When we first bring home a rescued or re-homed parrot, we need to be aware that it isn’t like bringing a fresh new baby bird in. Every one of these beautiful animals – even a young one – can be expected to be unsettled and nervous upon reaching a new environment, but an adopted pet is more likely to suffer from depression, potential aggression, and fear issues, including anxiety. There may also be health issues, so you should be extra cautious with quarantine and any existing flock members you have.
What can our birds’ physical appearance teach us about their pasts?
With a parrot whose history may be unknown, the physical appearance of the bird can show you a lot. For instance, your first trip should be to a certified avian vet to get a complete exam. This can tell you a great deal about a bird’s condition.
X-rays can reveal the health of the internal organs: Are they swollen, such as from the impact of a poor diet? Are there past or fresh breaks, revealing bad falls or physical abuse?
Similarly, blood work will reveal even more about a parrot’s health. Does your new bird have an illness?
Having this knowledge tells you how to proceed. Obviously some may need medications. Others may need special considerations. For instance, if there are multiple severe breaks in the bones, and the bird seems ultra wary of hands or people in general, you could reasonably hazard a guess that he or she had once been subjected to physical abuse, or perhaps falls from a bad clip. You’ll need to proceed differently, and perhaps let your bird take more time getting to know you than you first expected.
Here are the parts owners can look at in order to assess a bird’s history:
Feet, legs, wings – Bobo, our umbrella cockatoo who went to live at a Sanctuary, came from a greenhouse, where he’d been abandoned. Our cockatoo is missing pieces of all but two of his toes. Several of them are far from pretty and are worn down almost to the bone. These are long healed over, but they still look terrible. The owner of the sanctuary thinks that besides being an ex-breeder bird, he was possibly attacked in the nest, or else by a mate. His wings were fine, but not able to support him in flight because of muscle atrophy (indicating that he’d been cage-bound).
Keel bone – the weight is a critical part of assessing a bird’s health. Our cockatoo was still ever-so-slightly underweight at the point when he reached me, but clearly someone had been feeding him something at the greenhouse before he was rescued. Some birds may be overweight from too many sunflower seeds and peanuts, some birds underweight. Many rescue birds will require special attention to diet conversion. A gram scale will help you monitor your flock.
Feathers – by some miracle, Bobo was in full feather. His behaviour told us a lot more than his feathers could. Instead of plucking to combat his boredom and anxiety, he transformed fear to aggression, and began a weird little walking dance where he would kind of…flip… his head – like a fish. This quirk revealed his frustration. His feather quality wasn’t great – kind of rough-looking, especially around the wings and tail.
Face and beak – Bobo also had a small break on his beak that had healed over. The tip had snapped off and re-grown. This may have been a result of a fight, or of poor diet, again. He had no visible scars, but these are something else you can use to piece together a bird’s past history.
Behaviour – our parrots reveal a lot with their behaviour, as these are typically habits formed over time. For instance, the honeymoon period with parrots is usually around 3-6 weeks. During this time, new owners will see very little biting, screaming, or other undesirable behaviours. The bird is basically assessing its situation by being cautious.
- Skipping the honeymoon period: Like many of his kind, Bobo used to go straight from flight to fight, and never stopped. Disguising his fear, he would attack first and think about it later. For him, it was survival. His immediate aggression told us that he was used to people running from him.
- Talking: Wild-caught parrots do not generally mimic human speech. Our cockatoo, however, did – and beautifully, too, indicating that he was almost certainly hand-raised. What they actually say can be a clue: Bobo says his name, ‘hello,’ and ‘darling,’ amongst other short phrases.
- Trying to mate with you, or treating you as its mate: This is an indication that your bird is both an adult, and probably hand-raised. Again, wild-caught parrots typically want little to do with people.
- ‘People skills’: If your bird knows how to step up, go into a travel cage, play with toys, eat vegetables, do tricks, or more, he may once have been a much-loved pet. A lot of birds’ personalities change upon reaching maturity, though, costing them their homes. For many birds – probably even Bobo – this is the case.
If I had to guess Bobo’s past, I’d say that he lost his home to typical cockatoo hormones, possibly passed around for many years, and was eventually bought or maybe taken for free by someone looking for a cheap breeder bird; he then probably did as many male cockatoos do and attacked his mates, causing him to be abandoned until he was rescued once more.
This is how I pieced together my bird’s history, purely for the purpose of helping him move forward. It helped me understand his behaviour more. What about you – if you are a proud rescue mum or dad, how did you puzzle out your bird’s past – or is that something you chose to leave behind?
To conclude a long post, it’s hard to work out the history of a rescue bird, and it does often boil down to guesswork. If you are looking to rescue or re-home a parrot, please know that not all are so difficult as our cockatoo. Often, parrots lose their homes to owners’ own difficulties, which just means that there are many wonderful pets out there in want of a home!
Look for an upcoming post on setting up obtainable goals for rescued parrots.
