Pittwater Animal Hospital
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Lovebirds
Indian ringneck
Lorikeets
Eclectus
King-parrot
Regent
Superb
Rosellas
Ringnecks
Princess
Bourke's
Choosing
Housing
Feeding
Behaviour
Training
Health
PBFD

Parrots
Electus Male

Some 340 parrot species belong to Order Psittaciformes, most of them from Australasia and Central and South America. In Australia we have dozens of native species, among them cockatoos, cockatiels and budgies, which, because of their individual popularity, we treat separately on this website. Some of this country's other more popular parrots, along with lovebirds and Indian ringnecks, are covered a little further down.

Parrots are different from other birds, and we're not just talking about their varied plumage, intelligence, longevity and temperament. Most birds have a hinged lower mandible (jaw) and a fixed upper mandible, but with parrots both mandibles are hinged. If you ever thought parrots look a trifle odd when they yawn, that's why. And where most birds have three toes that point forward and one toe pointing astern, parrots have two forward-facing toes and two going the other way. In case you're ever on 'Jeopardy', this foot formation is termed zygodactyl.

Because the great majority of parrots are tree-dwellers, they tend to be most plentiful in and around lowland forests. Mainly they feed on seeds, buds and blossoms, nuts, berries and other fruits, especially wild figs. Protein comes in the form of insects and their larva. Most parrots pair for life. They nest in holes, usually in trees, but sometimes among rocks or in termite mounds. Females lay two to five white eggs which hatch after about three weeks. Both parents feed their young predigested food that they regurgitate. The plumage of immature birds generally resembles that of the female.

Active and social birds, parrots kept as pets require considerable space and attention. In return, they offer stacks of personality and loyal companionship which should more than make up for your investment of time and effort. As an added bonus, some parrots can develop large vocabularies. All it takes is the right bird and the right training. A parrot's lifespan varies according to species. On average, a small parrot will live 10 to 15 years, but some of the larger species may outlive you.

To begin with - Selecting the wrong type of parrot can turn into a very unpleasant experience...for all concerned. It's best to start by researching which of the available species are most suitable to your situation. It's not simply a matter of picking the one that looks the prettiest. Parrots can vary quite a bit in terms of their personalities, adult size and space requirements, need for companionship, ability to mimic, colours, the amount of noise they make, etc. By and large, parrots are happiest with others of their kind in avaiaries large enough to let them fly about. However, some adapt quite readily to life in a cage as long as there's enough human companionship and regular flight time outside their bars.

By the way, because all native birds are protected in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, you should check out the website of the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation. You do not need a licence to keep rainbow lorikeets, eastern rosellas and Port Lincoln, twenty-eight, princess or Bourke's parrots, but you are not allowed to trap them in the wild.

Here's a little information about some of the more widely kept parrots in Australia. There are others, but this will at least get you started on your research.

Lovebirds

Lovebirds (genus Agapornis) - One of the most popular pet birds today, lovebirds originally come from equatorial areas of the African mainland and the islands around Madagascar. In the wild, lovebirds live in small colonies in forests, open fields, savannas, plains and swamps; a few prefer high, mountainous regions. They do not migrate. First imported to Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, their popularity as pets spread rapidly once people discovered how easy it was to breed them in captivity. In time, the lovebirds being kept in cages and aviaries came to outnumber those in the wild.

The nine species of lovebirds and thousands of colour mutations (variations) are generally classified by physical characteristics, namely whether they're dimorphic (where the birds' sex can be determined visually), they have a white eye ring or they have black cheeks (quite rare). Lovebirds that don't fit into these three categories are placed ino an 'intermediate' group. The most popular species is the peachfaced (Agapornis roseicollis), which, in turn, has over 60 mutations in Australia with lots more in Europe and USA. Other species found here include the Fischer's (A. fischeri), masked (A. opersonata) and nyasa (A. lilianae). All have additional colour variations. Lovebirds are short and thick-bodied with a relatively large beak for their size, which ranges from 13 to 17 centimetres in length.

