Archive for the category “Life With Parrots”

Feeding Your Flock: Part 3

In our last few posts, we disected popular pelleted diets and examined why feeding a grain-based diet isn’t the best route to follow for your parrots’ health. In this post, we’ll take a look at the downfalls of “mash” diets.

“Mash” diets

So-called “mash” diets take many forms, but they all have one thing in common: they’re based on cooked legumes and grains. The typical mash diet is comprised of 30-50% cooked grains and legumes (usually recommended in a two parts grain to one part legume ration for a “complete protein”), 40-50% veggies and fruits, and the remainder is various amounts of pellets, dry or sprouted seeds, and supplements. They’re touted as healthier and in some cases, complete diets that provide birds with important enrichment that they’re just not going to get with monotonous pelleted diets. And it has always been recommended that mash diets be finely chopped – preferably in a food processor – so that birds can’t pick out their “favorite” bits.

We already know that grains aren’t the best choice for your parrot’s base diet, but what about cooked beans? And what’s all this about “complete proteins” and making sure our birds get them at every meal? What about monotony?!

It’s probably fresher, but it’s not necessarily healthier.

The first – though not the most obvious – problem with these “mash” diets are that they’re too high in phosphorus, especially if fed as the sole diet, the base of the diet, or as part of a diet based on grain-filled pellets. Parrots need a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 1:1 to 2:1. So if you’re feeding a “mash” diet comprised of 50% cooked mixed legumes and grains, 30% veggies, 10% fruits, and 10% pellets and supplements, you’ll have to convince your parrots to actually consume 1-2 times the amount of calcium rich foods for every bean they eat – if he eats a tablespoon of carb-rich beans, you need to make sure he actually consumes 1-2 tablespoons of calcium rich greens (or the equivalent of an avian calcium supplement.) Not an easy feat for the average bird owner.

The second problem – and by far the most obvious one – is that mash diets are based on cooked grains and legumes, and in case anyone didn’t notice, parrots don’t cook. They couldn’t even if they wanted to. Parrots can’t eat dry beans because of trypsin-inhibitors and other “anti-nutrients.” So why feed them a diet based on cooked foods that are wholly unnatural, and potentially toxic to them in their raw form?

Bean-based diets also have a skewed protein and carbohydate ratio, with an average of 8-12 grams of protein in every half cup cooked serving. A quarter cup of mixed cooked grains has an average of 4 grams of protein. So one cup of mixed cooked beans and grains contains about 14 grams of protein. If you mix equal portions of spinach, collards, broccoli, and green peas to make an a total of 2 cups, you’ll have added about another 7.5 grams of protein, for a grand total of about 11 grams of protein in a cup.

It’s my understanding that birds are capable of consuming 15-20% of their body weight daily, and it is generally accepted that parrots need 10-15% of their daily calories from protein, depending on a variety of factors including species, age, activity level, and reproductive status. As an example, a 400 gram African Grey will consume up to 80 grams, or just under 3 ounces, of food each day. That’s about 5.5 tablespoons. There are about 16 tablespoons in a cup, so this 400 gram Grey will consume about 1/3 of a cup of food each day. If half of that 1/3 cup is beans and grains, than 1/6 of a cup of our prepared bean/grain/veggie mix, there will be approximately 4 grams of protein.

We know from studying human nutrition that a gram of protein contains 4 calories, a gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories, and a gram of fat contains 9 calories. That 1/6 cup of cooked beans and grains is going to contain about 30 grams of carbohydrates or about 120 calories just from carbs, with a measley 12 calories coming from protein, and a whopping 36 calories from the 3 or so grams of fat contained in the bean/grain mix. Just to clarify, 3 grams of fat is about 5% of the recommended daily allowance for fat in a 2,000 calorie diet for an adult human. 30 grams of carbohydrates is about 10% of the recommended daily intake for an adult human on a 2,000 calorie diet.

A 150 pound human weighs approximately 67,950 grams.  Assuming that this human is an average 5’5″ female in her mid 20’s, she would need appriximately 2,000 calories to maintain this weight. See where I’m going with this?

