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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much,

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

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

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

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

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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

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

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope that helps,


filed under:

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

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

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


Answered by E.B. Cravens:

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

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

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

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

Cheers, EB Cravens

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Feeding, EB

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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

Very thankful for some help in answering these questions! smile

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

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

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

Good luck with your research!

filed under: General

Dear Phoebe, I have tried time and time again to slowly introduce pellets into my pet Cockatiel's diet, but it seems she would rather starve than eat pellets. It always ends the same way, she eats all of her seed and will not eat again until I have poured her more seed. What am I doing wrong?

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi and thank you for writing World Parrot Trust about your Cockatiel's diet. It can be super-frustrating to try time and time again with the pellets and still have her refuse to eat them. Food fights can be common with parrots, so the first thing I’m going to recommend is that you take a break from the dietary concerns. Relax, and let go of any preconceived notions you have on how long it should take, how many she should eat, etc. Presumably, she’s healthy, so you can trust her wild wisdom.

Because you write that you've tried many things already, you probably already know that a lot of parrots like to dunk their pellets. So, if she doesn’t already have a bowl of shallow water right beside the bowl of pellets, add one and the problem may be resolved. Lots of our parrots only eat pellets that they've dunked in water. We call this Pellet Soup. Don’t worry about the water getting too dirty: you may need to change it a couple of times a day, but that's doable. You can use a hook-on cup right next to her pellet bowl and put in it just an inch or so of water so she can retrieve the pellets once they are wet to her satisfaction. Another thing that helps is having a separate bowl for pellets, another for seeds, another for veggies and nuts and at least one, usually two, for water, per cage. The smaller water bowl is placed by the food bowls intentionally, for soup-making, with the larger water bowl in another location for big drinks of fresh water or bathing.

Also, be sure you have several varieties of high-quality pellets on hand. Buy small bags of different kinds and sizes. Be sure they are scrupulously fresh, too. To help you keep track, feed only one kind at a time, but over the weeks, definitely mix it up. When you notice that she’s dunking or pulverizing a specific type, keep feeding that type for a while. Once your Cockatiel eats one kind/size of pellet, she’s more likely to try another kind. However, she may also become loyal to one brand, so be ready to change your mind along with hers. Keep watching for and taking her signals. This reminds me that parrots in the wild eat seasonally. No boring hum-drum diets for them, but fresh offerings that coincide with rainfall, sunlight, winds and capricious availability.

The more generally adventuresome your Cockatiel is, the more likely she is to try new things, including foods. Foraging, foraging toys, the acts of foraging – these are essential elements to good eating habits. Therefore, plenty of space is essential not only for foraging, but also for exercise as the more calories she expends, the more foods she’ll eat. A large cage (what’s commonly called "Amazon-Sized") works well for exploratory confident 'tiels and, properly perched, affords her lots of opportunities for an enriched captive life. However, it's not only about the cage.

What I find with my flock of companions is that they do their most adventuresome eating when they are not near their regular food bowls. Away from their cages – that’s where a sense of adventure and an exploratory nature best thrive. (The only thing more boring to eat than a bowl of pellets? Eating those pellets while stuck in a cage.) Can you imagine eating the same dried food every day while in the same location? Blech. So, let her in to the kitchen with you and watch what she samples. In my kitchen, there’s a basket for parrots, a table-top stand with bowls, a large windowsill dedicated to parrots (no nick-knacks) and plenty of counter space where they walk around and spread, toss and sample foods. I'm ostensibly cooking and they are ostensibly helping me. What’s really happening is mulch-making.

This is one of the many things my parrots have taught me – once past babyhood, they no longer view me as the ultimate authority on everything: they like to discover their own preferences. It's my joy and job to provide them with environments in which they discover what they like to do and how they like to eat. If you give your 'tiel the space and materials, she'll show you what she likes.

Sometimes, they eat pellets (or other foods) that they've first wrapped up or poked into fabric or shoelaces. They take the pellet (or nut or celery stalk or whatever) and poke it in to fabric, then eat the bits and crumbs. It's a combination of playing and eating. My little Rosie Cockatoo, Nikki, likes her pellets squished among the strands of a Ring Around the Rainbow made by Star Bird ( which I keep on the kitchen counter especially for this reason. Only yesterday Nikki munched on a huge macaw-sized pellet that she’d stuck into her rainbow strands. Granted, this might be the only pellet she eats for several days – and mostly she pulverized it – but she definitely ate a pellet. You might try cutting 2” x 4” strips of cotton and seeing if your cockatiel likes to make wraps for her foods. Lightly mound a few strips, a piece or two of her favorite nut and a couple of pellets on a flat surface and let her explore. Cockatiels love walking around while they eat and they eat best by picking at foods scattered around in what might seem to us a haphazard manner, but if it makes sense to them, let’s learn from that. She probably loves dropping stuff on the floor, too, which is part of cockatiel eating. Think of it this way – if she drops 50 pellets on the floor, she has 50 chances of tasting one! So, let her play the wrap-it-up/forage/mulch/toss games and see what happens.

