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Parrot Husbandry 101

What you need to know about parrot husbandry

Parrots are beautiful pets, but you must know that they are actually wild at heart, so proper parrot husbandry is crucial. They have a variety of instinctual behaviors, which are crucial for survival in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, many of these behaviors are difficult for uninformed people to live with. The sad truth, though, is that a parrot that isn’t allowed to engage in natural parrot behaviors will become highly stressed 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 a 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 regarding species specific needs, the more that we'll know about parrot husbandry.

Here’s how you do parrot husbandry

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.

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. 

Visual enrichment can take the form of colorful toys, bird safe plants, placing the cage by a window, leaving the television on or playing videos for the bird. Auditory enrichment is just as important, especially when you consider how much birds love to communicate with each other. Playing the television or music helps parrots feel connected. You can make videos of you going about your daily activities for your bird to watch. This is especially valuable when you go on vacation. My parrots love lengthy YouTube videos of featuring rainforest sounds and images. Some of these videos feature birds and other colorful visual stimuli. Taste and smell enrichment is achieved by offering your bird a large variety of fresh foods.

Enrichment can also be in the form of taking your bird out of the cage each day so that it can engage in family routines. Having your parrot out with you as your going about your usual activities can be fun for both of you. A lot of people love to take their parrot on outings in a bird carrier or on a leash. Parrots love getting outdoors, just make sure that they are always carefully supervised when outside. I have a friend who took his parrots on a backpacking trip to Utah in a Pak O Bird Carrier.

Providing constant and varied environmental enrichment will enhance your pet’s quality of life and thwart off challenging behavior. Take our test and find out your level of environmental parrot enrichment.                     

Parrot Husbandry Test:

Instructions: Answer each parrot husbandry question honestly with Yes or No

  1. My bird’s cage is at least twice the size of it’s wingspan. 
  2. My bird has out of cage time each day.
  3. My bird uses a play stand that allows it to climb and play 4 or more times a week.
  4. I’ve got a harness and allow my bird to fly.
  5. My bird gets 10-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.
  6. My bird gets to be in the sun or has a full-spectrum light each day.
  7. I used a number of foraging stations around the cage and on the play stand.
  8. I have puzzle style bird toys to encourage foraging
  9. I feed a premium pellet diet.
  10. My bird gets fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and grains several times a week.
  11. I routinely give my bird showers..
  12. My bird spends time with the family each day.
  13. If I’m not home, I leave the TV on or provide some other type of visual and auditory stimulation for my bird.
  14. My bird has access to a variety of toys to chew and destroy.
  15. I talk to my bird.
  16. I teach my bird tricks.
  17. My loud bird and I have a routine to get the “screams out.”
  18. I’ve made a video of myself talking to my bird that I can play for my bird when I’m not at home.

Now, count how many statements you were able to answer yes to.

15 - 18 Yes = Great! Score

14 - 12 Yes = Good

11 or less Yes = Get to work