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Old Wives Tales You Hear About Parrots Part 1

Old Wives Tales You Hear About Parrots Part 1

Posted by Old Wives Tales, Parrot Tales, Parrot Myths, Parrot Facts on 5/3/2013

Here are Old Wives’ Tales you need to know about Parrots.

If everyone knew all they should about birds, it would be a (more) Perfect World, in my opinion – and this article would not be necessary. However, we all know just how IMperfect this world is. For you knowledgeable Parrot people, this article is likely an example of “preaching to the converted.”

However, I would suggest that you well-informed folks read it anyway to test your knowledge. In this way, you can check to be certain you are not inadvertently harbouring any obsolete information regarding companion birds.


When I go to avian veterinary conferences, instead of just attending the cutting edge stuff, I always attend any introduction to avian medicine courses they might offer. This is despite my having worked as a veterinary technician specialized in birds for twenty years. I no longer work directly with avian veterinarians, so I consider my information to be dated. By attending beginner lectures, I update my basic knowledge. As far as I am concerned, I should learn a little but not too much. If I learned a lot, it would mean I’d gotten hopelessly out of date, which is totally unacceptable. (Learning nothing new would mean basic avian medicine hadn’t advanced at all – which hasn’t happened to me yet.)

This article is the same idea. Also, please do birds a favour by sharing this information with others who are not as knowledgeable as you. Northern Parrots have generously released this article from copyright, to encourage people to do this. Just acknowledge and link back to this website wherever the article is reproduced.

And as it turns out, there are so many myths still being passed around about birds that this will be a two-part article.

I. Birds are “susceptible to drafts”.

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a draft as “a current of air in a closed space.” It doesn’t even mention what temperature the air is. Certainly sounds deadly, doesn’t it? A current of air, one would assume that lots of air currents are involved when a bird is flying around, so one might wonder why an air current is supposed to be bad for birds. In reality, this makes no sense at all. Yes, a cold draft could be a problem for a sickly bird, but not for a healthy one.

II. Birds are “fragile.”

Reality: there are many families and individual species of birds (i.e., hawks, ravens, vultures, Canaries) that can live 20+ years – longer than most dogs and cats. Does that mean dogs and cats are fragile? I think not. Many larger psittacine (Parrot) species can live 40-80+ years. Does that sound like a fragile animal? Indeed, instead of being “fragile”, birds are nature’s athletes. This myth came into existence for the same reason as the previous one.

III. Birds eat only birdseed.

This old wives’ tale is the origin for Nonsensical Things I and II. We learned in the late 1970s that an all seed diet is not an adequate diet for companion birds. Far from it! When companion birds (especially Parrots) eat only seed they develop severe cases of malnutrition. This is because an all-seed diet is apparently the nutritional equivalent of white bread and chips, and how healthy would you be if you only ate white bread and chips? .

Thanks to this extremely poor diet, avian immune systems could not defend the birds from any disease producing entities (pathogens) in the environment, so they got sick easily – hence, their reputation for being “fragile” and “susceptible to drafts.” Therefore, human ignorance caused this situation. And despite all the lectures, articles printed in bird magazines and all over the internet, malnutrition is still considered the underlying cause of over 75% of the medical problems avian veterinarians see in companion birds. STILL! Sadly, human ignorance continues to prevail.

I have worked with wild birds as well as companion birds, and I have learned there are few if any species of birds that actually eat nothing but seeds. Many species of wild birds come to our backyard feeders to consume seeds, but that does not mean that they eat a 100% seed diet. Indeed, the diets of most of the “seed eaters” in our back yards also include insects and berries, which we often do not see them eating as we observe from our windows.

Besides, the next time you meet any hawks, buzzards, vultures or eagles, have fun trying to convince them that they should be eating only bird seed!

Find the best food for your Parrot here.

IV. Fresh fruits and vegetables cause diarrhoea in birds.

This is an ancient myth, and one that I’d cheerfully relegated to the trash can as finally having vanished … until I heard it again a couple of weeks ago. It is totally incorrect. The foundation of this misinformation is a lack of knowledge about the droppings of a bird.

Avian droppings normally consist of three parts: one from the G.I. or gastrointestinal tract, and two from the kidneys or renal system. With most species of companion birds, by-products from the GI tract (faeces) are dark green or brown and worm-shaped like the intestines. True diarrhea is actually quite rare in companion birds, and is described in avian medicine texts as resembling pea soup. (Ever wonder why medical descriptions are usually compared to food?) On the renal side of the equation, there are the pasty, semi-solid white by-products called urates, and clear liquid called urine (as in mammals).

When a bird increases its water consumption, its droppings reflect this with polyuria or an increase in urine output – seen as a clear splash around the solid faeces. (This is a good example of the “In column A, out column B” rule.) This increased liquid is often misidentified as diarrhoea. Hence, this is the origin of the totally incorrect interpretation that water-rich fresh foods cause diarrhoea. Polyuria as a reflection of a water-rich diet is not considered to be a problem.

