I have been avoiding writing this post for a long time. But someone recently contacted me and confirmed that this post needs to be written.
I have for years encouraged people to work out their problems with their birds before giving them up. I stand by that. If you have a behavioral problem with your bird, Birdtricks.com has every tool you need to fix it. Screaming, biting and aggression are solvable problems. In fact, of all of the birds I have ever kept, known or known of, there is only one who didn’t respond to positive reinforcement training and the reason for that is believed to have been medical. You can stop unwanted behaviors if you make it a priority.
The problem with problems is that when left on their own they can grow out of control like an untended garden. What used to be an annoyance becomes a major ordeal and soon you might barely recognize the bird who was once your best friend. Unless you do something about it, you will be miserable and so will your bird.
Even though it is difficult to say the words, there are times when I have wanted to instruct someone to give up their bird. Sometimes that is the right thing to do. Not all people are meant to keep birds and not all birds do well in even the most doting homes. When the time comes to part ways it should happen without delay to avoid the problem worsening still. Pride should never enter into the decision. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to make things right.
Knowing when to hand over the reins was never more important than it was a few years back when the owner of a yellow naped amazon owner (we’ll call her Sue) found her bird’s health, life really, hanging in the balance.
After reading our blog, Sue brought her bird in for a complete work over with an avian vet. Her vet immediately noticed that the bird was morbidly obese weighing in at 607 grams (normal weight for a yellow naped is about 400 grams), and there were some black discolorations in the feathering.
The vet was not at all surprised to find the bird had fatty liver disease, but it was a young bird with a conscientious owner and he felt that the damage could be reversed with dedicated commitment to a diet change.
Sue was fairly new at parrot ownership and she reached out to the avian community for help. A friend contacted me and asked me to help her. I spoke with Sue and told her that I would help her as long as she remain dedicated to making a diet change and that she would always tell me the truth, even when she screwed up.
I answered a bunch of questions about fatty liver disease and explained the dangers but also emphasized the amazing regenerative capabilities of the liver with the intention of giving her hope for her bird’s full recovery.
She was young and like many others her age, she lived off the fast food that she would pick up on her way home from work. She did not understand nutrition or the health issues that would result from a poor diet. I explained that the body is like a car. It could be brand new, with all new parts but if you were to neglect keeping the oil and other fluids at a proper balance, let the air in the tires run low and use a lousy grade of gas, even the newest car would begin to fail.
She understood what I was telling her – she was smart girl, but not smarter than her manipulative parrot. She was not prepared to deal with her bird’s persistence and persuasiveness. The bird would time and time again convince her to share her french fries, each time sending her back to square one with her progress in her bird’s diet change.
For a while I stopped talking about the bird’s diet and discussed hers hoping that I might eventually eliminate french fries and the like from the house altogether. That did not work.
After two years, we succeeded in pulling off only a mere 50 grams of excess weight. Not nearly a sufficient amount. Throughout, the bird remained in the care of the vet, but the fatty liver was advancing and causing scarring and destruction to the liver that would not regenerate.
I had to tell her at that time that her bird needed to be in someone else’s care if it were going to survive. She was still insistent that she would get the job done. At that point I was no longer sure whether it was her love for her bird or her own guilt that was driving her. I had to tell her that I could no longer be a part of this. I was not able to do anymore than I had already done to help her.
Not long ago, she contacted me to tell me that she had given up her precious bird. His health had declined and she did not feel in a position to do him any good. I tried to hold back my anger over the situation. Had she listened to reason a year earlier, her bird would not be suffering the stresses of a new environment and new owner while it is very ill. It is possible this will further exacerbate its condition. There is also another year’s worth of bad eating habits that need to be undone.
No one wants to give up a bird that they love and no one wants to admit to failure. But there is a point where you have to stop thinking about how this feels to you and consider what is best for your bird.
The longer bad habits are allowed to continue, the more of a stranglehold they will have on your bird. The sooner you make the decision and put it into play, the better the chance that someone else can make things right, and the sooner your bird will be able to go on to a happy, stable and healthy life.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.