This was written by Vicki Knox LeClaire who runs
Miss Vicki’s Parrot Village, Inc
The most heartbreaking things I face on a regular basis revolve around the ‘less than perfect’ birds…not from the birds themselves, but from the humans who encounter them. Here are just a handful of the facts and theories I have about the topic of plucked birds…
1. Don’t feel sorry for a plucked bird to any higher degree than a non-plucked bird. All are captive; all deserve respect, not sympathy. We created the problem, so we need to stand by them. Seeing a plucked bird here, then giving the ‘Bless his/her heart’ is not helping that bird; adopting him/her is.
2. Don’t assume a bird is plucking because he/she is in rescue; that is rarely the case. We have only had two of hundreds, and I am sure other rescues have the same experiences.
3. Don’t assume plucked birds are bored, unhappy, or sick. We don’t see plucked birds in the wild because if they exist, they are plucked out of the gene pool by predators or death; that is natural selection.
4. If your bird is plucking, take your bird to the vet for a full check up, including blood work, to determine if medical causes are to blame. If so, fix them, if not, love your bird as they are. If you are providing a good diet, enrichment, proper sleep, a toxin-free environment, etc. odds are, this is your bird’s ‘normal’. Accepting is and loving him/her as they are is far better for them and you than to constantly be stressing over appearance. Doing this is far less expensive for you than buying every snake oil product out there aimed at ‘fixing’ the ‘problem’.
5. Don’t send your plucking bird to a breeder because you cannot stand how ‘unhappy’ he/she is. Odds are, if you are doing the above, the bird is nowhere near as unhappy as others make you feel the bird is. Sending plucked birds back to breeders is one source of the problem…taking plucked birds into the breeding gene pool that is already messed up, and breeding more birds with the potential genetic predisposition to plucking is only adding fuel to the fire. Mulligan, my M2 that started the rescue was one of these birds frown emoticon
6. Expect it to be a bigger problem in the future. Without the influx of wild parrots into the gene pool and so many breeders not doing their research, we are soon to be facing serious problems from inbreeding. Immunity issues, feather issues, new diseases and abnormalities we have never seen before…hold onto your hats folks…
7. Just love them for who they are. They do it to you every day, just follow their lead
Taking our Feathered ones to the vet is a minimum an annual event. This can be a very traumatic experience for them unless you get them use to the experience of being in their carrier and going out for trips. I find it helps to allow them to play in their travel cages at home. Get them use to being in these cages prior to having to go to a vet appointment. Also take them for short rides or walks around the neighborhood in their carriers. Get them use to the whole experience, without having to actually go to the vet. Take them for a trip to the park or even just out in your own back yard, make it a fun positive experience for them and you. While in their carriers talk to them and keep the tone upbeat, positive and fun 🙂 Always make sure they have access to water and snacks.
If your feathered one gets car sick….give a slice of fresh ginger each day for a couple of days before traveling. Or add fresh ginger to their water for a few days before your scheduled trip. This works wonders and is totally safe for parrots. Never offer any motion sickness medicines that are not prescribed by your Avian Vet first.
More tips for helping to make traveling with a feathered one and enjoyable trip for everyone 🙂 Feathered Angels Car Sickness
Gracie and Daisy all buckled into the car properly….everyone needs to follow this example to prevent injury to our feathered babies when traveling.
Training “tricks” that are often suggested as ways to get your parrots comfortable with unusual items: towel, scale, syringe, travel carrier. You all probably have more ideas/experiences?
In my case, I should have done *applesauce in syringe* training a long time ago; kicking myself… If you need to give your bird meds via syringe at some point, it’s much less of an ordeal if they willingly drink syringe fluids (although they will certainly realize it’s not applesauce — lol! Some meds are grape flavored, though).
Training birds to accept being wrapped in a towel is a great idea for larger parrots. Makes your life and your veterinarian’s life much easier.
*Travel carrier as fun and safe play area* is marvelous (and, again, kicking myself for not having thought of that years ago).
*Avian scale as play area* is one that I did do. Every morning, at the beginning of out-of-cage time, each bird stands on it and receives millet as reward. I note their weights about every three to five days or so.
Who’s the bad bird? Flock Call
written by Kathy LaFollett
Behaviorists, trainers and parrot manipulators tend toward the idea that we can literally direct our parrots to behave a certain way. I suppose that’s true to some extent. But when the manipulation techniques have to be revisited, or reapplied was it successful in the end? I would say no. It was manipulation and that’s about it. The companion parrot reacted like Pavlov’s dog, and as with all parrots, literally decided one day they were done with that Pavlovian response.
So what is the biggest influence on our parrots? Our own attitudes. The epicenter of a parrot’s mindset starts and ends with our own.
They are, after all, looking to us for information to make judgements about trust and action. They are hypersensitive to emotions, movements, sounds, and objects by nature. A companion parrot is literally hardwired to take in more information than a human takes in. Humans are judgmental, we rationalize and reject things quickly if they do not fit our personal belief system and goals. Humans are the only creature that can lie to itself, and honestly believe the lie. This is the crux of the issue with most companion parrot relationship problems. This is where I start all points of work inside flocks with misunderstandings.
Health issues and hormones aside, a defensive parrot with trust issues picked up that trait from a human somewhere who preferred impatient demanding, and quick rejection when demands weren’t met. You can wrap all kinds of details and stories around that skeletal description, but in the end it boils down to that statement. Why is someone demanding? Time constraints or outside pressures of life, maybe a fight with a spouse. It doesn’t matter to the parrot though. All that matters is impatient demands were followed with quick rejection. The why is irrelevant. That’s the take away for companion parrots. The WHY something went wrong is irrelevant to a parrot.
