The Mavi Chronicles: ‘I Love You, but I Want to Bite You.’

My Senegal parrot has always had anger problems. If something is wrong in his life, he takes that out on me, and if I’m not around, it’s the nearest person or toy. Recently, my poor boy is feeling very… ahem… unstable about the move overseas, quarantine, and probably the time when I left him alone with O. beforehand. It makes sense, and I certainly don’t blame him. I do wish he’d stop punching my face and arms full of holes, though…

Being a somewhat hefty Senegal (he gets comments on his size all the time – and he is decidedly not fat!), he can do some serious damage. His attacks are not your average bite and release, or even a bite-and-cling affair; they are full-on fly-by attacks meant to do damage. I tell people who are considering a parrot not to underestimate what a bird’s beak can do. Mavi certainly emphasises this.

How much do small bird’s bites hurt? A helluva lot. Worse, I would venture to say, than some of the bites I’ve received from much larger birds.

 

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Aggressive Senegal Parrot body language

Here’s what’s happening:

Mavi had a blissful honeymoon period lasting roughly two or three weeks when he first arrived home. This was followed by two or so more weeks of mild-to-normal hormonal behaviour, including one nesting incident that was swiftly diverted. Things appeared to settle down for a little bit, and then wham. I can’t go near him. And I don’t feel it’s entirely hormonal related.

My voice sends him into a beak-bashing rage.

I can’t look at him or go within ten feet of him without extreme aggression. Eye contact? Forget it. If I let him out of his cage while I’m anywhere in the room, he spends the entirety of the time dive-bombing me in an attempt to get skin. If you’ve never had a bird rushing your face out of nowhere, I can tell you it isn’t pleasant. Thick jumpers are my friend.

Mavi has a cage-top play station that he knows how to use – it is filled with his favourite toys and treats, but not even this can keep him distracted long enough.

 

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I was shooting this from a safe distance – notice the ruffled feathers and turned back? He’s agitated.

My Senegal is very, very angry, and while I am careful not to personify him too much, I feel that part of his behaviour does boil down to resentment. Parrots are emotional creatures. I have known other birds to react the same way to big changes. People don’t expect this kind of behaviour or complexity out of so-called ‘beginner’ birds like Senegals (and, by the by, even if I believed in starter birds, I would not classify Sennies as one of the ‘easier to own’ species out there). The charging behaviour is classic Senegal, though.

My ordinary response with an angry and aggressive parrot is to instigate a training session to distract them entirely. That’s something that’s always worked well in the past. He even has several behaviours that are solidly learnt, like speaking on cue, standing tall, and recalling to me. Or so I thought.

Mavi’s sole purpose in life is now to punish me, and training has become an impossibility. He literally cannot concentrate on anything except giving me a new facial piercing. I don’t react; I put on a teacherly attitude and just set him down and turn my back, again and again. We’ve tried cuing tricks, we’ve tried recalling him to me before he gets aggressive. Bu something about me is a trigger, and look out.

 

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We’re changing up his diet a bit – low protein and fats

Not getting anywhere with letting him out and ignoring him, I recently went back to the basics – as if he is a new bird that I am getting to know. I sit by his cage, not even talking to him (because that sets him off, too), just existing and going about my life calmly. When he’s calm too, I slip a special treat into his bowl, but even this makes him stomp round, pluck the treat out, and discard it – all while puffed to roughly the size of an American football. If I cue a trick while he’s inside his cage, he’ll turn his back on me, which I respect. That’s a polite way of saying in parrot, ‘I want nothing to do with you.’

If I go near, he weaves his head. He clicks and whistles the car alarm noise that signals his foulest mood. He puffs up. He pins his eyes and bashes his beak. He gives every indicator of an angry bird about to bite – and he is pretty easy to read, most of the time. I filmed him to be sure it wasn’t the environment causing him issues. When I’m gone from the room, he plays and forages very happily.

I am the problem.

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Random flower photo – Mavi goes on all my photo shoots with me.

I am hoping that this will pass. Upon his arrival home in the U.S., he immediately over-bonded with my roommate and younger sister (who has done nothing to encourage this). She is wary of him, unfortunately, and I am still the only one capable of caring for him and putting up with his unpredictability. I think the answer has to be – as someone else suggested – really limiting their time together. The problem is, they don’t see each other that much anyway – maybe 10-20 minutes a day, max. Mavi’s body language completely changes around her, though. He goes from a beak-bashing terror to a relatively calm bird. However, we did learn recently that even she is not left out of his attacks.

