The Tambopata Macaw Project – Saving Scarlet Macaws

One of the things I’m most passionate about on this blog is the protection of parrots, wild or tame. As many readers here already know, habitat loss and the illegal pet trade cause serious damage to wild parrot populations (the latter being one more reason for “adopt, don’t shop”). As it happens in Mexico and Guatemala, scarlet macaws are one of these critically affected species, with population numbers dipping below 500 birds total 1. Did you know that scarlet macaws typically lay two to four eggs each breeding season? However, parents only care for the first and possibly second chick.

The others are sentenced to starve to death – which is where the Tambopata Macaw Project steps in.

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Baby scarlet macaw. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Project.

Yes, there are foster “parronts,” and it’s science.

The Tambopata Macaw Project Team is working to develop fostering and supplemental feeding techniques (“parront” being 100% my term, not theirs!) that move abandoned third and fourth chicks into new, empty nests, or nests containing only one. It’s too risky to test new field techniques in areas with rapidly declining populations, so they focus work in the Tambopata region, where the populations are more stable. According to Shannon Courtenay, team project media leader, “From our research, we know that over 20% of all scarlet macaws that hatch die of starvation, the leading cause of death amongst wild chicks.” A hefty 45% of second chicks, and nearly all of third and fourth chicks are left to starve to death, while the parents focus on the first. Utilising wild foster parent macaws could dramatically cut down on these percentages

And okay, so perhaps using the word “parront” doesn’t convey quite how scientific this research is – or, indeed, how important that data is to the long-term conservation of parrots, which itself has a positive impact on whole ecosystems throughout Latin America. You see, the family Psittacidae is one of the most endangered bird families in the world. Low natural reproductive rates, coupled with habitat loss, and capture for the pet trade, especially among the largest psittacine species, are driving this high rate of endangerment.

The Tambopata Macaw Project trialled their “chick adoption” program last year with promising results: nearly all of adopted chicks survived. Now they are asking our help to run this program on a larger scale, to save more Scarlet Macaw chicks, and allow them to share this vital information with other conservation programs around the world.

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Scarlet macaw chicks in their nest. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Project.

About the Tambopata Macaw Project:

Based in the lowlands of southeastern Peru, the Tambopata Macaw Project is a long-term research project on macaw and parrot conservation and ecology. To date, their researchers have developed and tested an array of conservation techniques, helping parrot populations around the world, including Puerto Rican Parrots in the U.S.A., Blue-throated Macaws in Bolivia, Scarlet Macaws in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, and Guatemala, and Salmon-crested Cockatoos in Indonesia – as well as others.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend following them on Facebook (Tambopata Macaw Project). They’ve been studying scarlet macaws for over three decades, and there’s a lot to learn.

Science in action.

Working in remote environments such as the lowland jungles of southeastern Peru means that things we normally take for granted are not always readily available or reliable. For instance: electricity.

The researchers have a brooder in the Research Center to keep the young chicks warm and safe. These need to be maintained at a constant temperature, but the center only has electricity for limited times throughout the day. For all other times, including at night, they need to use a car battery that is hooked up to the brooder, constantly checking that these are still in working order. All of the equipment, from chick food to measuring equipment and climbing gear needs to be brought in, usually from America, flown to the jungle city of Puerto Maldonado, and put on a 7-hour boat ride up river.  The team is in constant battle with nature: ants eating electrical wiring, humidity destroying their electrical equipment, and limited funds for replacement gear.

This is why the Tambopata Macaw Project needs funding to make this important research possible.

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The difference between scarlet macaw chicks. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Project.

How can we help save wild parrots?

If you’re passionate about protecting our earth and its incredible, rich ecosystems, this is the perfect time of year to donate to a great cause – so be sure to check out the Tambopata Macaw Project’s Experiment page. In case you’re wondering, it’s a project endorsed by multiple respected aviculture professionals, including Phoenix Landing Parrot Rescue’s Ann Brooks, Susan G. Friedman, Scott Echols, and Sharman Hoppes.

