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.

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A Parrot (and Family) in Need.

Puffy is a beautiful, good-natured, and loving greater sulfer crested cockatoo who has had a devastating accident. Her health from her past wasn’t good – she had serious internal damage from the bad diet she was fed before being re-homed – but it is and was slowly improving. Unfortunately, however, this sulfur-crested cockatoo had a fall that placed her in critical condition at the vet.

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Although Puffy is insured, the vet bill will be enormous – more than the insurance will pay. Any funds you could contribute at this difficult time of year would help, even one pound or dollar. Her owners love her very much. Puffy, like many cockatoos, has had a difficult past before arriving into her new owner’s arms. This cockatoo is an incredibly lucky bird, as her family are doing everything they can for her.

There were several moments where it appeared she might not make it, but Puffy is a fighter. She has pulled through so far, despite the odds against her. X-rays at the vet have shown that the internal organ swelling from her old diet has continued to go down, and also that – heart-achingly – she has old breaks in her bones that were never treated (from her previous life). Puffy is trying to perch now, although this is extremely difficult for her, and is fighting to live with every ounce of her being.

Please, consider helping this exceptional bird. She’s not out of danger yet – she needs a lot of love, care, meds, and treatment – but she’s battled her way thus far.

Click here to help Puffy the greater-sulfur crested cockatoo and her family. Anything you can spare is appreciated; even positive thoughts and prayers counts as helping!

Happy holidays!

Wordless Wednesday.

I’m In the Newspaper – Future Avian Rescue.

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know of my hopes of founding a parrot sanctuary here in the states. Well… I got interviewed about it. 😀 They got some facts quite wrong (e.g. Bobo and Mishka got swapped there), but the paper got the gist of it, and that’s what matters.

Because it was mentioned in the interview, I thought I’d put up Bobo singing along to Star Wars. It’s his self-appointed theme tune. Kind of fitting, really…

Here is Mishka the cockatiel, our first parrot. ‘Tiels and ‘toos are close cousins, both from Australia. Mishka is 12″ tip to tail, and Bobo is about double that. It’s easy to confuse them at first.

Here is Ptak, adorable parrotlet:

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And Pip the Gloster canary, who didn’t get a mention:

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Oh! You can visit O.’s blog here. I guess Internet secrecy doesn’t matter now that I’ve put our names and faces up? I’ll cope.

Similarly, you can visit the Phoenix Landing Rescue and the Island Parrot Sanctuary‘s websites by clicking on their respective links, if you’d like to learn more.

And, silly me, I forgot the link to the article: http://m.fredericknewspost.com/arts_and_entertainment/arts_and_entertainment_topics/music/article_972ace72-e809-534c-945c-87b9b7a6300b.html?mode=jqm

Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo Update.

I apologise for being so horribly, horribly lax with my posts – I’ve been a bit glum, I admit, as I’m leaving Scotland very soon. Didn’t want to moan too much. I have lots of posts to come, and will of course finish my blog challenge! In the meantime, enjoy a clip of our Bobo boy and his flockmate, Friday! You might want to keep your volume low. Bobo is very happy at the Sanctuary. He has made improvement in leaps and bounds, and we’re all so proud of him.

Concerning Cockatoos and Other Pet Parrots.

Cockatoos are dangerous.

I’m here to try and convince you not to buy one. Or buy any parrot, that is.

I wish everyone could go to an avian rescue and see the inhabitants there. I wish also that everyone could see the Island Parrot Sanctuary and meet parrots who cannot live with people, through no fault of their own. And no, it’s not even (always) the fault of the owners. The problem is that humans try to make a pet out of a beautiful animal that isn’t suited to caged living. We’re fighting against the base nature of a wild animal. Not all of the IPS birds come from devastating circumstances; many have been surrendered by people who couldn’t meet their ultra-demanding needs. The IPS is filled with birds of all sizes, not just large macaws and cockatoos and the like. They have senegals, conures, and a little lutino Indian Ringneck. I think that a place like the IPS most clearly tells the story of why birds should be left to the wild, breeding should be stopped where possible, and the adoption of existing animals by understanding and educated owners encouraged.

