I want to foster a parrot(s) for Cheeky Beaks Rescue. What do I need to know?
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TL:DR (Too Long: Didn't Read) - What's Important?
- There are different kinds of fostering. Make sure you are familiar with the requirements of each before you commit.
- We expect you to be able to transport foster parrots to an avian vet if you live in an area where there are reputable practices nearby.
- We expect you to be able to cover the costs of care.
- If you require assistance with supplies (food or enrichment), you are expected to chat to any of our friendly representatives beforehand and we will arrange it for you.
- Before you spend any money on your foster parrot out-of-pocket that you might require to be reimbursed for, you are expected to obtain authorisation from Cheeky Beaks management prior to making the purchases and then keep a tax invoice to submit to our finance department afterwards, otherwise you will not be reimbursed.
- If the parrot/s in your care require urgent veterinary attention, you are expected to contact your foster coordinator or any official representative immediately to make the necessary arrangements for you. If you are unable to transport the bird – do not wait. We will assist where and how we can, but veterinary care is the primary priority when it comes to all our Cheeky Beaks birds.
- If you express an interest to adopt any of the foster parrot/s in your care, the parrot/s in question will be moved to another foster home and you will be required to follow the adoption process as is prescribed for any other applicant while the parrot/s is in “neutral territory”.
- Foster parrots are often sent to Sanctuaries such as Hyacinth Haven or Birds of Eden in the Western Cape if they have been assessed and are deemed unfit to adapt to domestic life.
- You are expected to be able to convert a “seed junkie” onto a healthy, balanced diet. If you are not comfortable or experienced with this process, you can read through the relevant section in the guide below or contact any of our representatives for guidance.
- We do not recommend going “cold turkey” when you introduce your foster parrot/s to new foods, as various avian veterinarians we work with have confirmed that this is a potentially dangerous method. The recommended time for diet conversion is 2-4 weeks, but can take longer.
- We are not against wing clipping. If your environment is not condusive to keeping a flighted parrot/s, please chat to us about it and we will assign foster parrot/s to you that can be kept clipped. This will not negatively affect your application in any way.
- If you do not have a spare cage, Cheeky Beaks will loan you one, depending on availability of company stock in your area. Otherwise you will be required to obtain one if the parrot/s is not being surrendered with a suitable cage.
- Chat to us if you have any questions or concerns. We are here for you.
The Different Kinds of Fostering
A common issue we face at Cheeky Beaks is that the term fostering means different things to different people – some of our applicants believe that fostering is a step before adoption, some believe that they will get ‘first pick’ of the birds they are fostering and others believe they need to protect the bird from the previous owners to the greatest of their ability.
All the above beliefs are incorrect regarding fostering for Cheeky Beaks – listed below are the different kinds of fostering we offer – please always make sure you understand on what basis you are fostering a bird to prevent hurt feelings due to misunderstandings.
1.) Foster to rehabilitate
Foster to rehabilitate is our most valuable sort of fostering but unfortunately the one with the least volunteers.
This kind of fostering allows owners facing difficult behavioral issues with their bird to place the bird in care for a set period (usually a month) – the foster then works to reduce or eliminate these behaviours and encourage healthy behaviours instead. The bird is then returned to the owner.
This kind of fostering is so important because it prioritises keeping birds with their families – a bird that is removed from his family (no matter how dysfunctional the environment) will inevitably mourn for his original ‘flock’ – Cheeky Beaks thus always tries to keep birds with their families where possible.
2.) Standard fostering
This is the fostering most often seen in our organisation – a
surrendered bird is placed in a foster home and the foster works on any issues the bird may have. Once these issues are resolved the bird is made available for adoption.
Very rarely do we get surrenders who are in perfect mental and physical condition – thus a lot of work and patience may be required to allow the bird to trust humans again.
The period of this fostering depends on the issues faced by the bird and can be anything from several weeks to over a year. The goal of this fostering is to get a bird ready to live his best life in a home uniquely suited to him – so although it may be difficult, a certain amount of selflessness is required to ensure the best interests of the bird.
3.) Long term fostering
There are two broad categories that fall under this term:
A stray bird is fostered for however long it takes to find the owner – this could be a day or the rest of the birds life.
The stray is to be incorporated where possible into family and flock life.
3.2) Community assistance fostering
Due to the dire economic circumstances faced by many over the last decade – many bird owners have lost their jobs and in some cases even their homes.
This sort of fostering gives the bird a safe place to stay while the owner gets back on their feet – this can take a very long time.
In both the above cases the goal is to reunite the bird with his owners – this is understandably very difficult emotionally for the foster. In some cases where it is deemed reunification is not possible Cheeky Beaks’ discusses the future of the bird on a case by case basis.
4.) Medical fostering
This kind of fostering can be quite daunting to new fosters as it involves dedicated, often around the clock care of a sick or neglected bird – there are inevitably a lot of vet visits involved with this kind of fostering.
Again there are two categories:
4.1) Standard foster birds
In severe cases birds can be surrendered in a critical state – a medical foster will then become involved to care for the bird until they are stable and their conditions well managed. The bird can then remain with the medical foster on a standard fostering basis or can be moved to another foster for standard fostering.
4.2) Project-Ray birds
We often get referred cases where a dedicated owner has fallen on hard times and cannot afford a medical procedure for their bird – these birds are then fostered where they are taken to the vet and cared for by the foster until they are well and then returned to the owner. AWe wish we could help all owners in this position but unfortunately due to our own funding constraints we have to make tough decisions on who qualifies.
In the rare event where you find that a bird fits perfectly into your
home and it is determined you are the best choice for the bird – youwill be asked to sign a foster to adopt contract – this is a three month period to see how you get on with the bird throughout his transition as he becomes more comfortable in the environment – during or at the end of the three months you can withdraw your intent to adopt if the bird isn’t settling well. If after the three months you choose to adopt you will be charged an adoption fee and sign an adoption contract.
This type of contract is also given to the majority of our adopters (especially those who adopt large parrots and birds with special needs) – the adopter then also has three months to see if the bird is a good fit for their home.
From this we hope you have a better understanding of the different kinds of fostering and a better idea of what is expected of you when you foster a bird.
What We Expect From Our Fosters
Fostering – whether dogs, cats, rabbits, or birds – is an experience with massive rewards, but just as great an emotional cost.
The following is a controversial and poorly-received belief: Not everyone is equipped to foster.
There are so many of us who love so deeply and intensely that we cannot do foster work and this is not a shameful thing to admit – Cheeky Beaks still needs adopters and volunteers.
We expect our fosters to have the following qualities and to live by these qualities like a personal belief system:
For a foster case to be considered successful – many role players need to be involved – these include the adoption adviser, the Cheeky Beaks team, the avian vet, and most importantly, connecting them all, the foster.
If the foster fails to communicate vital aspects of the case to the adoption advisers it can lead to poor and sometimes even deadly outcomes for the foster bird.
The following must be communicated to the adoption advisor ASAP:
1.) Any results or comments from the avian veterinarian treating the foster bird.
2.) Any contact the foster may have with the previous owners.
3.) Any signs of illness or distress in the foster bird.
4.) Any injury a foster bird sustains no matter how minor. 5.) If a foster bird escapes or is stolen
6.) If the foster intends to leave the foster birds in another person’s care for a day or more (please note even if the person caring for the for foster bird is a Cheeky Beaks member the foster is still to inform of the change of carer).
7.) Any change in health, family, or finances that may impact the ability of the foster to care for the foster birds either immediately or in the future.
8.) Anything else the foster is concerned about or feels Cheeky Beaks should know.
Most often information is withheld from us because the foster is embarrassed or ashamed of the event having happened while they were caring for the bird and decide to try and manage it themselves, however a small situation can quickly turn into a massive mess. We have far more respect for a foster who calls us when something has happened than being called when the situation is almost impossible to resolve.
Under integrity we also include treating individuals affiliated with Cheeky Beaks with respect – if you make an appointment with an avian vet and can no longer make it, we expect you to cancel the appointment and rearrange a time that better suits you.
If an arrangement has been made to have a potential adopter view your foster bird we expect you to honour the appointment and to treat the potential adopter with respect and kindness.
We are a very active organisation with birds constantly being surrendered, needing treatment, and adoption candidates needing to be dealt with – we put notices for birds needing to be collected and fostered almost daily.
Unfortunately we often find it is the same two or three people who constantly volunteer and eventually run themselves down completely – we expect our fosters to be willing to offer up a portion of their free time to assist birds in need (we understand everyone has work/study and family obligations but if these take up such a large proportion of your time that you cannot even offer two-three hours a week availability, you may want to reconsider fostering).
We also expect you to devote the necessary time and attention to the foster birds in your care (birds are expected to have at least 4 hours of our of cage time a day, additionally time needed to clean cages and feed the birds need to be taken into account) – a person
cannot only provide necessary care when they feel like it and neglect the foster birds when they are bored or have something better to do.
Stable finances, health, mental state
The expression you can’t pour from an empty cup is very relevant to foster care.
