Syringe Training Your Parrot

Syringe Training Your Parrot

 July 14th, 2011
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1 cc syringe photo by

In a perfect world, our birds would remain healthy and avoid injury throughout their entire lifetimes  However, it’s more realistic to assume that at some point we will have to medicate our birds for one reason or another. Without preparation, this can be a trying and stressful event for both bird and owner.

Here’s a scenario to consider: your 10 year old amazon has had watery poops for the past three days.You, being the conscientious bird owner, take him to the vet where it is determined that he has a bacterial infection. The doctor gives you antibiotics with instructions that the bird receive the medication two times a day for two weeks. Later that day, you draw the medication into the syringe, and attempt to administer the first dosage. You bird turns his head and refuses to open his mouth. When you persist, the bird struggles free and evades every attempt you make to capture him.What will you do now?

White bellied caique photo by Siroj12 at

The medication you bring home with you is meant to be taken in its entirety, at the exact dosage, and at the intervals prescribed in order for it to be effective. When medicating a bird, it isn’t uncommon for parts of one or two dosages to be lost as the bird jerks his head away as you’re depressing the plunger, or when he shakes his head in protest spraying the walls with that morning’s dosage. You can expect this to happen. Still, it can’t be a hit or miss procedure. Your bird needs the his medication, as prescribed, to get well.

Without having your bird syringe trained, that is, trained to accept a syringe that delivers fluids orally, your only recourse is to towel or restrain your bird when he gets rebellious. Remember that your bird is sick, and probably feeling less than cooperative. And now, he must endure physical restraint, which may be considered by him to be frightening, annoying or as a down-right breech of trust.This is followed by his human forcing liquid down his throat. All of this trauma is unnecessary.

The following video was taken by a member of the Austin Parrot Society, my former bird club. Guest speaker Barbara Heidenreich was present to teach the club how to syringe train their birds using a member’s blue and gold macaw, Joey,  as the model. This video only shows the beginning of the session, but will make the technique clear. Please take careful note of Barbara’s assessment of the bird’s body language throughout the session, her slow introduction of the syringe, and her observance that motivation is lost when the bird is no longer hungry.

Video from Austin Parrot Society

The first fluid Barbara introduces is water. I think this is a great idea because it is an innocuous fluid that no bird is going to object to and that makes it an easy introduction to the notion that the syringe holds something inside. The bird will be rewarded for accepting the liquid.

Once you have accomplished this, you can move onto juices, which can can also serve as the reward if your bird enjoys it enough. If your bird likes tea (decaffeinated only!), you can use that in the syringe as well. In fact, once you have taught your bird to drink liquids other than water through a syringe, you might want to ONLY serve them that way so that the behavior is continually strengthened.

Because of a bird’s anatomy, fluids should be delivered into the left side of the bird’s beak (your right, when facing the bird) and aimed towards the back of the mouth. Don’t disperse it directly down the throat to avoid the danger of aspiration (choking) but position the syringe so that the liquid stays inside the mouth and doesn’t shoot out the other side of the open beak.

Photo of quaker parrot by Siroj12 at

All of the photos in this post show the correct way to deliver juices to your bird using a 1 cc syringe typically used when administering medications. As with the photo of the quaker, and with other small birds, it is advisable to offer medications holding the bird against your chest. This position is comforting to them and allows you some measure of restraint without it actually feeling confining to the bird. Consider that the syringe is a much larger object coming at them in comparison to their small bodies than it is to a larger bird.

When giving medications to my larger birds, I usually place my hand lightly on the back of their head and neck in a way that says affection rather than restraint. Medications are not always eagerly accepted, if only because they taste different. If the bird pulls out of position while I am administering the medication, I can gently reposition their head. I never do this when giving juices, however. It is merely a precaution because of the need for receiving the full dosage.

If your bird is syringe trained, it takes his fear of the unknown and your need to exert force out of the equation when there is an illness. He may not care for his medication, but he will be familiar with the process and therefore more cooperative. It is a simple procedure to teach and I promise it will make a difficult time much easier for everyone.

Photo of african grey by Siroj12 at

If you want to obtain one of the syringe’s pictured above you can do so by visiting

I posted this on the blog a long time ago, but it is relevant, funny and oh so true:

HOW TO MEDICATE A BIRD: (author unknown)

Occasionally, we find it necessary to medicate our feathered friends.
Here are some pointers to help you with this task.


