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Hi there, I have a parrotlet called Fynn and I've had him about a year now from when he was a chick (parent-reared, if that helps). I know parrotlets are sometimes territorial and the main thing to do is to teach them to step up. This does not work with him. He bites hard and lunges if I come close to his cage, and I always get bitten getting him out. He won't step up onto a twig either. But when he's in a different room he's a different bird- he loves kisses and stays with me (despite not being clipped- I understand this makes him harder to train as well but he's beautiful when he flies). This problem has got worse now I have moved to Uni with him, and his cage is in my bedroom. Now he won't have anything to do with me and I can't really take him into a different room. Please could you let me know if there are any ways of getting him to be less aggressive about his cage?
>Thanks so much smile

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Hi Lauren,

Cory here from Susan Friedman’s ParrotBAS teaching team! Thank you for coming to us with your question. The great news is that biting doesn’t have to be a necessary part of living with a parrot. With careful attention to Fynn’s body language, thoughtful arrangement of his environment, and a positive reinforcement teaching plan, the biting can be reduced and Fynn can be taught a behavior you would like him to do instead of the biting.

It is great that you described the undesired behavior in observable terms (biting when asked to step up in cage), because this is the first step towards predicting and changing it! Biting is something that Fynn does which we can see. Labels such as “territorial” do not describe what Fynn is doing, but rather what we think Fynn is being. Since behavior is defined as something that an animal does which can be observed, given certain conditions, it is best to focus on specific behaviors that we want to see more of - just like you did. We can’t teach “friendly”, it's just a label, but we can teach Fynn to approach hands and step up, or even fly to you on cue, all of which are specific behaviors.

All repeated behaviors, including biting, serve a function, a purpose, for Fynn or he wouldn't keep doing them! Animals, including people, choose behaviors to either avoid something undesirable to them, or to gain something they value. The key to understanding what function the biting behavior serves is to look into the immediate outcome, the change the behavior causes in the environment. The event that happens right before the behaviors occurs, called the antecedent, is a signal or cue to the bird about what to do right now to produce the outcome. Identifying the antecedent helps us predict when the behavior will occur. The event that immediately follows the behavior (called the consequence) determines whether the behavior will increase or decrease in the future. When the antecedent (A) happens, the animal can do the behavior (B), in order to gain or avoid the consequence (C). With the information that you have given me, I suspect that in this case it could be that when you reach your hand into Fynn’s cage (A), Fynn bites (B), in order to remove your hand (C). In other words, it seems like Fynn is biting in order to stop your approach and to create distance between you and his cage.

So, how do we teach Fynn to enjoy having you in close proximity to the cage? Approaching Fynn’s cage will become a signal that good things will happen if you continuously pair yourself with positive reinforcers such as food, and this means that your presence itself will become reinforcing to Fynn. Each time you pair yourself with food you will be making a deposit in Fynn’s trust account and growing a positive balance, so you can do this several times throughout the day by walking up to Fynn’s cage and simply giving him a bite of his favourite food. The key to keeping the trust account from going bankrupt is to avoid any negative or forceful interactions with Fynn. Of course, since Fynn is flighted, he can fly away from anything aversive. Resist calling him names like stubborn, territorial or unfriendly. When that happens, it is good data for you that Fin is escaping your approach and so you need to change what you do and add more trust into the account.

While step up is a great management behavior to teach and it’s your ultimate goal with Fynn, it isn’t necessarily the first thing that you should teach him. A great stepping-stone towards the step up goal is to teach Fynn a behavior called targeting. Targeting is to touch his beak to an object like a chopstick. It sounds (and is!) simple, but it also extremely useful because of it’s versatility and many applications, one being that it can help you avoid being bitten while teaching the step up behavior! The great thing about targeting is that you can teach it to Fynn while he is in his cage so that he isn't pressured to come to your hand, your fingers stay safe and you can work at his pace to continue building trust.

Once he follows the target stick for a treat, you will be able to target him out of the cage. New behaviors like targeting can be shaped through reinforcing small approximations towards the final behavior goal. When you present the target stick to Fynn at first, be sure to hold it on as close as he remains relaxed. Then some approximations you can reinforce are: 1) Looking at the target stick, 2) Leaning towards the target stick, 3) Touching beak to target stick. Each step should earn him a food treat and should be repeated until he performs that step without hesitation. If he happens to be afraid of the target stick in the beginning, just introduce it gradually at his pace, pairing its presence with a food treat. Body language that could indicate that Fynn is uncomfortable with something could include things like feathers slick against his body and leaning away. Learning to recognize subtle changes in Fynn’s body language and respecting it is a great investment in having a good relationship with him!

