Care Sheet: Indian Ringneck

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Personality: Playful, inquisitive, intelligent, independent

Experience level required: Moderate

Approximate Lifespan: 30 years

Puberty: 12-18mo

Sexing: Dimorphic. Males develop a ring anywhere from 18mo-3 years. If you want to know before that you must DNA sex your bird. Some colors, like albino, never get a ring.

Vocalizations: They can be loud (see video below).

That said, they usually do not make noise all day every day. Vocalizations are typical in the early morning/late afternoon, if the bird feels separated from the flock, or if it is frightened.

Talking ability: Good. Both sexes talk.

Diet: Standard

Minimum recommended cage size: Ringnecks have long tails that are easily damaged in cages that are too small or cluttered. They need large cages with plenty of clearance for their tails.

Cautions: Ringnecks do not form the same strong pair bonds seen in other species. Most parrots will pair off with a buddy or mate. Ringnecks generally don’t do this outside of the mating season. This can make them seem standoffish. Do not buy a ringneck expecting a cuddly, sociable bird!

After weaning, ringnecks go through a bluffing phase in which they bite and show aggression. It is critical that the owner NOT react to the bites. The first year is critical to ringneck development. They go wild very easily if not consistently and amicably handled during the first year.

Don’t get me wrong, ringnecks make wonderful pets, they just aren’t for everyone. I’ve had to steer many potential clients over to conures because they had unrealistic expectations of what ringnecks are like. They are playful, highly intelligent, and curious. They enjoy spending time with people but can also play well by themselves. The best ambassador bird I ever had- the one I could trust to be pet by children and adults alike- was an Indian ringneck. They require an owner who understands their behavior and is willing to give them a lot of time that first year. With ringnecks, you get out what you put in.

Introducing New Birds

How does one go about introducing new birds to your flock?

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Fresh out of quarantine and on their way to meet the flock.

Step 1: Quarantine

ALWAYS QUARANTINE FIRST!

New birds can potentially bring disease into your flock. Diseases can range from mild an annoying to very expensive and possible deadly. Quarantine is your first line of defense. How does one quarantine? You need to keep the new bird(s) isolated in an area away from your other birds for at LEAST 30 days. Sixty days is better. During this time, new birds should be tested for diseases and observed for signs of illness. I recommend testing because many of the nastiest diseases, like PBFD and Avian Bornavirus, can go for years without any clinical signs. Quarantine birds should be fed last. Generally you also want to wear different shoes while in this area, or go through a foot bath of disinfectant when exiting. Disease testing kits can be ordered here. More detailed quarantine procedures can be found here. Once quarantine is over you can safely move your new birds into the main bird area.

Step 2: Introductions

How you do introductions depends both on your set up and what species you keep. If you are a pet owner, your birds are likely housed in (relatively) small cages where each bird or birds has an established territory. If this is the case, side-by-side introductions are best. The new bird is placed in a separate cage within sight and sound of the current birds. There will likely be some curiosity or even aggression through the bars of the cage. Over time, bickering should diminish. At this point, birds can enjoy SUPERVISED time out together. Accidents can happen in an instant so be on alert, especially if the two birds are not friendly toward one another. Try not to let birds crawl onto each other’s cages, as even a mellow bird can defend its home turf. If you hope to eventually house the birds together, they should be placed in a new, neutral cage at the same time only after they’ve shown an interest in one another for awhile.

If you have large cages (I mean LARGE, like full flights or walk-in aviaries) with many different birds, adding new birds can be done immediately after quarantine, providing you keep species that are NOT super aggressive.

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Two new cockatiels were just introduced into this established flight. Cockatiels are generally not aggressive, and aside from some squabbling over preferred perches, there were no fights.

If you’re introducing many new birds at one time, it is usually safe so long as the cage is neutral. A lone bird coming into established territory is at far greater risk.

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Side-by-side introduction of a new Indian ringneck.

In the above picture, we have a single new bird being introduced. The cage on the right contains six ringnecks, which came from three different sources. They were all introduced at relatively the same time to this cage, which means there was no fighting. However, this grey male is a late arrival. These birds have already been in this cage for a few months- more than enough time to become territorial. Ringnecks can be very aggressive, so he must be introduced slowly.

Some birds are independently aggressive, and you won’t know who until you put birds together. I recently tried pairing a green cheek hen with a male in a neutral cage. She immediately began to attack him. This was a large cage. I scooped her up and removed her, and tried a different hen. No issues. However, the first hen continued to do aggressive displays towards the introduced male, who was now in a neighboring cage with a friend of hers (the other hen). I had to place barriers at the back to help neutralize the aggression.

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New cage with cardboard barriers at the back.

Barriers are definitely something to consider if there is excessive aggression. When a bird feels threatened it will make aggressive displays. This is stressful to the birds, and should be curtailed if possible. When I introduced Lando to my Goffin, Loki, she was very agitated and yelling constantly. I kept cardboard between their two cages for a few days until she settled down. He was an invader of her space and it took time for her to get over that. Introductions are fine, but you don’t want the birds to be overly stressed.

© 2017 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

 

Preventing Hormonal Behavior

Hormones can be the cause of many behavior problems in birds. As a breeder it is very easy for me to identify mating behaviors for what they are. However, most pet owners do not breed and are therefore unfamiliar with typical mating behaviors and their common triggers. Instead they anthropomorphize such behaviors and let things escalate too far. It is essential that you learn everything you can about the particular species that you own- including how they breed. Even if you never plan to breed, those behaviors are embedded in your pet’s DNA. You need to understand what’s going on in order to prevent unwanted hormonal behaviors.

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A pet cockatiel laying infertile eggs. Photo by Adrian Ward.

What happens when mating behaviors are triggered in pet birds?

  • Aggression, even toward favorite people
  • Territoriality
  • Excessive screaming
  • Plucking
  • Frustration and lashing out
  • Egg laying (which can lead to egg binding)

Behaviors like the above often lead to rehomed pets. Back when I first got into birds, you could flip to any pet classified section and see ad after ad for birds around 2-4 years of age. Depending on the species, this is when puberty hits. After years of receiving mixed messages, the birds were finally ready to mate. The problem was that they wanted to mate with their favorite person and started lashing out when their owners weren’t responding predictably.

