Bird Welfare

Aviary Maintenance: Parasite Control

Like all animals, parrots can acquire parasites and unfortunately these can be difficult to spot in the early stages of infestation. Aviary birds are particularly prone to parasite infestation due to the large amount of time spend outdoors. However, all pet birds should be protected from parasites as they can become life threatening if left unnoticed or untreated. Prevention is the best treatment.


Bird lice (Mallophaga) or more commonly known as chewing lice are generally uncommon in parrots. However, aviary birds are more prone to contracting them from wild birds as aviary mesh provides a transferal point.

Once on a host the lice quickly duplicate and lay eggs along the shafts of feathers. The eggs hatch and mature into lice with chewing mouthparts, which feed off the birds feathers, skin and sometimes blood. Although the majority are not overly harmful, when contracted in large numbers the lice can become extremely irritating to the bird. However, there are some species of bird lice which suck blood, Lice infestations can be extremely harmful to juvenile birds or birds in poor health, as some species of bird lice suck blood, potentially causing severe anaemia in the host and in some instances death,

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Excessive itching/preening.
  • Feather ruffling,
  • Feather damage and discoloration.
  • Restless/aggravated behaviours.
  • In some instances of infestation the lice may be seen crawling on your bird.

If an infestation is suspected, consult an avian vet immediately. The vet will assess the presenting symptoms and perform a physical examination to ascertain the presence of lice or eggs.

Treatment is relatively straight forward but home or shop bought remedies should never be attempted. Most over the counter remedies are ineffective and can be harmful to the parrot. The vet will prescribe an effective delousing treatment, and in some instances additional supportive care. Unfortunately if one bird has lice it is most likely the whole flock have lice too and the remaining flock will need to be treated. In addition, your home and aviary will also need to be thoroughly disinfected. Consult a veterinarian as to the most appropriate form of disinfectant.


Currently there are three types of mites parrot owners should be vigilant against: scaly mites, skin & feather mites, and air sac mites.

Scaly Mites

Scaly mites are categorised into two species:

  • Scaly face mites (Knemidokoptes pilae)
  • scaly leg mites (Knemidocoptes mutans).

Scaly face mites (commonly known as budgie mites, due to their tendency to affect budgerigars) are mites that target the face. The eight legged mites burrow into the un-feathered areas such as above the beak and eye area and remain there for life unless treated.

Symptoms of infestation include:

  • In budgies no itching occurs however in other species itching may present itself.
  • A honeycombed crust appear at the corners of the birds beak
  • A white chalky crusts affecting the eye area, nares and beak.
  • Long term infestation can cause your bird to physically feel unwell and deformities of the beak can occur.

Unfortunately, once physical symptoms present themselves the mite infestation will already be quite advanced, making it difficult to treat. Therefore look out for any changes in your birds behaviour that may indicate a change in health status.

Although treatment can be difficult it is not impossible to cure. At the moment ivermectin or Avimec drops appear to be the most common treatment amongst vets as well as oral medications such as moxidectin. Certain oils such as baby oil or olive oil may also be recommended by the vet to help soften the crust allowing it to fall off, nebulising has also proven helpful, but this can not be carried out easily in an aviary setting..

As mites are usually contracted due to the bird being deficient in vitamin A, a supplement will also be given to the bird to help build up the birds immunity and resistance to mites. Additionally your bird may also need its beak trimming and potentially a course of antibiotics due to secondary bacterial infections incurred from the mites.

If your bird is infected with scaly face it may also be suffering from scaly leg mites.

In the instance of scaly leg you may see:

  • Scaly grey or white crusty lesions on your birds legs and feet.
  • Misshapen toes or feet.
  • Itching.
  • Feather loss and/or feather plucking.

Scaly leg mites cause a skin infection and therefore early detection is paramount. Diagnosis and treatment is alike to scaly face mites however any deformities incurred will most likely not be treatable.

Skin and Feather Mites

Skin and feather mites or red mites are more commonly seen in chickens, however they can affect birds in outdoor aviaries. Red mites are almost invisible to the naked eye and are able to live off the host in cracks and crevices making them easily transmissible via the environment.

Symptoms of infestation include:

  • Restlessness (especially during the night when the mites are active).
  • Mite eggs seen in the feathers.
  • Scratching and feather plucking.
  • Anaemia including symptoms associated such as fatigue and weakness.
  • Changes in behaviour may also indicate an infestation.

If left untreated red mites can be fatal to your bird. The bird must be taken to an avian vet immediately where they will perform a physical examination to identify the mites. Once diagnosed treatment is straight forward and can be given in a variety of forms such as sprays, powders or drops in your birds water. If your bird has been suffering from red mites for a period of time they may need additional supportive treatment.

Air Sac Mites

Air sac mites are internal parasites that situate themselves in the trachea, lungs, voice box and air sacs of the bird -dependent on the life stage of the mite. Aviary birds can contract the mites from infected wild birds through coughing or sneezing or through contaminated drinking water.

As the mites aren’t visible through a visible examination symptoms are what usually indicate an infestation.

Symptoms include:

  • Coughing.
  • Sneezing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Squeaking or high pitched noises.
  • Nare discharge.
  • Excessive saliva.
  • Laboured open beaked breathing.
  • Tail bobbing.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss.
  • Clicking sound when breathing.

