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PARROT FAQS

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| Breeding | Cages | Darkness | Death | Diet | I Just Found a Bird - What Do I Do Now? | Illness | Insurance | Legbands | Nails & Beaks | Nipping | Screaming | Senses | Sneezing | Talking | Weaning | Wing Clipping |

Q: My bird is afraid of the dark and can't find his way back to his cage when I turn out the light in his room.

A: If your bird seems to be frightened when you turn off a light, maybe you should first return him to the cage and then turn off the light. Some birds have "night frights" if something disturbs them. Try using a night light by his cage. It won't disturb his sleep and might alleviate his darkness fright.

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Q: What is the correct ratio of pellets, seed mix, fruits and veggies to feed my parrot?

A: Unfortunately, I can't give any scientifically correct formulas or ratios of dietary ingredients. There just isn't one. So much depends upon the age, health, activity and species of a bird. I can only offer suggestions (as per my web page at www.plannedparrothood.com/diet.html based upon my 30-year experience of feeding and breeding multiple species. A one-bird owner has much more flexibility in offering a bigger variety of foods than does a breeder.

Native birds in the wild eat very simply and eat what's available seasonally to them. My motto would be "Plain, Simple and Seasonal".

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Q: My bird is very friendly. If I let my bird be held by a stranger when out and about, can I get insurance against bites?

A: Yes, you can if you currently don't have regular liability coverage through your homeowners' or renter's policy. Just be prepared to pay a hefty sum for it or a hefty increase in your premiums on existing insurance. If you inquire to your current insurance company about the bird, your insurance might automatically go up! In NY it would. Normally, if you have homeowners' or renters' insurance, the liability would cover a bird bite. Otherwise, you could be held liable for an incident should it occur. A court of law would have to make a decision on that if your insurance didn't cover it. Read all the fine print on what your liability covers if you have insurance. If not, you might want to consult with a lawyer about this because even the friendliest of birds can have a bad moment, especially if a stranger taunts the bird.

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Q: I would like to know what kind of wire is safe for making an outdoor aviary for too's, tiels, and lovebirds.

A: The most common wire and easiest to cut would be GAW (galvanized after welding) - 12 gauge 1x1 for cockatoos, and maybe 14 gauge 1/2x1 for the smaller birds. It's wise to scrub down the wire with water and vinegar before using the cages to remove any minute metallic pieces that could be ingested by the birds.

A WORD OF CAUTION: The cages should have bottoms and be hung up off the ground to avoid burrowing creatures from getting in. Birds should never be left alone in outdoor caging unless there is a double wired enclosure surrounding them. Otherwise, you do risk animals or even birds of prey grabbing the birds from the outside of the cage. It just takes seconds for them to do this. If your birds are full-flighted, you also risk losing them while transferring them to the outdoor flight. If the outdoor flights are permanent housing, they will need a roof for protection from the elements.

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Q: I just found a bird. What do I do now?

A:

  1. First of all, check your local papers for ads. Don't reveal the band numbers to anyone who might call you. They should have a record of the ID numbers and also other physical characteristics and talking ability in order to ID the bird. Don't offer any of that to the callers. People also post flyers in the neighborhood and in local stores and pet shops. Local vets are also sometimes notified of their loss.
  2. If you haven't already posted this on our free classifieds, please do so. Then there is a major website for lost and found birds where you can post the info: BIRDS 911.
  3. Check online for your local bird clubs and report the bird to them.

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Q: Do parrots have a good sense of smell?

A: Yes. Most parrots have a keen sense of smell. It's believed that they exude an aroma to attract a mate.


Q: Do parrots see in color?

A: Yes. They may even see a broader spectrum of colors than humans do.


Q: Do parrots have tastebuds?

A: Yes. They have approximately 350 as opposed to the 9000 that humans have. They are located in the back of the throat and the base of the tongue. Their taste buds can differentiate sweet, sour, bitter and salty tastes.

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Q: My parakeet escaped from the cage when it was cold out and is now fluffed up, is not responding much or eating, puts her head inside her back between feathers and is batting her eyes and yawning and stretching frequently, breathing funny, and sitting in one spot for long periods of time. We don't have any money to be able to afford a vet. I love my bird and am scared she's dying. What can I do? Please help.

A: I get this type of letter all too often. It's very sad, but once a bird exhibits these symptoms, it needs emergency veterinary care - antibiotic injections, handfeeding, and a nebulizer or brooder for heat. Most vets will work with their small bird clients if they have no money. It doesn't hurt to ask. If you truly cannot afford to give any kind of pet lifesaving professional help, then you should not ever own one. It is always good to establish a relationship with an avian specialist in case of an emergency such as this even if it is just calling to set up an account with them for such unforeseen events.


