Tag Archives: parrots

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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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
impulses.

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
Director
Garuda Aviary

 

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Sponsor a Rescued Parrot

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 without giving them something that’s just going to end up in a landfill anyway? Your gift recipient can receive via email a Sponsorship Certificate in their name! It’s the most eco-friendly gift ever!

How to sponsor a parrot;
First, pick which parrot you want to sponsor from this page on our website: Our Flock (click here to go there now).

Second, send us an email at GarudaAviary@earthlink.net telling us which parrot you want to sponsor, and for how long. We will reply to confirm the details of your sponsorship.

 

Sponsorship Rates (per month)

Small Parrot
Conure: $30
Goffin’s Cockatoo: $30
Medium-small Parrot
Amazon: $40
African Gray: $40
Medium-large Parrot
Umbrella Cockatoo: $50
Sulphur Crested Cockatoo: $50
Large Parrot
Macaw: $60
Moluccan Cockatoo: $60

 

 

 

Garuda Aviary
18400 River rd. Poolesville, MD. 20837
E-mail:    GarudaAviary@earthlink.net

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Diet Talk (Yes, Again!)

At least once a week, Garuda Aviary is asked to take in another parrot. Usually the requests comes from people that are at their wit’s end with their parrots terrible behavior. The highlights of the undesirable behavior are typical; ear piercing vocalizations, a neurotic need for attention, obsession, etc… And when the owner tries to pacify the parrot by giving it what it wants, the behavior seems to get worse. And the owner may even get bitten in the process, leaving them to wonder, “Well, what in blazes do you want then!?!”
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Garuda Aviary’s first calling is to help parrots that have been so profoundly damaged by prolonged exposure to inhumane conditions that they cannot be placed in private homes, or parrots possessed of extreme behavioral disorders, like hyper-aggression. So when I’m being asked by a frustrated parrot owner to take in their feathered companion, I’m eager to help them get to the root of the problem so the owner will keep that bird, and it doesn’t become another statistic in the massive “unwanted parrot” problem. And in my personal experience, the root of the problem can frequently be found in the parrot’s diet.
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Technically speaking, parrots are undomesticated. That means they are no different from their counterparts in the wild. So one must first understand what a parrot’s diet is without the interference of humans. Any parrot’s 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 parrot’s drive to mate becomes much stronger. The parrot’s body is responding to the instinct to bear young when resources are plentiful. For the remainder of the year when fruit, seed and nuts are not available, a parrot will have to rely on the region’s vegetable plant life for sustenance. As food resources become less abundant, a parrot’s body knows that bearing young and keeping them fed will be too difficult. As a result, the parrot’s desire to mate decreases.
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So when a parrot’s diet is too rich in fruit sugars and the oils from seeds and nuts, it’s drive to mate is intensely elevated. These abundant, fast burning calories trick a parrot’s body into believing that it is mating season. The problem is that this hypothetical parrot is not in its natural habitat, fulfilling it’s instinctual needs. It’s in somebody’s home, screaming his head off and focusing all of its surplus neurotic energy on its poor beleaguered owner.
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I will share with you some dietary guidelines that will seem obvious once you understand what a profound impact high-calorie foods, (especially those containing sugars) have on a parrot’s demeanor. But you would be surprised how many parrot owners possess this knowledge, but seem to avoid using it. Why, you may ask? Usually it’s because we make the same mistake with our pet’s diet that we make with our own; we determine cuisine based upon emotional desire, not knowledge and logic. And we often seek to soothe emotional discomfort with food gratification. This is a short-term solution for people, and an utterly futile solution for parrots. The other reason knowledgeable parrot owners avoid feeding their parrots correctly is because it does require some extra work.
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Ultimately, their diet should be mostly vegetable and pellets. A little bit of fruit is ok. But remember, a parrot in its natural habitat won’t see any fruit for half of the year. The presence of fruit means it’s mating season. Put simply; sugars cause mating behavior, (which is usually bad behavior).
We will also talk about beans and grains as a source of protein that is nutritionally superior to seeds and nuts.
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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.
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The problem with fresh vegetables is that they wither and spoil too soon. When someone owns one or two parrots, they don’t want to buy a bunch of lovely vegetables for them, only to throw most of it away in a few days. But there is a solution. As plant material decays, it emits a gas called ethylene. As more ethylene gas accumulates, it causes plant material to ripen and decay faster. Ethylene gas collects in your refrigerator and causes the vegetables inside to decay more quickly. But there is a solution. Now you can find products online or in your grocery store that neutralize ethylene gas. You can buy food storage bags and containers that are made to neutralize ethylene gas. Garuda Aviary’s refrigerator contains only vegetables and a little fruit. So we buy ethylene gas filters, which are packets of a crystallized material that absorbs ethylene gas. Having two or three of those packets in our refrigerator keeps our vegetables in great shape for an entire week. Products that absorb and neutralize ethylene gas make it much easier to store vegetables for longer durations. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for best results.
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Recommended veggies; cauliflower, broccoli (crown and stem), yellow squash, zucchini, carrots, radishes, celery, green beans.
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Beans; Add kidney beans, lima beans, lentils for protein. Beans should be served al dente, not mushy.
NO soybeans. They are estrogenic, (promoting or producing estrus). It is difficult to completely eliminate soybeans from a parrot’s diet because they are usually an ingredient in pellets. So we don’t want to increase soybean intake by offering fresh or whole soybeans.
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I generally recommend the reduction of seed and nuts in a parrot’s diet. But if a parrot’s behavior is really bad, I may recommend eliminating seeds and nuts from their diet altogether. Either way, you need to make sure that the bird is still getting sufficient protein. When beans and whole grains are consumed together, they combine to create a complete protein. Adding whole grain brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa, etc. to the beans that I mentioned above offers a source of protein that is nutritionally superior to seeds and nuts. And it is better to depend upon the bean & grain mix for protein because seeds and nuts intensify the mating instinct.
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So as you see, feeding your parrot in a way that improves its disposition is not terribly complicated. It just requires a little extra work and a bit of planning. And the underlying philosophy is simple; feeding a parrot all of the seed, nuts and fruit that it wants in an attempt to make it happy is short-sighted. The gratification  derived from these treats is short-lived. As soon as the treat is gone, so is the fleeting feeling of pleasure it caused. And what the parrot is left with, the long-term result, is elevated anxiety. The result of feeding a parrot a balanced diet is a parrot that is calmer and more emotionally stable… and a relieved owner.
by Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

