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About Phoebe Green Linden
In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa…

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Ask An Expert: Phoebe Green Linden

Browse by category: Parrot Care, Behaviour and Training, Conservation, Ethics and Welfare, Housing and Environmental Enrichment, General, Health and Nutrition

Hello. I live in Cyprus and I have 10 non handfed rescue parrots in an outside aviary right next to our terrace of different species each with a mate of its own variety. I also have a hand fed 1 year old male african grey who is one of our house pets. He has mated with me but accepts treats from my son and husband without allowing them to touch him. He seems very happy, talks all day, is allowed out of his cage at his own will (spends most of his time on top of it doing acrobatics) comes on my shoulder for road trips or when I'm in the garden etc. When I put him downstairs with the other parrots when we go out for the day or to clean his area he comes to the part of it which is closest to the house and makes noises until I get him out - he has not been threatened in there he just seems to prefer our company.

I have not clicker trained him as he was given to me by someone and I had not done my research. However, he comes onto my hand when I tell him to step up, unless sometimes he is not interested and wants to stay where he is. He shows me affection but he nips quite hard sometimes, though I don't think its intentional. My husband and I are organic farmers so we work from home and so Loulou the grey is not alone. When we leave for holidays for one month our housekeeper looks after him and he seems to do as she tells him when I am not around, although when I'm here its only me he wants. I will try to clicker train him because I am concerned that if I pass away (I'm still 33) in the future I don't want him to be unworkable.

I have only one son 2 years old who is very good with animals and do not want more kids so I'm hoping I can instill in my son the love and care for Loulou for the future. I am being overly pessimistic I know but I like to plan ahead- way ahead! My question is - should I get another african grey (same/opp sex) or another parrot species for Loulou as a bird mate? I have time for her and all that, I'm just thinking ahead again and have read that it is easier for a parrot to accept another when at a young age than later on, although not sure if this is true. Our friends have a one year old rescue Umbrella Cockatoo and Loulou loves it when the former preens him, whenever I take him for a visit. And he always asks for preens from our dogs - puts his fluffed up head forward bent over in front of their nose, and then proceeds to gently nip them if they don't respond. Thanks for any suggestions.

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Maria,

Thank you for writing the World Parrot Trust about your 1 year old African Grey, Loulou. You are doing so many things right with him and it's great to hear from someone who thinks into the future as you do. It's wonderful that you and your family have 10 rescued parrots, too, and that you provide an outdoor aviary for them with others of their kind. Thank you for your daily care of parrots in need. This is very meaningful.

You give a great description of Loulou and I can see him in my mind quite clearly. Even at only 1 year old, he shows some behaviors common in captive African Grey: one person favoritism the most predominant potential "problem" behavior. Now, while he's young, please begin to form your relationship with Loulou so that he considers you a Mom, flock member, friend, and buddy, but NOT his mate. This happens through diversity of engagements, and diversity is key for a high-caliber captive life. You can always be his main favorite, but he needs to receive reinforcement that's meaningful to him from other people, too.

This starts when you are in the same room so you can praise him, too, when he takes treats from and interacts with others, and then you'll step further away so the secondary people deliver more and more of the reinforcement and interaction. You increase your distance from Loulou as he increases his willingness to interact with (whistle with, bob/dance with and take treats from) others. All members of the household are flock members and it's important for Loulou to understand first through your actions that you are pleased when he takes treats from and makes flock noises with others, climbs into his cage when asked by others, and plays independently. Gradually, when you notice that he's getting the appropriate amounts of reinforcement from others and is interacting with them, you can leave the room and know that Loulou is having a good time. These skills will grow as everyone practices them.

