This article is about giving medication to multiple parrots in a multi-parrot home. For instructions on giving medication to a single (particularly untrained) parrot, I previously wrote about giving medication to my Green-Winged Macaw.
My flock was diagnosed with Clostridium so now they all have to take medication for 21 days. Santina previously had it and received treatment but it did not stop the other birds from catching it as well. It is not clear if it is the food, environment, or other bird that is the cause. But regardless the entire flock needs to be medicated. The medication is administered orally once a day. The trouble is the duration for which it has to be given. This is a long enough of a period that the parrots must be trained to accept medication. Clever trickery may get you by a few days or a week. But anything longer and the parrot must be on board.
In most cases where a parrot requires medication in a multi-parrot home, the rest of the flock should receive the medication even if they don't show symptoms. My birds all seem to have it because they have been having smelly poop.
So on to the process of medicating a bunch of birds together. This may seem like a lot of work but actually if done right makes things a heck of a lot easier! Using modeling and a healthy dose of competition can get the birds to be more excited about doing something undesirable (like taking medication)!
I medicate the entire flock together and have turned it into a fun game for them. I have been taking advantage of each of my bird's strong points while avoiding their weaknesses in this medication process. This makes it appear to each of the other birds that the one they are watching really loves getting medication.
Kili is a super trained parrot so for her I set taking medication to be like a trick. I taught her to target the syringe, then to sip water, and finally to sip and swallow. Thus when I make the unexpected switch to real medication she just takes it. Santina is a great follower. She likes to do what the others are doing. So between the original medication sessions that I had with her modeling off of me and the recent ones of modeling from the other birds, she is doing very well. Truman is a bit of a runt and doesn't want to take medication but I've been working past that with him as well. He drinks water like a camel so I've been letting him get thirsty and then enjoy drinking a lot of water from the syringe. Because each bird appears eager to participate in the medication process (although each for different reasons) it encourages the remaining birds to cooperate and try harder. Nobody wants the competition to get more!
Here are some more elements that have made the process so successful. I practice the "medication process" with just water in the syringe twice a day although medication only comes once. For every 1 sip of medication, the birds are probably getting 40 sips of water. This makes the undesirable medication not only unpredictable but also fairly negligible in the greater scheme of getting water from the syringe. The birds get pellets as treats so this makes them more thirsty for water sips from the syringe. The pellets also soak up medication in their beaks and ensure that it is swallowed. Also I stopped providing water in the cage and have been giving it by hand only to ensure that the birds desire fluids at the necessary time. Spitting out and not receiving the medicine is far worse. So instead I let them sip some of their drinking water from the syringe and the rest they get from a bowl in my hands. This is similar to when we travel so they are perfectly used to it.
The thirstier/hungrier birds are far less picky. They used to spit out pellets that got medication on them from inside their beaks. Truman in particular would shake his head and spit out the medication. But now with this training system in place, the birds are far more cooperative. With practice, they now know the routine very well and are even more cooperative. In their competition with each other to get water and treats, they seem to forget their resistance to the medication and it is a win/win for everyone.
It is important to understand that the objective is not to simply get the medicine into the bird but to succeed in completing the entire medication process. Tricking or forcing the bird to take medication will only work a few times. In an emergency, you do what you gotta do. But if the bird is in condition to be trained, it is far far better to have a bird that wants to take medication than a bird that flies away or bites you because it knows what is coming. This is why even after the birds get the real medication, I keep practicing with them with the water. In fact, I would say they get the real medication about a quarter of the way into the session. This is when motivation is highest and it makes it least predictable as to when it will happen. Since they all come over to me when they see a syringe, I know I have succeeded in applying positive reinforcement to taking medication!
Being single with parrots isn't easy. When it comes to dating, it's kind of like being divorced with kids. People look at you funny. They don't want to inherit your feathered children problems. I think I can speak for a lot of single parrot owners that it certainly makes things difficult.
My commitment is first and foremost to my parrots. They were there for me when I was alone, when I was happy, and just the same when I was sad. My parrots are family and you can't turn your back on family. So, if you want to be my lover, you've got to love my parrots too.