Plucking, while not usually dangerous, can easily become a habit that is very difficult to break.

Excessively egg laying can be dangerous, particularly if the hen isn’t on a proper breeding diet (most pets are not, nor should they be). When an egg becomes trapped inside the body there is a risk it will rupture, causing a life-threatening infection. Preventing hormonal behaviors in pets is especially important for hens. If your bird is already laying excessively, please see my article on egg laying in pets.

Breeding Triggers

The following are some common ways that breeding can be inadvertently stimulated. Please keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. Every species is different and it is important to understand how your birds would normally nest.

 

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Photo by Dan Armbrust.

Dark, Enclosed Spaces

Most parrots are cavity breeders- they nest in tree trunks. Pairs will seek out a good cavity, clean it out, and possibly enlarge it. In the modern home any dark, enclosed space will be viewed as a potential nest site. This could be under the couch (see below) or dresser, inside a Happy Hut or tent, a shipping box offered for chewing, or under a blanket. It is important never to offer any item, particularly inside the cage, which could be viewed as a nest site. Troublesome areas (like under the couch) should be blocked off or made off-limits.

Above: (Left) A gap in a couch is a tempting nest site, and potentially dangerous as this couch reclines. (Right) Moving/shipping boxes may offer chewing fun, but they are also seen as nest sites. Loki kept attempting to enter this one.

Nesting Material

Cleaning the nest cavity is a normal part of nest preparation. Some breeders have even found that introducing large chunks of wood into a nest box will help stimulate their pairs. In pets, stredding can be a prelude to nesting. Lovebirds in particular use nesting material. Leaves are tucked into the rump feathers and transported back to their nest site. Quakers build huge communal nests with sticks.

Birds should never have access to the substrate in their cage, but nevertheless may try to shred everything they get their beaks on. Shredding is fine and destructible toys are good, but during the breeding season you may want to offer alternatives if your bird is prone to nesty behavior.

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Black-masked lovebirds. One of the few psittacines that uses nesting material. Photo by Dean Croshere.

Light

Longer days simulate springtime. Many owners keep their birds up after dark, making long days even longer. Birds need at least 10 hours of sleep and I would extend that to 12-14 if they are getting hormonal. Cover your bird’s cage or give them a separate sleep cage in a quiet area to ensure they’re getting enough darkness.

Feeding Soft, Warm Foods by Hand

Bonded pairs regurgitate to one another. Offering treats by hand when training is fine, but try to avoid hand feeding warm, mushy foods. Feed them in a dish. If your bird regurgitates don’t encourage it.

Too Much Protein

Chicks require a lot of protein to grow, and providing birds with too much protein signals that it’s a great time to raise a family. If you have a hen that is already laying eggs you do want to continue offering protein and calcium (especially calcium) so that she is less likely to deplete her own reserves. If your pet is not laying eggs then continue to feed a good diet but do not make a habit of offering a lot of protein. Calcium in the form of pellets, cuttlebone, or mineral block should be offered year-round, especially to hens.

Providing Sexual Stimulation

Mating usually involves the male doing some sort of display- head bobbing, pinpointing eyes, flaring tail or wings. When the female is ready to mate she droops her wings and raises her rump. The male typically mounts her (some species will mate side by side) and they rub their cloacas together. The cloaca is the opening underneath the base of the tail. It is used for passing feces, uric acid (bird equivalent of pee), eggs, and for transferring/receiving sperm.

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Cockatiels mating. Note the posture of both birds. Male is one top and female is on bottom. Photo by dorisalb.

Many of the ways you touch your bird could be interpreted sexually. Mutual preening (head scratching) can be done by flockmates but it is more common in bonded pairs. Petting your hen on the back can be stimulating, as she feels like you are trying to mount her for mating. Touching the cloaca should definitely be avoided. Some birds get excited when pet under the wings.

Always be aware of your bird’s body language while petting them. If they are exhibiting postures like those in the picture above, stop petting them as they are getting sexually stimulated. Males will usually pinpoint their eyes, dip their head, and raise their wings at the shoulder a bit. Hens will raise their rump, drop their wings and coo or shiver. Give them a period to calm down before petting again.

It is entirely possible that your bird will try masturbating on you. This may involve mounting your hand and rubbing the cloaca (in males) or backing up against you and rubbing the cloaca (in females). Masturbation should neither be encouraged nor discouraged directly. If your bird is trying to mate with you, simply move it to another location or place it back into the cage for a while.

Sometimes the object of affection is a toy. Never offer your pet a mirror or fake bird. Birds can become very attached to these items and defend them aggressively. If, however, a bird is masturbating on a wide variety of objects/toys I would be less concerned.

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Goffin hen masturbating on toy. Click here to see video. It’s a very good example of how hens behave.

My Goffin is actually trying to self-stimulate as I write this. Observe:

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This may seem innocuous to you- most pet owners would probably think so- but pay attention to her body language. Her eyes are half-closed, beak half-open, and she has a blissful expression. Where is her back? It’s pressed up against the underside of my desk. She’s using the desk to simulate a male mounting her. It’s more obvious from this angle:

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It’s not full on masturbation, but she’s definitely aroused. Were she to start making clucking or cooing noises I would remove her from my leg and place here elsewhere.

Everything I do is stimulatiing!

It’s not as bad as that. I once read an article that basically said touching your pet bird in any way ever was going to stimulate them, and while that’s semi-true, if you’re careful about stopping petting when your bird is getting aroused, and limiting other factors then you should be okay. I’ve had my Goffin for over a decade and she’s never laid a single egg. Nor has any other pet hen I’ve had since I became a breeder. Part of being a breeder is knowing how to shut your birds down effectively, especially when you handle species designed to bred any time adequate food is available.

My goal in writing this is not to scare you, but to make you aware of how many different things might be stimulating your bird. Again, the key is to educate yourself on their natural lifecycle and body language. Much of this comes down to your ability to correctly interpret body language and provide healthy distractions (toys! exercise! training!) when they’re becoming too aroused.

Hormone Therapy

Some birds get very hormonal every spring and no matter what their owners do, they can’t seem to get things under control. If this is the case and none of the above has worked, I recommend visiting a competent avian veterinarian about hormone therapy. There are certain injections they can do these days that will help limit the surge of seasonal hormones.