By expanding the idea of 'converting her to a pelleted diet' into 'providing her with opportunities to be creative' you’ll enrich both of your lives. Eventually, given the right choices in the right environments, she'll eat a diet that’s smart for her. Messy for you, but smart for her. Good luck and have fun.

All best,
Phoebe Linden and Flock

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear vet,

I'm the owner of two Myiopsitta Monachus. I usually give them a prepared mix for parrots, with different kinds of seeds. However, I noticed they like marrow seeds best. So, I give them these seeds as a reward when they speak or they generically do as I say, but I still haven't found out in any book if they are harmful to their health. Can I go on giving them these seeds? They are very fond of pizza, bread and breadsticks , too. Is that good?

Thanks for your attention!

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Diego -

Your Quaker parakeets, it sounds, are basically eating a diet of a seed mixture with bread related products. This is, overall, not what we would typically regard as a healthy long-term maintenance diet. There is going to be considerably excess fat, an unclear balance of the micronutrients, and the processed grains in those bread products are adding to the bird's ability to make fat and cholesterol. This species is known to have considerable health problems whem matintained on this type of a diet. I am not sure what you are referring to as a marrow seed - but am assuming that you are referring to those that have a considerable larger amount of meat contained within them. These often include sunflower, pumpkin and squash, and safflower seeds - all of which are quite high in fat content.

Ideally, I would suggest that you feed a lower-energy diet, consisting of lower fat content items predominately. If available where you are, a fair base for your bird's diet will be some of those commercial formulated (pellet) diets, to which you can add vegetables. Your use of the seeds that the birds prefer to eat as a positive reinforcement for training and enrichment is excellent, and done properly, there should not be an excessive amount of fat intake that results from their use in that manner.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have an african grey parrot. His name is Gago. He is living with us now more than years. He speaks like a human being. He has vocabulary of over 100 words. He is very clever. Gago likes or loves my wife and he never bites my wife but he bites me when I want to put him in his cage or to take to other place in our home. Sometimes he bites me without giving any sign. I understand that he doesn't like me. How can I change his attitude to me? Thank you for your help.

Answered by Hillary Hankey:

Hello Mehmet, Sounds like you have a very intelligent parrot in your house. It’s never easy to be in a love triangle involving a bird, no matter what end you are working from. Good for you for seeking quality information on this behavior challenge. With a basic understanding of how behavior works and using a powerful tool in positive reinforcement, we can focus on a few key areas that will help you reduce the biting and build a better relationship with Gago.

Preventing the bite

Avoiding situations where Gago has bitten in the past or is more likely to bite is one of the most important steps we can take to improving your relationship with Gago. On the one hand, we want to keep him from rehearsing the biting behavior. Any behavior that is performed over and over again, whether it’s driving a car, showing off a card trick, or, as in this case, biting, is going to come more fluent and more efficient, which in this case, is not something we’d like to see happen! We don’t want that behavior becoming stronger, longer, faster, and more intense.

Additionally, when a parrot bites, it means we have put him in a situation where he feels that is his most effective – if not his only way - of getting his point across. A parrot usually gives signs through body language that he is uncomfortable or stressed before he bites. You noticed that Gago doesn’t always give a sign before he bites; good for you for looking for those signs! If in the past we have ignored those body language signals and continue interacting with the bird in the same manner, he will learn that the only behavior that gets his point across is biting. When the biting becomes so swift, we can look at two areas to help us prevent the bite from happening:

1. Identify environmental conditions that have usually preceded the bite. For instance, stepping the parrot up off of a favored person, putting our hand in front of his abdomen to step him up from a perch, and, as you mentioned, putting the bird back in the cage or taking him to an unfamiliar room are all very common conditions that we can reliably use to predict a bite.

Once we have identified the conditions, we can effectively avoid them! If he bites when you put him back in his cage, than we can have the person who has a stronger relationship with him be the one to do that until you are able to maintain a healthy relationship with him.  If being taken in to a strange room or being placed on an unusual perch has historically brought about a bite, then these too can be avoided.

2.  Look for the tiniest of signs that Gago might bite. These might include a tightening of feathers against the body, lowering his head, gripping his toes tighter on his perch, shifting his body weight in the opposite direction, taking a step away, even possibly just turning his eyes away from you… these are all tiny signs you might notice would precede a bite. Once you have identified these and see them while you are interacting with Gago, then you can stop what you are doing, and immediately return to the last place he was comfortable. This strategy will teach him that he can get across the point that he is uncomfortable without having to bite, allowing him to use less body language to get the same point across.

