All posts by rigdzen

Unraveling the Truth of Feather Plucking

Greetings, friends!
Here at Garuda Aviary, we rescue parrots from adverse, even desperate conditions. So unsurprisingly, we see a lot of parrots exhibiting plumage destructive behavior, also known as “feather plucking”.
Feather plucking is probably the most common affliction faced by parrots in a domestic setting. So common is this problem. But also, so misunderstood. When visitors to our aviary see that some of our rescued parrots have mutilated plumage, they often ask what terrible trauma they’ve endured to cause this unsightly behavior. That is when I have to blow their minds with the truth; stress and anxiety do not cause feather plucking.
Now I know all of you “parrot people” are screaming heresy! But it’s true. Anxiety, stress and depression in parrots is not the cause of feather plucking. While anxiety, stress and depression can exacerbate feather plucking, they do not cause feather plucking. How do I know this? Observation. When you get to know a great many parrots, you eventually see some surprising patterns. Most of the parrots you will encounter in domestic settings are the product of domestic breeding. But around 15% of them have been captured from their natural wild habitats. “Wild caught” parrots brought into the U.S. after 1983 were illegally smuggled in. These parrots have endured a cruel and terrifying journey that so many parrots do not survive. If stress and anxiety cause parrots to pluck out their feathers, then the wild caught birds should look horrible. But they don’t. Their plumage is usually perfect and beautiful. They are often crippled by fear and dysfunctional with aggression. But they maintain their plumage beautifully. Stranger still, the parrots that do all of the feather plucking are the domestic-bred parrots. Parrots that are a product of domestic breeding often have sheltered, uneventful lives. Generally, the worst problem they face is boredom and a lack of stimulation.
Now, I know some of you are thinking “That’s it! Boredom causes feather plucking!” No… that’s not it either. But I’m glad you’re paying attention.
So, to recap; parrots born from domestic breeding, typically cared for with uneventful lives, are the ones that pluck out their feathers and destroy their plumage. Meanwhile, “wild caught” parrots, having been profoundly emotionally damaged by being violently stolen from their natural habitat, maintain beautiful plumage. That is one of the surprising patterns you see when you get to know a great many parrots. And it is the exact opposite of what you would expect to find if you believed that stress and anxiety cause feather plucking.

So why is it like that? To find out, I went looking for any new information on feather plucking. What I found was an emerging theory in avian science circles regarding “chickhood learning”.
The theory postulates that parrots teach their offspring vital skills in the first year or two of life before the fledgling leaves the nest. One of these skills is plumage management. And this lesson probably dovetails with anxiety management.
When a parrot chick starts to grow feathers, those feathers start as pointy little quills. The uneducated chick may want to pull those quills out because they are uncomfortable (similar to a human infant during teething). The parents, sensing the chick’s discomfort, stops the chick from pulling the quills out and instead demonstrates plumage management by grooming the chick. This ritual is probably soothing and comforting for the chick. Later in life whenever the adult offspring grooms itself, it experiences an “endorphin recall” wherein pleasant chickhood memories trigger calming endorphins.
In domestic parrot breeding, chicks rarely get to meet their parents. Usually the fertilized egg is removed from the parent’s care and placed in an incubator. The chick is hand raised and sold as soon as possible. These parrots never get the benefit of learning from their parents. So, they must figure out how to manage their plumage without instructions. At first, this seems to work. But once the parrot gets into its adult years, the problems start to emerge. As the domestic-bred parrot experiences the tiniest bit of commonplace anxiety, it starts grooming obsessively. Without the endorphin recall, this preening does not have the same calming benefit that it would for a parrot raised naturally. So, the domestic-bred parrot preens and preens, searching for relief that never comes. Until… they accidentally pull out a feather that wasn’t ready to be shed. Pulling out a growing feather is slightly painful. That pain triggers endorphins. Then in a very short time, the parrot learns that it can consistently manage its natural anxiety with the endorphins that follow plucking a feather out. This is the bird essentially self-medicating with the endorphins that follow pain. And then you have a self-taught behavior that looks exactly like trichotillomania in people. Trichotillomania is also a healthy grooming habit gone awry, where over-grooming becomes an obsessive/compulsive coping mechanism for anxiety.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, didn’t he just say anxiety is causing the feather plucking?”. No, I did not. What I’m saying is that feather plucking is symptomatic of a more fundamental problem. Stress and anxiety aren’t the root of the problem. A lack of chick-hood learning is the root of the problem. Stress and anxiety are triggering a presentation of the underlying problem.
Please note; we are assuming for this topic that all of our hypothetical parrots are otherwise perfectly healthy. So if a domestic-bred parrot begins to pluck out its feathers and an avian specialist veterinarian says it has no health issues causing the plucking (such as pathology or parasites), then we can assume the plucking is caused by the phenomenon I described. This phenomenon is not rare outside of the parrot-keeping world. For example, dogs and cats that were weaned too early or improperly have been known to present symptoms of obsessive/compulsive disfunction. What I have described is the parrot version of that.
Can feather plucking behavior be cured?
I honestly don’t think so. You can’t effectively replace information that needed to be learned at a formative time. So, if your parrot begins non-pathological feather plucking, please don’t get anxious about it. If you do, the bird will pick up on your anxiety, and become anxious itself. And please do not try to stop it from preening. That would only interrupt necessary hygiene. Just love your bird, and accept it for who it is, not how it looks.