You ask about getting another African Grey parrot as a potential friend for Loulou. I think, given your experience with rescue and Loulou's willingness to be preened by a cockatoo and your dogs, another African Grey will come in to your lives if and when that is what's supposed to happen. You probably won't need to look for one. One will find you and Loulou. If this happens (it may not), the two Greys – regardless of their sexes -- may develop a deeply meaningful relationship, a casual friendship, lasting animosity, or anything in between. Yes, it seems that older parrots who lose their mates choose younger replacements, but that could also be younger parrots choosing more experienced friends. In general, younger captive parrots are more accepting of change than many older captives, but in my experience, an easy-going personality trumps age every time. Parrots proficient with change are those who are physically adept – they stand on a variety of surfaces, flap their wings, climb, bounce, fly, land, and walk like athletes because they are athletic and live in spaces provisioned for athleticism.

You also mention clicker training. Yes, clicker training can yield effective training rewards mainly because 1) the person clicker training gives undivided attention to the parrot, therefore, 2) the rewards (treats and clicks) are delivered immediately (contiguously). In other words, clicker training works because people are attentive and the parrots get instantaneous rewards for appropriate behavior. Certainly clicker training can enhance interaction and is an effective learning tool: it helps build relationships that are based on undivided attention and positive reinforcement.

Whether you use a clicker or not, the key elements of successful training remain unchanged: undivided attention by a trainer who notices every nuance of body language and who consistently delivers continuous reinforcement and that only for desired behaviors. There are many ways to engage in positive reinforcement training; clicker training is one, but multitudes of meaningful and positive relationships develop without clicker training, too.

I recommend that you and Loulou get him comfortable stepping up on a few different surfaces. Sure, he might always step up on your hand for his whole life, but many Greys I've known are more willing to step onto the rim of their food bowl, for instance, or on to a basket or stick, for less-favored persons. Stepping onto inanimate objects is less stressful for parrots than stepping onto a non-favored hand, plus it offers a great degree of success for people, so it's doubly rewarding. It will be quite easy for you to train Loulou to step onto any or all of these types of objects, starting with his food bowl.

For this lesson, I recommend that you ask him to step onto his food bowl and he probably will as soon as you ask. Once he's situated, carry him while he's perched on his bowl to his play gym, aviary, play baskets or other places where he's allowed to go (not your shoulder). Ask him to step off, then practice a little if that feels right to both of you. I'm sure you already know not to rush Loulou or any parrots during this learning process – they learn behaviors that benefit captive lives at their own individual paces. Behaviors that increase their chances of survival in the wild are probably learned more quickly, but behaviors that their wild parents, grandparents and wild cousins never need to learn require very clear instructions from us as we carefully observe their novel understanding and appreciate their industry.

Because you and your husband are organic farmers, you probably have some good, well-enriched surfaces available where Loulou can hang out. So next, I recommend that you add a nice basket or two (or three) to places where Loulou goes; baskets that function like mini-playgyms. Find some with nice flat bottoms and a good sturdy handle, then put a flat rock in the bottom to weight the basket which is then covered with papers for easy clean-up. My parrots perch on these baskets, play on them, dig in them, and the shy non-hand-tame ones get carried here and there while perched on them, or fly to them when they choose to do so. When my husband and I travel, our caregivers use baskets and food bowls for conveyances for many parrots.

Put these baskets in various places where Loulou will see them and draw his attention to them. Chances are, he'll be really interested in them and want to explore them which you should facilitate. Once he knows they are his, you can offer these basket handles to Loulou when it's time for him to come out of his cage. When he's fluent with this skill, others can and should do the same.

These baskets that function as conveyances and mini-gyms are also useful tools that provide variety to parrots who like to sit on their favored person's shoulder, an activity that needs to be monitored. So the third thing I'm going to recommend is for you to prioritize getting Loulou comfortable in a variety of settings, baskets included, that are not your shoulder. Limit should time. Many parrots who spend the majority of their free time on their favored-person's shoulder tend to get entrenched in that position, and so excessive shoulder time works against variety. You may want to think of the amount of time that Loulou is interacting with people and be sure that only about 30 – 40% or even less of that time is on your shoulder.

Just as he eventually allows interaction with your caregiver during your annual holiday, he can and will learn to consent to interaction from others while you are in the same room or in adjacent rooms, but that takes work and dedication on the parts of others, not you. It's so rewarding, though, that your family and friends will have no trouble learning how to interact like friendly flock members with Loulou. You will set up the programs for your husband and friends and eventually for your son when he's older, but the caliber of relationship they have with Loulou will depend on their consistent efforts and how rewarding the experiences are for them, as well as for Loulou.