© 2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Egg Laying in Pets

Ah, spring…sunshine, showers, flowers, and egg laying in pet birds.

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Not all female pets will lay eggs. My Goffin is 14 and has yet to lay a single egg. Others, often cockatiels, will habitually lay every year. So what do you do?

Step One: Remove anything that could be interpreted as a nest site- Happy Huts, boxes, enclosed toys/dishes, tents, etc. Also, do NOT pet your bird on the back or under the tail. head scratches are fine, but touching her back is going to simulate a male mounting her.

Step Two: Provide lots of calcium and protein. Excess laying will deplete a hen’s calcium reserves, which can lead to soft shelled eggs (more likely to fracture internally) and brittle bones. Offer cuttlebone and/or mineral block, and cooked scrambled eggs with the shell. If this has been going on a long time, you may need to see a veterinarian for a quicker form of supplementation.

Step Three: STOP REMOVING EGGS. Birds can count and usually have a specific clutch size that they are trying to reach. Removing eggs means that they never finish their clutch so they just keep laying more. Removing broken eggs is fine. Once her clutch is complete she may try to incubate the eggs. Incubation lasts three to four weeks for most species. Eventually she should realize that her eggs are duds and abandon them. At this point they can be safely removed. Some hens will lay again, others will not. If she does lay again you can try leaving the eggs in longer. At the very least, leaving eggs in will space out the time in between clutches.

Step Four: Decrease daylight hours. Most species are springtime breeders. Even birds that can lay year-round usually become more hormonal during the spring. You can try to shorten their breeding season by fudging their daylight hours. Covering the cage early at night may help, though cockatiels are prone to night frights when covered. For cockatiels I would move them to a room with limited sunlight and get blackout curtains. Close the curtains well before sunset every day.

Do I need to swap out the eggs with fakes? No. You certainly can, but I don’t really see a reason to do so.

For more information: Discouraging Breeding Behavior in Pet Birds

©2016 by Karen Trinkaus May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission. Image submitted by reader.

Feather Health

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Feathers are made up of the same material as fingernails. They help birds regulate their temperature, allow them to fly, facilitate communication, and can indicate the overall health of a bird.

Maintenance/Preening
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Aside from wing clipping, feathers require no extra maintenance on your part. Like cats, birds keep their own feathers clean. They will spend hours a day preening their feathers to keep them in good shape. Preening involves gathering oil from the uropygial gland, located at the base of the tail, and spreading it over the feathers. Each feather is individually run through the beak and straightened.

A few species- cockatoos, cockatiels, and African greys- have specialized down feathers that dissolve into a fine keratin powder. This powder performs the same function as the oil from the uropygial gland. However, it makes these species extremely “dusty.” If you keep these birds indoors you may need a good air filter. If a powder species doesn’t seem to be producing any powder, take it as a sign of illness. PBFD is one possible cause.

You can help your bird keep itself clean by allowing it access to a shallow dish for daily bathing, or by spray misting it. I do not recommend applying any kind of product to a bird’s feathers. There is no need. Birds produce their own oil/powder naturally and do not need any special “conditioner.”

Molting

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Pinfeathers dot this budgie’s head. (X)

Twice a year your bird will molt. Molting is the process of losing feathers and replacing them with new ones, not unlike a dog shedding. It is done gradually, so while you may find lots of excess feathers in your bird’s cage, your bird will not appear to have lost anything. New feathers grow in encapsulated by a waxy sheath. You will see these pinfeathers start to dot the top of your bird’s head where it cannot reach. Pinfeathers can be itchy and if your bird allows head scratches you can help release the new feathers by gently rubbing them between your fingers. Normally this is done by flock mates.

Blood feathers are pinfeathers which are still being fed by a blood supply. Flight feathers grow in as blood feathers and can bleed profusely if broken open while they are still growing in. If a bird has a broken blood feather you can attempt to stop the bleeding by putting flour on it. If that doesn’t work, grasp the feather at the base of the skin with needle nose pliers and swiftly yank it out in the direction it is growing. Only yank as a last resort as you can cause damage to the follicle.

Stress Bars

If you’re finding lines across your bird’s feathers then you have a problem. Stress and malnutrition during a molt can both cause new feathers to emerge with stress bars.

Plucking & Feather Loss

The first thing to do is determine why a bird is losing feathers. Not all feather loss is caused by plucking, and not all plucking is the result of neglect. Giardia can cause intense itching, which can then lead to plucking. Thankfully, it can be treated. PBFD causes severe feather loss and compromises the immune system. There is no cure for PBFD. If your bird is losing feathers it is best to take it to a qualified avian veterinarian first to rule out any medical causes. Make sure your bird is receiving a good diet and that the humidity isn’t too high or low. Many of our pets come from tropical climates, so if you live in an exceptionally dry area this could be exacerbating any problems.

It’s usually quite easy to tell if a bird is plucking itself. Birds can only pluck the areas they can reach, so a bird that is plucking itself will be losing feathers on the chest and back but never the head.

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This African grey exhibits overall poor health in addition to plucking of the chest and back. All the remaining wing and tail feathers are bent, drab, and stressed. Photo by Tambako the Jaguar.

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This blue and gold macaw had plucked its entire chest and legs. Photo by Rodrigo Soldon.

Feather plucking is a difficult habit to break once it’s begun, so swift intervention is always best. A bird could be picking for any number of reasons: poor health, parasites, stress, or boredom. Birds without anything to do rapidly turn to destructive behaviors like plucking and even self-mutilation. Make sure your bird has plenty of toys/activities AND companionship.

If you adopt a feather plucker, a proper home will go a long way towards halting the plucking, but it can still remain a habit. If this is the case, make sure your bird has plenty else to do. Foraging toys, chew toys, exercise, etc. will all help. You can also get a special vest to help protect the chest.

Some birds are plucked by their mates. This is actually quite common and not a cause for concern, so long as it does not progress to something worse. When a mate is doing the plucking, feather loss is usually restricted to the head because this is where they mutually preen.

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Vita has been plucked by her mate for years. Notice how it is completely confined to the head.

Injury is another source of feather loss. If a bird is severely injured then the feather follicles may be damaged beyond repair, preventing any new feathers from growing.

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Blue boy had a head injury years ago, and retains a quarter-sized bald patch to this day.

