What size pellets should I feed my parrot is a frequent question I receive. And now that I have become a Roudybush distributor, I am even more in tune with the different kinds of pellets out there. However, I somewhat disagree with the manufacturer recommended pellet sizes and some of the recommendations out there in regards to pellet size.
So first off, keep in mind that all pellets from a manufacturer (of the same line) contain the same nutritional content regardless of the parrot that is pictured on the package. Even if the package says that the pellet is for Amazons, they only mean that the size is recommended for Amazons and not that the diet is especially modified for the requirements of Amazons. Unfortunately species specific diets are not generally available.
Now when it comes to pellet size, the most important thing is how it is relative to the bird itself. Feeding excessively large pellets can make it difficult to impossible for a bird to eat. On the other hand, feeding excessively small pellets can leave it uninterested. Generally though, too small is safer than too large.
In this article I am going to refer to pellet sizes based on Roudybush because it is the pellet I am most familiar with. I think other manufacturers sell roughly similar sized pellets or refer to the size as relative to each of my birds for reference. Besides a few mini sizes, Roudybush basically comes in small, medium, and large. I have a small, medium, and large parrot so it is a perfect opportunity to compare the sizes.
For really smaller parrots like GCC, Cockatiel, Lovebird, Parrotlet, Budgie, the pellets I will be referring to in this article are too big. Mini or Crumble sizes are good for those birds. Choosing between the two really comes down to what your bird likes best because both are small enough and recommended.
Once you get to a Senegal Parrot sized bird or larger, you have more freedom of choice between the three main pellet sizes. My feeling is that the medium Roudybush pellets are actually perfect for all parrots small, medium, and large (again, excluding really small parrots). This has to do not only with parrot sizes but also personalities.
Initially I started out feeding medium to save money by using the same size for my Senegal and Cape Parrot. But with time, I discovered that even if I only had one or the other, medium would still be ideal. The Senegal is accustomed to eating big foods. Whether it's a baby carrot, a grape, or a piece of broccoli, these are all way big in relation to the size of a Senegal. Yet, she is used to manipulating large foods and gravitates toward them. The Medium size pellets are big enough that she has to hold and work on them, but far from overwhelming. I'm not even going to get into why Medium size pellets are good for medium size parrots.
Now when it comes to the Macaw, conveniently Medium size pellets turned out to be ideal for her as well. The Macaw on the other hand is used to dealing with smaller foods relative to her size. Whether it's working a pine nut out of the shell or a sunflower seed, she is accustomed to eating stuff that's pretty small relative to her hulking size. I have tried small, medium, and large pellets on all 3 of the birds and have found that in a bind they could eat any of the three sizes. However, the medium is not only the central size for 3 birds, but it is also their favorite for their personalities.
Another reason I like to use medium pellets is because it enables me to keep track of how much the birds are eating. In all three sized parrots, I am able to count out the amount of pellets they get and be able to see if something is left over. If the pellets are too small, it is difficult to keep count. On the other hand, excessively large pellets take long to consume and don't work as well for treats. Medium Roudybush actually works as a superb treat for training my parrots.
So when you are picking a pellet size for your parrot, don't worry about the size that is recommended on the package. If you have a lot of small through large parrots, just get the medium and feed it to everybody to save the hassle and money of getting different sized pellets. If you have just one bird, try the medium first and only if it's a problematic size, try changing to small or large. At this point, even if I had just one of the 3 birds, I would still choose to feed the medium Roudybush pellets for the reasons mentioned.
A few months ago, I went ahead against all odds and harness trained Santina, a 14 year old rescue Green-Winged Macaw. I wasn't sure how long it would take or how difficult it would be, but it didn't matter because I was determined to make it work. I went in figuring that it could take a month or more as Santina is not only older but also a rescue bird.