The precious center of a happy Companion Parrot Lifestyle is the requirement that we as humans are required to be better humans. Seriously. A parrot can’t be fooled into believing you are a good trustworthy person. They may acquiesce temporarily due to their caging, handling or fear, but that won’t last long. I’ve walked into flock situations where the trust is nowhere to be found. I blame the human in the room. And then we go through a laundry list of reasons WHY the trust is gone. Normally the list starts with a bite. I blame the human in the room.
Companion parrots are not complicated. They are difficult. Difficult because we are literally sharing our space with a companion that does not rationalize nor simply obey. A parrot knows a lie, but unlike a dog, they will not cooperate nor honor your lie. Period. You can create an obedient parrot (through trust and respect) or you can create a submissive parrot (through fear and uncertainty). The later parrot will become a shell of itself, merely surviving your demands rather than growing inside your flock to become part of the whole.
I don’t write this article in judgement or patronizing tone. I write this in celebration of the best part of being with a parrot. I write this because the most successful parrot personalities in the world were grown in a flock full of kindness, patience, and empathy. And you can’t have that type of fertile ground if the human in the room is impatient, mean, judgmental or prejudiced in life. It does not coexist. A happy parrot is literally defined by the human in the room. You hope your parrot is relaxed, well RELAX. You want your bird to love every one that visits, well LOVE every one that visits. Sincerely. You can’t be insincere around a companion parrot. They know better. And they will reject you and your company for it. Their rejection might be small like not taking a treat, or not allowing a head scritch, but they have you on their probation list for sure. I’ve been on probation before, I know!
Parrots are not complicated. Feed them healthy foods as you should eat. Love them as you would hope to be loved. Share life with them as you like having life shared with you. 12 hours of dark. A doctor for checkups. A bath. Clean water. Toys (employment opportunities). Safety. This isn’t rocket science. You are MORE than capable of handling the details of a companion parrot, and you don’t need to embellish these simple items with complexity.
But what you must do, what will always have to be done at all times ad nauseum is; be the best human you can be as much as you can. Be nice. Be fair. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be patient. Love. Do not judge. Welcome in. Laugh, alot. Smile more. Wait easier. Be slow to speak, quick to laugh and certain to forgive. I suppose this all sounds corny and completely unrelated to having a parrot in the house if you don’t yet have a parrot. But I assure you, this is the way. It’s the only way that really works. Consider your heart, before you consider your parrot’s behavior.
You can’t give a parrot a happy home if you too, aren’t sincerely happy.
Super Seeds For Parrots
Written by Jo Lod Lease of Lair Of Dragons Bird Rescue
Ch-ch-chia! Chia seeds—particularly the Salba variety—are high in iron, folate, calcium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber. The superseed’s calcium and magnesium promote bone and dental health, while the omega-3s help your heart by lowering triglycerides, the bad fats in your blood that can cause heart disease. Their soluble fiber helps decrease cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and make you feel full longer. The nine amini acids in chia make it a high-quality sourse of protein. One ounce of chia delivers 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein.
Not just for hippies, these superseeds are a great source of complete protein and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. They also contain phytosterols, plant-based compounds that help lower cholesterol levels. Hemp is loaded with protein. Just one ounce of shelled hemp seeds contain more than 10 grams of protein. Not only are they loaded with protein, they are also a good source of other important nutrients including iron, magnesium and zinc
Also known as pepitas, these superseeds are a source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, and protein, and are particularly rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which may help lower anxiety. Pumpkin seeds also have high levels of essential fatty acids that help keep blood vessels healthy and lower bad cholesterol.
These underrated superseeds are an excellent source of B vitamins, including folate (which helps prevent birth defects), and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from damage, helps maintain healthy hair and skin, and may work to prevent cancer. They are also rich in protein and heart-healthy fats.
These little, brown, nutty-flavored superseeds are a great source of soluble fiber (each tbsp. contain about 8 grams) as well as a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, thiamin and magnese which helps lower cholesterol, makes you feel fuller longer, and aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels. Flax seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acid, which benefits eye and brain health, and can help lower triglycerides, protect against immflammation and high blood pressure. High in lignans, a plant-like form of estrogen, they may also help prevent certain cancers.
The nutritional powerhouse of the wheat kernel, wheat germ is loaded with protein, iron, and B vitamins such as folate. The high fiber content of this superseed helps prevent constipation and keeps your appetite in check although it is high in calories, so modertion is key. And wheat germ is low on the glycemic index, so it doesn’t spike your blood sugar. The health benefits of wheat germ include a boost to the immune system and a preventative measure against cardiovascular disease and cancer. Wheat germ has anti-aging properties, and can positively affect mental agility, muscle development, stamina, and the healing rate for wounds. The nutrients in wheat germs can also aid in digestion, prevent damage to the arteries, and help in efforts to lose weight. Adding wheat germ or certain types of wheat germ extracts to your diet can help you reduce the risk factors for multiple types of cancer.
This South American seed is at the top of so many superfood list. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of complete proteinand 5 grams of dietary fiber. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids are the amino acids that must come from food, since our bodies can’t produce them. Quinoa is rich in several of these essential amino acids, making it an excellent source of plant-based protein. Since quinoa is cholesterol free and also full of fiber, it is a healthy alternative to animal-based sources of protein, including meat and cow’s milk. In addition, quinoa contains more than 10% of the dietary recommended daily allowance for a wide range of vitamins that includes thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate and is packed with minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and magnese.
This seed is truly is the king of all seeds when it comes to protein. One cup of cooked amaranth contains more than 9 grams of protein. Unlike a lot of other plant-based proteins, amaranth contains all the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that we need, making it a complete protein. Amaranth is also a good source of fiber (5.2 grams per cup), unlike animal proteins. When you consider the vitamins and minerals that are packed into this grainlike seed, you will be amazed. One cup of cooked amaranth contains more than 10% of the RDA of vitamin B6,folate,calcium,iron,zinc,copper and selenium and it is a great source of magnesium,phosphorus and magnese.
