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Number of Unwanted Parrots Reaches an All-Time High in the USA

Rainbow LorikeetsRecent advances in parrot husbandry and captive breeding may have had an unintended effect.  Lower prices and a larger selection of available species may be contributing to a problem of epic proportions – hundreds of thousands of abandoned parrots, macaws and cockatoos, many of which will never find a permanent home.  While parrot ownership has soared a staggering 147% over the past 20 years, from 11.6 million pets in 1990 to 60 million in 2010, our ability to provide for them has not kept pace.

Desirable but Demanding

The very qualities that draw people to parrots – intelligence, sociability and long lives – also render them as unsuitable pets for the average person.  Many live as long as their owners, who often find it difficult to provide for their pets, financially and otherwise, as time goes on.  According to a study by Best Friends Animal Society, it is not unusual for an elderly parrot to have 7-11 owners over the course of its life.

Parrots are likely the USA’s third most popular pet, yet many people do not realize that, unlike dogs and cats, they are not domesticated animals.  As wild animals, parrots have very different needs than domestic creatures.  Few people are able to provide the space, social situation and emotional environment needed by these active, “complicated” birds.  I have observed many species in the wild, and, despite years of study and zoo experience, was surprised by how much of their time was spent on the move and in direct contact with others.  The noise they produced was deafening…even on wide-open grasslands. Read More »

Escaped Pets are Teaching Flocks of Wild Cockatoos to Talk!

Sulphur Crested CockatooHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  When the staff at the Australian Museum in Sydney began receiving calls about entire flocks of talking cockatoos, galahs and corellas, they suspected pranksters, or that alcohol was involved.  But, oddly enough, the reports turned out to be genuine. It seems that an odd phenomenon is taking shape in Sydney and other Australian cities…wild parrots are talking to one another – and to people!

Mimics by Design

Cockatoos and other parrots are social birds, and have complicated systems of communication that we are only just beginning to understand. For example, ornithologists recently learned that some species provide their chicks with “names” that are then learned and used by other flock members (please see article below). The ability to learn from one another, and from people, is behind Australia’s latest unique bird story. Read More »

European Starlings as Pets

European StarlingNative North American birds are protected by federal law and may not be kept as pets in the USA. However, introduced species are not covered by this prohibition. The European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, one of our most common exotic birds, makes a most interesting pet. As responsive and intelligent as any parrot (and able to mimic words as well), Starlings are not for everyone…but in the right hands they have few equals.

An Interesting Alternative to Typical Pet Birds

Northern Cardinals, Painted Buntings and several otherUSnatives are popular in private collections in Europe, but are not legal to possess in theUSA.  However, the unprotected European Starling offers a great opportunity to work with a species that is very different from most available in the pet trade.  Without fail, it becomes more “pet” than “cage bird”.  Please check your state’s laws before considering a Starling, as permits may be required.

Unexpected Talents

I first became aware of the Starling’s pet potential while visiting the AmericanMuseumof Natural History as a boy.  While peering into a terrarium in small room that housed live exhibits, I was startled by a flurry of words that seemed to come from a bird. But there was no parrot in sight, only a glossy, pert Starling that occupied a huge cage across the room. Walking towards him, I was greeted by a cheerful “Hello”.  Read More »

Mischievous Birds I Have Known – Margie the Cassowary

CassowaryParrots are well-known for causing mischief by both word and action (please see article below), but they are certainly not the only birds capable of “misdeeds”. Today I’d like to introduce you to one member of the cast of avian troublemakers who have amused me with their antics over the years. From Birds of Paradise to King Vultures, my zoo years were filled with unique characters that gave new meaning to the phrase “Never a dull moment”!

Courting Trouble

Armed with powerful legs and a long, sharp spike on each foot, the huge Cassowary is one of the world’s most formidable birds. Margie, long under my care at the Bronx Zoo, was peaceful enough, but always refused to come indoors for the evening. She was given snacks during the day, and caught grasshoppers, mice and other treats on her own, and so was rarely hungry enough to be lured with food.  Read More »

Zebra Finch Research – Females Choose Mates with Compatible Personalities

Personality and Mate Choice

Brower Bird NestResearchers first tested the personalities of female Zebra Finches by monitoring reactions to novel objects and their willingness to explore new surroundings. Females that were judged to have “exploratory personalities” were then allowed to view pairs of male Zebra Finches as they were offered the chance to explore. One male was able to roam at will, but the other’s movements were restricted by a clear box that was invisible to the females. The restrained male therefore appeared “less willing” to explore.

Bold or exploratory females overwhelmingly chose males with the same traits, regardless of the males’ size or beak color (factors also believed to influence mate choice). Shy, non-exploratory females exhibited no preference.

This finding is the first example of a non-sexual behavior or personality trait influencing mate choice in any non-human animal.

Well-Matched Pairs are More Successful

An earlier Zebra Finch study in the UK found that nesting success was greatest where both parents shared personality traits such as aggressiveness or a willingness to explore. Partners that differed in personality did not raise as many chicks as did well-matched pairs.

Rearing chicks requires cooperation and coordinated behavior; researchers speculate that “like-minded” parents achieve this state more easily than do others.



Further Reading

Personality and Nesting Success Study

Female Zebra Finches Inherit “Infidelity Gene” from Fathers

Deciphering Zebra Finch Communication

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