The most important thing going into the harness training was that for the 4 months I had her since adoption, that we worked on all prerequisite training that would be necessary. I had already taught her to step up, was confident she wouldn't normally bite me, was able to touch and pet her anywhere, could open her wings, and could grab and lift her. More importantly, I made sure that she learned how to learn and that training would work. I had already target trained her and built up differential motivation for different training tasks. I had not taught her a single trick though. So we were going into this more as a typical pet scenario than a performing parrot.
One thing I learned is that the parrot isn't going to wear the harness just because. They are all resistant to it and it will only get progressively harder to put a harness on a bird that doesn't want to wear it. This is why my biggest recommendation to everyone who hasn't put a harness on their bird before, and is going to do so for the first time, is to use this training method right from the start. Don't try it on to see how your parrot reacts. You will regret it. It will make the training many times more difficult and ultimately take more time and effort. Even if you think your parrot is ultra tame and easy about it, just don't. Kili had already been performing many tricks and was a superbly trained parrot when I stuck the harness on her the first time, well it was a disaster and I had to start much more behind than if I jumped straight to the training. Your parrot just isn't going to like it so teach it to like it preemptively for much greater success.
Santina's harness training took less than a week. Actually it was just 4 days of training and 2 days of preemptive harness desensitization. She wasn't really scared of the harness in the first place but I went through those steps just in case anyway to play it safe. Then I took my time and taught her to put the harness on. It is soooo easy to put a harness on a cooperative parrot that works with you as opposed to leaning against you. When I need to move her wings or move the harness certain ways, Santina leans with me to make it go easier. This is why, even with a tame bird it is really worth doing the training to make the harness donning easier and to prevent any chance of scaring the tame bird accidentally.
I'm really happy how Santina's Harness Training DVD came out because it shows the process in great detail start to finish on a bird that isn't a baby, a bird that wasn't raised by me, and a bird that isn't trick trained. If Santina can do it, then any bird can. And now this DVD is available for purchase. Get a copy of my book or a harness and the DVD is half off. If you get both a book and a harness from my site, then the DVD is free!
Here's the thing you must remember to be successful with the harness training approach that I present, your parrot must meet the taming prerequisites or harness training is unlikely to be successful. How can you expect a parrot to allow you to move and stuff its wings into the harness straps if it won't let you pull its wings open under normal circumstances? How will a parrot be comfortable with you manipulating a harness on if it isn't even comfortable with you touching it? These things should not create additional distress to the parrot on top of this novel harness. This is why these must absolutely be worked on first. Furthermore, harness training takes greater than usual motivation for training. These are extensive topics and far more than could possibly covered in a single DVD so the Harness Training DVD does not cover any of these topics. The Harness Training DVD is specific to taking that tame and prepared parrot and specifically teaching it to wear a harness. All of the basics required prior to beginning this harness training are covered in my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. This is why I offer that special combination of harness + book with free harness training DVD because this is the best combination to ensure success with the harness from the start.
In the 2 months since learning to wear a harness, Santina has made colossal progress with going outside. She went from being quite scared and choking my arm with her grip to enjoying outings all around the city. I've been taking her on the subway and to remote places and she is getting to enjoy time outside and together with me thanks to this awesome harness capability. Here's a video of Santina putting her harness on entirely for the very first time (2 months ago) and trailer to her Harness Training DVD.