Captive parrots who have a positive response to lots of variety and who are physically adept fliers/athletes are most proficient at navigating whatever life brings, and super-engaging companions, so set Loulou up for his life-long success and the entire family/flock is sure to enjoy the experience.

Regarding the interaction between Loulou and your dogs. This may be difficult to understand, but it’s not a good idea to have your parrot and dogs interacting. There are too many horrible true stories about dogs who suddenly lunge at parrots. We cannot ignore these sad cases, many of which happen in surprise, even with dogs and parrots who are “friends.”

In any physical conflict between parrots and dogs, the odds can never be even. The odds are always that parrots run the risk of injury or death.

Loulou has the most to lose. Even the best people cannot control all possible scenarios between dogs and parrots. In cases of dog-to-parrot aggression, the odds are stacked against parrots and for this reason I recommend that dogs and parrots do not interact.

Maria, thank you again for the opportunity to participate in the wonderful relationship you already have with Loulou. I hope you find these suggestions helpful and I wish you and your family and flock all the best.

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm
Santa Barbara CA

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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

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

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

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Dear Linda,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm

filed under: Health and Nutrition

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

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All best,
Phoebe Linden

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

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

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All best,
Phoebe Linden
Santa Barbara CA

filed under: Parrot Care

We have two parrots in our living room: a female Congo African Grey born on 24.11.09 and a female Meyers parrot born on 24.03.10. As they do not like each other, they live in separate cages. For quite a while now I am considering to get a companion for our African Grey. The two of them should live in the same cage. Please give me your opinion/advice about that.

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hello Heidy, thank you for your support of World Parrot Trust and for asking about this important issue that affects captive parrots.

First, it’s generally not a good idea to get a parrot as a companion for another parrot. You got your Congo Grey in order to be a companion to you, so if either of you is unhappy or unfulfilled in that relationship, you need to start there, with the relationship between you and your Grey. Make an honest assessment of what you can do to make your Grey’s life as your companion more satisfactory, then do it. If you feel like you don't have time for her, or if you feel like she’s bored or lonely, then you need to alleviate those issues or any others that underlie your concerns.

It’s imperative to work on the dynamic between the two of you. Strengthen and broaden your relationship with her by providing her with parrot-centric enrichments and increasing the amount of quality time you spend together. Observe what she likes to do and give her lots and lots of opportunities to do that and to grow as an individual. Do the same for your Meyer’s.

Another reason not to get a companion parrot for a companion parrot is that we humans aren't infallible choosers. Most often, the parrot a human chooses to be another parrot’s “friend” is not one your Grey would choose. It’s like having someone chose your best friend or spouse – it doesn't work. Too random. Too many variables.

Even if, by sheer improbable luck, you got a parrot your Congo liked, the chances of them being compatible enough to share a single cage is slim to none. Maybe for a little while, and only then if the cage is huge, but not for long. Imagine being locked in the same room with another person – even a person you are wildly crazy in love with -- for hours each day and every night, week in and week out, month after month, never knowing for sure how long you'll be subjected to that confinement. Now imagine that same situation with someone you don't like that much. Or someone you like at first, but after a while they get on your nerves. Or someone you like just fine except for one annoying thing they do over and over and over.

Both of your parrots are young – they still have a lot of growing up to do. As they grow, you'll see them change, which is a large part of the joy of keeping companion parrots. Slowly, over time and with the right provisions, they might even end up liking each other. It will be great fun for you to give them everything you possibly can that helps them build a healthy friendship. Two play gyms placed far enough apart so they can each have their own space, separate, but in view of each other. Shared snack times, shared interactions with you; both of them in the kitchen while you make their breakfast, one on the windowsill, the other on a perch; both out of their cages in the same room, comfortable, preening, chortling, goofing off in that easy companionable way that characterizes friends. Make that happen before you decide that you need or want another parrot for yourself.