In the meantime, I’m encouraging Mavi to fly and forage, and am cutting waaay back on the treats. He’s healthy, just not happy with me. He has learned many new words, though, and lots of new voices to get the attention of his beloved. He now adorably says, ‘Maverick! Step up!’ and declares himself ‘CUUUUUUUUUUUUTE!’

As if to make up for all his craziness, he also said those most treasured three words for the first time ever: ‘I love you.’ While interacting with him through the bar of his cage, my sister and I told him we loved him at the same time, and he piped in his cutest voice, ‘LOVE YOU.’ Complete coincidence, and definitely not intended for me specifically, but heart-meltingly sweet nevertheless.

 

 

 

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Evidence of an Issue: Parrots as Pets.

With spring so tantalisingly close, I couldn’t resist taking the birds out in their carriers for some sunshine today. It was divine, but the warm weather and lengthening days both come with a catch. Hormones are in full blast at this household – and at many others besides. With work on my flock’s diet, things are manageable, but it’s not an easy time.

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Preparing for our outing with fresh fruits and veggies.

My Senegal has decided that I am no longer his friend, and will only sometimes let me near him. He is enamoured of my younger sister, who is away most of the day, and not fully comfortable handling him while he’s at his most unpredictable. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if he were getting the attention he needs – but he is literally driving me away because he is convinced that my sister is his new mate. I am the only one capable of caring for him at this time.

Has she done anything to encourage my parrot’s pursuits? Not one single thing except simply exist in the springtime. But that’s enough. He’s a lady’s man. (And hopefully things revert to normal soon enough.)

Ptak the parrotlet is currently in love with his bell. He will actually forgo time spent out of cage to sit beside it. He rings it and lets it gently scratch his head. Anyone who so much as glances at his bell will get what’s coming to them. Look out!

Spring brings out the worst in any captive bird.

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Celebrating spring by dehydrating some oranges as a bird toy

While the rest of the world celebrated April Fool’s Day, parrot owners were faced with a far more serious issue. The start of spring has heralded literally hundreds of search phrases on this blog based around biting, hormones, and screaming. My stats have sky-rocketed, and it’s not a good thing. A small sampling of the search terms bringing people to Students with Birds Blog (which, by the by, if you are looking for the article to help you solve these issues, check out Surviving Springtime with Parrots):

“My parrot won’t stop attacking.”

“Cockatoo bites face.”

“Screaming cockatoo.”

“Cockatoo sending me to hospital.”

“Cockatoo bites.”

“Plucking cockatoo lashing out.”

“Attacking parrot.”

“Budgie biting.” (Supplement different species’ names as you will.)

“My bird won’t stop regurgitating.”

“Bird attacking husband/family.”

“Aggressive parrotlet.”

“Lovebird nesting laying eggs.”

“Parrot won’t stop screaming.”

“Mutilating bird.”

“Jacket for plucking parrot.”

“Re-homing parrots.”

“My bird won’t leave me alone.”

“Parrot spring hormones.”

“Surviving parrots spring.”

“Unhandleable Moluccan.”

“Why does my Senegal Parrot bite me?”

“How to stop biting parrot.”

“Are parrot hormones as bad as they say?”

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My leg, after my cockatoo beat me up.

This is evidence of a problem.

My site will not be alone. Out there, the other bird blogs are inundated with this as well.  Are hormones with parrots as bad as ‘they’ say? Yes. It is a sad truth. Take the search terms as evidence. There are endless, desperate pleas resounding across the various places where I write on the Internet. The issue is the hand-rearing of captive birds. Puppies and kittens can’t be removed from their mothers until a certain age, due to the adverse affect it has on their mental health. Why are birds any different?

And yet leaving hand-reared birds to parent raise their young isn’t necessarily the answer. Those parents were hand-raised too, probably, and have no idea how to parent. It’s a circular issue.

By virtue of this most basic biological drive to mate, parrots aren’t good pets. Hormones are purely down to the animal, not one’s ability as an owner. For that reason, I would like to commend everyone who is currently surviving with one under their roof. It’s tough. If you are considering re-homing your bird, please, wait. Give it two or three months and you may find that things revert to normal again. Extra foraging, touch-training, reduced light, and low-protein/carb diets will help you survive.

