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I read your article on hot peppers. Since parrots don't seem to taste the heat, do you think they'd suffer from capsaicin cream? My doctor has prescribed it for me for pain and I'm afraid to wear it because I have several parrots & one is almost always on my arm or shoulder, where should I wear the cream?

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Cindi,
Parrots may not have the ability to sense the heat of capsaicin in their mouths, but I wouldn't think this would apply to other parts of their bodies. Capsaicin is readily absorbed through the skin particularly in sensitive areas. I have a hedge of wild peppers. They are very small peppers that grow on plants that are about 4 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. After reaching through the branches picking peppers for a while my arms start to burn up to the elbows. There is actually a term for this. It is called jalapeno hands or if in the eyes jalapeno eyes. There really is no way to wash it off. Extreme cases can last for days.

I would be concerned that wherever you put the capsaicin cream that if your birds can contact it with their feet they are most likely going to absorb it through the skin. I don't know that the capsaicin itself would cause any medical issues; although, in very extreme cases I have experienced a rawness to the skin, which can be very painful. If at all possible I would suggest not allowing the birds on any part of your body that has been treated with the capsaicin cream. Maybe the use of long sleeve shirts would resolve the issue.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Are there any risks involved in having a nasal flush carried out on a cockatiel of senior age. I am very worried about this procedure, their nostrils look so small compared to the larger parrots.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

In experienced hands, a nasal flush should pose no significant risk to a cockatiel as compared to a larger bird. The purpose and therapeutic merit of such a procedure, of course, needs to be balanced with a good understanding of the systemic health status of the bird, its nutritional health, and the potential purpose / merits of the procedure.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Why does my 19 year old cockatiel get breathing difficulty when I put him back in the aviary with the other birds. He is fine when I keep him inside with me and he doesn`t even get out of breath after flying. He is eating o.k. but after a week in the aviary he breathes with his beak open and looks distressed. What do you think could be causing this to happen.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Without physically evaluating your bird, it would be impossible to factually comment on what the causes of your observations are. There may be stressor(s) in the aviary environment generating anxiety, there could be environmental irritants that have a role in the augmentation of clinical signs, or there could be subclinical disease that is initially manifesting in this manner. Best recommendation: A good physical examination by an experienced and qualified avian veterinarian to rule out the latter categories, and narrow down the potential considerations of causation that remain.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question:
I have a dirty bird (hahaa!). He is an 11 yr old adopted Patagonian Conure named Luther. He stinks. I have two other pattis, and if you've ever been around this species much, you will find that they have a lovely scent that
reminds one of sandalwood mixed with jasmine.

Luther's scent is so strong that it's overpowering in comparison. When I adopted him I took him straight to the vet. The vet was surprised to find that Luther is missing most of his choanal pappillae in his pharynx. He said that was indicative of chronic allergies. Luther does have occasional sinus problems & recently went through a course of antibiotics & nasal drops for it. His periorbital eye ring had become swollen and waxy appearing, he was irritable, and did a lot of valsalva maneuvers to pop his ears (appearing as yawning). The reason I mention the sinus problem is because I think they might be related to why he stinks so much. In short, his preening is almost nil. Maybe too much dander? He preens only his tail feathers & they are overpreened to the point that all the ends are frazzled. But the rest of him is fraught with sheaths that have remained on old pin feathers. He is allowing me to help him with removing them now; he's good for about 30 minutes then loses his patience with me. I give him a good soaking bath two to three times a week to promote preening & he's on a Zupreem Original (no color) pelleted diet supplemented with El Paso Nutriberries, dried alfalfa, broccoli, and spinach, and fresh fruits & veggies. He's in a huge corner cage & I take him out daily to interact with him for about an hour.

Luther is an extremely vocal bird & I think a lot of his 'hollering' is because he doesn't feel good. Any suggestions? Thanks.

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

Hi Cynthia Jo,

Thanks for the great question...these dirty birds are no joke ;>)) I love the the smell of conures, 'toos, macaws, greys, all parrots! First, I must commend you on adopting Luther, for feeding him an excellent diet, giving him frequent showers and taking him to an avian veterinarian.

The missing choanal papillae could be caused from chronic allergies, infection, or poor diet (seeds). Sinus problems can be very difficult to resolve and may require further diagnostic testing to determine the cause and long-term treatment. What does the odor smell like? Garbage? Something dead? Spoiled fruit? How are Luther's droppings-do they have an odor? How was Luther's sinus infection diagnosed-blood tests? Sinus flush/cytology? X-rays? How long was the course of treatment you gave Luther and did his symptoms competely resolve? You may be correct in that a chronic infection can cause an odor.

