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Comparison of flight mileage for various wild parrot species

 
Expert Question

To get a sense of wild parrots' physical activity, how many miles, on average, do various species fly per day?




Expert Answer

What an interesting question! It actually varies pretty widely and it would take some time to pull together specifics for each species that have been recorded. Here's some general information for a few species/groups we had at hand:

  • Orange-bellied Parrots will make trips twice a year between mainland Australia and Tasmania via the Bass Strait (average distance 300km). Birds do stop on King Island about halfway, but it’s still a long haul over a few days.
  • Cockatoos, macaws and Amazons will fly tens of kilometres per day in search of food.
  • Kaka commute between the northern (New Zealand) islands in a day, crossing short bits of ocean in tens of kilometres.
  • Cape Parrots travel 10-20km daily, more if there are food shortages.
  • Some species like the Ouvéa Parakeet or Ground Parrots range in terms of hectares, only 2-3 or so.
  • Researchers have radio-tracked swift-flying Thick-billed Parrots on a non-stop flight of 100km, and Spring migration flights have covered 320km in one day.

There are altitudinal movements too – hundreds of metres up or down, in response to weather or food availability.

If you wish to do more research into specific species, here are some resources you can try: 

  • Vanished and Vanishing Parrots: Profiling Extinct and Endangered Species, by Joseph M. Forshaw and Noel F. R. Snyder, 2017
  • Parrots of the World, by Joseph M. Forshaw and Frank Knight, 2010
  • GoogleScholar for published research: https://scholar.google.ca/

Thanks again for the terrific question!


World Parrot Trust - Staff
About World Parrot Trust - Staff

The World Parrot Trust is a leading, science-based, results-oriented parrot conservation and welfare organization.


Is the fuchsia plant safe for my parrot?

 
Expert Question

I would like to know if the fuchsia plants are safe to give to my parrot. And if so what part of the plant.




Expert Answer

Thank you for writing. A great place to start is the article found under our Reference Library (Learn > Reference Library > Health and Nutrition articles) in the article titled Common Household Poisons. It contains a list of toxic products commonly found in households, and includes a list of plants that are known to be toxic for parrots, compiled from reputable sources.

The Fucsia plant does not occur on this list, nor were we able to locate it (in any variety) on the list of Plants Poisonous to Livestock and other Animals at the Cornell University website.

However, we were also unable to find a (reputable) source listing it as safe, so it is at your discretion whether you wish to introduce it to your parrots or not. Remember: just because it is absent from the toxic list doesn't mean it is safe.

All best,
World Parrot Trust staff


World Parrot Trust - Staff
About World Parrot Trust - Staff

The World Parrot Trust is a leading, science-based, results-oriented parrot conservation and welfare organization.


Returning wild-caught Greys to the wild

 
Expert Question

Once wild caught Greys are identified as such here in the US is there no way to return them to their home? What are the logistics involved? Is it possible?




Expert Answer

At the WPT we often receive questions from individuals who feel that their companion birds might be better off and happier if they were returned to the wild. While we applaud this desire we strongly advise against release, for the sake of the individual birds’ welfare, and for the wellbeing of wild populations. Returning parrots to the wild can be done successfully, and increasingly so, but only when carried out under well-managed programs, most of which cannot be undertaken by individual parrot caregivers.

What works, and what doesn't

In our direct experience with releasing parrots over the past decade we have observed that the birds with the highest probability of survival are those that have been hatched in the wild and only recently been captured, or those birds that have been bred in captivity in carefully managed environments and properly prepared for a life in the wild.

Formerly wild birds retain many important skills needed for survival, such as recognizing wild foods and knowing how to interact with others of their species. Wild birds have well-developed patterns of behavior and are able to successfully participate in complex social hierarchies that allow them to interact as a group, which helps them to successful evade predators, find food, and otherwise prosper.

By comparison, many long-term companion parrots were born in captivity (sometimes for generations), and have been living closely with people. They are often kept alone, and rely heavily on their caregivers to provide the necessities of life (food, water, shelter, companionship, etc.). The skills they have acquired to become good companion birds are often the exact opposite of what is needed to ensure their survival in the wild.

When companion parrots like this are released, they face the very real pressures of possible starvation, getting eaten by predators, encountering extreme weather, being poached or hunted, and being placed in an environment that is completely unlike anything they have experienced before. If they are released alone, the likelihood of their survival is further lowered. Only a very small percentage will survive, unless they undergo extensive preparation and conditioning on how to survive and thrive. For these reasons we strongly advise against returning companion parrots to the wild unless under very special circumstances. 

Permits and disease risks

Most international transport of parrots is governed by CITES, an international convention intended to monitor these activities. In order for a bird to be returned to its country of origin, it must be accompanied the appropriate paperwork, in addition to health profiling, and other assessments. Obtaining the required permits is often complex and time-consuming process.

Your question specifically references the United States; the Wild Bird Conservation act of 1992 was the first big push that shut down direct imports of wild caught birds into the United States, and then the EU trade ban - adopted in 2005 - is the legislation that shut down any remaining indirect imports. As such, any formerly wild birds will assumedly have been in captivity for somewhere between 10 and 23 years, or longer. 

When in captivity for that long, the birds may been exposed to a large number of potential diseases that could be transferred to the wild birds with bad consequences, unless they have been purposely kept separate and with strict biosecurity protocols, which is highly unlikely for most parrot owners. The birds also have also likely long ago abandoned the need to use a great number of their behaviours useful for life in the wild (identifying wild food sources, evading predators, staying away from humans, socially interacting with large groups of others birds, etc). As such, they would need to relearn these behaviours which could take months, or years, depending on individual circumstances.  

A larger concern for birds that have been in captivity for a lengthy period of time, even those under the best of care, is that they may have been exposed to diseases which may not be found in wild bird populations. Releasing a bird with a possible undiagnosed disease may further endanger wild populations. For some species where the wild population may are already under threat for other reasons, the potential disease risk may add to the overall species' demise. Therefore only birds that have been carefully screened for disease and quarantined before release should be considered as suitable release candidates.

What are the alternatives?

In almost all cases, we strongly encourage caregivers to provide their feathered companions with the largest flight area possible, a wide variety of stimulating enrichment items, companionship, and a healthy diet. While captive parrots clearly can't lead the same life as wild parrots, they are safe from predators, starvation, trapping, and violent weather events, and can be provided with a long and interesting life. 

For caregivers who are no longer able to care for their feathered companions, we recommend placing the bird with another caring family, making it available for adoption, or placing it a zoological institute or dedicated bird sanctuary where it can be well looked after. Tamer birds in public facilities can often become terrific ambassadors for their species, and aid in educating the general public about the plight of all parrots.


 


World Parrot Trust - Staff
About World Parrot Trust - Staff

The World Parrot Trust is a leading, science-based, results-oriented parrot conservation and welfare organization.


Blue Quaker biting visitors and son

 
Expert Question

our quaker parrot eddie is three and a half months old when we first got him he was very gentle with every one although did nibble but not hurt. Now he is really gentle with me but is biting everyone else . How do we stop him flying onto people then biting them. when he does this i put him back into his cage and we have started to put him in when people visit.would like him to be better with visitors . he also bites my son who the bird was bought for which is very upsetting my son has asperger syndrome and eddie was meant to be a companion for him.any advice you could give us would be good.




Expert Answer

Hi Sandy  - I’d be happy to offer some thoughts to consider as you deal with the challenges that you’ve outlined in your question. The kind of biting that you are seeing (bird choosing one person in the house to buddy up with, while choosing to bite/chase others) is an issue that is quite common for companion parrot caretakers. It is a behavior that is observed amongst parrots in the wild, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.

When looking at any behavior that you’re looking to reduce from your bird, it’s helpful to ask these questions:

1) What are the environmental conditions in which the problem behavior is occurring?

2) What are the consequences that occur following the performance of the behavior?

3) What are the conditions in which the bird does NOT do the problem behavior (that is, are there times when he is successful in interacting with others)?

4) Under similar conditions, what would you like the bird to do instead?

I like these questions better than thinking in terms of how to stop them from doing something, since then we have to think in terms of punishment strategies, which are less than ideal in that they can lead to a number of nasty side effects and rarely fix the original problem.

Looking back at the case of your parrot, it seems that the presence of others is one of the environmental conditions that leads to the biting. This doesn’t mean that other people can never be around when the bird is out, but it may mean doing some initial work with him while he is inside the cage when others are around, for the safety of all involved. As to the strategy of putting him away after he chooses to bite: have you seen that this has lead to a decrease in the frequency of the biting behavior overall? If not, then it’s possible that this could actually be reinforcing the behavior of biting, if getting away from other people was what the bird wanted to achieve by choosing to bite.

I think a good plan for intervention would be to try to find ways to reinforce the bird for doing things that you like when other people are around. If he likes food treats, particular toys or even a small scratch on the head, pairing these things with good behavior (calm body language, relaxed posture when others are around) should make these behaviors more frequent in the future. If the bird is comfortable with it, I would try to have these “treats” be presented by others in the household as frequently as possible – as he starts to build up a history of positive interactions with people other than you, the better set up for success he (and the rest of your family and visitors) will be. Once you get to a point where he seems very calm in the cage while others are around, you might try bringing him out for just a few moments, then letting him go back home before problems can occur. With time, patience and consistency, you should be able to gradually increase the amount of time that he can be out with others and have it be a positive experience for all involved. An important part of this is making sure that all the humans that are a part of his life are on the same page with your plan, and always keeping a keen eye on what you think his body language might be telling you about how he feels about a given situation. If he seems hesitant to approach the door or come outside, or even to allow certain people to come too close to his cage, look at that as his way of saying “no thank you” to the interaction, and simply walk away instead of letting things escalate.

Again, with some time and patience, I have no doubt that you can help change these behaviors and make your family’s relationship with your bird better than it’s ever been before.

Sincerely,

Chris Jenkins

Director of Interpretive Programs

Natural Encounters, Inc.


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Amazon with difficulty swallowing

 
Expert Question

I have an 18 year old rescue Mexican Red Head. He has been showing a choking motion or trying to push something down his throat. My vet did an upper gi on her. She said she either has esophical (sp) cancer or a fungus. She now wants to take a biopsy which I'm hesitant to do as the bird has to be under anestesia(sp).

If it is cancer and they use chemo to treat it, what are the odds that this would "cure" her. Do you recommend the biopsy or could we treat the fungus first and if it doesn't cure it, then we know it is cancer and then go to chemo treatments? Please let me know what you think asap. The doctor will be calling next week to make a decision. Thanks, Barbara
 




Expert Answer

Hi, Barbara, the answers to your questions and concerns best come specifically from your attending veterinarian. On-line, and in the absence of having examined your bird, viewed your diagnostic images and other diagnostic findings, it is functionally impossible to guide you with any succinct recommendations. 

Part of the reasoning behind a recommendation for obtaining a biopsy is specifically to confirm the nature of the disease process at the identified site. Should this be in the cervical esophagus, surgically obtained biopsies are comparatively easier as compared to lesions that are identified in the thoracic esophagus or glandular stomach. Cervical esophageal cancers are less commonly identified in the literature as compared to tumors lower in the gastrointestinal system, but if present, are more straight forward for potential for surgical removal. For the potential cancers that may be present, chemotherapeutic interventions and successful outcomes are uncommon, at best, in the literature. Oftentimes, with confirmed or strongly suspected cancer in that thoracic esophagus / glandular stomach area, treatments have been palliative with hopes only to comfortably extend quality of life. Your best prognostic hope is that the cause of the observed clinical signs is related to any other factor, excluding cancer. 
 


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Teaching free flight to an African Grey

 
Expert Question

I have a 1 year old African Grey congo male and I would like to teach him to free fly. Can you let me know how to do this or where to sign up to? His wings were cut when I got him a year ago and still not grown back but I read somewhere there if you pull out the old ones they will grow back fast. Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?




Expert Answer

Hello Maria. You ask several interesting questions. One could write pages and pages about each of your questions but I have tried to keep the answers short and to the point. Let's take your questions one by one and see what we can come up with. I've grouped the two first sentences and the last sentence together since they are very much related.

"I have a 1 year old African Grey Congo male and I would like to teach him to free fly. Can you let me know how to do this or where to sign up to?.....Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?"

Before we dig into your free fly question more, we need to be very clear on what you mean by free fly. Do you mean fly freely inside the home? Do you mean fly free outside at all times only returning for meals or sleep? Or, do you mean flying freely under specific circumstances where you are there to provide some supervision?

Parrots have wings. They fly. Right? Well it isn't quite that simple. Flying is not a trick,, it is a skill that is learned through shaping both in captivity and in the wild. In the wild, the environment provides the initial feedback on how to do it better. After each crash, after each ungainly landing that can include flat and bumpy, abrupt stops; a bird will adjust what he does the next time. As can be seen from the last sentence, flying involves not only flapping the wings but take-off and landing as well as learning how to position the wings in flight for optimum effect to stay aloft. To teach free flying in the outdoors requires a very skilled, and experienced, trainer who has a mentor to help them along. Even then, in most situations birds are trained indoors or in a netted enclosure before ever setting wing outside. No matter where, or if, you decide to fly your bird having a solid recall (that means coming to a specific location when signaled - whether it be an arm or a perch) is another skill that needs to have a very strong learning history before venturing outside.

Answers to each of the above questions asked in the first paragraph come with their own set of risks and rewards for both the caregiver and the parrot. It is also important to know if the parrot was fledged before its wings were clipped. That information can tell a person if the bird has already gained some experience flying for a period of time before being grounded with a wing clip. There are also other important decisions that need to be considered which can impact both the bird and the caregiver such as raptors, windmills and live electrical wires or transformers that are numerous free range.

Each caregiver has to decide the amount of time and effort they are willing to put into teaching the parrot the skills that it will need in each of the above free flying situations especially when starting with an older bird where the natural window of opportunity of learning when leaving the nest in the wild has passed. Can one parrot-proof the home so that it is safe for a flying parrot? Windows, doors, water in sinks and tubs are just a few hazards that we need to be aware of. Does one have the personal level of risk tolerance needed to fly outside where predators may attack and birds may well, and do, fly off? Some are lost forever and some are recovered. No matter the outcome, those times are always a very emotional rollercoaster experience for caregivers. Asking those questions now may well prevent heartache later on.

Rather than make the decision immediately, you might want to work on acquiring training skills first. The skills which we, as parrot caregivers, need to have in order to train any bird. First we have to understand how behavior works. The only course I recommend for that is Living and Learning with Parrots at http://www.behaviorworks.org (the Caregiver C). The reason I recommend that course is not simply because I teach it but I fully believe in the systematic way behavior is approached. Dr Susan Friedman had helped thousands of people the world over understand how parrots, and other animals, learn. For hands on experience, go to Steve Martin's Natural Encounters website and take the Caregivers Workshop. http://www.naturalencounters.com/trainingEducationWshopsOwners.html Another resource is Chris Shanks at http://www.cockatoodowns.com/ Finally, find an experienced mentor who free flies and can guide you through the nuances if the choice is made to fly outside.

"His wings were cut when I got him a year ago and still not grown back but I read somewhere there if you pull out the old ones they will grow back fast."

Moving on to your second question, anytime now this grey should start molting out those clipped feathers and new ones will replace them. That is a natural occurrence with parrots. Old used feathers are molted and replaced with new ones.

Pulling a number of feathers can be very painful for the bird, especially flight feather and is not recommended. Think of how painful it is when someone grabs a hank of hair and yanks it out by the roots or a finger nail pulled off by accident. Both hurt and are painful. That is much what pulling out the remaining feather shafts would be like for your grey. On top of causing pain, it can also decrease the trust relationship been the bird and the caregiver as well as teach the bird to fear the caregiver. That's the very last thing that any of us want with companion birds. Trust is something that this bird will have learned after living with you over time. If only positive events and conditions surround the relationship between you and your grey, over time both sides have learned to trust one another.

Rather than run the risk of bankrupting the trust account that you have built up with this bird in the past year, one could use the time productively and start training this bird to recall on foot, to target, to perform simple tricks such as turn around, raise the wings fully and to station to a specific spot/ area. That strategy has a twofold purpose. It will teach you how to teach this bird using positive reinforcement and will teach the bird to learn from you. The overall effect will result in you making many deposits in the trust account you and you grey have while he grey gets to make many choices in his life. Choices are important since those individuals with the most choices are the most behaviorally healthy.

"Also can you let me know when is the deadline age-wise for them to stop learning tricks like free flying?"

Another great question. Parrots, like humans, learn throughout their lives. If we humans hit a finger with a hammer, then we adjust how we hold the hammer or how we use the hammer to avoid hitting the finger in future when we find ourselves using a hammer again. The same strategy applies to parrots.

Like us, parrots tend to behave in ways that give them access to the most reinforcement. Those behaviors that are reinforced will be repeated more frequently. There you have the short answer to how behavior works. Parrots and humans don't ever stop learning. A 25 year old bird can learn to pick up a cup, dunk a basket ball or to come to a specific station when called as well as a youngster. At one year of age, that is what you have with your Congo African grey, a youngster, a learning machine, who has a lifetime to develop new skills. As I said above, flying is a skill not a trick and like all skills requires practice, practice and more practice in different areas to become proficient. As countless mothers have told their children over the years -- practice is key to developing a skill.


Lee McGuire
About Lee McGuire

Lee McGuire has partnered with parrots in an ongoing quest to effectively understand and communicate with them for over 30 years now. Initially her interest in behaviour modification stemmed from the arrival of a biting, screaming Mitred Conure with stereotypic repetitive behaviours. That event led to an ongoing search for behaviour modification strategies that she felt comfortable employing, and to the discovery of applied behaviour analysis (ABA).

ABA strategies and techniques were not only species respectful, but also humane; they could be used to modify existing behaviours and could enrich the lives of parrots. Philosophically, she had found a soulmate.

Lee has a special interest in good psittizenship behaviours in the home, in the husbandry and medical applications of ABA—especially in shaping physiotherapy-related behaviours. Since 2004, Lee has had the good fortune to be able to act as teaching partner to Susan Friedman, PhD, three times per year for her online course, Living and Learning with Parrots (http://www.behaviorworks.org/).
 
Lee lives in Canada with her 25-year-old Mitred Conure, a cockatiel, an African Grey Parrot and a Moluccan Cockatoo, plus a couple of dogs and a cat.


Allopurinol and gout treatment in cockatiel

 
Expert Question

I have a 26 year old cockatiel and about 4 weeks ago I noticed white lumps on his legs under the skin and his toe joints and feet are also swollen, the vet thinks it is gout and has given me allopurinol 0.15ml to be given twice a day as well as a pain killer. He now sleeps a lot but is still eating. He cannot fly and it is difficult for him to walk. I have read that allopurinol is not good for birds and that black cherry juice can be given as an alternative, but I don`t know how much cherry juice to give. I would be glad of your advice. Thank you, Elizabeth.




Expert Answer

Hello Elizabeth, these types of questions are best directed towards your attending veterinarian. From your description, it sounds like your bird is in trouble, and needs more help. It is true that in some species, specifically red tailed hawks, allopurinol was shown to actually cause kidney problems.

For the most part, articular gout is often the result of underlying kidney functional disease issues, and you may want to ask your veterinarian about assessing kidney function to see if there are other diagnostic maneuvers or treatments that may have merit to consider. Articular gout, if present, is quite painful, and you may want to also speak with your veterinarian about using multimodal pain management strategies here.

There is much less clear science about the merits or harm that a treatment plan centered on the use of cherry juice has to offer, and for the most part, my best recommendations would be to continue working with your attending veterinarian to work towards the best evidence-based medical approach for diagnosis and management of your bird's problem.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Deciding whether a parrot needs a same-species companion

 
Expert Question

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 bonded 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, Im 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.

Sincerely,
Maria




Expert Answer

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


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Recurrent coccidiosis in a cockatiel

 
Expert Question

I have a male cockatiel who is suffering from chronic coccidiosis. I already treated him 2 years ago with tiamulin and he seemed to be healthy, but now the vet has found oocysts in feces again, so it was just a remission instead of curing. The vet told me to treat it with Baycox this time.

The problem is that my bird has problems with hepar and pancreas since the day I purchased him, and even the treatment with tiamulin nearly killed him while Baycox is even heavier. I'm afraid that such treatment will kill him much faster than coccidiosis itself, and there's a lot of feedback from bird breeders whose birds were poisoned Baycox.

Are there any alternative ways to treat this infection? Maybe there are some new medications that my vet aren't aware of? I already lost my companion female cockatiel 2 years ago, and I'm really scared to make another mistake with my male.




Expert Answer

I am not sure what part of the world you live in, Nataly, but at least here in the USA, the more common species associated with Coccidiosis are not often encountered. There are other coccidioidal organism that can be more often seen, including but not limited to Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium.

First up, you may ask your veterinarian to confirm the species of coccidian that may be present, in order to help best choose what forms of treatment may or may not be most appropriate. Not all coccidioidal infections are treated the same way. Also, you have mentioned that there are problems with liver and pancreas - and you may want to ask your veterinarian about options to diagnose what those problems may specifically be, as their contribution to the bigger picture may also have merit to address.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Cancer in a pet Orange Winged Amazon

 
Expert Question

How can I determine whether my 21 year old orange-winged amazon that has been diagnosed with a inoperable cancer tumor, is in pain?

What are the signs he would exhibit, even the subtle ones?




Expert Answer

Hi, Caroll -

The bulk of your answer should be able to be provided by your diagnosing veterinarian, and is dependent on the type of tumor, its location and what tissues / organ systems are involved, what secondary health issues are present, and perhaps most importantly, how your bird feels and behaves. Many of our indicators for pain that we see in birds are based on their behavior. Simplistically, one would seek the kinds of behaviors you may imagine yourself show if you have a painful migraine headache. These may include social withdrawal (you don't want to interact with your friends and family), decreased activity (you just don't feel like it), decreased appetite, decreased comfort behaviors (you no longer care how you dress or look - you just don't feel like it).

Many aspects of disease (not all) include chronic pain, and pain can be pharmacologically treated in birds with monomodal, bimodal or even trimodal forms of intervention in many cases.  The patient's response to your treatment at least in part can be used to monitor effectiveness of your pain intervention strategy, in that the above behaviors that were noted should be able to be reduced if you are maintaining the balance well., Some forms of  inoperable cancers can be treated in other means to reduce and sometimes resolve them too - and you may want to ask your doctor about more details and options that could be present, should they apply in your bird's case.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Worming questions

 
Expert Question

Please can you advise me about worming?

I have an aviary of budgies with three 'tiels in the mix. I usually worm with 'solubenol'. However I recently noticed that it contains the same active ingredient as my chicken wormer (flubendazole). Is there any reason why I can't use 'Flubenvet' for my aviary birds? If so - what should the ratio be?

Also - still on the subject of worming. Should I consider worming my two pet parrots occasionally as they do spend a little time in an outside aviary on nice days. The floor is concrete slabs not earth.




Expert Answer

Hi, Helen -

Your questions are fair, but specifically should be answered by the attending veterinarian who is familiar with your flock, their associated risks (or lack thereof) for intestinal parasitism. In part, dependent on what is known or not known in regards to your budgerigars and cockatiels (and pet parrots) in regard to their medical conditions or what preventative health maneuvers may be most appropriate, your veterinarian is best positioned to provide evidence-based recommendations that meet the needs of the birds in question. From the outside, I am unable to validate the need for treatment for intestinal parasites, what kind(s) of parasites may or may not be present, the epidemiologic risks of recurrent parasitism, or balance treatment choices optimally with the husbandry and overall health status of your flock.

There are potential health risks for yourself with empirical deworming of your chickens; drug residues can be passed through the eggs and can potentially adversely effect human health. It is for this reason that the use of those products in commercial layers is typically forbidden in most countries. Although these practices (empirical deworming) are commonly done and the availability of many of those products over the counter is also common, this does not negate some risk. My advice in that regard would also be to discuss  with your attending veterinarian if there is a true need for the use of those drugs in your chickens,


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Teaching patience to a Blue and Gold Macaw

 
Expert Question

I have a 20 week old Blue and Gold Macaw called Tyson who is coming along nicely with training. I work during the day and when I come home from work he runs around the cage frantically until I get him out. I have a few chores to do before I can let him out each day so I make him wait. Also on the weekends when I'm home all day he runs around frantically for the first hour if he can see me (his cage is in the kitchen/dining) Will this behaviour settle? He usually gets at least two hours a day out of his cage in the later afternoons/early night. I have taught him to fly to me on command, only problem is when is he out he flies to me constantly. Will he ever stay on his cage or play stand and play with his toys?? He has numerous toys, foraging material and sticks to chew but when he's out I am flavour of the month. This gets difficult as I need to get dinner etc. Thanks, Sue




Expert Answer

Hello Sue,

Thanks for your questions about Tyson's behavior. My experience tells me the behavior you describe is not uncommon for birds in your situation, and these behaviors are just a few of the reasons parrots make challenging animals to share a home with. Wild macaws spend their lives with a companion by their sides. They are almost never alone in the wild. So, it makes perfect sense that a parrot in a home would do everything it can to be with you, his companion, when you come home. His behavior of running around the cage before you let him out is very likely a behavior that started out of his frustration and was reinforced by the action of you taking him out of the cage.

A behavior that is repeated has quite likely been reinforced in the past. The very act of letting Tyson out of the cage when he is pacing is likely to increase the pacing behavior. The goal now is to replace the pacing behavior with sitting on the perch behavior. If you encourage Tyson to climb up to the perch and reinforce that behavior with a treat, or even opening the door to let him out of the cage, it is likely that he will come to understand that he needs to be on the perch before you will let him out of the cage. You can also gradually extend the amount of time before you let him out of the cage so he will learn to sit on the perch a bit longer when you are home.

You asked if he will ever stay on his play stand instead of flying to you. The answer is; he will stay on his play stand when it is more reinforcing than flying to you. As yourself, "why should Tyson stay on the play stand?" What's in it for him? If being with you is more desirable to Tyson than staying on the play stand, why should he stay on the stand? Birds don't do things because they are "supposed to." They do things that the want to do. So, how do you arrange the environment so that Tyson would prefer to stay on the perch? You may be able to make it more appealing to him with toys and other enrichment items. Or, you can use treats of various types to reinforce the behavior of sitting on the perch. If he likes the treats, you can teach him that sitting on the perch a bit longer between treats will earn him a larger or more desirable reward. That variable schedule of reinforcement is similar to what I mentioned above with the pacing behavior.

Behavior is a product of consequences. When we see a behavior occur in a predictable or repeated manner, we know there is something reinforcing that behavior. We usually only need to look into the recent past to see that our actions have reinforced the unwanted behavior we are experiencing. I often hear people complain about biting, screaming, pacing and many other behaviors that they see in their birds. It is most likely that these problems are repeated because the person has reinforced the behaviors with something as simple as giving the bird some attention. Our goal should always be to replace unwanted behavior with more desirable behavior instead of trying to stop the unwanted behavior. To try and stop behavior is to try to punish the behavior, and punishment is a poor training tool when compared to positive reinforcement. We always want to stay in the positive reinforcement behavior change system to give our birds the best welfare and most enjoyable life.

I hope that helps.

Steve

Steve Martin
President, Natural Encounters, Inc.


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Feather concerns in a Galah

 
Expert Question

I have a male seven year old galah cockatoo. He is hand reared and I've had him from a baby. He has lots of enrichment opportunities including access to an outside aviary, I've done the online living and learning with parrots course and feed him a good diet. I've noticed just over a week that every now and again when preening that he will really tug hard at a feather. Sometimes he will pull out a pin feather, this could be twice a day. I think he's going through a moult, I've been providing him with shredding toys that he will happily play with as my big fear is the start of a plucking problem. I know how prone these human imprinted birds, especially toos, can be to this problem. He doesn't appear to have any bold patches.We did have a holiday of five days about five weeks ago also I took on a rescue bird five months ago so a few changes and when we were away we had people coming in to see the birds regularly not ideal at all. If a bird is plucking how quickly does it progress? I am ignoring him when he tugs at a feather.I'm hoping its just an itchy moult.




Expert Answer

Hi, Nicole -

There are a myriad of reasons why a bird, Galah included, may or may not be damaging its feathers. Your hopes that there may be a normal moulting process are entirely possible as well. If you have not already done so, I would strongly suggest that you have a good physical examination done by your veterinarian to assess if there is indeed, feather damage occurring, or if there is reason to suspect a dermatitis or other issue that could require medical address.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Overweight Amazon Parrot

 
Expert Question

Hi Eb, I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died.. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat.

But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight.

PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!

Thanks,
Linda




Expert Answer

Dear Linda, I hope that your Panama (You did not mention a name) is stable and eating properly.  In cases such as these I would prescribe a full sprouts diet plus added items.

Now this need not be fully sprouted seeds, but can be germinated seeds--that is, twenty-four  to forty-eight hours of soaking with many rinses during the day, and then feed the following. Take her off the pellets and foods she has been eating but add a certain amount of dried seed to the sprouts mix, such as canary seed, red proso millet, hemp. Our favorite sprouting seeds are mung beans, safflower, organic buckwheat from the health food store, and organic sunflower from the health food store. Also good quality spray millet will sprout overnight...Do not worry about the sunflower being too fattening as when sprouted and fed in mixed amounts with other grains, it has many more benifts for the parrot.

In addition, birds that overeat are often seeking micro ingredients in their diet that they are not receiving through processed foods and veggies and fruits. I would recommend a supplement from China Prairie Co. (online in Northern California) called Micracine Enhance which is both an avian probiotic and a montmorillonite clay base. It will provide trace minerals and digestive aids. There are of course other vitamin mineral supplements that are good and you could use if you prefer.

Now if you are dealing with fatty liver, you should begin to mix up herbal milk thistle into a tea and substitute it for the water in your parrot's bowl at leat four times a week if not regularly. It does not taste bad to parrots and it will slowly begin to heal damaged liver tissue. We also like to give sprinklings of spirulina on food to birds with immune problems fighting any health problem. Especially if they are not big vegetable eaters.

Vegetable stems are the best, chard, carrot, beet, watercress, celery, etc. You can grate them to release juices on the foodstuffs if your bird throws the pieces out of the bowl.

Fruit pips are a wonderful  way to get natural and not fattening items into an amazon diet. papaya, pomegranate, melon, kiwi, guava, fig, passion fruit, anything that has ripe seeds in it that are raw. Snap peas and beans are great. If you make feeding an adventure and supplement it with an almond, walnut or two, your amazon will not go hungry and will soon transform her dietary choices into a greener, less habitual fattening diet. It may take up to three months. Drop the nutriberries as they are sweetened. If your bird likes smoothies or protein shakes, that is a good way to supplement feed as liquid foods absorb quickly and free up the liver to begin to cleanse itself. I have had amazons that like to think they were lories!!!

Please feel free to contact me at my email if you wish further consultation. These cases are complex and not all that easy to solve from afar.

