African Grey (Psittacus erithacus)
African Greys are popular parrots in today’s pet trade. They are well known for their intelligence and excellent speaking abilities. The two recognized species of African Greys are the Congo (P. e. erithacus) and the Timneh (P. e. timneh). There is some debate over the possible subspecies called the Ghana, which is slightly smaller than the Congo. The Congo is larger at 12-14 inches (390-500 grams), compared to Timnehs, which are 9 inches (275-350grams).
Both species’ coloration is gray. The Congo has a light red color to the tail, while the Timneh has a dark maroon colored tail feathers. Although there is no obvious sexual dimorphism, the females tend to have a lighter gray color. Also, Congo females usually have a gray tip on their red tail feathers. The iris of their eyes is gray at birth, and gradually changes to clear yellow once they are over a year old.
Unlike other large psittacines, the Grey is a relatively quiet bird. Although they all have the potential to imitate sounds, it is difficult to guess which individuals will talk proficiently. Most begin talking between 6 months and 2 years of age.
African Greys are strongly bonded to one person. They must be well socialized to people, or they will become extremely shy of other people they are not bonded to. They may even become protective of this person and attack others. In general, these birds are not as cuddly as cockatoos, but they do require a regular amount of preening.
An environment with low humidity will cause dry skin for African Greys. Regular bathing with a water spray bottle or in the shower will promote healthy skin and decrease the amount of dust in the house affecting the birds.
The cage should be large enough for the bird to fully expand its wings without touching the sides. The cage should not be too large, since these birds are intimidated by large enclosures. The cage door should be large enough so that all areas of the cage can be reached when the door is open.
Food bowls and drinking utensils should be placed at perch height, and solidly mounted so that the birds cannot move or tip them over.
The perches should be of various thicknesses. The thinnest perch should be large enough that the toes cannot encircle the entire perch. A concrete perch is advised to help nail wear and reducing nail sharpness. The concrete perch should be placed at the roosting point of the cage or at the level of the food dishes.
Do not place the cage in front of constant, direct sunlight, or in front of vents. Cage toys prevent the bird from becoming bored with the environment. However, the toys should be evaluated for durability, toxic potential, and potential to be ingested. Since bored birds are more likely to develop bad habits, it is important to provide enough environmental enrichment to keep them engaged.
The cage bottoms should be cleaned daily to evaluate proper dietary intake and fecal production. The cage should be covered each night to allow the bird privacy, and prevent sounds and flashes at night that may stimulate feather picking.
Greys are very sensitive birds and usually become extremely bonded to one owner. If they do not receive adequate socialization during their first years of life, they will develop bad habits, such as screaming and/or feather picking. While your bird is young, try to expose them to many different situations. This practice will habituate them to change, and will prevent stress-related feather picking. Teaching a bird up and down commands is very important to maintaining your dominance and creating a well-behaved pet.
We recommend that 75-90% of the diet is a processed diet formulated for Greys. The rest of the diet should be a mixture of fruit, vegetables, and pasta. Due to their higher requirements for calcium, green leafy vegetables should be offered in generous proportions. Birds should not be given products that contain chocolate, sugar, or avocado. Sunflower seeds and peanuts should be avoided, since they offer little nutritional value and are extremely high in fat. Try to always feed on a regular schedule.
Some of the common diseases in African Greys include: feather picking, bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, papillomas, proventricular dilatation disease, toxicities, chlamydial infections, and nutritional deficiencies.
Feather picking is a very large problem in this species of birds. If untreated, this problem can result in the bird’s demise. There are many things that can initiate feather picking. A veterinarian should be consulted to rule out medical causes for this problem. To help prevent feather picking, socialize the bird well and offer them a normal routine.
Annual checkups with a qualified avian veterinarian should be performed to monitor for early signs of disease. Diseases are easier to diagnose and prevent with consistent monitoring.
When trimming feathers, only the first 5 primary feathers should be trimmed because their large body makes them more susceptible to keel damage from falling.
Through regular health checks and good husbandry, your bird can serve as a good companion for many years into the future.Download & Print
Amazon Parrot Care
Amazons are among the best-known parrots kept as companion birds. There are many species of Amazons, but only a few are available to the average bird owner. Many species are endangered, kept, or imported only by special permit, or kept in closed breeding facilities or zoological parks.
Young domestic-bred birds may readily be obtained. Purchasing an Amazon should be from a breeder so that you can see the parent birds, or from a reputable store that offers closed-banded domestic-bred birds. Purchasing a wild-caught bird is not advised because of the potential for disease and loss to the wild population. Smuggling a bird into the US is a federal offense and can result in prison and/or confiscation of your property (vehicle, house, etc.).
Obtaining a Baby Bird
Inexperienced bird owners should not purchase an unweaned bird. In general, the sale of unweaned birds is discouraged because there is great risk of death of the bird from inept handling. The training necessary to hand-raise a parrot should not be practiced on a real parrot.
Those wishing to hand-raise a bird should volunteer to serve at a wildlife rehabilitation facility or a veterinary clinic that sees wild birds, to learn food preparation and how to feed immature birds under close supervision of a professional. Success is much more likely once these skills are learned. A bird eating on its own and hand-raised by a skilled caretaker will be just as tame and readily bonded to the new owner as one that is not yet weaned.
Cage and Diet
Amazons have varied dietary requirements; a diet of seeds is lacking in nutrients and is far from their natural diet. Amazons in the wild feed on whatever is in abundant supply-vegetarian, fruit and occasional animal protein. A diet of carried green and yellow vegetables, fruit, sprouts, a small amount of meat protein and some grains or legumes is a good start. Avoid fatty or junk foods. There are also formulated diets designed for birds. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a diet.
Boredom and Entertainment
Amazons have a tendency to become obese with inactivity. To prevent this from happening, offer the bird toys and interesting foods, keep the bird in a room with family activity, and give it time out of the cage. This helps keep the bird from developing bad habits and becoming overweight. Ask your veterinarian for an AAV brochure on Enhancing your bird’s life.
Taming and Training
Amazons can form lifelong bonds with their owners. Some Amazons are friendly to everyone they meet, while some only like a few people. This is normal behavior, and forcing the issue to change is often fruitless.
The key to taming is persistence. If the bird is tame when obtained, daily handling will ensure that it remains tame. If the bird is not tame, daily taming sessions of 10-15 minutes will gradually accustom the bird to being handled.
Keep the bird’s wings trimmed can contribute a large part to successful taming. Make sure to have your veterinarian trim the wings so that they are trimmed correctly and the bird does not associate you with the wing trim.
Breeding and Seasonal Aggression
Amazons customarily begin to seek mates and breed from January through April. During this time, they may become possessive or aggressive towards their owner, depending on how they view that person in their life.
If the bird is overly aggressive towards its owner during this time, some suggest that another person temporarily take care of feeding and cleaning the bird, so the bond with the primary owner is not compromised. Forcefully trying to control aggression in a sexually mature Amazon may not be the best choice. Let the bird get through this period with minimum disruption, and it will likely return to its old self once breeding season is over.
Some species of Amazons are relatively simply bred. You need a positively identified male and female (ask your veterinarian how to identify the sex), a cage large enough for short flights (4-6 feet long by 5 feet tall is adequate, but you can go larger), a large, sturdy nest box, proper diet, and patience. Light periods are also important for breeding. If the birds cannot be kept outside, full-spectrum light can be provided with a timer to simulate natural daylight hours.
In addition to avian diseases, Amazons are subject to many of the same diseases as people. These include obesity, malnutrition, tumors, and respiratory diseases. Some of the avian diseases Amazons are prone to include Pacheco’s disease, papillomavirus, papovavirus, psittacine beak and feather disease, and pox. Consulting with your avian veterinarian will help you understand which diseases can be vaccinated against and how some of the other diseases can be recognized or prevented.