Copyright © 2001 by Karen Trinkaus unless otherwise noted and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Kakarikis in the Wild

This was originally a report I did for an Avian Science class at UC Davis.

Kakarikis are strange little parakeets that are native to New Zealand. There are six species of kakariki (two are extinct) and several subspecies (Forshaw, 1977). This paper will focus mainly on the natural history and ecology of the red-fronted kakariki, Cyanoramphus novaezelandiae, although much of the information regarding the red-fronted can be applied to the other species as well. I chose to research this species because out of all the psittacines that I breed, kakarikis have caused me the most trouble. My hen is an exceptional layer, but that is about all. I have watched countless chicks whither and die whether left to their mother, hand-raised by myself, or fostered by my cockatiels who are excellent parents. The abnormally high death rate of chicks, as well the delightful pet qualities of those that do survive to fledging, has captured my interest in these birds. I hope to one day be able to study them myself in their native country.

As island dwellers, kakarikis have had to cope with habitat loss and the introduction of foreign species. Of the four species still surviving, C. unicolor (Antipodes) and C. malherbi (orange-fronted) are the rarest. Many attempts have been made to re-establish species through captive breeding. Sometimes this method is successful, but when it is not, scientists often suspect feral cats to be the reason (MacMillan, 1990). Hybridization among the various species remains a major problem, although some scientists speculate that the orange-front is a only a color mutation of the yellow-crown (C. auriceps) and crosses between these two should be dismissed (Taylor et al. 1986). Update: Scientists have since verified that the orange-fronted kak is a mutation of the yellow-front. However, this mutation is still absent in American aviculture so birds displaying orange are actually red and yellow-front hybrids.

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Red-fronted kakarikis are mostly green. Their flight feathers are blue but get dark grey towards the tip and they have a red crown, forehead, and band behind the eye. A red spot is located on both sides below the rump. The eyes are orange, the beak is silver with a black tip, and the cere is brown. The feet are zygodactyl with very long toes and nails. They are twenty-six to twenty-eight centimeters long (Wilson, 1990). Most captive breeders find their birds to weigh around 70 grams for males and 55 grams for females (Vriends, 1992). A study of weights of birds on Aorangi Island indicated that the wild population may be much heavier. This study found that the average weight was 82.1 grams for males and 67.9 for females (Sagar, 1988). This may be due to variations in diet between captive and wild birds.

This species is dimorphic, but people unfamiliar with it may find it difficult to distinguish the sexes. Males are much heavier than females, and have a larger body size. Males also have much wider beaks and heads. Once one is familiar with these differences, the birds become quite easy to sex, even unfeathered chicks.

Kakarikis have several peculiar behaviors. They scratch around on the ground like chickens when searching for food (Hyde, 1995). One study found that kakarikis will eat manuka and kanuka leaves to combat parasites (Greene, 1989). Both plants contain a natural insecticide called leptospermone. Birds will also spread juices from these plants over their feathers.

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Wild kakariki at Nga Manu Reserve. Photograph by Sid Mosdell.

I have noticed several distinct characteristics and behaviors in my own birds which were not mentioned in any of the articles I found. These observations are completely my own, and should be researched to assess validity. Females are more common than males (other breeders I have spoken with have also noticed this). They are very prone to aspergillosis infections, perhaps because the cold temperatures of New Zealand do not allow fungi to grow as well. They are very agile in flight and can take off backwards. Rather than turning around to see what is behind them, they flip their head back and upon seeing something of interest they will take off and flip over in flight. Their feathers are very long. Tropical and desert psittacines usually have feathers on their body and head which are rather rounded. Kakarikis’ feathers are often thinner and longer, most likely to help keep warm. Kakarikis must bathe daily to keep feathers in good condition. Their feathers are very sensitive when in the pin-feather stage. Many pet birds like to have their pin-feathers opened when ready by their owner. Kakariki feathers are damaged by this activity. They become ripped, cut, and jagged along the shaft. This happens the worst in the flight and tail feathers.

The diet of the red-fronted kakariki is typical of most psittacines: plants, fruit, seed, and occasionally insects. Bellingham (1987) found that they ate “ngaio and taupata fruit, pohutukawa flowers, flax seed and grass seed” and that “fruit and seed together formed over two-thirds of the diet.” The red-fronted is commonly found foraging on islands where rats were not introduced. The islands where it forages have “a wide range of vegetation – grassland, coastal scrub, and coastal forest (Bellingham, 1987).”

Red-fronted kakarikis are prolific in both the wild and in captivity. In the wild, Bellingham (1987) observed them nesting “under the roots of pohutukawa trees” that grew on cliffs near the sea. Kakarikis can make nests in whatever is available to them. They prefer nesting in trees, but when none are accessible they will nest among roots in cliff crevices, on the ground, even inside burrows. Forshaw (1977) wrote that kakarikis are very adaptable to their habitat. They can exist on any island that is free of introduced predators. On Macquarie Island, which has no trees, they are “completely terrestrial.” This willingness to nest virtually anywhere has no doubt helped the kakariki to survive on islands were other birds will not. No real courtship displays have been observed.

The number of eggs laid is very high for such a small bird. This number is the highest in the red-fronted kakariki. Clutches of five to nine eggs are not uncommon. Captive birds, including my own, have been known to lay twelve. Unfortunately, hens with such a large number of eggs often have trouble incubating them all. Only the hens incubate. The incubation period is 20 days (Vriends, 1992). The eggs are similar in size to those of cockatiels, only more rounded. The chicks hatch “covered in white down, but this changes to gray in a few days (Vriends, 1992).”

I could find no information regarding the number of young fledged in the wild, however, captive numbers vary greatly. While kakarikis are capable of rearing large numbers of chicks, “occasionally a high death rate of the young will occur without any apparent cause (Vriends, 1992).” I have personally had this problem myself, but I have always hoped that it was due to a lethal gene factor caused by a limited supply of birds, and not necessarily a trait of this species. Research should be done to see if this problem also occurs in the wild, and what causes it. The young are fed by the parents for a few weeks after fledging.

This species does not migrate, but does occasionally fly to nearby islands in search of food (Sagar, 1988). Red-fronted kakarikis were once common on the mainland in forested areas, but their numbers have been severely reduced. They now remain on Little Barrier, Antipodes, Auckland, New Caledonia, and a few other islands (Forshaw, 1977).