When you keep multiple parrots, particularly of certain species, they will eventually get into fights. The main thing is keeping these as painless and damage free as possible. Besides keeping the birds separate and never having them out together, there is unfortunately little you can do. But here are a few tips to minimize fighting:
-All birds in cage or out (if in same room as cages or they are accessible) -Don't clip wings, flighted birds can get away -Avoid provoking jealousy between birds -Give them tasks to do be it training, toys, or activity -Don't leave bored birds out when your mind is elsewhere -Keep competition for food/toys/attention reasonable -Know your species and how they get along with others -Avoid over exciting the birds -Keep your relationship friendly but don't encourage mating behavior -Manage hormonal levels through light, food, and resources -Socialize the parrots and take them out together to get used to cooperation -Use training to teach the birds to tolerate each other to establish a baseline compatibility -Keep interactions brief enough that they don't get too fed up with each other or bored to the point of wanting to fight
I really strongly discourage clipping when it comes to birds that don't get along or get into fights. I know that on one hand the fear of them getting in each other's way exists because they are more mobile. But on the other hand, and more importantly, flight lets them get away. The worst fights and greatest damage occurs when two parrots incapable of flight tumble on the floor (or one corners the other in a cage). Clipped parrots find ways of getting at each other anyway or can end up on the floor, this puts them in a helpless situation and makes them resort to fighting. At this point both birds have no choice but to fight as flying away isn't an option. When left out in the open, parrots will tend to avoid fights by flying away or fly out of the fight before things get too dangerous.
Here's a video of Kili my Senegal Parrot attacking the much larger Truman Cape Parrot. These sorts of fights end very quickly and impossible to predict. That's why it is rare to have them on video. It just so happens that I was videoing my Q&A video when this fight erupted so I have the footage to present to you. It's particularly interesting to watch in slow motion and realize what is actually going on. Otherwise it all goes down in the blink of an eye and the birds fly their separate ways.
So it's been 6 months since I adopted Santina; but it's also been a few months since the macaw was introduced to the other two. I'd like to take a little time to talk about the flock dynamics that are emerging.
Initially, Kili had been an only bird. Then for a short time she shared the household with a budgie and eventually with Truman. The dynamic between Kili and Truman had always been where Kili was boss. Kili could take any perch from Truman at any moment. Truman got used to being the "little bird." Now things changed yet again with the addition of another bird.
Whenever considering the addition of another bird it is absolutely essential to consider how this bird will fit into the existing flock structure. You can't just simply say "I want this kind" and disregard whether existing birds will agree or not. When it comes to Kili, I know that she will bully any bird that is smaller or several times her size. This is why when I got Truman, I was only considering birds that were bigger than her that could handle the aggression. Even at triple her weight and 1.3x her size, Truman tends to lose most fights to her.
Santina is obviously much bigger than the other two but her personality also plays a big factor. She's not aggressive, she's slow, hulking, lazy. These qualities make her a lesser threat to the existing smaller birds. In fact, she would not go after them and they could out fly her any time, even if she could fly. So that's one side of the issue eliminated. On the flip side, the biggest danger is if the little guys put themselves in the way.
Initial introductions were to build favorable first impressions, start peacefully, and get the birds used to being around each other without causing trouble. However, beyond this early acceptance, the rest they have to work out on their own. This happens little by little through experimentation as the birds cross each others paths (whether intentionally or inadvertently).
The only trouble I ran into was that Santina finished her hazelnut quickly and started to pry Truman's nut out of his beak and scared him. The trick is to keep them busy with more nuts or to separate the birds before any trouble can erupt. This gives them a chance to get used to being around each other and not have aggressive thoughts. As sitting near each other begins to work, trick training the parrots on the same perch is also a great idea to teach cooperation.
Another thing that greatly improves the flock dynamic is taking the parrots outside together. Even if enemies at home, they tend to stick together outdoors against all the other mayhem. This socialization experience builds better bonds between the parrots that you bring home with you (with time). I've been taking the parrots out two and sometimes even three at a time. I put them down on fences or benches in close proximity to each other and keep them busy with training and food. They behave very well together in this type of setting.
Interestingly, Truman was never scared of Santina (more than triple his weight and size) from the very beginning. Kili, the bird that fearlessly bullies Truman, stays away from Santina. Kili is a true bully, she'll only pick fights she knows she can win. Truman on the other hand is the bumbling dodo. Truman will cross Santina's path thoughtlessly. And I want to reiterate that he's doing this in a non-aggressive way. When Kili goes after Truman, you can tell it is with malicious intentions. Truman on the other hand, doesn't actually go after Santina but he walks by her entirely focused on whatever he is after. Truman does not notice the far bigger macaw perched there and brushes right by her. His behavior comes off as bold. But his boldness is not in him thinking that he can take on the bigger bird but him not thinking at all. This is how Truman lands himself in trouble all the time.
