12 WAYS OF THE AFRICAN GREY

by Nikki Moustaki 

The African grey parrot has a history with humans dating back to biblical times -a fact that is no surprise to today's grey owners. After all, these lucky people live with one of the most talented and beautiful birds alive -an animal able to charm royalty and researchers for centuries.

The first noticeable aspect of this bird is that it's gorgeous. The African grey's feathers resemble a hand-scalloped costume of armor, like hundreds of perfect little seashells laid across one another to form a velvety gown for this intelligent and talkative bird -and let's not forget those ever watchful eyes and that beautiful crimson tail! But the bird's personality and intelligence, beyond its good looks, is what keeps owners hooked.

Although the African grey is a favorite among expert bird keepers and novices alike -this is not a bird that comes with a thin instruction manual. On the contrary, you will need a whole suitcase of information to keep your pretty gray pet happy and healthy.  

1. African greys have two recognized subspecies.

The Congo African grey (Psittacus erithacus erithacus) and the timneh African grey (P.e. timneh) are found in -you guessed it -Africa. The Congo greys are found along the southeastern Ivory Coast, Kenya and Tanzania. The timneh greys are found in a smaller region along the western edge of the Ivory Coast and through southern Guinea. Large Congos are sometimes called "Cameroons," a misnomer stemming from smugglers bringing the birds into Cameroon and having that country written on the birds' export papers as the country of origin. Because the African grey's native range is so expansive, these birds tend to come in a variety of sizes and shades of coloring, which can lead an owner to believe that they have a different subspecies.

The Congo is larger, its feathers are more prominently scalloped, and it has a bright scarlet tail that reaches full coloring at maturity. The timneh is smaller with a darker gray body, and its tail ranges in color from maroon to dark gray. The Congo tends to be more aloof, while the timneh can be more of a family bird. Both birds make equally good pets, and one should not be considered superior over the other.

The African grey parrot is one of the many species of animals listed as part of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty and, as such, is banned from commercial international trade. Your African grey, if it is less than 10 years old, was probably domestically bred, which is far better for the environment, your bird and its parents. The CITES treaty was drawn to protect wildlife from exploitation and from risk of the threat of extinction. If for some reason you suspect that a bird you are going to purchase is smuggled, do not go through with the purchase. Instead, buy from a reputable breeder or bird shop.  

2. African greys are highly sensitive creatures.

The sensitivity of the African grey is unrivalled among companion birds, with the possible exception of the cockatoo. This sensitivity is part of the grey's charm, but it can also lead to common behavioral problems. Even a small change in daily routine or in the bird's surroundings can lead to feather picking and crankiness.

"Zane, our wild-caught Congo grey, began to pluck his feathers several years ago," said Bob and Liz Johnson, founders of the Shyne Foundation, a free flight parrot sanctuary in Florida. "Zane is used to flying free in our enclosed 1/4-acre habitat and sleeping in a cage in the house at night. We realized that we had been letting him out a little later than usual in the morning for a few weeks, and when we began letting him out at the crack of dawn, the picking stopped."

Realize that your new grey is a bird of a highly sensitive nature and that it has to get used to its new surroundings. "The most frequent misconception I encounter with new owners is that they expect the grey to love and trust them too quickly," stated Bobbi Brinker, author of For the Love of Greys and the site owner of www.ParrotTalk.com and The Grey Connection. "Building a relationship takes time and effort. It is unreasonable to expect a grey to give its heart immediately to a stranger, no matter how anxiously awaited for or loved it is by the new owner."  

3. African greys are great talkers.

The myth of the loquacious grey is more than just a myth -it is a reality. The African grey is one of the top talkers among psitticines, and grey fanciers will tell you that they are the best at the gift of gab. Greys are able to repeat words and phrases that they have heard just a few times, perhaps even only once. They come into their full talking ability as they approach 1 year of age but may pick up a few words much sooner.

These birds will not only develop outstanding vocabularies, they may even come to understand what they are saying. "Merlin, my grey, and I were accompanying Dr. Pepperberg at a conference in California a few years ago," said Maggie Wright, creator and publisher of The Grey Play Round Table magazine. "Merlin was having such a good time on the trip that on the final day she said, 'Thisa sucha fun yuk, yuk,' while bouncing on her perch. The words were parts of phrases that she had picked up at different times."

Though these birds are known to talk up a storm, not all African greys learn to talk. Some will learn a variety of other household sounds, as well as specific whistles. "Talking is, to me, the least of a grey's vocal talents," said Neil Sims, bird enthusiast and owner of Stella, a 6-year-old Congo. "Stella meows like a cat, calls exactly like the blue jay that eats from the bird feeder outside, imitates my asthmatic cough and my laugh, water going down the drain, and she improvises whistles to accompany whatever music I'm playing- on key."  

4. African greys are extremely intelligent birds.

Intelligence is probably one of the main factors making the African grey one of the most desirable companion birds available today. The most famous grey of all, Alex, and his owner, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, may just be the reason for the popularity surrounding the grey. Alex, now 23 years old, is the continuing subject of a research study conducted by Pepperberg and her students at the University of Arizona. Using specialized techniques that involve repetition and reward, the researchers have taught Alex to recognize and verbally identify close to 50 objects, seven colors and five shapes. Alex can understand the concepts of category, same and different, and can even count. Researchers believe that Alex may even someday be able to learn to read. This is far more than just mimicry. Researchers believe that Alex is actually able to think in abstract concepts and quantify objects with more than an 80 percent accuracy rate. Imagine living with a creature that is able to understand what you are saying to the degree that a 3- or 4-year-old child would understand. That's a smart pet!

Because this parrot is so intelligent, boredom and inactivity can lead to frustration. "The most important thing for a potential owner to know about African greys is that they are much more intelligent than they are often given credit for," said Dr. Karen Zielezienski-Roberts, the avian veterinarian at Academy Animal Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. "Greys that are neglected socially will tend to develop behavioral problems, and the resultant stress can predispose them to myriad medical issues."

Beyond medical issues stemming from boredom and stress due to this bird's intelligent nature, there's the issue of living with another species that may often outwit you. "Greys will tend to train you to do their bidding," Sims said. "Therefore, not only is an infinite capacity for love required for owning a grey, but an unyielding ability to set up consistent boundaries, training and positive reinforcement. "

Because researchers have had such great success with Alex Pepperberg, now doing research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, is training another grey, Arthur, to use the Internet. Eventually, Pepperberg hopes, parrots will have access to surf the World Wide Web to alleviate their boredom, and perhaps they will even be able to video conference with their friends. So, be nice to your grey -it may someday have access to your computer!  