This craziness does pass for most birds.

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Please, do NOT clip a bird’s wings this season. Using flight to burn off energy is one of the best ways to prevent hormonal-based biting, plus a clipped bird is more easily threatened, and therefore more likely to chomp

The Importance of Sun to Parrots

Parrots need sunlight. It has been instrumental in the healing of our umbrella cockatoo, Bobo, since he went to live at the Island Parrot Sanctuary in Scotland (and for the mental and physical recovery of all parrots there), and it has helped my birds, too, although they are not emotionally traumatised as Bobo was. If you think about how wild flocks live, and realise that your parrot is just one or two generations removed from that, you’ll see that something critical is missing in their lives. This is part of making sure your pet gets the full range of nutrition he needs.

Without sun, parrots simply cannot absorb everything properly. It is a necessity, as much as fresh fruits and vegetables are in a parrot’s diet.

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UV helps convert a bird onto a good diet of fresh fruits, sprouts, grains, and vegetables.

What is the impact of going without sun?

  • Increased aggression and biting
  • Plucking, barbering,  and other destructive feather habits
  • Malnutrition and calcium deficiencies – Vitamin D, which is gained from the sun, is responsible for the absorption of calcium and other vitamins and minerals; without it, birds don’t get full nutrition
  • Poor feather quality
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Reduced vision – UV light enhances your parrot’s vision, so without it their world is thought to look very grey
  • Increased anxiety and depression (and therefore behaviours like feather picking)
  • Increased screaming
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Aviary living gives parrots the sun they need.

What is the solution to getting our parrots enough sunlight?

If at all possible, build an aviary for your birds (carefully researching, of course, what this will require in terms of keeping your bird in one). Aviaries are wonderful enrichment and they give your birds all the light they need to be healthy. They are also becoming more popular!

The effect of aviary living at the Island Parrot Sanctuary is incredible to witness. Figure that a number of those birds come from bad situations. A number more were relinquished because of typical, uncontrollable hormones and the behavioural problems that go with that. Whatever the case, they are allowed to just be birds there, not pets, and are given an incredible diet, sun, and the best of care.

Right away as you enter, you notice that all the sanctuary birds are all stunningly bright. Their colours are vivid. Many of the residents there no longer pluck or feather barber, although some still do and will never stop. They are still affected by hormones, but this is a sad fact of life as a captive animal. The sun lessens it in many birds, and makes it more bearable for all involved.

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One of the stunningly vivid scarlet macaws at the sanctuary

All the parrots at the Island Parrot Sanctuary are happy and healthy. You don’t have to be an animal person to see how truly content they are living that way.

If an aviary is not possible (let’s be honest, not all of us are equipped to pay for and build one, plus not all of us live in a forgiving climate), a UV-A spectrum lamp does wonders. It’s not as good as the sun itself, no, but it is something and it really helps. Your UV lamp should go on one hour after waking up, and one hour before bed. We use an Zoo Med bird lamp for our birds, and the benefits have been pretty much instant:

  1. They eat better (and will try new things)
  2. They sleep better
  3. They bite less
  4. They’re less noisy
  5. Their feathers look more iridescent and bright
  6. In combination with 12-hour sleep schedules and an improved diet, they display less hormonal behavior
  7. They act happier and less depressed

A UV-A supplemental spectrum lamp should be a must for all bird owners! Right now, with a bitter winter and blasting winds, no one is going out. Using the light, Maverick actually tried chop that contained kale, broccoli, red pepper, and carrots (amongst other healthy things). And he liked it. Our Senegal does not care for any of those ingredients, but the lamp allows him to see the lovely colours of his food, making it that much more appealing.

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Mavi eating chop AND sprouts.

My parrotlet, a species notorious for picky eating, has consistently been eating his veggies too. Cue the amazement. He was beak-deep in chop last night and didn’t budge even when I opened his door to swap something around. That has never happened before.

So what does Ultra Violet light do, and what role does it play in our parrots’ health?

