Most Parrots sold as companions in the home are hand-reared. As we know by now, many hand-reared birds suffer behavioural problems, for a number of reasons. They are weaned too early, most never have a chance to socialise with their own species, and purchasers fail to understand that basic training is necessary.
If you are currently breeding companion Parrots and birds, you have to face the reality that a proportion of those you rear will sadly become unwanted eventually.
This might be because they are too loud and demanding or because they start to pluck themselves and no longer look beautiful. Or perhaps the owner has died and the relatives are not interested in inheriting a Parrot. Products that can help with feather plucking are here. .
I believe that it is time that breeders and other owners started to take a responsible attitude to the problem, that is, they act in a way that minimises the numbers of unwanted birds.
Suggestions For Breeders
Dedicate an aviary
Imagine what a difference it would make if every breeder set aside one aviary for unwanted Parrots. I do not mean taking unwanted pets that will be paired up with the possibility of producing more problem birds. I am referring to Parrots from aviaries that are old or difficult to re-home for some other reason.
A breeder could build or dedicate a large aviary with a good-sized shelter or indoor section for several birds of different species that can live together amicably, enjoy life and never be moved on.
Find cages that may be suitable here.
You sometimes hear people talk about Parrots that they have “rescued” – to pair up and breed from. This is not rescue – it is obtaining cheap or free Parrots for profit.
I also believe that breeders have an obligation to look after their pairs that are no longer producing due to age – not to sell them off at the next big sale day.
Question your conscience
Cockatoos are among the most problematical of hand-reared Parrots — often because purchasers do not understand the huge degree of commitment needed to keep a Cockatoo happy and healthy.
In the UK, a former Cockatoo breeder now devotes her time and energy to taking in unwanted Cockatoos. In Canada, a respected company that hand-rears young for the pet trade ceased to breed Cockatoos.
In 2005 Mark Hagen told me: “Large Cockatoos seem to be the ones with the majority of behavioural problems, leading to abandonment.
We used to breed a dozen baby Moluccans every year from five pairs and stopped this years ago.
Breeders created the problem, however if they do have a conscience, they will stop hand-rearing young as there are too many unwanted Cockatoos and other species of Parrots for rescue centres all over the world to cope with the influx and increase in numbers.
Opt for parent-rearing
Parent-rearing takes longer, thus reducing production, but parent reared young are more stable emotionally and better able to amuse themselves, therefore less demanding and less likely to get on the re-homing roundabout.
If their parents are unafraid of humans, and if they are removed from them as soon as they are independent, they can make more suitable pets than hand-reared Parrots. However, this will be dependent on the mind-set of the new owner who must have patience and a lower level of expectation of taming progress than if he or she had purchased a hand-reared Parrot.
In the UK breeders also create problem birds by hand-rearing Australian parakeets such as Rosellas as pets, simply because so many are being bred that they have a better chance of selling them if they are easy to handle.
These parakeets are much more suitable for aviaries: hand-reared birds can become very aggressive when they mature. They also need a lot of flying exercise.
Be a responsible breeder
A couple of years ago a friend told me about Rosellas that were being sold at 3 Euros each in the Netherlands. How can it happen that living creatures as beautiful and as easy to care for as these parakeets, can be sold at such a low price?
It is simply a case of supply exceeding demand. Unfortunately, most people with a pair of Parrots let them breed without any thought as to whether the young will be wanted.
When a Parrot is sold at next to nothing it is likely to be acquired by an inexperienced person who buys a small, cheap cage and places it in the living room, like an ornament, with no idea of the aviary space needed for such active birds, or the level of attention it requires.
If you have pairs of inexpensive species that you know are difficult to sell to suitable homes, please do not breed from them. Let them lay! Do not thwart their instinct to breed. Then replace the eggs with plastic ones or with the false eggs that pigeon fanciers use. If you remove them the female will simply lay again – and again, possibly depleting her calcium reserves with fatal consequences.
It is time that owners of pairs of more expensive Parrots consider very carefully exactly what they are doing when they sell their young into the pet trade. In pet stores the unfortunate birds, unloved and lonely, often languish for months because the price is so high.
Breeders who sell to stores are increasing the risk of problem Parrots that end up unwanted. Early neglect (lack of close contact with humans) results in Parrots that will soon have behavioural problems, which inexperienced purchasers are unable to cope with.
In garden centres in the UK I have seen young hand-reared Parrots displayed in glass cages. This is inhumane. They are even denied any physical contact.
To decrease the number of young of certain species available for the pet market will seem like a curious aim to commercial breeders. The fact is, however, that certain species, notably white Cockatoos and Grey Parrots, are more likely to end up in rescue centres because they are so demanding when hand-reared, especially in inexperienced hands.
The same breeders could be producing birds that make wonderful pets that are easier to cope with, such as Cockatiels. The problem is that these lovely birds do not have the same kudos as larger Parrots. Responsible pet store owners could play their part here by promoting suitable species as pets — not promoting most strongly the high-priced ones.
Many breeders (and almost all pet stores) give inadequate advice or information about the Parrots they sell. I know because I receive phone calls from people who have recently bought a Parrot and who ask the most basic questions imaginable.
One cannot blame the seller entirely as most purchasers do not make an effort to read reliable literature about the species they are buying or on general Parrot behaviour. Books by acknowledged avicultural authors with many years’ experience are recommended.
Normally there is absolutely no warning from the seller about possible behavioural problems.
Neither are there suggestions about training Parrots to perform simple commands such as stepping up that make them much easier to live with and therefore less likely to be sold on at a young age.
Although it is commendable to recommend books about Parrot behaviour, I know from long experience that the average Parrot owner is not interested in buying books.
What can the breeder do? He or she can purchase books beforehand and include them in the selling price of the bird. I know one breeder of Grey Parrots who include a copy of my book A Guide to Grey Parrots as Pet and Aviary Birds in the purchase price, and another who insists that they read the book before they collect their bird. If a breeder does not wish to do this, he or she could easily photocopy the relevant pages about behaviour-related problems so that the purchaser is aware of these.
Great care in re-homing
It is so easy to buy a Parrot but extremely difficult to find a suitable home if you can no longer keep it. This is something that people should consider very carefully before acquiring a Parrot – yet they seldom give a thought to it.
Sometimes there are genuine reasons for having to part with a Parrot. I have seen people agonise for months about finding a new home for one, turning down prospective purchasers until the right person or place is found.
If you carelessly dispose of a Parrot, that is, to an unsuitable home, this can be the first step on a path of multiple homes in two or three years. With each successive home the Parrot become more traumatised and less suitable as a companion. Finally, it goes to a rescue centre because no one else will take it.
This is an e-mail I received from Wendy Huntbatch who runs a large Parrot rescue centre in Canada. It is typical of many I have received from her:
“You should see the two Cockatoos that arrived today. They would break even the toughest heart.
One is a tiny little Lesser Sulphur-crested Cockatoo wearing only sparse down and a few broken and shredded feathers on the wings and crest.
She sits so close to the naked Eleanora that they appear to be attached to each other. They came in the cage they have shared for 30 years – it measures 20in x 20in” (50cm square).”
People who run rescue centres have to take huge risks all the time because some Parrots that look healthy are potential time-bombs, infected with PDD, PFBD or some other killer disease. They might be disease-tested before admission, but the test is not invariably correct. If you have such a bird and cannot or will not keep it, please act responsibly and have it euthanised.