The winter holidays are the ones that we spend reconnecting with family and loved ones. There are more parties per square inch than at any other time of the year. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day we can count on 5 or 6 weeks of total bedlam. This is a great time to look at the things that we can do to keep our birds safe and comfortable during this time of year.
We love our homes to be decorated to reflect the magic that this season brings, but parrot are attracted to shiny and sparkly things. Unfortunately, many store bought decoration are not made with pet safety in mind. Since beaks, big and small, can so easily disassemble things or break glass and plastic ornaments, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep these things out of reach.
As an alternative to store bought decorations, you can always make your own from things you can find at your local craft store. If you look through their selection, and use your imagination, a lot of fun ideas will come to mind. Think pine cones, small, plain wooden cutouts and beads, raffia and paper. I often make Christmas baskets for my parrots filled with these items and foraging treats all crammed into a woven basket that can be replenished as needed. By the end of the season, everything, baskets included, have been destroyed and enjoyed.
While our Christmas trees: pines, balsams, firs, and spruces are safe, other holiday plants are not. Poinsettias, holly and mistletoe, both the leaves and the especially the berries, are poisonous to both pets and humans. If your traditions require keeping these plants in your home during the holidays, be sure to keep them well out of reach and watch for any fallen leaves or berries on the floor. Other poisonous holiday plants are the Jerusalem cherry and the bittersweet plant. Try to think outside the box and decorate your home in new ways with safe plants.
Visitors and parties in the home:
The holidays are a fun but chaotic time of the year. The parties and house guests can be stressful for us and our parrots. Planning and preparation will help you manage your time and keep your sanity.
Cooking: Try to prepare and freeze as many foods in advance as possible. (Don’t forget about treats for the birds!) Not only will this allow you to keep a slower pace and actually enjoy the holidays, but it will give you more time to spend with your family and guests on the day of the event. Please always be aware of where your birds are while you are cooking! Kitchens are the most dangerous room in the house.
- Parties: If you are throwing a holiday bash, this might be a good time to consider boarding your birds for the night. Even your laid back bird could be frightened or annoyed with the party atmosphere. Frightened and annoyed birds are very vocal about their dislikes and a screaming parrot will definitely overpower the Christmas carols. At very least provide him with an off-limits room where he can have privacy. Every party has that one guy, wearing a lampshade, who might be drunk and foolish enough to try to handle your bird. It would be a shame to end the night’s festivities in the emergency room. Tape a note on the door to his room stating: This parrot bites! – even if he doesn’t.
Managing house guests/chaos:
Long days: You just put in a 10 hour day at work and have to head to the mall for some last minute shopping. Then on the way home, you have to stop at the supermarket to pick up snacks for tomorrow, when your sister and brother-in-law and their five kids arrive from out of state for the holidays. You’re going to go in early in the morning to finish a report, so you can leave early to go to the airport to pick everyone up. You finally get home, put the groceries away, and your normally sweet tempered amazon starts screaming at the top of her little pink lungs. You check on her, she has food and water and plenty to do. Why is she doing this??
Stress: This scenario is enough to make anyone snap. Before you retreat to sit in your car in the garage, stop, take a few deep breaths and let go of the tension. Parrots have an uncanny ability to pick up on and relate to your stress. In the wild, when a a flock mate becomes alarmed, it will set off a frenzy in the entire flock and often frighten them into flight. This mechanism keeps them safe from predators, so it is in their nature, and their best interest, to respond to tension. When you lower your energy level, so will your parrot.
Children and birds: Children carry a high energy level that your parrot is likely to react to. It is very important that you lay ground rules about interaction with your birds. Children will need to understand that if they poke their fingers through the bars of the cages, they may be bitten. Even the older children must not be allowed to take the bird out. Be certain that they understand that they must never feed the bird unless you have provided them the treats. Three year old children will not understand the no chocolate concept. Constant supervision will be necessary and hopefully the all adults will be on board with this.
- Traffic: Since children go outside often, but rarely stay outside, the front door will be opening and closing a lot. If your parrot is out of her cage, this presents multiple opportunities for escape. Since this will be an extended stay, it seems unfair to relinquish your poor bird to a back bedroom for the holidays. Although, it would be a good idea the have a spare cage set up out of the battle zone for when it is necessary. Out of cage time might be best spent after the little ones have retired for the evening.
- Slowing down to enjoy: Try to remember that you’ve been looking forward to this since plans were made in September, and that it will be over soon. Christmas is supposed to all about children, fun and excitement, though it often doesn’t feel that way. Do your best to limit your stress by NOT worrying that everything is perfect and concentrate, instead, on how much you will enjoy the company of your family.
In the midst of all the holiday excitement, try not to forget about your parrot and his needs. He has been a good friend to you throughout the year and deserves to be happy and feel safe and loved. It is Christmas and as a member of the family, it’s a special time for your parrot too.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.