Now, I am a dedicated, passionate bird owner who blogs with the hope of influencing someone, somewhere, that parrots are not good pets – and discouraging the breeding and buying of them. That mission might seem strange coming from someone who keeps four of them under my roof, but I hold the stance that adoption and education are the ways forward. Most parrots are terrible pets! They’re messy, noisy, destructive and demanding, often hormonal, yet I still love my flock. The truth is that it takes a special personality to work with avians. You can’t be offended when they bite you, or ignore you, choose your sibling as their favourite person, or chew something you love to bits. It’s a lifestyle change, and you have to dedicate yourself.

I’m not saying that no one should own birds. I’m saying that people need to examine the reasons why they want one, and the amount of time and work they’re willing to dedicate to it. My goal is to discourage casual buyers, and to promote adoption. The only thing that sets me apart from your average person on the street is my willingness to do anything for my flock – but I am just like most other parrot owners out there. If you decide that you can provide a good life for a bird, I encourage you to do it! But I can’t encourage buying or breeding.

When it comes to the dreaded biting, I think it’s important to note that the honeymoon period right after you bring a bird home means it’s very likely that you won’t see much bad behaviour from your pet. Or if your bird is a baby, you have until it reaches sexual maturity before the dangerous and uncontrollable behaviour emerges.

Ticking time-bombs.

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Just like with people, birds often act cautiously as they get to know you. So during the honeymoon stage, you probably won’t see any tantrums. It’s all too easy to judge from a few encounters that they’re like any other pet.

And this can be a dangerous mistake.

Adult cockatoos’ honeymoon phases are quite different from other birds’. Cockatoos come out fighting. Where many parrots are quite friendly in their first few weeks with you, a ‘too will bite before anything else. They are a punchy, wonderful species. They are not like other parrots.

Baby cockatoos are the sweetest, most adorable birds. You can trust them with anyone. They love to cuddle and socialise. But once sexual maturity strikes, everything will change forever. Gone is your pliant baby, replaced with a creature that is driven by instinct to mate with you – and when you can’t provide that, it will attack. These attacks commonly leave owners in need of an emergency trip to hospital. Mix cockatoos and children…

They are certainly a challenge, our parrots, and whilst they’re also a rewarding pet in many ways, they’re not a relaxing one at all. Thankfully, an out-of-control parrotlet or senegal is absolutely nothing compared to even a mildly aggressive ‘too.

Large birds are more dangerous in their hormonal moments, but small birds are affected too. The difference is that a raging cockatiel won’t kill or maim you.

Yes, some birds do adapt very well to life with humans. And others don’t.

The ones who don’t end up passed from home to home. When a bird can easily live up to 60+ years, that’s a lot of homes. Many end up in sanctuaries or rescues.

I am one of those people who chose to surrender one of my flock, although it wasn’t under quite the usual circumstances. A few weeks prior, we had adopted Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo from someone else who already had a large flock and couldn’t take him on permanently. Before being rescued, he lived for at least two years in a greenhouse. The owner of the Sanctuary thinks that Bobo was used prior to that as a breeder bird, which would explain his completely unstable hormones. He is a large, volatile, dangerous animal who can’t live with people. He has – since we left him – take a chunk out of someone’s neck. But he has also begun to heal. I called this afternoon to check in, and received the wonderful news that Bobo has progressed towards being a bird. He’s been playing, socialising, even eating with the others in his new flock. He has stopped showing signs of aggression towards the flock-mates, and is – perhaps for the first time in his 15 years – truly happy.

It was the best decision I could have made for him.

I didn’t give him up to the IPS because I was afraid of him, although the task of caring for him safely did feel overwhelming. I was willing to carry on. But when I realised that he’d get what all birds deserve, a flock and an aviary and the best diet possible, I knew it had to be.

I’ve come to realise that that is part of good ownership: knowing when it’s best to do something for the animal. Not your sense of pride or anything else.

All birds deserve wonderful lives with committed owners. It doesn’t matter if your budgie or cockatiel only cost £10, £20, £50… They’re not lesser creatures because of a price tag.

Hormones also affect every bird, cockatoo or not. Paying a higher price doesn’t guarantee a more handleable bird, unfortunately. It seems almost the opposite. Admittedly, hormones don’t always have the same enormous impact they do on Bobo, but then again… it’s not uncommon.