5. African greys are quiet birds - though quiet is a relative term!

Some greys can make good apartment birds. They do make noise, but they are not insistent, the way an Amazon or a conure can be. "They whistle, click and beep. Most of the noise they make is rather pleasant to the ear," said Jean Pattison, known as The African Queen, a breeder of greys since 1984." A scared grey will growl. They can, when they are playing hard, emit something similar to a bark, but they don't sit in the cage and beg or cry and drive you crazy like other birds will. "

As with any bird, be prepared for some noise -no bird you purchase is going to be absolutely quiet. "Despite my efforts, Stella will try to wear me out by repeating her broken smoke-alarm imitation until I return to the particular room she is in. I try to hold out and wait until she calls in words or some other sound less grating," Sims said.  

6. African greys love to eat and chew.

If started early on a good diet, most greys are not fussy eaters. "Both of my greys are very good eaters," Wright said. "Their favorite foods are a seven-grain hot cereal served with a banana slice and rice milk, eggs prepared any style, small pieces of grilled salmon, apple and a daily mash of vegetables and grains."

"Stella eats like a little grey vulture," Sims said. "Chicken bones, pasta, thawed mixed vegetables, pellets, seeds, almonds, fruit, shrimp and salmon ...she eats better than I do."

As with any bird, greys have the tendency to chew things that are available to them, such as electric cords, furniture and curtain rods. Be aware, if you turn your back on a grey that is out of its cage, you may be surprised at the condition of your 18th century coffee table when you return.

"Greys are not overly destructive," said Pattison, "but if you have an antique table and the bird is out, it will get to your table. I have a bird that has never chewed a thing and another that chewed my window frames. On a destruction scale of one to 10, the grey is probably a three or a four. But believe me, your grey will get to your antiques. The minute you have something precious where your bird can reach it, it's history."  

7. The African grey is often not the best choice for a first bird.

Buying a bird with this amount of intelligence and sensitivity takes a lot of thought and some knowledge of how to properly care for birds in general. You may want to wait until you have some experience under your "birdie belt" before you undertake the responsibility of this sensitive bird with a possible life span of more than 50 years.

"I do not recommend the African grey parrot as a first bird," Sims said. "They are incredibly intelligent and socially needy birds. This is the perfect combination to create boredom in the insufficiently stimulated bird. Boredom in greys almost invariably leads to screaming and feather picking. Moreover, their first reaction to anything unexpected, even a paper flittering across a floor or a new bird toy is one of fear and mistrust. Unlike most Amazons that confront such situations with confidence, anger or playfulness, the grey needs lots of concentrated assurance, consistent security and inexhaustible affection. A grey is not a bird for people who tire of novelty easily or are incapable of giving the same physical and emotional attention to a pet that they would give to a small child."

Most inexperienced bird owners may find themselves between a rock and a hard place with this advice. Some may really want a grey but find themselves advised out of the purchase by a breeder or pet shop owner, who may suggest a smaller, more easily cared for bird instead. "If you want an African grey, no other bird will satisfy you," Pattison said. "You will go back and end up buying a grey. If you really want a grey, my advice is to get one, but buy it from someone who is willing to work with you, to help you to learn to care for the bird properly. Do your homework first. Don't buy a grey, or any bird, on impulse. Talk to other people who own greys, and do some thinking before you finally make your decision."  

8. African greys are exceptionally flock oriented.

When you own a dog, you are part of the pack. With birds, you are part of the flock. You must act as such with the grey, a species with powerful flock-oriented instincts that will drive your bird to want to be with you 24 hours a day.

"Greys are what ornithologists refer to as 'single species flock' birds, which means there are only African greys in a flock," said Jane Hallander, avian behavior consultant and telepathic animal communicator. "Many South American parrot species belong to 'multi-species flocks,' consisting of macaws, Amazons and conures. Because no other species are allowed in African grey flocks, they do not take well to other parrot species in a household, often trying to drive the 'intruder' away.

"In the wild, greys, as with many other parrot species, spend approximately 24 hours a day with their mate. In captivity, when they have no grey to bond to, they bond to a human and instinctively expect to spend all of their time with that person. When that doesn't happen, the bird calls for them. If the person doesn't respond, but the grey knows the person is close by, the bird calls louder and louder until it becomes what we call 'screaming.' This is easily solved by arranging for the grey to be in the same room as its person via play stands and climbing trees. Now, we are satisfying the grey's natural instinctive behavior, solving the screaming problem and all are happy," Hallander said.

Wright concurred with using the grey's flocking instinct to better understand your bird. "Helping your grey feel secure and a part of the family flock is the most important thing you can do," Wright said. "This means placing it in the family room, instead of a bird room, and including it in your daily rituals and activities. Teach your grey to handle new experiences, but do it slowly, at the bird's pace. "  

9. African greys are not cuddlers.

Often, people will buy a bird and expect to be able to hug and caress their new feathered friend. Greys will tolerate a little head scratching and perhaps a caress or two, but they usually do not appreciate a lot of intense physical contact. "People often refer to greys as being nippy. They are not nippy, " Hallander said. "They are also not grey cockatoos and do not like as much physical handling as do some cockatoo species. I constantly hear clients tell me they want to 'pet' their greys more, but the grey bites them. We teach our greys to bite when we do not recognize that their body language is telling us that they do not want to be petted or scratched at that moment. When that happens, the bird goes to plan 'B' -a bite. The person goes away, and the bird gets what it wants, to be left alone. The next time the grey doesn't waste time pushing the person's hand away. It already knows what works -a bite.  

10. African greys can be �one person� birds if not socialized.

Some bird species will react with the same gusto and friendliness to every member of the family -not so with greys. The timneh may be more capable of accepting more family members than the Congo, but, as with all birds, behavior is highly individual. Nevertheless, greys can be socialized to accept every member of the family, and your bird's behavior depends largely on how you treat it.

"Greys can be one-person birds and, for the most part, they are," Pattison said. "Don't expect to bring home a little person in feathers -a grey is a bird. People call me and say, �please train my bird not to bite and not to chew before I pick it up�. They get the misconception that this is a little, cuddly puppy in feathers, and it's not. If you're going to get a grey and you don't want it to be a one-person bird, take the time to socialize it. The best-behaved greys I have ever seen were ones I sold to young adults. They drag the bird everywhere with them, and the bird becomes more adjusted. These people don't overprotect the bird, and the bird becomes accepting of change, noises and people."  

11. African greys may need more calcium than other bird species.

The hypothesis that greys need more calcium than other birds is still up for debate but, nevertheless, many pet owners find themselves in the veterinarian's office with a diagnosis of low calcium in the blood, which can lead to seizures and other medical complications.

"The most common medical problems associated with African greys include hypocalcemia, feather picking, respiratory disease and malnutrition," stated Zielezienski-Roberts.

"Greys seem to need more calcium than some other species," remarked the Johnson�s. "But calcium alone is not enough. It takes a number of other nutrients to properly absorb the calcium, such as magnesium, lysine, boron and vitamins C, D and K, which are all part of the calcium complex. We have seen greys that were having seizures, and the veterinarian was giving them calcium shots without results until the other parts of the complex, especially magnesium, were given."

