This is a presentation I did for Phoenix Landing, looking at how environment, nutrition, enrichment, a parrot’s wild nature, and the unique physical design of a parrot’s anatomy all act together to influence your companion’s behavior, and how you can help your parrot live a happier and healthier life in your home.
Here is the link to the Slide Show presentation
Parrots are WILD animal
There are many wild caught parrots living in our homes. Even the captive-bred, hand raised parrots are at the most only 2 or 3 generations removed from their rainforest or grassland savanna born parents or grandparents. Genetically they are identical to parrots living in the wild.
Parrots are a prey species, which means that in the wild they must always be on the alert for who might be trying to eat them. For the parrots living in our homes, this means that it is natural for them to be suspicious or even afraid of any new, objects, people or situations. A Prey Species ruling emotion is fear. Check out the writings of *Temple Grandin for a deeper understanding of this topic. Animals Make Us Human, Creating the Best Life for Animals & Animals In Translation, Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
Often behaviors that we would consider aggressive are truly based in fear.
Fight or Flight
The fight or flight reaction is hard wired into all animals (yes, people too). This release of adrenaline gives an individual the ability for a rapid retreat from any perceived threat, or the strength to stand and fight. Captive parrots who have had their wings clipped have lost the ability to flee form a fearful situation and are far more prone to bite than flighted birds. But even flighted parrots in our homes still live in a confined environment, and may suffer adverse physical and emotional effects.
In the wild parrots never live alone, but live in groups varying in size from a single pair to thousands, depending on the species and time of the year. The flock provides greater safety from predators, as there is always someone “on watch”.
Single parrots in our homes may suffer from the stress of always having to be “on guard”. Even in multiple bird home an individual parrot may assume the role of flock sentential. This is known as Hypervigilance behavior, and can result in frequent alarm calls.
For parrots living in our homes, the need to be part of a flock will often cause them to choose individuals of others species, like us, the family dog, cat, rabbit or hamster, as flock mates.
Separation from flock members can be very stressful, and in the need to stay in touch with each other when out of sight, birds use contact calls. Teach your parrot a pleasant contact call to use with you when you are out of their sight.
Parrots, like people, are “altricial” which means that they are born helpless, must be cared for by their parents and taught the skills they need to survive and function within the flock. (*As opposed to precocial creatures such as insects, and most fish and reptile, which are born self-reliant)
Are hand raised captive parrots taught the essential survival and social skills need for a successful and happy life, and by who?
In this country, we have laws to protect unweened kitten & puppies from being separated from their parents, and these a domesticated animals who have been genetically altered over hundreds of generations to live with humans. Parrots are still genetically WILD ANIMALS, who have even a greater need for the care, comfort and guidance that can only be provided for by their parents.
This “Parental Deprivation” may be one of the underlying causes of such issues as feather destructive behavior and overly anxious birds, overly needy birds, and birds who form inappropriate bonds with humans.
Mates & Sexual Maturity
All animals have a drive for sex and procreation, but unlike dogs and cats, parrots can not be neutered. All baby animals are “nice” when born, sexual maturity is physiologically driven and alters behavior drastically….owners report “aggression” but is appropriate behavior for this animal at this time.
This means parrots living in our home are fully functioning sexual creatures and it is unrealistic to believe that we can remove this natural desire all together, but there are things we can do to lessen their frustration.
Even though some parrots (especially cockatoos) LOVE to be stroked and snuggled, petting especially under the wings and down the back to the base of the tail is VERY sexually stimulating to a parrot and should never be done. Limit physical contact to the head, neck and feet.
For some species of parrots increased day length is a signal for the breeding season. Make sure your bird is getting enough sleep in a DARK and quiet room.
Limit access to nest like areas, and nesting materials.
An abundance of soft warm moist food, like food fed by a mate, can also trigger mating behaviors.
Built for Flight
A parrot’s entire anatomy is designed to enable flight. The skeleton makes up only 10 % of a birds weight, and bones are very fragile. Many bones are hollow, some of these contain air sacs that are part of the respiratory system.