Be well and good luck,
EB Cravens


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Elevated blood calcium levels in a sun conure

 
Expert Question

I recently took my sun conure who lives in the same cage with four cockatiels to the vet. The bird never laid and an egg and it is almost 15 years old. I got the bird DNA sexed. The vet said that the bird had elevated calcium levels and stated let's hope it is having eggy thoughts. Well it's a she. Will she lay eggs?




Expert Answer

Hi Heather,

Although it is true that many hens that are mobilizing calcium in preparation for potential egg laying will show elevations in total blood calcium levels, these changes are not necessarily a predictive set for all that egg laying will occur, and there can be variations in interpretation what "elevated" numbers may be. Minor elevations over a published set of "normal" values may lack in significance over a 2-3 fold increase in those levels, for example. Not all hens will lay eggs, not all observed elevations in serum calcium levels will indicate impending egg laying activity.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Overweight Amazon questions

 
Expert Question

URGENT - I have been a WPT member for well over 20 years and have an urgent question: My Panama Amazon was recently ill and very nearly died. She had stopped eating and had to be fed with a tube. She was in the care of our Avian Vet who, like myself, did not realize that she is obese. The Avian specialist who read her blood results and her xRay said it was probably her liver due to obesity. (She weighed 520 grams). I was told to feed her ANYTHING she would eat and eventually, she did begin eating again. She has been raised on a diet of Harrison's pellets plus fruits and vegetables. She is 17 years old. I found that the weight for a Panama Amazon is normally 480 grams. I ordered an avian scale and began feeding her a diet of phytonutrients as recommended by David McCluggage, DVM (on the web) who maintains that amazons should NOT be fed mostly pellets. I was shocked when the scale arrived and she weighed 615 grams! She has been on this super healthy diet for a month now, with only one or two pellets a day and one "NutraBerry" seed treat. But, AND HERE IS MY DILEMMA/QUESTION: She has NOT lost weight. She weighs around 630 grams. She does get some exercise as she is outdoors in a large macaw cage during the day. I don't know how I can get her to exercise more. I try with interactive toys, etc. She chews a lot and sings opera!! I am terrified she will become ill again if she doesn't lose weight. PLEASE ADVISE: I can't find any answers online after endless searching. Thank you so very much for taking the time to ready this lengthy question/explanation. I am so very, very grateful!
Thanks, Linda




Expert Answer

Hi Linda,

First qualifiers - since I have not examined your bird, I cannot factually corroborate or deny your working premise and diagnosis of obesity and true need for your bird to lose weight. This call should be made with the examining veterinarian you are currently working with. There is considerable variation in body weight for this species - just as there is in human beings! A large bodied and well-muscled bird may weigh easily as much as the numbers you report, and others may be quite obese at those same numbers. Be careful of managing a number (weight) instead of the true bird before you. Ideal weight should be somewhat individually defined, based on the presence of good pectoral muscle mass and an absence of visible or identifiable subcutaneous fat over the abdomen and lateral flanks. This requires the periodic physical examinations of you and your veterinarian. Many Amazon parrots can be maintained in excellent health on a predominately pelletized diet - this data has been around for quite some time.

So, I am somewhat unable to make factual recommendations that will be most appropriate for you and your bird - if clinical obesity is known to be present, work with your veterinarian to reduce caloric intake and increase foraging and caloric burn activities via enrichment of other behaviors. Make sure that weight management is not being based on mere deprivation of calories, but by enrichment. If your bird has gained weight (muscle) but lost fat - you actually may be in a good position at present time. It all depends on the hand's on evaluation and assessments of you and your attending veterinarian.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Elevated blood calcium levels in a sun conure

 
Expert Question

I recently took my sun conure who lives in the same cage with four cockatiels to the vet. The bird never laid and an egg and it is almost 15 years old. I got the bird DNA sexed. The vet said that the bird had elevated calcium levels and stated let's hope it is having eggy thoughts. Well it's a she. Will she lay eggs?
Thanks, Heather




Expert Answer

Hi Heather,
Although it is true that many hens that are mobilizing calcium in preparation for potential egg laying will show elevations in total blood calcium levels, these changes are not necessarily a predictive set for all that egg laying will occur, and there can be variations in interpretation what "elevated" numbers may be. Minor elevations over a published set of "normal" values may lack in significance over a 2-3 fold increase in those levels, for example. Not all hens will lay eggs, not all observed elevations in serum calcium levels will indicate impending egg laying activity.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Green Cheeked Amazon with infection

 
Expert Question

I have a mexican red head (green cheeked amazon) that I rescued about 10 years ago. She seems to have gotten an infection (white stuff inside her mouth) and was losing her red feathers on her head) Vet said she had a vitamin a deficiency and so gave her an a/b vitamin shot. He also sent out a culture of the white stuff and then gave me an antibiotic to put in her water daily for 30 days. Last year she got the same thing and we did the same things except the antibiotic was used for 2 weeks. I'm worried that this will be a recurring thing or we aren't treating it properly. Maybe I should get a second opinion. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks, Barbara




Expert Answer

Hi, Barbara, it is true that vitamin A deficiency can certainly set the stage for the kinds of symptoms you describe. Should this be the primary situation in your bird's case, unless the general nutritional plane of your bird has been corrected and other underlying contributing conditions identified and removed, those secondary or even tertiary infection problems often can and do repeatedly return. Additionally, some infections require much more direct treatments than water-based antibiotic treatments.

I would recommend that you have your bird examined after your course of treatment is concluded, and make sure that diet and underlying health of your bird is optimally supported and maintained.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Twitching in Grey Parrot

 
Expert Question

I have a question about my Congo African Grey Charlie. I re-homed Charlie as his owner didn't have the time to commit to him. He came to me as a nervous bird with Feather plucking issues. I worked hard over several months to vary his diet, introducing grains and pulses and fresh veg. Providing lots of foraging opportunities and eventually the feather plucking resolved and Charlie became a friendly outgoing bird. Then one day I noticed him having difficulty going to the toilet. He kept throwing his foot back to scratch his vent it seemed. I inspected him and noticed a small injury around his vent so I took him to the avian vet. The vet explained that he had either bitten or scratched the skin round part of his vent. We decided I would wash with salt water and apply homeopathic healing balm and see if that helped. It has helped and is healing well and he has stopped throwing his leg back and scratching. However he seems to have developed a 'twitch' almost which causes him to stick his leg out straight in front of him and sort of wave. This is accompanied by a tail wag from side to side rapidly and a quick flick of his wings. He has never done this until his injury and it only happens when he is still on his perch. If he is active and foraging there seems to be no 'twitch'. I am concerned as to what this might be as his vent is healing well, almost completely and he is going to the toilet as normal.  Any light shed on this would be greatly appreciated. Many Thanks, Daniel




Expert Answer

Hi, Daniel,

It is challenging to clearly visualize what you may be seeing, unfortunately. Here are a few suggestions, however. I would recommend that you video record the behavior, and present this as well as your bird for a repeat examination to your veterinarian. Presuming that there may be pain and discomfort present (from whatever the primary cause may be), you may want to enquire about the use of anti-inflammatory treatments or pain management for your bird. You may also want to inquire about the possibility of a problem within the cloaca itself, which in some circumstances could require additional maneuvers for visualization of this area.

Good on you for enriching this bird's life, adding to its behavioral inventory and doing such a good level of stewardship!


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Replacing Biting

 
Expert Question

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




Expert Answer

Hi Lauren,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you the best of luck with training Fynn!

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


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Excessive thirst and urine production in a Grey parrot

 
Expert Question

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




Expert Answer

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


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Grey won’t eat after beak trim

 
Expert Question

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

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

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




Expert Answer

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


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Selecting safe browse for parrots

 
Expert Question

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




Expert Answer

Dear BJ...

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

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

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

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

Cheers, EB


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Encouraging Nutrition in Picky Parrot

 
Expert Question

I adopted a 16 year old Cameroon African Grey on September 26th, 2012 and I would like to learn how to encourage him to eat something other than seeds. He won't eat pellets, cooked grains or vegetables, all fruit except grapes & he even refuses to eat AviCakes or Healthy Bits - a picky eater?
Donna




Expert Answer

Dear Donna,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers, EB


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Interacting with breeding companion birds

 
Expert Question

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.




Expert Answer

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 birds 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 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 companion 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.

All best,
Phoebe Linden


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Concerns About Boarding Parrots

 
Expert Question

My Question:
I would be asking my Avian Vet; however, she died in a tragic car accident last month! I am at a loss of ideas on what to do and who to call.

I have a 3 year old cockatiel and a ~2.5 year old White Bellied Caique. I board them fairly often when I have to go on trips. I was wondering if it would be necessary to worry about vaccination for certain things. The only reason I worry is because the boarding is at a pet store. Its a reputable store and they have a good staff and I've never had any bad experiences from there but they don't require any health certificates before accepting boarders. The boarders are kept in a separate area from their store stock birds for sale. They are kept in a multi-compartment battery of cages in a room in the back. They appear to keep them all clean but they are kept in close proximity to other birds. My birds always come back happy and temporarily make different sounds from the other birds.

Do you think this arrangement would warrant vaccination against some of the more common avian ailments?/ viruses?

Thanks,
Jelly




Expert Answer

Hi Jelly,

I am sorry to hear of your loss; good avian veterinarians are few and hard to find. You may want to check the AAV website to see if you can locate another veterinarian before you have an issue with one of your birds.

You ask a very good question. Unfortunately, there is not a clear answer. There is definitely a risk of contagious disease with the situation you describe for boarding your birds. Vaccination would not prevent most diseases and is of very limited value. Good hygiene standards and air circulation would be most important in preventing spread of disease.

If I were the store owner, I would require health certificates for my own protection and peace of mind. I suggest expressing your concerns with the store owner or manager. Good luck!


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Concerns about emotional health of parrot while vacationing

 
Expert Question

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




Expert Answer

Hi Joel,
Thanks for writing to the World Parrot Trust 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


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Adding a new parrot to the flock

 
Expert Question

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.




Expert Answer

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


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


18 year old parrot laying eggs for the first time

 
Expert Question

My 18 year old green wing macaw has started laying eggs. The first 2 I disposed of but I've let the 3rd one stay in the cage because I was worried she would just keep producing eggs if I kept disposing of them.

She was spending alot of time on the floor of her cage with the egg, but last night and today she was on her perch when I put her to bed and woke her up.

She doesn't spend a lot of time in her cage. Mostly to eat (twice a day) and sleep. The rest of the time she's in different rooms of the house climbing, playing, etc.

She has a companion female blue & gold (19 yrs old), they don't live in the same cage but they do spend almost all their time together.

Nothing has really changed in her environment that I can perceive so I don't know why all of a sudden she's laying eggs.

Should I take her in for a vet check? She last visited the vet about 6 months ago, for a check up

Should I increase her food in any way? She eats Harrison's High Potency Pellets, fresh vegies (broc, peppers, squash).

Thanks for your help as always!
BJ




Expert Answer

Hello BJ,

The reproduction cycle of parrots is largely dependent on numerous environmental factors. One of those is feeling very comfortable and safe in their surroundings. Your female Green-winged Macaw is obviously happy in her situation; therefore, she has started laying eggs. I don’t know that anyone can explain why it has taken so long. Maybe this year’s unusual winter had something to do with it. Who knows what environmental triggers she is sensing?

In my personal experience I have seen this become a problem with smaller birds such as budgies and cockatiels, that once started, seem to become egg factories, which in turn depletes them of nutrients over time. Chickens are fed special diets for egg production, but those diets are designed for maximum production and aren’t at all developed for the longevity of the bird.

Generally speaking the larger parrots will grow out of it. I have used several different methods. What I have found works best is to give them a nest box, so that they can learn to lay and sit their eggs in a cavity, which is instinctive to them. Laying and sitting eggs out in the open is not natural, which is most likely why she abandoned the egg you left for her. Usually once they have laid and cared for a clutch or two of eggs in a nest box, and it’s taken away, they won’t lay any more eggs unless the nest box is reintroduced. In some cases if the cage is in a cramped area it may feel like to them that they are in a nest box when just sitting in their cage. If this is the case you may want to move the cage into a more open area.

Whether or not she needs to go to a veterinarian depends on a lot of different factors.

  1. At her most recent visit what tests were done and were they normal?
  2. Was a CBC and chemistry done and were they normal?
  3. Is her behavior normal other than the fact she is now laying eggs?
  4. Did she have any trouble laying the eggs?
  5. Did the egg shells look normal (nice and smooth and thick) or were they thin in areas and chipping or flaking?
  6. Is she eating as normal?

At 18-years old she has probably built up a pretty good calcium store, but if the shells were thin or flaking that is a sign of a calcium deficiency or some sort of metabolic issue that isn’t allowing her to properly store calcium. For instance a lack of exposure to UV can result in low levels of vitamin D; therefore, they can’t properly store calcium.

She seems to be on a pretty good diet. Since she is a macaw I would suggest adding a few nuts in the shell on a daily basis (walnuts, hazel nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, etc.) and some fresh fruits now and then. This has nothing to do with her egg laying, but macaws tend to need a little more fat in their diets, and they enjoy fresh fruit. Some nuts, such as almonds contain good levels of calcium. Almost all nuts contain a lot of other beneficial nutrients and trace elements.

Thank you,
Glenn


Glenn Reynolds
About Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving on to Hyacinth Macaws, Golden Conures, and Palm Cockatoos.

An ambitious businessman with a love for parrots, Glenn has pursued a variety of parrot-related activities. In 1988 he founded Avicare, health and life insurance for parrots, underwritten by Lloyds of London. In May of 1996, he began working on the formulation of Breeder’s Blend Bird Food with the assistance of his wife, Julia Jones Reynolds, DVM, and Edward Moser, a veterinary nutritionist.

In 1998 Glenn teamed up with Mike Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust, to spearhead the World Parrot Trust-USA Golden Conure Survival Fund. As administrator of the Golden Conure Survival Fund, Glenn has raised over $50,000 to aid in the preservation of Golden Conures.

Elected to the World Parrot Trust board of directors and trustees in 2001, Glenn recently resigned from the board in order to take on the responsibilities of administrator of World Parrot Trust USA, Inc.


Spinning Behavior in a Parrot

 
Expert Question

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?




Expert Answer

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,

Steve


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Marrow seeds for parrots?

 
Expert Question

Dear EB, I'm the owner of two Quaker Parrots (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!

Diego




Expert Answer

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


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Spray millet for parrots

 
Expert Question

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.




Expert Answer

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


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Researching behavior in wild parrots

 
Expert Question

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!




Expert Answer

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!
Jamie-


Jamie Gilardi, PhD
About Jamie Gilardi, PhD

James Gilardi has been the Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust since November 2000. His work includes developing and implementing field conservation initiatives. He is a conservation biologist specializing in behavioural and physiological ecology with special interest in tropical forest birds and marine vertebrates.

Following undergraduate studies at UC Santa Cruz, he earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis studying parrot social behaviour, foraging ecology, and soil-eating in south-eastern Peru. James has also worked on parrot field conservation in Guatemala, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Mexico.

In the fall of 2000, James Gilardi became the director of the World Parrot Trust, where he is inherently involved in carrying out parrot conservation and education programs around the world.


Encouraging a cockatiel to eat pellets

 
Expert Question

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?
Thanks.




Expert Answer

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 (http://www.estarbird.com/products/Ring-Around-the-Rainbow.html) 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


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Biting behavior in African Grey

 
Expert Question

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.
Mehmet




Expert Answer

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 normal diet and have them delivered to him by only you. 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: http://www.thegabrielfoundation.org/pdffiles/year.pdf)

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 www.goodbirdinc.com. 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 www.behaviorworks.com 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

*Editors Note: Food deprivation is not being suggested here -- the bird should get his full diet daily, but some of it can be delivered through teaching interactions.


Hillary Hankey
About Hillary Hankey

Hillary Hankey found her fascination for birds at a very early age. Having worked for veterinary clinics, avian breeding centers, and sanctuaries, she finally found her true passion for the science of behavior, and pursued a career in animal training. As a professional trainer, she has had the opportunity to learn from some of the best minds in the field.

Located in Southern California, Hillary developed Learning Parrots (http://www.learningparrots.com) as a resource for companion parrot owners to understand the power of positive reinforcement, effective alternatives to forceful handling techniques, and sustainable relationship-building solutions to individual behavior challenges. Through Learning Parrots, Hillary has been able to provide in-home consultations, workshops, and seminars, helping many parrots keep their homes by teaching caregivers how to build mutually beneficial behaviors to replace undesirable avian activities. Hillary has also contributed articles to GoodBird Magazine, trains her flock of free-flying birds, and volunteers her skills at exotic animal sanctuary Wild Wonders, consulting and training animals for conservation presentations.

A strong advocate for encouraging flight and natural behaviors in companion parrots, her enthusiasm for avian behavior facilitates an extraordinary hobby of observing wild parrots in their natural habitat. As a direct result, Hillary champions the emotional connection our captive companions offer us to the natural world and the information wild psittacines provide us to keep our pets behaviorally healthy.


Greys at Play: What is normal?

 
Expert Question

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




Expert Answer

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!
Jamie


Jamie Gilardi, PhD
About Jamie Gilardi, PhD

James Gilardi has been the Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust since November 2000. His work includes developing and implementing field conservation initiatives. He is a conservation biologist specializing in behavioural and physiological ecology with special interest in tropical forest birds and marine vertebrates.

Following undergraduate studies at UC Santa Cruz, he earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis studying parrot social behaviour, foraging ecology, and soil-eating in south-eastern Peru. James has also worked on parrot field conservation in Guatemala, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Mexico.

In the fall of 2000, James Gilardi became the director of the World Parrot Trust, where he is inherently involved in carrying out parrot conservation and education programs around the world.


Trust Building with a Budgie

 
Expert Question

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 moment…is 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.




Expert Answer

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!

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'!

http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/all_about_parrots/reference_library/behaviour_and_environmental_enrichment/PS%2019%201%20Feb%2007%20Parrot%20Trust%20SM.pdf

http://www.parrots.org/pdfs/all_about_parrots/reference_library/behaviour_and_environmental_enrichment/empowering_parrots.pdf

Best of luck from Down Under,
Jim McKendry
http://www.pbec.com.au


Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations (http://www.pbec.com.au). He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (http://www.iaate.org) and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at http://www.pbec.com.au


Testing New Bird

 
Expert Question

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?




Expert Answer

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.


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Coughing Yellow Crowned Amazon

 
Expert Question

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?




Expert Answer

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.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Rainbow Lorikeet advice for health (physical and behavioral) and longevity

 
Expert Question

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.
Michaela




Expert Answer

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 http://www.drmacs.com

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,
Shauna

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 http://www.behaviorworks.org 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 ww.naturalencounters.com and great videos on training your companion bird available at Barbara Heidenreich's website. Her web site is http://www.goodbirdinc.com.

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


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Proper housing for a bird

 
Expert Question

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.




Expert Answer

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 and 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


David Woolcock
About David Woolcock

David has been concerned about wildlife since he was a child. This concern led him as an adult to help found the World Parrot Trust in 1989, where he remains a Trustee.

David also serves as the curator of Paradise Park in the UK—the home of the World Parrot Trust—and has been responsible for overseeing the care and well being of the animals at the park, as well as being a professional member of IAATE (International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators.)

David also heads-up the Flight School, located at Paradise Park, which offers expert training and consultation on everything from behaviour interpretation, modification, and enrichment to all aspects of avian husbandry.


Fearful Macaw

 
Expert Question

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.

Thanks
Bruce




Expert Answer

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.

Sincerely,
Melissa Williams
Natural Encounters, Inc.


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Plumage color in a sun conure

 
Expert Question

One of my sun conures who is 13 years old has yellowing at the tips of his blue flight feathers. Is this a nutritional deficiency? It has been that way for the last several years.




Expert Answer

I envision that what you are describing is within normal limits for this species. However, should you have concerns, or if your bird is past due for its routine veterinary examination, this is a very fair question to bring up for discussion with your avian veterinarian.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Sick Eclectus Parrot

 
Expert Question

I recently took my 4 year old eclectus parrot to the vet, because he was acting very quiet for a full day and into a second day. The vet noticed some swelling in the ridges in the upper back of the beak (sorry I forget the correct name). He looked at some poop under a microscope and saw some blood. He took an xray and said that the upper stomach area (proventicular?) looked unusually large and he was concerned about possible PDD. He gave me a Celebrex solution and said I should give my bird the Celebrex for 6 weeks. But, also, this means that my bird is not cleared to use the bird sitter. But, the blood test came back showing some bacteria, and I started a 10 day regimen of antibiotics, as well. On the 4th day my eclectus seemed close to normal, and at 9 days still seems like his old self. However, the vet said we cannot know whether it was the antibiotic or the Celebrex treating the PDD symptoms. I’ve read everything I can on PDD, and it makes no sense to me that this could be PDD. There was no weight loss. There was no passing of undigested food. The antibiotics made him better in a few days. But, now he is in limbo as far as being cleared to use a bird sitter, which is problemmatic for us. I’ve stopped the Celebrex, because it is $40/bottle. Should I continue the Celebrex or find a new vet?




Expert Answer

It is impossible for me to be able to provide any form of accurate medical recommendations for your bird in the absence of direct consultation with your attending veterinarian or physically seeing your bird. The combination of clinical data that you mention, I agree, is not classically consistent with Proventricular Dilation Disease (PDD). Alterations in the choanal area and its papillae are non-specific, and do not necessarily correlate with any specific disease. Enlargement of the proventriculus, when seen radiographically, can be seen in Eclectus parrots that sometimes have no clear disease - their proventricular silouettes are sometimes larger than many other parrot species. Bloody feces are not typically noted with PDD. Alterations in complete blood count may suggest stress, or an inflammatory reaction to something, but are not necessarily clearly indicative of infection in and of themselves. The details are interpretively important, and all are dependent on the clinical history and physical examination findings of your veterinarian.

Clinical signs are grouped into two general systemic categories: neurological and gastrointestinal. Neurological signs of PDD include ataxia, blindness, abnormal head movements, seizures, loss of balance, depression and paralysis. Gastrointestinal signs of PDD include the passage of undigested seeds in feces, proventricular enlargement, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, weight loss, starvation and death. All of these clinical signs can progress at variabe rates, and technically *any* clinically ill bird could have this disease as a possible inclusion in its differential diagnosis list. PDD at present time, is definitively diagnosed by biopsy of the effected organs, allowing for identification of the classic inflammatory lesions that are used to define the disease. The location of biopsy is dependent on clinical signs that are noted, and the level of concern and need for definitive diagnosis. Although avian bornavirus (ABV) has recently been identified as an etiologic agent of Proventricular Dilation Disease (PDD), testing for its presence, alone, does not confirm the presence of PDD. Only ABV 2 and ABV 4 have been strongly associated with PDD, and ABV types 1, 3, and 5 have not been associated with disease at present time. Surveyed populations of parrots can easily show a prevalence of 30-60% in apparently healthy birds. This disease is technically described as as one that is not treatable, although high doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including celebrex or meloxicam can sometimes show clinical improvement in individuals. These birds typically do not show improvement in as short a time as you have described in your bird here.

It sounds like there may no clearly established diagnosis at present time, and that your bird is feeling better after a course of antibacterial and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug treatment. This information, alone, is fairly far removed from clear evidence of PDD and a need for absolute quarantine from other birds. It still, however, should be possible that this disease could be present.

I would suggest that you speak with your veterinarian about your concerns, and also ask for specific recommendations about your relative risks of continuing to have your bird overlooked by your bird sitter.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Outdoor flight for a Rose-breasted Cockatoo

 
Expert Question

Hi, I’m planning to build an aviary in the garden of my townhouse in New York City for my rose breasted cockatoo Chirp, so he can spend more time outdoors during the warmer months. The designers have proposed using some type of metal mesh to form the enclosure, and using wrought iron to form some more decorative detail on the outside. What type of material would you recommend for the enclosure (his indoor cage is made of stainless steel), what thickness should the wire be, and how much gap between the wires would be ideal? I imagine that Chirp would get his beak to the decorative metal work made with wrought iron, is that safe? Also, what plants are safe to place inside the aviary? The ground is currently paved with bricks, do you recommend something else? Is there anything else, like pests or other problems, I should be aware of? Thank you so much for your help.




Expert Answer

Dear Jade, My compliments on giving your Rose Breasted Cockatoo a new phase in life with an outdoor play cage. Wire choices are many and difficult in the U.S. these days. Stainless steel wire is available but expensive. we used to use high quality galvanized wire from England….Twilweld it was called, but is is rare in the states these days. Some of the local hardware and building wires are Chinese or imported and of poor quality—-one of our main cages rusted all over in four years and had lots of poor galvanizing. You could check with Riverdale Mills on the east coast.  http://www.riverdale.com/ ;

For a Rosie I would use half inch by half inch openings in 14 gauge thickness. They are not tremendously strong chewers, preferring to fray things normally. Make sure you bathe the wire down with a vinegar/water solution to remove the zinc that is found on galvanized wire, before finally putting the parrot in the flight. A brick floor may work out, but it is necessary for Rosies to have some sort of applied ground foraging.  That either means a section in grasses, wildflowers, seed weeds, and sod where they can scrabble and dig and forage or a large tray from a building center or greenhouse where you can put safe clean sandy soil and plant it or add daily green stuffs (not potting mixes or bagged things, but plain old dirt unsprayed and unfertilized!!)  That will give him an area to venture to the ground. The small wire openings will deter most pests, but if you live where there are racoons it can be dangerous. We like to bury a twelve inch section of wire straight out along the ground outside the cage walls and clipped to the walls. That way any rat or cat or such would come up to the wire and try to dig down but only find a wire barrier it cannot dig through.

There are plenty of plants that can be used inside. Google ‘safe plants parrots’ and you will find a list. Our favorites are mulberry, elm, fruit trees including apple, pear, apricot, crabapple, quince. Also all the cluster palms, any bamboos, and hanging plants like spider plants, geraniums, nasturtiums, marigolds, pansies, etc. A sprouting bin will allow you to sprout uneaten bird seeds and place them in hanging orchid baskets for browse. Also cut branches from neighborhood trees allowing pruning will work for weeks fastened by wires high up on the sides of the cage for privacy and perches—maple, oak, beech, evergreens, etc. Anything that would die in the winter needs to be in a large moveable pot to be taken in when frosts begin.You could even get some fresh timothy or alfalfa hay and spread it on the bricks to make cleanup easier every fortnight or so.

A covered roof on part of the aviary is necessary for wind protection and sun screen, and to hide from hawks.. Also a corner or two with plywood on the sides to give privacy so he has a place to hang out and nap.Wrought iron is basically safe, just buy quality paints that are child safe and keep lots of organic chewables and toys he likes in the cage—that will prevent most birds from ever resorting to chewing on wire or paints. A fake playbox (not a total enclosed nestbox) made out of pine shelving would be fun and even some knotted old jeans legs or tee shirts for the cloth fraying rosebreasteds often enjoy.

Good luck and I hope this information is not too late. Your e mail just reached me a short time ago and I know the summer is getting on.
Cheers, 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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Golden conure foot problems

 
Expert Question

I have a problem with a Golden Conure (Guarouba guarouba), her legs and toes are infected with something.They where bleeding. My own vet does not recognize the problem. Have you any idea what the problem might be. The vet examine the bird for mold and parasites which where negative. There was only a small increase of intestinal bacteria She was treated with Synulox for that. The problem started when she was breeding. The filling of the nest box are beechwood chips.




Expert Answer

Hi, AJ - This is not going to be a simple problem that will allow one to view a photo and tell you what the diagnosis is or may be. There appears to be some necrosis of the skin over the upper surface of the feet. This can be caused by traumatic, toxic, vascular problems or other issues.  My best suggestion would be to continue to work with your attending veterinarian, ask them to consider consultation with an experienced colleague if indicated, and to continue to press for diagnosis.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Question about a pet Regent parrot

 
Expert Question

Hello Dr.Speer,I am very worried about my Regent Parrot as, today I noticed he had eaten small bits off the door draft seal. He hasn`t eaten very much of it but I don`t know if these seals are made of rubber or plastic. Could this do him any harm and what can I do? He doesn`t look sick and is still eating his food.




Expert Answer

Hi, Elizabeth - I hope your bird has remained healthy. Consumption of sealants certainly could result in exposure to a variety of toxins that could have been present in them. Lead, zinc, petroleum products and others can certainly pose some potential for toxicologic risk. Your more immediate course of action could have been to either contact your local veterinarian, and/or ask a poison control hotline source if there is significant risk, and what you should be looking for.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Repeat infection in a Goffins Cockatoo

 
Expert Question

I address this query to E.B. Cravens, a person whose expertise I greatly respect from reading his articles in the Redwood Empire Cage Bird Club newsletter.

My goffins cockatoo (20 yrs old) has been having an on/off ‘infection’ in his wing pit the last couple of years. Originally I was told it was a fungal infection, then a staph infection. He was given antibiotics (3 times in 1.5 yrs) mixed in his water. Each time it cleared up. Last AB treatment ceased 2 mos. ago, then I noticed yesterday that it has started up again in his left wing pit. It occurs mostly in his right wing pit, but his left side is occasionally affected - to a lesser degree. It looks a bit oozy, and crusts up. We were told it is because he picks at it; however, my thought is that he picks BECAUSE he has and infection/fungus - which then worsens the issue. I fear he will become AB resistant; also, I do not want his immunity compromised.

I live in Sonoma County, CA. He is outdoors much of the time, playing in the various fruit trees and local natives. Fred also has an ongoing zinc issue (last 18 years) and wears a collar most of the time; I only take it off for a few min-hrs to let him preen.

I thought Staph was bacterial, not fungal. Would greatly appreciate your input.

Kindly, Roxanne




Expert Answer

Dear Roxanne, Thank you for the kind words. I do not know if I am the right person to fully answer your question, since it is basically a medical issue; and I hope the WPT representatives will also ask Dr. Speer or his staff to add their comments…

That said, here is my two cents worth, given from a rural resident who does not have available bird medical service on hand:

Are you working with a certified avian veterinarian?  Has he or she identified the microorganism through cultures? Being told it is a different thing once or twice can certainly be frustrating and it needs to be tied down more specifically. Sometimes a bacteria like staphylococcus can also weaken a parrot so that fungus can invade. There are many species of staph, some which are known to reside on bird hosts, some which are very difficult to eradicate when established. Once your culprit is identified, sensitivity tests will determine a medicine that can attack it.

Personally, with an exterior infection, I would also like to treat the sores topically. As such, we prefer to use holistic applications that can work concurrently with your antibiotics. If your cockatoo has healed and been without lesions on a prior treatment, that would indicate that the bird has certain capabilities to beat the infection with medical help. But should he be in an environment where the staph is heavily prevalent (ie…some soils, weathered woodstuffs, mildewed ropes, etc) it might be that he is continually exposed to more of the same.

This is what I would recommend:

1) Don’t put her back on general antibiotics until you have a microbe identified and a medicine isolated that will kill it. Giver her multi-level avian probiotic powder now…..one of the good ones.