Don't give calcium or any other dietary supplements to your grey until you speak with your avian veterinarian about your bird's diet and health. "Greys don't metabolize calcium as easily as other birds and can become deficient more easily. Greys are known to have a calcium problem, but don't supplement unless it's under the advice of a veterinarian. I feed 70-percent pellets and 30-percent seed, and I've never seen a problem in my birds," said Pattison.  

12. African greys can be the perfect pet or the worst depending on the way the bird is raised.

Though African greys come with certain inherent behaviors and requirements, the way you raise your bird is the most important factor determining how you and your bird get along. Make sure that the person or the place where you purchase the bird is willing to work with you to make you and the bird as happy as possible. "I tell my customers that if the bird is not raised correctly, it will manifest many behavioral problems later on in life, and the customer will wish he or she never got the bird," said Marc Morrone, owner of Parrots of the World, host of Cablevision's The Pet Shop and resident on-air pet expert on the television show Martha Stewart Living. "To prevent this, it is important that the store and the customer work together to raise the bird."

Because the grey is so very sensitive, you must take a look at your own lifestyle, and ask yourself whether this bird will be a good addition to your family or whether you will both be unhappy living together. The potential is there for both possibilities. "Really think about purchasing a grey, and try to be as honest with yourself as possible," Sims said. "If you've already had experience with other parrots, you are willing to make a lifelong commitment to a 4-year-old child -that's about the grey's intelligence and emotional level -a child who will never grow up; but who will always remain as difficult, but also as endearing, then maybe the gorgeous grey is the bird for you."  

Nikki Moustaki is a writer and consultant on bird care and behavior who lives in New York City. Her books Parakeets for Dummies, Bird Behavior for Dummies, and Your Cockatiel's Life are forthcoming in 2001. She is the contributing bird expert on Pets.com and hosts the Web site, www.birdyworks.com, where she offers solutions to pet bird-related problems.  

REPRINTED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES FROM

BIRD TALK MAGAZINE NOVEMBER 2000

AMAZON PARROTS 

Mention the word �Amazon� and you will get a wide variety of reactions. Some people will say they are the best birds ever, while other will say with disgust, �I wouldn�t have one of those things in my house!�  Why is there such a range of reactions to Amazon parrots?

            Well, Amazons have gotten a bad rap over the last few years. They have been labeled as mean and unpredictable. In fact, some people believe they can�t be kept as pets after they become physically mature. However, these statements are untrue.

            Amazons are wonderful birds and pets. For years, they were the bird of choice because they could amuse themselves, talk, sing, were beautiful, smart and survive even during bad care. The most important factor though was that wonderful Amazon spirit that allowed them to adjust to captivity better than many other species.

            So, can Amazons be kept as pets after they mature? You bet. I have five male Amazons (two blue fronts and three yellow napes) with ages that range from 11 years to more than 20. they have been with me for most of their lives and, although they have required special handling at times, they are still pet quality. My birds are also performing birds and have has as many as 250 people hold them after a performance.

            In order to live with Amazons, you first have to understand them. Amazons are not African greys with green feathers (despite the fact that they are equally smart, great talkers and about the same size as a grey). Amazons react differently than greys to situations. If they were people, the grey would be the intellectual college graduate, while the Amazon would be the street smart, life-of-the-party type.  

The �Hot-Three"

The Amazon classification covers a wide group of birds. Amazons are basically all-green parrots with different colorations on their heads. The "problem" birds can be limited to a few species, and they can be further broken down by sex. This group is made up of the males of the double yellowheads, yellow napes and blue fronts. I call this group the "hot-three" because, when sexual, these birds become extremely aggressive, and one has to be careful when handling them. Species such as lilac crowns, green cheeks and mealies are less excitable and remain much calmer than the hot-three during the breeding season.

There is a huge difference in the species of Amazons, their sex and their age. A 5-year-old lilac crown female may bite but she will not go into a hormonal rage. A 9-year-old male double yellowhead, on the other hand, can easily do so if he is healthy and his environment is right.

The females of the hot-three are calmer, and some even demand cuddling during the breeding season. Other species of Amazons will not be as excitable, but that does not mean they do not bite. They do, but you do not have to contend with the hair trigger of the hot-three males.  

Special Handling

All birds (not just Amazons) can bite when breeding behavior is present, including species that are known for their calmness. The hot-three males, however, can be completely out of control when sexual.

They seem to go into a trancelike state and do not hear you or understand what they are doing. An attack by a hormonal male hot-three is vicious and will not be limited to one bite. The bird will bite and bite and bite. These Amazons have broken bones, opened skin to expose the bone and disfigured faces. Care must be taken when working with these birds, and it is up to you to make certain others are not hurt when the bird has a mate or a mate substitute.

The time of aggression varies with the individual bird. It usually appears between the ages of 5 to 12 years. During this time, there will be one to two years in which they will be very aggressive. Once they go through this, they generally settle down with little or no aggression shown when they are not hormonal and some aggression when they are. People often ask me when will an Amazon become hormonal and for how long. It varies with the individual bird.

One of my napes, Magnum, was showing sexual behavior when he was 9 months old. He began tearing paper, screaming, nipping and was trying to mount all the other birds. Of course, he could not father babies at this age, but the behavior was already there. My other nape, Tequila Joe, did not show obvious signs of sexuality until he was 8 years old.

Not all male hot-threes will become aggressive when hormonal. Young males, ill males or those with a low sex drive will be average to mellow. However, large portions of hot-three males become aggressive when hormonal. It's difficult to predict which ones will give you problems when they go through this period.

Tequila Joe never bit me the first years I had him. But when he turned 8, he bit me so hard that he caused nerve damage to my left hand. All my male Amazons were bad when they were 8 year olds. Tequila Joe, however, was the only one that had to be pulled from performing in front of people. He was extremely aggressive for that entire year. As a 9-year old, he was performing again and back to being his normal, sweet self.

 Many people think they have cured an Amazon's biting problem when all they have done is allowed the bird to rush its hormonal cycle. I could tell a person to hop on one leg four times a day in front of the birdcage and, in a few months, the bird would begin to be calmer and bite less and less. It isn't the hopping; it is the bird's body no longer putting out high levels of hormones. Another thing that is often misunderstood is the role illness and diet plays in the bird's hormonal aggression. For example, a person rescues a hot-three male from poor care. He takes a sweet Amazon to the vet to cure illnesses and improve its diet. He then expects the bird to be forever grateful. Instead, one day, the bird bites him. Hard. What happened? The bird is now healthy, and its body is functioning normally. A bacterial infection often keeps a bird from breeding condition, as does malnutrition. Anything that encourages hormonal behavior will also increase the bird�s aggression.  

