My Life in the Balance, A Medical Mystery

Hi there, my name is Jazzy. You all call me a blue and gold macaw. I’m 24 years old and I’m a girl.  I was adopted through Phoenix Landing in 2005.

jazzyHave I got a story for you. It’s about me being sick and Dr. Costanzo saving my life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This story probably starts in October of 2015. I had gone to get my annual physical with Dr. Crum at Stahl’s Exotic Animal Veterinary Services (SEAVS). He was my primary care physician, a nice guy and a good doctor but he leaves a girl with no dignity. And after all of that poking and sticking me with needles, he told me everything was okay. Shucks, I could have told him that.

About a week later, though, my poop was shiny and black. The good folks at SEAVS said I had blood in my poop. They gave me some kind of stomach coating and some kind of antibiotic. I didn’t like the taste of it but I was forced to take it. And it seemed to work.

In November of 2015, I went back for a follow up visit. This time they gave me some kind of whoopee stuff that put me to sleep and they X-rayed me. After I woke up, they told me the X-rays were fine. That was good but was I ever glad to get out of there.

In April of 2016, I had some more blood in my poop. They gave me some more medicine for my stomach and an antibiotic which I was again forced to take. At this point my weight was about 1,010 grams. That is a good weight for me and I have a nice, girlish figure at that weight.

But by July of 2016, my weight was down to around 910 grams. My clothes were just hanging off of me and I just wasn’t feeling good. I pretty much stayed in my room and I didn’t even want to talk to or play with my mom.

I went back to SEAVS and met Dr. Gregory Costanzo (my new hero). He did every kind of test imaginable. He drew blood, he checked my poop which still had blood and a bunch of other stuff in it, and he gave me a shot of some sort. I know he was trying to be helpful and make me feel better, but was I ever glad to get out of there and get back home.

About a week later, my weight was down to about 875 grams so I went back to Dr. Costanzo. This time they kept me there all day. They gave me some stuff called Barium and then kept putting me to sleep and taking pictures. They did some more blood tests and even checked for avian Bornavirus. Fortunately I was negative for that, but I still had blood in my poop. And they sent me home with some more medicine. This time I had to get a shot twice a day and take some positively foul tasting stuff for two weeks. Yuck.

In early August, I still had blood in my poop and I had convulsed after getting one of those awful shots. By now my weight was down to about 830 grams. I went back to see Dr. Costanzo. He didn’t make me get those shots anymore but he did give me some new medicines to take. He also showed me the differences in the X-rays from last November and the Barium pictures from the week before. Something was clearly pushing up into my digestive track. He even suggested that maybe it might be the “C” word. They fed me that night before I went back home. I was expecting something a little romantic, you know, candlelight, white table cloth, some exotic fare. But no, they stuck a tube down my throat and force fed me some yucky stuff.

Over the next week or so, I went back for dinner a few more times (really, they should never open a restaurant). My poop still had blood in it and now there was some undigested food in it. Even my new blood tests had issues. They changed some of my meds and gave me some new meds. Dr. Costanzo assured me that I didn’t have PDD, another one of those terrible diseases. My weight was still down, my clothes were just hanging off of me, and I just wasn’t feeling good. I pretty much stayed in my room all day long.

Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Costanzo had been talking with other doctors about me behind my back. He talked to Dr. Crum and Dr. Stahl, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian) who are at SEAVS. I think Dr. Stahl is his boss. He talked about me with a Dr. Susan Orosz, PhD, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian) & Dipl ECZM (Avian). I can’t pronounce her last name much less understand what all of those letters mean after her last name. Then again maybe that name I can’t pronounce is really her middle name and I just can’t read or understand all of those letters that make up her last name. At any rate, she is a really smart doctor and Dr. Costanzo calls her Dr. O. I guess he can’t pronounce all those letters either. He even talked with a Dr. Robert Dahlhausen who owns Veterinary Molecular Diagnostics where some of my blood and stuff got sent for diagnosis.

