Things I wish I Had Known When I First Got A Parrot

People who are new to parrot keeping will agree on one thing: having a bird in the house is a challenge. There is a lot of reading you should do to understand a bird’s needs and wants, and how to keep them safe in the human environment. This is all vital information.

Here, though, are some tips that I have stumbled across during my own journey with my birds that you won’t find in the parrot care books. I wish I had known these things from the beginning…

Challenge Your Bird

It is so easy to get the idea in our heads that the perfect life for a pet bird is one that offers convenience and leisure. Nothing is further from the truth. The companion birds that do best are the ones whose humans have figured out that there is a link between their bird’s physical and emotional health.

Unfortunately, most cages are set up having toys and food bowls conveniently within a few steps, offering no encouragement for activity. However, a bird’s body is not designed to sit idly all day, nor is its mind. Arrange your bird’s cage in a way that creates the need to move and plot out ways to accomplish tasks.

Obviously foraging is an ideal solution but placing food and water bowls at opposites ends of the cage or even in difficult to reach places can get a bird up and moving during the day. Place favorite toys (or strips of paper) on the outside of the cage so your bird has to hang and reach to get them. When your bird is active, it is occupied and happy.

Your job is to keep your bird healthy both physically and emotionally. It is not to make life easy. This is the human presumption of the “good life” – it is not a good life for a bird.

Fix Problems Immediately

The minute you experience an unwanted behavior, it should be dealt with – even the small ones. Unaddressed problems only ever escalate over time, and what you are experiencing today will be worse in a couple of months.

An example: whenever your bird sees your hands at rest, he will go to them and prod them until his insistence is distracting enough that you give him the neck rub he is demanding. This sounds pretty harmless, but there will be times when it is inconvenient. The prods might develop into nipping when you resist.

The cycle began when you didn’t stop his insistent behavior early on. You have taught him that you will give in to his demands if he pushes you. You can expect that lesson to rear its ugly head in many other ways as well.

Behavior is a lot like muscle memory in that default behaviors will develop in response to certain things. The longer you allow a pattern of behavior to continue, the more ingrained it becomes and the harder it is to eliminate. It isn’t easy to break a habit – so don’t let it develop.

Get Your Bird To Play With His Food

As I have said so many times before, getting your bird on a healthy diet is the single most important thing you will do as a parrot owner. However, converting to that diet can be a tricky business. One thing goes without saying: if your bird never goes near the food, it is guaranteed that it will never be eaten.

For a very young bird the weaning process involves presenting adult foods to them every day for exploration. The more often you can get that beak dipped into a pureed or soft food or wrapped around a piece of carrot, the more familiar the taste and texture becomes and the more likely it is to be sampled.

This holds true with older birds as well. A game I have always played with my cockatiels is flicking a small wad of paper to them soccer-style. They chase the paper ball everywhere. One day I decided to do it with some frozen peas that had spilled on the counter. That was the day my tiels discovered yummy peas, and the day I discovered a new trick.

I have used this method of food introduction with every stubborn bird I have had since. While I don’t necessarily hurl food at all the birds, I figured out a way to bring them to the new food, since bringing the food to them is so often unsuccessful. It’s all about trickery.

I have learned over the years is that you have to be proactive and forward thinking when you are a bird owner. Try to always be a step ahead by keeping a clear picture in your mind of the bird you want yours to be five years from now.

Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.



Neal MIller

Hello, I love reading and watching you working with the birds. I have found my self with 15 birds and am working with a few of them on clicker training. This is a new thing for all of them. I have a 6 year old grey that is doing the best with my 6 month old Amazon right behind him. I plan on starting a 4 month old Macaw soon and have been working with just treats with a 2 year old Ringneck and a re-homed Crimson breasted conure possibly 3 or4 years old to try to build trust. To make the Ringneck a bit harder she was never hand fed, fed completely by her mother. Any suggestions on how to approach the entire flock on training?

Neal MIller
VIctoria Watson

Loved the comments about getting your birds to eat veggies. My 14 year old Congo Grey isn’t all that crazy about fresh vegetables. I’m going to play the “green pea” game with Radar!

VIctoria Watson

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