Natural Behaviors

Hot-three males are programmed to guard the nest, territory and family. The female does the incubating, and the male stands guard outside the nest. In the wild, there is competition for nesting sites, so hormonal male Amazons will try to drive any bird that might compete for his territory (outside of his mate) from the nesting area. The problem with Amazons is that people fail to realize that these birds will be aggressive when in breeding mode. Amazons have been programmed to be this way for many centuries so that they are able to survive. Although they may be pets, they are still programmed to defend their territory.

Amazons are extremely loyal and devoted to their people. Some of these birds will risk their lives to protect them. There have been a couple of newspaper articles about pet birds attacking and chasing intruders out of the house when the person tried attacking the bird's people. It should be no surprise that the birds were Amazons. Amazon owners have to realize that this type of aggression can happen if the bird misinterprets other people's actions.  

Bringing Down Hormonal Behavior

The main factor that causes a bird to go into breeding behavior is the amount of light it receives. Light will increase the size of its sexual organs, and a decrease in light causes them to shrink. If I am trying to bring an Amazon down from breeding behavior, I cover its cage with a heavy dark cover so that no light can enter into the cage. It is then put to bed earlier or allowed to sleep later. I start to limit its daylight by covering the cage for 13 hours. This will be increased or decreased, depending on the bird's actions. If it is still doing hormonal screaming, biting, charging, excessive paper tearing or masturbation, I increase the amount of darkness.

 Because my birdcages are close together, I also use the covers to keep the birds from seeing each other. If I did not do this, they would spend most of their time challenging each other during the breeding season to protect their territory. I arrange the covers so the front is open, but the birds can't see their neighbor on either side. They can see each other from the front part of their cages or when they are out of the cages.

Covering the sides allows them to relax and not feel as though they must guard their territory from another male. If I had room to put more distance between their cages, covering would not be necessary. The aggression shown toward another male in guarding territory often throws the birds into breeding behavior.

Large-scale bird breeders will alternate a species of Amazons so that pairs of the same species do not see each other. Although the protection of territory may start them into breeding behavior, pairs seldom breed if they are kept next to pairs of the same species, because they spend their time challenging and charging each other instead of building nests and raising a family.

 A rise in humidity, an increase in food and an increase in the evening temperature are other factors that may bring a bird into hormonal behavior. Many times, the birds become hormonal in late fall and winter, when people turn on their hearing systems, and the evening temperature rises. They also turn their electric lights on sooner, thereby giving their birds more light. With the increase of light and evening temperatures, the bird's body reacts as if it is spring.

 Once nesting is over, wild Amazons return to groups and have few problems getting along. But aggressive behavior should be remembered when pet birds show signs of sexuality. Be overly cautious when your hot-three male is sexual by keeping him where he cannot attack another bird. It only takes a second for a bird to amputate another bird�s toe or worse. 

Importance Of Body Language                       

 One must learn the Amazon language to avoid getting bit. Amazons always warn before biting. It may be a slight, quick warning, but it is there. The obvious time not to handle an Amazon is whenever it is excited. If its tail is flaring and its eyes dilating, avoid handling it until it is calmer. Even when birds are extremely hormonal, they may still have a short time during the day or evening when they will be calm enough to handle.

 After 20 years of working with Amazons, I find the best way to handle biting is to avoid it in the first place. It seems that every time a bird bites, it increases the chances that it will bite again. Learn to read the bird�s body language and then not put yourself in a position where you can get bit. You do not want to change hormonal biting into behavioral biting.

Sometimes, it is better to have all female birds or all male birds for pets. Females of other species can set off male hot-three Amazons. One would think that a bird is this sexual would be easy to breed. But Amazons can be difficult to produce, because most will only have a clutch once a year. They can be very choosy about their mate. Some birds have lived together for years and have a platonic relationship. 

An Ounce of Prevention

There are several things you can do to keep calm and harmony in your relationship with an Amazon.   

1. Baby Amazons are sweet and wonderful. Most people do not believe that their bird baby will ever bite them. Start when they are young, and keep them off your shoulder. In a matter of seconds, a hormonal male can damage an eye, ear or scar a face.

2. Stick train the bird. This will enable you to transfer the bird from its cage to a play stand or gym.

3. Letting the bird play on top of its cage will increase the chances that it will become territorial. 

4. Rough play should also be avoided, because it gets most Amazons overly excited. If the bird never becomes aggressive, the training will not hurt it, and if it does become aggressive, you will be glad you took the time to train it.

5. A large cage is important when keeping a male hot-three Amazon. My males are kept in macaw-size cages with Amazon-appropriate bar spacing. The bars need to be close enough that the bird cannot stick its head between them. The need for the cage is for the short time in the bird's life when it is extremely aggressive. The bird may be in its cage for a day or two if it becomes too excitable to put on a T-stand or gym. With plenty of room and toys, it won't hurt it to be in its cage for a while. I still interact with the birds when they are extremely hormonal, but I keep the bars of their cages between us.

6. Wing-feather trimming should be done on any male Amazon showing aggression. It helps to make him less confident in attacking, plus it keeps the bird from hurting someone. Some of these males can become downright dangerous,  

Macho, Macho Bird

Male Amazons can be wonderful companions that are extremely intelligent, outgoing, talkative, loyal and devoted. They display more fully and more often than the females. The hot-three males are extremely macho. They are also very funny birds. I have seen my birds in full display so preoccupied with showing off that they walk off a perch and fall into an unglamorous heap on the floor. They pick themselves up and then act as if this is what they intended to do in the first place.

Even though you may not be able to handle your male Amazon when it is going through a particularly intense hormonal period, it is still very entertaining. These plain green birds suddenly burst into a rainbow of colored feathers. They spread their tail and wings, showing off those beautiful red, yellow and blue feathers. Their bright orange eyes dilate. Their head feathers rise while they hold their wings fully extended and away from their body.

Then they do a stiff-legged walk. Some will even turn slightly from side to side to show off their stunning display and shake their feathers, too. It is a sight to behold. If I were a predator or rival, I would be afraid. If I were a female Amazon, I would swoon. As long as I have been around Amazons, I still have to stop and admire a male in full display. I call this the "Amazon strut." Amazon males display frequently but when hormonal, they will also go into that fascinating strut. Amazons are such great companions that their owners often overlook their indiscretions. The few bites owners may receive are far outweighed by the joy these birds bring.

Amazons are not for everyone but, with a little understanding of why and how these birds react, they can become outstanding pets. To know an Amazon is to love them.  

AMAZON BREEDING IN BRIEF

AMAZONS IN BRIEF

Amazons are a large group, so there is a huge variation in some of the species and, in some cases, even the subspecies of a given species.