If left untreated air sac mites can be fatal to the bird, as once the mites begin to multiply the birds air ways will become blocked and the bird will suffocate. Treatment CAN NOT be done at home as the bird will be severely stressed and unwell from the symptoms. You will need to work in close relation with your avian vet to treat the infestation.

The avian vet will administer invermectin/Ivomec at an appropriate dose. Too little will to treat the infestation but too much will kill all the mites at once causing a blockage in the airways. Furthermore as the medication prescribed is a toxin the dose has to be calculated specifically, as too much can lead to additional problems or even death of the bird. Administration of this drug SHOULD NOT be attempted at home under ANY circumstances.

During treatment, the bird should be kept in a stress free environment at a temperature of 32˚C. The bird should not be flying and should be prevented from expending too much energy therefore keep perches low and close together and environment enriched, but not allowing for extreme play.


  • It is advisable to not treat mites at home without a consult from your avian veterinarian as a physical examination and in some instances internal examination will need to take place to address the severity of the infestation.
  • Owners should avoid using over the counter treatments and not attempt to treat the bird with controlled drugs as an incorrect dose will have negative effects on the bird.
  • With all parasites the environment should be treated for infestation and be thoroughly disinfected. All food and water sources should be cleaned regularly and replaced, and perches inspected routinely as mites are able to burrow into wooden perches or into crevices of the cage.


Roundworms are relatively common in birds, with those kept in flocks being more susceptible due to the roundworm eggs being easily transmissible. Adult roundworms lay their eggs inside an infected bird and the eggs are passed through the faeces where they can incubate in the soil. Birds are then able to become infected by either standing on the faeces and ingesting them when eating, taken from the ground or through ingesting a host (insect).

Common roundworms found in companion birds include:

  • Ascarids- infects budgerigars, cockatiels and psittacine.
  • Capillaria- infects macaws, canaries, budgerigars.
  • Spiruroidea- infects cockatoos, parakeets, parrots and macaws.
  • Filariidea- cockatoos and psittacine.

Common symptoms of infestation include:

  • Weakness.
  • Diarrhoea or dark tar like faeces containing blood.
  • Loss of appetite leading to weight loss.
  • Coughing.
  • Open mouthed breathing and/or difficulty breathing.
  • Vomiting or increased regurgitation.
  • Poor feather quality.
  • Increased vocalization.
  • Depression.
  • Head shaking.

If symptoms are left unnoticed roundworms can lead to serious illnesses including:

  • Growth abnormalities.
  • Loss of body movement control.
  • Masses on legs and feet.
  • Death.

If any symptoms present, it is crucial you take your bird to an avian vet for a full examination. If diagnosed with a roundworm infection your vet will prescribe a dewomer that is appropriate for the type of roundworm infecting your bird. Usually the dewormer is taken orally, unless  your bird is infected with a roundworm that infects the eye. In this case a solution is applied to the eye.

When caught early, treatment is relatively straightforward. However, if left unchecked roundworm can cause permanent damage to your birds internal tissue. Your bird may also need supportive treatment alongside deworming.

If the bird lives in a flock all birds should be tested and treated as worms will transmit rapidly. All food and water sources should be cleaned thoroughly, and a complete disinfection of the enclosure is necessary using an appropriate disinfectant.

Avian Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. The parasites primary host is the domestic pigeon but infects many species of bird worldwide. The source of transmission is through drinking water being shared by an infected pigeon. Transmission does not occur faecal droppings.

Symptoms of infection include*:

  • Loss off or decreased appetite, Anorexia.
  • Tongue ulcers, erosions, vesicles, papules or sores.
  • Ataxia.
  • Lack of growth or weight gain in young.
  • Neck swelling.
  • Tongue swelling, mass in mouth.
  • Depression or lethargy.

*Please see further reading for a comprehensive list of symptoms.

As the majority of symptoms are life threatening treatment must be administered immediately. Your avian vet will administer orally or via the birds food or water an Antiprotozoal medication for at least 3 days to supress the infection.

To prevent infection, ensure companion birds do not have access to drinking water that can be accessed by pigeons or other wild birds. All water should come from a secure source.

Other common parasites

Unfortunately, there are numerous other parasites that may infect your bird including:

  • Aspergillosis.
  • Giardia- zoonotic disease.
  • Sarcocystis.

Typically good hygiene and other preventative methods can keep your bird safe. It is best practice however to keep your aviary bird safe from the more common infestations such as worms and lice with routine topical treatment. Furthermore regular handwashing after handling your bird will aid in preventing the transmission of zoonotic diseases.



Caged birds are susceptible to these parasites too – it is only that aviary birds and birds who travel outside are more likely to become infected.

Further Reading

Bird Welfare, Birds and the law

Aviary Construction

Outdoor aviaries can be extremely beneficial for your companion bird, providing fresh air, natural sunlight and a large safe space for play. This blog discusses the aspects involved in designed an outdoor aviary that will provide a secure and safe environment for your parrot to play in.

Legal Requirements

Before you start planning and buying the materials for your aviary check with your local council in regards to the legal requirements surrounding the building of a potentially large obstructive structure in your back garden.