We must remember, always, that companion parrots are wild animals. If we could regress each one back into their eggs, and those eggs could be placed in a nest in the wild, they'd hatch and be successful as wild birds. The same cannot be said for puppies or kittens. As wild animals who share our homes, parrots need a super-abundance of concessions made for their happiness and well-being.

Simply put, companion parrots like, need and deserve space and room. Enough so they get to decide for themselves how they want to spend their time, not just a cage to sit in while they wait for a human to give their lives meaning or entertainment. When they get to decide, it’s pleasantly surprising how often they decide to hang out with us.

It’s our responsibility as caregivers to provide big open spaces where they can flap, swing, climb and move about freely. Companion parrots need environments large enough to include a variety of fresh branches thoughtfully arranged and frequently changed, a secure and private sleeping area, feeding stations, foraging places, things to chew, and plenty of access to us, their friends. Their environments should be complex enough so that they get to make choices about what they want to do and when they want to do it. Once those provisions are in place, you can see if your Meyer’s and Grey get along better. Chances are, they'll like each other more when their space is more like a parrot playground than a shared cage.

One of the major lessons my husband and I have learned over the 30+ years we've kept parrots is the larger we make our indoor bird rooms and outdoor aviaries, the happier our parrots. And us. Our happiness depends on them having the spaces they need and deserve. When they get to fly and zoom around a big space designed for them, when they get to choose which bowl they'll eat from, what days they shower or bathe, what they forage with, who they share a perch with, when they need privacy and where they get it – that’s when “captivity” turns into “compatibility.”

With all best wishes,
Phoebe Greene Linden and flock

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

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 Phoebe, When raising young cockatoos, what are the best ways to avoid behavioral problems when cockatoos become adults? Thanks,
Nic Miller

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hello Nic, and thanks for writing World Parrot Trust. By becoming a supporter of World Parrot Trust, you've already made a good decision that can have far-reaching positive ramifications for your captive cockatoo companion, so kudos! Stay interested. Keep questioning.

Here are some recommendations to help you and your captive cockatoo live together in companionship and understanding.

1) Learn everything you can about parrots – become a well-versed generalist. Read extensively, especially everything on the WPT site which is like being in Parrot University, plus watch videos of parrots in the wild, and then become active in an issue surrounding captive parrots which is meaningful to you.

2) Along the way, develop a keen specialized knowledge of the species of cockatoo you intend to keep captive and know their wild habitats, habits, flock sizes, seasons, indigenous food preferences (if known) and so on.

3) Participate in conservation efforts that enhance the lives of your captive's wild cousins. This will help deepen your compassion for the type of parrot you keep.

4) Establish a friendly and supportive relationship with an avian veterinarian and her/his staff and discuss specific medical, social, nutritional concerns with her/him. Follow her/his advice but don’t be shy about getting a second opinion, especially if the advice you first receive is contrary to what’s documented on this site.

5) Take the on-line class Living and Learning with Parrots, no matter who teaches it. Participate in on-line discussions (even if you just lurk at first), attend seminars, go to conferences, think deeply well into the night on issues.

6) Before you buy the cage, stick your head and shoulders in it and look around. If it’s not big enough for you to do that, the cage is too small.

7) Once you’ve got a big enough cage, stick your head and shoulders inside it, or sit on the stoop and check out the interior: notice where the bowls, perches and enrichment items are and envision how a smallish body, with two zygodactyl feet (two toes pointing forward, two pointing backwards) would make her/his way through this space. This might take practice, but keep trying. You'll adapt. You’re sure to get the point well before 8 consecutive hours of this exercise.

8) Speaking of exercise, when you’re in the cage, how do you stretch? Flap? Where are the foraging areas and how do you get to them? Where do you sleep? How about privacy and shade? If you were the size and temperament of your parrot, how would you rate the interior of the cage? Make it fabulous. Make the primary cage a place where, if other cockatoos came to visit, they’d be like, whoa man, this is cooooool.

