BEHAVIOR CONCEPTS: Use the Positive Approach
Everything we do has purpose. Your bird’s behavior is no different. Look closely at your environment to understand why your bird acts in certain ways. Oftentimes we do things that cause a bird to act in negative ways. If we change, our birds will change. Birds are not naturally mean or constantly “hormonal” so take caution in using labels. If you place blame on the bird, you won’t look further at the situation and find other ways to solve problems. Some important concepts to remember:
* We get what we reinforce. Reward your bird for the things that work in your household and never take good behavior for granted. “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”
* Punishment rarely works. It is hard to deliver in a timely manner and only destroys trust. Trust is the most important commodity to have with your companion bird.
* Never use aggressive behavior. Most birds will respond with aggression (like biting) in defense. This is natural.
* ALWAYS ignore the behaviors that do not work in your home. If you or any member of your family responds at ANY time, this behavior is likely to continue.
* Try to replace undesirable behaviors with desirable ones. For example: give your bird a healthy appetizer (like a stalk of broccoli or a nut stuffed in a straw) while you are making dinner so they won’t be tempted to scream; give a treat for going into the cage so they will associate this with a positive experience; and say “Good!” or give a small treat when your bird steps onto your hand.
* Discover trick training like: turning around, pulling up the bucket, or waving. This is a healthy way to maintain a positive relationship with your companion that does not include over-petting. Birds are really intelligent and they will appreciate your efforts to acknowledge this.
* Respect your bird’s personal space. Ask them to step-up but give them room to come to you, try not to use force. Learn to read your bird's body language and give them the opportunity to make decisions and have choices.
* Respect your bird’s house (cage). Many birds are territorial, nature has equipped them with strong survival skills in the wild. These instincts are still at work in our homes. It is not essential to pick your bird up from inside the cage if they are protective of it. Let them exit the cage and then engage in interaction. Service the cage when they are away from it.
* Learn more about how your bird’s species lives in the wild, this may explain certain behaviors in your home. Is your bird a ground feeder or a canopy feeder? Does this species fly in large flocks or small groups? Does it mingle with other species or is this a single-species bird? Join the World Parrot Trust (www.parrots.org), support parrot conservation programs.
* Birds are prey animals which means they naturally seek safe places, and being high can also help them feel safe. We do not need to dominate our birds, so allow them to seek higher ground for comfort. Train them to come to you upon request by using positive reinforcement and rewards.
Recommended resources: Biting Matters and Project Parrot by Jenny Drummey; Birds Beyond Words by Leigh Ann Hartsfield; resources at behaviorworks.org including the helpful toolkit here; Clicker Training by Melinda Johnson; DVDs and books by Barbara Heidenreich; and Phoenix Landing seminars. Click here for the books.
For some short video clips about behavior and specific training tips, go to: www.monkeysee.com/play/13813-how-to-train-a-parrot
THE CAGE: A PARROT'S HOUSE
Birds have complete choice over their lives in the wild and they have evolved by making wise decisions. Give your parrot the largest, most spacious cage you can; fill it with things that give them “places to go and things to do.” Outfit a cage like a house, with many different rooms, a wide variety of perch textures and sizes, lots of things to hide behind, a wide variety of things to shred, rattle, bounce on, figure out, and reach for in out-of-the way places. Try to put a new foraging toy in the cage every day, make it your parrot’s puzzle palace. Encourage independent play, and praise them lavishly for enjoying their space and ability to stay occupied. Our recommended MINIMUM cage sizes are:
* Parakeets, Cockatiels, Lovebirds, Quakers: 27w x 24d
* Ringnecks, Conures, Pionus, Lories, Meyers, Senegals, Multiple Small Birds: 32w X 23d
* African Greys, Small Cockatoos, Eclectus, Amazons, Small Macaws: 36w x 28d
* Larger Cockatoos and Macaws: 48w x 36d
We REALLY recommend the 64w x 32d or 80w x 40d cages for the larger birds!!
Make sure the bar spacing is appropriate for the species. Place the cage in an area that feels safe for a bird, like a corner or alongside a wall; away from heavy traffic and vents.
In addition to a parrot’s delightful house, they share their home with a flock - and that means your family. Make sure your bird has ample time out of the cage, so they have fun places to go. Perhaps a playstand for dinner; or an atom or boing hanging from the ceiling to encourage exercise. A safe outdoor cage is also a great idea, make sure it includes a partially covered top and things to hide behind to minimize fear if they see predators like hawks. Also ensure they can get out of the hot sun and have plenty of fresh water. Many birds savor the opportunity to take a shower in the rain.
NOURISH TO FLOURISH: Nutrition Tips for a Healthier Parrot
A good diet can help prevent disease and ill health. Food is also restorative, helping our bodies to heal. Providing a parrot with a varied diet is important both for physical nutrition as well as mental joy and satisfaction. Enrich your parrot’s life with a plentiful VARIETY of fresh, wholesome foods, and a quality organic pellet. Calcium is a key element for all parrots. Calcium-rich foods include leafy greens, carrots, unhulled sesame seeds, broccoli, dandelion and other greens, yogurt and almonds. To absorb calcium, vitamin D3 is needed, which can be acquired through sunlight naturally, or in pellets as a supplement. Let your parrot enjoy some safe time outdoors or provide access to a full spectrum light. Light filtered through window panes is not full spectrum.
Foods which help produce vitamin A are also essential for parrots. Deep orange vegetables and fruits are rich in beta carotene (yams, pumpkin, carrots, winter squashes, mango, papaya, apricots and cantaloupe) as well as palm oil, leafy greens and broccoli. Make vitamin A and calcium-rich foods a regular staple in your bird’s daily diet.
