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.

PDD vs. Avian Bornavirus, A Layman’s Interpretation

PDD digestionOver the years, some birds have died from a dreaded disease called PDD, or proventricular dilatation disease. It was first noticed in macaws that could not properly digest their food. In some other species, like greys and cockatoos, it caused neurological problems. It is a mysterious disease that we do not thoroughly understand. It is still not completely explainable. And anything inexplicable can leave us feeling concerned, afraid, and even irrational at times.

What some researchers thought in 2010: ABV = PDD
In 2010, a major research project declared that the cause of PDD was the avian bornavirus (ABV). It said ABV = PDD. That’s a very declarative statement! So, at last we thought we knew the answer and could finally cope with the perplexing PDD challenge, saving our birds from future harm. Unfortunately, this “answer” caused many bird owners and veterinarians to rush to judgment, even euthanizing birds that tested positive for ABV.

What some researchers think now: ABV does not always, or even often, mean PDD
Now we have come to learn that many birds are ABV positive, and most never succumb to PDD. Then there are those birds that die of PDD, confirmed on necropsy, but they are ABV negative. What are we to think? What are we to do? Yes, ABV can be an important component in causing PDD, but an ABV positive bird is not automatically doomed to contract PDD, and in most cases they do not.

How might ABV be spread?
Some veterinarians believe that birds are born with ABV, passing it through the egg; or that birds possibly acquire ABV through the exchange of fluids during mating. Sounds kind of like HIV, right?  ABV and HIV are both auto-immune diseases.

As a person who strives to make sure that birds have a succession of good homes, here is my concern — do we need to worry about ABV positive birds? It is my personal opinion that we do not – assuming that the bird is otherwise healthy and thriving. We have asked many veterinarians this question over the years, and most agree that an otherwise healthy bird can be re-homed without reservation.

Tips to promote overall health for our birds, and prevent disease
Avian bornavirus, like many other disease challenges in our environment, can certainly place extra stress on a bird. If a bird is sick for unknown reasons, testing for ABV might be a valuable piece of diagnostic knowledge. However, there are other things we can do to prevent many diseases, and in my opinion, these are equally important!

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An environment that can contribute to physical and mental health. Used with permission from naturalinspirationsparrotcages.com

  • We can make sure the quality-of-life we provide parrots in captivity includes ample space to move, explore, and exercise.
  • We can provide access to nutritious food and not crappy seed from the big box store.
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    Does NOT lead to good health

    We can make sure our bird sees a true avian veterinarian on a regular basis – and receives the labs and gram stains that help give us early information about disease.

  • And we can learn how to live with a parrot without expectations of inappropriate touching, over-stressing environments, or unnecessary insecurities.

Support more ABV and PDD research
Meanwhile, we whole-heartedly applaud the continued efforts of the veterinary and scientific community to research both diseases; to understand more definitively what their connections might be; and to encourage balance and reason about both potential problems with their clients. Birds do not need to die when they are not truly suffering from a disease, so let’s be careful not to overreact.

You can learn more about both PDD and avian bornavirus from Dr. Susan Orosz, PhD, DVM, DABVP (Avian), DECZM (Avian) here: https://lafeber.com/pet-birds/unraveling-the-puzzle-of-avian-bornavirus-pdd/ and here http://www.birdandexotics.com/medical-news.pml

Stay tuned for our next blog post about a bird that was diagnosed and presumed sick because of avian bornavirus, and as a consequence its heart disease diagnosis was totally missed!  by Ann Brooks

Radiograph image source

Last, Robert, Herbert Weissenböck, Nora Nedorost, & H.L. Shivaprasad. “Avian bornavirus genotype 4 recovered from naturally infected psittacine birds with proventricular dilatation disease in South Africa.” Journal of the South African Veterinary Association [Online], 83.1 (2012): 4 pages. Web. 24 Aug. 2018.

 

The Blue and Gold Macaws of Trinidad

By John Kerns

In January 2018, a group of scientists, government officials and conservation representatives gathered in Trinidad to talk about parrots. This included those blue and golds trying to rebound in the wild, as well as the macaws now living in homes as pets. Since having captive parrots is still a bit controversial, there aren’t many resources for people to learn about how to care for them. Trinidad macaws

Bernadette Plair, who determined that wild macaws would not go extinct in Trinidad on her watch, decided that helping people to care for any parrots in their homes was equally important. Thus, Bernadette and her colleagues set out to provide an educational opportunity, and Phoenix Landing was asked to participate in this laudable endeavor.

I spent the first couple of days meeting with Forestry officials, game wardens, and conservation representatives. We talked about the needs of captive birds, including those confiscated and permanently living in cages at the Wildlife Section. Our goal was to provide officials with additional information they can share with local residents about caring for pet birds, and also use for those macaws living in government facilities. The need for enrichment, showers, good food, behavior knowledge, and medical support are relatively new topics for Trinidad residents.

