Why I Love Parrots as Companion Animals

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Celestial Parrotlet

Parrots may not make good pets, but I was thinking on this: There are endless reasons why I love them anyway. I’d never give my birds up if I had any kind of a choice! It takes a saint-like amount of patience to live with one…as well as an immunity to mess, noise, and waste…yet if you can tolerate the negative aspects of ownership, a parrot can make a wonderful, life-changing companion.

My parrots are typical. They are affected by seasonal hormones that make them many times more likely to bite and scream and act like little terrors. Like any bird, they love to chew up my valuables (and have an uncanny knack for identifying these things), fly around like creatures possessed, and steal foods that are bad for them even when I’ve lovingly prepared a wholesome meal. No, I adore my flock because they are birds, not cats or dogs, and because they do bird things. I enjoy all the little things that differentiate them from our domesticated pets.

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Parrots are not domesticated, and this is the root of all their behaviour.

 Parrots are true to who they are. They do exactly what they want, when they want, and they don’t have ulterior motives – such as pleasing you. A parrot follows his instinct. This is exactly what makes them so unsuited to captivity, but also what endears them to me. I like that predictability (which is in itself sometimes unpredictability).

I am enamored of their soft, brilliant feathers, of course, but more so with their bold personalities. Everyone one of them is unique, and has his or her own likes and dislikes. For example, Mavi hates red cabbage. No matter how I disguise the occasional bit of red cabbage, he will not touch it. Ptak loves strawberries, but Mavi won’t touch those either. Bobo the cockatoo loves everything, ever, while cockatiel Mishka only liked green things. If you had food she wanted, she’d be dangling from your collar and doing acrobatics to try and get some – and if you still weren’t sharing, she’d try to stuff herself into your mouth or casually saunter right through the middle of your plate. These little things make parrots very special. To me, it totally makes up for the fact that you shouldn’t be cuddling them, or that you will get bitten randomly.

When I look into the eyes of a parrot, I see someone looking back at me – more even than with dogs, cats, or horses, which are all very intelligent and wonderful companions. Parrots are thought to be sentient. I appreciate that when I talk to my flock, they are aware and truly listening. Or at least I feel like it.

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Senegal Parrot in the window.

Parrots also smell good – or at least, mine do! Mishka smelt of fresh powder… I used to bury my nose in her feathers every now and then. You can guess how much she liked that. I loved her un-tameable wildness, how she used to mimic the phone dialing, or ‘sing’ the music to one of my favourite city-builder games. I came to admire her fierce independence. Everything was done on her terms. If she wanted to be with you, she’d let you know by trumpeting the song of her people into your ear. If not, she’d self-amuse on top of the door. She was courageous and neurotic at the same time. I loved her for her for being, well, Mishka. A bird.

In truth, there are endless small things to adore about each individual in my flock. They test my patience every day, but I always smile when my littlest parrot, Ptak, pipes, ‘Baby bird, you’re so pretty, bird!’ and makes up his own grammatically-correct sentences from words I taught him in a different context. Or when Mavi the Senegal declares, ‘You’re so CUUUUTE. I love you!’ as I wake him up. They’re mirrors of your home life. If you shower them with love and respect, they reflect it!

In the end, it’s the small things that make even the toughest times bearable. It takes just one sweet little moment to remind me that today was tough, but tomorrow can be better.

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Umbrella cockatoos in their aviary

 I think the best part of having parrots is that you will never be alone again. I am flock now.

Their neediness can be wearing; parrots thrive on social interaction, making it a prerequisite of life with a bird. Their highly social nature is a pro and a con, but really a pro – if you’re ready to give your whole life up to such a clingy creature. The problem becomes when the novelty of that super-close companionship wears off. When it begins to impact your life, will you still think it’s so fun or interesting? Many people don’t.

So why do I do it? This is a question I’m asked a lot, especially after I’ve been honest about my life with parrots. It’s a challenge! If you’ve read some of the articles on this blog, you, too, may reasonably wonder the same thing.

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Biting Caique “Monty.”

