Keeping our companion parrots safe and healthy is a top priority. Sure parrots are evolved to survive well on their own in the wild. However, the artificial environment of the human home can pose many dangers that a parrot would not be exposed to in the wild.
Being familiar with common household dangers is a must. But simply being familiar isn't enough. It is important to enact rules and systems into place that ensure that these dangers are removed or cannot be accidentally introduced. This article is by no means a definitive list but it is something to help get you thinking about bird safety.
Anything bad for people is already bad for parrots. Definitely no alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or narcotics. Coffee, tea, and chocolate are a big no-no for parrots because the light buzz effect we might get from them can cause heart problems and dehydration in parrots. Nothing with caffeine in it. And frankly no human drinks either. Parrots don't need to be drinking anything but water (nectar drinkers aside). A little bit of natural fruit juice can be safe but doesn't serve a purpose, better off just eating fruits then.
Parrots should not be given peanuts! The peanuts themselves aren't toxic but the shells can contain Aflatoxins which can be lethal. The risk just isn't worth it when there are plenty of safer nuts available. Excessively salty, sweet, or processed foods aren't toxic but they are bad. The more natural the better. Be careful to properly wash or peel skins from fruits as they can contain dangerous pesticides. Fruit pits/seeds are known to contain cyanide and should be avoided as well.
Avocado is another food that can be lethal if consumed by parrots. According to Donna Muscarella PHD, "Avocados are definitely toxic to parrots. They contain a cardiac glycoside ("persin") that leads to rapid cardiac arrest and death." While there have been some sightings of wild parrots consuming avocados, it is not understood if they have specific adaptations, natural dietary supplements, special selection skills, or if they do eventually succumb. For this reason, Dr. Muscarella concludes that "because avocados are so highly toxic to at least some species - and because there is no way to know this for a particular bird ahead of time- it is best to avoid feeding them."
Here is a video of Lorelei Tibbets LVT on the subject of intentional or unintentional feeding of avocados to parrots.
Other pets, particularly carnivorous pets such as cats, dogs, snakes, and ferrets can pose a life threatening danger to household birds. There are too many cases where the innocent dog that never hurt a fly catches a bird like a frisbee and that's the end of the bird.
However, another pet that can pose a big danger to a companion parrot is another parrot. Whether of the same species or not, even birds that get along can sometimes hurt or maim each other. It is important to give in depth consideration to keeping multiple parrots in direct contact of each other almost to the same degree as other kinds of pets. Also, parrots can harbor diseases or parasites so contact without quarantine can be dangerous as well.
Both household pot plants and woods can pose a hazard to your bird. Some woods, including oak and nutmeg can be dangerous. Obviously don't use these for perches but also take care that your bird isn't chewing up something that contains these. Plywood and MDF board can be dangerous because of the glues used to put them together. Certain pot plants can be dangerous as well. Here is a pretty extensive list.
Parrots are birds and birds can fly. Even with clipped wings, under certain circumstances, birds can fly just enough to fall into the same dangers that put flighted birds at risk. It is important to prevent the danger of ceiling fans, open doors, open windows, open water, and other dangerous things around the house. Furthermore, it's important to be careful not to slam a flying (or walking) bird with a door. It's important to hide/remove any toxic things around the home (or bird roamed area) that can be dangerous if chewed. Most of these will fall under environment anyway. But here's a more extensive flight safety article I wrote in the past.
There are many things that can harm our parrots around the house with or without them coming in direct contact. If they chew on wires, they can get electrocuted. There are many things that are toxic or just too dirty to be chewed. Care must be taken to prevent or supervise because left alone, you can only imagine the kind of trouble your parrot could get into. Teflon cookware, even used at a distance, can spew lethal fumes throughout the house. Aerosols sprays, scented candles, paints, and glue fumes can be dangerous as well. Avoid whenever possible. Keep the bird far away and the area well ventilated if unavoidable.
Perhaps the most underlooked danger to household parrots comes from humans themselves. Sure there are dangers such as mishandling or stepping on a bird. But the biggest danger still is complacency. Ignorance is just as dangerous but hopefully can be solved through learning. But complacency is being aware of things that are dangerous but doing them anyway. This type of mindset is what ultimately leads to harm to birds and it is the worst kind because it was avoidable.
The biggest reason people get complacent is because most of these hazards do not lead to instant death or do not necessarily cause harm every time they are encountered. Not every bite of avocado will be toxic, not every peanut will have aflatoxins, not every dog will try to eat the bird. However, over time, the continued exposure to these risks substantially increases the likelihood that the parrot will have long term health damage or death as a result. This is an article about how making excuses harms your bird.
