Don’t forget the small stuff… A series by Mike Simmons, looking at the smaller details within Parrot care and small and large Parrots.
It’s sometimes human nature to enhance everything we create, increase the size of the creations we make and focus on scaling up the things that we work on and live with..
There is a level of ambition found in us all, some more then others, but this ambition can leave behind perfectly good productions of our creativity.
My question is do we need to always think big? If so, then “don’t forget the small stuff”! For twenty plus years I’ve felt the need to progress in my field of work, but whenever I look back at my achievements, I’m sometimes proudest of the smaller and sometimes unnoticed milestones.
These small milestones in my learning and way forward were small but vital and without them I wouldn’t have journeyed to achieve any more. Sometimes I didn’t need to carry on the journey at all, I could have concluded my productivity long before my plan.
In thought the birds I choose to work with are certainly not ambitious in their way of life. They don’t have high aspirations and seem to settle for very straight forward day to day routines. We know they don’t think big for there are so many small conditioning stages to reach high levels of activity with us within training environments.
It’s my hope that I’m compassionate in every way possible in the husbandry and welfare of the birds under my care but also the ways in which they are utilised for their roles within my small company. It’s for that reason I’ve spent lots of time searching for what works and thinking outside of the box and exploring new avenues.
In bird show production, animal care and training birds for different roles I’d like to share the “small stuff” that I refused to forget, overlook and chose instead to keep small in order to stay on track with my company goals. Don’t forget the small species.
There are so many different Parrot species to choose from, so how do you make your decision? Based on a twenty-year career working professionally with Parrots, I've had the luxury to work with so many amazing birds.
My very first interactions with Parrots began when I was part of an animal presentation team at a zoo back in 2001. There were mainly Macaws but also some Amazons and Cockatoos. They were stunning and were well looked after as the shows routine was great for keeping them busy and active, leaving them with a full day of activities and seven day a week care from multiple trainers.
A typical day for them was a health check in the morning followed by a veg and fruit breakfast. They had indoor cages in which they stayed overnight, but after checking them in the morning, they went outside into their flight areas.
Their first show was about midday, so they had time to rest in the sunshine and preen their feathers. Zoo staff would pass by and there was quite a lot of visual stimulation. With two or three shows a day the birds would earn their nuts and seeds as all of the training was done using positive reinforcement with these full flighted birds.
In between the shows they would usually get fresh browse (safe natural branches) or their pulses wrapped up in paper or in boxes. Occasionally the rest of the food was in bowls if time was short.
The care was extensive and as all birds benefit from routines and environmental and psychical enrichment, the large Macaws and Cockatoos seemed to need more of it then the smaller species.
It was only when I had been at the zoo for a few years and I was given the chance to modify the Parrot show I remember thinking, why are there only big Parrots in Parrot shows?
They are easier to see from an audience perspective, but If the only shows people saw included really big well trained birds then people are going to think that these birds are the ones to get over smaller Parakeets and Conures.
We had always added a part to the show about how Parrots like the Macaws seen in the show live for an incredibly long time and don't always make great pets for so many reasons, but we didn't have time to advise too much other then a few home truths.
The new show was called Parrots of the World and included some smaller birds. The idea was to showcase their free flight skills and natural behaviours. Within the new team was a small flock of Quaker Parakeets and a pair of Patagonian Conures.
One thing that was apparent soon after training them, was being smaller they were much more capable flyers and would get fitter as the amphitheatre restricted the larger birds in flight.
It was so much fun to watch these small birds zipping around through all the gaps and skimming the audiences heads with precision.
The housing backstage for the birds resting quarters were floor to ceiling aviaries, so in comparison to their size the smaller birds had so much more space and again the flights from the floor to their perches was keeping them fit with it being so many tiny wing beats to reach their roosts.
For quality of life the smaller birds were coming out on top and it would be the same for anyone taking on a bird that they want to fly. You don't have to have the skills to free fly birds to enjoy their flight.
This show was indoors and was still a showcase of flying skills. Macaws really are hard to fly about in a household even if your house is spacious like the show area at the zoo, it still won’t make up for the dozens of miles they would fly naturally.
However the small birds can really rack up the flight time indoors, so if impressive aerial manoeuvres is something that interests you, then small long tailed species are the way forward in my opinion.
The small birds don't lack intelligent minds, they learn all the same behaviours as the largest Parrots too. The thing I remember most about training smaller Parrots new behaviours (tricks) such as retrieving objects or taking a piece of trash and putting it in a recycling bin was how much quicker the small birds are in their actions.
So with small birds they can appear to the novice trainer as less capable learners bur in fact as they move quicker and operate somewhat quicker the trainer has to work quicker to place the timings or rewards.
One thing that will obviously make it easier for training the smaller species and helping them to thrive when learning new behaviours is to tailor their props to suit their size.
As an example it will make a small Conure look less intelligent if you are training a dollar bill to be taken from you and put in a money box. It’s going to be an easy task for a Macaw that can fly and move with that dollar bill hanging from its beak no problem.
The small Conure however is going to be flying with a sheet the same size as itself and it will cause the same behaviour to be much more difficult.
Simple things like scrunching up the dollar note will help or thinking of size appropriate props. When putting a show together at the zoo, running costs were something that had to be thought about and at the time in 2002/2003 the birds were converted from their previous diets to one that contained a complete pellet food.
Other foods were used in the bird’s day to day management as well but it was a new transition to have the healthiest birds. It’s worth taking on board that better quality food costs more money, so if you want a bird to have the best of the best you can probably feed a smaller bird all year for the same cost monthly cost as a large Macaw.
The small flock of Quaker Parakeets consumed about the same as one Macaw. This might not sound like much of a factor when thinking about whether a small bird would work for you, but that saving on putting all your pennies into foods for a larger bird can help fund many other consumables for your bird.
At the zoo there was always competition for fresh branches as many animals would need these leaves and limbs to supplement their diets. To really give the Macaws something really significant to climb through and chew on, we needed a really big bit of a fresh cut tree for them.
The small birds were easier to provide for and the amount that would really enrich their day was hardly noticed from the harvest.
Years on and having two Macaws of my own with my own group of Conures, I still find so many positives to the small side of Parrot keeping. As an owner it is my job to do my best by them all. It is defiantly easier to keep the little guys fitter and they can be such a joy to watch now my skills have confidence to have given them many years of free flying outside.
Looking back at the Parrots of the world show, it was in my opinion to have not forgotten the small stuff. In my next instalment, I shall be talking about the small things we can do to build better relationships with our birds.