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BEHAVIOURAL PROBLEMS IN PARROTS

NEIL A FORBES BVETMED RFP DIPECAMS FRCVS
Great Western Exotic Vets
Unit 10 Berkshire House, County Park,
Shrivenham Road, Swindon, SN1 2NR
www.gwexotics.com

Parrots are naturally happy, gregarious flock creatures which make
considerable noise are highly destructive and very intelligent. In recent years
many captive bred parrots have been hand reared by humans, becoming
imprinted on humans and missing out on natural parenting by their parents
(normally lasting 2-5 years) or the joy of group living.

This change has generated soppy tame cuddly parrots but has also lead to a
host of serious and often complicated behavioural problems. We try to open
your eyes to these problems and assist you in understanding the problems
which occur and how to address them.

Hand reared parrots do not naturally consider humans as being superior
beings and instead dominance is governed primarily by height (i.e. as if in a
tree). As such it is vital that an owner maintains height advantage (i.e. no
birds on shoulders) and also regularly asks and expects the parrot to do what
is expected of it.

Training of a parrot is necessary
To teach the parrot to be a good pet, the owner must maintain dominance.
The owner must be able to:
Take the parrot out of its cage without aggression from the bird
Be able to put the parrot back in its cage
Stop the bird going on their shoulder
The bird should not shout or scream unnaturally.
The owner must become flock leader by exercising dominance training, in
which tasks are requested and positive praise administered when tasks are
achieved.
Training sessions should be 5 minutes 2-3x daily

Parrots are considered to have the mental age of a 4 year old child and one
should think of them as such. You would not put a child alone in any empty
cot in an empty house whilst you went out to work and expect it to grow up
naturally - nor can you a parrot.

Bad behaviour takes months to develop and will take considerably longer to
reverse.

One of the biggest problems in bad behaviour developing is the accidental
reward for bad behaviour. For example, if a bird screams the owner goes to it
to talk to it, when a bird pulls a feather out the owner tells it off. For a 4 year
old child it is better to be told off than to be ignored. Once told off the parrot
quickly learns if it behaves badly again it will again be rewarded. Any owners
do this without appreciating what they are doing. In order to reverse such
behaviour one will need to change to give a negative reward for bad
behaviour - e.g. the bird pulls a feather out, so the owner leaves the room.
However if the bird is already conditioned to pull the feather out, it will take up
to 200-300 reverses to negative feedback to reverse the birds conditioning.

Training
Use a T perch, preferably in an unfamiliar environment (away from the
birds environment), for 5 minutes 2-3x daily.
Ask the bird to do something which it is naturally inclined to do and then
praise them for doing it, e.g. step up (onto finger).
Teach the bird to be used to you holding its toes once it is on your fist (so
you can control it).
Once step up and down is consistently achieved, try moving the perch to
other rooms and repeat the process. This becomes more difficult if done
within the birds own environment.
The bird should also earn the commands, No and Okay.

If the bird is bad or disobedient then the following reprimands may be used:
No, the evil eye, laddering (repeated ups from one finger to the other), mini
earth quakes (a sudden movement of the hand - to unsettle the bird and
reduce it's confidence).

The trainer must show no fear and not mind or react to the occasional bite

Specific problems and how to deal with them:

1. Biting
Birds communicate not only by voice but also by beak nuzzling and hence
a bird craving to hold your finger or rub against it is quite natural, whilst
equally if said finger is rapidly retracted may result in a panic response to
bite. Parrots will of course also bite if they are frightened or are being
aggressive. In general terms if it didn’t bleed you were not bitten.

If the bird really bites: give the evil eye, say NO, but show no fear or pain
response, laddering. The bird should now appear sad and the owner
should show forgiveness, then praising the bird. No grudge should be
maintained.

2. Excessive screaming
Parrots are naturally noisy and making a lot of noise is normal behaviour.
In the same way as we expect our zoo animals to be allowed to exercise
normal behaviour, so too should we expect our pet animals to. If that bird
is behaving normally but is too noisy, then you may have a problem, but
the problem is yours and not the birds. This problem may be particularly
difficult as the owners may not seek help until they have a legal ultimatum
from police or neighbours (shut that bird up or ….)