Animal rescue is essential
The introduction of the COVID-19 virus into our society has shifted our perspective on life. We are at a time when we are more focused on securing the resources necessary to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy, safe and happy. But it is important that we do not loose sight of those that need us. Due to increased layoffs and shutdowns, the number of animals being abandoned has increased. At a time like this, animal rescue becomes even more vital. When an animal is abandoned, its life is essentially over. But animal rescue and sanctuaries give that deserving creature a second chance at life.

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2019 Holiday Perspective

Greetings and Happy Holiday wishes from all of us, here at Garuda Aviary!

Welcome to another End of Year Perspective! But before I go on to describe how Garuda Aviary has advanced education¹ and awareness regarding parrot care² and advocacy, we want to help you celebrate the holidays!

Looking for no-fail gift ideas? Looking for an eco-conscious present that won’t end up in a landfill? Well look no further!! Garuda Aviary has got your back! Parrot Sponsorship Certificates make great gifts! Supporting a parrot through our Sponsorship Program is the ideal way to care for a deserving parrot. And the best part is, you don’t have to do the dirty work! That’s our job! When you sponsor a member of our flock, you receive via email a printable certificate with pictures of that parrot and details of your sponsorship.

Sponsorship Certificates make great gifts!
What’s better than showing someone you care with a truly meaningful gift? Your gift recipient can receive via email a Sponsorship Certificate in their name! It’s the most eco-friendly gift ever!

Click here to give Parrot Sponsorship as a gift!

A Parrot Sponsorship Certificate from Garuda Aviary is a gift that you can feel great about, because they come from your favorite champions of parrot welfare. We work tirelessly to care for parrots that otherwise had no hope. But that is simply not enough for us. We consistently raise the bar with parrot advocacy and public education. Earlier this year, our Director, Christopher Zeoli, was invited to speak at the University of Maryland’s Animal & Avian Sciences Dept. in College Park¹. There, the undergrads and he discussed unique parrot pathologies and the viability of parrots as pets.
Garuda Aviary’s public education continues with our ‘Diet Talk’ series². These posts convey specialist-level information geared towards teaching parrot owners how to have the healthiest, most harmonious relationships with their parrots.
And in the warm weather, our visitor area is open, our flock enjoys our flight cage, and parrot education is free and readily available to the public.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, almost. We can’t do all of this alone. We need your help to continue to benefit parrots. Your donation makes this all possible. Please consider making a one-time or recurring monthly donation. And then after making a donation, smile, knowing that you are absolutely making a difference. That the money spent was well worth it because it relieved suffering and made nurturing care possible.

Click here to donate using PayPal Giving Fund

PayPal Giving Fund is a nonprofit charity support service that allows you to donate without paying any extra fees! So, every cent you donate goes straight to supporting rescued parrots!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Garuda Aviary!

²Diet Talk (Yes, Again!) 4/19/2018
²Diet Talk- The Next Level 12/5/2019

Garuda Aviary is a 501(c)3 non-profit parrot rescue and lifelong sanctuary. Your generous donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.

Diet Talk- The Next Level

In our previous post regarding diet, “Diet Talk (Yes, Again!),” we discussed what impact diet has upon a parrot’s demeanor. We observed how an abundance of calories from “fruit season” foods in a parrot’s natural habitat causes mating season behavior, such as heightened aggression, elevated anxiety, obsession, etc. “Mating season behavior” is also one way to categorize most of the behavior that tends to get a parrot evicted from a human home.