If you are in a position where your health has deteriorated, you are
struggling to get a mental illness under control, or you are struggling to cope financially – you are already expending so much energy trying to care for yourself and your family that to add a bird who may be emotionally traumatised would just be cruel.
We value our fosters very highly and if a foster burns out because we kept loading birds onto their plate while they were already struggling – we would have shot ourselves in the foot.
If you go through a period of physical, emotional, or financial unrest – it does not disqualify you from being a foster – we just want you toget back on your feet and take care of yourself before we burden you.
This is the trait every foster and every person in Cheeky Beaks struggles with – inevitably you will bond with every single bird that enters your house and the thought of them being adopted by anyone other than you is crushing.
If we were to consider, however, that a foster adopted every bird placed in their care, three major ethical issues arise:
1.) Each bird is unique and thus deserves a unique home that fits them – to adopt every bird without giving other applicants a chance deprives the bird of finding this perfect fit for them.
2.) Less room for fosters – the more foster birds you adopt, the lessspace you (and by extension Cheeky Beaks) will have to place birdsin need.
3.) The dangers of hoarding – every household has an ideal bird
threshold – this is the amount of birds that the individual can keep in the house while giving each bird the attention, space, and care they require. Once a person gets into a habit of adopting every bird they foster – this threshold is quickly crossed, leading to the existing birds ultimately being neglected and unable to develop as they would in a healthy and stable environment.
Despite logically laying out why a foster shouldn’t adopt their foster birds, and despite fosters promising themselves that this will not happen to them – the emotional pain of seperation from a bird you have healed and cared for, often for months, is great. To be selfless (to think what is best for the bird and not yourself) is difficult but if you want to be able to say you did the best you could for your foster bird, it is necessary.
Eagerness to learn
Birds are an animal group that has confounded and surprised us for centuries – it is no surprise then that knowledge regarding aviancare is constantly changing as we learn more about these magnificent creatures.
The down side to this, is we as bird-keepers are expected to stay up to date to ensure we provide the best possible level of care.
We can never be complacent in thinking our level of care is good enough and must constantly research every aspect of the species we are keeping, signs and symptoms of illness, appropriate enrichment, best feeding practices, and every other aspect involved in day to day care must be studied as though one is expecting to take a test.
A foster must thus always be open to advice and must be open
minded when it comes to the care of their foster birds.
What Fosters Can Expect From Us
We are here for any questions/concerns you might have about your foster bird. If you are unsure about food, behaviour or illness you should contact the adoption adviser to discuss. If the adviser is not available, you can contact any of the Cheeky Beaks Team Members.
If you, at any time, feel uncomfortable with or overwhelmed by your foster bird or your circumstances change and you can no longer foster the bird in your care ,you can contact the Adoption Adviser, who will arrange for collection of the bird.
- Medical Expenses
All surrendered birds require a general vet check-up. This and any other medical expenses will be paid by Cheeky Beaks. You are required to obtain approval for medical expenses by contacting the adoption adviser in charge of your parrot, prior to taking the bird to a vet to ensure funds are available. If you are required by the vet to pay for it yourself (at some practices we do not have a company account and cannot EFT the payment directly to the vet), then you need to submit a detailed invoice and your proof of payment, whether that be a PoP from the bank or a credit/debit card slip, as well as your banking details, to your representative.
We will arrange transport of your foster to your home. We usually assign a regional representative to do this.
If required, Cheeky Beaks can assist with a loan cage. This would depend on availability in the area.
Deciding Which Species To Foster
Everybody wants a cockatoo
Here at Cheeky Beaks, a great many of our enquiries and applications start with: “I want a cockatoo or a macaw.”
When we list a cockatoo as available to foster or adopt, our inboxes turn into a warzone. The majority of these individuals have never owned a cockatoo or any parrot species for that matter. So why are they applying?
I like to refer to the “cockatoo fantasy” – people watch videos online of cockatoos doing the cutest things and just being outright perfect pets, but what is severely lacking are the videos of the rest of the day, where these cute moments are rare.
I could tell you now that cockatoos are loud – think of a hungry baby with colic crying non-stop and then imagine this baby had a loudspeaker.
I could tell you that you will never have me-time again – they need to be let out of their cages at least 4 hours a day and due to their reckless nature, you can’t leave them alone even for a second.
I could tell you that all the items you proudly display or leave out for ease of access will need to be locked away – shoes, chargers, electronics, clothing, ornaments, and so much more is easily ripped to tiny shreds in seconds.
But few people are persuaded by this – the cockatoo fantasy let’s them believe that this will not be them – that they will have a cute, cuddly cockatoo 24/7 – that the issues mentioned above only occur because those people did something wrong.
I doubt my words will have any impact on those of you stuck in the cockatoo fantasy – all I can ask is that you do your research before proceeding to foster or adopt one of these birds – research is not cute videos, research is talking to cockatoo owners, talking to rescues and finding out why cockatoos are surrendered.
If after all that you still decide you want a cockatoo – good luck; you will need it.
One thing to consider before taking on a foster is the size of your property – do you live in a flat, a cottage, a house? How close are your neighbours to you? Is it only you and your family living on the property or do you share with other individuals?
Due to the tough economic circumstances in today’s world very few of us can afford a big house with a massive yard and have to make do with apartments or renting rooms in houses – this does not disqualify us from fostering but means we need to give careful thought to the species we agree to foster – these species are generally small, calm, and although they love chatting, rarely result in a visit from an angry neighbour. Ideal species for this set-up are: – Budgies
– Finches and canaries
– Pionus parrots
Please note that every bird has his own personality so some ‘quiet’ birds may be loud and vice versa. Also note that if two or more of these birds are kept together they can become quite loud when
chatting in harmony.
A lot of people may scoff at this list and say that these are boring birds – please do yourself a favour and go research these species and go watch videos of them – these ‘boring’ species can be just as intelligent, just as adorable, and just as loving as any of the bigger parrots.
This may seem like an obvious consideration but is one that is often overlooked – if you are renting please refer to the pet policy and if uncertain speak to your landlord or rental agency directly to find out if the keeping of birds is allowed. Many landlords with strict pet policies will often make an exception for a bird, especially if it is a smaller, quieter species.
Many of us rely on our 9-5 jobs for survival but unfortunately birds need quite a bit of attention – not only spending time with them but also feeding them, cleaning up after them, and ensuring they have adequate out of cage time to exercise and enrich themselves.
We recommend that any bird kept in a home be given at least 4 hours of out of cage time daily – now considering that birds need at least 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep, this becomes a difficult task when working long hours.
Many of our newly surrendered birds require behavioral interventions and medical care taking even more time – these cases tend to do well where there is either someone always at home, you work from home, or you work/study half-day.
Conversely for individuals with longer working hours birds that are well adjusted and can entertain themselves tend to be a good fit.
Family and social commitments
Being the incredibly intelligent beings that they are – birds are rarely just a pet and rather tend to take on the role of a family member. This can lead to problems if the bird takes a dislike to one family member or poses a danger to children (cockatoos and African Greys are known to not take kindly to children).
If a family is dysfunctional or going through a rough patch – these feathered bastards suck the surrounding emotions up like sponges. Do not be surprised if you get bitten during or directly after an argument or if raised voices trigger horrendous screaming sessions – a bird needs a healthy environment both physically and emotionally.
On to your social life – birds need to be in bed early so that after work drink with your colleagues is no longer an option. Were you a person who liked to throw parties extending past 20:00? Sorry you can’t wake the bird. Even your weekend lie ins are interrupted by a bird fresh and ready to start the day at an hour where even coffee would be futile. In short – you have all the obligations of a parent to a newborn baby except the baby never grows up.
The species mentioned before for apartment living tend to be less emotional and fussy – this needs to be seriously considered before you take on a foster.
As mentioned previously birds often come in with a variety of behavioral and medical issues – if you are new to the birding world
you may have no idea how to handle any of these issues.
We encourage our fosters to learn as much as possible so if you want to take on one of these birds and work under guidance from a team member while doing your own research – we encourage it – this however requires dedication on your part – a bird is never a practice model with do-over options – you hold the life and well-being of the bird in your hands and this is a very serious responsibility.
You are also always welcome to say that a certain case is beyond your area of expertise – we would rather you tell us this than take on more than you can handle and end up seriously injuring or even killing a bird.
Fostering and Finances
This is always a tough topic to discuss as our fosters often expect us to cover all aspects of the foster bird’s care – and in an ideal world we would do so gladly. Unfortunately we live in a world where we get up to ten surrenders a week, very sick surrenders requiring long and costly treatments, and so many surrenders coming in without a suitable cage or even a toy.
What does Cheeky Beaks cover?
We cover any vet bills the foster bird may incur – in an ideal scenario this will only be a health check approving the bird as an adoption candidate or in severe cases this will involve multiple vet trips, multiple medications, and even surgery.
An issue not often considered is that almost all avian vets demand instant payment – the foster will often have to pay the amount and claim back from Cheeky Beaks later that day. This can get tricky for a bill of several thousand Rand.
We cover fuel costs for long distance trips (usually greater than an hour’s drive) to pick up foster birds/cages or to take birds to a vet in remote areas – again this process involves claiming back. We reimburse fosters for fuel costs at a rate of R2 per litre used, so we require proof of the amount of kilometers that has been driven for Cheeky Beaks’ purposes.
