You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
No caring, conscientious animal or bird lover would disagree with that statement.
But how far does responsibility stretch?
Let’s look at tolerance when it is applied to the care of captive birds.
In terms of captive birds, you can use as a basic foundation of aims the Five Freedoms which are:
Freedom from hunger and thirst by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigour
Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
Freedom to express normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering
These guidelines originally intended for farm animals can be taken as a benchmark for all animals including birds that are cared for commercially or privately as pets.
In terms of Parrot care, once you become aware of a situation where one or more of these freedoms are being contravened, can you or should you intervene with a clear conscience to whatever degree is suitable. And if you are criticised - how should you react?
As you apply these guidelines to your pet birds you need to consider
their ability to behave as naturally as possible
To me this means the ability to use their wings as much as is compatible within your home, and if possible aviaries. Since I believe that birds are evolved to fly what’s my attitude to the considerable number of wing clippers? The evidence that full wings make for a happier healthier bird has been available for decades.
Yet Parrots are still regularly clipped, sometimes before fledging. Since the practice is not illegal all you can do is, if face to face with a wing clipper is to put forward the arguments in favour of full wings in a non-aggressive manner. You can give reference to numerous studies.
Discussing this topic with Stephen Lavoie, an experienced American bird keeper, he remarked.
For instance, if you bring up the topic of wing clipping on a Facebook page devoted to Parrot care, you’ll receive numerous strong opinions on both sides. Oddly enough, such a basic concept for a bird to fly is generally taboo.
Most Parrot groups don’t even allow the topic, knowing from experience that the conversation will end up far from productive. The discussion will most certainly slide into rude and judgemental comments with most folks showing little if any tolerance at all. I’ll tolerate all sides because when breeding Lovebirds, I made the mistake of clipping wings regularly.
It's rather obvious now in hindsight that their quality of life is vastly improved when they can fly.
On a personal level, inviting proponents of clipping into an environment where birds are able to fly, once they have watched this, they can sometimes be persuaded to let the wings grow out. The confidence of a bird who can fly away from a challenging situation is so different from the bird who is unable to do so. Seeing that can help change attitudes.
The confidence of a bird who can fly away from a challenging situation is so different from the bird who is unable to do so. Seeing that can help change attitudes.
Some growing number of Parrot carers allow free flight; others abhor the practice. In this case the situation is not clear cut. Free flight does involve dangers that are avoided when a bird flies in house, aviary or enclosed space. In this divergence of views, Parrot carers need to accept differing opinions.
More is known nowadays through research, books and on line, what sort of environment suits a captive bird. Bad practices like chaining on perches, tiny round cages, too small cages were once considered acceptable - now much less so.
So, what do you do if you see a bird in a too small cage In Germany you can call on legal requirements that a bird must be able to stretch their wings? In UK, there is no legal recourse. Explaining to someone who keeps a bird in too small a cage can only have a positive result if the person has an open mind and allows themselves to be persuaded.
Second hand cages can be found on ebay and do not have to be an enormous cost. Sometimes just plain lack of knowledge that condemns a bird to an inadequate cell. And in these sorts of cases, giving accurate information is the right thing to do
In the present state of knowledge there is no consensus on a perfect nutrition for captive Parrots. With more than 350 species of Parrot - many of which are bred in captivity, tolerance of someone else’s feeding regime is necessary.
There are trends and there are fashions. A growing trend is for using fresh food as the basis of Parrot diets.
The traditional seed-based diet is being challenged by a pellet based one. There are proponents for each method: seeds or pellets and what proportion of each is best? This provokes heated debate and is often not amenable to a reasoned discussion.
It’s well known that social media seems to bring out aggression and nasty attacks. If you follow arguments on some of the Parrot forums this becomes obvious. Then you just have to decide is it worth while putting an opposing view across.
I think it is because I believe the majority of posters do care for their bird’s wellbeing.
If you believe - as I do - that Parrots are sensitive and aware creatures you cannot help disagreeing when you come across an owner’s behaviour that ignores the Parrot’s innate nature.
Here’s a personal example. I have changed the names.
Tamsin asked me to help her with Charlie’s an 8 year old African Grey.
I visited her home.
Charlie had previously been kept in a small cage in a dark corridor for 7 years with minimum human interaction. Tamsin had rescued him and provided him with a large cage. She couldn’t understand why he bit her every time she tried to stroke him.
She opened the door and asked for a step up. Charlie shuffled along his perch away from her. Tamsin’s hand followed. He moved again. Her hand followed again. On this third time, he lunged forward - beak open. Tamsin slammed the cage door shut and cried, “You see how he’s so ungrateful?”
I explained that Charlie was showing with his body language (moving away from her) he did not trust her (yet). Had she stopped persisting he would not have tried to bite. This explanation didn’t convince Tamsin and she relinquished Charlie to me.
Within 3 months with my flock he became amenable. But sadly, years of poor diet resulted in an early death a year later from stroke.
The evidence is overwhelming that positive reinforcement training with he minimum of negative interventions produces better results than any other method of controlling a Parrot’s behaviour.
I don’t believe that you should practise tolerance when you see interactions that almost always lead to unwanted, unpleasant consequences. Being tolerant in those situations is not the best for you or anyone, especially not the Parrot.
How to convince doubters is a whole new ball game.
Here is Stephen again:
Scientists even admit that a fact is only a fact until it’s replaced by a better one. The next time you hear of something that you don’t agree with, keep an open mind. The importance of knowing you might be wrong whether it be about diet or a behavioural issue cannot be understated.
Who knows what the recommended diet for a captive Parrot will be in 35 years’ time? When it comes to matters concerning Parrots, there are few absolutes however one thing is for sure, the more tolerant we are of each other the better off all us will be.
Here are some helpful resources.
Parrots in the Wild Toft and Wright. This book helps you understand wild bird behaviour. You can use the knowledge to help understand captive birds’ behaviour react.
Environment and Training
Don’t Shoot the Dog – Karen Pryor. This book is still the best explanation of how positive reinforcement works on every living creature.
Websites that are helpful: Steve Martin, Susan Friedman, Barbara Heidenreich, Stephanie Edlund and Pamela Clark
Both the World Parrot Trust and the Parrot Society (UK) will answer questions on the telephone or else put you in touch with relevant sources
A Parrot’s Fine Cuisine Cookbook & Nutritional Guide – Karmen Budai & Shean Pao
This book explains recent ideas on nutrition and gives many exciting recipes.
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