Yet, finding a potential match required that she would accept my parrots but not have other pets herself. A bit selfish, but what could I do when I was already committed to my birds? I wasn't looking for someone who has parrots or even necessarily likes them, but just someone who could accept them as part of me.
The kind of person that could say “it's me or the parrot” isn't even the kind of person I could have a relationship with regardless. If someone could think that way, then what would stop them from saying “it's me or the TV” or “it's me or your family” etc. No. The way someone feels about my bird family is how they feel about me.
So here's the story of how I met my lovebird, my perfect match. The story goes back to this spring when my little rascal Truman went out on his city adventure. While Truman was lost, I got some help from a parrot loving guy called Ronen. Ronen didn't find Truman, but he helped give me spirit to go on searching after 2 hard days and he took me to the place where Truman would be found. Ronen and I became friends and began to take our parrots out together. We started the NYC Parrot Adventures Group together to invite even more parrot loving New Yorkers to join us with their birds.
I remember the first day Marianna came out to meet us in Coney Island with her Blue and Gold Macaw named Rachel. She was late and rather shy. My first reaction was of annoyance. It was a cold gloomy evening and I was just anxious to take my birds home. I had Kili and Truman with me. She was so excited to meet the celebrity birds that she just couldn't get the words out or be herself. I guess I can say at that point, I didn't even like her.
Marianna came to further parrot group outings and the first time I really noticed her was the way she handled Truman. Truman would just melt away in her hands. I caught a glimpse of her kind and loving nature. She held and caressed Truman endlessly and he would close his eyes in delight. Although Truman will tolerate anyone, he is still choosing about who he actually likes. I've been passing that feathered monkey around long enough to be able to really tell.
Like in a romantic comedy, when bumped together by others in our group (like sending us to get food), we would just stand there ignoring each other. It's easy to go on making a fool of yourself or talk about parrots to everyone else. But when it comes to talking to the pretty girl you have a crush on, you just end up looking mad because you don't know what to say. What Marianna couldn't say to my face, she told me through her love of my parrots. She communicated through them how she felt. Marianna volunteered to help me with Santina's Roar shoot and was a big help. With something specific to do together, we began talking and we began to discover how right we are for each other.
Marianna told me that she was leaving for 3 weeks on vacation and didn't even have a place arranged for her macaw to stay. She said that as a last resort she'd just board it at her local bird store. I thought about it and the next day called to let her know I'd board her bird for her! For 3 weeks, Rachel was a trained parrot! I didn't have time to teach her tricks but I focused on bonding and good behavior. Now Rachel is by no means a bad bird. She's only a 2 year old macaw so quite young. But in the last year as she has been getting older, she has begun to bite people other than her owner. I had previously worked on step-up with Rachel outdoors, so once under my influence, I had no trouble getting Rachel to step up. However, Rachel would not let me pet her head or hold her. So during the time Rachel stayed with me, I got her comfortable being pet, held, grabbed, and putting her harness on. As you can imagine, Marianna and I stayed in close contact about things while she was away. Marianna came back from her trip not only to find a tamer parrot, but also an invitation to go out on a date.
Things have really taken off ever since. Not only did it turn out we have a common interest in parrots but also just about everything else as well. It's a one of a kind match that started as something more akin to a rivalry. Now we do everything together.
What's great is that our parrots get along with each other and with both of us. All of our parrots are great with both of us. Even Kili, who has a history of terrorizing people I'd invite home, likes Marianna and asks her for head-scratches. Truman may well like Marianna better than me. Kili, sitting on my shoulder, will let Marianna hug me and be near without any jealousy (for a Senegal, that is pretty unbelievable). Santina, although she doesn't want to be touched, likes Marianna too. Santina starts dancing and talking whenever Marianna is near. Also Santina gets along well with Rachel. And Rachel gets along with me. That's our awesome parrot family.