If Luther does not preen much, this can add to his "odor" problem. Bathing and preening him should help, so please continue that. One-on-one interaction is wonderful, too. I would suggest delving a bit deeper into diagnostics to try to pinpoint Luther's odor. I hope you get to the bottom of things;>)

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a 19 year old cockatiel and have noticed he opens his beak and I can hear air come from his crop.It`s a bit like hick-ups, and he does this for about 5 minutes. This happens a few times a day. Do you think there is anything to worry about, should I take him to the vet? Hope to have an answer soon as I am worried.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Yes, there are many things to worry about. From your description, and considering the age of your bird, a good physical examination by an experienced avian veterinarian is a very good idea.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question:
I have an 18 yr. old male triton cockatoo whom I've had for 16 yrs. He is
my only bird and lives in our home in his very big cage. I keep his flight
feathers trimmed. He is healthy and well socialized with humans in the
family and community. I would love to train him to walk back to his cage to
poop when he is free roaming around the house with me or other family
members. He won't go on furniture but does have favorite spots on the
floor and even sometimes on a rug. Please give me some guidance. Not having
to clean up after him in this way would free up alot of my energy and who
knows what would emerge?
Thanks Cathy

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Cathy,

I believe the best place to start is to simply catch the bird in the act of pooping while on top of its cage. If you see him poop, reinforce the behavior by giving the bird a treat, or something else he likes, such as a scratch on the head, verbal praise and attention, etc. If the bird likes being with you, you might even pick him up just after he poops to reinforce the pooping behavior.

If you are really attentive to your bird’s body language and learn his rate of pooping, or how often he generally poops in a given amount of time, you can anticipate when he feels the urge to go and put him back on the cage then wait for him to go. You might find that you will put him back on his cage every 15 minutes or so. You might also pick him up and put him on the cage when you see him going to one of his current favorite "pooping places." If you wait long enough while he is on the cage, he will eventually poop and you can pick him up, praise him, give him a treat, etc., to reinforce the behavior. At this time you can also start putting in a cue for him to poop. All you have to do is say the word “poop,” or whatever word you want him to associate with the action. It really doesn’t matter what word or sentence you use as a cue, and you can even use a hand gesture or other visual cue. In the beginning you should say the word when you see him beginning to shows signs that he is about to defecate. Gradually you should start saying the cue word before he shows the signs so he can learn to understand the cue is a signal for a specific behavior that you want him to perform. Once he has learned the pooping behavior on cue, you should be able to cue the behavior in other areas, such as when you hold him over a trashcan or when he is sitting on a perch away from his cage.

Remember, behavior is strongly influenced by its consequences. So, whatever happens immediately after a behavior will help determine whether or not the behavior will occur again. The more you reinforce the pooping behavior with experiences the bird likes, the more likely it is that the bird will do the behavior again. Another important point to remember is to ignore unwanted behavior. If he makes a mistake and poops somewhere other than at his cage, just ignore it. The best training involves using positive reinforcement to train behaviors, and avoiding aversives, or things that the bird dislikes, to try and decrease the occurrence of a behavior. This is actually called punishment, and is usually a poor way to train animals. When you arrange the environment and set the bird up to succeed, and focus on positive reinforcement while avoiding negative interactions, I suspect you will be amazed at what your bird can learn.

Best of luck with the “poop training.”


filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi, Our 15 year old male galah began exhibiting some new behaviors on his own during the past year or so that we are interested in understanding.
1. He often drapes hanging toys over his back.
2. He climbs down to his cage's grate, walks to one of the back corners,
"hunkers down" (difficult to explain this, and difficult to come up with
other words to identify it), then begins bobbing his shoulders up and down while making a quiet clucking vocalization. Our impression is that this behavior occurs more often during the evening than during the day.
3. He pumps his wings when we scratch him.

Are 2 and 3 species typical mating behaviors?

BTW: we are sure he's a male based upon 1) surgical sexing, 2) eye color, and 3) total absence of eggs during the ~13 years we've owned him.
Many thanks!
Submitted by: Barry Fass-Holmes

Answered by Jim McKendry:

Hi Barry, Great question! I really appreciate the observational anecdotes, as they help to form a visual picture of what you are experiencing. As a fellow keeper and keen observer of Galahs, I share your intrigue into the behaviours you have described. Your observations provide the platform for me to share a few insights into Galah behaviour from my own experiences. This is certainly an amazing and challenging Cockatoo to share your life with! Here are a few thoughts of mine that you might hopefully find useful in understanding the behaviours of interest in your Galah...

Observation 1: Draping hanging toys over his back
The functional reason for this behaviour is open to hypothesis, and there are potentially a number of reasonable suggestions that could be made to explain it. This behaviour is not exclusive to Galahs in pet or aviary environments and similar behavioural interactions in captive enclosures with enrichment objects might be observed with a range of parrot species. One consistent link that I have noted in my experience is that species we observe doing this are most often those that naturally engage in physical pair bonding through tactile interaction. My thought is to consider the lack of conspecific or compatible partner interaction and how the physical interactions with the hanging toys perform a functional substitute for tactile stimulation. Physical interactions, close spatial orientation and even `play’ between wild Galahs suggest that when we observe Galahs performing behaviours such as draping a hanging toy over their back in a captive environment, we may be seeing the Galah seeking to engage with objects in its environment that serve as a replacement stimulus in the absence of natural stimuli. Could the action of draping the hanging toys over the back be providing a substitute for the lack of allopreening and close physical contact your Galah would otherwise direct towards and receive from a compatible partner? It’s possible – but there may be other explanations so keep observing and keep critically thinking ☺