Companion parrots – biologically designed to consume large amounts of raw foliage and fruits – rarely have the opportunity to fly in captivity, and even those that do have the opportunity don’t fly anywhere near as much as their wild counterparts, burning far fewer calories by default. And we, thinking that we’re doing the best by them, fill them with unnatural, carb and fat-rich cooked foods, clip their wings, and wonder why they “misbehave.”

As if that weren’t bad enough, an abundance of calorie-rich foods has been demonstrated to induce breeding behaviors, and since so many of us are in the habit of providing them with a no-work-required dish full of warm, calorie-dense food (far more than they could ever consume at once), we leave them in a constant state of arousal with a strong desire to find a mate.

Are you still wondering why so many companion parrots are fat and angry?

Now, cooked whole, human-grade foods are without a doubt fresher (and healthier) than highly processed pellets made from cheap fillers loaded with synthetic vitamins and table sugar. But they’re still not the diet that nature intended for parrots to consume every day.

In our next post, we’ll talk about feeding our birds the way they’re meant to eat – with whole, raw foods – on a budget!


Feeding Your Flock: Part 2

We all know that seed-based diets are harmful for our parrots, and in our last post, we took a look at two of the  most popular pelleted diets for companion parrots (Zupreem & Harrison’s brands); in this post, we’re going to discuss why those foods – and other grain and soy based pelleted diets – aren’t the best choice for your bird’s staple diet if you want them to experience health and vitality.

Feeding a diet based on soy and grains is asking for problems in the long term.Why? The vast majority of parrot species did not evolve to eat grains, and there is no species of parrot that evolved to eat the modern, lab-created genetically altered and hybridized grains we have now. Soy isn’t a natural food source for parrots, and is toxic to all monogastric animals when fed raw. Soy must be processed using high-heat to be edible by most species of animals, including humans and parrots; in short, it must be processed to death in order to even be edible! There’s also significant evidence that soy hinders assimilation of important nutrients, like calcium and protein, among other things.

The Granivorous Myth

“Granivorous” parrot species include Budgies, Cockatiels, and some cockatoo species, and some species that evolved to eat a diet consisting mostly of nuts (like the Hyacinth macaw) are also considered granivorous. But even amongst the species considered to be granivorous, the diet still consists of 20-50% foliage, leaf buds, flowers, fruits, berries, and insects. Most importantly, the grain-seeds that these species have evolved to eat are not the same as the grains we offer them in captivity; domestic grains are different in nutritional content – and have completely different DNA – than wild grains, and many are more difficult for parrots (and some humans) to digest.

Gluten grains – like rye, barley, and wheat – are difficult to digest and put an enormous strain on the digestive systems of humans, so one can only imagine the havoc they can wreak on the sensitive systems of parrots, who have, with few exceptions, evolved to consume a diet rich in living greens and phytonutrients. Gluten intolerances and allergies have been linked to several health problems in humans, including depression, chronic indigestion, and chronic Candida albacans (yeast) infections. In parrots, yeast infections are fairly common and can result in a bird that is listless or “depressed” and likely over-preens or plucks it’s feathers.

Grain-based pelleted diets are also likely much higher in protein and fat than most species are designed to consume, since commercially available diets for parrots aren’t based on the little that we know about the diets of wild parrots at all – instead, these diets are based on what we know about the poultry industry!

Yes, you read that right: diets formulated for parrots are based on ultra-high protein and calcium rich diets designed to help chickens grow abnormally fast (reaching more than their normal adult weight by about 8 weeks old) or to lay an abnormal amount of eggs (laying hens reach the end of their lives by about 5 months of age; chickens can live an average of 7 years.) If that weren’t enough to make you think twice, consider this: chickens have large ceca (or “pockets” in the intestines that contain bacteria that help with digestion), parrots, on the other hand, don’t have ceca at all! (PDF)

Parrots aren’t chickens, and they shouldn’t be fed like chickens!

Rather than grain-based diets, Carolyn Swicegood of Land of Vos advocates for a diet rich in fresh, raw foods with an emphasis on leafy greens…and I agree! Why?

  • All wild parrot species’ naturally consume a raw diet of greens, berries, fruits, and other living foods.
  • None of our captive parrots are more than a few generations out of the wild (with the exceptions of cockatiels, parakeets, and lovebirds), so slective breeding hasn’t yet domesticated them (though that’s a topic for another day.)
  • Tamed, but otherwise wild, animals have identical digestive systems as their wild counterparts.

