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

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All best,
Phoebe Linden

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

My Question:
I would be asking my Avian Vet; however, she died in a tragic car accident last month! I am at a loss of ideas on what to do and who to call.

I have a 3 year old cockatiel and a ~2.5 year old White Bellied Caique. I board them fairly often when I have to go on trips. I was wondering if it would be necessary to worry about vaccination for certain things. The only reason I worry is because the boarding is at a pet store. Its a reputable store and they have a good staff and I've never had any bad experiences from there but they don't require any health certificates before accepting boarders. The boarders are kept in a separate area from their store stock birds for sale. They are kept in a multi-compartment battery of cages in a room in the back. They appear to keep them all clean but they are kept in close proximity to other birds. My birds always come back happy and temporarily make different sounds from the other birds.

Do you think this arrangement would warrant vaccination against some of the more common avian ailments?/ viruses?

Thanks,
Jelly

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

Hi Jelly,

I am sorry to hear of your loss; good avian veterinarians are few and hard to find. You may want to check the AAV website to see if you can locate another veterinarian before you have an issue with one of your birds.

You ask a very good question. Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer. There is definitely a risk of contagious disease with the situation you describe for boarding your birds. Vaccination would not prevent most diseases and is of very limited value. Good hygiene standards and air circulation would be most important in preventing spread of disease.

If I were the store owner, I would require health certificates for my own protection and peace of mind. I suggest expressing your concerns with the store owner or manager. Good luck!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 6year old male Goliath Palm Cockatoo living in a half acre 12m high aviary along with three Hyacinths and a pair of Illigers. At night they are locked in large secure bird rooms. Tristan , my Goliath , has an ongoing problem with one of his feet . It is cracked between two of his pads and despite treatment that includes Baytril and a daily VIT. E cream application , it does not clear up. It looks like what a humans cracked heel would look like. We are close to the coast in South Africa so I dont think it is too dry here and it is odd that it only affects one foot. On the same foot on the one side is a white patch of what looks like very dry skin. If Tristan walks on a flat surface he is likely to walk on a foot made into a fist , while on a branch or perch he will sit normally. After flying and coming in to land he will hold that foot up out of the way on "touch down" This has been going on for around seven months.He has had scrapings done which come up clear and my local vet has consulted with my avian vet in Johannesburg and Onderstepoort Exotic clinic in Pretoria without any light being shed. His food consists of daily fresh fruit and veg which he ignores , always available Kaytee rainbow chunky and hemp seed which he eats occasionally and a copious amount of nuts comprising of cracked Palm nuts , cracked macadamia nuts , hazel , pecan , walnut , almonds and brasil nuts . All nuts are checked and Tristan eats them all. At night he gets a soft hot food mix of Macadamia oil , health checked peanut butter , Purity (baby food) carrots , Purity sweet potato and corn , Purity mango and banana , Kaytee organic , Kaytee macaw hand rearing , mashed banana , sunflower seed and coconut flakes. This is mixed together with hot water and fed straight away and is normally completely eaten. All his food is the same as for the Hyacinths who do not have any foot problems. I have been unable to find anyone around the world who is well versed in Palm Cockatoo's to see if anything similar has happened. I look forward to any advice you can offer.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Trevor - The unilateral nature of this presentation speaks more to an acquired disorder of some sort. You describe two clinical signs that may or may not be related: A cracked and discolored lesion on the foot, and abnormal foot posture / weight bearing.

In general, scrapings of those types of foot lesions that you describe, and various types of analyses of those samples may predispose you to miss your primary diagnosis here. You may want to ask your veterinarians to consider obtaining full thickness skin biopsies from these lesions, seeking histological evidence of what specifically may be going on. Aerobic bacterial and fungal cultures should be also considered from these surgically obtained biopsy samples, and additional biopsies, if possible, should be saved frozen for further evaluation - if indicated based on your histopathology findings. Regarding the abnormal gait and weight bearing - I would suggest you ask your veterinarian to consider good, detailed shole body radiographic images as a part of your medical workup, as some forms of chronic osteoarthritis certainly may be involved. A careful neurologic examination should also be repeated.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