2)  Begin to assess any items or cage furniture or the like that could harbor an infection and totally clean and sterilize them—it is not necessary to use strong disinfectants or bleach, just a good soap and water cleaning and sunlight drying will probably help. Throw away anything suspect. Think of it as spring cleaning down to the core.

3) Consider getting some citrus bioflavinoid—that is grapefruit seed extract, GSE, and using it in her water for three weeks and topically as a wash. Hospitals have reported some success with GSE in fighting staph infections. Bathe her regularly and I would use GSE in the water if a spray bottle works. We mix all ours at 9cc per gallon.

4) Get a soothing aloe vera gel or even better the raw plant sliced up and use that as a nighttime salve. Not only is it anti-bacterial and bitter to the taste of feather pickers, but is seals sore wounds under a mild film that speeds wound healing manyfold.

5)  Put the parrot on a supplement with spirulina, trace minerals, and clay sprinkled on any wet food that she will eat.

6)  If she is not getting any health food grit—-start to sprinkle it on her food…..cuttlebone hard shell bits scraped off, oyster shell, clean bird grit, whatever….many of our parrots develop nutritional problems with secondary weaknesses if they do not have grit, especially during the breeding season…for a Goffin’s in your region that would be October to February by rough estimate.  Grit is used in salt and pepper
amounts only once a week or once every two weeks. Cockatoos not getting access to the ground are notorious for finding zinc particles on their cage wire (or epoxy paint) and ingesting it as a substitute.

7) You did not specify a diet, but if he is on mostly extruded pellets, you need to get him to eat live food—ie fruit pips, sprouts, veggies, green stems, etc. Perhaps the outdoor trees provide some of this.

Good luck. Keep in touch please.

Eb Cravens


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Fearful African Grey

 
Expert Question

My Question: Regarding a rescued 7 yr old male African Grey. I obtained “Steve” from a friend who works at an avian rescue. She was fostering him, and I felt I could offer Steve a lot of patience. His first owner got him young, as a talking novelty but neglected him, never gave him destructible toys, and never noticed that he was mutilating under his wings after he had escaped outside for 5 days and been rescued. The mutilation was discovered when she surrendered him. He was in the rescue for 2 years and basically was extremely fearful and nearly motionless. He was to be euthanized because his mutilation wounds wouldn’t heal, but I’ve now had him for 9 months. He had already stopped mutilating when he was fostered, and except for picking at his neck feathers slightly, he’s looking very healthy and is starting to have a bit of spark in his eyes.

He has learned to target beads from my hand, which he drops into a cup, and then gets a small nut reward. He does move around his cage to forage for wrapped pellets, but basically sits all day and doesn’t want to come out.

I think he has bonded to me - he solicits head rubs nightly, and calls to me when I’ve left the room, but he won’t come out. I have to stick my hand in, and it’s as if we start all over: he’s nervous, then gradually relaxes. (Because of his mutilation wounds, the rescue workers would remove him from his cage by his neck for vet visits! No wonder he’s paranoid about hands.)

I provide tons of toys, leave his cage door open daily - sometimes he comes out on a perch on the door, but only if I’m sitting or lying down, and he returns immediately to his cage if I get up. He has the company of a mature Jardine’s parrot and 2 cockatiels (all in separate cages). All ignore him and he ignores them.

Steve is a very fearful guy. For practical reasons (like vet visits) and for his own growth and life enjoyment, I’d like to be able to eventually get him used to my hands outside of head scritching time, but that may take quite a while. He’s extremely sensitive to emotions and thoughts like a finely tuned radar!

Do you have any advice to help Steve rehabilitate and lessen his fear response - a fear basically about everything (even the placement of old and new toys). He does chew hanging toys, but mostly when he’s nervous, rather than for play or exploration. It’s as if he doesn’t have a clue how to play, which makes sense, given his history.

My other birds are quite normal and I’ve been hoping that Steve watching them be normal might help.

Thanks for your kind perusal of my case! I love the guy and want him to be as happy as he can be, under the circumstances.

Shannon Ryan




Expert Answer

Hello Shannon, My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. Thank you for taking the time to seek out information that will help you to provide Steve with the best care and welfare possible. I have several thoughts that I’d like to share about your situation, as well as some ideas on where to go from here.

In the work that we do with our animals, we discipline ourselves to focus on the observable behaviors that an animal exhibits. Since we can’t know what’s going on in their heads, looking at changes in their body language and behaviors in response to stimuli in their environment and responding in kind is the best way that we can communicate with them. Good two-way communication is the goal in all our interactions: being able to interpret whether or not the stimuli in a given situation (toys, objects, environmental distractions, an animal's caretakers, etc) are something that the animal wants or something that the animal wants to get away from. You’ve provided some great examples of observable behaviors that occur in conjunction with discrete environmental events: putting down his head to solicit scratches from you when you are in proximity to his cage, and avoidance behaviors when a hand is presented inside his cage. Our goal is to try to find a way to take the behaviors that you want to see more of and make them things that Steve actively seeks to be a part of.

It is quite possible that in Steve’s past he was subjected to a fair amount of punishment and negative reinforcement. Forcing a bird to step up by pushing your hand up against their chest, grabbing them by the neck to get them out of a cage, or chasing them around a room to get them to go back home are all things that might be done to a bird with no intention of causing them harm or discomfort. In the animal’s mind, though, these are likely very negative experiences, and he will do everything he can to avoid or minimize his exposure to these events in the future. It is very likely that Steve has had a variety of negative experiences involving people’s hands, maybe even for the entirety of his life.  The amazing thing about behavior, though, is that it is ready-made to be flexible and respond to new information in the environment - every day is a chance for Steve to start building a brand new outlook on the humans that he spends his time with.

If the behavior that he are hoping to see is stepping willingly onto the hand, we first have to ask why the animal would want to perform the behavior. If we ask the question “What’s in it for me?” from the animal’s perspective when considering a behavior, we can begin to form a plan about how to take steps towards making this behavior something the animal will look forward to doing. This is in contrast to forcing an animal to be compliant. If you present your hand into the cage and Steve shows nervous body language (feathers slicked tight, moving to the other side of the cage, lunging/biting at the hand) but then calms down and submits, he may have learned in the past that this is something that he simply can’t get away from, and therefore has no choice but to submit to. Our goal, however, is to create a bird that is not only willing but eager to step up because of a long, strong history of positive experiences being associated with stepping up. If a step onto the hand is always paired with praise, a favorite toy, a scratch on the head, or preferred foods treat, it is highly likely that Steve will look forward to being able to step up again in the future.

Of course, the execution of this plan requires discipline and patience, both qualities that it seems that you’ve already demonstrated with your bird. If I was in your shoes, my first step would probably be to take my hand out of the picture completely for the time being. With a bird that’s nervous stepping up or being on the hand, I first try to build a solid relationship of trust through repetitions of simple behaviors that the bird can perform inside the cage. Target training -- teaching an animal to touch a particular object to earn a reward -- is an excellent place to start because it keeps the animal actively scanning the environment to figure out where it needs to go or what it needs to do to in order to earn reinforcement. Using good positive reinforcement techniques -- keeping approximations small at first and moving ahead at the bird's pace, offering a treat every time the bird performs the right behavior, taking a step back when the animal seems confused or frustrated, ending sessions when the animal demonstrates that it no longer wants to participate -- will help not only by teaching Steve a variety of new behaviors, but each and every positive experience you are a part of helps to strengthen your relationship with him, a crucial component of all human-animal interactions.

Since playing with new toys is also one of your goals, you can train him to interact with new objects in the same way that you trained him to target to the beads in your hand: reward him for looking at the object, then for making a small move towards it, then for touching it for a moment, then for interacting with it for extended periods of time. If each step is paired with something Steve likes, the act of interacting with the object will likely become reinforcing in and of itself just because of the long history he has built up of good things happening in conjunction with doing this behavior. Not only will interacting with new objects help to get Steve to be more active, but it is very likely that it will have a beneficial effect on his feather plucking behavior as well.

As to the specific behavior of Steve stepping onto the hand, I would start with a behavior that he is already doing, walking out onto a perch on the open door of the cage. This starts by offering reinforcement for maintaining calm, comfortable body posture first for allowing the door to be opened a bit, then a bit more, and eventually for coming to the perch on the door. Each time he gets a little closer to this, I would praise him verbally and drop a small treat in one of his bowls. Even if he will take a treat from your hand through the walls of his cage, I think it would do more harm than good at this point to try to offer him a treat right through the open door. He may be fine with this, though -- paying close attention to his body language throughout this process will be the key to making progress. Any time he leans or walks away or demonstrates what you would interpret as "nervous" behaviors, that is your cue to move back (both physically and to an earlier step where Steve was having progress). Through time and repetition, Steve will stay comfortable while a hand is presented at a distance, then slightly closer, then closer still, until it is near the perch on the door. When you get to a point when he is approaching the hand, you can try to present the treat in such a way that he was to lean across your hand to get it. If he does that, then you can see if he'll put one foot on it, then eventually two feet, and finally stepping up and being moved slowly and steadily away from the perch. If done correctly, Steve will always have the power to say "no thank you" simply by choosing to walk away from the training session, and if he seems nervous while on the hand he should be set back down on his perch straightaway. Respecting his comfort level and trying again later is another critical component to good communication, and will only make him that much more likely to want to participate the next time a training session comes along.

Having respect for the bird by honoring their right to say no, keeping a close eye on his body language at all times, consistently striving to present positive consequences for desired behaviors, and seeking to avoid the use of aversive stimuli whenever possible will open your relationship with Steve to a world of nearly limitless behavioral possibilities. Always make sure to work at the bird's pace, though, and be mindful that setbacks will occur. Instead of getting frustrated, just know that every mistake or setback is just an opportunity to start again with new information. Indeed, quite often our mistakes teach us more than our successes, and if we learn from them they most definitely will become less frequent as time passes and we gain increased experience, insight, and sensitivity.

I hope that you've found this information to be useful, as these tools have proven to be invaluable to the work that we do with our animals each and every day. If you haven't done so already, I would also encourage you to check out the articles that we have posted on our website, http://www.naturalencounters.com, as they contain great information about bird behavior, training, and enrichment.

We wish you the best of luck, and we hope that you and Steve have many years of great interactions ahead of you!

Sincerely,

Chris Jenkins
Supervisor
Natural Encounters, Inc.


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Harness Training

 
Expert Question

Hello, My name is Nina. I am from Bulgaria. We have two year old Cacatua Gallerita. Her name is Rea (it is not proved she is a female, it was told to us from a breeder). So far, we didn’t have any problems with her. We want to teach her to fly with a harness. This is a problem for us , because she doesn’t want to wear it. She is now a flighted bird . Flies around all house. She was clipped twice first year, but now we decided to let her fly. It is o.k. with us , but it is a problem when trying to wear the harness.

She is so unwilling of this and always flies away from the perch . She is not afraid of harness itself - she plays with it , but she is afraid of when we try to wear it on her. Otherwise she is very cuddly and gives her wings any way . What should we do to make her life better? How can we show her that the harness is not so awful to wear? Should we clip her wings once more to force her and to wear the harness or this will be a big mistake? Please , help us and thank you in advance




Expert Answer

Hello Nina, You pose some very good questions. I’ll say first that I like to teach birds to wear a harness, but I don’t like them for actually ‘flying’ a bird with. I think they make a great safety device to back up solid training when you take a bird outside. There are many potential problems with trying to fly them in a harness, one is that, even with elastic leashes, the bird comes to an abrupt halt when they hit the end of the leash, resulting injury. Even without injury, the experience of an abrupt halt could make the harness an unpleasant thing for the bird afterwards. Another problem is the the bird somehow getting the leash free, or too much line, so that it gets tangled up in a tree or worse, where you can’t help untangle and retrieve the bird. That would very dangerous. Forcing a bird into a harness is a really bad idea. It might work once, maybe twice, but it could damage your relationship or cement in the bird’s memory that the harness is a ‘bad thing’.

Since your bird is not afraid of the harness, teaching her to wear it is fairly straight forward, using the gradual teaching strategy call shaping. Especially since she’s comfortable having you handle her wings and body. That helps a lot. But you want to go about it at the bird’s pace, using lots of positive reinforcement for each small step. Just as important as putting the harness on, is taking it off. The one I have ruffles my bird’s head feathers backwards when removing it, so we’ve had to work on making a game out of her pulling her head out of close quarters. Otherwise a few times of that can make the bird decide it wants nothing to do with the harness.

Barbara Heidenreich has a good video showing how she trained two birds to wear a harness. It’s very clear and helpful. Here’s the video

Really though, I’d discourage the idea of training flight with a harness. A better alternative for flying is to find large buildings that will let you use or rent the space to practice inside. The harness is good as a backup safety device when out and about but your bird must be supervised at all times when wearing a harness, so that s/he doesn’t chew through it or get a body part stuck.

Thanks for the question, Nina!

Dana McDonald


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Multi-species Home

 
Expert Question

I have a rose breasted cockatoo and also three ex battery hens and two rescue turtles. I am now thinking of getting a dog. A non terrier type as they tend to chase or hunt dogs. Obviously I would always supervise. The pets I have now are my first priority. I am giving this lots of thought as I am aware dogs are predators, and birds are often prey. I have heard of multi-pet households working. Anyone have this set up? Thanks! Nicole




Expert Answer

Hi Nicole! Bravo for approaching this decision so thoughtfully. Multi-species households can be very enjoyable but also problematic. At least one author has referred to turtles as “doggie sushi”! Nevertheless, cockatoos, hens, turtles and dogs have lived together, compatibly, in my household for many years. Let’s take a look at some of the steps that help us achieve that compatibility. 
 
When bringing home a new dog, breed characteristics can be an important consideration. As you note, some breeds have been bred for specific behaviors. Knowing the breed characteristics might help us to understand certain behavioral tendencies, for instance, why a Dachshund might choose to dig holes in the yard (the breed was bred to flush small animals from underground dens). It is very important to also note that wide variations in behavior can be found within the individuals of the various breeds or species. 

1. Recognizing that individuality and setting each individual up for success is the key to a successful multi-species environment, whether we are talking about one parrot and one human or many, many species living together harmoniously. 

How do we set an individual up for success? By skillfully arranging and enriching the environment to meet the unique needs of each individual. Each of us, no matter the species, needs safety, fresh food and water and jobs we choose to do. Often, as caregivers with multiple species, in our zest to ensure safety we can sometimes overlook the very important need for jobs suitable to each individual. All species are built to behave and studies have shown individuals who are empowered to operate on their environment are more likely to be behaviorally healthy than those who are not empowered. Providing foraging opportunities suitable for each individual is just one way to enrich the environment for each of your charges.  A pup who is digging up toys in his own special digging area is not digging in the turtle enclosure!

2.  Clear communication. As caregivers, it is important to learn the body language other species use to communicate with us. Whether it is the cockatoo’s raised crest or the dog’s raised fur, they are telling us something if we are willing to listen and learn. Clearly communicating to them is equally important.  Positive reinforcement training is an enjoyable and effective way to facilitate clear communication. Immediately after the desired behavior is emitted, we mark the behavior with a sound or word, such as “good”.  The immediacy of the marker after the behavior increases the effectiveness of the learning. The teacher then, quickly, follows the marker with a reinforcer, something the individual values such as a food treat. At the very minimum,  a few basic behaviors should be put on cue, practiced and reinforced regularly. “Come” (recall) and “drop it” are two “musts” for both parrots and dogs. Targeting is another great behavior to teach. Positive reinforcement training has been shown to be effective with a multitude of species, including humans. When training hens using positive reinforcement, the use of a clicking sound to mark the target behavior (clicker training) might be especially helpful.  One of my turtles will often enthusiastically run to me when he hears the clicker. Time spent training with positive reinforcement is quality time for the learner and the teacher. Only a few minutes a day with each individual can greatly enrich their lives and our relationships with them.

3. As you have wisely noted: Constant Supervision!!! No matter how long or how successful our relationships have been in a multi-species household, we must maintain careful observation and remain alert to possible changes in each individual’s behavior. For instance, age, illness or injury can cause profound changes in the relationships amongst the members of the household. 

For further reading:

Enrichment and training resources on the World Parrot Trust website: 
https://www.parrots.org/reference-library/

Additional articles on behavior and positive reinforcement training: 
http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/articles_behavior_change.html

An excellent behavior tool:
http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/downloads_toolkit.html

A positive reinforcement training classic: 
Don’t Shoot The Dog! The New Art Of Teaching And Training”  by Karen Pryor.

Wishing you much success!
Cynthia Whitehead, and The LLP Team


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Feather damaging and nare itchiness in a Blue Front Amazon

 
Expert Question

Dr. Speer, Thank You for taking my question. My wife and I have a Blue Front Amazon. She will be turning 3 years old this week. Like most Parrot owners will tell you, she adds so much joy and fun to our life. Last year she started to tatter her feathers (mostly on her chest). I took her to our Avian Vet, we took all the proper tests and he sent me home with the Fecal Tri-Chrome. All test were good except the Fecal Tri-Chrome came back positive for Giardia. We gave her Ronizol for 10 days, stopped for 10 days, and then resumed a 10 day treatment. Her feathers grew back beautifully, we re-tested her 30 days after the last treatment for giardia; the test was negative. I wanted to be on the safe side and re-tested this past December for giardia, the test was once again negative. This past February, I had taken her into the shower for her weekly shower (once or twice a week), I always use luke warm to cool water when she is actually showering, she really seemed to rub her nares on top of the shower doors and was constently grabbing her bottom beak. Her nares seemed red and a little
inflamed. Our Avian Vet did a few tests (gram Stain and a couple more) and didn’t find any abnormalitites. He didn’t seem to think it was a sinus
infection, he gave me a herbal type medication, we put drops on her nares and eyes for 10 days. When I shower her even after that it seems as if she has to rub her nares. Today after I showered her, I put her in her cage to dry off (she has a large Kings Cage) she ended up jumping in her water bowl. I thought she maybe wanted to have more fun, but she kept dunking her head and rubbing her nares on a perch. Her nares seem to be red and inflamed (from the rubbing I’m sure). I also noticed today, (I might just be peranoid) that her feathers that she tattered last year because of the giardai seem to be a little tattered again, plus she is doing a lot of scratching. It could be she is semi-starting to molt but I am extra cautious. We have her on a great pelleted diet, very minimal seeds (mostly for foraging), fruits and vegtables, and red palm oil. I forgot to mention, last year before she tested positive for giardia, her skin was extremely
dry, and I have found out that giardia will do that. My question is, my avian vet seems to think that 2 negative giardia results are pretty conclusive, I am just worried and wondering if this is the case? I am also concerned about the nares turning red after showering and her grabbing her lower beak, has anyone ever seen this? I really appreciate you taking the time to read all of this!!! Thank You & God Bless smile




Expert Answer

Hi, Joseph,  Unfortunately, there is no real clear correlation between the presence of Giardia and feather damaging behaviors. Although it seems that the organism was shown to be present in your bird, it should remain unclear as to its role in the feather damaging behaviors noted as well as other hypothesized clinical signs noted. This was originally published in a non-peer reviewed conference proceedings in 1986, specifically in cockatiels, and the presumption that it is fact and that it applies to all parrot species persists to this day in many venues of avian medical practice. A Trichrome test is a flagellar stain, and if read accurately, will demonstrate the presence of flagellated protozoa, Giardia included, in a properly fixed sample in polyvinyl alcohol. It is, however, subject to technical reading error, resulting in both potential false positives and false negative results.

There are many reasons why feather damaging behavior can initally be seen in parrots, and also why, even if Giardia was not the *cause*, that treatment can lead to the assumption that it has caused a cessation of the behavior. It is true that Giardiasis can result in a malabsorbtion problem with the small intestinal tract, and sometimes, nutritional deficiencies can occur that result in integumentary abnormalities as you describe (flakineness).

My best assumption is that your bird has some additional problem, leading to flaky skin and discomfort in the nare / cere area, if not generalized elsewhere. Some of the behaviors you describe can be within normal limits (grabbing lower beak and rubbing nares on things when showering), however, and it is also possible that there may not specifically be a *problem* at all.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Learning to Fly

 
Expert Question

Hi Eb, you helped us about 11 years ago (when we were living in Flagstaff AZ) to teach our macaw, Cyrano (then 2-3 yrs old, now 14 years old) to land by dropping her onto the bed. This was so she wouldn’t crash since as a clipped fledgling she never learned to fly or land and also to encourage her to flap her wings for exercise.

Fast-forward to now. We have a 4 year old Red-fronted macaw (Sorata) who fledged as a baby, is an adept flyer & loves to fly! And does throughout the house. Cyrano has continued to dislike it and never initiates flight. Seeing Sorata’s joy and fitness, we’ve been working with Cyrano the last 5 mo to fly short distances to us, and while she gets excited and has gotten better & lands on us, it still seems to scare her. She used to flap her wings while gripping onto us after baths but now doesn’t do that. She also used to flap to exhaust herself before Tom has to towel her for wing/beak clippings, but the other day she flew off him & crashed & hid under the chair, very scared. She seems nervous in our large bedroom where we fly her. We’re realizing it’s not worth it, that the whole flying thing stresses her, and that we’ll just quit & try to get her back to flapping while holding on to us. Do you agree - if so how do we get her back to just flapping? Or have any thoughts on if and how we can gently help her learn to like flying. We’re in a bit of a conundrum & just want her to be happy & healthy. As the alpha female, we’re also wondering if it’s stressful watching her kid sister fly all around so easily - but maybe that’s just fine for all. Thank you!




Expert Answer

Linda, The one thing about flight training for fearful and never-fledged parrots is that it never really ends. At least not until they are totally skilled and strong and confident. For Cyrano to develop this type of flying, it will take lots of further progress from just the initial drop-and-flap training two or three feet off the bed with which you begin.

Every time he takes off in flight and/or crashes is essentially a step backward in his development. Hence these situations are to be avoided at all costs.

Yes, flapping exercise on the hand is good and will strengthen his torso, but much of landing has to do with technique and that just takes practice.

It would be best to analyze the WAY Cyrano flies. Does he always go straight ahead and end up going too fast to actually land well, hence falling forward on his face? Does he always fly down? Upwards? Parrots, especially large macaws, who over flap once taking off may gain too much speed and do not always have the skill to feather their wings, brake in the air, look downwards, put out their feet, and land on an object. In a household these things are even harder since macaws are evolved to fly hundred of yards at a time if they flap strongly. That’s why three and four and six-foot flap and lands are great indoor training.

If Cyrano is over-speeding, I would advise trimming the first two (sometimes later a third) strongest thick-ribbed flight feathers on each wing to slow his power down about 15%. This will not affect the landing progress.

You need to make this process as easy as possible for Cyrano, so that he does it time and again until it becomes second nature. One goes about this by establishing a comfortable and stable “landing site.” April and I use large handle baskets with our fledglings. They have the advantage of being able to be moved around the room to change flight patterns and visuals—but never change the recognizable landing site so that the bird begins to grow in confidence. Other such sites would be the back of a recliner draped with a large stable bath towel, or the wood on a portable perch (which does not shake 1) and can also be covered with the strong towel. Top of the cage with the towel, humans arm wrapped in the towel, etc, etc.

Get the point? Some 75% of correct landing for inexperienced birds is the mental aspect. That means that before taking off, the parrot that already KNOWS where he is going to try and land will have a singularly better chance of doing it smoothly. After fifty or a hundred such proper landings, you will notice that Cyrano begins to make an instantaneous decision WHILE AIRBORNE on where to land—say, by taking off, deciding to turn around in mid air, spotting his towel takeoff spot (obviously the more large towels of the same color around the room the better!) and returning to land on the same place.

This, by the way, illustrates the number on failure in most hand-feeding nursery fledging methods: the keepers do not control the mental side of the initial flights by establishing clear recognizable landing spots; instead they just let baby birds take off and go wherever they will and they end up with panicked chaotic crashes, impacts on windows, grabbing on door frames or picture frames or curtains, etc., instead of precise hop and flap landings on easily recognizable objects.

Regarding Sorata’s flying. I would venture that its always a bit stressful for a macaw that has been living alone to all-of-the-sudden be confronted with another large parrot flying around the room—-certainly if the Red Front flits by Cyrano or lands nearby or such. A parrot taking wing is a grand inducement for the nearby parrot to take off immediately also. Your Blue Throat (I believe it was…) would surely be drawn to fly in tandem on impulse, but being unable or fearful, would experience some fretfulness. Incidentally, an “alpha” bird as you termed it, is often the one that is the best flyer in the home. This might explain Cyrano’s increased nervousness or wish to avoid things by hiding under a chair.

It might be possible to devise some “games with treats” that prompt Sorata to fly from point A basket or soft spot to point B and back and forth, giving Cyrano a turn each time and a treat reward for joining in the game of practice flying.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! You have a golden opportunity here to improve the life of both your macaws. Just a little imagination and a lot of perseverance, and you will be quite pleased with the outcome.

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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Stress of yearly health visits

 
Expert Question

Dear Susan, I have two Monk parakeets that will be one year old in June. They are active and appear to be in good health, but I have been reading everywhere that parrots should be brought for an yearly veterinary visit to ensure they health condition. Can you confirm to me if this is necessary or if it would be a useless stress for them? Thank you for your consideration and have a good day.

[Editor’s note: Original question received in Italian, English translation provided above]

Ho 2 parrocchetti monaci che hanno 1 anno a giugno, sono vispi e apparentemente in salute ma leggo ovunque che bisognerebbe far fare una visita annuale per essere più sicuri sul loro stato di salute. mi conferma se è proprio necessario o se potrebbe essere un inutile stress per loro? grazie dell'attenzione e buona giornta.




Expert Answer

Dear Giulia, Thank you for asking your question. My area of expertise is behavior change, not avian veterinary medicine; however I found your question about yearly health exams interesting from a behavioral point of view.

It is commonly recommended that parrots have a yearly veterinary exam to ensure their heath condition, although not all possible tests need to be run routinely every year. The final decision on what tests should be included yearly varies, and is usually based on the veterinarian direct observation of the bird and the caregiver's report. This information establishes a baseline from which changes in your bird's physiology and behavior can be monitored for the earliest possible detection and treatment of any problems, both visible and invisible to caregivers, which may arise.

The behavioral part of your question is so important: You asked if yearly health visits would be a useless stress for our parrots. The subject of patient stress is important to consider one two levels -1) the bird's discomfort, and 2) the potential for stress to invalidate medical data. This means that reducing patient stress is a number one priority for our birds during all activities related to accomplishing yearly exams including preparation for the visit at home, transport to and from the exam, and during the exam.

From a behavioral point of view, we need to consider what stress looks like in observable terms. How will you know if your bird is stressed? Or, more to the point: What does an unstressed bird look like? The body language and behavior we consider representative of stress can vary by species and individuals. Observe carefully your bird's feather positions, body posture, and the position of the legs, wings, eyes, beak, and head during times when your bird is alert but calm. To the greatest extent possible, that's what we want our bird to display throughout exam day.

The best way to meet this goal is to do a task analysis of every activity that will occur during exam day and then teach your bird how to do each activity using our best teaching strategies, for example shaping new behaviors with positive reinforcement. The time to teach a bird calm transport and exam behavior is not the day of the appointment! Plan ahead and start teaching one behavior at a time, now. Teach your bird to willingly enter and exit a carrier, remain relaxed during transport, step on and off a scale, relax while held in a towel.

You don't need to have all the behaviors mastered before the exam. Each behavior you do successfully teach your bird to do, will strengthen your relationship and help your bird be resilient to a temporary withdrawal from your "trust account". There are stressors in every animal's life that can be easily overcome when they live an empowered lifestyle in general.

[Editor’s note: Original question received in Italian, English translation provided above]

Cara Giulia, Grazie per aver inviato la tua domanda al Forum di Esperti del WPT.
La mia area di competenza è la modifica del comportamento, non la medicina veterinaria. Tuttavia, ho trovato interessante dal punto di vista comportamentale la tua domanda sulle visite veterinarie annuali.

Generalmente, si raccomanda di far svolgere una visita veterinaria annuale ai pappagalli per verificare il loro stato di salute, anche se non è necessario sottoporli annualmente a tutte le analisi disponibili. La decisone finale sulle analisi da svolgere ogni anno può variare, e generalmente si basa sulle osservazioni da parte del veterinario e su quanto gli viene riferito dal proprietario. Queste informazioni rappresentano le basi dalle quali i cambiamenti della fisiologia e del comportamento dei pappagalli possono essere monitorati per poter individuare e curare il prima possibile qualsiasi problema che possa emergere, sia visibile che invisibile ai proprietari.

L'aspetto comportamentale della tua domanda è molto importante: chiedi se queste visite annuali possono provocare uno stress inutile ai nostri pappagalli. Vi sono due aspetti importanti da considerare nello stress nei pazienti: 1) il disagio del pappagallo, e 2) la possibilità che lo stress alteri i risultati medici. Questo significa che la riduzione dello stress nei pazienti è la priorità più importante per i nostri pappagalli durante tutte le attività relative alle visite veterinarie annuali, come la preparazione a casa per la visita, il trasporto per e dal veterinario, e durante la visita stessa.

Dal punto di vista comportamentale è necessario considerare come appare lo stress in termini osservabili. Come farete a sapere se il vostro pappagallo è stressato? Più precisamente: Come appare un pappagallo non stressato? Il linguaggio corporeo e il comportamento che riteniamo sia rappresentativo dello stress varia tre le diverse specie e i singoli esemplari. Osservate attentamente la posizione delle penne del vostro pappagallo, la posizione del corpo, e quella dalle zampe, delle ali, degli occhi, del becco, e della testa, quando il vostro pappagallo è vigile ma calmo. E' così che vorremmo che il nostro pappagallo si sentisse il più possibile nel giorno della visita veterinaria.

Il modo migliore per raggiungere questo obiettivo è di analizzare gli interventi necessari per ogni attività che si verificherà durante la giornata della visita veterinaria, e poi di insegnare al pappagallo come svolgere ogni attività usando i nostri metodi migliori per l'insegnamento, per esempio lo 'shaping' di nuovi comportamenti usando il rinforzo positivo.
Il momento per insegnare al vostro pappagallo ad essere calmo durante il trasporto e la visita, non è il giorno dell'appuntamento! Pianificate in anticipo e iniziate ad insegnare un comportamento alla volta, da subito.
Insegnate al vostro pappagallo ad entrare e ad uscire volontariamente dal trasportino, a sentirsi tranquillo durante il trasporto, a salire e a scendere da una bilancia, a rilassarsi quando è avvolto in un asciugamano, ecc.

Non avrete bisogno di perfezionare ogni comportamento prima della visita. Ogni comportamento che insegnerete con successo al vostro pappagallo rinforzerà il vostro rapporto, e lo aiuterà a resistere temporaneamente a un prelievo dal “conto fiduciario”. Vi sono degli stressor nelle vite di ogni animale che possono essere superati facilmente quando le loro vite sono generalmente stimolanti e gratificanti.


