Patty | BirdTricks | Parrot Training Blog - Part 5

Problems With Keeping More Than One Bird In A Cage

 May 10th, 2015
Posted By:
Patty
cockatiel

cockatiel

I love cockatiels. So much. They are the sweetest, funniest, most agreeable and easy to read birds I have ever had or known. I hope to always have them in my life, so much so that I have to purposely avoid any I see at a bird store because I don’t trust myself to say no.

At this date, only two remain from my original flock of four cockatiels which were all housed in one large cage. While keeping those birds together, I learned the hard way about the problems that can arise from putting multiple birds in a single cage.

Which droppings belong to whom?

Birds are masters at hiding illnesses from us. Wild birds understand that opportunistic predators target the smallest and weakest of a flock first, and because this thinking is hardwired into all parrots, ours included, they keep their physical condition private until they are too ill to hide it any longer.

Along with changes in weight, droppings are one of the only ways to observe the health of your bird. These are the two symptoms not within their power to cover up and I have always relied heavily on their droppings to tell me what I need to know.

When you keep more than one bird in a cage, you don’t know who is responsible for which dropping. In this case, it is very important that you frequently weigh each bird. This practice will be your last line of defense in spotting an illness before it becomes serious.

Who is NOT eating their food?

Even when you put out a bowl of food for each bird, there is not telling who is eating what without watching (or filming).  It goes without saying that the birds will eat their favorite foods first. I have no problem with this because my birds always get around to eating the lesser preferred foods every day. I don’t care about order. But I do care when one bird eats all of his corn and then bullies his way to the other bowl and eats all of the corn there too. I possibly have one bird that is filled up on only corn.  I have no idea who is eating how much of what.

If you question whether all of your birds is eating properly, feed them separately. I keep extra small wire cages available for the trips to the vet and for times when I want to separate the cockatiels who sometimes act like grumpy old men and get on each other’s nerves. Or when I want to see exactly what one or the other of them is eating.

Budgies!

Budgies!

Who is ruling the roost and are they tyrannical?

Speaking of bullying, it is not uncommon for one of the birds you have caged together to come into power over their cage mates. This is not usually the result of an election. Having a leader is fine, but if that leader prevents others from eating, by using either physical force or intimidation, it is not only uncool misuse of power, it is unhealthy and unsafe for the other birds. Sometimes one bird is mercilessly picked on by the other birds for reasons we may not understand.

When there is discord among multiple caged birds, you have to step in for safety reasons.  If harassment were to escalate to violence, the bullied bird would have no means of escape in a closed cage. This is the time to separate the birds, perhaps by removing the bullied bird or by grouping them differently into two more cages containing birds with similar temperaments.

I think it is a good idea to move the bullied bird to a cage alone for a bit while you assess its health. Sometimes caged birds do not single out a bird to pick on for personal reasons, it might be an indication of their poor health. In the wild, once a bird is visibly ill, it is run off by its flockmates because it is a target for predators and will jeopardize the well-being of the entire flock. Not very nice, I know, but necessary for the greater good.

Which of the birds is Typhoid Mary?

Most bird contagious bird diseases are spread through body fluids and feces. This means if one of your birds gets sick, ALL of them will get sick. Don’t even waste your time guessing which bird is the one with the watery, smelly droppings. Even if you separate the birds at this point, the ones that still appear healthy probably have the bacterial infection as well.

When you go to the vet, be very sure to tell them that this bird is housed with multiple others. Be honest about their conditions and housing, and when/if you are given general antibiotics for ALL of the birds, be SURE your administer it to ALL of the birds. If you miss one, the entire flock can become reinfected. Bad for the birds, bad for the wallet.

Having all the birds in one cage is convenient for us when it comes to cleaning and space issues in the house, but it can be problematic if you aren’t aware of potential problems. Be observant of all aggressive behaviors and signs of illness and stop problems as soon as they make themselves apparent.

 

 

Parrot “Quirks”: Which To Accept, Which To Change

 May 3rd, 2015
Posted By:
Patty
Linus HAS to be the holder of the keys - even when they are Jamie's.

Linus HAS to be the holder of the keys – even when they are Jamie’s.

Parrots are weird. They are. No matter how long we may have lived with a particular bird, there are days that they will do things to confound us. Many of a bird’s activities, and the reasoning behind them, are a mystery to we humans; but the waters of understanding get even muddier when you factor in your bird’s own personality and all of the delightful individual traits that set your sun conure, or your African grey apart from the rest of his species. We call these behaviors “quirks” – a light-hearted term that we use when we have no idea what our birds are doing or why.