Red-fronted kakarikis and other Cyanoramphus parakeets are curious little psittacines which would greatly benefit from more research. Four of the six species have managed to survive despite habitat loss and the introduction of mammals onto the various islands. Had they been less adaptive, or had they evolved themselves into a very specialized niche like many other island species have done (ie. the kakapo), they might not have endured until today. It is hoped that through research, captive breeding, and restoration of island habitats that this genus will continue to exist as part of New Zealand’s unique wildlife.

Literature CitedBellingham, Mark. 1987. Red-crowned parakeet on Burgess Island. Notornis 34: 234-236.

Forshaw, J.M. Parrots of the World. T.F.H. Publications: Neptune, NJ. 1977.

Greene, Terry. 1989. Antiparasitic behavior in New Zealand parakeets. Notornis 36: 322-323.

Hyde, Graeme. 1995. The kakariki parakeet. Bird Breeder magazine. Fancy Publications Inc. Vol. 67: 16-24.

MacMillan, B.W.H. 1990. Attempts to re-establish wekas, brown kiwis and red-crowned parakeets in the Waitakere ranges. Notornis 37: 45-51.

Sagar, P.M. 1988. Some characteristics of red-crowned parakeets on the Poor Knights Islands. Notornis 35: 1-8.

Taylor, R.H., E.G. Heatherbell and E.M. Heatherbell. 1986. The orange-fronted parakeet (Cyanoramphus malherbi) is a color morph of the yellow-crowned parakeet (C. auriceps). Notornis 33: 17-22.

Vriends, Mathew M. The New Australian Parakeet Handbook. Barron’s Educational Series: Hauppauge, NY. 1992.

Wilson, Kevin. A Guide to Australian Long and Broad-tailed Parrots and New Zealand Kakarikis. Australian Birdkeeper: South Tweed Heads, Australia. 1990.

© 1999 Karen Trinkaus  May not be reproduced without author permission. Photograph credit Sid Mosdell.

Should I buy a Second Bird?

The last time I was at a bird club meeting the speaker was the editor of Bird Talk magazine. She brought up some of the frequently asked questions they receive. As bird club members, we all kind of chuckled at these because they were common knowledge to us. One of the questions they routinely get is “Should I buy a second bird?” She said the fact that the person was even asking the question indicated that the answer was “no.” Most people nodded in agreement at this statement. I beg to differ.

I receive this question a lot too, but most people don’t ask it out of some nagging doubt it won’t work or they shouldn’t do it. In many cases, they want another bird, but are unsure how their first will react. Will the two get along? Will their first bird lose its pet qualities? How soon can they be introduced? What species would be most compatible? To me their question shows that they know enough about birds not to jump into something blindly. They want to educate themselves first. Most people obtain their first bird without doing any research. They learn through trial and error, not really the best way for the pet or the owner, but if they’re trying to rectify the situation the second time around I can’t fault them. There’s nothing wrong with making an informed decision.

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Benefits of Keeping a Flock

I have a personal philosophy regarding this issue – I never keep birds singly. A bird that has its own cage is still kept near others and allowed play time with them. The only time I completely isolate a bird is if it must be kept in a hospital cage due to health problems. This does not mean that I think every owner should run out and buy more birds. Many people are happy with just a single pet. This article is for those of you who are contemplating buying another bird, but haven’t quite made up your mind yet.

I believe it is psychologically beneficial for birds to be kept in a flock. My adopted mitred conure responded extremely well when kept around my flock. He no longer tries to assault other birds. Many people don’t properly socialize their birds. One of my requirements of socialization is that bird know how to be a bird. A handfed reared in isolation with no avian contact may have identity problems later, particularly if its owner expects it to act like a little human. Birds are not humans and never will be. We both share many behaviors but have different motivations. Understanding your bird’s behavior is the key to getting along with it. I think new owners tend to attribute human motivations to their bird’s behavior or simply treat them as if they have no emotions at all. Both views will lead to problems.

When you allow birds to interact with one another you give them a chance to communicate in their own language and to be themselves. As an aside: One of my pet peeves is when people ask me about teaching their birds to talk or want to know if my birds talk. Yes they talk- they speak bird! You’ll get along much better with your animals if you learn to communicate with them. I’ll have you know I’m fluent in “duck” and “chicken.” I’ve made friends with wild ducks using this skill. Don’t ask me how to teach your birds to talk, ask me how you can learn to speak “bird.”

Not everyone can give their bird the attention it requires. Many people will buy their pet a mirror, thinking this will help keep it company. This is worse than keeping a bird isolated. If you can’t give your bird the attention it needs, give it up or buy a second.

I also believe that owners learn more about bird behavior when observing more than one interacting. Owners of one bird only see that single bird’s behavior. They have no point of reference and mistakenly judge their behavior as “odd.” When you see birds interact with one another it makes more sense.

I also cannot overstate how beneficial it is for birds to have another bird, even a different species, around during the day when you’re not home. Parrots are not meant to be kept in isolation.

Will my first bird lose its pet qualities?

No. If your bird is tame and lovable it should stay that way. I have never seen a bird become unfriendly just because it had a new friend. I think this myth has been propagated by owners whose birds hit puberty the same time as a new bird is purchased. Behavior changes associated with puberty have nothing to do with the introduction of a new bird.

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This guy was handfed and socialized by me. He’s an aviary bird and I haven’t handled him on a regular basis for ten years. Still tame.

Let’s say you buy a new cockatiel. You have it for a few months. It’s so sweet and wonderful you just have to get another one. Your first bird is probably around six months to a year old when you decide to introduce another. Guess what time puberty hits? That’s right, around 6-12 months. The new bird is unjustly blamed for problems that would have occurred anyway.

What species are the most compatible?

This is more of a concern if they are to be sharing a cage. Given a large enough cage, you can probably keep any birds of similar size together. I keep conures, budgies, kakarikis, tiels and ringnecks together, but then I have walk-in aviaries. Territorial issues are less of a problem when you are not breeding.

If the cage is smaller you’ll need the species to be more alike. Tiels and budgies have similar care requirements but they don’t get along well in confined spaces, especially if there are only one of each (or one tiel and numerous budgies). Tiels are mellow birds; budgies are pesky and very active. The constant movement alone can drive a tiel nuts in a small cage. Even if it doesn’t, the budgies are likely to harass the tiel endlessly.