filed under: General

Hello Phoebe, Three years ago my wife and I adopted a 13 yr old yellow-headed amazon. The bird was originally wild-caught. His first owner had died, and his children sold his two (bonded) parrots to a store,which sold them separately. His partner was already gone when we found our Bobo. In spite of all that he has been through he has become a happy & healthy member of our family. We have no other birds. He is bonded to me but tolerates my wife as a caregiver & playmate. Because of all he has been through-(most of which we'll never know, for instance, he has a big scar on his face)-we have been hesitant to go on vacation. If we drop him at a board-and-care facility he'll probably think he's been abandoned again. Do you have any suggestions for how we might someday handle this? I have one other minor concern: sometimes he eats his poop; Is this a sign of some sort of nutritional deficiency? I would very much appreciate any help you could give me.
Thanks, Joel

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Joel, Thanks for writing about your mature Amazon, Bobo. It's a great story of a parrot losing his home, then finding one with you!

The last bit you write, about him eating his feces, is a red flag for me and I want to encourage you to have him thoroughly checked out by an avian veterinarian as soon as you can. The vet can run tests for bacteria and advise you about nutrition. Given his history, I think a full blood panel plus protein electrophoresis would be prudent, or as your vet advises.

If it turns out Bobo is perfectly healthy, by the end of the tests, you'll have a good normal panel against which to compare any future examinations. So, get him in for a check-up!

Getting to know your avian vet is also a great way to get to know qualified parrot pet sitters in your area.

Chances are, someone at your avian vet's office will either be a parrot sitter or can recommend one. Or perhaps the veterinarian's office also includes a boarding facility which is usually a last resort in my book (mainly because my parrots are accustomed to being together as a large flock), but could be good if Bobo is particularly comfortable around other birds. While he's at the vet, watch how he reacts to other parrots. Amazons are usually forthright about their feelings, so he'll let you know. If he seems nervous, agitated or aggressive when he sees other birds, you'll know right away that an in-home sitter is best for him.

Together, you'll decide which is best for Bobo: if you decide with an in-home sitter, find someone who will visit your home in advance and get to know you and Bobo and Bobo's routine. Then you'll feel more comfortable going on vacation.

Considering all that he's been through and his relative ease now, he'll most likely be OK with an absence, especially if the parrot sitter resembles you, he likes the sitter and Bobo's routine stays pretty much the way he likes it. You might also consider finding a parrot sitter who will come to your home twice a day, or even two sitters, one for morning and one for evening, depending on what would feel normal to Bobo. Some sitters even like to house-sit (my favorite kind!) and can be depended upon to bring in mail, water plants and generally look after the house.

All that said, sometimes the best parrot sitters are people with no parrot experience but an eager open mind who Bobo likes and who will listen to you and do everything you say. So, if you know someone who is an "animal person" who's open to learning about Bobo, and who Bobo likes, try them out for a short time (perhaps an over-night visit at first) and see how it goes.

Because Amazons are super smart, tell him in advance that you'll be going away, and reassure him that you'll be coming home. Starting now, when you go out -- like to the grocery store or dinner or whatever -- establish a bye-bye and a hello routine. Use it consistently, so he gets accustomed to your leaving for various lengths of time, but always returning. A simple heartfelt greeting upon return usually suffices.

The parrots at my house know how to count, so together we count out the number of days I'll be gone -- I even point it out on a calendar -- and they watch intently. Even if they don't actually count the days I'm gone, the exercise makes me feel better. Plus, we've never had anyone be mad at us when we return. Oh yes, and they love our bird sitters, too, mainly because the birds sitters love them.

Another thing to help your sitter is to be sure s/he knows Bobo's favorite treats and has ample supply of them. Favorite foods, toys and lots of chewing materials: everything that brings trills of joy to Bobo should be provided for him during your absence.

The best strategy for getting him ready for your vacation is to keep up the good work of making him feel valued and secure in your home. Now that he's been with you 3 years, he has a pretty good idea of your constancy and dependability, so you've laid a solid foundation.

If circumstances force you to use a board-and-care facility, be sure your thoroughly check it out in advance. Ask around -- sometimes dog and cat places know about good parrot places. Ask if the parrots who board there are vet checked and avoid those places that take in un-checked birds. Visit unexpectedly, in the morning during feeding and cleaning time, for example. Make an appointment to see the back rooms and where the parrots sleep, not just the public areas. Avoid holidays and long weekends when lots of people travel.

