Galahs & Other Parrots
Parrots require time, commitment, care and love. As far as birds go they are quite high maintenance but boy, what a character they are! Living with a parrot is just like having another child in the house. They chat, play and make a mess but somehow they manage to find their place in the hearts of everyone in the family.
Parrots can live for many, many years. In captivity, a weiro can live for around 20 years and a pink and grey galah can live for up to 80 years so committing to owning a parrot is a very big decision. Hand-reared male birds of any species always make the better pets as they are less prone to breeding related illness and have a better ability to interact. Female birds do make excellent pets but they are prone to egg laying problems. But, in the end, research and plenty of observation is the best way to decide on a species of parrot and on the gender that best suits the new bird owner.
Companion parrots see humans as their flock and will interact with them by speaking, mimicking their behaviour and preening themselves so that they look good for their family. It’s not uncommon for a parrot to eat when the family eats or call to their humans to welcome them home.
A parrot will wake up when the sun comes up and go to sleep at darkness and since they need quite a bit of sleep, they will nap throughout the day in amongst playing, eating and preening. Parrots will quite often make noises in the morning and later in the afternoon and since these can be quite loud, it can disturb the rest of the family and the neighbours.
Never leave a parrot out of its cage and then leave the room, even for a few seconds. They can easily be spooked and injure themselves or become mischievous and cause damage.
Children and large parrots don’t mix very well. After all, a large parrot’s beak is designed to crack walnuts. Although parrots have been known to get on well with other household animals, by their very nature, all animals are unpredictable and a great deal of care needs to be taken if they are to co-exist in a home. Even if they appear to get on well, this may change in an instant and one will always end up worse off.
CHOOSING A CAGE
There are so many models, sizes and styles available that there is surely a cage to suit any size parrot. The minimum size cage must be large enough that the parrot can fully extend both wings without touching either side of the cage. The parrot must be able to climb up and down and jump between the perches. Bigger is always better so purchase the largest cage possible with a bar size and spacing to suit the specific species.
Bars should be spaced close enough together so that the parrot cannot fit its head between them and get it trapped and they should be thick enough that they can’t be broken from chewing. Whilst budgies will live safely within small bars, medium to large size parrots need bars that are thick and which they cannot break at the weld points because they will try.
Food and water bowls need to be secure and should be easy to access so those that are on hinged doors are definitely the best. At least two openings are needed for food and water bowls but four is even better. Ensure that the clasp on these is effective as a curious bird with a long beak can easily swing these around and escape. Add padlocks if in any doubt. Swinging food doors are available which can be retro-fitted into existing cages and these are worth the effort.
Most cages come with wooden perches which will probably get chewed or dirtied over time. Mix these up with tree branches of varying thicknesses and textures so that the bird’s feet remain healthy from having a variety of perches on which to stand.
Small doors on cages make cleaning them as well as fetching the bird difficult. Try to get as large a door is possible and ensure that you will be able to reach every part of the cage to clean it. For some parrots, the law requires that the cage has a double door ensuring that the bird can’t escape but these are even useful for the safety of any much-loved pet.
Cages with a sliding grate over the bottom tray allow debris and droppings to fall through and prevent the bird from foraging amongst discarded food that may be contaminated. Cage skirts surround the outside of a cage and trap the seed that parrots just love to throw around so these help to keep the outer area cleaner.
Dirty cages can lead to a host of serious health problems. To minimize infection, the tray, perches and grate should be cleaned and scrubbed every week with a commercial cage cleaner or a lemon juice and warm water mix. Every month, the whole cage should be scrubbed so that all the crevices and cracks can be cleaned as well. Food and water bowls should be cleaned every day and cage liners replaced.
Covering a cage at night is a great way to get a parrot in a sleep routine but choose a cover made from natural fibres such as wool and cotton. The problem with rayon, nylon and other synthetic materials is that their fibres do not break easily and with a parrot’s tendency to pull things apart, he runs the risk of unravelling the fabric into long strands which inevitably wrap around the toes and feet. This can result in terrible injuries, loss of limb and even fatalities.