I have seen many comments on this subject and it is clear that there is a misconception that Adult birds in a rescue need more bird education to adopt rather than just purchasing a baby bird. This is absolutely not true! It is in fact just the opposite. A baby bird is going to require a huge amount of time to even have the hope of reaching maturity and not having behavioral or health issues. Babies taken from their parents too early are more likely to develop behavioral issues like biting, plucking, screaming…and the list goes on. Babies should not be weaned for quite some time, some species require a year or more. So that two month old baby being sold as weaned??? Most likely a baby is going to have issues just from forced weaned to early. It is also very important that birds have annual avian checkups. No matter if it is a baby or an adult parrot, everyone needs to do a huge amount of research to even begin to understand a birds wants and needs. Taking a parrot into your life at any age is a huge commitment. There are sacrifices that must be made if you are going to provide for them and meet all their needs.
Birds in rescues are not there because they just happen to be bad or have issues. Most of the time birds end up in rescues due to being purchased as a baby and then the owner was not prepared for what happens when they become adults. Birds are messy, loud, require special diets, loads of mental and physical stimulation and they will chew whatever they can get their beaks on. They require regular avian checkups due to the fact that they hide illness so well. There are many things that are toxic to them and so you must remove and quit using many household items. The list is very extensive and most do not take the time to learn and educate themselves prior to bringing home the bird. These are the main reason birds are given up, they were just being birds and the humans were not prepared for it.
The reason there are so many birds in rescue now is due to the lack of education prior to someone purchasing the baby birds in the first place…. impulse shopping! Now I do understand that there may be other circumstances where a bird is given up to a rescue, but the majority of cases are just that the human is having issues dealing with the bird being a bird. All Baby birds are sweet and cuddly, but as they mature so do their personalities and they are not going to always be that sweet baby you brought home. In fact they are most likely going to do a lot of changing especially when they reach hormonal maturity and then what? That sweet lil baby bird you brought up may decide they don’t even like you. Especially if you do not have the prior education to understand the emotions and changes that they are going through. Hormones can be dealt with and those who truly understand parrots know it is an annual occurrence and how to get the humans and bird through this very difficult times.
Rescues do require a person interested in adopting to fill out a questionnaire which does ask if you have bird experience. And I have seen where some believed this was because the birds in rescues are bad and require more work than babies….this is completely an ignorant statement. They ask because they want to make sure that you have the skills, knowledge and commitment to give a bird what they truly need. Their greatest desire is to make sure that should you adopt from them, that the birds is going into a loving educated home and the bird will have his best chance of staying there forever. Birds that are shifted from one home to another are more likely to develop behavioral issues… like trust. Birds are flock creatures and since we become their family they do not understand being given away especially time and time again. Rescues want to make sure that they are giving the birds in their care the best possible chance of this not happening. Pet stores and breeding facilities that just allow you to walk in a purchase a baby without any questions….as long as you have the desired amount of cash….how much do they truly care about that babies future? Not one bit! It is all about the cash to them and nothing more.
There is also a lot of controversy over the fees charged by rescues. Nobody seems to question a breeder or pet store requiring payment though. Here is a fact that some may not be aware of. A legitimate rescue makes sure every bird coming in is seen by a qualified avian vet…this can be a couple of hundred dollars or more depending on what tests need to be done, species and where the bird is coming from. A rescue then must provide cage, proper food, toys, mental and physical stimulation for each and every bird and continued vet care. All of this can run them hundreds of dollars monthly per bird. Many times the fee charged for adoption does not even cover the initial vet fees. Rescues are NOT making any money! What they are doing is making sure that each bird is well taken care of and is placed in a home with the best possible chances for that bird to have a happy life. They are taking in these precious Feathered ones that others have cast aside and hoping they can make a difference for them.
Bottom line is the reasons rescues are full now is NOT due to the birds being bad or anything like that. It is because these precious creatures are so misunderstood and there is a lack of education prior to people purchasing them. Most people are not willing or understand the commitment needed to provide for these babies for 30 plus years and so.
Take the time to educate yourself properly on what these precious creatures need. Visit your local avian rescues and take a look for yourself. Volunteer at the rescues, ask for the education. Do your own research from many many sources. Talk with an Avian vet. Education is key into helping ease the burden on the Avian Rescues. There are literally thousands and thousands of birds in Rescues just waiting for someone to adopt them. To think that these are all bad birds is just ridiculous. They are just birds being birds and waiting for someone to look at them and see them for the beautiful creatures that God created and accept them as they are.
Let one choose you and you will forever be thankful you did. I have 11 all adopted and they are the most loving babies ever!
Been doing some research as I was not sure about rather Sweet Potatoes were safe to be served raw. Well this is the info I found and I researched in many places and gathered this…
Sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A and contain energy-giving carbohydrates, vitamin C, folate, calcium, dietary fiber and potassium. Serve them to your pet bird cooked or raw. (Peel or scrub thoroughly first.) Introduce young birds to mashed sweet potatoes so they’ll enjoy them all their lives! Even canaries love sweet potatoes. Discard sweet potatoes that have become moldy in the pantry, because cooking may not kill the spores.
Sweet potatoes and yams are actually two different vegetables. Both are tubers, but the sweet potato is native to South America, and the yam hails from Africa. The important difference is that, according to USDA reports, only the true sweet potato contains Vitamin A.
Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamin A. Birds will enjoy the seeds, fresh or roasted, as well as the cooked pumpkin itself.
Brussels sprouts contain vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin C and folic acid. Feed them to your bird cooked or raw.
Cauliflower is a source of biotin and pantothenic acid.
Carrots are highly nutritious and readily available year-round. Cut them into sticks or chunks; offer them raw or cooked, and include the tops: small birds love bathing in the wet greens.
Cook hard beans (kidney, navy, black, etc.), potatoes, beets and white potatoes prior to offering them to your pet bird. Boil corn on the cob briefly to reduce the risk of mold. Many birds enjoy cooked butternut or acorn squash and pumpkin. Cut these vitamin-A-rich vegetables into chunks, or serve them mashed, like potatoes.