Become the bearer of all things good

In addition to avoiding situations that Gago would be most likely to bite, we can at the same time start increasing the value of having you close by Gago. We can remove all of Gago’s most favorite goodies, such as nuts, sunflower seeds, grapes, banana, and so on, from his food bowl and have them delivered to him by only you. Much like a child getting his dessert only after he has eaten his dinner, we are still allowing Gago to have his full diet, just arranging Gago’s personal favorite food items with teaching interactions so that he associates these highly enticing treats with activities he has previously found less desirable. You can either feed this to him by hand through the cage bars or on a perch, one goodie at a time. If Gago has a history of biting your fingers when you try to handfeed him, you can try using spoon to offer the treat or simply drop in his food cup. The idea is that once Gago starts to realize that every time he sees you, he gets something really yummy out of it, he will start looking forward to your presence.

Utilize a positive reinforcement program to build on his good behavior

Once Gago has started to associate your presence with his most favorite goodies, we can go about using positive reinforcement to give him information about what we want him to do in situations where he previously would have bitten. With positive reinforcement, we give the parrot something he likes, such as a food treat, scratch on the head, favored toy and so on, when he performs a behavior we want to see continue or increase. For instance, if there are certain scenarios where he will step on to your hand without biting, then we can immediately offer him a treat for doing so. It’s important to deliver that goodie promptly so that he associates it with the behavior we want. In this case, because he loves your wife so much, it could be that in order to have the opportunity to be with her, he steps up on to your hand. (There is a fabulous article about this written by Dr. Susan Friedman’s daughter here:

Something that might help us when we think of behavior and start to learn about positive reinforcement is analyzing the relative value certain activities might have for the bird. For instance, sitting with your wife sounds like it is a very high value activity for Gago. So could be sitting on a high perch with a panoramic view of the household, away from reaching hands and strange objects. On the other hand, walking in to a strange room or going back in to his cage, away his favorite person and away from the hub of socialization and enrichment, would have a significantly lower value to the bird.

When moving from a high value activity to one of lower value, we can use positive reinforcement to balance the value the bird might find from each activity.  Let’s take the example of Gago going back into his cage, a common environmental condition of parrots to bite. If every time your wife puts him back in his cage, he gets a lovely nut, the value of stepping on to that cage perch will increase. It might help to increase the overall value of being in the cage by making sure it is filled with lots of enriching toys, perhaps rotating the toys every few days so the environment stays fresh.

For further information about working with parrots through positive reinforcement is Barbara Heidenreich at She has a terrific magazine called “Good Bird!” and many articles and DVDs. Additionally, for more information about how understanding behavior can help us with our birds, you can visit Dr. Susan Friedman’s site and look for her articles under “Written Works.”

With a keen eye like you have demonstrated and armed with some information, I have no doubt you and Gago will be on the road to a better relationship. It takes patience and you can keep the sessions short and happy, and you will each come away feeling more empowered!

Hillary Hankey

filed under: Behaviour and Training

My 1 year old Congo African Grey (Bruno) loves to play. I often see him swinging on a rope upside down, making funny noises and pretending to attack toys hanging from the cage ceiling (or rather "defending" himself from the toys that are trying to "attack" him). When he is on the top of his cage, he loves to throw objects (like a small rubber ball) into the air, then run and pick it up, then throw again, run and pick it up and throw again and again.

My question is: is this type of active physical play normally seen in wild nature?

I know that parrots in the wild engage in play fights or flights to practice predator evasion. but that is more like a social play. Do wild African Greys play the same way as Bruno does? I heard an opinion that unless the bird is very well fed, it shouldn't be expending energy engaging in play like that. Every bit of stored energy should be used to obtain food, shelter and in other survival activities. Is that true?

Thank you, Lena

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

Dear Lena, First of all, anytime a parrot exhibits play-like behavior, that's a very good sign indeed as it indicates that the bird is feeling good about life. After all, depressed, malnourished, or sick birds are really unlikely to be inspired to play.

Wild parrots, especially young birds in their first few years, are especially likely to exhibit behaviors which for us look like play. To the best of my knowledge, no one has spent enough time around wild Grey Parrots to have a really clear sense for how common this is in birds of various ages. Hopefully in the coming years, that will change and we'll get more of this kind of detailed information about their lives in the wild.

Very few wild animals are on such a tight energy budget such that expending some energy on play behavior would be of concern. Parrots in particular tend to feed on super abundant and very rich food. For example, one of the Grey's favorite fruits in the wild contains about 50% fat, so some of their preferred food items are extremely rich. Generally wild parrots feed a short period in the morning, and then spend most of the day resting, and then feed again in the mid-late afternoon. They have a lot of free time and should have ample energy for play should they be so inclined.