Club contact information: The Amazona Society, 235 North Walnut Street, Bryan, Ohio 43506; www.amazonasociety.org/ 

REPRINTED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES FROM

BIRD TALK MAGAZINE JANUARY 2002

BASIC PSITTACINE PEDIATRICS 

The growing aviculture industry is responding to the demand for high-quality, hand-raised baby birds. Practitioners can help aviculturists raise healthy birds by understanding the basic husbandry and development of neonates and offering high-quality care. This article focuses on basic pediatric techniques in psittacines and provides valuable tools for assessing the needs of these young patients.  

Basic handling

A baby psittacine has to be one of the strangest-looking animals, with its' tiny featherless body, large head, and comical stance. Psittacine chicks are altricial (i.e. hatch with their eyes closed). Their prominent livers bruise easily if the chicks are handled too roughly. So handle chicks carefully to avoid damaging their delicate structures. Also, keep in mind during physical restraint or surgery or when applying bandages that birds have no diaphragm and rely on the movement of their sternums for breathing. Always use the least force necessary to restrain neonates and subadults.  

Hold a bird with the palm of your hand supporting its back and your thumb and forefinger supporting its head and neck laterally. You can do this with one hand, but it's better to use both hands when first learning to handle chicks or when working with larger species. Always keep a bird's head elevated above its body to prevent regurgitation.  

Thermoregulation is of utmost importance when working with neonates. The birds hatch with only a thin layer of down to keep them warm, so provide an external heat source until they develop feathers. During restraint, be careful not to chill a bird with your cold hands or suboptimal ambient temperatures. Chilling can cause severe problems such as a slower gastrointestinal tract transit time, which may lead to crop stasis. It can also adversely affect the bird's juvenile-and thus poor-immune system, resulting in infectious diseases.  

Physical examination

The physical examination routine is similar to that in any other animal. Initially, assess a patient's general proportions, body condition, coloring, attitude, alertness, and posture. If feathers are present, note their overall appearance, especially looking for dystrophic changes and necrosis. Evaluate the ears, eyes, and nares for normal development. Below is a list of the ages for eye and ear openings in several psittacines. A clear ocular discharge is common when the eyes first open.  

SPECIES            EYES OPEN   EARS OPEN

Cockatiels                        5 to 6 days                     open at hatching

Conures                            13 to 14 days     -

Cockatoos                        10 to 21 days                 open at hatching

Amazons                           14 to 21 days                 10 to 35 days

Macaws                              14 to 28 days                10 to 35 days

 

Investigate the oropharynx to ensure that the anatomy is normal and that there are no plaques or lesions. Examine the body conformation and skin color. The skin should be somewhat elastic, yellowish-pink, and warm. Dehydrated neonates have dry, wrinkled skin. Mild flaking of the skin is normal, but excessive flaking indicates a problem. Body condition can be determined by the thickness of the muscle and subcutaneous fat over the toes, hips, and elbows. The abdomen appears abnormally large, relative to that of adult birds, because of the very large proventriculus and ventriculus. Examine the umbilicus for a good seal. Retention of the yolk sac for longer than seven days is abnormal in psittacine chicks.  

Until the chicks are close to weaning, they sit on their tibiotarsal or tarsometatarsal joints and their abdomen in a tripod arrangement. This odd stance varies among species. Be sure to examine the spine, neck, legs, feet, toes, and wings for abnormalities.  

The beak will change over time but should align normally throughout all stages of development. Beaks change color during maturation in some birds (e.g. macaws, Amazon and eclectus parrots, cockatoos), and the changes vary greatly among species. A beak's shape also changes over time. In most psittacine chicks, the mandible is prominent when the chicks hatch. The maxilla slowly grows until the mature beak is formed before weaning.  

Beak malalignment occurs for many reasons, including developmental problems caused by inappropriate handling during hand-feeding, incorrect incubation techniques, nutritional imbalances, hereditary factors, or other management problems. The rate of occurrence varies among facilities, depending on the cause of malalignment. In most cases, the malformations don't have a marked effect on a bird's health. They are mostly cosmetic and can cause uneven wear over time. Thus, birds with malalignment need frequent beak trims throughout their lives. In normal, healthy birds that have appropriate chewing substrate, beak trims aren't usually necessary.  

If a neonate has beak malalignment, treat it immediately either through manual manipulation or surgical intervention. The sooner the bird is treated, the better.  

Auscultate the lungs and heart for respiratory infections and heart murmurs. Check for normal respiratory function by watching the movement of the sternum. The tail should not move during respiration.  

Palpate the crop for doughy food, foreign objects, and proper tone. A neonate's crop is two or three times larger in proportion than an adult's but should not hang loosely. Examine the skin overlying the crop for hyperemia, blisters, edema, or scabs that could indicate a crop burn.  

Feathering on most psittacine chicks is sparse at birth and develops symmetrically. Feathers initially grow on the head, wings, and tail and then on the rest of the body. Abnormal feather emergence and development are a cause for concern. Dystrophic feathers could indicate a viral disease (e.g. psittacine beak and feather disease, Polyomavirus infection) or any other problem that disrupts the blood supply to the emerging feathers.  

Evaluate the color and consistency of a bird's droppings because a change in the color of feces may indicate a problem. Many neonates are polyuric because they are fed liquid hand-rearing diets. If a bird's diet changes, the droppings will vary in color. Some homemade hand-feeding diets are inconsistent, and a change in the ingredients can cause a color change in the feces. If chicks are fed a commercial diet, the ingredients are consistent so the formed portion of the droppings should be uniform in color.  

Hand-feeding

Hand-feeding is an art form. If your client is an aviculturist, he or she will probably be more proficient at hand-feeding than you are. Most people use catheter-tipped syringes for feeding chicks, although rubber crop tubes and bent spoons are sometimes used.  

When the babies are hungry, they display the characteristic feeding response of bobbing their bodies up and down along with rapid head movements. Sometimes the presence of the handler who feeds them will elicit this response. It also can be evoked by touching the commisures of the beak or applying slight pressure under the mandible. Only feed birds when a feeding response is displayed, especially if the person feeding the chick is a novice. Experienced hand-feeders can use their judgment and may still feed the chick. If no response is noted, there is a greater chance of tracheal aspiration, and a different food delivery method such as tube feeding, in which food is delivered directly into the crop, should be used. 

Prepare a fresh hand-feeding diet at each meal and warm it to the appropriate temperature (100 to 105 degrees F.) since the crop cannot warm the food.  Cold food can cause crop stasis by reducing gastrointestinal transit time.  Be sure to use separate feeding utensils for each bird in a clutch, and never place a used syringe back in the food container to get more food. 

During feeding, have the bird face you, and direct your feeding syringe from your right to your left.  This helps ensure that the food is going into the esophagus, which is on the right side of the neck. Gently support the neonate�s head and body as it moves its head up and down on the end of the syringe.  When the bird is actively displaying, the glottis is closed, and food can be passed quickly and safely down the esophagus. 