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Drs. Susan Orosz, Robert Dahlhausen and Gregory Costanzo, August 2016

Even my Auntie Ann got involved. She’s in charge of something called Phoenix Landing. When my mom and dad can’t take care of me anymore, I’ll go live with her. I guess she was also checking around with a bunch of doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I think she loves me, too.

About this time, Dr. Costanzo had to go out of town to a big meeting in Portland, Oregon. Apparently there were a lot of other doctors there that also treat boys and girls like me. He even took my X-rays and showed them to people trying to figure out what was wrong with me. He also had a meeting with Dr. O and Dr. Dahlhausen to talk about me. Out of those meetings, it was suggested that maybe I had heavy metal toxicity. So he called me from Portland and had me go in for another blood test for heavy metal toxicity. That test came back negative.

But before he left, he told me that the next step should probably be an endoscopy exam. I think that means they would cut me open somewhere below my neck and stick something in there and look around to see what they see.  And they would also cut me open in my tummy area and look around. Of course he told me that they would put me to sleep for all of this and I wouldn’t feel any pain. Dr. Costanzo also told me that if they saw something that was not medicinally fixable, they would let me stay asleep and not wake me up. That was a sad day and we cried. But I knew he was doing what was best for me.

In early September, when Dr. Costanzo got back from Portland, he changed the plan from doing an endoscopy to doing an ultrasound. He gave me some more whoopee gas and put me to sleep for that. He saw something wrapped around my intestine. It was definite and the findings were repeatable with the ultrasound and by palpitation. The good news was that he found something. The bad news was that he didn’t know what it was.

He scheduled me for exploratory surgery for two days later. He even arranged for his boss, Dr. Stahl, to be there to assist and advise. That made me feel pretty special. He again cautioned me that if they found something that wasn’t medicinally treatable, they would let me stay asleep and not wake me up. Again, I knew that he was doing what was best for me, but it was still a sad day and we cried again.

On the morning of September 8 I had my hugs and kisses and tears with my mom and dad and then I went to see Dr. Costanzo for my surgery. They gave me the whoopee gas and I went to sleep, not knowing if I was going to wake up again.

My next realization was waking up and through groggy eyes seeing that sweet face of Dr. Costanzo, beard and all. I was awake. You know what that meant? I was awake! They must have been able to fix something. That was the best day of my life.

It turned out that there was some kind of plant material that had perforated my duodenum. It had detached and sealed off from my duodenum and it was in a sac that was closed off on both ends. My duodenum had healed but it had been pinched by this thing all this time. It was pea soup green, kind of in a ragged semi-circle, and was hard enough to knock around inside the bottle that Dr. Costanzo had put it in. That thing accounted for all my symptoms and it was now out of my body. I don’t understand Latin, so you’ll have to ask Dr. Costanzo about the exact details.

jazzy-in-collarDr. Costanzo sewed me up, put a collar around my neck so I wouldn’t mess with the incision site, and put me in the intensive care unit for a few days. They fed me until I was eating on my own. Dr. Costanzo brought in some really good cucumbers. My poops got back to normal, I gained back some weight, and I got ready to go back home. The doctors and nurses at SEAVS took wonderful care of me. Nadia even speaks Macawinese. You know, that Oscar guy is kind of cute. I think he likes me.

After a few days I went home. I think my mom and dad were really glad to have me home. I know I was glad to be home. Dr. Costanzo had arranged for a hospital bed for me so I wouldn’t fall and hurt myself. I got out of bed a lot, walked around with my mom, and took a lot of naps. After a week or so the collar came off, I was weaned from the post-surgery meds, and Dr. Costanzo took out my stitches, I could now move around freely, brush my teeth and comb my hair, take a shower, and eat anything I wanted.

It is now near the end of October, my incision is healed, my weight is now up to a 1,000+ grams, my clothes fit again, and my poops are normal. I’m eating anything I want, I’m climbing around my room and my tree, I’m going over and messing around in my brothers’ and sisters’ rooms, I’m getting out of my room and walking through the house, I’m climbing the stairs looking for my mom, I’m talking back to my brothers and sisters, and life is just plain good.