In any event, the more your bird spends time in play mode, the better. And the more different kinds of play you can introduce him to now while he's willing to try new things, the more likely he'll retain some of these playful, healthy activities later in life.

Good luck!


filed under: Behaviour and Training

Hi Jim, I have three budgies. One is a female, six years or older. I adopted her a year ago. She will step up, and take treats from my hand. The second is a male, from the pet store, he is under one year of age. He steps up, will eat from my hand. The third was adopted, he was caught by a cat and had spent an undetermined time in the wild, I have had him for a few weeks. He is very timid and scared. They are in separate cages at the that the correct thing to do until I have formed a bond with them? I need advice on how to proceed with handling/taming them. (I have not clipped their wings) I would like to be able to let them have time outside the cages. My house unfortunately is very 'open plan' with few doors, so it is difficult to find a safe, smaller area to work with them. I have been going very slowly with trying to tame them, and would like advice on how to deal with three birds at once.

Answered by Jim McKendry:

G’day, Thanks for getting in touch with WPT with your question. Perhaps the first mindset to establish in achieving your long-term goal of building a trusting relationship with your third Budgie is that you can successfully build that relationship in the short-term whilst he is still inside his cage. As you are already aware, once he is out and about with the other two, arranging your environment so that you have opportunities to shape a positively reinforced association with you would be a real challenge. With a bunch of impeding variables that would be difficult, if not impossible, to control in an out of cage environment, let’s focus on what can be achieved while he is still in his cage.

Re-shape your goal set and focus on opportunities for you to put in place the following strategy…
First steps in developing a trusting relationship for you and this Budgie will be achieved by dedicating multiple times during the day when you can sit near his cage and allow him the time to observe you, become comfortable in your presence, and establish a reduced sense of threat from your presence in his environment.

This process is essentially allowing him to `gradually desensitize’ to you. To achieve this, gradually decrease the distance you are sitting from him when you observe that he is becoming more comfortable with you. This distance criterion is gradually shortened through observation of `calm’ indicators from his body language. Comfortable perching position, sitting on one foot, relaxed feathering, preening, feeding, drinking, vocalizing, playing with enrichment items, perching closer to you than moving away. These are all indicators that you can move closer and allow another period of time for him to establish comfort at that new distance.

As an already experienced and savvy Budgie owner, you will no doubt be well equipped to observe him and know when to raise your criteria for closer interaction. Combined with this, set his cage up so that there is a food bowl in a location that enables you to drop in a highly valued food treat as you walk past without having to put a hand in the enclosure itself. Each time you walk past his cage, drop a treat in there for him to hopefully start pairing the presence of you and your hand with the delivery of something of value to him.

Once your Budgie is observably comfortable with you sitting near his cage, start looking for opportunities to deliver those bowl treats for any slight movements towards you. From there the criteria can be raised to offering the food treat between the cage bars. A millet spray is a great reward for this and enables you to position your hand further away initially bolding the millet at the base and the seed head through the bars. If that criteria is achieved you can consider taking the next step and opening the door to deliver access to the millet spray by hand.

To improve your chances of success and to increase his potential motivation to move towards accessing a millet spray or seeds dropped in a bowl, make sure that you present these reinforcement opportunities at times prior to his normal feeding routine. If he has a full belly from his daily free feed then he will be less likely to be motivated to interact with you to receive the same thing that is on offer without the mental hoops to jump through.

Always assess his comfort and level of trust in you before raising your criteria. Sometimes people will suggest that this process is a case of two steps forward and one step back. I disagree. If you work sensitively with your Budgie you won’t be taking backward steps – just moving forward and building behavioural momentum towards your goal of having a trusting relationship with him.

Keep him separate or integrate him into your flock? For now I would definitely work with him on his own, in his own cage. It is much easier to control the variables and distractions that would make achieving your relationship building goals difficult if he were in with the other two. Budgies do thrive in flocks though and being a part of a flock enables a wealth of observational learning. Once you have established an improved level of trust and confiding responses in your presence you can consider co-housing all three of them. That would definitely be the long term goal. If your existing two Budgies are already savvy operators within your home and have regular fly arounds, I'm confident that you will find your guy is watching them and learning where suitable perching positions are. When he finally gets the chance to join them he will likely follow their lead - and then the fun begins grin

I would also highly recommend accessing the following articles available here at WPT for additional insights and for the `next steps’ once you have your Budgie literally `eating out of your hand’ ☺

Best of luck from Down Under,
Jim McKendry

filed under: Behaviour and Training

If I want to bring another parrot into my home (where I already have two
parrots), is there really any risk of that bird having chlamydia/psittacosis
if it has been bred in the UK?