When species are very different (in size or behavior) you need to give each their own cage. I would not keep any of the medium or large parrots together in a standard pet cage. You’d need a large flight to do that.

Supervised play is fine with most similar-sized birds, as long as you know how to read body language and prevent problems.

How soon can they be introduced?

Quarantine all new birds for at least 30 days. By quarantine I mean keep them in another room with NO contact with your current birds. You don’t want to risk bringing in any diseases. Feed the new bird last and change clothes/wash hands before handling your other birds again. I also recommend a vet check and bloodwork if you can afford it. You can see a veterinarian for disease testing or submit it yourself.

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How do I introduce them?

Some species can be thrown in together with few problems. Budgies and tiels usually fall into this category. Heck, budgies typically welcome new birds! However, birds that have established territory- especially perceived breeding territory- may have a problem with a new bird suddenly sharing it. In this case it is best to start out with separate cages, in view of each other, and supervised play time outside of the cages. How soon the two get along will vary. If you see any fighting take things back a step.

How do I keep them from breeding?

Don’t buy the same species or the opposite sex, and don’t give them a nestbox.

© 1997-2002 by Karen Trinkaus and may not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

When Your Bird is Sick

Posted by Kendra on January 04, 2002 at 12:41:12:

Hello all. I have some sad news, my little girl Luna passed away last night. I had taken her to an emergency vet on New Year’s Day after I noticed her constant fluffing, lethargy and diarrhea for nearly a day previous. I should have taken her in sooner. I have posted a memorial message in her honor on the memorials page. Please, please, please take your keet to see a vet without delay if he or she starts exhibiting these symptoms. The vet said that, had I brought Luna to him sooner, it might have saved her life. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. Take care of your little ones as though they are your own children.

Why every sick bird is an EMERGENCY

What is the first thing you do after buying a dog? You take it to the vet for vaccinations! Dogs and cats require more routine trips to the vet than birds do, yet most bird owners refuse to take their bird even once when their pet is critically ill.

BIRDS ARE NOT MAMMALS. People too often see bird illness like their own- just annoying symptoms that aren’t very serious. Birds can take injury quite well, but illness is another matter. In the wild an unhealthy bird can attract predators, spread disease and may be driven out of the flock. Because of this they do their very best to hide the fact that they are ill. Experienced breeders will notice illness early, but by the time a pet owner sees their bird is sick, the condition is very serious. Tack onto this the delay an owner makes before bringing the bird to a vet, and you have an animal at death’s door. Even worse, the owner may not seek veterinary care, thinking things will just get better on their own, and the bird winds up dead.

If a bird acts ill:

  1. Isolate it from your flock and keep it in a warm, quiet place.
  2. Take it to the vet as soon as possible.
  3. Do NOT try to treat it yourself.

Many owners are actually more likely to seek vet care if their bird is bleeding or injured than if the bird is sick. While injury can certainly be serious, it is usually not life-threatening (except for cat attacks). I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take a bird to the vet if it is injured, but that you need to view illness as being much more dangerous.

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How to Know if your Bird is Sick

Birds mask signs of illness. Usually the owner will sense something is “off” before they can point to actual symptoms.

  • decrease in weight
  • decrease in appetite
  • lethargy
  • not as interested in play
  • voice change or decrease in vocalizations
  • drastic change in poop that is unrelated to food change

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Choosing a Vet

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose their vet. Extremely rural areas may have only livestock vets to choose from, or none at all. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere like Southern California, you’ll have your choice of vets. Don’t be afraid to be picky. It is your pet’s life! Beware of vets claiming to be “avian specialists” or something like that. Not all vets are qualified to treat birds. Try to stick to vets that are members of the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Members of this organization are more likely to be up to date on current research, treatments, and other information. They may not be completely qualified either, but at least they’ll be working on it and have access to better information. See the AAV website for a list of members in your area.

Aside from being an AAV member, there is one other quality I require of my own vets: communication skills. They’ve got to be willing to talk to me about the problem itself and the options for treatment. Cost estimates are also important.

The Initial Visit

Ideally, the first visit should take place immediately after purchase, for several reasons. It gives you the chance to get a feel for the vet before really needing one. It gives the vet a chance to see your bird when it is (hopefully) healthy. The bird’s normal weight will be recorded and will help provide a reference point for later exams. The vet can talk to you about basic bird care. Do you know why exotic animal exams generally cost $10 more than cat and dog exams? It is because they typically take longer- the vet may have to spend an hour giving the owner a lecture on the proper diet. You might learn key information on the first visit that will keep your bird healthy and prevent further visits. There’s also the possibility that you bought a sick or unweaned bird. Most breeders are reasonable and give you 24 hours to see a vet and verify the bird’s health. Some places now offer a free vet exam with purchase. If something is wrong you can catch it right away and return the animal.

What to Expect

Most visits include only a physical exam. The vet will weigh your bird and look it over. They may listen to pulse/breathing, check the vent, mouth, etc. Depending on the problem they may send you away with medication or recommend that tests be run. All sick birds look pretty much the same. Unless tests are run, the initial diagnosis a vet makes for a bird is typically an educated guess. This does NOT mean that the vet doesn’t know what he/she is doing. In many cases this initial diagnosis is correct. Vets know we aren’t made of money and that most people are unwilling to pay the added cost for cultures or bloodwork. Many won’t even bring up the topic during an initial visit. However, if the first treatment fails YOU NEED TO LET THE VET KNOW. It’s not as if everything is settled once you leave the practice. Like I said, it is often just an educated guess. If it happens to be wrong how will the vet know unless you say something? Bring the bird back as many times as needed to fix the problem. My current vet has no extra charge for rechecks (additional procedures cost more, but the exam does not).

Lab work is always better when performed before any medications have been given. If a bird has been on antibiotics or other meds this can mess up the results. If you want the vet to do labwork before any medications are prescribed, ask for it!