If the bird screams (in the same room as the owner): give the evil eye, say
no firmly, and then when the bird is quiet praise it. If this doesn’t instantly
work, cover the bird or leave the room when he screams.
If the bird screams in a different room: it is essential the bird is ignored.
Once the parrot stops screaming (even if momentarily) the owner should
enter the room and praise the bird.

It is important to reward a quiet bird. Talk or call to it once you are up in
the morning and as you move around in the day. Let it know its flock
mate is about and it will feel more secure.

3. Excessive territoriality
Again normal parrot behaviour, but one which can become excessive. It
is deemed to be excessive when the owner can no longer control or
manipulate the bird in or near that environment. Dominance training is
essential, especially in the proximity of the bird’s cage. A bird may
become institutionalised if it never leaves its cage or go anywhere else.
The bird should have as much variety as possible.

If the bird refuses to obey your command in its territory, walk away, come
back 5 minutes later and ask it to step up again. If it will not come out,
either leave the cage open until it does, or remove it with a towel, take it to
a new room it is not accustomed to and start the training process there. If
possible put it in a new or different cage, one which it is not immediately
territorial over.

4. Over-bonding onto one person
This is where a bird has a total fixation on one person and cannot be
separated from them. This can be a particular problem in a 1 person
household. There is often a sexual fixation element to this problem.

If a multi person household, the preferred person, takes the bird from the
cage, takes it to the training room, puts it down on the perch and leaves
the room. Then other members of the household come in and give the
bird training sessions. From then on you choose one of the birds
favourite toys or foods and it can only receive those if it collects them from
the non preferred person.

It is important that the preferred person does not tolerate any aggression
by the bird towards any non preferred person. It this occurs the preferred
person must say NO, give the evil eye and then leave the room. The
preferred person must never take the bird from the bitten person, laugh or
yell at the bird. When the bird does as requested it must be rewarded,
even if the finger is still bleeding. Dominance by the preferred person
over the bird is essential to avoid a sexual over dependency.

5. Overdependency
This is a common problem in which a bird has never developed the ability
to behave naturally as a parrot and as such cannot entertain itself. This
inevitably leads to boredom and the behavioural abnormalities associated
with that. A well adjusted independent parrot should know how to play
and do so happily, be happy to explore new territories, meet knew people
and be handled by different people, try new foods.
Over dependent birds may scream excessively, feather pluck or self
mutilate, suffer separation anxiety, in able to cope with change and are
not willing or able to play with toys, be destructive and occupy
themselves.

To over come over dependency encourage normal flock behaviour, allow
the bird to be stimulated by changing environments, foods, people and
toys. As with all behavioural problems, dominance training increases the
birds confidence will help it to readjust.

6. Phobias
A bird may be challenged by certain frightening or stressful situations,
which may lead to abnormal fear responses whenever the bird perceives
these situations are going to occur. A bird in a cage in the center of a
room is more likely to suffer in this way, as they have no safe side from
which they know no danger can come from. Parrot cages should be
positioned with at least one side against a wall. The first step is to try to
detect what is triggering the phoebic behaviour. Remove this if possible.
Give the bird more security, increase confidence with training, then let the
bird see the phoebic stimulant at a very great distance, in time moving it
closer and closer and praising good behaviour.

Plucking or self mutilation - a common sign typically triggered by one or
more of the problems above. It is a common cause for presentation of
birds to vets and is dealt with as a syndrome in its’ own right below.


MY BIRD'S PLUCKING IT'S FEATHERS - 'I THINK IT'S GOT MITES'
JUST HOW SIMPLISTIC CAN YOU BE?

Feather plucking, (let alone other feather abnormalities) is in itself a massive
subject, it is frequently a complicated, multi-factorial problem, which may be
refractory to therapy. Although general advice can be given, which will on
some occasions result in a recovery, the majority of cases require detailed
investigations, which may take some time, birds may well need to be seen
several times and the treatment can cost a considerable sum of money, and
will not lead to a recovery in all cases.