Birds tend to hide signs of illness, so the best way to ensure your bird remains in good health is with an annual checkup. If you suspect that your bird is sick, immediately take it to a veterinarian. Birds are often critically ill before the owner notices. Many veterinarians recommend that you keep a gram-scale at home and weigh the bird on a regular basis to check for unusual weight changes.
Next to proper veterinary care and diet, the most important aspect of bird keeping is sanitizing the cage and feeding utensils. Water and food should be given fresh daily, and the cups should be cleaned and sterilized. A good rule of thumb is if you would not drink out of the cup or taste the food, it’s too dirty for the bird as well. Perches should be scrubbed often and the cage bottoms should be cleaned daily as well. Birds in the wild do not have to contend with unclean living conditions, and birds in captivity should not be forced to do so either.
Talking or Screaming
Amazons can be excellent talkers. Many trainers recommend that you do not teach your Amazon to whistle because it’s so easy and fun that some birds resist learning new words once they learn to whistle. Repetition is the key to teaching your bird to talk. Some birds begin to talk very early, and that become excellent talkers may start much later in life. It can take several weeks for a bird to learn a word or phrase (they will also practice when they’re alone), but once learned, it is never forgotten. Be careful what you teach!
Amazons are artful screamers and prefer to vocalize in the mornings and evenings. This is a natural pastime for Amazons, and trying to discourage it can do more harm than good. Learn to love your Amazon’s cheerful noisemaking, as it is a sign of contentment.Download & Print
Bird Care Tips
Routine grooming is an important part of bird care. Regular grooming, including wing, beak, and nail trims is important for the safety and comfort of both the bird and the owner. Avian veterinarians and many pet shops provide grooming services. With practice, many owners can learn to groom their birds safely. An advantage to having your avian veterinarian groom your bird is that your bird can be given a complete health examination at the same time. Below are important points to keep in mind when grooming your bird.
Most bird experts agree it is best to keep the wings of pet birds clipped, not only to prevent flight, but also to aid in training and handling. Birds that are allowed free flight easily become injured as they fly into closed windows, ceiling fans, and out the window. We also find that free-flighted birds are more apt to become nippy and are likely to resist handling.
We recommend clipping both wings to prevent the bird from becoming unbalanced if he or she attempts to fly. The number of feathers to be cut depends on the body shape and natural athletic ability of the bird. Amazons and African Greys may need only the outside 7 feathers cut, while slender bodied birds such as conures, cockatiels, macaws, and parakeets may need up to 10 feathers cut. Birds may need to be “flight tested” in a safe room after trimming to see if more feathers need to be removed.
To clip your bird’s wings, you will need a towel, scissors, and anticoagulant powder, such a Kwik-stop. It is easiest to groom your bird with two people, one to hold and one to trim. Capture the bird carefully in a towel and hold it with your hand over its back, fingers firmly grasping either side of the mandibles. Be cautious not to apply too much pressure around the bird’s chest, which could hinder its breathing.
Inspect each feather before cutting, and cut only mature, clear-shafted flight feathers. Growing feathers will have a dark blue/black or pink shaft in comparison to nearby mature feathers. Do no cut until the feathers mature, as the growing feathers have a blood supply and cutting them will cause bleeding. If an immature feather is cut by mistake, you must pull the entire feather out. Grasp near the base with forceps or pliers and pull gently but firmly. Apply pressure to the site to stop bleeding.
In many cases, nail trimming is done for the owners’ comfort, not the birds. Some birds’ nails seldom need trimming, while others seem to grow long and sharp quickly. Nail trimming can be done with dog nail clippers or other cutting instruments. At Avian and Exotic Animal Clinic, we prefer an electric dremmel tool to grind the end of the nail rather than cut it. Heat cautery is a very good way for trimming smaller birds’ (quakers>>finches) nails, as it simultaneously cuts and cauterizes.
Nails have both a nerve and blood supply. With light-colored nails, you may be able to see the blood vessel and avoid trimming them too short. With dark-colored nails, it is impossible to know exactly how much to trim. Remove enough nail to blunt the sharp tip and keep and anticoagulant powder handy in case you do draw blood from the trim. Again, an advantage of the dremmel tool or heat cautery is that they will cauterize the nail as it trims.
Birds should be allowed to bathe several times weekly. Small birds prefer to use a small bowl or flat dish of water. Misting or showering larger birds is a good habit for feather and respiratory health. It can be a fun experience for the bird and the owner if your bird is trained young and positively reinforced. Room temperature water should be used for misting or showering.
Damaged Wing & Tail Feathers:
Occasionally birds will break, fray, or damage their long wing and tail feather. This damage will not be corrected until the next molt. Sometimes, these feathers should be pulled to promote the growth of new healthy feathers. If many feathers need to be pulled or if they are broken off near the skin, anesthesia may be required to pull them safely.Download & Print
Improper Feeding is the Chief Cause of Diseases and Death in Pet Birds!!
A balanced diet consisting of a variety of foods is highly advised.
Fruits & Vegetables
These are a part of a balanced diet for a bird, but should never be over 25% of the diet. Again, it is important to wash the food.
Canned fruits should be avoided due to the high sugar content, which tends to cause diarrhea. Suggested fruits and vegetables include oranges, apples, green beans, peas, corn, etc. Various juices and nectars may also be given.
This is most important in carnivorous species of birds, which may be actually fed mice. However, all birds have a need for proteins. By feeding boiled eggs (yolk, white, and shell crumbled together), cottage cheese, milk, or peanut butter, you can satiate your bird’s need for proteins.
Vitamins should be added to the drinking water. Of special concern are vitamins A, D3, and B Complex.
Minerals are essential, and should be supplied daily in the form of cuttlebones, mineral blocks, milk, oyster shell, or eggshell. Parakeets should also be supplied with a source of iodine.
Many birds develop poor eating habits and border on malnutrition. One method of adding variety and interest is to include table food. Since there are no foods that are harmful to birds excepting those that contain caffeine (i.e. chocolate, coffee; caffeine may be potentially harmful to birds), don’t hesitate to try different foods with your bird.
Basic Rules for Feeding Birds
Chlamydiosis in Birds
Chlamydiosis, formerly called ornithosis, and most commonly known to human physicians as psittacosis, or (archaic) parrot fever, is caused by the bacterial organism Chlamydophila psittaci. Bird owners should be fully informed of the implications and the potential for transmission to humans.
Transmission of the disease is primarily through the inhalation of contaminated dust from droppings or feathers. Risk of infection is increased by close contact with infected birds that are shedding the organism. For this reason, the disease is more common in stressed birds (from shipping, overcrowding, or malnutrition) since birds tend to shed the organism when stressed. Infected birds do not have to show specific signs of the illness in order to transmit the disease.
The visible sign of chlamydiosis are typically respiratory or gastrointestinal. Lime-green diarrhea is not an uncommon sign in many species. Some birds may show general signs of illness: lack of appetite, weight loss, depression, diarrhea, discharge from the eyes or nares, or even death.
However, birds may exhibit few visible signs of illness and these same signs can represent a number of other diseases as well. Some birds that are actively infected with Chlamydophila psittaci may show no signs of illness. An infected bird may carry the organism and not become identifiably ill until some stressful incident brings it out, if at all. Breeding birds can pass the organism to their young. Baby birds are more susceptible to severe infection than adult birds and may die in the nest or soon after weaning.
A confirmed diagnosis of chlamydiosis in a live bird is sometimes difficult and depends on the species, length of time since exposure, and general condition of the bird. The most commonly used diagnostic tests are the polymerase chain reaction (DNA-PCR) assay, serology, and culture of the organism. A positive test indicates the presence of disease but not necessarily an ill-appearing bird. A negative test does not guarantee that a bird is not infected since birds may shed the organism intermittently. Therefore, a negative test may need to be repeated.