Again, thanks for giving Bobo a good home, thanks for supporting the World Parrot Trust, and have a great time on your vacation!

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara CA

filed under: Parrot Care

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much in advance,

Heidy

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some ideas I have for you to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Bobby Brett
Trainer, Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: General

My name is Filippo, I own a congo grey since 1998. When I bought him I was
9 YO, and I have always been the only one in the family to take care of
him. The parrot was bought from a good breeder in my area, and he has been
handfed. In the past I have ignored him a little, but since a couple of
year I have tried to interact more with him. He spends the winter in a
100x50x140h cm cage in our kitchen, while in summer I move him in a
200x400x200h aviary in my garden, but very close to the house. I want now
to solve some of his behavioral problems:

1- BITE: yes, like many ignored parrots, he bites quite hard, and often
makes me bleed. Even if this is probably the greatest problem, I am
managing to solve it on my own, little by little, not trying to reinforce
the behaviour, and I immediately stop to interact with him and put him back
in his cage as soon as he tries to bite. Things are really going better,
even if sometimes he still bites, the frequency is much much lower than it
used to be. I have to say that he has always been a little pinchy, even when
he was a baby.

2- MATING: When I pet him and I play with him, he soon develops a
mating-like behaviour, moving up and down his head rhythmically, opening a
little his wings and regurgitating a little bit of food sometimes. I think
that these are mating behaviours, don't you think so? I don't know if I
have to reinforce, ignore or avoid them, but I tend to watch at them
positively. What do you think?

3- POO: It seems quite silly, but one of the greatest problems that I find
when I leave him free in the house is that he poos absolutely everywhere:
on my books, on the couch, on the bed, even on my own clothes. As you can
imagine, this could be very annoying and prevent me from letting him out a
lot. Is there a way to teach him to poo just in his cage or on his tower?

4- FRIEND: How do you see the introduction of another parrot in the family?
Could be a positive model or I will spoil the relationship I have with my
grey? And in case, it's better to get another grey or another species will
be ok? my dream is to get a macaw.

Thank you for your answer

Filippo

Category:
Behaviour and Training
Requestor Name:
Filippo Rivarossa

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Filippo! My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors at Natural Encounters, Inc. I’ve recently received the questions you submitted about your African grey, and I’d be happy to offer some input and advice. I’ll go ahead and tackle your four topics one by one below.

BITING
This is a very common thing that many parrot owners are faced with, and it sounds like it’s an issue that you are having some success dealing with. If you look at any behavior that an animal performs, it serves some function for them – it either gets them something that they want, or it gets them away from something that they want to avoid. Are you able to pinpoint certain places or situations in which your grey seems more likely to bite than others? All behavior is influenced by the environment at the time. Does he bite more around certain places, people, or objects? Looking for things in the environment that coincide with when biting happens can help you to start thinking about ways to set up the environment differently so that it is less likely that biting will occur.

Another important thing to be aware of are the variety of subtle body language cues that occur before your bird bites. There are a variety of small behaviors that your bird may display before biting – feather slicking down, movements becoming quicker, eyes pinning, etc – that are the bird’s way of saying that it doesn’t like something that’s happening at that moment, and your best bet is to respect those cues and take a step back. Learning to be sensitive to these cues will save you a lot of headache, and will help to make the bird feel more comfortable overall when it learns that it doesn’t need to bite in order to communicate to you what he does (or doesn’t) want.

Finally, if you can learn to read these body cues and begin to pinpoint the situations when biting might occur, you can ask yourself what you would rather have your bird do instead of biting at that moment. Any time we see a behavior that we don’t want to see repeated, we ask ourselves this question: instead of trying to stop this behavior, is there another behavior I can train the bird to do instead? For example, if a bird is biting when I bring my hand into his cage to step him up, I might decide to train the bird to step onto a perch near the door when I open it, and then to lift up his foot in order to tell me that he wants to step up in order to earn a treat. Most problems behavior, biting included, can be dealt with very successfully in this manner.

