I have been preparing to move to a new house for over a year now. The renovations have been ongoing and delayed. As a part of the move, I had a big bird room being built and this was an opportunity to house any sized parrot I could dream of.
About this time last year I began looking into acquiring a baby Green-Winged Macaw. I was on a waiting list for a baby once eggs were hatched. Infertile eggs and cold temperatures kept pushing things back until what was supposed to be my baby hatched in the spring. The plan was to acquire an unweened baby macaw to be trained for outdoor freeflight. By that point, I have been noting tremendous success indoor freeflying Kili & Truman and craved the challenge of flying a parrot outside. But according to most expert sources that I had encountered, the consensus was that you can only succeed with outdoor freeflight with a large parrot that was weened by the trainer. Furthermore the bird was to become a performer much like Kili & Truman and I was warned that anything but a baby might not be good for that purpose.
Note: hand feeding unweened baby parrots and/or outdoor freeflight bears a high level of risk and is complicated beyond the scope of any advice I can give. Virtually all pet parrot owners should not attempt either and those who do should seek out expert advice.
I don't believe in adopting rescue birds just because or simply out of sympathy. I see a lot of people in the bird community burn out because of these reasons. I think rescue parrots should be adopted on merit and benefit to bird and owner. There are too many reasons to go over here but there are definite pros/cons to adopting and there are plenty of cases where adopting a rescue rivals getting a baby. I may write another article later about how it turned out better to adopt Santina.
Finding the right rescue is not necessarily an easy matter either. You have to research around and find the right rescue with the right attitude and most importantly the right bird for you! This may require some distant travel but for a bird that will live with you a lifetime is not something to skimp on! I had already been looking nationwide for a suitable baby so distance made little difference on finding a rescue. When I learned that Lazicki's Bird House & Rescue is in Rhode Island, that felt like right in my backyard compared to the far search I had been making.
The first thing you want to learn when choosing a rescue (after all there are many bird rescues but you only have the ability to support one at a time) is about their reputation in the bird community. Talk to local bird clubs, people who have adopted from that rescue, and volunteers at that rescue to get an impression what it's all about. I was hearing about Lazicki's in the news, from other rescues, and from adopters so I already had a favorable first impression. The rescue had several Green-Winged Macaws but everyone thought off the bat that Santina would be the right one for me. Given that those people have been around the bird and I haven't it was wise to take their advice and then test it out for myself. The next step was to go and visit the rescue and the bird.
To an extent it does matter what kind of care the rescue provides the birds. Naturally supporters of rescues want to support the ones that do a good job and let the ones that do a poor job go bust. However, it is impossible to hold them to the highest standards. They do things on a tight budget, they have a lot of birds, etc. So discounting these things, the things to look for are that the birds are healthy, treated properly, and that the rescue's policies are acceptable. Things like cleanliness, out of cage time, cage size, etc can be discounted from ideal (as long as they are not abysmal) as the rescue is only a temporary location for the birds. You want to look for minimum standards being met at the rescue and use that as an opportunity to provide maximum ones in your own home.
I won't spend too much time commenting on the appearance of the rescue facility when I visited because they will have moved to a new location by the time this article is released. So there's no sense in analyzing the facility I was visiting that they were in the process of replacing. The things that I didn't like were much the same as would be the case in most any rescue: the birds are clipped, not trained, cages are too small, etc. What was more important was that the rescue was open to the ideas of training, flight, cage-free lifestyle, etc. What I would not accept is a rescue that would mandate me to clip the bird or engage in similar unacceptable practices. I did not have any expectations to find a flighted rescue macaw.
I visited the rescue a month prior to adoption to meet Santina and go over preparations I would need to make in order to adopt her. We discussed diet, space requirements, behavior, and medical care. Santina did not want to step up for me but Steve did put her on my arm. She gave me a few nips but otherwise was content to just sit on my arm and preen herself. What I found was that she is not aggressive but rather regressive. In other words she does not come over to bite you but if you come after her, then she will. This is a much easier situation to work with. Just don't do the things that make the bird have to defend itself (and that is usually unwanted handling).