Common diet related ailments amongst captive parrots include vitamin A, vitamin K, and calcium deficiencies. With that in mind, consider this – leafy greens are:

  • Loaded with natural, easily assimilated vitamin A.
  • Packed with natural (and non-toxic) vitamin K
  • Full of important phytonutrients that help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other health issues
  • Richer in calcium than cow’s milk
  • Contain folic acid, magnesium, and potassium, among other vital nutrients!

(This article, written by Carolyn Swicegood, explains the importance of greens in our parrots’ diet in far greater detail than I could ever hope to.)

I have personally seen a great difference in my adopted parrots since switching them to a greens-based diet. My Jardine’s, who I’ve had since she was about 6 months old, hasn’t eaten a grain-based diet since we brought her home. She was immediately switched to a diet consisting of fresh, live food, raw leafy greens, veggies, fruits, and nuts, and remains the best looking Jardine’s parrot I have seen in captivity. Blood testing also shows that her vitamin and mineral levels are perfect.

The birds I’ve adopted – a Senegal, a Cape parrot, and a Hahn’s macaw – were not as lucky and their behavior and appearance made it obvious.

My adopted Senegal was fed a diet consisting of about 85% Harrison’s High Potency pellets, with the remaining 15% of the diet comprised of Harrison’s Power Treats, bits of apple, pasta, and junk food like bread, pretzels, and chips. This diet was at the recommendation of his previous owner’s veterinarian – that the bird be fed a diet consisting of a minimum of 80% Harrison’s High Potency, and up to 20% “treats” (which the owner interpreted as human junk food.) The feathers that he still had were dull, and had a lot of stress bars. His feet were always red, flakey, and inflamed-looking; he was underweight, listless, and aggressive in and out of his cage. Is it any wonder that this poor little bird developed gout and over-preened, plucked, and mutilated himself?

My Cape parrot was fed a diet consisting almost entirely of cooked white pasta (with frozen corn, peas, and carrots, thrown in every once in a while), sunflower, and safflower seeds. She was deficient in nearly every vitamin and mineral you could think of, was about 60 grams underweight, and her feathers looked horrible. She was a “mild” plucker, and her feathers looked ragged, worn, and dull. Some of her feathers were orange or white (when they should have been green) from follicle damage caused by plucking, and from a lack of nutrition. Her beak was flakey and slightly over grown, her feet were dry and scaley, she was physically weak (unable to move about her cage or grip a perch properly) and she was always sleeping and irritable. She is about 11 years old, and even after 8 months with me she is still recovering from 10 or so years of poor nutrition – her feathers are growing back slowly but surely, though they are brittle and break easily, and she is up to a normal healthy weight.

The little Hahn’s that I shared my home with all too briefly did not fare as well as the other two. At barely two years old, he had liver disease so severe that it killed him. He was weaned onto a diet consisting nearly entirely of sunflower and safflower seeds – which would have caught up with him, eventually – but what did the damage was that his previous owner thought it was “funny” to give him alcohol. During the three months that he lived with me, he screamed nearly constantly, was incredibly fearful and aggressive, and refused to eat much of anything besides dry seed. Surprisingly, he was not a plucker, but he did over-preen and was covered in damaged feathers and stress bars. He came a long way in a short time, but his life was cut short because his humans made poor decisions.

Though my little Hahn’s didn’t make it, my Senegal and Cape parrots are fast on their way to becoming vibrant, healthy birds, with vibrant, healthy feathers, and I owe it to a diet based on greens and raw, live food. They deserve it!

In our next post, we’ll take a look at “mash” diets, the nutritional needs of different species, and how to make feeding a fresh-food diet as easy as 1-2-3!

The “ABCs” of Behavior

In the last post, I talked about the dominance fallacy and how labelling your parrot as “dominant” does a great disservice to both your bird and yourself. Today, I’d like to talk about what’s really going on when your parrot refuses to step up off her cage top, chases and bites toes, and does other things you wish she wouldn’t do.

What are the “ABCs”?

“ABC” stands for Antecedent – Behavior – Consequence, and it is the basis for all behavior that our pets (and ourselves) perform on a daily basis. It is how animals (including humans) learn how to behave in any given scenario or context on a daily basis, just by interacting with their environment and the people in it.

