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Dutch Law Bans Hand-Rearing of Young Parrots: What’s Your Opinion?


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This month (July, 2014) the Netherlands became the first country to outlaw the hand-rearing of parrots. The law covers all Psittacines, including parakeets, cockatoos and lovebirds, and imposes fines and/or jail time upon violators. Bird breeders and private owners may not remove nestlings from their parents before the young are feeding on their own and otherwise independent; species-specific time frames are set out in the legislation. The process of hand-rearing, long touted as a means of bonding parrots to people, has been linked to a host of behavioral and health problems. While several countries extend similar protections to young dogs, cats and monkeys, the Dutch law is the first to include birds.


Bird breeders and owners worldwide are lining up for and against this ground-breaking law, and discussions have sometimes become heated. Where do you stand? Please let me know by posting your thoughts and opinions below.


Health Concerns (Physical and Mental)

While hand-reared parrots initially bond readily to their caretakers and so seem ideally-suited for life as companion birds, research conducted at the Netherlands’ Clinic for Birds (please see article below) suggests that problems often arise as the birds mature. Groups that have long lobbied for this law, including the Dutch Parrot Foundation, argue that parent-rearing is essential to such intelligent, social birds. Weakened immune systems, certain diseases, severe behavioral problems and other concerns have been linked to hand-rearing.


Cockateil and budgies

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Breeding Failures

Also, parrots that bond with humans often refuse to accept mates once they mature. Throughout my career, I have seen this occur in animals as diverse as Great Horned Owls and Gorillas, and it is generally irreversible. This phenomenon even extends to birds fostered by closely-related species. In zoos, the eggs of rare birds are sometimes pulled and placed below a hen of a related, more common species. This causes the rare female to produce a second clutch, increasing the potential population. Such chicks often identify with their foster species…in some cases imitating their call and preferring that species as mates. There are no set rules…Pink Pigeons fostered by Ring-necked Doves did fine for us at the Bronx Zoo, but human-reared birds of many species proved to be poor breeders.


Pet conure

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Does Hand-Rearing Perpetuate Bad Husbandry?

While critics of the new law abound, advocates believe that other countries will follow the Netherlands’ lead in time. I found one point raised by the Dutch Parrot Foundation to be particularly interesting, and in line with what I’ve observed over many decades of animal-keeping.


When environmental conditions and health are not ideal, captive animals curtail reproduction. With very few exceptions, this holds true for all taxa, from invertebrates to mammals. And when captives do breed, many species will refuse to raise the young, or may even kill and consume them, if all is not well (for example, many first-time hamster keepers learn the hard way that disturbing a new mom by frequently checking her litter invariably leads to disaster). Strange as it may sound, such behavior makes good sense, from a survival standpoint – parents do not waste time and resources caring for offspring that will not likely survive.


The same holds true with parrots. Some of the law’s opponents claim that hand-rearing saves lives, because so many parrots refuse to incubate eggs or abandon their chicks. However, the Dutch Parrot Society maintains that a pair’s failure to care for their chicks is a clear indication of bad husbandry practices. A poor chick-rearing record should be seen as a call for more research and better living conditions, not as an impetus to remove the chicks from their parents. Viewed in this way, one might say that chick-pulling allows sub-standard husbandry practices to continue, and does little to add to our understanding of certain species’ needs.


According to those who favor the law, once parrots are provided with a proper species-specific diet, suitably-sized and designed enclosures and other appropriate conditions, both breeding frequency and parenting success will improve. My experience with the Bronx Zoo’s huge, diverse bird collection, and with many other animal groups, also bears this out. Well, I’m not sure how this information will be received, but I’m betting there will be sparks! Please post your thoughts below.



Further Reading

Breeding Lovebirds

The Negative Effects of Hand-Rearing (Netherlands’ Clinic for Birds)


  1. avatar

    I’m a little ambivalent about this law. I think the good thing about it, is that the birds will grow up normal by their parents. And that it will hold down the sales to unexperienced new parrot-owners who thinks it would be an easy task to bring home a hand-raised bird. Just to realize a few months later that even though it has been hand-rasied, it still needs a lot of time, attention and love from their owners.

    I have a male Yellow-Winged Amazon who is 7 years old. Which i took over 3½ years ago.
    This is my very first own parrot (except for 3 Cockatiels I had as a young child) that i took care of.