Previously, I made my case against feeding your parrot too much fruit sugar. The folly of giving your parrot too much fruit is much the same as feeding a child too much candy. They are hyper. They cannot control themselves. They cannot focus their attention. They can become combative or overly emotional. This is true for parrots and children with inflated glucose levels. And fruit doesn’t really have many valuable nutrients anymore. Vegetables are far better and should be used to replace fruit in a parrot’s diet.

But there’s more to this picture than just blood sugar levels. For a more refined understanding of the influence diet has upon a parrot’s demeanor, one must understand the dynamics of phytoestrogen.
Phytoestrogen occurs in plants, and is chemically similar to estrogen produced by animals. Similar enough to promote estrus in animals, including humans. Foods with high levels of phytoestrogen are known to be estrogenic, (promoting estrus). You’ve probably heard of soy-based supplements used as treatment for low estrogen levels. This helps because soy has tons of phytoestrogen.

Excessive phytoestrogen in a pet parrot’s diet is the most common cause of negative behavioral issues; aggression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive behavior, etc. And, of course, chronic egg laying.

My case against most fruit in a parrot’s diet is twofold. I’ve already mentioned the undesirable effects of excessive sugar. But most fruits also contain significant levels of phytoestrogen. This combination makes fruit a double-whammy for causing bad behavior. And you shouldn’t assume that a parrot cannot be stimulated and entertained by raw vegetable cuisine. Our birds absolutely love cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and jalapeno. Yes, jalapeno! Parrots don’t have the taste receptors that make peppers seem hot. Yes, there are many highly entertaining vegetables.

Chronic egg laying is a common problem with pet parrots. Not all female parrots lay eggs. But many female parrots in a domestic setting will lay eggs all year round. I’ve heard quite a few parrot owners say their parrots lay anywhere from 6 to over 12 eggs a year. That is totally unnatural! Most types of parrots in their natural habitat will have a window of time each year for the females to go into estrus and bear young. The rest of the year, they do not lay eggs.

When I started researching estrogenic foods, it dawned on me why pet parrots lay so many eggs. The 3 foods most consumed by pet parrots are estrogenic! Sunflower seeds, walnuts and almonds all have elevated levels of phytoestrogen. These 3 foods are the 3 most common staple foods fed to parrots in the home. After that, the food most frequently fed to pet parrots is fruit. Which means nearly every food in a typical pet parrot’s diet is estrogenic. As a result, these birds spend virtually their entire adult lives with their mating season physiology turned on. This is a problem not only for the owner who must endure the parrot’s worst behavior, but also for the parrot that cannot pacify its own relentless

While this may all sound a bit complicated, fixing the problem is not complicated at all. And you don’t have to remove every source of phytoestrogen in your bird’s diet. You can gradually dial down the phytoestrogen until you get the results you want. A moderate amount of phytoestrogen in the diet is okay, and can have a hormone stabilizing effect. The problem we’re addressing today is excessive phytoestrogen in the diet.

First, you must identify the biggest sources of phytoestrogen and remove them. Fruit was always my first target. The singular, most important step in this process is to remove most of the fruit from your parrot’s diet. You will never get the behavior you want from your bird until you greatly reduce its fruit intake.

Do not feed your parrot soy, unless your avian specialist specifically told you to (but I can’t imagine that actually happening). As I mentioned, soy has lots of phytoestrogen. And you can’t completely avoid soy because it is used as a cheap source of protein in pellets. So you don’t want to add any additional soy to their diet.

If your parrot’s diet includes flaxseed, sesame seed, yam, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts or wheat germ, I would just go ahead and remove them. They may be relatively nutritious, but not enough to justify their high levels of phytoestrogen.

Removing most fruit and the foods I just mentioned is the first and easiest step. You can gradually do that over the course of 3 months. Most parrot owners will see significant improvement just from that. But if your bird is more sensitive to phytoestrogen, (most chronic egg layers are) then you should move on to step 2; reducing sunflower seed, almond and walnut.

I highly recommend reducing sunflower seed, almond and walnut in any case because they have significant levels of phytoestrogen. But remember, they are sources of protein. So if you remove them, you must replace them with another source of protein. The appropriate replacement is a bean and grain mix. When you mix beans and grains, you get all the amino acids necessary to constitute a complete protein.