Current recommendations are that a suspect bird be given more than one type of test and that these results be considered, along with the bird’s condition and history, to achieve a diagnosis. Some veterinarians recommend treatment of all suspected cases with or without a positive test result. The biggest problem with treatment is lack of compliance by the bird owner in completing the recommended course of medication.
If chlamydiosis has been diagnosed, or if your veterinarian recommends treatment, all exposed birds in the household should be treated at the same time to reduce the spread or recurrence of the disease. It is imperative to isolate infected birds during treatment and to employ certain sanitary measures to prevent spread or reinfection of the disease.
The success of treatment depends on all of the medication being given in recommended dosage and time frame. Antibiotic dosage and feeding should be directed by your veterinarian to ensure adequate levels are being consumed.
There are several ways to administer medication: by mouth, by injection, by mixture of antibiotic in soft foods or drinking water, or through commercially available medicated pellets. Depending on the condition of the patient, other supportive treatment may be recommended as well. Your veterinarian will discuss the most appropriate treatment for your bird. Treatment must be continued for a minimum of 45 days to be effective.
During treatment the owner must:
Transmission to Humans
Chlamydiosis is transmissible from birds to humans, although the incidence of transmission is rare considering the high incidence of infection in birds. If anyone in the household with an infected bird develops persistent flu like symptoms, respiratory distress, fever, chills, headache, weakness, or fatigue, that person should seek the advice of a physician as soon as possible. Treatment is simple and most often successful in humans, but neglect of symptoms or delayed diagnosis may result in serious illness, especially in compromised persons. Chlamydophila psittaci is not the same organism that causes genital Chlamydia infection in humans.
The following recommendations help reduce the increase of Chlamydia in flock companion birds:
The cockatiel belongs to the order Psittaciformes, which consists of birds commonly called parrots. The word cockatiel is thought to be an English adaptation of the Portuguese word cacatitho, which means little cockatoo. Specific differences put forth by various experts seem to indicate that the cockatiel lies somewhere between the parrot and cockatoo subfamilies, enjoying habits and characteristics of both.
Cockatiels are native to Australia, where they are called quarrion. They inhabit the interior Australia, and are found in most types of open country. They are found in large numbers in the North. In Southern Australia, they appear to be migratory, arriving in the first weeks of spring and breeding before migrating back to the North. During very dry seasons, their movements can be spectacular and they may appear in coastal areas where they have not been seen for years.
The First Nations of Australia have long hunted cockatiels and their eggs for food. The first European account of cockatiels was from voyagers with Captain James Cook near the eastern coast in 1770. The first successful breeding attempt in captivity was in Germany in the mid 19th century, then at the London Zoo in 1863.
These parrots are found in the wild in pairs and small flocks, and spend most of their time on the ground searching for grass seeds. They are sometimes seen above, scattered on trees in open plains.
In their natural habitat, they have been observed feeding on seeds of mature grasses, herb like shrubs, plants, trees, berries, grain, fruit, acacia seeds, and even mistletoe berries. They also raid standing crops, particularly sorghum. Since cockatiels are acclimated to arid areas, they can go for long periods on little water. The cockatiel speeds along in a straight line and lands by letting itself fall straight down, stopping descent with outstretched wings just prior to hitting the ground.
Their natural enemies include small and medium sized birds of prey, which can swoop down on them while they are feeding on the ground. Their movement in the tall grass reveals their location to predators, and they immediately take to the air at the slightest disturbance, a characteristic probably interpreted as nervousness in captivity. When they are perched in dead branches, they can sometimes be easily approached, as if they are aware of their excellent camouflage.
Although cockatiels have been in captivity for many years, they are still creatures of the outdoors and enjoy wide-open spaces. Therefore, their cages should be spacious. They need flying exercise, supervised if outside the cage. If they are allowed exercise time outside the cage, the minimum cage size should be 18”L x 18”W x 18”H. If they are to be confined continually and exercised only in the cage, then it should be at least 36”L x 18”W x 24”H. The cage should have at least two sides of horizontal bars, since cockatiels love to climb and might get their head caught between vertical bars if they slip and fall.
Also, since they love to chew, many experts recommend placing perches of freshly cut hazelnut, willow, or fruit tree wood (untreated with chemicals) to provide them with chewing exercise. Natural wood perches encourage healthy feet; however sandpaper perches can lead to pressure sores and are not recommended. Since these birds are ground feeders, they might benefit from large flat bowls, such as clay flowerpot holders. These can also be used for shallow water baths. If your cockatiel does not enjoy a bath, you may want to mist him two to three times per week to facilitate grooming.
The cage should be placed in a light, well-ventilated room, but not exposed to direct sunlight for lengthy periods. They need to be housed in a room where their owner spends most of the time, since they are very social creatures. The ideal temperature ranges from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day.
The healthiest diet recommended for cockatiels and most other exotic birds consists of pellets supplemented with various green foods and certain fruits. In season, cockatiels enjoy carrots (usually shredded), pears and apples, as well as berries like rosehips, rowan, and hawthorn as treats. Green foods enjoyed by cockatiels include watercress, thawed frozen peas, green corn, plantain, foxtail, thistles, chickweed, dandelion, carrot leaves, and spinach.
Birds have individual likes and dislikes, and you may have to try a wide variety of foods and presentations to get seed junkies converted. Unfortunately, cockatiels are stubborn when it comes to giving up their seed. If you do supplement with seed, use millet or other types of low fat seeds, and avoid high fat varieties, such as sunflower. It may also help to choose a pelleted food that resembles small seed, such as Harrison’s Bird Diet, which comes in a tiny round pellet. Water dishes should be cleaned daily, and plenty of fresh water should be available at all times.
It is always a good idea to have your veterinarian perform a physical examination on your cockatiel upon purchase. Cockatiels are fairly resistant to disease compared to many other parrots in captivity; however, the following list of problems is not uncommon in these birds.
Watch your cockatiel for signs that might indicate illness. Remember that these signs may be subtle since birds in the wild must hide their weakness so predators do not consider them easy prey. The following are behaviors that might indicate illness.
Your veterinarian should be your first source for medical information when you are concerned about your Cockatiel or have questions.Download & Print
Introduction and Species
Cockatoos are a very diverse group of birds, comprising five genuses. Members include (with currently recognized subspecies): Ducorp’s, Galah, Gang-gang, Goffin’s, Major Mitchell’s, Palm, Philippine Red-vented, Red-tailed, Salmon-crested Moluccan, Long-billed Corella, Glossy, Blue-eyed, Black (Funereal and White-tailed), White Umbrella, Little Corella (Bare-eyed and Sanguinea Sanguinea), Lesser Sulfur-crested (Sulphurea Sulphurea and Citron-crested), and Greater Sulfur-crested (Galerita Galerita–GG, Fitzroyi–F, Triton–T, and Eleonora–E).
To further confuse the issue, many of these species and sub-species have more than one common name (i.e. Major Mitchell’s = Leadbeater), or will be recognized by only part of it (White Umbrella = White or Umbrella). They can be white with various touches of yellow, pink, or orange in the crest; or black with touches of pink, red, yellow, or white in body, head, or tail feathers. Sizes range from 12 to 28 inches from head to tip of tail.
Some are very endangered, while others are considered pests in their native lands. Fortunately (or unfortunately), many of these species are not commonly encountered here in the United States as pets, so further discussion will only involve the six more common species: Moluccan, Umbrella, Bare-eyed, Goffin’s, Lesser-crested, and Greater-crested Cockatoos.
Cockatoos are very long-lived animals, usually exceeding 30 years and sometimes exceeding 70 years! Therefore, it is crucial to keep this in mind both when selecting one as a pet, and when making plans for the disposition of the cockatoo after the owner is no longer alive, a not-so-uncommon situation.