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

Thanks for this excellent question, Helen. The incidence of contagious disease, including psittacosis, has decreased since the importation of wild-caught birds has become illegal. However, this has not eliminated contagious disease, even in the captive-bred parrot population. I do recommend testing and quarantine of all new birds before their introduction into the flock. Your best source of information is your own qualified avian veterinarian. A local veterinarian would know best about the prevalence of disease and recommended testing procedures for your specific area.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I have a Yellow Crowned Amazon who has been coughing and sneezing for a few months now. I've taken her to the vet several times and they've given her respiratory therapy and a few shots, but it doesn't seem to have worked. She does have a normal appetite and acts normally, but still coughs and sneezes a lot.

Could you please give me any other ideas / advice?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Hi, Abel -

It is impossible to provide much accurate information for you with an ill bird that really seems to require accurate diagnosis and treatment. The examining veterinarian involved here is best posed to answer many of your questions. Here are a few questions that you may want to consider asking when you see your veterinarian again: What is the diagnosis? What types of treatment have been administered? Why? Is referral to a specialist recommended? Outside consultation?

Not trying to be challenging, but good medicine is based on an accurate physical assessment of the patient in question, a narrowed diagnosis, applied treatment plan, and followup to assure that the desired goal(s) have been achieved - and this, to some extent, is limited when there is no ablility to actually see the patient in question.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Thank you for considering my question. I have a rainbow lorikeet that has ended up as my pet. I'm a WIRES carer and he (I can't be sure he is a male) came into my care in April as a displaced chick while he was a grey ball of down. I hand raised him with the intention of releasing him but at a certain point I took him to a vet who advised that he had beak and feather so was not releasable but that he could have a good life as a pet.

So at that point my partner and I started to treat him as a pet. A few weeks later I took him to another vet due to a thrush infection and while there, they did a DNA test that showed he does not have B&F. He does have poorly formed feathers though which the vet attributed to a nutritional &/or trauma incident related to him coming into care. He can fly in a limited way but needs to molt before he will be able to fly properly and the vet advised that he would not be releasable due to the length of time in care.

My partner and I love him very much and he has become known as Friend. I am a relatively new wildlife carer and we have never had a pet bird before so we have been figuring things out as we go.

Friend has a large cage but we try to let him out as much as possible and he loves interacting with us and is super playful. About two weeks ago Friend had been hanging out with me in my bedroom for about an hour, playing and exploring the space. At one point he just flew straight up from the bed and bit me extremely hard on my upper lip, drawing blood. I had to catch him to put him in his cage. He has since engaged in the same behaviour about 6 times with me, always going for my face and in particular my mouth; though he hasn't done it to my partner Nathan. We are both very attached with Friend though I am the one who feed him as a baby, I'm the one who does things like give him medication if he needs it.

I have started to recognize his precursor behaviour, his eyes pin and he stares intently at my face and there is just a shift in his body language. Each time he has bitten me (and now when he is starting to show the signs) we have put him back in his cage and waited for at least 15mins & he has settled down to get him out.

I'm afraid I'm starting to become fearful of handling him. I don't want him to be unhappy and I really don't want to be bitten.

I had thought that perhaps it was a result of hormones related to Spring but everything I have read says that they don't sexually mature until two years and he was only born around March/April.

As we don't know much at all about having a pet bird we haven't trained him at all and it was fairly common for us to have to catch him to put him in his cage when it was time. After reading info online I see how silly
that is and we're trying to use positive reinforcement of his much loved grapes to get him into his cage.

He use to do a thing where he would hop around our heads and shoulders and flap super rapidly for about 30secs and bite at our heads though not hard. We use to cover our faces while he flapped but we didn't stop him doing
it. Since the biting started we have not allowed him to engage in this behaviour on us.

I really want to sort out what is going on for him and I want to do the right thing by him and me. I would really appreciate some advise, I'm worried that I could be making it worse through ignorance.

He is molting at the moment and he spent last weekend at the vet because he had been regurgitating. The vet thought it was an infection though he was also treated for heavy metal poisoning just in case. I have given him his last dose of antibiotics tonight.

I'm more than happy to do as much research and training with him as I need to and Nathan & I are happy to go to as much effort as is needed. We would happily consider getting him a companion rainbow lorikeet and have been
thinking about it anyway as we want his social needs to be met especially during the day while we're at work. I was a little bit worried about the possibility of them not getting on and how to go about it. At this point I
feel like I need to sort out the issues with his behaviour before adding another bird into the mix. We would even consider taking him to live at a Wildlife park such as Featherdale if that was what was best for him. We would find it a very difficult thing to do but we would rather he was happy. He calls back and forth to the local wild lorikeets and they occasionally come down close to observe him. I just worry that having been a tame bird that going to
somewhere like Featherdale may also cause him problems and stress.