We prefer our fosters to have one or two spare cages, but we will provide a spare cage for the foster bird if necessary.
We also do sponsorships for enrichment items for our foster birds, where we post a notice on our social media platforms and then wait for a kind supporter to deposit the money for an enrichment hamper that we then order from small businesses – but again, it is ideal if the foster can purchase their own toys.
What am I expected to cover?
The foster is expected to cover food costs for the foster bird (we sometimes get food donations that the foster can request but this
is not a common enough occurrence for it to be relied upon)
The foster is expected to cover transport costs for picking up the bird and taking the bird to the vet if it is less than an hours drive.
We give preference to fosters who can assist with their own spare cages, buy the foster bird their own toys, and can help cover some of the smaller vet fees but this is not a requirement.
Learning to say no.
The typical foster is usually an animal lover of note who feels physical pain when they see a bird in distress – they act on emotion and immediately agree to foster the bird.
A foster can quickly become resentful and stressed if they take on more birds than they are financially able to care for and this is not a sustainable situation. We thus ask every foster to critically look at their accounts and decide based on this how many birds they are able to accommodate – and when they are at capacity they should learn to say no.
This is hard, very hard. We can however assure you that we will always find a foster even if it takes some time – you need to focus on your own health and the health of your existing birds instead of trying to rescue every bird that comes into Cheeky Beaks – we appreciate you but we value you too much to allow you to burn out.
The First Vet Visit - What To Expect
So you have been given a foster bird, this might be your first, tenth or fiftieth one but the same outline for a first vet visit will always be applicable.
Firstly, if there are any medical concerns whatsoever, you should contact the adoption adviser immediately to ask them to make a booking at an avian vet ASAP (since many do not take walk in’s due to COVID-19).
Worried that your foster bird might be ill? Check out the general signs of illness in birds.
Do you have an injured bird and you’re not sure what you can do until you can get him/her to an avian veterinarian? Read this source on basic first aid for parrots.
If there are no immediate health concerns, it might be a few days until an appointment is made for the bird to see a vet because we are a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation. Our funds go to the birds who are in need of it the most first, then once those have seen a vet, we start sending the others who are not in need of immediate vet care. Please do not book a vet visit yourself, as we do get a rescue discounted rate at some vets and every cent saved helps a lot. You can recommend vets in your area that you have experience with, but it is not to say that you will be able to go to one of them.
At this first appointment, birds usually get a basic health assessment, beak and nail trim (when needed) and additional tests if the vet recommends them (PBFD, blood work, etc.) We do not DNA sex parrots, as this is an extra cost we can not afford in most cases, and we leave this for the future owners to do. Cheeky Beaks prefers keeping all out birds fully flighted if they have been flighted previously – only clipping their wings if absolutely necessary and only when circumstances call for it (discuss this with your adoption adviser).
We usually recommend paying close attention and trying to remember as much of what the vet says about the bird and their health as you can and try to relay this information to the adoption adviser when you speak to them afterwards, because this saves us needing to bother the vet with following up to find out what might be wrong. Knowing which potential issues they face, will also help us when we start looking into finding them their forever homes (African Greys, for example, are quite prone to scoliosis and liver issues, which require ongoing medical treatment – so potential adopters need to be made aware of this. Seed junkies who are converted onto a healthy diet, often develop liver problems, which need to have an eye kept on).
If the vet prescribes medications that need to be given to the bird and you are not sure how to do this, please ask the vet to show you how. If you are not comfortable giving medication (don’t worry. We’re not all good at things like that) please inform your adoption adviser ASAP so that an alternate arrangement can be made. This does not make you a failure or a bad foster. We all have our strong suits and yours might just not be giving medication. Needing to relocate a foster is never a bad thing if it’s in the best interest of the bird.
Now that you’ve given this article a read, you should be prepared to take your fosters to the vet and know what to look out for and how to handle the situation. Never hesitate to ask questions if you have any. That’s why we’re here.
Administering Medication To Your Foster Bird
When a bird is not well and requires medicine (prescribed by an avian veterinarian), you want to administer it in the least stressful way possible. Not knowing how the bird will react you can start off by experimenting with a small amount of pure fruit juice or tea (rooibos or chamomile).
Some birds are quite happy to take something from a spoon, especially if they think they are sharing with you. Hold a tea spoon filled with juice or slightly warm tea below the beak while you are telling the bird just how good it tastes. If this works you can mix the medicine with the fluid and give it when required.
Small bottle cap (e.g. coke cap)
Somehow this works like a charm on all African Greys I have worked with – and worth a try on other species. The same principle as above, fill the cap 2/3 with fruit juice or slightly warm tea and mix in the medication. Hold the cap slightly below the beak and watch how every drop is devoured.
You can get your bird used to a syringe. Fill the syringe with fruit juice or slightly warm tea. Show him the syringe while talking to him, then hold the syringe against the front of his beak releasing a drop of the fluid. If he likes the taste he will be interested and you can give him another drop. It will probably turn out to be a biting game in the beginning and will take some repetition and patience.
Once he is comfortable with the syringe you place the syringe into the left side of the bird’s beak aiming towards the back of the mouth. Do not squirt the liquid directly down the throat to avoid choking but make sure that the liquid stays in the mouth and does not come out the other side of the open beak.
Syringe while restraining your bird
This method does not have to be stressful as long as you and the bird remain calm. It will help if you talk to your bird throughout the process and if all your movements are calm and slow. If the bird becomes anxious at any stage it is better to let him go for a while and restart the process an hour or so later.
Use a small towel to restrain the bird by draping it over the bird from behind. Place your left hand around the bird’s neck from behind making sure your hand is not too tight and suffocating. Hold the bird upright facing you, your left thumb just under the side of the beak to hold it in place.
Take the syringe with medication in your right hand and place into the left side of the bird’s beak (your right), aiming towards the back of the mouth. Do not squirt the liquid directly down the throat to avoid choking but make sure that the liquid stays in the mouth and does not come out the other side of the open beak. Release the medicine slowly allowing the bird time to swallow and breathe.
Always give a snack as reward afterwards.
Read this article on basic handling and restraint for more information.
Hygiene Protocols & Parrot-proofing Your Home
Hygiene is incredibly important to keeping healthy parrots and preventing illness (and trips to the vet), some tips to help in this process are listed below:
- If your parrot is housed in an aviary during the day, make sure that you sweep the floor out daily
- If they are housed in a cage during parts of the day remember to change their newspaper daily, you can put the newspaper on top of the grate to minimise the cleaning process. If your parrot does not destroy the newspaper.
- Cleaning the area that they occupy in your house like play stands, ect., must be done daily as well
- Thoroughly cleaning your cage or aviary every week or more if needed is very important to maintain a hygienic environment.
- In this cleaning process you can make use of brushes, sponges, brooms, disinfectants like F10 SC (you can only use a parrot-safe disinfectant), you can use dish-washing soap (e.g. Sunlight Liquid) and just thoroughly wash it off afterwards.
- While cleaning the cages make sure all the faeces are removed from the floor, wire, toys, and perches.
- Clean food and water dishes daily to prevent illness because of the bacterial biofilm that can be identified by the layer of slime that is on the bottom of a water bowl.
- Stainless steel and round bowls are also preferable for cleaning to properly clean it. Square and plastic bowls are hard to clean.
Parrot-proofing your home can be very important to prevent injuries and injecting dangerous substances, although we never recommend leaving your parrots unattended it is still important to prevent accidents. Some tips are listed below:
- Preventing your foster from getting in touch with electrical wiring or technological products
- Removing any dangerous items from your parrot when they are roaming around, see list below.
- Ensuring that the cage that they are in is rust free as to prevent heavy metal poisoning
- Ensuring that dangerous appliances in your kitchen are not on while your foster is out, for example the stove.
- Switching off the fan in your households when your parrots are out
- Ensuring that all windows and doors are closed when your foster is out and flighted.
Pictured: Cage setup by Team Member Marianka Meiring for her special needs citron-crested cockatoo, Chloe.
The Importance of Quarantine
Quarantining of new foster parrot(s):
When introducing a new parrot into your home, you run a risk of introducing bacteria, spores, infections, or even viruses to your environment. To avoid this, you need to quarantine your new foster before introducing it to the rest of your current flock.
Quarantine steps are in place to protect both the parrot owner and their current parrots. Quarantining can literally mean the difference between life and death for your flock.
The parrot(s) being quarantined need to be completely isolated from existing pets/ parrots; preferably in a seperate room to prevent the possibility of airborne contamination.
Even if you live in a small flat, you can quarantine by placing your new foster as far away as possible from your existing parrots until you’ve had its general health and well-being cleared by our avian veterinarian and waited the period of time.
Now we need to discuss how long quarantine should be. The goal is to keep a parrot in quarantine long enough so that any underlying disease it might be carrying finishes its incubation period and becomes active and visible in the parrot before the quarantine period is over. Given the long incubation period of some of the diseases that parrots can carry, a six-week quarantine period is advisable.
