Perfectly Trained Parrot

I am anxiously waiting the arrival of hard copies of my new parrot training book, The Perfectly Trained Parrot. I hear that they are in the warehouse and almost ready to ship. I hope this book is helpful to some people. I hope it is enjoyable to read. I hope I didn’t screw anything up in the text!!

Here is a sneak peak at the Table of Contents…

TOC copy

I know some folks pre-ordered from Amazon. Let me know when you get them!!

The Best Parrot for You

Aloha Cockatoo by Mordy Steinfeld

Aloha Cockatoo by Mordy Steinfeld

From time to time someone who is thinking about getting a parrot asks me what my opinion is. Should I get a cockatoo? Or do you think an African grey? Wow. Those are two very different species. And if I don’t know you, I probably don’t have a very valid opinion. It’s all about your personality.

Honestly, there is no best parrot suited for the life of a pet. They all have major challenges if having a pet that isn’t perfect bothers you from time to time. Is noise an issue in your house? Get tired of cleaning? Hate dust? Then you better make sure that the species you choose is the one that appeals to you the most, because all parrots are going to have their drawbacks.

So choosing the best species of bird for your home (and hopefully for the next several decades) is a very personal decision. Cockatoos are wonderful birds for the right person. Not for me. That ‘too voice makes me jump out of my skin, especially when I’m trying to write. And I’m not a constant cuddler. I work best with birds that are happy with interaction and don’t mind that I’m not hands-on all the time. I love to visit with my friend’s Mollucan, but I’m very glad I don’t have her in my home. Although, she sure is pretty!

Don’t be seduced by the package either. The parrot you choose should be one that you think is gorgeous, of course, but find out which species best fits your personality. Talk to people who love that species, breeders, experts, long-time owners. Then also talk to folks who have had bad experiences with the species or would never have one in their home. There is no one best species, but there may be a particular type of parrot that’s the right one for you.

OMG She Laid an EGG!

Ahhh Spring.

Ahhh Spring.

It’s been a regular avian grumpfest around here lately. The falcons are on an all-you-can-eat diet and the molting has commenced, meaning falcons who have no use for me and are nearly impossible to handle. The pigeons or making ostentatious and impossibly loud overtures to one another. Meanwhile, the parrots are touchy and feathers abound in the house. Tis the season. What I wasn’t expecting though, was Loki’s first egg. Fifteen years old and my little hen Senegal parrot decided this was the year to settle down and get to business.

I watched her closely as soon as I realized she had made herself a newspaper nest and that she was bulging about the cloaca. I expected aggression, but what I got was adoration and regurgitation. She turned to goo, literally. I tried not to encourage her while watching for signs of egg binding. I was relieved when the first egg arrived and then the second. I might have one more to look forward to and then hopefully we’re done.

Egg laying can actually be dangerous business. An egg the parrot is unable to pass is a death sentence and not uncommon. First time egg layers and older birds may be more likely to become egg bound so keep an eye out. Egg binding can also occur because of compromised health, poor nutrition or simply because of genetics. If your bird is puffed, bright-eyed, interactive, but obviously just nesty, she’s probably fine, but watch closely for signs of distress. Watch for a distended abdomen and straining to pass something through the vent, drooping wings, fluffed feathers, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing. And if there is any question at all in your mind, best just to get to the vet!

Here are a few tips to avoid egg binding:

  • Get your bird DNA sexed so you know whether or not to suspect egg-laying
  • Try not to encourage nesting and bonding behavior during the breeding season.
  • Make sure your parrot has a nutritious well balanced diet with sufficient calcium (smooth muscle requires calcium to function and of course, calcium is required to create fully formed shells)
  • Get that bird some exercise! Obese birds are more likely to become egg bound.
  • Talk to your vet if your bird lays eggs excessively. Your vet may suggest hormones to get the egg laying to cycle more normally.

If your bird does become egg bound get to the vet right away! Your avian veterinarian can help the egg pass or remove it surgically if necessary before the situation becomes deadly.

Hope you all have a great Spring. It’s gonna be a long one around here…

Five Parrot Books that Should be on Your Shelf

These are the five books I think should be on every parrot owner’s bookshelf. Click on the titles to read a lengthier review of the books. (and to add your own review if you agree or disagree!)

Parrots of the World by Joseph M. Forshaw

Everyone should have a book to pull off the shelf when they are wondering what species of parrot that photo on the web might be or when arguing about the name of that lory species over drinks. (It’s Duyvenbodes, by the way. You win some you lose some…)

More importantly perhaps, this book is a wonderful starting point to finding out a bit of natural history about the parrot in your home. The more you know about what your parrot’s kin does in the wild, the better you will understand his needs and habits in your home!

