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Change Is Good For Pet Birds

How you deal with with changes in your life can affect how their pet bird deals with change.

Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC
Posted: June 10, 2013, 12:15 p.m. PDT

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One of the more detrimental old saws about parrots is that "change is bad.” This is nonsensical, considering that adaptability to change is the core of survival. If a parrot in the jungles of South America discovers there is a harpy eagle awaiting it in its favorite fig tree, the bird must adapt and find food elsewhere, or become lunch. Simple.

There are three African grey hens fostering with me right now, and they are excellent examples of how adaptable birds can be. They include two Congo African greys: Savannah (12 years old) and Shiloh (aged 11); and a timneh African grey named Victor (an import that is at least 20 years old). My friend Sharon found herself in the midst of a family crisis combined with an overseas commitment, with no one at home to care for her nine parrots. Consequently, her five macaws were shuttled south to one friend, her triton cockatoo went to another friend, and I took in the African greys.

African grey in travel carrier
One way to socialize your pet bird is to take it out to meet new people. Take your bird outside in a travel carrier.

These birds are nothing short of fabulous. All three are charming young ladies that settled into my home with no discernable adjustment. Apparently, they all looked around and said to themselves (or each other), "OK, we can do this.”

The same has been true of the five macaws (a miligold macaw, a blue-and-gold macaw, a military macaw and two Hahn’s macaws). According to their caretaker, Judith, they settled right in with no problems at all. Judith is having a wonderful time with them.

And before readers can claim the birds are doing so well because they all have flock members with them, there is Angel the triton cockatoo. She is fostering with my Phoenix Landing colleague, Debbie. Debbie said Angel is wonderful, and she and her husband will be heartbroken when Sharon returns to the states and reclaims her flock. I have to admit, I will not be thrilled to see the African grey girls leave, either.

Adjusting Fine
African greys are often the species cited for being especially emotionally fragile. I have found it interesting how well these three have settled into my life since none of these birds have ever boarded away from home before. One of the greys has traveled on occasion with Sharon to visit relatives, but none of them have spent time with strangers in a strange habitat.

How can this be? Sharon got Savannah as a 2-month-old baby. She lived in California at the time and routinely took the little grey out to to restaurants and parks. So Savannah learned to adjust to changing environments and people. This early socialization appears to have boded her well, as her happy, out-going nature has continued all these years, despite having fewer opportunities for travel and social interaction.

Shiloh (the other Congo) joined Sharon’s family at the age of 2 years, and she did not experience the early socialization that Savannah enjoyed. However, she apparently learned from Savannah’s example, as she is equally out-going and friendly with strangers.

Little Victor the Timneh is slightly different, as she had none of the advantages the Congos enjoyed. Sharon got her five years ago, and in Victor’s 15 previous years, she was never handled. However, thanks to Sharon’s patience and gentle handling, Victor has learned to enjoy humans. One of my greatest pleasures is whispering to her as she rubs her beak against my nose and whispers back.

I boarded all types of parrots in my home for more than a decade, and my experience did not match the "change is bad” myth. Instead, I found that parrots of all species had no difficulty adapting to a new environment that welcomed them and showed them respect. I kept their diet the same if they were staying a short time, so that was familiar. I asked owners to provide their favorite toys. But most of the birds boarding with me stayed in one of my boarding cages, so they didn’t even have their own cages. Yet in all those years and hundreds of birds, I never had a parrot start to damage its feathers or show any other sign of stress. None even evidenced a weight loss. So Sharon’s isn’t the only adaptable flock.

Pet Birds Need To Expect Change
It is crucial that parrot people understand that change is a part of life, and whether they like it or not, change is going to happen to their birds. If owners try to protect parrots from change, they will only make them more susceptible to stress in varying situations. Parrot owners need to make an effort to teach their birds that change is not scary and threatening. Indeed, variety is enjoyable and interesting, offering fabulous new things to see and do, and new people to meet. What fun for an intelligent and curious creature like a parrot!

Judith said it well when she said: "Today’s problems for people are sometime problems for their birds as well, as people deal with overseas military deployments, losing homes, or other issues that make it hard for them to keep their birds. It doesn’t help that we’ve all been told for so long that parrots can’t handle change, but rest assured that they can.”

Like children, pet animals respond to their peoples’ expectations. From my experience, animals adapt to that which we expect them to adapt. So if people buy into the "change is bad” mantra, they will end up with pet birds that are traumatized by change. If owners are matter of fact about it, the animals will likely respond in kind. So if, for instance, you fret and wring your hands over boarding a pet bird, that pet bird is likely to be stressed — but by you, not by the boarding. 

If you're taking your bird outside? Check out these traveling and harness tips here:

Traveling With Pet Birds
Parrot Harness Tips

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Change Is Good For Pet Birds

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Reader Comments
My bird loves change. She dances around every time Obama is on the tv screen. Also, one time when I gave her a new cage, she danced for 2 hours straight. Whenever someone pulls out coins she says, "Spare change?" and then starts dancing.
Alvin, Crappenschnitzel
Posted: 1/22/2014 8:19:12 AM
A well socialized bird is comfortable and happy. I see this in all of the birds at my parrot club. Many birds look forward to seeing other club members each month. One female U2 looks forward to seeing a little 7 year old girl each month. The U2 is a rescue and the little girl has just the right energy. Social activities just serve to unlock a bird's personality. I encourage every bird to express themselves. It maximizes the fun.
Charles, Orlando, FL
Posted: 6/21/2013 8:22:47 AM
Change is the spice of life
valerie, glen oaks, NY
Posted: 6/29/2011 8:09:29 PM
Good read
joan, franklin square, NY
Posted: 6/29/2011 8:05:28 PM
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