Birds digest their food and past waste rapidly, to keep their weight as low as possible. 3 parts of droppings. Feces are usually solid, come from the colon and are usually coiled (not always). Color is usually green or brownish from eating pellets, seeds or veggies but can turn red for strawberries or red pellets. Blueberries and blackberries will produce an almost black like feces. Urates are chalky white. Urine is clear.
A bird’s respiratory system is made up of both lungs and air sacs. The need for tremendous amounts of oxygen to fuel the muscles during flight, has lead to a respiratory system that is highly efficient than that of mammals in absorbing oxygen, and unfortunately toxins.
Birds do not have a diaphragm, nor do the lungs expand and contract, instead the muscles of the body wall move to force air in and out. Restricting the movement of a birds chest muscles can suffocate it.
Feathers are perhaps the most unique physical feature of a bird, from the stiff flight feathers, beautiful contour feathers, to soft insulating down feathers. Mature feathers have no blood supply, much like our hair, but young feathers, called pin feathers or blood feathers, do have a blood and nerve supply. These feathers or very sensitive to the touch, and will bleed if broken. If your bird breaks one of these feathers, apply pressure, or use cornstarch or cayenne pepper (not quick stop!) to stop the bleeding.
The Uropygial gland, more commonly referred to as the preen gland, is located at the base of a parrot’s tail. This gland secretes an oil, which the bird rubs all over it’s feathers during preening, which when exposed to UV light produces vitamin D, necessary for the utilization of calcium.
Although feather plucking and feather destructive behaviors are of great interest to many people, it is far too complex and issue to be addressed in this class. For a simplified yet comprehensive overview of this issue check out the writing of Pam Clark. http://www.parrothouse.com/pamelaclark/featherpluck.html
Parrot Vision is a very highly refined sense. Both birds and humans have photoreceptive ‘cones’ in the retina located at the back of the eye. These cones allow us to see color. The human eye contains 10,000 cones per square millimeter. Birds have up to 12 times this amount or 120,000 cones per square millimeter. In humans, these photoreceptive cones consist of three types. Each cone is sensitive to red, green, or blue light. This is called trichromatic color vision. Birds have an four cones for tetrachromatic color vision. This extra cone expands the visible light spectrum, allowing birds to see ultraviolet frequencies. But birds need 5-20 times the amount of light as do humans in order to see color.
Parrots have eyes that are widely spaced, on either side of the head. This allows for a wide range of vision, almost a 360 degree field of sight in some species.
Each eye operates independently of the other.
Parrots have the ability to voluntarily dilate and contract their pupils in order to more clearly focus on something, this is known as “pinning”
Parrots can see approximately 10 times more frames per second than humans.
Parrots will rarely show any signs of illness until they are extremely sick. Regular check ups are necessary to catch any problems early. Make sure to find an AVIAN Vet. When to see your vet right away, bleeding that won’t stop, bites, burns, not eating, sitting fluffed on bottom of cage, heavy breathing . One of the first symptoms of any illness is weight loss, for this reason it is a good idea to get into the habit of weighing your parrot on a weekly basis and keeping a chart. Many birds weight will fluctuate slightly with seasonal changes. Watch your bird’s poop, any changes, like unpleasant odor, very loose or slimy, or undigested foods would be reasons for a vet visit.
Dangers in the Home
Toxic Fumes, PTFE: Teflon, Silverstone, T-Fal & other non-stick coating used in Cookware, Stove Drip Pans, Irons, Ironing Board Covers & other appliances.
SMOKE: Cigarette, Cigar & Pipe smoke, Nicotine on hands & clothing. Candles, Incense, Wood-burning smoke from fireplaces.
AEROSOL SPRAYS & CLEANERS: Oven Cleaners, Self-Cleaning Oven Cycle, Furniture Polish, Air & Carpet Fresheners & cleaners, Tub & Tile Cleaners, Cleaning Supplies, Bleach and Ammonia fumes, Oil-based Paint, Adhesives, Insecticides, Flea Bombs, Fertilizers, Fungicides, Hair Spray, Deodorants, Perfumes & Colognes, Pinesol, Febreze….