In tackling a feather abnormality or plucking case, the clinician first needs to
collect a comprehensive history, including all such factors as :- age of bird,
species, duration of plucking, season of onset, previous therapy, previous
investigation, husbandry, (housing, day-light pattern, occupational therapy,
feeding methods, nutrition, concurrent illness, exact clinical signs, duration of
isolation etc.), etc. etc..

At the outset it is important to assess the owners’ determination and resolve in
overcoming the problem. It is likely that there will be no instant fix, and the
cure will involve considerable time and commitment from themselves,
together with a large amount of 'psittacine understanding'. If the case is to be
investigated, then the following list of causes need to be investigated. The
key is to rule out all medical causes, prior to accepting that there is a
psychological problem.

Please fill in the next section before you see the vet if possible.

Background history
What food is the bird offered?
What food does the bird actually eat?
What type of cage does the bird live in?
What type of toys does the bird have?
How much of the day is the bird out of the cage for?
How long have you had the bird for?
Do you have other birds?
Does the bird, or has the bird ever lived with other birds?
Does the bird ever go on holiday and stay with another bird?
What was the source of the bird?
What is the species, sex and age of the bird?
Has the bird been subjected to any viral or chlamydial (psittacosis) tests?
How long has the bird been plucking?
How old was the bird when it started plucking?
What month of the year did the plucking start in?
Has the bird picked in the past and started re-picking, i.e. is it a seasonal
plucker?
Is there any seasonal link with moulting or sexual behaviour?
Does the bird pick when you are present, absent or both?
Do you see the bird plucking?
How do you react to the bird is you see it plucking?
If the bird plucks when you are present how does he react, is it itchy? Does
he scream or vocalize?
Does he interrupt his favourite behaviour to pluck?
Is there a certain time of day when he plucks?
Does the bird entertain itself, e.g. playing with toys?
How would you describe your bird (1 or more of the following):
o relaxed,
o anxious,
o playful,
o fearful,
o aggressive,
o loving,
o demanding