It affects their Vitamin D3 synthesis:

Birds are covered in feathers, so their skin can’t simply absorb nutrients from the sun… ‘In most birds, the preen gland collects the precursor D3 from the bloodstream and concentrates it in the gland oils,’ (Arcadia, Lighting for Birds pamphlet). The bird then spreads the oil on its feathers and ingests the UV exposed material when it preens itself again – at that point, the oil enters the body as previtamin D. Finally, the liver and kidney convert this to vitamin D3.

It is a complex and amazing process. As I said above, Vitamin D is responsible for the absorption of many other nutrients into the body.

Birds also perceive light differently to humans, which affects their behaviour and eating habits:

A special gland surrounds a bird’s eye, known as the Harderian Gland. This measures the duration of light – called the photoperiod – and passes the information along to the pineal gland. The pineal gland and the pituitary gland both act as regulators to the endocrine system, and therefore to the entire metabolism of the bird.

Parrots need UV-A light, not UV-B. Too much UV-B can be detrimental to a parrot’s health. Doing some reading on this thanks to a reader’s comment, I see that I have some research to do, as it seems too much UV is just as bad as too little – and is associated with cataracts in captive parrots. Many avian lamps are repackaged reptile lamps, which contain too much UV-B for parrots.

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Sunlight on our Senegal Parrot’s back.

My own observations:

Since getting my birds their Zoo Med lamp, I have noticed that they go out of their way to sit beneath it, even carrying food up to eat as close as possible (the bulb needs to be kept twelve inches  away for safety). They act happier when the light goes on, and, conversely, sulk a bit when it goes off.

After just a few days out of quarantine and under the lamp, their feathers are brighter and both birds act calmer. Maverick suffers from typical Senegal parrot hormones, which are lessened by spending time under his lamp. As I mentioned, they also eat better – and more of the good stuff – when the light is over their food bowls.

Mavi’s beak was a bit chipped and peeling after quarantine. It’s already looking better after two weeks. One of the Senegals at the sanctuary has a smooth, coal-black beak from the sun. That is my goal.

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Screens and glass filter out most of the UV light. Direct sunlight is critical.

Bobo at the Sanctuary is the biggest example of how CRITICAL sunlight is for our birds. The owner told us – when I said I felt like I’d failed our rescue cockatoo – that it wasn’t our fault. He was an emotionally damaged bird who was also very typical in his behaviour, and his problems were compounded by the lack of sunlight.

Since moving there months ago, Bobo has made leaps and bounds of improvement. I have reports that he is doing incredibly well and is like a different bird. Keep in mind that not so long ago, he bit anything that walked, then tried to mate with them. With breeding season upon us, he still has issues, but he is somewhere safe now, getting what he needs.

The sun is important for our birds.

My parrotlet's immediate reaction to the UV lamp: basking.

Ptak goes out of his way to sit and bask beneath his lamp.

I’ll say it again and again until the message starts to spread even more. All by itself, UV light won’t cure a bird of behavioural or health issues, but it will certainly help in combination with other factors, including diet and training. If you are having difficulties with hormones, biting, and aggression, try sunlight or a bird lamp for a few months (several hours each day) and see what happens. Combined with a fresh food diet, low protein, and plenty of exercise, UV will help a bird feel and look better.

It can take some time to fully see the benefits of using UV light, but it is well worth it.

Sunlight is good for parrots.

Chop-Chop: Get cooking for Parrots

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Chop for parrots is the easiest method of introducing picky eaters to new, healthy foods.

Chop for parrots is simpler than you ever imagined. It is even faster and easier than grain bakes. I, too, am a chop convert.

The concept: All you do is put ingredients into a food processer and press the button to grind it up finely enough that the flock can’t pick bits out.  I first learnt about chop through the Parrot’s Pantry on Facebook some time ago, and again, later, through Parrot Nation. I’d experimented a little with making it by hand, without much luck. Then my parrots came home from quarantine, and magic – that food processor made all the difference.

My success in getting them to eat it involved four major factors:

  1. Tasting it  in front of them
  2. Placing it beneath a UV lamp (so they could see the colour)
  3. Serving it at a time when they were hungry – which happened to be at dinner, after having removed their lunch bowls
  4. Persistence
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Your eyes do not deceive: this is a photo of a parrotlet eating chop.

