Sunday, November 19, 2006

Big, smart birds have big needs

AS EVERY PARENT knows, toddlers can be a handful. They need constant supervision as their curiosity can lead them into harm's way and constant stimulation as their minds develop and change daily. Many parrot species possess intelligence on a par with a 3-year-old.
If having a precocious toddler for the rest of your life sounds good to you, you might want to consider adding a parrot to your family.

A better understanding of parrots will help ensure that your parrot has a stimulating, healthy life. Learn as much as possible before bringing a parrot home - even one as small as a budgie. Small parrots pack the personality of a much larger spirit into their tiny bodies.

Although importation of wild parrots has been banned in the U.S. for years, captive-bred parrots are not born domesticated like cats and dogs. Parrots are born with wild instincts and must learn how to trust humans and to live in our environment. Parrots respond best to positive reinforcement, not punishment, and they are a prey species, so they are easily frightened by new things and by changes in their environment. Knowing this will help you understand what might seem to be strange or unreasonable behavior.

Diet and enrichment are critical. Contrary to what many people believe about birds, parrots cannot live on seeds alone, even if labeled "fortified." They need a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, formulated pellets, healthful cooked foods and a small amount of seeds and nuts. Some foods are deadly to a parrot - notably avocados, caffeine, alcohol and chocolate - and parrots can die quickly from fumes given off by overheated, nonstick cookware. These birds need a yearly exam by an avian vet, and avian medicine is usually more costly then vet care for domestic pets.
Because of their intelligence and curiosity, parrots need enrichment. Your parrot's cage should be safe and stimulating with lots of appropriate toys and time spent with you outside of the cage every day. It needs to be in a cage when you are away, so get the biggest cage you can afford - wider is better than taller - to give the bird, at minimum, enough room to spread its wings. Its tail should not touch the bottom.

Parrots are flock animals and you will be their flock. Neglecting a parrot, forcing it to live in solitary confinement is the cruelest thing you can do.

Parrots are not for everyone, but for those willing to invest time and love, they are wonderful companions. Small parrots, such as budgerigars (parakeets) can live 15 years, cockatiels 30 years, and larger parrot species can live to their 60s and beyond and may outlive you.
Deacon, a 25-year-old yellow-nape Amazon parrot, was surrendered to the Marin Humane Society after his guardian died. Deacon, who has been known to carry on a conversation with himself in both male and female human voices, not only lost his beloved companion, he also lost his home.

Consider your parrot when planning your estate and put your wishes in writing. Some attorneys specialize in helping families make these important plans. Being a responsible parrot guardian means planning for your bird's well-being after you are gone.

Finally, pet stores are the worst place to purchase parrots. Parrots have been bred in excess, and rescue groups are overwhelmed with unwanted parrots that need homes. Buying in stores perpetuates this problem. The best way to find a parrot companion is through a reputable parrot rescue, like Mickaboo Companion Parrot Rescue - www.mickaboo.org. You may be giving a bird like Deacon a second chance.

This Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks for all your pets, be they feathered or furry.

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