It isn’t necessary to cook most vegetables, such as broccoli, peas, string beans, peppers, well-scrubbed sweet potatoes or leafy greens, but if your bird refuses raw produce, try cooking it. Add a few hot pepper flakes for flavor if you wish.
“Sweet potato shows trypsin inhibitor activity. That means it contains an enzyme inhibitor that blocks the action of trypsin, an enzyme that digests proteins. The trypsin inhibitor prevents the digestion of protein. Sweet potatoes with higher protein levels have more of the trypsin inhibitor. This makes raw sweet potato difficult to digest. The trypsin inhibitor is deactivated by cooking.
One way the raw food diet helps people is by supplying food enzymes. Food enzymes do part of the work of digesting the raw food. Enzyme inhibitors increase the amount of work that your body needs to do to digest foods. Enzyme inhibitors force your body to produce more digestive enzymes. This uses up resources that could be used to produce detoxifying enzymes. When animals are regularly fed enzyme inhibitors in research, they become sick. Sweet potato should not be eaten raw”
In order to get the optimal amount of Vit A from sweet potatoes, or carrots that they need to be at least slightly cooked or steamed.
original article found at Association of Avian Veterinarians
Sex And The Psittacine by Shari Beaudoin
“My bird loves me, but hates my husband.”
“She is so cute she loves to snuggle with me and will lay there for hours while I pet her.”
“Her favorite thing is to sneak under the pillows or the blanket, then she comes out to show me all of her pretty feathers and actually tries to feed (regurgitate to) me. Then she backs up under the pillow again clucking at me. It is so cute!”
“He loves to play on top of his cage and ‘patrol’ the area. He gets so intense that if we try to take him down from the top of the cage he will bite us.”
“Our bird loves her little snuggle hut – we could never take it away from her.”
“She has always loved us, but one day out of nowhere, she became such a mean bird. I don’t know how much longer we can take this!”
And the list goes on…
These are all frequent comments that those of us working with people and their companion parrots hear almost every day. It is critical that we help parrot caregivers gain a better understanding of their bird’s behaviors and most importantly, their affect on them. One of the most important things to understand is that parrots are not domesticated. They exhibit all of the natural and instinctual behaviors of their wild counterparts! Parrots do not think like we do. Birds have no frontal lobe (the logical portion of the brain) but rather, they have large hypersensitive emotional centers. This leads us to believe that birds perceive our interactions with them much differently than we may want them to. Birds interact with each other visually, verbally, and empathically. This makes it extremely important that we take on a consistent leadership role that will gently guide our birds to adapt to lives in our homes. Parrots do not know how to live in our homes and it is our job to teach them how.
The two main questions we must ask ourselves as companion parrot caregivers are as follows:
1.) What do our companion parrots perceive to be happening during our interactions with them?
2.) What do we perceive to be happening during these same interactions?
Often these are two completely different things.
Our parrot’s perception of any given situation is the most valuable tool we have. We must pay close attention to how we interact with our companion parrots. We must also understand how they are affected by our interactions with them both medically and behaviorally. How do we determine our parrot’s perception? One of the best ways is to observe outdoor birds. Whether you are lucky enough to watch parrots in their wild environment or spend time watching native birds in your own back yard, you will find that most of their behaviors play a major role in helping them survive in the wild. With that said, I would like to break down the above comments to find the natural and instinctual reasoning behind them.
“My bird loves me but hates my husband.”
It is unlikely from what we have learned about the parrot’s brain that your bird ‘loves or hates’ either of you, at least not in the same sense that people love or hate each other. It does however make perfect sense that a companion bird would attempt to choose someone in the household as a potential mate. Remember we are thinking natural and instinctual. Once a bird has identified a mate, any others making advances towards them or their mate would be perceived as an intruder. The parrot’s job (to be successful in the wild), would involve driving the intruder from the territory. This is accomplished through posturing in an attempt to look larger, color display, and vocalizing. In most cases the perceived intruder will leave and the dispute would be considered settled. Occasionally, the first bird may be the one driven off by the newcomer. In either case it is almost unheard of for any actual physical contact (like biting) to take place during the confrontation. Once the dispute is settled the pair can then continue nest building, courting, and rearing their young.
In our homes when a bird has come to perceive someone in the household to be their mate they are often geared towards driving perceived intruders (other family members) away – especially when their perceived mate is in sight. It is easy to see why it is very confusing for parrots when the perceived intruder does not take such blatant (no flock member would misunderstand this in the wild) hints to leave. The situation is not considered by the parrot to be settled and the territorial behaviors used in the attempt to drive off the perceived intruder may be regularly repeated. These futile attempts to drive them from the territory may lead to frustration and desperation in the bird. In the home, as in the wild, the bird will posture, show colors, vocalize (scream repeatedly) and now may even bite. This may even cause the bird to bite their perceived mate in an attempt to get their assistance. This can be severe if the perceived mate is interacting with the perceived intruder rather than helping to defend the territory.
I would like to offer a description of the positive developing relationship that my Double Yellow Headed Amazon, Lt. Columbo, has with my husband, Terry and I. Columbo has been my companion parrot since he was only a few weeks old and I am his favored person. Terry was involved in his initial raising and development before he came to live with me (this was before we were married). Terry and I were married in 1999 and Columbo is now 9 years old. I am sure that many of you have heard the myth that male Amazons 5 years and older can be unmanageable. Many breeders and even some veterinarians commonly recommended (some still do) that these birds needed to be put into a breeding program. They considered them only suitable for breeding purposes and not as companions. Or they would recommend keeping the bird and finding it a mate. Finding a mate is not the easiest thing to do either. It is not much different then an arranged marriage in humans. Parrots do many things to attract the mate of their choice and it is unlikely that we will be able to guess what bird that may be. Other potential problems with finding the bird a mate are; possible injuries to one or both of the birds during a dispute, concerns about disease, breeding, the birds bonding to each other and becoming more aggressive to people, and potentially adding more work and complexity to an already exasperated caregiver.