Observation 2: `Hunkering down’ in the corner of the cage
This is another behaviour that might have a number of possible antecedents and plausible functions. One thought I have though is based on actually having spent the past few weeks observing my own Galah pair go through some fascinating stages in the preparation of their nest. Male Galahs are highly active in the preparation and performance of nest maintenance, defence of the nesting site, display of ownership and even incubation of the eggs. This can perhaps lead to us observing behaviour in male Galahs that we might normally consider representative of `female’ behaviour. Is it possible that the behaviour of your male Galah can be explained as `nesting’ behaviour? It’s certainly plausible, but to make a definite call I’d really need to observe the behaviour first hand in the context of the environment he is in to understand your specific situation better. Once again – I’m inclined to consider behaviour such as this as a redirection of natural behaviours in an unnatural environment. It’s also worth noting that much `normal’ behaviour can become exaggerated, repetitive and potentially lead to stereotypical categorisation when we keep Cockatoos in unnatural environments.

Observation 3: `Pumping wings’ when being scratched
This sort of behaviour can be commonly observed in juvenile Galahs soliciting attention from parents, but wing pumping is also retained into adulthood as a behavioural response during mutual feeding between mature, bonded Galahs. Scratching him potentially provides a similar stimulus and results in behaviour that essentially communicates receptivity to the physical interaction and a cue for it to continue. Keep in mind that preening Cockatoos (and a variety of parrot species) over the back, particularly the lower back, can be sexually stimulating. Male Galahs will `tread’ on the back of the female as she lowers her posture, arches her back and accepts him as he climbs on to her for copulation. The behavioural interactions between the pair are fascinating to observe. The pair we have here regularly copulate throughout the year – to be honest, ours are almost embarrassing in their `Bonobo like’ regular indulgences in copulative behaviour!

All up I’d say your behavioural observations are 3 for 3 as representative of a Galah engaging in physical interactions with his environment associated with the need for tactile stimulation, and to some degree may be indicative of some forms of mate solicitation and breeding behaviour. When we think about it, what could be more `normal’ for Galah in his prime? ☺ If you would like to depth your understanding of the natural, wild behaviour of Galahs then I can recommend a great book that encompasses the most in-depth natural study of the species. The title is `The Behavioural Ecology of the Galah’ by Ian Rowley. Whilst difficult to find sometimes, it can usually be located at This is a great bookstore for rare books on birds, wildlife and the natural history of animals. They post throughout the world!

You’ve done really well to be still engaging with a companion Galah after 13 years and should be congratulated on having obviously built a lasting and positive relationship with him. Good luck with your Galah in the future and thankyou for being a World Parrot Trust member.

Kind Regards from `Down Under’,
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

filed under: Behaviour and Training

A friend of mine's 20-ish yr old Moluccan was just diagnosed with epithelial neoplasia of the humerus. The diagnosis was made by the U. of Davis in CA. Due to the loss of blood and breakdown of the bone they are recommending amputation of the wing and have stated that this type of cancer is very aggressive. While there is no evidence that it has metastasized his prognosis is not good. So now my friend has some very difficult choices to make concerning the quality of life her beloved bird faces. She is trying to absorb this devasating news and locate as much information as she can on this type of
cancer so that she can make an informed decision as to what the future holds for them. Do you have any advice as to questions she should be asking her vet, the oncologist and the team at the University?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Your questions are fair, and intentions are good with this question. Unfortunately, without any more detailed specific information, it would be impossible if not quite misleading for me to provide you with specific answers about the patient in question. Here are some important thoughts to consider though as you help your friend muddle through these issues:

There are a number of different types of cancers that can be found in this area. Epithelial neoplasia is not an accurate enough description, unfortunately. Squamous cell carcinoma, metastatic air sac carcinoma, Osteosarcoma, Fibrosarcoma, etc all would be potentially more accurate descriptions with which to work with. Each of these tumor types has certan behavioral tendencies. Metastasis, overall, with most of these tumors in birds is rare. Treatment options are limited by the size and type of tumor, the location and degree of involvement / invasiveness, the specific type of surgical removal or debulking procedure being considered, the potential benefit for surgical removal, the risk of surgical removal, the potential for non-surgical treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, or combinations of these options. The overall health and stability of the patient also influences the treatment options being considered. In addition, the behavior of the bird and its interaction in the home environments influence treatments - as a wild and comparatively unhandleable bird may suffer from a much lower quality of life with a wing removed when compared to a pet bird that can be trained and helped to adapt to its new condition(s).

Best suggestions: Sit down and have a talk with the diagnosing clinicians. What is the EXACT diagnosis? What are ALL of the treatment options and relative prognosis / risk with each? What are the relative potential costs with each of these? What do you feel is the best, knowing my bird and myself? (IE: What would YOU do). This last question is one gathering the professional / personal opinions, not necessarily having to be a solid guideline, but does provide helpful information to hear.