When it comes to adoption fee, I was not particularly interested. I knew it would be less than I had already agreed to pay for a baby but more importantly I knew it would be negligible compared to the cost of keeping the parrot long term. In a single year that bird could chew through more toys, food, or perches than the price I'd pay for her at the rescue. In fact, without even knowing what the adoption fee would normally be, I offered $1000 to the rescue for hooking me up with such an awesome bird. I had since learned that I donated double what the adoption fee would have been. I'm glad that I did because the rescue can really use the help right now and they had done the best they could for what would become my bird! You can't put a price on a living/loving creature; you can only do your best to support the rescue/store/breeder for being a temporary care giver. This is why I want to encourage everyone to give as much as you can to rescues and don't look at it as a cheap alternative. Nothing about keeping parrots is cheap. (In making preparations with the avian vet for Santina's upcoming first visit, I learned that it would cost over $800 for all the testing she would require. I would have felt terrible if I had paid any less an adoption fee for the entire bird!)
Steve, the founder of the rescue, is a nice guy (even if he tells you that he doesn't give a damn about you as long as the bird is ok!). His heart is in the right place and he is foremost concerned about the long term welfare of the birds. He shares my view that flight is essential for parrots and that they enjoy working for food (even if they are unable to provide those opportunities at the rescue). On adoption day, Steve and I went over pictures of the place I'd be keeping Santina and took care of some paperwork. Then we went over to check out Santina. I could tell that she did not want to step up for me so I tried to divert the animosity by chatting with Steve nearby.
I learned that Santina was hatched on September 13, 1999, had a single owner who had to give her up for personal medical reasons, and that she had a tendency to hate men. Also it turned out Santina was previously named Santino and thought to be a male until she laid an egg at the rescue. Otherwise little is known about her past and I would be left to discover her behavior and personality on my own.
Santina did not want to step onto my arm and tried to bite. Steve forced her onto my arm and then Santina gave my arm a bit of a bite. There's no question why she bit. She did not want to go and then was forced to so she bit in order to not have to be on my arm. A large part of the problem was that the bird was bonded to Steve, had nothing to gain, and everything to lose by stepping up for me. She was already fed, uninterested, and defensive. She could not be sure if I was sturdy or safe so her best course of action was to bite rather than step up. This is one place I fault the rescue on not using socialization techniques to make visitors a highlight of the birds' day rather than a downside. It certainly makes the prospect and decision of adopting a parrot that does little more than bite you quite a difficult one.
The decision to adopt Santina was bitter-sweet. From a logical stand point she was a good bird, the right kind, and had a lot of potential. But in the introductory phase there was little bond or relationship between us that would be indicative of any sort of preference. Furthermore the rescue gave me little stimulation that the bird was ideal for me. Most of what I was hearing was about how I'd be ideal for the bird and little the other way around. What I had to remind myself of was the fact that a clever rescue could have just as well manipulated the situation (like a used car salesman) to make it seem like a good idea. Ultimately the decision and the risk was entirely mine. I decided that with my training capability I should be able to turn any bird around regardless if it chose me or not.
Santina did not want to go into the carrier. Let me rephrase that, she desperately did not want to go into the carrier and Steve had to do a double take to shove her in. Absolutely not the approach I'd wanna use but this was not the time to stand around figuring it out. I learned that Santina is phobic of carriers during that episode and also while walking her near a carrier since. Once in the carrier, I wasted no time loading her in the car and heading home.
The giant macaw clung to the bars during the span of most of the car ride despite the perch I put inside for her. At home I opened the door and tried to coax her out. After the bites she had given me at the rescue I was a bit leery of putting my arm in a confined space with her. Worse yet, every time I reached in her beak would come for me so I was unsure if she was using it to hold on or bite. Eventually I just bit the bullet and went for it and I was relieved to know that she was trying to step up rather than bite. I took her out and set her up in the smaller of the two bird rooms that will provide her temporary lodging. Since she has been accustomed to a cage for so long, I did not want to overwhelm her by letting her loose in the big room all at once.
Within 24 hours Santina has been stepping up for me, dancing, and taking scratches. This will be the subject of future blog posts so be sure to check back. In the meantime, here is the video of Santina at the rescue and coming home!
I got myself a macaw today for Christmas. Actually this has been in the works for a year now but today was finally the day. As you may know I was supposed to be getting a baby Green-Winged Macaw from a breeder earlier this year but unfortunately the unnamed baby passed away at the breeder's before I ever got to meet it. That heart-breaking situation made me think twice about getting a baby and I began looking at rescue options.
Over the last few months, I got to know about Lazicki's Bird House & Rescue from several sources. I first heard of them at the Connecticut Club Birdie Bash when I inquired about rescue macaws. The organization was later mentioned to me by others and I heard about it in the news.