Further history collection

MEDICAL CAUSES of Feather Abnormalities / Plucking

Al lergies (typically food); some clinicians (particularly in the US and
Australia) believe that birds may develop allergies which lead to plucking.
Research work in this field is on going, but all indications are that this does
occur at least in some birds. Allergy may arise either to something which is
eaten or something which is inhaled. Many allergy patients are seasonally
itchy, although others (especially if it is a food allergy) will itch all year
round. If allergies are suspected intra dermal skin testing can be
performed. Skin testing is only effective if one tests using the allergen
which is triggering the response. Many birds respond to house dust,
aspergillosis and sunflower. These are all good reasons for eliminating
sunflower from the diet and increasing ventilation in the house, plus
encouraging daily bathes. Test medication using omega oils and
antihistamines can be run for a period of 4-8 weeks. A positive response
indicates allergy, whilst a negative one does not rule it out.
Ectoparasites; these are often blamed but rarely responsible, however
they must be ruled out. A white sheet should be hung around the cage at
night, in the morning the inside of the sheet should be studied for mites or
lice, often resembling moving grains of sand.
Endoparasites (i.e. worms or protozoal parasites inhabiting the gut); these
frequently cause problems, especially in cockatiels, and should always be
excluded in all species. The clinician should perform a faecal examination
in all cases. The presence of a gut parasite can trigger a (type 4
hypersensitivity) allergic reaction, often seen in love birds and cockatiels as
picking on the underneath of the wing.
Environment; excess tobacco smoke or too dry an environment (often
triggered by central heating being turned on), can lead to itching or poor
quality feather growth leading to brittle feathers, these break then the bird
plucks them. Most psittacines are accustomed to life in a rain forest, where
they would be rained on daily. Most psittacines benefit from a light daily
water spraying. The affect of a continually dry environment maybe
premature wear and tear on the plumage leading to tatty feathers prior to
the subsequent moult. Poor nutrition during a moult will have the same
effect, leading to brittle non-durable feathers. A parrot on seeing poor
feathers will often attempt to remove them. Low light intensity, an inability
to bathe (a common cause), or inadequate rest will also cause plucking.
All parrots should be encouraged to bathe weekly as a minimum, and many
itchy birds will benefit from daily bathing.
Excessive day light; can be a problem leading to a tired irritable bird. The
bird should not be in a light environment for more than 12 hours a day. If
the bird is in a lit room for longer, cover it up. It is often best to cover a bird
at night, only removing the cover in the morning when you get up, that way
the bird is not over tired, nor is the owner as you both get the chance of a
lie in. The birds’ cage should not be left in direct sun light.
Metabolic /Systemic Disorders; these have often been blamed and on
occasions are responsible. In particular an under-active thyroid gland
(especially cockatiels), but in reality is a very unusual cause. Any form of
liver disease can lead to itchy skin and hence plucking. Chlamydiophilosis
(psittacosis) is almost certainly the commonest cause of psittacine liver
disease. Septicaemia, and air sacculitis may cause feather plucking. the
clinician will collect a blood sample for a full haematology, biochemistry and
chlamydiophila check.
Lead and zinc (low level chronic), toxicity (acquired from their
environment) will cause feather plucking, all birds will be tested for Zn and
lead also were suspected. Zn is thought to be a common cause of feather
plucking and certainly our tests indicate that approximately 10% of caged
pet parrots have toxic levels of Zn.
Psittacosis (chlamydiophilosis or parrot fever); is a significant cause of
feather plucking, and should always be excluded. Diagnosis in itself may
not be straight forward, and treatment will be long winded (typically taking
at least 45 days), and on occasions not effective. See our separate
psitticosis client advice sheet.
Infectious dermatitis / folliculitis; cause and effect may be difficult to
differentiate, ie. is the bird itching at it's feathers or skin because they are
infected, or is the infection present as a consequence of the plucking and
physical trauma of plucking. It is an uncommon cause of plucking, however
the feather follicles should be examined for any signs of swelling or
discharge. Infection may even be present in the absence of swelling,
redness or exudate formation.
Pol yomavirus ('budgerigar fledgling disease') and Circovirus (Psittacine
beak and feather disease), do cause the development of abnormal
feathers, poor plumage and plucking. The exact clinical signs in any case
are dependent on the species, the birds condition and age at which
infection occurs. The pattern of feather abnormalities is typically different to
a normal feather plucking 'pattern picker'. These viruses should be
excluded where relevant. Bent, weak, distorted, short club like feathers or
growing feathers which failing to ex-sheath are all indicative. Loss of
powder down (such that the beak becomes shiny) is often the first sign.
Haemorrhage into feathers or under the skin is a useful tell tale sign.
Malnutrition; this is the single most significant contributory factor in pet
birds. This may be caused by a dietary deficiency, a digestive abnormality,
or a lack of access to unfiltered natural light or an allergy to something in
the traditional diet. Feather plucking birds on a predominately sun flower
seed based diet, must be converted onto a better diet, and receive vitamin
A supplementation in the interim. There is no value in placing vitamin
powder on top of seed diets. Sweetcorn, apricots and other highly coloured
vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin A. Vitamins may be given
mixed with a soft food, or with some treat e.g. toast and honey, or less
ideally dissolved in water ('soluvit'). If in doubt please discuss improved
diets and how to achieve the change, it may well be difficult, however, it is
essential. It is important that birds are not forced onto a new diet unless
they are healthy at the time, as the stress of change may precipitate clinical
disease. Diet options are a wet /chopped mixed 'sprouted seed / vegetable
/ rice mix' or a pelleted diet (see separate advice sheets on nutrition and
dietary changes).
Neoplasia; feather plucking will often occur over the site of a skin cancer.
There is circumstantial evidence that the trauma of chronic feather plucking
can lead to such tumours, although the plucking may commence because
of the tumour. In such cases the growths are most often on the underneath
of the wing.

Onl y when all the medical causes have been excluded, and standard
environmental changes have failed to lead to an improvement, can
behavioural (in a broad sense) causes be considered.


PSYCHOLOGICAL CAUSES

Remember your bird has the mental age of a 4 year old child and never grows
up. In considering the conditions below, do so through the eyes of a 4 year
old and you will gain a greater perception of the real situation. Much
information can be gained by finding when the bird plucks, who is present or
absent at the time, time of day, season of year and how it reacts when it is
plucking.