FOOD & WATER
The food a parrot eats makes a big difference to the amount of energy and vitality that he enjoys. Seed and pellets are available to suit all sized birds but the quality on offer differs greatly. Pellets are often recommended as they are a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals and wastage is generally much lower.
Good quality seed mixes are also suitable although parrots do have the habit of throwing out the seeds that they don’t enjoy to find their favourites so wastage can be high.
Avoid seed mixes with an excessive amount of sunflower seeds. Although birds love these, they are very high in fat and over time could put strain on the liver and heart.
A parrot’s food should be a mix of about half seed or pellets and half fruits, vegetables and nuts. They love chickweed, dandelions and seeding grasses but be sure to identify the plant before feeding. Parrots can eat some “people food” such as rice and pasta but like all of us, they love food that is sweet or high in fat. Limit these types of food along with those that are high in salt and never feed a parrot food that is spoiled or rancid. Remove fresh food from the cage every day before it has the chance to spoil.
Without doubt, the foods that are highly dangerous to birds are chocolate, avocado, fruit seeds, raw meat and eggs, alcohol and caffeine. These should be avoided at all cost.
Changing a parrot from eating seed to eating pellets is very much like any other animal. It must be done gradually over several weeks. Start by adding a small amount of pellets into the seed. Add a little bit of warm water making the pellets stick to the seed so that as the bird eats it, he naturally takes in some of the pellets developing a taste for them. Every day over the next two weeks, increase the amount of pellets and reduce the water added. Only feed what they can consume in one day.
Parrots love making a mess and if they can, they will drop anything they find into their water and some may even tip their water out. Always have two water containers available and refresh them daily. Position them so that they are not underneath a perch and ensure that they are secured and can’t be tipped over.
Parrots have busy beaks and busy brains. They need plenty of toys to entertain themselves so that they don’t become bored and mischievous. Collect a range of toys and give the bird one or two, rotating them every week to keep him stimulated. He will think that each of them is brand new even if he played with them just a month before.
Parrot toys do not have to be expensive but they do have to be safe and suit the size of the bird. Large parrots such as macaws will demolish a toy meant for a galah and in fact, this can result in dangerous pieces that can be ingested.
Don’t be tempted to give a parrot toys meant for kids or other animals. These are not designed for strong beaks that can easily pull them apart into small, digestible pieces.
Many birds love shiny toys that reflect their own image and bells are fascinating because of their shape and noise. Puzzle toys can be lots of fun for large parrots as they provide a mental challenge and smaller parrots enjoy a “snuggle buddy” tied to the side of their cage that they can cuddle up against.
Parrots love to chew wood. It keeps their beaks healthy and allows them to be active. Wood chews coloured with safe, nontoxic dyes are available but even a branch from a eucalypt tree or some pine cones will keep them busy. Of course, parrots also love cuttlefish and will benefit from calcium and mineral chews available from Better Pets and Gardens stores.
Parrot stands are a terrific way to give a bird its own space whilst inside or when its cage is being cleaned. Choose a stand to suit the bird’s size, make sure it has a very big tray underneath to collect debris and add some toys for the bird to play with whilst he’s there. Position the stand in the same place, close to the family but not so close that the bird can get onto furniture.
Not all parrots are able to talk but budgies, weiros and galahs are real chatterboxes. Once they start, some of them never stop. Most birds learn better from someone with a high pitched voice and concentrate more when there are few other distractions around the household. Covering the cage to make it semi-dark may also work as will turning off the TV and ensuring the house is quiet.
Parrots learn through mimicry which is why they inevitably learn to ring like the telephone or beep like a microwave. They will pick up on the words most frequently spoken around the home and then repeat them in a way that sounds just like they are having a conversation. Words which require the tongue to touch against your teeth such as ‘t’ are a bit easier for them than those spoken with open lips such as ‘r’ and ‘e’. They quickly learn to whistle and to kiss. It may take quite a while for a parrot to say his first word but once this has happened, he will begin to add to his vocabulary very quickly.
- Most Lorikeets
- White cockatoos
- African Greys
- Major Mitchells
Handling a bird daily keeps him tame and in fact, he will find it quite soothing and enjoyable. He will soon build a bond with his owner and this will deter wild and destructive behaviour. Quite often a parrot will bond with just one member of the household which will most likely be the one that spends time with him and talks to him the most.