Most parrots enjoy grains. These can be cooked, sprouted or simply soaked. There is a wide variety to choose from such as quinoa, groats, spelt, kamut, rice, amaranth, buckwheat and barley. Combine grains along with recommended legumes such as lentil, garbanzo, adzuki or mung for complete protein. Other sources of protein include cooked salmon or trout, tuna, chicken, chicken bones, quinoa and occasional egg dishes. Most parrots relish these foods and will savor every morsel.
Healthy seeds contribute to the health of your parrot. These include: sprouts, soaked or sprouted grains, legumes, nuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and sesame seeds. Please do not feed your bird a packaged “bird seed” diet. Not only does this diet lack essential ingredients like vitamin A, calcium and protein, but most packaged seed diets are high in fat and lead to ill health. Smaller birds such as parakeets, cockatiels and lovebirds need more grains than pellets; such as oat groats, flax, canary seed and other grains.
Find some new ideas and recipes in the Phoenix Landing Nourish to Flourish Cookbook (click here)
Fruits are a delectable part of the diet of many parrots. Darker fruits such as mango, papaya and pineapple provide the best nutrition. White-colored fruits such as grapes have higher levels of sugar so use those more sparingly. Keep dried fruits to a minimum and make sure they are always unsulfured.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) support key functions of the body and must be obtained through the diet. High sources of EFAs include flax seeds and oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, leafy vegetables and fish.
Parrots evolved to eat natural, unprocessed foods. Look for pellets with organic ingredients (no dyes). Avoid extruded pellets made with high heat which greatly lowers the nutritional value.
Change the water frequently to help prevent bacteria, but give your bird a chance to enjoy this “water feature.” Many birds dunk their food or take a bath in their water dish.
Pay attention to what your bird actually eats, not just what you provide. If your parrot has not learned to eat fresh foods, try mixing minced food into pellets or seed, make a warm mash with a favorite item sprinkled on top to create curiosity, or play a game and show your parrot that it is yummy to eat a particular food. Don’t give up, your bird can learn to enjoy healthy foods in addition to pellets!
FORAGING and ENRICHMENT
It is estimated parrots spend 50-70% of their day in the wild foraging for food. This involves searching for available sources, choosing the most desirable items, and then manipulating the chosen food with their feet and beaks. How does your parrot spend the day? To get your bird started foraging, try using skewers or placing bowls in different locations. Cover bowls with butcher paper, put treats in paper bags, or hide that special nut in a puzzle toy.
Go organic and give your parrot a job. When produce is free of pesticides and fertilizers, then your parrot can do the peeling. Food that is free of growth hormones or antibiotics is also safer for your parrot’s long-term health. Teach your parrot to try new foods in addition to daily staples. Make mealtimes a flock-family occasion and enjoy fun times together. Just being together without overpetting is one of the best ways to enjoy companionship with each other. For more ideas, go to the Parrot's Workshop page on Facebook, or enjoy Kris Porter's Enrichment Activity Book from her Web site at www.ParrotEnrichment.com. Another great site for enrichment info and ideas is avianenrichment.com
Parrots need stimulating interaction from their environment. They also benefit from activities which promote exercise. Try teaching birds to:
* Whistle or wave on cue.
* Eat with a spoon, drink from a cup, or other fun behaviors that also help come medicine time.
* Flap, turn somersaults, dance or jump for much needed, good exercise.
To encourage parrots to interact and have fun, try to:
* Play peek-a-boo behind a towel to make the towel less threatening to your bird; or playing “where’s parrot?” with a small mirror.
* Sing to them, especially songs with their names; imitate each other, copy what your bird says.
* Whisper things like “parrot” which helps reduce screaming too.
* Play a catch game. Many birds will throw objects back to you with little training.
* Play real estate: take your bird around the house and show her each room. This helps decrease anxiety by exploring the surrounding “territory.”
* Spend mealtimes together. For birds in the wild, this is their most social time.
* Train husbandry behaviors like going into a carrier, filing nails or going onto a scale.
* Go for a walk in the neighborhood in a safe travel carrier, or for a fun ride in the car.
* Visit a friend and take your parrot along for the outing and some social interaction. Fresh air and sunshine is good for all of us.
HEALTH and SAFETY
* Find a good AVIAN vet. Dog and cat vets are not adequately trained to treat birds. Check www.aav.org for a vet near you. Since birds are prey animals, they do not show sickness until they are very ill. Try to visit the vet every year for a routine visit, and lab work regularly as well.
* Invest in a small, gram scale and weigh your bird weekly at the same time of day. A 5-10% or gradual drop in weight could signify a problem.
* Keep emergency supplies on-hand, a travel carrier ready for emergencies, and make sure bird-sitters know how to call your vet. Keeping a pillowcase under a chair cushion can make a great emergency carrier if the situation is urgent.
* Feather health involves access to regular bathing or showers, a quality diet comprised of a wide variety of wholesome foods, and lots of activities to keep that brilliant bird brain challenged and the body busy.
* Make sure your bird has access to 10-12 hours of sleep in a quiet area away from the TV and other family activities.
* Be aware of dangers such as ceiling fans; open doors; Teflon pans; chemical sprays, cleaning agents and perfumes; dangerous plants; and other pets.
* Avoid toxic foods such as chocolate, caffeine, sugar, greasy foods, avocado, liquor and all junk food in general.
* Learn to read your bird’s droppings to help track potential health problems. Avoid using bedding materials like corncob in the cage, these can be serious sources of bacteria.