Attention seeking; many pet birds are bored, feather plucking can be an
excellent way of attracting their owners attention, in such cases once a bird
starts plucking it rapidly becomes a vicious circle, the more the owner
scolds the bird, the more attention it is receiving, and hence the a happier it
will be etc. Such birds often vocalise prior to feather plucking in order to
attract the owners’ attention, in the knowledge that the owner will tell them
off. The telling off is attention, and as the bird receives what it desired (i.e.
the owners attention), the reprimand in fact 'reinforces' the behaviour, and
the bird will continue to attract attention. Such birds should be ignored, or
one can use a ‘time out method’ of behavioural modification. When ever
the bird plucks, you go to the cage, do not address the bird, but cover it up.
Initially for a three minute period, if this is not effective, then increase the
period upwards to as much as 15 minutes if necessary. It is imperative that
the bird receives a negative feed back for its bad behaviour rather than the
positive encouragement it may have received up until now.
Boredom; boredom or lack of routine is a very common cause of feather
picking. In comparison with the bird's natural life in the wild, life in a cage
or a household, when owners are often absent for much of the day must be
similar to solitary confinement for a human. A normal bird in the wild
spends 50 % of the day flying to and from and searching for food. 30% of
the day is spent playing with the birds flock mates, and 20% is spent
preening. A captive bird does not have to hunt for food, often has no flock
mates to play with, and hence will fill more of the day with the preening
which may then become excessive. See later for environmental
enrichment. There is no doubt that if the bird’s day is kept really active and
interesting problems are less likely to arise.
Separation anxiety; although a bored bird may pluck when left alone, it is
just as possible that the bird starts to pluck when left alone as it is anxious
and worried to be alone. This is seen often in pet cats and dogs, but is
even more likely in a parrot because of the higher level of intelligence.
Keeping the bird busy will help, medication can be of value (clomipramine
or prozac), but is a very rarely a solution when not combined with
behavioural modification training. The training should be geared to break
down the anxiety triggers and to increase the parrots confidence that it can
cope for short periods alone. Typically separation anxiety cases pluck
more as soon as they are left. Giving them something to do to occupy
them when they are first alone helps. However great care should be taken
such that the offering of that item does become a trigger to inform the bird
that you are about to leave it. Certainly keep these birds occupied, but you
must use the same triggers and not go out, then use other ones and go out.
Ideally the bird should not be able to predict whether you are going out, or
better still whether you even have gone out. If some signals cannot be
avoided e.g. the car driving away, make a point of driving away sometimes,
but then immediately reappearing. In this way the parrot learns that even if
Mum leaves, she may be coming straight back -so I wont worry. In time if
the bird is not sure whether you have gone or not, and has other things to
do, the anxiety becomes unimportant. Separation anxiety is easily over
come but it does require considerable understanding, patience and time.
Stress; these may be many and varied, it should be remembered that what
human perception of stresses or threats are very different to a birds actual
stresses. for example 'Sesame Street' is excellent entertainment for
parrots, but 'Wildlife on One' is not, the sight of a swooping predatory bird -
even when on a television, is naturally stressful to a bird, even when they
have never seen one before. A birds’ normal reaction to fear or threat is to
flee, if it is unable to escape it may redirect is energy to a ‘fear response’,
which may include plucking or self mutilation. Certainly if the cause of the
stress or fear can be pin pointed it should be eliminated. Making the bird
more confident, (behavioural modification training) and allowing it more
opportunity to fly, in a controlled situation under command can help greatly.
Haloperidol, clomipramine and prozac can be usefully used in the initial
stages of retraining.
Over crowding ; too many birds together, social stress or too small an
environment can lead to plucking. This can occur also were there are
disputes between birds in a cage space over territory rites. A dominant bird
in a cage will sometimes pluck a subordinate bird in order to enforce his
dominance.
Environmental Change ; birds should be accustomed to a variable life, so
long as they are used to it they will enjoy it and find it entertaining. If the
bird is scared of the cage moving to a new room, coming out of the cage, or
new toys in the cage, this is a certain indication that the bird has become
'institutionalised – i.e. acclimatised to solitary confinement, together with
all the abnormal behaviour patterns that accompany it. Birds
unaccustomed to change are unable to tolerate it. Recent change or a
disorganised constantly changing household can lead to plucking, in
particular if the bird is unaccustomed to change. Additions or losses of any
members of the household (including other pets) can trigger plucking.
Excessive Preening; this can start as normal preening (in particular at the
start of a moult) and then become over exaggerated, in particular if there is
insufficient environmental enrichment.
Sexual frustration; this is I believe responsible in part for very many of the
problems we see especially in cockatoos but also in greys. Parent reared
birds mature at 5-6 years, however hand reared birds can become horny
from the age of 6 months. Some of these birds will attempt to regurgitate to
a family member, or present their cloacal region. These birds have been
reared a feathered humans, and on becoming sexually active they are
requesting sexual favours. Signals from the birds are not understood and
the bird becomes more and more frustrated. Such cases are tackled in a
number of ways. We inject the birds every 2 weeks on 3 occasions with
leuprolide acetate (leupron), this stimulates the pituitary gland, such that in
turn the messages from the pituitary to ask the gonads to produce more
sex hormones are turned off. At the same time the owner to whom the bird
has been making advances must not fraternise, handle or go near the bird
for a period of at least 6 weeks. The day light is also reduced to 6-8 hours
in a hope that the bird believes winter is coming and that it would be a bad
time to breed anyway. Although these treatments will defuse the situation
temporarily, a long term solution is required. Behavioural modification
training must be used to gain a ‘parent : child’ or ‘leader: follower’
relationship, (rather than a partner : partner relationship) between the
owner and the bird. This is achieved primarily by achieving a dominant
relationship over the bird. This must comprise height advantage at all
times, but also the bird must be prepared to obey commands without
question at all times. If this is achieved, further sexual problems are
unlikely. Having two birds in separate cages but within each other's view
can also lead to sexual frustration and may trigger plucking.
Obsessive compulsive disorders: if a bird suddenly stops in the middle
of its favourite activity just to pluck. It is either very itchy or is suffering from
obsessive compulsive disorder. Such behaviour is akin to stereotypic
behaviour which is seen in certain badly housed zoo exhibits. Medical
therapy is often required to beak the disorder (clomipramine, prozac or
haloperidol), whilst serious environmental enrichment is implemented. In
truth a major life style make over is required. Other causes of severe itch
should be eliminated before assuming this diagnosis.
Feather Clipping ; a poorly or unevenly clipped wing can entice a bird to
start feather plucking in the birds own attempt to do a neater job, in
particular if there are tatty ends to feathers extending beyond the covert
feathers. Alternatively the cut off ends of the primaries or secondaries may
be sharp and may irritate the abdominal wall, when the wing is closed
against the body, leading to plucking. Imping of the short, sharp or tatty
feather ends can be very useful.
Trauma; any bird which has had any traumatic injury (recent or historic), or
internal pain, may pluck in order to try and alleviate pain or irritation.
If medical causes are excluded, and the bird fails to respond to the
environmental enrichment managemental treatment of a psychological
cause, then behavioural modifying drugs may be employed. However
behavioural modifying drugs should never be seen as the solution, but
rather as the catalyst to enable the bird to accept the husbandry changes
which are required to return life to normal for the bird.

Physical Examination and Collection of Diagnostic Samples
A systematic examination of the beak, cere, feet, ears, preen gland,
plumage (to include all major feather types), skin and cloaca should be
made.
Complete blood count, serum chemistries, chlamydophila, faecal
microscopy and heavy metal (lead and zinc) screening should be
performed on all cases.
Following examination of the skin and plumage the following additional
tests may be performed :
Feather pulp cytologic examination:
A squash preparation is prepared from a fresh feather pulp. The latter is
stained with Diff-Quik, Wright’s, Giemsa etc. Slides are examined for
inflammatory cells, the presence of pathogens or inclusions. A Grams
stained slide is examined for the type and numbers of bacteria and
yeasts. If relevant microbiological culture and sensitivity testing is
performed. If relevant a feather biopsy is performed for histological
examination.
If relevant samples are collected (feather pulp and blood) for PBFD and
Polyoma virus.

Action to be taken by the owner.

If the parrot is alone by itself all day whilst everyone else is out at
work, consider rehoming the bird.
Is the diet you feed really good enough? If not, ask us your avian vet to
improve it. Do not feed ad lib, try and encourage the bird to forage for its’
food, (use a puzzle toy to feed with).
If possible put the bird outside in a flight.
Improve the birds environment, no smoking allowed in its’ air space. The
bird must not be left caged in direct sunlight. Spray the bird lightly each
day with warm water, preferably allow access to a bath, most parrots
appreciate this.

Environmental Enrichment
Remember that the average parrot has a mental age of a four year old
child. You would no more shut a four year old child into a small cage and
ignore it all day, than you should a parrot. Any child so treated would
inevitably grow up with all sorts of behavioural abnormalities. Mentally
stimulate the bird, use 12 toys, but only four at time, change them weekly.

Toys may be divided into climbing, chewing, foot and puzzle toys should be
provided :-
o Climbing toy - plastic chains, ladders, swings and the cage itself.
o Chewing - many psittacines like chewing especially cockatoos and
greys. They may be provided with wood, branches with the bark left on
(non toxic and which have not been treated with herbicide / fungicide,
pasta, raw hide etc. Empty paper towel rolls, with paper tucked in
them, or paper threaded through the bars of the cage, for the bird to
shred, will occupy many hours.
o Foot toys - stimulate manual dexterity, and may include fir cones,
pieces of corn on the cob, nuts left in whole shells to manipulate and
break open.
o Puzzle toys - and one the mot important and least used groups. These
may include parrot style music boxes, puzzle boxes which contain food
which they can access if complete a task.

Bird's environments are not naturally quiet, lack of noise in a jungle
situation would usually be an indication of danger. Keep the radio or TV on
if you are out, programmes such as Sesame Street are often a big hit with
parrots. However beware of nature programmes, parrots will view birds of
prey as danger even if on the little square screen.

Let the bird out of the cage as much as possible, but beware the household
dangers, in particular the risk of chewing electrical wires and the ingestion
of heavy metals (zinc or lead).

Prevent plucking by use of a collar or neck support, whilst therapy is on
going. The bird may need to be hospitalised initially whilst it becomes
accustomed to the collar, again this is not a solution, but simply a means to
an end.

Allow your avian vet to carry out screening of the bird for internal and
external parasites, liver disease and psittacosis, as well as a normal blood
screen.

Behavioural Modification Training

Most young psittacines live with their parents in the wild for a considerable
period, before leaving home. During this period most of the bad
behavioural problems would arise and be dealt with by the parents e..
phobias, excessive territoriality, biting, screaming and feather picking.
Since it is the teaching which is lacking in these captive bred parrots, then
increased training should be supplied. Firstly it is important that the bird
knows his position within the domestic flock. The owner should exert
dominance, as in time should all members of the family. The bird should
always be maintained at a adult human chest or waist height. Each day the
bird should be taken into a strange environment (i.e.a different room), and
trained basic commands. Using a T perch, do basic 'UP', 'DOWN', 'NO',
'OK' commands. Up and down refer from perch to arm and back, no is
simple, ok denotes the owners decision to allow the bird to do something,
i.e. it can only do it after your allowance. Birds soon quieten down and
become less erratic and irritable once training commences. Such training
can often assist in reducing the daily stress of the plucking bird, as the bird
feels secure being part of a hierarchical group, so the plucking stops.

Make all aspects of its life, e.g. finding food, exercise, entertainment,
thinking etc more exciting and varied.

Therapy for feather loss or plucking
Apart from the behavioural, husbandry and nutritional changes
recommended above, medication is also on occasions required. If a
specific pathogen is indicated then relevant systemic antibiotics or
antifungals should be administered. If ecto parasites are incriminated then
fipronil may be applied, the environment cleaned and treated with
permethrin and pyripoxiphen. If mites are present systemic avermectins
should be administered and metronidazole for giardia.

Psycotrophic drugs may also be administered (as listed above), not as a
solution but as a way of giving an opportunity for training or other
techniques to be used to over come the problems.

In Conclusion
The commonest causes of feather abnormalities in birds are 'boredom and
other related psychological problems', nutritional deficiencies, with virus
infections (polyoma, PBFD), coming a close third in certain species.