Well…I share my life and home with parrots because they will win your heart – and they need humans who can tolerate their quirks and wild nature. Captive parrots can never be released into the wild. They are completely and utterly dependent on people. In the end, however, their intelligence costs them their homes. Parrots are always looking for something to do, things to chew or explore, and often that leads to trouble. It is no longer so cute after your parrot escapes his cage for the fifth time while you’re out and destroys your house. Again. Or chews your antique furniture to bits. Or screams until your eardrums ache and your neighbours file noise complaints.

I aim do my part to help captive parrots, and what that means to me is adopting the birds I can provide for and doing my best to give them good lives – plus writing about the truths of parrot ownership so that others can learn from my experiences.

Life with parrots is about sacrifice. In the end, I love that they taught me selflessness, compassion, and patience. I love the bond we share, and all the tiny things that make me smile. So yes, they may be terrible pets, but I choose to remember the quiet moments and let the bites and the annoyances slide past. It’s what keeps me sane long enough to care for these most demanding of ‘pets’!

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Senegal parrot looking to step up.

 

 

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Quaker Parrots as Pets: Featuring Guest Blogger Joanna Grinberg-Ayala

Quaker Parrots, also known as Monk Parakeets, are said to be vivacious and noisy ‘big’ birds tucked into 90-140 gram bodies. For guest blogger Joanna Grinberg-Ayala, founder of Diary of a Kooky Parrot blog, this definitely holds true. She explores what life with quirky quaker parrot ‘Basil’ is really like – the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is one real owner’s perspective on what these small parrots are like as pets; the post is part of an ongoing series that seeks to educate the public about life with pet birds. Let’s give Joanna and the fabulous Basil a warm welcome!

You can also follow Basil’s antics on either of her Facebook pages (or Twitter):

https://www.facebook.com/ScreechandSquawk

https://www.facebook.com/basilthequaker

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Quaker Parrot – what to do?

I was asked to write about my life with a quaker parrot… to show prospective quaker parrot owners what they’re in for. So here it comes – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Our quaker parrot is a huge loud personality bursting out of a small green body.

We’ve had our quaker, Basil, for over 2.5 years now. It’s been wonderful. We all love her like crazy. And she annoys us to no end. Basil shares her space with 3 budgies. Basil is, most likely, a girl. It was never confirmed, but from watching her personality traits and certain behaviors, I think it is pretty safe to assume she is a female.

 So, what is life with my quaker like? I will try to summarize her quirky colorful personality:

 

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Basil of Screech and Squawk

Grouchy – The main sound we hear the most coming from Basil all day are grunts and grumbles. She sounds like a cranky grump. She grunts when she’s annoyed. She grunts when she’s content. But, when she’s really upset, she yells.

Messy – When Basil eats, the whole room gets trashed. She doesn’t eat in her cage. She doesn’t eat next to her food dish. She takes a seed in her beak, walks all the way to the edge of the cage, chews, and discards the shells onto the floor under the cage. When she gets veggies, she picks out stuff she doesn’t want, and throws it in all directions. When she eats peas, she extracts the filling, and scatters the skins everywhere. Needless to say, no matter how much I vacuum and clean, the floor in the parrot’s part of the room is always covered with bird food.

Noisy – Basil squawks rhythmically every morning for a couple of hours. Especially on the weekends, when we are trying to sleep in, and she wants us to come to the living room. The squawking is loud and annoying, but it only happens at intervals during the day. She probably is not quite as loud as some of the big parrots, but her piercing screeches can be heard from our 4th floor apartment all the way in the street. She’s not shy about reprimanding everyone, from budgies to humans. And, when her cage is locked, she clanks on the cage bars really loudly in protest – often for hours.

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Noisy quaker parrot

 

Nosy – Basil needs to see everything, check everything, and participate in everything. She likes to watch what I do from her spot on her playground, and loudly comments on everything. She usually chatters or grunts, occasionally resorting to yelling when she disapproves of something, like vacuuming, for example.

Jealous – Whenever I dare to talk to the budgies or snap their pictures, Basil rushes over, photo-bombs my pictures, jumps on my shoulder, nips my neck, anything to divert my attention away from the budgies. Same thing happens when the Kid comes over to cuddle with me. Basil immediately appears, places herself on my shoulder between us, and starts biting the Kid.