The project will last approximately four months, from mid December 2017 to mid February 2018. According to their mission statement,

“We predict that first macaw chicks will be hatching by late-November. So we will have third chicks hatching by mid-December, with the possibility of more late hatches by mid-January. Chicks will be translocated into their adoptive nests approximately 15 days after hatching and will continue to be monitored using video cameras placed inside their nests until they fledge.”

We can all help pull Scarlet Macaws from the brink of extinction. Even if you aren’t able to donate now, a quick share or a comment helps spread the word, too!

By the by: Keep an eye out for a first-hand account of what it’s like to participate in this important research from Tambopata Macaw Project team member, Shannan Courtenay. This is in the works!

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Scarlet macaw. Photo credit: Tambopata Macaw Research Project’s Facebook page.

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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.

 

 

How to Safely Medicate a Parrot

Since coming home, my poor parrotlet has just not been himself. I put it down to the stress of a new home, quarantine, and the big move, and gave him time to settle. Six weeks in, however, and things were still ‘off.’ I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But something was up. Appetite: fine. Poop: fine. No nasal discharge, fluffing up, or other typical symptoms of sickness in birds. Ptak just seemed a little more tired than usual – and that I attributed to his moult, which began upon his arrival here and is only just now slowing down.

A few days ago, I noticed he seemed to have a little trouble breathing. Tail pumping ever so slightly, he climbed to his sleeping perch and had a nap directly after his breakfast. Anyone who knows him will see that this is bad news. Post fuel-up, Ptak is usually ready to play! Even when I left the room, he stayed napping. Normally you can’t hear yourself think for his chatter. After Charlie, I will not leave a bird whom I feel is ‘off’ again.

 

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My sweet canary, Charlie.

Trust your instincts. If something seems to be amiss somehow, it isn’t a waste of money to consult a professional.

So I phoned our local avian vet and made an appointment for the same day. We packed up one fussy parrotlet and went.

Of course, my bird promptly made a liar out of me. He chattered and fidgeted the whole way, even in the office. The vet examined him and declared him to have no chest issues (heart, airsacs, and lungs are fine and clear), and no odd lumps or bumps.

Upon weighing him, however, she declared, ‘You’re a little chunk!’ My parrotlet measured in at a shocking 37 grams. He was just 30 grams at his last vet check in Scotland! Fortunately, this is most likely down to his time in isolation, where he wasn’t able to fly the way he’s used to. I know now that he needs even less on the seed, more chop and veggies still. It certainly explained why Ptak flies a little way and needs a rest. My dad commented later that perhaps we can dye him grey and stamp ‘Goodyear’ across his side. 😉 (All in good fun!)

At the end of the check up, the vet did a gram strain and trimmed his talons toes.

 

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Parrotlet trying his hardest to look grumpy.

All that was on April 3. The gram strain came back positive, and a certain little blue bird is now subjected to a course of antibiotics: .02 ml of them administered by beak, to be exact. That would be approximately two droplets.

Antibiotics went fine the first day. Towelled him and administered the meds with a little help. A few days ago, however, he inhaled some of the medicine!

My poor little bird stopped fussing in my grip. I let him go immediately. He flew away and seemed unable to draw breath. I could hear fluid in his chest (thank God it was only one droplet, max). My mum easily grabbed him as his eyes closed – signs numbers two and three that this was an emergency – and held him upside down, gently swinging him. Ptak coughed then and was fine.

I immediately put him in his carrier/hospital cage. My instinct was to keep him quiet while we phoned our vet’s office. He had some residual difficulty breathing that day (coughing and sputtering occasionally), but was quickly recovering. After a bit of trouble, we managed to reach a vet.

 

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The emergency bird hold.

He told us a number of things that may be helpful to other owners struggling with the question of how to safely medicate an un-trained parrot:

1. Aspiration is a common occurrence with birds who struggle during the process. (It emphasises the importance of continuing syringe training even if, as with a certain parrotlet, it seems not to be paying off yet!)

2. A bird who has choked or inhaled medicine should be kept quiet and calm in a covered hospital cage for a few hours to let the airways clear.