Cockatoos become sexually mature at 2-4 years of age. Often, minor to extreme behavior changes can occur at this time both in males and females. Males tend to be noisier, especially at dawn and dusk. Cockatoos are natural chewers, whether it’s a branch or an expensive piece of woodwork next to their cage. It is a good idea to provide safe wood products for them to chew on.
They are also very good flyers, making wing feather trimming highly recommended for the indoor bird and essential for the outdoor one. Trimming wing feathers also makes the bird dependent upon the owner and helps to develop and/or cement that bond (*If feathers have not been trimmed before, please have a qualified avian veterinarian show the correct procedure!*).
The white cockatoos produce a natural fine powder dust that people can have or develop allergies to. Misting the bird on warm days can help minimize this. Most cockatoos love to be misted, and this should be done at least several times a week for the bird.
Breeding cockatoos is a complex subject and should be discussed at length with a successful, ethical breeder before being considered. Males will often attack and seriously maim females if the female is not in breeding condition. Cockatoos can often bond to other species of birds, people, and other animals, which can often be the object of breeding behaviors.
Both sexes will incubate the two to four eggs during the 28 days of average incubation. The young leave the nest at 10-12 weeks. In the species mentioned, with the exception of the bare-eyed, mature males often can be differentiated from females by their dark brown/black irises verses the red iris in the female. Immature birds have brown irises. However, the only sure ways to sex cockatoos are to either do so surgically or through blood tests. Ask your avian veterinarian for further information about these procedures.
Some cockatoo behaviors can be generalized as to what many experienced owners, breeders, and behaviorists feel is being conveyed anthropomorphically. Please remember that these are generalities and may not be indicative of the actual behavior’s significance.
A cockatoo’s environment often has to be individually tailored to each bird. However, there are some general measures that can be taken. The cage should be at least large enough for the bird to fully spread its wings without touching the sides. Cockatoos not allowed outside of their cages regularly should have even larger cages.
Perches should be placed to encourage exercise, with water and food bowls located at different sites. Perches should be variable in size to encourage nail wear and foot muscle exercise. Natural wood is best, but needs to be of the non-toxic variety (consult with your avian veterinarian) and be cleaned with a bleach solution and rinsed before use. Sandpaper perch covers are not advised, as they do little for the nail instead abrades the bottom of the foot.
The cage bar spacing should not allow the bird to lodge its head between bars, be strong enough to withstand the power of a cockatoo beak, not have any “V’s” where extremities can wedge, and not contain heavy metals such as lead, copper, or zinc (common with galvanized wire).
A bird should never be outside of its cage without supervision, especially around other pets, small children, or idiots who like to tease birds when the owner leaves the room. This situation can end in one or both parties being injured. Do not place the cage near the kitchen (fumes), by outside doors, leaky windows, or vents (constant draft), or in direct and constant sunlight without a place to find shade. Cockatoos do great outside when either in its cage or wing-trimmed and supervised. Other animals, people, noises, etc. can all cause problems, so be aware of what is occurring.
Temperatures can be varied from the 50’s up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but common sense needs to be used as with a small child—extreme changes are bad and the extreme ends of the spectrum for extended periods of time are bad. Toys should be evaluated for durability, toxicity, potential ingested foreign bodies, ability to entangle, and the ability to be made sharp by cockatoo beak modification. Cage bottoms should be cleaned daily, to evaluate feces and dietary intake, and to avoid food spoilage. Only paper products, such as newspaper, should be used on the bottom to prevent ingestion and impaction of indigestible materials or fungal introduction.
Food should consist of primarily pellets (95%) with some people food (fruits and veggies and pasta—think about what you would want a child to eat, excepting sugar goods, chocolate, and avocado). Pellet producers that are reputable and have done research include: Harrison’s, Kaytee, Pretty Bird, Haagen, and Roudybush. Availability varies at pet stores, and Harrison’s and some Roudybush diets are available only directly from a veterinarian. Make sure the correct size pellets are fed. SEEDS ARE NOT THEIR NORMAL DIET!!! Pellets best approximate the needs of these birds.
Vitamin and mineral supplementation is not necessary unless instructed to do so by a qualified avian veterinarian. Most birds can be switched to a pellet-only diet very easily. Check with your avian veterinarian as to various methods how. This is the area of most health problems in our avian population and the most easily preventable. Most owners treat their pets as grandchildren, submitting to their pet’s whims, instead of as children whose current and future welfare must be kept in perspective. DO NOT DO THIS WITH THEIR DIET!! Fresh water twice a day is best.
Cockatoos have many common diseases, but are not discussed here. Your qualified avian veterinarian can explain a diagnosed or supposed disease. Please contact the Association of Avian Veterinarians or local bird clubs to locate these individuals. Biannual check-ups of your bird, while it is healthy, is an excellent way to catch diseases early, to have peace-of-mind, and to learn the latest information about diet, environment, and health. Nails, beaks, and wings can be professionally groomed. Feces can be checked for parasites and bacterial changes. Blood tests can be performed to detect hidden diseases and to establish normal values for that particular bird. Certain diseases can be tested for and even vaccinated against. Radiographs (X-rays) can be performed to establish normalcy for the bird. Be proactive and prevent, don’t respond and treat. A dog or cat goes in yearly for a checkup, why shouldn’t a bird that will live longer and is a greater investment get a checkup?
If your bird is acting differently than normal, this often indicates illness. If a bird shows outward signs of illness, this means it has progressed to the point where the bird cannot hide it. Always contact your avian veterinarian to determine if they feel the bird should be seen. The longer the wait, the poorer the prognosis.
Cockatoos are wonderful pets and companions, and can provide a lifetime of enjoyment when cared for properly. Good luck with your avian friend.Download & Print
Feather Loss is a Problem That Can Be Caused by Numerous Factors:
Some of these problems are easy to correct, while others are more difficult or impossible to resolve.
Mites, Lice, Infections
Often these problems can be solved with dusting with the appropriate insecticide or by giving oral medications. Diagnosis is made by examination of the feathers under the microscope, or by taking cultures of the feathers.
Sometimes improper activity of the thyroid gland, ovaries, or testicles can result in feather picking. Blood tests or biopsies may be needed for a confirmed diagnosis.
A lack of protein, fatty acids, certain vitamins, or minerals can result in feather loss and/or feather picking. Sometimes the fault is not in the diet, but rather the bird’s ability to utilize the nutrients included in the food. A good history often provides clues as to the cause. Diet changes generally help in this situation.
Sometimes an injury or illness (gout, tumors, arthritis) can cause to hurt or itch. When the area hurts or itches, the bird may pick at the area. Generally these causes are suspected when only one area of the body is attacked. Since certain stresses cannot be alleviated, it is often it is difficult to cure these individuals, as the real cause is not treatable.
These are the most common causes of feather picking by far. These types of feather pickers can be the most difficult to cure and have the highest incidence of recurrence. Common psychological factors are:
This can occur over minor things such as moving the cage to a different location or transferring the bird to a new cage. Arguments between family members can create stress feather picking, as well as the disappearance of a favorite family member.
This is generally due to lack of exercise, decreased attention, or no variation in environment. Changes in the cage or more attention can, and usually does help. A companion bird may be the solution (although sometimes it will make things worse!), especially if the feather picking bird is very “people oriented.”
Lack Of Privacy
This factor is usually seen in new birds or established birds after a new addition is made. The addition of a nesting box will reduce or eliminate the problem.
This is often the underlying cause, just as some people bite their finger nails or pull their hair out. These are very frustrating cases to solve.
