By Pauline Cantu
As part of the Primarily Primates’ family and follower of our blog, you know we’ve discussed at length the reason why primates shouldn’t be—and aren’t—good pets. However, we do have a flock of other friends here at PPI who many people also unsuccessfully keep as companion animals. Intrigued?
Hint: They can be just as smart as their primate “roommates.” In fact, scientists have charted their cognitive development to that of a 5-year-old human. They can solve puzzles and even use tools. Some even understand object permanence (the concept of an object existing even if one can’t see it) and can identify themselves in the mirror. They need to be enriched and stimulated just as much as their primate buddies.
So who are these incredible critters? The very special flock of macaws, conures, and Amazon parrots I’m lucky enough to care for as aviary caretaker at Primarily Primates. Though I also look after primates (of course!) I thought I’d take the opportunity to give you an up close and personal look at these special birds.
Parrots are long lived. Some may even outlive their owners, which can leave the sad birds left behind in tricky situations for placing. Macaws, known as the giants of the parrot world, are LOUD. They can screech at 100 decibels. To put it in perspective, a jet engine works at 140 decibels. Parrots can bite, and bite hard. They nest in tree trunks, burrowing into their nest with their powerful beaks, which they also use to break open hard nuts. How powerful is a macaw bite? A human bite is about 150 pounds per square inch (psi) while a macaw bite can have a force of 500 to 2000 psi. That packs a punch!
Parrots also tend to mate for life—although some moving around may happen in a flock when a pair doesn’t raise young. This is why one hears “parrots choose their person.” In a sense, that’s true. Parrot parents aren’t choosing a pet—they are potentially going to be a partner for their pet. Which brings us to breeding season. Come springtime—and lasting in some instances to the start of summer—your parrot may turn into a hormonal, bitey, scream-y moody teenager. The need to reproduce is embedded deep in their DNA, and it’s triggered by the change of seasons. And, that’s right! Your bird will be looking at you to fulfill those lovey-dovey needs.
All of these things combined can become overwhelming, and unfortunately shelters and sanctuaries like ours are filled with birds who proved to be too much of a commitment for their owners. However, with research, the right husbandry training, lots of patience and a proper diet, the scenarios mentioned above are not an issue for us at Primarily Primates.
Interestingly, nutrition can have a calming effect on parrots. We have said goodbye to bird seeds, junk food and high sugars. Those can cause fatty liver issues in birds. Plus a diet high in sugar is hard to break down and can overstimulate a bird— just like when kids eat too much candy. Instead, we provide healthy pellets and a “chop” mix of green leaves, lots of veggies and a small bit of low-in-sugar fruit. Their bedtime includes 12 hours of sleep, especially during breeding season.
The right mix of food and proper rest can do a world of good in terms of creating a tranquil environment. Supplements like tart cherry juice, celery seed and milk thistle keep our parrots’ internal workings healthy. Peppers provide much needed beta carotenes and vitamin C for proper growth and disease resistance. Of course, we always discuss with our vet a change in diet and supplementation.
Yes, our parrots can be a lot of work—but they give back tenfold. They are smart, goofy, loving and all sass and personality. I feel so privileged to be able to work with them. The flock at PPI have taught me what patience and trust truly mean.
To sponsor a bird at the sanctuary, click here.