    Common Procedures:

  • Antibiotics kill bacteria. Each antibiotic attacks only certain types. Most vets start out with a wide spectrum (common/general types) and move on to something more specific if that doesn’t work. Antibiotics do NOT work against fungi or viruses and should only be used under veterinarian supervision.
  • Anti fungals kill fungi. Antibiotics can promote the growth of fungi so many vets will prescribe this along with antibiotic treatments. If you have reason to believe that your bird has a fungal infection, demand that your vet provide an antifungal in addition to an antibiotic.
  • Lactobacillus (it may be called something else) is “friendly bacteria.” We need bacteria to live. Much of our digestion is aided by beneficial bacteria in our intestines. This bacteria also helps by giving bad species little or no room to colonize. If a bird is on long or harsh antibiotic treatments a vet will usually prescribe this to increase the good bacterial population.
  • Blood Panels are more for detecting if their is a problem. They don’t help much with diagnosis but a vet can look at a panel and see if anything is amiss. Certain problems will affect different parts of a blood panel. This procedure is best for annual exams and cases where the bird has been treated but nothing seems to be working (the panel may point the vet in another direction).
  • X rays are used to see abnormalities that might show up: masses, fractures, ingested metals, tumors, etc.
  • Cultures are used to determine what exact species is the culprit of an infection. Like I stated before, antibiotics each treat a specific range of bacteria. A culture will help the vet narrow down which bacterial/fungal species needs to be dealt with.

What you need to do

Animals can’t tell the vet what is wrong. You need to tell the vet everything. I’m dead serious- every little detail about their illness. You see the animal every day and you’ll notice tiny abnormalities that a vet couldn’t notice. Write down/type the answers to all these questions and bring them with you to the veterinarian.

  1. What are the symptoms?
  2. Behavioral changes?
  3. Breathing problems, voice changes or discharge?
  4. Decreased vocalizations, eating or play?
  5. Any changes in the animal’s environment?
  6. Has the animal been chewing on anything weird?
  7. Do the feces look any different than normal? If yes, describe.
  8. When did the symptoms first start? How have they progressed?
  9. List any weights you’ve taken, from older to more recent.
  10. Has the bird been treated for anything previously? (if at another hospital)

Start writing down the answers as soon as you notice something is wrong. Wait too long and you may not be able to remember subtle changes or when the symptoms first occurred. If you have a food scale, weigh your bird (in grams) and bring your records with you.

Detecting Early Signs of Illness

The best preventative medicine is quality care. A good diet is extremely important to keeping your bird healthy. There is absolutely no excuse for feeding your bird a seed-only diet. If you are having trouble getting your bird to try new foods, go here.

Buy a gram scale and weigh your bird monthly or even weekly. Weight loss is a good indication of illness and will show up before most other symptoms. Some fluctuation is normal but the weight should not be steadily going down. Drastic changes in weight suggest a serious problem. However, not all sick birds lose weight so don’t rely on this alone. If a bird acts sick and the weight is fine you still need to see a vet. The bird may have a mass/growth that makes it seem heavier when it is in fact losing weight.

If you only have a few pets take them in for annual vet exams. You’ll want a physical, weights taken and a blood panel done.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

Mitred Conure: Fry

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“Butthead”

I was at the vet getting a button quail treated. Dr. Levoy walked in and told me he had a lady in the lobby looking to get rid of a conure. After my appointment was over I found her in the lobby. She was a younger woman, late twenties or early thirties, and was carrying a newborn baby. She explained that she had a mitred conure she was trying to find a home for. It had been in her care for six years. The fact that she’d just had a baby and her husband hated the bird’s noise had forced her to get rid of it. Right now the bird was staying at her parent’s house. Apparently the bird took many such “vacations” to appease the husband. I gave her my phone number and she said she’d call as soon as the bird was back at her house. After a few weeks and no call, I virtually forgot about the incident.

About six weeks after the chance meeting, I got a message on my answering machine regarding the conure. Was I still interested, and if so would I call back and arrange a time to see it? I called her back and agreed to come view the bird.

The bird’s first owner was a woman who’d caught him outdoors. Apparently he’d been dive-bombing some gardeners. He stayed with her a year and then was given to her friend, the woman I’d met. She in turn had had him for six years. The conure was also open-banded, probably with a quarantine band. Considering the history, it was at least eight years old if not more.

I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived at her home. I kept envisioning a bird in a small, dirty cage, with poor plumage and a fierce bite. Imagine my surprise to find a very healthy-looking bird. It was bright-eyed and alert and had excellent plumage. I scanned the cage. It was much too small, but at least it was clean. On top was a T stand, bathing dish, mirror and a single wooden toy. Inside the cage the conure eyed me warily. The woman let him out. I didn’t approach him but instead asked a ton of questions regarding his background.

His owner actually knew quite a bit more than most do. She knew she had a mitred conure. She’d read up on the proper diet but had been unable to convert him. The bird had become so picky that it would eat nothing but safflower seed, white bread and apples (no skin). She said he liked to hang out on the T stand by the mirror but would also climb down the cage and wander around the floor. Among her reasons for getting rid of him was her fear that he would hurt the new baby. He also wouldn’t be receiving as much attention. And of course there was the husband, who’d nicknamed the conure “Butthead.” After spending a good hour probing with my questions, I decided to take him. The bird came free with cage, T stand, mirror, toy, bowl and seed. Had it not appeared so healthy I would not have taken it.

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On the ride home my new bird was rather nervous, but let one good shriek loose. Damn, he was loud.

I renamed the bird Fry. My influence for the name came from two sources: the movie Pitch Black and TV show Futurama. Both have characters by that name, the latter in which the character is a redhead. Aside from these sources, I’d never even heard of that name. “Fry” just had a certain ring to it that appealed to me.

The first thing I learned about Fry was that he didn’t like hands. Aside from that he was fairly tame. If you offered him a finger he’d scramble to get away; if you offered him your arm he’d hop right on. Despite being the largest bird I’ve ever owned, he’s also a strong flier (or jumper) when clipped. I placed his cage on top of my dresser which, unfortunately, had a built-in mirror. The cage was still too small, but it was all I had at this point.

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Changing Diets

Jay-Jay also shared my room with Fry and helped me break his finicky eating habits. If I can get a bird that ate nothing but apple, white bread and safflower seed for six years to eat whatever I offer, YOU can get your birds on a healthy diet. Fry’s owner had tried to get him on a better diet, but he refused to eat anything but the above listed items. I got him eating anything in two weeks.