Q: I am a new bird owner of birds that appear to be healthy and are on a varied diet. What does a common well-bird checkup consist of? I called an avian vet, and the receptionist said that some people have a visual checkup and a gram stain done, and some have blood work done. Is the blood work necessary at this point? They knock the birds out to take blood samples. Is this necessary since they seem healthy and normal? How much should expect to spend on this first checkup?

A: I personally don't believe in "well-bird" checkups for the simple reason that you may expose perfectly healthy birds to disease by bringing them in to a vet's office. A good avian veterinarian would probably do a routine visual and palpitation check, gram stain, a chlamydia blood test, and a complete blood panel. The blood would ideally be drawn from the jugular vein in the neck. Unless you suspect that the bird isn't quite right, it's not necessary to have all this done. In NO way should a bird be put under anesthesia for these simple processes. There is no pain at all associated with any of the above. BEWARE of any vet who would risk putting your bird under for these routine tests! Your costs could run as much as $200 for these tests and the office visit.


Q: How can I tell if my bird is catching a cold?

A: Birds do not catch "colds". They do, however, come down with viral and bacterial infections. If your bird is lethargic, has a nasal discharge, is fluffed, sneezes alot, isn't eating properly, etc., you need to get him to a vet for an evaluation and treatment ASAP! By the time that birds show symptoms, their systems are already compromised and they can go downhill fast. There are also diseases that you can get from them that could possibly be fatal to you even after a bird dies. Find a good avian vet to determine what the problem is. It might also only be dietary.

Q: My bird sneezes repeatedly. What could be wrong?

A: There are different types of sneezes that might give you a clue. Repeated wet or dry sneezing could be due either to something stuck in the nostrils (nares) or allergies to environmental causes such as mold, mold mycotoxins, VOCs (toxins in the air, or other allergic airborne irritants. Sometimes it can even be dust from another bird. Occasional dry sneezing is normal. Wet sneezing with or without a wheeze or clicking chest sound can present when a bird has an infection. This is when you hurry the bird to the vet.

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Q: We have a Congo African Grey female and she is 10 weeks old and eating good on her own most of the time. We have not planned to give her a seed diet unless it may be necessary. My question is: at what age should she start eating seed and which seed would you recommend? She eats some pellets and really likes beans of any kind, fruits and veggies too. She seems to like spicy hot stuff and oatmeal. This is our first bird so we just want to be on the safe side. Many thanks.

A: First of all, let me say that buying an unweaned bird is very risky for many reasons. Secondly, to answer your questions, yes, the bird is now old enough to crack seed or start playing with it anyway. Greys will even sometimes wean at this age. I recommend any good fresh seed that is clean and not dusty. Most of the major manufacturers have nice clean seed mixes now. It is very risky to buy seed meant for outdoor birds or supermarket bird mixes. You're safer buying from a store that specializes in birds and buying only in airtight plastic or can wrapped containers. This way you're generally assured of fresh mix with good store turnover sales. See our diet page for more information on a good recommended diet.

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Q: My bird just died and I would like to know why. Should I have it necropsied?

A: It's always wise to necropsy a bird that has died from an unknown cause (accidents, etc.). In order to properly necropsy a bird, it should immediately be lathered with a mild dish detergent, placed in a plastic bag and then refrigerated - NEVER frozen! If the vet finds no apparent cause of death upon gross necropsy, then tissue from the major organs, including the brain, should be sent to a special lab for further histology. The reason for testing is to determine whether the bird may have had something that could potentially be transmitted to you. One disease is chlamyida, or formerly known as psittacosis or parrot fever, which can be fatal to humans if not properly diagnosed and treated accordingly.

Q: My next door neighbor came home one night and found her pet cockatiel was bleeding and stumbling around in the cage. Within 10 minutes, she said the bird had died. The bird was about 8 years old and they had just moved into the house in the last two months. I am no vet so I am hoping, that you may have an idea for me.

A: Without having a vet do a gross necropsy and determine the need for histology, there is no way to know for sure why the bird died. Hopefully, it wasn't from anything zoonotic (contagious to humans). That is why there is a need for testing upon the death of a bird. Yes, it's costly, but absolutely necessary. The bird could have died from a number of things: stroke, bad diet, injury, lung hemorrhaging from toxic poisoning (another good reason to do histology), etc. You didn't mention where the bird was bleeding from. There have been cases of birds dying from new carpet formaldehyde fumes and the use of new appliances with Teflon coatings. If anything had been sprayed around the bird, that could have caused it. No telling now, unfortunately.