Chop is a miracle food. It gets vegetables into otherwise finicky eaters. My two super picky parrots will gladly tuck into a bowl of it. It’s freezable (and using ice cube trays makes preparing it extra simple), and you can store it for several months that way. Each day as you need some, simply take out a baggie and thaw overnight. Heat it up for 8 seconds or so in the microwave before serving, and there you have it. Fresh food on the go.

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Finished chop – batch A.

I judge the success of a meal by two factors: How quiet they go, and whether they look up as I work in their cages or move about the room. I am filled with joy when I prepare them a meal that holds their attention entirely like that.

TIP: Instead of adding all the ingredients, I like to make a chop ‘base,’  which I freeze or store on its own. My base involves maybe 8/12 of the ingredients I intend to add (I’ll give you an example recipe below). As the days go on, I can individually dice, slice, or mash different ingredients in, spicing it up and adding a little variety.

My flock are like most birds – they don’t like the same thing multiple times in a row, and will refuse it after more than twice. By leaving out some of the ingredients and adding them in fresh the day of, I make sure the chop stays exciting to them.

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The taste-tester.

Chop for parrots is a concept, which is what makes it so brilliant – but also intimidating for those who have never tried it before. There are no set recipes. Just ideas. As with a grain bake, you can customise it so your parrot gets whatever it needs or likes most at the time. Vitamin A deficient? Add some pumpkin or baked sweet potatoes. Does your parrot hate, broccoli, and red pepper, etc.? Mix those ingredients in with some of his or her favourites, and some will end up getting eaten.

What goes into chop for parrots? Answer: Just about any bird-safe food that can be ground up in a food processor. I store it unfrozen in the fridge for up to four days.

TIP: Fruits and watery vegetables (such as zucchini or cucumber) are not ideal for freezing. They can make your chop watery when you thaw. These are the kinds of things I like to leave out of my ‘base’ and add in later. Some also recommend cutting these by hand and adding them to your freezable mixture, so that it doesn’t water it down. Keep it dry!

Here are the ingredients I used in today’s big (1 gallon) batch of chop. Call it a recipe if you will:

  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Dandelion greens
  • Red Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • 1 cup fresh sprouts
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 3 small sweet potatoes, baked
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 5 orange and yellow mini bell peppers
  • 3 Carrots
  • Half a jalapeño pepper – including seeds
  • Half an apple, cored
  • 1/4 Butternut squash, baked
  • Handful of sugar snap peas
  • 3 tsp Hemp seed
  • 3 tsp Flax seed
  • 1/2 cup boiled quinoa
  • Handful of oatmeal

That was my base. I chucked in some of everything – a lot of people add in tons of fruits and vegetables, a ‘whatever is in the fridge and pantry’ kind of deal to use up ingredients. As each day goes by, I add one or two extra ingredients to the individual bowls. For example, day 1: Diced strawberry. Day 2: Lemon slices and blackberry. Day 3: Hard-boiled egg. Day 4: Yellow squash. Day 5: Chopped zucchini and a spice.

Many days, I’ll add in a different spices to the individual bowls (not the whole batch). I’ve been known to use cinnamon, small amounts of mint, basil, or hot pepper flakes, for example, to make the meal taste entirely different to the previous serving.

TIP: I mix hemp seed into the chop to get my parrotlet to try it, as it is healthy (in moderation) and he is mad about it. As the days pass, I lessen the amount of shelled hemp going in, but still leave the tiniest bit on top and mixed throughout. As he tries to pick it out, he ends up eating more than he plans. Eventually, this has resulted in him just eating the chop! You can do this with any favourite food.

Whip up a batch of chop tonight using whatever parrot safe foods are in the house. As a guideline, the following foods and herbs are off-limits:

  • Avacado
  • Chocolate
  • Rhubarb
  • Alcohol, caffeine, or soda
  • Sugar and salt
  • Fatty and/or processed foods
  • Nutmeg
  • Peanuts
  • Raw onion and garlic
  • Fruit pits and seeds (apple, peach, pear, apricot, cherry, plum, etc.)
  • Raw honey

To be used sparingly – the following foods are okay in moderation, but many people choose not to feed these:

  • Asparagus
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Small amounts of cooked onion or garlic (really small!)

If you’re stuck on what to put into your first batch of chop, you can get a few ideas below. Think about colour. Green and red and yellow and orange – this makes a meal interesting. What do you like to cook with, eat, or feed yourself? Choose some green veggies, some orange, some yellow. There is no limit to what can go into your chop.