These birds were not named after Courtney. They were called lovebirds because when paired they typically huddle close together while sleeping or resting and will constantly groom each other when they're awake. The bonds they form will last till death do they part. (They live on average from 10 to 15 years.) Unlike most parrots, lovebirds are not crazy about being handled nor are they into learning a bunch of tricks. But their very flamboyant and friendly natures make them great fun to watch and have around.
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Indian ringneck

Indian ringneck parakeet (Psittacula krameri manillensis) - This best known and most readily available of four subspecies actually originated in Sri Lanka before spreading to southern India and, despite the long tail, is really a parrot not a parakeet. Although they don't migrate, Indian ringnecks can be found all over their native habitats. In open country, cultivated lands, even in towns and villages where they perch on the roofs of temples and houses, flying in and out of the eaves not unlike swallows. When foraging for food, small flocks will often descend on grain fields, orchards or coffee plantations where they do their best to decimate the crops. When day is done, they return to nests in holes of trees or buildings. If an Indian ringneck is alarmed or excitedly greeting family members, its voice can reach a high-pitched shriek which some have likened to the equally enchanting sound of a car alarm.

The dark red upper beak, soft green plumage and black neck ring joined by two partial rings of pale rose and powder blue mark the ringneck pictured just above as a mature male. The female and immature birds have a far more subtle ring and no pink collar or blue tint on the back of the head. But that's just the ringneck's normal colouring. Domestic breeding has resulted in more than 80 colour mutations to this point. The best known colour variations are blue, lutino, albino and turquoise. Regardless of their plumage, Indian ringnecks generally weigh from 110 to 140 grams and grow 40 to 43 centimetres long with the tail accounting for almost half their length. They are fairly long-lived with some birds being bred successfully into their 30s.

Although not necessarily affectionate birds, ringnecks can be very friendly and playful when provided with adequate attention and quality time. Their high intelligence means they're able to pick up tricks quickly. They are excellent climbers and seem to really enjoy having ropes and other items to play with. That beak is quite adept at untying knots and destroying less-than-robust toys. When it comes to talking, Indian ringnecks usually begin when they're a year old, and some have been reported with vocabularies totaling as many as 250 words. Because of their exceptionally long tails, ringnecks require a fair bit more cage space than other birds their size.

Lorikeets

Lorikeets (genus Trichoglossus) - There are more than 30 species of lorikeets, but the one you're probably most familiar with around here is the rainbow (T. haematodus), which, in turn, has 21 subspecies. As an arboreal bird, they favour forests...of any type, both coastal and inland, from the middle of nowhere to, perhaps, your own backyard. During the daytime they spend long hours moving about, feeding in small flocks of up to 20 birds. At night or where there's abundant food, flock numbers swell to the thousands. As you've probably witnessed, lorikeets can be very noisy, active, strongly gregarious and occasionally belligerent. Their vocalisation varies from a steady chattering while feeding to vehement screeching when in flight.

Despite the gaudy mix of intense emerald green, bright orange, midnight blue, ruby red, lemon yellow and purple, lorikeets can disappear quite effectively into their natural habitat. They are a small bird generally 28 to 30.5 centimetres long, weighing 120 to 140 grams. Females are normally a bit smaller with a shorter bill and, along with adolescents, duller markings. Lorikeets have evolved a couple of special features. Because they feed on pollen and nectar, they have a brush-tipped tongue. To more effectively preen themselves, they have feathers with tips that continually break down to form a waxy powder which they spread though their plumage by fluttering among foliage soaked by dew or rain. Lorikeets are reported to live more than 20 years in the wild.

Electus

Eclectus (Eclectus roratus) - There are about 10 subspecies of these parrots spread through the Moluccan Islands, Lesser Sundas, Solomons, Papua New Guinea and a relatively small area of the Cape York peninsula. Their habitat is densely wooded, semi-tropical to tropical rainforests, with a maximum elevation reported about 1000 meters. Strong fliers, they soar high above the forest canopy on long trips. When searching for food, they travel in pairs or small parties through the upper canopy usually emitting a harsh screech in bursts of three or four at a time. Then while feeding, they make a wailing cry or a mellow, flute-like call. In the evening the eclectus put on little air shows before gathering in large groups of up to 80 birds to roost for the night. Their nests are generally in deep hollows of standing trees near the edge of the forest or in a clearing.

The photo at the very top of this page shows a male ecltectus and the one to the left a female. No wonder they're known as the most colour-dimorphic parrot in the world, or that it was once believed the males and females were two different species. While both sexes are glossy and brilliantly coloured, the male is bright, almost translucent green with blue and red patches, red underwings and a yellow to orange beak. The female has a black beak, and her feathers are generally red, mauve and yellow, or red with deep maroon wings and a violet-blue belly and underwings. Scattered gold strands give the feathers an almost transclucent appearance.