    He was one hell of a bird when i took him over. With his previous owner he could do pretty much whatever he wanted, he chewed on everything and there was poop everywhere in her apartment. They really loved and cared for each other, but that’s all.

    So when he came home to me, my cat and my german shepherd I had a lot of work to do with him. And it was not an easy task to learn a 4 year old parrot who’s starting to get mature, to get some discipline an listen to me. It took me almost half a year to get him to realize that I was his new owner. We’ve been having a lot of fights on the road to get where we are now.

    Since it’s the first parrot of my own I’ve been constantly reading about hint and tips almost every day. I’m not that kind of owner who gets a parrot just to have an animal who can mimic and do tricks. I wanted a social and funny friend for the rest of my life. And that’s exactly what i got now.

    It took up a lot of my private time in the beginning, and stíll do of course. But I would never change the experience that it has been giving me to take over a bird who practically did never listen at all. To get him to listen to what i have to say, poop at the same spot every time and enjoy the life in a family with other animals.

    But now, I’m think of getting a second parrot. I havent decided wich species i want yet, they have so many different personalitys and skills. And I’m thinking of getting a hand-raised one this time, it would be so much easier in the beginning.

    On the other hand i think, why should I get a hand-rasied one? I’ve succeeded to tame, love and care for one hell of bird once, why not twice?

    And every time I see youngster or adult for sale I feel sorry both for the bird and their owner. Because many times it feels like their owner had absolutley know idea of what they got into when they bought their bird.
    So in the end I think I would buy another “second hand” bird as a friend to myself, my family and my Amazon. Just to get myself more experience on how to raise and bond with a completley unknown character.

    All my friends ask me which bird i would recommend if they would like to buy one. And every time I tell them to don’t buy a bird, because they hav no idea of what they are getting in to. They are very complex animals and are not suited for everyone. You need to have A LOT time and motivation to succed to get your bird as a familymember.

    So I don’t think it’s the hand-breeding itselft that really should be stopped. There should instead be some sort of a “drivers licence” of some kind. Obligatory training/learning courses before you are trusted to take care of a parrot.

    I dont know if I’m right or wrong on this. But the truth is that to many birds are sold to people who don’t know what their doing, and thats where the problem is.

    Best regards / The Swede

  2. avatar

    Well said, Staffen, thank you every much for the insightful post…if only there were more bird keepers like you! A licensing requirement of some time would be ideal, I believe, but at least here in the USA would be very difficult to pass and enforce…we still allow people to drive boats without any training! Best regards, keep up the fine work, and enjoy your next, Frank

  3. avatar

    I think it’s completely unenforceable but maybe it will stop factory operations from doing this. It’s inhumane in most cases, but I certainly hope there will be exceptions for handicapped chicks and endangered birds. It’s so wrong to be breeding anyway with so many parrots needing homes. It breaks my heart to think of all the bad conditions and troubled relationships for parrots that happen behind closed doors.

  4. avatar

    Thanks, Nancy, I believe it only covers the deliberate removal of chicks for the purpose of creating hand reared pets. Enforcement, as everywhere, will be influenced by many factors, but it’s important to have the law on the books…sets precedents, etc. Best regards, Frank

  5. avatar

    i think it could be a good thing, too many unwanted parrots already, i own 3 and as much as i love and care for them, i now feel they are not suitable to be pets, for their sake, and for many reasons, but i also feel in line with something like this law, there should be schools set up for education, much like falconry schools, giving advice on diets, husbandry, training, first aid, and socialising a parrot, a fully structured course, and at the end of it you may get a licence to buy one, education is really the key to success of caring for any bird, and hopefully bringing down the amount of unwanted beautiful creatures, it may even stop the over breeding of them too, it wont stop it, but it just may be the start of bringing the numbers down, i own an owl and 3 parrots, and it takes over my life, which is what it takes, birds are a way of life

  6. avatar

    Hello Julie,

    Thanks for your thoughts..I agree re the licensing/education idea, but fear it will not come to pass, at least here in the USA. I’ve worked with owls at home and in zoos as well…what species are you keeping? best, Frank

  7. avatar

    I would dearly love to see these regulations adopted worldwide. And taken even further!

