By Diane Burroughs
Parrots are beautiful pets, but you should know they’re actually wild animals at heart, so proper care of parrots is key. They have a wide variety of unique needs that are vital to their survival in their natural habitats. Sadly, many of these needs are difficult to grasp by the uninformed person, though. The sad truth is though, if a parrot is not allowed to engage in normal parrot behaviors it will experience severe stress, both physically and emotionally..
You’ve taken on a big challenge by adopting a parrot as a pet! With proper parrot husbandry practices, it will turn into a long-lived, wonderful companion. Here is what you need to know about parrot husbandry, in a nutshell.
Your parrot needs a suitable environment that allows it to mimic the behavior of its own species in the wild, as much as possible. This is fundamental to your pet’s well-being. A captive parrot that is able to engage in natural instincts and behaviors has a much better quality of life. Please know that the more researchers uncover species-specific needs, the more that we'll know about parrot husbandry.
Parrot husbandry is the process of caring for and breeding parrots. This includes providing them with a clean and safe environment, proper nutrition, and healthcare. Parrots are high-maintenance birds, and their cages must be kept clean and free of debris. They also need access to fresh water and a variety of toys and perches to keep them healthy and happy.
Bird care doesn't stop at the cage door! You'll also want to make sure they have daily exercise, social interaction with you or other humans, and that they're not too warm or too cold. These few simple steps will ensure that your parrot has an enjoyable life as well as an extended one!
Exercise: Parrots are energetic creatures that need plenty of exercise. You can accomplish this with as large of cage as you can afford, taking into account bar spacing. Allow for plenty of out of cage time. Some people find it helpful to set up a bird room with a play stand next to the cage, allowing the bird tom come out and play at will. Parrots love to climb and horizontal cage bars allow for this favorite activity. Never the less, parrots often use their beak as a “third hand” and can climb up almost anything that they can get their feet around. The most enriching form of exercise for a parrot is flying. I urge you to consider flight training from a professional. A bird harness will allow you to get your bird out while preventing a fly away. Taking your bird outside in nice weather also allows your bird to receive the benefits of natural sunlight. When you can’t offer your bird natural sunlight, consider a full spectrum light for Vitamin D3 exposure.
Sleep: Parrots are equatorial in nature. That means that they need more sleep than you do. Just like you and I, without adequate rest your parrot will feel irritable and stressed. Plus, too much light may cause your parrot to become hormonal. Your parrot should have a quiet, totally dark area to sleep each night, year around. It should receive 10 to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Sleep is another reason to have a dedicated bird room. If you have a noisy household, consider covering the cage at night.
Diet: In the wild, parrots have access to a rainforest full of nutritious and tasty foods that vary with the seasons. Parrots have to search, sometimes for miles, to obtain a variety of foods to maintain their health and they frequently have to work to retrieve their food, such as chipping away at bark, digging through pulp or even into dirt, or breaking open seeds and nuts. When one member of the flock finds a food source, he may call out loudly to his flock mates. To simulate dietary enrichment, encourage your parrot to eat a large variety of safe vegetables, fruits, herbs and leafy greens. Hide foods in puzzle style foraging toys and create 6-10 foraging stations in the cage and on the play stand.
Feather Care: Parrots rely on their feathers for mating rituals, protection, insulation and flight. You can observe them preening for, sometimes, hours a day. They are working to realign each and every feather barb so that ruffled feathers are ready for flight. Parrots are from rainforest regions and their bodies have adapted to needing a humid atmosphere. Running a humidifier will be helpful, as are daily baths in softening up feathers and skin. Usually, just plain water will do the trick, unless your parrot has gotten into a mess. Daily baths remove itchy dust and dander from the skin and rinse off the feathers. Daily baths encourage a bird to realign feathers and discourage plucking behaviors. Some people say that their parrot loathes bath time, but that is because it hasn’t been conditioned to know that it is good for them or the bird gets chilled when wet. Start off slow with a gentle mister and make sure to make bath time like a fun game. Be careful to keep your bird out of drafts and not to let it get chilled. If you live in a cold climate, you may want to blow the bird dry or get a heated perch to prevent chilling.
Socialization: Being flock animals, parrots are exceedingly sociable. In the wild, their entire existence relies on the flock keeping each other safe and helping each other find food and other necessities. Flock members work in communion to get all of their needs met. Wild parrots are in constant communication with each other, too. They are very vocal souls, chattering and calling out both findings and warnings. Each parrot has a distinctive voice and flock members call each other throughout the day to discover each other’s whereabouts. For loud species, consider creating a routine time when your bird can be loud without consequences. Turn the music up and dance! Get that need to scream out in controlled way. Your pet parrot has an instinctual need to be in the company of others. It thrives on social activity so much that lack of companionship causes it considerable distress and anxiety. Parrots love to be out of the cage and with you as much as possible. When they are not with you, it is very important to provide a variety of enriching supports that keep their mind occupied.
Infographic by BirdSupplies.com. All rights reserved.
Enrichment: Insuring that your parrot receives considerable enrichment is the key for parrot mental health. This is especially true for singly housed parrots. Enrichment can come in several forms. The goal is to stimulate as many natural behaviors as possible by providing enriching sensory opportunities. For instance, your bird can achieve tactile enrichment by chewing wood, shredding paper and playing with items using their feet. Parrots are physically and mentally equipped to tackle a variety of strategies to access a variety of foods in the wild. They peel plant pulp and break open seeds, fly for miles to clay licks for minerals, dig into the ground to obtain bugs and other food items. Create foraging food stations that require your parrot to work for its food. Parrot foraging toys are available on a number of websites but you can also make your own. Provide for intellectual enrichment by offering up puzzle toys and creating various foraging stations in the cage or on a foraging tree that the bird can access.
A parrot needs a few things in its cage to stay healthy and happy. First, it needs a surface on which to stand. Birds need to exercise their feet, so the perch needs to be the right size so they can wrap their feet around it.
Second, choose toys to keep it entertained and mentally stimulated. Pick the appropriate size of toy for the bird. You need to get toys that are smaller and less scary for smaller birds. If it's made of wood, make sure it's soft enough that they can chew through it. Birds prefer puzzles, chewing toys, interactive toys, and destructible toys.
Third, it needs a place to hide if it feels scared or wants some privacy. Finally, it needs you! Parrots are social creatures and need regular interaction with their human companions.
They also require more care than other types of pets because they're sensitive to changes in diet, temperature, light cycles, and environment. The good news is that this makes them all the more rewarding when properly cared for; most people who've had success keeping parrots say they can't imagine life without them now.
1. They don't do their research
2. They buy the first parrot they see
3. They don't set up a proper cage
4. They don't know what to feed their parrot for lifelong health
5. They don't socialize their parrot properly
6. They forget to give baths and change bedding
7. Their bird usually doesn't get enough sleep
8. They don't know how to pet a parrot 9. They often have too many parrots at once
9. They don't train their parrot
10. They forget that all parrots are different, not all of them will behave the same way
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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