Although working from home was a difficult adjustment for many of us, our pets have never been happier.
Workplace shutdowns as a result of the pandemic have completely changed our lives as well as those of our pets.
For almost two years now, most of our birds have enjoyed more time with us, increased stimulation, and relaxed schedules. You may have even strengthened your bond with your pet birds during this time.
But now that a lot of us are going back to work and school, we're hearing that our birds are having a hard time adjusting to a new routine.
Unfortunately, this COVID silver lining will come to an end when you have to return back to work. While you're at work enjoying seeing the crew at work, your bird will have to adjust to a potentially boring day. The return to work is likely to be a stressful adjustment for all of our pets, but it may be especially hard on our parrots.
Parrot tend to form such meaningful relationships with us. Over the pandemic they may have gotten used to a lot of mental stimulation and our constant company. I don't know about your, but my parrots have had more out of cage time than ever. Plus, I’ve spent more energy providing enrichment opportunities for my flock of birds.
This blog is about how to help your bird cope with life post-COVID.
Let's face it. Bird's don't often adjust well to change. It is common for birds to show signs of stress with stereo-typic behaviors like pacing, screaming, and feather plucking.
They can also become withdrawn and depressed with a big change like missing us when we go back to work. Thankfully, there are a couple different things you can do to help your parrot cope when you go back to work.
One of the best things you can do is prepare your bird for its new schedule and routine well before the change takes place. Start planning for the transition starting today! That way, your bird has time to process and get used the changes. So, here's the plan, Stan!
While going back to the office full time may be months away, gradually start giving your bird its space now. You'll want to decrease interactions to just a few times throughout the day.
Now, let's look at this from the birds perspective. Suddenly going from hours of attention to much less attention and less enrichment will be awful. You'll need to teach your pet some foundational skills whereby it can learn to self-entertain. But, I'll get to that below.
Right now, concentrate on increasing your time away from your bird by an hour or so each day. Then, gradually increase your time away. For instance, start with just an hour or two away in the first several days. Then, slowly increase your time away by 30 or so minutes each day. This slow change will increase your pet’s tolerance to your absence, and help it cope when you actually do return to work.
During this time, you should also begin to introduce your parrot to your new workday routines. Like many animals, routines are very important to a parrot’s happiness and mental health. They use routines to establish their internal clock. Routines also bring comfort of consistency.
New routines may include waking up at earlier times, interacting fewer times throughout the day, and basic changes to how you spend your evenings.
Routines also pertain to how you arrange your household. Like for instance, if the dining table has turned into your work desk, start returning it to it’s pre-COVID state. These changes are also best if they are made gradually so your parrot does not become stressed or agitated.
Although all pets’ needs should be considered and accommodations planned out, parrots are exotic animals and require a lot of special care. In addition to preparing them ahead of time for you to go back to work, you need to think about their needs while you are gone. Birds in captivity require both mental and sensory stimulation, physical enrichment and socialization to stay happy and healthy,
Wild parrots are challenged each day as they find food, avoid predation, and interact with other members in their flock. Plan ways to provide for bird enrichment as you're preparing to head back to the office.
Some good forms of bird enrichment include teaching your pet to play with bird foraging toys. Birds also enjoy interactive puzzle toys and destructible toys. These toys mimic the bird’s natural behaviors in the wild and will help your parrot to be satisfied and comfortable even in your time away.
First, try swapping out bird toys regularly and reinforcing your bird as it plays with them.
Next, introduce foraging toys for birds and reinforce this rewarding activity as much as possible. A bird that has learned the joy of foraging can self-entertain all day long.
You can also start introducing new foods in fun ways, training your bird to do tricks, and introducing it to new people and places. This will keep its mind sharp and help prevent melancholy or destructive behaviors from developing.
Wild birds not only get a lot of mental stimulation, but also plenty of sensory stimulation which helps them to enjoy their lives and be aware of the world around them. In a natural setting, parrots are constantly listening to the rich sounds of other animal in the environment and communicating with flock mates.
They also monitor the area for predators and pay attention to their environment for any changes in routine. In captivity, sensory enrichment can be anything that requires your bird to use its senses. That is sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.
Some good examples of sensory bird enrichment are leaving the TV or radio on. Music, videos, or even placing their enclosure in a room with a window can all be great ways to offer sensory enrichment.
My birds love Bird TV For Parrots on YouTube! They get to watch and listen to healthy captive parrots go about their day doing enriching behaviors like paying with toys, foraging, and grooming.
Sensory enrichment is necessary in keeping a parrot happy and healthy, but like most things, it is best not to over do it. Trial and error of different ideas will be the best way to find what your bird likes best and what will make these upcoming changes easier to handle.
Has your bird turned into a couch potato? Just sitting around on its perch for most of the day? This is kind of gross, but you can tell by looking at where the poop accumulates. A bird that is moving throughout its environment leaves droppings all over. A perch potato leave a pile in just a few places.
Physical enrichment for parrots kept in captivity is very different to that of birds in the wild. In their natural environment, parrots fly, walk, run, jump, and climb each day, while captive birds spend a lot of time sitting or shuffling around their enclosure.
Some people opt to provide their birds with an aviary which gives their parrot plenty of space to perform ‘locomotor behaviors’, like wild parrots experience, as they please. Other people create foraging trees like this Java Tree. My birds have a Java Tree right outside of the open cage door where they haver foraging activities and toys.
