Monday, May 23, 2011

Parrots and Sense of Smell

I always find it interesting how knowledge changes. We are told one thing for years and then suddenly Whammo! There is undeniable evidence that what you have heard for as long as you can remember is inaccurate.

Remember when everyone used to think parrots were trying to dominate you? Thankfully that notion is for the most part eeking it’s way out of the parrot community. But here is one that I have often thought about and finally have evidence! Do parrots have a sense of smell? Certainly the physical evidence shows they don’t have a lot of receptors for scent. We are also told their taste buds are limited compared to ours. However we certainly see parrots respond eagerly to foods they appear to like. We can only assume taste must be involved in there somehow.

Scent on the other hand has still been a big question mark for me. I often ask myself if they have a poor sense of smell why do parrots emit such interesting odors? Those of you who have Amazon parrots certainly know what I mean. There is a very strong odor that seems to emanate from their respiratory system. That odor must mean something to someone. And my guess that someone is another Amazon parrot.

I have had this discussion with many veterinarians and we often come to the conclusion that perhaps they have scent receptors for that particular odor. However even with that information I have never noticed a parrot actively smelling something. I had never observed a parrot investigating something with his nares in the way a mammal might with his nose.

On a recent trip to New Zealand I finally met a parrot who clearly responds to smells. The bird in question is called a kaka. They are similar to a kea, but smaller and browner in coloration. The keeper told us this bird responded to smells. And she was right! He would press his nares against your hair or skin, inhale and then preen himself. You could actually hear him inhaling as he did it. The keeper mentioned they often offer strips of fabric with different scents on them for enrichment. She said he responds with great enthusiasm.

Here is a video clip of Robin Shewokis and me getting sniffed.

We were also told that a researcher is currently working on testing scent detection with kakapo, kea and kaka and has some interesting results. I can’t wait to read that paper when it is ready. Time to perhaps officially change one of the truths we have often held to be true about parrots. Exciting!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is a Parrot the Right Pet for You?

Not too long ago Kaytee launched a survey to gather more information on the reasons people relinquish parrots. Many readers of this blog and subscribers to the Good Bird Inc mailing list contributed their experiences to the survey. Dr Susan Clubb evaluated the results and produced a very in-depth document that is available on the Kaytee website. The results were quite intriguing and I highly recommend parrot enthusiasts read the report.

I, like many others, have found sharing my life with parrots to be extremely enlightening, fulfilling and enjoyable. In turn I try to make sure their life is equally engaging. I have been fortunate to meet many bird lovers who successfully share their lives with parrots. Their presence can help us learn to appreciate these amazing creatures and also their wild counterparts. I personally believe helping people connect with animals is important to making us better human beings. We can learn to be kind, gentle and nurturing.

However in order for that connection to have the effect I hope for, people need to have the tools for success. This means being prepared for a life with parrots. Knowing what to expect can help prevent families from getting into a situation that might not be the right fit for their household. And sometimes all it takes is a little information to help prevent behavior problems that can lead to parrot relinquishment. To help potential parrot owners be informed Kaytee has created a new resource that is based on the results of the survey. It is a twenty minute video called Bringing Birdie Home.

If you are a new parrot owner or are considering acquiring a parrot, I highly recommend you watch this video. It provides a brief introduction into what to expect. You will learn about diet, veterinary care, household dangers, behavior and training, enrichment and managing the mess. It will get you started on the right path and help you enjoy your life with a parrot. The video is a free resource and is also available as a pdf. All of us involved hope resources such as Bringing Birdie Home will help prevent parrot relinquishment and allow people to experience the joy of sharing your life with a parrot. I do hope you will check it out and share it with others. Here is the direct link to the video. Cross posting/sharing is encouraged!

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011

Managing Parrot Mess

Once a zookeeper, always a zookeeper. I admit I was trained well. When I started my career in zoos back in 1990 I worked for the best kind of boss a newbie could have….a stickler for cleanliness and exceptional animal care. The standards were high but they were enforced with a gentle hand. I never resented having to keep animal enclosures meticulous. I remember at one zoo where I worked we had to rake a dirt floor to remove animal waste and debris. One of my coworkers commented you are raking the dirt to make a pile of dirt to throw away. He was right …even the dirt had to be clean! I admit that was a bit of overkill, but to this day I take pride in putting my animals first.