3. Our vet gave us permission to attempt dosing his favourite food (egg or strawberry) with the antibiotics. It’s not as efficient, but better than risking another incident. Only do this with your avian vet’s guidance, however.

4. Ordinarily, the best way to medicate an untrained bird via syringe is to restrain it either in your hand (no pressure on the chest!) or with a dark, solid colour towel. Holding the bird upright, put the syringe at the LEFT side of the beak, pointing towards the back right, and gently depress the stopper. If the bird won’t open its beak, you can gently use the syringe to gently coax it open. Careful not to overwhelm the bird.

5. Always follow your vet’s directions, running a full course. During administration, stop if your bird goes limp, ceases to struggle, is fighting, or appears to have difficulty breathing.

 

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Look at this photo I found of Mishka – always involved in everything.

In any case, that’s what’s been happening here! Mavi has been very sweet – still loves my sister, but let me put him on his back and scratch his head for a bit this evening. Hormones are bearable this year; learning about diet and its impact has really helped. Our Senegal has a great love of shoes, which fulfils the hard part of keeping him busy and distracted. Wood toys? Yeah, he likes them, but they’re not as entertaining! Boots, crocs, clogs, flip flops, sandals, flats, trainers. None are safe. (He only gets fresh pairs, or lightly used ones that have been sanitised.) Too bad they don’t last longer, haha.

Ptak is feeling better, and seems to be ingesting his medicine with no problems. He only has a few days left, so we’ll see how he is then. He’s been chatting, anyway, so there’s a definite improvement.

Living with Parrots (from a Non-Bird Person’s Perspective)

What is life like with a parrot, you ask, maybe even from the perspective of someone who doesn’t own the bird? It’s a question that many people want to know – for good reason. After all, these animals have a reputation for being difficult to live with due to their noise, mess-making capacity, and rampaging yearly hormones. Is all this as difficult as people say?

Here is an opinion from animal lover, photographer, and dog trainer Diane Stull (aka my mum), who has very limited experience with parrots – but suddenly has to live with them. Without further ado, Diane:

___

 

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German Shepherd “Baldur” working on his here command.

Parrot as a language is a great mystery to me—as a non-bird person with birds living under my roof, I’ve found that they are creatures very different to any other. I find this a little frustrating because in the grand scheme, I’m no newbie to the unspoken languages of companion animals. I “speak” dog, cat, and horse.

Learning to speak my domestic pets’ language:

I have had dogs since I was a kid, and over the years have learned how to be a good alpha. I’m not the Dog Whisperer, but I know that dogs like being led by their alphas, and are happiest when their people make those scary decisions of “safe” or “not safe.” This is their language. A tail wagging to the right signals happiness; exposing his or her belly shows submission. A dog who constantly licks its paws may have allergies, or an anxiety issue. Dogs who stand over you are usually being dominant.

I understand all this.

I’ve not had cats as long as dogs. It wasn’t until I got married that I was adopted by my first cat. He was a funny and loving creature. He taught me and my German Shepherd a lot. Because of him, I have acquired lots of words in cat.

 

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This is cat for “Just checking out this bird cage, nothing to see here, move along.”

I know “feed me now!” and “pet me!”   These were easy to divulge. But I also know “hey, don’t turn the page yet,” and “don’t ignore me when I’m speaking to you, human.” By a glance, I know when attention is going to be well-received, versus not. And I know what that glare with the steam coming out the ears means when I trim nails—and that isn’t fit for repeating in polite company.

Parrots, on the other hand, I don’t know so well. I had a couple of canaries as a young adult when I was still in school. They were loving birds who liked attention. I had to re-home them when I first went to work full time and couldn’t give them the attention that they deserved. Since then, all of my birds have been of the wild variety, which we attract to our yard with feeders and appropriate native plantings in the garden. I love watching them, but I don’t have to interact with them.

They just do what birds do in the wild.

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Wild chickadee enjoying our feeder.

Then my daughter adopted parrots.