Lt. Columbo has at times clearly perceived Terry as an obstacle in his path to forming a reproductive bond with me, yet he has always viewed Terry as a flock leader as well. Several times each year (usually in the Spring), Columbo, while on his play tree, will literally wait for Terry to walk by him (he never does this face to face) then just as Terry passes by, Columbo will lunge out (not actually touching Terry) in display with outstretched wings and a fully flared tail. He always waits until he thinks Terry is not looking and he will then check to be sure that I have seen him. In his mind he has shown the competition that he is the boss. He is also showing his prospective mate (me) his ability to defend the territory and drive off the perceived competition. When he does this I try my best to ignore it. When Terry notices he will either completely ignore it or he will talk to Columbo calmly for a minute or so asking him to do some of his tricks (like hanging by one foot). Terry will regularly take Columbo to another room (away from me) and spend time with him. Some of this time is just spent with Columbo in the room while Terry works on his computer, watches television, or reads, every once in a while looking up and talking to and acknowledging Columbo. The rest of the time is spent teaching him things – all of it is meant to be non-confrontational and is instigated by Terry. It also involves a great deal of praise and positive attention. Terry has these types of interactions with Columbo throughout the year, not just when Columbo is exhibiting hormonal behaviors. Although Terry wants to be perceived as a leader, he also wants to remain Columbo’s flock mate and friend.
“She is so cute she loves to snuggle with me and lays there for hours while I pet her.”
Understanding that this can be the cause of many problems for companion parrots and their caregivers is very difficult for many people to accept. We have spent a lifetime hugging our children and others that we hold dear. We have always stroked and petted our companion animals, primarily dogs and cats. So how could it possibly be a problem to interact this way with our companion parrots? We want them to know that we care for them and even love them! Shouldn’t they receive the same care and attentions as the others we cherish? Again, we need to take a look from our parrot’s point of view. Take another moment to observe the birds outside. What do you see? Most often, unless mating or raising young you will not see birds, even a mated pair, in direct contact with each other or stroking each other. Touch on the back generally implies courtship, leading to mating and rearing young.
Many people are unaware of how birds mate (believe it or not, we get asked this question by companion parrot owners regularly) I would like to give a quick (non x-rated) explanation of how parrots mate and help clarify what certain types of touch can imply. When parrots mate there are generally two methods that are employed:
1) The male bird actually climbs onto the back of the female and then wraps his tail around the females tail to initiate contact and a rubbing together of their vents.
2) Larger species (like Macaws) will stand next to each other and the male will wrap his wing over the hen’s back and they will each tilt their vents towards each other initiating contact and a rubbing together of their vents.
From these explanations it is easy to see how our birds might get the wrong idea while we are ‘petting’ them! One of the more extreme situations we hear about regularly is where someone describes how much their bird enjoys it when they stroke them with their entire palm down the back and then continue on to wrap their fingers around the birds tail in order to continue the petting all the way down. This type of ‘full body stroking’ usually involves (although not intentionally) direct contact with the vent area as well as the back of the bird. After the above description of bird mating behavior I am sure you can see how this full body stroking might give a companion parrot certain ideas! Truthfully, about the only other time that a bird in the wild would feel touch on the back would be from a predator coming down upon them. Sally Blanchard has taught us for years about our need to nurture and guide our companion parrots. Nurturing must be carried out in an instructional manner with the caregiver portraying a leadership role. Then our companion birds can interpret the interaction as it is meant to be. I also refer to this form of nurturing as ‘Guided Leadership’. It is very important for parrots to view us as effective, confident, highly seasoned flock leaders. Flock leaders that will keep them safe and teach them how to survive in our homes and to become well adjusted, independent secure birds. If our parrots view our touch and attentions to be sexually stimulating rather than instructional, it is we who are giving them the idea that we want to be looked upon by them as a mate. I am NOT telling you that you can never touch your parrot. It has been stated by many people that there are certain times of the year that you should just not touch them at all. The problem with this ‘all or nothing’ thinking is that it does not teach your bird anything and often leads to a cage-bound bird with caregivers that are afraid of them. I am telling you that you must pay close attention to where and how you are touching your parrot and most importantly what your parrot perceives your touch implies. If your parrot seems to perceive your touch as sexual, STOP that form of touch!
“Her favorite thing is to sneak under the pillows or the blanket, then she comes out to show me all of her pretty feathers and actually tries to feed (regurgitate to) me. Then she backs up under the pillow again clucking at me. It is so cute!”
This is serious business for your parrot and not in the slightest bit ‘cute’! She is in sexual overload, a condition that could trigger her into a constant reproductive state potentially leading to Hormone and Adrenaline Toxicosis. There are ongoing studies by some wonderful veterinarians that have led them to believe that this state of constant reproductivity is very harmful to these parrots. Some of the other health problems seen in these types of birds can be extremely high levels of Cholesterol and Triglycerides, Heart Disease, and Feather Destructive Behavior that can be brought on (or a current feather related problem is worsened) by an inflamed reproductive system.
It is best for birds to play in an area that is not perceived by the bird as a potential nest site. This behavior in the wild would be geared toward her mate to indicate approval of the possible nest. Many female birds will back up and cluck or pant in a mating display indicating breeding readiness to their mate. She may also raise her tail feathers or avert them to the side for mating. Regurgitation is used primarily to strengthen the bond with a mate or to feed offspring. These behaviors are almost exclusively used for purposes of courtship and reproduction. They have absolutely no place in our personal relationship with our parrots.
