Behavioural Problems in Companion Parrots continued…

Sometimes the bird has removed 90% of its own feathers and may even be self-mutilating its flesh.  We might ask why such a sight is so common in parrot-like birds.  It is of course as easy to acquire these ‘exotic’ animals as it is to acquire a hamster, a rat or a goldfish. 

Buyers are simply required to be over 16 years old.  Most of the needs of species such as small domesticated rodents can be met while these animals are kept as pets and the provision of these needs is not particularly demanding for the animals’ keeper.  Nor are these animals particularly long-lived.  Conversely, the medium-sized and larger parrots have complex needs and a lifespan similar to humans (Low 1992).  However, it is as easy to acquire a parrot as it is any other commonly-available (but domesticated) species and this ease of acquisition bears no relationship to the knowledge required in order to keep the bird well.  This is perhaps at the heart of the matter when we look at the quality of care many parrots receive as companion animals.

While the condition of the plumage of wild parrots varies and these birds may damage each others’ feathers there are no incidents of self-harming in wild parrots; the behaviour is confined to captive birds.  Here, the condition seems more common in lone (caged) companion birds as opposed to aviary birds which have the company of their own kind.  Since there may well be dietary and medical issues which contribute to self-harming in parrots, these aspects should always be investigated when presented with a bird in this condition.  However, self-harming always includes a behavioural component since the bird is making a voluntary decision to damage its own body, so this aspect needs to be examined as well.

We know that where an animal’s behavioural needs are frustrated, then the animal is vulnerable to behavioural problems.  Engebretson (2006) writes: “The freedom to express normal behaviour and the freedom from distress appear to be inextricably linked in captive parrots and other birds kept as pets.”  While we do not have many detailed studies of the behavioural ecology of many species of wild parrots, we do know that they are highly social animals which typically spend most of the day-time engaged in foraging for a range of foods, flying, and mutual preening (Birchall 1990). 

Captive parrots, in addition to being unable to perform many of their normal, natural daily behaviours, are also subjected to a range of other common management practices within the bird-keeping world which would seem likely to exacerbate behavioural frustrations.  These include parental deprivation (hand-rearing), being confined to small cages for most of the time, deprived of flight through wing-clipping and kept in solitude.  It is worth reviewing how captive parrots are produced [for the pet trade] and kept at present.