Good Bird by Barbara Heidenreich

Barbara and I worked together for some time in the arena of free flight bird shows. She took much of what we knew and lived by and put it into this easy to understand book for the pet parrot community. It was just the start of many great tools produced by Good Bird Inc!

The Parrot Problem Solver by Barbara Heidenreich

Taking the basics of “Good Bird” to the next level, Barbara breaks down the basics of behavior and training. She gives those unindoctrinated in the world of using proven techniques and terms standardized by psychologists a great intro and many tools to put their new knowledge to work.

Brinkers All Around Grey Book

Brinker's All Around Grey Book

For the Love of Greys by Bobbi Brinker

The African grey parrot is unarguably one of the most popular species of pet parrot in the world. And few people are more knowledgable about this particular species than Bobbi. Introducing readers to the idea that positive reinforcement and facilitation rather than force is the best way to live with a grey, she also shares just about everything you need to know about keeping  your grey healthy and happy.

A Parrot for Life by Rebecca K. O’Connor

I won’t review my own book, but of course I think it should be on your shelf! Decades of both living with parrots and training birds professionally inspired me to write the book I wish I had when I trained my first cockatiel at eight years old. I wanted it to be fun to read and full of up-to-date information. My first birds would have had better nutrition, health and my hands would have suffered a lot fewer bits. I’ll leave it to you to decide if I accomplished my goal.


What are your favorite parrot books?


Amazon Parrot at the Lincoln Park Zoo circa 1900

Parrot at the Lincoln Park Zoo circa 1900

I had a dream the other night…a nightmare, really, that I couldn’t take it anymore.

The animals were too much.  I decided that I had to give up my African grey, Ty and my Brittany spaniel, Booth. Worse. I was desperate. I wanted them out of my life immediately.

And so, I left the grey in a park and the dog on a street corner and I swore to myself that I was doing the right thing.

Oh, the HORROR.

If you know me and my menagerie, you would understand that this was a dream about the two animals I would only give up last and in utter desperation. Don’t me get wrong. I love Anakin, the peregrine (and if you aren’t sure why, you should read LIFT ) and I love my other two parrots too. However, I would have to be crushed to lose the bird that narrates my idiosyncrasies and the dog that takes care of my falcons and warms my nights. My other birds would be fine in the right home, but these two animals are a piece of what keeps me human and whole. And after so many phone calls from people wanting to give up parrots on a whim, my disdain for someone doing as I did in the dream is immense.

So it wasn’t long before I realized the horrid mistake I had made in this dream. And I managed to get my animals back. Booth and Ty weren’t the same though. Ty was missing most of his feathers (plucked by rats) and Booth didn’t trust me much anymore. I woke up terrified and reaching for my dog, then jumping out of bed to make sure the parrot was safe and sound. And for the rest of the day I found myself thinking and humbled.

These are bad times and pets suffer for it. The people who have to relinquish their pets suffer for it too. So many of us are in a panic. And I think I understand.

Don’t panic. Think. There may be solutions, even temporary solutions before you have to relinquish your pets forever. Before you do something drastic, consider the following.

  1. Consider solving behavior problems before you decide there is no possibility of moving you parrot or other pet to another home. We’re all hurting for money, but talk to your local rescue. There may be a resource for getting you the help you need to problem solve for free. You better be committed and serious, but you’ll get to keep your pet. I for one, as someone who consults, would lend a hand to someone local if it were a matter of keeping their parrot or relinquishing it.
  2. Consider being creative. Explain your situation to a rescue group and see if there is a temporary alternative. Maybe you can afford food, medication etc. for your animal but, it is a question of housing. Be creative. Bad times don’t last forever and animal people who work in rescue are giving and flexible.
  3. Join a local parrot group. (Or other enthusiasts depending on your animal.) I have heard several stories of people who have agreed to long-term arrangements for “fostering” someone’s pet because they knew that person and understood that it was tough times and a temporary situation. And generally it turned out it was temporary.
  4. Get support. We’ll all struggling. Believe me, as someone who works in fund-raising with major donors I know what the economy is like. I also know that I feel guilty because I’m not yet in dire straights like so many others. I also am depressed because I have watched so many people that I admire and really like lose everything and have to start over. What most of us need is an understanding ear, a friend, someone who can tell us honestly that they love us and it really will be okay. Sometimes that’s all you need to get you past the panic that would cause you to relinquish a pet that you love.