There are so many dangers that are outside our knowledge or beyond our control. The least we can do to make our experience together safer is to take the known threats seriously and avoid them.
Rachel the Blue and Gold Macaw loves getting sprayed from a water bottle. Marianna sprays mist on and around Rachel and Rachel just soaks it all in. She dances around her Training Perches with her wings flapping to catch the mist. This is pretty typical for a rainforest parrot. Parrots from dry climates on the other hand (like Senegal Parrots, Budgerigars, etc) don't really like to shower much.
While Rachel can get really excited about a shower, Truman the Cape Parrot prefers baths. Meanwhile Kili the Senegal Parrot and Santina the Green-Winged Macaw are pretty indifferent to water. Either they don't want to get wet and resist or at best they do nothing. They just never get into it like Rachel does but I figure that when they aren't mad about getting wet, that these are the times they like it.
The best way to get your parrot used to showering is with a gentle spray mister. Use slightly warm water. Squirt the mist above the bird and let it fall onto the bird. Avoid squirting at the bird directly unless it likes it. The important thing is never to use a spray bottle for punishment or make showering an unpleasant experience. As long as you keep it enjoyable, it will be a great activity for you and your parrot to enjoy together.
Here's a video of Rachel getting sprayed from a water bottle.
After a long cold winter, spring has finally come. The weather is nice and getting the parrots outside is on people's minds. But for the parrots, wearing a harness is something long past. So what to do? This is where "reharness" training the parrots comes in!
My parrots all know how to put on a harness. They have all received the training to not be scared and know how to put the harness on. However, after such a winter that we didn't get to go out even once, their harness wearing skills are a bit rusty. They are less eager to put the harness on or don't quite remember how to get their heads into the collar. But all it takes is a little bit of reharness training to get them back to normal.
Out of my flock, Santina needed the most reminding and that is not surprising because she has least harness experience. After a treat or two, Kili already recalled exactly what to do. Truman, well he's a bit of a thick headed bird. In more ways than one! So he needed a little more work to help him remember how to get his big Poicephalus head through the collar. He was trying to assure me that he can get it in easily but that was for the wrong part! But with a bit of practice, he got it all sorted out as well.
The process of reharness training a parrot is quite simple. It's an expedited retrace of the steps it took for the bird to learn to wear a harness in the first place. If your parrot did not learn how to wear a harness in the first place, then there are no steps to retrace. First of all, if your parrot never wore a harness in the first place, you need to follow a procedure for teaching it in the first place. However, I am also addressing the people who managed to just get the harness on their parrot (like when it was a baby or maybe just by luck). If the steps taken to teach the parrot to wear a harness were not specific and memorable, then you have nothing to trace back on. In either case, my harness training solution is thoroughly explained between my book and harness training dvd. The book teaches you all the basic taming requisites before you can being harness training and the DVD has Santina demonstrate step by step as she learns to wear the harness for the first time. So if you have not followed this method initially, do that this time. Next time, the following reharness training steps will work for you.
Depending on how rusty the bird is will affect how much I need to go back to basics. Since none of my parrots were scared or uncomfortable with the harness, I immediately skipped the desensitization. Nothing bad ever happened with the harness or at least not since they've last worn them successfully so the good we initially established persists. All of the birds have remained tame through the winter because of continued handling so that required no work either. All they needed help with is remembering how to stick their heads in the collar and rekindling a desire to wear the harness at all.
Seeing the harness alone did not evoke a desire to put it on. However, the sight of the welcoming harness collar and a treat in my hand reminded them of the "harness trick" they had once learned to put the collar on. They quickly recalled the learning that had taken place some time ago and were back on track.
To aid with the harness retraining, I make the collar stick out in a more convenient manner so that the birds can find where to put their head. As they get better, I have them work a bit harder. Just like with all training, it has to start easy at first and then get progressively more challenging. I increase how much contact the harness makes and duration on subsequent success. If the process moves along smoothly, I move quickly. If I find any trouble spots, I slow down and work on those.
Not only has Kili been harness trained, but she has also been reharness trained so many times that it only takes flashing a treat to make her go back to putting the harness on right. This is the benefit of following reproducible procedures year after year.
When I get the birds outside for the first time of the season, I assume things will be a bit frightening so I take my time. I don't keep them out for too long at first. But it only takes a few minutes or sessions outside until things return to normal. The more years that this is repeated, the more quickly and easily it all comes back.