  • You may require a permit.
  • If you a planning on building the aviary as an extension to your house you will be required to follow the building regulations of your local council.
  • If you live in a rented property it would be advisable to contact your landlord/landlady for permission prior to the construction. Even if the aviary is dismantlable you may face a contract dispute if your tenancy states you cannot make any notable changes to the layout of the house and the outside spaces.
  • Consult with your neighbours – when it comes to making significant changes to the display of your house your neighbours will usually be your biggest objectors, especially if it is obstructing their view.
  • Talk to your neighbours prior to planning your aviary – will they have an issue with where you are planning on putting it and will they have an issue with the noise. A playful parrot can be a noisy parrot.


When drawing up the initial planning of your aviary consider,

  • Materials – make sure the materials you use are safe (non-toxic) for your bird, and are hard wearing and will last against adverse weather and most importantly your parrot’s destructive behaviours.
  • Size – does the size of the aviary at least meet the minimum requirements for the number and/or species of parrots you intend to have.
  • Location – where is your aviary going to be built? Is it obstructing anything? How close will the aviary be to your neighbours?
  • Design – your design should minimize maintenance, maximize cleanliness and maximize safety. An easy to clean aviary will prevent the build-up of harmful bacteria.
  • Essentials – what additional features will be added to the aviary to provide the essentials such as places to perch and source of food and water.
  • Shelter – the ideal aviary has an indoor/covered space to allow your birds a place of shade and protection from adverse weather. Will it have a heat source for winter?
  • Predators – the design should prevent access from predators both flighted and ground dwelling, such as hawks, cats, squirrels, rats.
  • Escape – your aviary should have a double / safety door system to prevent escape as even the most well trained parrot can be spooked into a panicked flight.
  • Enrichment – what else can you add to the aviary to make it fun for your parrots – such as parrot safe shrubs and trees, hanging baskets full of parrot edible flowers and herbs, ropes, swings etc.
  • Security – are the construction and location secure ? What can you do to deter theft of the birds – e.g. security lights, padlocks on aviary doors, a secure garden, plenty of privacy so people can’t see into the garden.


Safe Materials include:

  • Non pressure treated or stained lumbar e.g. plain pine, hard wood such as red .grandis.
  • Stainless steel, aluminium. powder coated iron.
  • PVC piping
  • Untreated natural fibre ropes (cotton, sisal and hemp).
  • Non- treated wood free from pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, moulds and fungus (pine, balsa, birch, basswood, poplar, maple, walnut, ash, apple, elm, cactus, manzanita, rose, ribbon, sycamore, willow, cork, bamboo, and palm tree).
  • Leather
  • Acrylic (supervised!).

Toxic materials include:

  • Non-stick coating (Teflon) and Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
  • Lead, zinc, nickel, copper or anything galvanized.
  • Insecticides, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides such as snail bait, rat poison and ant killer.

For a full list of all TOXIC household substances please see further reading.

Size and location


Ideally you want your aviary to be as big as possible to allow your bird to spread its wings and fly however it is understandable that not everybody has the space for an arena sized, netted dome. There are however minimum requirements to ensure your bird is not restricted. The aviary must be a minimum of 2x the wingspan of the bird in length and 1.5x  the wingspan for both depth and height of the aviary. If more than one bird is housed in the aviary the length, depth and height must be increased by 5% for every additional bird over two birds.


The aviary should be situated away from fences and overhanging trees to prevent ease of access from predators, your aviary becoming a litter box for wild birds, squirrels etc… or potentially becoming a battering ram for fallen branches/fences in heavy winds.

It should be situated at a suitable distance away from your neighbours property to prevent any noise or obstruction complaints occurring and not in close contact with drainage pipes to prevent water overflowing into the aviary, or, close to exhaust vents to prevent hot air burns and inhalation of harmful gases.

Consider how the weather will affect your bird with the aviary in your chosen location. In times where daily temperatures soar will this area become too hot? Even with shelter from direct sunlight your bird can become seriously ill if left in an area of sweltering heat for long periods of time. Therefore the aviary should be placed in an area where air circulates to prevent overheating and placed away from areas that are in direct sunlight. What about in the winter? How will you protect the birds from the cold and wind? Polycarb insulated sheets can be affixed to the outside to provide protection from the elements.


So you’ve made it past the legal requirements, and you’ve decided on the size and location and have made sure the materials used in construction are 100% safe for you beloved bird. It is now time to begin planning the overall design. Not only should the aviary be safe and durable, but it should be tailored to the species of bird housed.


The mesh used in the wall sections should be in two layers with the internal wire mesh being located a minimum of 5cm from the external wire mesh,

The mesh should be the appropriate thickness and size for the species of parrot housed. If you are housing a larger species of bird with a smaller species of bird the area of the wire mesh squares should be suitable to prevent the escape of the smaller bird however the thickness of the mesh should be durable enough to prevent the escape of the larger bird.

The frame can be made from thick lumbar or non-toxic metals however please note that lumbar frames will have a shorter lifespan due to it being an easy material to chew and more prone to weather damage as the wood must be untreated.

The aviary should have a solid construction roof, or a double meshed roof with a debris net on top. This is to prevent predator attack, and to protect from the presence of avian influenza in wild birds.


Soft ground flooring is aesthetically pleasing, and different layers of substrate can be used to provide a natural filter (use sandy soils not clay soils as the ground will become waterlogged).