An antecedent (A) is what happens immediately before any given behavior (B) occurs, and the consequence (C) immediately follows the behavior, either increasing (“reinforcing”) the behavior or decreasing (“punishing”) that behavior.

So, for example, if you ask your parrot to step up from his play stand only to place him directly in his cage, there are very strong odds that, over time, your parrot will learn that being picked up off of his play stand means going back into his cage, and he will likely begin displaying behavior like lunging and biting in order to avoid being put back in his cage. The problem (getting bitten) is a result of the consequence (going back to the cage) you provide for stepping up off of the playstand. To remedy the situation, you need to make it worthwhile for your bird to step up from the play stand for you.

Initially, you may need to give your parrot a reason to do as you ask. Offering a tasty treat to your parrot by showing him something he desires before asking him to step up will help you prevent a bite. When he complies with your request, he gets the food reward, but should also be randomly put back on the play stand (this is called a “double” reward) so that the association between stepping up off the play stand and being put back in his cage is broken.

Though it is generally more complicated than this, these rules apply to every scenario that boggles and frustrates parrot owners, and that makes it much easier to work with and reverse undesirable behaviors than does labelling a bird a “dominant” – and therefore “bad” – and leaving it to be someone else’s problem.

We play a major role in our companions’ behavior, but that’s a topic for my next post!

Dominance in Parrots: Fact of Fallacy?

Dominance is hotly debated topic in the animal training world, and it’s one that I encounter daily in my consulting practices with both dog owners and parrot owners alike. But does it hold any merit? Behavior science says no.

A common misconception regarding companion parrots is that parrots possess an innate desire or personality trait that drives them to try to dominate their owners, and that their owners must establish and strongly enforce a higher rank over their parrots to maintain control. This idea seems to have a life of it’s own, despite not having any basis or backing in behavioral science.

Religion, education, the military, and corporate organizations all have one thing in common: they instill a sense of linear social hierarchies in us. From them, we learn to give commands to those “below” us, take orders from those “above” us, and constantly vie for a higher position. This life experience makes us prone to something known as “observer expectancy bias”, which means that we see (or think we see) in other species that which we expect, and this accounts for relentless idea that dominance is what causes a parrot to refuse to step up off of it’s cage.

The concept has been applied to any and every scenario in which a parrot might not do as asked, and that is especially true if the parrot displays any sort of aggression or fear response. “Height dominance”, “floor dominance”, “cage dominance”, “shoulder dominance”, and other concepts all revolve around the idea that it is an inherent trait in all parrots that causes them to have behavior problems like these ones.

What does science say?

Even scientists can’t decide on one definition of the word “dominance.” Though the technical definition usually involves any given animal’s access to valued resources like food, shelter, and mating rights, science does agree that there is no real way to measure, quantify, or define social dominance. Barnett (1981) states the following in Modern Etology:

“Dominance should be distinguished from an animal’s superiority resulting from its being in its ow territory. Dominance should also be distinguished from being a leader.” (p. 633).

Another aspect not typically considered is that several other factors – including prior learning experiences, motivation, and contexts – and these are the main basis for all behavior.

There is no evidence that suggests that wild flocks of parrots of any species have any social hierarchies, and if any evidence does appear, there is no reason to believe that the same concepts concerning wild parrots would have any impact on the parrot-human relationship.

A self-fulfilling prophecy.

When people have certain expectations for behavior, they act differently and tend to get exactly what they expect, and since “dominance” is generally considered to be a character or personality trait – something inherently present in the bird – the concept is shifted into something much more ominous: the bird is labeled as a “bad bird”, and since dominance is inherently present, the bird is inherently bad. This results in a very convenient excuse for getting rid of the bird instead of taking responsibility for our part in the bird’s behavior (we do, after all, control every aspect of a bird’s life by definition.)

The concept of dominance also gives owners an excuse (and in some cases, a reason) to use forceful techniques to “counter dominate” their bird, and absolves owners from searching for causes for and solutions to behavior problems since the act of labeling any given problem gives us a false sense of closure by giving the problem a name.