If surgery is to be considered - What is the procedure, exactly? How many of these procedures has the surgeon done? Are there other opinions or surgeons that may offer me a better potential success rate?

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Oak trees grow over my aviary. Acorns fall through. The poultry and birds generally ignore them. The Lesser Sulphur Crested Perdy is climbing upside down across the roof and pulling acorns in and eating them. Can she overeat them? Ahe does not seem to pick them off the ground.


Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dorothy, acorns are a safe food for psittacines. There are many instances of wild parrots and feral parrots eating acorns, i.e. Thickbilled Parrots, Quakers, Amazons.

T'would not be unusual for your cockatoo to prefer to eat the acorns right off the limb--foraging is an instintive and fun pastime for captive hookbills. Besides, if you watch her carefully, she may in fact also be eating the attachment nodes on the acorn stems, a nutritious and preferred part of some fruit and nut clusters. We have had lorileets that did not like certain berries when they were placed in a food bowl, but the pets would gorge on the same berries if they were on the bush.

In addition, those acorns that drop on the ground are perhaps not at the best ripeness for your cockatoo's taste and trace mineral needs. He may be choosing younger nuts that are still attached because of their tannin level, much as our amazon flock will like semi-ripe fruit or seeds instead of the fully mature ones.

Encourage Perdy, I do not think an adult savvy cockatoo can eat too much of a certain food item as long as it is getting a fully rounded and complete diet (including occasional mineral grit) from which to choose. Besides, wild-crafted foods are one of the optimum offerings we can give our birds. Try picking some branches with lots of little accorn buds and early-set nuts, and offering them to your smaller psittacines. You may be surprised at the reception!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

We are a retired couple living in Mexico for the past 8 years. Six years ago we rescued a Military Macaw that was being kept in very poor conditions. We do not know the age of the bird but we do know that she is a female (DNA sexing). Almost a year ago the macaw was attacked by a dog and received a head
injury from being slammed on the floor. It seemed touch and go for awhile, but she seems to be recovering well. She has never recovered the strength
in her beak that she had previously but her cooordination seems much better. On that occasion she was seen several times by a vet here who
prescribed anti-inflamatories (intramuscular and oral) As I say, she seems to be better from this incident, but for the past several months she has
been scratching at her ears. We thought it was due to new feathers that were irritating and itching, but then she started with the "yawning" for
lack of a better description of her actions. She looks like someone trying to clear their middle ears on an airplane. This led me to have a closer
look at her ears and I found that one of the ear canals was closed and seemed to be plugged with a crusty substance. One canal was closed more
than the other side as well as having this crusty substance present. I have spoken with a vet from the government wildlife rescue agency in
Guadalajara and he recommended dosing her with ENROFLOXACINA which I have come to find out is a very strong antibiotic used in the avian industry. He
suggested that long-term use might provoke liver damage, so I am hesitant to use it for very long. After ten days of treatment (4 drops of ENROFLOXACINA
in 100 ml of water), she seems possibly somewhat better but the ear canal remains very small (not completely closed as before)with no encrustations.
In all other respects she seems fine. Her feathers look great and she seems happy. Does this sound like the correct treatment for what appears to be an ear
infection? Do you think that the blow to the head could have precipitated the ear infection?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Lots to talk about here, but challenges in detail are a real issue without actually physically evaluating the patient in question.

Ear infections, overall, are comparatively uncommon in parrots. It is possible that the traumatic injury could have predisposed to this problem. In reality, there is no cytologic evaluation, culture information or factual solid confirmation of the presumption of infection here. Crusty material can accumulate in the ear canals when there is inadequate vitamin A in the diet, when foreign material gets into the ear, when secondary infection gets rolling, and secondary to trauma and even clots of blood accumulating in the area.

Enrofloxacin is a very broad spectrum antibiotic. There is no long term adverse effects with this drug's use on the liver of parrots that is known. Water-based medication with this antibiotic in macaw species has only been published in the red-shouldered macaw (ara nobilis). (J Avian Med Surg, December 200; 286-290, 19 refs). In this study, it was shown that 200 mg/liter of water was effective at maintaining plasma concentrations, which would/should only be helpful for known and susceptible bacterial infections. I do not know what concentration is being achieved at 4 drops per 100 ml of water for your bird.

What I would suggest is that your original veterinarian be asked to have a look at the bird and its ears carefully, possibly even with magnification. Retained material in the ears should be carefully removed, and possible bacterial culture samples taken from this area. At the same time, a careful oral examination is appropriate, as it is possible that the ear abnormalities are the result of more significant soft tissue trauma and skull boney damage.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

How can I stop my African Grey viciously biting whenever I go near him? He is hand reared but has become very nasty.
Submitted by: Liz Bradford

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day Liz,

Your question represents a real challenge – for both of us! While I haven’t got a lot of information to work with, it’s a great opportunity to highlight some key concepts that any parrot owner in your situation can apply.