Stay strong. Look for help.  And much love to you and your parrots.

Dear Paris,

Paris with Parrot

Paris' new grey parrot

I realize that you have already chosen a new BFF and I was never possibly going to be a contender anyway. But Girlfriend, you have GOT to call me. That parrot isn’t a plaything.  I know you were smitten by Joey McFarland’s parrot, Smokey.  And I understand that meeting an amazing grey parrot makes you want to rush off and buy one, like you did yesterday. (Right after meeting Smokey, in fact.. although I know its been on your mind for a few weeks.) Heck, I understand. We parrot people don’t want to admit it, but most of us have added a parrot to our flock on impulse, but you have to promise me, PROMISE ME, that you’ll do your homework.

Here are five quick tips to get you started:

  1. African greys likely live 60 years. So please don’t teach it to say “that’s hot” or anything else that will become outdated, annoying and is likely to make the poor bird impossible to place in a new home. (Including cursing) I wish you the best, but just in case you plan on “leaving a beautiful corpse” you should make sure he remains a desirable companion.
  2. African greys are prone to plucking. Do not buy it designer clothes when this happens. Even if he does look “hot”, dressing him up won’t help. Get him to a vet and consult a behaviorist. In fact, do this right away and start doing all the work to make sure you never have to consider covering up his ratty feathers with designer hoodies.
  3. African greys are prone to calcium deficiency.  I know you’re not a big fan of eating, but make sure your new parrot gets a huge variety of healthy food. The phrase “eat like a bird” may apply to you, but not your parrot.
  4. African greys are more charming when they aren’t your own. I’ll admit, that guy looks pretty awesome on your hand, but without a lot of interaction and mindfulness to appropriate behavior he is likely to bite you, chew on other things he shouldn’t and pick up horribly annoying noises that make hangovers even more hellacious.
  5. Not all greys are Alex. Alex started out as an exceptional bird and only reached avian mensa status with a great deal of training. In fact, Alex was trained by a woman who is a likely a genius in her own right. Hours of working with Dr. Pepperberg or the Dr.’s proteges in the lab are what made him amazing. It takes a genius to train a genius and well, um …never mind.  Dr. Pepperberg is pretty, but you’re way hotter.  

So have your people gather up every bit of parrot information they can and give you the Cliff Notes. Then make sure they are scheduled to give him plenty of enrichment, interaction and that everyone who goes near him completely understands positive reinforcement. Better yet, call me. I’ll buy you a cosmo and I’LL give you the Cliff Notes. And you can meet my grey parrot of 15 years, because well, your parrot may be hot, but my parrot is HUGE.

Oh Martha!

From Martha Stewart Weddings

From Martha Stewart Weddings

I realize this isn’t Martha Stewart’s direct doing. A good CEO delegates, but delegates to people who are considered a direct extension of “the boss.” So I can still say, “Oh, Martha! What were you thinking??”

An article online on Martha Stewart Weddings suggests renting lovebirds for your wedding. Hmmn. On one hand it is better to find a place to borrow birds than buy and then ignore them or hand them off after the nuptial bliss wears off. However, I take one look at the photo of lovebirds cuddling in a cage, likely next to the sign in book or at the guest entrance and think, “yeah, right.” Those lovebirds are not going to be cuddling each other and cooing at the distinguished guests. They are going to be uncomfortable if not flailing in terror in their too tiny cage and inappropriately designed cage while avoiding the pokes of bored children.

Martha. Please.

Although, this also brings up a long standing struggle in building a better world for birds. Parrots, finches and softbills common to the pet world have long been treated as decor by the general population. The vast majority of bird owners seem to be in agreement that birds are not like dogs or cats and that ownership of a bird doesn’t require a great deal of thinking. They’re just to look at.

It’s only been recently that breeders, parrot clubs, rescue organizations and other bird lovers have said, “Wait a minute. Just because they are birds doesn’t mean that we cannot train them to fit into our households, interact with them and have two-way relationships with them, just like our dogs or cats.”  Still we, the people who feel this way, are in the minority.

Help me out here, Martha. I’m already preaching to the choir.  Please tell the folks that don’t know any better that living creatures are not ornaments.

If they already have beloved birds in their life and would like to train them to be comfortable around people and participate in the wedding that’s another story.  I’d write an article for you about that for MS Weddings in a heartbeat.

Top Five Dangers Inside of the Cage

This is always my least favorite discussion when it comes to new parrots, mostly because I think we get carried away. People slip and hit their heads, killing themselves in bathtubs and on stairs, but we all still have bathtubs and most of us still use stairs. Accidents happen and being overly paranoid doesn’t always stop them form happening. Here are a few really common things to look out for, but mostly, my advice is to just use good judgment, common sense and supervision. Your parrot will be fine.

