It’s early spring in Australia. Deciduous trees are starting to turn green again, cherry trees are starting to blossom and cyclists are starting to look like they belong on a reality television program called “Aliens are here among us”. Or at least the smart cyclists do, the not-so-smart ones will be learning the hard way in the next few weeks that the alien-look is for their own safety. Meanwhile, my birds are starting to notice how my hair resembles desirable nesting material. Spring horrormones are definitely here.
Ok so why do cyclists resemble aliens in Australia at this time of year? It’s due to all of the pipe cleaners and cable ties that they attach to their helmets in the hope that it will deter magpies from swooping them. The idea being that swooping birds will impact the wavy antenna parts instead of successfully removing a human’s eye or a piece of brain. It is a method that does seem to work.
At this time of year, cyclists aren’t the only ones who need to be wary of swooping birds. I’d hope that it is reasonably well known by now that we need to protect our pet birds from birds of prey. It’s a common warning for anyone taking their bird outside or for anyone who participates in a free-flight course. However, what isn’t so well known is that it isn’t just the traditional types of birds of prey that bird owners need to be wary of and it isn’t just free-flying pet birds who need to be protected.
Traditionally people think of birds like kites, hawks, falcons and eagles when they think of birds of prey. There are many frightening stories out there about birds of prey. In fact, I was recently at my cat vet (my cat’s annual vaccination) and the vet was telling me how hysterical his wife was because a kite snatched their precious little cockatiel right in front of her. The cockatiel had been outside in its cage on their verandah when the kite swooped and smashed through the roof of the cage in a split second. The vet was shocked that the kite could do that, but even more shocked that the local bird people that he was telling weren’t surprised. Kites aren’t overly common in the area, but they’re here. The vet had had no idea that his situation wasn’t an isolated freak case but a fairly common occurrence.
A pet bird in a cage outside is vulnerable. A wild bird is going to see it as one of three things. At best, if you live somewhere where your bird is native, a bird of the same species might see your pet as a potential mate that needs to be lured away. At worst, a wild bird might see your bird as an easy meal. The more common picture though is that most wild birds will see your pet as some sort of competition. Your pet is something that they won’t want to compete with for either food or territory and they won’t appreciate a mating rival either. From a wild bird’s perspective, your pet bird may well need to be chased off or eliminated.
It is very easy to think that your bird’s cage will protect your bird from an attacking wild bird, but that isn’t necessarily true. A caged bird is essentially trapped and a wild bird’s beak and claws can get through the bars of the average cage. Puncture wounds, eye injuries, head injuries are all common results. Even if your bird does avoid a swooping wild bird, they can injure themselves as they collide with the contents of their cage in their panic to get away.
We all know to be wary of our own pet birds when they are hormonal. As annoying as hormones can be to deal with, at least they give you a warning that you need to take extra care with your bird outside. When your own sweet bird has suddenly gone nuts and started displaying behaviours that you want to avoid; the wild species of birds that don’t normally strike you as dangerous, are also being driven to that level of madness. They will swoop and guard what they see as their nesting/feeding/breeding territory against any perceived threat and your pet might just be what they see as a threat.
There are a few things that you can do to protect your birds. Most obviously, if at all possible, don’t leave your birds outside unattended. Be close by, as a wild bird will think twice about approaching your pet if you are there. That won’t necessarily work for everyone though, as some people have outdoor aviaries.
Look at the bar spacing and strength of your aviary. A finer mesh can be more difficult for a wild bird to penetrate. I know breeders who use shade cloth for protection and some even double wire their cages to help shield their birds from birds of prey.
Use bird deterrents. You can buy plastic owls from most garden centres. I’ve personally used streamers and flags to keep wild birds away from my cages (the threat wild birds pose to pets is very real here for more reasons than just attacks). Be careful that you don’t use something that will upset your own birds though – I conducted a lot of training around my streamers before I put them up.
Size matters. A wild bird is going to think twice before it attacks a macaw in comparison to a budgie. If you have multiple birds of different sizes in your flock, place your small birds’ cage next to your large birds’ cage for added protection. There is a reason Australian children are taught to hold their arms out and pretend like they’re an aeroplane if they’re walking around swooping magpies. An attacking bird is less likely to target something with a decent wingspan. Likewise noise can help. If you’ve got a bird that screams as a warning, place it in a good lookout position, so that it can alert the flock to danger.
