While I sit at the airport waiting to go home, I recall the experiences I had on my 2016 Europe Seminar series. I would like to share some of my thoughts and experiences about the events and how Europeans keep parrots as pets.
The first of two Seminars was in Germany. It was similar to the first one held last year. People arrived from all parts of Germany and even other countries for the talk. I am in contact with the German Flieger Club throughout the year as I teach several webinar courses to them. So the members of the club are all familiar with each other and parrots. However, many of them had not seen each other in person since the presentation the year before. The new annually held national conference is becoming as much a social tradition as an educational one.
Since Germany is a smaller country, the possibility of having a single national meeting is more possible. Although distant, even the furthest members can reach the meeting in one day's drive. Most of them bring their birds. It's really a lot of fun. The club is growing fast. So fast, that the seminar was at capacity and required simultaneous presentations to fit everyone.
The German approach to parrot keeping is somewhat different than what is typical in the United States. First of all, the parrot industry is much younger than in the US. Therefore finding parrots and good supplies is more difficult. The typical age of a pet parrot seems to be much younger as well. I can't be sure if this is only relevant to members of the club or of the situation nationwide. But, I can tell you that meeting so many parrot owners in the US, it would be inevitable to come across more older birds.
Wing clipping is illegal in Germany like some other European countries. Every parrot you come across is fully feathered. However, just because parrots are fully feathered does not mean they are fully flighted. Because some parrot owners are incapable of keeping flighted birds in their home, the birds end up cage bound and flightless just the same. So although it may appear that banning clipping might solve things, in reality it just changes the mechanism by which parrots are kept flightless. Educating parrot owners and ensuring that people buying birds realize the consequences of a flighted animal are the better solution to simply passing laws.
It seems like everything about parrot keeping is regulated in Germany. There are rules and laws about all sorts of aspects. Some of the laws are logical but many are not. They are clearly created by bureaucrats and not by people who are accustomed to living with pet parrots. The German Flight Club on the other hand is using education as a tool for teaching owners to take better care of their pets. Senior members serve as a model for newer members and provide help.
Parrot keeping seems like a couples activity in Germany. This is both in terms of the birds and the couples owning them. While in the US, it seems that parrots are mainly kept by single people or by one person out of a couple, in Germany it is predominantly a joint activity. Birds are usually kept with an opposite sex mate of the same species or of a similar species. Husband and wife will handle a bird each or trade turns holding both. Parrots are treated more like children and part of the family.
I came across many homemade cages of all sorts. Homemade outdoor aviaries are more common as well. The average cage size appears to be larger than in the US. But just because cages are better, does not mean that parrot keeping entirely is superior. In my opinion, the birds' diets in Europe are inferior to those in the US. Far fewer birds are fed pellets. Although variety of foods are offered, it is inevitable that the birds are mainly chowing down on seeds and not getting ideal nutrition. While parrot keepers' opposition to pellets as being “unnatural” is understandable, the seeds and alternative diets they offer are no more natural to these tropical birds. The problem is that owner-regulated diets are not guaranteed to offer balanced nutrition. Sprouting is much more prevalent in Germany. I was shown how they use a 3 day sprouter that ensures that new sprouts are coming out every single day.
My Seminar talks went well. Because most of the people have already been at it for 1-2 years, we were able to talk about more advanced topics than last year. It is nice to watch the progress and see people coming along. Even people who couldn't lay a finger on their birds a few years ago, were now bringing them to the seminar and able to put an Aviator Harness on them.
Like on my first visit to Germany, the second day was a nature walk with a massive number of owners and their pet parrots on Aviator Harnesses. Much was the same as last year except there were more participants and things went smoother.
I was greeted by a whole welcoming committee when I arrived to the Czech Republic. Unlike with the Germans, I really had very little idea what was going to happen. Not only have I done a seminar in the past with the German group, but the organizers speak English so we maintain direct contact. English is far less common in the Czech Republic and the little bit of communication I had with the organizers was through google-translated emails. The good news was that I had several extra days to spend with the organizers and get to know them.
I was originally contacted by Lukas Ruky nearly a year ago. He contacted me requesting me to do a freeflight course in the Czech Republic. It wasn't practical for me to travel to the one country alone. But when my second seminar in Germany was confirmed, it was a superb opportunity to combine two seminars. Because the initial contact was about flight training and I had little contact with the organizers since, I really was not sure of what I would be presenting at the Seminar. It sounded like an expert group looking for advanced advice.
But as I got to know the people and their parrots, I discovered that in fact parrot training is at it's absolute infancy in the Czech Republic. The organizers took me to 3 different parrot owner's homes so I could get to know them and their birds. Instead of coming across parrot experts, I encountered ordinary parrot keepers that wanted to learn the simple things every owner wants to learn. How to teach the parrot to step up? Not to Bite? Wear a harness to go outside? These are all the topics I am best in and it was no trouble at all coming up with topics for the seminar.