Originally I had my own ideas about what I wanted in my third, and most likely final, bird. It had to be huge! It had to be friendly, motivated, a ham on stage, and most importantly flighted. When you deal with rescue, you don't necessarily get complete say over what you want and it's important to see how the bird likes you just the same. Without even meeting the bird, the rescue had already picked out the one for me. They knew what I was looking for and they knew the birds best so they said that Santina would work best for me.
I flew out to the Rhode Island rescue a month back to meet the bird and learn about her. I waited until after my big circum-Caribbean trip (videos coming soon) to bring her home. So today was the big day to finally get the bird. Because of weather, I opted to drive to the rescue rather than fly. It took over 9 hours of driving there and back but the trip was well worth it; the cargo I brought back: priceless.
I will be sharing more about the adoption process, Santina, and the homecoming in days to come but in the mean time here are some pictures and Santina's first video.
Santina in her cage at the rescue
Going over paper work and photos at the rescue
Steve with Santina
Santina trying to bite me
Steve put Santina on my arm despite that she didn't want to so she bit me
Santina leaving the rescue to come home
Rescue Green-Winged Macaw coming out of the carrier at home
Santina steps up for me at home
Santina, a 14 year old female rescue Green-Winged Macaw
It's that season of giving and my birds have it all. So I am looking to make some donations to some more needing parrot organizations. Please help me decide the best causes and why. Leave a comment stating which organization can use some Wizard supplies or money most this holiday season. Tell my why they may need some new perches, a harness, book, toy parts, or something else? The more comments or compelling reasons I get, the more donations I will be sending out so be sure to comment and share and get a lot of thought going around the parrots that need our help.
I will also match supply donations. If someone is interested in purchasing Parrot Wizard stuff to send to a rescue, contact me and we can arrange for Parrot Wizard supplies to be sent to the non-profit parrot organization of your choice with matching contribution.
My personal recommendation is Ginger's Parrots, a 501c3 Senegal and Cockatiel rescue and rehabilitation center in Phoenix Arizona. You can make a holiday donation to Ginger's Parrots or better yet give a gift that keeps giving by sponsoring a parrot.
During my recent visit to Ginger's Parrots Rescue in Phoenix, there was one bird in particular that I had trouble recognizing. She had no trouble recognizing me as we'd become friends during my previous visits and she even participated in my seminar. This was Ubee, a 16 year old female Senegal Parrot.
Ubee is a sweet little Senegal Parrot but can be very bratty and requires a firm hand. She is one of the smaller Senegals I've seen yet with a huge personality. She can be quite the little terror if given the opportunity. I recall a story where Ubee (while still originally clipped) jumped off her tree, casually strolled across the floor, climbed up Ginger's husband's leg, got on his shoulder, and then viciously attacked him! That's the kind of bird Ubee is and the reason she is being rehabilitated at the rescue.
Anyway, the interesting thing is that the last time I saw Ubee, she was half black on her wings. Her plumage was covered in stress bars and she sooner looked like a black parrot with green specs rather than the other way around. She was very easy to tell apart from the other Senegals because of this alternate appearance. Yet this time when I visited, I could no longer tell Ubee apart by color. I had to get used to telling her apart from the others mainly by size alone. Her vest is also more orange than the others but that is harder to see at first glance.
So what is fascinating is that after less than a year primarily on Roudybush pellets (converted from a different/colored pellet prior) this Senegal Parrot's plumage has taken a 180 and really cleaned up! Not only are the stress bars gone, but the plumage is brighter, crisper, and cleaner looking. Aviculturists and Veterinarians seem to be able to infer a lot about a bird's health by its plumage so I think it is pretty reasonable to correlate that this parrot not only appears visibly better but is healthier as well.
To me, seeing these kinds of visible results is by far the biggest reason to use and support a Roudybush pellet diet. Seeing is believing. It's one thing to postulate that one pellet is better than another based on ingredients, etc. But it's quite another when you see brilliant plumage (and particularly in contrast to how it was on a different diet). Furthermore, Roudybush has years of research and data to back it up. Regardless, nothing is more convincing than seeing actual improvement.
I realize the color/flash in the photos is a bit different but I really want to point out the clarity of the plumage in the second photo. Notice all of the black in the wing feathers as well as tail feathers. After being converted to Roudybush, the plumage has become more uniform as well as vibrant. I can vouch that in person I noticed the plumage to be a brighter shade of green than originally. It went from a dark leafy green to a more iridescent sort of green that I am accustomed to seeing on my own Poicephalus parrots.
