Is a Parrot the Right Pet for Your Child?

Parrots are loud, messy and fun, probably a lot like your kids! As an adoption coordinator, I have been placing parrots for over ten years. A parrot could be an excellent companion for a child, or could be another abandoned hobby. Consider these characteristics of parrots as you decide whether a parrot is a good option for your family.

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Parrots are loud. A bird’s volume and tone can annoy some people. Be sure you know what the species sounds like before you bring the bird home. If your family needs quiet time – for napping, for example – birds may not be a good fit for you, as they can make noise at any point during the day, and can be especially noisy at dawn and dusk. I would never recommend placing a bird in a home with a newborn.

Birds are messy. Thrown food, toy parts, feathers and feather dust are only of the few things you will contend with. Cage papers should be changed daily. Do you kids pick up after themselves? Will they be willing to pick up after a parrot?

They can bite and don’t often like to be handled. Birds are prey animals and as such are on high alert for perceived threats. I often get asked for a friendly, interactive bird who can be held or touched. Despite the charming photos you may see on the internet, parrots don’t do well if they are touched a lot. In fact, they can overly bond to one person, and not want to interact with – or may even attack – everyone else. Caretakers need a good understanding of body language and a willingness to leave a bird alone when he doesn’t want to be touched. How do your children play? Are they rough with other animals in the house? Birds are fragile creatures, and will not do well if they are grabbed, poked at, or played with roughly. Little fingers can slip between cage bars easily when you aren’t looking as well – another bite risk.

Parrots can live a long time. If the whole family is on board and willing to care for the bird, you will go a long way towards having a successful placement. However, if your kids lose interest in things quickly, and if you, as parents, aren’t willing to assume responsibility for them, a parrot may not be a good match.

Caring for parrots takes time. Between activities and school, do your kids have time to provide the daily care needed? Can they do the cleaning, feeding, providing enrichment and spending time together required – or are they over scheduled as it is?

Birds need to get out of the cage. Can you provide a safe environment and allow out of cage time daily?

Birds need lots to do. Intelligent and busy, parrots need enrichment in the form of toys, a cage with multiple perches, and out of cage perches and play gyms to keep those big brains occupied.

Birds can fly away. Do your kids forget to close the door? We have had numerous bird fly away, never to be seen again, because of this.

Other pets can hurt or kill them. Can your kids keep dogs and cats away from a parrot? It only takes a second for an animal’s prey drive to kick in, ending in heartbreaking results.

Birds thrive in homes where the whole family is committed to providing care,where kids are old enough to understand when and when not to interact. Safe and fun interactions can include:

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Playing games. Parrots love to throw, toss and drop objects, some will even fetch!

Singing and dancing. Many birds love music and respond to it happily, especially when humans get loud and silly. It’s a great way to encourage exercise for all involved.

Making toys with cheap items around the house. Kris Porter’s Parrot Enrichment and Activity book  is a free download with lots of great ideas.

Training. Teaching birds to target, turn around, flap on cue or fly to a perch can be a great way for your child to learn how to develop trust with a parrot. Training is clear communication, and rewards can be delivered on a spoon or dropped in a cup as trainers and learners gain confidence.

Learning about birds in the wild. Encouraging your child to understand that parrots are very few generations removed from their native habitats can lead to an interest in conservation, ecology, biology, and veterinary studies.

Cooking together. Parrots need a wide variety of healthy food to thrive. Your child may wish to try new foods that you make for your bird, and we have lots of great recipies in the Nourish to Flourish cookbook.

At Phoenix Landing, we provide you with information based on having placed over 2900 birds in homes, If you are still unsure if a parrot is the right choice, please send us an email, or complete an application to foster a bird at no cost to you other than food. If it does not work out, we take the bird back.

False Clues: Qball’s Story

Why was my quaker parrot Qball falling down?

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In 2010, Qball was 7 years old, and full of himself. When I yelled at my computer in frustration, Qball yelled “That’s a bad dog!” along with me. He played with toys and hung out on my shoulder. He masturbated, then laughed hysterically. He helped me carve pumpkins, ate his fresh food with gusto, and had a huge vocabulary. He was the best little guy.