The quarantine period also allows the new parrot to get used to you and your care/
feeding system. This can help ease the stress experienced by any parrot going through the transition to a new home and a new system of care/feeding.
To limit exposure of the new foster and your current parrots please:
- Always feed, clean and maintain your current parrots before approaching your new foster for care and interaction.
- Make sure you have F10 on hand, which is a animal safe disinfectant, to disinfect yourself and your clothing after handling the new foster, and before handling your current parrots.
This type of routine can complicate your day, of course, but the quarantine period can save your parrots’ lives.
The Dangers of a Multi-Pet Household
Is it safe to mix parrots with other animals in the home?
The short and simple answer is: not really. Pets like cats and dogs are naturally predatory creatures. In the wild, parrots fall beneath them on the food chain, so it is likely in most homes that the same rules would apply.
Baring in mind the dangers posed to parrots by predatory animals, there is also the risk of zoonotic diseases that can be passed back and forth between cats, dogs, and parrots. Parrots are very fragile and sensitive animals health–wise, and there are certain viruses and bacteria that could be fatal to them if they are kept in close proximity with other pets. In fact, even being exposed to a single cat hair can
cause illness in some parrots. Please also remember that a single scratch from your cat to your parrot, can lead to death, because cats always carry bacteria on their nails that will in turn be detrimental to the parrot.
What If I Can Supervise My Pets Constantly?
By being able to provide constant supervision with your parrots and predator animals is a good way to avoid any accidents from happening, but, by constantly having to supervise, doesnt always allow you to give undivided attention to the parrot, because you will be trying to keep an eye on the other animals too. Parrots need lots of time and attention, and will need to socialize with their foster/owner. But please, dont forget to also give your cat/dog enough undivided attention.
So many people are under the impression that in order to be a good bird home you need to be home only for birds. We don‘t believe this, in fact, many of us have multi-pet households. What we do believe is that these situations need to be monitored at all times, and safety is to be ensured for all animals.
We do not believe that predatory animals should have any interaction with prey animals. This means that birds and cats, dogs, ferrets, rodents, or any other predatory animal, should never interact with your bird.
Many people will argue that they’ve had successful interactions between their birds and cats or dogs, for many years, but all it takes is one time, and everything changes.
Mammal saliva is toxic to birds – this means that the ingestion thereof, as well as wounds inflicted by mammals, often prove fatal to beloved pet birds. This isn’t always done out of aggression: birds, and dogs cats are built very differently, they interact differently and they play differently. What your dog may see as playful behaviour, could result in a scratch going unnoticed on your bird, and then the race against time begins, hoping that the expensive treatments work in time.
It’s just not worth the risk.
Converting Your Foster Parrot To A Healthy Diet
Unfortunately, around 95% of parrots surrendered to Cheeky Beaks have been fed a seed-heavy or seed-only diet their entire lives up to that point.
Please note that it is absolutely vital not to force your foster birds to change their diet immediately, as this can lead to very serious health complications and even starvation. It is a gradual process that takes place over a few months. Avian veterinarians also warn that attempting to do this too quickly, can lead to possibly fatal strokes. Keep a close eye on them during the diet conversion process and make sure to consult with an avian veterinarian regularly.
Diet conversion is not always easy, sometimes it can be extremely frustrating. However, it is extremely important that we persevere for the sake of our birds. Majority of parrots who are fed a seed-only diet suffer from malnutrition, liver and/or thyroid issues, and a shortened lifespan. The main technique for diet conversion is slowly reducing the number of seeds offered, and replacing them with healthy foods. The following is an extract from “Conversion of a Parrot from a Seed Diet: One Method” by Pamela Clark.
“When you see pieces of the Chop Mix on the cage floor, begin to decrease the seed mix. Below is an example, using our original portions of 1⁄4 cup seed mixed into 1⁄4 cup of Chop.
- Week One: 1⁄4 cup seed (four tablespoons) in 1⁄4 cup Chop.
- Week Two: 3 tablespoons of seed in 1⁄4 cup of Chop.
- Week Three: 2 tablespoons of seed in 1⁄4 cup of Chop.
- Week Four: 1 tablespoon (three teaspoons) of seed in 1⁄4 cup of Chop.
- Week Five: 2 teaspoons of seed in 1⁄4 cup of Chop.
- Week Six: 1 teaspoon of seed in 1⁄4 chop of Chop.
- Week Seven and onward – 1⁄4 cup of Chop in the morning with a few pieces of fruit on the side (no seed at all in the diet, except for training.)”
This extract replaces seeds with chop but will work for pellets too. Along with this main method, there are many tips that can convert even the fussiest parrot.
- Starting by switching from plain sunflower seeds or millet to a healthier mix that is of higher quality and contains a greater variety of ingredients can be a great way to get the ball rolling. Offering sprouted seeds also tricks parrots into eating healthy seeds. Many parrots love cook mixes, which contain a variety of grains, legumes, and some seeds.
- Try different pellet brands. There are many uncoloured, healthy pellet brands on the market (AviPlus, Monati, Nature’s Nest, Animal Zone Natural, Nutribird P15, TOPs, etc.) Some birds have a preference, so it is worth exploring different options.
- Pellets can also be used to bake bird-safe bread, pancakes, and muffins. Veggies and seeds can also be mixed into these recipes. There are multiple bird-safe bread recipes online.
- Sprinkle crushed pellets over fresh foods. If your parrot eats chop, but not pellets, try sprinkling the pellet powder over their chop. They will taste the pellet as they eat.
- Crushing pellets and adding warm water can create a yummy porridge. This reminds many parrots of the formula they ate as a baby and are keen to eat it. They then learn to love the taste of pellets.
- Using herbs and spices to add flavor to your parrot’s meal can make mealtimes far more exciting and enticing. You can roast veggies in spices such as turmeric and mint for extreme flavor
- Many parrots have a preference regarding the size and shape of their veggies. Some like eating large blocks of veggies, others prefer them grated or chopped fine. It is also worth adding a whole vegetable (such as a whole carrot) into your parrot’s cage for them to destroy as a toy while tasting the veggies in the process.
- Smoothies- add fruit and veggies into a blender to create a juicy delight for your parrot.
- Using a different bow: this may seem odd, but believe it or not, can make a difference. Stainless steel versus plastic versus ceramic, deep versus shallow, white versus green (or whichever colours) all worth trying.
- Float fruit in their water. Just as you enjoy a slice of lemon in your water, your parrot may enjoy some berries in their water bowl or perhaps some apple slices.
- Different textures- raw/mashed/roasted/fried (in coconut oil)/steamed.
- Vegetable mash with seeds mixed in- the seeds will have mash suck on them so the bird cannot eat the seeds without eating a small amount of mash.
- Mix it all together! This method has a good success rate. Add seeds and pellets to the chop and mix everything well. If your parrot tries to pick out their favorite foods, they will taste everything else in the process.
- Share a meal with your bird! We all know how parrots are always so keen to eat what is on our plate, so why not use that to your advantage? Prepare a yummy salad and dig in. Make sure that your parrot is nearby and act as if you don’t want them to eat your food, but “give up” and let them have a taste. Be careful as you do not want to teach/reinforce your parrot to steal food off plates. Do not do this method often. It can be a nuisance in the home.
- Feed healthy food in the morning when they are the most hungry. They may be more open to experimenting like this.
While undergoing diet conversion, it is important to monitor your parrot’s behaviour and weight. If there is a rapid change in one of those two, take your bird to the vet for a check-up. Do not starve your parrot to force them to eat healthy foods. Do not rush diet conversions as it can make them ill.”
Always speak to an avian veterinarian immediately if you are concerned about anything.
Need some chop inspiration? Check out our YouTube guide on how to make basic parrot chop.
Curious to learn more about making sprouts? We have a quick online video tutorial on our YouTube that will introduce you to sprouting.
Foster parents play a vital role in setting newly surrendered parrots up for adoption success; introducing basic tricks and training can help their adoptive family immensely to bond and be able to handle them better. In cases where you foster cage-bound parrots as well as parrots that are afraid of hands, it is highly beneficial to their adoptive family to at least have training in place to work through it as they might not be able to or have the time to spend a lot of time training through those problems.
Basic training that you can teach your foster are listed below as well as steps to train them, these are quite easy to train but may be hard for some parrots to achieve which is completely understandable:
A clicker serves as a replacement for verbal praise like “good job” or “good boy”. It is a marker that lets the bird know that they have done something correctly. It has been proven to be much more efficient than praising with words, as it marks the exact moment that they did something correctly. Although you can always incorporate verbal praise when they have done something exceptional.
- Each time you click, the clicker offers a reward
- They will eventually make the connection between click=good things are coming
Target training and the process you will follow depends on the on the parrot you are working with, this will also depend on how fast they will catch on. This is by far one of the most important tricks you can teach your foster as it forms the basis of many tricks and teaching them to be more comfortable with unfamiliar spaces and objects.
- Gradually introduce the target stick starting about 2 rulers’ length from the parrot. If you notice that they are weary of the stick, move further away.