Getting the parrots to get along with each person and each other is no coincidence. It is the culmination of years of training, the right environment, and the right approach. Marianna and I make sure to include our parrots in our lives in such a way that makes them enjoy being part of this group in harmony rather than rivalry. They all get their special attention both privately and as a group. We include the birds on outings and in our daily routines. I left a big travel cage with Marianna so that Kili or Truman can come spend a week at a time with her and get even more used to things. Our parrots' approval is probably the most important of all and it is evident that we have it.
So all you parrot singles out there, I want to introduce you to a concept called parrot mingles. Join a parrot club, volunteer at a rescue, hang around your local bird store, start a parrot outing group. Who knows maybe you or your parrot will find their match!
I just want to mention Kristine who met her boyfriend Justin while taking her Senegal Parrot Qubit to the park. She's a member of our NYC Parrot Adventures Group and is working on taming Justin to be comfortable with her birdie. Show your parrot love and maybe some day it will help you find yours as well!
When you keep multiple parrots, particularly of certain species, they will eventually get into fights. The main thing is keeping these as painless and damage free as possible. Besides keeping the birds separate and never having them out together, there is unfortunately little you can do. But here are a few tips to minimize fighting:
-All birds in cage or out (if in same room as cages or they are accessible) -Don't clip wings, flighted birds can get away -Avoid provoking jealousy between birds -Give them tasks to do be it training, toys, or activity -Don't leave bored birds out when your mind is elsewhere -Keep competition for food/toys/attention reasonable -Know your species and how they get along with others -Avoid over exciting the birds -Keep your relationship friendly but don't encourage mating behavior -Manage hormonal levels through light, food, and resources -Socialize the parrots and take them out together to get used to cooperation -Use training to teach the birds to tolerate each other to establish a baseline compatibility -Keep interactions brief enough that they don't get too fed up with each other or bored to the point of wanting to fight
I really strongly discourage clipping when it comes to birds that don't get along or get into fights. I know that on one hand the fear of them getting in each other's way exists because they are more mobile. But on the other hand, and more importantly, flight lets them get away. The worst fights and greatest damage occurs when two parrots incapable of flight tumble on the floor (or one corners the other in a cage). Clipped parrots find ways of getting at each other anyway or can end up on the floor, this puts them in a helpless situation and makes them resort to fighting. At this point both birds have no choice but to fight as flying away isn't an option. When left out in the open, parrots will tend to avoid fights by flying away or fly out of the fight before things get too dangerous.
Here's a video of Kili my Senegal Parrot attacking the much larger Truman Cape Parrot. These sorts of fights end very quickly and impossible to predict. That's why it is rare to have them on video. It just so happens that I was videoing my Q&A video when this fight erupted so I have the footage to present to you. It's particularly interesting to watch in slow motion and realize what is actually going on. Otherwise it all goes down in the blink of an eye and the birds fly their separate ways.
So it's been 6 months since I adopted Santina; but it's also been a few months since the macaw was introduced to the other two. I'd like to take a little time to talk about the flock dynamics that are emerging.
Initially, Kili had been an only bird. Then for a short time she shared the household with a budgie and eventually with Truman. The dynamic between Kili and Truman had always been where Kili was boss. Kili could take any perch from Truman at any moment. Truman got used to being the "little bird." Now things changed yet again with the addition of another bird.
Whenever considering the addition of another bird it is absolutely essential to consider how this bird will fit into the existing flock structure. You can't just simply say "I want this kind" and disregard whether existing birds will agree or not. When it comes to Kili, I know that she will bully any bird that is smaller or several times her size. This is why when I got Truman, I was only considering birds that were bigger than her that could handle the aggression. Even at triple her weight and 1.3x her size, Truman tends to lose most fights to her.
Santina is obviously much bigger than the other two but her personality also plays a big factor. She's not aggressive, she's slow, hulking, lazy. These qualities make her a lesser threat to the existing smaller birds. In fact, she would not go after them and they could out fly her any time, even if she could fly. So that's one side of the issue eliminated. On the flip side, the biggest danger is if the little guys put themselves in the way.
Initial introductions were to build favorable first impressions, start peacefully, and get the birds used to being around each other without causing trouble. However, beyond this early acceptance, the rest they have to work out on their own. This happens little by little through experimentation as the birds cross each others paths (whether intentionally or inadvertently).
