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Wood Chewing

Expert Question

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

renate koerten

Expert Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my best,

Steve Martin

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., ( 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.