Issue of the Week: Is Hand-Rearing Companion Parrots Really Better?

The hand-reading of captive and companion parrots is something best left to professionals, if it must be done at all (get ready to explore this issue). It is a delicate process that requires experience. Without the right knowledge, hatchlings will die. And in regards to the practice of hand-rearing baby birds, I have noticed an alarming trend on the Internet.

IMG_4573

Cockatoos as the Island Parrot Sanctuary

The trend in question happens to be some informational blogs posting very brief, generic how-tos on breeding and hand-rearing parrots. I find it frightening. By ‘informational,’ I’m not talking about specialised sites, but those ‘bit of everything’ blogs. You know, they literally cover all kinds of topics: how to better yourself, how to dress well or spend less money, how to begin underwater basket-weaving, how to breed parrots. None of it in any great detail.

More relevantly, as far as I can glean, the people behind those blogs have no prior experience with either parrots or breeding.

And, of course, the Internet is itself laden with these unhelpful ‘how-to’ articles. Dare I call them dangerous? After all, so few of them teach that breeding your birds involves huge health risks and expenses, adds to a growing population of homeless birds, and has so many absolutely vital things to be taken into consideration – including a highly specialised diet. Hand-raising a parrot also takes hours of each day. Babies need to be fed every couple of hours, making for an all day and all night process.

The blogs I’ve noticed often promote an ‘experience the cycle of life’ outlook, combined with ‘it’s nature.’ Unfortunately, this doesn’t take into account the homeless parrot problem, or the responsibility and expense of baby birds, or even the wild nature of parrots themselves that makes them unsuitable for many homes.

Before I go off on a full-blown tangent, the debate of hand-reared versus parent-reared is an time-old one.

Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo

Hand-rearing is responsible for our cockatoo’s rampaging hormones that make him so dangerous

At first, I was very firmly on the ‘hand-reared’ side – but I hadn’t done all the research yet. We had just brought home Mishka the cockatiel at that point, so first parrot, and a pet shop one at that. She was a neurotic mess. At the time, I made the connection parent-reared = neuroses.

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m not keen on pet shops selling birds, as I feel it’s not an ideal environment for easily stressed prey animals like parrots. It took me awhile to realise that the issue wasn’t necessarily our cockatiel’s parent-reared upbringing that made her so neurotic, but rather her pet shop experience.

Honestly, if it weren’t for that, Mishka would be the most stable of our flock.

She never, ever displays sexual behaviour towards us. She does get a bit hormonal and therefore moody, but her ensuing behaviour is nothing like the other birds’, two of whom can be downright dangerous. She will also remove herself from any situation she doesn’t like, and rarely bites. Now, as I write, Bobo is rubbing his wings on the protruding bit of his java perch (gotta move that around a bit). He would be rubbing, erm, other bits of himself on there, if he could. Mavi has also been extremely nippy this week, and Ptak has thrice performed the dreaded wiggle-neck dance to various household objects. What? That drying rack was sexy.

Cockatiel6

This is Mishka displaying for the canary. Never us.

Ptak, Bobo, and Maverick are hand-reared judging by their desire to take a human mate, plus ensuing behaviours that just aren’t done by parent-reared or wild-caught parrots. Looking at people as a mate just isn’t a natural behaviour for any parrot.

During hand-rearing, the eggs are removed at some point from the parent’s nest. The actual time span can vary; breeders may even leave the eggs until a certain point after they’ve hatched, though they usually do so soon after being laid, artificially incubating the eggs instead. Some breeders do this to encourage more laying for a greater profit, and some more nobly to imprint the baby and make it more pliable – with the intention of helping it adjust to a human environment.

But there is research that says that hand-rearing is actually detrimental to the baby’s development. After all, how will it learn how to be a bird, if it is only raised around humans and other human-raised babies?

There is strong evidence that if young are taken away from the mother at a young age, behavioural and adjustment problems will result due to a developmental disorder in the brains. It is not for nothing that the Dutch Health and Welfare Act states that puppies and kittens may not be removed from the mother within their first 7 weeks. The same applies to the ban on taking infant monkeys away from the mother.’

 Read more from the Dutch Parrot Foundation.

It isn’t natural, and it makes sense that removing a baby bird from its nest would have a serious impact. It misses out on birdie behavioural lessons right from the start.

From reading online, many argue that hand-rearing must be done to maintain a sociable and tame pet, yet I find that untrue. It does certainly take more time and effort to earn the trust of a parent-raised baby. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Mishka has become – or maybe is still becoming – a very tame bird. She has her issues, but I generally attribute those to her days in the pet shop, with a too-small cage, seed diet, no enrichment, faces popping in to stare, rough handling, and the abrupt loss (sale) of her companion. She’s also become a confident, curious bird.

