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Parrot Day Care?

Expert Question

I am writing because it is clear to me how difficult it is for the average person who shares his or her home with a parrot to create an environment where their parrot will actually thrive. Most parrot are social animals and need interaction with members of their social group. Since people often have to work, single parrots are left alone a large part of the day. Parrots evolved to fly in the open sky and we are often forced to keep them in cages. Given the complex nutritional requirements of these animals, it is not always easy to know what to provide as an appropriate diet. Parrots are highly intelligent and sensitive creatures and often do better with people who have taken the time to learn training techniques involving positive reinforcement. How many people can afford the time it really takes to learn effective ways to interact with their parrot? The number of abandoned parrots is powerful evidence of our failure to provide an environment where
both parrots and people can thrive. In addition to parrots that need to be re-homed, another indication of the difficulty of providing a reasonable environment for parrots is the number of plucked and mutilated birds that exist within our communities [see Joe Arbogast's tribute to featherpickers: ].

If you share your life with a dog and you care about your dog, you have a reasonably good chance of meeting a dog's need for social interaction, adequate diet and exercise. Your job is made a lot easier because a dog is a domesticated animal and has evolved to share its life with humans. In order for a dog to get exercise, it is possible to take a dog running or let it free in the backyard for a period of time. The average parrot person does not have the resources to provide an aviary for their parrots and parrots cannot be set free in the average backyard to enjoy the outdoors.
Parrots are often deprived of adequate social interaction either with their human companions or members of their own species and it is very difficult to give them opportunities to adequately exercise, forage for food and fly. Unlike dogs, parrots have not really evolved to live with humans. Although they are raised in captivity, parrots clearly retain their wild instincts and these instincts shape the behaviors that parrots display in our homes [e.g. parrot vocalizations] and new parrot owners are usually not educated to this reality. Since dogs are relatively common in our communities, people absorb information about how to care for them over time. Most people who share their home with parrots do not have this built-in educational advantage and essential parrot information must be sought out from a variety of experts who have spent their life working and living with parrots. The bottom line is that even if you are fortunate to have learned
about the basic needs of pscittacines, most people will have great difficulty providing an environment where these amazing animals can thrive.

So my question is this: Can we design and build community "Parrot Day Care" aviaries that might meet the needs of our parrots for foraging, social interaction and flight? I know that I, for one, would be willing to pay for "parrot day care" if I thought that my bird was safe & enjoyed the time it got to spend in an environment much closer to its natural environment. I would also be willing to drop my bird off at a facility like this. Further, it might be possible to help other parrot owners learn about how to better meet the basic needs of their birds if concrete examples were available for them to see at a "Parrot Center". I realize that there would be issues with health concerns & aggression from other birds but I am hoping that these issues might be addressed by requiring health checks/vaccines [frequently already required before you can board a parrot], housing compatible species together (along with monitoring the birds while they were together). So the question is: is this a viable concept? And, if this concept does have the potential to solve more problems than it creates, can we develop guidelines for designing and building a "parrot day care" facility that would minimize dangers and maximize enrichment for our birds?

Expert Answer

Your inquiry was long and there are so many aspects of it that merit comment.

Yes, keeping parrots in captivity is a challenge and many owners fall short in providing stimulating environments, foods, activity, etc.  for their birds. On the other hand huge progress in education of psittacine owners has been accomplished in the last 10 years or so and many keepers ARE using imagination and foresight in providing for their pets.

But, it is kind of a glass-half -mpty/half-full discussion since there were so many hundreds of thousands of parrots going into homes the past 20 plus years that it is only logical that many hundreds are going to end up neglected or less than adequately cared for.

In that, parrots are much like dogs and cats and fish and horses and other captive animals living their lives “by human leave.” Many are ill treated. Your feeling that meeting needs of these animals is easier is a bit rosy colored. Dogs are abandoned and kept inside or penned or tied up without room to run; cats are let out to fight or fed overly rich foods, or allowed to produce unwanted kittens by the half dozen by some owners; horses overworked or under tended orsimply turned out on lean pastures and expected to stay healthy during poor grass growth; shucks, people even keep bee hives without any consideration to giving the bees water to drink….

Anyway, I disagree that most owners do not have the resources to provide an aviary for their parrots. I find most bird people, even the well meaning ones, tend to spend thousands of dollars a year on themselves, but neglect to get a new cage or an extra special expensive food diet for their bird.

In addition my parrots always get time out in the back yard even for short stretches in winter…..those former wing trimmed ones were placed in trees to climb and chew or hung in carry cages while I was out supervising; the flighted ones were trained to stay put with me watching over them nearby.  Harnesses, screen gazebos—all sorts of ways can get parrots outside.

As to your basic question: I think it as a wonderful idea and should someone in an agreeable setting choose to do the day care thing, it would certainly be financially viable. After all, people pay significant daily sums to have their pets boarded at vets, bird stores or other facilities. The same protocols for health checks and safe intermixing of only healthy birds would apply in your case, with the added benefit of having outdoor air and sunlight conditions lessening the chances of many microbes being as highly contagious.

So, I concur, it is a good idea, and one which has infinite possibilities for some enterprising parrot lover. Unfortunately, you will have to move it forward; I have neither enterprising time nor enough parrots in need in my neighborhood to get such a project off the ground….

With aloha, EB

EB Cravens
About EB Cravens

“If we TRULY believe our captive-raised hookbills are important to world parrot conservation, we must work ceaselessly to ensure that these same psittacines retain as much of their wild instinctual behavior as is possible,” affirms avicultural writer and hobby breeder EB Cravens, from his small organic farm on the slopes of the Big Island Hawaii.

“Our goal is to birth and raise only a few baby parrots who know that they are parrots, but choose to befriend humans, because humans are nice to them… feed them… and are fun to be with!”

EB has bred, trained, raised, kept and rehabilitated more than 75 species of psittacines during the past twenty plus years both at his home and while managing the notable exotic bird shoppe, Feathered Friends of Santa Fe, New Mexico. His emphasis on natural environments for birds, the urging of babies to fully fledge during the extended weaning process, and the leaving of chicks for many weeks inside the nest box with their parents in order that they may learn the many intangibles of their species, have succeeded in changing for the better the lives of so many captive parrots.

A science writer by training, he was for years a regular contributor for AFA’s Watchbird Magazine and the Companion Parrot Quarterly. EB currently writes a monthly column entitled “The Complete Psittacine” in PARROTS Magazine out of England; and another, “The Hookbill Hobbyist” down under in the well-regarded Australian Birdkeeper. His monthly series of articles “Birdkeeping Naturally,” is sent out to bird clubs and individuals around the U.S.

“As devastating pressures continue upon avian species in the wilds,” he says, “it is critical that those keeping birds in captivity do so with responsibility and foresight.”