Picky – Basil has her favorite foods and nothing else will do. No matter how much I try to mix it up for her, she will only eat a few chosen veggies and fruit. No substitutes accepted. They either get ignored completely, or tossed on the floor with disgust.

Talented – All Basil’s senses seem to have extraordinary sharpness. She can spot a cookie from all the way across the room. She can smell gummy bears hidden deep in my pocket. Her sense of taste is so well developed that she manages to pick out the smallest pieces of favorite foods from my plate and discard anything else on the floor. She can hear me creeping on my tippy toes to the bathroom on early Sunday morning, and starts calling me loudly to come over to the living room. In short, there’s no hiding anything from Basil.

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Basil’s serious now.

Persistent – Basil never gives up. She will do anything and everything to get what she wants. To score human food, she will bite, dive inside my mouth, wrap herself around my whole face while sitting on my shoulder to reach my lips, lower herself down my face when sitting on top of my head, walk right into my plate and dig in my dish in search of her favorite foods, try to rip food out of my hand, lick the plate, the table and my blouse… You name it. There is nothing Basil wouldn’t do to get what she wants. When she first saw budgies land on the window frame, she went berserk! She could not stand to see the budgies do something she wasn’t able to do. So she started practicing. She tried and tried for days until she learned how to do it too. It wasn’t easy. She’s nowhere nearly as agile as the budgies, she’s big and bulky, and not a great flyer. She kept crashing into the window and falling onto the windowsill, but she never gave up. Until one day, she learned how to do it. Only to triumphantly chase the budgies off!

Nippy – When you read on Facebook about these birds that cuddle with their owners, or sit in their pockets… well, it certainly won’t be about Basil. She must have an obsessive-compulsive disorder of some sort. She can’t stop nipping. Ever! We can never relax when she’s around. She plucks our body hair. She removes moles and pimples. She picks on freckles, scars, and scabs. She nibbles on our necks. She pinches our cheeks. She gnaws on our clothes. She removes our buttons. She never stops chewing on our clothes and us. Results? Holes in our shirts and blouses, missing buttons, bleeding moles, scabs that won’t heal for weeks because they’re constantly picked on… and constant shrieks of – “Ouch!” whenever Basil is around.

High-strung – Basil hardly ever relaxes. Ever. She has to see everything the budgies and we are doing. She can be getting a massage, half comatose from pleasure, but she keeps jumping nervously at every sound the budgies make. And, often, just has to fly back to show the budgies who’s in charge.

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Basil wields her bean.

Bossy – She rules the flock. She cannot stand to see the budgies sitting around and relaxing. She will do anything to keep them on their toes. She controls their eating times. She decides where they get to sit. She chases them back and forth all day long. No budgie can relax when Basil is around.

Volatile and vindictive – When Basil gets mad it’s either ear-piercing yelling and wing flapping, or vicious biting and trashing her surroundings. When I don’t share my food with her, she walks over to the computer mouse, tries to push it off the desk and bite through the cable. Or, she tries to vandalize my computer keyboard. Or shred whatever papers are lying around. She never lets anything go. Someone or something has to pay, be it one of us, our clothes, or whatever object is at a near distance.

Cunning – Basil learned to sing her own rendition of Happy Birthday song, which sounds like – Appy Poo Day. As a treat, I offer her a piece of cereal, and call it a cookie. She learned to demand the cookie by yelling really loudly. In the past, she would attempt to sing and dance through the entire song, but, with time, she got wiser. Now all she does is sing one phrase – “Appy Poo Day”, and immediately yells – “COOKIEEE? COOKIEEE?”

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Destructive – This goes without saying… Like every parrot, Basil loves to chew and shred her surroundings, which includes but is not limited to computer keyboard, computer mouse, cables, furniture, books, documents, walls, curtains, blinds, doors, pictures, frames, and so on… and so on…

Strong-willed – Everything has to be on Basil’s terms. She will only step up when she feels like it, she will only fly over when she’s in the mood, she will only graciously allow us to pet her, when she decides it’s time for a massage. And even then, she will less than gently redirect our fingers with bites, when the massage is not up to her expectations. When she’s not in the mood for pleasantries, it’s stink eye, painful bites, or ignoring our attempts at affection. In other words, don’t mess with the quaker!

