New Parrot owners often complain that there is no owner’s manual that comes with a Parrot, whether baby or adult. However, there is some basic information that all new Parrot owners can use to help ensure their future with their psittacine bird is long, happy, and healthy.
The most important concept to understand is prevention. We want to do what we can to prevent behaviour problems and medical problems. This is a simple concept, but too many people do not apparently understand its importance.
Medical Prevention: The very first thing to do is find any experienced avian veterinarian and make an appointment for a (hopefully) new bird check-up. Have this experienced avian veterinarian run all the baseline testing he/she considers important. This will provide a range of “normals” for your bird against which to compare should your bird get sick in the future. Very important!
Already having an avian veterinarian will prevent all kinds of nightmare situations, such as trying to find a good bird vet when you have an emergency. You may not be able to find one, as most experienced avian vets do not take non-client emergencies. They need some time off, after all, and why should they wreck their precious down time to come in to see your bird when you didn’t even care enough to have a regular veterinarian?
And even if you can find one off hours, then you will be dealing with a stranger in a potentially life-threatening situation for your precious bird … and how can you know you can trust this person? This will make an already frightening situation that much more terrifying.
It is also financially less expensive to prevent problems than it is to try to save the life of a Parrot with an advanced medical problem. In the long run, one does NOT save money by avoiding preventative medicine.
Nutritional Prevention: From the start, MAKE CERTAIN your bird is eating a healthy diet. There is no such thing as a bird that refuses to learn to eat in a healthy manner – there are just owners who give in to the laziness of not insisting.
Yes, some birds are more difficult than others when it comes to learning to eat a good diet, but I have converted hundreds of birds to good diets, and have not failed yet. But having watched entirely too many birds die of malnutrition while working with avian veterinarians, I do NOT BACK DOWN, which is the difference between me and many owners.
If a Parrot that is not a specialized feeder (i.e., Hyacinth Macaws, Lories and Lorikeets) most avian veterinarians feel they should consume about 50% formulated diet (i.e. “pellets”), 40% dark green and dark orange vegetables, and 10% high nutrition fruit, nuts and seeds and treats. Harking back to the financial issue, preventing malnutrition is also much cheaper than trying to cure the plethora of medical problems that avian veterinarians see that are grounded in malnutrition.
Behavioural Problem Prevention: Establishing clear guidelines for a Parrot’s behaviour does everyone a favour – especially if established before problems develop. Just like a child, a Parrot with clear controls knows exactly where it stands. It may choose to break a rule, of course, but it likely will not do it accidentally.
Owners who cannot be consistent produce the worst of all worlds. A Parrot never knows what to expect. One minute something is tolerated or even rewarded, the next minute the human yells at the bird for doing the same thing. How awful for the Parrot! There is no safety in this bird’s world.
An obvious example of this is the owner who has “bird shirts” on which a Parrot is allowed to happily chew holes. This same bird is yelled at for chewing holes in the owner’s nice clothes … as if it is to be able to tell the difference! (I do not expect my Blue and Gold Macaw to have such discerning taste, so to avoid confusion, she is not allowed to chew on any of my clothes.)
Indeed, board-certified avian veterinarian Jeff Jenkins drew a direct line between unstable social order in the human habitat and problem behaviours in Parrots. He felt that the Parrots who congregate in large flocks in the wild (i.e. Greys, Cockatoos) were especially susceptible to stereotypical behaviours such as feather destruction and self-mutilation when controls were not in place (“Feather Picking and Self-Mutilation in Psittacine Birds, in The Veterinary Clinics of North America, Saunders, Philadelphia, PA, USA, 2001).
This makes sense when you think about it. There must be some sort of hierarchy established in any social group, so for a social Parrot to feel comfortable and safe, humans need to establish such a chain of command, as it were, in their home.
Establishing such a hierarchy does not necessitate aggression and a heavy-handed approach. After all, we already know we are bigger than they are! By gently encouraging Parrots to want to do what we want them to do, we can establish controls without being forceful. A Parrot can learn, for example, to step up eagerly on the hand, because lovely things happen when it does so. Said lovely things are of course, things the Parrot values – be they verbal praise, a pet, and/or a favourite food treat.
So while your relationship is new and problems have not yet arisen, teach your Parrot to happily step on and off your hand, as well as some sort of hand-held perch (such as a stick, pillow, basket, or whatever). Teach it basic manners, such as meeting new people politely. (Make certain that such people understand the rules and proper handling prior to introducing the bird, and disallow their handling if they will not follow said rules.)
Teach it that normal noise levels are fine but excessive noise is not acceptable and will therefore not be rewarded with attention. Teach it that change is interesting and fun by safely taking it places with you, so when change happens in the future (as it always will), it will easily adapt.
In short, teach your Parrot what it needs to know to integrate comfortably into the human household. By so doing, you are giving it the tools to succeed and be happy in the human world.