  1. Zinc poisoning

    Watch out for galvanized quick links.

    Watch out for galvanized quick links.

Zinc is poisoning to parrots and can be ingested through metals that have been galvanized. The level of toxicity can cause feather plucking, gasteric distress or even death, depending on how much zinc gets in the bird’s system. Read more about it here.

2. Frayed rope toys

Easy for a parrot to get a toy caught and many a bird has lost a toe this way. It’s even possible for a parrot to get her neck wrapped in strings. Keep an eye on all materials that have the potential of fraying and leaving dangerous strings.

3. Choking

Watch out for anything small enough to swallow or to break down into pieces that can be swallowed and obstruct the throat. Some parrot will destroy things regularly without swallowing the bits, but others are a danger to themselves. Keep an eye on your parrot with new toys.

Glade oil candles should be kept away from bird cages.

Glade oil candles should be kept away from bird cages.

4. Toxic fumes (from air fresheners, scented candles, Teflon, etc.)

Lots of things we put in the air are bad for us. And many of stories of dangers are overblown. However, as a rule of thumb, if it smells strongly to you, don’t put it or use it near your bird’s cage. (which the exception of over-heated teflon which doesn’t smell, but rapidly kills birds) And if it seems dangerous to your bird…well, there’s a reason why they used canaries in a coalmine. Maybe you shouldn’t have it in your house in the first place.

5. Poisoning (feeding poisonous or moldy foods)

Feed fresh food from dependable sources that don’t use pesticides. Be especially careful with fruits that bugs find really tasty, like strawberries, raspberries, etc.  Buy organic.

Hiring an Avian Behavior Consultant

I frequently get asked how to find and vet behavior consultant. This is mostly because I recommend that part of a behavior modification program involve the consultant coming into your home to help you see what he or she is talking about. Unfortunately, people call me from all over the United States. I often don’t know who is in their area. So if your are just starting to look for someone to help you with your behavior problems, consider the following.

Start by asking your avian veterinarian for suggestions. If you don’t have a local avian vet, try asking your regular vet to see if he or she has heard of anyone. Local bird breeders may also have some thoughts. Then look for these traits:

  • Ability to say “I don’t know, but I can find out”
  • Effective teaching and listening skills
  • Ethical professional behavior and good standing in the professional community
  • Experience with and love for parrots
  • Experience, with and adherance to positive reinforcement as the primary training tool
  • General and species-specific knowledge regarding health care, nutrition, husbandry, and behavior
  • Overall committment to assist in creating environments in which parrots and parrot owners thrive
  • Supportive references
  • Understanding and empathy for the humans in the household, as well as the parrots
  • Willingness to treat you as a partner in the process.

5 Worst Reasons to Get a Parrot

From davsans on Flickr courtesy of creative commons licensing.

From “A Parrot For Life” here is a list and some thoughts on why you might NOT want to get a parrot.

1. I don’t have enough time for a dog.

Sorry, but my parrots take way more time than my dogs. The eat more than kibble, require more direct attention, are more difficult to manage and unlike my dogs, require a lot more effort on my part to be clear about what is and is not acceptable behavior in the house. The dogs seemed pretty darn easy after 10 years of living with parrots.

2. I don’t have enough space for a bigger pet.

Okay, but if you live in apartment and have enough room for a bird, do you have enough of a sound barrier? Even a Senegal that screams all day can get you evicted if you neighbors And don’t forget that your parrot should be out of the cage frequently. Is there enough room for her to remain safe?

3. I can’t afford a bigger pet.

Then you can’t afford a parrot either. Even if you adopt a parrot you should expect to pay close to retail (and that will barely put a dent in the rescue facility’s expenses) So let’s say:

  • Purchase: $1000
  • Cage: $1000
  • Monthly toys: $30
  • Monthly food (pellets, nuts, fruits veggies) $50
  • Vet check up: $200

=$2280 initial investment and $1160 annually.  Less expensive? You decide.

4. Parrots are so beautiful and one would look great in my home.

Parrot have their own ideas of aesthetics, so I hope you don’t mind the way the cockatoo decides to redecorate your pretty pink and white bathroom. Seriously, buy some parrot art, you’ll be happier.

5. Someone is giving me a parrot for free.

If your best friend decides to divorce her husband, considers the fact that you are single and then offers her husband to you, would you take him? Enough said.

How about the rest of you parrot peeps. Got any good ones to add?