Understanding Parrots

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Understanding Parrots

Don visited Taronga Zoo and spoke to bird trainer Matthew Kettle about the social needs of parrots. Parrots are often perceived as ‘easy care’ pets, but there is much more to owning birds than putting them in cages and feeding them seed and water. If their needs are not met, parrots have the potential to develop behavioural problems, sometimes even attacking their owners.

Why do parrots attack?

All parrots, particularly Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Eclectus Parrots and Galahs, can become aggressive in captivity. They usually do this because they are frustrated, frightened or want some attention. Matthew explained that the main defence of a bird is flight. If their wings are clipped they cannot fly, so they often show their anxiety by attacking people.

Don’s tip

Don has always kept parrots, and over the years he has learned how to read signals in their behaviour. If you see a bird in a cage and don’t know if it will bite or not, rub your index finger and thumb together just out of reach of the bird. If the bird does the same thing with its beak, this is a positive sign. This movement is just like a bird handshake! The Little Corella featured in our segment quickly responded to this signal, became much more relaxed and showed no signs of aggression, even though it was a known biter.   

Developing a good relationship with your parrot

Matthew says that the key to having a good and happy relationship with your parrot is to learn to understand its body language. The main areas to watch are the eyes, the beak, the crest, and the chest. Preening, especially on either side of the shoulder blades, can be a sign of distress. Do not allow your parrot to form bad habits. When handling the bird, keep it on your hands rather than your shoulder. This allows you to have more control and also to read and react to its body language. As long as a parrot feels secure and that it’s not being threatened, it is unlikely to bite or hurt anyone.

Further reading

‘A guide to Pet & Companion Birds’, Australian Birdkeeper. Available from Angus and Robertson bookstores and some pet shops rrp $28.55. Also available direct from ABK Publications, PO Box 6288, South Tweed Heads, NSW, 2486 for $28.55 plus $4.35 postage and handling. Phone: 1800 633 493 Web: http://www.birdkeeper.com.au