I'm sorry for the super long question but I want to give you the full picture. If you have any questions please let me know.

Thank you for your time.

Answered by Susan Friedman & LLP Course Graduates:

Dear Michaela,

You asked Jim McKendry about Friend's behavior but he is unfortunately unavailable this month. I hope the responses from my team are helpful! S.

Hi Michaela,

Shauna from the LLP teaching team! It is a super call on your part to be looking into Friend's diet. Good nutrition is imperative to help assure a bird’s health (physical and behavioral) and longevity. This becomes even more critical in cases of malnutrition evidenced by poor feathering such as you describe with Friend. Malnutrition can result in a wide range of adverse effects by compromising a bird's state of overall well-being.

It’s important to keep in mind that there have been only a few wild Lorikeet or other parrot diet studies to date, resulting in very little information about species typical diets. However, it is also worth considering that what birds eat in captivity needn’t be absolutely identical to the diet of their wild counterparts, given the huge difference in lifestyles between wild and captive birds. The brass ring of nutrition is the health of each individual in the environment in which they live.

We do know that Lorikeets have some special dietary requirements such as a food regimen that is low in iron and not excessively high in vitamin A or vitamin C. To meet these needs in captivity a specialized diet is critical. A diet that isn't too high in iron and also doesn't contain excessive amounts of vitamin A is needed. A safe way to provide vitamin A is through beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. Spirulina, in the correct amount, works well. The diet should also be diverse, including fresh fruits, a vegetable slurry, and a Lorikeet powder, Lorikeet pellet, or both. If offering Lorikeet pellets they can be left in a bowl all day. Also during the day a few whole foods, such as a whole berry hidden in a flower can be offered for foraging activity. Wildlife nutrition specialist from Australia, Debra McDonald, Ph.D., studied wild Lorikeet diet. Her product, Dr. Mac's formulated Lorikeet diet, may be available in your area. For more information, go to

Lorikeet slurry can be offered by combining some of the foods that are listed below with a blender. Slurries not only add fresh food to the diet, but they also provide phyto-nutrients and antioxidants, which formulated foods lack. Fruit also provides energy via natural sugars.

Fruits to consider for lorikeet slurry are as follows: papaya (include daily), mango, melon (several varieties to choose from), kiwi, apple, berries, lychees guavas, plum, peach, or apricot.

Vegetables you might include in the slurry: Sweet potato, carrot, beets, zucchini, squash. Always include some dark leafy greens, e.g., kale, mustard greens, collards, and dark leafy lettuces.

For some Lorikeet foraging enrichment, you can offer green beans, corn, and fresh flower blossoms such as nasturtiums, pansy, hibiscus, roses, sunflowers, zucchini flowers and dandelion.

Sprouted seeds can also be part of a healthy Lorikeet diet, and their addition will enhance overall nutrition by adding easy to digest protein, B- complex vitamins, and other nutrients.

Lory's can be fed twice a day such as offering a formulated Lory food next to a bowl of fresh water, some sprouted seeds in the morning, professionally formulated Lory food in the afternoon (next to fresh water again), and about 2 Tablespoons of slurry (mixed fruit and greens from a blender).

Foods to never offer are: honey, corn syrup or other refined syrups, molasses or table sugar. Refined sugars are not the same as plant sugars. Plants contain raffinose sugar, which act similarly to fiber and slows digestion time down. Refined sugars may negatively effect beneficial gut flora where as raffinose may be beneficial to gut flora. Also molasses is high in iron so not recommended for Lorikeets.

This is the diet protocol used at The Gabriel Foundation (TGF, a US parrot welfare organization). If you are able to offer Dr. Mac's Organic Lory Nectar then you should follow instructions for that product, which may be slightly different than what we do at TGF. All diet suggestions above are a combination of what has been used successfully at TGF and information shared by Dr. McDonald.

As with any diet change have a good scale on hand to keep an eye on Friend's weight. Be sure to get weights at the same time each day. An ideal time would be in the morning before breakfast, if that works with your schedule. Also be sure to discuss diet choices and changes with Friend's veterinarian.

All the very best,

Hi Michaela,

Billie here! I’m also teacher from the LLP team. First of all, thank you for coming to WPT for help with your problem. It sounds like you are willing to do whatever is needed to give Friend a life-long home. With that willingness, you will succeed. While we can’t cover all the information in one short email, we can certainly give you more “food” for thought about how behavior works, and some resources to consider.

Your main behavior concern is that Friend flies to your face and bites your lips. I do not blame you for not wanting to get bitten -- especially in the face. Biting is not a necessary part of having a companion parrots by any means. At the same time, we don’t blame friend for biting because from his point of view, it works – or he wouldn’t continue to do it! Our plan for behavior change requires that we redesign the environment, including what you do, to reduce the signals to bite and to remove reinforcers for biting.