Let’s start with what’s actually missing from your question. When managing encounters that result in an aggressive behavioural response towards us, we really need to carefully analyse the `context’. For behaviour as overt as aggression or biting, there is always a context that we can observe and identify. Being able to describe this context is going to be the first stage in developing some strategies to improve your relationship with your African Grey. So, how de we go about identifying the context for the biting behaviour?

Using a `behaviour analysis’ approach (sounds technical – but stick with me), we can easily identify what might be stimulating the behaviour and how your interactions with your African Grey may also be influencing the behaviour. This approach challenges us to focus specifically on what we can observe. The next time that you encounter aggressive behaviour from your African Grey, try describing the following...

A: The `antecedent’ – the stimulus in the environment that sets the behaviour up to occur. Ask yourself - `What happens immediately before you observe aggression or receive a bite from your African Grey?’
B: The `behaviour’ – what we observe in direct response to the antecedent stimulus. Ask yourself - `What does the aggressive behaviour look like? What are the visual and verbal indicators that you can observe that help you describe and label the behaviour as aggression?’
C: The `consequence’ – what occurs in the environment immediately after the behaviour. Ask yourself - `What has happened as a result of aggressive encounters with your African Grey in the past?’

Put those three together - `antecedent’, `behaviour’ and `consequence’ and you’ll be well on your way to understanding a context for the aggressive behaviour. Aggressive behaviour always serves a functional purpose, so writing down some information following the A-B-C guide described above will help you to clarify the function that the behaviour is serving. The physical act of biting is usually the end stage of a set of preceding communication cues that we have failed to respond to. As an example, if the body language of your African Grey didn’t achieve the function of removing you from its environment, then the next stage along that continuum is progressing to a bite. Challenging yourself to analyse the behaviour from an observable context will help you to identify the key visual cues that suggest the approach you are taking, and the expectations you have, may need reworking.

Judging from your question, it seems like you might be experiencing the behaviour at most times that you try to interact with your African Grey. This is a situation where a wonderful analogy, that I first heard used by avian trainer Steve Martin, applies itself beautifully. Steve refers to a `trust account’ that we build up with our birds. Deposits are made via interactions with our birds that are positively reinforcing and build strong associations between the delivery of reinforcers and ourselves. The more opportunities we encounter where rewards and interactions that are valued by our parrot are delivered, the more deposits we can make into that trust account. The flip side of course is that withdrawals can also be made. With pet parrots and aggressive behaviour, this often occurs when we fail to sensitively respond to the visual cues, that we should know from past experiences, indicate that our feathered friend isn’t likely to be receptive to stepping onto our hand or interacting with us. The challenge for you at this initial stage in your work with your African Grey is to start making some deposits into that trust account.

Traditional approaches to managing aggression and biting behaviour relied on attempting to dominate the parrot. Choosing a dominance approach is not an effective behaviour management solution for working with aggressive parrots. Attempting to force handling interactions with an aggressive parrot can result in effectively teaching your parrot that it needs to bite harder to get the aversive stimulus (your hand) away from it. In combination with this will be a breakdown in the relationship between you and your bird. This represents a major withdrawal from the trust account and can result in many consequences, the most common being the establishment of either fear responses, or a further escalation in aggression by your parrot towards you when you initiate interactions with it. If you have reached the point where your parrot has inflicted a bite then you need to take responsibility for the bite and start focusing on developing your awareness of what you can change in your behaviour and how you can rearrange the environment to avoid a bite in the first place.

Where aggressive behaviours get out of control and become a serious issue is when we have failed to maintain positive reinforcement based training with the parrot. Consistently implemented positive reinforcement based interactions help to establish an environment that increases the potential for the human carer to be viewed as stimuli in the environment that offers highly valued resources. Achieving this shift in stimuli association provides an alternative influence on the behaviour of our pet parrot. As an example, responding to handling cues such as `step up’, ultimately needs to have a greater consequential reinforcement value to the parrot than standing on top of a cage and biting a presented hand. The learning environment for our parrot needs to be set up to provide clear behavioural alternatives, so that;
• Our parrot has choice, and therefore is an active participant in the decision making processes occurring in its environment;
• It develops a relationship between the behavioural choice it makes and the consequential reinforcement it receives for that behaviour and;
• We respect the choice that our parrot makes and resist the temptation to enforce handling when it is obvious that our parrot is not receptive to us.

If the choices that your parrot is making are not achieving a behavioural goal that you have set then it is up to you to re-evaluate your expectations, improve your reinforcement schedule for the desired behaviour and perhaps most importantly, re-think how you have arranged the environment to set your parrot up to succeed with the highest potential to present the behaviours you seek. Managing the feeding schedules of our parrots obviously provides opportunities to deliver highly valued primary reinforcers that can often help to redirect the behaviour of a parrot that has started to display aggression in specific contexts within the home environment. Rather than providing all free feed opportunities at one time, or within a single enclosure, it may be more effective to deliver different food types, at different times of the day, in different contexts, and to reinforce different behavioural goals. This may help to improve the level of motivation required to interact with you and help you to capture and positively reinforce behaviours that are alternative to or incompatible with biting.