It is good to be awake. Thank you, Dr. Costanzo.

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Jazzy and Bobbie Kerns

Kraft Paper Rules!

By Jenny Drummey

Newspaper is the recommended substrate for your parrot’s cage. Please don’t use cedar chips, sawdust or other dusty junk that can harbor bacteria and fungus and cause problems for parrots such as aspergillosis or other lung issues. While it’s cheap or free and does the job, newspapers are becoming harder to find as news goes digital. I have recently come to embrace kraft paper wholeheartedly as a newspaper substitute with great results.

Kraft paper is made by a machine out of wood pulp and comes in rolls in standard widths with different lengths. I measured my cages and found that a 30 inch wide roll would work for all of them. I purchased a roll and a paper cutter and have not turned back.

Kraft paper makes clean up easy and quick. While most cage bottoms require multiple sheets of newspaper, kraft paper can be torn to fit the cage bottom. The fiddly bits don’t slide between the multiple pages and can be easily collected in one piece for cleanup. Kraft paper can also be cut in a continuous sheet to extend up the cage sides to catch more tossed food, toy pieces and poop.

It’s quicker to tear off kraft paper than unfold page after page of newspaper. Plus, no newspaper means no newsprint which can stain your hands and your bird’s feathers.

Kraft paper is sturdier than newspaper, so it doesn’t move as much as newspaper does when a bird takes off.  It can be used under newspaper for extra protection under your parrot’s typical “morning poop” spot. I find its consistent look more attractive too.

It makes poop monitoring easier. Droppings stand out on the plain brown background and there’s no guess work as there might be if your bird poops on a colorful photo or ad. It’s a little less absorbent than newspaper too, so the amount of urine in each dropping is visible longer, which is helpful when evaluating the amount of urine (the clear stuff), urates (the white stuff) and feces (the green, worm shaped stuff).  

Additionally, kraft paper can be used for other things: To wrap packages, to make covers for kids’ schoolbooks, or to cover work surfaces, table tops, or floors. It’s tough and tear resistant. Basically, anywhere you need quick clean up, kraft paper is ready to serve!

kevins-rollsNow for the only (but biggest!) drawback: the price. The paper cutter (measured to fit the roll) cost $43. My 30 inch roll is 640 feet long and cost under $40. After using it for two months I am nowhere near the end. I have four birds, and one of my cages is a double cage, so I am using it for essentially five cages, plus under trees and play stands. I change papers every day. My guess is that the roll with last another 2-3 months, so my cost is roughly $10 per month. And, yes, that’s a lot of money. However, home delivery of the Washington Post is $15 for 4 weeks, so there’s no doubt that kraft paper is the more economical method for me. And if you have fewer birds or smaller cages, you will use much less paper then I do.

Small rolls of kraft paper can be purchased at dollar stores. Test it with your flock to see if this awesome option is right for you.

Wisdom from Avian Veterinarians

By Ann Brooks

Attending the annual Association of Avian Veterinarians conference is one of my greatest joys. While much of what is said involves a language beyond my knowledge base, I always learn something new. Here is a summary of my biggest takeaways from this year’s conference.

Thanks to the Grey Parrot Project initiated by Dr. Scott Echols, there is a growing body of evidence that a lack of exercise, sunlight and appropriate diet are highly detrimental to the long-term health of birds in captivity. These may seem like obvious statements, however proving their relationship to disease is easier said than done.

According to Dr. Echols, “a new technique involving radiographs (X-rays) is allowing researchers a means to clearly visualize bone density in birds. Preliminary evidence shows that birds flying outdoors in natural sunlight have better bone density than those housed indoors in small cages. In the attached pictures, cockatiel 1 has better bone density than cockatiel 2. Using the new imaging technique, one can readily see that cockatiel 1 has more red (indicating higher bone density) in the wing and leg bones.”

Since most birds don’t have the opportunity to fly or vigorously move, their bones start to disintegrate. In order to stay strong, bones need to have some stress. It is terrible to think that our birds are suffering in this regard, so we must find a way to get them moving. (For starters, provide more activities outside the cage, increase foraging opportunities, provide a wide variety of perches to encourage movement, and even offer flight when it can be accomplished safely).

