What’s your priority as a Parrot carer? For most of us it’s not will they talk, love us, be colourful or breed valuable babies – it is to keep them safe.
Opinions on the best way to do this are not unanimous; they evolve and change with passing fads and fashions but also, more importantly, with the increase of scientific knowledge of these fascinating, enigmatic creatures that share our lives.
Captive Parrots must live within a wide range of environments. Going from a single pet bird in a cage; a couple or a flock of indoor Parrots to an outdoor flock in an aviary which might be mixed or in a breeding situation. And at the extreme end of the range of optional lifestyles, one or more free flying birds.
However, considerations of good husbandry apply equally to all captive bred birds. Captive birds should enjoy the five freedoms which are enshrined in the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. They apply to all domesticated animals as well as birds and poultry. They are: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom to express normal inherent behaviour; freedom from pain, injury, disease and environmental impoverishment, freedom from discomfort and freedom from fear and distress.
Let’s examine some of these issues:
The first freedom - from hunger and thirst - sounds comparatively easy but … (pun coming) it’s is a hard nut to crack. This means you must decide whether the bulk of food will be pellets with, veggies, fruit, nuts, and treats added as rewards when training.
Find lots of great tasting food here.
Perhaps you’ll provide a seed mixture with the additions mentioned above or make up a mash with additions.
Assuming that anyone reading this blog is (as I am) a customer at Northern Parrots, the bewildering choice of what is enticingly presented can lead to - if not sleepless nights - then plenty of anxiety.
Do I keep to the tried and tested seed mixture (Grandpa used for the Budgies) or do I try one of these attractively marketed pellets (the vet recommends)? I cannot presume to tell you what is best for your bird(s).
Recently, my increasing preference has been to grow sprouts which then make up 30% of the diet. They are a living food. They have always been a bother to grow until I bought an electric sprouter.
Now it takes only a few minutes every few days to empty, clean and refill with previously soaked seeds and legumes, switch on and in 48/72 hours I have a bowl of sprouts in the fridge for us and the birds. Since our birds eat better than myself and my husband Wal, I have no compunction in sharing their food. Their sprouts are human quality as are their nuts; their birdy bread is made from human-grade ingredients.
It’s useful to invest in a scale and weight the pet birds weekly. Artha and Casper (the Greys’) weight has remained within a range of plus or minus ten grams for 12 years. Benni, the two-year old Macaw, has kept the same weight for 18 months.
It’s fun to be creative with birdy bread. I use different toppings like pumpkin, sesame, poppy or chia seeds. Note that not everyone would accept or use this recipe because of eggs and skim milk.
My birds have a lot of exercise so I occasionally add grated cheese as a topping. Some people claim that Parrots cannot digest lactose. My Belgian friend, Bart von Hoenigan, used yoghurt to entice his free flying Greys back to his arm.
Recipe for Savoury Birdy Bread
I use Organic flour and mix different ones: whole wheat/spelt/rye/ kaput, etc.
450 gm flour.
Pinch of salt.
2/3 large organic eggs with shell (If share with the Parrots, leave off the egg shell).
2 tablespoons honey.
2 teaspoons baking soda.
500 ml skim milk with 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice) added to curdle the milk.
450/ 500 Gms of chopped or grated mixed vegetables. Organic if possible: sweet corn kernels, kale, carrots, chard, grated sweet potato, any cooked beans like chickpeas, kidney, etc.
Sometimes I grate some beetroot; sometimes I add unsweetened apple puree. Expert opinion disagrees on garlic. My Cockatoo relished it.
Nuts (optional) I would not use nuts unless the birds have plenty of exercise.
Mix dry ingredients together.
Beat the egg into the soured milk and add to the dry ingredients. Beat well.
Turn into 2 x 25 cm pan and even the top.
Bake at 180 C degrees for 35-40 minutes.
Serve in small portions. Freeze or refrigerate the rest of the loaves.
If you want to experiment with foods, the only things to avoid are the known poisonous or harmful substances, yew, Datura, laburnham, foxglove, growing outside, inside, avocado, alcohol, tea, coffee, chocolate, fried food, salty food and pizza.