In general, avoiding and managing aggression can be achieved via the following...
• Developing a sensitive awareness of non-verbal, visual cues that may indicate that it is time to step back and away from a potential confrontation.
• Appreciating that an individual may not be receptive to the sort of social interactions that we expect from `pets’. Therefore we may be challenged to help them learn that social interactions with us can be valued via the delivery of positively reinforcing consequences for desirable behaviour.
• Minimising handling and preening interactions that promote the sexual bonding of the parrot with one individual in the household.
• Establishing feeding and enrichment schedules that provide opportunities for the parrot to present behaviours that are an alternative to or incompatible with biting and territorial aggression.
• Continually re-evaluating how you have arranged the environment of the bird so that it is best set up to succeed with behavioural choices that you desire.

The above only touches on some key behaviour management principles that might need more elaboration for you to start really applying them well. Check out the incredible articles that the WPT has collated in the Reference Library. You will find some amazing insights into better managing your biting African Grey by downloading and reading these. To further depth your understanding of these concepts there are a number of brilliant courses, workshops and learning resources that you can investigate. A perfect place to start your educational journey is via engaging in the `Living and Learning with Parrots’ online course coordinated by Dr. Susan Friedman and her dedicated tutors. For more information visit If you really want to get out there and like to learn with a `hands-on’ approach then consider the Companion Parrot Workshops coordinated by Steve Martin of Natural Encounters Inc. For more information visit If you’re an `armchair’ learner then I would highly recommend that anyone managing aggression and biting from their pet parrot purchase `The Parrot Problem Solver: Finding Solutions to Aggressive Behaviour’ by Barbara Heidenreich. This is an excellent starting point for learning all about recovering relationships with aggressive parrots and can be purchased right here from the WPT Store!

Kind Regards from `Down Under’,
Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Glenn, I understand you're something of a red hot chili pepper fanatic - the spicy kind, not the band - and I enjoyed the news story ( and video (What's making Chef's Kitchen's Roy De Jesus cry?) about your aspirations to grow the world's hottest peppers.

Watching that news guy in tears put me in stitches!

As you are someone who has clearly thought long and hard about parrots and their diets, I wonder if you could explain why parrots like peppers somuch?

Perhaps more importantly, are spicy peppers bad for parrots to eat even if they adore them? Can they give them indigestion or are they likely to keep them parasite free? Do wild parrots eat spicy things, or just bitter and astringent things? Are red peppers a good compliment to a pellet & seed diet, especially from a vitamin standpoint?

Ok, that's more than one question, I'll stop there and look forward to your answer, thanks!

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Thanks, You hit on one of my favorite topics, hot peppers or as most chili-heads call them "Chilies". I guess in the vernacular of the chili-head peppers are like bell peppers and anything with heat is considered a chili. I really enjoyed doing the news story. They had been bugging me for weeks, so I finally relented and did the story. It was a blast. The video doesn't even start to illustrate the pain that Roy de Jesus was in after eating one of my Bhut Jolokia peppers. In fact the one he ate was only about 1/3 the size of some of the larger ones on my plants.

Well enough about that. I will try to answer your questions. I have owned parrots for 30 years now, and they have always eaten chilies. Back when I purchased my first parrot formulated/pelleted diets were not yet available; therefore, most everyone fed their parrots the seed diets that were on hand. Most of those diets contained chilies.

I've never been able to find the proof to back it up but have always read that parrots don't have the ability to sense the heat in peppers. Peppers get their heat from a chemical called capsaicin that was most likely an evolutionary defense of the plant to protect its fruit from predators. Parrots have very few taste buds and are considered not to have a very good sense of taste or smell, so with a limited number of taste buds it would make sense that they may not be able to taste the heat in peppers. Furthermore, a minimal sense of smell may further explain their lack of ability to taste the heat. If you have ever eaten a really hot pepper like the ones I prefer you will know that half of the sensation is in the vapors collected in your nostrils and up the sinuses as you take that first bite. Some of the hotter ones can almost take your breath away. Many people will choke on the vapors long before the heat gets to them.

Chilies may exacerbate indigestion but they will not give you indigestion. They are actually alkaline not acidic. Currently the National Institute of Health is studying using capsaicin to cure bleeding ulcers. I have seen a lot of various bugs and worms get into my chilies and eat away, so I don't think they will keep your bird parasite free.

I wouldn't think many wild parrots live in geographical regions where chilies grow. It is thought that chilies originated in the Americas and were then cultivated all over the world as far back as 6000 years ago. There are very few overlaps of wild growing chilies and wild parrots in nature.