The loss of bone structure is especially problematic for female birds in the “lay” mode. Unfortunately, many people touch their birds in sexually stimulating ways, which may encourage these hormonal responses. The healthiest relationship we can have with our companion birds is one that does not involve an excess of “petting” and mate-like behaviors.

Another common problem is nutrition. So many birds live on a diet of packaged seeds. Not only are these high in Omega 6’s (safflower, peanut, sunflower, corn), but most seed brands have very little nutritional value. Our parrots need more Omega 3’s, which can be found in fish oil, flax, pumpkin seeds, hemp, chia and walnuts. If you use flax oil, make sure to buy a very reputable brand, keep it in the refrigerator, and do not shake. And don’t forget to provide a wide variety of dark orange and green fruits and veggies. Here’s an interesting tidbit, if you have chickens, you can dramatically reduce reproductive cancer by including flaxseed as 10% of their diet.

From Drs Dahlhausen and Orosz, we learned that a very large number of birds are Avian Bornavirus positive (ABV), as many as 45% or more in some studies. If your bird is ABV positive, do not panic! Most of these birds remain healthy for their whole lives. Sometimes birds with ABV also develop PDD, but some birds that develop PDD are not positive for ABV.  So as you can see, it is a complicated issue that requires more research.

Possible PDD symptoms might include difficulty in digestion or problems with the nervous system (e.g. seizures). They usually experience some kind of of stressor that suppresses the immune system or alters its normal function as well. Some of these potential stressors include: concurrent infection with Campylobacter, extreme stress, avian gastric yeast, old age and/or reproductivity.  This is yet another reason why we should not sexually stimulate our birds by excessive petting, especially below the neck.  Just remember if your bird does develop PDD, there are ways to help. And if your bird is ABV positive this does not mean it will develop PDD!!

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Drs Susan Orosz, Robert Dahlhausen and Greg Costanzo

Another major health concern for birds in captivity is atherosclerosis. Countless birds die at a young age from this heart problem. Why?  Again — they don’t get enough exercise and they don’t have good diets. If we are going to have birds in our homes, we must learn to do better by them by providing healthy food and lots of mental & physical activities.

Lastly, there was another foraging study from UC Davis. Orange wing Amazons were fed an oversized pellet, similar to the size of the nut they eat in the wild. This pellet was made specifically for the study to see if the larger size caused eating activity time and manipulation to increase. In the wild, most parrots spend up to 60% of their day foraging. This means they have to find the food, pick the food, and then manipulate the food. In captivity, parrots usually spend 4 to 10% of their day eating.  So if we can make eating more complicated and physically challenging this will give birds more to do with their time and increase physical activity. The UC Davis researcher, Dr. Polley DVM, calls this “podomandibulation” because the Amazons use both their feet and beaks. This increase in activity helped to reduce stress and improve the welfare of the Amazons.

So, we know without a doubt that our companion parrots need and deserve better diets, more complex enrichment and absolutely more exercise!  What have you done for your parrot?

Companion Therapy Laser donated to Phoenix Landing

Dr. Robert Ness, DVM, demonstrating the Companion Therapy Laser

Dr. Ness, DVM, demonstrates proper use of the Class IV Companion Therapy Laser

Sometimes, the words “thank you” do not seem to be enough. This is one of those times.

In April, 2016, Companion Animal Health donated a Class IV Companion Therapy Laser to Phoenix Landing. The laser will be used to help some of the birds at the adoption center and in the Phoenix Landing program who might benefit from laser therapy.

Dr. Robert Ness, DVM, of Ness Exotic Wellness Center in Illinois, presented on the benefits of laser therapy for specific cases at the 2016 Phoenix Landing Wellness Retreat. Dr. Ness gave an overview on the proper use of the laser and safety protocols to Phoenix Landing President, Ann Brooks, and Vice President of Education, Dr. Frank Rutkowski, DVM. Companion Animal Health representative Jennifer Oliverio visited the adoption center in May and provided additional training. Companion Animal Health has also generously donated training from the American Institute of Medical Laser Applications. This training, too, is greatly appreciated!