But now, something was very wrong. The first time it happened, it was night time, Qball dropped to the floor and one of his legs hung limply. After five minutes, he regained use of the leg, but seemed dazed.

I rushed him to the vet the next day.

When you have a sick bird, your world is clouded with worry, and you want to figure out what’s wrong. I have an excellent vet, and I hoped it wasn’t as serious as it seemed. We did the standard tests, and while his weight was low, he was a small quaker. We were unable to find an immediate reason for what the vet explained to me were likely seizures. I was heartbroken.

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“We could do a Avina Bornavirus test,” the vet said.

I knew what that meant – or at least I thought I did. They wanted to see if Qball had PDD.

At the time, the association between ABV and PDD was confusing – and it still is. The way I understood it, it was likely that he might develop the disease if he had the virus. So when I got the results from the vet that he was positive, I even texted friends that Qball had PDD and was going to die. My wise friends corrected me: the disease was not always the direct result of the virus. Birds had died of PDD that did not test positive for Bornavirus. Birds who had Bornavirus never developed the disease.

Still we assumed that the problems were related to ABV. The seizures were neurological – a classic symptom. We treated Qball with Celebrex, and I hoped for the best. He was on it for most of 2010, but the seizures kept coming. And he was not gaining weight, and was still having trouble breathing..

I brought him back to the vet in October, because he was having more frequent bouts of breathlessness. So we decided to do an x-ray. We hadn’t done one prior to this, assuming that his symptoms were neurological and related to ABV. When the vet showed me the X-ray, it was clear: Qball had terrible atherosclerosis. His aorta was calcified and he didn’t have long to live. What we thought were seizures could well be associated with this build up of plaque in his body, and cardiovascular disease can be associated with leg weakness and ataxia.

What we had assumed was a neurological problem because of the relation to ABV was actually cardiovascular – and had we known this, the course of treatment might have been very different. Qball died 6 weeks later.

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I share this sad story in the hopes that if you get an ABV+ diagnosis you will consider it as only one piece of data, and not a definitive diagnosis of disease. I have no idea if Qball’s heart problems could have been treated if caught earlier. Perhaps not. But getting the correct diagnosis late in the game did not help.

Peg’s Second Chance

How an Eclectus with an amputated foot brought a hopeful end to the year
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“An 18-week old female Eclectus was brought in today…” the veterinarian from SEAVS in Fairfax, VA said, as we spoke on the phone. “The bird’s right foot needs to be amputated and the owners did not want to pay for the surgery.”

The vet needed to find an experienced person who could care for the as-yet-unnamed female Eclectus. Someone needed to help post-surgery to medicate her and bring her back multiple times for follow-ups. Additionally, she needed to be weaned. An Eclectus should wean in no longer than 6 months. At four and a half months, this little one needed to transition to solid food.

The vet needed to find someone quickly, as her dead foot needed to be removed.  Could Phoenix Landing take her on?  Of course.

But who could take on the care of this very young, special needs parrot? Debbie, our MD adoption coordinator, stepped up to help.

First, the bird needed to survive the surgery. “We will try to leave as much of her leg as possible,” the vet assured me.

How did this happen to such a young bird? Caretaker neglect. A towel was wrapped around her leg and it was not removed for at least two weeks. Though many birds play with towels, or shred them when nesty, towels are not good toys. We have known birds who have ingested tiny bits of indigestible fabric, to the point where their digestive system was impacted and they died. Please be careful if you give your parrot a towel to play with, and always supervise.

About an hour later, the vet called and said the surgery was successful. They would care for her overnight, but the most important thing now was that she eat.

“She can’t leave until we know she is eating. We had to tube feed her.” We would talk the next day to see how she was doing.

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Peg, post-surgery at Debbie’s house, and now eating a wide variety of healthy foods!

The vet advised how to set up a cage for her. Her cage should be short, with lots of padding on the bottom. She would do well with flat perches. “She will probably adjust well to the missing foot, as she is so young,” the vet said. An Eclectus can live to be 40 years old.

