when not preceded by some of the more foundational and less-invasive recommendations for excessive egg laying should be realistically predisposed to a higher degree of failure. Degrees of intrusiveness of a recommended treatment can be tested by the amount of induced stress, physical pain, and cost. In addition, treatments that require repeated administrations should be challenged for their compatibility with this hierarchy in-toto. Degrees of effectiveness can be tested by their short term and long term effect at directly achieving their goal, as well as their effect at preventing recurrence in the future. Reduction of the probability of potential side effects and their adverse consequences on the health and welfare of the bird is also a very important test of effectiveness of a treatment.

Many young parrots sold as pets are “mentored” and taught by their new owners only one form of social interactive skills (pair bond enrichment behaviors), as opposed to the typical array of social skills that would have been taught by the parents of their wild counterparts. Deficits in normal social interaction skills, foraging activities, learned inappropriate pair bonding behaviors, inappropriate diets, the provision of nesting environments and other factors are common. The first and foremost component of healthcare and prevention of excessive egg laying comes from the identification of existing risk factors at routine examination, client education, appropriate recommendations, and careful follow up on recommended actions with owners. Recommendations for enrichment of normal lifestyles, positive reinforcement training for guiding flock interactive behaviors, dietary recommendations, foraging training, and cage environment improvements all are essential foundational preventative maneuvers. In essence, enrichment of these types of behaviors is a key aspect of the routine annual examination.

Environmental and Behavioral Interventions
In the presence of excessive egg-laying in companion birds, a series of recommendations and training / enrichments should be outlined for bird owners. Specific recommendations are guided by signalment, history and physical examination findings. Although many of the needed recommendations require the “removal” of reproductively associated stimuli and behaviors, more ethical recommendations should also concurrently package and emphasize the training of normal behaviors to replace what is removed. The stress that can be generated by environmental and behavioral deprivation, although it can add to short-term “effectiveness”, should be viewed as less ethical than a behavior-change strategy that is based on differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors. Environmental and behavioral deprivation can easily result in an increase in behavioral problems, ultimately adversely affecting the health and welfare of these patients. In most circumstances and when applied correctly, environmental and behavioral interventions should be viewed as most ethical, least intrusive and most effective treatments for uncomplicated chronic egg laying.

Environmental stimuli may need to be altered, and every recommendation should be carefully balanced with an enrichment or differential reinforcement plan for alternative behaviors. The photoperiod may need to be altered and reduced for some species. Nest sites, toys, and other items to which the bird has a sexual affinity should be removed from the enclosure. Access to a nesting environment (shredded papers, a box, or other dark cavities) should be prohibited. In the event that a pet bird is showing nesting behavior and laying eggs in a designated site within the cage environment, removal of eggs from the nest should be avoided for the normal incubation period for each species to discourage the hen from laying another clutch. Any perceived or actual mate should be removed from the cage or room environment. In some situations, and with some species such as the Cockatiel, visual and auditory separation from a “mate” may be necessary. A “one-person bird,” with only a single household member who exclusively handles and cares for the bird should be potentially viewed as an established “mate relationship”, which may serve as a trigger for reproductively driven behaviors and activities. Stimulatory petting by the owner, such as rubbing the pelvis, dorsum, and cloacal regions should be stopped. “Flock” interactive behaviors should be encouraged in preference to one person or “mate” interactions in the home. The cage location and internal set up (perches, toys, etc) should be changed and rotated periodically to provide a “new or changing” environment that is less stable and less reproductively stimulating. Inappropriate nutrition that is identified should be corrected to improve the hen’s dietary plane to decrease the severity of metabolic drain. Dietary alteration with a reduction of caloric intake appears to significantly reduce or stop egg production with many companion parrot species, as well as enable training and behavior-change strategies.

Medical Therapy
Medical therapies for chronic egg-laying tend to focus on drug therapies to reduce or stop egg production. Pharmacologic options have included medroxyprogesterone acetate, levonorgestrel, human chorionic gonadotropin, Norethidrone/mestranol, testosterone, and leuprolide acetate (Lupron). With the exception of leuprolide, most of these drug or hormonal therapies have variable effectiveness and significant adverse side effects. Although leuprolide acetate appears to be a safe alternative, this product is expensive, requires repeated use, and does not alone correct the causative cascade of reproductive activity in the female bird.

Surgical intervention
Surgical salpingohysterectomy or endoscopic salpingohysterectomy may be indicated in specific patients that are plagued with chronic egg laying problems. Ethically, this option should be pursued only if environmental, behavioral and/or medical therapy has not been successful, the relative risk to the overall health and welfare of the bird is gauged to be significant, and if there is no intent to breed the particular hen. Surgical treatments carry the greatest cost at their outlay, require advanced training in avian soft tissue surgery or endosurgery, and also carry the greatest immediate risk of procedural complications and death. Salpingohysterectomized birds still retain their ovary, and hence may still be predisposed to estrogenic behaviors, hyperestrogenism, cystic ovarian disease, internal ovulation and egg yolk coelomitis.

Chronic egg laying issues in companion birds can be successfully addressed, most effectively, least intrusively by applying an ethical hierarchy to treatment recommendations. Behavioral and environmental changes are essential and often are effective when applied in a first-line approach. Medical treatment options and surgery are more intrusive, and still require behavioral and environmental changes in order to be effective. Ethical guidelines for treatment of chronic egg laying in companion birds are essential components of the standard of care.

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