Exclusive – Basil only tolerates the three members of our Family. No one else can get near her. She will ignore them; give them a stink eye, and outright bite if they try to get too close. Occasionally, she will graciously honor some people, like Grandpa or Aunt, by agreeing to sit on their shoulder, but they better not be trying to get too chummy with her. Or else!

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Manipulative – When I eat something yummy, Basil nearly jumps out of her skin. She tries everything, from biting my lips to diving inside my mouth. When nothing works, she places herself on my shoulder, kisses my cheek and repeats – “I love you”, in hope that that will score her a piece.

Stubborn – When Basil wants to be with Dad on the couch, she flies over a million times in a row. She starts nipping on him, he gets annoyed, puts her back on her cage, she flies over to the couch and waits for him before he’s made it back. He puts her back on the cage, she flies over. He puts her back, she flies over… See where this is going? Same happens with the swing on her playground. She likes to twist it upside down so the budgies cannot use it. Dad fixes it. Basil goes back and turns it upside down. Dad fixes it, Basil turns it, dad fixes… All day long!

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Independent – Basil self entertains herself all day by chasing budgies, destroying toys, papers, and furniture, and planning her shenanigans.  She does not need us much. She does come over for scratches occasionally, and to try to wrestle food form us, but other than that she is very self reliant. Maybe it’s because she has other birds to occupy her attention. Maybe it’s her personality.

Competitive – Basil competes with the budgies over everything – space, food, toys, and my attention. She competes with the Kid over access to Dad and me.   She fights for what she thinks is rightfully hers, and firmly asserts her position in the Family hierarchy. At the top, that is.

Spoiled – What can I say… Basil owns the apartment and us. She flies over to the table on the weekends for breakfast. She walks all over the table. She dives into our plates. We humbly offer her pieces of our meal, and she picks and chooses discarding unwanted pieces all over the table and the floor. She has us all wrapped around her little tail. We feed her, massage her, and tend to her as she wishes. In return, she graciously honors us with her occasional attention on her terms.

Occasionally sweet – Basil has moments of weakness, when she fluffs up on one of our shoulders, naps a little and repeats – I love you! Kiss? Of course that causes our hearts to melt. Or, she joins us on the couch, snuggles under the blanket, and allows us to massage her little fluffy body. Recently she has been allowing us to reach under her wings, which is a huge accomplishment for us, since she is not a very trusting birdie.

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I do not know how my experience compares with other quaker parrot owners, or rather people owned by quaker parrots. I only knew one other quaker personally. His name was Oscar, and he was much calmer and much less annoying. When Basil and Oscar met, he minded his own business, while Basil did all she could to bite him. I suspect it had to do with their gender. Female birds are usually way more snippy and nosy.

 What else can I say? Like every crazy parrot lady I am nuts about my birds. Every time Basil perches on my finger, I feel grateful that I have been honored with a bird’s trust and love. I love Basil’s green fluff. I love her warm feet. I love to massage her around her beak. I love to kiss her, and sniff her, and pet her, and just have her next to me, whenever she lets me, of course. Her colorful personality has been a great source of entertainment to all of us. And when we go for vacation, we miss her and the budgies every single moment. We would not trade her for any other bird. She has become an integral part of our family, with all her quirks and demands.

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Quirky Quaker Parrot

 

 

 

15 Ways Owning a Parrot is Like Having a Forever-Toddler.

I often hear that owning parrots is like bringing a toddler into your house – for life – and I feel like it’s true. I don’t have kids myself, but I asked some friends and family who have been through the terrible twos… and they agree. There is a reason some people choose to call their pet parrots ‘fids,’ or refer to themselves as ‘parronts.’ (I prefer ‘slave,’ myself.)

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Cockatoo demonstrates ‘puppy dog eyes.’