- If you see that they are comfortable with that distance, move towards them in small increments, clicking and rewarding when you move closer each time. This might only take a few minutes with birds that are not fearful of sticks.
- Keep training sessions short about 5 to 10 minutes at first – or shorter, if you notice that they are not interested anymore.
- Once you can hold the stick directly next to their head, see if they are curious enough to touch it. If so, click and reward with verbal praise or a treat.
- If they are not interested enough to touch it, you can put a treat next to the stick and if they take it, click.
- You can then gradually start to move the treat further away from the end of the stick. Usuall they catch on relatively fast. If not, persist – they will eventually.
- If they start to get the hang of it, increase the distance between them and the stick so that they must move toward it – they need to stretch to touch it in order to get a treat. Remember to click immediately when they have done something correctly – there is about a 2-second window in which parrots associate something as a reward for a past action.
Spin is a great easy trick to teach your foster bird. There are two ways that you can approach teaching spin: luring (covering a high value treat for them to follow) and targeting. You can approach both in approximately the same way.
- Once your foster is targeting successfully or if you have a very high value treat, position the stick next to your parrot and let them touch it.
- Do this in very small increments – each time moving around your foster bird.
- It is important to remember that once you have rewarded them for touching the stick, they should be encouraged to move back to their original position.
- Once they can go in a full circle and you are only rewarding once, move the stick a bit further away from them (keep indicating in a circular motion).
- Once they can do this, gradually introduce your finger instead of the stick.
- You can then choose any hand gesture that you would like to signal the spin. When introducing a new gesture, just approach it slowly, moving from your old gesture to the new one and incorporating the two together.
- If you would like to add a voice command, you can do so by saying the word each time they spin. This process takes a few sessions of training.
Step-up, like spin, can be trained either by luring or targeting; the steps for training step-up is simple, although it can potentially be very difficult for them to learn.
- It is firstly very important to desensitize your parrot to hands. Show them your hands from from far away and move closer when they are comfortable with that distance (not recoiling or moving away).
- You can make a fist with your hand in front of your foster bird while holding the target stick on the other side of it.
- They will have to reach over your hand to get to the target stick. Gradually increase the distance so that they must put their foot on your hand (usually a fist is less threatening than an open hand).
- Remember to reward them (give them a treat or praise them) when they reach over to step-up with their beak. You can start to open your hand once they are comfortable with interacting with your fist.
- Keep practicing step-up and step down, rewarding each time they do it till they can do it reliably, then you can move on to training them to step-up from your shoulder. This follows the same process as previously mentioned.
If your foster is afraid of hands, you can substitute that with a stick or a play stand.
Flight training can be a great way to improve the behaviour of mischievous or aggressive birds, as it will in some cases be rooted in frustration of having an excessive amount of energy and not knowing what to do with it. It can also be greatly beneficial for parrots that have muscle atrophy.
Flight training can be a very tedious process and can in some cases take very long. There are many ways to approach flight training. We will be covering 3.
- Hold out your hand in front of your parrot and ask them to step up while they are sitting on a chair or perch that is about elbow height.
- Gradually increase the distance from the chair or perch so that they must stretch to get to your hand. They will often use their beak to grab onto your hand. Within reason, if it is safe for you, it is best to allow them to do this (they will likely use their beak for grip, not for biting).
- Eventually there will be a big enough gap so that they can’t reach anymore. Now your foster bird will either begin to hop to your hand or reach and flap their wings.
- Gradually increase the distance again by a few centimeters each time. This is often the part that birds get the most frustrated – if you notice them giving up, take a step back and decrease the distance.
- Before increasing the distance, wait for them to successfully master that distance a few times before you move on.
- Often the hardest part for parrots is to figure out how to land on your hand. This will only improve with practice.
- Gradually increase the distance until they are flying to you.
- Remember to reward them every time they land on your hand or the chair/perch (you can teach them to associate that object with the command “station”, to help them recognize an anchor point to return to).
- Once that is achieved, you can encourage them fly long distances, around corners, you can stand on a few steps above the bird (like on the steps of a staircase) and you can sit on the floor. This is to practice their ascending and descending skills. Remember that birds do not instinctively know how to descend – this is something that has to be taught to them. That is why parrots often get stranded in high trees when they escape from their homes – they don’t come down because they don’t know how to. Ascent and descent is a vital skill to introduce them to.
You can follow these exact steps, but just substitute your hand for another chair; you then gradually increase the distance between the chairs. Remember to use chairs that are not slippery and have much to grip on when they land. This can be an excellent way to give parrots that are afraid of hands, the opportunity to do exercise out of the cage.
The next technique you can follow is to is cover food on either side of a V-shaped perch or 2 chairs organized in this pattern. They will then make the decision to cross on their own. Gradually increase the distance between where the 2 perches meet.
Tips for training
- Remember not to ever push them past the point where they aren’t comfortable, as this can be harmful to the training process. If you do realize they are becoming uncomfortable or flying away, immediately move back a step or two.
- Finding a high value treat can make the training process go a lot faster. Refrain from offering this treat to them in any other context.
- Finding other ways that motivate your parrot can be very important. Things like affection, praise and cheering him on can be very helpful if they are not food-motivated. It all depends on the specific bird – some techniques will work and some not.
- When target training, you can use any object as a substitute for a stick. This can help with fearful parrots. Feathers are one example that you can try.
- Rewarding for your foster bird for touching the target stick softly is important. In other words, rewarding them for acting aggressive towards the stick will damage your training. You don’t want them to associate the target stick with fear or other negative emotions. That is defeating the purpose.
Overcoming A Fear of Bathing
Many people message us telling us they can’t make their birds bathe because they are absolutely terrified of water. This seems to be a common occurrence for many birds. Here are some tips to overcome this with your own bird.
Many birds show bathing responses when a vacuum cleaner or something similar produces a low droning sound – perhaps even a stand mixer or a generator. When they start showing bathing responses (wings out, wagging their tails, puffing their feathers, etc.) you can provide them with a shallow dish of water and they will often start bathing themselves. The low droning sound simulates a rain storm, which should help to trigger their natural instincts to want to clean themselves. You can also play rain sounds for them on YouTube.
Secondly, you can use a mister with a very fine spray and mist your bird. This will get them wet without (in most cases) terrifying them. Spray from far away and keep the mister above them, so that it mimics soft rainfall. Remember to refrain from spraying directly at their face or onto their heads (avoid the nares). Remember to reward them with verbal praise or a treat every time they tolerate it. You need to start building positive associations with getting water on their feathers. Give them something to look forward to – save a special treat for bath days.
Thirdly, and usually used with smaller birds, you can wet a leafy green food item like lettuce, kale or spinach and hang it in the cage. Smaller birds often bathe by rubbing themselves up against wet grass rather than dipping themselves into the water.
You can also try to turn it into a game. Play hide and seek with them or even place some interesting objects into their bathing bowl (some stones, bird-safe flowers, peas or other yummy food items…) Also, f you have other birds that enjoy bathing, place their cages next to one another on bath day and allow the other bird to bath first. This serves to show the hesitant bird that the bathing process can be trusted.
Overcoming A Fear of Hands/Handling
When dealing with a parrot that is afraid of hands, it is important to not force hand interaction.
During their first week with you, try to minimise exaggerated hand movements near them. Do not wave, or lift your hands up too fast or too close to them. Try to not place your hand in their cage as this is their safe space. If it is needed, do so as quickly and swiftly as possible. They will flap and try to stay far from your hand whilst your hand is in their cage, respect this and do not try to touch them. Allow them their space. Remember, they see your hands as a threat, you will need to try to show them your hands are a helping one.
By the second/third week, they should start to get comfortable with your hands cleaning inside their cage, or placing food for them. They may even be okay with taking treats from your hand whilst they are out of their cage. Every time they get closer to your hand, reward them. Target training will be of great help to get them to be comfortable around your hands.
As they slowly get used to your hands going near them, you may have a few interactions where their beak will touch you, or even bite! It’s important to not overreact after getting bitten, just shake it off and walk away calmly. Remember the bites are normal, and it is just them testing the waters as they are starting to trust your hand.
It will take time. Not every parrot will be hand tame and that’s okay. Each parrot has their own personality and needs. All they need from you is love, care and understanding.
It won’t happen immediately. You will have to persist, and show your foster parrot that you will love them regardless. And when they are ready, and decide that your hand is no longer a threat, it is the best feeling in the world.
Working With Cage-Bound Parrots
There is one value needed when dealing with a cage bound parrot: patience.
When faced with a cage bound parrot, the parrot is likely afraid and scared to step out of its safe space (i.e. it’s cage).
Whether the parrot was stuck in its cage for a year, or 10 years, the parrot associates it’s cage with its safe space no matter what.
It is important to let a cage bound parrot progress on their own terms. Here are some tips:
- For the first week in your home, let the parrot be. Let them take in the sudden change in environment. They may be super quiet, or super noisy. Understand this is stressful for them, and let them settle and take in the new environment day by day.
- By the second week, start by slowly leaving their door open and walking away to give them space.
- Each day approach their cage to the point where they are comfortable. If you notice signs of them being uncomfortable (shaking feathers, moving to the back of their cage), take a few steps back until they are calm again.