Eclectus make good pets and have admirable talking abilities, depending largely on the individual, its age, the bond shared with its human and the amount of instruction time. These birds will also mimic environmental sounds, such as laughter, sneezing, regularly played music and various electronic beeps. They are playful and enjoy interaction with humans and other birds. They are also adventuresome bordering on fearless and readily explore new places and investigate new people. Females seem to be more dominant and males less moody. Eclectus parrots tend to be quite tidy and easily potty trained. Because their digestive tract is longer than most other species, fat intake must be limited to avoid fatty tumours.
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King-parrots

Australian king-parrot (Alisterus scapularis, two subspecies) - Also known as the southern king-parrot and king lory, this brilliantly coloured bird can be found along the eastern coast from Cooktown and inland to the Canarvon Ranges in Queensland, south to Warrumbungles National Park in New South Wales and all the way to Wodonga in Victoria. In this wide range their habitat varies quite a bit. Rainforests, palm forests, eucalypt forests, dense gullies, clearings, coastal woodlands, farms and orchards, parks and gardens are all places they call home. Those living in thickly forested ranges feed mainly in the eucalypt and acacia canopies, occasionally dropping to the ground to pick up fallen seeds. They have also been known to raid orchards and farms for fruit and vegetables. Their call is a piping bell-like sound.

As you can see from the photo, the colours of the male king-parrot are striking, with the head and underparts being vivid scarlet, the back and wings a rich green and the tail a deep blue. (In flight you can also see blue under the wings.) While duller in comparison, the female is no less beautiful, having the same scarlet belly and lower breast but a green head and body with blue tinges on the lower back and tail. During courtship, the birds will fluff out the feathers on their heads and, for contrast, flatten their body feathers. Then they bring new meaning to giving someone the eye. By contracting their pupils, their bright orange irises seem to flame dramatically.

Regent

Regent (Polytelis anthopeplus) - Sometimes called the moker, rock pebbler or marlock parrot, these birds are pretty much restricted to the south-eastern and south-western corners of the country. We'll concentrate on the eastern form which is found in the eucalypt woodlands, scrub, mallee and farmlands that flank the Murray River. Regents can be seen in pairs or small groups but occasionally in flocks of more than 100 birds. Mostly terrestrial when foraging, they will also spend time feeding in the branches of eucalypts or acacias. To escape the heat of the day, they rest in trees or dense bushes. Their nests are in hollows inside the trunks of big, old red gums, sometimes many metres deep inside for protection from the elements and marauding goannas. Once common, the eastern regent is now threatened with extinction thanks to land clearing, logging and changes in hydrology along the Murray River.

This long-tailed, conspicuously coloured parrot will grow to 40 centimetres. The overall body colour of the male varies from yellow in the east to greenish yellow in the west. The mantle, crown and neck are olive green. The wings are mostly yellow with black primaries and secondaries and a broad band of red across the inner wing coverts. They also have black tail feathers, a coral red bill and orange-brown eyes. The females are almost completely olive green with a duller red band on inner wing coverts. Their tail is a bronze-green with pink-tipped feathers underneath. The bill isn't as bright as the males' either.

Regent Parrots are quite amicable and easily tamed and will generally share their aviary with most other birds, among them Indian ringnecks, superb and princess parrots, Bourke's parakeets, doves and quail.

Like other parrots that spend a lot of time feeding on the ground, regents are susceptible to intestinal worms and fungal infections. This is relatively easy to prevent simply by maintaining a high standard of hygiene in the aviary.

Superb

Superb (Polytelis swainsonii) - More modest names include barraband parakeet, green leek parrot and scarlet-breasted parrot. These strikingly elegant birds are endemic to the Murray-Darling basin, principally in the gum, box and pine woodlands of the Riverina and northern Victoria. As winter approaches they migrate along the Namoi and Castlereagh rivers in north-western New South Wales. Highly social birds, superbs live in small flocks from which pairs disperse to breed. They call to each other constantly in a voice much like that of a cockatiel. While feeding, the flock mutters softly to each other. They forage both in trees and on the ground in the early morning and late afternoon, roosting in the forest canopy during hot parts of the day. Because they've developed a real taste for grain crops and grass seed, superbs are not a favourite with farmers. However, with their very restricted range and diminishing numbers, superb parrots are now listed as rare or vulnerable.