Once Fynn is touching the target stick with his beak, you can then teach him to approach it from further away by gradually increasing the distance you hold it out at. You can also teach him to follow a moving target by first reinforce him following it for a step, then a few steps, and so on. To keep the positive reinforcement really effective when teaching new behaviors deliver a food treat every time he does the approximation correctly, and immediately (within a few seconds). A great thing that you can do to improve your timing is to use a word like “yes” as a bridge to mark the exact moment that Fynn does the correct behavior, and then follow it up with food each time.

When Fynn knows how to target, you will have a full trust account and it’s time to zero in on teaching him how to step up onto your hand. To start, you can use the target to move Fynn onto a designated perch in his cage and reinforce him for standing on it while you open the cage door. It’s important to continue to reinforce Fynn for having calm body language as you gradually move your hand closer to him. Here’s where the target comes in handy. You can use it to orient Fynn’s head upwards as you shape him to step onto your hand because he can’t hold his head up and bite you at the same time - they are behaviors that are incompatible with one another. Since Fynn already knows how to follow the target, he can follow the target onto your hand at his pace, and then you can fade the target so that it isn’t needed anymore. Or, you can target Fynn to the top of his cage or to a perch affixed to the inside of his door.

For more ideas, go to http://www.behaviorworks.org and read Susan's and Lisa's article called "Right On Target", under "Written Works." It is always best to focus on what we want the animal to do, since after all, animals are built to behave and we can take advantage of that to empower them to do desired behaviors. There are some wonderful resources available to learn more about this: Dr. Susan Friedman’s excellent articles can be found at http://www.behaviorworks.org, Natural Encounters also has some quality avian training articles at http://www.naturalencounters.com and some great parrot training videos by Barbarah Heideneich can be found through http://www.goodbirdinc.com.

I wish you the best of luck with training Fynn!

Sincerely,
Cory
Cory Cordes
Animal Behavior Technologist
http://www.animallearningsolutions.com

filed under: Behaviour and Training


A friend of mine has a Congo African Grey who is exhibiting symptoms of excessive thirst and excessive urinating. The vet investigating this is currently running labwork on the bird to check for things like diabetes, etc. So far, the vet has not come up with anything definitive but suggests that the dyes in pellets such as Pretty Bird could cause these symptoms. Have you ever heard anything like this before? Thanks for your time.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Cindi -

There are a number of investigations that need to be considered with this set of clinical signs. It is good that basic blood testing is being performed as a start. Although this is far from a perfect thing, it is a really good initial component. There are behavioral reasons (psychogenic), and other medical reasons including some viral infections, cardiovascular disease, and malnutrition to name a few. Toxicoses from the artificial dyes used in a formulated product of any brand, to the best of my knowledge, are not a documented event - and exist only in anecdote and belief out there. I am sure that the veterinarian involved will pursue the levels and types of additional diagnostic testing needed to help dramatically narrow down, if not determine a cause of these clinical signs, with time.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a Timneh African Grey who is almost 9 years old. I got him at 3 months and weaned him and he has always been a sweet, non-aggressive animal.

After any stressful experience, for example, the last visit to the avian vet 3 months ago for a beak, wing, and nail trim, he stops eating the Harrison's pellets that he has always loved and drops weight to the point where he loses 15 or more grams. At that point I hand feed him Harrison's juvenile formula with a syringe and he eats just fine. He doesn't want to eat any brand of pellet or prepared bird food, including Nutriberries. He will eat a bite or two of carrots and broccoli but is still thin. My vet wanted him to gain weight when she saw him 3 months ago and he weighed 296 grams. I just hate to see him refuse to eat so I have been giving in and hand feeding him. Last night before I hand fed him he weighed 291 grams. I know he is able to eat because I've seen him eat one or two Harrison's Coarse Pellets. The vet doesn't think he is sick but I have an appointment with her again in 3 weeks.

I believe I have tried everything, from soaking his food in organic apple juice, cooking pasta, eggs, beans, etc., and the stress is getting to ME! I just wonder if a parrot will actually starve himself to death if he has a variety of foods available yet prefers formula? I've been too afraid to take that chance. Thanks for any suggestions you can give me!
Linda

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Linda,

Hello and thank you for writing World Parrot Trust about your 9 year old Timneh Grey. It sounds like you really care for him, which is great!