Jennifer Oliverio, Companion Animal Health representative, with Echo

Echo (right) shows his thanks for the laser to Companion Animal Health representative Jennifer Oliverio by giving her a kiss.

To add to the literature available on the use of laser therapy with companion parrots, Phoenix Landing will work with veterinarians and participate in several case studies. Dr. Ness identified parrots at the adoption facility who were good candidates for case studies. Information collected will be shared via Phoenix Landing’s website, blog, and Facebook page. So, please be on the lookout for these stories!

Phoenix Landing extends a heartfelt thank you to Companion Animal Health for this donation, and to Dr. Robert Ness for his time and guidance. Together, we hope to make the lives of the birds in the program even better!

What Is A Prolapsed Cloaca?

By Debbie Russell, Maryland Adoption Coordinator

A cloacal prolapse is a condition where the inner tissues of the cloaca protrude and fall out of the vent. The cloaca is the end of the digestive track, where the bird excretes urates, feces, urine, genital products and even eggs. Did you know that both male and female birds can prolapse? It’s most common is cockatoos, but any bird could have it happen to them. If you have never seen it before it’s very shocking when you do!

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Kiki, male umbrella cockatoo. Came to Phoenix Landing in 2009. Survived 3 years.

There are many reasons a cloaca is strained to the point of prolapse, but the most common reasons are sexual over-stimulation, holding feces for too long, papillomatosis (a virus), excessive egg laying, and even a bad diet. Most commonly, people touch their birds in inappropriate ways, sending sexual signals to the bird that cannot be completed, leading to chronic mastubatory behavior. Since we are not our bird’s mates, this behavior can cause many physical and behavior problems. It doesn’t mean we cannot enjoy a close bond and companionship with our birds, but we should encourage independent play and activities. Not only will this help prevent some of the physical problems, like prolapse, but it can also help with other problems like dysfunctional screaming or biting.

So what is the best way to touch a bird? Only touching your parrot on the head and feet is the recommended approach. You should never touch them down the back or under the tail. Yes, sometimes we just want to snuggle or “pet” them, and it feels good — but it feels TOO good for your bird and can put them at risk.

Timmy TAG1 prolapse 2009

Once, a prolapse occurs over an extended period, it usually requires invasive surgery. Simply reducing the vent area with sutures rarely works at that point. Surgery is not cheap and there is no guarantee that it will work either. The veterinarian opens the parrot’s abdomen, pulls the cloaca back up, and then attaches it to the parrot’s rib and abdomen wall. This doesn’t always work if the cloaca has lost it’s elasticity or the bird continues to be over-stimulated sexually.

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Rib Tuck Surgery to Address Prolapsed Cloaca

Just this week, Phoenix Landing was asked to help a little male black-capped Caique, Mooshie. This poor bird has been prolapsed for years and it recently got worse. The family could not afford the surgery.  The veterinarian visit and surgery with Stahl Exotic Animal Veterinary Services (SEAVS) was arranged before the bird was picked up, and Dr. Stahl performed the surgery on Tuesday.  Mooshie’s surgery went well, and we are cautiously optimistic!

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Mooshie, Male Caique

Mooshi Prolapse

Mooshie’s Prolapse

Want to help? Make sure you have an appropriate relationship with your bird – which means being a friend not a mate; teach positive behaviors like independent play and foraging; provide a good diet with plenty of calcium and vitamin A rich foods; always provide access to elimination at all times (no potty training!); and make sure your bird has regular visits with a good avian veterinarian. If you’d like to help us with Mooshie’s surgery and continuing care, click here!

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Friends of Wendy Huntbatch Remember Her Life’s Work

Parrots lost one of their staunchest advocates this week, Wendy Huntbatch, founder of the World Parrot Refuge in Canada. She was relentless in her determination to make a difference; and for hundreds of parrots she has been their provider, ally, joy and savior.

Wendy 2008

Emphatic & passionate!