It amazes me how resilient parrots are. This one was exceptional. Imagine the pain and fear this poor bird suffered in its short life. How could she ever trust humans? Native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Autstralia, in the wild she would have already fledged (at 11 weeks). She would be foraging for fruits in the tops of rain forest trees. When she reaches sexual maturity between 2 and 3 years, her behavior will change drastically. She would be the queen of a harem of friendly males, a relationship described by academics as cooperative polyandry. She would sit in a hole in a tree for up to 11 months of the year, while males brought her food and helped her create and care for her clutches of 2 eggs. But instead of this life, she is in captivity, now missing a foot, and her future is uncertain.  But we will do the best we can by her. As often quoted from The Little Prince, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

The next day brought good news: the little one was walking, and was not messing with her bandages. She did not need a collar. Additionally, she was eating a little. She would be ready to go that evening.

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But what should we call her? Debbie said, “Peg!” Debbie then made the 2 hour round trip journey to pick her up, and Peg is on the road to recovery.  She will need to stay on medications and have several bandage changes before we can look for her adopting home.  Stay tuned for an update!

Finding Reliable Parrot Information on the Web

Is locating accurate and relevant information about behavior, nutrition, health and enrichment as difficult for parrot caretakers as finding a Quick Link in a pile of shredded newspapers? It doesn’t have to be.

First, when reviewing content, consider these questions:

Who is the author? Whether vet, behaviorist, parrot owner, volunteer at a non-profit or breeder, consider what certifications the person has, how many years they have worked with birds and under what circumstance, and why they might be sharing the information. If the underlying motivation is to get a reader to pay for a service or buy a product, beware.

What sources do the author cite? Are the sources well-trusted? Does the author provide references in the form of links or book/article titles? How current is the information?

Does the information apply to your bird’s species, age, or disposition?

Does the information make sense to you? Is it a claim that goes against everything you have read? Does it claim to be an instant and easy fix? Does it speak negatively about other reliable sources (“Most vets don’t know what they are talking about.”)?

Most importantly: Will following the advice on the site build or destroy trust with your bird?

I recently asked Phoenix Landing volunteers which web sites they recommend, and phoenixlanding.org is on the top of the list. Below, they share more trusted sites and the methods they use to determine the quality of the content.

Michelle Czaikowski-Underhill, Education Coordinator for Raleigh NC, said, “whether I want to use a certain site or not often depends on what I am researching. Even good sites might include some information that isn’t the greatest. I like to look for currency of the page/article and authority of the author or organization.

“When doing a general Google search, I look for information on web sites from veterinary clinics, veterinary schools, AZA-accredited zoos, animal trainers, etc. depending on what the topic is.”

Some of Michelle’s go to sites include:

Nina Roshon, Adoption Coordinator from Wilmington, NC, recommends the Harrison’s Bird Food site: http://www.harrisonsbirdfoods.com.

This site also allows you to watch the Captive Foraging video by Dr. Scott Echols, which teaches parrot caretakers how to train their birds to forage, a vital, natural behavior. Watch it for free at http://www.harrisonsbirdfoods.com/captive-foraging-video/.

Nina also uses information from the Association of Avian Veterinarians: aav.org. For a detailed analysis of bird cages:  http://theparrotforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=4647/. Finally, a great source for hearing natural bird sounds:  https://www.macaulaylibrary.org.

Sheila Carpenter, Cage Coordinator, said: “I have used birdchannel.com (now called petcha.com)  most often to learn about species with which I am not familiar when an applicant for whom I am doing a home visit is interested in that species.  Most of my info comes from PL’s meetings and biannual national retreat held in May.”

(The next retreat is scheduled for May 2018. Keep an eye on our web site (phoenixlanding.org) for details about this incredible event!)

Melissa Kowalski, Home Visit Coordinator for WV and owner of Critters and Conservation, has adopted multiple birds from Phoenix Landing, some of whom star in her animal shows teaching kids about creatures from reptiles and insects to parrots and tenrecs.

She suggests:

  • Jason Crean’s Facebook page called Avian Raw Whole Food Nutrition at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AVIANRAW/
    Jason Crean is a wealth of information, is very active and responds to most posts.
  • Patricia Sund’s website and blog called Parrot Nation at: https://parrotnation.com/
    Patricia has been a huge proponent of “chop” – a variety of many, many fresh ingredients chopped up for birds. I use this method for my parrots, toucan/lorikeets, and sometimes my lizards and tortoise.
  • The Cornell Lab or Ornithology (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/) has lots of information about native North American birds,

In general, Melissa says, “When doing research online about a particular subject or species, I always use multiple sources. I start with Wikipedia, try forums, and other websites.”