Three things I offer when it comes to harness training your parrot to safely go outside:
My Book - This will teach you what you need to be able to do before you can even begin harness training Harness Training DVD - Step by step procedure for harness training an already tame parrot Aviator Harness - Get your leash on sale from Parrot Wizard
This article is about giving medication to multiple parrots in a multi-parrot home. For instructions on giving medication to a single (particularly untrained) parrot, I previously wrote about giving medication to my Green-Winged Macaw.
My flock was diagnosed with Clostridium so now they all have to take medication for 21 days. Santina previously had it and received treatment but it did not stop the other birds from catching it as well. It is not clear if it is the food, environment, or other bird that is the cause. But regardless the entire flock needs to be medicated. The medication is administered orally once a day. The trouble is the duration for which it has to be given. This is a long enough of a period that the parrots must be trained to accept medication. Clever trickery may get you by a few days or a week. But anything longer and the parrot must be on board.
In most cases where a parrot requires medication in a multi-parrot home, the rest of the flock should receive the medication even if they don't show symptoms. My birds all seem to have it because they have been having smelly poop.
So on to the process of medicating a bunch of birds together. This may seem like a lot of work but actually if done right makes things a heck of a lot easier! Using modeling and a healthy dose of competition can get the birds to be more excited about doing something undesirable (like taking medication)!
I medicate the entire flock together and have turned it into a fun game for them. I have been taking advantage of each of my bird's strong points while avoiding their weaknesses in this medication process. This makes it appear to each of the other birds that the one they are watching really loves getting medication.
Kili is a super trained parrot so for her I set taking medication to be like a trick. I taught her to target the syringe, then to sip water, and finally to sip and swallow. Thus when I make the unexpected switch to real medication she just takes it. Santina is a great follower. She likes to do what the others are doing. So between the original medication sessions that I had with her modeling off of me and the recent ones of modeling from the other birds, she is doing very well. Truman is a bit of a runt and doesn't want to take medication but I've been working past that with him as well. He drinks water like a camel so I've been letting him get thirsty and then enjoy drinking a lot of water from the syringe. Because each bird appears eager to participate in the medication process (although each for different reasons) it encourages the remaining birds to cooperate and try harder. Nobody wants the competition to get more!
Here are some more elements that have made the process so successful. I practice the "medication process" with just water in the syringe twice a day although medication only comes once. For every 1 sip of medication, the birds are probably getting 40 sips of water. This makes the undesirable medication not only unpredictable but also fairly negligible in the greater scheme of getting water from the syringe. The birds get pellets as treats so this makes them more thirsty for water sips from the syringe. The pellets also soak up medication in their beaks and ensure that it is swallowed. Also I stopped providing water in the cage and have been giving it by hand only to ensure that the birds desire fluids at the necessary time. Spitting out and not receiving the medicine is far worse. So instead I let them sip some of their drinking water from the syringe and the rest they get from a bowl in my hands. This is similar to when we travel so they are perfectly used to it.
The thirstier/hungrier birds are far less picky. They used to spit out pellets that got medication on them from inside their beaks. Truman in particular would shake his head and spit out the medication. But now with this training system in place, the birds are far more cooperative. With practice, they now know the routine very well and are even more cooperative. In their competition with each other to get water and treats, they seem to forget their resistance to the medication and it is a win/win for everyone.
It is important to understand that the objective is not to simply get the medicine into the bird but to succeed in completing the entire medication process. Tricking or forcing the bird to take medication will only work a few times. In an emergency, you do what you gotta do. But if the bird is in condition to be trained, it is far far better to have a bird that wants to take medication than a bird that flies away or bites you because it knows what is coming. This is why even after the birds get the real medication, I keep practicing with them with the water. In fact, I would say they get the real medication about a quarter of the way into the session. This is when motivation is highest and it makes it least predictable as to when it will happen. Since they all come over to me when they see a syringe, I know I have succeeded in applying positive reinforcement to taking medication!
Being single with parrots isn't easy. When it comes to dating, it's kind of like being divorced with kids. People look at you funny. They don't want to inherit your feathered children problems. I think I can speak for a lot of single parrot owners that it certainly makes things difficult.
My commitment is first and foremost to my parrots. They were there for me when I was alone, when I was happy, and just the same when I was sad. My parrots are family and you can't turn your back on family. So, if you want to be my lover, you've got to love my parrots too.
Yet, finding a potential match required that she would accept my parrots but not have other pets herself. A bit selfish, but what could I do when I was already committed to my birds? I wasn't looking for someone who has parrots or even necessarily likes them, but just someone who could accept them as part of me.