Back in the late 90’s, when I was initially inspired to create an organization for parrots, Wendy was the first to respond to my inquiries and offer to help. She was always positive, encouraging and compassionate. She gave much of her time to me freely, sharing her thoughts and all the lessons she had learned. While we ultimately opted to set up an adoption program for parrots instead of creating a sanctuary, she continued to offer ideas, advice and solid moral support up through her final days.

In 2002, Wendy joined the Phoenix Landing Board of Directors, and we could always count on her for a lively discussion. Did we agree on everything? Of course not, we are all individuals with our own experiences and ideas. Did she do what she thought was best for parrots? Without a doubt, each and every single time!

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Wendy Huntbatch, Stewart Metz and Ann Brooks at the World Parrot Refuge, 2010

Wendy introduced me to some of the most devoted, articulate and solicitous people in the world of parrots, such as Dr. Stewart Metz and Rosemary Low.  I am so grateful to her for including me in her parrot welfare network, making it possible for us to actually move forward in our own work.  I owe her a deep debt of gratitude for her generosity of spirit.

Most importantly, Wendy was a fierce and loyal friend, and I can only hope she knew I felt the same for her. Her absence already feels unbearable – but her spirit, her dedication and her unwavering passion will burn in my heart and work with parrots each and every day.
Ann Brooks, Phoenix Landing



Wendy Huntbatch was a pioneer, starting parrot rescue (1993) before most of us knew there were parrots who needed rescuing. Each one of her parrots was loved as if they were children in her homeWendy in her shop2.png

I was immensely proud to be invited to be a guest speaker (along with Rosemary Low) to the opening of the new facility — I must say that she employed many excellent features such as flight between whole trees, enrichment, even the ability for some parrots to walk through a hole and go outside for a (safe) short walk -and the birds looked great.

Oh, the look on Wendy’s face when she showed off her birds to visitors! Few knew that Wendy suffered from TWO terrible, debilitating illnesses but she never let them stop her crusade to help needy parrots–yes, she was a Crusader and a Lovely Lady at the same time. Will we miss her — YES, very much.  Will the parrots miss her — more than they can ever know.
Stewart Metz, M.D.
Founder and Associate Director, Indonesian Parrot Project
www.indonesian-parrot-project.org



I first met Wendy in 1997. In 2000, on a trip to Costa Rica with her and her husband Horst, I got to know her well and to understand her drive and passion for parrots. I visited her in Canada on three occasions, each time being amazed at her parrot rescue initiatives. Wendy died on February 3 after a long battle against cancer and a debilitating lung disease.

Rosemary Low at WPR 2010

Rosemary Low at WPR in 2010

She was the most remarkable person, totally dedicated to parrots. She lived to give a good life to as many as possible after they had been abandoned by their owners. To see her working with these birds, in the huge aviaries Horst had built for them, was an inspiration. Her strength and bravery during the past five years while tolerating very serious illnesses and treatments were heroic. Her fund-raising efforts to keep the sanctuary running were extraordinary.

Everyone who knew Wendy admired her untiring dedication, her patience and compassion, especially with the special needs birds, and her determination, often in the face of great difficulties. The parrot world has lost a unique and irreplaceable lady. If you want to help to ensure that her work continues, please donate to the sanctuary via the website: www.worldparrotrefuge.org
Rosemary Low
Curator, Author and Lifelong Devoted Parrot Lover

Bites Be Gone! Solutions for a Common and Painful Problem

By Jenny Drummey

Bites are complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to say what’s more painful about a bite from your parrot: the physical pain, or the emotional upheaval and the trust it destroys. The scars that bites leave behind are certainly physical, but they’re psychological and emotional too.

Bite-BitsThe bite has power, its force often shocking. If they’re so unpleasant, and they may eventually cause us to stop interacting with a parrot at all, why do they persist? How can we remove this behavior from our bird’s repertoire? It’s vital that you solve this problem, as it is impossible to build a trusting relationship with your bird if you fear he will bite you.

Start by realizing that bites matter, they have meaning, and they are communication. The question is: Are we listening?