Renovations, Evolutions

The new structure occupies roughly 30% of the high-dander room.

During the winter, Garuda Aviary completed Phase 1 of the construction of our African Grey and Goffins Cockatoo habitats. Phase 1 includes the completion of the basic structure and the “private suites” for the twin habitats.
Phase 2 for these habitats is the completion of the “common areas’.

So you may wonder, why build a specialized structure with private suites and common areas? Why not just keep parrots in conventional, single occupancy cages?
The answer is that in nature, parrots form and live in highly interactive flocks. That interactivity is what helps a parrot deal with any situation. A parrot that doesn’t have a coherent social structure supporting it is far more prone to anxiety and depression. That is the reason for the common areas in the new habitats. These are areas where the occupants can socialize with other parrots of their own kind.

Each private suite is 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep.

The reason for the private suites is to facilitate safe integration. When a new parrot is introduced to a pre-existing flock, that flock may not welcome the newcomer right away. They may not hurt the newbie, but they may hoard resources away from him or her. Resource hoarding is the most common method for rejecting an outsider.

Our protocol for integrating a new parrot into the existing flock looks something like this;
The new bird is placed in it’s private suite, which is equipped with feeding bays, perches, toys, etc. After a week or two to settle into the new suite, integration can start. For gradually increasing supervised intervals, the newbie can venture out of his or her suite, enter the common area and begin to socialize. When it’s time to eat, the new bird is returned to it’s suite. This ensures that resources are not being hoarded away from  him or her.

Emily is settling in nicely.

 

In time, the flock will accept the new one. Eventually they will all eat together amicably in the common area.
This protocol, (plus the vigilant supervision we provide) ensures that a new parrot can be integrated into the flock without risk.

 

 

 

 

Jumpy is getting to know his new neighbors.
Split-level private suites

 

Hurry up and finish the common areas, Christopher! We’re ready to mix it up with our new neighbors!

Very soon the common areas will be the hubs of activity in these habitats. There will be updates and more pictures. Watch this space!

Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

 

 

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)
Sara

 

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
Thanks!

Christopher Zeoli
Director
Garuda Aviary

Protecting Polly

by Emma Dacol,
AWOL Magazine

CREATING A HAVEN FOR ABUSED PETS

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 http://issuu.com/awol/docs/awol_s15_issuu/4  (but please hurry right back!)

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.

 

What Makes Parrots So Anxious?

(Question #4 from our new FAQ page)..

Parrots are prey (animals hunted for food by carnivorous animals). Parrots recognize humans as predators (animals that hunt and eat other animals) because we can look at them with two eyes at the same time. When a predator hunts prey, they focus their eyes on the prey to determine how far away it is and what they will have to do to catch it. When a predator stares at prey squarely with both eyes, an instinctive fear response is triggered in the prey. This ancient instinct is telling the prey to get away from the predator.

Not only are parrots prey, they are wild prey. There is no such thing as a domesticated parrot. Domestication takes a long time over many generations. Humans had completely domesticated dogs and cats a few thousand years ago. Parrots, however, gained their popularity as pets only within the last 150 years. Any parrot you find in a domestic setting is identical to its counterpart in the wild. Parrots as pets are not “domesticated animals,” rather they are “captive wild prey.” And parrots bred by people are not “domestic bred animals,” they are “wild animals bred in captivity.”

Also, parrots live in flocks. Being prey, gathering in large groups offers safety, as there are many eyes to look out for predators. A parrot’s whole sense of security and even their personal identity revolves around their flock. But we humans don’t buy flocks of parrots. We buy one parrot. We bring that parrot home, put it in a cage that is often too small, and stare at it with our predator eyes. As a result, most parrots in a domestic environment develop anxiety disorders.