Calling something a quirk is just our human way of coping with things we don’t understand and it is linked into the notion that we must keep our sense of humor if we are to keep our sanity…because, well, parrots are weird.

Calling something a quirk allows us to accept odd behaviors because we are supposed to let our birds be birds and love them as is. When we assume a quirk is a mystery we will never solve, we can move on without concern. We release ourselves from worry and any responsibility to change the behavior because it is what it is. “It is just Kiwi doing the weird little things that Kiwi does. “

However, just like we have the tendency to blame many unwanted behaviors on hormones during much of the year, we might be inclined let other preventable problems slip through our fingers by calling them “quirks”.

Linus and Theo

Linus and Theo

I will use my two cockatoos to make this point:

My umbrella cockatoo, Linus, gets upset when I sit on the floor. It doesn’t matter whether he is in his cage or not. He lets me know that my sitting on the floor makes him uncomfortable both vocally and with aggressive body language. This is a quirk I have accepted. Since there are very few tasks that might require me sitting on the floor, I don’t get on the floor when he is around. The solution is a simple one. He has had a multitude of different homes in his life and discovering the origin of this behavior will never happen. I considered the impact that this quirk might have on his future, and mine, and decided it did not need pursuing.

However, Theo, my goffins cockatoo, presents worrisome quirks. Several years ago, shortly after she came to live with me, I bought a pair of cheap, purple flip flops that caused Theo to have a melt-down that was so ridiculously over the top I threw them away that day. Problem solved? Not exactly.

A few months later, after Theo had been with us for a while, I came home to find her puffed out to twice her size. Her wings were extended and she was shifting her weight from one leg to the other. She was staring off into a corner of the room. Her voice was so raspy and hoarse and it sounded as though she had been screaming for hours.

I eventually found the source of her distress: some wooden toys on a shelf. Curiously, they had been in that exact location since the day she arrived and up to this day, they were inoffensive room décor. Suddenly, Theo acted as though her life was in danger and her behavior was affecting all of the birds. I had a dream that night that when I was away, items in the house would come to life and torment my animals.

While Linus is pretty fearless, Theo is the opposite. The things she chooses to freak out over are so random and unconnected that her behavior is easy to call quirky. But the one common denominator in all of it is fear and I am not willing to allow fear to be a part of her life. It will negatively impact her future by robbing her of her security. These quirks needed to be sorted out. I mostly look away from her countless other oddities, as long as they are harmless in the long run.

The next time your bird displays a head-scratchingly strange behavior, don’t immediately dismiss it as okay because it is your bird’s way of asserting his individualism. Try to project into the future and predict what this behavior might look like in five years. It might not be as cute.

If you have a bird that shows disinterest in toys, don’t just accept it as your bird’s quirky personality. Your bird’s future may hold nothing but very long and dull days full of nothing to do. Do whatever you can now to change that future. Sometimes our birds need a little help getting past their issues.

 

Parrot Misinformation On The Internet

 April 26th, 2015
Posted By:
Patty
Blue and gold macaw

Blue and gold macaw

Facebook. I love it and I hate it. On the one hand, it is SO annoying watching people publicly humiliating themselves by posting drunken photos or making personal comments that they will live to regret…forever and ever.

On the other hand, for someone like me, it is a wonderful way to see into the world of other bird owners to get a sense of what is REALLY going on out there. This year we started doing an educational post of the week on our page. A good number of those posts are based on what I see in my Facebook feed.

I go through my feed nearly every day. It is very uplifting to see how much effort and love people are putting into their birds and everybody wants to share. But just as a warning, please be careful what you post.

Many reposted articles are found on the internet, which is overrun with information which is dated, or just plain wrong.  An article written in the 1990s might look and read the same as one written last week, but we have come a long way since the 90s.

A lot of good is undone with these reposted articles. They are read by countless others who then shared with their friends. This is the exact point when one person’s opinion becomes everyone’s “fact”. This makes it really important to find a trusted source for your information,  especially if you share a lot on Facebook.

That is easier said than done. What happens when an article written by a “bird expert” appears on a site called “About.com”? Wouldn’t it be a fair assumption that an article written for a site with the singular intention of providing information would be accurate? Shouldn’t the word of an “expert” be taken as gospel? No, and no.

