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    Techniques And Practices Necessary For Responsible Parrot Care

    two cockatoos perching on rope in an aviary
    There are many elements of care to consider, including living space designs like these at Exotic Avian Sanctuary of Tennessee!

    Updated November 6, 2020

    If you are planning on providing lifelong care for parrots, either in a sanctuary or microsanctuary environment, the hands-on training you’ll need and the standard care practices you must develop for your residents may be much more rigorous than what non-sanctuary parrot resources may have led you to believe! Choosing to take in parrots without this critical preparation could threaten their health and well-being, as well as the health of other residents at your sanctuary.

    This introductory resource is not intended to dissuade you from rescue, but merely provide a perspective on what a sanctuary must be able to commit to in order to provide the best life for a parrot.

    Parrot Care That Should Be Taught By An Expert

    Talk With Your Vet!
    Responsible parrot care means being able to fully understand and perform safe handling and healthcare techniques, as well as being able to react rapidly and effectively in the event of an emergency. Anyone who is in charge of regularly providing care to parrots should be taught the following techniques from a compassionate parrot care expert or a qualified veterinarian*.

    * It can be extremely difficult to find a veterinarian with the education and experience to treat parrot residents. Look for an avian board certified
    veterinarian with parrot experience when starting a parrot sanctuary.

    Healthcare Basics

    • Performing a parrot health examination: All of the parrots in your care need to be regularly examined from their head to their toes in order to catch any health problems early on for successful treatment. An expert or veterinarian can give you hands-on training so you can give examinations quickly, efficiently, and with the least stress possible for the parrot.
    • Picking up, holding, carrying, and setting down a parrot: Although this technique can be relatively simple to learn compared to other parrot care techniques, there are many nuances that an expert must demonstrate for you in order to prevent potentially serious health consequences from mishandling. Certain individual parrots may require unique handling techniques, due to their species, personality, or health status.
    • Understanding the safe range of joint motions in parrots: When performing health examinations on parrots, it’s important to check their wing, leg, and foot flexibility and check for signs of pain, infection, inflammation, or arthritis. You must have an expert demonstrate for you how to check the range of motion in their bodies without causing injury and teach you what a healthy parrot looks and feels like. This way, you can be the best advocate possible for them if something feels or looks amiss.
    • Evaluating a parrot’s crop: Crop problems such as impaction are a possibility. For this reason, you must learn how to evaluate a parrot’s crop, and quickly discern between how a full or empty crop typically feels in order to sound the alarm if something’s wrong. 
    • Evaluating a parrot’s keel and abdomen: Similarly to their crop, you must be taught where a parrot’s abdomen is and how it normally feels. Abdominal issues such as egg yolk impaction, fluid buildup (especially due to Ovarian Cancer) or  abnormal egg development, can be lethal if they go by unnoticed. You must also know what a keel should generally feel like, as keel issues can indicate a parrot’s overall health status. Keel sores must be quickly identified and treated before the infection spreads.
    • Evaluating a parrot’s droppings: Abnormal parrot droppings can be a warning sign that something is amiss in them, be it a problem with their nutrition, reproductive system, an illness, or a parasitic infection. It’s important to learn what healthy parrot poop typically looks like for the individual parrots at your sanctuary throughout the day so that abnormalities can be caught and evaluated early on. Early intervention for many parrot health issues can be lifesaving.

    Parrot Treatments

    • Trimming a parrot’s nails: Safe trimming is a health essential for parrots that someone at your sanctuary must be able to regularly perform. Improper technique could hurt or permanently injure a parrot.
    • Bumblefoot management in parrots: Bumblefoot is a highly common illness in sanctuary birds. If left untreated, it could lead to deeper infection, osteomyelitis, severe mobility issues, and possibly the parrot’s death. Treatment is dependent on the kind of infection and how much it’s progressed into the parrot’s foot. Failure to learn appropriate Bumblefoot treatment techniques (including how to dress and wrap a parrot’s foot) could lead to greater health problems than the infection itself. You should discuss with a vet whether nutritional deficiencies or environmental issues are the cause.
    • Treating mites, lice, and other parasites in parrots: Although it may seem straightforward to treat individuals for these problems, you should have someone demonstrate dosage and technique until you are fully comfortable with treatment. Some birds may become seriously ill or die if they are exposed to too much pesticide or anti-parasitic medication.
    • Handling a prolapsed parrot: You must learn exactly what to do if a parrot is prolapsing or has an egg partially stuck in their vent. There are different medical requirements and ways of managing the situation depending on the severity of the prolapse. Failing to have appropriate training for health emergencies such as these could cause additional damage or death in parrots.
    • Administering oral and injectable medications to parrots: You must be shown how to safely administer a pill and oral suspension to a parrot without causing them undue stress, accidentally choking them, or causing them to aspirate.  While oral medications are often preferred, there are instances when an injection is necessary (or in some cases safer than administering a large volume of a liquid medication), so you must learn how to administer properly.
    • Dropper/ syringe feeding and gastric intubation (which can be particularly difficult due to the location of their glottis) for parrots: If a parrot is in too much pain to peck at food you will need to learn how to feed them using a dropper or syringe. There is a very specific way to place the liquid in their mouth and hold their head. Failing to learn the right technique could cause aspiration and death. In situations where a parrot will not, or cannot, eat on their own and syringe feeding is not appropriate,  the parrot will need to be fed with a feeding tube. Gastric intubation absolutely must be taught by an expert. The threshold for lethal mistakes is very high due to their biology.
    • Administering subcutaneous fluids: A parrot who does not feel well may become dehydrated which can be quite dangerous.  You must be shown how to safely administer subcutaneous fluids to a parrot so that you are able to maintain proper hydration in a parrot who will not drink on their own.
    • Draining abdominal fluids in parrots: Abdominal fluid draining must be taught by an expert. If you do not know exactly how, when, and where to make the right insertion, or use the wrong tools, you could potentially cause a parrot’s death.