I know rescue workers who would happily swear that the wild-caught parrots in their flocks – while obviously unsuited to captive life – are the most emotionally stable and least likely to bite of all the birds they own. And parent-reared birds are the most stable of all.

SenegalParrot1

Senegal Parrots are notorious for their hormonal charging behaviour, where they literally fly at you in attack.

According to Greg Glendell,

‘The process of hand-rearing has adverse effects on the behaviour of African grey parrots when they mature (Schmid, Doherr and Steiger 2005)… [T]he hand-rearing, or what we might more accurately call parental deprivation, sets in place a behavioural time-bomb with a 2- to 5-year delay in behavioural problems.  Indeed, according to Schmid, et al. the maladaptive behaviours of hand-reared birds appears to be largely in proportion to the amount of parental deprivation they have experienced.  Where birds are part-parent raised (not removed from the nest until at least 8 weeks old) they suffer fewer behavioural problems as adults than those which have been solely hand-reared from the day of hatching.  In addition to adverse behavioural issues caused by hand-rearing, there can be adverse physical effects including osteodystrophy (Harcourt-Brown, 2003, 2004).’

He mentions also that profit is a motivator for some breeders who choose to hand-rear. These people rush the weaning process in order to make a sale and move on to the next clutch of babies. Birds who are weaned too soon have other documented, lasting issues, including regression.

And there it comes down to the sister issue of hand-rearing: breeding.  Yes, or no – is it acceptable? I personally say no – from everything I’ve witnessed of parrots, they are not meant to be pets.

DSC00092

African Grey in the disabled aviary

I love my flock, and I would not change them. They are wild animals destroying living in my home, and I accept that and cater for it. The issue is the owner who can or will not, or the casual buyer who just thinks parrots are ‘pretty.’ These birds (with the intelligence of a 5-year-old and the emotional capacity of a 3-year-old) get passed from hand to hand, home to home, and that is not fair on them. They remember.

The solution, of course, is to promote adoption and rescue. Even so, that simply won’t happen for everyone – not to mention that not every new owner is capable of taking on the emotional ‘baggage’ of a re-homing case.

If you have to buy a baby bird, please choose a good breeder and insist that your bird is parent-reared, co-parented, or at the very least allowed to wean at its own pace. Much as with puppies and kittens (with whom the effect of parental-deprivation is well-documented), we should not be separating babies from their mothers too soon.

To conclude, the person linked below found the original study and performed her own. Check it out.

http://www.cassandrayorgey.com/parrot-playground/general-information/study-on-behavioral-effects-of-hand-rearing-african-grey-parrots/

Please, feel free to share your thoughts! Also, if you have a moment to spare, I’ve updated my ‘links of interest,’ which includes some of the blogs and resources I’ve been enjoying.

Flighted or Not: Should I Clip My Parrot’s Wings?

We here at Students with Birds Blog are firmly against clipping a parrot’s wings unless in a medical situation (for instance, if you need to keep your bird from flying because he or she has an injury), and feel that clipping is very harmful. I linked the video above because it shows my fully flighted parrots choosing to be with me, even when they have the option of leaving. It’s this freedom of choice that does them the most good. Clipping to control hormones, to encourage bonding, or to prevent bites will end up hurting your efforts.

Some people recommend what they think is a less drastic solution: trimming the flight feathers of only one wing. And from the way it sounds, it should be. Clipping a single wing, however, is even worse than clipping both because of how lopsided it leaves them. They can’t save themselves in a fall.

In truth, the result of clipping is often serious injury, despite the fact that this is what owners seek to prevent by having it done. I have heard stories of devastated people whose clipped birds fell and couldn’t save themselves, breaking multiple bones and needing expensive vet trips and treatment (if it ended that well). It doesn’t have to be a severe clip; even a light one can hinder a bird enough to cause injury.

I had to teach my birds to fly. None of them knew how. And that’s funny – a human teaching a bird to do what it’s made to do. But I took it in baby steps – we started with little hops, and graduated to greater and greater distances until wing flaps were required. Once they mastered that, we moved around the room until our birds could ascend and descend with ease. There were spills and crashes throughout this, sure, but the end result is a flock of parrots who get a lot of joy from their ability, and a feeling of security from it, too.