Your bean and grain mix does not require exotic ingredients. These are easy to find items. Lima beans, red beans, lentils, quinoa, whole brown rice, whole unprocessed wheat grain, whole barley, whole oats, for example. Sometimes we use a whole grain pasta as the grain. My Amazons eat quinoa and black lentils like it was candy.

Yes, beans and grains have phytoestrogen. But not as much as the seed and nuts that they are replacing. When you replace seed and nuts with beans and grains, you are definitely reducing phytoestrogen.

Here at Garuda Aviary, we feed our flock a mix that is 2/3 vegetable & 1/3 bean/grain 5 days a week. But on Mondays and Thursdays, they get a mix of 50% sunflower seed, 50% ZooPreem Natural, and a couple of almonds &/or walnuts on top.
This diet precludes estrus. This is the anti-breeder diet. Our flock of 53 parrots has not layed an egg in 6 years. This is without Lupron or any other prescription hormone reduction medication. And our flock’s bloodwork results are typically fantastic (via our avian specialist veterinarian).

We have accepted parrots with terrible reputations, displaying insane behavior. After 2 months on our diet, they are calmer and more lucid. They can engage in thoughtful interaction. This vital part of their rehabilitation happens easily and naturally, simply because the excessive phytoestrogen was removed from their diet.

Now let’s say that you’ve done everything I’ve described thus far, but haven’t seen the results I’ve told you to expect. You’ve removed fruit in favor of vegetables, and reduced seed & nuts to replace them with beans and grains. But somehow, your parrot is still laying eggs and acting like a monster. First, if that bird was still laying eggs, I’d say go to the vet for bloodwork. The answer should be there. But if the bloodwork comes back clean, then your parrot is simply very sensitive to phytoestrogen. In which case, I would recommend our aviary diet that I just described. You can also look for the beans and grains that are higher in phytoestrogen, and avoid them. Lentils, mung beans and black eyed peas (for example), could be avoided.

A few things to consider:

The diet I’m describing is suited for over 95% of popular parrot breeds. However, there are a few breeds that require a unique and specific diet due to the conditions of their evolution.
Lorikeet, for example, are specialized fruit eaters that require fruit in their diet. They even have a tongue that is uniquely modified for fruit consumption.
Hyacinth Macaw are another example. In their natural habitat, the fat and protein rich palm nuts from oil palm are their staple food. As a result, Hyacinth require a lot more tree nut in their domestic diet.
So if you have a parrot with unique breed-specific dietary requirements, you should find a reputable source for information regarding that breed’s special needs. Otherwise, the low-phytoestrogen diet that I described in this post is ideal for most parrot breeds.

Also, I am not a veterinarian. I have nearly 30yrs of experience in caring for large numbers of parrots. In that time, I have had countless conversations with every caliber of veterinarian and avian specialist spanning every conceivable topic relating to parrot care. Every day, I see 53 rescued parrots whose quality of life was profoundly improved by (amongst other factors), a low-phytoestrogen diet. If it works for us, I’m sure it will work for you too.

Christopher Zeoli
Garuda Aviary


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Garuda Aviary is a 501(c)3 non-profit parrot rescue and lifelong sanctuary. Your generous donations are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law.

Rich Diet = Naughty Bird

One of our faithful viewers had a number of questions regarding diet for the Parrot Whisperer.

Q: Hi there!! I have a yellow naped Amazon, female. I am very interested in learning more about the diet you feed your birds.  How do you prepare the food and how do you get your birds to eat raw vegetables. My bird likes hers cooked.  She also gets a nut, seed and pellet mixture.  She rarely eats the pellets. Should I limit the seeds and nuts?

A: Thank you for writing in. You are asking the questions that a responsible, caring parrot owner asks.

Understanding that diet is one of the biggest factors that determines how a parrot behaves brings us closer to understanding this animal better entirely.

First, let’s look at what parrots do without humans involved.

Any parrots natural habitat will have a season when the region’s flora produces bountiful food resources such as fruit, seed, and nuts. That region’s animal life, including parrots, will gorge themselves on these resources to stock up as many calories as they can claim. When this happens, a parrots drive to mate becomes much stronger. The parrots body is responding to the instinct to bear young when resources are plentiful. They become aggressive because they need to fight off competitors and find a mate.

For the remainder of the year when fruit, seed and nuts are not available, a wild parrot will have to rely on vegetable plant life for sustenance. As food resources become scarce, a parrots body knows that bearing young and keeping them fed will be too difficult. As a result, the parrots desire to mate decreases.