Jay-Jay’s cage was across the room from Fry’s. Every day I cooked up a meal for the two of them after I got off work. Both dishes were the same style but varying colors. Jay-Jay always dove right for the food. Fry wasn’t stupid. He knew that whatever Jay-Jay was eating in her bowl was most likely the exact same thing in his bowl. It not only seemed edible, but delicious. Jay-Jay could hardly contain herself when she saw the bowls coming. The second day after offering food in this manner, Fry started picking at whatever was in the dish. I mostly fed Crazy Corn, birdie bread and veggies. Every few days or so I’d offer apples too.

In addition to using Jay-Jay as a model, I also used myself. Some time in the afternoon I’d make myself a meal, usually fried eggs and toast or slices fruit, and bring the birds into the kitchen to share it. Fry was nervous around me and the new room so I started out by placing him on the back of a chair across the table while Jay-Jay and I ate. After a few days Fry would jump onto the table and cautiously sneak some food before scurrying back. The toast tempted him more than anything. Jay-Jay always went for the egg yolk.

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Fry cautiously “stealing” some oranges.

A quick aside on sharing foods:
Give birds their own food to eat. Do not allow them to eat anything your mouth has touched. Mammal bacteria can be dangerous for birds and human mouths in particular are bacterial cesspools. Likewise, try not to eat anything they’ve picked at or stepped on. Though it is unlikely you will catch anything, you still don’t know where those birdie feet and mouths have been. How many times have you seen your bird chewing its own dried feces at the bottom of the cage? Always practice proper hygiene with animals.

The Mirror

Fry had a mirror for six years. When I first adopted him I continued to allow him access to it on top of his cage, but draped a towel over my dresser mirror. What more harm could it do?

When he was out of the cage he spent of time just sitting in front of the mirror. He never touched a toy, but took great delight in flying across the room to torment Jay-Jay. He would barge into the cage to eat her seed while she hid inside her Happy Hut.

Fry was downright hostile towards most birds. Jay-Jay seemed to be an exception, maybe because she was larger and a conure as well. Once I had to hospitalize a breeder tiel in the same room. I left for literally a few seconds to fill the water dish when I heard shrieking. I ran back to my room. Fry had flown across the room to the tiel’s cage, pulled its leg through the wire and was in the process of shredding it. The poor bird was already ill and now had to deal with this trauma. I believe it died that night. Embarrassed and ashamed, I brought the poor thing in for a necropsy, making sure the vet knew the leg had been injured post-illness. The results revealed that the cockatiel had been ill due to gout, something I couldn’t have done anything about. I still felt awful about the incident though.

After that I took Fry’s mirror away. He quickly chewed a hole in the towel covering my dresser through the cage bars. A huge hole. Now he didn’t even want to come out of the cage that often, except to harass Jay-Jay. Eventually I re-covered the mirror with a new towel and moved the cage an inch forward, hoping this time it would be out of reach. It was. Fry began to play with his toys. He also started perching on the back of my chair when Jay-Jay and I were at the computer.

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Epilogue

Fry lived with me for several years in an upgraded cage with lots of toys. He eventually died from leukemia.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.

The Problem with Giving your Bird a Mirror

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You’re worried your bird is not getting enough attention from you. Or maybe it starts out more simple. Perhaps your cockatiel has developed a crush on the toaster or the bathroom sink faucet. What’s wrong with giving your bird a mirror? Everything. Mirrors are very psychologically damaging to your bird.

Birds a very social creatures. It is because of their strong flocking instincts that they can make such great pets. Many owners give their pets mirrors because they are afraid their bird will get lonely. If you are giving your bird its due attention and providing it with toys to play with while you are gone, you have no need to think your bird will become lonely.

So what exactly do mirrors do? The first thing most people notice is increased territoriality. Bird behaviorists are often contacted about cockatiels who are so attached to the toaster that they will viciously bite anyone who comes near it. They will isolate themselves from their owners and throw a fit if not near their “buddy.” Sadly, this is a lesser problem that mirrors cause.

The real problem is this: mirrors give your bird an incorrect perception of reality. They are NOT talking to another bird, they are talking to a reflection. Reflections can only mimic- they do not react in the same manner as a real bird would. Think of it this way: you have a young child. This is your only child so instead of letting him play with kids down the street you get him a mirror. The kid spends all his time talking and playing with his reflection. When he turns fifteen years old you send him to high school. How well do you think he’s going to socialize with real people who may not agree with him, may not like his looks, may look different than him, etc?

It is true that not all birds will eventually come into contact with other birds but let’s be realistic here. How do you know that down the line you won’t want another bird? How do you know that something might not occur that will force you to have to sell or give away your bird? Does the possibility that it may never meet another bird justify improper socialization?

Allow me to give you a case in point. In fall of 1999 I adopted a mitred conure, Fry. A woman had caught him outdoors in Southern California. He had been dive-bombing some local gardeners. He stayed with her a year before she ended up giving him to a friend of hers. This lady had him for six years. During that period he was fed nothing more than safflower seed, apples and white bread, at his request (never let birds or kids choose their diet). He had a mirror on top of his cage and had no access to real birds. His owner had just had a baby when I acquired him. This, and the fact that her husband hated the bird, were her motivations for giving him away.

Fry has the worst flocking skills I’ve ever seen in a bird. I’ve actually had him fly across my room to attack a bird in a hospital cage. He has maimed toes and feet and has no clue how to react to real birds. In the beginning he also had no skills at playing by himself. All pet birds need to know how to keep themselves entertained. I offered him plenty of toys but he ignored them. His cage was located on my dresser, which has a large mirror attached to the back. I covered the mirror with a towel but he chewed it to shreds to get to the mirror. I re-covered the mirror and moved the cage out of reach so he couldn’t chew it while inside. About a week later he started playing with the toys. He also became more interested in people. Instead of hanging out on top of his cage all the time or trying to steal my sun conure’s food, he’d jump over to my desk to watch me and Jay-Jay (the sun).

So what do you do if you have a single bird? Though it is not necessary, you can buy a second bird after the first one is tamed. If you do not want two birds, just make sure to give your bird lots of attention and keep those mirrors away! Birds can be kept singly just fine, but access to a mirror will teach them bad habits, as well as make them territorial and withdrawn.

© 1997-2016 by Karen Trinkaus. May not be reprinted or used in any way without the author’s permission.