For those who wish their birds to experience the outdoors, it is safe to bring them out in their carriers, cages, aviaries, or harnesses (not leg restraints, though, because a parrot’s leg is too frail). Clipped birds can fly, and all it takes is one slight breeze or one good spook for them to soar for miles. I’ve heard endless heartbreaking stories about birds who were lost this way. You may think your parrot will stick to your shoulder, but all it takes is one sad incident.

IMG_4127

Cockatoo in a harness, enjoying the beach.

Moving on, here are the pros and cons of clipping your parrot…

Reasons for (pros) of clipping:

  • You don’t want your bird to fly away from you.
  • You want him to be dependent on you for literally everything.
  • You don’t want him to escape.
  • You don’t want him to fly into something and get hurt (aka for safety reasons).
  • You don’t want him to bite you.
  • You want to keep him in, or away from, one place.
  • You want to control hormones.

Cons of clipping:

  • A clipped bird can’t exercise and may have severe health issues due to this.
  • Insecurity often arises from being clipped, resulting in more bites.
  • Clipping a parrot before it fledges causes coordination issues in adulthood, possibly resulting in injury later.
  • Clipping a previously flighted parrot may result in depression, increased aggression, and anxiety.
  • Birds that are clipped have poor balance and can hurt themselves in a fall.
  • A clipped bird can still get away from you if he finds an open window: all he needs is one draft from outside and he’s gone, maybe for miles.
  • It’s unnatural.

;

Flying parrot 2

Fully flighted cockatiel.

Pros of fully flighted:

  • Flight is a bird’s main source of exercise.
  • Flight also prevents obesity and other health issues.
  • It allows a bird to fly burns off energy that could otherwise result in a bite for you.
  • Flighted birds are generally happier.
  • Birds feel more confident about interacting with you if they think they can get away when they feel intimidated. Their instinct boils down to fight or flight, and if you take away ‘flight,’ you’re left with bite.

Cons of flighted:

  • A flighted parrot can potentially injure himself.
  • He can move around on his own and potentially get into things.
  • Taming has to move at the bird’s pace.
  • He can potentially escape from the house.

 

IMG_3136

Flight is important to the emotional well-being of any pet parrot.

________
Debunking common arguments for clipping a parrot’s wings:

1. Argument: A parrot is less likely to step-up nicely if fully flighted. He can just zip off and do whatever he likes.

  • Counter Argument: There are two parts to this, 1) the idea being that you want him to do what YOU want, when you want it, and 2) that’s why we train our birds. A well-trained but fully flighted parrot steps up because he feels that he gets something out of it. Offering praise and a treat is the best way to reinforce this behaviour. Generally, a parrot wants to be with you. If not, you have to teach him being near or with you has a desirable outcome… for him.
  • Verdict on Argument No. One: Clipping is not needed, but training and a certain amount of patience are.

2. Argument: Clipping is said to be a must for safety’s sake. A flighted parrot can break its neck if it crashes into a mirror or wall or ceiling fan; it can drown in a waiting cup of water or open toilet bowl; it can zoom out an unattended window or into a kitchen with a hot hob.

  • Counter Argument: All this is true, to a degree. However, bird owners give up certain luxuries – like open toilet lids and windows – bird-proof their homes, and set rules to help maintain their pets’ safety. It should be noted that even a clipped bird can take off and crack a bone or beak on a wall, if startled. There is also a certain amount of training to be done, again, in introducing your bird to all areas of a room, setting boundaries, and teaching your bird the danger of mirrors and windows. You can teach them by touching their sides and beaks to the material and letting them see that it is impassable. Clipped birds can fly if startled enough, and doing so is not a guarantee that your bird can’t escape the house.
  • Verdict: Clipped does not mean unable to escape – and bird-proofing the house is important. The solution is not simply to stop clipping a parrot’s wings – you will need to teach it how to fly, how to descend and ascend to different heights (important in case of escape), how to recall to you, and how to stay in one place.

 

Sleeping Blue and Gold Macaw

Blue and Gold Macaws napping in their aviary.

3. Argument: My parrot runs away from me!

  • Counter Argument: Your parrot is a free-thinking creature with amazing intelligence. He likes to do what he wants, when he wants to, and definitely doesn’t like the idea of you forcing him to do anything. Giving your bird choice – or at least the illusion of it via training – makes him happy. Happy birds bite less.
  • Verditct: Clipping your bird’s wings because you don’t want him to move around without your permission is done for human convenience. In all seriousness, try adopting a hamster, fish, cat, or dog if a the idea of an autonomous pet alarms you.