The male is predominantly green with a bright yellow forehead, throat and cheeks. Across the upper breast they sport a broad red band and on their nape there's a slight blue tinge. Their long, pointed tail is green above, black below, the bill pink and irises yellow-orange. Females are duller in colour and lack the yellow and red colouration. To make up for this, she has a bluish tinge on her cheeks, red flecks on the thigh feathers and pink tips on the underside of her tail. Her eyes are yellow. At maturity, a superb parrot will reach about 40 centimetres in length. In flight their sleek bodies, long, pointed tails and backward swept wings give them a distinctive silhouette.

In captivity, superb parrots need a mate or a group of other superbs in order to be truly at ease. They are very quiet in an aviary and have good dispositions, acclimatizing easily. Despite its elegant appearance, the superb parrot is a very hardy bird which can live for up to 25 years. However, they must be wormed regularly and they are quite susceptible to foot problems and eye infections caused by fright and general emotional stress.

Rosellas (genus Platycercus) - All the species in this genus all have long, graduated tails, thus qualifying them as members of the parakeet family. Rosellas are fairly easy to recognize by their unique and vibrant colours, pronounced cheek patches, scalloped feathers and strong mottling on their backs. Supposedly, the name 'rosella' dates back to the 1700s when early settlers travelling from Sydney to Parramatta encountered large numbers of these distinctive birds around Rose Hill. In a burst of imagination, these early commuters called them 'Rose Hillers,' and passing time did the rest.

Rosellas

Eastern rosella (Platycercus eximius ceciliae). This same bird is also well-known as the golden-mantled rosella and Cecilia's rosella (and to some, the Arnott's bird). Very abundant in southeastern Australia including Tasmania, they also have been introduced to New Zealand. Eastern rosellas originally inhabited open savannas but can now be found near farming areas as well as suburban gardens and parks. During the winter months these rosellas congregate in flocks of eight to 20 birds, occasionally reaching populations of up to 100. They nest in holes in trees, stumps, fence posts or logs lying on ground, even in rabbit burrows.

As the above photo shows, easterns are distinguished by a red head and breast with a white cheek patch, greenish-yellow belly and bluish-green rump. Their back and wings are black edged with yellow; the outer wing and tail feathers being blue. Alhough both sexes look quite similar, females often have less red on the head and breast and duller plumage. As per usual, the juveniles more closely resemble the females and also have green on the the nape of the neck and crown. When mature they attain a length of 23 centimetres.

Rosellas

Crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans). Because colours vary significantly from area to area, this bird originally was believed to be three different species. (Some people still think so.) There was a 'red' population in the south-eastern forests, 'yellow' in the Murray-Darling Basin and 'orange' centered in the Mount Lofty and Flinders Ranges of South Australia. This identity problem probably accounts for people calling the same bird the crimson or mountain parrot, Murrumbidgee or red lowry, Adelaide or yellow rosella. As if that weren't confusing enough, because of their strong similarity to the eastern rosella, they all may end up belonging to one species, perhaps called the blue-cheeked rosella. Found in pairs or small parties as far north as Cairns and on Norfolk Island and New Zealand, crimson rosellas inhabit tableland eucalypt forests adjacent to the coast and, more recently, orchards and the outskirts of towns and cities. In parts of the country where they're plentiful, immature crimsons will flock in autumn and winter while adults remain in pairs or small parties. They feed rather quietly and unobtrusively on the ground or in trees, and their nest is usually a shallow bowl of decayed wood dust in a hollow limb or hole in a tree.

Befitting their name, the male's head, neck, rump and underside are bright crimson. The black feathers on their back are also scalloped with crimson. Shoulders are pale blue and the inner coverts black. Wings are black with blue on inner flight feathers and the tail is a greenish blue with pale blue edges. They sport blue cheek patches, have brown eyes, a slate grey cere, and pale bill. Their feet are grey. Females look much the same but are generally smaller with narrower heads and finer bills. Immature birds are a dull green overall but display the overall plumage pattern of adult birds. As adults they are considered medium- to large-sized parakeets, measuring 32 to 36 centimetres.