- Stay in that spot, and speak to them gently. Offer treats as a reward before you leave.
- Do this each day, and slowly get closer to their cage as they feel more comfortable.
- Do not force your hand inside their cage. Do not force them to come out.
- Leave their door open, and entice him/her with a treat or two each time they move toward the door.
- They are most likely going to be super afraid of fast movements, so speak softly and gently to let them know everything is okay.
- Try to target/stick train them. This can help to lure them out of their cage. Do not force the process – be patient.
- Reward the parrot each time you enter the room, or each time he/she interacts with you from the cage. This shows that you are not a threat, but rather the bearer of treats, which will make them begin to trust you.
- Be prepared for a few bites once they are comfortable out of their cage! It’s going to hurt, remain calm. Lure them back inside with a treat!
- If the parrot is fully flighted, and not hand tame, try to catch them with a towel. Wait for them to land, and gently drop a towel on them. Gently carry them back to their cage, and reward them for being a good boy/girl.
- If they are hand tame, hold out a treat and call to them. They will most likely come to you willingly, otherwise place a treat in their cage where they can see it to lure them inside.
There is no time frame for when a cage bound parrot will get over their fear. However, with patience and persistence, they will eventually roam out of their cages for as long as they can!
Overcoming Excessive Vocalisation
Possible causes of excessive vocalisation and screaming
- Underlying heath issues
- Lack of adequate sleep
- Seeking attention
- Inadequate cage size
Ways to improve screaming
The first thing you need to do, is to make sure there are no underlying health concerns – such as pain or discomfort – that are contributing to the excessive vocalisations. A visit to the avian vet should clear this up. Once you know that the cause lies elsewhere, here are some things you can consider:
- Offering enrichment like puzzle toys, destructible toys and time outside seeing various things. Harness training or taking your foster bird on trips in a secure carrier will broaden their world and enrich their minds. Tire them out with amazing activities so that they don’t have the energy to scream once they’re back in their cage.
- Lack of sleep can cause irritability and behavioural problems like screaming. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your foster bird has a good night’s sleep every night. 12 hours in a dark and quiet room is the general recommended amount. Use a spare room or secure part of your house, where the bird will not be disturbed by people walking past the cage, turning lights on, watching television, etc. Cover their cage in black cloth to block out extra light. Long bedtime hours will also help with decreasing hormone production during the spring and summer months.
- Ensuring that your foster has an appropriate size cage is crucial – being in a small cage can increase screaming; if you do not have one available, we will do our best to provide one.
- You can help train your foster to be less noisy by rewarding him with treats or affection each time he is quiet. If the main problem is screaming for attention or to come out of the cage, you can ignore him during the time that he is screaming. Therefore, it is vital that you only take on a foster bird with such behavioural issues if your living conditions won’t impact your ability to complete the rehabilitation (you can’t have neighbours nearby who will be lodging noise complaints). When he decides to stop, go to him – now you can give him attention, offer a treat or take him out of the cage. Repeat this multiple times a day; it may take some time for your foster bird to realise that screaming does not get him what he wants.
- During this process, remember to make his cage an enriching place to be in, otherwise the screaming will most likely not improve as he will have nothing to occupy his brain while he is in his cage. Distract him as much as possible with shreddable toys as well as foraging and puzzle toys – a busy bird is a quiet bird. Try to create positive associations with being in the cage.
- Teaching your bird the value of independent play and foraging will help him to not be as dependent on humans for entertainment and company.
Hormonal Behaviour In Captive Parrots
A large percentage of birds in our network portray signs of hormonal behaviour. In the wild, hormonal behaviour may be triggered by factors that change with the seasons, such as extended hours of sunlight, higher food abundance or warmer weather. While seasonal procreation is natural for parrots, constantly comfortable conditions in the household setting may contribute towards year-round hormonal behaviour in some parrots, while others remain affected only seasonally.
While parrots are capable of reading birdy body language, this understanding does not come as naturally in humans and must either be observed or learned. We love to anthropomorphise our pets and this is a huge mistake in parrot ownership. Misunderstanding your bird’s body language can lead to issues such as screaming, biting, fear, aggression and hormonal behaviour. Many of these lead to the surrender or rehoming of the bird.
What does hormonal behaviour look like?
Hormonal behaviours can look different across species, so we encourage you to do your own research on the species you have in your home so you are best able to identify these behaviours and avoid any long lasting issues with your bird. The attached videos are good examples of some of the most common behaviours listed below.
Common signs of hormonal behaviour include:
- Regurgitation on people/objects, or for other birds
- Territorial issues
- Wing dipping/flapping
- Tail fanning
- Egg laying
- Feather plucking on legs and chest
Why shouldn’t I encourage this behaviour?
In the wild, parrots engage in allopreening with a friend or mate. While head scratches are common, birds seldom get touched on their bodies unless there is intention of mating. Petting/touching on the back, under the wings and near the vent are mating signals in birds and can lead to sexual frustration in your feathered friend. Encouraging a bonded/mated relationship with your bird can cause your bird to become territorial over you or pluck its feathers, lead to seemingly unprovoked biting habits or screaming when you are out of sight and also increase the chances of egg binding in females. Feather plucking is a major concern in parrot ownership. Many times it is exacerbated by unaware owners unknowingly encouraging hormonal behaviours/failing to determine the underlying causes of the plucking in time (although this is only one of the many reasons a bird may pluck).
How can I prevent this and what can I do to help if it does happen?
There is no cookie-cutter solution to fix every situation. Most of the listed behaviours can also be a cause for medical concern so it is important to discuss any changes in behaviour/concerns you may have with your avian veterinarian. In some cases, medical intervention may be required in the form of a hormonal implant/injection should there be an underlying cause for the overactive hormonal behaviours.
If you have a young bird then set it up for success from the start. In the wild, young birds are fed and preened by their parents until they are mature enough to take care of their own survival. Encourage independence and foraging behaviours in young birds. Focus on enriching your bird’s life through target training and activities which engage their minds, rather than solely cuddling them. Do not touch your bird in a repetitive manner other than on their heads. Assisting them with their pin feathers is a great way to bond as a flock member, rather than as a potential mate. Avoid having nesting sites or mirrors in the cage and ensure your bird gets a good 10-12 hours of undisturbed sleep per day.
This article does not serve to diagnose or treat hormonal behaviours in parrots. The purpose of this article is merely to educate unaware owners of the factors contributing towards hormonal behaviour and steps they could take to reduce this in their homes. Always consult with your veterinarian if you may suspect there is something wrong with your bird.
Birds with Disability
What do you do with a disabled bird?
Special perches can be easier for special needs birds to stand on. This can help with the prevention to fall or the struggle of movement.
Always keep an eye on how the bird moves in the cage so you can constantly upgrade the setup till its 100% convenient for your bird.
Not all disabilities are permanent depending on disability. Always ask your vet what you can do and what would be the best for your bird.
Always do research for more information on the specific disability for new insight.
The best way is to create a routine they can get use to. A program of what you do in the morning, evening and afternoon.
They can also be very picky with food and toys. Keep an eye on feeding times to see what worsens the “tics”.
Here are a few disabilities in birds:
Splayed legs: Treatment involves gradually bringing the legs back under the bird if the bird is still young enough and there are no fused joints or broken bones. You will do this with the help of your avian vet. Alteratively, if the bird is already mature and the legs were not/could not be corrected, you need to set your cage up so that there is easy access from perch to perch. Use multiple platforms and ladders and keep your toys localised to the edges of the cage/areas where it won’t constrict movement or take up climbing space.
Deformed feet/One leg: You can ask your vet how to go about this. It also depends on the severity of the deformed feet. (This is part of where you get flat or cornered perches). The important thing to remember, is that these birds are just as active as able-bodied birds. We should not treat them as if they are made of glass. They are perfectly capable of climbing from one end of the cage to the other to get to their food and toys – try to set your cage up so that they are encouraged to use all the space that is available to them. These birds might be prone to being very stationary, so you will need to encourage them to get moving, build up their confidence and increase their fitness levels. Foraging baskets are great for birds with one leg or deformed feet that cannot grip their toys. Deconstruct some toys and add the usable parts to a plastic basket. Shred some newspaper and throw in some plastic bottle caps. You can hide treats in these baskets for them to dig out. Try to use large baskets so that they can sit inside and dig for the snacks (dehydrated fruit or vegetable pieces, healthy seeds, dried spices, etc).
Deformed beak: There is various elements that can be the cause of this: disease, parasites, nutritional deficiencies, genetic abnormalities, or blunt trauma (fight with another bird or an accident). You can look at getting them enrichment items with lots of cork, paper and cardboard instead of the commercial hard wood toys. Remember that these birds might need regular trips to the avian vet to keep their beaks trimmed.
Ensuring Your Foster Bird Is Entertained
Avian Enrichment – For Every Kind of Bird
By Abi Strachan
When it comes to birds and toys, there is no universal approach to enrichment. Every bird is different, making what they need in terms of enrichment different.
Some birds derive the most pleasure from foraging boxes, while others enjoy tearing toys apart. Some like hanging toys, where others see them as threats in their safe spaces. There really is no better approach than trial and error.