  • Kale, spinach, broccoli, mustard greens, cilantro, bok choy, red lettuce, watercress, collard greens, radish and radish tops, carrot tops, endive, beets and beet tops, turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, Romaine, Swiss Chard, zucchini, winter, summer, yellow, or butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, sprouts, bell peppers, hot peppers, grains like quinoa, barley, oatmeal, and wild rice, cooked beans, whole-grain cooked pasta, fruits like apple or pear, etc., etc.

Thank you to Parrot Nation Blog and the folks at the Parrot’s Pantry – my picky parrots eat wonderfully thanks to you!

Seven Reasons Why Parrots Are Not Good Pets.

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Cockatoos at the Island Parrot Sanctuary.

Are parrots good pets? What is owning one like? In my opinion, no, they are not good pets at all – caring for them properly will consume your life, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. This article was inspired by my previous post, where I realised that I never defined why I feel parrots aren’t meant as captive animals. There are several major reasons why I feel parrots aren’t meant as pets**:

1. They are only one or two generations removed from the wild:

Being tamed, not domesticated, birds are very much creatures of their instincts. Think your hand-reared parrot is perfectly adapted to your human home? Think again. Every behaviour has its roots in how they would react in the wild.

As an example, adult parrots seek to reproduce. It isn’t about pining for ‘love’ – they quite frankly just want to mate and make babies. If he thinks you are his mate, and you casually hug a friend, a parrot can only see it as a cold betrayal. Only mates touch one another – so why wouldn’t he be upset? You were unfaithful! And so he may begin to scream, pluck, or attack you and others near you. It’s only natural to him.

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Many parrots – such as these macaws – are relinquished to rescues and sanctuaries, or else abandoned to lives of sadness.

2. Hormones:

I consider hormones one of the top reasons why parrots aren’t good pets. This is a bird’s greatest instinct: to further its species. Every single parrot alive and in captivity will be plagued by this upon maturity, making a human’s life miserable – yet the parrots suffer just as much.

Cockatoos are the worst when it comes to hormones, hands-down. Just consult mytoos.com for some horror stories of people whose sweet baby birds grow up into rampaging hormonal terrors. Other birds are also  affected badly. Every year, brace yourself for bites, mate-guarding, screaming – even plucking. This is not something we can change. It can be helped through diet, but not entirely cured. THIS is the reason so many parrots lose their homes.

3. We can domesticate them over many generations, yes, but this is at the cost of animals today. 

Until we reach a point where birds have been bred to be less needy and hormonal, the animals are the ones who pay the price. A lot of people find they can’t cope with the reality of a bird in their home, which happens to include a lot of biting, noisiness, mess, and more. It is a lifestyle choice, after all. Basically, if we tell ourselves that they’ll be domesticated eventually, we condemn millions of parrots in the future to unhappiness. There are owners like you, like me, who strive to help them, but 75% live in less than suitable conditions. That statistic tells us is that not everyone is able to take care of their birds.

Maybe there will be perfectly domesticated parrots in the future, like feathery dogs, but I kind of think that’s a loss. I would never sacrifice my parrots’ autonomy and intelligence – it’s what makes them so amazing, and also absolutely unsuited to captive living.

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Lutino Indian Ringneck Parakeet ‘Lemon.’

4. Parrots are evolved to be very intelligent and fill a specific niche in the environment.

This is their downfall. In the wild, they fly many miles each day seeking food for which to forage. What this translates to in a captive parrot is boredom and way too much energy. We owners have to work really hard to keep them happy and healthy, because the sad truth is that a bored parrot will usually turn its frustration inwards. Maybe this is plucking. Or screaming. This is not a good thing for owners, to be sure, but for a captive parrot, it is heartbreaking.

Also, that cage? Bird cages are not evil (indeed, they play an important role in safety), but because parrots are evolved to fly so far, they have a lot of energy. One house does not provide avians a fraction of the space they would explore in the wild.

5. Parrots feel.

Yes, they have pain receptors and feel pain, but parrots also have emotions. Studies have found that they have the intelligence of four-year-olds, and the emotional ability of a toddler. So, in captivity, they can feel sadness. Betrayal. Anger. Frustration. Happiness. Contentment. Small birds experience this, too; it isn’t just macaws, greys, or cockatoos.