STRONG SCENTS: Candles, Plug-in Fresheners, Incense, Potpourri
COOKING BAGS (aluminum & plastic are coated with PTFE)
BURNING SMELLS: plastic of any kind (overheated handles), burning oil
Editable Dangers, Toxic Plants: Dieffenbachia, Philodendron, Mistletoe, Holly, Amaryllis, Buttercup, Calla Lily, Clematis, Daffodil, Foxglove, Heliotrope, Hyacinth, Hydrangea, Iris, Lantana, Larkspur, Lily-of-the-Valley, Lupine, Morning Glory, Peony, Primrose, Sweet Pea- Heavy Metals (Zinc & Lead) zippers, curtain weights, galvanized wire or quick links
Pesticides, Fertilizers, Lead Paint, Fabric Protectors, Cleaners
Predators, Other Household Pets (dogs, cats, ferrets, rats, snakes) Even if Fido and Fluffy have always been gentle with Tweety, and Tweety considers them flock mates, the potential always exists for fatal accidents. Never leave them unsupervised! Wild Predators (Raptors, raccoons, opossums rats, snakes). Hawks have been known to fly through window screens to attack parrots. And remember Humans are also predators.
Crash Accidents , As many more people are allowing their birds to be flighted within their homes, some safety measures need to be taken to help prevent crashes.
Walk your parrot around your home, showing him windows and mirrors, allowing him to touch and explore the surface with his beak. Use UV reflective *Window Alerts (http://www.birdsafestore.com/Window_alert_p/wal-wab.htm) on glass surfaces, hang lightweight shears in front of windows.
Keep ceiling fans turned off whenever the birds are out of the cage.
Teach your parrot flighted recall, and build up their flying skills.
Size, shape, location, safe construction are all factors needing careful consideration needs to be taken in considering what type of caging is best for each parrot. A cage should be like a child’s room, as safe comfortable place to retreat to, their own private space within the larger family home, not a place of isolation and punishment.
The size cage a parrot needs is determined by several factors. What species of bird is he? How much time does the parrot spend in the cage as opposed to out of the cage or on playstands? How active is the birds? How active should he be? A bird who must be in the cage most of the time will need a larger cage than a bird of the same species who spends a lot of time outside the cage and in other areas of the house. Normally one would think that the smaller the bird, the smaller the cage. But often small birds are extremely active and need much more room than their more sedentary cousins. If you are trying to encourage more exercise in a cage bound perch potato, giving them larger cage where they have to climb around more, even just to move between food bowls, can be a great start to encouraging more activity.
Make sure there is room to stretch and flap those wings!
Bar spacing should be close enough together to ensure that the parrot can not stick his head between the bars.
Avoid cages with decorative curlicues and tapered bars, as these can become toe traps.
Avoid cages with pealing or flaking powder coating, or are heavily rusted.
NO ROUND CAGES !!! These give no safe corner for retreat, and if they ever fall, will roll and cause great injury to your bird!
Parrots, being highly social creatures, need to be near their flock (remember, that’s us). So it is best to located their cage in the area of the house where the family spends the most time, yet out of the direct line of traffic.
A spot near natural light, with a pleasant view can help keep your companion entertained while you are away. But don’t place the cage directly in front of a window where they can be subjected to the frightening eyes of a predator. Some birds really benefit from having a sleeping cage, in dark and quiet room, especially if you live in a busy household where people are up long hours. This does not need to be a large cage, a travel carrier will often work very well for this purpose. A nice side effect of using a travel carrier as a sleeping cage, is that your bird will consider it’s carrier as a safe haven, not just a vehicle for trips to the vet’s office.
Perches in a variety of sizes, textures and materials are essential for your parrot’s foot health. Perches that move, like swings or boings are great for keeping knees and ankles strong.
Locate perches so that they are not directly over food or water bowls.
A parrot’s JOB is to PLAY!