  • If pebbles/stones are used as the top layer they should be large enough to prevent your bird ingesting them.
  • When using soft ground floors the wire mesh must be installed under the gravel layers to prevent predators digging under and gaining access to the aviary.
  • Soft ground floors can be difficult to maintain. The use of a jet wash or hose and disinfectant is ideal however the ground may become waterlogged leading to bacterial build-up and potentially making the frame unstable.
  • Food debris can be difficult to clear, attracting rodents and making contaminated/mouldy food readily available to your bird.  
  • Safe soft ground options include pre sterilized play sand or builders sand mixed with agricultural lime. The substrate can be disinfected regularly and can be sifted for food debris and droppings.
  • Any soft ground flooring should be completely replaced every couple years or when necessary to ensure hygiene is maintained.

Cement ground floors are not as aesthetically however they are;

  • Easy to disinfect
  • Prevent predators accessing the aviary
  • Longer lasting.
  • Cement slabs may also be used, placed over a layer of gravel and sand to provide natural drainage.
  • Cracks must be maintained as they will become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
  • Concrete flooring must have an adequate drainage system to prevent the build-up of contaminated water when cleaning. Many parrots like to explore the ground, especially African Greys, and dirty, damp flooring can cause sores, burns to the soles of their feet and bumblefoot!


Your aviary should have a double door system to prevent your birds from escaping, with at least one metre between the internal and external door, and an indoor or enclosed area to allow your bird to seek shelter from the scorching sun, torrential downpour and heavy winds, hail and snow.


Please do not provide a nesting box as this will encourage breeding behaviours. Instead provide an area to perch indoors which allow your birds to roost. This may be heated with the appropriate lamp or heater when the weather turns cold.

If the aviary is entirely indoors then full spectrum lighting should be installed to prevent vitamin D deficiency. In the wild different species are exposed to different UVB strengths nevertheless a lamp with 2.4% UVB and a 12% UVA output will be sufficient in replicating natural sunlight. When artificial light is provided it should only be turned on for eight to twelve hours of the day and fixed to the outside of the aviary to prevent the birds chewing on the wires.

Food and water points should be covered to prevent contamination from wild animal feces (particularly wild birds!) and debris. A separate drinking water point should be made available if there is also a bird bath in the enclosure, as although some parrots like to drink their own bath water it is always ideal to provide an alternative fresh source of water.

If you are housing a flock of birds in the aviary there should be multiple perching points and points of food and water to allow all birds access to the provisions.


Don’t rush out and begin buying materials for your aviary, plan first as unexpected setbacks will occur.

It does not matter whether your bird only spends two hours of its day in the outdoor aviary or its entire day, the aviary should be safe and species specific!

Please take into consideration the species of birds and their individual personalities when birds in an aviary together to ensure they will be compatible with each other. A small timid budgie is not going to do well in an aviary with 6 other boisterous large macaws, especially if they have never been housed together before.

Further Reading

For information on aviary maintenance, decoration and enrichment in aviaries please see part 2 of this blog – aviary maintenance and enrichment

Designing an outdoor parrot flight or aviary


Bird Welfare

Diet-linked hormonal behaviour in parrots

When we talk about diet in regards to parrots it is often what to and what not to feed your parrot to prevent the deterioration of its physical health. This may include the prevention of common diseases such as fatty liver disease and hypervitaminosis, both caused by an abundance of nutrients. However what is often glossed over is how the diet you provide for your bird may be influencing chemical reactions in their body leading to the manifestation of hormonal behaviours.

The optimum environment

Scientiest have proven that an overabundance of food, foods high in fats and calories and too many food choices can all lead to an increase in production of reproductive hormones which consequently turn on your birds reproductive desires and lead to hormonal related behaviours.

In the wild, parrots’ hormones are ordinarily ‘turned off’ and it is only when an optimum environment presents itself that we see parrots mate.

In captivity we have our parrots in surroundings of abundance with unlimited food, a safe environment, bonded owners and physical contact that is often misleading. In addition, without having the environmental pressures seen in the wild such as predators, poor food supply and changing conditions, their reproductive desires are left unchecked and the birds are constantly ‘turned on’.

To put it simply….

How do I Know if my bird is hormonal?

Hormonal behaviours present themselves in the form of:

  • Intense-bonding
  • Masturbation
  • Egg-laying
  • Paper shredding
  • Cavity seeking (establishing a potential nesting spot)
  • Loud vocalization
  • Fierce territoriality

Why does it matter?

Owners at first may find some of these behaviours entertaining. However in time they can become increasingly difficult to manage. In the wild such behaviours only occur seasonally in times of optimal conditions to allow the continuation of the wild population. but in captivity these behaviours can go from being a natural seasonal expression to a daily occurrence.

When left unchecked these hormonal behaviours can become the cause of extremely degenerative health conditions that can become life threatening. These include complications in relation to ovulation such as:

  • yolk embolus stroke
  • yolk peritonitis
  • egg binding
  • cloacal prolapse
  • chronic anaemia


  • skeletal bone changes
  • degenerative changes of abdominal musculature and cloacal tone
  • hepatic lipidosis
  • hormonal stress induced feather plucking, feather barbering, feather loss and dermatitis.

N.B. These behaviours may also be linked to other environmental factors so a full assessment should be carried out by your avian veterinarian.

So…How exactly does this link in with diet?

As previously stated hormonal behaviours in the wild are associated with optimal conditions therefore providing your bird with an abundance of food throughout the day is communicating to your parrot that it is in an optimum environment for reproduction.

