I have a full time job which means I am out of the house for 10-11 hours, five days a week. I worry sometimes that each of my parrots aren’t getting enough one on one attention from me. Given that parrots need at least ten hours of sleep each day, there isn’t much time left in the day once I get home from work. I have five parrots and this means that meal preparation and cleaning up after them needs to be worked into the schedule as well.
I have found that little things go a long way. I have a greeting for each of my birds that is unique to only them. I have a way that I say hello to Tinky, which is entirely different from the way I speak to DeeDee, my other cockatiel or any of the other birds. I also use this for a contact call, for when I am out of the room and they are calling me. Each knows it’s their call and that I am addressing only them. Their body language shows shows their positive reaction and even though it’s not hands-on attention, they know it’s all about them.
Each has their own theme song. It’s always the same and contains lyrics that includes their name and special words about them. Theo, my goffins cockatoo, has a song adapted from an old Duran Duran song: “Her name is Theo and she dances in the sand…” Not a fan, but she likes her song and I am willing to forgo my personal taste in music for her happiness. Linus rhymes with almost nothing. His song, composed from scratch, is appropriately titled “His Royal Linus”. You may laugh at the idea of this, but I can’t tell you how many times I have been able to distract a naughty bird by belting out their theme song. Singing it to Linus in the morning allows him to be patient while I prepare his breakfast.
Further, they all have “jobs” to do. It is my quaker Libby’s job to assist while I make their meals. She makes sure I cut the food small enough for the littler beaks and that I put enough in the bowls, especially hers. Theo helps me write these posts from my shoulder. I think she believes that I write better if I have more holes in the neckline of my shirts. She sees to that.
The cockatiels help me in the bathroom while I wash my face and brush my teeth. Sometimes they poke little holes in the tube of toothpaste to make sure that enough comes out. Linus, the foreman, barks orders from the other room and makes sure everyone is doing their jobs. He runs a tight ship, but he’s fair. These are small things that make a big difference to them when time is tight. They all love their special time with mom, as short as it might be on some days.
I also read to them. Sounds silly? Alright, I guess it is, but this allows me to do something that I enjoy that doubles as fun for them.
Theo and the cockatiels enjoy when I read whatever book I am working on aloud to them. For Linus and Libby, it’s Dr. Seuss. I think they enjoy the short, accentuated words and Libby will often interrupt the Cat In The Hat to say “meow”. (Don’t make the same mistake I did and introduce pop-up books.
Linus was infuriated by the intrusion of the pop-up and he ripped it out of the book before I even realized he’d moved. I didn’t think that one through thoroughly.)
Birds need as much out of cage time as you can give them, but generally speaking a couple of hours a day is sufficient. I have a friend who is recently retired. She told me that she had always thought that when she retired, her parrots would spend all of their awake time out of cage.
That isn’t the way it has turned out. She finds that her birds actually go back to their cages on their own periodically throughout the day for some down time. I find the same thing happens when I am off from work. There are times when they just would prefer the privacy and relative peace and quiet of their cages. This makes me feel better when I am at work wondering how they are faring during those long days.
Over the years, I have learned how to maximize the available playtime by minimizing the chores. I am fastidious about keeping the birds’ environments clean, but more than that, I’m fast about it. I keep several extra sets of dishes for each cage so that I don’t have to wash one out right away for its next use. Theo is probably the biggest slob in the house because she likes to eat on top of the open door of her cage.
All the food, and other stuff, falls to the floor, so I bought an office desk chair mat to go under her cage, which allows me to clean up her messes with a damp wash cloth. Cooler still, is that when this needs a good cleaning, I toss it in the shower and I don’t have to do anything! The cordless hand-vac is an invaluable tool to a bird owner, being so much simpler that a full sized vacuum or a broom.
I know a number of people that will spend one afternoon preparing and freezing a few weeks worth of veggies and bird breads so that they don’t have to worry about it every day. Foraging toys can be made, almost mindlessly, while watching an episode of Bones.
The message here is that we do the best that we can do. We make the most of every available minute. We have to juggle what we do and what we love to do and even when there isn’t lots of time for out of cage fun, we can have lots of fun doing whatever. Everything is a game and the parrots are all included. Try to make it a point to make every one feel attended to and special.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.