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Wing Clipping vs Flighted Companion Parrots

 
Expert Question

Hi Jim,
I recently read an article on the top dangers associated with injury and death in parrots. High on the list was not clipping your bird's wings. Examples given were the risks of flying into windows, mirrors, hot pots and escape. They recommended that all pet birds be clipped. Another article I came across a while back said that more than half of all birds lost were clipped and that fully flighted birds had a higher retrieval rate due to being better able to escape predators and often survive for long enough to be retrieved. I personally have had a few very close calls when my birds were clipped and stopped clipping about 2 years ago (I think having clipped birds made me complacent and gave me a false sense of security. With flighted birds I am far more aware of possible dangers).  I have five dogs and my neighbours all have dogs and cats so a clipped bird would not last very long if it got out. A flighted bird would at least stand a chance of surviving long enough to be retrieved so I think flighted is a better option for me. The ultimate solution would be an outdoor flight and flight training. There are a lot of contradictory opinions on the matter. While both clipped and unclipped have risks attached, is one necessarily a much less risky option than the other? I would like to get some more thoughts on the subject. Thanks, Bruce.




Expert Answer

G'day Bruce.
Thanks so much for accessing WPT for some advice and additional food for thought on what is, in my opinion, one of the most significant issues surrounding the keeping of parrots as companion animals. I am a major advocate of maintaining full flight capability of all parrots kept in captivity and I strongly feel that we need to make a fundamental shift away from 19th and 20th century paradigms of thinking about what is acceptable and not acceptable in regards to our expectations of companion parrots and develop a 21st century approach towards their care, training and management. Simply -- parrots are `built to behave' in a range of specific biologically functional ways. The foundation of that functional behaviour is the capability of flight. Indeed, it is when we start to attempt to modify the anatomy of our parrots or create expectations of them that are completely incompatible with the expression of their natural biological tendencies that we then experience `behaviour problems'. It shouldn't be a surprise to us that when we keep parrots in contexts that afford them opportunities to socialize, fly, vocalize, establish territories, forage, breed and behave in biologically functional ways that we experience very few difficulties with their care. In my nearly 20 years of keeping parrots, and over 10 years of consulting with owners, wing clipping is, from my own anecdotal experience, perhaps the number one precursor to many of the most significant behavioural health issues I encounter and subsequent reasons for their failure in pet homes.

I don't subscribe to the common thought that wing clipping is `a personal choice'. A personal choice for the bird or the owner? If we are genuine and authentic about promoting relationships with parrots as pets built on a foundation of respect, trust and appreciation for accommodating them to the best of our abilities then such decisions should be made in the primary interest of what is ultimately the best for the bird -- not simply to cater for the limitations of the owner's environmental circumstance. A 21st century approach to companion parrot care embraces their flight capability and challenges owners to develop both the appropriate training skills to manage that successfully and to create an appropriate environment to ensure that flight is catered for safely. Ultimately, it's our expectations of our parrots as pets and the environment that we provide for them that need to be modified, not their wings. The justifications and rationale presented for wing clipping really don't maintain validity today. Flying into windows, getting stuck in the toilet or the frying pan, escaping out the door are all examples of problems with the management of the flighted bird -- not the capability of flight itself.

I often use the analogy that if your pet dog ran out of the gate and bit the postman on the leg would you tie his legs up to prevent that from happening again or would you just make sure the gate is locked? Parrots, unfortunately, are just about the last of our companion animals that are subject to socially endorsed physical modification. We no longer tail dock or ear trim dogs (at least not here in Australia) and educated people would consider de-fanging of a captive venomous snake to be safely kept as a pet inhumane. These are practices that were once accepted but are no longer. It's a shame that some members of the veterinary community still seem to endorse wing-clipping and continue to promote dominance hierarchy based approaches to their handling and training, hence providing much of the social validity for their practice. What we really need to be advocating and striving for is improved education for a modern approach to the keeping of a parrot as a pet and being progressive about our approaches to parrot care.

I wrote a three-part article for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine back in 2008 that provided a very thorough overview of the keeping of flighted parrots. You can access this material via backorder of the Aug/Sep 2008, Oct/Nov 2008 & Dec/Jan 2009 issues of Australian Birdkeeper Magazine at http://www.birdkeeper.com.au. The second and third articles provide insights into the training and management of flighted companion parrots -- definitely well worth reading. Much of the following rationale for maintaining flight in companion parrots is excerpted from the first article in the series...

Let's Define the Boundaries
Any discussion of `flight' and `companion parrots' really needs prefacing with a clear distinction between the concepts of a `flighted parrot' and a `free-flighted parrot'. The focus of this article is strictly on the philosophy, training and management of `flighted' parrots, birds allowed full flight capabilities but kept indoors or within a suitable flight enclosure. It is critical for parrot owners to realise that successful and ethical keepers of flighted companion parrots know their limitations, their bird's limitations, and have a conscious awareness of controlling as many of the potential variables that come into play with the keeping of flighted birds. This is only achieved through the implementation of proper training and the provision of suitable and safe housing. When we choose to keep a flighted parrot we must also accept an essential set of responsibilities and obligations. These are…

  • Ensuring the safety and welfare of our birds at all times through careful arrangement of their flight environment and;
  • Protecting the biodiversity and biosecurity of our surrounding natural environment by not allowing a flighted parrot outside of a flight enclosure or secure indoor flight space

Adhering to the above will ensure that risks associated with flight are minimised or completely negated.

Why have a flighted pet parrot?
In my experiences as a keeper of flighted companion parrots for many years, working professionally with free-flighted birds at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and through consulting with pet parrot owners on behaviour management, I have been able to identify and validate the following reasons why maintaining flight is so important for our parrots…

Increase in functional behaviours: Parrots that have retained their flight capabilities can be observed functionally engaging with their environment at higher levels than parrots deprived of flight. We often perceive this enhanced level of engagement as an increase in `confidence' and I would certainly agree with that.  Functional behaviours, such as foraging and exploratory behaviour provide the foundation for improved behavioural outcomes in companion parrots. Flight facilitates a significant enhancement in a parrot's control over its environment through providing additional scope for decision-making and choice. When empowered with these opportunities, parrots can be seen to cope better and adapt more successfully to the limitations of the captive environment.

Reduction in development of stereotypical behaviours: As an increase in exploration and engagement with their environment is observed, often there is a corresponding decrease in the development of stereotypical behaviour. Whilst flight is not the magic cure for removal of behaviours such as feather picking and other significant behavioural health issues, it is often a critical component of a management plan to avoid their development or reduce their occurrence once established.

Reduction in level of dependency: The next step along a continuum of behavioural development that is supported through flight is a reduction in the level of dependency on the human carer. Parrots deprived of flight often become almost totally reliant upon the human carer for movement around their environment. We can acknowledge that flight is important to a parrot in supporting an enhanced level of physical engagement with its environment. It is reasonable then to suggest that with that comes a degree of independence that may potentially reduce behavioural problems associated with an over-reliance on human carers for social and environmental stimulation.

Enhancement of relationship with owner through improved training and reinforcement schedules: Keeping a parrot that can fly challenges the companion parrot owner to develop their own skills in the training and management of a pet that is empowered with independence and options for greater influence over its environment. In my experience this sets up wonderful learning and relationship development experiences for both the companion parrot and the owner. The relationship that an owner of a flighted pet parrot has with their bird is one that demands a foundation of trust and positive reinforcement history. It can be wonderfully rewarding and enriching to take that next step in supporting a reduction in over-dependence and an increase in your role as a teacher and positively reinforcing presence in your parrots environment.

Therapeutic benefits for behavioural recovery and rehabilitation: I first started working with other companion parrot owners on supporting the behavioural and enrichment needs of their birds back in 1999. Reflecting on the depth of that first-hand experience I can suggest that flight has been critical in the behavioural recovery of many birds I have worked with, particularly those that have developed feather-picking behaviours. Often there has been a need to establish outdoor flight enclosures to further enhance the environmental scope and opportunity for functional behaviour. Outdoor flight space offers immense benefits in reducing or completely avoiding behavioural health issues. I would certainly encourage parrot owners to consider constructing a safe and secure outdoor flight enclosure for their pet parrot. I have worked with a small number of dedicated clients on the design of such enclosures and the shift in experience scope that their parrots now have access has been brilliant to be a part of.

Earlier diagnosis of change in state of physical health: Early diagnosis of the state of health of a pet parrot can be absolutely critical in ensuring that potentially life-threatening illness is treated quickly. There is no argument that a parrot that engages in flight as part of its daily behavioural repertoire will offer a more overt and observable indication of a change in state of health than a wing-clipped or flightless parrot. Parrots that do not fly already present low rates of functional behaviour and may tend to be inactive for longer periods of the day than a flighted bird. Daily food intake may also be less in wing-clipped birds than observed in flighted parrots. Observable resting durations are often longer in wing-clipped birds and some may even present less functional vocal behaviours than might be expected from flighted birds. This can result in a keeper failing to recognise early symptoms of illness that we normally associate with lack of activity, lack of engagement in enrichment, and lack of interest in novel objects in their environment. My morning walk around my aviaries will quickly inform me if one of my parrots is not 100%, simply based on my observations of their activity level, keenness to fly to the hand, and general mobility around their enclosure.

Bruce -- the above is really only scratching the surface of developing a full argument for maintaining flight in our pet parrots but it's hopefully offered a reasonable alternative to much of what you have read elsewhere on the internet. I would encourage all WPT members to access the article series I put together for ABK Magazine to develop a full picture of my own philosophy and approach. A flighted companion is indeed a challenging one. The 21st century companion parrot keeper will embrace that challenge and hopefully leave a legacy for future generations of companion parrot carers that respects and caters for flight in their birds.

Kind Regards, Jim McKendry
http://www.pbec.com.au


Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations (http://www.pbec.com.au). He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (http://www.iaate.org) and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at http://www.pbec.com.au


Excessively loud vocalizations

 
Expert Question

Hi, My name is Naomi. My family and I have a Fiery-shouldered Conure parrot named Mario that is about 5 years old. Currently there are 7 people living in our house. We have had him for the past year from a previous owner who could not give him the attention he needs.

For the most part Mario is a lovely bird. He used to have issues with biting but we have gotten that under control to the point where he rarely bites. Unfortunately he has always been a loud bird. While I understand that they generally make noise his noise has progressed to a behavioural problem. Since his cage is in our dining room and there are 7 people living in our house we just put up with it because it seemed impractical to train him. This means that we often enter the room when he is screaming so we can eat (or for some other activity) and he becomes quiet. Essentially we have rewarded his bad behaviour. But he also makes noise when we have deep or emotionally charged conversations or when we play music which I don’t think should be “punished”. (I should also note that there are a lot of people around all day and that he gets flying time from after supper around 6:30pm until we go to bed (10:30-11:00 pm).

While we put up with his screaming it is annoying our new housemate, my uncle (who is at home the most during the day with Mario). My uncle says he has researched how to train the bird and says we simply cover the bird up until he is quiet. I have found this method so far to be very inconsistent and so I do not think the bird understands this. Alternatively, I have read that giving him treats to find when we leave will keep him distracted. Given our family situation of a large household should we stick to the covering method or do you have a “nicer” method? If so how long of an interval should we wait to uncover him once he is quiet? I should also mention I am his favorite followed by my dad, though my dad has more authority over Mario. Please help. I love this little guy and just want to give him the best home possible without giving him away.

Thank you,
Naomi




Expert Answer

Hi there Naomi, Thank you for bringing us this question. Many people who live with parrots have a problem with excessive loud vocalizations. This behavior can be one of the most difficult to replace, unless caregivers are very systematic. It is wonderful that you are willing to work with this little fellow to ensure that his quality of life is enhanced, and yours too, without using force or coercion that are often suggested on some the internet sites.  Great catch on your part realizing that covering may well not work as intended. Why might that be I wonder? Let's see if we can figure it out.

All animals including humans are impacted by what goes on in the world around us as we go about acting out our daily lives.  We all behave for a purpose either to get a particular outcome or to escape or avoid a particular outcome.  We have learned to turn on the heat when we are cold; to drink water when we are thirsty;  to put our foot on the brake to avoid hitting another car; and, to call out to our family and friends when we want to get their attention for one reason or another.  Parrots, including conures, are not all that much different.  In other words, those events that immediately follow any behavior can send a signal about whether to emit that behavior again in the future. There is a clear relationship between behavior and the consequences that follow it. Mario's case, we can posit that he gets something of value out of the making the loud noises.

A goodly number of the loud sustained vocalization behaviors that occur in the home are directly related to seeking our human attention.  That isn't to say that living in a busy home with seven people might not be a factor considering each person may well react in a different way to the vocalizations but starting with one behavior often is more than enough to reduce behaviors that occur in other circumstances so let's deal with the first point.
If it has been too long since Mario last interacted with a human, or a specific human, then loud vocalizations may well be the behavior used to gain that interaction.  Stated another way:

    WHEN there is little attention, IF Mario loudly vocalizes, THEN a family member looks at him/speaks to him.

That simple sentence gives us one possible functional assessment of Mario's behavior to start with. As soon as he gets that "look" the behavior may well have been reinforced long before the cover is added or other action taken (yelling at him, making faces at him, leaving the room, etc) .  We also know that behaviors we get something of value for doing will be repeated.  Therefore we can state with some confidence that the "loudness/screaming" will continue.  Yikes! What can we do about that?  There are a number of strategies we can use that we will be talking more about below but now we have one starting point to dig in and use.

One point that should be noted here, the intervention would work best if you can get the entire family onside -- perhaps each person working to teach Mario a different behavior.  The more reinforcement Mario can get for behaving in ways that you can live with, the faster the "loudness" will subside.

What can we do?

  • Observe and collect data on when the "loudness" is most likely to occur.  Sometimes, a simple change in the environment before the behavior occurs is all that is needed.  For example:

    - The television is too loud - we can turn it down a notch.
    - The kids are scrapping - we ask them to consider Mario and what impact their behavior is having on him.  Can they move to another room?
    - Emotionally charged conversations can be held away from Mario.
    - It has been two hours since anyone spoke to Mario directly - so we drop by the cage and say " How are you doing little fellow".

  • Observe and collect data on what we humans are already doing that reinforces the loud behavior, that produces something of value for Mario.  We are laughing loudly and Mario joins in -- we look at him and laugh too.  Mario is loud and we tell him to "stuff it", or words to that effect and we have again reinforced his loudness, or we move toward his cage (without or without cover).  Using that information can lead us to a greater understanding about why the behavior occurs in the first place.  Being able to understand, predict and change the behavior of interest can then lead us to some great strategies discussed more below.
     
  • Teach him new ways to get that attention.  Any bird can't whistle, or talk,  and be "loud" at the same time. We reinforce those sounds that we can live with. To do that, we need to teach ourselves to listen - developing a keen ear for those sounds that the family can live with and then reinforcing those pleasant sounds immediately.  Called Differential Reinforcement of Incompatible behavior (DRI), it works well since Mario can't be "loud" and talk/whistle pleasantly at the same time.
  • In cage and out of cage enrichment.  Adding toys that Mario will interact with and changing them regularly will provide greater in cage interest for those times when the family is busy with life so that Mario can entertain himself.  Part of enrichment can be the addition of foraging toys/ boxes.  It is possible that Mario would need to be taught how to play with toys or shaped to use foraging devices. You can find more information on how to shape behavior at the links below.

In the wild, a large part of a bird's day is spent hunting/foraging for food. In the home we can replicate that somewhat using boxes with foot toys, treats, hidden portions of the daily diet that need to be searched for.  Not only are foraging boxes enriching, they are also reinforcing for those birds who have learned how to use them plus having the advantage that we can also reinforce this type of behavior with some attention at the beginning and then slowly fading the attention component as Mario becomes more proficient at searching for toys and foraging.  Differential Reinforcement of Alternative behavior (DRA) is another wonderful tool to have in the tool kit and that's the procedure of reinforcing alternatives like foraging!

  • Teach Mario new behaviors. Parrots are learning all the time unfortunately, what we are often teaching them in the home is to bite harder and scream louder.  If instead, we teach them behaviors such as station to a specific perch, come/approach when called, stay where you are for example; we not only have a well behaved psittacine but a bird who has increased positive reinforcement in its life. That later point is very important since those birds with the most positive reinforcement are usually the most behaviorally healthy.

Admittedly, you do have your work cut out for you but if you can get the family onside you can surely change Mario's behavior.  Each family member will have their own level of tolerance for "loudness", the trick will be coming to some consensus that you can all agree on.

There are some great resources on the World Parrot Trust website http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/behaviourandenviroenrich/
as well as a tool you can use that will be found at the following link:  http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/downloads_toolkit.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YY7IhoebQo

Amongst the many articles on the BehaviorWorks web site you might find the one under the "Written Works" tab and "S Files" tabs that show a similar problem with a Moluccan cockatoo very useful.

Lee McGuire and Susan Friedman


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Avoiding behavioral problems in Cockatoos

 
Expert Question

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




Expert Answer

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


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Conservation: Trade in African Grey Parts

 
Expert Question

My Question: I spoke with a gentleman from Africa at the Loro Parque Convention in Sept.  I related to some bird people his story that African Grey body parts, not just the live birds themselves, are collected and sold in Africa. He said sometimes grenades are thrown into flocks to kill them for ease of collecting parts. One of the bird people, a frequent naysayer said he thought these were just made up stories and not true. Would be nice if I am wrong, but I wonder…. Could WPT shed some light on this issue? Are the birds being killed for their body parts? If true are there some on-line reports that I could distribute to these unbelievers?

Thank you.
Janice Boyd




Expert Answer

Dear Janice,  This is a good question and one we’ve puzzled over for the last few years.  You may recall that we ran a short piece on this in the PsittaScene with some grisly pictures of grey parrot heads and tails which were apparently being traded for sale.  Clearly there has been at least one incident of this type in Cameroon, and at the time, the suggestion was that the parts were being sold in Nigeria.

Since that time, we have asked all our contacts in that part of the world if they know of substantial trade of any parrot parts.  From what we’ve heard back, it sounds like this might have been a fairly isolated incident, possibly the result of a trader making the best of a group of birds which died off unexpectedly.  This sort of thing happens from time to time, including a tragic incident involving the deaths of over 700 greys in South Africa recently (traded live birds that didn’t survive the flight).  Although this was not the case in South Africa, my guess would be that traders who find themselves with a bunch of dead birds might well try to find a market for their feathers or other parts.  In the end, just about anything is possible, so it’s probably hasty to rule anything out, however, we haven’t encountered any solid evidence that such a trade exists on a scale even remotely like that of the trade in live birds.  I’ve heard the grenade rumor too, but haven’t heard of any direct observations of such barbarism, nor indicators that is at all widespread.

Of concern here is how people perceive the value of working to stop the wild bird trade.  For many years, we’ve faced a lot of opposition from governments and even ‘conservation’ ngo’s who feel that either the wild bird trade is a positive activity which provides jobs for local people, or that it can’t be stopped, or some combination of both.  Typically when a ban or a moratorium comes into play, there are large groups of birds in the pipeline which are suddenly caught in an awkward situation - they’ve already been harvested despite the policy change, but the traffickers can’t get export permits.  In general, we work pretty hard to release these birds back to the wild, and ideally to reintroduce the species in question into areas where they are locally extinct, but many people who favor the trade see these incidents as “proof” that the trade can’t be stopped and shouldn’t be stopped.  Naturally, if birds are being eaten for food or being killed and sold for their parts, these same voices are likely to latch on to such observations as justification for their pro-trade positions.  There is a fairly detailed discussion of some of these issues on this thread in our forums if you’d like to delve in more deeply.

In the end, we feel that major bans on trade like the ones in Australia, USA, and EU have had dramatic and lasting consequences, nearly eliminating the international legal trade in wild birds.  Recent figures from the WCMC suggest that the EU ban alone has eliminated over 90% of the legal trade - many millions of birds each year, as illustrated in the chart below.

There is still a lot of work to do in places like Africa and South America, but we’re making strides now country-by-country, including Cameroon where thousands of greys have been confiscated from traffickers and released in recent years (more info about that here)

All best wishes,
Jamie


Jamie Gilardi, PhD
About Jamie Gilardi, PhD

James Gilardi has been the Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust since November 2000. His work includes developing and implementing field conservation initiatives. He is a conservation biologist specializing in behavioural and physiological ecology with special interest in tropical forest birds and marine vertebrates.

Following undergraduate studies at UC Santa Cruz, he earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis studying parrot social behaviour, foraging ecology, and soil-eating in south-eastern Peru. James has also worked on parrot field conservation in Guatemala, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Mexico.

In the fall of 2000, James Gilardi became the director of the World Parrot Trust, where he is inherently involved in carrying out parrot conservation and education programs around the world.


Brown Cere

 
Expert Question

My 18 month old cock budgie has developed a brown cere. I have read that this can be an indication of kidney or cancer problems. He is eating well but does seem to be breathing heavily. There is no discharge from the nares or any blockage. Is there anything that can be done for him?

Many thanks,
Helen




Expert Answer

A brown cere is normal in a female budgie.  Could your little guy be a girl?  I am concerned about the heavy breathing, so my best advice is to get your budgie examined by an experienced avian veterinarian.  A good doctor can determine by a physical examination and laboratory testing if your budgie is healthy.  Thanks for the great question, Helen!


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Curly Tail Feathers

 
Expert Question

Hello!  I have female Plumhead Parakeet. Some of her tail feathers are curvy. She is about a year now. I got her month ago. She seems healthy otherwise. Droppings are normal and she has good appetite. A bit afraid of Beak and feather syndrome, cause have other birds too…. Is it possible she has had the sickness but recovered? Is she then carrying it and dangerous to my other birds?
Yours Tom




Expert Answer

Hi Tom,  Thanks for the great question.  The best advice I can give is to take your bird to an avian veterinarian for a complete physical examination.  Your veterinarian may then recommend some tests for general health and specifically for Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD). 

Birds in general are capable of appearing healthy and normal, in spite of serious disease or organ dysfunction.  Your bird may be perfectly normal or may be ill or a carrier for PBFD.  A good veterinarian can determine your bird’s health status.

Ellen K. Cook, DVM


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Sick Cockatiel

 
Expert Question

I have been taking my 22 year old cockatiel to the vet as about 6 weeks ago I noticed some movement in his wings when he was breathing and he had then drooped. The Vet put the stethoscope on him and said he could hear a rasping sound and thought it was coming from under his body. I asked for some tests to be done but he was reluctant to do any and said it was difficult on a small bird like a cockatiel. He gave one injection of Baytril and gave me some in a bottle to administer orally for 7 days. After this time he wasn`t improving and had started breathing faster. I informed the Vet about this and was asked to bring him back again as his condition was deteriorating. He then gave me Synulox drops to administer orally and after a few days on this medicine made him very thirsty and not eating as well. I noticed his droppings were very yellow but still no tests were done. He was now breathing very heavily and I went back to the vet. After he examined him he said the rasping sound was coming from all over his body and there was a lot of fluid on his chest. He then gave him an injection after which the bird went into convulsions and died. He said he hadn`t seen many old birds and it was difficult to do tests on a small bird like this. He is a bird vet. I am so upset and feel if tests had been done he could have pulled through with the proper medicine. I would be glad of your opinion please. Thank you.




Expert Answer

Sorry to hear of your frustration and the loss of your bird. It is realistically impossible to render a proper opinion without having all of the specific details of a case, unfortunately.

There are, however, a few general comments that can be made. It is very feasable to collect blood samples, take radiographs, perform ultrasound examinations on ill cockatiels. In some settings, it may be felt that a specific individual may not be immediately stable enought for some of these procedures, and stabilization may be more of the immediate clinicians press. These ill birds can be hospitalized, given parenteral fluids, receive pain relief, oxygen, gavage feeding or other maneuvers that can often make a difference for them, at least short term. There are some clinical situations where an accurate diagnosis simply cannot be easily achieved - and symptomatic treatments and careful observation / monitoring rules the day. Some of the common respiratory-manifested disease problems that we fairly commonly see in older cockatiels here include mycotic infections (fungal), cardiovascular disease, some forms of end-stage liver disease, and a handful of various types of cancers. One final thought - if a bird passes, it almost always has value to consider having a post mortem examination performed. This will enable you and your veterinarian to obtain the facts, and answer some very important questions: Was this disease diagnosable - and if so, how? Could it have been treated differently? Is this a contagious problem with your other birds potentially at risk? What, if anything, could have been done to prevent this disease problem from occuring?


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Respiratory disease

 
Expert Question

My question; I noticed my 22 year old cockatiel’s wings are moving up and down when he breathes. There is no wheezing sound or his beak is not open, so I took him for a check-up. The Vet could hear like a gurgling/rasping sound when he put the stethoscope on him and thought it was coming from under his body, but doesn’t know what it is. I wondered if you had heard of anything like this or have any idea what it could be? He is still eating well and doesn’t seem to be ill. Thank you.




Expert Answer

My general impression is that your bird may be showing some clinical signs of cardiovascular or respiratory disease. Normally, there should be no abnormal sounds noted when a bird is ausculted. I would suggest that you consider asking your examining veterinarian to consider pursuit of a more clear diagnosis for your bird, if possible. These steps may include but not be limited to obtaining blood for a complete blood count, biochemistry profile and screening X rays.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Finding veterinary help

 
Expert Question

My 8 year old Senegal, Qt, and I live in the Santa Cruz mountain area of California. We had excellent care when we lived in Contra Costa County, but here, I have learned there is no emergency avian care. Qt has never been ill prior to now. Unfortunately, it’s the weekend and I’m terrified that I’m going to lose her. None of the vet hospitals with avian vets are open and none will contact the vet outside of normal business hours. I have called well over 10 offices and hospitals and have only found a regular DVM with an interest in exotic animals willing to see her (an 1 1/2 drive—proved worthless and $400). Her crop is so distended with gas and her droppings are scant to nothing. She is completely puffed up, half-lidded, and shaking—even in an 85 degree ‘hospital’ enclosure. I’m giving her warm Pedialyte and Diflucan. I’m massaging her crop every 30 minutes. The receptions I’ve been in contact with, to a person, have been insensitive and unresponsive. I want to know how an Avian vet (who knows that a visibly sick bird requires emergency care) can ethically leave their patients and community without emergency services or even a valid referral (most referred me to the same hospital that didn’t have an Avian vet). I don’t know what to do. I feel helpless and angry. I wish I had asked about supportive care after hours. It simply didn’t occur to me. I am praying, now, that she’ll survive until Monday…




Expert Answer

Hi- There is nothing so frustrating and upsetting as having one of our avian companions seriously ill;  I worry about my birds, too, when they are sick.  Your feelings of anger and helplessness are justified in your concern about Qt.  I have been practicing avian medicine for ten years (and small animal medicine for 35 years) and I find that avian DVM’s are few and far between. Therefore, I recommend that all parrot caregivers be prepared for when (not if) an emergency occurs.  Many areas are totally without avian veterinary care; it is not unusual for clients to drive 2-3 hours to see a doctor.  When getting a bird, it is good to become established with a qualified avian veterinarian and discuss after-hours procedures before they are needed. 

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.  Qt’s symptoms could be caused by any number of diseases/problems.  Whenever a bird is critically ill, the best treatment is to make sure they are hydrated (the Pedialyte is good, you might also try hand-feeding formula), warm (I would bump up the heat to 90 degrees and watch her for overheating: open-beak breathing, wings held away from body) and supplemental oxygen (difficult to do at home).  I would not necessarily give the Diflucan unless Qt has had problems w/ yeast/fungal infections in the past.  Another problem with birds is that they are masters at disguising illness and often do not show symptoms, even when seriously ill.  I have had many experienced caregivers bring in their parrot in right away, after having noted them fluffed and not moving; upon examination/testing, it becomes apparent that the bird has been sick for days, weeks, even months.  Often, the disease has progressed beyond the point of treatment.  I hope this is not the case w/Qt!

Continue w/your supportive care for Qt.  That is the best anyone can do; I will keep you in my prayers, too.


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Sick blue fronted Amazon parrot in Brazil

 
Expert Question

My 3 yr old female amazon parrot (Amazona aestiva) is presenting health problem and in the Brazilian town where I live there is no an specialist avian vet. From three weeks ago it started with watery green drops and was not eating well and changed its behavior becoming quiet and not vocalizing almost all the time. I brought it for a (not avian) vet and he noted it has fever and ventricular atony. He prescribed an antiemetic (metoclopramide cloridate 5mg/mL - 3 drops twice during 3 days) and antibiotic (oxitetracyclin cloridrate 810mg/100mL - 5 drops twice for 7 days). The parrot does not get better and I return yesterday to the vet and he prescribed again the same antiemetic and a vermifuge (mebendazol 5g/100mL - 10 drops diluted in 100mL of its drinking water). Now its drops are still watery and now yellowish (I have a picture if you need). Do you have any suggestion? Do I keep the prescribed treatment?




Expert Answer

Luciano, these clinical signs are alarming, and I hope your bird has improved in its condition. It is virtually impossible for me to advise you accurately on the treatment of your birds considion, in the absence of a clear diagnosis. In general, yellow tinged urates and urine is indicative of liver-associated problems, and there are a handful of bacterial and viral diseases that must be considered. Of these, the disease Psittacosis is potentially contagious from your bird to you. Should this be Psittacosis, you may want to ask your doctor about the possibility of treatment with the antibiotic Doxycycline, as this drug is the treatment of choice for this disease internationally. Birds really do not have fevers - but rather, their normal body temperatures are quite high normally. Atonic conditions of the gizzard are uncommon in parrots, overall. My suspicions would be that there is most likely an infectious condition here, that you would be best to press your doctor to considering diagnosing or treating differently. Often, these birds will require hospitalization, tube feeding, injectable fluids and other supportive care in addition to treatment for their primary disorder. Wishing you and your poor bird the best,


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Feral parrot flock in Miami

 
Expert Question

Miami Florida has a feral flock of over 20 Blue and gold Macaws that have been existing for over 30 years. Bill Pranty wrote an article published in the Florida Field Naturalist (Vol.38, No 2) published by the Florida Ornithological Society. I’m second author as I’ve collected data and been involved with the macaws for 15 years. I am asking for advise about building suitable artificial nest boxes. The wild flock’s main problem is finding dead palms as people in an upscale urban immediately cut dead palms down.

The Tropical Audubon Society is 100 % in favor and helped me put up a commercial box that failed because we probably used the wrong tree and bees inhabited it immediately. I have the financial means to put up these nesting boxes myself but want to do it properly this time. Correct design and correct location. By the way, the wild macaws are attracted to my backyard feeder because I live opposite a wildlife refuge, near Fairchild Tropical Gardens and I have 5 large macaws (hens) as pets that I let fly free ( supervised). Part of the flock come daily.

Daria Feinstein




Expert Answer

Dear Daria, Interesting question indeed!  While we don't advocate for the promotion of non-native species, especially non-threatened species well outside their historic range, we can provide a bit of background as most of this information is readily available on the web and in published papers and books.

Most macaw nest boxes are made either out of wood or PVC plastic, and there are benefits and drawbacks to both options.  You can get lots of dimensions on the web, but in practice it seems the bigger the better for the internal dimensions.  If the entrance is just big enough to allow the adults in (check with your captive birds), that should be fine.  Often people staple wire mesh from the entrance to where the eggs and chicks sit so that the adults and later the chicks can easily climb up and down that surface.  Or you can use roughened wood there if you prefer. 