In the wild parrots will usually eat two meals a day, in the early morning and late afternoon. Rather than providing food all the time, regulated meal feeding in captivity is a solution that mimics feeding behaviours seen in the wild. Offering food in the early morning and late afternoon for a period of one or two hours then taken away, can prevents your parrot from having an over abundance of food and from self-selecting only its favourite food items offered throughout the day.

Meal-feeding will also prevent excessive amounts of waste as your parrot will be hungry come meal-time and eat the majority of what is provided. As a rule of thumb when it comes to the quantity of food offered your parrot should be eating between 10-15% of its body weight daily.

In addition, limiting the amount of high value foods incorporated into the birds daily diet such as fruits, seeds, nuts and wholegrains, while incorporating them into foraging activities allows the birds to expend the high levels of energy gained from these foods which are needed for reproduction, as well as, preventing the excessive storage of fats, simple carbohydrates and lipids in your birds body which will also turn on your birds reproductive desires.

Unlimited access to seed can trigger hormonal behaviours.

What should I feed my bird?

Your bird should be fed a variety of fresh vegetables, grains, legumes and supplemented with a good quality pellet. Fruits, seeds and nuts should be reserved for foraging or training sessions. In the words of Pamela Clark “Never give a parrot a treat for no reason”.

For further information on the correct diet to feed your bird please refer to Birdline Member Pack- Section 2: Nutrition and Diet.

Further Reading

Diet and behaviour in hormonal parrots,a%20combination%E2%80%94varies%20by%20species.

For more information on hormonal behaviours and how to manage them read our blog here.

Bird Welfare

The importance of enrichment for companion parrots

Companion parrots have become increasingly popular pets due to their colourful plumage, long life and extreme intelligence. However, with extreme intelligence comes boredom, particularly when the parrot is not provided with an enriching environment.

What is Enrichment?

Enrichment includes objects, activities and other changes to the birds surroundings that enhance the complexity of the environment to make it more rewarding.

Why should I provide enrichment?

A lack of enrichment can have negative effects on the birds welfare resulting in behavioural problems, including self-harm. For example, it is estimated that 16% of companion parrots show feather-damaging behaviours (the act of repetitively chewing or removing their own feathers) as a result of a lack of enrichment.

Why does this happen?

In the wild parrots spend their days in complex social groups (flocks) foraging for food, socializing, communicating, bathing, preening/ allopreening, establishing nesting territories, mating and raising their young. All in all their days are extremely stimulating and feather damaging behaviours rarely occur. This leads us to assume that in most cases it is the captive environment which is not fulfilling the birds’ needs and contributing to detrimental behaviours.

In a companion setting it can be difficult to replicate the activities birds carry out in the wild. However, it is not impossible to provide a stimulating environment that enriches the parrots daily lives. A varied diet, foraging, toys, companionship and the great outdoors (on a harness, travel carrier, or in an aviary) are a few ways to make your parrots days stimulating.


Feather damaging including excessive preening and feather plucking are strongly influenced by diet and the behaviours surrounding mealtimes. Birds fed on seed based or pellet only diet and/or birds with no opportunity to forage for their food are more likely to damage their feathers, compared with birds who are fed on a varied diet and who are encouraged to forage for their food.


A lack of environmental enrichment can contribute to birds becoming anxious and fearful of change. This increased fear responses can lead to undesirable behaviours such as feather-damaging, excessive vocalization or aggression

By incorporating enrichment into the parrots’ daily lives, fear responses are significantly reduced, specifically to new objects and unfamiliar humans and increases the birds activity levels, inquisitiveness and helps to make their days meaningful.

Enrichment ideas

Parrots spend 4-6 hours of their day foraging for food, this includes traveling several miles to a feeding site, once there, engaging in a local search of food, selecting food items, and manipulating them. When compared to a wild parrots feeding regime, companions parrots mealtimes are relatively boring.

Incorporating the act of foraging into the parrots mealtimes can give the bird the opportunity to express the foraging behaviours seen in their wild counterpart. We can achieve this by:

  • Put feed items inside of boxes, closed toilet roles with a small point of entry and offer as foot toys.
  • Cover food with shredded paper (best for the beginner forager) enabling the bird to rummage for their food.
  • Hide food items within parrot safe foliage or hang from parrot safe plants.
  • Hang parrot skewers or coconut shells from ropes and hide food items in them.
  • Wrap food up in paper and place around the parrots environment.
  • Utilize specially designed foraging toys.
  • Training! High value treats such as nuts, seeds and fruit can be incorporated into your parrots daily training session.

Enrichment not only comes in the form of foraging, but it is every other aspect of your parrots environment that provides stimulation. For example:

  • Rotate toys at least once a week with something new and/or placing these toys in different areas of your birds cage/ playroom.
  • Move perches around regularly to provide different climbing patterns or provide alternative climbing frames.
  • Teach your parrot a new trick.
  • Add new ingredients and textures your parrots chop.
  • Provide your parrot with a herb garden it can walk on, forage using their beak and feet.
  • Take your parrot outside (on a harness or in an aviary)
  • Daily showers/ baths,
  • Sand boxes to dig (African Greys spend large portions of their time in the wild digging).
  • Companionship either in the form of another bird or you. Spend as much time with your bird as possible.