Umbrella cockatoo

Umbrella cockatoo

When I am going through my feed on Facebook, admittedly spying on the bird community, I rarely comment on the posts. However, I made an exception the other day after coming across a thread about circular cages.

It was great to see that nearly every comment recommended against the round cage, but it was shocking to discover that nearly every one of them said it was wrong for the wrong reason – stating that the cage’s roundness is emotionally distressing to parrots. Someone took a screen shot of this article, which is filled with misinformation that would have had me wiping tears of laughter out of my eyes if it weren’t so concerning that people were actually believing what this “bird expert” was saying.

I am going to copy the short post here so that I can put my comments into the body of the article in bold. But here is a link to it as well – just in case you think I am making this stuff up…

http://birds.about.com/od/birdcages/f/roundcages.htm ….

Question: Are Round Cages Really Bad for Birds?

Answer:

Round cages are not recommended for most bird species, for a variety of reasons.

The first reason that these cages can be bad news is because they can be detrimental to a parrot’s psychological health. Birds are very intelligent creatures, but many have driven themselves crazy climbing around and around cylindrical cages, and feeling like they’re never getting anywhere. (Birds that incessantly circle their cages do so because they are distressed. The distress is causing the circling, it is not the circling causing the distress. They would not continue that activity if it was upsetting to them. Circling the cage is an outlet for their discomfort.) Giving your bird an angular cage provides them with reference points to different locations in their territories — thus helping them feel confident, safe, and secure. (So… physically turning a corner every few feet would satisfy them and make them feel like they ARE getting somewhere? And since a bird’s “territory” is only a few feet wide and they have that spectacular eyesight, does she not think they can find their food bowl without first referencing the coordinates of a corner in the cage?)

 Another reason to avoid round cages is because they are often awkward living spaces for a bird to inhabit. They very way that they are shaped causes many bird’s feathers to be in constant contact with the cage bars, wearing them down and giving the bird a ragged appearance. (??? Basic geometry will tell you that a bird will come in contact with more cage bars by standing in a corner as opposed to the one point of contact made in a round cage.) 

Round cages can also be difficult to maintain. (Everyone knows that round is harder to clean than square, right?) Because most bird cages are now square or rectangular in shape, it can be hard to find certain accessories that will fit round cages — like cuttlebone and millet holders, seed cups, and cage liners. (Again with the geometry fail…but she does make a good point about the cage liner since most homes are not equipped with scissors.) For this reason, it may be easier on both you and your pet to opt for a square or rectangular cage. By doing so, you can provide your pet with a comfortable home, and provide yourself with a cage that is easy to keep clean and well stocked with fun accessories.” ….

This “expert” neglects to include the most important FACTUAL aspect to round cages – they are dangerous! If this were just a debate about dizziness or birds driving themselves crazy…or not, this would be a non-issue. This is a safety matter and the danger they pose has been understood by bird people for a very long time now.

When cages are round, the bars at the top meet in a central point. As the bars approach that point, the space between them narrows creating places where legs, toes and wings can get caught. It is not uncommon for bones and wings to be broken in this area of a round cage. Also, since round cages are uncommon, the ones you might find are meant for decorative purposes or are very old meaning that will likely have toxic coating and will not have any standards of safety observed.

There were a couple of people on the Facebook page where this thread comes from that got this right, but the majority were all too willing to accept the nonsense put forth in this article. And why shouldn’t they? This article appears on About.com – a site that implies it is a go-to source for your informational needs.

However, About.com is a business. If you go to any of their pages they are smothered with advertising. About.com takes advantage of people’s use of search engines (like Google) which will bring them to their page and expose them to the advertisements posted there. About.com has no conscience or sense of duty where you are concerned. Their obligation to you is fulfilled by supplying information, it doesn’t have to be correct – and it often isn’t. As to their “bird expert”, I can call myself a prima ballerina, but that doesn’t make it so.

Military macaw

Military macaw

Unfortunately, there were no admins on this Facebook page that stepped in to straighten this matter out. I am not in any way meaning to say anything bad about this page. It is a fun place for bird lovers to go to share photos and stories and they have good policies about how people should conduct themselves. I am not mentioning the page by name intentionally because this is not about calling them out.

There are many such places that have popped up in recent years. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these places are run and visited by bird lovers who can post what they want and are not held answerable for any misinformation they put on the page. Some may not even realize they are posting wrong information.

People will accept the words from sites like About.com as truth. I don’t blame the reposters of these articles, their intention is only to share with like-minded people, but I ask everyone to be sure of the sources you get your information from.