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Plucked African Grey Parrot

 

6. They do suffer.

Even a well-adapted, much-loved flock will have its issues, usually hormonal. Owners do their best to cope as things arise, but it can be a real test of patience. Knowing that parrots won’t truly adjust to human homes for many generations to come, can we really justify bringing more into the world to be shuffled from home to home?

7. Providing for a parrot – or parrots – is no simple process.

Taking care of a pet bird will demand your every waking moment, and sometimes your sleeping ones, too – how many people are actually able, not just willing, to dedicate their entire being to one bird? I have seen others lament the sacrifices: no more nights away, outings with friends, solo dates, quiet afternoons, and more. Young owners seem also more inclined to resent this life change, although it affects everyone.

Put simply, a parrot will take over your life. They simply do not ‘enhance’ it the way a dog or cat does. (I do, however, feel they bring something beautiful to my life nevertheless.) Yes, birds are wonderful, loving creatures, but they are needy and demanding beyond words. No one can really guess what it’ll be like until it happens. Keeping birds is sometimes compared to raising kids. Except that in this case, the feathery kid never leaves or grows up.

If you think you’re suited to life as a bird slave, please, consider adoption, or do your research and purchase from a trustworthy source. I’m definitely not here to try and stop people from keeping birds – merely pointing out the reasons why they aren’t suited as pets, in regards to my previous article.

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I find this picture of Friday the Moluccan cockatoo very powerful.

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**Please note: I believe that parrots are not meant as pets, but I will keep saying again and again that they are here to stay. Captive birds cannot be released into the wild; they need us. In this case, it is about educating potential owners so they know precisely what they are getting into, and can avoid places that do not advocate parrot welfare.

Anything you would add?

For and Against the Breeding of Pet Parrots.

 

Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo

Umbrella Cockatoo

recently read a post on the Feathered Angels Blog that sums up perfectly what I feel about the responsible breeding of parrots. It spurs us to ask ourselves if can there really be such a thing as ‘responsible’ breeding, when few birds remain in their forever homes – even those specially selected by breeders?

The author writes,

“As I look around at the thousands and thousands of homeless birds in rescues and sanctuaries, I have to wonder how anyone can ever argue that there is such a thing as responsible breeding?”

The article goes on to explore some sad truths: Our lives change. Circumstances change. The term ‘forever home’ is an illusion, as, for these long-lived creatures, being passed from home to home is a reality. Very few people can actually commit to twenty to eighty-odd years as a virtual slave. Many of the birds in rescues, she points out, were bred by responsible breeders.

Personally, I agree wholeheartedly with those words. Yet I’m also learning to choose my battles.

(I feel I should clarify here that I am referring to the breeding of parrots as pets, for profit, not for conservational efforts.)

 

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African Grey in his aviary

My stance on owning parrots is this: I don’t believe that birds should be pets – and if I could, I would stop all breeding. The parrots who still exist could be adopted into loving homes. No bird would ever again be removed from the wild. These are all wild animals residing in human homes, and need to be treated as such, I feel.

Except that isn’t how life works. It will never work that way, either, and I get that. Our captive parrots desperately need us. They are here to stay, and the best thing we can do is educate future and current owners, with the aim of improving birds’ lives.

Argue it how you want, there is a demand for parrots as pets. People can either obtain reliable information on how to choose a good breeder or pet shop, or they can unwittingly turn to places that mistreat their animals and fail to set them up for the best possible life… or worse. Potential buyers could accidentally obtain a bird from an illegal wild-caught scheme.

 

Greenwinged Macaw

Greenwing Macaw

Where I can, I will always encourage people to adopt. After all, adoption isn’t always rescue; sometimes it is simply giving a home to a bird whose family couldn’t keep up with the demands and expense of a parrot, for one reason or another. I know also that when it comes to this process of re-homing and rescue – which admittedly can be a difficult path – not everyone identifies themselves as able to provide for a bird with ‘baggage’ from previous homes.

In an ideal situation, these people might say, ‘I will get a dog or cat instead.’ Looking honestly at how the world works, however, they will turn to a shop or breeder. Better to choose a reputable source than the alternative.