Please make sure all enrichment items used are BIRD SAFE.

My parrot is scared of everything- What do I do?

Neophobia ( the fear of unfamiliar items) is common in adult birds who have not been provided with the opportunity to investigate at a young age. Therefore when a new object is given to the bird it shows extreme or irrational fear to the object.

Signs of fear in birds may include:

  • Increased vocalization.
  • Growling or hissing.
  • Raised wings.
  • Head shaking.
  • Body tremors.
  • Puffed up feathers.
  • Sudden flight away from the object.
  • Showing aggression towards the object e.g. lunging or biting.

Long term signs of fear include:

  • Feather plucking.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Sitting in one corner of their cage.
  • Excessive vocalization.

You know your bird best and they may show other abnormal behaviours that will indicate it is afraid or something is wrong. Please always consult an avian veterinarian if any unexpected abnormal behaviours occur.

Follow the steps below to introduce a new object to your bird.

  1. Introduce the object at a distance outside of your birds cage for a short period of time. The parrot should not be showing signs of fear.
  2. Move the object closer to the parrot. The distance between the object and the parrot will decrease over time in relation to the parrot not showing any signs of fear to its increasing proximity.
  3. Once the toy is in close proximity of the bird, place the object below your parrot, when no fear response is elicited move the toy up further towards the bird. DO NOT place the toy above eye level.
  4. Once the object is level with your bird and in close proximity without signs of fear being shown offer the toy to your bird. This is best done on a flat surface. You may want to play with the toy yourself to show your bird it is safe and nothing unexpected is going to happen.
  5. Use the click and reward system to encourage your bird to touch the toy. Do not reward lunging or snatching.
  6. Once your parrot is comfortably touching the object they will begin to explore the object. Encourage manipulation by attaching treats to the object or inside the object. At this point you should decrease the number of click and rewards given to your bird for touching the object.
  7. Once your bird is actively playing with the toy remove all click and rewards, treats may still be incorporated with the toys.
  8. Target training can be used to encourage the bird to move closer to the object and initiate touch. This approach is commonly used in zoo animals with little to no human contact and aggressive birds.


  • Throughout the process you should continuously be reading your birds body language, as soon as they show signs of fear, stop, and take a step back.
  • Pushing a novelty object onto a neophobic bird will only increase their levels of fear while simultaneously decreasing the trust the bird has in you.

Don’t forget !

  • Parrots daily lives should be full of stimulation to prevent a poor welfare state.
  • The new objects introduced should hold your parrots attention, if they’re not showing signs of fear but they’re not interested either, switch it out for a different object or make it more interesting.
  • Enrichment does not just come from objects; it comes from other forms of stimulation such as social interaction with yourself or other birds.
  • If your bird is neophobic take your time, do not rush the process.

Further Reading,%2C%20bits%20of%20cereal%2C%20etc.–tWk7Li8o0a0aeXL5z2U_A4CkHdh-8hT8qsksXlBnlf-8nO7blFqSIQDxU128jxevUgk

Parrots and Neophobic Behaviour

Bird Welfare

Managing hormonal behaviour

Seasonal hormonal behaviour will be seen in a mature adult bird typically around spring-time, but exact time frames differ between species. As a parrot owner it is good practice to know your birds mating season along with species specific mating behaviours so that you can prepare to make changes that will help your bird through the season and prevent unwanted confusion.

In the wild parrots live in flocks and during spring-time will begin to court potential mates. Depending on the species some will keep their chosen mate for one or two seasons however other species will mate for a lifetime or until their chosen mate dies. A new mate will then be chosen.

It is important to remember that parrots are essentially still wild animals, they are not a domesticated species as they are not that far removed from their ‘wild’ relatives. One or two generations at best. Therefore the behaviours shown by our beloved companion parrots are almost identical to those who live freely in the wild.

Companion birds suffer greatly due to misunderstood hormonal behaviour, or as a result of a parrot who has inadvertently been ‘led on’ by its owner. Sadly it is not uncommon for an aggressive, sexually frustrated parrot to be rehomed as a result. Parrots that are not kept in pairs or flocks, or parrots hand raised by humans without interactions from others of its kind are more at risk of expressing increased levels of hormonal behaviour once they reach sexual maturity.

Causes of Hormonal Behaviour

  • Seasonal Changes (Spring Fever!)- as a result of increased daylight.
  • Diet.
  • Touching your parrot in areas other than the head and feet. Wings and back are triggers to hormonal behaviour.
  • Human-parrot bonding as a result of inappropriate handling.
  • The parrot has found a potential mate e.g. a toy or another bird.
  • Too much artificial light.
  • Access to suitable nesting materials e.g. blankets, towels, cushion stuffing, paper, cardboard.

Signs of Hormonal Behaviours

  • Excessive vocalization.
  • Increased regurgitation.
  • Masturbation.
  • Aggression (biting) or being territorial to a ‘nest site’.
  • Feather picking- some parrots will pull out or chew the feathers on their chest or between their legs. This is only seen in springtime.
  • Flat backing- Seen in female parrots, she will crouch down with her wings drooped while panting heavily.
  • Lifting of the tail and showing vent- seen in females.
  • Mating displays- wings raised, tail feathers fanned out and strutting (males) , eye pinning. *
  • Nest making or paper shredding.
  • Egg Laying.
  • Repetitive stereotypical behaviours.

