Here are more Old Wives’ Tales about Parrots.
Welcome back. Lets continue from where we left off. To read Part 1 click here.
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XII. It is wonderful when a Parrot thinks its owner is its mate.
When you look at this issue dispassionately, it is completely illogical that this would be a good thing. A Parrot identifying a human as its mate is a dead-end affair, often leading to incredible frustration for the bird. And frustration for Parrots often leads to aggression, just as it does with people.
If people are not planning to run away with their birds to make chicklets together, then it is monstrously unfair for them to allow their Parrots to perceive them in this manner. After all, doesn’t that mean their relationship is based on a lie? As one avian veterinarian put it, “You made a lovely dinner, put on romantic music, lit the candles … and then you walked away.” Aggravation to say the least!
If we realize we are in this flattering but futile situation with our Parrots, we need to re-adjust and redefine our relationship with our Parrots from mate to that of teacher or friend. We need to avoid the situations that stimulate the bird, such as all-body petting; we must instantly change the subject if stimulation occurs. Activities such as trick training also assist in changing the relationship to that of teacher-student. Yes, we love our Parrots deeply, but not in that way.
XIII. A “one-person bird” is perfectly “normal”
This is another totally illogical and erroneous myth. Many species of companion Parrots are flock animals. During reproductive season they go off in pairs to raise young, but out of nesting season they hang out in large flocks.
The African Grey Parrot is famous for being a “one-person bird” – yet hundreds of Greys flock together in Africa. If they are flying with multitudes of other Greys besides their mate, how can they not be interacting with them? So yes, in captivity it is “normal” for a Parrot to have a favourite person, but that does not mean it is “normal” for that bird to disallow contact with anyone else. I am monogamous with my husband, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any friends.
XIV. If your Parrot becomes aggressive; it needs to be put in a breeding situation.
There are some days when I wonder if this myth was created by unethical breeders who wanted access to free birds. No behaviour problem excuses dumping a human-oriented Parrot into a “breeding situation.” Due to cross-species miscommunication, biting is a common problem with companion Parrots, but one that can often be resolved. Indeed, experienced Parrot behaviour consultants often find biting to be one of the easiest problem behaviours to “fix.”
XV. Parrots that pluck are sexually frustrated and need a mate.
This is another one that makes no sense, but could’ve originated with pet stores and breeders concerned only with selling more birds. I have toured many avicultural facilities over the years, and I can’t count how many feather-plucking breeding Parrots I have seen.
They are mated and raising babies … and they are plucking themselves, their mates, and sometimes their babies as well. Feather destructive behaviours are incredibly complex, not platitudes. Most avian veterinarians I know agree with experienced Parrot behaviour consultants that feather destructive behaviours [FDB] most often originate due to a medical and/or management problem.
As a result, a FDB bird needs to have a full medical workup and management analysis before jumping to the conclusion that the feather destruction is “behavioural” in origin.
XVI. If your Parrot screams excessively, it needs another bird for company.
Another nonsensical myth! If you have a Parrot that screams excessively and you get another Parrot, it is likely your screamer will teach the new bird to holler too. So you will likely end up with two screaming Parrots and 2-3 times as much noise as before.
If you have problem behaviour in a companion Parrot, work with a Parrot behaviour consultant to resolve it. “Quick fixes” do not work over the long term.
XVII. You cannot tell when a bird is sick.
There are a couple of psittacine diseases that can kill a bird quickly, but from my 20 years of experience working with avian veterinarians, these are not a routine occurrence with captive Parrots. (Much more frequent are things like bacterial infections.) The signs of illness in birds can be very subtle.
There are useful analogies with the more familiar dogs and cats. A dog’s behaviour is far from understated when it doesn’t feel good. Cats are much less obvious about feeling poorly, and someone unaccustomed to cats might easily miss the evidence that there is a problem.
Birds are even more subtle than cats, so an owner needs to be paying attention to notice the early signs of a problem developing – but from my experience, the signs are generally there.
In the years that I was an avian technician, it was my job to educate clients who waited too long and brought in birds that were critically ill and down on the cage bottom. When I began to describe the subtle changes in a bird’s behaviour that can typify a problem starting, we would then get into what I call the come-to-think-of-its.
For example, “Come to think of it, he’s not been as aggressive as usual the last couple of weeks,” or “Come to think of it, she hasn’t been eating her grapes for the last few days, and she normally LOVES her grapes.”
These were possible signs of a bird getting sick, but the owners did not understand how crucial they were. As a result, they didn’t act as swiftly as they should have, waiting instead until the bird’s condition became critical (i.e., down on the bottom of the cage).