Some birds seem to prefer horizontal boxes rather than vertical ones, or a vertical entrance with a lower chamber which has a lot of floor space.  Our field teams have reported that this species seems to nest almost exclusively in palms, so you may want to attach your boxes to palm trunks at least at first.

Bees are likely to be an issue for just about any box, and these non-natives are a serious pest of many cavity nesting birds, especially parrots.  There are four options you might try, 1. hope for the best, 2. add another box for the bees with a small downward facing entrance and a pheromone lure (commercially available), 3. remove any hives that set up shop in your boxes, or 4. treat the boxes with an insecticide which is toxic to bees and not to parrots (Permethrin and Vapona have been used with success.  The other thing that can help is to line the underside of the top of the box with plastic which the bees will have a hard time attaching their combs too and that seems to help.  Obviously if you're using PVC for your lid, you're all set.

Given that you work with the Tropical Audubon Society, you should definitely address the fact that this species is not native to Florida, nor has there ever been a large macaw in North America as far as we know.  Cuba isn't far off, and there was a Scarlet-like macaw there, so who knows, maybe some macaw bones will show up in the FL fossil record someday.  In any case, at minimum, you should be clear from the start what your intention is with these birds.  Is it a small and stable population there, is it a growing population, are you hoping these birds will represent an ecological replacement for a species which is now extinct?  Feral parrots in FL are both common and controversial as I'm sure you're aware.

Good luck and please let us know how the birds are responding to your efforts,

Jamie


Jamie Gilardi, PhD
About Jamie Gilardi, PhD

James Gilardi has been the Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust since November 2000. His work includes developing and implementing field conservation initiatives. He is a conservation biologist specializing in behavioural and physiological ecology with special interest in tropical forest birds and marine vertebrates.

Following undergraduate studies at UC Santa Cruz, he earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis studying parrot social behaviour, foraging ecology, and soil-eating in south-eastern Peru. James has also worked on parrot field conservation in Guatemala, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Mexico.

In the fall of 2000, James Gilardi became the director of the World Parrot Trust, where he is inherently involved in carrying out parrot conservation and education programs around the world.


Why is my parrot acting that way?

 
Expert Question

Dear Susan, I have a 7 year old yellow crowned amazon called Merlin, confirmed by my vet to be a male. He was hand reared and I have had him since he was weaned at about 12 weeks. For the first 21/2 years we had a very good relationship - I would never have believed how “cuddly” a parrot could be. He is my second parrot. The first was an african grey, re-homed due to the death of his elderly owner. Sadly Fred died after only 2 years, suffering from the
long term effects of his previous owner being a heavy smoker. I had no problems handling him.

When years old he became more cheeky, but initially he was not a problem until one day he flew at me, landed on my head and started scratching and biting like mad. Having seen the program about Sirocco the Kakapo, I now believe Merlin was showing the same sexual behaviour. However at the time it frightened me and I brushed him off my head. This happened a couple more times and I began to loose confidence in handling him. Soon after this I went to a Parrot Training and Environment Enrichment course at Paradise Park UK which was a great help and for a while things improved. Sadly later that year Merlin started biting me more frequently - even choosing to bite my hand rather than take a treat when he had moved to his perch on request. We soon reached the stage when I involuntarily pulled my hand away when he went to bite(hold?) my finger and I found I couldn’t cope with him being loose. I am sad to say he now stays in his cage. He is in a Macaw sized cage and has a changing variety of toys and several foraging items each day. He comes to the side of the cage and hangs upside down for a scratch or gently preening on his head and will take a treat to eat whilst I reach in to clean the cage. I think actually I trust him less than he trusts me?? I have tried to find a local trainer (Bedfordshire UK) who might be able to help me without success. I know the problem is ME not Merlin - any suggestions as to how I can improve my trust of him would be so much appreciated.




Expert Answer

Hi Lesley, First I want to say good job. You admit some of the problem is your fear and also that you want to improve the situation with Merlin. These are both great steps on the path to changing behavior, both yours and Merlin’s. The ideal is to live in harmony and you can make this happen.

Behavior change can be done safely and relatively easily using baby steps. You’ve already started the process by giving Merlin scratches though the cage bars and giving him a treat when you clean the cage. Start taking these farther. Teach Merlin to station (if he doesn’t already) when you clean the cage. Stationing means going to a particular perch on cue, generally one farther from the door. Once on that perch then he receives the treat. You can train this behavior either by luring (using the treat to encourage him over to the perch) or by target training first. I might suggest training to a target stick so it can be used later for other behaviors. Target training has the advantage of teaching Merlin how you want him to behave in the future when he see’s the target stick, without having the extra step of having to fade the lure out.

While you are moving Merlin farther away from you when cleaning, you are also teaching him about a relationship that you and he can have in a training mode. This strategy also has the advantage of allowing you to gain more confidence around Merlin and he in you. There are many in cage behaviors you can then start to teach that will add more reinforcement to Merlin’s daily life while at the same time keeping you safe from a bite. You could teach him to ring a bell, turn around, wave etc. Each little behavior is a confidence builder for both of you. Eventually you could target Merlin to the open cage door and always be able to cue him back to that stationing perch. http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/articles_behavior_change.html and click on Right On Target for more information on targeting.

By beginning with these ‘in cage’ behaviors, not only do you and Merlin both build some confidence but you also learn how to observe Merlin more closely and learn the body language and signs that say he has had enough interaction at this time. Just as importantly, it allows you to learn how to train Merlin without mistakes leading to you being bitten. From Merlin’s viewpoint, he learns that goodies come from you and this increases your value to him.

Once you and Merlin feel more confident and less fearful you could start to slowly train Merlin to step up to your hand. This is where those new observation skills you have developed will help you to watch for any change in Merlin’s body language and stance. Don’t ask yourself or Merlin for a full step up, just him touching your hand with one foot is great. With more confidence gained, you can work on Merlin getting both feet on your hand, but allowing him to go back onto the cage door. When you first move your hand with Merlin on, only move a small distance and then back to the cage door for Merlin. Gradually you will increase the time Merlin stands on your hand calmly and also the distance from the cage.  You will find many articles at the above mentioned web site that may help you along with the process, including both Empowering Parrots and Shaping New Behaviors

With many successes and repetitions of these behaviors, you will feel more secure,  and will learn how to watch for any body language that might signal discomfort and an impending bite. One little step at a time, there is no rush!

Gay Noeth
Lee McGuire
Susan Friedman


Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates
About Susan Friedman, PhD & LLP Course Graduates

Susan G. Friedman, Ph.D., is currently a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Utah State University. A Behaviourist for more than 25 years, her area of expertise is learning and behaviour with a special emphasis on children’s behaviour disorders. 

In the last several years, Susan has helped pioneer efforts to apply to animals the humane philosophy and scientifically sound teaching technology from the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which has been so effective with human learners. The guiding principle of this approach is a hierarchy of teaching interventions starting with the most positive, least intrusive, effective behaviour solutions.
 
Susan is a steadfast proponent of changing behaviour through facilitation rather than force. These tools of facilitation focus on animals’ extraordinary biologic capacity to learn by interacting with their environment. She teaches that by changing the environment for success, animals learn to behave successfully. Susan currently teaches Living and Learning with Parrots: The Fundamental Principles of behaviour several times a year. (See http://www.behaviorworks.org for more information and links to her recent articles.)

Susan is the first author on two recently completed chapters on learning and behaviour for two new avian veterinary texts (in press, Harrison and Lightfoot’s Clinical Avian Medicine and Luescher’s Manual Parrot behaviour) and enjoys contributing to and learning from several internet lists on parrot behaviour. She is a core member of the California Condor Recovery Team and takes every opportunity to work with companion animal caregivers, veterinarians, animal trainers and zookeepers to empower and enrich the lives of all learners. Foremost in this interdisciplinary effort is her passion for and commitment to working with companion parrots and their caregivers.


Can small children and parrots get along?

 
Expert Question

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-




Expert Answer

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-


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Budgie with very watery droppings and wheeziness

 
Expert Question

My Question: I have an aviary budgie with very watery droppings and wheeziness. He has had a broad spectrum antibiotic jab at the avian vets, followed by 10 days on “ornicure”.

Coccidia has been ruled out and I have had a lab test for chlamydia which has come back negative. The bird is still indoors although not needing additional heat. If he goes back out he really struggles (shortness of breath).

It may be relevant to mention that another bird has been prone to a messy vent for two months, without showing any other symptoms. The chlamydia test was a pooled swab.

I have also tried Ivermectin to rule out mites etc.

Where do I go from here?

Thanks,  Helen Jones




Expert Answer

This is an excellent question, Helen, but, unfortunately, there is no quick answer.  Watery droppings can be caused by numerous diseases: parasites, toxins, viruses, bacteria, foods, the list is endless.  I would suggest a complete diagnostic work-up for this little guy.  This would include blood tests, multiple fecal examinations, radiographs, etc. Another point to remember is that even if a chlamydia test comes back negative, this does not rule out the disease. 

Since another bird is involved, I would be most concerned about contagious disease. Check with your avian veterinarian: s/he knows you and your bird and can better suggest necessary testing/treatment. 

I hope you can get to the bottom of your budgies’ problems!


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Sick Regent Parrot

 
Expert Question

My Question: My regent parrot is sleeping a lot and has his feathers puffed up, also not eating well. I took him to the vet and he examined him, thought he was a bit over-weight and maybe had caught a bug. He gave him some antibiotic by syringe and put some in a bottle, telling me to add it to my parrots favourite food for 7 days. I`ve tried putting it on fruit for him (as it is bitter) but he refuses to eat it. As I keep trying to get him to take it he has become aggressive and is biting me. He was very tame and didn`t bite before, it seems like his personality has suddenly changed. He had been chewing a lot at a new toy with pieces of leather attached to it also I noticed little holes in the plastic that he had broken pieces off. I`ve taken this toy away now and am wondering could this have made him sick.

Would you have any ideas what could be wrong please?




Expert Answer

Elizabeth - the best suggestion I can give you is to return to your veterinarian and ask for more than a diagnosis of being a “bit overweight and maybe caught a bug”. There should be more to this puzzle than that. If there is obesity, a specific plan for dietary modification and enrichment of physical exercise can be instituted, and a careful monitoring of body fat stores and body weight can be set up between you and your veterinarian to guide your bird through this plan’s effect and outcome. If there is suspicioin of underlying infectious disease, a more clear pursuit of diagnosis can lead to a clearer course of treatment, and ideally, a better prognosis. If there are problems with the administration of treatment, resulting in increased fear and learned aggression, the behavioral aspects of your treatment plan need to be re-assessed in order to minimize stress, minimize unwanted learned behaviors and optomize your odds of true success.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Continuous egg laying

 
Expert Question

My Question:  Hello, I’m very worried about my budgie. For less than a year she’s laying eggs continuously! I’ve tried everything, putting her in a cage only with her daughter, but she mated even with her. I have no doubt that they are both female.  So, few months ago I also tried to keep her away from all the other budgies, but with no results: she continued to lay eggs for weeks, without break… Her cere has become white. I fear for her health, what should I do?
Thank you in advance!




Expert Answer

Claudia - you should schedule a examination and consultation with an experienced avian veterinarian in order to best get you headed in the right direction. Chronic egg laying behavior can become a significant risk factor for life threatening health problem down the road. There likely will be a combination of behavioral, dietary and physical changes that will be needed to control your budgie’s reproductive activities here, and an avian veteirnarian should be capable of advising you on most of these considerations, or refer you to a colleague for same.

An excerpt from a veterinary article I published and presented a year ago:

Chronic egg-laying in the pet bird poses a significant threat to the health and behavioral well being of many pet birds. When a hen lays repeated clutches or larger than normal clutch size without regard to the presence of a normal mate or confined breeding season, a myriad of secondary problems can follow. Ultimately, functional exhaustion of the reproductive tract poses risk of metabolic and physiological drain on the bird, particularly on calcium and energy stores. All of these ultimately predispose the hen to egg binding, dystocia, yolk coelomitis, oviductal impaction, oviductal torsion, cloacal prolapse and osteoporosis. Unlike many of the more common pet domestic mammal species, avian reproductive function is predominately initiated by extrinsic or environmental stimuli, as opposed to intrinsic cyclicity. Once the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis is triggered, a predictable cascade of events and consequences can occur. These events include endocrine, physiologic, behavioral and anatomic changes and activities in birds. Most non-domestic avian species breed opportunistically, and are reproductively active only when favorable environmental conditions exist. These are typically birds adapted to tropical or desert climates, and, if the climate allows, these birds may breed. In the absence of supportive environmental conditions, reproduction does not occur. In a given year, the proportion of birds in a wild population that actually breed can be low, and some species breed only every other year or every few years. Parrots are mainly monogamous and, in the case of larger species at least, pair for life. The bond between pairs is constantly reinforced by a variety of behaviors, such as allopreening and feeding. This strategy is perhaps adaptive, because of the high proportion of learned (as compared to instinctive) behavior exhibited in parrots: pairs that know each other well and have experience of one another breed more successfully.Environmental cues that can stimulate reproductive activity and ultimately lead to oviposition in avian species include photoperiod, temperature, rainfall, available food supply, the presence of nesting material, and/or the presence of a mate (real or perceived). The perceived photoperiod by birds is understood by many as a very important environmental cue for reproductive activity in most avian species. Its role in parrot species is not as well studied as it is in many other taxonomic groups of birds. Rainfall is known to stimulate reproductive behavior in many tropical and desert-dwelling species of birds.  Rainfall and temperature often directly affect the available food supply, which is another critical factor affecting reproductive activity. The presence of nesting sites and appropriate nesting materials is a powerful reproductive cue for many parrot species. Abnormal "mates" can include an owner or other human, some items within the cage, and toys. Another bird housed in the same cage, the same room, or even simply within hearing distance may strongly stimulate reproductive drive. In some species, there is a genetic predisposition for chronic egg-laying and lack of normal reproductive hormonal balance.

Prevention
Many young parrots sold as pets are "mentored" and taught by their new owners only one form of social interactive skills (pair bond enrichment behaviors), as opposed to the typical array of social skills that would have been taught by the parents of their wild counterparts. Deficits in normal social interaction skills, foraging activities, learned inappropriate pair bonding behaviors, inappropriate diets, the provision of nesting environments and other factors are common. The first and foremost component of healthcare and prevention of excessive egg laying comes from the identification of existing risk factors at routine examination, client education, appropriate recommendations, and careful follow up on recommended actions with owners. Recommendations for enrichment of normal lifestyles, positive reinforcement training for guiding flock interactive behaviors, dietary recommendations, foraging training, and cage environment improvements all are essential foundational preventative maneuvers. In essence, enrichment of these types of behaviors is a key aspect of the routine annual examination.

Environmental and Behavioral Interventions
In the presence of excessive egg-laying in companion birds, a series of recommendations and training / enrichments should be outlined for bird owners. Specific recommendations are guided by signalment, history and physical examination findings. Although many of the needed recommendations require the "removal" of reproductively associated stimuli and behaviors, more ethical recommendations should also concurrently package and emphasize the training of normal behaviors to replace what is removed. The stress that can be generated by environmental and behavioral deprivation, although it can add to short-term "effectiveness", should be viewed as less ethical than a behavior-change strategy that is based on differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors. Environmental and behavioral deprivation can easily result in an increase in behavioral problems, ultimately adversely affecting the health and welfare of these patients. In most circumstances and when applied correctly, environmental and behavioral interventions should be viewed as most ethical, least intrusive and most effective treatments for uncomplicated chronic egg laying. 

Environmental stimuli may need to be altered, and every recommendation should be carefully balanced with an enrichment or differential reinforcement plan for alternative behaviors. The photoperiod may need to be altered and reduced for some species. Nest sites, toys, and other items to which the bird has a sexual affinity should be removed from the enclosure. Access to a nesting environment (shredded papers, a box, or other dark cavities) should be prohibited. In the event that a pet bird is showing nesting behavior and laying eggs in a designated site within the cage environment, removal of eggs from the nest should be avoided for the normal incubation period for each species to discourage the hen from laying another clutch.  Any perceived or actual mate should be removed from the cage or room environment.  In some situations, and with some species such as the Cockatiel, visual and auditory separation from a "mate" may be necessary.  A "one-person bird," with only a single household member who exclusively handles and cares for the bird should be potentially viewed as an established "mate relationship", which may serve as a trigger for reproductively driven behaviors and activities.  Stimulatory petting by the owner, such as rubbing the pelvis, dorsum, and cloacal regions should be stopped.  "Flock" interactive behaviors should be encouraged in preference to one person or "mate" interactions in the home. The cage location and internal set up (perches, toys, etc) should be changed and rotated periodically to provide a "new or changing" environment that is less stable and less reproductively stimulating.  Inappropriate nutrition that is identified should be corrected to improve the hen's dietary plane to decrease the severity of metabolic drain. Dietary alteration with a reduction of caloric intake appears to significantly reduce or stop egg production with many companion parrot species, as well as enable training and behavior-change strategies.

Medical Therapy
Medical therapies for chronic egg-laying tend to focus on drug therapies to reduce or stop egg production. Pharmacologic options have included medroxyprogesterone acetate, levonorgestrel, human chorionic gonadotropin, Norethidrone/mestranol, testosterone, and leuprolide acetate (Lupron). With the exception of leuprolide, most of these drug or hormonal therapies have variable effectiveness and significant adverse side effects.  Although leuprolide acetate appears to be a safe alternative, this product is expensive, requires repeated use, and does not alone correct the causative cascade of reproductive activity in the female bird.

Surgical intervention
Surgical salpingohysterectomy or endoscopic salpingohysterectomy may be indicated in specific patients that are plagued with chronic egg laying problems. Ethically, this option should be pursued only if environmental, behavioral and/or medical therapy has not been successful, the relative risk to the overall health and welfare of the bird is gauged to be significant, and if there is no intent to breed the particular hen. Surgical treatments carry the greatest cost at their outlay, require advanced training in avian soft tissue surgery or endosurgery, and also carry the greatest immediate risk of procedural complications and death. Salpingohysterectomized birds still retain their ovary, and hence may still be predisposed to estrogenic behaviors, hyperestrogenism, cystic ovarian disease, internal ovulation and egg yolk coelomitis.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Guidelines for Rearing a Young African Grey

 
Expert Question

Dear Pam, I am requesting your help with regards to a wonderful baby Grey I have who is now about ten months old. She is a gentle, kind accepting bird and is generally a joy to have. My first question is I believe that she is a Congo AG, She is very large with HUGE feet and a neck that elevates to Giraffe proprtions when anything alarms or interests her!! My first question is her feathers are so soft at the moment and will these change very dramatically when she gets older? My second concern is I have been told that there is a period known as the “Terrible Two's” when birds change dramatically, this is causing me concern as I don't want to lose the gentle girl I have. What would you recommend I do and should I start exerting more control over her now so she knows who is in control. Thank you for any help Debbie




Expert Answer

Dear Debra,

Thank you so much for your patience as you have awaited my reply. Unfortunately, circumstances have prevented me from being able to respond until now in the detail that your wonderful question deserves. Your baby Grey is exceptionally lucky to be in the hands of someone like you who seeks to prevent problems, rather than wait to get help until they occur.

First, the size of her feet and the extent to which she extends her neck when alarmed are not reliable indicators for judging whether she is a Congo Grey or not. There are small Congo Greys and large Timneh Greys. If her tail is bright red and her beak is black, then she is a Congo. If her tail is maroon and her beak is horn-colored, then she is a Timneh. The fact that her feathers are soft reflects the fact that she has been well-nourished. The diet a parrot eats dictates the quality of the plumage. The best way to keep her feathers soft is to make sure that you feed her the most appropriate diet. A seed mix is a poor diet for any parrot, so if she is currently eating a seed mix as a staple, you will want to teach her to eat a better quality diet. African Greys have higher needs for protein and fat than many other parrot species. The easiest way to make sure that she is eating a well-balanced diet is to make sure that at least 30% to 70% of what she consumes is a good-quality formulated diet. I feed my own Greys the Harrison's High Potency pellet, since this has been formulated with their nutritional needs in mind. The protein content in this pellet is 18% and the fat content is 15%.

If you feed a different pelleted diet, with lower protein and fat content, you can supplement with other foods to raise the levels slightly. To supplement protein, you can offer a one-inch square piece of scrambled egg or well-cooked chicken or fish a couple of times a week. The fat content can be elevated by providing a few nuts as training treats. Too much protein or fat can be a problem also, however, so supplementation should be done in moderation. In addition, she should have a certain percentage of her diet as live, raw vegetables and fruits. It's important to feed more vegetables than fruits, however. If you would like more information on diet, you can read the article "Feeding the Companion Parrot." The two-part article "Grey Matters" provides information specifically about African Greys. Both of these are posted at http://www.parrothouse.com/pamelaclark.

In regards to your behavior concerns, I can state absolutely that there is no truth to the myth that parrots go through any period called the "Terrible Twos." It can be true that older parrots can be less compliant than young birds, but this does not have to be the case. Generally speaking, the best way to avoid problems with a parrot as she grows into adulthood are to: (1) avoid allowing the parrot to form a pair bond with you, (2) make sure that all her needs (physical, social, mental) are met, and (3) that you provide clear communication about what you want her to do and then plenty of positive reinforcement for complying with your requests.

Regarding #1: The goal with a young parrot must be to teach her to play independently and to keep herself busy. While it is very comforting to have a parrot on your shoulder, this is to be avoided for two important reasons. First, it will lead to the development of a pair bond with you. Once such a pair bond has formed, she will reject other people and will seek to be with you more and more, gradually losing her independent play skills. Second, while she is on your shoulder, she is not learning anything else. She is only learning to be dependent. Thus, it is important to encourage her to enjoy a variety of perching sites and to interact with toys and foraging opportunities in those locations. She should not be perched on your shoulder or lap for any longer than 5 minutes once or twice a day.

Regarding #2: One pitfall in keeping parrots is the tendency to focus only on their social needs. Social relationships are only one of the many needs she has. Others include regular bathing, excellent nutrition, learning opportunities, adequate rest, annual veterinary visits (if you have access to an avian vet), fresh air and sunshine, foraging opportunities, exercise, the ability to be out of her cage for at least 3 to 4 hours a day and to move around to different perches throughout the day, and a sense of safety and security. Thus, as you guide her toward adulthood, you will need to make sure that all of these needs are met. This may mean that you have to teach her some of these living skills. For example, if she does not yet enjoy bathing, you will need to implement a desensitization plan to teach her that this can be a pleasant experience. If she does not keep herself busy, you will need to introduce a wide variety of interesting toys and foraging opportunities and then provide her with plenty of praise for interacting with them. If there is something in the environment that frequently scares her, then this should be eliminated if possible.

One of the most important things you can do in this area is to make sure that she has plenty of learning opportunities. I suggest that you purchase the training DVDs that Barbara Heidenreich has produced. These can be found at http://www.goodbirdinc.com. I suggest that you acquire the DVD called "Parrot Behavior and Training" first, as well as her latest 3-disc set that has an entire training workshop on it. Training some simple behaviors, such as targeting and turning around on cue, is a wonderful way to provide enrichment to a companion parrot. It also satisfies their need to learn new things.

Regarding #3: There is no room in a relationship between a human and a parrot for concepts such as control or dominance. Embracing such concepts will lead to interactions in which you choose to use coercion and other behavior approaches that will result in a lack of trust in her towards you. The best way to keep her as sweet as she is now is to learn how behavior works and then to guide her behavior using positive reinforcement. The truth is that all creatures behave in order to get what they want. A human will not continue to work at a difficult job unless she receives a pay check. A dog will not come when called unless he anticipates that good things will happen when he does. A parrot will not continue to step-up if there is not some "pay check" present in the experience for her. Many parrots develop problem behaviors simply because the owner reacts when the behavior is performed, and this social attention can be a powerful reinforcer.

I recommend that you get into the habit of asking yourself continually, "What am I teaching her right now?" If she makes a noise that you don't enjoy, then this must be ignored completely. If she talks, and this is something you want her to do more frequently, then you should respond immediately with a "Good girl!" and then the speedy delivery of a favorite, but small, food treat. Therefore, the best way to maintain compliance in a parrot is to make sure that you reward all desirable behaviors, especially all "cued" behaviors. This means that every time she steps onto your hand when you ask her to, she immediately receives some reward that she finds of value. This might be a food treat, such as a small piece of walnut or a sunflower seed. It could also be a head scratch or a small foot toy. Watch her carefully to figure out what she likes the best and then use that.

Try also to have a variety of rewards, so that she does not get bored with the same one. Further, stepping down off of your hand should also receive a reward, and every time she goes back into her cage, she should get a highly valued treat. Every time you ask her to do something, she should receive some form of reinforcement. Following these guidelines will produce a happy, healthy, well-rounded, and compliant parrot. Moreover, she will choose happily to cooperate with you and you will never have to worry about maintaining "control."

Thanks for such a wonderful opportunity to discuss problem prevention!

Warmest regards,
Pamela Clark, CVT


Pamela Clark, CVT
About Pamela Clark, CVT

Pamela Clark is a well-known author, speaker and parrot behaviour consultant whose experience with parrots dates back 40 years to the purchase of her first pair of lovebirds. Her knowledge extends to a wide range of parrot species, and has been gained through experiences as diverse as breeding to rescue and rehabilitation. Pam has also trained parrots in behaviours as complex as that of free flight outdoors.

As a behaviour consultant, Pam’s approach is uniquely comprehensive, coupling improvements in husbandry and nutrition with the most positive and effective behavior modification strategies.  She consults with clients throughout the United States, and as far away as Canada, Europe and Japan. Areas of particular interest to her are those of feather destructive behaviour, psittacine nutrition, the provision of indoor flight, and the human/parrot bond.

Pam is also a licensed veterinary technician, working for an avian specialist in Salem, Oregon. She lives with a mixed flock of 10 companion parrots, a dog and two cats. Her articles have appeared in the Grey Play Round Table, Companion Parrot Quarterly, Bird Talk magazine, Birds USA, PsittaScene magazine, Parrots magazine, Good Bird magazine, and the Holistic Bird Newsletter, and have been translated into several foreign languages.


Are seashells safe as parrot toys

 
Expert Question

I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I am wondering if seashells are save to give me African brown head to play with. I noticed one of the toys in his pen has seashells attached to it. I collected some from the beach, and I was wondering if they are cleaned off properly if they can be used for toys. Thanks for your help! Vicky




Expert Answer

Hi Vicky, Seashells are usually safe for parrots. In fact, ground or crushed seashells are used in some calcium supplements. As long as the shells are thoroughly cleaned, they should be safe to give your bird. I always recommend observing your bird at play to make sure he is not eating any toys or shells. Most parrots simply chew toys to bits, but occasionally one will actually swallow those bits. Needless to say, that is dangerous for the bird! Have fun and thanks for the great question, Vicky.


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Helping Two Companion African Greys Acclimate to Each Other

 
Expert Question

Dear Pam, I am having great difficulty in trying to introduce a new baby African Grey into my home with my two year old Grey. My first AG is very hyper active, constantly leaning forward with wings spread, as if wanting to fly, his eyes are always dilated and his general attitude is not relaxed. I am not sure but he received a bad wing clip which left him falling and hurting himself a couple of times and it was after this that his personality changed. His diet is Harrisons pellets with fruit and veg, My new AG is about 8 months old, she is a female and very much the opposite of my first bird. She is steady and gently and allows me to handle her all over with great ease. My first grey loves me very much but has always suddenly bitten me without any reason and has generally been a difficult bird since a baby. My concerns are the new baby is now becoming very scared of my first grey as he constantly wants to attack her. Every chance he gets he will run over to her cage and try to bite the cage or get to her. I immediately intervene but get bitten badly also. I do not want to rehome my first grey but may have to do so if I cannot get him to accept the baby grey or at least calm down a little. Someone suggested Dr Bachs Rescue Remedy for a start and allowing the bad wing clip to grow through but I would really appreciate any expert guidance I can get in this very distressing situation I am now experiencing.

Many thanks




Expert Answer

Dear Debra,
Thanks so much for your question and for using the WPT "Ask the Expert" feature.  I congratulate you for seeking a solution so quickly to what sounds like a very distressing situation for all concerned.  I am quite sure that these two Greys can learn to live comfortably in your home, and I encourage you to have some patience with your older African Grey until you can implement the ideas offered below. 
 
Without more detail about the two birds in question, I will have to make some guesses about what might be causing your older Grey's behavior, as well as what the best ideas will be for solving the problem.  Please feel free to implement what appears to be best suited to your own unique circumstances.

From your description of your older Grey's body language, it appears that he may be a parrot who has relatively high anxiety levels.  Anxious or nervous Greys will frequently display the "wide-eyed" appearance that you describe.  They will also stand up quite tall, with feathers slicked down and held closely to the body.  They often startle easily, and do also display the behavior you describe of leaning forward with wings spread and quivering.  His sudden biting is also consistent with this problem.  His earlier too-short wing clip and resulting falls lend credence to the idea that he is a relatively anxious Grey.  This type of early beginning frequently results in this residual problem behavior.  I always feel a great deal of compassion for birds who have started life with this disability.
   
Therefore, the first part of your solution will be to help your older Grey to relax.  It isn't within the scope of this response to describe all the many ways that stress reduction can be accomplished with a parrot.  However, you may find an article I wrote on the subject, titled "Stress Reduction for Companion Parrots," at http://www.parrothouse.com/pamelaclark. ; This may give you some usable ideas for helping him to calm down.  Obviously, if he is more relaxed, this will help him to accept your new Grey's presence in the household.  It is possible that the Bach Flower Rescue Remedy may help him if placed in his drinking water, but this will be only the beginning of the solution for him. 
 
Your older Grey's anxious behavior is a result of learning.  He learned that he had reason to be afraid because of his sudden falls.  You will see his behavior return to a more "normal" state when he has a chance to learn that his world is a safe place.  The article referenced above will help you with this goal.
 
It's too bad that we can't just ask him why he is behaving so aggressively toward your baby Grey.  However, in the absence of an explanation from him, we can make some guesses based upon his behavior.  His aggression toward your new Grey indicates that he does, in some way, consider her a threat.  Therefore, this previously frightened parrot now feels even more threatened due to the presence of his new roommate. 
   
I would not despair at this point, though.  I have lived with a great many African Greys and, generally speaking, they usually learn to appreciate the presence of other Greys in the home.  I feel confident that your older Grey can learn to enjoy his younger "sister" over time, but this will need to be a learning experience.
 
It is important that you separate their cages by enough distance that he cannot run over to attack her.  My usual advice is to separate parrot cages by at least five to six feet.  Parrots, by virtue of their intelligence and sensitivity, tend to have "big" personalities.  They usually appreciate having some space around them, rather than having another parrot (especially one they don't know well) very close to them.  By separating the cages, he will feel less threatened by her presence and she will feel protected from him.  That way, they can get to know each other from afar and will have a better chance of being friends in the future. 
 