It’s very astute of you to recognize his body language just before flying at your face. You described that his eyes pin, he stares at your face, and he shifts his body. Those are excellent observations, which we can use as predictors or warning signs. What you can predict, you can usually redirect or prevent.

Let’s start with the most basic foundation of behavior: Behavior that is repeated always serves a function the behaving individual. If you can observe what that is you may be able to provide that reinforcer for an acceptable, alternative behavior. For example, if the most immediate consequence for biting is that you move away, than try to move away at the first warning sign, when his eyes pin. This empowers your bird to use his behavior for an effect; that’s what behavior is for! It is a separate learning objective to teach your bird to approach you willingly and with enthusiasm. You can teach that by reinforcing small steps toward your hand. Again, give coming to you more function (value) for Friend and he will do it more often.

Even if we can’t figure out what reinforces a behavior, we can often reduce it by reinforcing a different behavior, the behavior you want to see more often. This approach, differential reinforcement of an alternative behavior, is usually paired with ignoring the problem behavior at the same time. The problem with biting is that it really can’t be ignored. When you are bitten, you are going to have some kind of reaction to it. No matter what your reaction is, whether screaming, ducking, or you turning away, it is most likely the bird has already been reinforced for biting you. The feel of your skin on his beak, or on his tongue could well be a reinforcer for his behavior. Flight is another reinforcer to consider. It is also entirely possible, since this is a young bird, that Friend is testing the limits in his environment, i.e., learning how to gain valued outcomes and escape unpleasant ones. Another consideration is the number of times he has been captured, which you wisely note is more intrusive than other methods available.

It is essential that you completely avoid getting bitten since anything your bird has an opportunity to practice improves! Even a small bird can do serious damage, especially when flying to your face. And it probably reduces the quality of Friend’s life too, to have a biting relationship with his companion.

When we want to change a behavior, we need to change what happens just prior to the behavior, what happens just after the behavior, or both. We never want any bird to get the opportunity to practice biting so let’s focus on what happens immediately before the behavior that sets the occasion for the behavior to occur. We should also be aware of what any consequences might be that would be maintaining and escalating the behavior.

If possible, try to remember the 6 times that Friend flew at you to bite you. Some possibilities might be:

1. How long has Friend been out of his cage?
2. What activity was he engaged in at the time? Was it interrupted?
3. Who was in the room? Were people talking loudly or interacting in particular ways?
4. Were you talking animatedly or waving your hands?
5. Was your attention directed elsewhere?
6. What does the bird escape/avoid by flying and biting your the face? Was Friend returned to the cage? Medication time? Capture time?
7. What does he gain by flying and biting your face?

These details can be key. For example, if Friend is most likely to bite when he has been out an hour and has not had much to do, you could put him in his cage before the hour is up. Leave him out for 45 minutes and put him away. Or, you can give him toys to play with while he is out of his cage so he has plenty to do, which may increase the value of going back into the cage when he’s tired of playing.

In the wild, birds are on the move a lot of the time foraging for food, building nests, flying to different places. In our homes, we need to take care to provide some of these activities. Make sure Friend has lots of toys in his cage that he plays with and toys on the outside of his cage. You will learn what toys he likes best as you try different types. You can make a lot of toys yourself to keep the cost down. Craft stores have a lot of supplies you can use. Just make sure that any wood parts aren’t painted and that you don’t give him anything toxic. If he doesn’t play with them when first introduced, that can be a great training activity.

It is also important that they have down time hanging out, relaxing, preening and napping. They should also get adequate rest each night. It might take some detective work on your part to figure out what sets the occasion for the behavior to occur, but the effort is certainly worth it.

As you suggest in your email, positive reinforcement is the way to go. To that end, we would suggest getting some information on bird behavior. At there are some excellent articles. Once you get to the web site, go to “Written Works” and then “Learning and Behavior.” I would suggest you start with the article “He Said - She Said, Science says.” The others are excellent as well. Check out the articles in “The Success Files” area under “Written Works” that deal specifically with biting that might give you some useful information. Also you could start training some basic behaviors, such as stationing, turnaround, and targeting, as they are easy to train. You could then move to step up and step down, and recall. All the time respecting the body language that says, “No thanks!” There are some wonderful articles at and great videos on training your companion bird available at Barbara Heidenreich’s website. Her web site is

We know you will succeed! Have fun; teach and learn together!
Good luck!

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any advice very welcome.