I'm glad he's getting regular check-ups from an avian vet. There is no substitute for regular check-ups and your relationship with an avian vet is great insurance so that if an emergency occurs, s/he has a record of your parrot's normal condition. However, I respectfully question the amount of grooming that's being done on him.

First, the beak. In Clinical Avian Medicine, Vol. 1, Harrison and Lightfoot, 2006 (pg 14), the good doctor writes: "Beak trimming is not necessary in birds unless the beak is overgrown due to underlying health problems or malocclusion." Therefore, unless your parrot's beak is growing unnaturally long or into an unusual shape, you can and should eliminate the beak trims. Beak trimming is not part of standard grooming because it's unnecessary, potentially painful and usually traumatic. It should never be performed for cosmetic reasons. There are ways other than trimming to ensure your parrot's beak stays healthy and those we'll review below.

The rhinotheca, "the final protective/germinal layer" of the upper beak is thin "and can easily be ground through or burned." (p15) You wouldn't necessarily see a burn because the dark beak would cover it, but your parrot would feel it, and that would hurt a lot because what's inside the thin outer covering is super-sensitive blood- and nerve ending-infused tissue. Pain is amplified by these nerve endings. Think of crunching down on hard foods (like pellets) with a broken tooth, or a toothache in all your teeth at once - the pain shoots right to your head - and that's correlative with a beak that's been trimmed.

His beak will need to heal completely (which may take 3 months) before you see him rubbing it to clean/groom it himself, which he will do when you follow the tips below regarding perches.

Next, the wings. Unless you are taking your parrot outside without first putting him into a carrier, or keeping him inside but your household has unavoidable hazards, I'd recommend a moratorium on the wing trims, too. After nine years of trimmed wings, due to muscular atrophy and resultant enhanced caution, your parrot probably wouldn't fly even if his wings grew out completely. Linda, try letting his wings grow in, which they will over time, and you might discover a parrot who flaps more, plays more and is generally more confident than before, even if he never actually flies. From your note, you seem like a very conscientious caregiver - one with great attention to detail - so if you apply that same keen discernment to his flight capabilities, you may discover that wing trims can be either greatly diminished or eliminated altogether.

A diminished wing trim might be one where only 1 - 2" of the first 3 or 4 primary flight feathers are removed. This is the trim I formerly used on young fledglings so they wouldn't zoom around the confines of the house before they gained coordination. As years went by, I made the house increasingly flight-friendly and completely eliminated all wing trims. In your case, you can carefully watch your Timneh and see if he even uses his longer wings. If he's going to fly, he'll most likely give you plenty of notice beforehand by flapping while holding on to a perch, hanging upside down and flapping and generally testing his balance and coordination in ways that clipped parrots do not. Of course, if you let his wings grow out and whether or not you ever see him fly, if his feathers grow back, he will be capable of flight, especially if he's startled. So inside the house, give him plenty of places where he knows it's safe to land and practice "fake flying" with him to safe place A from safe place B. Additionally, you'll always want to keep him in a carrier or put him in an aviary when he goes outside.

Now, for the nails. Nail trims can also be very painful and it's not uncommon for parrots to become depressed after a nail trim, even if only one of the nails bleeds or it's cauterized by a dremmel/drill during the trim. Think about your fingernails and toenails - all of them at once - being trimmed all the way to the quick and then being forced to use those painful digits for everything - eating, sleeping, walking, and standing. Now imagine those same nails being cut into the quick to the point of bleeding and having the bleeding stopped by burning and yeow - you'd want to be hand-fed, too.

Here at our home, our companion parrots rarely need their nails trimmed so I'm surprised when some guests complain about sharp nails. But I realize - with us, our parrots are totally relaxed, so their nails aren't digging in, but with other people, not quite. So when I hand a parrot to someone, I ask if they can feel the nails and if they say yes, I take the parrot back because I don't want the bird to be uncomfortable. (Plus our parrots can fly away if they want to.)So, practice holding him and rotating your arm or hand or shrugging your shoulder ever so slightly to learn which angles allow him to relax the most when he's on you. The more you practice being relaxed together, the less his nails will bother you.

Additionally, sharp nails help parrots with their confidence. In the wild - and your guy is probably only one generation away from the wild, with all those innate wisdoms still inside him - if they can really hang on during a storm, or in strong winds on flexing branches, they survive. Their nails are sharp for reasons that make sense to them.