At first I was confused. The translator would tell me the organizers will have me visiting this breeder and that breeder. Then we arrive to their homes and it was just a cage and some usual pet birds. It wasn't until later that it was explained to me that in Czech, they don't have a separate word for breeder and pet owner. Instead it's a universal term similar to “bird raiser.” They use the term breeder both for breeders and the people who eventually keep them as pets.
I was taken to visit the Prague Zoo. The organizers were well connected both with the zoo trainer and the parrot zoologist. We had the opportunity to see parrots and training behind the scenes. I met Franta Susta, the head and only professional zoo trainer in all of the Czech Republic. He shared with me insights about how new the concept of training, and particularly positive reinforcement based training, is in the Czech Republic. Franta, in his 6ft some stature comes off as hulking. But it plays no role in his animal training as he prioritizes the animals' comfort and participation over using his strength to force them. Although an expert trainer, Franta was interested in learning and comparing ideas.
In addition to visiting the zoo, the organizers took me for a tour of Prague. It is a beautiful European city and quickly becoming one of the tourism jewels of Europe.
I would like to mention that I have found the Czech people to be the most hospitable and kind hosts I have ever met. They paraded me in food and gifts throughout my entire stay. The food was outstanding and excessively abundant. It was not possible to give a Czech a single gift without receiving ten in return! They are extremely generous people and a similarity can be seen in the way they keep their pets.
One of the homes I visited was a single room studio. The couple keeps a pair of African Grey parrots in the biggest stainless steel cage available. The cage takes up one tenth of the confined single room space. The cage was spotless, rich in food, and full of toys. Since there are few opportunities to buy good food/supplies in Europe, the owners pay double the normal retail price to get supplies shipped from the United States. So although there was barely any room for two people in the small studio, the birds had everything you could imagine. I found this to be the theme repeatedly. Perhaps these are only the people the organizers chose to show me and not the norm. But even the very existence of people who take such great care already helps raise the standards. I saw as many stainless steel cages in Czech as I had seen in all of the US.
I could feel that the hospitality offered to me extends to their parrots the same! During the Seminar, my challenge would not be to convince people to take better care. It would not be not to clip birds and let them fly. Instead it would be to not spoil them so much and give the parrots opportunities to earn their rewards. I thought that people who are used to raining their parrots and visitors and gifts would be resistant to the idea, however, the methods I shared were very well accepted. It was exciting not just to share my methodology but to see people who are eager to accept and apply it as well!
Smoking is much more prevalent in Europe and especially the Czech Republic. Smoking is terrible for the people's health but even more detrimental to the birds. I worry about the birds' health when people smoke around them whether at home or outside. Birds have very powerful respiratory systems to be able to breath effectively for flight. This makes them more prone to poisoning through the air than other animals. The thing I would hope to so improve the most is for people to abandon smoking for their birds' health and their own.
All kinds of members of the parrot community came to the seminar. From absolute beginner pet bird owners to breeders, trainers, and local experts. It was a diverse and eager crowd. And although translation hindered the pace, it was exciting to present information that people were being introduced to for the very first time. On the other hand, there were several participants who had independently purchased and applied my book prior. It was wonderful to hear that the techniques were already working for them.
During the Seminar talk, I predominantly relied on demonstrating with a toy parrot. I could not bring my own parrots overseas; most of the participants birds were too shy and insufficiently trained to be able to make clear demonstrations. There was no point for me, as a stranger, to scare their novice birds. However, on the second day for the workshop, we had some bolder birds. It was an opportunity to show the previously talked about concepts in action. We demonstrated the effective use of target training to teach a parrot to step up, learn the turn around trick, allow touch, grab, and petting, and learn to wear a harness.
So as my 2016 Europe Seminar series comes to a close, I head home knowing that the presentations made a difference. It certainly wasn't enough time to share everything I know. But it was enough time to educate and inspire many people to understand the kind of relationship they could have with their parrot and the initial steps to head in that direction. I am glad to be able to help exchange ideas and methods between continents so that the best methods can proliferate borders. We are beginning to form an international cooperation and community of caring pet parrot keepers.
I am available for seminars in 2017. Contact your local bird club, store, or breeder that is capable of hosting an event to consider inviting me for some talks.
Keeping our companion parrots safe and healthy is a top priority. Sure parrots are evolved to survive well on their own in the wild. However, the artificial environment of the human home can pose many dangers that a parrot would not be exposed to in the wild.
Being familiar with common household dangers is a must. But simply being familiar isn't enough. It is important to enact rules and systems into place that ensure that these dangers are removed or cannot be accidentally introduced. This article is by no means a definitive list but it is something to help get you thinking about bird safety.
