It is an art to keep companion parrots, which entails doing everything in one’s power to ensure the birds’ well-being and contentment. In addition, there is not one element of caring for a parrot that is more essential than creating the best possible living conditions for the companion bird. It is highly likely that the particular characteristics of the environment that we give, in addition to the quality of the experience that we deliver, will decide whether or not we have a positive encounter or a negative one. Despite this, we frequently “pass over” this reality in favor of concentrating on the particular species that we want and, only afterward, on the prevention of or solution to specific behavioral issues, such as excessive yelling, biting, or feather picking. The fact of the matter is, however, that behavior issues are frequently the direct outcome of an environment that is either inadequate or unsuitable.
In the course of my work as a behavior consultant, the vast majority of the issues I come across can be traced back to inadequate environmental provisioning and/or an insufficient or incorrect nutrition. An unsatisfactory diet, exposure to toxic elements, improper caging, unwise cage placement, lack of opportunities for exercise and showering, boredom due to a lack of stimulation, a stressful social “climate,” a schedule that is “out of sync” with a parrot’s natural rhythms, and a lack of or change in the amount of attention received are some of the environmental factors that can cause problems. Other environmental factors that can cause problems include a change in the amount of attention received, As a result, the answers to those very same difficulties may almost always be found in making the appropriate adjustments to enhance those areas of the parrot’s surroundings that need improvement. How much simpler things are when you don’t even have to deal with difficulties in the first place if you can avoid them altogether!
The experience of living with parrots while simultaneously learning how to supply them with a diet that is optimal and an atmosphere that is superior might be a tough one. The primary reason for this is because it is quite challenging to comprehend their fundamental nature, as well as the challenge of determining what their actual requirements are. In addition, we need to make an effort to comprehend the core of the fundamental ways in which they are dissimilar to us. In the event that we do not, we risk misunderstanding their responses to what we have delivered if we seek to interpret those responses.
Driven by Instinct
To boil it down, parrots are beings of instinct; they are creatures that are directed by their natural inclinations. It’s true that they give off the impression of being able to reason and use logic, but this is seldom the first answer they have to a problem. The first response that a parrot will have to any kind of challenge will be instinctual. And this is the root cause of a significant number of the issues that crop up in our daily lives involving our parrots. In the modern world, there is no place for an animal that follows its natural behaviors. That is a simple statement of fact. In every sense of the word, we belong to the category of domesticated species. Our capacity to think rationally and to reason our way out of difficult situations determines the quality and efficiency of the responses we have to the stimuli we experience. The inconsistencies in our thinking about our parrots are what give rise to the misconceptions that we have with them. When we try to interpret the behavior of our companion parrots, we run into a lot of problems because of the difference between how we react (which is based on our thinking) and how our companion parrots react (which is based on their instincts). This discrepancy generates a lot of confusion.
In everyday language, this translates to the fact that we need to use extreme caution whenever we try to read meaning into the actions of our parrots. Our natural inclination is to utilize our own “measuring stick,” also known as our understanding of our own style of reacting, as the basis for these interpretations; however, this is not always the case. In our pursuit to better understand our birds, there is nothing else that could potentially steer us in the wrong direction. An excellent illustration of this phenomenon can be found in the field of nutrition, where it frequently takes place. We offer a fresh meal option that is high in nutrients. Even after being offered the novel item repeatedly over the course of several days, the parrot will not eat it because of its innate wariness of anything novel. The majority of the time, the owner of the parrot comes to the conclusion that his bird “doesn’t like” that meal, and he stops giving it to the bird. On the other hand, the conclusion that is more appropriate and accurate would be to assume that, due to the instinctive nature of the parrot, he requires additional time to become accustomed to the new food, and that it should be offered for an indefinite amount of time in order to achieve this goal.
In addition, we have a propensity to interpret our parrots’ behavior depending on our own psychological “make-up,” which is another limitation. I’ll give you an example. Once upon a time, I had a customer who wanted assistance with their African Grey. In light of the background information I gathered, I suggested that she take the bird into the restroom with her first thing in the morning. Because of her job schedule, the bird did not spend enough time interacting with her in a social setting, and she did not have enough time to spend with it. I had the notion that this would be a nice idea given that “preening” in the restroom is a form of social interaction. She told me that she couldn’t place her bird anywhere near the mirror in the bathroom because he detested looking at himself in the reflection. I inquired as to her source of information. The response that was given was, “…Because he knocks his beak against it!” Many of us are aware that when a Grey thumps his beak, it is an indication that he is pleased with himself and that he is enjoying himself. When I watch my Grey behave in this manner, I am typically tempted to appreciate his maleness, particularly the manner in which he displays his own authority and power, as well as his clear admiration of himself when he looks in the mirror. Because of the way I am wired psychologically, I was predisposed to perceive his conduct in this manner, and fortunately, my interpretation was mostly accurate in this instance. It’s possible that this woman’s private life led her to be more reserved than other people. I really have no idea. On the other hand, I am aware that her own psychological make-up led her to incorrectly interpret the actions of her pet bird, which in turn deprived the bird of an emotionally fulfilling experience.