That said, mitigating nail trims for captive African Greys is usually simple because they like to dig. Our Congo Greys in the aviary (4 adults each at least 30 years old) are incessant diggers. They've never needed their nails trimmed because those tips are blunt from digging in the fresh dirt we provide. There is nothing cuter than to see them, beaks down, red tails up, feet going a mile a minute, flinging dirt in long arcs behind them. Happily, there are ways to replicate this enrichment in the house that aren't so messy. Your guy may like to dig in an open-faced woven rattan basket that's stuffed with paper towels, or in brown paper bags stuffed inside each other - some natural-material container that sits flat on a surface for him to tear into using beak and toes will do the trick.

If he doesn't already have them, be sure your guy has natural fresh perches covered with bark in his cage and on his play gyms. After eating, he'll rub his beak on the surface and clean it himself. Similarly, he'll keep the tips of his nails blunt by walking on natural perches. Outside the cage, give him a natural wood platform to walk on for playtime and chewing. Vertical wood branches lashed to the walls of the cage using tie wraps are great natural beak cleaners. When they get soiled, refresh them by scrubbing with a wire brush and warm water, and then rinse them well. Perches should never be allowed to get slick - keep them rough-to-the-touch with regular wire-brushing and he'll learn to groom himself. Some parrots groom their beaks and nails on twisted cotton rope perches which you might also try. In any case, the more grooming tools you provide him - and calm compliments when you see him using them - the more likely his chances of good personal hygiene.

Now, in the case of a truly mal-formed beak, or if he absolutely cannot be trusted with any wing growth whatsoever and you cannot change those circumstances even with your best efforts, or if his nails are so sharp that you're left bleeding from contact with him, I'm going to recommend that you choose only one or at the most two most essential grooming options to be performed in the least degree possible at one time. Minimize the grooming. Dramatically.

Even with the greatly reduced grooming, ask your vet for MetaCam, a liquid analgesic (pain reliever) that we keep on hand in case of emergency. After a vet visit, or after anything where he might be feeling pain (like after a clumsy landing if he tries to fly), give him a drop. Our older arthritic Galah cockatoo eats it right off the kitchen counter and our other birds relish it (when needed) on a bit of cracker or toast.

Also, you may want to use some of the training tips that are wonderfully explained by other WPT experts to get him to increasingly accept your gentle manipulation of his toes and wings. Over time with consistent training, the two of you may establish a non-traumatic grooming routine so that his annual vet visits become a "Well Bird Check-Up," not a cause for stress.

Finally, in the case of unavoidable stress, yes, give him a little hand-feeding formula. After all, you hand-fed him so he'd trust you, and he does, which is great! I don't know if he'd actually starve himself to death, but he could definitely dehydrate and become fatally ill as a result of that, so it's far better to error on the side of caution and hand-feed him when he becomes anorexic. As a stop-gap measure, to be used when needed, a bit of hand-feeding formula now and then is fine, especially if it stimulates his appetite and makes you both feel better! Trust your instincts, Linda - they seem to be sound and you have his best interests at heart.

Thank you for your support of World Parrot Trust and for the opportunity to respond to this good and very valid question.

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I live in Northern Virginia with 2 macaws, I'd like to know what type of wood from trees in my yard etc I can give to my birds. Can I just bring them in from outside or do I have to do something to make them safe? I have multiple trees (pines, oak, poplar) in my yard and 2 parrots that would LOVE to snack on the wood. Thanks, BJ

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear BJ...

I remember a time when I was travelling through Virgina and stopped to visit a friend who had several pet caiques. One morning I went outside for a stroll around his neighborhood, and came back with an armload of chewable boughs and greenery for his parrots.

There were many trees and other plants available: maples, beech, oak with tiny acorns, fruit trees of many sorts in early spring bud, elm, poplar, even some flowering bushes like quince, lilac, forsythia, roses, and the like. Psittacines can also chew on conifers--pine, spruce, fir, juniper, tamarack, etc. though we only utilize these for birds in the winter months when deciduous leaves have wilted and fallen. If you go online and google safe plants for parrots you will find a host of other things to offer your macaws. The most nutritious portions of greenery are the new growth buds--sepioles and petioles and often hookbills will spend hours removing each leaf or flower, eating the succulent attachment node and moving on to the next. We also like to give our birds flowers such as snapdragons, geraniums, pansies, asters, chrysanthemum, orchids, marigolds and other safe blooms. If you have berry bushes psittacines often like the berries at the tart stage. Small crabapples and thronapples are the same. Tannins appeal to most parrots and offer gastro and other health benefits, as does the often mineral rich bark form limbs. I personally keep a woodpile of older dry branches that my parrots love to tear into. It can make a mess in the house, but I feel it is much more interesting and healthy than finished lumber and wood.