Next, try to enrich his life in the present.  Have things changed for him since your baby Grey came home?  Does he get less attention than he did before?  Might he sense your frustration with him for his behavior toward her?  See if you can't give him a little more attention each day, introduce a new activity or give him some toys or projects that he can stay busy with.  By giving him other things to think about he may settle down and be less focused on her.  If he is afraid of new things, see if you can't create some small projects for him that we might readily accept.  A wonderful resource for such ideas is Kris Porter's website http://www.parrotenrichment.com. ; Lastly, try to find a sense of compassion towards him.  He wants to be happy and successful in your home.  He just had some early experiences that make this more of a challenge for him than it is for your younger Grey who did not suffer the trauma of a too-short wing trim. 
   
The above changes will help to ease the current stress between the two birds.  However, the real solution will come about when your older Grey learns that this new addition to the household means that good things happen for him because of proximity to her.  Figure out what type of treat he really loves.  Try to find an item that isn't a part of his usual diet.  Greys usually like best any foods that are high in fat.  Perhaps a bit of cream cheese on a spoon?  Maybe sunflower seeds or bits of nuts?  Once you've identified a training treat, then begin to use the following exercise on a daily basis.  This should be begun only after you've moved their cages further apart.
 
Have your older Grey step onto your hand (at a time when he is not likely to bite you) and then take just one step toward your younger Grey.  Hold him so that he can see her, talk to him about her, praise him for going closer to her, and then when his body language is relaxed and shows no signs of aggression, give him the treat and return him to his cage.  Do this several times until you can step him up, take a step toward her and he shows no signs of distress.  Give him a treat every time.
   
Once you have accomplished this initial exercise, then begin to move closer to her, always making progress in very small increments.  Next, hold him and take two steps toward her, offering him the treat when you see his body language relax.  After several successful sessions at that distance, then move three steps toward her.  Continue in this regard until you can walk all the way up to her cage with your older Grey on your hand, and with him showing no signs of concern.  Your keys to success will be the following:  (1) don't proceed too quickly through these steps (try for many repetitions at each distance), (2) only give him the treat when his body language is relaxed on your hand (you don't want to reward any aggressive body language), and (3) completely ignore at all times any signs of aggression in him toward her (unless there is direct physical threat to her).
 
By the time you have implemented this behavior modification plan for several weeks, you should begin to see a change in your older Grey's behavior toward the younger bird.  However, even if you see a complete absence of aggressive behavior towards her, I would still encourage you to keep them apart.  They should each always have their own cage and their own play stands or alternate perches.  Just because they are the same species, does not guarantee that they will become good friends.  However, you should all be able to live peacefully and happily in your home together.  And, who knows?  Perhaps they will surprise us and learn to interact happily with each other, if given enough time to get to know each other.

Warm regards and good luck!
Pamela Clark, CVT


Pamela Clark, CVT
About Pamela Clark, CVT

Pamela Clark is a well-known author, speaker and parrot behaviour consultant whose experience with parrots dates back 40 years to the purchase of her first pair of lovebirds. Her knowledge extends to a wide range of parrot species, and has been gained through experiences as diverse as breeding to rescue and rehabilitation. Pam has also trained parrots in behaviours as complex as that of free flight outdoors.

As a behaviour consultant, Pam’s approach is uniquely comprehensive, coupling improvements in husbandry and nutrition with the most positive and effective behavior modification strategies.  She consults with clients throughout the United States, and as far away as Canada, Europe and Japan. Areas of particular interest to her are those of feather destructive behaviour, psittacine nutrition, the provision of indoor flight, and the human/parrot bond.

Pam is also a licensed veterinary technician, working for an avian specialist in Salem, Oregon. She lives with a mixed flock of 10 companion parrots, a dog and two cats. Her articles have appeared in the Grey Play Round Table, Companion Parrot Quarterly, Bird Talk magazine, Birds USA, PsittaScene magazine, Parrots magazine, Good Bird magazine, and the Holistic Bird Newsletter, and have been translated into several foreign languages.


Breeding parrots and parakeets in a mixed species aviary

 
Expert Question

Dear EB, My aviary is in 6 sections all open. It measures 35 metres. The 17 parakeets use all the space. The parrots less so.

I have 2 pairs of rescue small birds - Plumheaded parakeets, a male aged 4 and a female 1, and Kakarikis both one years old. If they try want to breed next year will I have to separate them from the others. If so which month? The Rock Pebbler Parakeets that are housed there have bred twice with no problems.

Thank you.

Regards, Dot in UK




Expert Answer

Dear Dot, ‘Tis not easy to flatly answer your question as I do not know the birds personally and observation usually tells whether certain pairs in a mixed colony will disrupt breeding of themselves or other pairs.

That said, the species in question have been colony bred by others in the past (Kakarikis less so…) and are basically decent candidates for success in your large spaces.

The rule is usually offer two or more extra nest boxes beyond your number of pairs to lessen fighting over spots. If several pairs all want the same box, just take it down and put it elsewhere or exchange it for a different one.

If you are very careful about the entrance holes for each of the boxes, you can eliminate the larger parrots from getting inside the smaller openings. Some Kakarikis prefer tight entrances or tube-like passages to a box.

Food dishes too, should be non-competitive and extra for the number of pairs or else the greedier birds will fly from one to another getting all the best and fattiest foods.

Once compatibility is established and the birds feed without aggressive competition, the most dangerous time is when new peeps are heard in a box. Other more curious and excitable birds could enter the newly hatched clutch site and endanger babies. You will have to be diligent in watching out for same.

Of course, actual production of babies is not always the goal in such situations; more so, is the enjoyment the pairs get of copulating, inter-feeding, laying, hatching and such over the weeks of the season, so I would say, give it a try and keep notes. It will certainly teach you a lot about your pairs, and may make the content for a future magazine article.

Cheers, 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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Allopreening

 
Expert Question

My Question: My male military macaw is becoming sexually mature. One odd behavior I’ve noticed is that when I am allopreening him, (I try to avoid any deliberate arousal), he now opens his beak and works his tongue in a very specific way, which he never did in the past.

I know that the flehmen response is specific to some mammals, (although many more animals, including snakes, use the vomeronasal organ to locate mates). This is the closest thing I can think of in terms of behavior.

I saw an intriguing reference to male mallards’ changing their reproductive behavior when their olfactory nerves were sectioned, but I’ve never read anything that specifically relates to the behavior I’m seeing.

Any thoughts about this? I never see him doing it when he isn’t in more or less direct contact with me, but he isn’t touching me with his beak or anything.

Thanks,
Nancy Sullivan




Expert Answer

Hello Nancy!  My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. Steve forwarded me your question about your Military macaw, and we’d be happy to offer our thoughts.

When parrots in the wild are in the process of allopreening, there are often a number of other behaviors that seem to occur at the same time. These are sometimes referred to as “comfort behaviors”, and include things like scratching, yawning, and stretching. Companion parrots often exhibit the same sorts of behaviors when they are being preened by their owners, and from what you’ve described our best guess is that what you’re seeing is yawning. It doesn’t sound like what your seeing is reproductively related, and it is possible that while the behavior was originally triggered by the stimulation of the preening itself, the “yawning” behavior may now be displayed more frequently either because the behavior itself is pleasurable for the bird, or because there is reinforcing value in whatever reaction he gets from you when the behavior is displayed. In speaking with Steve, he mentioned that he has most often seen this sort of behavior when a bird is scratched near the ears, so we’d be curious to know if the behavior is most noticeable when the preening occurs in this area.

Hope this information is helpful!

Chris Jenkins
Supervisor
Natural Encounters, Inc.


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Housing and humidity for a Blue-fronted Amazon?

 
Expert Question

Dear Phoebe, My Blue-fronted Amazon parrots live in a double-glazed conservatory. It has two doors, two windows, two skylights and the sides and roof are glass.  I would be grateful if you would advise me about combining both temperature and humidity to keep my parrots comfortable. Both winter and summers weathers create different problems. During the summer the temperature is hotter inside the conservatory than outside. This year it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit causing dryness and low humidity. In the winter I keep the conservatory at 50 degrees Fahrenheit but I am unsure what temperature combined with humidity would protect the birds from a chill. The heating used is economy seven electric radiators and oil filled radiator. The heating dries the room, causing low humidity.

Please would you advise me what methods can be used to increase or decrease humidity?

I hope you are able to help resolve this problem.
Thank you, Sara Mylam




Expert Answer

Hi Sara, Thanks for writing World Parrot Trust and for your desire to provide optimal environments for your Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva).

First, I recommend that you immerse yourself in knowledge of wild Blue-fronted Amazon's habitats.

Read everything you can, including all the info and links on parrots.org. Including:

“Nesting success and hatching survival of the Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil”
Read full article

Abstract:
We studied the reproductive biology of a population of Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul State, Brazil, between 1997 and 1999. Nesting occurred from August to December. We monitored 94 nests, which were found in trees of different sizes. Nesting trees were distributed in all major vegetation associations (floodplains, grasslands, scrub savanna, savanna, arboreal savanna, riparian forests, and pastures). 

I find this research fascinating and hope you do, too, because it gives us vast amounts of inspiration as we provide optimal habitats for our flocks. Now that we know that wild Blue-fronted Amazons live and nest in “all major vegetation associations,” we can build habitats commensurate with their physiology.

Congratulations on the conservatory -- we have one, too -- a glass enclosed building, double-paned. It's a space dedicated to parrots and people sharing, but it's not inherently a "friendly" parrot environment. Modifications are needed, or so I've found. Additionally, it can be arid here in Santa Barbara, so, like you, I deal with issues of heat, humidity and sunlight.

We added retractable awnings to the outdoor roof of our conservatory and these are key. Decadent, I know, but pushing that button and having those awnings go out over the roof really helps the parrots' environment stay viable. We also have an indoor sprinkler system, which was easy to install and is simple to use. On hot days, it's a godsend.

With all the glass in the room, it can become weirdly reflective, so I use bamboo, rattan or other chewable mats which strategically drape and are affixed over cage sides and tops to allow for privacy and visual rest from windows and other forms of stimulation. Some of our parrots have three such shields: One or two on cage top, depending on how the sun at its brightest hits the cage; another on the side, depending on individual preference. So please, Sara, check your parrots and their cages / enclosures at various times throughout the day and provide full-body shade whenever they desire.

These natural fiber mats serve not only as privacy panels, but also as moisture holders and dispersers. Sprayed with water, moistened mats will cool the room for hours. Easily removable and cleanable, I find mats indispensable. If they get dirty, they get scrubbed, dried and re-used.

Additionally, we use three or more outdoor decorative movable screens that we simply prop against the windows where the sun hits hardest (this varies by season, of course) to cut down intensity. These cool the room considerably. Every day, as much as possible, I open the windows so that real natural sunlight and humidity enters the room.

On hot days, we open the windows plus drape thick wet towels on the outdoor screens. Now air entering the room is moist and cool.

Indoor plants with lots of foliage inside the room are beneficial water-retainers. Keep the area right outside the room also well hydrated with plants that provide shade, moisture, interest and loveliness. Potted plants can work -- just be sure they are tall and robust enough to provide shade. Keep these areas hydrated and keep the windows open so the parrots have at least part of a sun-lit environment, too. Drenched plants, mats and screens, inspire parrots to get drenched, too.

Get-a-Grips (sold in WPT on-line store) by Star Bird, are perfect companions to hot rooms because they, too, can be sprayed down. The moisture released throughout the day helps reduce aridity. Our parrots and parrot room would be greatly impoverished without our Get-A-Grips.

Do use and maintain clean cool air humidifiers, too. I've found that reverse-osmosis (RO) water (available at stores that sell saltwater fish) keeps humidifiers clean and running great. I think 85oF is not too hot for Blue-fronted Amazons as long as the air is gently moving, humid and moist. Healthy parrots can also easily live in 50oF.

Finally, don't stress too much about all but the most drastic extremes. Scientists tell us that wild Blue-fronted Amazons inhabit a variety of habitats. Encourage a fully realized relationship between you and your flock so that you are all tuned in to each other’s levels of comfort, camaraderie and companionship. Stay open to signals from your parrots on what they like and use, where they go during different times of the day, and so forth. Keep tweaking the environment to make it better and better for them.

Last but not least, encourage your Blue-fronted Amazons to love bathing and showering. If you provide multiple water bowls or large shallow bowls (8 x 11 glass baking pans work) and they learn to get silly and wet in it, that's great! Lots of showers, misting, water bowl bathing, plant leaf bathing -- yay! That way, if you're stuck in traffic on a hot day, your parrots can be having a blast in their water bowls.

All best, Phoebe Greene Linden and flock


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Why does my cockatiel keep picking?

 
Expert Question

Hi Dr. Cook, One of my cockatiels has been “picking” at her back - an area right between her wing couplings - for about 3 months now. If left to it, she will chew until it bleeds. She is not plucking feathers, just chewing on the down and then the skin underneath.

It seems to bother her most in the evenings. Both our cockatiels (no other pets or children in the house) get plenty of attention and have lots to do during the day, foraging, playing with toys, being out in their aviary, etc. They also eat very well, with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits in their diets, and get plenty of sleep. They don’t bathe as often as I would like, but we manage it every couple of weeks or so. We run a humidifier in their sleeping room during the day and try to keep it up around 45%. (They are about a year and a half old.)

I have taken her to our local avian vet, who ran some tests to look for infections and inspected her for lice and mites, but found none. He was puzzled because she otherwise seemed in good health.

He advised there could be a myriad of explanations - many of them difficult to diagnose - and suggested it might be behavioural, so we have been doing our best to interrupt her activity. He also warned to watch how we do so, as we might be reinforcing the behaviour.

We have tried applying aloe to the area, but it only seemed to make her do it more so we stopped.

After observing her for some time, I began to wonder if perhaps it was an allergy, and have taken all wheat products out of her diet. It has been 4 weeks now and I have seen no changes in the behaviour, and I am wondering just how long I should wait to get it completely out of her system. Both our birds do so enjoy their (whole wheat) bread and pasta treats, and I hated taking it away, but will do so if that turns out to be the culprit.

Can you make any suggestions as to a reasonable time? Thank you so much for your insights!

Michelle




Expert Answer

Hi Michelle, Thanks for the great question!  I have a ‘tiel we rescued at my clinic that did the same thing as your bird; with proper diet and medication, her symptoms resolved in about three months, so there is hope for your bird.

This type of self-injurious behavior seen in cockatiels is often a symptom of physical disease.  Food allergies would be much less likely to cause these symptoms, so I would allow your birds to have wheat again.  A varied diet with a base of at least 70% pellets is best for parrots.  Frequent bathing is essential for birds with feather issues, as this encourages normal preening.  I recommend bathing or misting daily with plain, lukewarm water.  I also advocate supplementation of the diet with omega-3,-6 fatty acids and natural sunlight at least three times weekly, plus a program of positive reinforcement to teach behaviors (such as tricks) to refocus the bird from self-injurious behavior.

Your avian veterinarian has wisely ruled out external parasites.  I also recommend checking for internal parasites (such as Giardia), a complete blood count and chemistry profile and possibly a viral panel. 

Good luck with your ‘tiel!


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Outdoor Aviary Dilemma

 
Expert Question

My husband and I have adopted a galerita cockatoo, a goffin’s cockatoo and a jandaya conure, all of whom were in various states of disrepair. To provide sunlight and exercise, we are building a small 8’ X 10’ (8’ in height) outdoor aviary. The entire aviary will be wire meshed on the inside and screened on the outside with a wire mesh floor covered with crusher dust. We have a few questions and would be very thankful for some help.

1. We have fire ants here in Valrico, Florida. Does anyone have advice on how to keep them out of the aviary?

2. We were advised that we should roof the entire aviary (not leaving an open area for sun and rain) because of a disease transmitted through opossum droppings. Since the aviary will be small and only 8’ tall, it is entirely possible that a possum could climb onto the top. We had hoped to have open areas for sun and rain, but we do not want to endanger the birds.
Any advice?

3. We had also hoped to provide an area for foraging in dirt and grasses, but were advised not to do this since soil could harbor harmful parasites or fungus. We were planning on building a raised, tiered foraging area planted with grasses and millets. Can you please advise us?

Unfortunately, the three birds each came from homes where they were isolated and never socialized with other birds, so they will be taking turns in the aviary. We are exicited about this project and hope you can provide some advice. Thank you very much.




Expert Answer

Hello Peggy and Jay, You have some very good questions. I'll see if I can answer them. I too live in Florida and have an outdoor structure for my birds, so I think I have some insight on your issues.

As far as the fire ants, they are a problem, and I don't like using the baits and insecticides around my birds. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) seems to be the best non toxic solution. There are also some bio solutions in the form of beneficial nematodes available, which I haven't tried, and don't know that I would, depending on what they are.

Diatomaceous earth is formed from the skeletal remains of the algae Bacillariophyceae and is in the form of an abrasive silica dust. When an insect comes in contact with the razor-sharp edges of these particles it causes abrasions, resulting in the loss of body fluids and ultimately death. DE works well as a protective barrier against many insects. It's now being sold as an insecticide in most major hardware-chains and in many cases is mixed with a pyrethrin. It can be expensive, and I don't like the fact they are mixing it with something completely unnecessary. The best way to purchase it is to leave the pesticide department and walk around to the pool department. DE is used extensively in pool filters and can be purchased in large boxes for next to nothing.

The disease you are referring to that may be transmitted through opossum droppings is sarcocystis, which is actually a protozoa. There is a whole chain of events that has to take place in the right order for this to happen, but it is somewhat common in Florida.

Since your enclosure is covered with screen on the outside, I don't see too much of a problem. The screen would catch any droppings. Make sure that any water bowls or food bowls are not directly below any of the open area. The protozoa can be spread by cockroaches, which have injested the feces too. If that's the ultimate threat covering the entire roof isn't going to solve the problem, and I don't know of much that will accept maybe the DE barrier mentioned above.

What I recommend is that the walls of the structure have a 2-foot tall kick-plate around the whole perimeter at the bottom of the walls. If the screen goes to the ground you are going to have a lot more problems with mice, rats, raccoons, and stray cats chewing or tearing through the screen than you are going to have with opossums. In my area I have to also be aware of bobcats, and here lately, a stray black bear or two. If you have a screen door for entry into the enclosure the installer can easily dismantle the door and add a taller kick-plate to the door than what comes in it. I have found through experience that a 2-foot kick plate will stop almost all mice and rats. At the rail that the top of the kick-plate is attached to you will need to add a commercially available electric fence using plastic isolators. The combination of the kick-plate and the electric fence around the top of the kick-plate will keep everything out as well as from climbing the walls to gain access to the roof. Trim back any branches that overhang the structure and could allow access by dropping down from the branches. If you don't like the thought of using an electric fence there are motion activated sprinklers available that are made to deter most anything of the size of a squirrel on up. They are called scarecrow sprinklers. They move very quickly and do scare off most anything. They are not sensitive enough for the mice and rats, so you will still need the kick-plate.

The foraging area is difficult. Parasites and nematodes are everywhere in the soil in Florida, so I don't know that you can be assured that any way you go about it is going to be 100% safe. First off what ever you do have your parrots de-wormed prior to putting them in the enclosure. Your foraging area is only going to be as parasite free as your birds.

My cages actually go to the ground, so I had a similar issue. What I have done is put a layer of commercial grade weed cloth down. I then covered it in a layer of crushed concrete, which should be completely void of parasites and nematodes just because of what it is. I then put a thick layer of crushed oyster/clam shell down as something natural for my birds to walk around on that is safe even if they chew on it. It's available all over Florida where bulk garden covering and ground covers are sold. Once I put it down I rented a steam cleaner and pressure washed it with steam to both remove any remaining soil that may be trapped in the shells and to also sterilize it as best as I could.

I think you could take this one step farther and go with another layer of weed cloth on top of the crushed shell and then cover that with a very thick layer sterilized compost or garden soil. Good quality garden soil should have been heat treated to kill off any nematodes. You could then plant your grass and millet. Make sure that when you are building your frame for this area that you don't use treated lumber.

Keep in mind that wild birds come in contact with all these things your are trying to protect your birds from. I understand your concerns and intentions. I have taken many steps in a similar direction. The best protection you can give your birds is a healthy diet and habitat to encourage a strong immune system. Sunlight, rain, and fresh air play a big roll in doing so. Take advantage of what you have to offer that so many who live in other regions cannot offer to their parrots.


Glenn Reynolds
About Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving on to Hyacinth Macaws, Golden Conures, and Palm Cockatoos.

An ambitious businessman with a love for parrots, Glenn has pursued a variety of parrot-related activities. In 1988 he founded Avicare, health and life insurance for parrots, underwritten by Lloyds of London. In May of 1996, he began working on the formulation of Breeder’s Blend Bird Food with the assistance of his wife, Julia Jones Reynolds, DVM, and Edward Moser, a veterinary nutritionist.

In 1998 Glenn teamed up with Mike Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust, to spearhead the World Parrot Trust-USA Golden Conure Survival Fund. As administrator of the Golden Conure Survival Fund, Glenn has raised over $50,000 to aid in the preservation of Golden Conures.

Elected to the World Parrot Trust board of directors and trustees in 2001, Glenn recently resigned from the board in order to take on the responsibilities of administrator of World Parrot Trust USA, Inc.


Clarity on Some Nutritional Issue

 
Expert Question

My Question: Hi There, I am trying to get some clarity on some nutrition issues.

1) I know well that a lot of sunflower is not good, but there seems to be a big move totally against sunflower.(my birds get about 10-15% of their diet as sunflower.) Is this move totally against sunflower just the “in” thing, or is there good research behind it?

2) Vegetables are seen as more beneficial than fruit, but i have never seen a wild parrot or a photo of one eating vegetables. Fruit, grains, nuts, blossoms and bark, yes, but never vegetables. why are vegetables preferred for captive birds, is it to compensate for foods missing in a captive diet, or do captive birds just not need the quick energy boost fruit provides as much as wild birds, or is it something else?

3) What is your opinion on palm oil? (apart from the fact that parrot habitat is destroyed to create space for the palm plantations.) I do feed pellets, but I don’t like diets of pellets only.

Thanks.
Bruce




Expert Answer

Hello Bruce, thanks for your questions.

First off I think we need to understand that we can't feed a captive parrot in the same manner that a parrot would feed in the wild. Captive parrots don't have the same caloric requirements because they don't forage long distances for food and are really, in the best of circumstances, sedate as compared to free flying parrots. Moreover we need to consider that there are vast differences in the foods that wild parrots eat, generally determined by their geographical location, and we simply don't have access to many of those foods. We need to consider that many captive parrots don't have the same access to natural light and fresh air, which plays into their dietary requirements, as compared to their wild counterparts. That brings me to the very important point that there are big differences in the nutritional requirements of a parrot and the dietary requirements of an individual captive parrot. Husbandry practices play a big role in what your parrot needs to eat to reach its optimal nutritional health, which is based on much more than what species of parrot it is. You need to work your particular husbandry practices into the equation. Even the average temperature in a given situation can result in different dietary requirements of a captive parrot. Parrots kept in cool places will need more fat in their diets than parrots kept in a warmer environment. As temperatures fall a parrot’s metabolism speeds up to burn more fat to keep it warm. As temperatures rise a parrot’s metabolism slows down because it doesn’t need to burn as much fat to stay warm. As a result, parrots kept in cooler environments will generally eat more food and in doing so also take in more nutrient because of the higher intake. Parrots kept in a warmer environment will not eat as much and may not be taking in enough nutrient if the diet is not nutrient concentrated. For example, a Moluccan Cockatoo kept indoors in New York will have notably different dietary requirements than a Moluccan Cockatoo kept in an outdoor aviary in Florida in order to reach the same level of nutritional health. These two circumstances present dramatic differences in exposure to natural light, fresh air, and average temperature, which individually or collectively will vary the dietary needs of a captive parrot.

I am sure we could do a better job at looking at some of their natural foods and trying to emulate the amino acid and fatty acid profiles, and other nutrient levels contained in those foods, yet keep the overall percentage of fat to a minimum as required by most captive parrots. When you do think about the expansive differences in diets wild parrots eat around the world it really is a wonder that we have come as far as we have in such a short time with minimal research as compared to commercial livestock and poultry. The best an individual can do is try to provide a base diet to meet known nutrient requirements for parrots in general, while keeping in mind the parameters and/or limitations of their husbandry practices, and then educate themselves on what their particular parrot needs that's different.

The push against sunflower seed has been around for decades, and I think there are a lot of motives. I am sure the safflower industry would rather see you feeding your birds safflower. I also think the pelleted diet industry would rather see you feeding your birds pellets rather than any kind of seed.

There are a few of things I believe do have relevance in the argument. One is the high fat content of sunflower seed. On average a dried sunflower seed is about 36% fat. Another issue is that sunflower seed, as well as many of the other seed in parrot seed mixes and peanuts, go rancid rapidly and can be a perfect medium for growing aspergillus, which is a species of mold. Rancidity can result in a whole list of issues that may or may not fall under the label of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are mycotoxins or toxic chemical byproducts of molds. Alfatoxins are amoung the most carcinogenic substances known to man. Aspergillus is ubiquitous, but can infect parrots, especially a compromised parrot. Aspergillus infections are generally secondary to other health, dietary, or husbandry issues. Aspergillus is extremely difficult to treat even when caught early. Last but not least, in order to try and give our captive parrots the broadest spectrum of fatty acids as possible the fat in their diets needs to come from a variety of foods which should have different fatty acid profiles. If we are using seed mixes, even in the smallest amounts, the fatty acid profile is most likely very limited. A variety of nuts can provide a much better source of fat.

Referring back to points made in the first paragraph, vegetables in a captive parrot's diet provide a much broader spectrum of nutrients than fruits. Fruits are mainly water and sugar with some vitamins and minerals, vitamin C being one most likely found. Since healthy parrots produce vitamin C in their gut supplementation is generally not necessary; although, may be beneficial for young, growing, or compromised parrots. Personally, I don't think berries get enough inclusion in the captive parrot diet, as they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

Palm oils are one of those foods we should look at that can provide some of the complex fatty acid profiles wild parrots consume in order to better feed our captive parrots. You need to be very careful of the source though. All fats are prone to rancidity if not properly stored. Fatty acids are very heat sensitive, so the manner in which the palm oil is stored and in which your parrot eats it plays into the equation. Using palm oils in cooked bird breads and muffins most likely does a lot of damage to the nutrients you are trying to provide in using them in the first place. I am fortunate enough to have access to fresh palm nuts, and I think it is the best way to get palm oil into your parrot. Another observation is that you generally see wild parrots eating palm fruit when it's still green, prior to ripening, and the nutritional make up may be significantly different than the completely ripe palm fruit currently found on the market for parrot consumption and used to make most of the palm oils readily available today.


Glenn Reynolds
About Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving on to Hyacinth Macaws, Golden Conures, and Palm Cockatoos.

An ambitious businessman with a love for parrots, Glenn has pursued a variety of parrot-related activities. In 1988 he founded Avicare, health and life insurance for parrots, underwritten by Lloyds of London. In May of 1996, he began working on the formulation of Breeder’s Blend Bird Food with the assistance of his wife, Julia Jones Reynolds, DVM, and Edward Moser, a veterinary nutritionist.

In 1998 Glenn teamed up with Mike Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust, to spearhead the World Parrot Trust-USA Golden Conure Survival Fund. As administrator of the Golden Conure Survival Fund, Glenn has raised over $50,000 to aid in the preservation of Golden Conures.

Elected to the World Parrot Trust board of directors and trustees in 2001, Glenn recently resigned from the board in order to take on the responsibilities of administrator of World Parrot Trust USA, Inc.


Using phenol around birds

 
Expert Question

We have a mold problem in our bathroom in our home We been advised to uses a product called Sporicidin to treat the wood sub-floor. The main ingredient is phenol. The birds we be relocated while the product is being used. Our question is can the Sporicidin out gas in the future can be any harm to our birds once the product is dried. If phenol is not safe to use around our birds, what product do you recommend if the Sporicidin isn’t safe to use?

Thanks.
Lori A. Buch




Expert Answer

Hi Lori- Phenol is an excellent disinfectant, but the fumes from it can be quite harmful to our companion parrots.  While using this compound, I recommend removing the birds from the premises for several hours.  When the Sporicidin is completely dry, ventilate the house well (fans/open windows) before returning the birds.  Good luck!

Ellen K. Cook, DVM


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Techniques to stop egg laying in a Sun Conure

 
Expert Question

Last week, my eight year old sun conure, Rainbow, recently laid two eggs. I am a first-time parrot owner, and we’d always assumed she was a male, so this was surprising for her human flock-members. But more pertinently: the eggs were soft—they crumpled. Clearly, there were some issues with what I was feeding her! She’s always had access to a wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits, cooked food, seeds, and pellets. But I note now how she really favored the seed, and favored the safflower seeds in the mix over everything else. She has remained healthy, active, hungry, and
affectionate.

Here’s what I’ve done:
—consulted an avian vet, who kindly explained the cause of the soft eggs, but said that unless she was sitting on the bottom of her cage, fluffed up and immobile, I needn’t bring her in. Sheesh.
—constructed a nest with dummy eggs and the ones she laid. She has little interest in the nest; her only interaction with it was to cover the eggs with nesting material. She does not sit in the nest or attend to it; I plan to remove it in a few weeks after the usual incubation period has elapsed.
—began adding Quiko daily multivitamin to her water. She also has access to pure water; she prefers the multivitamin. Do you have a recommendation for a really high-quality supplement of this sort?
—put 1/8 tsp. powdered bone meal in some of her warm foods, in addition to making sure her fresh diet has a better showing of calcium-rich foods: veggies like broccoli and collard greens; scrambled egg with shell; almonds and sesame seeds. But how much calcium is too much? Should I be feeding it in correlation with other foods that help with the absorption of it?
—put her pellets and seeds in different dishes, so I can monitor what she’s eating of what. Also, began offering only a small amount of seed once a day (but didn’t want to cut that out all at once), to which she has responded by eating a larger variety of other foods.
—changed the location and arrangement of her cage, and some of the toys
—began covering her for the night earlier, so she’s getting close to 12 hours light/12 hours dark
—ceased to allow any regurgitation behaviors with me, her primary caregiver, and started emphasizing flock time with the whole family (which is a small little flock—just two humans and her!).

Perhaps as a result of these changes, perhaps not, she has ceased to lay eggs. With all that background in mind, here is my primary question: are these the appropriate things to be doing for her right now?

Also, what is a really good resource for information on the species-specific sun conure diet? I am curious about the digestive system, and the reproductive system, of these marvelous creatures who are so
different from, well, mammals. In short, I'd like to learn more about psittacine physiology and health, but don’t know where to start. What should I read?

Thanks!




Expert Answer

Thanks for this great and timely question!  Spring time often, with increased daylight hours, increased reproductive activity in wild birds and the plentiful food we give our parrots, will stimulate egg-laying in our companion birds.  I have had many a caregiver discover that their male parrot is, indeed, a female when they are surprised by an egg.