Answered by Jamie Gilardi:

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

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

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

David Woolcock - Paradise Park, Cornwall, UK

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hello, I took in a Yellow Collared macaw about 18 months ago. He is now about 18 years old and has spent most of his life being neglected, mistreated and passed from home to home. I know that he has been flicked and hit on the beak, had his cage hit to stop him screaming and at one stage was left in a back room for years because he was so loud. (there is more bad treatment in his past, but exactly what it was I don't know). When I first saw him he would lash out at the cage bars when anyone came near his cage. He also hadn't been out of his cage in years or been able to bath in that time (he could only get his head into his tiny water bowl). He is doing a lot better now, I have gotten rid of his swearing, he whistles for attention instead of screaming (most of the time), he gets out, wanders around exploring, and will usually end up sitting on my foot playing with my shoe laces and preening, i have also got him to step on and off a dowel so i can move him around.

The problem is you cannot get a hand close to him without him biting a finger right to the bone (can't blame him considering what hands have done to him in the past). On a few occasions he has stepped from the dowel onto my hand and for a second he seems relaxed, then suddenly his eyes pin, the feathers on his neck stand up and he latches onto a finger. Occasionally he will let you scratch his head through the cage bars, but only for a few seconds and then, eyes pin, neck feathers up and he lashes out. he is always showing he wants attention, but when you get close with a hand it is almost like he has a "flashback" to his previous experiences with hands.

Whenever possible I try reinforce when he is relaxed around hands. the question now is, is there hope that he will get over his fear of hands,or is it possible his fear is just too deep and he will always have a problem with hands? Will he be better off if i find him a partner and build an aviary for them, or possibly even send him to a sanctuary where he wont need to interact with people? I have to admit that I am a little wary of him after nearly needing stitches a few times, but i am happy to put in more time and effort if that is what is needed. In the end it is about what is best for him. Some advice would really be appreciated.


Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hi Bruce, My name is Melissa Williams, and I am one of the trainers with Natural Encounters, Inc.

It is so awesome of you to take this bird on and give it the kind of home it deserves! Working with animals always has its challenges, but when you bring a history of mistreatment and neglect into the picture a whole other set of challenges arise. The good news, however, is that with patience (which you seem to have a lot of) and positive reinforcement you have the opportunity to rebuild trust and continually work on the relationship! It's great that you have already taken so many steps in the right direction: making sure he has the opportunity to bathe, giving him enough space, and giving him attention on a level that he is comfortable with. Because of the negative experiences he’s had in the past, it may take a longer period of smaller progressions until he is comfortable stepping up and spending time on your hand, but I do believe it is possible, especially with the progress you have made so far. One thing to keep in mind is to only move forward as fast as the bird is comfortable. The other thing to consider is if and how the bird would benefit from learning to step onto and spend time on your hand to begin with. While it may seem like a simple behavior to us, it is a big step to ask a bird to step onto what, for them, is probably a much less stable surface than a perch or dowel, and one that will likely bring them into much closer proximity to the body of the person doing the handling.

One of the goals is to keep every interaction positive, even if that means keeping interactions short and having more of them throughout the day. Because you mentioned he has a history of biting, he has likely learned to bite when he gets uncomfortable in order to go home and be left alone. Your goal will be to continue to be sensitive to smaller changes in his body language that occur before biting to allow the bird to let you know when he is uncomfortable, so that you can avoid having to get into a biting situation in the first place. By keeping each interaction short, you put him home or give him the space he likes to feel comfortable before he feels the need to practice biting. This also allows you to reinforce each positive interaction you have since it ends when he is still comfortable. As time goes on and your relationship builds, you will be able to slowly increase the amount of time you spend giving him attention, but it will have to be very slowly.

It's also great that you are working on reinforcing him for being calm when hands are around. Another great way to actively desensitize him to hands would be to start with your hands at a distance where the bird is comfortable and reinforce his successively smaller movements closer and closer to them, instead of bringing the hands closer and waiting to see when the bird becomes uncomfortable; this empowers the bird to use his body language to determine what distance is acceptable. You can start by placing your hands several feet away from him (or the closest point that he is completely comfortable with) and having some of his favorite treats a few steps towards your hands in front of him so that he has to take a step or two towards your hand to get them. Because he has an aversive history of hands approaching him, this gives him the power of choice as to whether to approach your hand or not. Once he seems completely confident approaching your hand at that distance, you can begin to move the reinforcements slightly closer to your hand, keeping in mind to keep your hand very still and not make any sudden movements that could make him nervous. Eventually, the end goal would be him walking up to you, stepping onto your hand, and taking the reinforcement nicely out of your fingers. It is important to help build his confidence by giving him the opportunity to approach an object or person whenever possible instead of them approaching him.

I think he has found a wonderful home with you and your immense amounts of patience. All of the negative experiences he has had in the past will have to be slowly and surely replaced with positive reinforcement and positive interactions that will build the trust necessary for a good relationship with him, but I believe it can be done! We wish you the best of luck, and look forward to hearing about your successes in the future.

Melissa Williams
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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