The only trouble I ran into was that Santina finished her hazelnut quickly and started to pry Truman's nut out of his beak and scared him. The trick is to keep them busy with more nuts or to separate the birds before any trouble can erupt. This gives them a chance to get used to being around each other and not have aggressive thoughts. As sitting near each other begins to work, trick training the parrots on the same perch is also a great idea to teach cooperation.
Another thing that greatly improves the flock dynamic is taking the parrots outside together. Even if enemies at home, they tend to stick together outdoors against all the other mayhem. This socialization experience builds better bonds between the parrots that you bring home with you (with time). I've been taking the parrots out two and sometimes even three at a time. I put them down on fences or benches in close proximity to each other and keep them busy with training and food. They behave very well together in this type of setting.
Interestingly, Truman was never scared of Santina (more than triple his weight and size) from the very beginning. Kili, the bird that fearlessly bullies Truman, stays away from Santina. Kili is a true bully, she'll only pick fights she knows she can win. Truman on the other hand is the bumbling dodo. Truman will cross Santina's path thoughtlessly. And I want to reiterate that he's doing this in a non-aggressive way. When Kili goes after Truman, you can tell it is with malicious intentions. Truman on the other hand, doesn't actually go after Santina but he walks by her entirely focused on whatever he is after. Truman does not notice the far bigger macaw perched there and brushes right by her. His behavior comes off as bold. But his boldness is not in him thinking that he can take on the bigger bird but him not thinking at all. This is how Truman lands himself in trouble all the time.
This is exactly what happens between Truman and Santina. They have potential together as they are both non-aggressive birds but Truman is a bit of a dummy and puts himself in her way. Half the time this happens too quickly for Santina to react. Other times she runs away not knowing how this little bird can be coming right at her. Sometimes she puts her beak out defensively though. She does not attack or bite but simply tries to defend herself. Truman has been known to try to land on her and she needs to send him a reminder that her head is not a landing pad. Here's a video that perfectly illustrates the sort of character that Truman is:
First a word about each parrot's personality and the role it plays in the flock. Kili is the oldest (at least in my mind because I got her first, in hers as well I'm sure!) and for sure the most aggressive. As a Senegal Parrot, it's just in her nature. But I have trained almost all of that aggression out of her so she is super well-behaved. But there is no guarantee that she won't try to attack Santina and start a dangerous war. Truman is an easy going Cape Parrot. He has been bullied by Kili all his life and has become accustomed to having to yield his perch. He is absolutely non-aggressive and doesn't start fights. He is, however, stubborn and provoking. Until Kili gives him a good bite, he doesn't want to yield. Santina, being a green-winged macaw, is the biggest parrot. She is also a rescue with not a fully known history. She is extremely friendly and non-aggressive with me but she has been known to bite others. I have to be careful with her because she has the potential to hurt any of the other birds. But on the flip side I also know that she doesn't hurt anyone she likes. It will be important to get everyone to be on her good side.
The very first step in the introduction process has been to not do anything and just let the birds see each other through the bars from a distance. I did not want to overwhelm anyone by forcing an interaction prematurely. The next portion of the process is to begin the introduction in safe foolproof ways. There absolutely cannot be a fight or provocation. The birds must only get used to being near each other but without resorting to fighting. Since I am limited in being able to control what my parrots do, I have to shape the environment and interactions for success. The essential thing to prevent for now, is for two parrots to end up in close enough proximity to be able to start a fight for any reason. Thus the challenge is to bring the parrots closer together while keeping them apart.
To bring the parrots closer together without potential physical contact, what I have been doing is getting Kili or Truman in a grab (they like being grabbed so it's no problem) and holding them near Santina. I kept them out of biting range for sure. At first I kept them at some distance but progressively approached closer. This is a way to directly control the first interactions and helps me establish the relationship for both birds simultaneously. What I don't want is for them to establish relationships on their own terms because I don't know what those terms might be. I would rather take it slowly and ensure tolerance and ideally friendship between everybody. While holding one of the old world parrots in my grab, I would use my free hand to give scratches to both. I'd alternate between giving Truman a head scratch and then Santina.
