A Space for Parakeets: Creating an Enriched Environment for Small Birds

by Tricia McManus

I never planned on adopting birds, until a cute little parakeet appeared in my backyard about five years ago. Since then I’ve become enamored with these small birds. In my desire to set up a good environment, I read a lot of books, took courses from Phoenix Landing, found ideas on the Internet, and sought advice from my vet.

Parakeet on top of a cage in a bird room with lots of enrichmentCages and perches – encourage exercise

Based on my vet’s advice, I chose double flight cages to provide plenty of room for exercise, including keeping a clear path for flight from end to end.  Perches of different materials, textures and thicknesses are provided for interest and foot health, including lots of different types of natural branches, rope, ladders, wood and metal platforms, along with a few wood dowels and concrete/pumice perches.  Rope perches are used on the outside of the cage and at the door entrances to make it easy for the birds to get in and out, and to provide additional places to play or hang out.  I like the ropes, because they can be configured in many ways, and the plastic end caps are safe inside the cage.  Long ladders can also be used between the floor and the cage doors if your bird spends time on the floor.

Two blue parakeets are seen in a room - on a cage. In the room there are playstands and perches. There are also toys, swings, perches and tents on the shelving in the room for the birds.Toys – Projects to keep birds active and busy    

Toys are the fun part!  There are an incredible variety of toys available to keep our birds busy and active and give them choices.   Swinging and moving toys and perches provide variety and help with balance.  I look for a variety of material types, such as balsa wood, yucca or mahogany for chewing, different types of straw and vines, leather, bells and rattles, paper shreds, cardboard, plastic, and non-pill fleece.  The ends of paper cord often used for toy-making are also great chewing material.  One area for caution is bells.  Parakeets love them but some bells have heavy clappers that can contain lead.  If the clapper does not appear to be made from the same material as the bell, you might want to replace it with a plastic toy link.

Parakeets inside their cages, with ladders, toys, many different perches of different materials.Multiple places for food, water, light, and privacy (when needed)

My cages are set up to have multiple food and water areas to give every bird an opportunity in the event one bird becomes protective of the dishes.  Full spectrum daylight lamps are used during daylight hours, along with a UVA/UVB bird lamp for short intervals each day.  Each cage also has a few quiet resting areas that are shaded and hidden from view.  In setting up the cages, I also considered that each half of the cage could function independently with everything needed and varied experiences for one bird, in the event the divider needs to be inserted to separate the birds.

Evaluating and setting up the space: Safety, flexibility, and more

Parakeet room with hanging ladders and perches visibleThe first consideration is to evaluate your space and think about how the room will function, including identifying potential hazards.  I put decals on the windows and installed Venetian blinds to provide a buffer for potential crashes.  I also removed carpets and used furniture that’s easy to wipe clean.  I keep paper towels and a spray bottle with water handy for clean-up, along with a small broom & dustpan and a covered trash can.  If you notice a particular out-of-cage location where your bird spends time, placing paper towels or newspaper below that spot makes clean up easier.

My intent for the room was to provide lots of choices for flight and exercise, along with additional variety in experiences from what could be provided inside the cage.  Ideally, the birds would explore and use the entire room.  Moveable tables with play stands allow the room configuration to be changed.  A large dogwood tree branch was potted to provide views out the window, and spray oats or millet is sometimes clipped to it to encourage foraging.  Untreated baskets provide perches and play stations along the walls.  Hanging perches and ladders provide opportunities for swinging and movement.  A stud finder was used to locate structural ceiling joists, and eye bolts were installed to hang the toys.

Parakeet room - Playstands in view

Parakeet out in his playroom. Different play areas well in viewThe room and cages are evolving all the time as I continue to learn and come across new ideas and examples.  You will learn your bird’s preferences and what works best for you!

Lights, sideways basket on the wall, hanging toys, and more

Pumpkins for Parrots!

by Ann Brooks

Why pumpkin?

Phoenix Pumpkin
Birds require vitamin A, and many are deficient because of an inadequate diet. One of the best sources for vitamin A are foods rich in beta carotene. These are generally the dark orange, red, and green vegetables and fruits. So this is the perfect time of year to take advantage of current crops of scrumptious pumpkins and winter squashes. Not only are these beta carotene rich, but they also make a quick foraging activity.

