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Transitioning A Parrot Flock

A woman takes in her friend's parrots and asks how to best transition the birds to their new home.

By Sally Blanchard
Posted: September 8, 2008, 12:00 a.m. PST

Umbrella Cockatoo
By Gina Cioli/BowTie Inc./Courtesy Carinu Pasulu
Feather picking may be a sign of illness, and should be checked by an avian veterinarian.

Q: To make a long story short, my best friend ran a bird shop for close to 30 years. Last summer she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given six months to live.  Although she wasn't breeding her birds anymore, she still had her favorites. Her time is coming to an end, and she wants me to take them and make them part of my family. Her "family" consists of: one macaw, four umbrella cockatoos, one citron-crested cockatoo, two Senegal parrots and two cockatiels. My question is how do I make the transition from one house to the other without stressing out the birds? I'm especially concerned about the cockatoos because they would be the most prone to feather picking if stressed. The citron cockatoo is already naked. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

A: One of the most remarkable aspects about parrots is their ability to learn and adapt throughout their lives. This is particularly true if they have lived in a loving home. I do believe that parrots grieve for missing loved ones, and your friend’s parrot will miss her. My guess is that, with her illness, they are already aware of many changes in their lives. The fact that there are so many birds most likely means that they have their own flock relationships, which should make the transition easier than if each parrot was going to a different home. If most of these parrots were breeding birds and have a partner, their transition will be much easier as long as they have each other.

Parrots are creatures of habit, and sudden change can create more problems than gradual change. Since you are close to your friend, you probably are already familiar with her parrot family. If you do not know such things as their favorite foods and toys and their handling comfort levels, it is important to interview your friend about each bird and take copious notes. I have talked with dozens of people who have taken in previously owned parrots who have no idea about their likes and dislikes because they were given no information. The more you know about these birds, the more successful their transition will be. Make sketches of their cages and the location of perches, food bowls and toys so the setup can be duplicated in their new home. If their cages are pretty much the same, their environment will not seem as challenging to them.

In regards to the birds that have been pets and have been handled on a regular basis, it would be a good idea for you to be comfortable with them. If it is still possible for your friend, have her take one out of its cage and bring it to you in a room away from the cage. It is much easier for less familiar people to handle birds if they are not territorial around their cages. If the tame birds know you and are comfortable with you handling them before they come to live with you, the transition will be much easier.

Parrots usually behave better in an unfamiliar area. Because of this, their behavior may be quite different when they first come to your home. The fact that they may be much quieter does not necessarily signify grief. This is the best time to implement more behavioral guidance if they have had any behavioral problems in their previous home. The tame parrots will need lots of verbal reassurance and attention. Simply talking to them in a calm voice while they are in their cages will help their sense of security. This would also be a perfect time to teach them a few basic tricks. Parrots thrive on instructional interaction and positive praise for a job well done. Two beginner tricks are having the bird spread its wings to a command such as “Eagle boy” and raising one foot to a “Gimme four” cue.

I have found that the majority of cockatoos that pluck started their feather destructive behaviors at a young age. It has been my experience that cockatoos that pluck after they are mature usually do so because of illness or toxic exposure. Therefore I would not worry too much about the umbrella cockatoos starting to feather pick because of their transition to a new home. The Citron cockatoo’s picking may increase until he settles in to his new home.

I applaud you for taking in so many of your friend’s parrots. It will certainly change your life. Whether this change is positive or negative for you depends a great deal on the birds adjusting to their new home and, of course, you’re adjusting to them. Be patient with their confusion as they grieve and adjust to life in their new home. Parrots that have been well-loved will adjust easily to a new home where they feel that same love.

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Transitioning A Parrot Flock

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Reader Comments
Cindy, New Rochelle, NY
Posted: 10/31/2009 1:03:21 PM
This woman is to be commended for caring so much about her friend's birds. I hope they all make a successful transition.
JoJo, Cedar Falls, IA
Posted: 2/24/2009 5:43:06 PM
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