9) Still inside the cage, check it out: How’s the view? If you live with other parrots, chances are from the inside of your cage, you mainly see other cages. If you were the size of your parrot, how would you rate the interior of the cage?

10) As the human who is 100% responsible, make every single environmental adjustment you can to enhance the cockatoo’s well-being. Create spaces, scenarios and enticements specifically designed from her/his point of view and commensurate with her/his physicality and abilities. Continue this without flagging.

11) Realistically assess your physical surroundings and make interior and exterior spaces commensurate with your captive cockatoo’s capabilities, innate propensities and your ideals of multi-species companionship. Keep in mind, always, the fact that your captive has, without their permission, given up the notions and the realities of like-species companionship and all that entails. Denied the knowledge of other cockatoos’ voice and touch, your captive needs you to assess her/his needs, respect them, and fulfill them. Absent from flock life and its myriad lessons, apart from wisdom of grandparents, parents, siblings and native communities, your captive depends on you to supplement their captive-life curriculum with On-Going Benevolent Lessons in Captivity. Also, add more cockatoo-friendly hang-out areas than you think you need.

12) Consider cockatoo noise-making a legitimate form of communication, a way of life, an expression of emotional complexity, a necessary physical release, and a symphony in praise of bio-diversity. Get used to it.

In conclusion, the best advice I can give is to keep learning. Contribute as much as you can. Consider the cockatoo individual who inhabits your space as your personal representative of the huge wild imperiled earth and act, always, accordingly.

All best,
Phoebe Greene Linden
Santa Barbara Bird Farm

filed under: Behaviour and Training

I just learned that I am pregnant and I am now worried about my Galah having to live a compromised life because of this change in our family situation. Does it work having children and parrots throughout their life? My Galah is a very cherished family member and and I feel he has just as much right as any family member to a good life.

Thanks, Nicole-

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Nicole, Congratulations on your pregnancy and all best wishes for the upcoming months.

There are plenty of ways to ensure that your Galah and human child each have full lives, most of which depend entirely upon you. In many ways, the lifelong commitments we make to our parrot companions are similar to those we make to children. Soon, you’ll have two dependents rather than one.

It’s well proven that humans and parrots can live companionably for lifetimes, and chances are, your parrot will remain with you even after your child grows up and flies away to his/her own flock. Remember to remain dedicated to the long view and don’t let momentary fits interrupt the big picture.

One great aspect to your situation is your parrot’s species, Galah. I call these “huge flock parrots” because they live with many, many others, so they naturally like a lot of company. I hope your Galah has more than one person with whom he’s friendly, as this person’s importance in his life will increase once the human baby comes. Our 29-year old Galah, Nikki, is terrifically friendly. She lets all the other parrots hang out inside her cage where they eat her food, play with her toys and mess up her space, all without a quibble from Nikki. She is first to volunteer to meet new people and performs for any audience. Chances are, your Galah also has several friends and admirers, so enlist them now in your efforts.

In order to prepare your Galah for the upcoming events, begin to make key enriching adjustments to his environment as soon as you can.

Begin by bringing your Galah in to conversations and the excitement about the baby – show him the nursery, baby toys, clothes and so on. When you decide upon a name, use it in conversations with him. Include pictures and videos of babies so he is familiar with the phenomena, noises, movements and so on. Really! Our parrots love watching videos, so show him some of crying babies and see how he reacts. If you have a baby shower, let your friends know that parrot goodies are welcome gifts. You’ll feel well-prepared if you have parrot enrichment activities on hand that he can have after the baby comes.

Incorporate more than one cage (sleeping area) into his repertoire so he is comfortable sleeping in a couple of locations. This way, if the baby is fussy at night, only you suffer from sleep deprivation, not the parrot. Lots of our adult parrots enjoy sleeping, once in a while, in a large carrier which has a thick soft rug on the bottom. We’ve accustomed them to “camping out” like this in case of emergencies and they seem well-rested and ready-to-go the next morning.