For over fifteen years (before that most people did not recognize what was occurring) we have heard of people saying that when a bird exhibits reproductive behaviors it is best to allow (and to actually aid them) in following their hormonal reproductive drives to whatever conclusion was as natural as possible in captivity. These same people would state that not to allow this was to deny the bird’s ability to be a self-actualized parrot. How would they suggest aiding these birds in becoming fully self-actualized parrots? Many would go as far as recommending that you encourage your bird to masturbate – including offering toys to masturbate on. We have actually spoken to many people who allow their birds to masturbate on their hand, their shoulder, etc., and they are convinced that this is the best way to fulfill their parrot’s needs. In all of the years of numerous people attempting these methods, we have yet to hear of a situation that did not lead to behavioral problems (from the bird developing a strong sexual bond to the caregiver) and in a number of cases severe medical problems occurred as well. It is unfortunate that many of these old ideas that have no research backing them are reappearing today. Not only are they reappearing, but they are being presented by people portrayed as ‘experts’ as that this is new ‘state of the art’ information. Our philosophy at Parrot Island has always been one of doing no harm.
Many people say, “What is the harm? It is not as if the bird can actually produce young”. In this case they are absolutely right, the bird cannot produce young by masturbation. This in and of itself is the harm. These bird’s bodies remain in a constant state of hormonal inflammation. Female birds can lay eggs without another bird in the household! They can also continue to lay eggs over and over again until they become very ill. Chronic egg laying and other repetitive reproductive illnesses contribute to many of the major health problems and untimely deaths of companion parrots today. Why, if we know this, do we continue to do things that can harm our parrots? I believe that any caring parrot owner would never intentionally harm their parrot. It is critically important to gain a better understanding of how our actions affect them and to learn how to properly interact with our parrots in a manner that is healthier and more natural for them.
A description of our life so far with Sam, our 14 year old female Double Yellow Headed Amazon may be helpful in understanding some of the affects of excessive reproductivity and stimulation as well as some ways we have found to prevent it. Sam (as do all of our birds) spends many of her days at Parrot Island with us while we are open for business. When she was between four and five years old she began to show distinct changes in her behavior as she gradually played less with her toys and seemed very interested in direct physical contact with Terry (my husband and Sam’s caregiver) or especially with any blonde haired woman. Most days at the store she would spend a great deal of her time sitting around and simply waiting for the next female customer (hopefully blonde) to come into the store. Immediately upon seeing a woman her entire demeanor would change. She would become very active climbing about and talking, cooing, meowing and doing anything she possibly could to get their attention. Of course, most people would go right over to her upon hearing and seeing her reaction to them. She plainly wanted their attention – something most people are immediately drawn to. What more could Sam hope for? She displayed and perceived potential mates flocked to her. We have always believed in weighing our birds regularly throughout their lives to track any weight losses or gains. Terry quickly came to realize that when Sam would go into these ‘broody’ periods, with no changes to her basic diet, she would gain 60 grams in about 2 weeks! Her normal weight has always been around 425 grams and she would climb all the way up to 480+ grams! This is a physiological change (conservation of calories) that female birds go through as their body prepares for the rigors of producing eggs and caring for offspring. We have found that through lowering the fat content in Sam’s diet and increasing her exercise (primarily through the use of ‘Assisted Flight Aerobics’) as well as limiting her time at the store on busy weekends, and educating our customers about the effects of their interactions with her, that we have been able to greatly reduce the risks of over-reproductivity for her. Her mother (the hen that produced her) actually died due to a combination of reproductive health problems including egg yolk peritonitis so we have been very aware of potential problems with Sam. Over the last several years of gaining a better understanding of how we can help her she has become a much happier, playful bird – especially at home. As a side note: all Terry has to do is hold Sam for a few minutes and then place one finger on her lower back for her to fully display and cluck at him in an attempt to mate! Terry’s interactions with Sam are limited to just hanging out (ambient attention), instructional play, and limited scratching of her head. The more of these types of interactions she gets the more she prefers it and she is definitely more content.
“He loves to play on top of his cage and patrol the area. He gets so intense that if we try to take him down from the top of the cage he will bite us”.
Isn’t this parrot doing a fantastic job protecting his perceived nest and the territory surrounding it? There he is on top of his cage, defending his perceived nest (the inside of his cage) for all he is worth. In the wild the defense of the nest is essential in warding off intruders and successfully producing and raising offspring. Take a moment to think of a parrot in the wild. Picture him out on a branch a few feet from the nest opening carefully watching the area around him. Is this behavior really any different than what your bird perceives he is doing in your home on top of his cage? Probably not! A play tree or gym away from the cage rather than on top with many interesting things to do is essential to a parrot’s emotional stimulation. Male birds may react differently than female birds when they are hormonally driven but they are certainly not immune to the affects of hormonal toxicosis. In male birds it may often appear to us that the bird is more aggressive when they are really in a state of extreme confusion and frustration. In our homes both male and female birds can suffer from hormonal toxicosis. This condition inflames the reproductive system and with no natural form of release it becomes a key contributor to many serious behavioral and health problems for parrots.
“Our bird loves her little snuggle hut. We could never take it away from her.”
When a bird is acting sexual in response to a snuggle hut (sleeping tent), toy, perch, mirror, shredded paper, wooden toys, etc., they are triggering your bird into reproductive behaviors. Anything that appears to trigger your bird into reproductive behavior should be removed from the cage. This can be determined by your observing your bird rubbing on, shredding or tearing, regurgitating onto, displaying at, vocalizing to, or being aggressive around the object. Some toys and perches can be perceived mates, a bird seeing himself in a mirror can be perceived as a mate, and snuggle huts can often be perceived as a nest site. Birds are truly at their most vulnerable to predators when in the nest so it is almost assuredly our perception rather than the birds’ that they ‘need a snuggle hut’ to feel safe. I am not telling you that no companion bird can have a snuggle hut. I am saying that it is your job to pay attention to how your bird reacts to the hut and to you.