MATING
From the behaviors that you describe, I would guess that these are indeed behaviors that are associated with a bird that is closely bonded to you. Whether or not these are a good thing or a bad thing is up to the bird’s owner. Like you, I tend to think that it’s perfectly fine for a bird to display these behaviors for its human “mate.” Where you might run into trouble is if you want your bird to be able to spend time or otherwise interact with other people. Birds that are closely bonded to one person, much like a bonded bird in the wild, may take to threatening or even attacking others that encroach on their space or territory. Also, encouraging these breeding behaviors by pairing them with other things your bird might like (treats, attention, praise, toys, head scratches, etc) will likely increase the frequency of these behaviors in the future, so it’s just something to be mindful of.


POOPING
This can be huge challenge for companion parrot owners to deal with, but it is something that you can work on through training. Just like when we talked about biting, paying attention to body language is going to be very important. Before your bird poops, you may notice that there are a number of different signals that he displays beforehand – crouching down, loosening of the body feathers, a lifting of the tail, and leaning back on the perch are common things many birds do before relieving themselves. Learning these cues with be vital to successfully training your bird to poop on command. The other important thing for you to look at is to try to get a general idea for how often your bird poops. A smaller bird such as a grey will go to the bathroom more frequently than a larger bird like a macaw, so it may be as frequently as a few times per hour.

Here’s where the training comes in. First, identify where it is that you want the bird to go to the bathroom (in the cage, over some newspaper, on a particular towel, etc). Second, decide what you want your cue to be for the bird to poop. For example, you might say the phrase “go poop” or “go potty,” though it can be anything you decide. Next, when your bird is out and you see a sign that it looks like your bird is about to poop, ask him to step onto the hand, take him over to the place where you want him to go to the bathroom, say the cue that you want him to learn, let him poop, then follow that up with reinforcement that your bird really likes (praise, a treat, etc). Learning how often your bird tends to go to the bathroom will let you know roughly how often you need to be ready to follow the steps above, and following it up with a treat each time he poops after your cue – and never when you haven’t given the cue – will teach him what your cue means and why it is important.

The key to success here is going to be patience, consistency, commitment, and more patience. The more often you can follow this plan, the faster the bird will learn. Keep in mind that your bird will likely continue to go to the bathroom at times and in places that you don’t like, but by following the above plan these incidents will become far less frequent, and the interaction that your bird will get during this training will only help to strengthen your already strong relationship.

A FRIEND FOR THE BIRD?
The choice to add another bird to a one-bird family can be a difficult one, so it is great to hear that you are seeking advice before going ahead with it. It is possible that adding another parrot to the house could be a very positive addition to your grey’s life. At the same time, another bird may very likely be perceived as a threat to your bird, and something that he might try to harm. In either case, it is something that will very likely affect your relationship with your grey. Have you had the opportunity to see how your bird reacts around other companion parrots before? If so, this might give you an idea of how things might go with another bird around.

As for the question of what birds make good mates, many people decide to get birds of the same species as mates for their birds, though others may have birds of different breeds that become very closely bonded to each other. I would be cautious of trying to pair your bird up with something like a large macaw. In addition to the many challenges associated with having one of these large birds on their own, it may be very hazardous to have your much smaller grey interacting with a macaw, as their difference in size could make it very easy for the macaw to harm or even kill your grey if they got into a fight.

If you do decide to get another bird, the most important thing is to be very cautious and responsible in the way in which they are introduced. The two birds should have separate enclosures, and you can see how their behavior changes when these cages are kept closer or farther apart. If both birds are out of their cages, it should only be at a time when you are able to monitor them both closely, and be able to intervene immediately if a problem arises. Down the road it may be possible that the birds might be able to spend more time together, even time alone, but this should only be after you’ve seen that there is an extensive history of positive interactions between the two, and even then you need to recognize that there will always be the potential for negative interactions to occur. Just asking us these questions tells us that you are a caring and responsible bird owner, so taking it slow and always being aware and attentive are things that I’m sure will come very easily to you.

Thank you again for sharing your questions and challenges with us. I hope that the information that I have included here has been helpful, and please feel free to follow up with us again as more questions come up. Best of luck to both you and your bird!

Sincerely,
Chris Jenkins
Supervisor
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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

Hi there, I have an African grey parrot and she fed only sunflower seeds for two years,I worry about the fatty liver problems, I changed her diet to fruit and vegetable, I wanted to use aloe detox but I couldn't find any in my country. I want to ask if it is okay to give her aloe vera or milk thistle products or fresh aloe vera? And if so, how much per week?