In short, there is no place for dominance in animal training. The concept is at best a flawed one since we are not parrots and parrots are not humans. If any such social hierarchies exist in wild parrots, they surely would not apply to companion parrots who live a very different life from their wild counterparts. Parrots do  not have hands or fingers, and don’t use towels, cage covers, “vet grabs”, or hitting to punish one another. Wild parrots can fly away from a conflict, whereas captive parrots usually cannot, and so learn to use their beak to gain a little control over their situation.

So if it’s not dominance, what is it?

In the next post, we’ll discuss the “ABCs” of behavior, and what’s really going on when your bird won’t step up off the top of her cage. Stay tuned!

Our Thanksgiving Parrot Menu

Thanksgiving isn’t just for humans anymore. I’ve long been preparing meals for my four dogs, and I can’t remember a time in my life where the pets in my house didn’t get something “special” on Thanksgiving. So, when I got parrots, it was only logical that I share with them, as well. Obviously, parrots cannot eat everything we eat, and certainly not after we’ve added all the sugar, salt, butter, and other things that make it all so unhealthy but delicious, so we’ve come up with a few healthy treats you can use to spoil your parrots without compromising their health today!

Pumpkin Muesli

  • 1/4 Cup Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli
  • 2 Tbsp. canned pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp. Unsweetened almond milk
  • Dash of powdered cinnamon or a pinch of chipped whole cinnamon

Mix all ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and heat until the grains are tender and let cool. Add pumpkin and/or almond milk to desired consistency – my birds like it thick and sticky, but yours may prefer it thinner. Provides essential vitamin A, calcium, and B-vitamins. For added nutrition, mix in fresh chopped greens. This will feed approximately four medium parrots.

Apple Delight

  • Four small apples
  • 2 tbsp. wheat germ
  • 2 tbsp. chopped raisins, dates, or figs
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Optional – Coconut oil and/or Palm oil

Core apples and place in a glass dish. Combine wheat germ, chopped fruit, chopped nuts, and cinnamon and fill cored apples. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Provides several vitamins, including B vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. To increase vitamin A content, drizzle with Palm oil. Coconut oil is a fantastic skin and feather conditioner!

Sweet Potato Chips

  • One (or more) large sweet potato
  • Cornmeal or flour of your choice (my birds prefer millet or garbanzo bean flour)
  • Crushed red pepper or ground cayenne

Peel one large sweet potato and cut into 1/4 inch slices (or strips, if you’d like “fries”). Rinse under cold water, and coat chips or fried in mixture of cornmeal/flour and pepper. Spread over a foil-lined cookie sheet in a single layer, and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Provides essential vitamin A, protein, and various other nutrients depending on your coating choices.

Whole Grain Birdie Stuffing

  • 1 Cup Cubed 12 grain bread
  • 2 tbsp Fresh or sulfur-free dried cranberries
  • 1/4 Cup Grated carrots
  • 1/8 Cup Grated apples
  • Cooked or sprouted chick peas
  • 1/2 Cup boiling water

Mix cubed bread, cranberries, carrots, apples, and chickpeas (if cooked) together well. Add boiling water and let the mixture sit until all or most of the water is absorbed. If using sprouted chick peas, add them when the mixture has cooled to preserve their raw sprouted state. Provides vitamin A, B vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and protein.

These are just a few of the treats that my birds will be receiving today, along with millet flour muffins with lentils and greens, and their usual offerings which consist mostly of chopped greens and veggies.

We hope your birds enjoy them as much as ours do! Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Safety!

Though this time of year is fun for Americans, who get to visit with friends and family, and eat fabulous foods, it isn’t without serious risks to our feathered companions. Even though it may not be apparent, Thanksgiving presents several health and safety risks to parrots whose owners aren’t prepared. To be sure that the festivities are fun for people and parrots alike, keep the following things in mind.

Avoid sharing holiday foods with your birds.

Many of the foods that we prepare for Thanksgiving are actually very nutritious, however, it’s how we tend to prepare them that makes so many of our holiday dishes inappropriate for sharing with our companion parrots. Sweet potato, squash, and yams are all high in vitamin A – an essential nutrient for our parrots – and can be shared, but be sure to set some aside before you add butter, salt, and other flavorings, and make sure that your guests are aware that sharing with your birds is a no-no.

Keep decorations at a safe distance.