The interesting thing is that this parrot was already on a pellet diet, just of a different kind. Seeing improvement when a parrot converts from seeds to any pellet is pretty obvious. But it is much more surprising to see this much improvement from a parrot going from one pellet to another.
Here are a few more reasons I think this is a pretty objective demonstration of the value of the diet change. The rescue keeps parrots on a predominantly pellet diet (80%+) so it's almost impossible that the change is due to beneficial supplemental foods. Unfortunately the rescue birds do not get outside much (which I am hoping to change) so the role of natural sunlight did not play a role at improving feathering. Although it is impossible to compare stress levels between the prior home and rescue, I doubt that stress at the rescue decreased. If anything, I would guess that stress increases (in a healthy amount) because the birds are trained and have to fend for themselves in a flock environment. Also the parrots' food is managed so food stress certainly is not lower. Yet the plumage of all of the parrots has improved while on the Roudybush Maintenance diet. Improvement has been noted in all of the parrots, however, Ubee's case really stands out because it was so drastic and quick.
I am first to admit I don't know much about parrot nutrition. I don't think any individual can claim to know what foods a captive parrot needs and in what proportion. The problem is that the fresh/human foods we can offer are not natural to parrots, the proportions are arbitrary, and the results are difficult to measure. If you offer a mix of fruits/vegetables to your parrot, you can't tell which ones are helping or hurting because you only see the net result. If feeding an all fresh diet is better than pellets, at best it is only marginally so. I see excellent plumage and health results of parrots that have been converted to Roudybush. But going with a fresh diet is risky. Since you don't have the knowledge of how to properly balance the diet and since the parrot does not either (remember in nature is is balanced by availability and species are evolved to subsist on that availability), there is a greater risk of something necessary being left out. For example if you decide to mix seeds and pellets and let the parrot choose, the parrot will eat a lot more seeds then pellets and effectively be on a seed based diet. Likewise with fruits/vegetables, if the parrot eats all the ones it likes and leaves the others, it may just be on an all fruit diet and be missing out.
Reading the research and hearing good things about Roudybush convinced me to try it for my parrots and to recommend it to the rescue. Seeing the improvements first hand (much more starkly in the rescue parrots because mine were on ok diets prior), has even further solidified my opinion that a predominantly Roudybush diet is a reliable starting point when it comes to parrot diet. I may have expected some improvement but I am actually a bit surprised that the advantage is so extensive and visible. Perhaps there is something better out there or a better fresh diet, however, seeing how good the plumage on a Roudybush fed parrot already is, it would be very difficult to observe and demonstrate this. Until someone is able to do so, I will stick with what I know produces reliably results. On this basis, I will continue to recommend Roudybush as an excellent staple diet for companion parrots.
Here is a video of me target flying a bunch of Ginger's Rescue Senegals for Roudybush pellets as treats.
I flew by airline to Phoenix, Arizona for a few days to help my favorite rescue, Ginger's Parrots. Although not new on the scene, the rescue recently incorporated and acquired 501c3 status. On Saturday we held a Grand Opening event for Ginger's rescue to celebrate making everything official and to draw attention to the organization.
Ginger's Parrots is a new kind of rescue specializing only in certain species of parrots and with a different approach. Most rescues inevitably become overfilled with parrots as the number of unwanted birds only grows while the birds live long. So instead of focusing on quantity, Ginger focuses on quality instead. Running the small rescue out of her own home, Ginger works individually with the parrots to prepare them for pet life. Rather than trying to get the birds adopted to anyone that will take them, her focus is to make the birds as good or better than baby parrots that can be bought at stores. If the birds are good, they have a much better shot at staying in the same home than in the condition they were brought to the rescue.
The Grand Opening Event brought a nice turn out and collection of donations. I offered a talk on my well-behaved parrot approach as well as a harness training demonstration. During the demonstration with parrots from the rescue I was able to demonstrate the harness desensitization process with visible progress. One of the Senegals was doing so well that I challenged him all the way to voluntarily walking across the perch to sticking his head into the harness collar.
As the event continued, I signed copies of my book, the Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots. The rescue event was a very suitable place for selling these books as Ginger applies the techniques I teach in the book on her rescue flock. Also she wrote the foreword to the book based on her success applying my methods to a whole lot of parrots.