Ways to serve pumpkin to parrots

Simply putting half a pie pumpkin or squash on a skewer, or in a bowl, can give a bird fun and exercise activity at the same time.  No need to remove the seeds! Just wash thoroughly prior to feeding, and buy organic if possible. You can leave cut pumpkins and squash out for 2-3 days, making for several days of fun!

What other foods are rich in Vitamin A?

Papillae

Pumpkin with chia hemp etc

1/2 pumpkin with chia, hemp, and almonds

Other vitamin A sources include carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, papaya (including seeds), cantaloupe (seeds especially good for macaws), leafy greens, apricots, and mango. If your bird is eating a packaged seed diet, it’s possible they are vitamin A deficient. A seed diet also leads to obesity! Try to convert your bird to a whole foods and pellet diet for long-term health.

Why is Vitamin A important for birds?

Birds with vitamin A deficiencies can have dull feathers,   and many other symptoms. Your avian veterinarian will check the papilliae in the roof of your bird’s mouth during their annual exams. Pointed papillae are a sign of good vitamin A health. Make sure your bird has the opportunity to enjoy these nutrient dense foods!

This Christmas tree is for the birds (and other pets)

Maximillian's pionus investigating the cardboard parrot Christmas tree

by Michelle Underhill

Are you looking for an enrichment idea to include your parrots in the holiday festivities? Why not set them up with their very own, 100% parrot-friendly, chewable, destructible Christmas tree? If you are crafty, or have a laser cutting machine at home that can cut cardboard, you could design and make your own tree base! If you aren’t crafty (like me), or simply pressed for time, Cardboard Safari sells a cardboard tree base.

This idea works for other animals, too, including rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and more. My tree is actually shared by my parrots and house rabbits. They all enjoy chewing, and enjoy chewing on a lot of the same materials.

The cardboard tree

Cardboard Safari has a cardboard tree called the Alpine tree available. It comes in two sizes. The “large” is 22″ wide and 22″ tall. The “giant” is 42″ tall, and 42″ wide at its widest point. I wanted one that would hold a lot of toys for my five parrots and two house rabbits, so I went with the giant size.

If you are making a tree

I have now owned two different models of cardboard Christmas trees. The first one was from Form by Heidi, but doesn’t appear to be manufactured any longer. The tree bases have a few things in common that I am happy to share, for those of you crafty enough to make your own.

The first tree I had, by Form by Heidi, has six identical panels that make up the trunk and branches. The Cardboard Safari tree has five identical panels to make up the trunk and branches. In both cases, they have three circular anchors with slots. The five or six panels all connect to the circular anchors. Cardboard Safari has a cardboard base the panels fit into as well, for added support.

Setting up the tree

The Cardboard Safari tree can be assembled in minutes. It’s very simple, and fun to put together. It honestly took me longer to find and clear a good spot for the tree than it took to put the tree together.

If you have kids, or family visiting from out of town, setting up a tree for the pets is a wonderful bonding activity! I enlisted the assistance of my Dad and my nephew in putting the tree together on Thanksgiving.

Brown necked parrot under the cardboard Christmas treeOptional: Decorating the tree with toys!

You could leave the tree undecorated, and it’d still be a fun piece of decor, and can serve as a great cardboard toy itself. Or, you can add even more interest to it for the birds by decorating it with toys!

Like the tree itself, you can either make or purchase toys to decorate your tree. I have no doubt there are lots of crafty parrot owners who could make some beautiful garlands, toy decorations, and foraging opportunities for their parrot Christmas trees!

I simply went through Phoenix Landing’s Helping Parrots online store and bought toys to hang on the tree. They even have some Christmas themed toys!

Tips on decorating the tree

Try to keep the tree balanced. So, if you are hanging a slightly heavy, wood block toy on one side, try to balance it out on the other, too, so the tree doesn’t lean slightly.

Supervised play time for the parrots (or other pets)

My birds enjoy checking out the tree. It’s intriguing, perhaps, to see so many toys they can destroy in one place!

Please keep in mind that the tree is completely destructible, though, too. So, do not leave them unattended with it. Otherwise, it may very quickly become structurally unsound if you have a bird (or rabbit) who loves to chew cardboard.

Enjoy the fun and beauty of the tree through the holiday season!

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!

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!

Learning from life with a foster parrot

By Carrie J. Sidener, Foster for Phoenix Landing

It’s been a month since Simon moved in.