I take her to avian vet but he wasn't good one and he couldn't answer my questions. Also there is not any parrot expert / avian vet in my city. Please help me, thank you.

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

I commend you for recognizing that your bird needs a better diet than sunflower seeds! She needs more than fruits and vegetables, though. I recommend that 70-80% of companion parrots' daily diet be a good quality pelleted food. You can supplement this with about 10% fresh vegetables, 5% grains/pasta/cereals, and 5% fresh fruits. Nuts and seeds should comprise less than 1% of the daily diet and are given only by hand as special treats.

Milk thistle and aloe vera are prescribed by avian veterinarians for specific health conditions in the individual patient after examination. There is also significant variation in the quality of these products, so I recommend consulting with your avian veterinarian before using.

filed under: Health and Nutrition


My 18 year old green wing macaw has started laying eggs. The first 2 I disposed of but I've let the 3rd one stay in the cage because I was worried she would just keep producing eggs if I kept disposing of them.

She was spending alot of time on the floor of her cage with the egg, but last night and today she was on her perch when I put her to bed and woke her up.

She doesn't spend a lot of time in her cage. Mostly to eat (twice a day) and sleep. The rest of the time she's in different rooms of the house climbing, playing, etc.

She has a companion female blue & gold (19 yrs old), they don't live in the same cage but they do spend almost all their time together.

Nothing has really changed in her environment that I can perceive so I don't know why all of a sudden she's laying eggs.

Should I take her in for a vet check? She last visited the vet about 6 months ago, for a check up

Should I increase her food in any way? She eats Harrison's High Potency Pellets, fresh vegies (broc, peppers, squash).

Thanks for your help as always!
BJ

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello BJ, The reproduction cycle of parrots is largely dependent on numerous environmental factors. One of those is feeling very comfortable and safe in their surroundings. Your female Green-winged Macaw is obviously happy in her situation; therefore, she has started laying eggs. I don’t know that anyone can explain why it has taken so long. Maybe this year’s unusual winter had something to do with it. Who knows what environmental triggers she is sensing?

In my personal experience I have seen this become a problem with smaller birds such as budgies and cockatiels, that once started, seem to become egg factories, which in turn depletes them of nutrients over time. Chickens are fed special diets for egg production, but those diets are designed for maximum production and aren’t at all developed for the longevity of the bird.

Generally speaking the larger parrots will grow out of it. I have used several different methods. What I have found works best is to give them a nest box, so that they can learn to lay and sit their eggs in a cavity, which is instinctive to them. Laying and sitting eggs out in the open is not natural, which is most likely why she abandoned the egg you left for her. Usually once they have laid and cared for a clutch or two of eggs in a nest box, and it’s taken away, they won’t lay any more eggs unless the nest box is reintroduced. In some cases if the cage is in a cramped area it may feel like to them that they are in a nest box when just sitting in their cage. If this is the case you may want to move the cage into a more open area.

Whether or not she needs to go to a veterinarian depends on a lot of different factors.

1) At her most recent visit what tests were done and were they normal?

2) Was a CBC and chemistry done and were they normal?

3) Is her behavior normal other than the fact she is now laying eggs?

4) Did she have any trouble laying the eggs?

5) Did the egg shells look normal (nice and smooth and thick) or were they thin in areas and chipping or flaking?

6) Is she eating as normal?

At 18-years old she has probably built up a pretty good calcium store, but if the shells were thin or flaking that is a sign of a calcium deficiency or some sort of metabolic issue that isn’t allowing her to properly store calcium. For instance a lack of exposure to UV can result in low levels of vitamin D; therefore, they can’t properly store calcium.

She seems to be on a pretty good diet. Since she is a macaw I would suggest adding a few nuts in the shell on a daily basis (walnuts, hazel nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, etc.) and some fresh fruits now and then. This has nothing to do with her egg laying, but macaws tend to need a little more fat in their diets, and they enjoy fresh fruit. Some nuts, such as almonds contain good levels of calcium. Almost all nuts contain a lot of other beneficial nutrients and trace elements.

Thank you,
Glenn

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Dr. Speer, I would appreciate very much to receive your opinion on the recent deaths of three of my African parrots.