    No animal should have a life of misery by being brought up by a different species, who truly knows little about her psychological needs. I was deeply saddened when reading Staffan’s story as here is a bird who was meant to be born and grow up in the wild with his own kind, yet is forced to adapt to being someone’s pet. Placed in a cage (no matter how large it may be); forced to eat strange foods instead of foraging for miles and miles for those tasty tidbits, and exercising at the same time); and forced to follow the directives from a species other than his own.

    Birds don’t belong in captivity and I suppose banning their removal from their parents before they’re weaned is a first step.

  8. avatar

    Hello Ellen,

    Thanks for your concern. It’s a difficult area…zoos have learned a good deal from private breeders, who are sometimes better-financed than are public institutions, and this has led to many very useful conservation efforts, breed/release programs, etc. I’ve been involved in several, and have also worked with birds that are now extinct in the wild and only survive in zoos (several Guam natives, i.e. ) and private collections. On the other hand, inexperienced parrot owners generally cause more harm than good. best, frank

  9. avatar

    I do not agree on bans because there are good and bad points to every argument. This article outlines the bad side of hand raising psittacines and that’s it. While yes, there has been some ideas that hand raising can cause behavioral problems it is often paired with an impoverished environment. The baby bird needs toys, socialization, varied food types, kind handling, a very, very dark environment until a certain age, and a period to fledge properly which most pet shops and breeders do not provide. Children that grow up in such impoverished environments show smaller brain structures, latency to learn, and lack social skills, all which can be linked to behavioral problems just like parrots.

    Parent-rearing has its costs too because many breeders do not have the skill or mindset to start co-parenting their birds. This law could encourage the breeding of birds that have not learned to trust humans and when these birds are sold or moved their stress will be much, much greater than that of a bird which is familiar with humans. Why would we want birds that freak out over every day human interactions? This causes emotional and health problems too!

    And while this ban continues what happens when most of the birds that are already hand fed become breeders? Causalities will abound in the nest all because the babies cannot be hand fed as pets.

    Caitlin Bird

  10. avatar

    Thank you..very difficult situation, severe problems on both sides; root of the problem is that parrots are unsuitable as pets for the vast majority of owners. I’ll monitor the law’s progress, hopefully some useful data will be generated which may help in formulating future regs, etc., and will report back. best, Frank

  11. avatar

    Considering that this Dutch law against hand rearing is ill conceived and based on several erroneous concepts, I think it would be a terrible mistake for any country to put it into place. One concern is the references used to support the theories being promoted. For example using Monica Engebretson’s writings. She has a very limited knowledge and experience of parrots and bird breeding and is clearly biased towards the animal rights agenda of no human/animal contact. Using such references weakens any argument bu Hooijimeir about appropriate avian husbandry or the effects of hand rearing on adult pet parrot behavior.

    My background. I have worked with birds in general my whole life and with parrots for the past 35 years, specializing in eclectus parrots for the past 30 years, and have raised eclectus from the egg, from 2-3 weeks of age after removed from the nest, and have many parent reared youngstsers. I worked with wild caught adult eclectus pairs as well as domestic raised eclectus pairs. I also am participating in a conservation project for parrots in the wild. Dr. Ulysses Seal stated: we need both captive breeding and conservation in the wild in order to save species from extinction. I believe that is the crux of the matter.

    I have worked with others to design the Model Aviculture Program (www.modelaviculture.org) and have actively promoted appropriate husbandry for breeding birds and pet birds. I have worked on state and federal issues related to regulation of birds and animals for over 30 years and am well acquainted with the animal rights agenda to restrict, control and prohibit all animal use. I presently volunteer for the National Animal Interest Alliance Trust. Now to address this law in the Netherlands.

    Health Concerns. The blog states that “research conducted at the Netherlands Clinic for Birds suggests that problems often arise as the [hand reared] birds mature.” Note that the Netherland Clinic for Birds is the veterinary clinic of Dr. Hooimeijer who has promoted the idea that hand rearing of parrots is harmful and causes problems for adult birds. Also note that Hooimeijer is a veterinarian, not a bird breeder. As such, he is more likely to see birds with problems than birds that do not have problems. This could account for his biased opinion about avian husbandry practices. Based on my own and others actual experiences with many adult and young parrots, I believe Dr. Hooimeijer is mistaken in his reasoning that hand rearing is the cause of many pet parrot behavior problems.