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Q: My vet uses the dremel to trim and smooth the nails and beak of my bird. The bird doesn't like it. Does this hurt him?

A: Yes, it would hurt the beak, as there are nerves extending from the top of the mandible to the tip of the beak. A beak should never have to be trimmed or smoothed cosmetically unless there is a misalignment or unless a disease such as fatty liver causes it to overgrow. Then blood tests are recommended to determine why it is overgrowing and correct it through diet and/or environment.

Nails should never have to be trimmed either unless someone (breeder or vet) starts trimming indiscrimately. I highly recommend a concrete swing to keep the tips blunted. You can also use a disinfected large rock or stone in the cage for this purpose. If nails are grossly overgrown, it might be due to an internal unseen problem such as fatty liver disease. In this case, simple bloodwork would confirm it. NEVER let anyone cosmetically trim nails or beaks. It then becomes a vicious circle of continual trimming.

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Q: Our cockatiel is constantly nipping at our fingers. Do you have any advice on how to stop this?

A: The "nipping" is common for cockatiels. They are telling you that they don't like the way they are being handled. It may be that you are handling the bird too often or maybe handling it too roughly. I prefer sweet talking a bird out of bad behavior rather than the firm NO's. They're much like toddlers and will test those no's. It's the love and gentleness in your voice that commands the results that you want. I also prefer to let them know they've hurt me (if it really did hurt) by saying "OW" and then sadly saying "You hurt me". If it didn't hurt, you could say, "What do you think you're doing" and kind of laugh about it. Then say "I love you" or whatever endearing phrase you might want to use.

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Q: We've yet to attempt to clip the feathers of our Cockatiel. We would appreciate some guidance and any advice on this procedure.

A: The best way to learn to clip wings is to watch someone do it for the first time. Before clipping any bird's wings, each wing must be lifted to examine for "blood feathers". These are new feathers that are coming in that still have a supply of blood through the shaft. If they are cut, profuse bleeding can occur. Corn starch, flour or hot candle wax can stop a broken feather from bleeding, but the safest measure is to firmly grab the feather closest to the skin and pull it out. Then you should squeeze the skin shut and put some pressure on it for a minute. All bleeding should stop. Generally, the first 10 primary feathers on both wings are cut back (to the bend in the wing). Cockatiels may need extra feathers clipped, as they can get good lift with a mild wing clip. NEVER leave 1 or more feathers for "show clips". Without the other feathers to protect it, it is very vulnerable to being broken. Never clip up underneath the secondary tier of feathers. You will permanently damage the feather follicle. Clip both wings evenly.

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Q: I have a 10 year old female Amazon who recently started screaming at the top of her lungs. The only way to keep her quiet is to cover the cage. I have tried giving her more attention, adding toys to her cage, increasing her away from the cage time, and anything else I can think of, but to no avail. Any advise you can give would be greatly appreciated.

A: This is a common problem with birds who yearn for more attention or want to breed. Once they learn this behavior, it is difficult if not impossible to break the habit. My advice would be to look for someone who breeds these birds and sell the bird as a breeder. Then you'd all be happy. It's terribly unfair to punish the bird by covering it because it wants attention. I'm sure that the last thing you would want is a neurotic bird on your hands. The next behavioral change could be plucking itself or even mutilating itself. Maybe you can think back to what the changes were that affected the bird and correct it (attention time, etc.). Now, the only other thing that I recommend is that you take the bird for a thorough checkup to a good avian specialist to do bloodwork and x-rays. Perhaps the bird is hurting inside and this is a discomfort or distress cry. Not being there and hearing it, I can't tell you if it is or not.

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Q: Are both male and female talking breeds capable of being taught to talk or is only one gender able to talk?

A: Much depends upon the species of bird. For instance, Amazon hens are generally better talkers than the males, but they both will talk to some degree if domestically raised. African Grey males are better talkers than the hens. With other species, the degree of talking ability depends upon many other factors such as: individual personality, species, happiness, the person teaching the bird, and overall general health.


Q: I have a Nanday Conure that was hatched in April, and my mother has another from the same clutch. We live in different houses about 100 yards apart, so the birds don't get to see each other. My mother's bird is already talking some, but my bird has only said one word, one time. When we bought them, they said Nash could talk. My question is how long does it take a bird to talk? I am curious as to why these two cluch mates are so different and why if Nash did talk, why has he quit.