My Hyacinth Macaw, Mateo, has a certain toy that he particularly favors and at times, perceives as a mate. During the fall and winter months he can play with this toy and act like his usual, gentle self. In the spring and summer he will act very differently around the toy and he sits very close to it. If I (or anyone) try to remove him from his cage when the toy is there he will lean back and posture with wings slightly away from his body in an attempt to look bigger and rock back and forth. If I continue to push the issue to remove him from the cage he ultimately may bite. If I remove the toy (perceived mate) first, he will step up and come out without a problem. It makes sense to not give him this toy during certain times of the year and avoid this confrontational situation all together. Watch your bird to determine if anything in the cage or surrounding area is a hormonal trigger for your bird. If it is remove it.
Other birds in the household or even outside can be a trigger for reproductive activity and sometimes the cause of health issues in our parrots. We have two Black Capped Caiques, Scooter (8 year old female) and Skeeter (4 year old male) who have been around each other for many years. Skeeter initially viewed Scooter as a parent but as he began to sexually mature (at about 2 years of age) his view of her then gradually changed to that of a potential mate. He would pester her when given any opportunity and beg to be scratched or fed as well as attempt to feed and mate with her. Scooter would rarely get a minutes rest when he was around, yet they really seemed to enjoy being together. After about a year or so of this developing behavioral change, Scooter began to have occasional seizures. We had no idea why and brought her in to our Avian Veterinarian immediately. The only thing the doctor was able to find out of the ordinary was that Scooter’s ovaries and reproductive tract were enlarged and very inflamed (this was found on x-rays). Through observation we were able to determine that Scooter’s seizures seemed to happen when she was agitated by Skeeter’s advances. By keeping them in separate cages and separating them completely from each others view at times we have been able to keep Scooter seizure-free now for the past 5+ years and her reproductive tract and ovaries have returned to a more normal size.
As a side note, an additional question that might be asked is:
“How come these birds seem to be so easy to trigger into a reproductive state?” We have two theories that we have come up with (along with a number of other people and veterinarians who are interested in this topic):
1) There are so many triggers constantly present for reproduction in our homes for our companion birds that they would only have during their breeding season (usually once per year) in the wild. They have a perfect temperature, an unending supply of food (sometimes high fat content foods or sprouts that would only be available before their breeding seasons). Their lighting cycle or photo-period in our homes is very different than the yearly changes in length and angulation of sunlight that occur in the wild and many have both a perceived mate and nest site.
2) It is also a realistic theory to say that the last 30+ years of most breeders naturally choosing pairs of birds that proved to be the most successful, productive parents would eventually genetically select for offspring that would become easier and easier to trigger into reproduction. The most obvious argument for this in a commonly kept companion bird is the cockatiel. Many of you probably realize that it is now more difficult to prevent excessive egg laying and breeding behaviors in cockatiels than it is to get them to start!
“She has always loved us, but one day out of nowhere, she became such a mean bird. I don’t know how much longer we can take this”!
Of course this does not come upon us out of nowhere. If we pay attention to our bird’s behaviors, no matter how slight, we will clearly be able to identify changes in their hormonal behavior and work towards diminishing sexual related behaviors.
What about ‘Nurturing Guidance’, ‘Guided Leadership’, and ‘Healthy Interaction’?
Sally Blanchard’s method of ‘Nurturing Guidance’ has paved the way for parrot owners to understand the importance of trust building interactions. Many people hear the word nurturing and place human emotions on it (hug, hold, love, etc.). When Sally refers to ‘Nurturing Guidance’ she explains it as a way to interact with our parrots in a trust building manner so that we can gently guide them along to become well-socialized, independent, and confident birds.
When I use the term ‘Guided Leadership’ I use it in much the same way. I do not mean that we need to rule or dominate them but to guide our birds towards proper interactions by teaching them proper ways to interact with us. This is much the way flock leaders would behave. Flock Leaders are the birds that the others trust and follow. They are followed because they are trusted. They are the ones to lead the flock safely to eat, drink, bathe, play, and roost. This is not to say that their leadership role may not be tested from time to time, as ours will be, but we as they must maintain this role for our birds to feel safe and view us consistently as leaders. As flock leaders we must teach our birds, usually verbally, what we are doing from one moment to the next. Just because you may not have one of the species of birds considered to be ‘big talkers’ does not mean that they are not listening and able to understand! It is important for our birds to develop a routine that gives them a basic idea of what to expect. This routine should be altered enough from time to time so that the bird is able to handle some flexibility and be secure enough to deal with change. It is important that our birds feel safe with us no matter what we are doing. Truly the most nervous birds that we see are those with the most nervous or reactive caregivers. Our birds travel to and from Parrot Island with us on a regular basis and have been taught to not only be okay with change but to actually enjoy it.
Instructional Attention: Teaching them things is great fun and a good way for your bird to learn new things. Allow everyone in the family to participate by regularly playing on the floor (bed, etc.) with your parrot and a large variety of toys. Reward your bird when he does things that you like. There is no greater reward than praise from everyone. This is an excellent way to interact and play, much better than having them sit directly on us on the couch (giving them mixed signals). It is also better exercise and much more mind stimulating for our parrots. Parrots are highly intelligent animals and many of them enjoy interactive toys and will learn colors, counting, and playing catch. Many parrots love to play hide and seek with their human flock mates. Give them the best play area away from their cage that you can. Avoid using the top of the cage as a play area from the beginning and the chances of your bird showing aggression and protectiveness of the cage and surrounding area will be greatly lessened. This also gives your bird a chance to play in different areas of the home and be more connected with the human flock. Avoiding a potential problem from the beginning is much easier than correcting a problem once it already exists. If you have a cage that has the play area on top, try to remove it. Many cages with play tops allow you to move the play top off of the cage and use it elsewhere.