Every parrot should have lots of toys to snuggle with, preen, beat up, shred, tear apart, make noise with. Some parrots are more destructive than others, and will constantly need new toys. But even parrots who are gentler with their toys, need new ones on a regular basis, to keep them from becoming bored.
Old or semi destroyed toys can be taken apart and recombined into a new toy.
Parrot-Toys & Play Areas, by Carol S. D’Arezzo and Lauren Shannon-Nunn
In the wild parrots spend 75% of their waking hours in search for food. The typical captive parrot, with a bowl of food placed in front of him, can eat his fill in minutes, then how does he fill the rest of his day? You can offer foraging opportunities for your parrot inside his cage, by rotating bowl locations, covering bowls with paper, tucking healthy seeds, nuts, pellets or Nutraberries into toys, placing whole fresh greens on top of the cage, or making veggie kabobs on stainless steel skewers.
Captive Foraging DVD by Scott Echols DVD,
Parrot Enrichment by Kris Porter http://parrotenrichment.com
Avian Enrichment newsletter and website http://www.avianenrichment.com
Playstands & Other Play Areas
Playstands offer additional approved locations for play, foraging and exploration away from their cage. These can be as simple as a basket placed on the table or as complex as free standing structure, portable or in a fixed location, or a collection of perches and toys hanging from the ceiling. You are only limited by your imagination.
Parrot-Toys & Play Areas, by Carol S. D’Arezzo and Lauren Shannon-Nunn
Every bird has his own preferred bathing style, whether it is in his water bowl, standing top of his cage and getting misted or joining you for your daily shower in the bathroom. Many of our parrots come from rainforest areas of the world where rainfall is a daily occurrence. Birds living in our homes should have access to bathing on a regular basis as well. Make sure to use a shower filter to remove dangerous chlorine if you are on public water.
Directions to make your own shower perch https://abirdsbestlife.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/618/
Nothing replaces fresh air and sunshine. You can and should run air filters inside your home to help keep the air as clean as possible, and open your windows to allow fresh air in as often as weather will allow.
You can use full spectrum UV blubs to light your home.
But nothing replaces fresh air and sunshine!
Parrots outside become more active, playing more with their toys, bathing, eating healthy foods. They are also more calm and relaxed when they go back indoors.
Whether you build or buy an aviary, roll cages outside onto a deck or patio, take your bird out in a cageoller or back , or train your bird to wear a harness, always be sure that your parrot is safe when outdoors. Clipped wings DO NOT insure that your parrot can not fly away if startled. Recall training is recommended for all parrots
Dark green and orange vegetables are the MOST nutritious, and should make up at least 50% of the overall diet. Green and Orange vegetables are especially nutritious, and essential for Vitamin A, the vitamin most lacking in captive parrot’s diets. Kale, Collards, Dandelion, Mustard Greens, Swiss Chard, Broccoli, Pumpkin, Winter squash, Sweet Potato, Carrot.
Nourish to Flourish, A Healthy Cookbook for Parrots, by The Phoenix Landing Foundation
Feeding Our Parrots Well, by Pam Clark & Kris Porter
What Happened to My Peanuts? by Gundrun Maybaum
The Parrot’s Pantry https://www.facebook.com/groups/156496311144601/
Elle’s Avian Cuisine http://thehappycockatoo.wordpress.com/
Carolyn Swicegood, The Kitchen Physician, http://www.landofvos.com/articles/feeding.html
Feeding Feathers Yahoo Group http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/FeedingFeathers/
Sprouting can be done in a small area right on your kitchen counter at any time of year, allowing you to always have the freshest , most nutritious food available no matter what the season or the size of your garden. Dry seeds hold all the nutritional potential of the adult plant, but it is not until the sprouting process is begun that that potential is released. With the soaking of the seeds in water, a chemical process begins converting fats, carbohydrates and proteins into more digestible amino acids. The vitamin, mineral, antioxidant and enzyme content in sprouts is very significantly higher than in either the seed or the adult plant, making sprouts the most nutritional food available.