She lived on her own. Visiting with her flock was easy. I interacted with them via Skype. The intimidating beaks of the cockatoo and Senegal parrot were 3,500 miles away. During these electronic visits, I could laugh at their antics and marvel at each new word or phrase that they were perfecting. My daughter, Sarah, would talk about special foods, molts, and hormones—or show me her current batch of bruised bite marks.

These weren’t domestic animals. They had a wild side to them.

When we found out that she had to come home due to a law change in the UK, bringing two of the birds with her, I had serious doubts that I knew enough to make our time together a happy experience. Would I ever really learn how to interact with them? I will stick to cats and dog any day; they are so uncomplicated.

 

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Skype screenshot of Mavi hanging out.

 

Fast forward to February 2014: The birds are home!

Day 1: After a massive road trip to New York State the day before, the birds are home and happy, and none the worse for wear.

I spend some time with them after Sarah wakes them. I’m clueless about the eye pinning and the body motions Maverick the Senegal is making. Is he just curious or is he telling me to back off? I quickly learn that beak bashing is an aggressive move, and to turn my back on him if he does something I don’t like. This back-turning maneuver isn’t natural to me. It’s not how you deal with aggression from a lower pack member. It’s such a change to go from pack mentality to flock mindset! We’re equals.

Sarah sets Mavi on my shoulder. I’m really uncomfortable with him there. He’s a good boy, but I realize just how big that Senegal beak is! I have Sarah move him back to her arm.

Little Ptak seems pretty unfazed by his new home. He’s very friendly and inquisitive. With a little coaxing, he is willing to come to my finger and check me out, walking up and down my arm. I like his size. And while I respect his beak, it doesn’t alarm me the way Mavi’s does.

The other animals in the house know something’s up. Koko Mau, our Siamese cat, is a bit miffed because he can’t sleep on Sarah’s bed now; thankfully, the dogs are oblivious to the noisy bird chatter coming from the newly appointed bird room. This is a pleasant surprise. The dogs are curious about the new smells, but they are not obsessing about it. We appear to be off to a positive start.

 

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Parrotlet flinging chop.

 

Day2: The birds eat as well as… if not better than… we do. Since coming home, Sarah has discovered that we own a food processor. She told me about the benefits of chop and grain bakes while still in Scotland. This is a new concept to me. I’m obviously and out of date when it comes to bird nutrition: Bird food = seeds. (She assures me this is an outdated view, but information changes all the time as we learn more.) Sarah has stuffed our refrigerator with good fruits and greens from the organic co-op, also raiding the deep freezer for some of our homegrown organic veggies.

OK, whatever. I’m just rolling with the flow here.

 

Day 3: Time for a reality check about food.

To my dismay, parrots waste a lot of food. I watch in horror as these bowls filled with lovely blackberries and freshly made chop are emptied to the bottom of the cages or splashed onto cage covers and freshly painted walls. Sarah tells me that this is normal, healthy behavior, akin to scattering seeds in the wild. I cannot watch, and leave the room.

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Senegal Parrot Maverick making himself at home.

* * * * * *

Day 10: Mavi’s starting to show hormonal behaviors. He doesn’t usually come out when there are visitors in the room—mainly to keep the bird newbies safe—but he will let me give him scritches through the bars if I ask him politely. I’m careful to avoid hitting his pin feathers. I found out today that he loves tearing up shoes and boots. What a mess this activity makes! The bottom of his cage and the floor beneath are horrifyingly messy.

Now that he’s settled, Sarah has been working with him on touching a stick on command. She calls it touch training. He used to do it in Scotland, but he’s getting a refresher after 30 days in isolation. The stick has proven useful when getting him back into his cage—without any fuss at all. Mavi has a will of his own.

* * * * * *

Present: The birds have now been home about six weeks. Sarah is in heaven. Her sister seems to have an inner parrot translator and has really taken to the birds. They like her, too.

Maverick is learning more words and sounds, and even practices using different voices. We love his little “Beaker” noise (as in The Muppets) and laugh hysterically when he meows just like our Siamese. We’re waiting for him to learn the dogs’ commands. He likes going places in his modified cat carrier. We ask him, “Adventure, Mavi?” and he jumps right in.