Mary Ault, our Resource Coordinator, recommends understandingparrots.com, while Debbie Russell our MD Adoption Coordinator, endorses the site of the World Parrot Trust: parrots.org.

Finally, Michelle Czaikowski-Underhill uses Google Alerts (https://www.google.com/alerts) set up for different topics, and often finds articles of interest using this method. She says the alerts “give me a stream of articles that are current, but sometimes they are not the most authoritative. A small-town newspaper had an article about birds as pets and recommended seed diets, for instance. That was in the last few months. So, just because something has been published somewhere, doesn’t mean it is credible.”

Share your favorite sites in the comments!

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.

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

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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.

Molts and Pinfeathers: A New Year for You and Your Bird

The start of a new year: time to make promises to yourself for positive changes in your life. As you sign up for a gym membership or purge Facebook friends, don’t forget your bird. What resolutions can you make to improve your bird’s life in the coming months?

Don’t get overwhelmed. Start small with an achievable goal for the first few months of the new year. Expand your parrot’s  world with new activities and enrichment items in January. Improve your parrot’s diet in February. March is the month to tackle a behavior problem.

January, when your family is stuck inside, is a great time to make a bunch of simple toys. Begin by re-purposing all of those (safe!) boxes that your holiday gifts came in as foraging toys for your bird, then continue toy making throughout the month. Toys are simple and cheap to make, and Kris Porter’s Parrot Enrichment Activity Book available from parrotenrichment.com  is an excellent free resource. The Facebook group The Parrot’s Workshop provides an almost endless supply of simple toys that are easy to make, often with instructions.

Though toys can be based on items you have in the house, you can also purchase bird toy parts online (a recommended site is makeyourownbirdtoys.com). Recruit your kids and their friends or other bird lovers in your area to have a toy making party. Focus on variety for maximum interest. Experiment with different textures, materials, and colors in the same toy. Toys don’t have to look pretty, they just have to be fun!

By increasing the number and variety of enrichment items, whether these be toys, a new play stand, a wicker basket to perch on, or branches made of safe wood, you offer your bird more choices and more opportunities for learning. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination (and what’s safe for your parrot!).

In February, focus on nutrition. Resolve to introduce a new healthy food item to your parrot each week. This could be food packaged  in a new way. Stuff kale leaves into a cored apple and hang it on a skewer, for example. Try serving fruit or vegetables before they are fully ripe. Split a papaya or cantaloupe in half and let your bird pick out the seeds. Use a food processor to finely chop new foods, then mix them in with a little healthy seed. Another option: slice fruit or vegetables thinly, cut a hole in the middle, and string on a toy.

Offer healthy food prepared in different ways. Your bird may prefer cooked, steamed or raw. See the Phoenix Landing cookbook Nourish to Flourish for a wealth of ideas, methods and information.

During this month, note the foods that your bird will fly through hoops for.

Use your parrot’s coveted treats during the month of March when you focus on behavior. Identify one behavior to train. It could be something as simple as training your parrot to target to a stick or teaching your bird to forage. Training is not difficult, so give it a try.  See the Phoenix Landing Press book Project Parrot for detailed information about training and behavior.

Instead of training a behavior, you could focus on resolving a behavior problem. Biting is a common one.

See the book Biting Matters for tools and techniques to reduce or eliminate bites.

Resolving behavior issues is so often about changing our expectations of our wild companions. An excellent resource for understanding how birds perceive the world is Leigh Ann Hartsfield’s book Birds Beyond Words. Once you understand a bird’s nature, it can be easier to resolve an issue by developing realistic solutions. Rosemary Low’s book, Understanding Parrots: Cues from Nature provides wonderful insight from her travels around the globe over decades to observe species in the wild.

These attainable monthly goals can greatly affect your bird’s quality of life, and the relationship between your bird and his flock, which is your family, in the first few months of the new year. Then, why not repeat this three-month cycle throughout the year?

Use the comments field to share your birdie resolutions!