4. Argument: Clipping a parrot’s wings needs to be done for taming purposes. He needs to be completely dependent on you.

  • Counter Argument: Absolutely not. To tame your parrot, you need to move slowly and give things time – and do the training, yes. YOU want the bird tame, and YOU have to move at his pace. Clipping means your bird can’t get away – he is, therefore, left with one option. To bite. And bite he will. As to being completely dependent on you, giving your bird his food, treats, and a clean place to live is enough. You don’t want to create helplessness in your birds; instead, for the healthiest and happiest animal possible, you need to teach independence. A well-trained parrot can self-amuse and does not need you 24/7. If he does, you’re in for behavioural problems later, when you’re suddenly not able to provide for that need. Biting, screaming, plucking. You name it.
  • Verdict: Clipping for taming purposes is done for you, not your bird. If you want your bird to bite less, give him the option of getting away if he is scared. Choice is important for a happy bird.

________
Too often, people would rather clip their birds’ wings than train them to get along in a human home. Others are simply misinformed, thinking that a clip will help a parrot more than it will hinder. I want to point out that these animals are designed in every way to fly. They have an amazing respiratory system that pumps oxygen to their organs with super efficiency; they have hollow bones and feathers that are engineered to keep them aloft when they should be land bound.

063

Parrotlet’s flight feathers.

Parrots also are built to burn a lot of fat through flight, and thus have a lot of energy. When you clip a bird, you take away both its ability to exercise and maintain a healthy weight, and a beautiful source of enrichment. Parrots who fly are a lot less likely to bite.

The attitude needs to be ‘if you’re not willing to try life with a flighted bird, and attempt the training that comes with that, consider a different kind of pet that doesn’t have wings.’

Parrots are autonomous, intelligent, beautiful creatures who need a huge amount of time and training. It’s true that our pet parrots are not wild and never have been, but they’re certainly not domesticated, either, and we owners must accommodate for that fact.

In summary, living with a flighted bird requires more vigilance, more training, and more work over all – but the end result of a confident, happy, healthy pet is more than worth it.

Issue of the Week: Owning Exotic Pets.

I thought I would start with a real zinger of an issue – and at what I consider the beginning. There can be no further issues to discuss without myself having first owned an exotic pet, in this case, parrots.

I feel that here I should define what I’m calling exotic. Consulting the wide world of the Internet, an exotic is ‘loosely defined as any [non-traditional] pet that is not a dog, cat, fish or horse.’

I am obviously pro-exotics, with the catch that I feel parrot breeding should be stopped and adoption of existing animals should be pushed.

IMG_3918

Rescue-bird Bobo has serious issues, and is too-good an example why birds aren’t meant as pets.

I definitely feel that not all animals are appropriate pets. Big cats, raccoons, bears, wolves and wolf-hybrids, monkeys, deer… Animals that have not only special care requirements, but massive space requirements to be happy and healthy.

I have heard before that I am a hypocrite for keeping parrots and yet claiming that a bear or wolf is not a suitable pet.

Yet my parrots do not suffer – not as a big cat does, when kept in an electrified pen only a fraction of the size it needs. It is true that my birds do not roam the wild as nature intended. But their cages are their sanctuaries – they go there when they want quiet or food. If things get too noisy, the cage is a place of comfort. There, they sleep. They have the entire house to roam and explore, and in the cage they have mental stimulation in the form of toys and foraging. Best of all, there are no predators waiting to snap them up.

When it comes to companion parrots, we humans are their flock. While, yes, they do spend time in their cages (for their own safety) while we’re away, they should generally spend more time out than in.

I am also an advocate of giving captive birds choice. This makes them feel empowered – and a bird feeling that way typically feels the need to bite less. No, again, it’s not like in the wild… But it’s the next best thing. In line with providing choice, I also refuse to clip my birds’ wings. They love the freedom of flight, and I find nothing more beautiful. If I didn’t want a flighted parrot, I would own a dog instead – and I think that generally, that should be the attitude.

Besides all of that, even if you believe that such creatures should never be kept in a human home, these birds have been raised in a captive situation. They do not know how to survive in the wild and would die if released there. Parrots bred by people need us.

Argue that how you want, the breeding industry is not stopping – not unless everyone out there decides to adopt and not buy. However wonderful that would be, it simply isn’t happening. These human-raised birds exist and can’t go anywhere other than to a loving, human family that does their best to provide.

Would you rather destroy a bird, than see it placed into a loving home with people?

When it comes to exotics, my general rule is this: if it can kill or maim you, or if it wants to eat you (or any combination therein), you shouldn’t keep it as a pet.

