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Get Your Amazon Parrot To Exercise

No more perch potatoes! Use these pet bird tips to get your Amazon parrot to exercise and help lose weight.

By Shari Beaudoin
Posted: January 26, 2012, 10:00 a.m. PST

Subscribe to BIRD TALK Magazine Wild parrots often fly for many miles from their roosting areas to forage for food. For our companion pet parrots, however, food is abundantly provided, which eliminates the need to seek out food. Oftentimes, this leads to sedentary lives in our homes, and serious health problems can result. In fact, the chances of your pet bird suffering from many common ailments and diseases can be greatly lessened by offering regular exercise sessions and a healthy varied diet.

Woman with kitten
By Gina Cioli/BowTie/Courtesy Omar's Exotic Birds
After you Amazon-proof your home, allow your Amazon parrot to be fully flighted to encourage it to exercise.
One of the most common health concerns for Amazon parrots that lack proper diet and exercise is obesity. Aerobic exercise greatly decreases the chances of your Amazon parrot becoming obese and suffering the health problems associated with it. Some of the most serious of these problems are heart disease (including hardening of the arteries leading to sudden heart attack or stroke), hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), chronic reproductive disease (causing elevated cholesterol, triglycerides and lipids and their associated health problems), kidney disease and arthritis. Foot problems are also concerns for the overweight Amazon parrot.

Considering the problems that can arise for the out-of-shape Amazon parrot, we must make sure they reap the many benefits of good diet and exercise, which include: healthier cholesterol, triglycerides and lipid levels; decreased body fat; increased muscle mass; decreased occurrence of reproductive disease issues; less weight on the legs and feet. Additionally, exercise stimulates a release of endorphins (a chemical in the brain that creates a feeling of well being).

Exercise Routines For Amazon Parrots
The good news is that there are many ways that exercise can be fun for both you and your Amazon parrot. Below are a few ideas for exercise techniques that my birds as well as those of many of my clients enjoy.

Assisted Flight Air-obicsTM: This is a fun way to fly a bird with trimmed wing feathers. I have been using and teaching this technique for many years. I teach the pet bird to lie in my gently cupped hands with its legs held back and then to fly. When a parrot becomes familiar with this form of assisted flight, his feet lie back naturally as if he were flying on his own. He flaps his wings with all his might while you run or walk behind. He quickly learns to lean into each turn using his head and wings.

When ready to land, he will instinctively pull his feet forward for a proper landing.

I always begin with the bird standing on one hand and ask him “Are you ready,” which prompts the bird to propel himself forward by flapping his wings. Once the bird is flapping and moving forward, I gently catch it in my cupped hands. I move forward supporting him for as long as he can go. The idea is to have him winded when he lands on a playgym or perch. This is then, a true aerobic workout. Do not be surprised if your parrot does not go very far at first. Slowly 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, both of you will go further than the time before. I try to do this at least three times daily with each of my birds. It is a lot of fun and wonderful exercise for all of us. 

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 fancy 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 20 feet. When I then put Lt. Columbo back on his play tree, 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 out last me by a long shot. All I have to do is ask him if he is ready, and he launches forward. Once I take one of our birds for a fly, everyone else is anxiously awaiting his or her turn.

Put on your dancing shoes: Many parrots love to dance. Let your bird perch on your arm, and dance away to a favorite song. Dancing is an excellent exercise. If your bird loves this as much as mine, it can easily become a great aerobic exercise as well. You don’t even have to be a good dancer. Most birds will never tell as long as they are having a good time.

Play ball: Roll a ball on the floor, table or bed, and let your bird chase after it. Try to get to it before your bird, and make a fun game out of it. Have other family members and friends join in too.

Play stations: Every pet bird should have several out-of-cage play areas, such as a large play tree with plenty of room for your Amazon to move about and trounce on fun toys. Regularly rotate these toys so they continue to hold your bird’s interest. If your bird becomes bored with the same toys, he is less likely to stay active.

Perfect Amazon Parrot Perching
It is common for parrots in captivity to develop arthritis in their ankles from constantly standing on solid, motionless perches. A hanging gym consisting of moveable perches, such as ropes and swings, keeps the bird’s feet and ankle joints moving, which is essential for maintaining healthy ankle (intertarsal) joints.

Imagine how your pet bird would land or play in the wild. Most often they would land and play on objects in motion, such as tree branches. Many pet birds enjoy hanging upside down from boings (a flexible coiled rope with wire inside to make it bouncy) and then flapping their wings as hard as they can. This flapping causes the rope to rotate in circles as the bird hang from its feet.