I think red peppers whether hot or not should be included in your parrot's diet. Red peppers are full of beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), and vitamin C. A maintenance diet for an adult bird should contain between 2500 IU/kg to 5000 IU/kg vitamin A daily and only reaches a toxic level somewhere between 20 and 100 times that amount. It is well known that vitamin A is very important for vision, but it is also important for proper growth and disease resistance. A healthy bird doesn't need an external source of vitamin C since they synthesizes it in the gut, but an external source is considered necessary for juvenile growing parrots and any parrot that is compromised from disease.

In humans there is a great deal of research going on with capsaicin and most of those studies are being done by reputable institutions. As stated above NIH is looking at capsaicin as a treatment for bleeding ulcers. They are also researching its natural anti-inflammatory activities for pain relief and for the treatment of arthritis. Other studies indicate it can help in weight loss, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and control glucose levels in diabetics. There are also indications that it can prevent colon cancer. In India they eat chilies before they go outside and work. They claim it reduces the effects of the hot sun. Sure, if your mouth is burning up who is going to notice that it's 100 degrees outside?

That said I should be a pretty healthy person and my birds should be pretty healthy too. I eat something hot every day of my life and so do my birds. I carry a small vile of ground pure red habanero in my pocket most everywhere I go. My birds don't have pockets, so they rely on me to give them their daily dose. I have some minor arthritis in my hands, but when I am picking chilies the pain goes away for days. I can't figure out how to get my birds to go out and help me pick peppers. Maybe I need to consult with Steve Martin on that one.

BTW since that news story aired I have sold a ton of hot sauce and my orders for pepper plants will keep me busy for months.

I hope this helps you out, Glenn

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I am extremely worried about one of my masked Lovebirds, Pipsqueak who will be 8 years old on 10th October. Earlier this year she started to breath
quickly and deeply but with no real tail bobbing. A course of Batryl made no difference. In herself she is well eating well interacting with her
friends and above all spending alot of time out with me. My excelent Avian Vet Dr Alex Maute of Southbeech Veterinary Surgery in Essex then tried her
on a diuretic, no change. We then took the risk of anesthetic to do x rays and bloods and other than the slightest possibility of enlargement to the
liver, nothing. He then treated her for Aspergillosis with Itrafungol and also milk thistle, again no change. After flying around she breathes more
heavily and tends to have a sleep but otherwise in herself she still appears to be well. However the closesness that I have with her, indeed I
rferer to her as my child, causes me to know that all is not well. She has an excelent diet and living conditions. Please can you help as I am
desperate not to loose her, if neccessary I will take her anywhere in the country if you think that someone could help.

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

This is not an easy set of questions to answer, unfortunately. What you really need to get established as soon as possible for your ill lovebird is a succinct diagnosis and clear treatment intervention plan. For the most part, what you seem to have here is at best some presumptive diagnoses, and quit a bit of symptomatic treatments being delivered.

You may ask your veterinarian for a referral to an established specialist in avian medicine and surgery, to try to help you best get to the root of things as soon as possible. One option to consider for you would be at least a phone call to a colleague of mine in Swindon-Wilts, UK. His name is Dr Neil Forbes, and the telephone number there is 44-1793-603800. As an established diplomate in the European College of Avian Medicine and Surgery (ECAMS), Neil should be able to help guide you and/or your local veterinarian towards some diagnostic answers.

Best of luck for you and your bird!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My Question:
my 5 year old (ducorps) cockatoo, has recently started to eat wood (dowel and wooden beads) rope, plastic. Last time he was in the carrier he ate the paint of the carrierdoor, he won't be in there anymore. I founded out that every day there is wood in his droppings. I don't react to it, he needs things to play with, for the rope I only use hennep rope or sisal, and the toys I make for him are made are made of supplies of childrentoys like the beats. How can I break through this behaviour?

renate koerten

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Renate,
Thank you for this interesting question. It is obvious that you are a good provider and caregiver for your little ducorps cockatoo (one of my favorite birds years ago was a ducorps). I appreciate that you take the time and effort to provide him with safe enrichment items. However, parrots can sometimes make even the safest enrichment items dangerous.

As you know parrots may chew on almost anything they get their beaks on. There are probably many purposes for this chewing, only some of which we can guess at. Chewing and tearing apart items is a great way for a parrot to play with and investigate an object. Wild parrots often chew on branches, leaves, husks, etc., shredding them into small pieces that they drop to the ground. I believe chewing on wood helps a parrot keep its beak in good shape. I often give my parrots things to chew on for enrichment, exercise, and to help keep their beaks clean and well-coped. In fact, I have never had to cope, or trim, a parrot's beak in over 40 years of keeping parrots.

I think it is very rare for a parrot to eat and pass wooden pieces. As you already know, parrots often chew apart objects such as wood, rope, plastic, etc. Most of the time these items are just chewed into small pieces spread over the bottom of the cage. You mentioned that there is wood in your bird's droppings. Is it possible that tiny pieces of the wood he has chewed have fallen on the bottom of the cage and become mixed with his feces? I have had a few shocking discoveries myself when I found feces mixed in with tiny pieces of wood. At first, I thought the bird had passed the pieces of wood, but on further investigation it became apparent that the feces were deposited on top of the pieces of wood and made it look like the bird passed the wood. However, if your bird is actually passing wood, then I believe it is a serious situation that needs to be addresses quickly before the bird injures itself.