Whilst many large parrots present veritable danger, a good owner will invest in training to help their birds learn how to behave in a human home. Similarly to this, snakes have little to no interest in harming a human.

When it comes to owning reptiles, though, I figure that owners go into it understanding that their pets are potential carriers for salmonella, and act accordingly by washing their hands carefully and keeping sanitary living quarters for their pets. They understand the care requirements, and provide them.

I might add that nearly all owners, of all animals, do this. Parrot owners, like reptile owners, enter into it knowing the risk. They take it to help the animals.

The main argument against exotic pets is this:

‘When in the hands of private individuals, the animals themselves suffer. These animals do not adjust well to a captive environment, for they require special care, housing, diet and maintenance that the average person cannot provide. As a result, individuals possessing exotic animals often attempt to change the nature of the animal rather than the nature of the care provided.

Many possessors realize they can no longer care for an exotic “pet” so they turn to zoos and other institutions such as sanctuaries to take over the responsibility. However, all the zoos and accredited institutions could not possibly accommodate the number of unwanted exotic “pets.” As a result, the majority of these animals are either euthanized, abandoned, or doomed to live in deplorable conditions.’

Read on here.

Some sites, like the BC SPCA, here, also state that (for instance) large birds – like macaws – are more than capable of outliving their owners. They say that ‘when the novelty wears off and the reality of the high care costs, lack of interaction… and overall care responsibilities become unmanageable, the animals are either abandoned or surrendered to a shelter or refuge.’

I counter that with: educate.

Tell people. Teach them that the stunning red parrot in the shop window is Trouble with a capital T. That he has a personality and a sense of mischievousness  That if you train him and respect him, he will be a valuable member of your family – and that if you don’t, he will certainly not respect you.

Educate the public and let them know that parrots – all of them, large and small – have expansive care requirements, and get rid of the notion that they are easy and simplistic pets. Let the public know that large parrots present real danger.

Another thing I felt needed addressing: the BC SPCA also states, shortly after the previous quote, that ‘unlike companion animals that create long-term reciprocal relationships between guardian and animal, there are many compelling reasons for not keeping exotic animals.’

I have to point out that – while perhaps not true with other exotics, I don’t know – I hold a very strong bond with each of my birds. Parrots do bond with their caretakers – it’s instinct.

I think there is nothing wrong with the dedicated parrot owner who gives his pet the best of everything – who does his research, and keeps up with the parrot world, doing what he can to make sure his companion leads the best (and healthiest) life.

I would say also that there is no harm in entering the exotic world of parrots or reptiles, so long as you understand your source.

If you absolutely must buy a baby, check your breeder’s credentials, and ensure that you’re not involving yourself in a scheme where wild birds are caught and passed off as captive.

But most importantly, consider adoption. There are so many homeless pets in rescues who would appreciate your love.

Once you have your new bird, put time into research – and consider it part of the regular care. Things change all the time in the bird world, from what’s considered good bedding, to the best nutrition.

We pet owners love our animals. We care for them as best we can. And if someone passed a law saying that I needed to obtain a license to keep my parrots – I would grumble, a bit, but I would do it.

I would even consider it fair. After all, it would help prevent the casual owners who impulse buy a parrot.

What are your thoughts?

Image

Happy bird.

A Bird Blogging Challenge To Myself.

So, I’ve been thinking about blog posts I can do in the future… I like a balance between sharing adorable/funny/vaguely interesting birdie stories, and putting up some more informational posts (which bring in the Google hits, haha). In all of this, I realised I could do a weekly topic of discussion.

The time I’ll be most likely to post these will probably coincide with the weekend, so I’m trying to think up a clever name for the series like, ‘Issue of the Day.’ Only… y’know, clever and related to weekends.

In brainstorming actual topics of discussion, I am thinking of more controversial ones (some of which have been touched on previously here).

Things like wing clipping, pellets vs. seeds, avian harness use, free-flight vs. flight suit, birdie backpacks, various bedding types, caging situations, dominance theory, potty-training, breeding your pets, good ‘starter’ birds, parrot welfare, your adoption source (pet shop/breeder/rescue), hand-raised vs. parent-raised birds, and whether we should actually even own exotics, etc. I’d love suggestions as to some of the issues that you – as pet and bird owners – have stumbled across. My idea here is to promote discussion.

And here I also feel compelled to offer a wee challenge to my followers. If you happen to write a post on parrots, owning them, and/or dealing with any issue you deem controversial, please – drop a comment here letting me know, and I’ll re-blog!

Image

This is Ptak’s ‘I dare you’ face.