Rosemary Low explains more about caring for a Parrot in an owner’s absence.
Caring for birds in the owner’s absence is an extremely important task. It relies on more than just following instructions. I would like to give some advice to people taking temporary care of birds, based on my own experiences of carers in my absence.
Observe carefully before you start work so that you do not alter existing procedures. The owner has practical reasons for his methods: they are not random.
For example, place food and water containers in the same position. Some birds are very sensitive to these being moved. Also, water containers are placed where they will not be fouled from nearby perches and where the water from bathing birds will not be splashed on to food.
- The amount of food given must never be reduced. If one bird is hungry, because as a member of a pair or in a group it is not assertive and does not get enough to eat, this can cause it enormous stress. It is then vulnerable to attack by other birds. For the same reason, the number of food containers should not be reduced.
- Topping up seed dishes is lazy and dangerous. Seed dishes should be removed and filled daily. If not, debris (ground-up seed) or husks will accumulate in the bottom, gradually reducing the amount of seed available. In any case, they should be replaced with a clean dish daily.
- When offering soft foods, such as eggfood, the consistency is important. If it is too wet it will probably be ignored.
- Observe how various fruits are fed and follow these instructions exactly. Any change in the preparation method can cause the fruits to be ignored. For example, my birds are given fruits in a way that allows them to forage (on hangers, etc).
One carer decided to chop the fruits and put them in one dish. My birds had never seen fruit presented like this and just ignored it.
- Follow the instructions for Lory Nectar precisely. If too much water is added to proprietary mixtures, the birds can starve. This is not only because the nutrients are decreased but because the mixture will separate more easily, leaving a watery layer on top.
Lories won’t drink it. The same is true if too much nectar is placed in the container.
- Leave a proper bird catching net, with a padded rim, in every location. Be sure to show the carer where it is. If a bird escapes inside a building, it needs to be returned to its cage as quickly as possible. Impress on the carer the importance of closing all doors securely – and checking that they are all closed and locked where necessary.
Attempts to catch an escaped bird within a building cause widespread panic among the other occupants.
- Adhere as strictly as possible to feeding times. Parrots and other birds have a precise sense of time that is truly amazing. Many companion Parrot owners must have recognised this in their own birds.
Howard Voren described a wonderful example of this in wild Parrots. He watched a flock of 300 Red-lored Amazons (Amazona autumnalis) in Belize (Bird Talk magazine, July 1997). He recounted how as “they passed over a large clearing of grassland, they would split up into groups and they would fly off in different directions…
Each of the groups would forage for food separately. They would follow separate flight paths and feed on the available edibles they encountered in that path. All three groups would meet at a mid-day roosting point, where they would rest until the noon heat dissipated. Then they would again split up into three groups and feed their way back to their evening roosting site.
“One of the things that amazed me was the accuracy of their internal clocks. Even though all three groups took separate flight/feeding paths through the jungles, they would all show up at the exact same time over the field of grass where they split up in the morning.
Between 5 and 5.05pm, they would fly in from completely different directions. The three groups would come together in mid-flight over the field and fly the remaining few miles to their roosting site. In the 10 days I observed them, the only exception was an extremely rainy day. They returned to the field a full half hour early.”
Advice to owners
Leave precise written instruction, including where all food items are stored. Also send the instructions to the carer by email, in case they lose the written ones.
Make sure there is a duplicate set of keys to the aviaries and buildings. Imagine the disaster if the carer loses the keys!
Choose the person to whom you entrust your birds with great care. Because they keep birds themselves it does not necessarily mean they will make a good job of looking after yours! This is partly because they think they know exactly what to do and ignore your instructions. The best person could be someone with little experience of bird care.
The second aspect is to observe how your birds react to the person you think is suitable. It might be that they know better than you! Some people are naturally trusted by birds.
Other people are regarded with suspicion. The behaviour of your birds will quickly indicate into which category they fall.
Of course, there might be a gender bias here in that if your birds are used to being cared for by a woman, they might be suspicious of a man. Or it might be that the carer is wearing a baseball cap, or loud colours, which your birds are not used to.
But it could be more than that. Some people move in a quiet and gentle way around birds. This is the person you need. Not someone who is loud or with quick movements.
Don’t think if someone did a good job last time it will be the same this time. Go through everything carefully and leave detailed written instructions. Even so, the tendency after the first time can be not to bother to read them!
Be sure to leave instructions regarding a trusted vet, local tradesmen, electricians, plumbers, etc, in case there is an emergency.
Also leave details of your house insurance policy. You never know when they might be needed! And if there is someone local who knows your birds and can offer advice in an emergency, be sure to give their telephone number.
All this sounds like common sense. But sometimes we need to be reminded that other people do not know our birds as well as we do. Also that not everyone is endowed with a good dose of common sense!