Feather picking can vary widely, but the method of stopping the behavior is initially the same whatever the cause. An ELIZABTHAN COLLAR (cone-shaped collar) is applied around the neck of the bird. It may take the bird several hours or days to adjust to the collar. During this time, the perches should be placed low in the cage and food/water should also be moved to within easy reach of the collared bird. Often the collar is left on the bird for 1-2 months!!! This is necessary to try to break the habit that the bird has developed. Often all of the feathers will not regrow for many months or until the bird goes through a natural molt. In severe cases, the feathers may never regrow or take years to come back.
Occasionally, bitter liquids (i.e. Bitter Apple) can be sprayed on the affected area to try to dissuade the bird from picking himself. PATIENCE is very important when trying to solve feather loss problems in pet birds.Download & Print
Feather picking is one of the most frustrating and disconcerting conditions of caged birds. Moreover, feather disorders rank as some of the most difficult and challenging conditions to diagnose and treat in avian veterinary practice. Bird owners frequently scrutinize their pets and usually readily detect feather problems. Other clinical conditions of caged birds are much less obvious and therefore, are less frequently detected.
Most people purchase or otherwise acquire a pet bird because of their physical attraction to the bird, its general appearance, feather color(s), vocal abilities, or its personality. Most bird owners prefer feather perfection. When a bird begins to pick at, pull out, or mutilate its feathers, its physical appearance and overall attractiveness are greatly diminished, causing great frustration on the part of its owner. Some of the bird owner’s frustration results from a lack of understanding of what motivates the bird to behave in this destructive manner and what can be done to stop the behavior.
Feathers and Preening
Feathers have a variety of functions: flight, temperature regulation, protection against environmental and climatic extremes, and courtship displays (colorful feathers, selective erection of certain feathers, etc.). Without feathers, wild birds could not survive. Therefore, careful and regular attention to their feathers and their condition is vital.
The process by which a bird grooms itself is called preening. A bird will use its beak to condition and waterproof its feathers and to meticulously remove the sheaths through which all new contour and flight feathers emerge from. Birds use their feet and claws to perform this latter function on contour feathers located on the head. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for birds to rub against various objects in their immediate environment to perform this function. Mutual preening is common among cage mates. It is crucial to distinguish normal preening behavior from feather picking and feather mutilation.
What is Feather Picking?
Feather picking is an obsessive, destructive behavior pattern of birds during which all or part of their feathers are methodically pulled out, amputated, frayed, or in some other way damaged. This behavior often prevents normal feather growth and emergence.
Molting is the normal physiologic process by which old, worn feathers are lost and subsequently replaced by new ones. The frequency of this event varies with the species and the individual, as well as with climatic and geographic factors. In warm areas, most caged birds drop a small number of feathers intermittently throughout the year and have 1 or 2 heavy molts each year. The process of molting must also be distinguished from feather picking.
Feather picking is not difficult to diagnose. Affected birds look very much the same. Regardless of the pattern of feather loss, damage and/or mutilation, and exposed bare skin below the neck, the head feathers are spared and always appear perfect and untouched. This is of course because the bird cannot reach its head feathers. The one notable exception to this is the bird whose feathers are picked by a cage mate. As mentioned, birds caged together often engage in mutual preening. This behavior can become obsessive and destructive, resulting in feather picking. In these cases, the head feathers of the “victim” are not spared.
Causes of Feather Picking
There are both medical and nonmedical causes for feather picking. The major medical causes include changes in hormone levels, external and internal parasites, malnutrition, internal disease, and bacterial or fungal infections of the skin and/or feather follicles. Interestingly, and contrary to popular opinion, external parasites (mites in particular) are extremely rare among caged birds. The nonmedical causes are psychological and/or stress related factors.
Feather picking is generally a problem for birds in captivity. Wild birds do not feather pick because they are too preoccupied with their survival and reproduction. Captive birds (pet birds and those in zoos and aviculture collections) endure stress not experienced by their wild counterparts. Captivity, malnutrition, solitary living, and absence of a mate with which to fulfill courtship rituals and mating needs cause significant stress, in addition to stress associated with confinement within a home (noise, confusion, presence of other pets, such as dogs or cats, which represent potential predators to caged birds).
Like people, birds are creatures of habit, and changes (large and small) in their environment or in their established routine can often create stress for the individual. This stress often results in obsessive, introverted behavior, manifested by feather picking.
It is helpful to understand that feather picking represents one extreme of the feather care and maintenance continuum. In the middle of this continuum is normal feather care and maintenance, represented by normal preening. To the left is the complete absence of feather care and maintenance, most commonly seen with domestic, hand raised birds. These baby birds fail to learn proper preening (technique and frequency) from their parents. To the right of the spectrum is overzealous preening or outright damage to, or destruction of, the plumage represented by feather picking.
Bird behavior tends to be patterned and ritualized. With this fact and the feather care and maintenance continuum in mind, it should not be too difficult to appreciate why captive birds, experiencing multiple stressors day after day, continuously pick at their feathers. There is very little difference between drawing a feather through the beak to condition it (preening) and doing the same thing but clamping down on the feather midway through this process and cutting it in half or pulling it out (feather picking).
Most caged birds seem prone to feather picking. The groups of birds most notorious for engaging in this vice include African grey and Timneh parrots, cockatoos, macaws, conures, gray-cheeked parakeets, and cockatiels. Interestingly, we rarely see feather picking budgies or Amazon parrots. We do, however, see a self-mutilation syndrome in Amazon parrots and occasionally in other species (African grey parrots and macaws). This may represent the way in which some of these birds cope with or manifest stress.
Others believe that the condition is an infectious disease, possibly of viral origin. It is not uncommon for afflicted birds to mutilate their skin (toes, wing webs, groin, and armpit areas). This constant and continual trauma results in infection and failure of these wounded areas to heal. These birds must be prevented from engaging in this self-trauma through use of collars, bandages, etc. They also must be treated aggressively with systemic antibiotics (injections are preferable).
Treating and Preventing Feather Picking
From the above discussion, it should be obvious that there are no quick and/or easy solutions for psychological or stress-induced feather picking. Collars fashioned from discarded x-ray film or certain acrylics can be fitted and applied. These materials create an artificial barrier between the bird’s beak and its feathers. Collars treat the symptoms (the feather picking and mutilation) but do not eliminate the underlying cause(s). In fact, collars themselves can be very stressful to caged birds and should only be applied when it is necessary to arrest self-mutilation and prevent hemorrhage, or as a last resort when all else fails. Furthermore, collars create problems of their own. Besides causing great stress to the bird, they also prevent normal feather maintenance (preening).
If medical causes for feather picking have been ruled out, and boredom (solitary confinement) is regarded as the major cause of feather picking, then you must be prepared to make changes as the owner of the bird. Increasing the amount of time you spend with your bird will greatly reduce feather picking tendencies because the bird is kept engaged.
Sometimes, changing the location of the bird’s cage and/or perch is helpful. The suitability of the new location will depend upon the temperament of the bird and the relative unsuitability of the previous location. For example, a feather picking African grey parrot (normally shy and suspicious) might be better off in a more private and secluded area of the house than in a heavily trafficked and noisy locale. By contrast, an umbrella cockatoo (docile, affectionate, gregarious) that lives in relative isolation and that has begun to feather pick might be better off in a very public area of the house. If a feather picker lives in a very small cage or has limited living space, it might be beneficial to provide a larger cage or a more spacious living environment.
Some feather pickers may not receive adequate rest. Providing these birds with a more quiet and secluded locale and covering the cage at night may be helpful. The latter is most important because it provides a certain period each day or night during which absolute privacy and freedom from a “fish bowl” existence is assured.
Bathing or misting a feather picker on a daily or otherwise regular basis may be beneficial because wetting the feathers encourages normal preening behavior. The hope is that the bird will spend more time conditioning the plumage and less time chewing on the feathers or pulling them out.