When a parrot in a domestic setting gets too many rich calories, (oils from seed & nuts and sugars from fruits) they are aggressive, combative, demanding, needy, neurotic, etc…

Ultimately, their diet should be mostly vegetable and pellets. Fruit is ok, but it must be balanced with the vegetables. Parrots should get more vegetables then fruit. We will also talk about beans (as a non-rich source of protein).

I understand that it can be challenging to provide a variety of fresh veggies on a daily basis, but fresh would be much better then frozen or cooked. Frozen always has extra sodium and cooked has lost many of it’s nutrients.

Raw veggies are the cobblestones on the road to a happy, healthy parrot. Raw broccoli, (for example) has N-acetyl-Cysteine. That’s an amino acid used to treat people afflicted with trichotillomania, which is the human version of feather plucking.

Recommended veggies; Green beans, cauliflower, broccoli (crown and stem), yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, radishes, celery.

Beans; Add kidney beans, lima beans, lentils for non-rich protein. Beans should be served al dente, not mushy.

NO soybeans. They are estrogenic (promoting or producing estrus).

Recommended fruits; banana, grapes, blueberries, apple, orange. Again;  fruit must be served in moderate amounts. Vegetables must far outweigh the fruit.

Too much of the seed mix is a problem. If they get too much of the mix, they will satisfy themselves on the seed exclusively and disregard the pellets. Pellets are very important. Often a lack of key vitamins and minerals can set a parrots mental and emotional state off balance. The pellets will provide those vital nutrients.

Pellets should usually be accessible. ZooPreem is good. I recommend always having a bowl of ZooPreem medium/large sixed pellets in her cage, on her stand, wherever…

Calcium is important. A trick I learned some time ago is that calcium antacids make a nice treat. Make sure that calcium carbonate is the only active ingredient. Get fruit flavored and give her 3-6 a week…

Do you have a question for the Parrot Whisperer? Let us know at

Birds of a Feather…

Dont't always flock...

Sara, (a long time friend of Garuda Aviary) had this question for the Parrot Whisperer…

Hello Garuda 😉

How do parrots like mine who are used to people and lots of human touch, interaction and affection, adapt to a sanctuary?

My parrot is used to lots of petting and is very well socialized. I take her almost everywhere with me, in the car, etc. She lets my friend pet her and loves human interaction. She is almost NEVER aggressive because she’s been well nurtured as a baby.

I take her to be around other birds. She’s cool with it, but does not really engage with them. I don’t think she sees herself as a bird, but as a human with feathers.

How do you transition a parrot to be with other parrots? How do domesticated birds transition to your sanctuary?

Thank you! (Many blessings)


Hi Sara!

I always love to hear about parrots with loving owners. Your bird is truly blessed.

First I must correct you on one misconception; there is no such thing as a domesticated parrot. Domestication takes much longer to occur then humans have been keeping parrots as pets. However, they can seem tame because they are intelligent and can learn how to live around humans. But make no mistake. They are wild captive prey.

That being said…

When a parrot bonds with a human, (like you and your bird) that is possible because they are animals that gather in groups like we are. In this kind of situation, the parrot considers the owner as a parent or flock leader. Parrots are generally loyal to their flock and to their flock leaders. They do not leave their flock to go and hang out with another flock. The other flock wouldn’t want them around anyway because it’s another mouth to feed.

This is essentially why when you bring your bird around other parrots, he’s not interested in engaging with them. He has a flock; You (and your other pets, friends, and family, etc). It’s not in a parrot’s nature to leave their flock and seek out another.

So as long as you’re truly there for him, then he has all he wants. Your parrot would think that hanging out with another established flock would only cause trouble.

Now… your question about socializing a parrot with another flock (like when a new bird arrives at a sanctuary) can be a difficult one.

When we rescue a parrot from a cruel situation, they almost never had a flock there… or good food, toys, lots of room to play, full spectrum lighting, etc.… So those poor birds are fairly easy to make happy. They want to join our flock because they feel naked without one. They tend to LOVE everything we do for them.

However, when a parrot that comes from a good home is relocated to a sanctuary, they are usually very unhappy about it for some time. They miss their flock and they want to go back to them. The memory of their previous flock, (and their desire to rejoin them) keeps them from engaging with the new flock.

A parrot does not choose to engage with another flock. But when it’s re-homed to a sanctuary, it is forced to do so. If it longs to return to its previous flock, then the transition may be long and unhappy.