Aside from being highly skilled fliers, rosellas are energetic birds who love to play, climb and chew. This makes them more of a challenge to tame, demanding persistence and close interaction. Because of their regular habit of flapping their wings for exercise, caged rosellas need a roomy home. And because they tend to be aggressive toward other rosellas and parakeets, you really shouldn't house them together except as a breeding pair. Once they've found a mate who appeals, they show little reluctance to procreate. Although hand-fed rosellas can make good pets, they generally do not enjoy being cuddled or petted. Also, they chatter quite a bit and are good whistlers, but they are not great talkers. That said, rosellas are relatively easy to feed and care for and very hardy and resistant to disease.
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Ringneck

Ringneck (Barnardius barnardi) - Not only is this ringneck also known as mallee ringneck, Barnard's parakeet, bulla bulla and buln buln, there are actually two species and (arguably) three subspecies: the Port Lincoln (B. zonarius) pictured to the right, the twenty-eight (B. zonarius semitorquatus) and the Cloncurry ringneck (B. macgillivrayi). When considered together, ringnecks are widespread across mainland Australia west of the Great Dividing Range. They're found in open and semi-arid wood and scrublands, riverbank woodlands in the north, mallee in the east and eucalypt forests in the west. They also habitate stretches of roadside timber, farmland and orchards. Their diet is varied, but consists mostly of seeds, nuts and fruits.

Ringnecks are small- to medium-sized parrots about 35 to 38 centimetres long. All species are green, have horny-white coloured beaks, long-tails and a distinctive yellow ring on back of their necks. Adult females resemble males but with diluted colours, and immature birds resemble females. You can differentiate individual ringneck types by their location, call, head and breast colours. The mallee ringneck has a green head, an indigo back and can be found in eucalypt, mulga and callitris woodland east and north-east of the Flinders Ranges to about Windorah in Queensland.

The twenty-eight parrot, found in south-west West Australia, has a black head and a green patch on the belly.

The Port Lincoln parrot also has a black head, yellow belly and perhaps a faint red patch on the forehead. It is spread widely in the west from south-west Kimberley, Western Australia, to west of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. To complicate matters still further, there is another form of the Port Lincoln parrot (B. zonarius occidentalis) which is more turquoise green.

The Cloncurry ringneck is smaller and a paler green and is found mainly in river red gums north from Cloncurry, Queensland, to Camooweal in the Northern Territory.

Princess

Princess (Polytelis alexandrae) - Named by John Gould in 1863, this lovely bird is known by several common names, among them Princess of Wales parrot, Queen Alexandra parrot, spinifex parrot and rose-throated parrot. Actually, common might not be the right word. Because it is highly nomadic in the wild, this parrot rates as one of Australia's most elusive and least-known. We are able to tell you that the princess can be found in small flocks mainly along timbered watercourses near spinifex or in mulga woodlands in central Australia. They prefer to remain unobtrusive and mostly forage on the ground. When disturbed, they rise waggling their long tails and fly with lazy grace. They nest in hollows of eucalyptus trees, often in small colonies.

The male princess (somehow that doesn't sound quite right) has a bright blue crown and nape bordered by pale blue-grey sides and a pink chin and throat. His mantle, back and wings are pale olive-green, wing coverts bright green and underwing coverts blue-violet. The middle tail feathers are green washed with blue near their tips and those on the outside are blue-grey edged with pink. His breast and belly are blue-grey tinged with green and yellow, his eyes orange, bill coral red and legs grey. In the photo, the male is to the rear. As you can see, the adult females look similar but have a grey-mauve crown, wine-coloured bill and duller plumage. Her central tail feathers are also up to eight centimetres shorter than the males'. The princess is a medium to large parrot reaching 40 to 47 centimetres in length when mature.

Although it took a number of years for anyone to begin breeding the princess in earnest, their numbers, both in this country and overseas, have been increasing steadily in recent years. Some regard them as almost domesticated.

Princess parrots do suffer from scaly face mite from time to time, but we can provide a very effective treatment. And because these birds spend quite a bit of time on the ground, they are also susceptible to intestinal worms and coccidiosis. The easiest solution is to regularly turn over the soil on the aviary floor.