Your number one weapon though is always going to be knowledge. Know your local birds. If there is one thing I’ve learned from working in wildlife rescue it is that birds are creatures of habit. They will show up somewhere at pretty much the same time of day. I know my front yard is a war zone at the moment. I know to expect galahs on my front lawn twice a day and that the magpies will only tolerate them for 10 minutes before they attack. I know that I have a pair of ravens nesting in the gum at the back of my yard and that their eggs just hatched so they’re even crabbier than normal. I know that I have some very aggressive wattle birds visiting, that at least one butcher bird is always hungry and that my macaw is petrified of a pelican that circles my suburb at 11am every day. There are yellow-tailed black cockatoos that turn up at dusk (upsetting the ravens and the magpies simultaneously) and there are sneezing lorikeets passing through at all hours. That’s not even half of my list of visiting birds either. Not surprisingly, my pet birds live in an enclosed bird room and I have no plans to put my birds outside unless I’m right out there with them.
It pays to remember to keep your pet birds safe when they’re outside. I love wild birds but I’m also wary of them. When hormones are at work, no wild bird is entirely friendly. If you have a story about wild birds in your area, or tips on how you keep your birds safe, please share in the comments field below.
Mel Vincent works as an animal rehabilitator out of Australia.
I have a Hahns Macaw here in Phoenix, Arizona. For two years I have left him out on our covered patio in his cage – usually while I’m working in the yard. He loves being outside and I’ve taken him for walks while on my shoulder for 13 years. Just recently while walking, he squawked and flew into the shrubs nearby and narrowly missed being caught by a hawk! I quickly turned to see the hawk swoop up and away. My bird has some of his wings trimmed. If he would have flown very far he hawk would have caught him. I plan to check out some sort of harness for him at the bird store. Also, recently we saw a Road Runner attack and eat a sparrow right in our back yard in front of us! We used to like the Road Runners. They trot down the road with a lizard in their beak which is comical. Now i’m not comfortable having them around and leaving my bird alone for a minute outside in his cage is out of the question! I’m having to rethink how he can be outside without risk. A Costa Hummingbird regularly sits next to our birds cage and keeps him company.
Good day, my African Grey enjoys the outdoors and we place his cage under an umbrella in the garden. To my knowledge birds greatest fear is any unidentified flying object descending from above.With this covering he seems quite content and will enjoy an afternoon siesta. Residing in South Africa and having a flock of approx. 20-30 Hadedas that frequent our garden for the best part of the day I now take heed after reading this article -however my parrot and I have not been unduly peturbed by this happening as the Hadedas share their feeding trays with a flock of laughing doves and pigeons. Thank you for this invaluable information. Apart from the Buchell’s Coucal which is a very shy bird, glossy starlings, weavers, a woodpecker or two, mouse birds finches sparrows, mossies and bulbuls and of course the Hadedas we don’t seem to sight any birds of of prey in our area. Do we need to be more vigilant with our parrot? Regards, Marjoy@telkomsa.net
And if all of this wasn’t bad enough, theres people to worry about. This was on the news last week. People left the family Macaw on the front porch all day while theyre at work with a pad lock on the cage door. Did it for years and years and then last week, shes gone. Lock cut off. A camera got some of the thief, clear shot of his face and he knew the camera was there, showed him walking away with the Macaw wrapped up in a towel. Family heart broken of course. Wild birds don’t carry bolt cutters. Parrots are money and the thiefs know that. I keep Cookie inside all the time. Outside I walk with her up to my chest and I carry weapons for dogs. Its always something. Cats, dogs, birds, people holy mackeral!