Safety wise, avoid plants with milky sap, Hawaiian type tropical plants such as oleander and dieffenbachia, magnolia. There are lots of toxic plant lists online also though some are designed for people and are not up to date about parrots. If you wish to have an indoor plant for your birds, though of course macaws can destroy things rather quickly, I would recommend a bamboo or a Ficus benjamina. We also like to cut a large branch and fasten it into a Christmas tree stand for our birds to climb and chew on throughout the year.

You can rinse off outdoor greenery in the shower or with an outdoor hose, but by and large clean branches and plants away from roadside or neighboring spray areas are chemical free and perfectly fine for our birds.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Parrot Care

I adopted a 16 year old Cameroon African Grey and I would like to learn how to encourage him to eat something other than seeds. He won't eat pellets, cooked grains or vegetables, all fruit except grapes & he even refuses to eat AviCakes or Healthy Bits - a picky eater?
Donna

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Donna,

Thank you for your question. Red-tailed grey parrots can be some of the pickiest eaters one can keep, especially if the bird was formerly living wild and free.

That said, it is best to begin modifying a parrot's diet by making changes within the realm of foods that the bird does like to eat eat. As African greys are rather high on the list of medium sized psittacines that need an extra amount of fat and oil in the diet, usually nutmeats fit into this process rather well.

Almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamias and such are all fine foods to expand a picky grey's daily nutritional regime. As most Africans species are not noted for overeating habits (unless they are fully deficient in some nutrients and try very hard on a mono-diet to acquire those things...)one does not usually have to worry about ending up with a fat parrot. Still within reason, try to keep the bird from consuming too much of one item; excess fat can affect liver, heart, kidneys, etc.

Other items we have fed to picky Africans include boiled peanuts, boiled pine nuts, boiled edamame soybeans which are green and often loved by the birds. Germinating mung beans, buckwheat, safflower, and sunflower for 24 to 48 hours makes a great way to reduce the fat content once the seed has "popped," and increase the micro-ingredients not found in the dry seed. Millet sprays may also be germinated and are accepted by some picky eaters.

Getting your grey to eat veggies (fruits, too, though they are less important as nourishment) can be problematic. Start by emphasizing texture. That means crunchy stems only, no wilted leaves, of watercress, carrot tops, beet greens, parsley, and a variety of herbs or flower tops from safe garden plants--just google safe flowers for parrots and you will get a whole list. We also cut green shoots and buds off of our outdoor vegetables and fruit trees for the birds to nibble.

As parrots go through "phases" of eating greenstuffs depending upon season, weather, hormones, and bodily needs, one has to keep up the crunchy green offerings steadily, watching what the pet prefers or will sample.

Large chunks can be easily thrown out onto the floor, keep things smaller at first so it is more work to rid the bowl of the green. Some picky pets are not real fond of items in the cabbage and broccoli and collards families.In many cases we have just grated beetroot or carrot or turnip or sweet potato or greens onto the bird's dish and allowed the released juices to get into the items that the bird is consuming. There are also some wonderful whole food powders such as alfalfa, barley grass, wheatgrass, spirulina and the like which can be sparingly sprinkled on food items and ingested that way. If your parrot will not touch a mineral block or cuttlebone, just scrape the powder onto his food.

One of our favorite ways of getting fresh fare into our hookbill's tummies is to choose fruits with pips. Pomegranate, passionfruit, papaya, guava, fig, even melon, pear, apple, pumpkin, etc. We will scoop out the seeds--sometimes washing them well to get rid of sticky pulp-- and feed them to our flock.

One last point. In the choice of oil seeds, sunflower seeds are much preferable to safflower seeds for an addicted parrot to consume. Also, persons with warm temperatures in the local climate can find palm fruits in red (like a grey's tail!) or orange which many parrots adore...

Good luck, Donna. Don't give up, get imaginative and remember, VARIETY is your friend in psittacine feeding.

Cheers, EB

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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

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