Providing a wide variety of foods may combat boredom and resulting feather picking. Emphasis should be placed on foods that require some time and effort to eat (non-shelled walnuts and other nuts, string beans, snow peas, macaroni and cheese) and those representing a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. This recreational feeding keeps the bird stimulated and interested in the food, increases the amount of time required to eat, and decreases the amount of free time that could be spent feather picking.
The same factors should be considered when providing toys with which a caged bird can play. The widest variety and assortment possible should be offered. The toys (chains, bells, rawhide and hardwood pieces, mirrors, and hard rubber toys) should be durable and appropriate for the size and type of bird being considered. Toys should stimulate and hold the bird’s interest as much as possible. It is important to provide natural objects that a bird can investigate, chew up and rip apart. Branches from nontoxic trees, with leaves (eucalyptus) and large pinecones, can be offered to satisfy these destructive tendencies. These objects should be clean and free of insecticide and herbicide residues. It is equally important to provide objects that can fully involve the bird in actual physical exercise (large ropes to climb on, large paper bags, and cardboard boxes with holes). Appliances (radio, tape recorder, television, etc.) that stimulate the bird’s other senses should also be considered and provided whenever possible. A feather picker whose attention is diverted and held by these types of toys and diversions will spend less time pursuing its vice.
Feather Picking and Sexuality
Much feather picking of caged birds results from sexual isolation and frustration. It is easy for most bird owners to subconsciously ignore the sexuality of their pet bird because the true gender of their bird may not be known in most cases. Caged birds do not have external genitalia or other physical characteristics that would indicate their sexual identity at a glance. However, they do have gonads (testes or a single ovary) located inside their bodies. These organs produce the very same sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen) that our own gonads produce. These sex hormones are extremely potent and can change a bird’s behavior.
In the wild, these behavioral changes would result in the selection of a mate and the pursuit of courtship and mating behaviors. Unfortunately, in the home, solitary pet birds are rarely free to engage in these pursuits. The frustration that often follows can result in feather picking.
Some investigators believe that hormone influenced (sexual) feather picking is the result of a bird’s attempt to create a brood patch. This completely featherless area of the breast allows very efficient transfer of heat from the bird’s body to the egg(s) it is incubating. In captivity and nonbreeding situations, the feather picking and pulling is not productive and becomes an obsessive vice, even when hormone levels wane. Some of these birds exhibit a favorable response to progesterone drugs in the early stages.
Providing an appropriate mate is an obvious, but not always practical, solution. Reducing sexual stimulation (removing mirrors and masturbatory toys, placing birds of opposite sex that are caged separately out of sound range from one another) may be helpful.
In multiple bird households, feather picking may result when a bird is housed near other birds. Under these circumstances, moving this individual out of sight and beyond hearing from the others may reduce the level of stress experienced by the bird and the severity of its feather picking.
Popular Remedies May Not Work
There are certain popular remedies for feather picking. Foul tasting sprays applied to the feathers (Bitter Apple, Listerine, etc.), grinding/notching of the lower beak to make destruction of the feathers more difficult, and use of tranquilizers have all been recommended over the years to treat the chronic feather picker. Unfortunately, none of these are truly effective solutions. They merely treat the symptom (feather picking) but do not treat the causes of feather picking. Under certain circumstances, however, some of these remedies may provide some help or relief.
One suggestion that should be given serious consideration is not clipping the wings of birds that mutilate their feathers, especially their flight feathers. The rationale is that feather picking birds need no excuse to be destructive to their feathers, and this procedure usually provides one. Though wing trimming is not disfiguring, it does involve trimming of the largest and longest of the bird’s feathers. Feather pickers or birds prone to this vice soon discover these altered feathers and begin to methodically and obsessively chew and split that part of the quill that remains of the clipped feathers. The result of this mutilation is a series of frayed feather quills that rarely drop out during the next molt and tend to be retained indefinitely.
If you elect not to clip your bird’s wings because of this consideration, you must be willing to accept the liabilities of a fully flighted bird in the home. Make the decision carefully.
In cases of chronic feather picking, close scrutiny of the bird and its interactions with its environment can help establish a program of behavioral modification. A qualified avian behaviorist should be enlisted if this remedy is to be pursued. Behavioral modification may be of tremendous value in reducing stress, treating stress-induced problems of caged birds, and treating obnoxious behavioral problems.
Some cases of severe chronic feather picking may not respond to any kind of treatment. Damage to or destruction of the feather follicles from repeated trauma to the skin may result in permanent feather loss or growth of abnormal feathers. These pet birds also tend to be unmanageable and very difficult to handle. Placing these birds in a breeding or avicultural situation may be the most practical alternative. Unfortunately, this is never an easy decision for a devoted bird owner.Download & Print
Finches are popular, hardy birds that are easy to maintain. They are generally quiet and have a pleasant, melodious song. Finches do not require the level of attention needed by parrot-type birds.
Line-breeding and in-breeding to achieve color or morphologic mutations produce a weaker bird with greater potential for genetic abnormalities. For example, a color mutation of the Gouldian finch will have a reduced life span in comparison to its wild-type conspecific. Depending on the climatic conditions and the durability of the species, many finches can be maintained in attractive, outdoor aviaries with nontoxic vegetation.
Is my Finch a Male or a Female?
In some finches, different genders have obvious or subtle appearance or behavioral differences. Males are generally more brightly colored or elaborately marked than females, particularly during the breeding season. Differences in singing, courtship, or nesting behavior may also provide clues. Males usually have melodious songs, perform a dance, hop in various postures, and build their nest during breeding seasons. The females often have more of a chirp or single-note call and are more passive in the courtship role. Finches are prolific breeders. The offspring are usually parent-raised, especially in insectivorous species. Society finches make good foster parents for young of other finch species.
What do Finches Do All Day?
Finches are less likely than parrot-type birds to develop a bond with family members. However, they are beautiful and interesting birds to observe. Because they may consume up to 30% of their body weight a day in food and may collapse from hypoglycemia if they are deprived of food for even short periods, finches spend a great deal of their time eating. Some of the more exotic finches enjoy live goods such as mealworms, but have been bred on vegetarian diets with some effort and training.
While finches may be small in size, some species are territorial in aviary situations and others have well developed pecking orders. Self-mutation, poor body condition, and increased susceptibility to disease may be indirect results of aggression in birds that are psychologically stressed because of their low social position.
There is a tendency for clients to provide housing for finches that is narrow and tall in design. This restricts the birds’ horizontal flying patterns. The finches tend to gather at the same level in the enclosure leading to overcrowded conditions and secondary aggression among the birds.
Are Finches Tame?
Finches prefer the company of other finches. They are considered skittish and will usually fly away when approached. However, some individuals can be finger trained. If capture of a finch is necessary, one useful approach is to remove all perches and turn off the lights before reaching into the enclosure.
How To Keep Your Finch Healthy, Happy, and Safe!
Housing for your finch should:
It is important to prevent access to:
What your Veterinarian Looks For in a Healthy Finch
INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE OF HALOPERIDOL LACTATE 2mg/ml
Oral aqueous solution
Haloperidol is a human antipsychotic drug used on a limited basis for the treatment of self-mutilation and severe feather plucking in psittacine birds. It is important to keep careful records of the dosage of drug given, as well as any side effects noted. Please do not hesitate to contact our clinic with any questions or problems.
Oral Haloperidol is a clear, tasteless drug that can be administered directly into your bird’s mouth or given in a small treat such as fruit or fruit juice, by soaking it into a small piece of bread, cookie, cracker, or other food that will be entirely consumed by the bird. It must be given as close to every 12 hours as possible.