I live near Rome, Italy, and my parrots are kept outdoors in suspended aviaries, separated by panels, enclosed on 2 sides, and surrounded by trees to protect them from the cold winds. They are fed a mixture of 50% seeds (well balanced) and 50% pellets, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

The parrots that died did not have a nest, as they were only about 3 years old. At the beginning of April I lost a 2 year old male Red-bellied parrot (Poicephalus rufiventris). I found him at the bottom of the aviary, with fluffed feathers, and I noticed that he was very thin. The day before he appeared to be in perfect health. I forced fed him, but he died within 48 hours.

A few days later, I noticed that a 2 year old female Ruppell's parrot (Poichephalus rueppellii) was sleeping during the day. Following the advice of the veterinarian, I placed her in a brooder unit, administering Avelox 400 in the drinking water, plus Diflucan orally. She was not underweight, but she died after 5 days breathing with difficulty.

After another day, I notice that a 3 year old Ruppell's male (not the companion of the female that died) was not eating, and that he was also sleeping in the daytime. He died after two days with the same respiratory symptoms.

The post-mortem showed that the three parrots suffered from a chronic and severe granulomatous pneumonia caused by aspergillosis, in addition to a chronic hepatitis in of one the birds. The veterinarians who have seen these necropsies were of different opinions, some felt that the aspergillosis was the primary cause of death, while others felt that it developed because of other previous problem. But it seems strange to me that it would kill three different parrots all of a sudden.

My question is if the humid climate of this area is not suitable for species originating from dry areas, such as the Rueppell's and the Red-bellied parrots, or if I might have made some mistakes with their diet. MAll my other parrots have been treated for 20 days with Diflucan in their drinking water. Do you feel that it would be necessary to also treat them with an aerosol therapy? What is the best therapy advised in these cases?

Thank you very much,

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Simone - In general, Aspergillosis is an infectious disease that occurs in an individual or population of individual birds out of an interaction between characteristics of the host (the birds themselves), their environment and the agent. Mere exposure to Aspergillus spores, alone, should be unlikely to cause disease unless there was a very large amount of fungal spores - enough to overcome the bird's normal immunologic defense systems. Chronic respiratory irritation, inadequate vitamin A nutrition, and other concurrent disease processes all can function as causal contributors in an individual with this disease.

Overall, I would be doubtful if the environment that you keep your birds should be fairly presumed to be unsuitable for them - there are far too many other similar parrot species doing overall well in the Rome area. Although treatment with water-based antifungal medications through the drinking water for a few weeks may seem to be a safe maneuver, you should have reason to question if this treatment would be effective, should those birds have actual infection, as well as if the duration of treamtent and manner of drug delivery (in the water) is optimal. Most aerosolized forms of treatment (nebulization) do not reach the lower aspects of the respiratory systems of birds, and this form of prophyllactic treatment also is open for debate in regards to its merit in asymptomatic but potentially exposed individuals. You may want to speak with your veterinarian(s) about the use of the oral antifungal drugs Itraconazole or even Voriconizole, if any of your other birds show signs of disease, or if screening laboratory diagnostic testing supports the probability of disease.

Overall, my suspicions would be that there is more likely to have been an environmental event that resulted in a large amount of fungal spore exposure to your birds, and resultant infection and disease. The correlation of the hepatic lesions as a "cause" of a secondary Aspergillosis would be a more challenging step to do, particularly viewing the absence of this finding in 2/3 of the necropsied birds. It sounds like the cause of the hepatic lesion is not identified in that single bird, and it is possible that this lesion could be an incidental finding - even potentially unrelated to the apparent cause of death - pulmonary Aspergillosis.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Steve, About a year ago i adopted a Moulaccan male that was about 20 years old. I adopted him through a very wonderful rescue organization. He had been there for about three years and had also been through about 7 homes. When I adopted him he spun to the left almost all day long as if he had a neurological condition. He also did not balance well when I took him to play in his outdoor aviary. When one of the rope swings moved in the breeze he would struggle to keep his balance. On several occassions he lost it and did not even try to keep himself from hitting the ground. It has now been a little over a year. He seems to only start spinning when he is getting worried about something and his balance seems to have improved immensely.