This is exactly what happens between Truman and Santina. They have potential together as they are both non-aggressive birds but Truman is a bit of a dummy and puts himself in her way. Half the time this happens too quickly for Santina to react. Other times she runs away not knowing how this little bird can be coming right at her. Sometimes she puts her beak out defensively though. She does not attack or bite but simply tries to defend herself. Truman has been known to try to land on her and she needs to send him a reminder that her head is not a landing pad. Here's a video that perfectly illustrates the sort of character that Truman is:
It's been nearly six months since I adopted Santina from Lazicki's. The progress since then has been monumental and this is an update to mention most of it. I have gone from a bird that wouldn't even step up for me to being able to take my entire flock out to Coney Island wearing harnesses.
Here's a list of the things Santina learned during this period: -Step up (inherited) -Touch her (inherited) -Head scratches (inherited) -Go in carrier -Target -Grab -Flip over -Take medication -Open wings -Getting along with other birds -Put on Harness -Socialization (don't bite others)
Santina was already known to be able to step up and cuddle with certain people, but this certainly wasn't the case with me on first encounter. So not only did I work on inheriting those qualities she already had, but I improved them to the maximum extent. I improved her step up reliability to 100%, got her comfortable being touched anywhere as necessary, and went on to do a lot more with her. I set lenient goals and always exceeded expectations. For example I was ready to have to take weeks to get her to step up but she was already doing so within a few days, I was ready to take a month to harness train her but did so in under a week, I hoped to be able to take her to Coney Island before the end of the summer and was already doing so a few weeks since harness training her. All in all, progress has been very efficient and she is doing stupendously.
Santina has been learning to get along with the other birds
I would estimate that I spent an average of 10 minutes twice a day training Santina. Some days sessions were as much as 30 minutes but other days I skipped training entirely. It's not a lot of time but it was always a focused and goal oriented time. For each specific thing I taught her, we would have a burst of focused training and in between training new things we would just take time off or review known behaviors. The time off between training to let things sink in is nearly as important as the time training itself.
This DVD features Santina and covers the entire harness training process from start to finish. You can see the exact steps I took to teach her to want to wear the harness and assist me in putting it on. The DVD covers 6 days of training and the 50 minute section of harness training equates to about 1/4 scale. In other words, some repetitions were cut out and the real training was only about 4 times as much as what you see in the DVD. Put a different way, that's just 3 hours of training or 6x 30 minute sessions. That's nothing! In a single outing, I can spend more time out with Santina wearing a harness than all the training that it took!
The secret is, well watch the DVD for secrets. But what I want to say is that you really have to see the DVD in conjunction with my book. The DVD is strictly about harness training and does not teach how to do training, how to manage motivation, etc. The approach demonstrated in the DVD presumes a moderately tame parrot that is capable of at least step up, being touched, being grabbed, targeting, and having its wings pulled open. All of these things are covered in my book and are absolutely mandatory requisites to even think of beginning harness training. I don't know how some people think they will stick a harness on a bird that bites them and won't even step up. Not gonna happen.
But all things said, I taught Santina all those requisites in about 4 months really taking my time. Then I taught her to wear a harness in under a week and spent another week or two getting her used to going outside. Some days I would take her out twice just so she would be more used to being outside and wearing the harness. In 2 months since harness training Santina, I had already gone so far as to take her to Coney Island (a really busy amusement area), on the Subway into NYC, and out with my other two parrots at the same time. This article and video aren't meant to teach you what to do but rather to inspire what you can do with your birds. All you need is some love, time, patience, and some Wizard's tools to help you in the process.