Our companion birds are prey animals and for survival reasons, they have developed the ability to hide the obvious signs of disease. This is logical, considering a sick-looking bird in the wild may as well wear a sign that says, “Eat me!” However, owners who know their birds well will notice that something is different – and educated owners will immediately call their avian veterinarian for an appointment.
XVIII. Birds get sick and die in a matter of hours.
This is a spin-off of the previous statement, and has already been addressed. True, there are a couple of bird diseases that can kill very fast, but that is not generally what happens. Instead, a bird has been ill for a couple of weeks, but the signs were overlooked. When the bird becomes so weak it cannot mask the signs anymore, it finally ends up on the bottom of the cage. Owners then report, “He was fine this morning but was sick at lunchtime when I came home.”
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XIX. A bird is not sick as long as it is still eating.
I used to believe this one. Then I attended a lecture in the early 80s given by avian veterinarian Walter Rosskoff. During his talk he showed a slide that is forever burned into my brain – of a blue and gold Macaw dead in its cage with its face in a food bowl and food in its mouth. It is true that a bird that is still eating is better off than one that isn’t, but the presence of an appetite does not eliminate the potential for a serious medical issue.
XX. If a bird’s mate dies, you must replace it immediately or the other bird will die of grief.
According to a very bird-savvy colleague of mine, some aviculturists apparently need to have their very own epidemic before they understand the importance of quarantining new birds. The same can be said for some companion bird owners.
In the situation described above, the surviving bird is unlikely to die of grief. While there is no question that birds grieve, the idea that an animal will die of grief – while romantically appealing – is illogical and likely seldom occurs. It is MUCH more likely that the surviving bird will die of the same thing that killed its mate.
Therefore, under NO circumstance should a new bird of any species be introduced without proper avian vetting and quarantine of 45-60 days in an area as far away as possible (i.e., in another air space) from the first bird. The ideal quarantine is totally isolated from other birds in another house.
XXI. All veterinarians know how to care for birds.
This is a potentially deadly myth. In reality, to become a licensed veterinarian here in the USA, a student is required to only learn about domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, horses … and a teeny bit about chickens.
Many American veterinary schools have no coursework at all about non-domesticated species like companion birds and other exotics, nor will they see them as patients. For instance, the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Veterinary Medicine went for over a decade without a veterinarian on staff that knew anything about these very different creatures, and they wouldn’t even deal with a ferret with a broken toenail. And during the current financial crisis, they are closing the exotic animal department again.
Most veterinarians specialize in either “small animals” (dogs and cats) or “large animals” (horses, cattle, etc.). Many of them then specialize further to do only, for instance, horses or cats. But here in the USA, a veterinary license says nothing about the species with which veterinarians are trained.
This makes it quite legal for veterinarians to see any animal even if they have no knowledge about the species. The only exception to this is with wildlife, as veterinarians must have a special license to work with them in other than emergency situations.
So while it may be unethical (in my opinion), it is not illegal for an American veterinarian to treat birds, despite having absolutely NO experience or training in working with them. Would you take your dog to a cow vet? If the answer is no, then taking your companion bird to a dog and cat vet is equally illogical.
Therefore, companion Parrot people MUST seek out those rare and special veterinarians who DO have the necessary training and experience. After all, their birds’ lives depend on it. My own avian and exotic animal veterinarian told me that with most of the referrals she gets from other veterinarians, she likely could have saved the animal’s life if the other veterinarian had only referred the animal to her two weeks sooner. What a terrible situation!
Outside the USA, owners should check their country’s policies to see how they might affect them and their animals.
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XXII. Over-the-counter medications are good for sick birds.
Here in the USA, it is unfortunately legal to sell over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as heavily attenuated (weakened) antibiotics. These so-called “treatments” are, from my experience, good for only two things: the store that profits from selling such products – and the trashcan.
They rarely, if ever, help a sick bird in any lasting way. However, they can accomplish two very dangerous things. Their application wastes valuable time that a sick bird cannot afford, and they often alter the results of testing done by experienced avian veterinarians, making proper diagnosis and treatment even more difficult.
XXIII. Medications in the water bowl work well to treat sick birds and work for vitamins, as well.
With very few exceptions (when used by experienced avian veterinarians), medications placed in water bowls are totally ineffective, for several reasons.
1: If the water colour or flavour changes, a bird will often stop drinking completely. This can lead to dehydration, which in itself can be life threatening.
2: It is impossible to calibrate a proper dose when treating in this manner, since it depends on how large the water bowl is, and therefore how diluted the medication is.
3: It is impossible to judge if a bird consumes a sufficient quantity of the “medicated” water to actually get to effective blood levels of a drug.
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