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A Little Bird Once Told Me: It All Starts With Husbandry

Published on August 8, 2016

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Husbandry is Key

Parrots are remarkably intelligent animals. While they are fun to have as pets, ownership is a huge commitment as these birds have the potential to live a very long time.  Some of the smaller species such as the budgie, can live up to 15 years in captivity, while larger species such Amazons can live 50+ years.   As owners of these animals, we owe it to them to provide the best care possible to ensure they live long and healthy lives.

Natural Behavior

Parrots, although kept in captivity, are not domesticated. This means they retain numerous natural instincts and behaviors exhibited in the wild.  In fact, most of our “pet” parrots are only 2-3 generations out of the wild!   In their natural habitat, parrots spend the majority of their time exercising, socializing, foraging, grooming, and resting.  They fly miles a day with their flock looking for a wide variety of food items to make up a complete diet.  Why is this so important? If we don’t provide opportunities to forage and exercise, and there isn’t sufficient socialization, it undermines these natural behaviors and other behaviors become overemphasized and obsessive. This can lead to serious behavioral and health problems, including feather plucking, self-mutilation, excessive screaming, and inappropriate pair bonding.  What can we do to help prevent these problems and promote a healthy lifestyle?  It all starts with husbandry, which is the name for everything that goes into caring for an animal.


All parrots in captivity should be on pelleted diets, which are formulated to provide complete nutrition. Harrisons and Roudybush are great pelleted diets to offer. Pellets should comprise about 80% of a parrot’s diet, while the remaining 20% should be composed of vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and occasional seeds. Offering a variety of food provides enrichment. Seed diets are very high in fat – they are essentially a “junk food” in the bird world.  They are deficient in several vitamins necessary for a bird’s well-being, which can contribute to many health issues down the road.  An occasional tablespoon or two of seeds in a day is ok.  It is best to avoid foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar.  Avoid avocado, chocolate, fruit pits, alcohol, and caffeine – these can be toxic.

Providing fresh water daily is important as well. Parrots love dunking food and toys in their water dish, which can contribute to contamination and bacterial overgrowth.  Water dishes should be changed a minimum of 2- 3 times daily.  Water bottles are a great alternative to messy water dishes.  These can help reduce the risk of contamination, as well as keep the water cleaner for a longer period of time.  Just check the stopper routinely to ensure it is not clogged with food items.

Cage Design

It is very important to ensure an appropriate sized cage is selected for your type of parrot. The cage should be spacious and large enough that the bird can stretch out its wings in either direction without hitting any toys or sides of the cage.  Ideally, the cage should have parrot proof doors (even for the smaller guys), a large door for the parrot to come out of, and be composed of a safe material.  Avoid cages composed of lead or zinc heavy metals – these are toxic. Round cages should be avoided as well – they prevent birds from obtaining proper bearings in the cage and dramatically reduce mobility.  Having a cage that is easy to clean is always a plus.  Newspaper is a great substrate for the bottom of the cage since it is cheap and easy to clean.  Ensuring the cage is sturdy and away from high traffic areas in the home will promote a sense of safety.  Placing the cage in a room where there is frequent activity, such as the living room, will help provide socialization and enrichment.  Your family will become the “flock members.”

Once a cage is selected, one of the most important items to place in the cage are perches. In the wild, there are a huge variety of branches to perch on, so offering a selection in captivity only makes sense.   Avoid perches that span the entire length of the cage for more a natural environment and to encourage exercise. Some great perch types are grapevine and dragonwood.  It is important NOT to use branches found outside as these can introduce toxins, parasites, and other infectious agents into the environment.  Avoid dowel rod perches and sandpaper perches as these can lead to foot injuries such as bumblefoot.  Placing a pedicure perch at the highest level in the cage will encourage birds to roost on that perch at night since they like to sleep at the highest point.  These perches keep their nails in shape and help promote foot health. Ensuring that the correct perch size is selected will help keep their feet healthy. Rope bungees are also fun perches/swings for your feathered friend.

This Isn’t All a Healthy Parrot Needs

Now that the cage basics are set up, what else is needed? We need ways to provide enrichment and intellectual stimulation.  Providing toys is a great place to start!  Stay tuned for the upcoming blogs on ways to provide enrichment and training as well as why your feathered friends should visit an avian veterinarian annually.  If you have any questions regarding this information or need advice on making changes to your birds husbandry, please feel free to contact the Pender Exotics team here at 703.654.3100.  We are more than happy to help!


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