If crop stasis occurs because of stretching from overfeeding or another medical condition, use a crop bra to elevate the crop and allow gravity to assist in crop emptying. This simple device is made of elastic self-adhesive tape. Place the tape ventrally and caudally to the crop, and fasten the tape behind the back of the chick. Keep the bra loose enough so respiration is not inhibited and the crop can be filled to its normal capacity. Leave the crop bra on the chick until the crop can empty without the help of the crop bra. The length of time varies with every case.  

Diagnostic tests

Cytologic examination

Routinely obtain crop and fecal material from neonates for a Gram's stain and microscopic examination. These in-house tests provide valuable, immediate information about a bird's gastrointestinal flora so you can quickly initiate appropriate medical treatment if a problem is encountered. This is especially important in neonates because a difference of a few hours can save lives. Normal aerobic flora is predominantly gram positive. Pathogens include gram-negative bacteria, active yeast, spore-forming bacteria, and Megabacteria. Some commercial diets contain non-pathogenic (nonbudding) yeast, so their presence in crop and fecal material can be normal.  

Urinalysis

If you suspect renal disease, urinalysis can provide helpful information. Because neonates usually provide only a small amount of urine, it's difficult to collect enough urine for urinalysis. It can be done over time if the feces have been collected on a nonabsorbent substrate such as wax paper. You can then separate the urine from the fecal portion and urates and do a urinalysis. Interpret the results much the same as you would in mammals.  

Choanal and cloacal swabs

Use small calcium alginate swabs such as Calgiswab (Spectrum Medical) to collect samples from the choanal slit for microbial culture and sensitivity testing in very small patients when evaluating the upper respiratory tract flora. These swabs also can be used for cloacal cultures when evaluating gastrointestinal tract flora.  

Fecal floats and smears

Perform fecal floats and direct smears to detect gastrointestinal parasites. Use the same process for these procedures as you use in other small animals. Parasites are not a common cause of disease in psittacine neonates in the United States, but Giardia and Trichomonas species are found most commonly. In direct smears, look for motile protozoa. In fecal flotations, look for eggs, cysts, oocytes, and larvae.  

Complete blood counts and serum chemistry profiles

You can safely draw blood from neonates by using the same methods you do in adults. The right jugular vein is the collection site of choice, but the medial metatarsal and cutaneous ulnar veins also work well. It's safe to collect 10/o of the blood volume in healthy birds. The blood volume is usually 10/o of a bird's body weight, so 1% of a bird's body weight is a safe amount to collect. Use complete blood count and serum chemistry profile reference ranges for neonates when assessing your results. Some differences in neonates include higher white blood cell counts (20,000 to 25,000; adults = 5,000 to 15,000), lower packed cell volumes (20% to 30%; adults = 35% to 49%), and lower total protein concentrations (1 to 3 g/dl; adults = 2.2 to 4.5 g/dl) when compared with adult values. Uric acid is also generally lower in neonates (0.2 to 8.5 mg/dl; adults = 2.3 to 11 mg/dl). Macaws, eclectus parrots, and cockatoos have the greatest variability between neonate and adult psittacine blood reference ranges.  

Radiography

Keep the anatomical differences between adults and neonates in mind when interpreting radiographs. In neonates, relative muscle mass is less, while the proventriculus and ventriculus are much larger, than in adults. Also, most neonates have food in their digestive tracts that reduces the relative amount of air sac space seen radiographically.  

Common disorders in psittacines

Several gastrointestinal, respiratory, and musculoskeletal disorders are common in pediatric psittacines. Beak alignment is another concern.  

Gastrointestinal disorders

Crop stasis: Crop stasis is not a disease but a sign of a pathologic condition. It's often related to a generalized gastrointestinal disease or metabolic disorder. Improper husbandry, such as incorrectly mixing the hand-feeding formula (e.g. inadequate water, low temperature), and systemic disease can slow gastrointestinal transit time. The most common crop infection in psittacine neonates is gram-negative bacteria with a concurrent yeast overgrowth.  

Crop lavage is useful for emptying the crop when chicks exhibit crop stasis. Milking out the crop contents while holding a neonate upside down can work, but there is a higher chance of aspiration with this method than with crop lavage. To do a crop lavage, massage the crop contents while infusing the crop with warm saline solution, and then aspirate the fluid mixture into the syringe. Because the size and volume of crops vary among birds, there is no specific guideline for the amount of saline solution infused. Use enough to slightly enlarge the crop but not enough to allow the fluid to back up into the oral cavity during massage. Make sure the crop wall does not adhere to the end of the syringe when aspirating.  

Crop burns: Crop burns occur when the hand-feeding formula is too hot (> 115 F) or when hot spots in the formula result from heating it in a microwave. These burns can also be caused by outside heating sources such as heat lamps and heating pads. The lesion may appear as a hyperemic area or scab on the skin overlying the crop and may be difficult to see when covered by feathers. Mild burns can be treated with systemic antibiotics such as trimethoprim-sulfadiazine. If the burn has fistulated, let the damaged tissues heal and contract before attempting surgical repair. Also, bypass the crop in a bird with a crop fistula, and tube-feed directly into the proventriculus. Healing usually takes five to 10 days.  

Other crop disorders: Aerophagia is seen in birds that gulp air and beg excessively. The air in the crop can displace food and cause the baby to be underfed. Many times you will notice a "bubble" in the crop around the neck. You can massage this out of the crop and into the oral pharynx. The bird should then be fed before it can gulp more air. If aerophagia becomes a persistent problem, the bird can be tube-fed so the correct amount of food can be delivered to the chick to ensure optimal growth. Crop atony can be caused by feeding too much at one time and overstretching the tissue, which results in loss of smooth muscle tone. A crop bra can resolve this condition.  

Regurgitation can result from over-feeding, foreign bodies, oral antibiotics, renal disease, and infections such as candidiasis. Or it may simply be a sign a chick is near weaning.  

Pharyngeal and esophageal trauma: If not used with care, a steel feeding needle, rubber feeding tube, or syringe can damage the oral, pharyngeal, or esophageal tissue during feeding. The hand-feeding formula is then inadvertently introduced into the subcutaneous tissues, which causes a massive inflammatory response. This requires prompt and aggressive treatment, including opening the pockets, flushing the contents, and administering broad-spectrum systemic antibiotics and antifungal agents.  

Foreign bodies: Neonates are extremely curious and may ingest anything in their environment. Immediately remove foreign items from the crop before they pass into the proventriculus. Once the objects are in the lower gastrointestinal tract, medical management such as hydration therapy (lactated Ringer's solution subcutaneously or normal saline solution subcutaneously or orally) and laxatives (hemicellulose or psyllium) can be administered as long as the bird is not completely obstructed. Retrieving the foreign body may require endoscopic or surgical removal.  

Infectious diseases: Microbial infections are the most common problem in neonates, often occurring with yeast infections. These are best diagnosed by microscopically examining gram-stained cloacal, choanal, and crop samples and by performing bacterial culture and sensitivity testing. Most bacterial pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract are gram-negative. Treat these infections with the same types of antibiotics and antifungals and at the same dosages as you would in an adult. The oral route is simple and effective in neonates, but if crop stasis is present, injectable medications may be preferred.  

