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The Best Way to Prevent Feather-Plucking – Make Your Parrot Work!

An exciting new study has revealed that healthy parrots prefer working for their food to eating from a bowl.  Parrots involved in feather-plucking, however, go right to their bowls and show no interest in solving problems that led to food rewards.  I think this research is important to all who share their homes with parrots.  Some progress was also made in developing a medication for birds that have begun to damage their plumage.  I have dealt with feather-plucking even in well-run zoos; it’s a sad and frustrating condition, and I hope that this new work points the way to some solutions.

Sun Conure playing

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Melanie Phung

Busy Minds and Bodies Remain Healthy

Feather plucking is heartbreaking to see, and immensely frustrating to cure.  Despite much interest from the parrot-keeping community, foolproof solutions elude us.  Feather-plucking and other forms of self-mutilation ruin the lives of countless pet parrots, many of which are eventually turned over to rescue centers, euthanized, or released.

A researcher at the Utrecht University Clinic for Companion Animals in the Netherlands offered African Gray Parrots the option of eating from a bowl or removing food from a pipe lined with holes.  Healthy birds invariably ignored the food bowls and went right to work on the pipes. Read More »

Parakeets, Cockatiels, Parrots and Cockatoos – Feather Plucking

Feather plucking (and other forms of self-mutation) is one of the most common concerns raised by parrot owners.  I’ve encountered the problem among zoo birds as well.  Despite being well-studied, feather plucking remains difficult to both prevent and cure.  Our understanding is complicated by the fact that feather plucking can be caused by widely-differing physical or emotional ailments.  But some general rules and patterns have emerged.  I’ll review these below…please be sure to post your own observations, as we still have much to learn.

Golden Conures

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Benny Mazur

Different yet Related Causes

Feather-plucking may be a reaction to a physical or emotional problem.  Sometimes, the reason is clearly physical…as when a bird plagued by mites picks at its feathers and skin.  Or the reason may be purely environmental…as when a bored parrot kept in a tiny cage adopts self-destructive behaviors.

But there are many areas of overlap.  In the example above, when the mites are eliminated, the bird will usually cease feather-picking. However, just like human infants, parrots quickly learn how to get our attention.  Let’s suppose the bird in question is housed alone and with minimal human contact.  It may very well make an association between feather plucking and attention – when it pulled at its feathers, people came; in some cases, solitary birds may even seek negative attention (i.e. yelling) if none other is provided. Read More »

Macaw, Spouting Foul Language, Banned from School

Green Winged MacawEducators at an animal rescue center in the UK got a rude surprise when they recruited “Mr. T” to visit local schools as part of a conservation-themed program.  The 7 year-old Green-Winged Macaw was friendly and eager to show off his speaking abilities, but most of what he said was not fit for classroom use.  Before coming to the rescue center, Mr. T had lived in a private home, and had picked up a huge vocabulary…unfortunately, almost all of it consisted of curses and insults!

Un-learning Bad Habits?

One rescue center employee is working with Mr. T to see if he might be taught to stop cursing.  In my experience, however, teaching a macaw to speak is easier than teaching it to forget what has been learned (much like 3 year-old children who pick up the “wrong” words!).

A related and very interesting phenomenon is unfolding right now in several Australian cities.  Cockatoos that have escaped from captivity are teaching entire flocks of wild individuals to speak!  Please see this article for the very amusing details.

Fortunately, the rescue center where Mr. T resides is home to “well-behaved” wallabies, kangaroos, scorpions and other animals, so his services as an educator are not needed immediately.  It will be interesting to see who prevails, the macaw or his new teacher…I’m betting on Mr. T!

Parrots Behaving Badly

Mr. T is not the only Psittacine to be ejected from various UK forums in recent times.  Awhile back, an Amazon persisted in cursing like a trooper each time he was called upon to perform in a play…despite the fact that he knew his lines perfectly (seems like he planned the “mistakes” very carefully!).   Another was banned from a bar for stealing drinks, heckling pool players and starting fights by whistling at female patrons (this bird now living in more appropriate surroundings).  Please see this article for details.

But one cursing parrot, an African Gray named Mishka, has done quite well for herself – winning an international speaking contest and a movie role.  Please see the video and article below… her repetition of  “I want to go to the Kruger Park with Sterretjie” (Sterretjie is her favorite companion, a Ring-Necked Parakeet) is priceless!

Odd Birds I have Known

Hartlaub’s TuracoMischievous birds of all kinds enlivened my zoo career.  Margie, a Cassowary, liked to sneak up and kick her fence whenever anyone leaned against it.  A fellow zookeeper allowed himself to be ambushed regularly, and the huge bird really seemed to look forward to “surprising” him.  An Indian Hill Myna that called “Help, let me out” in a huge aviary was quite a hit with visitors…but not with the zoo director, when he came to record bird calls for an upcoming presentation!  From overly-amorous Great Horned Owls to overly-aggressive Turacos, there have been many odd characters in my life… please see the articles below for details.

Most bird owners and bird watchers have their share of amusing or embarrassing stories…please write in with yours, so that I can share them with other readers.




Further Reading

African Gray Parrot Wins Talking Contest 

An Unusual Turaco

Is a Macaw the Right Bird for You?

Cockatoos, Koels, Ibis and Honeyeaters Causing Havoc in Australia

Green Winged Macaw by Dcoetzee (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hartlaub’s Turaco by derekkeats (Flickr: IMG_2170.resized) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Unique Bird Behavior – Ravens Use Beaks to “Show” Objects to Mates

RavenThe act of holding up or pointing to an object, in order to draw another’s attention, has been observed only among ourselves and Great Apes.  Known as deictic gesturing, this behavior is considered critical to the development of language, and a sign of great intelligence (you parents will likely recall the first time your toddler did something similar!).  Along with parrots, crows, and magpies, Common Ravens, Corvus corax, have proven themselves among the brightest of the world’s birds.  Recently, they have been observed to utilize deictic gestures, and are the only birds known to do so.

“Hey…look at this if you care about me”!

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Vienna have reported that Ravens pick up objects such as stones, branches and moss and show them to other Ravens.  In most cases, the bird being solicited is the other’s mate.  Once his or her attention is drawn, the pair usually jointly manipulates the object for a time.  Read More »

Holiday Season Treats and Cautions for Parrot and Finch Owners

Yellow Naped AmazonHoliday visits and celebrations, pleasurable as they are, can also bring some nasty surprises to both people and pets.  A bit of planning now can help make the upcoming season safe and enjoyable for you and your birds.

Stress, Noise and Late Nights

Responsible bird owners know that certain holiday treats and, of course, alcohol, are bad for birds.  But many overlook the important role that sleep plays in bird health (please see article below). If you entertain late, or will be out often during the holidays, keep in mind that most birds need 10-12 hours of sleep in a dark, quiet environment. If necessary, move your pet’s cage to an area that is off-limits to guests, and shut the room lights via a timer if the rest of your house will be lit after the usual “lights-out” time.  Maintaining a stable day/night cycle is good for your birds mental and physical health.

Holiday parties can mean a house stocked with loud, tipsy guests, excited children and unfamiliar dogs. Each of these “creatures” (especially, those influenced by alcohol!) may take liberties with your pets that they otherwise would not. If it will be difficult for you to monitor all that is going on, consider keeping your birds in a locked room while parties are in progress (or “raging”, as the case may be!). Read More »

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