Bourkes

Bourke's parakeet (Neophema bourkii) - Aka Bourke's grass parakeet, pink-bellied parakeet, blue-vented parakeet, sundown parrot and night parrot, this quiet, unobtrusive native was named for Sir Richard Bourke, NSW governor from 1831 to 1837. They are seen in open mulga woodland, mallee and arid scrublands from the Ashburton River in Western Australia east to south-western Queensland and western areas of this state. Although Bourke's parrots roost communally, sometimes forming large flocks, they are generally found in small parties of no more than 10 to 30 individuals. They are usually most active at dawn and dusk when they congregate at waterholes. This is when you're most likely to hear their soft, melodic voices. When startled, they emit a sharp, high-pitched alarm call. Even though conservation efforts have seen populations increase, these birds remain protected.

Unlike the usual bright, primarily green plumage worn by other parrots, the Bourke's parakeet has gone for a subtle grey look offset by a beautiful sunset pink; their wings are brown, coverts edged with cream, shoulders and undertail blue. Males are distinguished by blue feathers above the nares. While some females will also have such feathers, they are generally much duller, as are their feathers overall. However, females do boast a white wing stripe. As usual, immature individuals will have duller coloration than the adults, and they also lack the blue frontal band. In captivity several colour variations have emerged, including the rosy (or rosa), yellow (or cream) and the pink Bourke's. They have large eyes, probably an adaptation to the lower light levels when they are most active. Bourke's are on the small side, measuring approximately 19 centimeters in length with females a tad smaller than males. The average adult will weigh between 42 and 49 grams.

Relatively hardy birds, the Bourke's parakeet has a laid-back disposition to match its understated colouring and does well in aviaries with other bird species such as princess, superb and regent parrots, cockatiels and finches, even Indian ringnecks. However, because the cocks of this species sometimes have trouble co-existing, it would be best to keep only one pair per aviary. If you decide to keep a Bourke's as an indoor pet, you should try to get one that has been hand fed. Because they have gentle dispositions and are less active and noisy than other parrots, Bourke's seem to be a good choice for unit or apartment dwellers. They live on average from eight to 15 years.

Bourke's are also ground feeders and susceptible to intestinal worms and fungal infections. As we've said before, both problems can be avoided simply by maintaining a high standard of hygiene.
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Choosing a Parrot

Choosing a parrot - Basically, you have the choice of buying from a parrot breeder or a pet shop. While visiting breeders might be less convenient, there are some good reasons for making the effort. You get to see the environment the babies are raised in and what the parent birds are like. You'll likely find a knowledgeable source of hands-on advice in the person of the breeder. By having access to the babies before they're weaned onto hard food, you're able to assess compatibility between yourself and your prospective new pet. Because the birds all come from the same place, there's less chance of an introduced disease. And since the breeders don't have the overhead of pet shops, they can offer their birds at a fraction of what the retail outlets charge.

When selecting your baby parrot, look for an active, alert bird with healthy plumage and no fear of eye contact. Ask whether the bird has been fed with a spoon or syringe; you want one that's been spoon-fed. Unless you're only buying it for breeding, the bird should also be hand-raised. Removing a baby parrot from the nest and raising it among humans results in a bird that is both very tame and people oriented. It is important that you ask to handle any bird you're considering to see whether you'll be comfortable with each other. Within just a few moments of your meeting a hand-reared baby parrot, it should step onto your hand and allow itself to be petted without any attempt at biting you.

Very Young Parrot

If this doesn't happen, it means that the bird hasn't been handled enough and/or it has developed some mistrust of humans. It could even be a little older than the post-weaning stage and have been placed in a cage among a number of other birds, which leads to regression. (Black eyes are a sure sign of a baby.) Also, the younger you can get your new pet once it has been weaned, the better. (The one to the right still has several weeks to go.) Younger birds will adjust more readily to your home, family and any other pets. It also will be much more inclined to talk and do tricks.

As soon as you bring your new parrot home you should make an appointment with us so that we can check it. From then on you should bring your bird to us once a year for a professional evaluation and preventive health care.

Housing - As we have suggested above, parrots generally fare much better when housed in a large aviary-type environment rather than a cage. It doesn't have to be as grand as the one pictured here, but bigger is better. Not surprisingly, the same holds true for cages. Try to get one as large as possible within the limits of budget and the room in which it will be kept. At the very least the cage must be large enough to allow your bird to flap its wings without hitting the bars. There should be adequate room for it to move about and jump from one perch to another and climb the (horizontal) bars. Ideally, the cage should be wider and deeper rather than taller. The minimum size for small parrots is 90 x 90 x 120 centimetres and 150 x 150 x 160 centimetres for larger parrots. By the way, round cages can cause psychological problems and lack of orientation for some parrots. You should also consider the distance between the bars; it shouldn't be wide enough to let a bird push its head through or so narrow it could catch its feet.