Viral infections are often introduced into the nursery by asymptomatic adults, nest-hatched neonates from the aviculturist's facility, or nestlings from other facilities. The most common viral infections in neonates are Polyomavirus infection and psittacine beak and feather disease (a DNA virus).  

Polyomavirus infection can devastate a nursery within 24 to 48 hours, although it more commonly causes sporadic deaths over a longer time frame. The incubation period ranges from two to 14 days. The chicks show acute signs of general illness such as listlessness, crop stasis, and vomiting. Subcutaneous hemorrhages are also common.  

Psittacine beak and feather disease most commonly affects cockatoos and African grey parrots. Lovebirds are a common source of the disease and can be asymptomatic carriers. The first clinical signs are necrotic, abnormally formed feathers. In neonates, all feather tracts may be affected in a short period of time. The signs are often seen just before weaning and may be as subtle as a few dysplastic feathers. This disease is diagnosed with DNA probe testing on a blood sample, and there is no treatment.  

Respiratory disorders

Upper respiratory problems are usually associated with chicks getting food in their choanal slits and clogging the nares. The nares can be flushed with saline solution, and antibiotics can be administered if necessary.  

The most common cause of lower respiratory disease in neonates is aspiration of the hand-feeding formula. Aspiration can occur if chicks are fed when they are not exhibiting a normal feeding response, which is more common near weaning. The resulting aspiration pneumonia must be aggressively treated with antibiotics and antifungals. Even with aggressive treatment, if a large quantity of food is aspirated the prognosis is poor.  

Musculoskeletal disorders

Splayleg: Splayleg, or spraddleleg, is usually a developmental condition in neonates caused by improper substrate (paper towels or shredded paper are good substrates; avoid wood chips and corn cob), nutritional deficiencies, trauma, or improper incubation techniques. But it also can be congenital. Chicks with this deformity will have one or both of their legs splayed laterally from the hip, tibio-tarsal, or tarsometatarsal joints. The condition can usually be treated with various devices used to bring the legs back into alignment. Techniques include using elastic tape to hobble the legs together at the tibiotarsus, tarsometatarsus, or both and blocks of foam to keep the legs in proper alignment. Mild cases can be treated by placing a chick in a relatively deep container packed with tissues or towels. These treatments can be used only in very young chicks before weaning and before their bones calcify. Once a bird's bones harden, the prognosis is poor without surgical intervention. Monitor affected chicks daily, and adjust the devices as needed to allow for normal growth.  

Constricted toe: Constricted toe occurs when an annular ring of tissue constricts the first or second phalanx of a neonate's first toe, causing swelling distally and necrosis if not treated. It's commonly seen in eclectus parrot chicks. The cause is unknown, but it could be related to environmental factors sum as low humidity in the brooder. Treatment consists of surgically removing the ring of constricting tissue and suturing the apposing tissues. Longitudinal incisions are made on the lateral and medial side of the digit to compensate for swelling and growth. If corrected in time, most constricted toes heal, and the bird regains full use of the toe.  

Beak malalignment: There are many types of beak malalignment, but three are more common: scissor beak (lateral deviations), underbite (mandibular prognathism), and compression of the mandible. Any species of neonate can develop these conditions, but cockatoos generally have prognathism, and macaws usually have scissor beak problems.  

Every time a bird is fed, the beak should be examined to ensure it has proper alignment. When any mal- alignment is noted, immediately initiate therapy. Several good beak alignment techniques are available to clinicians, including beak trimming, dental acrylic methods, and the modified Doyle technique, which uses Kirschner-Ehmer wire and rubber bands.  

The prognosis without treatment is good since beak malalignment in companion birds is mostly cosmetic.

They will need to have frequent beak trims to allow them to manipulate their food and eat, but most birds can adapt well, even to severe malalignment conditions.  

If treatment is initiated immediately in young birds, the problem can usually be repaired quickly. But once birds have been weaned, repairs are difficult and usually involve surgery.  

REPRINTED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES FROM VETERINARY MEDICINE MAGAZINE MAY 2000

Budgies: Bring �Em On 

Imagine walking into a room and being greeted by a lightly garbled voice whispering, �Hello. Give me a kiss.� Before you run for the door, look around. You may just spot a budgie. Yes, budgies can talk, and many do so quite well. They are also accomplished acrobats with high-energy levels and seemingly endless ways of entertaining. Indeed, these little gems of the bird world are more gifted than many people imagine. 

What's In A Name?

In the United States, the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) is often referred to as a parakeet, which is an overly generalized name - like referring to a German shepherd as a dog. Avid bird fanciers, breeders, exhibitors and those outside the US prefer its common name, budgerigar, or budgie for short. There are also American budgies and English budgies. In a nutshell, they are the same bird bred for different reasons toward separate goals. Speaking in generalities, English budgies are bred for exhibition (show), and the American are bred for pets. Some dedicated breeders will breed them for perfection of mutation. Exhibitors prefer to use the terms exhibition in place of English and pet birds in place of American (exhibition budgies and pet bird budgies).

The exhibition birds are larger with a slightly different conformation than pet birds. Many of the so-called English budgies being offered for sale as pets are no larger than a well-bred American budgie. Some exhibitors sell culls for pets, however, these birds are normally older and not newly weaned babies. Quality differs in the exhibition birds from novice up. There is also a price difference; the highest quality birds, if you can even purchase them, can sell for several hundred dollars.  

Mutations And Genetics

Budgies are native to the interior of Australia, and the normal, or original, color is green. Males and females are alike in color; however, the sexes are generally distinguishable by the cere - the wax like area surrounding the nostrils. In males, the cere is bright blue, but in females it is light blue, buff or brown. Distinguishing the sex of baby budgies and the adults of some mutations can be difficult, however.

There are many feather patterns and colors found in budgies. Both the colors and feather patterns are referred to as mutations. There are mutations in the wild but, because there is no controlled breeding in the wild flocks, the light-green dominant color of the wild bird dominates.

Aside from the numerous color mutations available in the fancy today, there are still only two basic colors: green and blue. All colors are either from the green series or the blue series. There are other factors in addition to basic color such as pied, harlequins, clear bodies, graywings and clearwings, opalines, spangles and yellowfaces. The color and feather patterns seem endless, and some birds even have crests or tufts.

Personality Plus

Each budgie's personality is as individual as the bird itself. Some are easygoing, and others can be a bit stubborn. These active and energetic little birds enjoy playing, twisting into various positions, hanging upside down, doing flips, and generally acting like clowns.

Intelligent and entertaining, budgies are often underestimated. They can be taught to do tricks, like the larger parrots, but on a smaller scale. Both sexes have the ability to talk; although, the males have a tendency to be more vocal.