  1. Tantrums. Parrots have tantrums. Babies have tantrums. They are remarkably similar to behold. I once watched Bobo the umbrella cockatoo have a meltdown because people weren’t saying hello and goodbye to him as they passed him in his carrier – a cardinal sin, in his eyes. He crouched down and howled until people looked at him (and at me, because what an abusive parront owner I must be to cause my animal to make that terrible noise). Later, I went grocery shopping with my partner and watched a child fall screaming to the ground. I saw people giving his mother the very same look.
  2. People judge your parenting/parronting ability. Oh, yes, if you go out in public and your bird or child misbehaves, it must be because of you. You even get the same looks from complete strangers. Sometimes you’ll even garner unsolicited advice!
  3. Parrots and toddlers share the same emotional and cognitive intelligence, and are therefore capable of being very manipulative. Puppy dog eyes? Enough said.
  4. The mess and destruction. Nothing is safe. What looks interesting gets explored with a mouth or beak. Everything you own has been gummed or chewed. You know how your toddler scribbled on the walls? Well, just imagine your entire wall has been chewed through to the other side, and that’s what it’s like to own a macaw or cockatoo. Toddlers and parrots both leave spectacular messes wherever they go, especially when you try and feed them. And there is no such thing as truly toddler- or parrot-proofing your home.
  5. Sleepless nights. With Bobo, our umbrella cockatoo, we would creep around after dark for fear of waking him. If he heard us, he would give a hearty shout (or seven) to let us know that he was onto us. I spent many a dark hour soothing him back to sleep after a night fright. And don’t forget bedtime tantrums. ‘I DON’T WANNA GO TO BED.’
  6. Routine. Both love and thrive on routine. Suddenly you can’t stay late because you have to get home in time for bedtime – the ‘sitter is only available ’til five. No longer can you longer travel on a whim or enjoy the freedom of independence.
  7. Nothing you do is done solo anymore. Nothing. Peeing? Better count on company. Washing dishes one-handed? Get used to it. Going out on errands? Pack for two. Chores? Nope. Learn your balancing act.
  8. Noise level. They get vocal when they feel sad/happy/angry/frustrated/sleepy. Parrots who don’t get their way have been known to scream and shriek until you give in. Sound familiar?
  9. Poop. There is a lot of pooping going on with babies and parrots. And neither one tends to control it.
  10. Mood swings. Those terrible twos are ever-lasting for a parrot. Happy-angry, happy-angry. I’ve seen the same thing happen to toddlers. Laughing one moment, shrieking the next.
  11. Completely needy and dependent. One will grow up, and one never will, but they are both completely dependent on you for their every need – from food, clean living, and comfort and love.
  12. They’re hell on shoes. Toddlers outgrow them like nothing else… and parrots just chew them to pieces.
  13. Both have their own ideas of what they want to do. Look out if you try and stop them. Both are always on the move… for trouble.
  14. The majority share a limited vocabulary mostly consisting of coos, shrieks, and babbling – with a few words thrown in. That doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate their wants, though.
  15. You make sacrifices. First goes the freedom to do what you want. Then you make financial sacrifices: no eating out because you need to buy toys and supplies! Next comes the sacrifice of your own bedroom. Hey, they need it more. Finally, you even give up your sleep and the food right off your own plate. Nothing is too much.

::Bonus:: Convincing either one to eat their vegetables is a long-held battle that usually ends in a huge mess.

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Try getting a kid or parrot to eat Brussels sprouts.

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Face caked with food. Familiar?

**This is by no means a post intended to diminish parenting. I have the greatest admiration for all parents (and also a little bit of jealousy, because your terrible twos will be over in time!). It is also a gentle warning to anyone considering a parrot, as owning these animals – even a humble budgie or cockatiel – is not as simple as some envision.

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!

45 Life-Hacks for Parrot Owners

A collection of tips (‘life hacks’) for people with parrots in their lives, making those days just a little easier.

Parrot life hack #1: The office mat

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Mop up messes with ease.

Parrot life hack #2 Drop cloths out of old flat sheets

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Contain (some of) that mess.

Parrot life hack #3 The only cleaning agents you’ll ever need: White distilled vinegar, steam, mild dishwashing soap, and GSE (grape seed extract).
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Parrot life hack # 4 Build your own aviary – try checking out the Parrot’s Workshop for ideas and advice

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There are all kinds of benefits to having an aviary for your parrots.