    While problems with pet parrots are not uncommon, they are not universal and certainly cannot be attributed solely to hand rearing! For example, feather destructive behavior can often very clearly be associated with two actions: improper clipping of wings and diet issues. (Note Dr. Hooimeijer is a strong advocate of wing clipping and yet seems to be totally unaware of the consequences to parrots! This failure to recognize the negative effects of wing clipping is curious when he has such a strong opinion about the deleterious effects of hand rearing!) When young birds are wing clipped rather immediately after their first flight or two, two things occur: the bird has a strong genetic program urging it to fly and learn all it needs to know about flying so it continues to attempt to fly. If the wings are cut very short, this results in falls and traumas to the bird’s body, sometimes broken wings and legs or backs. Due to the irritation of the cut ends of the wing feathers when folded next to the body, we find that parrots will try to “fix” those cut ends. NOTE: these attempts to fix feathers often result in the developing the habit of chewing on feathers.

    With regard to diet issues, this is what we observe. When some species of parrots are fed certain commercial products, there can be an allergic reaction which results in itchiness or irritation to the skin. The bird attempts to remove the problem and chews on feathers, and in some cases, even on their flesh. Specific products causing these problems are some products with colored dyes or with too much man made Vitamin A. (Reference: Dr. Debra McDonald, Australian nutrition researcher, who has written articles on man made Viit. A)

    Hand rearing. In my opinion and in my experience it is a good idea to leave parrot chicks in the nest with their parents for 2 to 4 weeks and then remove them for hand rearing if that young bird is destined to be a pet bird. This recommendation is based on the fact that these chicks will receive important items from their parents crops along with the regurgitated foods. The youngsters also learn that they are birds as they take food from their parents and interact with their parents in the nest. With youngsters destined to become future breeding birds, I often leave them in the nest to be parent fledged.

    However, while most parrot parents are quite able to rear their young well, there will be instances where the parents cannot rear young. Once I had a hen with a new chick and she developed transitory diabetes and stopped caring for the chick. While that hen was being treated for her condition, the chick had to be hand reared from about day two. Then there are other situations such as young parrot parents who may not have all the knowledge or skill or dedication to care for their newly hatched chicks. Then there may be parrots with chicks in the nest when some unavoidable disturbance is occurring or going to occur and this can cause parents to abandon or kill chicks. In those cases, removal of chicks for hand rearing is recommended. To create a law against hand rearing based on these problems would simpley make dealing with these issues more difficult as it would not be addressing the causes of the failure of the parents to feed their chicks. There are complexities in working with birds and animals which such restrictive regulations do not adequately address.

    As for the claim that bad husbandry is the cause of parrots not rearing chicks, that may be true in some cases. (Curious that the word “bad” is used [a moral term!!] since the word “inappropriate” would be more accurate!) When individuals new to bird breeding take up the practice, it is best if they have been well educated about working with breeding birds, setting up a facility that is appropriate for the species in question, and following appropriate husbandry protocols. Sometimes that is not the case and those individuals without the basic information needed for success will keep breeding pairs and try to raise birds. In those cases it is obvious that there can be mistakes made and breeding failures will occur. Education is the answer, not regulations!

    However, those are not all the cases. Many individuals who take up bird breeding will be attending conferences and seminars and will work with an avian veterinarian who can assist with information and advice. Some individuals will find mentors in the avicultural community who can assist them with advice. So when we talk about inappropriate husbandry practices, the problem may simply be a lack of information, not bad husbandry, but inappropriate husbandry. “Bad” implies a purposeful ignoring of what is “good” for the birds. There may be some “bad” breeders out there, but if so, they will find themselves with a “bad” reputation and a lack of success with birds! In my experience with many breeders over the past 30 plus years, most individuals who work with breeding birds are people who enjoy birds. This is not a lazy person’s activity, but an activity which brings with it a great deal of responsibility, expenditure of time, effort and funds, in order to provide for the birds what they need.

    Therefore, in my opinion, The Dutch Parrot Society is incorrect in their belief that a pair’s failure to care for their chicks is a clear indication of “bad” husbandry practices. The correct statement might be that this is a situation where the management practices are inappropriate or inadequate for the species in question. This would be a siituation where more information is needed by the breeder. Using the word “bad” is an incorrect assessment. Recommending further education would be more effective and appropriate.