Businesses like About.com don’t care if your bird is safe or healthy. They are there to bring you to their advertisers, not to better your world.  Remember, when you repost something it goes out to countless others who might then be misinformed and go on to misinform others.

Concerns With Plastic Parrot Dishes

 April 19th, 2015
Posted By:
Patty

 

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with an avian vet during which I asked him about problems that would most commonly land birds into his clinic for treatment. We got to talking about food related bacterial infections and he told me that he feels the dishes that are manufactured for small bird cages are causing big trouble. This is not the first time I have heard this complaint.

The small bird cages he was describing are the ones that made of pliable, plastic-coated wire that are commonly found in pet stores and are meant for small birds: love birds, parrotlets, budgies, cockatiels and even some small conures. I have two or three of them that I use for transporting my small birds and for separating the cockatiels when they are being disagreeable with each other. These small cages almost always come with their own set of dishes that are made specifically for that cage.

012

The dishes are made from a lightweight molded plastic. Many are designed to fit inside a sliding feeding door on the front of the cage or have molded hooks that attach to the cage sides making it very easy to place or remove them.

They are wonderfully convenient but they are not a good choice for our bird food dishes from a cleanliness standpoint. There are some problems with these dishes that cause them to harbor more bacteria than other commonly used parrot dishes.

Whether they fit into a feeding window or clip onto the cage they are intended to rest against a flat cage side for stability. That means that they are also flat on at least one side which means they have at least two corners molded into the dish. Corners are areas where a lot of bacteria can collect because they are so difficult to access during cleaning.

Additionally, plastic is a porous material that is inherently more difficult to clean thoroughly than many other surfaces. It effectively collects and traps bacteria just because it is plastic.

007

It is very important for your bird’s continue good health that you clean the food dishes thoroughly after each and every use – even those used with dry foods like seeds or pellets. The above mentioned issues with plastic dishes make keeping them sanitary a challenge you will have to step up to if you use them.

Let your bowls soak for a few minutes in hot, soapy water before scrubbing them clean. To get into those corners, I use a clean toothbrush. I want to emphasize CLEAN. You are not doing your birds (or your family) any good if you clean their eating utensils with things that are dirty themselves. Kitchens sinks, sponges and cloths will be some of the most unsanitary things in your house if you don’t take care to keep them clean. You can easily spread disease that way.

026

My preferences for dishes are ceramic or stainless steel. Their surfaces are non-porous and much more durable. For small cages like the ones we are discussing, you can discontinue using the plastic dishes and replace them with small stainless steel cups that are easily inserted into rings that attach to the sides of the cage. They are lightweight and won’t bend or damage the wire bars.

011

Ceramic cups are too heavy to mount on the sides of most small cages, but there is no law that states you must only feed your bird above ground level. If you are keeping your bird’s cage clean and changing the liner frequently, it is perfectly acceptable to put food dishes on the bottom of the cage.

Weighty ceramic dishes work well on the cage bottom because small birds will stand on the edge of the dish when feeding and lightweight dishes tend to tip over with the weight of the bird. My quaker, Libby, is a bowl flipper. If it is possible to upend her food dishes, she will make short work of it. I use heavy, lipless bowls for her so there is nothing for her to grab hold of in her efforts to turn over the bowl.

The real challenge for cage bottom feeding is finding the “no poop zone” in the cage. Don’t place the bowls under perches or beneath other frequented areas in the cage. Once food has been soiled with feces, it is no longer edible.

019

Also, if you have a food dunker in the house, you have no doubt felt the slimy substance that has started gathering in the water bowl by the time you get home from work. If you forget to give your bird fresh water one day, you will notice it gathering by the next morning even if your bird is not a food dunker. This is called biofilm. It is bacteria which produces its own layer of slimy protection and it adheres to surfaces. Plastic makes a particularly good surface for it to adhere to. The slime makes it resistant to cleaning and disinfecting so if you detect slime in the dishes, clean them with lots of scrubbing!

Whatever decision you make about which dishes you will use, before you bring food to your birds, ask yourself : “Would I eat from this dish?”

Persistent Parrot Behaviors

 April 12th, 2015
Posted By:
Patty
Hyacinth macaw

Hyacinth macaw

We have gotten several questions in the past couple of weeks where people are asking for help in handling their bird’s persistent behaviors. Calling a bird persistent is almost an understatement – when they get an idea in their head it is difficult to get them to part with it. Sometimes it turns into the ultimate battle of wills between a bird and their human.