This is roughly the halfway point in our foster relationship to determine if this particular little green quaker parrot is a good fit in my home and if my home is a good fit for him. If everything works out, this relationship between us will become a permanent one.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about Simon in this short period of time, in no particular order:

1. I’ve given him the nickname “The Flying Alarm Clock.” He yells as he flies, in the same pattern and roughly the same tone as an alarm clock. Why? I have no idea, but he certainly can’t sneak up on you.

2. Put corn, carrots, peas and scrambled eggs in front of this boy, and he will tear it up. What he won’t touch are some of my personal favorites — just about any berries. He likes apples, but I don’t really care for them.

And he likes cold things. He’ll shake his head when the cold touches his tongue, but will reach for more.

3. Simon is a bird that hasn’t learned how to relax. When he is awake and away from his cage, he is perpetually trying to groom me as though he wants to make sure all my feathers are straight and looking good.

I hate to tell him my feathers — or rather my hair — is always out of place and no semblance of grooming will fix it.

Also, he has some weird obsession with my ears.

4. This little guy is very social, which has endeared him into the hearts of the friends and family who have met him thus far. He loves to have his head scratched and will head butt you if your focus lapses on those wonderful head scratches.

Simon Quaker 20175. Simon has gained a particular attachment and affection for me. When his cage door is open, Simon becomes my little shadow. One morning last week, he ended up clutching my dress at the hip as I prepared his food and packed my lunch.

I managed to snag a photograph of him looking very much like a child clutched to my leg, begging me not to go to work.

6. Simon came to me with a fear of water and while there are a number of suggestions to combat this, I chose what I’m now calling the “Dance Party Method.”

In this method, I bring Simon into the bathroom and let him perch on the top of the shower door so he can watch as I take a shower. But here’s the thing — we have a dance party, and slowly Simon has allowed me to bring him into the shower with the water running. We still have to dance and sing and play, but as long as the energy remains high, he’s OK with it.

I’m a little concerned that I may bust a move a little too vigorously and end up falling in the shower, but so far so good.

7. Simon is a bobber. He will vigorously nod his head up and down to express his happiness or to ask me for something. It’s really adorable, and I’m considering teaching him to do this on command to somehow make it into a trick. Any suggestions?Simon Quaker2 2017

Also, I’m pretty sure I can teach him to dance.

8. He loves to whistle. And he will use his skills to challenge people to a game of Simon Says. Most of the time he wins, but he’s never beaten me.

That’s because I can’t play. I never learned how to whistle.

9. So far, Simon has been a man of few words. The only thing I’ve managed to decipher from him is “Step Up.”

Maybe he’ll say more or maybe he won’t. I don’t really care. He’s a pretty great companion, just as he is.

First published on May 9, 2017 in Lynchburg, VA by The News & Advance

The Wild Magical Parrots of Peru

Our 2016 ecotour took us back to the beautiful rainforest of Peru along the Tambopata River, and time with one of our favorite conservation and research scientists, Dr. Donald Brightsmith. Seeing parrots in the wild always leaves me with mixed feelings – to see birds flying, interacting and responding to their native environment is majestic and overwhelmingly beautiful. On the other hand, I feel so frustrated by the limitations placed on the captive parrots in our homes. No matter how much space, enrichment and opportunity we give them, it just doesn’t compare. However, after viewing the antics and busyness of wild parrots, we can’t help but be inspired to do more for the birds in our homes.

Here are some photos and movies from our trip. I hope these give you some new ideas about how to make life better for your parrot.

Thanks to the group that joined us for this trip, we were able to make a donation of $3,750 to Dr. Brightsmith for his work at the Macaw Project at the Tambopata Research Center. It’s important that we help conserve areas where wild parrots can thrive, and also learn as much as possible about their way of life. Please help support conservation and research for wild parrots! We also hope you’ll join us on a future ecotour, we will be planning another one soon.

This video includes mealy Amazons, blue headed pionus and severe macaws at the Chuncho claylick: youtu.be/WOvbU8MlO3E.

Here is a video of a greenwing macaw and a blue and gold macaw having a “discussion.” They hang from the branch and hold each other’s feet.https://youtu.be/996f2oSPaHw. Thanks to Angie Yeung from Celltei.com for this amazing video!

pl-pionus

Blue headed pionus parrots

pl-claylick3

Greenwing and scarlet macaws at the Chunco claylick along the Tambopata River

pl-claylick2

Greenwing, scarlet and blue and gold macaws at the claylick

pl-blue-and-gold

Two blue and gold macaws.  What might they be discussing?