STUDY YOUR BIRD SPECIES: mating displays will differ between species, for example Indian Ringneck Parakeets will perform a bow during mating season to help in winning over a potential mate.

How to Manage Hormonal Behaviour

  • Limit your parrots intake of high calorie, high fat and simple carbohydrate foods. Foods such as these will trigger the increased production of hormones related to reproduction.
  • Do not feed warm soft foods as this replicates the regurgitation that happens between mates.
  • Do not offer foods out of your mouth.
  • Remove any nesting materials such as blankets, paper towel, newspaper, toilet roll, pillowcases, parrot tepees ect. and stop cavity seeking. Keep draws closed, keep your parrot away from piles of laundry, and dark hidey-holes.
  • Be extremely careful where you pet your bird. REMEMBER! You should only be petting your bird on the head and feet, NOWHERE ELSE as this will trigger hormonal behaviour.
  • Ensure your bird gets no more than 12 hours of light. Your bird should be provided with 12 hours of darkness to roost and sleep.
  • Remove all mirrors from your birds cage or aviary, a companion bird kept on its own will often try to bond with its reflection.
  • Keep your parrot busy throughout the day, mental stimulation is an excellent deterrent in keeping hormonal behaviours in check.

DO NOT punish your bird for expressing hormonal behaviours. Hormonal behaviours are normal in sexually mature birds and the expression of hormonal behaviours in springtime should be expected. Hormonal behaviours should therefore be either deterred or ignored, punishing your bird will only add to their confusion and frustration.

What to do if your parrot is showing increased levels of Hormonal Behaviour

If your parrot is showing hormonal behaviour outside of spring that is becoming extremely difficult to manage, take your bird to a reputable avian veterinarian for a full assessment of your birds’ behaviours.

Veterinarian intervention

Before seeking veterinary intervention in the form of drugs your vet will ensure it is not the environment that is causing the increased level of hormonal behaviours. Behaviour altering drugs such as hormones, hormone antihistamines, psychoactive drugs, analgesics and anticonvulsants require a full behavioural diagnostic prior to administration as they are a last resort drug.

Another bird

Quite often the simple solution is to give your bird what it is naturally hardwired to want – a mate. Introducing a parrot of the opposite sex and providing that essential mating bond can decrease stereotypical behaviours in parrots and increase welfare. In the wild parrots live in flocks and will pair off once they reach sexual maturity. A mate ensures reproductive desires are kept in check.

However it is not a choice to consider lightly as you will need to take into account that it is most likely your bird will breed during the springtime and if this were the case you would have to ensure a suitable diet is provided and an egg management plan is in place to prevent unwanted young. Introducing another bird is also time consuming and there is always the risk.

Further Reading

Bird Welfare, Birds and the law

Keeping ‘Wild Birds’ Captive

If you find a wild bird can you keep it? The answer isn’t clear cut and various regulations apply. However, generally it would be better to hand the bird over to a vet, or an experienced wildlife rescue group, who have the skills, equipment and funds to care for and rehabilitate the birds, often in a group of the same species.

All the information provided in this article is in line with current government legislation and advice by Natural England (April 2021). In Great Britain all naturally occurring wild birds, or captive bred birds released as part of a re-population program, their nests and eggs are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which was established to prohibit certain methods of killing or taking wild animals.

It is an offence to intentionally

  • Kill, injures or takes any wild bird from its natural habitat.
  • Take, damage or destroy the nest of a wild bird included in schedule ZA1 (birds which re-use their nest).
  • Take, damages or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.
  • Take or destroys an egg of any wild bird.

It is also illegal to be in the possession of

  • Any live or dead wild bird.*
  • Any part of, or anything derived from a wild bird.*
  • An egg of a wild bird or any part of an egg (unless they can prove it was collected pre-September 1982).

*There are some exceptions, where lawful killing or taking of wild birds can occur, under General Licenses 40,41 and 42. These licenses allow an individual to carry out activities in relation to certain species of wild birds for the purposes of: conserving endangered wild birds; preserving public health and safety;  or preventing serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, fisheries or inland waters.

Keeping a wild, unwell or disabled bird (temporary & permanent)

If you find an injured wild bird and intend to care for it yourself, you should be aware that there are regulations which must be followed such as:

  • Be able to prove that the wild bird was injured (other than by your own hands) and that the sole purpose of keeping the bird is to rehabilitate and release it back into the wild. Valid records should be kept stating it has been legally taken from the wild in conjunction with General Licenses 40, 41 or 42.
  • All captive held wild birds should legally be kept in an enclosure of sufficient spacing to allow the bird to spread its wings freely unless undergoing veterinary treatment or being transported.
  • Prove everything possible has been done to release the bird back into the wild including providing appropriate veterinary treatment, keep it in a suitable enclosure and caring for it in such a way so that it can fend for itself when released.
  • In circumstance where the bird is unfit to be released back into the wild a statement from a vet that has the relevant experience must be obtained to state why the bird is unfit for release.
  • Register any Schedule 4 birds (birds of prey) with Animal Health immediately and ensure the bird is passed on to a licensed person(s) who is legally allowed to keep such a bird, under the terms of a General License.