By alternating my attention between the two birds, I deter jealousy and encourage mutual cooperation. You may recall that I encouraged cooperation between Kili & Truman by using the prisoner's dilemma in making them have to work together to get mega-treats. I would recall the birds to fly to me together and unless both came, neither would get the treats. They learned to work together for mutual success. Likewise, by requiring both Santina and Truman to be calm in each other's presence to earn head scratched, I am able to build a similar experience. Both birds were earning welcome head scratches that they would not have been getting otherwise at that time.
While holding Kili or Truman in a grab near Santina, I was carefully assessing each bird's body language. I was careful not to evoke any aggression while promoting responses most closely associated to contentedness. Nothing bad was happening to any bird but only good things. Interestingly, Santina was very calm. Although she showed some modest interest, she did not show the aggressive body language I have come to recognize that she makes when she ultimately ends up biting people. With Truman's approach, Santina simply turned her head around backwards and proceeded preening. This is definitely a sign of calm and trust. Likewise, Kili & Truman showed no aggression and enjoyed extra scratches.
By keeping the guest parrots in my grab, I was able to get Santina to associate some of the happiness she feels in seeing me toward seeing these other birds. They were a sort of extension of my reach. Santina's trust of the fact that anything I present to her is good, also helped. I repeated this grabbed showing exercise a few times.
The next step was to introduce some closer interaction with greater freedom without letting the parrots cross paths. I began working on flight recalls in the bird room with Kili & Truman. With Santina on a stand at the far end of the room, I gave Kili & Truman the freedom to fly in the same room as her. So even though they could fly up to her and start a fight, they didn't. They know how to focus on a training session and ignore all else during this time. This is where a focused training approach comes in really handy when introducing birds. The birds don't even have to know how to fly or do complex tricks. Just getting each bird to focus on some sort of known positively reinforced behavior (such as target) is a great starting point. The training creates sufficient distraction while also inadvertently reinforcing the parrots for being in proximity without contact. Santina wasn't neglected during this training time either. While Kili & Truman would be eating their treats, I would continue training with Santina as well.
By using pellets as treats for all birds, I was able to buy sufficient consumption time that I never had more than one unoccupied bird at a time. While the parrots were occupied eating their treats at distant ends of the room, there was no opportunity for aggression. With time and progress, I would have the birds end up closer to each other. I had Kili or Truman buzz right by Santina in flight to recall to me. They would ignore her presence and focus on flying to me instead. Since Santina was preoccupied eating her own treat during that time, she had little reason for concern either. Interestingly, Santina was not bothered or surprised to see these flying birds despite being clipped and living around clipped birds.
To take things even further, I began finding reasons to give a nut to each bird and putting them near each other to eat it. A nut is a really big deal for all of my birds and it keeps them so occupied that they notice little else while consuming it. I would have each bird do something to earn a nut and then put each on adjacent perches. None of the perches were in stepping distance of each other but the flighted parrots could easily hop or fly the gap if they really wanted to. But since all birds were preoccupied enjoying their nuts, nobody went anywhere and the all of the parrots had practice being in each other's proximity without doing anything undesirable.
These early introductions have been very successful. I will continue training the parrots near each other while maintaining separation. With time the separation will be reduced. I will also take the parrots places together. I have found that travel and socialization really brings parrots together in their familiarity with each other but not the new places. Lastly, at some eventual times the parrots will inadvertently come in each others immediate proximity and I will be evaluating the outcomes and whether or not they can be let together for any extended or unsupervised spans of time.
This is not an absolute approach to parrot introductions but it works well for me. This is the method by which I originally introduced Kili & Truman to each other and it worked. Now I am using the same for Santina. Having a good training background and well-behaved parrot in the first places are important requisites to having success with this introduction approach. So if you haven't already, check out my book, The Parrot Wizard's Guide to Well-Behaved Parrots to help you get to a point where applying this kind of training, being able to grab your parrots, etc are all possible in order to take advantage of these introduction techniques.