The first step should be a consultation with a veterinarian. You might pose your question to one of the avian veterinarians on this site to get their opinion. However, you can never go wrong taking your bird to a qualified avian veterinarian for an examination.

It is possible that increasing the activity level of your bird can have a positive impact on his wood chewing/eating behavior. I am happy to see you have hemp and sisal rope for your bird. I have not used hemp, but I know my birds do very well with the sisal rope. It is natural and safe for the birds. It gives them lots of exercise and plenty of enrichment. I suggest you try to set up an area where the bird has plenty of room to exercise outside of the cage. Ideally it would be an area where the bird can climb around on natural tree branches, sisal rope, etc. These play areas are great for birds when the owner is there to monitor their behavior. However, if left alone a parrot might get off of this play area and wander around the house and get into trouble. That's why I recommend a very large cage. Most of our parrots are in cages that are about four to six feet wide, by six to eight feet deep, and seven feet high. A cage this size can offer enough room for a parrot to fly from one end to the other and still leave room for plenty of toys, branches and other enrichment items. The cages we use come from a company called Corner's Limited. This company makes cages mostly for zoo animals. Their cages are custom designed and usually less expensive than even smaller sized parrot cages.

Also, I suspect your bird is more likely to chew and eat wood when you are not around. So, the challenge is to find a way to entertain the bird when you are gone. I often recommend to people who have a single bird that they leave alone while they are at work all day that they consider getting a companion parrot for their bird. Even if you do not put the two birds together, they can offer each other some level of comfort just being in adjacent cages. These days there are many parrots available for adoption through various rescue centers, sanctuaries, etc. Wild parrots are rarely seen alone. They are almost always in groups, or with at least with a companion. I suspect a single parrot in someone's house would feel much more comfortable with another bird around. I also suspect a bird that is comfortable will be less likely to exhibit aberrant behavior, like eating wood. If you do decide to get a partner for your parrot and want to house them together, be careful to take out any boxes, or other dark areas that they might want to try and nest in. Also be very careful about how you introduce the birds to one another. It is always best to take it slow and very cautious when introducing new birds to each other. Lastly, keep in mind that there is a chance that two birds together could develop a strong bond that might influence the relationship you currently have with your bird. So, if you do decide to get another bird it will be important to keep your relationship with both birds as strong as possible. You can do this with lots of interactions with the individual birds and plenty of positive reinforcement.

I hope these suggestions have given you some ideas and maybe some strategies to try with your bird.

All my best,

Steve Martin

filed under: Behaviour and Training

Dear Glenn, I've got two plants in my yard growing up along my aviary which I can't find on the "Toxic Plants" or "Safe Plants" lists. Can you help? They are the Princess Flower (AKA Glory Bush) and Mandevilla. The aviary was just erected and, as soon as I put some cockatiels in it, the birds started eating the leaves of the Princess Flower right away. It didn't seem to bother them, but they haven't touched it since that day. I have 17 birds, all different kinds of adoptees, and I don't want to risk their health.

Thank you very much for the service you offer to the WPT.

Cindi Eppers

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Cindi, Great question. This one took some research. Please keep in mind that various plants may or may not be toxic to different animal species; therefore, I don't know that there is any definitive answer to this.

The Princess Flower or Glory Bush is in the Family: Melastomataceae, Genus: Tibouchina, Species: urvilleana. I cannot find anything that suggests this family of plants is toxic. Unfortunately I can't find anything that states it's not toxic either. Everything I can find states "unknown", so I would be cautious. My feeling is if uncertain don't take the chance.

The Mandevilla is in the Family: Apocynaceae, Genus Mandevella, with many different species. Notice "cynaceae" in the family name suggesting cyanide. This entire family is listed as toxic to humans. Oleander is included in this family. Depending on species the toxins are found in anything from the root and milky sap to all parts of the plant. The milky sap is listed as a skin irritant. Toxins and reactions from some species and various parts of the plant are: Cathartic; causing vomiting, self limiting; Glycosides causing increased pulse and temperature, dilated pupils, sweating, cold extremities, mild diarrhea, and death; Cardiac Glycosides causing burning of the mouth, drowsiness, diarrhea, vomiting, heart failure, and death.

Obviously you want to remove the Mandevilla from your aviary area and as stated above I would be cautious of the Princess Flower unless you can find something stating that it is not toxic.

Cathartic - Medicine or substance causing emptying of the bowels

Anthraquinone glycosides - Hydrolysis yields aglycones (A nonsugar compound that is produced from the reaction of a glycoside with water. Alcohols and phenols are aglycones.) which are purgatives causing vomiting and diarrhea
Cardiac glycosides - Steriods affectiong heart function
Saponin glycosides - Hydrolysis yields a saponin (soap like substance) which has a bitter taste and is irritating to mucous membranes and may destroy red blood cells

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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