The kind of person that could say “it's me or the parrot” isn't even the kind of person I could have a relationship with regardless. If someone could think that way, then what would stop them from saying “it's me or the TV” or “it's me or your family” etc. No. The way someone feels about my bird family is how they feel about me.
So here's the story of how I met my lovebird, my perfect match. The story goes back to this spring when my little rascal Truman went out on his city adventure. While Truman was lost, I got some help from a parrot loving guy called Ronen. Ronen didn't find Truman, but he helped give me spirit to go on searching after 2 hard days and he took me to the place where Truman would be found. Ronen and I became friends and began to take our parrots out together. We started the NYC Parrot Adventures Group together to invite even more parrot loving New Yorkers to join us with their birds.
I remember the first day Marianna came out to meet us in Coney Island with her Blue and Gold Macaw named Rachel. She was late and rather shy. My first reaction was of annoyance. It was a cold gloomy evening and I was just anxious to take my birds home. I had Kili and Truman with me. She was so excited to meet the celebrity birds that she just couldn't get the words out or be herself. I guess I can say at that point, I didn't even like her.
Marianna came to further parrot group outings and the first time I really noticed her was the way she handled Truman. Truman would just melt away in her hands. I caught a glimpse of her kind and loving nature. She held and caressed Truman endlessly and he would close his eyes in delight. Although Truman will tolerate anyone, he is still choosing about who he actually likes. I've been passing that feathered monkey around long enough to be able to really tell.
Like in a romantic comedy, when bumped together by others in our group (like sending us to get food), we would just stand there ignoring each other. It's easy to go on making a fool of yourself or talk about parrots to everyone else. But when it comes to talking to the pretty girl you have a crush on, you just end up looking mad because you don't know what to say. What Marianna couldn't say to my face, she told me through her love of my parrots. She communicated through them how she felt. Marianna volunteered to help me with Santina's Roar shoot and was a big help. With something specific to do together, we began talking and we began to discover how right we are for each other.
Marianna told me that she was leaving for 3 weeks on vacation and didn't even have a place arranged for her macaw to stay. She said that as a last resort she'd just board it at her local bird store. I thought about it and the next day called to let her know I'd board her bird for her! For 3 weeks, Rachel was a trained parrot! I didn't have time to teach her tricks but I focused on bonding and good behavior. Now Rachel is by no means a bad bird. She's only a 2 year old macaw so quite young. But in the last year as she has been getting older, she has begun to bite people other than her owner. I had previously worked on step-up with Rachel outdoors, so once under my influence, I had no trouble getting Rachel to step up. However, Rachel would not let me pet her head or hold her. So during the time Rachel stayed with me, I got her comfortable being pet, held, grabbed, and putting her harness on. As you can imagine, Marianna and I stayed in close contact about things while she was away. Marianna came back from her trip not only to find a tamer parrot, but also an invitation to go out on a date.
Things have really taken off ever since. Not only did it turn out we have a common interest in parrots but also just about everything else as well. It's a one of a kind match that started as something more akin to a rivalry. Now we do everything together.
What's great is that our parrots get along with each other and with both of us. All of our parrots are great with both of us. Even Kili, who has a history of terrorizing people I'd invite home, likes Marianna and asks her for head-scratches. Truman may well like Marianna better than me. Kili, sitting on my shoulder, will let Marianna hug me and be near without any jealousy (for a Senegal, that is pretty unbelievable). Santina, although she doesn't want to be touched, likes Marianna too. Santina starts dancing and talking whenever Marianna is near. Also Santina gets along well with Rachel. And Rachel gets along with me. That's our awesome parrot family.
Getting the parrots to get along with each person and each other is no coincidence. It is the culmination of years of training, the right environment, and the right approach. Marianna and I make sure to include our parrots in our lives in such a way that makes them enjoy being part of this group in harmony rather than rivalry. They all get their special attention both privately and as a group. We include the birds on outings and in our daily routines. I left a big travel cage with Marianna so that Kili or Truman can come spend a week at a time with her and get even more used to things. Our parrots' approval is probably the most important of all and it is evident that we have it.
So all you parrot singles out there, I want to introduce you to a concept called parrot mingles. Join a parrot club, volunteer at a rescue, hang around your local bird store, start a parrot outing group. Who knows maybe you or your parrot will find their match!
I just want to mention Kristine who met her boyfriend Justin while taking her Senegal Parrot Qubit to the park. She's a member of our NYC Parrot Adventures Group and is working on taming Justin to be comfortable with her birdie. Show your parrot love and maybe some day it will help you find yours as well!