Common side effects noted with Haloperidol are anorexia, lethargy, and restlessness. More severe side effects can include severe depression or seizures. If side effects are mild, keep the bird on his/her current dosage of Haloperidol for at least two days to allow the body to adjust to the dosage.Download & Print
How to Feed Your Bird
Correct bird nutrition is a difficult goal to achieve. Although bird nutrition has been studied extensively, it is very difficult to provide a captive bird the diet that they would otherwise obtain in the wild. The professional opinion of what to feed a captive bird is constantly changing, but the current consensus is somewhat species dependent. Pellets offer more complete and superior nutrition than birdseed. However, birdseed can be provided in small portions, and your bird’s favorite seed can be removed from their food bowl and utilized to positively reinforce desired behavior.
A key factor in bird nutrition is food volume. What is important is not what you offer, but what your bird eats out of what you offer. Giving a bird too much seed will enable them to select certain seeds over others, compromising the nutritional completeness they would otherwise receive when eating all seed types. Birds will often select the high fat seeds leading to deficiencies in certain vitamins, as well as obesity. This concept can be equated to a person provided free access to pizza and spinach. A person will continuously select the pizza over the spinach unless the volume of pizza is restricted such that the person is forced to ingest the spinach in order to meet their caloric needs while simultaneously balancing their nutritional needs.
At AEAC, we recommend and are a distributor of Harrisons Bird Food, the only certified organic pellet available on the commercial market. It offers superior nutrition to your bird and is widely accepted by many bird species. It comes in a variety of pellet sizes, pellet composition, and pellet flavor. Fresh fruits and vegetables should also be made available to your bird. Birds can consume a wide range of foods, although foods high in fat, sugar, caffeine, or avocado and chocolate should be avoided.
Converting a Bird to a Pelleted Diet
When initially converting your bird to a pelleted diet, offer free access (not volume restricted) to a bowl of pellets every day and provide a separate bowl with seeds every other day. The proportion of seeds made available should be 1 LEVEL (not a heaping) tablespoon of seed per 100 grams of bird. However, some birds are more stubborn than others, and will continue to reject the pellets.
It is important to weigh your bird on a daily basis to ensure that they are not losing too much body weight over a short period of time. In addition, the bird’s stools should be evaluated. A bright green color to the feces can indicate that the bird is not receiving enough nutrition. However, colored pellets will often turn the color of the feces green or pink, depending on the color of the pellets. Also evaluate the proportion of feces in comparison to the urates (white portion of the stool). A lower proportion of feces to urates also can imply that the bird is not receiving enough nutrition.
Contra-free loading is a concept that describes how birds prefer to work for their food than to be provided with food within a bowl. In the wild, birds spend 8 hours a day foraging and flying, approximately 50% of their time. Foraging provides mental stimulation that they would otherwise not receive while housed within a cage with a bowl of food, leading to boredom and often undesired behaviors (i.e. feather destructive behavior).
Shredding newspaper and putting it on the bottom of the cage and then hiding the seed/pellets within the shredded paper will provide great mental stimulation for your bird while satisfying their foraging instincts. Another technique that can be utilized is putting the seed/pellets into a water bottle with a small hole in it. The bird will spend time either rolling the water bottle to get the seeds or increasing the size of the hole in the water bottle in order to reach into the water bottle with their beak more effectively.
A common nutrition related disease in birds, particularly with budgerigars, is hepatic lipidosis, or fatty liver disease. Hepatic lipidosis is a consequence of a high fat diet, seen most often in birds fed too much of a seed-only diet. The liver becomes overwhelmed with the fat load and begins to store the excess fat within vacuoles, compromising the functionality of the hepatocytes or liver cells. Signs of hepatic lipidosis include overgrown beaks and nails with black streaks, anorexia, lethargy, loose stools, yellow urates, and/or a distended abdomen.
Birds with hepatic lipidosis run the risk of falling and fracturing their liver/keel. In order to treat birds with hepatic lipidosis, the bird is put on a milk thistle and lactulose regime, as well as a lower fat diet to help them lose weight. As long as the disease process has not been occurring for a long period of time, the damage to the liver is reversible.
Vitamin A deficiency
Vitamin A deficiency results in cell dysfunction that can ultimately lead to organ dysfunction, most commonly affecting the kidneys. Signs of vitamin A deficiency can include feather loss, high volumes of urine relative to feces and urates in the stool due to kidney disease, sneezing due to upper respiratory infections, and choanal or mouth infections. An injection of Vitamin A can treat vitamin A deficiencies; otherwise, supplementation can be achieved by giving orange-colored vegetables, such as carrots or sweet potatoes.
Hypocalcemia is most frequently seen in birds that are either growing or feamles that are egg laying. As a consequence of hypocalcemia, birds can develop pathologic fractures, such as folding fractures. If your female bird is displaying reproductive behavior or if you have a young and growing bird, it is best to provide free access to a cuttle bone or to crush up Tums and sprinkle them over their food.Download & Print
Macaws are a fascinating group of birds that comprise of the largest species of the parrot family. Some of the common species in the market include: Hyacinth, Blue and Gold, Military, Scarlet, Greenwing, Severe, and Hahn’s Macaws. They are scientifically classified in the family Psittacidae and the subfamily Aratinginae. This subfamily is further divided into 3 genera: Andorhynchus, Cyanopsitta, and Ara. Andorhynchus is differentiated from Ara by the presence of a bare ring around the eye and a naked area at the base of the lower mandible. The genus Cyanopsitta has intermediate characteristics of the other 2 genera. These birds vary widely in size, with the hyacinth weighing between 1,250-1,400 grams and the Hahn’s only weighing 165 grams. Due to the great variety of macaws, only the more common species will be discussed in further detail.
Hyacinth Macaw (Andorhynchus hyacinthinus)
The largest of all parrots, Hyacinths weigh up to 4 pounds and measure up to 100 cm in length. The plumage is a rich blue and the underside of the tail is dark gray. Their normal range is throughout most of inland Brazil. In the wild, these birds are usually found in pairs. Average commercial parrot cages are no match for the immense strength of these macaws. These birds will form very strong bonds with their owners. A stranger should be careful around these birds since their powerful beaks can cause significant damage.
Blue and Gold Macaw (Ara ararauna)
This species is about 90 cm in length. The forehead is usually green, and upper parts are generally blue, while the under parts are yellow. They have a fairly large range from Southern Costa Rica through Central South America. This species is very popular for its beautiful coloration and its ability to bond with their owner. Blue and gold macaws are the most common species in the pet trade and the easiest to breed.
Green Wing Macaw (Ara chloroptera)
The length of green wings is 90 cm and their plumage is dark red with lesser wing covert green. Most of the tail feathers and wing coverts are a light blue. Distribution is from Southern Panama through Central South America. The green winged is the second largest macaw and is a close relative to the scarlet. Some reports say that these birds are slightly quieter than other species of macaws.
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao)
Similar in appearance to the green winged, scarlet macaws are smaller and have yellow shoulder coverts. Their range overlaps the green winged and extends North to Mexico. This bird originates from tropical lowlands and should not be kept at temperatures less than 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Military Macaw (Ara militaris)
This macaw is around 70 cm and has an overall olive green plumage with a red forehead. The distribution is predominantly throughout Mexico with some isolated sites in South America, at altitudes greater than 800 meters. These macaws are able to withstand a large variation in temperatures.
Severe Macaw (Ara severa)
This species is also called a chestnut-fronted macaw and is only one half the size of a blue and gold macaw, at 46 cm in length. The plumage of this bird is generally green. The forehead, chin, and margins of cheeks bordering bare facial areas are chestnut brown. The primaries are blue, while the underside of the tail and flight feathers are dark orange. The bird ranges from Panama through Northern South America.
Hahn’s Macaw (Ara nobilis)
Also called the red-shouldered macaw, this is the smallest macaw species at 30 cm in length. This bird is predominantly green with red under wing coverts. Originating from Northeastern South America, these birds are found in the lowlands and are rarely at altitudes over 400m. They are commonly observed in large flocks, and it does not seem that these birds form permanent pair bonds like the other macaw species. These birds are also considered to be the best talkers of the macaw family.