If biting is common in your home, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Biting is a behavior, and like all behavior, it has a function, a reason for happening. The biting behavior persists because it allows the bird access to something he wants or allows him to avoid something he doesn’t want. Bites serve Biting Edinburghnews 2013a purpose to the parrot. Examine what that purpose is, and make changes based on that.

Don’t take bites personally. It’s easier to say than do. But when a bird bites you, think of it as communication only. A bite is like the exclamation mark at the end of the parrot’s sentence “I am uncomfortable with this situation!” Employ methods that remove the possibility of the bite happening in the first place.

Change the way you think about why the bite happens. Have you ever heard that a bird bites because he is “jealous” or “grumpy” or “hormonal”? Have you ever attributed a bite to something that happened last week, or longer (“He bit me because we went on vacation last month”)?

This kind of thinking doesn’t solve the problem, but instead attributes the bite to an unverifiable source, because we can never know what an animal is thinking. To change behavior, don’t focus on what the parrot is feeling, but on what the parrot is doing.

Biting LovebirdsRespect your parrot’s personal space. Let your bird choose to come to you. Present food or a toy at least 6 inches away and let your parrot come to it. If stepping up, allow the bird space to come to you, instead of forcing the behavior by, for example, pressing your hand into the bird’s stomach.

Be flexible. The simplest all-purpose solution when a bird’s body language indicates a chomp is imminent: Walk away and come back again in five minutes.

Learn to recognize common bite triggers:
• An object, person, or situation that causes the bird to exhibit body language that we associate with fear or aggression
• Territoriality around the cage or another location such as a play gym
• Caregiver distraction, which can result in inattention to a bird’s body language
• Unwanted attention (or too much attention)
• Caregiver’s body language

Biting Senegal

Use the Trust Test. A simple and effective tool to evaluate any answer to the problem is to see if it passes the Trust Test. Will the proposed biting solution build or destroy trust?

If it will build trust, the solution is worth a try. If it will destroy trust, forget about it. You know if a solution builds trust if the bird can choose to participate (and is allowed to make that choice!). If the bird is forced to comply with the solution or if you ignore the bird’s reaction, it will likely destroy trust between you.

Offer objects, food or situations that motivate your bird. A bird’s ability to choose the behavior you want her to perform is directly related to your ability to motivate her. The key is knowing what your bird really wants to work for. Offer the bird something of value to her at that moment, and she will choose to perform what you want to get that reward.

In most cases, when you want to change a behavior, you ignore the problem behavior, and reinforce an alternative behavior (using the motivator) instead. You teach the parrot what to do in place of the problem behavior.

Bite-Bits2Keep a biting notebook. Collect the data and evidence you’ll need to understand the problem and to change it. Each time you are bitten, record the details. What can you do differently? The most important thing to do when you get bitten is something other than what you were doing when you got the bite.

Parrots do not crave the same kinds of interactions that dogs and cats do. Petting generally isn’t something parrots desire – or if they do, it’s usually because it is sexually stimulating. We are so hard wired to the pleasures of touch that we have a hard time seeing past this basic fact. Sometimes as we continually offer affection the bird can show frustration and eventually bite.

Be aware that your bird may see you as a predator. Sometimes it’s hard to see how intimidating we are to our birds, but recognize that it is a distinct possibility that you are approaching your bird in a manner that could set up the bite. Don’t interact when you are stressed or hurried. Approach a parrot with slow, confident movements. Talk quietly to the bird.

CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONSParrots aren’t children, dogs, cats, or soul mates. Parrots are fascinating, intelligent, wild individuals who we try our best to live with every day. Parrots have evolved to be social creatures, and we are part of their flock. But sometimes we expect our birds to fulfill roles that they cannot, or to behave in ways that are not possible. Having realistic expectations can help you to reduce or eliminate biting, because you won’t be asking your bird to do things that don’t make sense. Consider a bird’s true nature, what he enjoys from interacting with you, and what’s healthy between you.

For more information on biting, see Biting Matters, published by the Phoenix Landing Press.