Parrot life hack # 5 UV lights and direct sun

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UV light promotes good health and feather condition, plus improves mood and therefore helps behavioural issues like biting, screaming, and plucking. AND it helps parrots try new foods.

Parrot life hack # 6 Chop (which you should freeze in ice cube trays)

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As per Parrot Nation and the Parrot’s Pantry, chop consists of finely chopped veggies. Picky parrots will often eat this!

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Parrot life hack # 7 Homemade toys as per the Parrot’s Workshop… or, let your parrot be your shredder.

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Parrot life hack # 8 Recall training

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The equivalent of teaching a dog the ‘here’ command.

Parrot life hack # 9 Station training

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Otherwise known as ‘stay.’

Parrot life hack # 10 Homemade harnesses

Homemade parrot flight suit/jumper/sweater.

Use at your own risk. Pattern by Island Parrot Sanctuary


Bobo the Umbrella Cockatoo

Parrot life hack # 11 Fruit frozen in ice cubes

Fruit in ice cubes

Photo credit: VisualPhotos.com

Parrot life hack # 12 The bath in a sink (in a bowl)
Charlie in a bath

Parrot life hack # 13 Grain bakes – picky parrot’s delight

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Hint: Try feeding it to wild birds in the extreme cold weather when food is hard to come by, too.

Parrot life hack # 14 Foraging skewers and balls

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You can also replace nesting birds’ bowls with skewers and other foraging toys.

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Parrot life hack # 15 Foods as toys

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Stuff a bell pepper or mini bell pepper with your parrot’s meal.

Parrot life hack # 16 Hemp seed

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Organic hemp seed is good for parrots (in moderation). We’ve been using shelled as we can mix it in new foods to tempt them to taste it.

Parrot life hack #  17 Coconut Oil

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Safe for cooking – and good for us and our parrots.

Parrot life hack # 18 Sweet potato mash

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Most birds will eat this warm delicacy (best NOT fed in the spring), and you can hide all kinds of veggies in it.

Parrot life hack #  19 ‘Parrot Wine’ and syringe training

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Watered down Ribena or fruit juice can help syringe train a parrot, or give a sick bird a boost of energy enough to get it to the vet.

Parrot life hack #  20 Removing stains (hint: get them while they’re fresh!)

Parrot life hack # 21 Unused popsicle sticks and coffee stirrers
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Parrot Life hack #22 The cat carrier

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You can modify the cat carrier by adding a wood perch. Also note that washed dandelions and roses without the thorns are safe toys!

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Parrot life hack # 23 ‘Parrot T.V.’

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It’s as simple as this – Maverick is entertained for hours.

Parrot life hack #24 Many, many extra bowls. Dozens.

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These are barely enough bowls for one afternoon here.

Parrot life hack # 25 Clicker training

099Parrot life hack # 26 Cheap toilet roll (paper)

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Cheaper for mopping up poop, spills, and other messes, plus they make a fun toy.

Parrot life hack # 27 Hide medicine or veggies in almond or peanut butter whole-grain toast

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Parrot life hack # 28 Wrap millet or nuts in some plain computer paper

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Parrot life hack # 29 Iceberg secrets a calming substance

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Not very nutritional, but it makes a good toy for beating up – and the white substance it secretes will calm them. (Island Parrot Sanctuary tip.)

Parrot life hack # 30 Different styles of perches

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Not every parrot wants to sleep on wood; not every parrot wants to perch. Mishka loved sleeping on a corner perch – we got her a chinchilla platform.

Parrot life hack # 31 Lightly spray the bottom of the cage/the papers before pulling them up

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Keeps the dust and cage debris from flying into your face as you clean

Parrot life hack # 32 Skewer a box full of paper and treats for foraging. Put this in the cage before you have to leave the house to keep them occupied

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Not so big as they can nest in it, but it still counts as foraging fun.

Parrot life hack # 34 Grapes, cored apples, and other watery/sugary fruits are good for travel

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Parrot life hack # 35 Buy up too-small or round bird cages and make them into travel cages or art sculptures

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Sanitise travel cages first, to prevent the accidental spread of disease


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Just remember that this can’t be used for a cage anymore.

Parrot life hack # 36: The water-fountain bath by Thun Fisch

Life hack # 37 Cornstarch, not styptic powder, for wounds!

