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Subscribe to BIRD TALK Magazine Few parrots play with the enthusiasm of an Amazon parrot. It is a distinct rhythm that is easily recognizable in their every bob and weave. With eyes upon you, an Amazon parrot makes certain that you are watching its every impressive move. Then, while completely enthralled in its dance, it bobs too far to the left tumbling from the perch. You try not to laugh as the Amazon parrot quickly climbs back up. It is a futile attempt to make you believe that this tumble was planned.

The above description reflects the normal everyday play that one would witness in a healthy and happy Amazon parrot. It is when this type of play is not available to our Amazons that we are more likely to see the development of sedentary and cantankerous parrots.

Woman with kitten
Psittacosis was once known as parrot fever.

So how do we go about offering our Amazons the optimal environment for exercise and play? Several types of play areas are designed with just this in mind. Here are a few examples.

Playtrees As Playgyms
When well designed, play trees are one of the best types of play areas for Amazons. They come the closest to having a natural tree in your home. Although we must be willing to give up some room in our homes for these larger playgyms, their large size allows us to develop an exercise area with enough play options to keep any Amazon busy for long periods of time.

The main parts of the playtree are approximately a 5-foot tall natural tree branch and a large base or tray set on wheels so the play tree can be easily moved with a large base to catch debris. The 5-foot-height range gives an Amazon parrot adequate room to bang around while playing, yet it is not so tall as to make reaching your bird difficult.

One of the better woods to use for the tree is manzanita. Manzanita wood is very hard and not very porous (will not absorb water easily) — which makes manzanita a durable, easy-to-clean choice for a play tree. Manzanita playtrees come in two types: with the natural “bark” left on, which is very smooth and colored a dark reddish-brown, or sandblasted to remove the bark, which leaves the wood a light tan in color with a rougher surface that is easier for many birds to grip.

Sandblasted manzanita may be a little more difficult to clean because it is more porous, but both versions clean up well. One of the most effective ways to make some of the potentially slippery areas of a natural (not sandblasted) manzanita tree easier for an Amazon to climb around on is to wrap a high-quality bandage gauze, such as Vet Wrap (made by 3M) or CoFlex (made by Andover Coated Products), on slippery spots. These bandage gauzes are quite durable, easily applied and stick only to themselves.

With ample space and a variety of things to entertain, playtrees keep Amazons happy and busy for extended periods of time. This is especially true if the tree has food and water dishes mounted to it, either with metal bowls that are screwed into the tree via a nut and bolt arrangement attached to the bottom of the bowl, or with a screw-in ring designed to hold ceramic or plastic crocks. Both allow for easy removal and cleaning of the crocks.

These gyms can also come in a much smaller size for use on a tabletop. The design ideas are the same only scaled down for a more portable tabletop gym. As an example, a base that is about 18 by 18 inches and an upright branch that is about 2 feet tall makes a nice gym.

Hanging Gym  
Hanging or suspended gyms are another good way to give an Amazon parrot a fun place to play. This type of gym saves valuable floor space where room is limited, while allowing for easy movement from one level of the home to another. There are many varieties of these gyms available, from hanging acrylic trays with the perches and toys kept above them to contain the mess, to simple options like a suspended bouncy rope with toys attached, or the more recently available hanging “cargo-style” nets.

The hanging gym moves and swings about while the pet bird is playing on it. This gives the added benefit of exercising the bird’s ankle joints while it plays. As the bird hangs on tightly when the gym wobbles and swings about, the joints in the legs move in such a way as to keep them mobile and prevent the early onset of arthritic conditions.

Outdoor Play Area
Supervised outdoor play areas (weather and safety permitting) are one of an Amazon parrot’s favorite places to hang out. They enjoy all of the benefits of fresh air, unfiltered sunlight (they are not in direct sunlight unless they have the ability to move out of it themselves so there is no chance of overheating) and the stimulation of seeing what is going on outside. 

My Amazons, Lt. Columbo, Samantha and Rascal, play outside in a large (16 by 16 foot) screen tent. These tents are inexpensive and large enough to allow room for several birds to play on their own portable gyms while being protected from biting insects (including the mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus) and birds of prey. And, in the event that something frightens them, they can’t fly more than a few feet, so there’s less chance of injury. I always carefully supervise my birds while they are outside.

The Bird Cage
A large and safe bird cage is equally as important as the play areas mentioned above. Your Amazon’s cage should be roomy enough for sufficient varieties of perches and climbing surfaces while still allowing enough room for three to five toys and food and water bowls. A large cage will give your Amazon the room it needs to “burn off” the energy that a well-exercised, healthy bird naturally possess.

Choose a cage at least 34 to 36 inches wide and 30 inches deep. My Amazons thrive in cages that are 48 inches wide. It gives them the room to do the things that Amazons do. A too small cage will not allow your bird enough room for these birds to remain healthy. Some of that space is needed for all those toys, too! Don’t go overboard though. I regularly see cages that well-meaning Amazon owners have packed so full of toys (one small cage we recently saw had more than 20 toys in it) that the bird can barely move around in it! Instead of crowding up the cage, regularly rotate your birds  toys to offer a good variety.

If you are able to spend the time and money and give up a little room in our homes, you will be repaid many times over by the acrobatic antics of these energetic, playful, wonderful parrots. Not only that, but you can also rest well in the knowledge that you are providing Amazons with one of the most important ingredients for good health — sufficient opportunities to exercise!

Assisted Flight Air-obics™ 
Even if your bird’s wing feathers are trimmed, it can still gain the benefits of flying with Assisted Flight Air-obics, something that I came up with for my own birds. I teach the bird to lay in my cupped hands and fly, hence the name, Assisted Flight Air-obics. (I thank Dr. Stewart Metz, of Project Bird Watch, for helping me come up with this name several years ago).

Begin with the bird standing on your left hand and ask, “Are you ready?” This prompts the bird to propel forward by flapping its wings. Once your bird is flapping and moving forward, gently catch the bird in your cupped hands. Move forward, holding the bird for as long as it can go. The idea is for the bird to be winded when it lands on a tree or perch, a true aerobic workout.

Your parrot might not go very far at first. You need to work up to longer periods of time. Many birds attempt to soar like an eagle, letting you do all the work. Each time you and your parrot practice this exercise, your bird will be able to go further and so will you. I try to do this at least three times daily with my birds. It is a lot of fun and wonderful exercise.

Once your parrot becomes familiar with this form of flight, its feet will lay back naturally as if it were flying on its own. The bird will flap its wings as you run or walk behind it and quickly learn to turn using its head and wings. When the bird is ready to land on a perch, it will pull its feet forward for a proper landing.

When I first attempted this with my male double yellow-headed Amazon, Lt. Columbo, he held his wings tight to his body and refused to flap. He reminded me of a hood ornament on a car. I ran for all I was worth, and he just looked around enjoying the ride. I jostled my hands slightly thinking he might get the idea to flap if he felt the air under his wings.

Once he started to go, he made it about 25 feet. When I put Lt. Columbo back on his playtree, he was huffing and puffing with his wings held away from his body looking quite surprised about what just happened. Now, many years later, he can outlast me by a long shot. All I have to do is ask him if he is ready and he launches forward. You can see a short movie clip of Lt. Columbo doing this exercise at our website. You will find this in the Parrot Island Movie Gallery.

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