Parrot Cage

Perches should be native branches of varying thicknesses to exercise the feet and help prevent foot problems. The natural roughness of such branches also helps your bird keep its beak and nails trim. If you use a cement perch instead, make sure it's not the one your parrot sleeps on. (Do not use sandpaper perches; they're harmful to a bird's feet.) Position the perches so that your bird can jump from one to another but not where the droppings can fall onto food bowls or other perches. Most birds like a high perch for sleeping, so you should put one towards the top, rear of the cage. It's the rare parrot who also doesn't enjoy a swing to play on.

You should use at least three food dishes: one for soft foods and treats, another for dry foods and the third for water. You'll discover it's much less hassle to change food and water when there is access from the outside. This way you avoid opening the main cage door and disturbing your bird, and you don't have to clean up after he or she overturns the food and/or water dish.

You also might want to give some thought to placing a stand with food and water in another room in the house so that your parrot can have his or her own space in different areas of the house.

If bored, many parrots get rather noisy. The solution is pretty simple. Provide your bird with lots of activities in the form of ladders, swings, ropes and large link chains, as well as fresh branches for gnawing and chewing. To maintain interest keep a supply of challenging toys on hand and rotate them on a regular basis. Providing such distractions could also save a few favourite pieces of furniture from bored beaks.

Feeding - Feeding regimens depend on the type of parrot. The best way to discover your bird's specific requirements is to simply ask the breeder. These birds are substantial investments and you want to be sure you're providing yours with the optimum diet. If that were not incentive enough, recent avian research has found that up to 90% of all sick or feather-plucking parrots brought to veterinarians were suffering from "primary nutritional deficiencies."

Food

In the wild parrots eat a mix of native grasses, seeds, grains, nuts, fruits, leaf buds, blossoms, nectar and insects such as termites and spiders. Obviously, you won't be able to duplicate such a diet with your pet parrot. Nor would you want to. Because cage and aviary birds don't get anywhere near as much exercise as they would in the wild, they shouldn't eat anywhere near as much fat. Even though the mixed parrot food shown here on the left looks natural, healthy and quite appetising, it contains more than twice as much fat as the boring but nutritionally balanced pelleted food next to it.

What's more, feeding your parrot such a mix, however balanced it might be, doesn't automatically mean your bird will be getting a proper diet. Birds have this perfectly understandable habit of picking out what they like and leaving what they don't. For these reasons, pelleted parrot food is increasingly gaining favour around the world. However, while it is available in Australia, you may have to search for it. And when you do find it, a bit of coaxing might be necessary to get your bird used to it.

Whether you provide your parrot with special pellets or a high-quality seed mix, you should also supplement its diet with fresh, leafy greens, corn, carrots, potato and other veggies, plus brown rice and other grains, pasta, peanuts, cooked meat and well-done eggs. Be warned that going overboard with moist fruit and vegetables may cause diarrhea.

Important! Avocado, chocolate and caffeine are poisonous to all birds. Aerosols, tobacco smoke, Teflon and other chemical fumes can also prove fatal. The same goes for some house plants.
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Behaviour - Individual parrots and parrot species can differ significantly in terms of temperament and aggressiveness. Some will be energetic, clownish, extroverted and cheeky, overflowing with personality. Others are more quiet, sedate, mellow and sweet, the very epitome of unprepossessing. Still others fall somewhere in between. The thing is, if you're after certain traits, you should be prepared for the others that just naturally go along with them. For instance, good talkers are generally noisy and aggressive (a notable exception being the African grey). And active birds provide more entertainment but require more attention to keep them out of trouble. Sometimes a lot more. Conversely, very affectionate birds who enjoy being touched, petted and cuddled can suffer badly when left alone for extended periods.

Because of their high intelligence, parrots are commonly compared to children between two and five years of age. Which means that these birds demand lots of attention and affection. At the same time, you have to make sure they get the necessary discipline when it comes to food, out-of-bounds areas, playtime and bedtime. Just like children, parrots quickly learn what they can get away with and which tactics work. When you're not sure exactly what to do, you have one tried and true fallback: common sense.