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Styptic powder can burn on an open wound (bleeding cut) and actually cause further damage, but is okay for broken nails, beaks, or feathers.

Life hack # 38 Your blender’s food processor attachment

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Your new best friend.

Life hack # 39 Baby toys whose parts can’t be broken off/aren’t toxic can be sanitised and given to parrots

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Life hack # 40 Courtesy of BirdTricks: Freeze several bowls half full of water and place these beneath the birds’ regular dishes of fresh food, as if stacking them. Keeps it fresh a little longer in hot weather.

Life hack # 41 Stainless steel pans

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The parrot-safe alternative to non-stick, as are earthenware and glass.

Life hack # 42 In your emergency birdie first aid kit, add some organic baby food pouches

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Should you have a disaster and run out of food, or simply need to convince a sick bird to eat, this often works.

Life hack # 43 Spice their food up

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Click for a list at Cockatiel Cottage full of safe foods and herbs for parrots.

Life hack # 44 Use a blanket in aviaries to provide a shaded place

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Island Parrot Sanctuary

Life hack # 45 Vacuuming means bath time?

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For some reason, many parrots are stimulated into bathing by the sound of a running vacuum cleaner. Just make sure you swap their bowl after!

::BONUS:

Quinoa Pops

Sweet Potato Quinoa Pops – perfect foot toy by Lisa Southerland at the Parrot’s Pantry. (Click to go through.)

What are your tips for making life a little easier with parrots?

Hormones and Your Parrot: the Triggers and What to Do.

Hormones strike twice a year in most parrots, spring and autumn, turning your bird from a gentle angle into a rampaging monster. Or so it seems!

Upon reaching sexual maturity, parrots have a single driving urge: to find a mate and make babies. It is very simple, and yet also impossible for them. Hand-raised parrots typically choose their caretaker as their mate, which, of course, is a role we can never fulfil – much to the detriment of our captive birds.  (Please note: The answer is not to breed your pets, as this requires a special set up, careful diet planning and expensive nutritional care, and the ability to care for and re-home any babies.)

Greenwinged Macaw

Hormones cause a lot of parrots, including this greenwinged macaw, to be re-homed to rescues and sanctuaries across the world

Parrots in captivity find their hormones stimulated by a four main things:

  1. Light – too much daylight stimulates the hormones by making a parrot think ‘spring’ all the time. Give your pet bird 12-14 hours of undisturbed sleep in the complete dark. Any artificial light does the same thing as the sun in terms of imitating good breeding conditions.
  2. Diet – an enriched diet is part of caring for our pets, but it does also signal constant bountifulness. In other words, feeding a wide variety of nutritionally rich foods says ‘this is the perfect breeding season.’ Pellets are a key trigger – that soy stimulates hormones like nothing else. But sugary and fatty foods can do it too, depending on the individual.
  3. Cuddling – I’ve written about the dangers of too much cuddling before. This is the time of year to stop petting your parrot outside his head, neck, and feet, if you are! It tells your bird that you are about to deliver one thing… sex.
  4. Environment – birds will nest in just about anything. How do you know if your pet parrot is nesting? Is he or she hanging out in a dark, shadowy corner? Is he becoming aggressive over a certain place? Blankets, boxes, shelves, drawers, parrot tents, and shadowy nooks like behind the door or in the closet are all prime nesting spots to your parrot. Letting your bird hang out here encourages hormones.
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Aggression in parrots is common at this time of year

What can we do?

  • First and foremost, this is a time of year when it is critical not to encourage your parrot to let you think you are his mate. The risks of doing so include attacks on you and your loved ones in the house, plucking from frustration, excess screaming, and even depression in your parrot.
  • Restrict daylight hours – again, 12-14 hours of complete darkness will help immensely.
  • Conversely, fill the actual days with direct sunlight (or a UV-A lamp). This helps parrots process the vitamins from their food, reducing the chance of biting, screaming, and plucking.
  • Swap cage and room contents around regularly to help with territoriality.
  • Give fewer warm, spray showers, as these imitate springtime mistings in nature (again, a signal to breed).
  • Consider a diet change, too, where you begin to feed a lot of chickpeas, leafy greens, carrots, etc., but skip the pellets and other proteins.
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Foraging Senegal Parrot