Ptak is 30 grams of energy. When he isn’t riding around on someone’s shoulder, he will sometimes sit on a perch and whisper “baby bird” to try and get your attention. And when is in a talkative mood, he will say “tickle, tickle” or “s’cuse me” and lift his wings when you gently shake him up and down. He seems to have a special call for Sarah, too, “Beep!” He wants her to answer with “Merp.” If she doesn’t, he will do it for her.

Me? I’m sort of the odd-man-out.

 

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Photo-bombing cockatiel.

 

I talk to the birds, help a little with food or their UV lamp, and Ptak comes out to play with me—but I’m not really connecting with them yet. Don’t get me wrong. I like them. It’s just that I seem to always be one step behind in the communication process, and continually need someone to be my translator. Whereas I’m instinctively part of the pack and know what to do for the dogs, plus have an understanding with the cats, I’m in the dark about these birds.

Living with parrots isn’t easy. As a non-bird person living with parrots under my roof, I can tell you that they can be difficult for your average person—even an animal lover like me—to live with. The noise of even these small birds can be ear-splitting. They’re charming, yes, but sometimes unpredictable, especially in the spring. If you have a roommate or significant other living with you, think about whether you’re all on board for this kind of commitment.

Waste, mess, and noise are part of life with a parrot, right alongside the love and companionship you gain from keeping one.

 

Parrot Owners vs. Normal People:

Springtime with parrots ‘meme’ – which do you like better? (Feel free to share!)

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What is a Healthy Diet for my Bird?

Parrots and finches require a specialised and healthy diet that does involve a lot of cooking and preparation. Proper nutrition is critical in terms of raising a healthy pet. Depending on your views, you can feed anywhere from 50% fresh to 50% pellets, to 85% fresh and 15% pellets/seeds. I choose the latter. To me, feeding less than 50% fresh food is too little.

Diet has become my obsession. It is so important to our pet birds, and also quite complex! Did you know that through changing how you feed, you can solve, or at least help, many behavioural issues in parrots – including hormone-related ones?

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Caique at a foraging table full of veggies.

I have helped my Senegal’s hormones by changing his diet, and am currently working with other birds and their owners in the process of fixing behavioural issues through nutrition. It is not the easiest thing to do, but with a bit of work, you can put your bird on the path to feeling great.

An all-pellet diet is just as bad as an all seed diet. It is damaging to the liver and system in general, and is boring besides. With birds who come from an arid environment in the wild (such as parrotlets, cockatiels, and lovebirds), an all-pellet diet can even be deadly. To put it into perspective, a poor avian diet is like feeding a child nothing but sweets and crisps every day for every meal. Imagine the internal damage, even everything outwardly seems to look okay.

Just how important are diet and nutrition to a pet parrot?

Answer: Many behavioural problems boil down to diet, according to the Island Parrot Sanctuary.

You can fix – or at least help – biting, screaming, and plucking through the addition of proper diet. That leaves the question of what is a good, healthy diet for my bird?

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Senegal Parrot eating ‘chop.’

Feeding parrots right consists of the following elements:

  1. Fresh vegetables and small amounts of fruit, mostly raw
  2. Grains, legumes, and beans
  3. Seeds and nuts as treats or snacks, in moderation
  4. Sunlight

It also varies per species. We tend to speak in terms of wide, sweeping generalisations about parrot nutrition, but the truth is, parrots species all have specific requirements. Yes, they each need fresh veggies and fruit in moderation, but many require more consideration than just that. African Greys, for instance, require extra calcium. Parrotlets in the wild do eat seed, as do cockatiels. Many species of macaw need extra fat through nuts. Lorikeets – adorable little birds – are nectar-drinkers, and require the most specialised diet of all.

Experimenting with avian diet is wonderful. Just keep your vet involved, because this is something that affects a bird’s health in so many ways.

Blue-fronted amazon parrot 'Barney.'

