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Adopting a Second-Hand Parrot

By: Mattie Sue Athan

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Some of the finest birds available are second- or third-hand pets. Because many parrots are long-lived and humans are, well, only human, there are frequent opportunities to acquire previously-owned parrots. Some parrots require new homes within a year either because their owners did not fill their needs for training and appropriate environment or because of their owners' lifestyle changes.

A Dream or a Nightmare

Buying a pre-owned bird can either be a dream or a nightmare. Sometimes a bird is homeless simply because an owner could not handle the responsibility of cleaning his cage. In other cases, birds may have been behavioral disasters. You should be especially careful if you have acquired a breeding-age bird because biting behaviors can appear suddenly. Socialize these birds for the first few months with towels and hand-held perches until you get a feeling for specific breeding behaviors, when they'll appear and what happens when they do.

The most promising candidate is a youngster that has merely been neglected, rather than abused or spoiled. This bird's new home should seem absolutely heavenly. It's a new beginning for your new fine-feathered friend and, often, improved behavior is generated spontaneously. (There's a window of opportunity for reinforcing good behavior into habits similar to that in baby handfeds, but the window may be very brief.)

Health Evaluation

Before taking your bird home, begin physical rehabilitation with medical evaluation. If there are other birds in your home, carefully observe quarantine as specified by your veterinarian because a sick bird might communicate illness to other birds in your home.

A second-hand bird often benefits from allowing his wings to regrow, then trimming only slightly and gradually. If you want your veterinarian to trim your bird's wings, let him know how you want it done.

Home at Last

During the first days in your home, provide your bird hiding opportunities by covering part of his cage with a towel. Be nurturing, supportive and consistent. Handle your bird less if he tires easily, perhaps providing extra heat, sleep and yummy food. Don't try step-ups from the cage unless your bird first enjoys step-ups in unfamiliar territory. Your bird should be socialized to enjoy the towel game.

Your New Bird's Diet

A newly-adopted parrot might eat nothing but seeds. This is similar to adopting a child who eats only French fries. Begin mixing a good-quality manufactured diet with what the bird has been eating, gradually replacing seeds with balanced nutrition.

Don't supplement with vitamins unless your veterinarian prescribes something special. If your new bird has a less-than-healthy liver or kidneys, you'll be advised to avoid vitamin supplementation - especially D3 - that could kill your bird. Ask your veterinarian for more details on this.

Offering warm food is an excellent bonding experience, as sharing regurgitated food is a courtship behavior demonstrating nurturing skills to a would-be mate. A parrot responding to warm food might want to feed humans, other birds, toys or furniture.

Your New Bird's Behavior

  • Aggression If your bird is aggressive but can be handled, hold him as much as possible in the first days - usually in a snuggly, fluffy towel or on a hand-held perch. Repeat and reinforce any interactions that both you and your bird enjoy, preferably including step-ups. Be playful! Your bird's enjoyment is most important here.

  • Excessive vocalization Screaming is the most common reason for home changes in mid-sized and larger hookbills. Some of these birds are very young and have not developed independent play, so they are overly demanding of human attention. Do not bring an excessive, habitual screamer into an established flock. A screaming parrot introduced to other birds can easily teach screaming behaviors to the rest of the group.

  • Fearfulness Changing homes can be unsettling to a shy bird. An extremely fearful bird can be the most significant behavioral challenge in parrot rehabilitation. Cover part of the cage for a while. Situate the cage at chest level first, then raise or lower it until your bird seems most at ease. Step-ups can help a shy parrot understand what is expected and increase confidence.

    Found Birds

    Free-flying, non-native birds are a danger to themselves, to agriculture and to other local birds. They might have been subjected to adverse environmental conditions. They take food and nesting sites away from native species. They can be exterminated for perceived interference with farming or utility lines.

    While a found parrot has less talking potential, some adjust very well as human companions. So to acclimate this type of bird, begin with eye games. When the bird has calmed somewhat, take him to a small area, such as a bathroom, closet or hallway. Sit on the floor with your knees up. Put the bird on a towel on your knees and spend an hour or so reading out loud to the bird. Subsequently, spend less time reading and begin playing peek-a-boos, progressing to step-ups.

    Wild-Caught Birds

    Most of the last legal wild-caught parrots entered the United States in 1992. Because many of them are long-lived, wild-caught birds continue to appear for resale. For a person with great patience, these birds occasionally offer good companion potential. Tamed, wild-caught parrots have a lesser tendency to acquire speech, but they can be charming in a different, wilder way. Sometimes, the only way to identify a re-socialized wild-caught parrot is by the split USDA band placed on its leg at importation.

    Establish contact with the bird first by playing games with him that involve no eye contact and progress to games involving limited eye contact. Offer food from your hand, play the towel game and sleep in front of the bird before hand contact is attempted.

    Aviary Birds

    A bird might be so bonded to wild roles, so intent on his own instincts, that he is completely intolerant of humans. The presence of humans might stimulate life-threatening stress. Large flights of similar birds are necessary. Every effort should be made to shield these birds from human contact.

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