I have a bird room with 10 large windows, I have 12 Wonderful Sweet Parrots, Greenwing Macaw, Blue & Gold Macaw, Male & Female Solomon Island Eclectus, African Gray, Blue Headed Pionus, Male & Female Parrolets, 2 Female Love Birds, & Male & Female Cockatiels. one day I was in the room playing with the parrots and I heard a horrible thud hit one of the windows. All the parrots went nuts. I ran outside & seen a very big Red Tailed Hawk laying on the ground. I stood their watching him and he got up on his feet sat for a few mins. Jumped up on the 4 ft chain linked fence sat their shaking his head looking at me after about 20 minutes flew off. I know he thought he had found a free buffet. A few days later I caught him sitting on the 4 ft high chain linked fence staring into my parrot room, which is right next to my parrot room, trying to figure out how he was going to get him a meal. I immediately made a phone call had a company come out and install privacy screens the full length of the windows. This works really well you cannot see in my parrot room. And, yes my parrots can see out through the screens. Not only works well for predator birds, but also unwanted 2 Legged predators!! My son used to live next door to a guy that had 2 parrots (Amazons) and he used to put them in the tree outside his back door. To me very bad idea! I tried to tell him many reasons why it was not a good idea, he would go off to work and leave them in this tree. He refused to listen to me. Needless to say he came home one day and both parrots were gone. Not sure what happened to them but my son said he was quite upset. Some people haven’t the knowledge to own these beautiful creatures, they buy them for the wrong reasons.
It is not just birds they are after. One of our neighbors had her bunny snatched by a hawk while they were both in her garden. We have had hawks threaten our small dogs. On the flip side the pair of mockingbirds (territorial Florida bird) nesting in our camelia recognize us and my dogs. They do not attack the residents but they do warn of and attack intruders. In return my dogs leave them alone but chase off those same intruders.
There is difficulty when the my macaw out of the cage Can you help me ?
I just added a comment and question about Castiel and the problems I am having with this 9 year old. I forgot to mention he is a cockatoo and weighs 673 g. I have followed your advise about letting him get a little hungry. I know reading below you will wonder what the heck that kind of bird is. But it is our newly rescued cockatoo supposedly a male and we are his third owner. The second owners had him for 6 years. I sure hope you can help me with these questions.
I bought your 12 tapes and have looked at most but have not finished them all. Castiel is 9 years old and we have had him about 3 weeks. He came from a very loving home but not sure how much socialization he got. I have trained him to touch train with the stick and clicker and he is pretty good at it. The previous owners let him run around on the floor to explore and he loves our couch. We have a min. poodle and a standard poodle that he does not like. I put Castiel on his perch one you would not think he could climb down but he manages to outsmart us. He will get on our leather couch and start chewing on it, whether he has toys there or not. When I approach and tell him no he will look at me and then continue on. How do I get him to stop this behavior? The touch training does not work here because he doesn’t want to stop what he is doing so he starts acting aggressive. He was also chewing up his wood blocks than went to the other end of the couch so I went to clean up his shavings. He came charging at me and I stopped and told him I was just cleaning up and he had plenty of blocks left. He continued chewing on our couch so I just said will you step up and he did but immediately bit me four times drawing blood. I tried to sat him in his cage and he was just worried about getting in more bites. Finally he bit so hard I pulled away and he got on a branch. What did I miss with him? When he is destroying something you just can’t ask nicely to stop and wait till he decides to stop destroying the couch. What do you do in this situation? I have not seen this addressed in the videos yet. I see your touch training but also now that he is doing that what do I do next? Maybe I am just dense but I want to do this right and not make him worse. I do have to say, he is loving most of the time, letting you kiss him, scratch his head and preen him . Still having a hard time getting him to step up. It seems the previous owners kind of let him do what he wanted when HE wanted to. Please help me help Castiel be the bird I know he can be. And Yes, he has full spectrum lighting,, goes outside to a cage there, only eats fruits, vegetables, brown rice , your organic pellets and one walnut a day.
I totally agree with being extra careful. Even the blue jays in south Florida swoop down surfing spring and attack my small dog if I’m not in the back yard surfing the season. They do it more to scare you off their territory because they have even attempted to swoop at me! I’m like I feed younguysbyear around and one of the brighter local coloured birds of Florida but they can be mean & if near their spot I’m sure they would attack my smaller birds. I know you got to be extra careful but man I want to be in Australia or at least visit for a time. To get to see all the species mentioned even if a little scary would be amazing I’m especially found.of any of the black vocations & to see in the wild or galahs is simply amazing! Super jealous! I do know a few people in Miami that feed wild macaque & they are quite a site to see as well as through out south Florida you can see a lot of Quakers & I know a few secret spots that I have even seen a few minutes and Lorie/projected but that’s a link secret as I don’t want more people bothering them or worse…… but I could only imagine Australia not only that but reptiles to see in the wild like carpet pythons, crocs and even cute koalas. So many.amazing.creatures there I am all jealous!
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