Blue-Fronted Amazon awaiting his dinner.

How do I convert my parrot to a healthy diet, or get him to eat new fruits and vegetables?

Diet conversion is a tough battle for many owners. It took us over a year of experimentation to get our parrotlet to so much as consider trying new foods, especially vegetables. He used to hate new food. Parrots do not instinctively know what is edible; nor do they know what is bad for them. They learn by example, in both captivity and in the wild. When they’re captive, we humans have to teach them what is good and healthy. This can take months of time and effort. The question of how to get your parrot to actually eat his vegetables boils down to the individual.

What is toxic to a pet parrot? The ‘toxic foods’ list for pet parrots is relatively small. In general, you can feed a pet parrot anything you might eat yourself, so long as you can guarantee it is fresh, healthy, and free of salt, fat, sugar, and other additives. Do NOT feed the following:

  • Avacado (due to fat content this is deadly to captive birds)
  • Raw garlic or onion
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol, sugary drinks, fizzy drinks, or caffeine
  • Salt and sugar
  • Fatty foods
  • Peanuts
  • Fruit pits and seeds, including peach, pear, apple, apricot, cherry, or plum
  • Nutmeg
  • Rhubarb
  • Raw honey
  • Raw tomato
  • Mushrooms
  • Grit (parrots hull/shell their seeds, so this is NOT necessary, and is in fact deadly)
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Cockatiel enjoying a veggie skewer.

What kind of foods are safe for my parrot? This list is expansive and wonderful, bringing plenty of enrichment to your parrot’s life. This is not a complete list; Cockatiel Cottage has a good list of ‘safe’ foods, as does the Parrot’s Pantry group on Facebook.

  • Vegetables and herbs: basil, thyme, beets, beet tops, broccoli, bok choy, mustard greens, endive, water cress, collard greens, spinach, Swiss Chard, Romaine letttuce, red lettuce, kale, dandelion greens, cilantro, carrots, carrot tops, sweet corn on the cob, rutabaga, turnips, turnip greens, parsnips, radish and radish tops, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini, peas, dandelions, sprouts, bell peppers, hot peppers, parsley, green beans, string beans, fennel, cauliflower.
  • Grains, seeds, and legumes, cooked: beans (such as mung, pinto, lima, wax, etc.), whole-grain pasta, quinoa, wild long-grain rice, cous cous, brown rice, oatmeal, barley.

Plus the following are generally considered safe in moderation, but shouldn’t be fed daily or in large amounts:

  • Cabbage, eggplant, asparagus, celery, cooked potato, unsalted popcorn, cooked eggs with shell
  • Citrus and other acidic foods: lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, tangerines, clementines, cranberries, cooked tomato
  • Fruits: apples, pears, apricot, cherries, mango (no skin), papaya (with seeds), watermelon (seeds are safe), star fruit, grapes, cantaloupe, berries, etc., due to the natural sugar content
  • Seeds and nuts: safflower, sunflower, hemp seed, flax seed, pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, millet, etc.
  • Dairy is much debated, but birds are not equipped to digest it, and so are often lactose intolerant. Only feed dairy in tiny quantities, knowing the risks.

A note about Tofu: Tofu is made with soy, and soy often stimulates breeding hormones in parrots. While technically safe, this is one food I choose to forgo.

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Moluccan cockatoo foraging for fruits and vegetables in his aviary.

Should I be feeding cooked, or raw?

Raw is generally best. Cooking can deprive a food of nutrients, but, in things like sweet potatoes or carrots, it helps by breaking down nutrients and making them easier to digest. Heating up food, however, has advantages of its own in that you can provide extra variety once in awhile. Steaming is often your best bet. Chop for parrots is an example of feeding raw and super healthy.

What role does sunlight play in my parrot’s nutrition?

This is an important question, one that I feel  needs to be addressed more in the bird community. Parrots and finches both need the sun. Without it, avians simply do not get the most out of their diet, or grow their best feathers. UV encourages healthy feather habits (reducing the likelihood of plucking or feather barbering), and helps birds feel generally better and healthier – meaning less biting and screaming! Read more about the importance of sunlight to parrots.