The environment should be different depending on the individual species. The cage size will vary with the size of the bird. It should be large enough for the bird to fully expand its wings without touching the sides. Due to the powerful beaks of the larger species, the wire should be at least 3mm thick, and the spot welds should be less than 10 cm apart. The smaller species (Hahn’s) do not have any special cage requirements.
The cage door should be large enough so that all areas of the cage can be reached when the door is open. Food bowls and drinking utensils should be situated at perch height, and should be solidly mounted so that they cannot be moved or tipped over by the birds.
The perches should be of various thicknesses. The thinnest perch should be large enough that the toes cannot encircle the entire perch. A concrete perch is advised to help nail wear and reduce their sharpness. The concrete perch should be placed at the roosting point of the cage or at the level of the food dishes. The amount of perches in a cage should be limited to 2-3, since macaw’s long tails are often broken on improperly placed perches.
Do not place the cage in front of constant, direct sunlight or in front of vents. Cage toys prevent the bird from becoming bored with the environment; however, the toys should be evaluated for durability, potential to be toxic, and potential to be ingested. The cage bottoms should be cleaned daily to evaluate proper dietary intake and fecal production.
Macaws are very sensitive birds and can become extremely bonded to their owners. If they do not receive adequate socialization during their first years of life, they will develop bad habits, such as screaming and feather picking. Teaching a bird up and down commands is very important to creating a well-behaved pet.
They may show aggression toward their owner’s friends or family members. These birds can become extremely noisy, with a far carrying voice. It is almost impossible to keep a macaw without experiencing some amount of furniture damage.
When breeding macaws, the compatibility of a pair is extremely important. If a male and female do not like each other, a successful breeding is extremely unlikely. Birds that are hand tame will often become aggressive during breading and brooding activity.
We recommend that 75-90% of the birds diet is a pelleted diet that is formulated for macaws. The rest of the diet should consist of a mixture of fruit, vegetables, and pasta. Birds should not be given products that have chocolate, sugar, or avocado in them. Due to macaws’ higher energy requirements, they may be given some hard shell nuts (Brazil nuts, walnuts, etc.). Sunflower seeds and peanuts should be avoided since they offer little nutritional value and are extremely high in fat. Breeding macaws may need additional amounts of protein in their diet for increased energy.
Some of the common diseases manifested in macaws include: feather picking, bacterial, viral, and fungal infections, papillomas, proventricular dilatation disease, toxicities, chlamydial infections, and nutritional deficiencies. Annual checkups with a qualified avian veterinarian should be performed to monitor for early signs of disease. Diseases are easier to diagnose and can be prevented with consistent monitoring. Through regular health checks and good husbandry, your macaw can serve as a good companion for many years into the future.Download & Print
Taming and Training Your Bird
Birds are very social creatures. They flock together in the wild, and will seek social contact in a person’s home. In fact, social contact on a regular basic is necessary. Birds eagerly anticipate contact with their owners, other birds, or even other pets!
Bathing is an activity that most birds enjoy. Provide a small bowl of water for this purpose and fill it with warm water. In the wild, parakeets and canaries bathe in the dew of the morning grass. Allow them to roll in wet greens, such as celery leaves or carrot tops. Larger birds enjoy spraying or misting. A shower stall can be excellent fun for larger birds! Bathing is necessary for cleanliness and for social contact.
Share Breakfast and Dinner
Twice-a-day feeding promotes nutrition. Table scraps are an excellent source of protein and vegetable nutrients. It will surprise you what your bird will like to eat. Also, when a bird is hungry, it will associate its owner with food and understand him/her as a friend.
Training is possible once you have provided a comfortable environment and established a friendly bond with your bird. Training can begin with using food as reward. However, remember that birds are suspicious by instinct and larger birds can especially become aggressive. If your bird is not ready to accept food from your hand, be patient and allow it to choose its time. NEVER hit a bird, as it will remember the aggressive act!! Being gentle and patient will work more effectively.
When your bird starts taking food from your hand, it is time to start stick training. With your bird out of the cage (wings clipped so flight is not possible), it will have to depend on you. Remember that its first means of protection is flight and its second is the cage. Place your bird on an outside perch in a corner so you don’t get discouraged by chasing it around. Simply encourage your bird to get on the stick with gentle, continuous conversation.
Be PERSISTENT and don’t let your bird train you! If you want your bird to do something, don’t stop because of its reaction.
DO NOT exhaust your bird. Fifteen-minute sessions are long enough. Let your bird rest several hours, and then begin again.
Once your bird starts to step up on the stick, set it back on the perch. Repeat this often, always accompanied by gentle conversation. Then carry the bird around the room on the stick. If the bird jumps off, immediately get it back on the stick. Jumping off the stick is not the skill it is supposed to learn!
At some point, without changing conversation or rhythm, substitute your HAND for the stick. If your bird refuses your hand, capture it on a towel or cloth. Carry it, speaking gently, and allow it to stick it head out of the towel or the cloth. At this point, repeat the stick and substitute hand method, and reward good behavior with a special treat.
Once the person is able to pick the bird up with his/her hand, then it is a matter of how much time he/she devotes to the bird.
Birds enjoy having their heads scratched. If a bird allows this, the owner can be sure that a strong bond has developed.Download & Print
Teaching Your Bird to Talk
Teaching your bird to talk depends on the ability of the species to talk. Parakeets, cockatiels, and many parrots are excellent mimics. However, talking ability is not the only thing that birds offer as pets.
Repetition, as expected, is the key to teaching a bird to talk. Many people utilize sound recordings–whether commercially produced or homemade that features a clear feminine voice. For this to work, use a quiet location free of distractions. Remove food and toys from the cage. Your bird will learn because it is forced to listen to the tape for about 20 minutes. If it appears that your bird is not listening, observe it until you discover the source of distraction and eliminate it.
It is sufficient for such training sessions to take place once in the morning and once in the evening. Many people have had success by singing to their birds.
Once a bird has accomplished three words (even though this feat may have taken months), it will be able to pick up words and sentences quite easily. It’s easy to teach words on command through food rewards.
By providing for your bird’s social needs and companionship through training, you and your new pet will be rewarded with many years of enjoyment and friendship.Download & Print
Polymer Fume Fever in Birds (Teflon Toxicity)
Exposure to inhalant toxins is one of the three most common toxicities seen in birds. This is due to their unique respiratory system, which is much more efficient than mammal respiratory systems. The other two common toxicities are metallic and pharmacologic. Most reported inhalant toxicoses are from Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) exposure, commonly called Polymer fume fever.
PTFE is a gas released when nonstick cookware, such as silverstone or Teflon is exposed to temperatures of 536 degrees Fahrenheit or greater. When this occurs, fumes that are extremely acidic are emitted, causing direct damage to the lung tissues. The air sacs of birds create a large surface area for absorption of this harmful gas. Properly used cookware usually does not exceed 420 degrees, even when frying. However, many drip pans in ovens are made from Teflon and become overheated with just normal oven use.
Clinical signs of toxicity occur within 5 – 10 minutes of exposure. Heavy exposures can result in acute death, and milder exposures can result in rapid eye blinking, panting, biting at the cage, flapping and excessive wing stretching, progressing to incoordination, and dyspnea. Exposures greater than 9 minutes will result in death of the bird. Humans are also susceptible, and experience flu like symptoms.
Treatment is supportive and dyspneic birds benefit from oxygen therapy, heat, and humidity.
Gross lesions found at necropsy include air sacculitis, pulmonary congestion, and hemorrhagic and necrotizing pneumonitis.
Any strong odor is potentially toxic. If suspected, open all doors and windows and ventilate the area quickly. The following is a list of other inhalant toxins.