From Weaning To Growing Up
 
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From Weaning To Growing Up

Published on Friday, 2nd March 2018
Filed under Avian Articles
I ended my last blog with the words: The chick is now fully feathered and staggering towards you for what is probably his only formula feed of the day. He is growing up.  What happens next?

Now the baby is weaned – eating two meals a day and probably wanting a formula food occasionally.   The chick should be used to being handled and ready to learn whatever you choose to teach her.
 
What are your aims for the well-behaved companion bird?


 
Susan Friedman, a university teacher and one of the foremost exponents of behaviour science for all animals including us and our Parrots, uses the maxim, each bird is the study of one.  I interpret her words like this: although the tenets of behaviour science (the use of positive reinforcement techniques in training) works across species, individual animals and birds can show a wide variation in how they respond to our training.  
 
Observant breeders recognize this when they are dealing with a clutch; some chicks are bolder than others; some are shyer and so forth. As with human babies with whom they have much in common, young Parrots have distinct personalities. And different species show different characteristics.  
 
And in spite of differences between different species, Parrots share enough in common so that you can learn about care of Parrots to provide the best husbandry you can.
 
Categories to consider are - the environment, what diet will you chose and how much time and effort will you be able to devote to training?
 
Taking these categories one by one, let me describe how Artha and Casper African Greys grew up and how 15 years later, 2 Macaws were integrated into the small flock.


 
A captive bird’s environment consists of the cage, whatever rooms in which you’ll allow her to have out-of-cage time; the aviary if you have one and whether the bird goes outside wearing a harness or in a carrier. A few carers practise free flight but that is not recommended unless you have a suitable place to fly and can gain enough expertise for the training.
 
Artha began her companion Parrot life as a sole bird. I was lucky to know Barrett Watson in Suffolk one the UK’s best most conscientious breeders.  Artha was booked from the egg and came to me fully weaned and harness trained {for info on how to harness train see an earlier blog}.
 
Seeing how Barret’s birds enjoyed spacious accommodation, I bought a large King Cage. It was costly but nearly 20 years later, is still nice enough to remain in the sitting room. And large enough for two Greys if necessary. Artha had learned step-up from her breeder.  Her innate nature was -  and still is - a gentle one. Nipping never became an issue. 
 
Taking her out wearing a harness to parks, shops and friends became an integral part of her life and mine.  A year later, I decided she needed a Parrot companion. Barrett provided an excellent young bird with whom both Artha and I fell in love at first sight. His DNA test showed him a male and I hoped there might be the patter of tiny claws one day. This has never happened, although the two birds can be put in a carrying cage together and can share a large cage to sleep in.
 


The Parrots’  environment expanded to include an aviary, largely homemade which was extended every year for 5 years. One grievous mistake that I made was not taking into account the rodents which abound in rural Essex. I lost many smaller birds to rats. And suffered salmonella poisoning from mice.
 
The pet Parrots are brought indoors every night and they have never been harmed. A stoat got in via the roof and killed two rescue birds. The good house cat killed the stoat. We’ve now built a 30 cm, deep, concrete apron around the perimeter. But I should have had smaller holes in the wire.  

We had a conservatory constructed to double as a bird room. Again another error, this becomes too hot in high summer. But the aviary does not -  so the pet birds must stay out in heatwaves.


               
When Benni, blue and gold Macaw, joined the flock in August 2014, as a 6-week-old chick, I had no qualms in introducing him to the Greys.
 
Casper was always top bird in the aviary and for over a year could tell the flighted Macaw to ‘move NOW - you!’ Sadly, from Casper’s point of view once Benni reached 18 months, he usurped Casper’s position. They will sometimes squabble, usually Benni wins and Casper flies off. Occasionally it’s the reverse.
 
I make efforts to keep the quality of life amenable for the Greys who have to share their accommodation with two Macaws. Benni and Mina are usually taken back to the conservatory earlier than the Greys so that Artha and Casper can have my undivided attention without a pushy Macaw barging in.
 
Another enrichment that I’m sure birds appreciate-  whatever species they are - are ceiling ropes. I have them in four rooms. They sway and make the birds use their muscles in perching. I wonder if they stir ancestral memories of the rain forest? 
 
Another benefit of ceiling ropes is that their presence helps to habituate the birds to remain on them and not destroy  your living quarters. That said, anyone who does allow free ranging birds in their rooms, either has to cover furniture with cloths and/or not be house proud. When my husband Wal and I watch TV together the four of them know where they are supposed to perch. (Not that they comply 100%)
 


The Boultons, who are local Parrot people, have a mixed flock of mainly rescue and rehomed Parrots. They have put all the cages into a sitting room which is where they watch TV and the birds take turns in time out of their cages.
 
Diet can be confusing
The diet choice can be bewildering since there is so much choice available. My own preference is for 60% fresh food and 40% pellets and seeds. This is unusual and many advocate 60% pellets.
 
I believe in the benefit of sprouts and am prepared to take the trouble to sprout seeds and legumes. If you are lucky enough to obtain your bird from a caring breeder you will have a diet sheet given you.
 
I feed the indoor birds twice a day. I feed them in their cages because the Macaws get far more seeds and nuts than the Greys. Examining the droppings daily and weighing once a week gives a good indication of how healthy the bird is.
 
My American bird friends have annual blood tests for their birds but it isn’t common in UK. Our local avian vet, Ben Bennett, does not particularly favour this procedure, unless a bird is unwell.
 
Recently, he humoured my anxieties and had Artha Grey and Benni Macaw’s blood tested. To my relief, the tests came back with good results. Ben believes that one of the reasons for my birds’ good health is that they have a spacious bird room and aviary so have a lot of fresh air and exercise.


 
Training: how much is enough?
This is an unanswerable question. As much as you can manage.  I knew how to train my kids (they would probably not agree!) horses, dogs and cats. When Artha entered my life, I knew nothing specific about birds. Bird training has advanced considerably since the 90s when I started. I’d say 99% of informed opinion now claims that positive reinforcement training – that is reward training with the minimum of negative reinforcement is the best system.
 
If you want well-socialised companions, you do need to train them. In UK, we don’t have a plethora of behaviourists available for consultation. Greg Glendell in Somerset can help put any bird on the right flight path; Barbara Heidenreich now gives webinars online which address many problems hobbyists face.  
 
The World Parrot Trust have a panel of first rate experts who answer questions from their website. Steve Martin (one of USA’s foremost animal trainers)  has a website Natural Encounters which will give you hours of browsing and tons of information. Susan Friedman’s Behaviour Works will do the same.


 
Once I had turned into what Mark Twain described as: She was not quite what you would call refined. She was not quite what you would call unrefined. She was the kind of person that keeps a Parrot”, I spent my summer holidays for ten years going to Parrot workshops.

And I am reasonably happy with the results.   Feeding twice a day makes training easier because you can have short sessions before a meal when most birds will be eager for yummy treats. You take their favourite food out of their food bowls and let them earn it in complying with your requests.
 
The terrible twos
Does everyone have to go through this with their kids and their fids? It is very common problem. A child shows independence and WON’T do as you say, a bird becomes more mature and rejects your wish for cuddles and insists of destroying whatever is in her beak or even bites and scream. It happens but it’s NOT inevitable. Try and think like a bird, says Steve Martin. Do that and you cannot go terribly wrong.

For all the breeding and handfeeding food you need please click here




 
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