Egg laying is a tremendous metabolic drain on our parrots’ bodies; they are not chickens!  Plus, birds can develop serious reproductive and metabolic diseases from repeated egg-laying. You have already followed most of my recommendations for controlling this process with Rainbow. If 70% or more of the bird’s diet is a high quality pelleted diet, I normally do not advise calcium or other supplementation, but always follow the specific recommendations of your bird’s veterinarian. I prefer to supplement calcium with foods (as you are already doing) and not bone meal, so I do not worry about oversupplementation. Fresh foods fed are primarily sprouted seed and veggies, with smaller amounts of fruit.  Seeds and nuts are less than 5% of the daily ration and are used only in teaching/training, only given by hand (not in the food bowl) as special treats.  Reducing the fat levels in the diet, decreasing daylight hours and removing toys and/or petting which is sexually stimulating will generally reduce egg-laying.  I advise removing the eggs as they are laid, especially with birds who show no interest in the eggs.  Occasionally, it is better to leave eggs with those individual birds who sit on them.

With over 350 species of parrots in the world, there is obviously much to learn about specific dietary requirements.  Much of the current information regarding psittacine nutrition is anecdotal and unreliable.  Research is currently being done in several species.  There are some excellent articles on health and nutrition in the World Parrot Trust’s online reference library.  Another reliable online resource is at http://www.wingwise.com.

You have already done some good research; I applaud your willingness to provide the best care for Rainbow!
Ellen K. Cook, DVM


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Newly adopted Blue-fronted Amazon

 
Expert Question

I've recently adopted a Blue Fronted Amazon named Bella. She's 6 years old and from what I know of her history she's been with two families, the first sold her because they had a baby and the second had her for 2 years and they were kind to her but didn't know much about parrots. The woman was concerned as she couldn't spend the time with her and noticed that she was getting quieter and non-active. That's when I adopted her noticing right away that she has a slow wobble and cannot hang onto her perch properly. I have notice though that she can climb around the bars really well so that's reassuring. They said she's always been this way but has gotten worse as she used to be able to hold food in her foot but not anymore as when she tries she starts wobbling and loses her balance; every time she walks it's a huge effort for her. The previous owner noticed her getting depressed but I'm more concerned about her health and whether or not she's going to live. I've made a vet appointment for a week from now because she's eating (maybe not as much as she should) and drinking a bit so I don't think it's an emergency. I also want her to get used to her new place before putting her under added stress. This vet is not an avian specialist as I would prefer but I've heard he's had some experience with parrots. I live in a small town and the closest Avian Vet is hours away, also they are extremely expensive which I cannot afford.

Have you heard or seen anything like this before in a parrot? I'm trying to search on Google but so far cannot piece together an answer. She also hasn't vocalized much since I got her but it might be because she's in new surroundings.

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Starla




Expert Answer

Hi Starla- Thanks for adopting this parrot in need.  I am quite concerned about her symptoms.  The “wobbliness”  could be caused by any number of problems from arthritis to cancer or anything in between.  She really needs to be seen by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible.

Birds are masters at disguising symptoms of illness and sometimes a delay of even a day or two can be disastrous.  Her best chance is to take her to a knowledgeable avian veterinarian now-tomorrow may be too late!

Good luck, keep us posted.

Ellen K. Cook, DVM


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Cracking Beak and Avian Nutrition

 
Expert Question

Dear EB, My parrot’s beak seams to be splitting well part of it is coming off as though she chews on wood and breaks part of it.  Is this natural or is this a vitamin deficiency? She gets vitamins in her water everyday, although she is still eating a parrot seed mixture as she wont eat fixed parrot food. She nibbles on some of the fixed parrot food but not steady yet. She also gets fresh fruit every day with fresh vegetables. Thanks in advance - Angela Barrett




Expert Answer

Dear Angela, Ideally a veterinarian would answer this question. But I will give a try at offering what I have learned.

Parrot beaks grow from the base growth plate in layers, wearing off at the tip and being replenished from back and below. It is normal to have flaking and layers of keratin apparent, but too much dryness or brittleness indicate a metabolic problem. In most cases, the birds we have encountered were being fed an unbalanced diet which affected the bill indirectly.

Too much dryness as in extruded diets without sufficient omega fatty acids was one problem—often encountered in African species. Too much dry seed, especially of the safflower variety was another cause in smaller parrots.

We would begin giving such parrots a fresh raw, cooked and sprouted diet of pulses and buckwheat, lentils, mung beans, hemp seeds, etc, and adding some flax oil droplets or virgin olive oil drops onto the daily fare to increase oil intake. Vegetables are much more important than fruits, and you must make pieces small enough that the bird cannot just throw them out of a food bowl. Over a six week period, sometimes less, results would indicate a beak that became more malleable and shiny looking.

Increase amounts of nuts in the diet may help also. there is some evidence that dryness and beak problems could be related to liver function. Be sure the seeds that your bird gets are of highest quality—organic from the health food store if possible. Canary seed and spray millet are some of the best from the farm and pet store shelves.

Most vitamins that are added to drinking water are less effective than powdered vitamins sprinkled on wet food and fruits and veggies. Parrots drink minimal amounts of water to assimilate such vitamins, especially, should the vitamins make the water colored or change its taste appreciably.  Also water tends to oxidize the additives and make them relatively useless after an hour or so, while any minerals settle to the bottom and are not consumed.

A small amount of high grade vitamin E squeezed from a capsule (200 iu) and gently rubbed on the beak offers a short term aid to serious flaking. Humidity in the environment should be increased, slightly, especially in the case of Eclectus, Amazons, Pionus, etc.

When you ask a question, it really helps to give the species, age and gender of your bird so that a more informative answer may be given.

I hope a vet can expound upon this rather subjective reply, so that you and all readers may benefit.

With aloha, EBC


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Status of the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo in South Western Australia

 
Expert Question

Hi, My latest information from WWF is that Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo in South Western Australia is in trouble with recent fires and extreme weather causing many deaths. This endangered parrot is in danger of being wiped out. Do you have any new information on this situation?
Thanks,
Rachel Cassidy




Expert Answer

Hi Rachel, thank you for your great question! We’ve asked Birds Australia to comment, as they have has an ongoing conservation program for the birds for many years. Here is the reply we received from Cheryl Gole, Manager, Important Bird Areas Project - Birds Australia

“...Despite the fact that a number of Carnaby's Black-Cockatoos have been killed or injured in severe weather events in the last few months, the species is not highly localized, so the impact on the species as a whole was not immediately critical. Across its range, the species is declining; it has disappeared from approximately one third of its historic range.

Birds Australia WA initiated a Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo Recovery Project in 2001 and, in one form or another, the project has continued ever since. Some, but not all, of the project history and current action is captured on the Birds Australia WA website here: http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/our-projects/carnabys-black-cockatoo-recovery.html

Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo is a south west Australia endemic. Two other south west endemic parrot species (full species, not sub-species) are also under threat: Baudin's Black-Cockatoo is now listed as Vulnerable under Australian Government legislation. Western Ground Parrot, formerly thought to be a sub-species, is now recognized as one of Australia's most endangered birds. Not yet listed under the Australian Government's EPBC Act, it is listed under Western Australian State legislation as Critically Endangered…”

We expect to receive additional details soon and will post the information here upon our receipt.

Many thanks again,
Best, Steve Milpacher - WPT Webmaster


Jamie Gilardi, PhD
About Jamie Gilardi, PhD

James Gilardi has been the Executive Director of the World Parrot Trust since November 2000. His work includes developing and implementing field conservation initiatives. He is a conservation biologist specializing in behavioural and physiological ecology with special interest in tropical forest birds and marine vertebrates.

Following undergraduate studies at UC Santa Cruz, he earned a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis studying parrot social behaviour, foraging ecology, and soil-eating in south-eastern Peru. James has also worked on parrot field conservation in Guatemala, St. Vincent, St. Lucia and Mexico.

In the fall of 2000, James Gilardi became the director of the World Parrot Trust, where he is inherently involved in carrying out parrot conservation and education programs around the world.


Could temperature change cause the death of a Australian King Parrot?

 
Expert Question

Hi!  I need advice, My husband gave me an Australian King Parrot about a year ago and he appears to be fine, but this morning I found him dead, What are the possibilities of death by temperature changes, he was inside the house and the room temperature was 72F, my husband said that he needed to be in a higher temperature setting.

Thank you
Nancy




Expert Answer

Hi Nancy, I am sorry for the loss of your parrot.  Unfortunately, due to birds’ phenomenal ability to disguise symptoms of illness, we see far too many sudden, unexplained deaths in our companion parrots.  Often, birds can have advanced disease and still be eating, active and appear perfectly normal.  The only way to diagnose the possible cause of death in your bird is for a qualified avian veterinarian to perform a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy).

A normal, healthy parrot can live in far cooler temperatures because their down feathers provide excellent insulation.  In fact, birds can better tolerate lower rather than higher environmental temperatures.  I keep my birds in 60-65F temperature and this is what I recommend to my clients.  If a bird is sick, they do need to be kept warmer.  I would guess that being too cold was NOT the cause of your bird’s death.

I recommend to my clients that they weigh their parrots weekly: a 5% drop in weight is enough to be cause for concern.  I also stress the importance of an annual physical examination as a way to prevent or diagnose disease before it becomes too serious.


Ellen K. Cook, DVM
About Ellen K. Cook, DVM

Dr. Ellen K. Cook has been practicing small animal medicine since 1975. In 1998, she rescued Merlin, a six-year-old Moluccan cockatoo with many undesirable behaviours, and soon began focusing primarily on avian veterinary medicine and behavioral issues.

Dr. Cook is a member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians, the International Association of Trainers and Educators, the Animal Behavior Management Alliance, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviorists.

She has published numerous articles over the years on avian veterinary and behavioural care, and serves as on online consultant for the World Parrot Trust. Dr. Cook has been teaching basic behavior classes to parrots and their caregivers since 2009, and is the founder of Parrots Anonymous, an organization dedicated to educating those who live with companion parrots.

To book a consultation with Dr. Cook, visit the Cicero Veterinary Clinic at http://www.cicerovet.com


Lack of regrowth of primary wing feathers

 
Expert Question

Hello Dr.Speer, My regent parrot had his wings clipped when I got him. He is 9 months old now and the primary feathers have grown out on only one wing. I am concerned that they have not grown on the other wing.
Could this be a medical problem?




Expert Answer

In many psittacines of this size or larger, the juvenile moult is first completed (in my experience) in the 6-10 month age group or so. It is possible that your bird still may get there. One of the spin-off problems that occurs with some of the types of wing trims that are performed in young birds, is that the stage is set for falling, recurring trauma and a secondary inhibition of pinfeather re-growth. If this is a persistent observation in this bird after another few months, I would certainly recommend a physical examination.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Toenail color change

 
Expert Question

Dear Dr. Speer, I have a female Seram Cockatoo of unknown age. I have had her for over 10 years. She is a very healthy bird who gets annual bloodwork and chem panels that have never shown an indication of illness. One thing that bothers me is that her feet have always been very dry, to the point of cracking. To resolve this issue I soak her feet in aloe and water and then massage lanolin into them. The past 5 years or so I have noticed that she is getting white splotches on her nails. We (my vet and I) can not determine what the cause can be. They almost look like “bubbles” under her top layer of her nails. Her diet consists of Harrison’s Hi-Po, organic fresh and/or frozen veggies daily (focusing on high beta-carotene foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, etc) and fruit 2 times a week. She gets a total of about a 1/4 cup of mixed nuts in the shell weekly.She also gets Avix Sunshine Factor every other day. She gets showered every other day in filtered water from a shower-head
i specifically bought for my birds which removes the chlorine via activated carbon. As a “final rinse” after the shower she is very lightly misted w/ avix soother. Her feathers are gorgeous and she no longer plucks like she did when I first got her. She is fully flighted. The humidity in their room is set at 50%. She gets natural sunlight every other day (weather permitting) for a min of 2 hours. I thought I once read that white spots on the nails can be a sign of illness or deficiency, so even though she seems healthy I find myself obsessing over these white spots. My other Seram cockatoo does not have these. Is there a possibility that this is her natural nail make up? I notice she has other things I have never seen on other Seram cockatoos such
as black “eyelash” follicles. What are your opinions? Do you have any testing, feeding or environmental suggestions?




Expert Answer

Sunny - alone, those color changes in the nails to not necessarily concern me too much. This could be secondary to the primary process that is causing the drdy and cracking issues on the feet (I do not really see this in the photos), mechanical trauma issues caused by the bird, or the topical medications you have been applying to the feet and nails. If the skin lesions are progressive, I’d suggest you ask your veterinarian to consider further investigation, but otherwise, would not necessarily recommend a “jump” to treatment or detailed diagnostic investigation (yet)


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Limited Wing Clipping and Teflon Safety

 
Expert Question

Dear Phoebe, I have two questions. Firstly I have a Hahn’s macaw (Einstein) and a Sun Conure (Gizmo), I stopped clipping their wings about a year ago. Gizmo doesn't fly much at all, but Einstein is becoming very handy with his wings and is able to maneuver around the house very well. The problem is about a week ago an Ibis flew past a window and frightened them, in a panic Einstein flew across the room so fast that he flew into the opposite wall (I would never have believed a parrot could fly so fast if I hadn’t seen it myself), luckily he was not injured, but I am concerned that if it happens again we may not be so lucky.

Is there a way to clip his wings to reduce his speed without having a huge effect on his maneuverability, or is there something else I could try to slow him down? I don't want to deprive him of flight unless it is absolutely necessary for his safety (and as soon as money allows I will be building an outdoor flight about 3m x 9m).

Second question. PTFE fumes. Are they only a problem with Teflon and similar coatings or are enamel and ceramic coatings also a problem? I recently found a ‘green pan’ that is ceramic coated and claims ‘no PTFE or PFOA’ and ‘no toxic fumes’, is this safe for birds, or is it better just to stick to good old stainless steel?

Thanks, Bruce




Expert Answer

Hi Bruce, We are so excited to get in on the flight action with you, Gizmo and Einstein. Bonnet (one of my wonderful avian companions) and I are also amidst flight explorations and we, like you, have had our share of lucky-and-we-don't-want-to-push-it experiences with parrots in flight in the house. So, we’re with you and we’ll be ready to fly in a moment.

First, good question on the pans. In order to keep it simple, I stay with stainless and well-seasoned cast iron pieces, then abide by simple reminders: use veggies and olive oil, avoid overcooking, and ventilate for clean cooking and air that’s parrot-healthy.

Our first question is for Gizmo, as in what’s up with the not flying very much, buddy? We’ve seen your cousins zoom around like gleaming banners crossing paths in mid-air and landing fast in order to turn tummy to sky for Sun Conuring. Bruce, as the human, you probably need to check in with Giz to see what kind of physical activities he'd like to check out to further his psittacine-physicality. Maybe Gizmo likes stretching -- what is his full range of motion? -- or big flapping hops from this cool place to a new cool parrot place. Bonnet says, think flock habitat expansion, Bruce -- parrots love habitat. Set up a great place for Gizmo to do his wing-beats and let's see what happens.

Einstein is indeed a genius and you must be super excited to be sharing space and consciousness with such an amazing parrot. Do you know that "Hanh’s" stands for "His Honor"? (I just made that up, but it seems right, doesn’t it?) Anyway, an Ibis flying across one’s fields of vision is a flap-worthy event, so Einstein was acting like a parrot when he took off in response. The wall is the problem, not Einstein’s wings. Bonnet wants to know, will you knock out the wall when you build the aviary?

In the meantime, survey the habitat as if from Einstein’s point of view, taking in to consideration the picture window and its often still-except-when-moving, sometimes surprising, views. As you see what he sees, wait a while, fit into that habitat, relax and try it on for size, Hahn’s size. Some changes to Einstein and Gizmo's environments will be obvious, and those you should make right away. Others will reveal themselves over time and yet others will be inspired by their increasing athleticism.

Bonnet and I also enjoy quiet moments together in front of windows especially when she gets to show me something humans might otherwise miss. You and Einstein can together experience lots of different interesting views, so put some time into looking.

Additionally, create more and more suitable parrot-specific landing places for your budding athletes. Table-top perches, a weighted basket on top of the refrigerator, a trusty chair back -- all are great. Bolt-worthy events will happen. When you and your parrots are all comfortable that there's a variety of safe landing spaces that all competently access, flight is no longer twisted with fright. 

All best, Phoebe and Bonnet


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Have you ever encountered a hybrid between a Timneh and a Congo Grey Parrot?

 
Expert Question

Dear EB, Have you ever encountered a hybrid between a Timneh and a Congo Grey Parrot? The pet store near here has one (they say), which is just now being fledged and looks like a Congo, at least right now with very few feathers, etc. They also have a parasol cockatoo, which apparently is a cross between a umbrella and a Goffin (she’s about 25 percent larger than a Goffin and has the coloration of an unbrella, with an umbrella crest. What are the ethical questions, if any of bringing these animals into the world? On one hand, if they are not found in nature, then perhaps we are wadding too deep into the gene pool,  so to speak. But, of course, there are other hybrids out there that are taken for granted. Then again, these hybrids may not be able to reproduce.

Thanks, Bill C.




Expert Answer

Dear Bill,

I am probably not the best person to be answering this question, and I would welcome comments from Jamie or Dr. Speer, Sam Williams or Eva Sargent or others.  We have encountered hybrid cockatoos in the past; and have hard about Greys being interbred.

There are, of course ethical questions involved—as there are in most areas of the live animal trade. I do not personally approve of hybridization between species of psittacine, nor of subspecies interbreeding when the types are known to be different, though the latter happened all to often in the past between races of parrots that were thought to be identical or mistaken for the same subspecies.

An interesting quote from Catherine A. Toft, Department of Zoology, University of California-Davis:

“Hybridization is the fastest and surest way to destroy the genetic make-up of a species. It breaks up complexes of genes that allow species to be adapted to their natural environment and to be recognized as potential mates.”

Many rationale have been used over the years as justification by those breeders who produce hybrids—from “we are combining the best traits of both species” which of course is absurd, to “they are only being produced for the pet trade,” which is a fallacy as we shall see here.

It is easy for us to see a hybrid Ara macaw, for example, because of the distorted coloration. But in aviaries of breeding birds, I have encountered macaws with faint “ruby” (Greenwing/Scarlet) or mili-gold bloodlines in their past. Such birds may only show only one quarter of the original hybridization because they have descended from lines that were bred back to nominate species. This is where the real hidden long term damage of hybrid production “for the pet trade” enters the scene.

Amateurish breeders with few ethical considerations and even less patience will procure at low price a hybrid former pet, then pair it up for commercial breeding with the first candidate to come along.

“We are trying for new and different colors, I have been told.” I find such reasoning shallow, and such odd colored parrots lacking in the symmetry and beauty that the gods initially gave them.

Of course, money is usually the bottom line when it comes to such ethical decisions as producing hybrids at a facility.

But , when one tries to disassociate captive and pet industry psittacines from those living in the wilds, merely because there is little likelihood that the former will ever be released to help repopulate dwindling numbers, I think one does conservation of these birds a real disservice.

Is it the role of the bird breeder to assume this disassociation and accordingly condemn all captive parrots, with their valuable gene characteristics, to a second rate role in world psittacine conservation?

I think not, and as an aviculturist who tries to propose conservation logic first—I would beg to differ with such a reasoning.

My role as I see it is to protect for the future; to save and guard and conserve all that is possible in my tiny little piece of captive parrotdom. And when it comes to hybrids, this means I will refuse to dilute any of my pure natural species for any minimalist reason—nor will I ever condone it amongst other true aviculturists.

We either face the fact that we are stewards of a precious god-given gift for the generations ahead, or we play at bird breeding and pay lip service to conservation in order to stave off the animal activists who might just see through our ethical ruse.

I hope this sheds some light on your inquiry. As I said, I am not the most capable person to answer this question.
Best, EB

[Editor’s note: As Cathy Toft was noted in the above, we asked her to comment on this issue. Here is her reply.]

Dear Bill:

E.B. has taken a quote from me from one of the articles that I wrote explaining population genetics to aviculturists precisely for the reason of persuading them not to hybridize parrots in captivity. (A comprehensive summary is in Toft, C.A.  1994.  The genetics of captive propagation:  A manual for aviculturists.  Special Publications of Psittacine Research Project, Number 1.  Ann Brice, Ed.  Department of Avian Sciences, University of California, Davis.)  I also wrote several articles for bird publications and proceedings asking whether hybridization has a place in aviculture.

In many ways, I hold E.B.‘s position. As a conservation biologist, ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I prefer parrots in captivity to stay as they are in the wild.

Originally, I took (and still take) the position that private aviculture holds a treasure in the form of established breeding populations of species that are threatened or endangered in the wild. I imagined what would have happened had the aviculturists in Europe had the foresight to maintain a population of Carolina Parakeets Conuropsis carolinensis for long enough, so that their offspring could restore this species to its original range in the United States.  To do so would require a sufficiently large population and sound breeding practices. Importantly, the genetic architecture would still be in place to allow those individuals to survive and reproduce in the environments in which their ancestral populations originally evolved. Hybridization was not the only threat to achieving this goal, but it was certainly the gravest.

Since the early 1990’s, my position has softened somewhat, or should I say, diversified.  My colleague, Jamie Gilardi, has pointed out to me that as many parrot individuals live in captivity as in the wild. As E.B. says, by far most of those individuals would not be released to the wild and moreover could not survive there.  Also, other threats to the feasibility of using captive-bred individuals to augment or re-establish wild populations have become clearer.  One of those is the inevitable transfer of viruses from their original host populations to those of species that the viruses would never encounter in the wild. And, once established, these viruses will never be eradicated.  This spectre of epidemic makes re-introductions all the more problematic.

For these and other reasons, I have changed my position on the domestication of parrots.  Now, I say “Why not?”

For one, captive life is nothing like life in the wild.  If aviculture develops lines of parrots more suited to lives with humans, then those individuals will lead higher quality lives.  Perhaps parrots that are less jealous of their mates will be happier as pets -- in their wild state, by far most parrots are life-long monogamous.  This trait often results in their misery as pets, as well-meaning pet owners keep parrots each in solitary confinement or at least without a same-species companion so that the parrot will bond more to the human.  Unfortunately, the human does not keep his or her end of the bargain and worse, objects to the parrot's natural behaviors related to monogamous bonding with the human.  Parrot with lower metabolic rates or different physiologies might fare better on captive foods, for example, not gain as much weight or need as much protein.  Changing these traits is possible with “artificial selection” which humans have practiced for thousands of years to domesticate many species of plants and animals. And if humans practice this sort of captive selective breeding, then why not make the parrots look really different than their wild counterparts?  As Rick Jordan once challenged me, why not breed a black macaw?  Or a purple, pink polka dot macaw? Their appearance would hardly matter if domesticated parrots had other genetic traits suited for captivity but not for the wild.

Another reason is that espoused by my colleague, Nate Flesness, Science Director of I.S.I.S. Long ago Nate introduced me to the idea that connection with nature through animals in captivity was a good thing, even if there were tradeoffs involved, such as the domestication of parrots might create.  After all, how many of us can travel at will to a rainforest in Peru to see parrots?  Having parrots living in harmony with us in our homes is a powerful conservation tool that I am sure is appreciated also by the staff and members of WPT.

Yet, my bias would still be E.B.‘s viewpoint.  Why lose optimism that captive parrots can be released to re-establish populations in their native ranges? Jamie has told me about many, very successful ventures, quite a few supported by the WPT, to introduce captive-bred and confiscated parrots back to free-living existences. I am thrilled and heartened by these efforts.  Although pristine, primary rainforest and other non-disturbed habitats are vanishing, parrot populations can nevertheless thrive in the presence of humans. Parrots are intelligent, social, and usually generalist in their habits. Released individuals can easily establish healthy populations in the presence of humans, provided that their chicks are not relentlessly poached for the pet trade.  The increasing populations of feral parrots around the world attest to this fact.  Poaching in the native range should decrease with a combination of legal bans (I co-authored a paper with Tim Wright and others that spoke to the efficacy of legal bans) and thriving captive populations of those species maintained to preserve their wild characteristics. 

In the end, I encourage aviculturists to maintain their interest in and support of conservation. One important way that they may do so is to continue to breed parrots with practices aimed to maintain the genetic architecture of wild populations, just in case descendents from their lines may be needed in restoration projects.  While I no longer denounce domestication of parrots, and I even encourage it, I see no reason why we should abandon conservation breeding. It is my hope that many parrot enthusiasts of all stripes will continue to support the conservation of wild parrots in any way that they can.

Cathy Toft
Professor Emerita
Department of Evolution & Ecology
Center for Population Biology
University of California Davis.


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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Sick Patagonian conure - again

 
Expert Question

Dr. Speer, first of all, thank you for making yourself available to us. We appreciate it. Secondly, I have a question regarding my 15 year old patagonian conure, Luther. He’s an adoptee and I’ve had him about 5 years. He’s had recurrent sinus infections ever since I adopted him. I’ve had him to 3 different vets in my area and he’s almost always on Baytril or some other antibiotic. In November of this past year I took him to a new vet and had lab tests done.They came back within normal limits except for these: Albumin LOW at 1.1 (Normal 1.2-3.2), Glucose HIGH at 381 (180-350), Potassium HIGH at 5.3 (3.0-4.5), and Chloride HIGH at 116 (90-110). Choanal cultures came back with a heavy growth of Coagulase negative taphylococcus spp. and a light growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Sensitivity tests showed both to be sensitive to Baytril. He was put on Baytril again but within a few weeks he began having brown drainage from his nares, so I took him to a
different, actually his original, vet who is the only Board Certified Avian Vet of the three. He told me to hold the antibiotics for 3 days, then repeat the cultures, which was done. He also took an xray of Luther’s chest. It showed an huge granuloma in the area of his syrinx. After testing Luther was started on sulfatrim (doxycycline, I believe) but continues to show symptoms that the granuloma is not diminishing because he makes wheezing sounds and his voice is hoarse compared to what it normally is. The vet told me on that visit that granulomas were almost impossible to get rid of. He also mentioned a procedure whereby he could remove some of the lesion which would also require putting an opening in one of his air sacs. (I have lost 2 birds this past year and am loathe to have this surgery done because I fear it will not go well. They were both elderly but I am still afraid for Luther since he’s been ill so much.) So now Luther is getting the sulfatrim, fluconazole, and nebulization therapy twice a day with normal saline. But he still wheezes and has a hoarse voice. Once he finishes the antibiotics I am thinking the vet will want to do another xray, but am not sure. I wanted to ask your opinion. Also, are you
available for a phone consultation regarding this?




Expert Answer

Cindi - it is probably a bit unethical for me to be making specific medical recommendations for your bird in this type of a forum, with the amount and number of veterinarians that have had specific hand’s-on evaluation of him, whereas I have not. Always remember, however, that it is fair to ask your attending veterinarian to consult with another colleague, or to provide radiographs and medical records so that you can have them independently reviewed. This is something that we do at our practice on a daily basis for many bird owners and colleagues around the globe. But, we still are limited in that we cannot see, hear and actually handle the bird, and as such, can only consult from the side about what may or may not be present, what may or may not be significant, and what may or may not be appropriate to consider and/or do. The laboratory “abnormalities” you have mentioned are actually within acceptable normal limits, in my eyes, and those changes are likely insignificant. What I do not see, however is the recorded physical examination and the remainder of what WAS evaluated and deemed to be normal. Remember that choanal culture isolates do not necessarily have to equivocate to actual infectants in many ill birds, and it may be unfair to assume that these isolates are responsible for what you are assuming to be a granuloma in the area of your bird’s syrinx. Many actual syringeal infections require specific endoscopic visualization for diagnosis and confirmation of their etiology - a procedure that I suspect may have been discussed with you. Overall, however, most syringeal granulomas that we see in parrots here typically are minimally evident on radiography, and one would have to wonder if this noted soft tissue density is actually outside the syrinx and pressing on that location, causing similar clinical signs too. There are, unfortunately, a number of tumors that are described in parrots in this location, producing significant vocal changes and clinical disease - but not necessarily a “granuloma” per-se. I would forward that many granulomatous disease processes can be treated successfully, depending on what their identified cause turns up to be, the manner of treatment, and their specific location in the patient at hand. At the risk of being inappropriate in this forum, you can find our practice website and contact phone numbers if you search Medical Center for Birds, should you be interested in a more detailed consultation here. The striking things here in my mind here remains: 1) the need for a bit more accurate diagnosis, 2) hopefully resulting in more accurate treatment options, 3) and a need to investigate the most optimal means with which to address the comfort of your bird, regardless of what the nature of the diagnosis turns up to be.(as well as along the path of obtaining this information)


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Toy Making for Cockatiels

 
Expert Question

Can you suggest some good—safe—toys one can make for cockatiels? I have purchased many toys from the local pet shop, which are not only expensive but my ‘tiels don’t seem to like them very much. I suspect this is because they are intended for larger parrots, so would like some ideas for ways to keep my ‘tiels happy. Thanks for any suggestions!




Expert Answer

Hello and thank you for sending your question to WPT. I’m delighted for the chance to respond to this question as I had experienced similar challenges when our cockatiels and budgerigar came into our home. Personally, I have not found much success with parrot toys purchased from local pet stores. My cockatiels like chewing on natural branches, grass mats and small pieces of vegetable tanned leather. Recently I discovered I can peak their interest if I string some whole grain pasta pieces on a toy along with leather and plastic beads. They like crunching the dried pasta.

A mirror is a popular item for the budgerigars and cockatiels. I take a mirror purchased at the local pet store and attach a string of beads, small leather pieces and one or two small stainless steel bells to the mirror. This creates something for them to do when they are looking in the mirror, as they can spend time beaking the beads, chewing on the leather and they seem to like moving the bells to make noise.

For rope to use as a base to make toys or add beads and other items of interest to a toy, I prefer to use small natural hemp rope (found at most craft stores), or the 1/8 inch vegetable tanned leather strips. I have also used paulie rope that is sold at online parrot toy sites, however you do need to check that frequently as that product can fray and catch toes. The same is true for some cotton ropes. No parrot toy or parrot toy part is 100 percent safe, but I have not had the fraying problem with the hemp rope or leather that I have had with paulie rope and cotton ropes.

For added enrichment you may find success with placing a shallow plastic container in the bottom of the cage to create a foraging experience. I explain how I taught my cockatiel to forage and show a video of how to create this foraging experience at http://www.parrotenrichment.com/foraging.html.

Leaf bathing is another activity that my small parrots enjoy. Hang wet greens (mustard, collard or turnip) from the top of the cage. There is a video demonstrating this activity at ParrotEnrichment.com. You can also weave greens in between the cage bars for them to chew on.

Many people have had great success with clicker training the smaller parrots. Most parrots enjoy clicker training and it is a wonderful means of providing enrichment to your bird. I think training is often overlooked when we consider forms of enrichment, perhaps because some of us think of training as a discipline and overlook the fun side of training. At ParrotEnrichment.com I have devoted a few web pages to training. There are lists of resources as well as videos to help you get started with clicker training.