Parrot training is necessary for all in the family to live happily in the same household. Basic manners and commands such as ‘step up’ and ‘no’ are simple for them to learn and for those with a bit more time, tricks can be a lot of fun.
Parrots do not understand punishment in the way that humans do. If the trainer makes a loud noise, screams or makes a threatening action, the bird will think that he is playing just like parrots in the wild do or that he is a threat. The most effective way for the trainer to show that the behaviour was unacceptable is to turn away and ignore the bird. They hate to be ignored more than anything else. Don’t be afraid to frown at the bird as they are capable of picking up on facial expressions and will also respond well to a soft but stern voice spoken in a low tone.
Parrots have a short attention span so training sessions should be kept to about 10 or 15 minutes. Even before that, if the bird’s attention begins to wander, there is no point continuing with the training. Training is much easier with a younger bird and a food reward. Choose a treat that it absolutely adores and only offer it during training so that the bird tries just that bit harder to earn it.
Some prefer to use a ‘clicker’ instead of treats to train and reward a parrot. The technique is the same. Simply press the clicker as soon as the wanted behaviour is carried out and use lots of verbal praise.
Tame or hand-reared parrots are best trained while away from their cage but if they are not tame, the first place to start is to get the bird used to stepping up so that he will eventually hop up on your hand.
Begin by finding a training stick which is essentially a spare perch. Get the parrot’s attention, open the cage door and let the parrot see the stick whilst you repeat the command “step up”. If the parrot takes even one step towards the stick or even if it just stays in one spot without moving backwards, provide a reward and verbal praise. This is all there is to the first training session.
The next day, repeat the same training step but expect the bird to move just a little bit further before giving the reward. Parrots are smart and will soon learn what they need to do to get their treat. Each day, expect the bird to do just that little bit more whilst continuing to say “step up”. Eventually the parrot may step up on to the stick itself or you may need to lightly press the stick against the lower chest of the bird encouraging it to step up.
Once the parrot learns to step on to the stick well, gradually shorten the stick and soon after, the parrot will be stepping directly onto your hand. A tame bird may take only a few days to learn this but for some it might take several weeks. Patience is definitely a virtue when it comes to bird training.
Parrots use their beaks like a third foot so although they may look like they are going to bite their owner’s hand, often they are just trying to hold on to it to move from one place to another. However, if they are trying to bite, the owner soon knows about it from the broken skin or the painful dent that is left. Often the bird will give signals that it is about to bite by flaring eyes or changes in their demeanour. Usually this will be because they are scared or feel cornered or sometimes that they just need some time alone. If a bird bites, don’t make a fuss but just move away and ignore it.
To stop biting, try approaching with gifts and a soothing voice and have no fear as the bird will soon pick up on that. Never yell at the bird or hit him but instead, start the training again. Perhaps this time wear an oven mitt so that the bird learns that no matter how hard he bites, he cannot make your hand disappear.
SYMPTOMS OF ILLNESS
Birds that are feeling “under the weather” will often have ruffled feathers, reduced appetite, cloudy eyes and droppings that are unusual in colour or consistency. Serious respiratory problems are obvious by the bird breathing with their beak open almost like they are panting and tail bobbing which becomes obvious as the problem worsens. Dirty feathers, weight loss and general changes in behaviour are also signs of illness.
The key to a bird’s recovery is an early diagnosis and so a trip to the vet at the earliest opportunity is best. Not all vets are able to deal with birds but they will all know of a specialist avian vet within the area so it is always best to phone ahead first.
Feather plucking is often difficult to treat and diagnose. Typically it begins with normal feather loss through damage or in areas that the bird can reach but then this forms patches that may eventually affect the entire body.
Possible reasons are allergies, internal or external parasites, skin infections or malnutrition. When all medical causes are ruled out, psychological causes are considered such as boredom, overcrowding, environmental changes, poor wing clipping or even sexual frustration. Act quickly at the first sign of problems by seeking the help of an avian vet.
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