Unlike normal produce, which from the moment it is harvested begins the decomposition process and the steady loss of nutritional content, sprouts remain alive and full of maximum nutrition until the moment your parrots chews and swallows them. This is how parrots in the wild eat their seeds! https://abirdsbestlife.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/imagine-the-sproutablities/
Those fruits with dark colored flesh contain the most nutrients, but should be no more that 5-10% of the overall diet. Cherries, Blueberries, Raspberries, Pomegranate, Mango, Papaya, Kiwi. Cherries help to lower uric acid
Primarily from a combination of Grains & Legumes (sprouted or cooked), Quinoa, Nuts, and small amounts of Eggs, Poultry, Fish
Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3s) are the building blocks for all the cells in the body. Lack of Omega 3 Essential fatty Acids, can lead to self mutilation (puckers?) and eventually lead to death. Supports brain health, affecting mood, memory, concentration, & learning. Helps relive depression, aggression, hostility & anger. Influences the ability to learn & understand language.Reduces the risk of heart disease & stroke. Lowers cholesterol & triglycerides. Reduces platelet “stickiness”, therefore reduces the tendency for atherosclerosis. Keeps arteries elastic & flexible, and keeps blood flowing smoothly. Reduces effects of inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis. Boosts the immune systems and reduces autoimmune disorders. Reduces allergies & asthma, and other breathing disorders. Supports kidney health. Supports digestive system. Aids in the absorption of calcium for bone formation. https://abirdsbestlife.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/superfoods-slide-show/
Additional Supplements and Seasonings
Aloe -stimulates the immune system, a natural anti-histamine, may help prevent feather destruction by inhibiting the release of histamines responsible for skin irritation and itching, is anti-inflammatory, may prevent infection in skin wounds, soothes & coats the digestive system.
Cinnamon-Lowers cholesterol, Helps yeast infections, Anti-inflammatory qualities that can lessen joint and muscle pain, especially the joint pain associated with arthritis, Inhibits bacteria growth and spoilage, Great source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium
Cayenne-an overall digestive aid containing liberal amounts of Vitamins A, C, B-complex, calcium, phosphorous and iron. It is also anti-inflammatory and helps arthritic conditions
Coconut Oil- helps treat giardia and candida (yeast)
Garlic- has been shown to contain 18 anti-viral, Anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial substances, A natural antibiotic which is safe for our parrots. Stimulates the immune system and kills parasites, high in calcium, Helps protect the liver and eliminate toxins from body tissues, Lowers cholesterol, has anti-artherosclerotic properties, neutralizes aspergillus fungus.
Milk Thistle seed- protects and helps rebuild the liver
Red Palm Oil – a rich source of Vitamin A and E
Pellets were developed in an attempt to create a convenient, nutritionally balanced food for parrots. Choose a pellet free of artificial dye and made with organic ingredients
Unsafe Foods for Parrots
Alcohol, Carbonated or Caffeinated drinks, Onions, Avocado, Rhubarb, Chocolate, Refined Salt, Refined Sugar
Positive Reinforcement Training
Training offers a great deal of intellectual stimulation to your parrot and has the added benefit of helping you and your bird communicate. Start with target training.Teach important husbandry skills.Even “stupid pet tricks” help build a positive relationship
Susan Freidman, Living & Learning with Parrots class http://www.behaviorworks.org/htm/comp_professional_registration.html
Getting Started Clicker Training for Birds, by Melinda Johnson
Don’t Shoot the Dog & Reaching The Animal Mind, by Karen Pryor
Bird Click Yahoo Group http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/Bird-Click/
Parrots communicate with us in many ways.
Irene Pepperberg’s work with Alex has shown the world that parrots are not only capable of reproducing human words, but of understanding their meaning. Even if the parrots you live with never utter a single word to you, always be aware that they can understand what you say to them.
Parrots are masters at using body language to communicate with each other, and if we watch closely we can learn to read their body language. And never doubt they are constantly reading our body language and facial expressions as well, truly you can never lie to a parrot.