We have all been there: the bird tries to walk off with the TV remote. You move it to another location. The bird goes there and tries to take it. You move it “out of reach” – but there is no “out of reach” for a bird. You hold it in your hand and wind up playing tug of war. You put it in your shirt… You know the rest.

One discovery I have made over the years is that when a bird refuses to let go of a plan of action, the problem usually begins with us…

One of the questions this week was a very common one –“How do I keep my bird from climbing onto my shoulder?”

I asked him to describe a typical interaction and he explained that his bird would try anything to get to his shoulder – climbing up his arm, grabbing his sleeves, flying. Any time he picked up his bird there would be that battle. No matter how many times he would take him off his shoulder his bird would go all out to get back there.

I carefully chose my next question because I wanted him to reveal information that he probably would not have offered on his own.

“What is the longest period of time your bird has spent on your shoulder?”

“I don’t know…an hour maybe.”

“So you have ALLOWED your bird to be on your shoulder in the past.”

“Yes, but I don’t want him there most of the time.”

This made it clear that the problem was not with the bird, but with him.

Sun conure

Sun conure

It is your shoulder. You have the right to choose whether or not you want your bird there and you have the right to deny him access to it. However, all of your assertions about your shoulder’s rights are pointless if you can’t make your bird understand that it is off limits.

Your bird will never understand that something is not allowed if you sometimes allow it.

Communication with our birds is limited. There are some words they comprehend and they are able to read our body language well, but they are not psychic. The majority of their learning is accomplished through past experience.

During occasions when the bird was allowed on his shoulder, even if it last happened a year ago, it established that the shoulder was allowed.

Unlike children, whose ability to comprehend variables increases with age, your bird is limited to certain levels of understanding and this fact will never change. A child can be made to understand the concept of “sometimes”. You can break a rule or vary a routine “just for today” and explain that they should not expect it to happen again. A child will test you several times to see how firmly you stand on your “just this time” statement before they back down.

Without the understanding of sometimes, the bird being allowed on the shoulder one day and not another makes the human appear wishy-washy and unreliable. Birds will continue to try to achieve something they want until they have exhausted all possibilities without any hope of success. When they see no fruitfulness to their actions they will move on.

Giving in to their persistence ONE TIME is all that is necessary to give them hope for any future attempts and they will continue to try for what they want because today might be the day you give in.

Your failure to be clear and consistent with your bird will not only make your life together harder, it will confuse your bird and complicate other aspects of your relationship as well.

If something is not allowed, it must never be allowed.

 

 

Can I Keep My Budgie And Cockatiel In One Cage?

 April 5th, 2015
Posted By:
Patty
Budgies

Budgies

Q: Can I keep my budgie and my cockatiel in the same cage?

-Andrew F., Carlsbad, NM

A: This is a question we get frequently. Many people have birds of two different species that get along well and become very attached to one another. When they are out together in their play area, they always share the same perch and snacks and preen each other to perfection.

It is completely understandable that their humans would begin to wonder if they would happier being together around the clock and consider caging them together. There are several favorable aspects to this idea – such as having only one cage to clean and gaining some extra space in the home.

However, even though birds of different species might become the closest of friends at play time, it does not meant that they will accept sharing a cage with another species.

In the wild, birds are very territorial over their nesting areas. They have to be. Parrots put a lot of effort into locating and remodeling the tree cavities in which they will raise their young. The loss of that nest to a competitor (of any species) might mean the loss of this year’s breeding season and puts their own personal safety at risk until a new home is found. For this reason, birds will violently defend their nest and are especially cautious of other species.

cockatiel

cockatiel

Because they are not domesticated animals, captive parrots bring their wild habits with them when they come to live with us. Their cage is their nest site and they will become defensive in protecting it. It explains why many birds object to our hands reaching into their cage, especially during breeding season.

Putting your budgie and cockatiel together into one cage, regardless of which bird was the previous owner, puts them both into a precarious position. In a neutral play area the two birds are able to enjoy each other’s company without feelings of defensiveness about territory. Together in a cage, that might all change.

There is a considerable size difference between a cockatiel and a budgie and if one or the other were to become aggressive (it is not uncommon for small birds to take on larger birds in the defense of their nests), the cockatiel might cause serious injury or death to the budgie. Neither bird will have the ability to escape an attack when locked inside the cage with the attacker.

The best plan is to keep things as they are. Let each bird have their own cage and let them enjoy each other in their play area. You have a good thing going on with the way things are, why change it?