Young birds, as a general rule are more inclined to learn than older birds. You will have a better chance for talking success if you start with a baby budgie. In my experience, the teacher's ability to teach overrides the bird's ability to talk. The "secret" to training is patience and perseverance.

Birds are seldom given the chance to attain their full talking potential. Use your imagination to avoid teaching your pet a few words or phrases that are repeated monotonously. Consider teaching your budgie its full name, address and phone number; it just might come in handy one day if the bird gets lost. Cute sayings, jokes, quotes and nursery rhymes can be taught a section at a time, repeating the previous sections before adding the new one.

Most of my birds pick up words as I talk to them during daily rounds. They learn from each other, and any babies that are retained for future breeding become the latest students. One phrase I taught one of my first sulphur-crested cockatoo babies, which all my talking birds now say, is "I talk. Can you fly?" When people approach a cage they just about always ask the bird the same question, "Can you talk?" just imagine the expression on their faces when the bird replies, "I talk. Can you fly?"

Supply toys to occupy their time, and provide them with entertainment and exercise. Items like swings, ladders and playgyms will help to keep them active and engrossed.  

Setting Up House

Proper housing is an important part of your bird's life. The most expensive may not be the best choice for your pet. Refrain from buying the cage that is tall and narrow. It may look great, but your bird will prefer a wider style. Cage bars need to be sturdy enough to support a variety of toys, swings, etc. The spacing between the bars should be close enough to prevent escape or the budgie sticking its head through them. And choose a cage and design that is easy to service and clean. It has been my experience that when a cage is a bit of a challenge to clean, it is not cleaned as often as cages that are easy to clean.

The cage will need to have the basics: food and water dishes, a treat cup, a cuttlebone and perches. Plastic perches may come with the cage and may be easy to clean, but a wooden or natural perch is better for your pet. Use natural perches in addition to offering different shapes, sizes and textures for foot comfort. Many budgies chew and strip the bark from the branch. When the natural perch becomes soiled, you can replace it. Only use suitable nontoxic woods that have not been chemically treated in any way. No gravel paper or perch covers. They can irritate feet.  

Adopting A Budgie

Beware of the bargain and drastically discounted bird. Expensive birds are not necessarily better than an average-priced bird. Feeling sorry for a budgie is not a reason to make a purchase. Doing so provides space for a couple more and profit for the seller.This compassionate act may result in high vet bills and a sick bird that may make your other birds sick, too.

Budgie personalities vary, some are sweet and some are stubborn; one may be mischievous, getting into every bit of trouble it can, and the next may be sensitive. These characteristics are obvious and develop with young birds that are handled regularly.

If the hatch date is not known, there are a few generalities you can look for in a youngster (there are exceptions). Some chicks will still have the black on their beaks. Young budgies will often (not always) have the bars on their head extend down to the cere. The spots or necklace is poorly formed in a young budgie, and the entire eye is dark, appearing to be larger than older birds.

Take a good look at your bird before you buy it. Does it walk rapidly without effort? Is it alert with bright, wide-open eyes? Are the legs straight with two toes to the front and two to the back? Does it firmly grasp the perch without its feet or nails turning inward? Is the feathering dean, tight, shiny and absent of vent area stains? Are the nostrils clean and free of discharge, and is the beak (top and bottom) well formed?  

Taming and Training

A budgie baby leaves the nest trusting and sweet. Experiencing the world outside, they may become flighty, untrusting and nippy. Many of the first bites of a baby budgie are out of fear. They learn early in life, if they bite, "it" goes away. Their next lessons are "do not trust creatures outside of the cage and beware of fingers." Sticking fingers into a cage only to pull them out when a young bird approaches to investigate teaches the bird to bite and not to trust that the finger will be a steady perch to step onto. For whatever reason, people stick their fingers into a bird's cage and wiggle them around. They also use a finger or hand to tap on the cage. This behavior can teach a bird to bite.

If possible, purchase a baby that is already tame. (A baby budgie does not have to be hand-fed to be tame and all hand-fed budgies are not necessarily tame.) Otherwise, choose one that is calm, inquisitive and as young as possible (although make sure it is weaned). Older birds can also be tamed with more time and patience.

Wing-feather trimming is the first priority to help keep your bird safe and aid in training. Training involves time, repetition and patience. Choose an area to hold sessions and limit interruptions. A bird-safe bathroom is an ideal place - small enough to retrieve the bird when necessary with few places to hide. (Make sure the toilet lid is down to prevent accidental drowning.)

Keep sessions short - I0 to I5 minutes, two to four times a day. Short frequent training periods are better than intense sessions once or twice a week. Skip training when you feel tired, cranky or rushed.

Begin with one main teacher. After progress has been made, other family members can become involved with the training. The first objective will be to gain the trust of the bird. This may mean sitting on the floor with the bird in the cage and talking softly to it and reassuring it the first couple of times.

Next, teach your pet to "Step up" onto your finger or perch. Gently press your finger or a perch against the budgie's lower belly at the point where the legs join the body. This will place the bird a bit off balance. Press firmly but gently up and back, until the budgie steps up onto the perch or finger. As you do this, use the command, "Up" or "Step up." In a few sessions, your pet will learn to "Step up" on command.

It may take days or weeks to accomplish each step. Some will learn faster than others and some may seem to take forever. Always end sessions on a positive note, before you lose your temper or become frustrated.

After learning the basics, the possibilities are endless. Budgies will come when called and "Step up" on command-the only limitations are those set by the owners.  

Diet

Hopefully, the days of supplying only seed and water to our pet birds are gone. A good-balanced diet is as important to your pet budgie as it is to you. As a general rule, anything that is good for you can be fed to your pet. (Do not feed chocolate, alcohol, avocado or junk food.) If you share your meal with your budgie, do so without adding the sauces, gravies, etc.

Here are just a few things relished by my flock: variety of pellets and seeds (sprouted and soaked), seeds, cooked corn and bean mixes, healthy cereals, greens (including dandelion, spinach, comfrey and chickweed), fresh and dried veggies and fruits, and pasta. One of the ultimate things you can do for your pet is provide a good diet.  

Safety

The budgie's intense nature can place them in danger as they twist and hang from the toys provided for entertainment and exercise. Regularly inspect toys for safety and remove and/or repair those that are worn or broken.

Properly trimmed wing feathers can prevent your cherished pet from flying out the door or into danger around the house. Trimmed wing feathers not only help to keep your pet safe, it is an aid in training and taming.

Other household pets can be a danger if even by accident. Do not assume that your cat will not bother the bird because it doesn�t go outside and hunt. Even the gentlest dog can cause injury. Do not permit small children or their friends to handle the bird without supervision. Taking a few precautions can result in years of joy for your budgie and the entire family.  

Budgies in Brief

REPRINTED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES FROM

BIRD TALK MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2001

 

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