If your parrot isn’t crazy about socializing with other parrots, that’s ok. Trust me, there are worse parrot problems than that. Just be happy that he adores you and wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.

Good question, Sara

Christopher Zeoli
Garuda Aviary

Protecting Polly

by Emma Dacol,
AWOL Magazine


Alex is a Blue & Gold macaw. His owner, Claire Exten, volunteers at the Garuda Aviary in Poolesville, Maryland. The nonprofit sanctuary shelters abused and neglected parrots. She has been volunteering at the aviary for about a year and a half. She explaind that since working for the aviary, she has learned a lot about parrot behavior and nutrition. She has also improved her relationship with Alex.

“We have a much better relationship. He’s more level headed most of the time,” Exten said. “He still has his parrot days where he goes crazy; he’s still a macaw, but then when he goes off the deep end or whatever, I understand why. He’s just being a parrot.”

Christopher Zeoli is the director of Garuda Aviary. He says parrot owners are far more likely to abandon their birds rather then keep them for their entire lives. Like many parrot sanctuaries across the U.S., the Garuda Aviary started by accident. Zeoli and his mother adopted one parrot and started taking in other abandoned parrots. Before they knew it, they had a reputation. The birds started flocking in.

According to Zeoli, 98 percent of parrots sold as pets come from abusive parrot mills. There, parrots are squished into tiny cages, kept in total darkness and fed an unnaturally rich diet to induce breeding. The diet often leads to heart attacks and strokes. Through his work, Zeoli hopes to increase awareness about parrot welfare and conservation, helping people recognize that parrots are wild animals and do not belong in captivity. However, for those to insist on keeping the birds as pets, Zeoli wants to educate parrot owners about proper care.

Approximately one-third of parrot species in the wild are endangered due to habitat destruction and the trade of wild caught parrots, while millions of wild parrots kept as household pets are discarded. The Wild Bird Conservation Act 1992, banning the import of wild caught birds into the U.S. But illegal poaching and captive breeding of parrots for the pet trade has continued.

Some argue that the that humane breeding of parrots in captivity reduced the demand for illegal caught birds.  However, Zeoli argues that because it is so difficult to get parrots to reproduce in captivity, it is impossible to treat parrots humanely and still run an economically viable breeding business. The natural lifespan of a macaw is between 50 and 90 years. And in the wild, they live in flocks and form intensely monogamous relationships with their mates. In captivity, the try to replicate these relationships with their owners. Parrots living with a human family may identify them as it’s flock. And in some situations, they will form a mate-like bond with one person, which can very problematic. The parrot can become violent with the person’s significant other or children.

Parrots exhibit remarkable intelligence. Irene Pepperburg, an adjunct professor of psychology at Brandeis University, proved that an African Grey parrot has intelligence levels similar to that of a human child.

Parrots experience isolation in captivity and are usually not allowed to fly. They feel stress which leads to self-mutilation in the form of feather plucking, similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorders.

In contrast to the media’s false image of the playful, friendly parrot, most parrot owner find their parrots difficult to manage due to the noise and aggression, and they give them up. Because of the intense bonds parrots form with their owners, transferring homes can be very traumatic.

Zeoli hopes that the government will put an end to the domestic breeding of parrots and that trade of wild-caught parrots will stop before all macaw species go extinct. He says that working at the aviary and seeing the trauma and suffering experienced by so many birds on a daily basis is “the most emotionally taxing thing I’ve ever done,” but that rehabilitating the parrots and making a difference in their lives makes it all worth while.

Emma Dacol is a graduate student pursuing an MFA in film and electronic media

AWOL (American Way of Life) Magazine is an award winning progressive publication run by American University students

AWOL Magazine is not affiliated with any political party or ideology.

See the original article at  (but please hurry right back!)

New Family

Garuda Aviary is happy to welcome Rosie, Green Guy & Bernard into our flock.

rosie.croppedRosie is a spirited and energetic Sun Conure. While otherwise physically normal, she has a deformed foot with only one rear toe. But she doesn’t let that slow her down. Rosie calls relentlessly for attention and will climb up the arm and onto the shoulder of anyone that responds.

Green Guy is a shy and reserved Red Crowned Amazon that does not “step up” (perch on a human’s hand) and does not like to be touched. He’d rather stay in the back of his cage and play with his toys. But like most Amazons, Green Guy has a large repertoire of curious calls and guy.croppe

Rosie and Green Guy were the last two occupants in a home that was being foreclosed. When a kind couple came to look at the empty and unheated house, they found these two parrots in a dimly lit room. The owner offered them to the couple for free because they were all about to become homeless.

