Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Captive Enrichment Part 1

We are going to be doing a multi-part post on captive enrichment. We find that a lack of enrichment in captivity is the source of a lot of friction and issues when keeping a parrot (which is a wild animal) in a home. This first post is going to focus on what captive enrichment is and why it is important. Future posts will cover various ways you can provide enrichment to improve the life of your parrots.

One of the challenges we constantly see with parrots is keeping them entertained. Most people know how smart parrots are, but they don't realize exactly what that means... it means that they are smart all of the time! Not just when you are home.

Imagine, being stuck in a room for 8 hours a day that is just big enough for you to spread your arms out and turn around in - not hard if you have a job with a cubicle - only you don't get a lunch break and all you get to do all day is interact with a small number of things. Let's say you have a TV (which does not change channels), a rubix cube, a deck of cards, one book, a gallon of water and a bucket of grape-nuts. How long would it take you to be bored? OK, so parrots aren't as smart as you... how long would it take a 5 year old to get bored? (There have been several studies that have shown that parrots have the intelligence of 3-5 year old children.) Even a 2 year old would be bored fairly quickly.

This is the daily life of the average parrot in captivity. Think about it and let it sink in. Imagine yourself in that situation, or your child, or your niece or nephew or the kid down the street. It wouldn't take long for it to become utterly boring would it?

You'd get tired of eating grapenuts, drinking water and watching TV all day. The rubix cube might be a challenge for a while but eventually you'd either learn to solve it so fast it was no longer interesting or if you're like me you'd just pull the blocks apart and try to fix it and end up with a broken mess. How many times can you play solitaire before it loses it's shine... and eventually it would be more fun to draw faces on the pictures in the book than it would be to read it. BORING!!!!!

So what happens to a parrot when it has nothing new to do? The same thing that happens to small children. Some of them become sedentary and eat without expending any energy. They may become obese and suffer from health problems. Some lose interest in their surroundings and themselves and no longer groom properly. Others become hyperactive and develop stereotypic (obsessive compulsive) behaviors. Some destroy their feathers. Some look forward to seeing their people and leaving their cage that they develop separation anxiety type behaviors and then become overdependent on their human companions. Some become so used to their cage environment that they refuse to leave it and become cage bound or phobic. Once these behaviors set in and a pattern develops, they can be extremely hard to work with. But whether the behaviors are already there or whether you're trying to prevent them from developing, captive enrichment is a good place to start.

Captive enrichment is a billion ways to make life more interesting. It covers a lot of things like foraging, toy rotation, new types of toys, opportunities for destruction, ambient noise and visual stimulation and bigger things like adding "conspecifics", novel climbing opportunities, flight opportunities and aviaries. It's a big umbrella term for anything that enriches the life of an animal in captivity. The reasons it's needed are pretty obvious when you think about it. However, very few people actually think about it and work towards making an enriching environment. It's an important thing to do and the good news is no matter if you've never even thought about it before you can start today and there are a lot of small changes you can make that will make a big difference.

Friday, July 16, 2010


"Rescue" is a word with many different meanings and the definition of what exactly constitutes "a rescue" or "rescuing" a parrot is a subject of hot debate among the animal community. When people find out that we are a Parrot "rescue" they often want to know what we are rescuing the birds from.
Our definition of rescue is removing a bird from a situation that presents immediate and quantifiable danger to the parrot's health or life.
In some cases, this means paying a bird's unpaid vet bills and giving it a place to stay so it will not be euthanized. Sometimes the birds are in situations where they in danger of dying due to environmental effects, physical abuse or untreated health problems.

It sounds quite impressive, but the reality of rescuing a bird is not very romantic. It generally involves laying in a layer of feces to cut a bird out of a cage and enduring the conditions that are putting the bird in danger. Those volunteers who participate in actual rescues have to endure a smelly, nasty, inclement, hostile and sometimes dangerous job. We are all grateful that we have members who will do this for the feathered lives who are stuck in these places.

Images from a rescue situation. The floor
was cleaner than the first time we arrived

Thankfully, most of the birds we are contacted about do not need "rescuing"... they need "rehoming". These birds come from homes where they receive at least good care, sometimes their diet isn't excellent, sometimes their vet care or grooming hasn't been as regular as it should be, but there is certainly nothing beyond benign neglect for them. Most people are surprised to find out that real "rescuing" is a small (but very important) part of what we do. Most of the birds in our care don't have severe issues - and those they do have can be modified with a little behavioral training.

So, if we're not "rescuing" these parrots, why do we have them?

Surrenders are normally one of a very few number of things. 90% of the birds surrendered to us fit into one of two categories.