Looking to the Wild
Looking at birds in their natural environments and seeing the behaviors they display there is the most effective method we have for precisely comprehending the manner in which they behave. This offers us two checks against the actuality of the situation. To begin, having an awareness of the actions and routines that occur in the wild can help us develop a deeper comprehension of the requirements for our companion parrots. This, in turn, will enable us to make more informed decisions as we work to develop the best possible environment for our feathered friends. Second, having an understanding of how animals behave in the wild can assist us in more accurately interpreting the ways in which they respond to the domesticated environment that we have created for them.
This will be the first in a series of articles in which we will take a more in-depth look at many facets of the art of creating an ideal environment for the parrots that we adore, and this post will serve as the introduction to the series. This series will target and attempt to answer questions regarding diet and nutrition, appropriate caging and auxiliary play areas, activities for keeping parrots busy, creating an outdoor habitat, creating a superior social environment, and the “finer points” of parrot keeping. These questions will be addressed in this series.
However, before we get into the specifics of providing a superior environment or the “how to” of doing so, let’s take a look at what we want to accomplish when we create an environment for a psittacine bird as well as the overarching ideas that need to serve as the foundation for the decisions that we make.
Again, if we examine the nature of the life that wild parrots live and how it evolved, we will be better able to provide for them in a way that would ensure their success. This is because we will have a better understanding of the nature of their natural environment. It is imperative that we begin with the widely known fact that parrots are not capable of being tamed. They have only been domesticated for one or two generations at the most, and they retain the complete complement of instincts and behaviors that are characteristic of wild animals. Our cherished pets that share our homes are not dissimilar to their ancestors who can still be found in the wild. When it comes to providing for them, we must never lose sight of this fact.
As a result, we ought to and are able to provide a habitat and activities for our birds that would, at the very least, simulate portions of the life they would have enjoyed had they been free in the wild. If you do this, they will experience a greater feeling of contentment with their lives, and you will also reduce the likelihood that they will engage in some problematic behaviors. For instance, our parrot might not be able to fly freely from one location to another outside, but we can make sure that he has plenty of opportunities to perch in different areas of the house, enjoying different “views,” on different types of perches, which will provide him with additional challenges and different physical sensations for him to experience. In addition, we can make it a priority to offer these highly sociable beings the chance to participate with us in the social rituals that we observe, such as feeding and bathing.
Second, we need to give the idea that parrots have evolved every instinct, every conscious thought pattern, every feeling, every physical feature, and every physical capacity in connection with the natural physical world a lot of study and consideration. We humans, on the other hand, have severed our ties with the natural world a very long time ago. We must be careful not to let the complacency that comes with our position in space and time, as well as our domestic existence, blind us to the significance of our parrots’ physical and social surroundings.
Evolved for Exploration
The beak, the feathers, the capacity to fly, and the amazing capacities for play and exploration are all things that evolved in relation with and as a reaction to the physical world. Because of the close link that exists between the natural environment and the bodies, minds, and spirits of parrots, it can be challenging to distinguish one from the other at times. This fact does not alter even if we remove them from the natural world and bring them into our homes to share our much more meager existence… at least meager in terms of the stimulation afforded by wind, rain, sunlight, streams, trees, and vast expanses of land. This is a fact that cannot be changed. When we take all of this into account, we are led to the immediate and unavoidable realization that the options we present for our parrots are not without consequence…. They are important… to the extent that the quality of our experience with them is determined by them.
Third, it is important to keep in mind what it is that we are trying to compete with or replace, and that is the stimulus that is already present in the environment in which they have evolved to do exceptionally well. As the majority of readers are aware, one of my hobbies is breeding Congo African Grey parrots. The young birds are able to take their first flights at an average age of around 10 weeks and fly freely until the moment comes when they have to have their wings partially and gradually trimmed back. Prior to their very first trip, these infants had already exhibited extraordinary curiosity and a fervent desire to discover their surroundings. As soon as taking off and landing becomes second nature to them, their boundless energy, passion, and delight in discovering new places will begin. Nothing can escape the attention of those active beaks, and the pure joy and playfulness that they exhibit as they explore their surroundings never ceases to amaze me. They have a deep appreciation for both the world and their place in it.
When I first start to clip their wings gradually, it does not initially have a significant impact on their ability or desire to continue exploring their environment. However, as the process continues, it does become increasingly difficult for them to do so. They move a touch more slowly as a result. When their wings have been partially clipped, I put them in a cage for increasingly longer periods of time before releasing them. This is the phase of their development in my home that makes me feel the most melancholy because it is very evident that spending time in a cage goes against their inherent nature. This is the phase that makes me feel the most sorrowful. When I took away their freedom, I made amends for it by giving them more new toys, fresh branches for chewing, and other things like that. And this is then what they will have to “make do with” for the rest of their life as the “trade-off.” Because the things that we can supply for them are so much less than what they have evolved to experience, it is on us as caretakers to provide the most varied diets and experiences possible in order to make up for the fact that what we can offer them is so much less. Our determination to grant children as much freedom of choice and mobility as is humanly possible must remain unwavering at all times.