Green Guy was not eating well due to of a mildly deformed beak. The new foster parents took him to the vet to have his beaked reshaped. After his beak was corrected, Green Guy ate and ate and ate… and hasn’t slowed down yet.

Their foster parents knew that they could only take proper care of these two for a limited time. An exhaustive search for the proper home led them to Garuda Aviary.

I have been looking at sanctuaries and yours resonated with me. I love the fact that the parrots are accepted as they are and can spend their lives being themselves.”

Rosie & Green Guy’s foster mother


We at Garuda Aviary would like to thank this compassionate couple for opening their hearts and securing a positive future for these sensitive and deserving creatures.


Meet Bernard. He’s an adorable little Green Cheek Conure. But this little guy has a big problem. His temper! He bites with enough ferocity and aggression to make caring for him very difficult.

BernardBernard’s owners were at their wit’s ends trying to give him a good life. His aggression made interaction nearly impossible.
Our Director Christopher Zeoli feels that; “Bernard needs very specific social indicators. These social “instructions” are best when provided by a group of similar parrots. Often parrots have social dysfunction because they never learned how to interact with a flock. A flock offers its members easy to recognize social cues that teach them how to work as a group.”
Bernard has special needs. Garuda Aviary is here to provide special care.

The Wild Cockatoo Heart

By Christopher Zeoli

If you are familiar with parrots, then you have probably heard about some of the problematic issues they develop in a domestic setting. Anxiety and boredom leading to feather plucking, skin mutilation and outrageous, terrible behavior. Ear splitting screaming and the receipt of bite wounds are commonplace occurrences for parrot owners.

But let’s try to make this image as clear and specific as we can. Do all types of parrots struggle with these problems? Certainly all types of parrots considered to be pets living in a domestic setting will begin to pull out their own feathers at some point in their lives. The screaming and biting is also par for the course when living with or handling parrots. But what about the skin mutilation? Will all examples of Cockatoo skin mutilation are easy to find.types of parrots eventually mutilate and destroy their skin, placing their own lives in danger from infection? Usually not. The type of parrot most known for this extreme and horrific behavior is the Cockatoo. All breeds of Cockatoo. If you look around hard enough, you can find a few occasional cases in non-Cockatoo parrots. But the vast examples of Cockatoo skin mutilation are easy to find.majority of skin mutilation is found within the numerous breeds of Cockatoo. But why are they so affected?

Another disturbing phenomenon one may witness while handling and caring for parrots is seizures. Certain types of parrots will experience seizures triggered by elevated levels of stress. Can you guess what kind of parrot is most commonly known to suffer from stress-related seizures? That’s right; Cockatoo. All breeds of Cockatoo. Again, you can find occasional instances of seizures in other types of parrots. But those cases always involve some pathology (disease). In other words, for a non-Cockatoo parrot to have a seizure, it must be sick or have a disease. The majority of seizure activity plaguing Cockatoos does not involve disease. These we call non-pathological seizures. Put simply, most Cockatoos are always so nervous, that it doesn’t take much additional stress to send them into a seizure. Now, I realize it is hard to look at a Cockatoo in the throes of a seizure and imagine that there is no disease at work. But a thorough and exhaustive medical examination will find nothing out of the ordinary in the bird’s anatomy or physiology that is causing the seizures. The suspicion of pathology is further dismissed if the phenomenon is seen as commonplace for the breed. And in this case, it is. Please note however, that anxiety or nervousness does not necessarily equate to fear. A Cockatoo may sometimes seem calm, not experiencing fear per se. But its anxiety levels are still naturally very high.

When trying to find why Cockatoo parrots suffer uniquely, observing one breed in particular may lead us closer to an answer.

All parrots are prey. And prey’s typical response to a threat is to flee. But not the Medium Sulphur Crested Cockatoo. In the wild, these birds have been known to mob-attack encroaching raptors. They have also been observed dropping stones and small branches into bat’s lairs in an unprovoked attempt to evict the bats from their territory. Sulphur Crested Cockatoo generally do not flee threats. Cha-Chi.croppedThey throw themselves at it in attack mode. This very aggressive fear response serves the Sulphur Crested quite well in their wild habitat. But when we try to make this animal into a pet, the delicate natural balance of a hyper-aggressive prey is thrown off.