    There are many reasons parrots will kill or abandon their chicks or eggs. Disturbance in the aviary or nearby is a major cause, especially strangers in the area or extremely loud continuous noises. Another reason for pairs to fail to successfully mate and produce viable eggs or fail to properly incubate eggs is the placement of their flight near a different species of parrot that is a competiitor for nest sites in the wild, or placing a basically quiet type parrot next to a very noisy and dramatic parrot (cockatoos next to African greys).

    Knowledgeable bird breeders do not disturb hens on eggs or chicks unless absolutely necessary. That means no visitors, keeping to routine servicing activities, not wearing something too strange in the aviary, avoiding noisy work around the aviary, and providing sufficient food items for parents with chicks.

    As for hand reared birds not being able to mate and breed effectively, that can happen. Not all humans want to mate and produce young either! And some individual flocked birds express no interest in a mate or in reproduction. Even in the wild, we do not know if all individuals become active in seeking mates and in reproducing. That is an assumption.

    My experience indicates that hand reared birds that are weaned and then placed into a social flock setting with conspecifics will most often develop into well adjusted individuals that become competent mates and parents. The key is to place these young weaned birds with others where they learn how to interact effectively with the opposite sex as well as the same sex. One of the most competent and effective mates and parent birds in my flock is a male aruensis eclectus that was incubator hatched, totally hand reared, then after weaning he was flocked and when an adult he selected a mate. He has effectively produced and reared to fledging many healthy youngsters, which are destined to be breeding birds. He is not the only one who has been hand reared and then flocked and become a competent mate and parent.

    Quote from the blog: “According to those who favor the law, once parrots are provided with a proper species-specific diet, suitably-sized and designed enclosures and other appropriate conditions, both breeding frequency and parenting success will improve.” This statement is an outrageous assumption that bird breeders in the Netherlands are not providing their pairs with appropriate conditions and diets!!! It is nonsensical to even make such a statement when all successful professionals who keep and breed birds are providing appropriate housing conditions and diets! Note that this statement has NOTHING to do with hand rearing. It is simply a slam against bird breeders and makes it clear that this anti-hand rearing regulation has more to do with an animal rights belief about bird breeders than it does about the reality of bird breeding in the Netherlands. This statement is an indication that those favoring the law have a very low opinion of bird breeders in general and perhaps have very little actual experience with the breeders in the Netherlands. From my limited experience with bird breeders there, they are doing what is appropriate for the species they keep and breed.

    To consider implementing this poorly designed law and its regulations in any other country would be a serious mistake in terms of providing improved health or welfare for breeding birds and their young. In the US we already know what makes for a successful future breeding bird…hand rearing and then flocking with conspecifics, or parent rearing and then flocking with conspecifics.

    We also know that some of the problems encountered by pet owners have often been created by those pet owners. Examples include pet owners who do not bother to learn about the needs of the species of bird or animal they keep. Some pet owners think of their pet bird in “human” terms and do not understand that it is a good idea to “think like a bird” about some issues. While there are tremendously helpful DVDs and videos on bird behavior and bird training that are produced by educated, trained, experienced knowledgeable bird behaviorists, such as Barbara Heidenrich, not all pet owners know about such information. Some may even be misled by the wannabee behaviorists who lack training and appropriate skills yet put themselves forward on websites as experts. It is clear that factual information is critical when dealing with any species successfully, whether as pets or breeding birds or animals.

    Bottom line. Laws such as this anti-hand rearing law in the Netherlands are NOT addressing the real problems experienced by pet parrots and their owners, nor the problems experienced by some bird breeders. What we have here with this anti-hand rearing law is an animal rights approach to pet bird problems. Actual factual information for new bird breeders and for pet owners would make a huge difference for the birds and reduce many of the problems attributed to hand rearing practices.

  12. avatar


    In appreciate your well-reasoned reply and will pass along to interested parties where appropriate. Anecdotal information that has come my way indicates that the law is being discussed and considered elsewhere, but I’ve read of no specific plans to enact similar legislation in other countries.

    Best regards, frank

  13. avatar


    There are valid arguments to be made for and against the law…I’ve worked, as an attorney, on legislation involving reptile ownership, importation, etc. Practicality and expense of enforcement is often the deciding factor…for better or worse, this generally means that the laws in question must be broad in nature. Best, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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