V. Birds need a constant source of grit to help grind their food since they have no teeth.

Since many of the foodstuffs that Parrots eat in the wild have toxic or bitter coverings, Parrots don’t seem to eat the outside of anything. Just as they shell peas and kernels of corn, they also shell seeds before consuming them. Consequently, avian veterinarians here in the USA agree that Parrots not only don’t need grit, but that it can cause potential problems. Sick Parrots have been known to over-eat grit, leading to potentially life-threatening impactions.

In contrast, there are other families of companion birds that do need grit – such as columbiforms (pigeons and doves) and passerines (songbirds like Canaries and Finches). These birds often swallow seeds whole, so they do need a source of grit in a separate bowl from their food bowls. Sprinkling the grit on the bottom of the cage is potentially unsanitary, as you are encouraging birds to eat out of their toilet.

Buy Mineral Grit for your Parrot here.

VI. Birds can’t fly if their wings are clipped.

Thirty-four years ago, I believed this one. That is, I believed it until my Blue and Yellow Macaw Sam taught me otherwise. Under the right conditions (i.e., something terrifying and/or just the right gust of wind), Parrots can fly with or without their wings clipped. They are, after all, still birds. When a firecracker went off close by, my Sam flew 45 feet up in a tree at a 45-degree angle. With every single flight feather totally chopped off. (If she’d looked at her wings first, things might’ve been different – but she was already gone!)

Please also keep in mind that if a Parrot hasn’t flown YET, that does not mean it never will. Entirely too many people put their birds in situations that they fully admit would be dangerous IF their birds could fly. The trick is that the birds CAN FLY. Trust me on this, please … and your beloved Parrot just might live longer … at least with you. Or if it does fly away, pray that it is found by Parrot-loving people who will give it a safer home than you did.

VII. People working in pet stores know all about birds and give good advice.

From my own personal experience working in pet stores, pet store employees are often minimum wage workers who only know what someone else has taught them … and that person may have little or no information about Parrots. Stores that retail birds SHOULD have good advice to share, but there is no guarantee that is the case.

However, I am a strong believer in a concept that is apparently no longer in vogue – that of personal responsibility. If you purchase a Parrot on impulse, with no conception of what you are getting into, it is YOUR FAULT. It is not the duty of the pet store to teach you everything you need to know about such a creature. You have to do your own research to learn everything you can about companion Parrots, and to figure out the best (if any) species with which to share your life and your lifestyle.

It would be lovely if all pet store staff members were authorities on the animals they sell. Then they could instruct new owners on the importance of a nutritious diet and avoiding problem behaviours in the future. And it would be truly wonderful if they got a lovely bonus for declining to sell a Parrot to someone who should not own one. But that is not the way most of the world works, is it?

However, I do have to question. Why do we assume that pet store employees are authorities on animal care? We don’t expect grocery store workers to be nutritional experts, do we? Yet for some reason we apparently assume pet store employees are knowledgeable and we often take their word as gospel. Is this a logical assumption? I think not.

VIII. Birds ALWAYS need food available because they can starve to death quickly.

Apparently, small birds like finches and hummingbirds can die of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in only a few hours without food. However, if healthy, larger birds can go without food for several hours at a time with no problems. Many psittacine species observed in the wild only appear to eat 2-3 times per day.

Get the best food for your Parrot here.

IX. It is best to buy an unweaned baby Parrot because hand feeding will increase its bond with you.

This old wives’ tale is not just incorrect – it is potentially dangerous. Hand feeding can be a hazardous operation, even in the hands of an experienced person (and I had a distressing personal experience as proof of this). Putting a hand feeding baby Parrot into the care of an inexperienced person can be seriously life threatening for that bird. However, this fallacy is continually repeated for one very simple reason – the profit margin. The faster a store or breeder can sell a baby psittacine and move it out of their facility, the higher their profits. Hand feeding is a tremendously time-consuming and labour intensive process, and time is money, as they say.

Find useful breeding and hand feeding food here.

Suffice it to say, Parrots form positive relationships with those they learn to trust, not just someone holding a syringe. .

X. Knowing the sex of a Parrot is unimportant unless you plan to breed it.

According to the REAL animal behaviourists or ethologists, the sex of an animal is crucial information. Indeed, its importance ranks it only behind its species. From my perspective, it is vital that Parrot people know their birds’ sex. Especially now that it only requires a drop of blood. Many people seem amazed when they hear this, and ask if there are behaviour differences between male and female Parrots.

The response is that there are differences in behaviour between males and females of any species of animal. Just because we cannot look at the outside of a monomorphic (males and females are identical) Parrot to judge its sex, this does not mean that knowing its sex is unimportant. After all, people often care what sex their dog is, and that of their children. Why not their Parrots? There is also a very good medical reason for having this knowledge. If a DNA-sexed male bird is acting egg bound, that changes the diagnosis a tad, doesn’t it?

XI. You need not get your Parrot sexed. If its favourite person is a woman, then the Parrot is a male.

This one is so illogical that it’s almost beyond belief – yet amazingly enough, it still shows up in print. If you think about it, it is based on the assumption that a Parrot (a species of bird) perceives a human (a species of mammal) as a sex object, isn’t it? And how ridiculous is that? The sex of the favourite human has NOTHING to do with the sex of a Parrot, anymore than your male dog loves you because it perceives you as a female (or whatever).

Click to read Nonsensical Old Wives’ Tales You Hear about Parrots – Part 2

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