Retrieve the bird from the cage.
Set the bird on a table and hold its head by carefully grasping the neck where it joins the lower jaw, or mandible.

With your other hand, grasp the medicine syringe and place the tip into the left side of the bird’s mouth.

Depress the plunger and squirt the medicine toward the back of the bird’s throat.

Wipe excess medicine from the bird’s beak.
Place the bird back in the cage.


Attempt to retrieve the bird from the cage.

Apply bandages as necessary to wounds on your hands and arms.

Retrieve the bird from its new hiding place under the coffee table.

Carefully immobilize the bird’s head to prevent further tissue damage to your body.

Attempt to break the “Vulcan Death Grip” and remove the bird’s feet from your hand.

Apply more bandages and a strong analgesic cream to the new wounds on your hands and arms.

Immobilize the bird by carefully wrapping it in a bath towel.

Watch in amazement as the bird “morphs.” Its head and tail will probably swap position,
putting your tender flesh in mortal danger again.

Hold the bird snugly in its terrycloth prison.

Grasp the medicine syringe.

Try to stop trembling in fear and pain.

Place the tip of the syringe into the left side of the bird’s mouth.
Ignore the crushed tip.

Depress the plunger and squirt the medicine toward the back of the bird’s throat.

Wipe excess medicine out of your eyes.

Release the bird and squirt medicine in the general vicinity of its face.
Some medicine may actually go into the mouth.

The rest will be absorbed by osmosis.

Shoo the bird back to the cage.

Spend the rest of the day attempting to regain the bird’s affection with yummy snacks and new toys.

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14 Comments on “Syringe Training Your Parrot”

linda  07/16/2011 11:08 pm

omg, i tried to read this to my huzban but i couldn’t see the monitor due to being doubled-up on the floor, tears from excruciating laughter seizure blinding my eyes.

Joy Higgins  07/16/2011 11:21 pm

ROFL. Sooooo true, so true! Thank you. I’m sending a copy to my vet–he’s earned it with my Moluccan.

Joan Ewington  07/16/2011 11:32 pm

I laughed so much I just had to read it again and again. So true even down to the bribery!!

Kathy Morgan  07/17/2011 12:41 am

Very true and very funny!!! I enjoy all your information and have learned so much fom you. Thanks

Sandra thomas  07/17/2011 8:02 am

My grey has only been sick once in her 19 years of life but that was enough for me. I was in tears laughing at the decription above. I brought back so many memories.

Jj  07/17/2011 8:07 am

That was hysterical! So true- my hands are permanently scared from my little budgie!

K Herrmann  07/17/2011 9:49 am

I don’t know about you guys, but this is also helpful on warm days when we go for our walks. My brown head doesn’t seem to trust the water bottle (i have one just for the birds for going out) and yet she is clearly thirsty: licking any water she can get when i pour into my hand. ( It also takes a LOT to get her to drink from a small bowl while out at club meetings…she’d much rather steal from my glass don’t ya know!) Once i got her trained onto this, she makes for a very happy summer walking companion, and i don’t worry about her getting dehydrated.

Richard Froede  07/17/2011 11:12 am

As the owner of the original rebellious African Grey (did I just claim that? LOL) these little tidbits of info are great…thanks for all the blogs!!

Hannelie  07/18/2011 1:43 am

Never thought of this, best advise ever. Going to start syringe training today!!

bi  07/18/2011 5:18 am

Finding out early what liquids each bird actually doesn’t hate helps. Getting a Cockatoo to Try anything unfamiliar would be an interesting trick I’d pay to see.
Making veterinary medicine formulators feed their concoctions to large untamed parrots before marketing might result in more eagerly accepted doses and lower consumption of first aid supplies at our end. And fewer destroyed parrot/human relationships. But I can’t imagine all my birds liking any one taste. Everybody hates at least one thing several others like.

Patricia Hayden  07/19/2011 10:37 pm

The agony of defeat……………….I was laughing so hard and behind me my conure joined in on the laughing too. Never before have I heard her laugh, however, the bird is a bit of a devil and I cannot imagine having to give her medicine that she doesn’t want to have. Thanks for the tips.

Lori  07/22/2011 5:11 pm

LOL ROTF On a serious note, what would you think about starting the training by giving my bird a syringe to play with, just to get her used to it?

Petra Coffs Harbour Australia  07/27/2011 4:04 am

At first I read it seriously, but by then the ‘penny’ dropped and I had a good laugh. Just loved the humour. You made my day.
Thanks Pat