He is a wonderful intellegent bird and the majority of his chest feathers have surprisingly regrown in. He seems to use words appropriately telling me "I love you big momma" Which I have to admit would be cute except for the big part! My question is could what seemed like a neurological problem when I got his be more related to hormone swings? The rescue had taken him to the vet who did declare it was likely neuro but after a year of seeing the behavior slowly disappear I wonder if I should be prepared for it to return?

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello, Whenever someone asks me if a particular behavior could be related to a health problem I always recommend the person have the bird checked out by an avian vet. I figure if the person wonders if it is possible, then it likely is possible, and it is usually best to have a professional evaluate the possibilities.

That said, there are a number of things you mentioned that caught my eye. To begin with, I have seen several parrots do the spinning behavior you mentioned. Now, we know that most behaviors that are repeated have some form of reinforcement associated with the performance of that behavior. What we don't always know is exactly what those reinforcers are. The reinforcers for some behaviors, like persistent vocalizations (screaming), and maybe even continuous spinning, might be the attention the bird gets from a human. Even the attention given to the bird by a subtle glance can be enough to reinforce the behavior, and cause birds to continue a behavior with hopes of getting more attention. However, I bring this up as background and it may have nothing to do with your bird.

Then, there are the multitude of reinforcers for behaviors that are private to the bird and we will never get to know. In the case of spinning, we don't know if the bird finds some form of enjoyment in performing the behavior, maybe like a person exercising or running on a treadmill. Animals perform many behaviors for reasons we will never understand. The repeat of these behaviors tells us there is something reinforcing the behavior. But, exactly what those reinforcers are may never be known to us. Beware there are many pseudo experts out there who will diagnose or interpret behaviors such as the spinning you have described and tell you why the bird does the behavior in terms of what the bird is thinking or what the bird "is." For instance, some may say the bird spins because it "wants to impress you," or the bird "Is neurotic" or "Is hormonal" or any one of many other interpretations that may actually sound feasible, but are far from the true motivation for the behavior. Keep in mind that no one knows what a bird is thinking. Although many of the explanations you hear may make sense to you, the reality is the only real information we have to deal with is what you see the bird "Do." Often following the lead of people who describe behavior in terms of what a parrot "Thinks" or what the parrot "Is" will take you farther from a true understanding of the motivation for undesirable behavior.

You also mentioned that the bird had trouble keeping his balance on the rope swing, especially when the wind blew. This information raises a few flags for me. First, a bird with clipped wings will generally have more trouble balancing in situations like you described. However, even birds with clipped wings should not fall off a perch. The fact that he has fallen off of a perch on multiple times causes me to again encourage you to have an avian veterinarian check him out. I have many birds in outdoor aviaries and cannot remember a bird loosing its balance to the point of being unable to retain its perch. All of our birds are full-flight, which gives them a balancing advantage over birds with clipped wings. But, I still believe it is very uncommon for a bird even with clipped wings to fall off of a perch, even in the wind.

As for the spinning behavior being related to hormones, I suggest a vet will be a better person to answer that question. But, I will say that this companion parrot world is flooded with people blaming undesirable behavior on hormones. I believe most of the undesirable behaviors we see in parrots are inadvertently reinforced by the owners and have nothing to do with the bird's hormones. Unfortunately too many so-called experts are quick to label birds and situations with explanations that relieve the owners of responsibility, but do nothing to solve the behavior problem.

You mentioned that your bird speaks. This is a good sign that may give some insight into the bird's health and emotional status. Mimicking sounds is one of the first things to stop when a bird is not healthy or feels stressed in its environment. I believe vocalizing is in many ways an expression of well-being. Though we will never know what a bird is thinking, we can see behaviors associated with a bird being comfortable in its surrounds. These behaviors are things like rousing or shaking its feathers, preening, playing with toys, bathing, and vocalizing in ways that are not associated with obvious stress or alarm calls. When I see a bird talk, or mimic sounds, I usually see other signs and behaviors that tell me the bird is comfortable in its surroundings.

I hope that helps,

Steve

filed under:

Dear EB, I'm the owner of two Quaker Parrots. I usually give them a prepared mix for parrots, with different kinds of seeds. However, I noticed they like marrow seeds best.