Often our toy suggestions are met with “but my bird doesn’t like toys” or “he just breaks them.”
I’m here to tell you that firstly, you just haven’t tried hard enough, and secondly, toys are made to be destroyed.
Birds see toys as a way to occupy their highly intelligent minds and mimic their natural behavior as closely as possible.
With all the toys available on the market, as well as DIY, the chances of your bird not liking a single one are next to zero.
It sometimes takes years to find the correct toy for your bird, my own budgies had me believing they just didn’t want to play, until I found the right toys. Now they spend their days happily destroying muffin cups and paper straws, and leaving a trail of destruction behind them.
My cockatoo, on the other hand, enjoys nothing more than reducing a thick branch to splinters, on a daily basis. This means that his cage and my carpet never look clean, but he is happy and fulfilled.
My previous foster Alexandrine, Rosie, would run screaming if she was faced with a sekelbos swing, but if you presented her with a fresh foraging box or a good hanging cork toy, she’d be the happiest you’ll ever see.
I have 2 conures, both green cheeks, both with largely the same upbringing, one loves nothing more than dangling upside down from his favorite “rope” toy (t-shirt material) where the other just about seizes if you bring a thread near him, and he’d much rather throw a ball around or play fetch with a plastic bottle cap.
There really is no rule to say that any specific breed will prefer any specific style of toy, and the reality is that you will spend money (probably a lot) on stuff they’re unlikely to touch. And you’ll keep doing that until you find the right toy for them because that’s what being a good bird owner is, it’s not worrying about what you’re spending, or how many toys they’ve ignored, it’s always being aware of the enrichment that you are offering your bird, and how fulfilled their life is.
Signs that your “difficult bird” just needs more enrichment:
We often hear from parrot owners that their birds are extremely difficult to deal with because they are extremely aggressive or excessively vocal. This is often the reason why people surrender birds to us and these owners are often scared that they can never “fix” the problem.
Many of these birds never had toys to play with, never learned to play with toys or are fearful of their toys because they are neophobic like many birds are. Ways to fix this is by slowly introducing a toy by placing it on the opposite side of the room and slowly moving it closer to the bird’s cage. Then before placing it into the cage showing the bird how you play with the toy and even placing it in a neutral location and introducing the bird to the toy there. Once you are sure your bird is comfortable with the toy you can place it in the cage. Your bird might shy away at first but will grow accustomed to it. If they don’t or react negatively we recommend removing the toy and starting the process over.
You can also provide your bird with a variety of foraging opportunities such as foraging boxes (with parts from broken toys, paper, or anything they might enjoy as long as it’s safe for parrots). Some people give a half gem squash filled with chop or chunks of butternut for them to destroy which leads to them eating some chop at the same time. You could even buy a foraging/ snuffle mat or ball such as the one for sale by Toys by Cockatoo Jewel. These however can only be given to your bird under supervision due to the fact that they could eat some of the materials which could lead to crop impaction. There are also a variety of toys you can place treats into for the bird to find and get out.
We have an abundance of resources for DIY toy-making on our platforms, which offers a more budget-friendly solution to the never-ending toy demand.
We’ve also compiled a list of some of our favourite suppliers should you wish to buy your toys ready to go.
There really is no excuse, there are toys available to suit every bird and every budget, it just depends on how committed you are as an owner to providing a life that is both mentally and physically healthy for your feathered friend.
What Should A Parrot Cage Look Like?
If you’re new to the world of parrot keeping (or just trying to brush up on your knowledge), it’s important to know the best ways to set up a parrot cage. What should the cage look like? What should it contain?
Your parrot will be living much of its life inside its cage, so make sure you get things right! Keep reading to find out all about what a parrot cage should look like.
Let’s start with the most problematic factor: cage size. Many new parrot owners don’t realize that a parrot cage should be quite a bit larger than is commonly believed. Teeny tiny cages for budgies, finches and lovebirds are unfortunately still easy to find in pet stores. This leads to the idea that birds do fine in a space that’s smaller than the laptop screen I’m writing this article on.
Unfortunately, keeping your parrot in a small cage leads to a range of issues including stress, obesity and atrophied muscles. Taken together, these drastically reduce the potential lifespan of your bird.
Get a cage in which your feathered friend can spread its wings. Try checking out the full cage size guide over at the Center for Animal Rehab if you’re not sure what size to go for, though keep in mind that the sizes listed here are the absolute minimum. You’d do well to go for something even bigger than it says on the list!
One factor that’s rarely considered is cage shape. It actually matters! The ‘classic’ bird cage has a dome shape, but unfortunately this is not ideal for your parrot. These are prey birds that can easily feel unsafe and become stressed, which leads to health issues in the long run.
The problem with dome cages is that they have no corners, giving your bird the feeling that it can’t hide anywhere.
There’s also the issue of horizontal versus vertical. Most bird cages are vertical because it simply makes it easier to fit into your home, but the ideal cage is actually longer rather than taller. This is because parrots don’t tend to use vertical space as well: they stick to the upper levels and the rest of the cage kind of goes to waste.
A horizontal shape allows for more flight opportunity and better use of the cage. If you do get a vertical one, try to ensure it’s not overly tall and skinny.
An example of a parrot cage that has a good toy selection but is the wrong shape and too small to serve as more than a travel cage.
Parrots, even small ones like budgies, are always trying to find ways to escape their cage so they can explore their surroundings. This even applies when the bird gets plenty of time out of the cage!
Bar spacing is important to prevent two things. First off, parrots can get stuck and possibly pass away when they stick their head through wide cage bars. Second, they might actually manage to escape, flying out through an open window and subsequently getting lost.
It’s really important that the bars are not too wide! For recommended bar spacing, I’d again like to refer to the article by the Center for Animal Rehab.
Cage placement is yet another important factor related to parrot cage set-up that is often overlooked. It really does actually matter, for a few reasons:
Your parrot cage should not be placed in a location that might be harmful to your bird’s lungs in the long run. Keep parrots out of the kitchen or bathroom, where cooking fumes and perfumes can cause problems with their extremely sensitive lungs.
Your parrot cage should be in the center of the action. I can’t stress enough how social these birds are. A lone bird especially should not be tucked away on the balcony or in a spare room. It’ll feel excluded from the human flock and become bored and stressed.
Your parrot cage should be in a spot that allows the bird to feel safe. Try pushing it against a wall to prevent your parrot from always feeling like it has to watch every direction at the same time: they don’t realize that danger can’t get to them in their cage. Don’t place the cage directly in front of a window either. A passing neighbour, cat, a hawk or even a thunderstorm can send your bird into a blind panic. Your parrot cage should be away from air conditioning units and heaters. Rapid changes in temperature are not good for birds’ health, so place the cage in a more stable spot.
Let’s start having a look at the inside of your parrot’s home!
When you buy a parrot cage, it tends to come with plastic or wooden dowel perches that stretch from one wall to another. These are unfortunately not the best choice and you’re honestly better off tossing them. They are too thin and too even for your bird’s feet, causing irritation in the long run.
So what does a good perch look like? Natural and with an uneven thickness is best. This way the toes don’t always have to be in the same position. The rough texture of some natural woods can additionally help keep the bird’s nails from overgrowing, which is helpful since sandpaper perches made for this purpose are actually best avoided as well.
As mentioned earlier, parrots like spots that are higher up. They’ll mostly ignore perches that are placed at the bottom of the cage unless they serve a practical purpose like accessing the cage door or food bowls. For long-term chilling and sleeping, your bird likes its perches in a spot that’s as high up as possible without forcing it to hunch. Be sure to leave plenty of flying room as well!
Here are some more tips about appropriate perches from an amazing US-based parrot rescue.
This is such an important element of your bird’s home. It should be able to spend multiple hours a day outside of the cage interacting with you and simply exploring, but that doesn’t mean the cage itself can be bare.
Parrots are extremely curious and their brains need constant stimulation. Ideally, you should have a big drawer of parrot toys that you switch out every week or so to keep things fresh.
There should be a variety of toys: ones that your bird can chew up and destroy, ones that are colourful and possibly have something rattling inside for entertainment, and foraging toys. The latter especially will keep parrots entertained for hours, as they have to work to reach a small treat.
Be sure to avoid unsafe toys. Avian Avenue has a thread discussing toys that might seriously injure or even kill your parrot, so be sure to have a look and avoid them.
Tip: short on cash? You can totally make parrot toys yourself. Get creative with egg boxes, empty toilet rolls and more. You can even entertain your bird by regularly heading outside and picking wild grasses and bird-safe branches such as eucalyptus!
Common mistakes in parrot keeping
With the information above, you should be able to set up a pretty nice cage for your feathered friend. However, a proper cage alone is not enough to keep a bird happy and healthy.
Let’s briefly go into some of the other common issues that are often overlooked by (new) parrot owners!
The myth that parrots can persist on just seed is still quite pervasive. Parrot diet is not as simple as offering some seed mix every day!
Like all other living beings, parrots need a varied diet to stay healthy. Yes, they love seed and it doesn’t have to be shunned, but you should also be offering plenty of other foods.