Ambient Attention: This is when you are directly in sight of the bird while the bird plays on it’s own on a designated play area. You are not actually instructing the bird but glance up from time to time and say “Hi” or “Good Bird”, etc. As I am writing this article I have four of my birds playing on their trees and watching me. Every once in a while I look up and acknowledge them. Even ask their input from time to time, whether or not they are inclined to give it. I always clap and praise them when they play hard with a toy or hang upside down. Whenever they do anything that is acceptable I always take time to enforce and praise them. These types of interactions can be perceived as normal flock activity and are both ways to maintain ‘Healthy Interactions’ with your companion bird.
Focused Attention: You can sit with your bird and scratch his head if you like or wrestle with him a bit. It is just important that you watch how your bird is reacting to whatever it is you are doing. It is you that will ultimately be able to determine what is and what is not ‘Healthy Interaction’ with your parrot. The better you are (and everyone interacting with your bird is) at paying attention to your bird’s reaction to various activities the more likely that you and your bird will live a long, happy, and healthy life together.
Since the beginning of Parrot Island 95% of our business has been derived from a combination of veterinary and customer referrals. We are also extremely lucky that these veterinarians and customers (many of whom have worked and lived with companion parrots for 20+ years) through their research and observations, have become a tremendous resource and have helped us gain a better understanding of the effects of captivity on these birds.
Our opinions about these things have not come lightly or from a few people’s observations about their parrots. The methods we have employed for many years with both our own birds as well as hundreds of our customer’s birds continue to show us that we are on the right path to a better understanding of the overall care of companion parrots. Terry’s interest in birds began in 1970 with native birds, particularly birds of prey, and then a 7-year old male Cockatiel named Chester entered his life. Most of Terry’s education and interest in birds was developed by a combination of veterinarians, biologists, and other people with a strong interest in bettering the lives of birds, as opposed to those with only an interest to produce birds for the pet industry. While volunteering for numerous bird related study programs, such as The Macalester College Field Station, The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Raptor Rehabilitation Programs through the University of Minnesota, Terry also attended college courses in biology, ornithology, animal physiology, zoology, and all classes required for the Pre-veterinary program at The University of Minnesota. Terry was working as a Veterinary Technician at Kenwood Pet Hospital and spent much of this time in aviary management. Terry became so involved with educating companion parrot owners that he decided to open Isles Pet Supply, now Parrot Island, in 1987. At that time two of his partners were veterinarians. I was so impressed by his obvious care for these birds that I left a career of 17 years in banking (and all the perks that went along with it) to share his passion and become his business partner in 1997. In 1999, we were married.
I want to thank my husband, Terry, for his patience and willingness to teach me, and so many others how to properly care for and live with these magnificent animals. I feel fortunate to have found Parrot Island (then Kenwood Pet Clinic-Isles Pet Supply), so many years ago. When I first entered Terry’s store, as a customer, I was very impressed. The wealth of knowledge I received was amazing. Not only was I taught about the importance of diet, caging, socialization, and veterinary care, but I was also informed about proper interactions with my bird. Even then, some 11+ years ago, Terry was already instructing customers about the problems that could occur from forming a sexual bond with their parrot and most importantly how to recognize and prevent that bond from occurring. He even kidded me back then – that it was okay for me to love my parrot – just not to LOVE my parrot!
I cannot end this article without thanking Sally Blanchard for sharing her 30+ years of studying parrots (and many other bird species) to help us understand and change for the better, our relationships with them. I would also like to thank Dr. Tammy Jenkins of St. Francis Animal and Bird Hospital, who has tirelessly and patiently shared her information and opinions with me. Mostly, I must thank the companion parrots that share my life for teaching me more then I can express. They have accepted my family, friends, Parrot Island customers and me as part of their flock. Through their interactions and our observations of them they continue to teach and challenge us every day.
This article was published on Saturday 30 October, 2004.
AMY LYNN NEEDS OUR HELP!
Amy Lynn is a Moluccan Cockatoo that is currently in the care of Diane Dwyer in Chalk River, ON, Canada. She came to Diane in desperate need of help. There was barely a place, anywhere on her body that was not “self-mutilated”. Amy Lynn has now been to her first vet appointment and the results are staggering. She is suffering from heavy metal poisoning – most likely from the chain that is currently lodged in her stomach. Here is a picture:
If that were not bad enough, somehow, it appears that almost all of her toes have at one time been broken. That is pretty tough for a creature that has little choice but be on her feet 24/7.
Amy Lynn is on injections for the next 10 days to try to stop the leaching of the metal into her system. With a great deal of luck, the chain will pass though but that is a big unknown at this time. Regardless, it as to come out of there somehow and she is going to require a lot of vet care. That, as we parrot lovers know, becomes very expensive, very quickly. (So far over $500 plus travel expenses etc.)
Bill, the Moluccan Cockatoo happens to be in the position to help. Bill is a legendary “carver”. Anyone who shares their home with a cockatoo (or any parrot) will understand. Her “Mom”, Diana Slater of the Too Crazy Birdy Hotel provides lots of wood around a window in her bird room for Bill to chew to her heart’s content. Here is what it looks like when it is a work in progress:
Diana saves the “carvings” for Gail, the Artist. Gail and Bill work well together as Gail can always see the design that Bill had in mind. She paints them for Bill and the result is amazing! The first collaboration was “Bill’s Selfie”
Bill has also created a Lesser Sulfur Crested Cockatoo perhaps a rendition of her friend Billy:
And also a Galah, probably inspired by Joey, who stayed for a few weeks at the Too Crazy Birdy Hotel:
With the love and blessing of Bill, Diana, Gail and F.E.A.T.H.E.R.S. these three pieces of original cockatoo artwork are to be offered for auction to benefit Amy Lynn and Diane Dwyer of Second Chance Parrot Shelter.
Bidding will start on Friday, October 3, 2014 at 6 p.m. Pacific Time and run until Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 6 p.m. and will be administered from the F.E.A.T.H.E.R.S. Facebook page – Feathers in BC
To follow Amy Lynn’s story go to Diane Dwyer’s Page