However, there are some wild birds (such as the non-native Indian Ring Neck Parakeets which it is illegal to release back into the wild. Wildlife rescues often have suitable aviaries where these birds can live out their lives with others from the same species.

Requirements for keeping a Captive Bred ‘Wild Bird’

If you intend to keep a captive bred ‘wild bird’, such as a parrot you should check the legal status prior to obtaining it. They should be accompanied by documentation of proof of captive breeding and, in some cases be fitted with an identification ring.

For a full list of the legal status of all birds in the schedules and other common British species refer to The Status of Birds in Britain and Ireland, with updated reports published by the BOU Journal.

At the present time, no specific license is required unless the bird is listed under:

  • Annex IV(a) of the EC Habitats Directive
  • Classed as a European Protected Species
  • Listed on schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA)
  • Classed as a dangerous wild animal (ostrich and cassowary)
  • Classed as a destructive imported animal
  • Listed on CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species


  • Unless stated otherwise in relevant legislation, you do not need a license to own a wild bird. However, you must be able to prove it was obtained legally, otherwise you will be prosecuted.
  • While caring for a wild bird you must meet the birds welfare needs and not cause any unnecessary suffering, otherwise you will be prosecuted.
  • Only buy a captive bred ‘wild bird’ from a reputable source that is able to produce the correct paperwork and has adhered to the terms and conditions of General Licensing.


For all enquires regarding the killing, taking, rehabilitation or capture of wild birds contact either Natural England (NE) or the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG).

NE: 0300 060 3900

WAG: 0300 060 3300 (English) or 0300 060 4400 (Welsh)

For General Licencing regarding birds go to

Further reading—a-plain-guide-to-bird-protection-today.pdf

Bird Welfare

HELP! There’s a baby bird on the ground

It’s that time of year again; you’re out in your garden or taking an early morning woodland walk and you spot a young bird on the ground. Your parental instincts kick in and your first thought is to rush over to the helpless animal and see if it’s okay. But wait ! Do we need to get involved?

The bird nesting season in the UK is officially from 1st of March to 31st July, during this period adults will be caring for their eggs and chicks.

Birds go through five stages of development:

hatchling – chicks who are undeveloped and unable to move around. They appear naked with some fine down, eyes closed and rely solely on their parents for food and warmth.

nestling – chicks are a few days old, their eyes are open, and their small bodies are covered in down. You may also be able to see the development of flight feathers, but the young will still solely rely on their parents and remain in the nest. Nesting not only occurs high up in trees but in lowland shrub, farmland, heathland or, along cliffsides. You will find a Skylarks nest in arable fields while a Nightjar lays its eggs on bare ground. Ground nested chicks should not be mistaken for orphaned young.

fledgling/juvenile – once the chicks have all or most of their flight feathers and the wing muscles are developed they will begin to explore their environment. The young birds are only able to take short flights and commonly spend this time on the ground. Usually, the parent is nearby feeding their young and protecting it against potential predators.

subadult and adult.

There’s a young bird on the ground …

It is at the stage of fledgling that many well-meaning people spot young birds on the ground and become concerned that the bird has fallen out of its nest or has been orphaned. However, unless the bird is very young (hatchling or nestling), injured or abandoned it should be left alone.

Each year the RSPCA rehabilitates over a thousand birds, most of which were not orphaned but fledging and would have had a better upbringing in the wild.

I think it’s a hatchling – what should  I do?

  • Does the chick only have down feathers with potentially some developing flight feathers ? If so it may be a hatchling.
  • In some instances, the adult will eject a chick from the nest If they sense the chick may be dying, abnormal or unwell, so they can focus on looking after the healthy chicks.
  • If a healthy chick has fallen from the nest you may be able to put it back, but only if you are certain which nest the hatchling fell from.
  • In the case of an injured or orphaned chick, or a healthy chick that has not been able to be returned to its nest it will become dependent on humans for its survival and should be passed on to the relevant expert.
  • Contact the relevant organisation and If you can, place the bird into a dark warm box with minimal handling. In the case of waterfowl or Birds of Prey wait for relevant advice before intervening.

I think it’s a fledgling – what should  I do?

  • Observe from a distance. Normally you will find that the bird is able to travel around, or its parents will return to feed it.
  • Don’t touch the bird, unless you are certain that it needs help. Handling can cause a lot of stress and you may injure the bird in the process, or even end up being attacked by a protective parent.
  • Don’t return the bird to a nest, it is usually where it is meant to be, especially if it’s a ground-nesting bird. The parent usually returns, and there is always the possibility that you may end up placing the chick into the wrong nest.
  • If the fledgling is in immediate danger, move the bird to a safe place which is within hearing distance of the original spot.
  • If you are certain the bird is injured or orphaned contact the relevant expert (see below) and if you can, carefully place the bird in a dark warm box with minimal handling. In the case of Waterfowl or Birds of Prey wait for relevant advice before intervening.

Who should I contact?

For injured or orphaned fledglings/hatchlings please contact the RSPCA (England and Wales), SSPCA (Scotland) or, USPCA (Northern Ireland). You will be given the relevant advice as to how to proceed with the injured wildlife.

  • RSPCA: 0300 1234999
  • SSPCA: 03000 999 999
  • USPCA: 028 3025 1000

Once contacted they may recommend you take it to your local vet or a local wildlife rehabilitator or independent rescue.

For local independent rescues visit

Further Reading