Anything bad for people is already bad for parrots. Definitely no alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or narcotics. Coffee, tea, and chocolate are a big no-no for parrots because the light buzz effect we might get from them can cause heart problems and dehydration in parrots. Nothing with caffeine in it. And frankly no human drinks either. Parrots don't need to be drinking anything but water (nectar drinkers aside). A little bit of natural fruit juice can be safe but doesn't serve a purpose, better off just eating fruits then.
Parrots should not be given peanuts! The peanuts themselves aren't toxic but the shells can contain Aflatoxins which can be lethal. The risk just isn't worth it when there are plenty of safer nuts available. Excessively salty, sweet, or processed foods aren't toxic but they are bad. The more natural the better. Be careful to properly wash or peel skins from fruits as they can contain dangerous pesticides. Fruit pits/seeds are known to contain cyanide and should be avoided as well.
Avocado is another food that can be lethal if consumed by parrots. According to Donna Muscarella PHD, "Avocados are definitely toxic to parrots. They contain a cardiac glycoside ("persin") that leads to rapid cardiac arrest and death." While there have been some sightings of wild parrots consuming avocados, it is not understood if they have specific adaptations, natural dietary supplements, special selection skills, or if they do eventually succumb. For this reason, Dr. Muscarella concludes that "because avocados are so highly toxic to at least some species - and because there is no way to know this for a particular bird ahead of time- it is best to avoid feeding them."
Here is a video of Lorelei Tibbets LVT on the subject of intentional or unintentional feeding of avocados to parrots.
Other pets, particularly carnivorous pets such as cats, dogs, snakes, and ferrets can pose a life threatening danger to household birds. There are too many cases where the innocent dog that never hurt a fly catches a bird like a frisbee and that's the end of the bird.
However, another pet that can pose a big danger to a companion parrot is another parrot. Whether of the same species or not, even birds that get along can sometimes hurt or maim each other. It is important to give in depth consideration to keeping multiple parrots in direct contact of each other almost to the same degree as other kinds of pets. Also, parrots can harbor diseases or parasites so contact without quarantine can be dangerous as well.
Both household pot plants and woods can pose a hazard to your bird. Some woods, including oak and nutmeg can be dangerous. Obviously don't use these for perches but also take care that your bird isn't chewing up something that contains these. Plywood and MDF board can be dangerous because of the glues used to put them together. Certain pot plants can be dangerous as well. Here is a pretty extensive list.
Parrots are birds and birds can fly. Even with clipped wings, under certain circumstances, birds can fly just enough to fall into the same dangers that put flighted birds at risk. It is important to prevent the danger of ceiling fans, open doors, open windows, open water, and other dangerous things around the house. Furthermore, it's important to be careful not to slam a flying (or walking) bird with a door. It's important to hide/remove any toxic things around the home (or bird roamed area) that can be dangerous if chewed. Most of these will fall under environment anyway. But here's a more extensive flight safety article I wrote in the past.
There are many things that can harm our parrots around the house with or without them coming in direct contact. If they chew on wires, they can get electrocuted. There are many things that are toxic or just too dirty to be chewed. Care must be taken to prevent or supervise because left alone, you can only imagine the kind of trouble your parrot could get into. Teflon cookware, even used at a distance, can spew lethal fumes throughout the house. Aerosols sprays, scented candles, paints, and glue fumes can be dangerous as well. Avoid whenever possible. Keep the bird far away and the area well ventilated if unavoidable.
Perhaps the most underlooked danger to household parrots comes from humans themselves. Sure there are dangers such as mishandling or stepping on a bird. But the biggest danger still is complacency. Ignorance is just as dangerous but hopefully can be solved through learning. But complacency is being aware of things that are dangerous but doing them anyway. This type of mindset is what ultimately leads to harm to birds and it is the worst kind because it was avoidable.
The biggest reason people get complacent is because most of these hazards do not lead to instant death or do not necessarily cause harm every time they are encountered. Not every bite of avocado will be toxic, not every peanut will have aflatoxins, not every dog will try to eat the bird. However, over time, the continued exposure to these risks substantially increases the likelihood that the parrot will have long term health damage or death as a result. This is an article about how making excuses harms your bird.
There are so many dangers that are outside our knowledge or beyond our control. The least we can do to make our experience together safer is to take the known threats seriously and avoid them.
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!
There's no such thing as a free parrot. I get offered other people's parrots for free all the time and yet I do not accept them. People who offer will look at me in shock and think I'm crazy to turn down a $500 (retail) bird for free. The thing is, I don't see pets the way they do. To me, they are a part of the family and will cost a lot in terms of time and money to take care of. I don't want to have more than I can afford.