This means every morning the first thing I do is prepare parrot diets and clean enclosures. I aim to have a training session and one on one time with my birds every morning. Enrichment is changed out daily. And access to sunshine and fresh air for my parrots is also on my daily check off list. Taking care of the animals comes before checking email, taking a shower or diving into the day’s workload. Sometimes this means it might be 11 AM before emails get answered.

I suppose it could easily become a chore, but in reality I thoroughly enjoy that part of the day. I probably even take a little longer than I should just to allow more time to enjoy the companion parrots in my life.

One of the really great benefits to being a zookeeper is you very quickly learn ways to effectively and efficiently clean parrot enclosures. I have often thought parrot rescues should take a tip from zoos and set up there housing just as a zoo would instead of using cages designed for people’s homes. You can thoroughly clean 30 large parrot enclosures in a jiffy with the right set up. We don’t quite have that luxury in our homes. But there are some things you can do to make the job easier.

Here are a few cleaning tips:

• Spray water on caked on food or droppings and let it sit for 10 minutes. You will find it wipes up easily after a few minutes of soaking.

• Keep a set of cleaning utensils (sponges, paper towels, garbage bags, clean paper) in every bird area. It saves you a lot of walking.

• Invest in an electric carpet sweeper. These are great for picking up big chunks and keeping daily clean up quick and under control.

• Use washable throw rugs under parrot perches. Have plenty of extra on hand to trade out when dirty. I have found inexpensive ones at IKEA.

• Buy rolls or bundles of newsprint at packaging stores. I get mine at Eco-Box. Place layers in the cage. Remove layers as they get soiled.

Have you got a great cleaning tip? Leave it in the comments below. Lots of parrot lovers will thank you.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright Good Bird Inc 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Petting Your Parrot

People often warn of the dangers of petting your parrot. Usually they are referring to the kind of touching that leads your parrot to believe you two would make lovely children together. This might include stroking under your parrot’s wings or near the base of his tail. This is often accompanied by your parrot affectionately regurgitating some smelly gooey food to share with you. This then often leads to your parrot attacking anyone who dare comes near the two of you…. a literal pair of lovebirds.

Touching parrots in a way that encourages courtship and sexual behavior is “just asking for it.” In other words you are setting yourself up for behavior problems that could include aggressive behavior, chronic egg laying, territorial issues and more. Check out Pamela Clark’s article on Hormone Production in parrots in the free sample of our digital publication Good Bird Magazine for more on behavior problems resulting from reproductive behavior.

Humans are super tactile creatures. We just love to touch things. And touching our pets can be a magical experience. My friends who visit my house say they get to be Snow White when they are here. Birds land on their heads. Small furry mammals hop into their lap and snuggle up against them. I love playing Snow White too and I could not imagine it being as much fun if I did not get to touch the animals. Therefore petting the parrots and other animals in my home is a big part of life. However it is done with forethought. Especially when it comes to parrots.

People tend to pet animals from the top of their heads to the tip of their tails. This does work for many mammals. Birds on the other hand…not so much. Parrots can get used to being stroked this way. But I would say it is not their preferred method to be touched. Most parrots prefer to have only the feathers on their head touched. And get this…they want you to stroke towards the beak, not the tail. A parrot who is enjoying having his head scratched will fluff all of his feathers up in response to touch. Check out Delbert, my yellow naped Amazon parrot enjoying a head scratch.

A few favorite spots on most parrots include under the beak, nape of the neck, over the ears and just above the nares. Parrots can’t reach these feathers to preen. Therefore they rely on other parrots or their human companions to take on this task. I believe this is why they are more receptive to touch on their head’s as opposed to other parts of their body.

There are of course parrots who do like having their bodies touched. Blu Lu the blue throated macaw is one such parrot. Even on her body she prefers the feathers are scratched opposite to the way they grow. As mentioned earlier I do have to be careful that touching her body does not lead to sexual or courtship behavior. So this is offered in moderation. I want her to be friendly with many people and encouraging a mate-like relationship with me will make that goal difficult to maintain.

Take a look at how your parrot responds to touch. Is he tolerating it? Or do you have a magic touch and he is getting a tad over stimulated? Hopefully you have found the happy medium, just enough to make it fun for you both.

Barbara Heidenreich
Copyright 2011 Good Bird Inc