Now let’s take a moment to stretch our minds back to some obscure television programing. Do you remember the police serial Beretta? Robert Blake (of Little Rascals fame) played a police detective that owned a Medium Sulphur Crested Cockatoo named Fred. Fred was cute, smart, precocious and so very personable. He appeared to make the perfect pet. Actually, Fred was played by several different Sulphur Crested Cockatoos. Whenever one of the parrots playing Fred developed an anxiety disorder or began to pluck out its feathers, it would be replaced with a younger Sulphur.

Because the show Beretta portrayed Sulphur Crested Cockatoos as such great pets, the popularity of these birds quickly increased. The demand went up and the market rose to the occasion, supplying Sulphur’s to an unwitting public. But after these birds were brought home by ill-prepared owners, the bird’s true nature would invariably emerge. Because they are not fond of feeling cornered, these parrots can be shockingly aggressive when confined to cages. The ensuing bites, injury and bloodshed would usually result in the Sulphur’s removal from the home.

This phenomenon is what I call the “101 Dalmatians Scenario.” Popular media makes an animal appear desirable as a pet. The animal becomes popular, but that popularity crumbles as owners encounter how difficult the animal is to own. The result is that unmanageably high numbers of the animal are abandoned in a short period of time. Rescues and sanctuaries quickly fill to overflow, and the “unlucky ones” are largely euthanized.

Even without the dramatic spiral of the Dalmatians Scenario, the difficulties Cockatoos endure in a domestic setting are obvious. Would you like to guess what type of parrot is most frequently abandoned? I’ll give you a hint; it’s a type of Cockatoo. The Umbrella Cockatoo.

The popularized image of the Umbrella Cockatoo is a parrot that is smart, precocious and personable. Sound familiar? It also mimics human speech very well, which leads us to mistakenly anthropomorphize it. When a parrot has a good capacity for imitating speech, we expect it will be like owning a small feathered human. Thusly, we oppress the bird with social expectations that we would only place upon other humans. While the Umbrella Cockatooplucked girls is very smart, and can be very personable, the fact remains that it is a wild animal which originates from an unforgiving natural habitat. When an Umbrella feels threatened, it is remarkably effective at defending itself by delivering bites that may require medical attention.

From Australia to the Indonesian Islands, Cockatoos evolved in harsh conditions replete with skilled and dangerous predators. In these natural environments, only the most attentive prey survive. Even a momentary lapse in vigilance can be fatal. We humans blithely ignore the fact that it is a wild animal by bringing them home and confining them to cages. The excruciating boredom of captivity paired with relentless, unmitigated anxiety causes a Cockatoo’s mental and emotional balance to unravel. This is why we see such extreme non-pathological problems in captive Cockatoos.

If I could have one magic wish granted that would help all parrots, I would wish humans realized that a parrot in a cage is no better off than a dolphin in a bathtub. I would wish this for the benefit of all parrots. But I might wish it mostly for the salvation of the wild Cockatoo heart.


How do you control feather dander?

One of our Twitter followers recently asked if we manage dander by bathing the birds a lot. The root of the question refers to the copious volume of dander that parrots (especially cockatoos) produce.

As you may recall from our blog post, Do you love dust and dander?, Garuda Aviary’s flock creates more dander in a week then the average household creates in a year. In one year, our flock produces more than 6 pounds of dander! That much dander can completely occlude air filters and destroy a building’s HVAC compressor. Not to mention the damage it can cause in the lungs of mammals and rainforest parrots. So our questioner is wondering how we manage all that dander. Good question!

Frequent misting showers are one important way of managing dander. At home, you wouldn’t want to shower a parrot too often. Some breeds will develop chronic dry skin from excessive showering. 2 – 3 times a week is the common guideline for showering most types of parrot.

At Garuda Aviary, problems like the high production of feather dander had to be addressed during building construction. The facility is divided in half. Both sides have their own isolated ventilation system so that the rainforest parrots don’t breathe the cockatoo and African Grey dander. Also, both HVAC systems have high capacity air compressors to circulate a large volume of air in a short period of time. And every two days, the Aviary’s ventilation return filters are blown clean with a portable air compressor.

So to our curious Twitter follower, the answer is this: Our flock does get showers for good hygiene and dander control. But with so many cockatoos, we had to implement more substantial measures from the beginning to manage so much dander.

Thanks for asking!

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