A: Nandays can be excellent talkers if given a good start from a breeder who handfeeds at an early age. The degree of talking ability varies from bird to bird depending on many factors: individual personality, good diet, exercise, contentment with their owner, and the manner in which a bird is taught to speak. Most birds will learn to speak more readily if you almost sing to them the phrases or words that you want them to say. The more excited you seem as you verbalize, the more they will want to repeat. Repetition doesn't work. Monotonous recordings don't work. Saying the appropriate thing at the right time  with inflection in your voice works. For instance, when you feed them their favorite treat and say "Yummy, yummy", they will be more inclined to say that on their own later on. Some birds also take longer to learn to talk than others. Watch their eyes as you speak or sing. If they dilate and you see their beak open and their tongue move, they want to learn.


Q: We have a 16 month old sexed female Congo African Grey. She has a stable tempermant and is not nearly as neurotic as greys are often described. My question is in regards to her speech. She just began talking within the last two months. Her voice when she speaks is pretty "gravelly" but she seems to be trying to improve it by the various "throaty" sounds she makes. Yes she did whistle before she talked and mimics the wild birds outside perfectly. Will the tone of her voice improve with new words ? Will the tone of the phrases she currently knows improve ? Anything we can do to help her ? My next question concerns getting another bird that would be most compatible with her. They would of course have their own cages and be in separate but adjoining rooms. Should we wait until she's older to adopt another bird?

A: African Greys are generally slow starters with talking, but when they start, they can be exceptional. It sounds like your Grey is doing very well and is practicing. Before long, it will imitate different voices in different tones. Give it some time. The best way to get birds to talk is to almost sing the phrases you want them to learn. The inflection in your voice helps alot. They pick up things that interest them, not necessarily phrases that you want them to learn. So far as another bird, I believe that your Grey is young enough to accept a newcomer, whatever the species, so long as you continue to give the same amount of attention to the Grey. Some older Greys might get depressed with a new bird that is getting alot of attention, causing them to start to pluck. Others are not so sensitive.

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Q: I have a 30-year old Red-Lored Amazon. If it has never laid any eggs, is it safe to assume that it is a male?

A: No. Although many hens of that age will lay an egg by then, many also don't. The only safe way to know what sex the bird is would be to have it either surgically sexed or DNA sexed. There is much less risk with DNA feather or blood sexing that with surgical sexing. If you don't intend to breed the bird, do a DNA test. You can also contact Amazon breeders to give you their educated guess as to what sex the bird is by shape and size of head, feather colorations, mannerisms, etc.


Q: I am interested in hatching parrot eggs but, I am not sure where to look for a supplier that I can trust. If possible, can you give me some guidance in this matter? Thanks.

A: Trusted breeders don't sell their eggs. They may have others incubate, hatch and feed for them if you're very experienced at doing so, but they don't sell them. Even slight jarring or temp fluctuation during transport can kill the embryos, so it's a very risky thing altogether. There are so many unscrupulous scammers out there looking to take advantage of people like yourself.

Artificial incubation is difficult unless you have state of the art equipment. It is best left up to the parent birds to hatch successfully. You may spend more than you would have in the long run because of the factors involved. First, the egg has to be fertile. Then it must hatch and the chick must survive. Unless you're a very experienced breeder, you may be in for a tremendous disappointment. Eggs must be candled, weighed, observed with an experienced eye, and may need hatching assistance which can be very tricky and a matter of life and death. Certain species require different incubating temperatures and humidity. Then when the chick hatches, it must be fed and hydrated properly every 2 hours round the clock (for the larger parrots) for the first few days very gradually tapering off from there. If you have bacterial or yeast problems, you must know what to do immediately. If you feel that you qualify to do this and know the breeder who is supplying the eggs well enough to trust him/her, then try it. Otherwise, it's a gamble and not fair to the little life inside that egg.


Q: My bird has passed thru several hands before coming to us. Is there any way to trace where and when she was hatched from her band ID?

A: If it is an open band, the bird was more than likely imported before 1987. If it is a closed band, you might want to contact L&M Bird Legbands, the American Federation of Aviculture, SPBE or one of the national organizations of breeders to trace the breeder.


Q: I am under the impression that it is very difficult to determine the gender of a bird. What is the most accurate and best way to figure out the sex of a bird?

A: With most species, there are no visable differences between males and females. There may be some subtle differences in certain species that only an experienced breeder might recognize. The least invasive way and least risky way to sex a bird is through feather or blood DNA sexing. It requires only a small amount of blood from a toenail or a new young blood feather. Surgical sexing is best reserved for breeders whose birds have not produced.


Q: My cockatiel has been laying many eggs, one clutch after another without a male. How do I get her to stop?