An aviary or UV-A lamp beside the cage will help your parrot immensely in a number of ways.

African Grey at the Island Parrot Sanctuary in Scotland

African Grey chowing down on a fruit and vegetable medley.

Can I feed my bird meat like fish, pork, chicken, or beef?

It’s true that you can also safely feed cooked meat to your parrot up to twice a week, but many choose not to. This is not a necessity for a captive parrot. It may be interesting to know that species, like wild Amazon parrots, will actually canibalise their own dead. How often would an average wild parrot actually eat eggs or meat, though? Probably not that much.

As to eating chicken, parrots are a completely different species, so it is not cannibalistic. They are utterly unrelated.

Note: Protein typically causes hormonal issues. Start by cutting back on protein intake to reduce a parrot’s hormones. Pellets ARE a culprit here, especially ones with soy.

Do I need to feed pellets? (Alternatively, ‘Does my parrot need pellets in his diet?’)

This is a tricky question. I am currently experimenting with going pellet-free. Parrots would not be eating pellets in the wild, just like meat, and so this is one I don’t feel too bad about cutting out. It does require a lot of extra work to keep your parrot nutritionally balanced. You can’t just feed seed instead, as that will result in health problems of a different kind.

Obviously, we can’t mimic the wild diet (hence feeding vegetables like kale, which they would not see!), which is where pellets could potentially come in. Look out for the pros and cons of feeding a parrot pellets. This is too long to debate in a few sentences here and now.

Scarlet Macaw

Scarlet Macaw enjoying an orange.

My parrot wouldn’t eat these fruits and vegetables in the wild, just like pellets!

This is very true, but we are not able to offer exactly what a parrot would eat if left in its natural habitat. There are many things that wild parrots eat that are actually toxic to our captive birds – perhaps in part because of the mineral sources they flock to and ingest. In an owner’s case, offering fresh fruits and vegetables becomes about getting them the right nutrition for their current situation (cage or aviary living), and providing enrichment through it.

Besides this, we have to take into consideration the fact that wild parrots burn off much more energy than our captive ones, since they fly many miles each day in search of food. Captive birds need far fewer calories. Basically, we have to modify their diets in captivity to keep them healthy. The amount of fat that a parrot in the wild could tolerate differs because of what it is doing.

What birds need vegetables in their diet?

To conclude, all birds need healthy fruits, grains, and vegetables. Each and every one benefits from eating well – from zebra finches to canaries – and macaws, cockatoos, budgies, cockatiels, parrotlets, and all other parrots. Just like people.

Want to start to fix your bird’s biting or screaming? Begin with diet.

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Even canaries and finches need and deserve vegetables and grains in their diet.

What is Quarantine Going to Be Like for My Parrot?

Going into the process of how to import my pet birds into the U.S., I wondered first and foremost what quarantine would be like for them. Would it be awful, with the birds being given the bare minimum required to keep them alive?

As it turns out, no. Quarantine was like a holiday for parrots: The glass isolets allowed the birds to see out, therefore feeling less abandoned, and had HEPA filters that worked to ensure that no disease could possibly be spread. The employees brought the birds fresh fruits and vegetables, treats, toys, and branches, and gave them attention where possible. I also posted them my own toys, and had the option to send my own food.

The staff were easily reachable, and always willing to answer my questions. I had no issues communicating with them, and I always knew how my birds were doing. This was honestly the least stressful part of the entire import process.

So in answer to the question of what it’ll be like for your bird, it’s difficult to answer. My pair are extremely people-reliant, but they came out just fine. They were the favourites of the staff there! My Senegal and parrotlet were glad to get out – isolation like that isn’t fun – but it was okay for them.

Quarantine won’t be the stark, clinical process you may have envisioned, at least.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Importing my parrots to join me was the best decision I ever made, if a very expensive one! The birds have settled in wonderfully afterwards, with no residuals issues (and I know they’re completely healthy). Here are a few photos: