Several years ago, I was talking with another Parrot Behaviour Consultant and she commented that people complained to her about how Parrot Behaviour Consultants [PBCs] never agreed on anything.
My response was to suggest to those people to seek out books about teaching a child to read. As an ex-elementary school teacher, I knew there were multiple opinions about how to teach reading, and many totally disagreed with others.
My point was that we PBCs were all different people who had worked with different individual Parrots as well as different species of Parrots. After all, there was rarely only one way to accomplish anything.
This led me to ponder what sorts of things my colleagues and I do agree on, and with the help of my colleagues in the Parrot division of the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (www.iaabc.org) , we came up with this list. My thanks to the group with special thanks to Karen Webster, Jamie Whitaker, Hilla Niemann, Kashmir Csaky and Wade Plouvier for their contributions.
The list is long (and not in any particular order) so I have split it in to two parts. Later on I will go on to discuss Behaviour Issues in PART 2, so keep posted!
For now in PART 1 I will concentrate on Management Issues...
Cage size and location
Too many birds are still stuck in cages that are entirely too small. At the absolute minimum, a Parrot should be able to flap its wings inside its cage without its wings, tail and/or crest hitting anything, including toys.
Cage placement is also important, as it has a bearing on security. Cages are best placed against a wall, not on the same wall with a door. The bird might enjoy a small amount of window so it can have a peek outside, but never should a cage be completely in front of a window with no place to hide.
Cages should provide some sort of hiding place, though we were not enthusiastic about the use of little tubes and tunnels on the market for adult birds, as we have found they can stimulate nesting behaviours.
I personally like the use of a towel over one outside corner of the cage, or a blind made of fresh-cut and safe greenery. For more information about caging issues, see my article.
Baby Parrot issues like weaning and fledging
We PBCs have found that depending on species, how Parrots are handled when very young can affect their confidence in the future.
Parrots that are allowed to fledge (learn to fly) normally, and then allowed to wean at their own speed (as opposed to being weaned on a strict time table) often mature into less fearful and more outgoing individuals.
Species differences come into play here. Many of us feel that, for instance, African Greys can be quite fragile psychologically, whereas most Amazons and Macaws seem ‘bullet-proof’ and adapt well to whatever life can bring.
I will never forget the comment a dear friend made. She was a veterinary student and had just returned from doing an externship at a large avicultural facility. She said she didn’t enjoy the baby Greys because they always flipped on their backs and screamed whenever anyone approached.
I was appalled and said so, as I considered that behaviour to be indicative of absolute terror, meaning these babies were likely being sorely mishandled. (This does not, of course, mean that Amazons and Macaws cannot be emotionally crippled, but in my experience, one has to work a little harder to accomplish it.) More on species differences later.
Many Parrots appear to be sleep deprived, often manifested in aggression, excessive noise and feather destruction. Veterinary behaviourist Andrew Luescher’s idea of a sleep cage is a wonderful one; placed in a room that is unoccupied by people at night, Parrots can be put to bed earlier than their humans (who are likely also sleep deprived) if they need more sleep.
Many birds do very well with 10 hours of sleep, but I would consider 8 hours to be the absolute minimum. [See my article for more details.]
Depending on individuals, Parrots need to bath at least once a week, year round. Bathing can be even more important in the winter, when heating dries out our homes, and it is critical to feather and skin health. After all, many of our companion species originated in the rain forest, so they evolved to deal with much higher humidity than exists in our homes.
Bathing should entail soaking the bird to the skin, instead of the bird just getting its chest and head wet from splashing around in its water bowl.
For birds that appear fearful about bathing, gentle techniques exist to get them past that. (I addressed the issue of bathing in my column in BT’s May, 2005 issue.)
This issue has been addressed repeatedly by various experts, but despite this, malnutrition is still rampant in our companion birds. Pay attention not to what you put in the food bowl, but what your bird actually eats.
Most avian veterinarians approve of a diet in which the ‘generic’ Parrot (which of course does not exist) consumes approximately 50-60% good quality formulated diet (a.k.a. “pellets”), 30-40% high nutrition vegetables and 10% seeds, nuts, fruit and treats. (Specialized feeders like Hyacinth Macaws, Lories and Lorikeets differ, of course.)
Despite the current financial constraints we are all experiencing, we Parrot owners cannot afford to scrimp on avian medicine. Delaying a veterinary visit often leads to an escalating problem that becomes much more expensive to treat and often life-threatening. Many veterinary hospitals provide plans that can help you pay on time instead of out-of-pocket, and these plans are often much cheaper than paying with a credit card.
We have learned from studies done by animal behaviourists how important an enriched environment is for all our companion animals, and foraging for treats is a great way to accomplish this.
Enrichment is especially important with our intelligent psittacine birds, as a bored Parrot will invariably get into a variety of aberrant behaviours, just like gifted children who are bored will act up in the classroom. See Bird Talk Magazine, March 2005 for my article titled “How to Turn a Home Wrecker into a Home Respecter”, for more information about enrichment through foraging.
Matching toys to the individual Parrot
While some toys might be labelled for various sized birds, keep in mind that every Parrot is an individual. You certainly need to avoid toys that are so improperly sized as to be dangerous (like giving a tiny plastic parakeet toy to a large cockatoo) but individual ability and proclivity needs to be considered.
As an example, I am embarrassed to say it took me quite a while to realize that my old Blue and Gold Macaw greatly preferred wooden toys sized for medium-sized birds, not Macaw-sized toys composed of huge chunks of wood. (They were apparently too much work!) So keep an open mind when toy-shopping. My Parrot-owning friends and I get together periodically to exchange toys our birds don’t like, so nothing need be wasted.