The dimension of your pet bird’s perches should vary to keep its feet from remaining in exactly the same grip position and thus placing its weight on the same part of the foot. Look carefully at the bottom of your pet bird’s foot. A healthy foot should be free of pink or red spots. Offering perches of different textures and materials keeps the feet exercised. I caution people against using cement or dowel perches in places where your bird spends a lot of time, nor do I recommend using one as a sleeping perch. 

Get Your Amazon Parrot To Be Active In The Cage
Make sure that your Amazon parrot has a roomy bird cage that allows plenty of room to move about and play. I recommend a minimum size of 36 inches wide by 24 inches from front-to-back (every cage company that I know of makes their cages more than tall enough). Place perches so that they can hang upside down and flap. Some pet birds really like swings, and the motion of a swing is good for their feet and ankles too.

Place food and water dishes on opposite sides of the cage so that your bird needs to cross the entire cage length to eat and drink. Many pet birds love to soak their food in their water so having the bowls farther apart gives them a good bit of exercise.
Hide food in different parts of the cage so that your bird can forage and search out food.

Many bird toy manufacturers have begun to offer foraging toys specifically designed for this purpose. This helps to prevent boredom and is excellent fun for the natural curiosity of a parrot.

There are so many ways that you can ensure that your bird gets proper exercise. These are just a few ideas to help you along the way as I am sure you will come up with many more on your own.

As many of us promise ourselves healthier diets and more exercise, remember your parrots, you will both be happier and healthier for it. 

When Play Leads To Aggression
Amazon parrot like to have fun, but they can also get very excited when doing so. Many years ago, avian behavioral consultant Sally Blanchard coined the term “Amazon overload” to describe an Amazon parrot that is having fun but is also so excited that it has a hard time calming down. “Amazon overload” is characterized by a bird whose eyes are dilating while it is banging around on its toy or gym and, many times, vocalizing loudly or by a bird that is rough-housing a little too aggressively with its owner.

Attempting to pick up an Amazon parrot at this point can be a big mistake to say the least. Many an Amazon parrot owner has learned this the hard way, with a sore finger to show for it.

The best way to approach a pet bird in this state is to calm the bird down. Take 10 deep breaths to relax yourself, and begin speaking calmly to the pet bird. Explain what you are going to have it do (“It’s time to step up” or “It’s time to go back to your cage” for example). Do this for as long as it takes for the pet bird to settle down. Only then should you offer your hand with a step-up cue.

Amazon parrots are prone to Vitamin-A deficiency, so their diet should contain sufficient amounts of it. Foods high in Vitamin A are generally dark green, red or orange in color throughout. Vegetables are much more important to your Amazon parrot than fruit. Fruit can actually be a trigger for chronic reproductive stimulation, as most wild Amazons only have access to fruit in any quantity just before and during their breeding season in the wild. Warm and soft foods can be another reproductive trigger. It is thought that a food’s warmer temperature and soft/mushy texture simulates the food that is regurgitated from mate to mate and from parent to offspring. This has led me to recommend serving vegetables cold or at room temperature.

Anyone living with an Amazon parrot soon comes to understand their love of junk food. Potato chips, pizza and ice cream, as well as many other unhealthy delights, given too often and in too great of quantity can lead to the same health problems people experience, only sooner. I have to admit to giving our pet birds a junk food treat now and then; I just keep it to a tiny amount once in a while.

Flighted Amazon Parrots
Many companion pet bird owners have read or heard or just thought about having their pet bird fully flighted. There are benefits and also risks to be considered when making the choice to have a fully flighted Amazon parrot in the home. Safety (injury possibility goes up, as does the potential for accidental loss outdoors) and difficulty in controlling the Amazon parrot that may be aggressive or territorial is substantially more difficult when a pet bird has the ability to fly. 

One benefit noted by many of those with flighted Amazon parrot is that their birds seem to have developed a more secure feeling from having the ability to control where it is in the home (if something is making these birds nervous they can move away on their own terms). A benefit listed by some who advocate flight is increased exercise. However, don’t be mistaken that because your Amazon parrot can fly, it is receiving adequate exercise. Most flighted companion pet Amazons do not fly very often and, when they do, it is for a few feet of distance in order to get from point A to point B (e.g., from the cage to the couch). My guess is that Amazon parrots do not give any more thought to how much aerobic exercise they get each day then many of us do.

Amazon parrot owners should educate themselves about the benefits and possible risks associated with flight (there are many articles available in publications and online), as each individual should make the choice for themselves.

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Get Your Amazon Parrot To Exercise

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great article
n, n, TN
Posted: 1/16/2013 1:56:30 PM
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