Trinidad ForestryFor the last four days of my visit, we hosted parrot care classes for Trinidad residents and veterinary office staff. Well over 130 people attended! Although there is still some confusion about very old laws regarding parrots kept in homes, there is definitely a desire by the local people to acquire more information about how to care for their birds. We applaud their determination to make sure their companion birds thrive! We also hope that Bernadette Plair and her colleagues will continue to be successful in sustaining and growing the wild macaw population on Trinidad as well. They are working hard to inspire and educate the public about this conservation effort. We are so impressed with their success so far!

Trinidad classOn the last day we visited the Nariva Swamp to observe macaws that had been reintroduced into their native habitat. It was very fulfilling to see them flying free, but also sadly poignant knowing that the macaws in our homes will never fly free nor ever speak their native language.

On March 3rd, 2018 in Springfield VA, our guest speaker will be Dr. Leo Douglas, immediate past president of BirdsCaribbean. He will share more information with us about the parrots of Trinidad, as well as other areas in the Caribbean. We certainly hope you can join us!

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!

Kevin Blaylock, One Of A Kind

Kevin was supremely devoted to his family – his wife Kami and their children Chandler and Maddi. I remember when they joined us for a parrot care class back in July 2006, soon after they acquired their first bird, a macaw. We were so impressed with their dedication to learning right from the start, especially because the whole family was involved. For Kevin, family was everything.

DSC_0187 copyOver the years, as Kevin became more involved with Phoenix Landing, we felt like his lucky adopted family. We went on ecotour vacations together, many of which he had adeptly organized. Beginning in 2010, we spent several weekends a year teaching intense training “Step-Up” workshops. Kevin never missed one of these workshops, because he so enjoyed the time with new students and old friends.

Kevin helped us with countless projects – especially at The Landing, our only facility. StepUpKevinWhen in doubt, we would say “let’s ask Kevin” because he usually had a new and insightful idea. As a highly successful businessman, Kevin joined the Board of Directors as our Treasurer and he knew how to steer the organization solidly into the future. Lastly, Kevin took stunning photographs of amazing wild and captive parrots, something that gave him great joy and satisfaction. His love for birds just radiates through these photos.

 

Kevin’s dedication to helping parrots was monumental. Avid learners become good teachers, and Kevin was one of our best, with a special interest in behavior. He also put his positive reinforcement training skills to work in every aspect of his life, always seeing the good in everyone.

 

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Kevin’s family lost him way too soon, he was a young 44 years old. His Phoenix Landing family lost one of its brightest young stars. There are no words to convey the void Kevin leaves behind – one of goodwill, smiles and genuine affection for all those he befriended. I hope you are able to fly in your new life, Kevin, because we know how much you deserve the joy that would bring you! ~ Love always, Ann

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!

Birdie Walk, A Ceiling Playground

By Suzanne Cromwell

Background: My husband, Larry, and I adopted two Timneh African greys from Phoenix Landing, Napoleon and Josephine. These birds are former breeders, now 48 years old. Over the years, we have tried to give them plenty of personal space so they feel safe and comfortable, and to facilitate their ability to fly so they are empowered to make choices about their activities. While living in Virginia, the birds liked to fly to a wooden beam running between the bird room and the breakfast area. When we decided to move to Florida, it was a good time to design a room for the birds that supported their ability to fly, and to have a high space to land.

What did I want to create in our bird room?  Our new room for the birds has an 11′ ceiling and no existing beams. I wanted to make sure the greys could still get exercise and the benefits from flight, as well as incorporate full spectrum lighting, a structure for the birds to fly to and play on, and something from which to hang toys. I also did not want to have any electrical wiring exposed and the light bulbs protected.  The following is a description of what we created and call the “birdie walk.”

The birdie walk is a 21 foot rectangular structure made out of bird-safe untreated wood. It is 8 inches wide and hung from the ceiling.  We made sure the structure hung low enough so that the birds could not eat the ceiling.

The side pieces of bird-safe wood are 6 inches on both sides, with ½ round trim.  The trim molding is screwed in with stainless steel screws so once it is destroyed it can easily be replaced without destroying the structure.  If the birds chew the ½ round trim, this can easily be replaced!

Birdie Walk

The birdie walk is secured to the ceiling rafters by metal rods and HVAC straps. Electrical wiring for the lights are attached to ceiling junction boxes located above the ceiling. The metal rod supports, HVAC straps and electrical wiring are enclosed in PVC tubing to keep the birds from chewing through these important structural elements. Full spectrum lighting is installed in the unit, and the lights are included in boxes with a removable plastic grate.

We use hemp rope around the supports to hang natural wood perches or baskets full of toys and chew pieces. You could screw into the bottom of the structure to hang more toys or activities depending on the capabilities of your birds. The birdie walk provides many creative opportunities for hanging bird play and foraging activities!

Birdie Walk2

The birdie walk is visually attractive and our greys spend many hours playing on it or with the toys, flying up and down, or just overseeing all the activity in the room.

Our birdie walk is 21 foot square but the same idea can be made in any configuration to work in your bird room. Our birds like to go around the whole surface of the birdie walk or fly from one side to the other. Our Timnehs love the bird walk and use it daily. Good luck with yours!