I had already been to Ginger's rescue twice and conducted a lot of training work with the birds, setting in motion an approach that Ginger has continued. However, we have bold goals for these birds so there are further skills they could learn. This time, I set a goal of initiating harness training with the birds so that Ginger could take them out and socialize them with people more frequently. Considering the novel no-clipping policy at the rescue, outdoor safety can only be assured with a harness or carrier. The trouble with a carrier is that it doesn't get hands on time with the birds so it narrows everything down to harness.
Since the main focus of the rescue is Senegal Parrots, aggression is the key target for rehabilitation. Ginger has noted a tremendous decline in biting while an increase in confidence with the birds since they've been flighted. Although the birds are capable of flying away, they generally don't. They merely use their awareness of being able to fly away to drive their confidence to cooperate without reverting to biting. One challenge, however, has been to keep the Senegals from fighting with each other as they are no longer geographically isolated because they can fly.
One of the solutions to reduce territorial issues with the parrots (while also simplifying cleaning) is to eliminate the long standing trees (which were arranged one per bird) in favor of a more communal approach. We wheeled all the tree stands out of the room and set out to make a full new set of hanging play gyms instead. I shipped ahead a bundle of NU Perch sticks I was donating for the bird room remodeling. On the spot we bought a few additional supplies and in 2 afternoons built 8 original play gyms and hung them from the ceiling. The all hanging approach eliminates base cleaning and makes a single cleaning of the floor a lot easier. It also provides an unstable platform that stimulates the birds to think more about getting around. It has been a blast watching the birds get around their stands because they tip and rotate in place as they climb. When one parrot flies off a stand, the remaining parrots end up going for a merry go round ride. The birds were so preoccupied with the new stands that they were too busy to get into fights with each other.
To ease the transition to the new stands, I played a targeting game with the birds to encourage them to climb around. Not only was I able to get them to climb to all ends of individual stands but between stands as well. One particular Senegal who has been really difficult to tame, really took to target training. In a single attempt, I was able to teach him to target. I'm sure he'd been watching the other Senegals and had it all figured out. He was just waiting for the opportunity to be involved as well. In no time I had him climbing between playgyms and flying to other perches for opportunities to target.
A different Senegal has recently regained his flight feathers but was unsure how to use them. He seemed very eager to target but just didn't fly for it. So I put together a set of Training Perches and began the perch to perch targeting method of teaching him to fly. Before the evening was over, the parrot that just didn't know how to fly across 4 inches, was flying 15 inches between stands with ease. An interesting thing is that he wasn't really doing it for the food. He was much more eager to fly across the gap to target (ultimately for a treat) than directly for a treat lure. Since the birds get to watch each other targeting, they see a particular excitement for the opportunity to play. The motivation they exhibited in targeting around the room far exceeded their hunger for treats motivation.
The morning after the event and upon the 5th harness training session, I got a harness entirely on the promising Senegal. Ginger and I took him to a Sunday morning parrot group that meets at a park with their birds. Although this was sooner than I would have liked to put a harness on a parrot in this stage of training, we went for it for lack of time. However, I knew this would not be a problem because this was a super tame bird that doesn't mind being held. He was not upset having the harness on (which is important to avoid trouble putting it on next time) but he did want to chew it. To reduce chewing, I grasped him in my hand, through a towel, or did things to occupy his attention as much as possible. Once at the park outing, he was preoccupied with the activity and paid less attention to the harness.
I taught Ginger about socializing the parrot to complete strangers and went from very controlled interactions to random interactions based on my 12 step socialization approach. The Senegal went from hand to hand, allowed people to scratch him, and didn't bite anyone. The outing was a tremendous success and we got a harness upon him with ease for another outing the following day.
Since that Senegal Parrot is extremely hand tame and enjoys laying in hands, I held onto him a lot to keep him from chewing the harness. Since the squeeze of my hand is more noticeable than the harness it took his mind off of it. I began playing a game with him and in no time taught him a new trick which is to allow me to toss him in my hand like a bean bag.
The event, bird room remodeling, training, and outings have been a tremendous success. Not only have we made big improvements but we also set things for continued improvement in the future. I signed countless books and talked to parrot owners. Although I hope these things were educational, most of all I hope that they were inspirational. Rather than expecting someone who came to one of my talks - or met us on an outing - to have the skills to succeed, I hope to leave them with the inspiration to continue their education and to set goals of what to achieve. I want people to realize that parrots young or old, friendly or mean, can all learn these basic pet skills. If I can teach these rescue parrots to wear a harness or target fly in such a short span of time, then surely any parrot owner can achieve these things with a little more patience.