Rehabilitating Second Hand Parrots


Everyone loves babies! Baby people, dogs and cats, and birds are all adorable. Unfortunately, I won’t be discussing infants here, but rather the adult bird that has already had a home or two – or 10. The increased popularity of parrots, along with the misconception that birds are “low maintenance,” reinforced by the lack of instruction provided by most stores, breeders, and expos, has resulted in a large number of adult parrots in need of new homes. Whether they are blatant “rescues” or parrots who have lost their homes due to an unforeseen life change, these birds are really gems in the rough that, if given a chance, may be amazing lifelong companions.

For many years, I’ve been active in rescue and adoption in three separate states. We have a very limited adoption program. In addition to bird work, we provide boarding, grooming, and behavioral and nutritional advice. These parrots arrive at all ages and stages, with some having entire documented histories and amazing pasts, while others just appear on our doorstep when someone dies or goes, with no indication of what their past was like. I’ve discovered a simple “rehab” approach that works regardless of what brought the bird to us. Many of these birds were successfully put in “forever” homes with others, others became permanent members of our own diverse flock, and some continue to wait patiently for the ideal match.

The first step, of course, is a medical examination with an avian veterinarian to rule out any infections, injuries, chronic diseases, or nutritional issues. The new bird is quarantined in our upstairs quarantine room for one to two months. This not only separates him from the other birds, but also enables us to get to know him directly. The first two to four weeks in a new house are known as the “honeymoon” period. Birds are wary at first, but they become increasingly receptive to human contact as they settle in. I also assess behavioral and social requirements here. During this period, birds may exhibit “problem” behaviors like as screaming, which may pass or foretell long-term tendencies. To prevent developing harmful behaviors, it is critical to react correctly during this period. If you’re unclear how to continue, seek the advice of a behaviorist.

We establish the framework for healthy diet, behavioral requirements, and basic handling throughout the first 1 – 2 months. If the bird’s wings, claws, or beak need grooming, do it as soon as possible. Working with a flying bird defeats the point! If a bird was beaten, scared, or otherwise unhappy in his old home, I frequently offer him a new cage and, perhaps, a new name. There are no reminders of his previous life – this is a fresh beginning.

Once the fundamentals are mastered, continue working with the bird 3-4 times each day for 2 – 10 minutes at a time. If there will be more than one person living with the bird, each person should spend time alone with him once or twice a day. Talk softly to him, giving him snacks, practice “steps-ups,” and gently wrap him in a towel – little, gentle sessions. PRAY FOR HIM FOR BEING A GOOD BIRD. Back off and try again if he nips or runs away. The immediate objective is to develop trust, with the secondary purpose of offering direction by informing him of what you want him to perform. If he bites, don’t thrash and scream; instead, tell him sternly, “No bite – Gentle,” and go on. Working with him to step up on a tiny hand-held perch as well as your hand if he’s territorial. This comes in handy when he’s being snappy or rebellious. Preening his head and gently massaging his beak aid in relaxation and bonding.

Begin making dietary modifications at this time as well. We aim to emphasize fresh vegetables, fruit, sprouts, cooked whole grains, and legumes. Fill up the gaps with a decent seed/nut mix and natural pellets. (Always consult with your avian veterinarian before making dietary modifications.) A bird nutritionist may advise you on species-specific requirements as well as how to address any imbalances. To encourage him, offer these items by hand or while you are eating. Use his favorite meals minimally in combination with the new ones. Because parrots are creatures of habit, he will resist new meals until he becomes acquainted with them.

Toys, play, and sociability are all part of the following stage. Show him what to play with and how to play once again. Arrange some toys on the bed, ring the bells, jiggle the beads, and offer him little blocks. Encourage him, make him laugh, and make it enjoyable for him. Other family members should be talking to him and performing some “step-ups” already. You may now play with him with many people at once and pass him back and forth. If your friends and visitors are bird lovers, start introducing him to them by putting him on a playstand near them. Introduce family pets slowly and ALWAYS supervise.

He can begin meeting any other birds you have once the quarantine period is over. Set up his cage so that he can observe your other birds while being secure. Remember to interact with your other birds first so they don’t become jealous.

The daily bath or shower is another aspect of basic bird care that promotes socialization. Allow him to observe you showering or bathing your other birds if he is willing. He will learn the accepted routines for his new flock by watching you bathe, feed, play with, and cuddle your other birds. Your new bird should settle in within a few months if you go slowly, with patience, good consistent guidelines, and positive reinforcement, and you can help ensure he’ll never be “second hand” again!

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