I know this post is very old, but we took in a budgie from my mother-in-law. She’d found him (guessing it’s a he) and took him in. For a year, she kept him in an 18" travel cage and fed him seeds with added oils and fillers and flavors. She works a lot so I don’t think she spent a lot of time with him. I also don’t recall seeing toys for him. I’m pretty sure she didn’t know any better. Fast-forward and we now have him upon my husband’s insistence, as she was going to give Bluey away due to her allergies from another pet. We now have Bluey at home with us, although I wanted to wait until our lives got less busy with home reno projects. My gut told me Bluey needed way more than what he had been getting in order to have a decent life, so I immediately researched budgies as pets. As soon as I learned about keeping pet parrots, I bought a 64" cage, quality feed, natural perches, toys, etc. We keep him in our screened-in and roofed patio and that way he has many hours available for flying. He’s been with us for about a month, and he is still nervous and scared. He doesn’t seem anxious anymore now that he’s in a spacious cage. He doesn’t do typical things that I’ve read about birds doing. No biting things, no curiosity, foraging, exploring, or play with toys. He keeps generally in one side of the cage and crossing to the other side for food, or he flies around from spot to spot. He eats a lot now that hes flying. (I don’t know if he was allowed to fly when at my MIL’s.) He’s still quite generally afraid and cautious of us humans. Like I said, we are busy with home projects and I have a 3-yr-old. I can’t spend much time with him as I’m certain he needs. I want to get him some friends, as he likes to watch the wild birds outside and tries to converse with them. I know he’s missing interaction and we have a long road ahead of us to his hopefully finally feeling comfortable and safe with us. I wish I had someone to consult about his behavior and getting him budgie friends. I’m taking it one day at a time and doing the best I can to provide for him a happy life.
Our guy Flint is 6years old and came from a very low income area, had limited resources and human interactions. His previous owner passed and we were able to rescue him. The home he was living in wasn’t fit for humans. It was sad but he’s got a new start now. We are learning a lot about birds but we know love… thanks for your website!
I have been running my rescue for more than fifteen years. I currently have 15 birds in my ward, each one with their own story. My most recent surrender is a citron Crested Cockatoo named Yoshee. Yoshee came from a home of a single male. His former owner lost his home, and was unable to relocate with the bird, so he contacted me and begged me to take the bird. Although when I do take a new bird in, I try to get as much information as I possibly can, it’s not always possible to do and I have to go with guessing the birds past. When I walked into the house where Yoshee lived, I found this poor bird in his cage, which was covered, and the house was really dark. The owner stated to me that he was afraid of the bird getting a draft, so he covered the cage often. The former owner then stated to me that Yoshee was not only a plucker (which was very obvious by the bare chest and the poor feather conditions), but a self mutilator. He also stated that Yoshee would fly and attack him when Yoshee was out of the cage. I saw the scars from Yoshee, and he is a small Cockatoo with a very damaging bite. Yoshee was a bit underweight when he came here too, which told me that he was not being fed properly. When I spoke to the former owner about Yoshee’s diet, the former owner told me that he had done a lot of research on this bird, and he made sure to feed table foods, plenty of fruits and vegetables, and even some meats. I do know that the former owner did love Yoshee, there is no doubt in my mind about this. Yoshee has been here for less than two months. He has put on a little bit of weight, and I have not seen him pluck at all, let alone do any mutilation to himself. He is a happy bird, and he likes to feed my dogs when he is done eating. He is still in quarantine, and he will be for another 30 days or so, just to be on the safe side. But he is showing no signs of illness, and he has tested negative for internal and external parasites. Yoshee is a screamer, and the loudest of my three Cockatoos. He thinks this will get my attention, but he’s learning that screaming won’t work to get my attention. I don’t cover his cage, unless I am up late at night and have to turn on a light that I know would wake him. As soon as the light gets turned off, the cover comes off as well. I do know that Yoshee has decided that he loves me. Not even two months, and I have already been regurgitated on. At least he doesn’t try to actually feed me..lol I’m still having to do a lot of guesswork with him, but apparently I am guessing correctly and taking the right steps with him. The history that I was able to get on both of my other Cockatoos was so sketchy that I pretty much gave up trying and just followed my instincts. While I do make quite a few mistakes (I am far from perfect), I am , for the most part, doing something right. My LSC, who came to me in such bad shape that I was betting that he had fatty liver disease, is on the mend physically , mentally, and emotionally. He turned out to just be very malnourished, and his blood work showed no signs of fatty liver disease. He’s been with me for just over a year, and has made remarkable progress. My U2 came here very well socialized and perfectly healthy. He’s been with me for just about 2 years, and he’s still a big lover. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be able to help these babies, and let these babies teach me new things. As I stated, I do make mistakes, and when I do, they let me know right away. So far I have been fortunate enough to be able to correct my mistakes early on so that they don’t become real problems here.
Thank you for your post. I was just thinking the other day about my four cockatiels, whom I received a year ago from two different homes, in pairs. They all had apparently received very little human interaction, because they were terrified if I even came near their cage, and very little, if any, time out of the cage. After this year of patient and routine daily interaction, just by my voice and attending to their food and water and play needs, they will finally eat millet from my hand, even moving closer to get it. While with me, they have learned to fly, climb, forage, and enjoy daily outings from their cage. Just in terms of their happiness, they are 100% improved- now we will start working on stepping up and maybe some tricks.
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