The spring season is dreaded by every parrot owner. Your sweet bird turns moody and unpredictable. Bites ensue. The animal literally screams because no one is listening. It may also begin to pluck. It’s frustrated because – as its genetic programming drives it to choose a mate and make babies – it cannot fulfil this most basic instinct. It’s not a matter of pining for love, or any kind of human emotion like that. A bird’s only thought at this time is to reproduce.

This manifests itself in different ways for different individuals, but the end result is too often the same. Owners begin to seek new homes for their seemingly crazed pets. As a reference, the IPS turns away 3-4 cockatoos alone per week.

Cockatoos are dangerous, as are all large parrots. Any bird’s bite is painful, but cockatoos can and will go for your jugular. Or it might bite through your lips, destroy your nose, snip off an ear, gouge an eye, leave gashes on your arms, or scars on your legs. More likely all of the above. They are incredibly intuitive birds, and will match the energy in the room. If your house is noisy or energetic, a cockatoo can go straight from play to attack without warning. Bobo did. It was as easy as that. He would be happily walking on the floor, we’d laugh, and suddenly there was this bird ready to attack.

It is frankly terrifying.

Imagine a bird playing a game with you – fetch, say. You roll the ball, the bird brings it back, you roll again – and the next time, on the return, your ‘too attacks. Bam. It can happen that suddenly.

Or think about those hilarious videos where the cockatoo dances and sings to a song. That’s pure sex for a cockatoo. And the situation can easily escalate from that fun moment to an attack.

Worst of all, think of the infamous cockatoo cuddles – one of the main reasons people buy these birds. Cockatoo cuddles are forceful. You have no control when this enormous bird pushes itself into your lap. And guess what the cuddling actually is? The equivalent of ‘making out’ with you. Cockatoos crave these cuddles because they crave having a mate.

So when your ‘too snuggles into your lap, try not to think of it as bonding (which, in a way, it is – mate-bonding), think of it as your bird wanting to mate with you and making the first move.

Remember the pattern: sexual frustration leads to attacks.

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You can’t pet any parrot outside of its head/neck and feet once it’s mature, or it will begin to see you as its mate. So, once again, wanting a cuddly pet is a terrible reason to buy a bird. Frustrate the animal, get bitten. The bigger the bird, the more dangerous the bite.

And, of course, it must be said that little birds have it a bit worse. People not only underestimate them (how bad could that beak be, really?) and fail to respect them, but also look at them as disposable. Why take it to the vet when it’s £20 to replace?

Once again, that’s unfair.

Large or small, parrots are equally messy, noisy, and destructive. The bigger birds can obviously deliver bigger disruptions to your life, yet smaller birds are no less deserving of anything you have to offer.

To conclude, we can strive to domesticate them through generations of breeding for what we consider tameness or sweetness or beauty, but one of the things that I personally love about parrots (and the thing that makes them least suited as pets) is their intelligence and free-thinking capabilities. They have minds of their own. Domesticating them would eradicate this. And that’s a loss.

So if you’re considering bringing an avian into your house, please don’t do it lightly. It’s also a good idea to look into adoption, because rescues are overflowing with animals that desperately need homes. If you decide that you’re determined to get a parrot, I would highly recommend volunteering at a rescue first. It’ll give you the best picture of life with a bird.

The plight of the parrot isn’t widely known. The impact of the early knowledge of parrot care – seed diet and small, round cages, anyone? – remains.

And that is why I will continue to write.

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Thoughts?

Plucked Parrots Are Beautiful, Too.

Please, do not buy parrots. I will let a few images speak for themselves:

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Friday has a fear monster – a condition that causes his heart and blood to constantly race. He tries to rip his own heart out of his chest.

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Friday is one of the ones you don’t forget.

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He takes medicine to calm his condition. The injection (which he lets you know when he needs) gives him 30 minutes of being stoned, then 3 weeks of the munchies. Which relaxes him!

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He is the clearest evidence of why cockatoos especially aren’t pets.

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Rocco has beak and feather disease from his pet shop background. He was going to be euthanised, but the Sanctuary saved him, and now he lives in quarantine. Milk thistle has even helped him grow back a little fluff.

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Ari didn’t appreciate me snapping photos of him and his mate.

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I love little Monty!

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Sweet, shy Lemon.

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Leo.

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Bobo loved being harnessed and getting to romp in the grass.

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Esther.

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This little girl has OCD.

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You can find more photos from the Sanctuary here and here.