Now when it comes to the "price" of a parrot, the price up front is really a tiny part of the overall cost of owning a parrot. The costs of ownership far outweigh the acquisition costs of any parrot, including one from a store. Costs of keeping a parrot include vet bills, cage, food, perches, toys, cleaning supplies, house modifications (like bird proofing), and replacement of personal possessions destroyed by the bird. This does not even include the cost of educating yourself about parrot ownership because this will vary for people.
Walking around any bird store or rescue, I've been finding that the tameness of available birds is not much different. You'd be lucky to find a bird store where even 1/4 of the available birds are tame to the point of just stepping up on your hand.The ratio isn't much worse at a rescue.
Now when it comes to rehoming a parrot, I want to point out why you should never give it away for free (unless you personally know who the bird is going to). There are plenty of cases where con artists take free birds that they get and then sell them to make a profit. If you give away or sell a bird for less than the baseline market price for it, there is the possibility of it being resold for a profit. Who's hands it ends up then is entirely uncontrolled. Sometimes, an even worse fate awaits "free" birds being given away (especially budgies). Owners of snakes or other exotic pets will take free parrots and use them to live feed their exotics. Some might argue that it's the circle of life and natural. But there is nothing natural about being cornered in a glass aquarium with no chance of escape.
Because people get overly fixated on the price of exotic parrots, they become shortsighted about the far greater costs of keeping them. Giving away a parrot for free or for too cheap, gives the false impression that this is not only a worthless creature but also that it is easy to afford. Given the high expense of specialized products like food, perches, and toys to keep a parrot healthy, it is unreasonable to keep one on an extremely tight budget. While other types of pets may handle depravity better, parrots are known to self mutilate and develop major problems when void of adequate care and supplies.
Although there are many good reasons to acquire a parrot from a rescue, being cheap is not one of them. If a certain species of parrot will cost $1,500 at a store or $500 at a rescue, in the grand scheme of things, this is a negligible difference in cost and should not play a role in which to get. The initial vet visit can easily run $500-$1000 when done properly. A cage will be $500-$1000 either way. And on a parrot of that size, toy can easily expect to spend $1,500 every year thereafter for basic supplies to do an adequate job of caring for that bird. Even if kept for just 10 years at a cost of $1,500 per year, the total of $15,000 dwarfs the $1,000 saved by going to a rescue.
The adoption fee, price, or what have you of a parrot helps to establish a baseline cost of keeping such a creature. It also ensures the pay-worthiness of the adopter/buyer to being able to pay the costs of keeping the animal in the future. A parrot given away for free can easily get passed around by people because they have no financial or emotional investment so it is important to always include a reasonable rehome/adoption fee whether you need the money or not. Better still, find information, do training, and find ways to keep your parrot in the first place without the need to give it away. Just remember, there's no such thing as a free parrot. It will always involve a lost of cost and time to keep these creatures successfully.
Kili, Truman, and Santina set out on a quest to crack some really tough nuts. Kili, the lightweight, took on an almond in the background. Truman cracked a hazelnut and a brazil nut in less time than it took for Santina to crack her nut. But, Santina takes the prize for cracking the toughest of nuts, the Macadamia.
The patient macaw worked at it for a good half of an hour. She kept rotating and testing the nut looking for the weak spot. Truman uses a similar approach for hazelnuts, which for his beak size, should be nearly impossible. Santina could not just crack the Macadamia. The best she could accomplish with her powerful beak was to just chew a little hole into the top of the nut and then extract the inner goody with the tip of her beak.
I even got Santina to share her bounty with the two smaller birds by trading her a hazelnut which she could easily open. Kili and Truman dug in with their beaks and extracted some of the nut from the shell. Santina of course got her hard earned nut back to finish the job. I can assure you that not one morsel was left inside.
Some people ask me how I taught my parrots to open such difficult nuts. The truth is they learned to do it themselves but it was my encouragement that got them to try hard enough to get to that point. If I am trying to get a parrot to learn to open a new nut, I substitute training for a nut opening session. The same learning mindset comes into play and the same motivation that could be applied to training can be applied to learning to crack tough nuts. In the beginning I try to offer an opened nut or scour the shell with a knife so the bird can learn how good the result is. The next few times I try to find the smaller/easier nuts. And with time the bird learns patience and perseverance and can be kept busy for long periods of time with a tough nut to work on.
This was not just a nut opening exercise but also a tolerance training exercise for the flock. By getting them all busy and goal focused on their own tasks, I am able to teach them to tolerate each other in closer proximity without fighting. The Cape Parrot and Macaw shared the same perch for the entire duration. It's a good way to build friendship while challenging their jaws and minds. Check out this video of how the parrots crack some really tough nuts.