Birds are inquisitive, and many of our decorations are simply too tempting to our feathered companions. Popular Thanksgiving decorations often include candles, flower bouquets, and cornucopias full of (real or synthetic) fruits and veggies, many of which contain shiny, birghtly colored components, and all of which pose serious safety hazards to curious beaks. To lessen temptation, move your bird’s cage (and play areas) away from areas you’ve decorated, or decorate only areas away from your bird’s cage and play stands.

Take a moment to speak with your guests.

Though many people have a strong interest in parrots, few know much about keeping them as pets. Take a moment to remind your guests that parrots do not behave like dogs or cats, and that interacting with the bird (if you allow it) may result in being bitten, scratched, or pooped on.

Keep your bird out of the kitchen.

The average kitchen poses a serious risk to parrots on any given day, but especially so on holidays. Thanksgiving is a holiday that revolves around food, and that means mixing, chopping, dicing, shredding, mashing, boiling, broiling, and baking, and all of the utensils that go along with those actions. Silverware, particularly knives and forks, have sharp points and edges; food processors and blenders have the allure of a tasty meal coupled with the danger of falling in and coming into contact with those sharp blades. Hot ovens and stovetops pose burn risks, and unattended parrots might find themselves in a too-hot dish of freshly cooked food. (I also hear that not every human is okay with pre-beaked bread or parrot tracks on their pie!)

Keep other pets safe, too.

If you have other pets, or if your guests bring along theirs, keep them – and your birds – safe by preventing contact with your parrot. Things may happen quickly, and this is doubly true when animals are in stressful situations!

Listen to what your bird tells you.

The holidays are stressful for everyone, and that includes our birds. Even well socialized birds may get stressed from the noise and activity that comes with having several guests in their home, so keep a close eye on your parrot and listen to what his body language and behavior are telling you. Look for cues that he may be feeling overwhelmed by the festivities, and do your best to place him (along with the familiarity of his cage and toys) in a calm, quiet room.

A special note for flighted parrots:

To avoid heartbreak, flighted parrots should be housed in a secure cage for the day, and this is especially true if your parrot is not yet reliably trained to come to you when called. Flighted parrots should always be securely caged when the oven or stovetop are in use, and when there are sharp or otherwise dangerous items available that your parrot may come into contact with.

If you feel your parrot must come out at some time during the day, be sure it is after all cooking and baking is done, and knives and other utensils are away. Be sure to securely lock and door that leads outside using more than one lock (for example, use both the lock on your door knob as well as a chain lock) and post signs around all entryways stating that your bird is out. Please, for the safety of your bird, do not leave a flighted parrot unattended during the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your holiday, and stay safe!

The Cost of a Parrot’s Companionship

Contrary to the idea that pet store employees would like you to believe, parrots are not cheap or easy pets. They are noisy, messy, demanding, and expensive well beyond the initial cost.

The ASPCA says that, for a small bird (like a budgie or cockatiel), a cage will run about $75, and the annual cost of food and toys will amount to about $105 for food, toys, and treats. According to them, they “toys and treats” portion of that equasion is only about $30. I’m not sure what planet they’re getting these cost estimates from, but it is certainly not the same planet I live on. It’s true that the initial cost of acquiring a parrot is the most you’ll likely spend at once on your birdy buddy, but the reality is that parrots – even very small ones – are very expensive pets.

When I bought my first parrot, a lesser Jardine’s, from an exotic bird specialty store, my initial cost was close to $2,000. The breakdown for that price looks something like this:

  • Parrot: $1,200.00
  • 22″x17″ cage: $275.00
  • Several pounds of food, treats, & supplements: $100.00
  • Toys, perches, and other cage accessories: $200.00
  • Playstand: $200.00
  • Wing & nail membership: $25.00

And that was just the initial cost. The playstand was made of pine, and she reduced it to toothpicks in about three weeks. We only utilized our wing & nail membership once, and only to have her nails trimmed, but I didn’t like the way she was handled and I didn’t like that I was harassed for letting her flight feathers grow in, so I never brought her back. The toys were demolished in a month and had to be replaced, and three months after buying that $300 cage, I decided that it was just too small for her. I felt guilty that she could barely spread her wings, and that the cage didn’t really provide me with enough room to give her enough toys to occupy her throughout the day while we were away. So I spent another $450.00 on a much larger cage. I also got her full spectrum and UV lighting, which came to about $100.00; the bulbs are about $30.00 and need to be replaced every six months or so.

