All posts by rigdzen

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!

Do you have a question for the Parrot Whisperer? We’d love to hear it! Send it to us at