Finger Training

Training - Besides providing a source of regular entertainment, teaching your parrot to talk and do tricks strengthens the bond between you and makes handling him or her a good deal easier. The key is positive reinforcement. If your parrot does something right, offer a reward; it could be food, but it could also be just a scratch on the head or a word of praise. If your bird does something wrong, just ignore it; parrots don't understand the concept of punishment. Moreover, if they're seeking attention, you'll just fall into their trap. Gotcha!

Probably the most useful trick you can teach your bird is to 'step up.' If you bought a hand-reared bird, it may already number this among its early accomplishments. If not, start by selecting a verbal command. For best results move to a room with minimal distractions, both aural and visual. Hold your finger above your bird's feet and give the command. When he/she does, offer a reward. If your bird bites your finger, this is a natural reaction. Don't pull back, birds naturally check the stability of their perches. You might want to use a stick at first, which is fine. (Gloves are a bad idea.) Once your bird starts to master stepping up, start cutting down on the rewards.

Stepping down comes next. Choose a command and hold your bird slightly below the surface or perch you want him or her to step to. Then give the command and reward success as before. If your bird tries to retreat up your arm, use your free hand to stop it. Then try again. Don't be afraid to lavish praise on your parrot whenever he or she accomplishes a new trick.

A few other suggestions:

  • Relax (or chill). This sort of training can take a good deal of patience, and you want to be in the right frame of mind.
  • You will need your parrot's undivided attention, so avoid times when it's distracted by eating, preening or things going on around it.
  • Much like young children, parrots have short attention spans. Training sessions lasting just a few minutes, several times a day tend to work best.
  • The most successful teachers are the ones who make learning fun, and psittacine pupils also respond best when they're enjoying themselves.
  • Find a reward your parrot particularly fancies, but go easy if it's food, or you'll have one pudgy bird on your hands.
  • As soon as your bird catches on to a new trick, cut back on the treats and use praise as a replacement. Otherwise your bird may only perform if he/she knows there's a reward in store.
  • Leave them laughing. Don't stop working on a trick until your bird either achieves success or comes close. Then give a treat and move on to something different or end the session.

Health - We've already referred to parrots' long life spans, which suggests they are relatively hardy animals. On average, small parrots live 10 to 15 years, mid-size parrots 20 to 30 years and large parrots 40 to 50 years. However, they are susceptible to many diseases, including viral, bacterial and fungal infections. And because under all the feathers they're actually quite small and have a high metabolism, it doesn't take long for an illness to seriously debilitate them. Probably the most important thing you can do to ensure your bird enjoys a long life is to see that it gets prompt veterinary attention if becomes ill. Call us straightaway, don't 'wait and see.'

Birds often hide symptoms of illness, so take note of any subtle changes in your parrot's demeanour or behaviour, especially in the droppings. Other telltale signs include plumage that loses lustre, looks ruffled or shows bare areas; loss of appetite; sneezing or discharge from the nostrils; slitted eyes, plus excess sleeping, using both feet instead of tucking one up. Some sick parrots will start to pluck their feathers, move oddly and start screaming neurotically.

You've also probably heard of parrot fever (psittacosis). Clinical signs of Chlamydophila (the cause of psittacosis) include sneezing, weight loss and diarrhea, though many birds are asymptomatic (show no signs of infection). While pet parrots are susceptible and the disease can be both dangerous and contagious to humans, it is not common.

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease

Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) - Although strains of the virus affect pigeons, doves, finches and seagulls, this is predominately a disease of parrots, in particular lorikeets and sulphur-crested cockatoos. Younger birds tend to be more susceptible than older birds.

Affecting the skin and immune system, the disease manifests itself through a host of feather abnormalities including loss, breakage, discolouration, pinching or narrowing. Loss of feathers not only means the birds cannot fly, they also lose insulation. In many - but not all - cases, beaks may be overgrown, deformed or fractured. In time these birds will starve or succumb to secondary infection.

Because feather abnormalities can have many causes, the only reliable method of diagnosing PBFD involves blood tests. However, positive results don't necessary indicate the bird has developed the disease; it still could be shedding the organism. Some birds can either clear the virus from their systems or continously shed it. But almost all birds with clinical symptoms testing positive will eventually die from the disease or secondary infections. A few, usually lorikeets, recover.

While the actual virus can be killed by chlorine disinfectants, there is no treatment for the disease.

Portrait To learn more about birds in general, just click Birds.
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