Once I got her switched to a healthier diet that included organic pellets, organic sprouts, whole grains, and lots of fresh fruits and veggies, I was able to get a real figure for what it would cost to feed her every month. That breakdown looks like this:

  • Organic pellets (4lbs): $25.00
  • Organic sprouts: about $10.00, give or take (I buy them in bulk at the rate of $140.00 for 20 pounds including shipping.)
  • Whole grains: about $15.00 (various types bought in bulk at the health food store.)
  • Various fruits & veggies: about $50.00 (organic when possible)

Please don’t feed your parrot a seed-based diet. For the vast majority of parrot species, a diet based on seed is seriously detrimental to their health and results in nutritional deficiencies very quickly. Dry seeds should not be more than 10% of most parrot’s diets.

That’s a total of about $100.00 just for food every month, and that doesn’t include treats like Harrison’s Power Treats, which go for about $10.00 a bag retail, or training rewards.

When it comes to toys, she is my One Bird Wrecking Crew. She enjoys toys both large and small; she buzzes through wooden toys, shreds paper and palm based toys, and breaks plastic toys. Not even toys much larger than her last very long. Unless, for some reason, a toy doesn’t hold her interest, it rarely lasts more than a week. I’ve learned to get crafty and fashion new toys out of remnants of store bought ones (or out of household items), but that has only cut my store-bought-toy-budget by about 30%. I still spend about $50 a month on new toys for her, and at least an hour each week putting together new toys. And this is just for one big-beaked little bird.

Some of the cost from her diet and toys are absorbed by the other birds. For example, I waste less fresh produce because I’m splitting it between four birds, and some toys that one bird isn’t interested in can be given to one of the other birds if safe and appropriate. All the birds can use the same play stands and shower perches, so I didn’t have to buy multiples of those. However, I spend more on pellets and sprouts – about double what I spent on just one bird. So now we’re at $150.00-$200.00 each month just to feed four small/medium parrots, depending on the produce I get. Since they all spend a good deal of their day foraging and I’ve invested a lot in re-usable and “indestructable” foraging toys, I spend less overall on toys for everyone. I also spend about four hours each week making foraging toys and non-foraging toys alike. My toy cost still comes to about $100.00 for all of them for the month.

For these four, I spend about $250.00 each month, and that’s the low end of the estimate. This number also doesn’t include annual vet costs, which amount to about $200.00 per bird for a simple exam and bloodwork. When my Timneh developed a yeast infection recently, it cost about $300.00 total for the exam, testing, and medication. When I first adopted my “UnCape” parrot, who is about ten years old, the initial vet visit cost me over $500.00. When I adopted my six year old Senegal, his first vet visit cost me about $400.00 to do blood testing and rule out any medical problems for his feather destructive behavior. My healthy little Jardine’s vet visit this year still cost me about $170.00. And most vets won’t give you a “bulk discount” if you own multiple parrots, either.

Then there are all of the things that people – especially people who don’t already have any pets – won’t think of until after their new parrot is home. Things like air purifiers (essential for anyone with a “dust” bird like a Grey, Cockatoo, or Amazon), a high quality floor vacuum, a good hand vacuum, timers for any full spectrum lighting, a gram scale, bird-safe (and bird-specific) cleaning supplies, bathing supplies, a cage cover, and storage for all of the supplies you’ve just bought.

In general, you can expect to spend at least the same amount that you spent on your bird each year for supplies. So if you paid $1,000.00 for your parrot, then you can expect to spend at least $1,000.00 each year on food and toys, and this is likely for bare-bones necessities, not spoiling.

Now, I have no doubt that costs are much lower for much smaller birds,  but my parrots are considered “small” by most parrot people’s standards. For macaws, the estimates range from $100.00 to $1,000.00 each month for general upkeep, depending on size and dietary requirements. Large macaws, especially Greenwinged and Hyacinth macaws, require a lot of in-shell nuts in their diet, and consume (and waste) a lot of produce.

Are you prepared to spend this much money on your parrot? Seriously consider whether or not you can put in the time, effort, and money that it takes to properly care for a parrot before you bring one home!

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