If this is not possible for you, there are other options you can choose to provide your parrot physical enrichment. Toys that can be chewed up, ladders, swings, and puzzles are all good choices. These toys can encourage your parrot to move around their enclosure, stretching their muscles and passing the time.
Another option, albeit more serious and formidable, is training your bird to perform free flight. This is, however, not something that every bird owner, or every bird for that matter, is properly equipped for.
If you think this may be a possibility for you and your bird, you should do lots of research and spend plenty of time training and bonding with your parrot. You’d be advised to reach out to a professional to support your training efforts.
Free flight, when performed safely and correctly with your bird, is one of the most natural forms of enrichment that you can offer. Not only is free flight physically demanding, but also it provides mental and sensory stimulation, and social interaction.
Like most intelligent animals, birds love social interaction between other birds and or people to maintain good mental health. This is usually done in one of two ways; direct social interaction like enclosure pairings, social rooms, or flights with multiple birds, or indirect, where the birds can see or hear other birds.
Or, if you do not have other birds, your parrot might get enrichment from Bird TV or other video’s. If you truly have to be away for most of each work day, consider asking another family member or close friend to stop by the house to check in on your parrot. Even just a few minutes gives your bird a ton of bird enrichment.
If you acquire a new bird during the pandemic, first, quarantine it for at least 30 days to ensure that it isn't carrying a hidden, but dangerous disease. But, even during this time, slowly start offering it bird enrichment opportunities like bird toys to chew, music, Bird TV, and acclimating it to you.
Parrot calming supports might take the edge off as your bird is learning independent skills and how to entertain itself. There are essentially three classes of bird calming supplements. Amino Acids, essential vitamins and minerals, and CBD oil for birds.
Two science-backed amino acids that support a calmer mood are L-Theanine and GABA. Amino acids are organic compounds that form proteins in the brain. They are considered the building blocks of life.
Certain vitamins and minerals are essential for brain health, too. B-vitamins support calmer moods as does calcium and magnesium.
And, bird CBD is also believed to calm anxious nerves.
Talk to your avian vet before you introduce a new supplement to your bird and make sure that the supplement has been formulated especially for birds.
Signs that your parrot is struggling to adjust to the post-COVID lifestyle
- Lethargy or melancholy behavior
- Loss of appetite
- Uncharacteristic aggression
- Feather plucking or self-mutilation
- Repeated head bobbing or pacing
- Screaming or unusually loud vocalizations
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your parrot will struggle to adjust to the new normal in your home and your lives. It is not uncommon and you should not feel ashamed or angry. If you have tried the ideas listed above, and still find that your bird is unhappy, here are some additional ideas.
If your bird seems particularly lonely, have you thought about getting a second bird? This often works well as parrots prefer to live in flocks, and they can make great company for each other. Consider getting your bird a larger cage or even an aviary where it will get more exercise and be more comfortable. Lastly, if your parrot seems bored or is developing bad habits, ensure they have toys, puzzles, foraging feeders, and other enriching things to keep it busy.
Please remember that this article is simply for your information. If your parrot is struggling to adjust to life after you go back to work, get help. Your veterinarian will be a great source of information and advice, but behavioral specialists or mentors can be helpful too.
References and Resources
Filippo, M. S. (2020, June 22). COVID-19: 7 steps to help your pet prepare for your return to work. American Veterinary Medical Association. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/covid-19-7-steps-help-your-pet-prepare-your-return-work.
Kalhagen, A. (2019, June 3). How to Keep Parrots and Other Birds from Getting Bored. The Spruce Pets. https://www.thesprucepets.com/preventing-boredom-in-pet-birds-390764.
LaVelle, C. (2020, November 11). Returning to Work? Here's How to Help Your Pet (and Yourself) Manage the Stress. BeChewy. https://be.chewy.com/returning-to-work-heres-how-to-help-your-pet-and-yourself-manage-the-stress/.
Northeast Animal Hospital. (2020, May 8). Helping Our Pets Adjust When We Return to Work. Northeast Animal Hospital. https://www.northeastanimalhospital.com/services/dogs/blog/helping-our-pets-adjust-when-we-return-work.
TodayShow. (2020, April 30). Our pets will miss us when we return to work. Here's how to prep them for it. TODAY.com. https://www.today.com/pets/how-help-clingy-pets-cope-your-return-work-amid-pandemic-t180296.
Wells, K. (2020, August 8). How to Help Your Pet With Post-Quarantine Separation Anxiety. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/08/smarter-living/wirecutter/pets-quarantine-separation-anxiety.html#:~:text=Break%20up%20the%20day%20with,Sung%20said.
White, D. (2014). A Parrot's Need for Mental Stimulation. Avian Enrichment - Mental Stimulation. https://avianenrichment.com/learn/emotional-needs/mental-stimulation#:~:text=Parrots%20have%20to%20be%20able,to%20have%20a%20social%20nature.
Diane Burroughs, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist trained in ABA therapy techniques. She specializes in avian anxiety disorders and is certified in Nutrition For Mental Health. Diane has written a number of bird behavior books and she offers behavior consultations. She's developed a range of UnRuffledRx Science-backed Parrot Wellness Supplies.
Diane's products have been featured in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery and at Exoticscon, a conference for exotic pet veterinarians. Her bird collars & supplements are stocked in avian vet clinics and bird stores throughout the US. With over 30 years in the field of behavior, Diane has created thousands of successful individualized behavior plans that help pets thrive.
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