1) "I didn't know what I was getting into"... it screams, it bites, takes too much time, takes too much money, chewed up my baseboards, I got married and it doesn't like my new spouse, I had a child and don't have the time. All of those are basically due to the fact that the person who purchased a parrot didn't do their research and find out what life with a parrot is really like. (If you'd like some insight you can click here.)
2) Unfortunate life circumstances. Home forclosures, loss of job, owner death, terminal/severe illness, sudden disability all qualify. Sadly with the recent economic down turn we are seeing a lot of beloved parrots who are surrendered because the people who own them no longer have anywhere to live themselves.

This is the day in/day out reality of our shelter. In response, we developed education, outreach and behavior modification services. We try to teach people about what to expect from a parrot before they buy one and if they've already bought one we try to help them understand the kind of care it takes. If they have behavioral issues, we reach out and try to help them work with the behavior. We've realized that it is better for a bird to stay in a good home rather than come to our shelter and have to find another one!
A Macaw that had never been handled learns to step up

Of course, sometimes behaviors can't be altered enough to suit a person, or sometimes the situation (like those in category #2) is out of everyone's control. Eventually we'd like to no longer have a job. That's the goal of any reputable shelter - to see a day where no homeless animals exist! That day seems far off, but we hope that one day it happens.

Friday, July 9, 2010

New volunteer opportunity

** We are currently in need of a website developer/maintainer and a professional or semi-professional photographer**

With the time and energy we spend caring for the birds at PARS, there is little time to create and maintain a "pretty" webpage, ensure all our links are working and add all the information we would like for our website to contain. There is also little time to take photos that fully convey the beauty and personality of each bird in our care.

It is important to us that we maintain an up to date list of adoptable parrots so interested adopters know who they may visit and who has already been placed. However, the well being and care of our birds comes first - so sometimes pretty pictures fall by the way side.

This is a great way for those who do not have the time available for regular, scheduled volunteer work or are unavailable during standard volunteer hours to help. If you are interested, please contact us at:


Our current website may be viewed by clicking here.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Of Birds and Bonding

eet Vana and her boyfriend. Two birds that have bonded in our shelter setting. They are considered sanctuary birds. (Vanna's health isn't what it used to be, and we feel that she should remain with us so that her medical needs can always be addressed)

Seeing two birds really and truly happy with each other is one of the most heartwarming things we get to witness. What happened between them is one of my favorite tales.

Their Story:

When Vana was surrendered she was supposedly a young, plucked bird that was a breeder. A quick medical exam and behavioral evaluation later and it was apparent that Vana was actually an older bird and had been a breeder for quite some time. She had cataracts, her feather follicles were permanently damaged and she was extremely skittish with people.

Vana was always gentle with the shelter staff and never bit, but she was easily stressed and obviously scared. Despite months of working with her, Vana never really warmed up to people. I was always sad to see this sweet old girl looking uncomfortable. She seemed lonely, but didn't want people as companions. The other macaws generally ignored her. One of the other female macaws would let Vana stay on her cage top and generally tolerated her presence. Adopters were not interested in this "ugly old bird" - no one seemed to notice how beautiful she was on the inside.
Vana getting ready for her bath

One day, a young, gorgeous, fully feathered hybrid macaw was surrendered. He was out going and people oriented. DJ is the kind of bird that most adopters stop and stare at. He's fun, he likes to dance, he plays (sometimes a little too rough for those of us who don't have feathers!) and he is breathtakingly beautiful. After quarantine the "new guy" was placed in the large macaw room.
DJ after a bath!

Instead of checking out the beautiful fully feathered, young "ladies" in the room though, DJ zeroed in on Vana. He immediately started defending her, staying on top of her cage and trying to hang out. Vana either ignored him or went inside her cage to get away. DJ was very stubborn. He kept trying to make friends - he never chased her, but made sure he was always near by so if someone tried to pick Vana up or do anything that distressed her he could protect her. He was a constant shadow.

A few months later Vana finally gave in and the rest is history. Vana finally has a friend who she is not afraid of and DJ can be with the lady he is smitten with.

These two somehow found each other and are both much happier with each other than they are with people. Like most good stories, this one has a moral. Sometimes it's what's on the inside that really matters. And unlike some good stories this one is completely true.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Son of Sam

Meet Sam our hybrid amazon. Our vet thinks Sam is a cross between a yellow nape and a yellow headed amazon. We aren't sure exactly what species Sam is, but we can tell you one thing. He came by his nickname "Son of Sam" honestly.

Sam was surrendered with a history of self-mutilation and severe aggression. He stays in a collar since he harms himself. Our vet can find no cause, but after many years (no one knows how long he had been mutilating when he arrived) it is unlikely to stop. The severe aggression is what earned him the nick name. At first, Sam would fling himself at any human in eye sight and attempt to bite their face and head. Volunteers tried to work with him, but he was extremely dangerous since he would always jump or fly at people's eyes and lips.

