Thoughts on Keeping Large Parrots
All too often, one hears of birds that go nuts because they are locked in a cage and forgotten. Without the slang, they become neurotic. They may be fed and watered, but birds appear to need far more than that to thrive. I am not certain if Zuri is happy, or even content. I do know that he has never been a feather plucker, a common sign of emotional problems. He seems busy, active, and challenged.
In watching him go about his life as a bird, living in my office, I have observed a few things that I would like to share on this page. These are just the opinions of a pet owner with a single bird, and no formal training in bird health or habits.
When we first got Zuri, he arrived in a medium-sized cage. One day, we decided to open the door, just to see what he would do. Slowly, literally over months, he got the courage to venture out and explore the area. These birds are very curious, but also shy and cautious. Soon, we replaced the medium-sized cage with a larger cage that was never locked. I must confess, over time, the birds claimed more and more ownership of the room he was in, and did destroy more than his share of this and that. Parrots do like to chew anything in their reach.
One of the items in the room was a bookcase that contained a number of old manuals and documentation. Zuri learned how to climb up the front of the bookcase, and would often visit the second or third shelf and simply sit there, watching his territory. If he didn't want to climb up from the floor, he would fly to the top of the bookcase and climb down from the top.
In one of the many vain efforts to slow down the bird, the contents of the shelves were covered in a sheet, hoping to discourage him. As usual, any change did indeed slow him down, but eventually he was back on those very same shelves.
What was interesting was that Zuri liked to hide behind the sheet. He would visit there many times during the day, often to take a nap. He liked being in a small and safe space. Behind the cover of the sheets, he slowly chewed his way through the documentation, creating what I can only describe as a nest. It was a small and hidden area, feathered with shredded paper.
Eventually, it became time to clean up the mess, but I didn't want to deny Zuri the nesting area that he seemed to really enjoy. The solution was to build what I call a nesting box, or the birdie condo.
My nesting box was built out of 3/4 inch plywood. Modeled after the bookcase prototype, it consists of a box that is approximately 30 inches wide, 24 inches high, and 12 inches deep. It sits on legs that put the bottom of the box about 24 inches off of the ground. The front has a removable panel for cleaning and snooping. Internally, there is a shelf that divides the space into two chambers. The box has two doors, each being a 6 inch in diameter circular hole. One is on the bottom of the front, and the other is on the top. Ladders go from the front door to the ground, and from the inside bottom to the top hole.
When I first introduced the box in place of the bookcase, Zuri was rather apprehensive about the change. In a few days, however, he took over, and now seems to really like his new refuge. I placed a ream of plain white paper on each level of the box. In no time, he shredded the paper into a soft nesting material that lines the entire inside of the box. It's fun to see his little head come poking out of a hole every so often, certainly when there is a noise in the room.
Here is a picture of the box. To the left of the box is the cage, and to the right of the box is a T stand (perch).
The top of the box has an integrated perch, and currently a ladder goes back to the cage. If you look closely, you will see Zuri's head in the bottom hole, as he looks down from above. Here's a picture of Zuri looking out from the front door. He's in the middle of some serious paper shredding.
Recently, while visiting my local pet superstore, I noticed a new and interesting variation on the nesting box idea. It was a cloth sling that hangs from a horizontal bar (perch) in a cage. The package talked about birds liking a safe and comforting space, which is exactly what my nesting box is all about. This sort of product may be a great way to give a bird some privacy all within the space of their cage.
For a time, we had Zuri's flight feathers trimmed, rendering him unable to fly. In the summer, we would take him out on his stand, letting him hang out with us on the deck and in the yard. While this was fun, it's hard for me to dismiss the fundamental importance of flight for a bird. Birds have wings for a reason. At some point, we stopped the feather clipping. Soon, Zuri was flying again.
Zuri is lucky in that the room he lives in is about 21 foot by 21 foot (7 meters by 7 meters) in size. That's a rather large room, especially for a home situation. Over time, Zuri learned or should I say relearned to fly with extreme skill. At first, he would get going around the room, and always end up out of control. But being a bird, he does know how to fly. I know that some folks think it irresponsible to let a bird fly around a closed space, but for me, I have always observed that animals have a strong sense of self-preservation. Over time, Zuri became an expert in flight. What was awkward became elegant.
The ability to fly opened up new chances to get into trouble. One of Zuri's favorite spots to land was on the top of the window treatments. He would fly across the room, and land on a curtain rod that was only a few inches away from the wall. Of course the curtains became a chew toy, and we soon had a new mess. It makes sense that he would like to sit up there. It was the highest point of the room, and offered protection since nothing could sneak up behind him. When it came time to clean up the problem, I again didn't want to deny Zuri a place to fly. For this situation, my solution became what I call the Birdie Sconce. This is a wall mounted wooden rectangle that has a 10 inch tray with an integrated perch.
Here's a picture of the birdie sconce mounted on the wall.
You might think that a flying bird would want to make a break for the wide open spaces. Zuri has no interest in leaving his space. At times, the doors have been wide open, and he has never been even remotely interested.
If Zuri would have stayed locked up in his cage, I never would have had the chance to understand how much he likes his nesting box, or how well he flies. If you are responsible for a bird, I urge you to explore alternatives in and additions to their environment that will increase their heath and happiness. If you think that they are clever and smart all locked up in their cage, just wait until they have a richer environment.
Lots of toys are a start. I would suggest exploring sort sort of private space, such as a nesting box. It doesn't need to be very big, and it could be included within a large cage. I think that flying is something that a bird is built to do, and although many think it dangerous, I'm glad that Zuri can fly around his world. In the end, the key to a thriving parrot is to make them part of your family, not just a pet.
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Last update: Monday, April 29, 2002 07:39 PM
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