Try fresh veggies, fresh fruits, parrot pellet food, cooked foods like unsalted wild rice and even foraged options like pesticide-free edible garden weeds and edible flowers.
Viewing a parrot as decoration
There still appear to be many people who buy a parrot intending to keep it in a cage just to look at. This simply doesn’t work for these birds.
A parrot that doesn’t get the proper mental stimulation, attention and time out of its cage will develop a range of issues. It might start screaming incessantly, suffer from obesity or even mutilate itself as a way to attempt to deal with the stress that comes from loneliness and boredom.
If you want something that serves primarily as home décor, you’re probably better off getting something like an aquarium, although even that requires frequent cleaning and care.
Not valuing smaller parrots
Did you know that everything we’ve discussed above applies just the same to small parrots like budgies (and other species like finches and canaries)?
Yes, they’re cheap, which leads to them being viewed as disposable. But do they really deserve an unhappy and shortened life because they’re small and easy to buy?
Like all other parrots, small parakeets need a large cage, frequent attention, out of cage time, toys, a varied diet and all the other bells and whistles.
Smaller parrots like budgies are still affectionate, social creatures that need proper care.
Not realizing what parrots are all about
A parrot (yes, even a small one) is an extremely intelligent being. If you’d like to own one, consider that they are about as much work to maintain as a dog or cat.
Between giving attention, training, cleaning and other tasks, you’ll be spending quite a bit of time tending to your bird on the daily if you want it to live a happy life.
Like dogs and cats, parrots can be noisy and messy. They can have behavioural issues like biting or screaming. Don’t get one unless you’re willing to work through that with your bird: they have incredibly long lifespans so it’s not just a matter of waiting until it dies.
Shelters are already exploding with parrots from people who didn’t keep all this in mind when buying them, so I really recommend not getting one unless you 100% know you’re ready to commit for a long time.
Not going to the vet
Many parrot owners don’t feel the need to go to the vet with their bird when it’s sick unless it’s an expensive species. This, again, appears to come from the idea that (small) birds are disposable and not worth spending money on because they are so cheap to buy.
If you’re not willing to spend some cash taking your parrot to the vet when it gets sick, you might want to reconsider adding one to your family. Even if you’re short on money, you should always have a little emergency fund in case your bird falls ill.
Be sure to find a vet before anything happens: it can sometimes be a challenge to locate one who is willing to see birds.
About the author
Mari is a long-time parrot enthusiast and the owner of the parrot-centered website Psittacology.com. As a writer of informative parrot articles, she hopes to help others keep their bird happy and healthy.
Originally from The Netherlands but living in Spain, she spends her days working on her articles from home in the company of her two budgies.
Pictured: cage setup by Team Member Marianka Meiring for her citron-crested cockatoo, Jewel.
I want to adopt my foster bird - what now?
Cheeky Beaks Rescue can only function because of the incredible foster network we have. We are not a sanctuary who keep the surrenders they receive permanently or semi-permanently. We also do not have a central facility for the sole purpose of rehabilitating our surrenders. Our foster network is vital to the functioning of our organisation. Every single voluntary foster we have makes space for a new surrendered bird and ensures we can save, or improve the lives of, parrots (and other birds) across South Africa.
Foster fails are inevitably going to happen. If a bird has chosen you as their owner, then sometimes it is worse for the bird to be rehomed after its stay in foster care. If it is in the best interest of the bird, then we do allow our fosters to adopt.
However, we have had fosters volunteer themselves only to adopt the birds they receive in their care. Being a foster does not fast-track the adoption process for a bird you may want. If you intend from the start to adopt then you are, unfortunately, not the type of person we require as a foster.
If you are unsure whether a bird would do well with you or not, or if you are suited to a particular bird, then we have foster-to-adopt contracts partly for this purpose. A bird is placed in your care for 3 months and if it works out well for both the owner and the bird, then the owner can formally adopt the bird.
If you feel that have bonded with your foster, then chat to the bird’s adoption advisor. We deal with cases like these individually and have no hard and fast rules. It all depends on the situation and there are many factors that come into play. The reality is that even though you and your foster bird have built a strong relationship, chances are that it means the bird has learnt vital socialisation and adaptive skills, and will easily thrive in another household, too. It is natural for fosters to feel attached to their foster birds because of all the work that they have done together, but we place a lot of emphasis on the fact that our Rescue works so well as a foster-based organization, because of the fact that birds are taken in to foster care, assessed and rehabilitated and then processed out. If you are the only other family that the bird has spent any significant amount of time with since being surrendered, and you’ve done your job with training and rehabilitation, then chances are that the foster bird will have established some kind of bond with you, but that still does not mean that you are the best home for that parrot in the long run.
Even though we have no standardized ways of dealing with situations like these, we generally try to allow at least two candidates to meet a parrot in foster care (unless it is a bird with very low interest or that is in a remote location). We look at things such as financial stability over a long period, how you have been able to uphold standards of care for any existing parrots, proximity to an avian vet, access to transport, the dynamics of the foster parrot within the existing flock, living conditions (space and proximity to neighbours that could be triggered by noise, etc.) and how well you have adhered to our process and interacted with our representatives thus far.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to only volunteer to foster birds that are from a species you generally would not be interested in adopting. If you have a species preference, then it should only be because of your living conditions or skill set that means you are only able or best suited to accommodating certain species over others, not because you would be interested in owning a bird like that.
If you are interested in adopting your foster bird, you will be asked to complete an adoption application just like any other interested party in order to be taken into consideration. In the majority of cases, a final decision will only be made once you have allowed other candidates to come for a meet-and-greet session with the bird in your care. The decision is not made by your adoption adviser alone, but the entire Adoptions Department of Cheeky Beaks Rescue. It needs to be signed off on by multiple representatives and at least one director before anything is finalized.
Meet-and-Greet Sessions: Why this is important and what to expect
A meet-and-greet session is extremely important, this will determine who the bird chooses to spend the rest of his life with.
In most cases the whole family will arrive to meet the bird. This could be overwhelming for the bird and you should ask them to approach the bird one at a time. It is important that you allow the prospective adopter to spend time on their own with the bird while you remain in the background. You want to observe the reaction of the bird towards the visitors without your close presence.
Every approved prospective adopter will not necessarily be the right fit for every available bird. Birds will know and show if they trust someone, we give them the right to choose and we must make sure that we “hear” to what they are showing us.
Giving feedback to your adoption adviser after meet-and-greet sessions: What to look for and take note of
Most important is for you to observe the reaction of the bird toward the prospective adopter. In certain cases, a bird will clearly show that he is not comfortable with a person by moving away from the person and refusing to interact. Other birds will be difficult to judge and you will be required to watch the subtle signs that you became familiar with while fostering the bird. Sometimes, the bird will move away initially and warms towards the person after some interaction. Birds require time and patience and therefore this meeting should not be rushed. The real magic can also happen where the bird is immediately so attracted to this person that he will go to the person without hesitation. That is what we all hope for – love at first sight, that magic connection.
It is also important to observe the interaction and attitude of the adopter towards the bird. Are they excited about the bird or show slight disappointment because they expected a different look? Are they more interested whether the cage comes with a cover than what the bird is doing (this is real – it has happened to one of our representatives before)? Are they maybe a loud bunch while you know that the bird is nervous of noise?
The adoption adviser and rest of the Team will make the adoption decision based on your feedback. It is extremely important that you give your liaison a detailed account of how the meet-and-greet went. Specifics to note are:
- Initial reaction of the bird.
- Did the bird’s reaction change as the visit progressed?
- Was it clear that the bird liked/disliked/trusted/did not trust the visitor/s?
- If not clear, what made you think the bird liked/disliked/trusted/did not trust the visitors?
- What impressed you about the prospective adopter?
- What made you uncomfortable about the prospective adopter?
- What questions did the prospective adopter have?
- What concerns did the prospective adopter have?
- How much time was spent with the bird?
- Your personal view of how the overall meeting went and if you think this could be a successful and happy union.
If you would feel more comfortable to have a Cheeky Beaks representative present during these meet-and-greet sessions, please discuss this with your liaison and we can see what we can arrange, even if it’s just via video call. It’s always good to have an objective bystander observe the interaction.
As a foster, you will be asked to provide written feedback about every session that has been attended under your supervision, using the questions above as a guideline.
In the majority of cases, prospective adopters do not take the bird/s home at the first meet-and-greet session if things go smoothly. The Cheeky Beaks representative in charge of the adoption will always communicate this to the candidate. Remember to not allow anyone to manipulate or bully you into giving them the bird – tell them that it is simply not your decision to make and that their liaison will get back to them. Direct any questions that make you uncomfortable back at the liaison.
Sometimes, we will schedule a second session upon request of the candidate if they feel that they would like to spend a little more time with the bird before potentially making any commitments. If a candidate has been approved after the original meet-and-greet, your liaison will inform you and a date and time will be arranged for the candidate to come and collect the bird/s.
Have a look at some of our useful infographics that provide a bit more insight into some topics discussed in this foster care guide.
Click on each image preview to view/enlarge.