Ditto active play areas and hang-out places – more is better in this case. Try to have a perch or gym where he can watch you rock, feed or bathe the baby in case he wants to watch. Also, create some spaces for him away from these activities for the times he wants to do parrot-centric things. As in so many situations regarding parrot happiness in captivity, space planning and allocation are key. The more areas he can be a parrot who enjoys living with humans, the greater your chances of mutual happiness and long-term contentment.

Some places for parrots are really simple yet effective: Nikki loves to sit on top of a securely-weighted vertical paper towel roll dispenser. sometimes she chews the paper towels a little, but mostly she just hangs out on top of the roll. These area ready-made parrot spaces in our bathrooms, kitchen, laundry room and so on.

Our all-time favorite parrot places are nice-sized baskets with flat bottoms and handles. You may need to weight the basket bottoms to stabilize them and the cover the bottoms with newspapers or paper towels for easy clean-up. If the handles are skimpy, cover with tightly wound cotton rope. Parrot baskets are invaluable and many of our friends say their parrots use the same baskets for decades. Easily placed in several rooms or moved from room to room, parrot baskets are indispensable counter- and table-top perches.

The reason for multiple places and enrichment activities is to encourage your Galah to demonstrate a variety of interests and skills. The more observable behaviors he shows you in a variety of locations, the better for a busy mom and growing baby.

I’m a believer in parrots having jobs that they enjoy and are good at. One of Nikki’s jobs is preening herself which she’s turned in to an art form. She uses several tools (hanging toys) to scratch her head and scrub her back. Try setting up your Galah with some toys he can use as self-soothers. Nikki is also really, really good at untying tightly knotted rawhide shoelaces. I make multi-legged knotted-up spiders out of rawhide shoelaces and she spends hours untangling the knots and preening the strands. I’ve yet to make a knot she cannot, over time, untie. Perhaps your Galah has similar talents?

During the upcoming months, learn all you can about him as an individual – track his progress as carefully as you track your pregnancy. Observe what he loves doing best, what he’s already good at doing (dancing? climbing? swinging? hopping?) and create opportunities that encourage time on task. If he’s a dancer (most cockatoos are!), have him dance in the kitchen, in the family room, on this perch or this gym, in the shower, for visitors, on the sofa, on top of the ‘frig, wherever and whenever. The more actions he’s good at performing – the more he acts like a real parrot – the better! Also, note his normal nap and quiet times. Nikki tends to sleep later in the morning than our other parrots do; she rouses for breakfast then takes a mid-morning nap. She’s active with her jobs in the afternoon and works into the early evening. She’ll often stay up way past her normal bedtime if given the opportunity (hence the tendency to sleep in). So, notice your Galah’s natural schedule and use his propensities to your mutual advantage.

My advice about introducing your Galah and your baby to each other is to listen to your motherly instincts and don’t do anything you are not 110% comfortable doing. You want his first observations of the baby to be brief and calm: short and sweet and from a safe comfortable distance. Have him on your hand or arm and if you feel his body weight rear back, take a step backwards. The more non-eventful observations he has of the baby prior to interaction, the better. Don’t put any pressure on him to “like” the baby or understand the baby right away. First, from a comfortable distance, he’ll need to watch the baby; then he’ll need to watch some more; then he’ll need to watch some more. Days, weeks, months. Give him gentle verbal reinforcement for just watching. When the baby moves and he raises his crest, calmly acknowledge his reaction. He should have an escape route available to him so if he wants to go elsewhere, he can. Or, a basket nearby (or further away) where he’s comfortable watching you and the baby together. If this doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry. It might take a while.

He and the child might not get along for several years – perhaps longer -- and this needs to be OK with you and other family members and close friends. Babies and parrots don’t often become friendly in the ways that adults and parrots do, so keep this in mind. As the days, weeks and months go by, continue to reach out for help and advice. So many things can happen! It won’t be surprising if you need help and support, so ask for what your family/flock needs.

Resist the urge to create rosy-colored scenarios in your imagination where the parrot befriends the baby and they coo and cuddle together. Instead, see yourself happily managing and loving two different but important vital life forces, both of whom you’ve accepted in to your life.

Good luck, Phoebe-

filed under: Behaviour and Training

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