A: This is very common with cockatiels. If you have a nestbox, take it down. If not, a visit with an avian specialist is in order. There are a few options for you. One is the most drastic: hysterectomy. It is also risky. Another: hormones, which may have side effects. The other is to get her a mate and let her hatch some chicks.

Right now, though, you do need to get calcium supplements into her. Without extra calcium, you risk many other unpleasant things such as eggbinding, prolapsed cloaca and much more. Get a good powdered supplement to put on the food or Neo-Calgluconate from your pharmacist for the water. Cuttlebone is not the best form of calcium for them. I recommend a good powdered all round vitamin/mineral/amino acid supplement for the food at all times. If you can get the cage into some sunshine for a little bit each day, that would help too.


Q: Do female blue front amazons lay eggs even if they are not with a male? I know that some forms of other birds do, such as cockatiels.

A: Yes, any bird, including your Amazon, can lay eggs without a male around. They won't be fertile, of course.


Q: I own two small parakeets. I am looking into buying a parrot, but have three dogs and two cats in my house. I also do not know alot about birds. I would like to know what "proven" means when you look at ads. Also, are pet stores the best place to buy a parrot or would I be better off buying from a private dealer?

A: "Proven" means that a pair of birds has actually produced chicks. Generally, these birds do not make good pets. There are some exceptions. Each bird would have to be evaluated on an individual basis. In my opinion (perhaps biased a little, being a breeder), I would recommend getting your first baby bird from someone who is eager to spend time with you educating you about the diet, care and housing of the bird you intend to purchase. Whether it's a pet shop or a private breeder, the facility should be clean and take the time with you to answer your questions before and after purchase. The birds should look like they are well cared for - clean cages, varied diet with fresh fruits and veggies. If the sale stops there, then run! Be sure that you are able to contact the seller for any questions that you may have. Get the name and number of a good avian vet from them. You have to be aware of the fact that, if left out of the cage unsupervised, your other animals could kill the bird even inadvertently. It would be advantageous for you to join one of the avian lists mentioned on our chats/list page here. The breeders are very happy to help with questions from new bird owners. You may have to make choices from some of the varied opinions, but it's well worth joining.


Q: I have recently acquired a 15 year old, poorly socialized, Moluccan Cockatoo. I have no other birds and he is alone all day while I am at work. I have made some progress towards his socialization but do not have much hope that he will ever be a typical Moluccan. I have the opportunity to acquire an 8 year old female Moluccan who also has very underdeveloped social skills. Both birds appreciate having people around them but are very timid and frighten very easily, do not like to be handled, but will occasionally tolerate some touching and stroking. I would prefer not to begin a breeding program but would like to place these two lonely birds together. What can I do to allow them to become companions without encouraging breeding? They would share the same room, each have their own cage, and be able to see and interact with each other without direct access to each other. I would like to offer the opportunity for them to share a play area when supervised. Is any of this advisable? What can I do to help them adjust to each other. What should I avoid?

A: Moluccans generally won't lay eggs without a nestbox. They may be inclined to mate though. I believe that if they get along, you would be able to house them together - providing both are healthy. This species is also unique in that they do not become vicious when they become bonded to a mate. Through the years, I've handled my male Moluccan in between periods of breeding. It's the rare Moluccan that has not been handled properly that becomes nasty. I doubt that you would have a problem allowing them to perch on a play area together.

Your concern about your male not ever becoming a "typical" Moluccan is unfounded. You might just need to become more aggressive in handling him. Towelling the bird to get him on your arm while sitting on the floor is a good exercise to try daily until the bird becomes used to getting on your arm by himself.

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Q: What do the letters and numbers represent on my bird's legband?

A: Bird owners often inquire about where their birds have come from and refer to the letters and numbers on the legbands. This is very understandable, but it can also present a problem for both the breeder and the seller of the bird if they're not one and the same. Most sellers don't want their sources divulged and breeders who wholesale to them do not want phone calls or correspondence from the retail public because they just don't have time to address those inquiries. When buying a bird, the seller should be able to give you enough information (age, species, diet, etc.) about your bird so that you need not inquire about its origin.

If you've just purchased an older bird with a split or open band and want to know its approximate age, the band can help give you this information. This type of band is sometimes put on domestic babies, but most are probably quarantine bands in which case it would have 3 letters followed by 3 numbers on it or USDA engraved. You can inquire to the USDA for further info on these bands. Most importation of birds was stopped in 1992. Now only special permit birds are allowed to be imported and still have to go through quarantine.

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Updated 4/01/13