Sam also liked to sit and look outside. He couldn't be transported outside without risking serious injury unless a towel was used and toweling was traumatic.

Eventually one of our volunteers started to work on teaching Sam to be "perch trained" using positive reinforcement. Instead of offering an arm (which is attached to a face) the volunteers could use a stick. A side benefit was that a towel could be slung over a shoulder so that if Sam did attack the volunteer could easily protect their face and restrain Sam without dropping or hurting him.

Once he was carried outside, Sam was a different bird. He didn't display or attack humans. In fact he was happy to sit in the sun on the grass and stare at the sky or the ground or whatever happened to be nearby. In this environment, Sam actually started letting people touch him. He also learned to accept toweling and will sometimes sit in the towel and make cooing sounds.

Sam still isn't really trustworthy around faces, but he does enjoy being kissed when he's in his towel and everyone can be safe.

Sam says: Everyone Deserves Love!

Spotlight on Brent

Today we're doing a "spotlight" post. These are posts where we highlight people who are important and valuable to PARS.

Without these people, it would not be possible for PARS to do all that it does.

Brent is one of our most dedicated and longest term volunteers. Brent's wife works with Dave Spurlin. She learned about the parrot rescue that existed and Brent and Renee decided to adopt.

When they first visited, they were set on getting a Congo African Grey. Congo Greys are generally considered to be the "most intelligent" of parrots. Some of them have extensive vocabularies and they also have a reputation for taking their time when deciding to trust someone. They were interested in a challenge. That all changed when they met a Timneh African Grey at the rescue. Timnehs are smaller and darker colored than Congos and have a horn coloration on their top beak. They are generally considered more easy going. This particular parrot took one look at Brent, hopped on him and wouldn't get off.

It was love at first sight for Thumper and after several more visits she went to her new home. Many volunteers stop volunteering after adopting. Not so for Brent. He continues to come to the rescue on average of two times per week. He changes papers, food and water dishes and is one of our best socializers. He enjoys gaining parrots trust and has worked with countless birds in house to get them used to being handled.

Brent also goes above and beyond the regular volunteer work. In addition to the "standard" volunteer things, Brent has been instrumental in building our second aviary, installing doors, flooring, mounting air filters, cutting lumber for toys and perches and various other tasks that require skill, hard work and precision.

Brent has also attended outreach activities. He has fielded questions from the general public, assisted with set up and tear down of displays and watched to ensure that parrots are not stressed and remain hydrated.

In addition to all of that, Brent and his wife are two of our finest adopters. They have adopted a Hans Macaw, a Scarlett Macaw, several cockatiels and of course Thumper the Timneh African Grey.

Thank You Brent! PARS would not be the organization that it is today without you!

You, Me, The Law and Your Parrot

A couple of weeks ago we got a call from Tennessee again. Another quaker parrot had been surrendered to an agency and the agency discovered that quakers are illegal to own.

When this happens, the bird is generally given 24 hours to be removed from the state to a place where it is legal to have. If the bird is not removed, it is euthanized - period, end of discussion. No recourse - DEAD. We do hope that the birds that we aren't contacted about are humanely euthanized, however it is still legal in many areas to "euthanize" using an unmixed gas chamber containing CO2 or CO. (This is like drowning in a gas instead of a liquid.) When your vet anesthatizes a bird, they use a mixed gas so that the bird slowly loses conciousness, it doesn't pass out due to asphyxiation.

Given the results of not following through, one of our volunteers took the call and spent their entire day Sunday picking up the bird. (Thanks Dave!) These laws are in place for a variety of reasons and agree with them or not, we are subject to them. While we are extremely grateful to the organizations who contact us and give us the opportunity to prevent an unnecessary euthanasia, we are always disappointed to find out that yet another parrot has been put in a position where it might die.

A lot of people don't realize that certain "common" parrot species are illegal in certain states. Quakers are the most highly regulated but there are other species that are also illegal to own/breed/sell/transport or possess in certain states. Nanday Conures for example are also illegal in our neighboring state of Tennessee.

A complete list isn't possible because laws change and we don't want our blog to be considered a legal resource. Please don't depend on potentially out of date web information when the health and safety of your pets are on the line. Some states don't post information on restricted species in a place that is easy to find or search.

If you are going to be travelling with your parrot, you are looking at moving to another state, or considering adopting or purchasing a bird PLEASE do your homework. The easiest way to check on the status of your companion bird(s) is to contact the state veterinarian of all the states you will be going through. Sometimes you'll need an interstate veterinary health certificate. (Any licensed vet can provide this to you, but it has to be done no more than 10 days before you travel.)

As with all other things, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it. In the case of these laws, the pets are the ones who pay the penalty and the price is one you can't get back.

Polly the Quaker says "Check the laws before you travel, adopt, buy or move with me!"