  • Don’t cuddle your bird, even if he or she insists upon it. Remember, doing so makes a promise you can’t uphold.
  • Do not bob your head, even in play or while dancing. A parrot reads this as regurgitation!
  • Don’t feed warm and/or mushy foods – this is the equivalent of regurgitated food for them.
  • Don’t offer food from your own mouth or hands, as birds take this the wrong way.
  • Instead of cuddles, engage in some trick training – it serves as enrichment – and work on foraging to distract them.
  • Don’t let your parrot play in boxes, have newspaper, shredded material, or cloth to play with (they see nesting material), or hang out in dark, tight spaces.
  • Encourage your bird to fly as much as possible to burn off energy.
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Nesting cockatoo: Knowing your bird and what’s he’s like will help you identify what you need to stop doing (or do).

Know the signs and symptoms of a hormonal parrot:

  • Trembling, with wings dropped low in a ‘begging’ posture (he or she is asking you to feed him as a mate)
  • Panting when touched outside the head and neck
  • Regurgitating for you or its toys
  • Increased appetite
  • Lifting the vent while cuddling (if female)
  • Mounting your hand by gripping your thumb (if male)
  • Masturbating on your or something nearby
  • Egg-laying
  • Showing off and flirting by flinging out the wings, doing mating dances with head-bobbing and hopping/bouncing, or making ‘heart wings’
  • Plucking or barbering feathers
  • Territoriality over the cage, room, you, or a family member
  • Excess aggression, including biting, screaming, and beak-bashing
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Cockatiel displaying for mate by holding her wings open and singing

What do I do if my parrot is regurgitating for me, or if he displays one of these signs? 

If your bird is trying to mate with you, or regurgitating for you, gently but firmly put your bird down. Walk away, feeling not disgust, but friendly affection. I sometimes tell Maverick, our Senegal, ‘I love you, too, but as a friend.’ My voice lets him know that I am not upset or angry. After he stops, I instigate a hands-off training session so that we can have a positive and distracting interaction. I try not to put us in a position where my birds will become that way, but sometimes it happens anyway.

If your parrot is aggressive, screaming, or being territorial, react with understanding, not frustration or anger. How must he feel, unable to fulfil his most basic instinct? It isn’t about ‘love.’ It’s about the need to reproduce. He isn’t lonely – he’s horny. It will pass.

Catalina mini macaw (blue and gold and scarlet macaw hybrid).

Catalina Mini Macaw demonstrates hormonal behaviour

Why is my parrot suddenly attacking me, or my husband/wife/daughter/son/friends?

When a parrot chooses a mate, they bond for life. Touching another bird is the equivalent of a human cheating on a partner. They don’t do it.

When an intruder comes too close to either a mate or the nest, one of the pair will drive this threat off (which one does this depends on the species). If a parrot feels they can’t drive an intruder off, they turn on their own mate, forcing them away from perceived danger. Thus, it is quite possible that a parrot who is attacking you either sees you as a threat to the nest, or to their ‘mate.’ You may be the mate, or someone else in the house may be.

I’ve talked about cuddling. Only mates preen outside of that head/neck area. Some of the worst places an owner can touch are around the vent (butt) area, along the back, and under the wings. This says, ‘Yes, I accept’ to a clear offer of sex. A parrot can’t understand why his ultra-obvious invites are always ignored, despite your own indications to the contrary.

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Ptak the parrotlet needs and enjoys the sun

A bird will become frustrated after time passes and you don’t deliver. Sometimes it will turn on you, biting you. Other times, it will turn its frustration inwards, plucking out its feathers, or mutilating its own skin. It is truly best not to pet our pet birds the way they so desire. They like a lot of things that are bad (or not so good) for them, and it’s our job to keep them happy and healthy by not giving in.

At this difficult time of year, try to understand that your parrot is doing what is instinctive for him. He is perfectly normal, and, in an oddly reassuring way, healthy! It will also pass. Persevere, and know that in a few months your bird will stop trying to bite you and will calm down once again.

What are your tips for surviving the hormone seasons with your parrots?