    Necessary Practices For Responsible Parrot Guardianship

    In order to provide the best care possible for parrots, you must have the proper policies and practices in place, in addition to providing them with the best environment and nutrition possible.

    Responsible Policies

    • Establishing regular record keeping policies for parrots: Keeping detailed records of parrot residents from intake until they leave your sanctuary is a crucial part of giving them the best healthcare as well as providing an extra layer of legal protection to your sanctuary in certain circumstances.
    • Creating and following a new parrot arrival protocol: Flock safety means following practical biosecurity and quarantine guidelines when you bring a new resident parrot onto your sanctuary grounds. Failing to have an appropriate intake process could pose a serious risk to your residents.
    • Daily checkups for each individual: Although it does not have to be as rigorous as a health examination, each of the individual parrots you take in must be visually looked over at least once a day (such as during feeding time) to watch out for early signs of illness or other health concerns. It is not responsible to take in parrots and not be able to provide this minimum standard of care for each of them.
    • Creating an egg policy: If you’re caring for parrots who lay eggs, you must create and abide by an egg policy for your sanctuary. While there are some other birth control options, many sanctuaries simply check and remove eggs and offer a replacement for sitting or boil the egg and let them finish their sitting cycle. Others may attempt to manage the environment to discourage egg-laying behavior. Neither is perfect and have draw-backs. There are health reasons you might want to take measures to prevent egg-laying. Egg-laying carries the risk of problems such as egg-binding and oviductal relapse.  
    • Talk to your veterinarian about vaccine protocols: While there are a limited number of vaccines available for parrots, you should discuss with your vet the risk factors of the residents and if they recommend certain vaccinations.
    • Regular fecal testing of parrots: Parrots can fall victim to a host of dangerous ailments and diseases that may not present symptoms visibly until they’re too late to treat. You must create a fecal testing schedule and follow it for all parrots in order to head off health challenges early on.
    • Creating a plan for isolation or quarantine: If a parrot becomes ill or injured and needs time away from the rest of your residents to heal or prevent the spread of disease, you will need an appropriate area reserved to isolate them. Without space to isolate an ill or injured resident, you risk the spread of disease or further injury to the individual.

    What You Must Provide For Parrots

    Responsible parrot care means making sure that their food, water, and shelter is provided and maintained to a high standard.

    • Providing appropriate living spaces for parrots: You must give parrots an appropriate living space, with sunlight (whenever possible), clean air, appropriate temperature and humidity control, fencing, perches, and individual nesting areas. They should have a safe place to explore and enjoy enriching activities. Forcing parrots to live in cramped, dark, dirty, or dangerous conditions is unacceptable. You should never take in so many parrots that they lack adequate personal space!
    • Providing appropriate food, water, and supplementation for parrots: You must feed parrots a healthy diet suited to their individual needs. They need clean water, nutritional supplementation as recommended by a veterinarian, and, depending on the species and your veterinarian’s recommendation) grit to aid in healthy digestion. This can potentially cause health issues in some parrots so it is important to do your research and speak with your vet. It’s unacceptable to knowingly feed them food that causes health problems or excessive weight gain. You must be willing to adjust their food and supplementation if a parrot needs their diet modified to rectify health challenges as well. 
    • Regular cleaning and maintenance of parrot living spaces: You must establish and follow a regular cleaning schedule for the spaces where parrots live, fly, and sleep. Ignoring regular cleaning can cause parrots to develop a host of easily avoidable illnesses such as aspergillus, parasites, or even behavior changes.
    • Protecting residents from predators: It is unacceptable to create living spaces or aviaries that do not offer responsible protection from regional predators. You must implement strategies to prevent predators from entering their living space or aviary and regularly review the effectiveness of your efforts. 
    • Creating and maintaining indoor living spaces with rodent-proofing in mind: Just as you must protect your residents from predators, it is important to create indoor living spaces that discourage or make it difficult for rodents to take up residence in them. Mice and rats can potentially spread disease to residents. Rodents can also cause safety issues by damaging electrical wires (which could result in a fire) or getting into insulation (and creating opportunities for residents to ingest insulation). Be sure to design the space so that any insulation and electrical wires are contained in such a way that rodents cannot access them, avoid (or regularly check) gaps that could easily be turned into a cozy nest (for the mice and rats), and make sure any supplies that may attract rodents are sealed (especially food).
    • Regular hardware disease mitigation: You need to keep parrots safe from hardware disease by regularly checking their areas for potentially dangerous materials that they may ingest.
    • Honoring the needs of younger or older parrots: parrots who are very young or older have unique care needs that must be accommodated in order to thrive. You should not take in birds with special care requirements until you understand what they need and have an environment and policies in place for them!
    • Providing appropriate veterinary care and medication for parrots: When you give sanctuary to a parrot, you are committing to providing them a high quality of life and individual care. Part of this means having a qualified avian veterinarian who understands parrot care and is willing to treat health problems, manage pain, and provide compassionate end of life care when necessary. It is unacceptable to take in parrots and deny them medical attention or withhold pain management.

    While this is not an exhaustive list of everything you must know and provide for parrots in a sanctuary environment, we hope it gives you a good start. Individual parrots may have their own needs and challenges that require additional training and policies to give them the best life possible!

    What Does ‘Unacceptable’ Mean?
    At The Open Sanctuary Project, unacceptable means that we cannot condone (or condone through omission) a certain practice, standard, or policy. See a more detailed explanation here.


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    Non-Compassionate Source?
    If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

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