As an example, Mishka, our cockatiel, was purchased from a pet shop that kept its birds in less than sanitary conditions. She never recovered from that. We returned to purchase food for her at a later date, and saw four cockatiels crammed into the too-small, grimy cage she’d occupied previously. Our money furthered their business.

I don’t feel that pet shops are an ideal place for birds – being prey animals, it is a often a stressful environment for them. But there are decent pet shops out there, and there are, well, the opposite.

 

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Caique showing off for me

So what can we do to make a difference right now? Avoid breeders and pet shops who don’t educate potential owners, and/or who keep their pets in unsuitable conditions. BUT support the places who treat their animals well, as this is an endlessly better alternative to keeping those other establishments open.

Continue to educate ourselves and those around us. Let others know about the trouble and stress that comes with a parrot – it isn’t all joy and smiles, after all, although they have their moments! And don’t forget that things are always changing in the bird world as we discover new things. It’s okay to change your own mind, too. And don’t forget to encourage others to adopt.

Donate to places like Phoenix Landing U.S.A. or the Island Parrot Sanctuary in Scotland. These are the places that strive to make a difference. Donation doesn’t have to be monetary; rescues and other organisations need and appreciate toys, perches, food, or your time. Volunteering is a wonderful way to make an impact.

 

Blue and Gold Macaw

Blue and Gold Macaw at the Island Parrot Sanctuary

Adopt, if you can. There are thousands upon thousands of homeless parrots out there who are in need of a home, and not all of them are the phobic rescue cases that people envision. Some have just been the victim of time. When you live nearly as long as your humans, life can be tough.

And, finally, don’t be afraid to speak up. One voice can trigger the change needed. One voice can spur a chain of thoughts that leads to action. One voice can help many parrots.

Our parrots need us.

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Mishka the cockatiel.

Twelve Foods that Can Be Foraging Toys All By Themselves.

Foraging for parrots doesn’t have to be hard or take a lot of thought. One of the simplest ways to create a foraging ‘situation’ is to wrap food up in little paper wrappers. But there are some fabulous foods that are toys all on their own – and this really is foraging for parrots made simple.

  1. Whole lettuce heads: while iceberg lettuce itself isn’t nutritionally very good, it does secrete a white sap substance where broken or cut, as does Romaine lettuce. This miracle sap has a calming effect on parrots, which, used carefully can let a frustrated bird take out its frustrations and at the same time make it sleepy. With these, you can also tuck things in the leaves.
  2. Coconuts: whole coconuts make a great toy for large and small parrots, although this can be messy. You can hammer a small hole in these and drain the coconut milk, if you want, although parrots can safely drink it. Coconut is a popular toy.
  3. Broccoli: a superfood, this green vegetable can be stuck whole and uncooked on a stainless steel skewer and left to eat and shred.
  4. Pomegranate: cut this tasty fruit and half and let your bird do all the hard work. Warning – it’s messy, but highly amusing!
  5. Peas in the pod: let the peas warm to room temp, and these make a fine foraging toy.
  6. Corn on the cob: boil this for 8-10 minutes and let cool, skewer on bird-safe skewer, and this becomes a fabulous foraging toy. Can also be served raw.
  7. Bell peppers and mini bell peppers: hollow these out and you have the perfect edible dish.
  8. Pumpkin: bake one of these and you have another edible dish that also happens to be a source of vitamin A.
  9. Bananas in the skin: for smaller birds, try cutting the banana into thirds and giving just one piece.
  10. Nuts in the shell (NOT peanuts): give a nut or two occasionally, still in-shell. This doesn’t work for training, but as a basic foraging toy, it works amazingly.
  11. Brussels Sprouts still on the stalk: these are best fed in moderation, but parrots love to pull them apart.
  12. Cucumber: skewer this on your stainless-steel bird skewer, and watch them rip it into pieces.

Note: Fresh fruit and vegetables should always be washed carefully first, before serving, as pesticides can be lethal to pet birds. Try using white vinegar in a bowl or skin full of water, soaking for ten minutes, and then rinsing thoroughly. Buy organic if possible, and always wash!

The whole fruits and vegetables mentioned are great for doves and finches as well – our canary particularly loves broccoli, corn, and lettuce. Apples are not on this list because the seeds contain traces of cyanide, which, if ingested, can build up in a bird’s system.