Can you swear that your bird never tastes crisps, pizza, coffee, etc.? I won’t answer the question myself
Cage, Environment and Toys
‘Express normal inherent behaviour’ and remain safe. That means a suitable cage and a suitable environment for it. I like Rosemary Low’s advice - if you don’t want a pet that flies – buy a hamster.
I’d include the opinion that if you don’t want a large cage cluttering up the sitting room, buy a stuffed Parrot. A cage cannot be too large for a Parrot. Though a word of warning - two cautionary examples - a friend’s Umbrella Cockatoo thrust his foot out between the bars and was injured getting it back.
My hand fed fledgling Rock Pebbler, Little Flo, stuck his little wing out of the cage and Casper bit it, breaking his wing. (It mended and he flew in the end.) Cage bars often are sometimes too widely spaced apart. After Flo’s accident, I taped netting to the bars when the cage was housing a fledging bird whose wing could easily stick out.
I have long been advocating homemade willow wreaths adorned with flowers. For 15 years past my birds have loved them and they have made acceptable presents. Until a recent tragedy.
I gave one to a friend, his large, clever Parrot somehow untwisted the wire hoop round which the willow fronds were threaded, got a leg trapped and died. I am now remaking the willow wreaths with the hoop made of willow with no wire involved. Toys and flowers can be tied on with soft string.
There is a dilemma here. Empty cage = boredom, screaming and plucking. Well-stocked cage (may) provide opportunities for injury.
Find lots of useful cages here.
Prudence and regular inspections have become second nature to us. Only buy toys from a known source and if making your own take care with nails, sharp edges, noxious substances. Birds can and do get zinc and lead poisoning and both these incipient
tragedies are avoidable.
Freedom from discomfort
To me that means we will curtail some of our desires in favour of the birds’ welfare. No cigarette smoke in the house. No use of perfumed candles. No air fresheners. Minimize the use of chemicals – everyone will feel better for it.
F10 disinfectant – expensive but harmless to birds, vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, harmless to birds and not expensive, all provide acceptable substitutes. Make a careful choice of which cleaning products you use. An oven cleaner that makes you cough will give off fumes too strong for a bird’s lungs. The fumes from Teflon coated pans if the pan’s burning can cause death to Parrots. If in doubt don’t do it is as good a maxim as any.
Discomfort? Here you will find a lot of different points of view. Do you kiss and cuddle the psittacine in your life?
Cockatoos crave their caregivers’ attention yet as so many have discovered, an over bonded Cockatoo is neither happy in herself, nor does she spread happiness around her when she bites any threat to her human beloved or screams endlessly for his attention.
If a young bird is brought up with a birdy friend the problems of over attachment may never surface. Anne Castro in Germany keeps a rescue establishment of many different species. She never keeps a lone bird but always provides a companion of the same or similar species. She provides no nesting areas and avoids the problems of breeding behaviour through careful management.
But every opinion concerning bird behaviour can be countered with an opposite illustration. My beloved Benni, the Blue and Gold Macaw, has been free flying since March 2014.
His younger brother Kovu who lives in Watford with Ryan Wyatt and family, flies daily with a female Amazon. I brought in Mino, a young Blue and Gold, to be Benni’s flying buddy. After 3 months Benni had still not accepted Mino, who is now happily rehomed with Natalie Spencer. I am trying again with Mina, a young Military Macaw and hope to record her progress.
And finally –
The last of the five freedoms for domestic animals is freedom from fear and distress. How does that apply to captive Parrots? It does apply to domestic poultry (turkeys, hens, geese, ducks) when reared in unhygienic crowded conditions.
It should not be applicable to pet Parrots unless they are kept in crowded cages, neglected or given insufficient time out of the cage. Over-caging a bird can lead to psychological problems; the distressed bird can cry for attention or pluck himself or something which for me is almost worse become fearful to leave the cage.
Breeders can tell you horrible stories of how predators have threatened aviary birds through the mesh. One hawk pulled a Parrot’s leg through and killed it in the process. Double wiring can prevent predator attacks but has the drawback of being less attractive to look at in your garden and increasing the overall cost.
Natalie Spencer, who has some of my rescue birds, keeps a flock of guinea fowl free range. She has no fear of predators. If the Guinea’s see a hawk, they shriek to high heaven.
Protecting your bird from distress or fear has a delightful spin off, you spend time with her, you talk to her, explain things and have fun together.
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