So, I give them these seeds as a reward when they speak or they generically do as I say, but I still haven't found out in any book if they are harmful to their health. Can I go on giving them these seeds?

They are very fond of pizza, bread and breadsticks , too. Is that good? Thanks for your attention!

Diego

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Diego, Marrow (pumpkin/squash family) seeds are very nutritious for parrots. They have a wide range of health benefits including containing manganese, zinc and other trace mineral, helping curb certain forms of cancerous cells, and naturally acting as anthelmintic (de-worming).

We feed them boiled, baked (after we eat the pumpkin flesh ourselves) or raw to our birds. they can also be sprouted which makes them even more nutritious.

Unfortunately the lowest quality marrow seeds are the ones included in bagged bird food mixes--often they are flat, unripe at harvest, old, or will not sprout (hence are no longer alive). If your psittacines like them so much I would go and purchase some human grade edible seeds at a health food store or grocery that sells trail mix snacks, etc. Furthermore, if your quaker parrot prefers them, he might be telling you he needs the mineral/diet ingredients in pumpkin seed because he is not getting them in the rest of his food. Therefore, I would not merely offer them as treat rewards, but would feed a more significant amount (say eight to ten) daily for two weeks or so to improve his health. If after that point, you find he chooses to not eat them all, he likely no longer has the nutritional craving his body has satisfied. There are lots of other seeds you can offer as rewards in the meantime--sunflower, bits of walnut or almond, pine nut, etc.

As to the pizza, bread thing, you must understand that white flour is basically a void food for parrots and over the long run will leave them deficient in certain dietary needs. Keep those treats to a bare minimum and substitue better items like popcorn, whole wheat crackers, unsugared breakfast flakes, and the like. If your are feeding 75% or more dry seed mix to your birds, no matter the ingredients, you must work to get vegetables and green and raw foods (grated on top maybe?) fruit pips, cooked buckwheat, lentils, etc. into the diet along with a powdered vitamin mineral supplement. Too many seeds will likely shorten your bird's life and make them overweight at a young age.

Cheers, EB Cravens

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hi EB, I was just wondering, are millet sprays good for parrots? I have been told by some they are high in fat and bad for my pet, but I recently read a book that said they were low fat and good as a treat. Would you recommend millet? Thanks.

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Friend, Millet sprays (white proso is the most common) are fine foods for parrots, parakeets, lovebirds, finches, canaries, etc.

They contain roughly four percent fat depending on which analysis one refers to--much less than the 40% fat content of safflowers and sunflowers which are seeds for large oil-ingesting hookbills like macaws, greys, capes, etc. Millet is not a complete food, of course, and needs to be fed with a variety of other foods including grated vegetables, fruit with pips, extruded pellets, sprouted grains, and the like.

Inexperienced budgerigar owners in the past used to hang millet sprays in their bird's cage every day because the parakeet "loved them." In fact, the budgie was eating and eating and eating to try and satisfy nutrient cravings not available in 100% millet, so would end up overweight and usually die early.

It is important to seek out a fresh supplier of millet.....the best seeds are golden in color and very shiny on the stalk. They make a fine foraging food for all psittacines as they take a long time to crunch all the seeds and are easy to hold clumps in the claws for the parrots that can do so. We typically cut an eight-inch spray into four to six pieces for feeding our birds. One can also take a spring clothespin and attach the spray stem to the side of a cage for the birds to nibble at. Once or twice a week is sufficient in a good mixed diet. If you are in doubt about dry looking millet sprays in a store, an attempt to sprout a few small clusters will tell you if they are still viable and "alive."

Millet sprays are one of the first items we offer young starting-to-eat baby parrots when they become interested in chewing. It teaches them about textures and seed food extraction and is fun to crunch, even though they actually ingest little at first.

Another excellent way of giving millet spray is to germinate it for 24 hours weighted down in a pan of clean water, rinsing four or five times to keep the water fresh. The seeds will "pop" a white nub which will grow into a sprout if the spray is kept damp but not soaking for another day or so, even in the refrigerator. This changes the fat-sugar-carbohydrate content of the stored dry seed and makes it even more nutritious once the birds get used to eating it soft.

Happy Feeding, EB

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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

Very thankful for some help in answering these questions! smile

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

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

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

Good luck with your research!
Jamie-

filed under: General

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