The fact that parrots are classified as prey animals is the fourth and last point, and it is also the most significant. This simply implies that their very existence, as well as their sense of safety and security, is dependent upon the physical settings that they choose for themselves in the wild as well as the relationship that they have with the other members of their flock. This, too, does not alter simply due to the fact that they are brought up and placed in the domestic setting that we have crafted. Because of this characteristic of their make-up, parrots have a tendency to imprint on particular features of the physical environment in human homes, and this tendency is especially strong in the first home to which a newborn parrot visits after being weaned from its mother’s milk. Because of this, the standard of living in such a house is of the utmost significance because it has the capacity to impact, if not completely determine, what the parrot will be able to endure and feel comfortable with for the remainder of his life in our world. This is not an exaggeration of the situation.
An Informal Interview
I have more than my fair share of experience with parrots that have been abandoned, discarded, or neglected. From an early stage on, one thing was immediately apparent. Their response was instantaneous whenever I mentioned the possibility that I may, through good fortune or astute observation, be able to recreate some facet of the lives they led in their initial residences. Their contentment rose to a higher level. They started to loosen up a little bit. They developed a greater capacity for trust. They reawakened their previously dormant spirit of excitement. It was not a trivial matter. I quickly came to the conclusion that the best way to ensure success in taking in birds that were in need of “rescue” was to conduct an informal interview—a patient and persistent offering of choices—with each bird that was brought in, solely for the purpose of determining the environmental preferences that each bird possessed. It became clear that these choices were still being driven by the life that the parrot had had in a prior household. On many occasions, these preferences contradicted reason as well as conventional wisdom in regard to the keeping of parrots.
It was my experiences with these birds that led me to the conclusion that parrots imprint on their physical surroundings, regardless of whether those surroundings are ideal or not, to such an extent and degree that their future sense of safety will depend at least in part upon replication of those same physical surroundings. This conclusion was reached as a result of the fact that parrots imprint on their physical surroundings. This is especially true for African Greys, who are known for their tenacity when it comes to enduring changes in their living quarters. However, Grey parrots are not the only species of parrot that are resistant to change; rather, they are only the most extreme examples of this widespread issue. The stories of the challenges we face when trying to improve our birds’ diets, re-acquainting a parrot who has not had a bath in a long time with the concept of taking a shower, re-introducing birds to the great outdoors after they have been cooped up for an excessive amount of time, or abandoning them when we go on vacation are common.
Last but not least, we have to come to terms with the fact that, despite the similarities among the many species of parrots that have been outlined thus far, these birds do not have the same nutritional or environmental requirements. Every species that lives in the wild has its own particular environment, which determines such things as its diet, the way it forms bonds and raises its young, how it bathes, and so on. If we try to provide the same diet and social environment for African parrots as we do for New World parrots, we will only end up in murky waters, and as a result, we will run into challenges that we do not fully comprehend. It is imperative that we make it a priority to conduct ongoing research into the characteristics that are exclusive to each species of parrot, and that we subsequently make an effort to recreate these characteristics in our own homes as accurately as possible. This can all be summed up in a single, straightforward fact. When we introduce a parrot into our home, the surroundings that we offer for it as well as the social milieu that we cultivate are of the utmost significance. Nothing about this should be considered unimportant. I believe that it is appropriate to strive for perfection in this activity because it is a means of “making apologies” for the fact that these birds no longer enjoy a life in the wild. This is why I believe that striving for greatness in this attempt is appropriate. Because it’s a reality that nothing we can give them can even come close to competing with the level of independence and quality of life they would have had if it had been fated for them to be born in the wild.
It is true that wild parrots live forever, yet they always face the possibility of an untimely demise at the hands of a predator. In spite of this, parrots have developed a natural exuberance as a result of the high quality of their lives while they are still living. The enthusiasm that is demonstrated by a joyful parrot is not an emotion that developed as a result of the parrot’s lifestyle of being confined in a cage and being fed pellets. The opportunity to chose and pursue that which brings one the most joy is at the root of exuberance as an emotion. Freedom and autonomy are the conditions under which exuberance can flourish. In point of fact, this natural exuberance might serve as a “report card” for us as we search for the environmental factors that are optimal for the well-being of our birds. If our parrots are happy and healthy, we can be reasonably confident that we are heading in the correct direction.
To put it another way, we ought to “hold up” the freedom of choice and freedom of movement that we give our companion parrots in comparison to what they would have in the wild, where they would have evolved to enjoy it and where they would be best suited. These are the two items that they no longer have access to due to the fact that they have been domesticated. This final assertion is correct regardless of whether or not our parrot was imported or was grown here in the United States because domestic parrots are genetically indistinguishable from their wild relatives. It makes no difference. They are, by nature, outfitted and ready for life in the wild environment in which they were born. However, what they get out of it is the opportunity to live in our homes, and the way in which we facilitate that opportunity makes all the difference…not only for them, but also, in the end, for us.
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