Both Version 1 and 2 of The Parrot Enrichment Activity Books are available for you to download free of charge at ParrotEnrichment.com.  In The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book, Version 2, you will find several ideas for toys and how to create foraging opportunities for smaller parrots such as cockatiels, budgerigars and lovebirds along with photos of the parrots foraging and playing with the toys.  Both books lists sources for you to find products and parts to make many of the toys you will see there and on the website.

Thank you again for your question and for providing me the opportunity to offer suggestions.

Kris Porter


Kris Porter
About Kris Porter

Kris Porter is the author of The Parrot Enrichment Activity Books; available as free PDF downloads at http://www.parrotenrichment.com. Her books are full of photographs, suggestions and ideas to enrich the lives of parrots and promote activity rather than stillness.

Kris is a graduate of the online class in behavior analysis called, Living and Learning with Parrots. Kris has written enrichment articles for Good Bird Magazine and her ideas with photos of parrot enrichment activities have been featured in articles in Parrots Magazine and Australian BirdKeeper Magazine.

Providing our parrots with enrichment, foraging opportunities and toys that sustain activity is an ongoing challenge. Kris has a talent for coming up with ideas and using photos and video clips to enlighten, motivate and inspire all of us who are looking for ways to enrich the captive parrot environment.

Kris and her husband, Jerry, lived and worked in Alaska for over 30 years. Jerry retired in 2011 and they moved to Zimmerman, Minnesota where they share their home with 2 dogs and 6 parrots.


Sick Patagonian conure

 
Expert Question

Hello. I have a friend who has a 28 year old female patagonian conure. This bird has been sick for about a year with her main symptom as vomiting up large amounts of clear mucus intermittently. She appears to be gagging on it. Her beak has also gotten soft at times, has overgrown requiring trimming, and she has extra folds of skin inside her mouth on both sides, at times. She has been to 3 different vets in our area and no one seems to know exactly what is wrong with her. She’s currently on Baytril and Fluconazole because the last vet did bacterial and fungal cultures, and blood tests, finding a moderate amount of pseudomonas aeruginosa (sp?) and an elevated aspergillus galactomannan. She seems to be withering away before our very eyes, sits puffed up and almost appears gray in her feathering. This treatment regimen doesn’t seem to be working and we don’t what else to do. Can you give me any advice on this? Thank you.




Expert Answer

Dear Cindi - Your bird is certainly ill and in need of an accurate medical diagnosis and treatment regime.

First up, I would suggest that you ask your current attending veterinarian if they would be willing to refer you to a qualified colleague, hopefully a certified specialist, for further evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. At 28 years of age, there are a vary very large number of problems that could be potentially of concern here. In general, regurgitation of mucus and weight loss would be suggestive of an upper gastrointestinal issue that may require far more than simple blood tests and aerobic cultures in order to diagnose. It is not uncommon to need radiographic imaging, and even dynamic fluoroscopic imaging, plus or minus endoscopy in order to establish a diagnosis. Possibilities of some chronic infectious disease issues, some forms of cancer, gastric foreign bodies or combinations of these all remain distinct possibilities here. The presence of an elevated blood level of Aspergillus galactomannan, alone is far from a clear diagnosis of the disease, Aspergillosis, and the described clinical signs here tend to make me suspicious that at-best, Aspergillosis if present is far from the only disease process present.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Nesting behavior in a conure

 
Expert Question

Dear Phoebe, We have a 17-year-old female dusky headed conure, Pickle, whom we love very much. She has always been a highly “interactive” bird, craving the company of me (female) and my partner (male). She also has enjoyed spending some time inside her “precious.” which is a chest of drawers. However, her behavior changed radically about a month ago. She has started spending almost all her time inside the chest of drawers, exhibiting nesting behavior by creating “nests” out of shredded clothes. She comes out only to eat, drink and go potty. Even weirder, she recently switched her preferred drawer. When I take her out, she leans toward the bedroom and tries to make a dash for her drawer. My avian vet checked and said Pickle is not carrying an egg. And my partner (her “mate”?) has been out of town for a week, but Pickle’s behavior hasn’t changed. I don’t want to stress or traumatize her. She does sleep in her cage at night. I am very concerned that Pickle will be “stuck” in her nesting behavior and not come out of it.

Your expert advice would be greatly appreciated. I have been a WPT member for quite a few years, but I never knew about this Ask an Expert feature.
Thank you. Arlene




Expert Answer

Hi Arlene, Thanks for writing WPT and welcome to our "Ask the Expert" feature. I'm delighted to read about your loving concern for Pickle, a mature highly interactive female dusky-headed conure, Aratinga weddellii, and glad that she went to the vet. I presume that she is healthy in every regard. Also, some eggs are palpable only right before they are laid, so Pickle could still have one or more eggs in process.

All of Pickle’s time inside “precious” is, indeed, precious to her because it gives her the chance to behave like a biologically real parrot. Now that the days are getting longer, her efforts will undoubtedly increase. It's not too weird that she changed her preference from one drawer to another. Based on observations of the wild Amazon parrots of Santa Barbara (www.santabarbarabirdfarm.com), we see parrots religiously work a particular nest site only to abandon it for another. Perhaps a disturbance encouraged Pickle to move -- perhaps you “cleaned out” the first drawer --- or perhaps Pickle was ready for something new.

Either way, it's not unusual for a fixed-up site to be abandoned and sometimes that ends the laying right then. Other times, a new site is selected and a new remodel begins. We use this abandon-one-site and select-another-site propensity to divert companions from laying or to slow down excessive laying.

At 17, Pickle is definitely biologically mature, but like many mature psittacines, she has not yet laid eggs. However, with time and access to a viable nest, it's not surprising that she's exhibiting what we humans call "nesting behaviors." Parrots might call these “shredding fun stuff in a cozy places” behaviors because not all parrots who build nests end up laying eggs. They just like making places.

For instance, our flock comprises two proven pair of African Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). They are retired, so they no longer produce or incubate eggs or raise chicks, processes that formerly took up most of their time. In retirement, they've discovered new hobbies and because they have ground in which to dig, and neighbors who do the same, the two pairs dig and dig and dig every day. They also shred pine, deforest millet, destroy banana bark and pulverize cotton rope toys. Every day, they make elaborate soups, and every evening they practice solos, duets and quartets. They make big messes, talk about everything a lot, have sex whenever they feel like it, feed each other and, after a full day, snuggle on perches that afford them ease and privacy. The removal of their nest boxes disallowed eggs and parenting behaviors, but alternate behaviors are greatly increased.

A great way to focus Pickle's attention towards non-reproductive place-making would be to offer her a variety of places to explore and various substrates to pulverize. If you don't want her to go all the way through laying, you might be able to non-stressfully change the environment in ways that she values so that egg-laying becomes ho-hum compared with what's new. However, it might also be too late in her cycle this time around for this level of diversion, so we'll discuss what to do if she lays, below. In the meantime, think about making some future places for Pickle that are conducive to shredding and privacy, but not necessarily laying.

Additionally, not all parrots who lay eggs incubate them. Pickle might lay a nice little clutch only to be done with it. In all cases, your companionship with her need not change except to deepen.

Parrots like Cella, (Eclectus roratus vosmaeri) seek a nest, make it nice, lay eggs and incubate them but give up the eggs when don't hatch. Pickle could do the same. Therefore, an element of “wait and see” accompanies this new phase of Pickle's behaviors and your reactions to them.

Generally, psittacine hens lay eggs at 24 hour intervals until their clutch is complete. Conures lay between 2 -- 5 eggs per clutch, sometimes more. Incubation begins when the last egg is laid and for conures occurs over 21-23 days. (Clinical Avian Medicine and Surgery, Harrison and Harrison, Appendix 5 by K. Flammer, pg 663.)

Another consideration is Pickle's overall athleticism. Please be sure Pickle regularly exercises because we know that parrots who are in good shape are better equipped to lay eggs than over-weight, under-nourished or sedentary birds. Therefore, when she's not nesting, encourage Pickle to fly if she's flighted. Or to flap, climb, run and walk if she's not flighted. I bet she's happy to run to precious, for instance.

Regardless of whether or not Pickle lays, your relationship with her can and should continue to grow and deepen. In fact, now that she's shown you her new talent for place-making, you can get creative. That's what Cella and I have discovered.

Cella, mentioned above, is 24 and incubates 2-3 clutches a year. When she's incubating her eggs, I ask her to fly or run back to her nest because other than digging and shredding, she doesn't get much exercise during egg time. When she's not nesting, she exercises more which we both enjoy. Her privacy box is a cardboard box fashioned to her liking and suspended in her large macaw-sized cage; she incubates each clutch, during which she thoroughly attends the eggs, cooing and clucking with absorptive attention. After about 32 days, she leaves the box and ignores the eggs, so I remove all in order to give Cella a break from nesting, which lasts a few months, and all is well.

During the break, Cella exercises, takes lots showers, chews up stalks and stalks of millet and is in every way a delight. Until it's time to do the place-making again. When the break is over and she wants another box, Cella starts pacing inside her cage. Outside it, she intently seeks out any dark place in which to scratch and hide. She's been known to scurry and freeze deep inside the pantry, run out of reach behind cabinets and hide silently underneath the dishwasher.

As soon as Cella gets a new parrot-appropriate box -- even if she cannot immediately get inside it -- she stops pacing and hiding and becomes intent on place-making. When I say the box is fashioned to Cella's liking, that's partly true because some of the box is fashioned to ensure her health and safety. Because Pickle and Cella do not get to experience feeding and caring for chicks, which takes 10 - 12 weeks, they might cycle before their calcium and other supplies adequately replenish. Too many eggs can deplete them. So, if Cella starts signaling that she wants a box too soon after finishing the last clutch, or by the year's third clutch, I make a box that challenges her. It might have a really teensy entry hole (1/2") through which she'll peer before she chews it large enough for entry. Plus once she makes the hole, she finds the box stuffed with materials that need to be shredded and excavated. Then again, just as in the wild, some disturbance might occur with that site (think big storm, high winds) that necessitates Cella starting again with another -- imagine this -- even better site.

If you want Pickle to continue in the dresser, you can make that site more challenging for her to access and more creative once she gets there. For instance, will she climb a ladder to get to precious or go through a parrot-friendly agility course? The more action-packed, the more Pickle-appropriate materials that surround this series of events, the more creative your shared flock environment becomes. Of course, if she lays and incubates, the flock will ensure she has a serene and stable environment with plenty of flock attention. Until, that is, she's ready for something new.

All best,
Phoebe Greene Linden


Phoebe Green Linden
About Phoebe Green Linden

In 1986, Phoebe married the love of her life, Harry Linden, at the place of her avicultural beginning, the Santa Barbara Bird Farm. 20 years of dedicated observations and avid learning have formed her opinions surrounding psittacine neonates, neophytes, fledglings and adults who benefit markedly from thoughtfully arranged environments. She and Harry include boxes, playgyms, cages, aviaries and agreed-upon furniture and counter surfaces for parrot activities. There are no spaces in their home or on their property untouched by parrot dander.

During the years they raised parrots for the pet trade (they no longer do, since 2001) and continuing through today, they have dedicated themselves to developing environments that increase observable natural behaviours such as exercising, interacting, foraging for foods, touching, preening, flapping, flying, showering, mulch-making, wild bird watching, helping with chores, and goofing off—not always seen in captive birds. Their experiences are happily shared with World Parrot Trust members with the objective to foster enrichment for captive psittacines and their caregivers.


Scarlet macaws with feather damaging behaviors directed towards their moulted feathers

 
Expert Question

Dear Dr. Speer and Staff; Thank you for taking time to consider my question. We have two adopted wild-trapped scarlet macaws, both of whom are nearing fifty years of age at least. The second one we took in, a hen, became close companion to the male within a week of her arrival here; and the two spent much of this autumn “playing house” in Romeo’s nighttime sleeping barrel (he is arthritic). To our surprise, Aura actually laid three strong eggs—fortunately infertile, but thoroughly protected and set upon for a month or so by the loving pair. My question is this: a few weeks after the incubation and nesting urge was abandoned by the macaws, one or both of them began eating the shafts of all their molted feathers, especially the large ones. Is there something in feather quills which can provide nutrition for psittacines? I have seen this in other parrots, but only those who feather pluck and I assumed it was for chewing diversion. The macaws are on a super diet of fresh raw foods, cooked and sprouted grains, nuts, organic seed and extruded pellets, plus they got calcium mineral supplement four times a week when it was discovered they were in a nesting mode. Thanks again for your time and consideration.




Expert Answer

Dear Eb - In short, it should be doubted if there is a nutritional need that is driving this feather damaging behavior of this pair. Other “purposes” for this behavior should be considered, including but not limited to a displacement activity to perceived stressors. Sometimes, such a behavior may be related to the perceived “stress” of an unhatched clutch and the removal of those eggs, and limited other activities with which to let it off with. One consideration, presuming this to be at least in part involved here, would be to enrich the nesting and flight site with materials that can be chewed, frayed and functionally mulched that may have equal if not greater value to the birds over chewing their own moulted feathers.


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.


Juicer Mulch

 
Expert Question

i have a orange winged amazon,my question is about feeding,i use a juicer and wondered if my parrot can eat the mulch left behind,we tried him with the juice but he wont drink it.thanks in advance.




Expert Answer

Hello Pat, It would be very helpful to have a little more information. First off are you using a vegetable juicer and juicing vegetables, or are you using a fruit juicer and juicing fruit? We should always feed our parrots high quality foods, and I am not sure that eating the mulch left in a juicer after the the meat has been reduced to juice complies.

I recommend using whole fresh vegetables, wash them carefully, cut them into different sizes, and offer them to your bird. You may find they will like only certain vegetables cut into certain sizes, so a variety in the beginning is very helpful. For example, when feeding fresh corn I leave the corn on the cob and cut it into wheels of varing widths until I find what the bird likes.

When feeding fruits clean the outside well and apply the same rules - cut them into a variety of sizes until you find what your bird likes. I leave the skin or rind on when I cut them up. Birds seem to like to eat the meat out of a wedge of orange and drop the peel to the bottom. I think it makes eating more interesting. I also use clothespins to hold pieces of vegetables or fruit to the bars of the cage, so they are more like a toy.

In summary I would recommend using whole vegetables and fruits and leave the mulch for exactly that - mulch.


Glenn Reynolds
About Glenn Reynolds

Glenn Reynolds has owned and bred various parrot species since 1979, starting with Sulphur-crested Cockatoos and Cockatiels and eventually moving on to Hyacinth Macaws, Golden Conures, and Palm Cockatoos.

An ambitious businessman with a love for parrots, Glenn has pursued a variety of parrot-related activities. In 1988 he founded Avicare, health and life insurance for parrots, underwritten by Lloyds of London. In May of 1996, he began working on the formulation of Breeder’s Blend Bird Food with the assistance of his wife, Julia Jones Reynolds, DVM, and Edward Moser, a veterinary nutritionist.

In 1998 Glenn teamed up with Mike Reynolds, founder of the World Parrot Trust, to spearhead the World Parrot Trust-USA Golden Conure Survival Fund. As administrator of the Golden Conure Survival Fund, Glenn has raised over $50,000 to aid in the preservation of Golden Conures.

Elected to the World Parrot Trust board of directors and trustees in 2001, Glenn recently resigned from the board in order to take on the responsibilities of administrator of World Parrot Trust USA, Inc.


Introducing a new bird

 
Expert Question

Dear EB, I have a 3 year old rose breasted cockatoo and I have been thinking about getting him a companion. What is the best way to introduce a new bird to him? Is it better for the new bird to be younger? Is he more likely to get along with another rose breasted cockatoo or will another bird his size be alright?
Thanks Jade




Expert Answer

Dear Jade, That is a very difficult question to answer, especially from afar. As rose-breasted cockatoos can be quite aggressive to mates or perceived mates in a captivity situation, it follows that you must proceed very carefully.

First analyse whether your pet in fact WANTS another bird in the house or a companion.  Many parrots are so attached to their owners that they resent a newcomer.

To choose another rose-breasted cockatoo would be a challenge. Again, dominance and jealousy and abuse can enter the scene and make matters problematic if not outright dangerous.

Under no circumstances would I choose a young female rose-breasted as your male will know it is a hen right away, and will try to get sexual with it long before she is ever ready to accept him as a partner.  This means he will more than likely get aggressive and put fear into her at some point—leading to little chance she will be his preen partner for many many months if at all.

You could try another cockatoo species such as Goffin’s, even try a male bird in hopes that the two would become buddies without copulation or breeding needs being a serious issue. But the challenge here would be to find a trial basis for a companion before purchase (perhaps an understanding adoption agency) since if you purchase on speculation and the two birds do not get along, you will not be stuck with a second dilemma.

I have know lorikeets to befriend rose-breasteds, also amazons and greys have been know to befriend these pink cockatoos—Rosies by and large are touchy feely psittacines and take well to any affectionate bird as long as they are not jealous of you or intimidated by being pushed too quickly towards acceptance.

If you do decide on a parrot from another geographical continent—amazon or grey, then it would normally be okay to get a baby bird, either gender, and allow the two to interact slowly and gradually—sexual issues are usually minimal between parrot friends of totally unrelated genera.

Good luck, and keep the list posted.
You did not give your cockatoo’s name!

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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


How can i hand tame a Galah?

 
Expert Question

Hello, I was wondering how to get wild galahs hand-tame because but we got one today from the side of the road and it is a girl and it has bit me and I don't know how to get it hand-tame. Can you tell me please?
Thanky ou from Zali.




Expert Answer

G'day Zali,
All Australian wildlife is protected under our various Nature Conservation and Environmental Protection Acts at State, Territory and National levels. Wild Galahs are protected by these laws and as such, when found injured in the wild need to be taken to a registered wildlife carer where they can be assessed for re-release potential and provided with any necessary health care. I would encourage you to seek the advice and support of such a carer in your local area rather than to try and tame such a bird to keep as a pet. A `wild' Galah is exactly that -- it needs to be released back into the wild if healthy.

If your local wildlife carer or veterinarian assesses the bird and considers that its injuries or condition make it unsuitable for re-release then you can apply for a permit to keep the bird from the relevant State wildlife management authority. If that's the situation and you intend to work with the bird to hopefully have some level of interactivity with it then you will find the articles available via the WPT Reference Library the best place to start learning how. Try the following link to get you on that learning journey…
http://www.parrots.org/index.php/referencelibrary/beginnerguidetoparrots/

Kind Regards, Jim McKendry
Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations
http://www.pbec.com.au


Jim McKendry
About Jim McKendry

Jim McKendry BTeach BAppSc (Wildlife Biology)

Jim provides consultancy services on parrot behaviour through Parrot Behaviour & Enrichment Consultations (http://www.pbec.com.au). He holds Bachelor’s degrees in Teaching (ACU) and Applied Science (UQ) and is a Senior Biology and Environmental Sciences teacher. Jim’s approach to education on parrot behaviour aims to connect the behaviours we see amongst psittacines in the wild with those we observe in captivity to best inform environmental arrangement for behavioural success. An Applied Behaviour Analysis approach to assessing behaviour is the foundation of his consultancy assessments on individual parrot clients.

He has worked professionally as an Avian Trainer and Presentations Keeper at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and since 2005 has delivered a series of annual workshops at the Sanctuary on progressive approaches to companion parrot behaviour and enrichment. From 2009 to 2011 Jim worked as the resident consultant on parrot behaviour and enrichment at Brisbane Bird and Exotics Veterinary Services. He is a professional member of the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators (http://www.iaate.org) and a member of the World Parrot Trust’s Expert Panel of educators.  Jim writes a regular column, Pet Parrot Pointers, for Australian Birdkeeper Magazine and is an editorial consultant on parrot behaviour for this publication.

Visit Jim’s site on the web at http://www.pbec.com.au


Can I use branches from an orchard for my birds?

 
Expert Question

My Question: An apple orchard in our vicinity is being renewed and all the old trees have been cut down and I can get as many branches as I, and the parrots, could wish. But I know that the trees have been sprayed with pesticides and what all for as long as they have been there. Is there any way to make them usable for parrots, or is it better just to forget it? Thanks so much.
Gina




Expert Answer

Dear Gina, Sorry it has taken so long to get back. We have been away on and off for November. It is hard to say what effects the spraying would have on the tree system, but I could find no information on that. I would probably use the newer growth branches with my flock after hosing them off or washing in the shower in the house.

Good luck.
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., and is now finishing up its tenth year of publication.

“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.”


Greenwing Screaming

 
Expert Question

Dear Steve, I welcomed Thor, a Green-winged macaw, into my family when he was about 6 months old. As a baby, he was docile and quiet. At around 30 months, he started to become (for lack of a better word) a real jerk. I have read a lot about parrots and their ‘terrible twos’ and expected much of this behavior. One facet that I can no longer tolerate is his screaming. His cage is in an area of the family room that adjoins our kitchen. We spend 90% of our time in these two rooms, so he is always involved in daily life.

He speaks very well for a macaw, so I used techniques on these forums to train him to use more pleasant words/sounds he already knows to express his wants. For example, while we eat dinner in the family room, if he would like to try some of what we are eating, he says “hello”. If we are out of sight and he wants to see us, he calls out, “never more”. This worked great for quite awhile, but now he has come to expect it. When he says hello a few times and doesn’t get receive food he begins to scream. I have tried switching his toys more often and making sure he has time to exercise out of his cage. It seems the more attention I give him and the more I try to work with him, the more demanding he becomes.

I am seeking any advice you can give on how to establish a mutual understanding and respect with Thor regarding food, volume, etc.

How do you teach a parrot the age-old lesson: you can’t always get what you want?

Thanks,
Alex Altomare




Expert Answer

Hello Alex!  My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. I received your question about your screaming macaw, Thor, and I'd be happy to offer you some advice that should be helpful in dealing with it.

Screaming is a natural behavior for parrots, and is therefore a behavior that can never be eliminated completely. That being said, it is well within your ability to use positive reinforcement to train your bird to reduce the frequency and duration of these screams, and to replace them with other vocalizations that you find more acceptable.

From what you've detailed, it sounds like you've gotten some good training information that can give you a head start on working to reduce the incidence of Thor's screaming. The basic plan that we try to follow when dealing with a screaming parrot is two-fold.  First, we try to make sure that we don't do anything to reinforce the screaming as it occurs.  Second, we work to train the bird to perform behaviors that are incompatible with screaming in order to get what it wants. We'll tackle these two aspects one at a time.

First, it is important to not reinforce the behavior that you want to see eliminated. Parrots have the ability to call very loudly, as you have heard. What we want to make sure is that we don't inadvertently train our birds to scream in order to get what they want. Some companion owners will give their birds treats or toys when they are screaming in hopes that it will shift their focus and keep them occupied.  Others will ignore their birds when they scream until it reaches an intensity that they can't tolerate, and then go to their birds to either console or scold them. Both of these scenarios send the message that screaming will earn the bird a desirable consequence. In the first case, the bird learns that it can earn a variety of treats or toys by screaming. The second case is basically the same, as the bird learns not only that it can get attention (even if it is negative attention) by screaming, but that in order for it to work they have to scream very, very loudly!

It is important, then, for the bird to learn that screaming will not earn it something that it wants. If the bird learns that there is no positive consequence to screaming, then over time the bird will spend less time and energy performing this behavior in order to achieve that outcome. Be aware, though, that a behavior that was previously reinforced and is now ignored will usually go through what is know in the training world as an "extinction burst." This means that, before giving up, the animal will likely perform the previously reinforced behavior with a higher intensity or duration than they ever have before in a last ditch effort to earn reinforcement. In Thor's case, this means that the screaming will likely get worse before it gets better. Think of it as when you are trying to call someone to get his or her attention. If a soft "Hey there" doesn't work, you say "Hey" a little louder.  If that doesn't work, you say it even louder than that.  If that doesn't work, you may yell "HEEEEEYYYYYY!!!" before giving up and realizing that the person isn't going to pay attention to you. Thor's screaming will likely follow the same progression, and it is vitally important that you resist the temptation to respond in any way during this "burst", as doing so sends the message to him that he can only get your attention by screaming really, really, REALLY loudly. We know of one companion parrot owner who has taken up the habit of freezing in place wherever she is in her home when her cockatoo screams, for fear that she might in some way make a movement or sound that could inadvertently reinforce the bird. That might be a bit of an extreme example, but it definitely takes to heart the importance of not reinforcing an unwanted behavior.

So must you sit idly by while your bird screams louder and louder? Not at all. At the same time that you are ignoring the unwanted behavior, you can work to train your bird to perform behaviors that you like in order for it to earn desirable consequences. From what you've said you've already been reinforcing Thor for vocalizations that you like, "Hello" and "Never more". By pairing these vocalizations with the reinforcers that you mentioned, you've strengthened them to a point that they are now offered more and more frequently. This is to be expected, as he has learned that there are desirable consequences to these particular behaviors. In order to avoid the screaming that occurs when he doesn't get these reinforcers, there are a few different strategies that you might find helpful to try. If you want to maintain the two vocalizations above, I would suggest working to slowly increase the length of time between when the vocalization occurs and when he gets reinforced for it. We've worked with a number of people who've had this exact same issue, and what seems to work well is to introduce a secondary reinforcer -- perhaps verbal praise like the word "Good" -- that happens after he vocalizes but before you give him the treat or attention. This praise, if presented consistently, will tell the bird that what it's just done was good, and that a treat or attention will follow. In the training world this is known as a "bridge" because it bridges the length of time between when the behavior occurred and when the treat is delivered. In the early stages of training you can bridge and reinforce the bird right after the behavior occurs, but the goal will be to slowly lengthen the time between the behavior and it's consequences. This is not a quick fix, and will take some time, but it is a very reliable method that has been successful for a number of companion parrot owners over the years. At first this may involve making fairly frequent trips from your chair to his cage, but with time and consistency you should be able to stretch the time between these trips out to whatever length of time you think is appropriate. Also, your response of "Good" can be a reinforcer in and of itself. If the bird vocalizes in a way you like and you answer back, this "call and response" can become an additional form of attention that Thor can learn that he will get for performing this desirable vocalizations, thus giving you another way to reinforce him without always having to get up to do so.

In addition to lengthening the amount of time between when these vocalizations occur and when reinforcement arrives, you should also train him to perform other behaviors that are incompatible with screaming. The behaviors that we suggest for this particular case would be any soft call, whistle, or vocalization that you find acceptable. The more these sounds are reinforced, the more likely your bird will be to perform them, and because you will be making sure to not reinforce unwanted vocalizations like screaming, Thor will learn that it is much more worth his while to spend his time performing the behaviors that have consequences that he likes instead of those that are ignored. At the same time, I would think about how else you might set up your environment to give Thor the best chance to be successful in the training that you'll be doing. If you find that he's most likely to scream during dinner, you might consider giving him lots of attention just prior to dinnertime, and then leaving him with some treats or a favorite toy during dinnertime. You may also consider making this his dinnertime as well, as he will likely be more occupied with what he's been given to eat at that time than with what's going on at the dinner table. If you feel that the screaming is a function of his being out of the sight of you during dinner, you can do a test and see if moving his cage so that he can see you while you eat makes a difference, as he may just be calling because he can hear people but can't see what's going on.

In summary, the best way to teach Thor that he can't always get what he wants is by making sure you provide clear, consistent communication about what the consequences of his various behaviors will be. Making sure that he gets lots of attention and reinforcement when he is performing behaviors that you like, ignoring and not reinforcing behaviors that you don't like, and actively working to replace unwanted behaviors with more desirable, incompatible ones will give Thor a new vocabulary for how he should interact with the humans that he shares him home with, and will hopefully give your ears a much needed rest.

With patience, determination, and consistency, I have no doubt that the above methods can begin to lead to a significant decline in Thor's screaming. If you haven't done so already, I'd also suggest checking out the articles we have posted at http://www.naturalencounters.com, as they contain information about bird training, behavior, and enrichment that you may find interesting and useful.

Best of luck to you both!

Sincerely,

Chris Jenkins
Supervisor
Natural Encounters, Inc.


Steve Martin & Staff
About Steve Martin & Staff

Steve Martin has lived with parrots from the time he was five years old. By the time he was 16 his bird interest expanded to falconry and he has been a Master Falconer ever since.

He began his professional animal training career when he set up the first of its kind, free-flight bird show at the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1976. Since then he has produced educational animal programs, or consulted at, over 50 zoological facilities around the world.

Steve has produced three videos on parrot behaviour and training and lectures frequently about parrot behaviour. He has also written several articles on animal behaviour and conducts training workshops each year at his facility in Winter Haven, Florida. Over two-thirds of his year is spent on the road consulting with zoos and aquariums on animal behaviour issues or teaching staff the art and science of animal behaviour.

Steve is President of both Natural Encounters, Inc., (http://www.naturalencounters.com/) a company of over 20 professional animal trainers, and Natural Encounters Conservation Fund, Inc., a company dedicated to raising funds for conservation projects.
Steve has been a long time fan, supporter, and a Trustee of the World Parrot Trust. He is also a core team member of the California Condor Recovery Team, and Past-President and founding member of IAATE, an international bird trainers’ organization. 


Cockatiel with shortness of breath and sneezing

 
Expert Question

My Question:
my tiel has been sneezing a lot lately and wheezing after exertion, i am so worried about her i hope she hasn’t got aspergillus. twinkle is eating well and her usual loving playful self. twinkle is well looked after plenty of out of cage time correct diet not just seeds. will go to the vets asap. can any one help give advice in the mean time please.




Expert Answer

Unfortunately, there is nothing specific that I can recommend beyond allowing your bird to rest in a warm environment, and to continue to offer free-choice food and water. You are right - a good physical examination and diagnosis is important to obtain, sooner than later. Aspergillosis, of course, is one of many, many, many potential problems that could be present. Although I would not necessarily fix my mindset on one disease such as this; I certainly would strongly recommend getting that examination performed!


Brian Speer, DVM
About Brian Speer, DVM

Avian veterinarian Dr. Brian Speer was raised in a small town on California’s coast. He received his BS in Biology from California Polytechnic State University in 1978, and his DVM degree from the University of California at Davis in 1983.

An active member of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), Dr. Speer is a much sought after guest speaker and has presented at numerous conferences in the avicultural and zoological communities both within the United States and abroad. He is well published in the AAV annual proceedings, has served as guest editor for the journal Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, the Veterinary Clinics of North America, and authored chapters in several recent veterinary medical texts on pet bird, avicultural and ratite medical topics. In 1995 he co-authored the extensive avicultural reference, The Large Macaws, and helped to co-author Birds for Dummies in 1999.

Since 1989, Dr, Speer has run a “bird’s only” practice in the San Francisco Bay area and is the President and Director of The Medical Center for Birds. He is a consultant for The Veterinary Information Network (Avian Medical Boards) and the Maui Animal Rescue and Sanctuary. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Lafeber award for excellence in private practice of avian medicine and surgery and in 2006, was named Speaker of the Year for the North American Veterinary Conference.