I received a request from a reader to do a post on this topic because people are unintentionally causing injury to their parrots with leg restraints and we hope that the following information might save a few lives.
Falconry is the keeping and training of birds of prey. It has been a popular hunting sport in some circles for a long time. In more recent years, it has become known to the mainstream, perhaps because of a rising public interest in birds of prey. Although I don’t have the stomach for hunting, falconry is an interesting sport with a focus on fascinating bird species, and I would be lying if I did not admit to being drawn to it.
In falconry, the birds are trained to accept restraints called jesses. These are thins strips of leather which are attached to anklets worn by the bird and attached to a lead on the other end that tethers the bird to either a perch or a person.
As a child, my family found an injured juvenile screech owl that wound up staying on with us once it was nursed back to health. Willy was my first bird and, apart from the wings, there was very little similarity to the parrots I have now. Willy was an entirely different animal. Everything about his body structure screamed strength and power – he was a predator – the sweetest, cutest, dearest little predator ever. I loved that bird.
The birds of prey do the majority of their capturing, carrying and killing with their legs and feet – they are nothing to be trifled with. Their legs are heavy set and muscular. In fact, they are one of few bird types that have muscles that run down the entire length of their legs. Their legs are built for heavy duty.
By comparison, a parrot’s legs are slender and delicate. They are intended to support the normal activities of a parrot – climbing, hopping, landing, for instance. These legs don’t require any special adaptations to get through life when attached to a parrot.
There are people throughout the world who have been taught to use leg restraints with their parrots. Many do not even use restraints made from leather, but are opting for chains attached to metal shackles on their bird’s leg, causing abrasion and damage to the area. Others are attaching leads to their bird’s existing leg band.
I know that some people are doing this because they, conscientiously, are trying to let their birds enjoy the outdoors without the risk of them flying away. I know that others have taken their cue from practices used in falconry and assume it is appropriate with parrots.
However, a parrot’s leg is very easily fractured or dislocated – a sudden take-off could cause an injury that could result in an amputation – or worse.
Another aspect to consider: I have a very gory photo of the still-shackled leg that remained of an alexandrine parakeet who was carried off by a large owl. Being shackled, he was helpless to escape. He was probably the easiest meal that owl had in a long time.
So to reiterate…parrot’s legs are not designed for restraints. They are dangerous and they are cruel. If you want to take your bird outside, use a harness and be there to supervise your bird’s activities. If you feel that your parrot needs to be restrained because of behavioral issues, please, please consider training as the first option.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.