A Little About Parrots…

I could probably talk about parrots for days. The thousands of different species of parrots. Their unique anatomy and physiology. How intelligent they are and all of the little quirks you discover when working with them. For now, I just wanted to touch on a few important things to consider when owning one of these amazing creatures.

First of all, when thinking about purchasing or rescuing a parrot, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Parrots live a LONG time. I mean, a REALLY LONG time. Many parrots live an average of 40 to 60 years, and some have been reported to live up to 75! This means you should consider long and hard if you are prepared to make such a long term commitment for the care of one of these amazing animals before considering your purchase.

The second important thing to consider is the amount of attention these animals need. They are extremely social animals and some have been likened to having the minds of an eight year old child. They need a lot of human interaction in order to be happy. Many of the parrots who are left alone for long periods of time throughout the day and are not socialized frequently develop a lot of behavioral issues, including screaming, feather picking, and aggression.

If you already own a parrot, or despite the above paragraphs, are still prepared to take the leap, there are many important things to know about their husbandry. I’ve already talked about how social they are, and a well trained bird is key to developing a good relationship with you, and to help keep them preoccupied. Some other important things to know are about their housing and diet.

Picking a cage for your bird can be very important. For a larger parrot, the cage should allow the bird to extend his wings out completely without hitting the sides of the cage. The bigger the cage, the better and the happier your bird will be! Many of these cages are made out of bird safe wrought iron. If you are interested in making a cage for your bird, remember they are much stronger than you think and their beaks have an amazing ability to break and bend almost anything you put in front of their face. Also, lead and zinc are toxic if ingested so be sure none of the caging material include these. Parrots should have lots of toys to play with and things to chew on. Toys that promote foraging behavior (contains their food so they have to manipulate the toy to get it out) are great. See the website birdsjustwannahavefun.com on some advice for making toys for your bird.

The diet you feed your birds is extremely important, and getting them on a good, well-rounded diet early is key. Birds are often too smart for their own good, and they learn early in life what IS food, and what IS NOT food. Therefore, trying to switch a bird from one diet to another once they have reached adulthood can be very difficult. For young birds, introducing them to many types of foods is critical. Bird seeds are one of the most common diets fed to parrots. They are crunchy and delicious, and I liken them to feeding a bird French fries. They are high in fat, and low in about 30 vitamins and minerals. Parrots fed a seed only diet long term tend to be overweight and show signs of nutrient deficiency. They are also predisposed to very serious medical conditions, including atherosclerosis (plaque build up in blood vessels) and respiratory infections. Therefore, I recommend feeding seeds only in small amounts and as a treat. Another easy option is feeding a bird pellets. There are many different kinds, one of which we carry at Mesa called Harrison’s Bird Food. These pellets are similar to the kibble you feed your dog and cat. It contains all of the vital nutrients that a bird needs in a small convenient package. Some of the healthiest, happiest birds I see “eat what the owner eats”… this of course must mean that you don’t eat fast food every day. But, if you regularly cook meals for yourself that are well rounded and healthy, there is a very good chance these meals are also healthy for your bird. Birds can happily eat vegetables (except avocado!), fruits, pastas, and legumes. And if your bird sees you eating this meal, he is more inclined to eat it as well because you are a member of his flock and are telling him that this is actual food! I generally recommend trying to get most parrots on a pelleted diet (especially for convenience, if you are out of town, or if you don’t cook a meal), and using other healthy foods you eat to help supplement the diet.

There are many other important things to know about your pet parrot. First, they are VERY sensitive to airborn toxins, so never smoke or light candles near them. Keep the area well ventilated when you use aerosolized cleaners in the house. Also, they have been shown to be very sensitive to the Teflon coating on some cookware. If a pan with Teflon is overheated, it can release fumes that are deadly to parrots. As mentioned above, it is thought the some part of avocados are toxic to birds, so these should be avoided. Lead and zinc can be toxic if ingested.

It is recommended that all birds have a yearly examination with a veterinarian, as birds are masters of disguise! Because they are technically “prey” species (meaning they may be hunted by other animals in the wild) they do not ever want to show signs that they are ill. This often means that by the time you notice that your parrot is not feeling well, they are actually really sick. Signs to watch for are any missed meals, sitting with fluffed feathers, not being as active or interactive, or sitting on the floor of the cage. If you see anything concerning, your parrot should be seen right away by a veterinarian who is comfortable working with parrots.

Whew! That was a quick intro into the life of owning a parrot. There is a LOT more to learn about them, and I would be happy to help you out if I see your bird for a visit here at Mesa! At that time we can address any questions you have about husbandry, diet, and training!

Dr. Julia Katzenbach, DVM

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