Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What to expect when being owned by a parrot: The good, the bad, and the poopy

Owning a parrot (or more accurately, being owned by one) is no small matter! For what it's worth, parronthood does come with a ton of perks. Yet for all their charm, parrots can also be very difficult, sometimes, because they want to be, but more often, because some traits are simply ingrained in their biology. Here are some of the things one can expect when one starts living with a parrot!


Since this one was already part of the title, I figured that I would rip that bandaid off nice and quick. Everybody poops, and birds are no exception. Birds, however, do poop a lot more frequently than humans, or any other mammal would. This is quite simply because most birds have a higher metabolism than most other animals. This means that in order to fuel a bird's daily activities, flying, climbing, playing, and what have you, a bird needs to constantly eat. Naturally what goes in, must come out, and a bird that constantly eats will inevitably also, constantly poop.  I have often been asked if it is possible to limit a bird's mealtimes to just 2 or 3 times a day (how one might do with a puppy or a cat) so as to control the number of poops he/she makes, and while that has certainly been done before, I most certainly would NOT recommend it for the sole reason that it just wouldn't be very healthy to essentially starve an animal that needs constant supplements of food items over the course of its day. The good news, however, is that pooping does not have to be a nightmarish affair and can in fact be manageable. Some birds can be potty trained and while not all birds take to training immediately, many eventually pick up some semblance of a schedule or other.

Most parrot stands and playgyms can be fitted with, or fitted over, a poop collecting tray that may help limit the area of mess when a bird spends time out of his cage.
Potty training a bird begins by taking note of a bird's bowel movements. Most birds have to go once every 15-20 minutes or so. They also tend to do a little "poopy" dance or squatting motion before it happens. This means that over time, the parront can recognize the tell tale signs of incoming poop and bring the bird over an appropriate pooping spot while uttering a simple, yet recognizable command. "Good poop" is one of my personal favorites. This act of pooping, followed by the verbal affirmation of "Good poop" should always be supplemented with a treat. Over time the bird learns to associate the command with a positive reinforces and can be "asked" to poop at regular intervals over an appropriate receptacle to avoid any accidents anywhere around the house. A fully flighted bird may even fly over to her toilet without being asked, but such instances are admittedly rare. Despite being potty trained, however, it is important to note that accidents can, and often do, happen anyway. Bird poops, however, do not smell (if your bird's poops smell bad there's something wrong and he/she needs to see a vet!) so that IS some small consolation. 


Chewing is an integral part to any parrot's beak and mental health and should not be denied to them entirely.
There is no easy way to put this. Most parrots can and most often will be very destructive little creatures. It's just so much a part of their behavior! A parrot, however, very likely does not intend to be destructive. Rather, he or she, is simply giving in to their natural curiosity and exploring their environment the only way they know how! Birds, as everyone knows, do not have hands. For naturally inquisitive birds like parrots, this can be quite an issue. A parrot's zygodactyl legs (two toes pointing front, and two more pointing back) let's a parrot grab and manipulate a great many objects in its environment, but there is nothing for a parrot quite like biting into an object to really get a "feel" of it. Bird's beaks are also in a constant state of growth and so a parrot needs to constantly chew on hard objects in order to keep its beak in trim and healthy condition. Unfortunately there is almost no way to "train out" chewing behavior in parrots but chewing can be directed towards bird approved chew toys and wooden perches instead.  Some people, myself included, may also choose to take the lazy way out altogether instead and quite simply not own any wooden furniture that a curious bird might sink his beak into! Of course because of their propensity to chew on objects, birds also frequently get their beaks on things that they should not (by which I mean objects that are harmful to them). Playtime out of the cage should therefore, always be supervised, typically when one lives with a bird that seems to have developed a particular appetite for table-legs!!!

3.  OUCH!!!

Some parrots, like macaws, have exceptionally strong beaks that can do a lot of damage to human flesh when they want to while other birds like cockatiels have significantly less strength to their bite and often can inflict little more than a painful nip. This may be something you wish to consider when getting your first bird as disciplining will no doubt come easier if you are not constantly flinching in fear of that large beak!
It has often been said, that it is not about "IF" a parrot will bite you... but "WHEN". Of course this is not the absolute case as there are many parronts who have never been bitten in their lives though, I generally believe that their little angels are the exception to the rule. There are many reasons why a parrot might bite. Most commonly biting in young parrots is a result of a a "nippy" stage known also as "bluffing" whereby a bird seems to be particularly more bitey or aggressive than usual. This "bluffing" stage is in fact a very important learning period for young parrots as it is at such an age when young birds quickly learn to establish the pecking order in their flock. Other reasons for biting in parrots could be due to a combination of factors. A typical response to threat when being handled by an unfamiliar person is one of them. Cage aggression or possessiveness, another. Experts also believe that petting the bird in the wrong place (generally, everywhere that is not the head and feet) or cuddling with the bird too much, and a combination of other factors could lead to sexual frustration that results in more frequent bites. More usually, birds bite because they are playing and exploring our flesh the way they might explore anything else in their environment. They do not yet know their strength and what is okay, or not okay, when interacting with their parronts. This is where good socialization comes in. Parrot bites cannot always be controlled, fortunately, our reaction to them can! It is neither wise to scream, or cause a commotion when being bitten by a parrot. Your parrot, who may not understand your cues for distress, is more likely to interpret this as a sign of excitement and affirmation and is soon to proceed to do so again. Instead, stand your ground and tell him in a calm but stern voice that he has been bad and is not to do that again. You may choose to ignore him for a bit after so that he learns his lesson but I like to offer mine an approved chewable instead, followed by the command in the same neutral voice "chew this". When he picks up the appropriate chewable and starts working on that he gets rewarded with a more cheerful and affirmative "good chew". Birds can be very stubborn and persistent animals, though so a lot of patience and and persistence is necessary.


A sun conure is a small bird but has a voice that can often rival that of even the larger parrots in volume!
In the wild, a parrot may sometimes have to call its flock mates over large distances. A parrot's piercing, loud voice is therefore an asset to its survival in such a situation. In a household setting, however, a parrot's loud squawks may leave much to be desired. Noise level is definitely something that needs to be considered by every prospective parront when deciding on taking a bird home. Some birds like macaws can, because of their immensely loud voices, be unsuitable for apartment living while others, such as the green cheek conure is relatively quiet enough that many would have no problem adopting one into their homes if they were looking for something larger than a cockatiel or a budgerigar. Some birds, such as many lorikeet species (particularly, in my own experience, the chattering lory) may also vocalize noisily with more frequency over the course of the day than others. Different people I have met have had different ideas about how to work with screaming birds, but personally my approach is - if you have started with a young bird - to socialize it to indoor life by only communicating with it, and each other, using a level of noise that is appropriate to your lifestyle. Birds are vocal flock animals and young birds learn early on to mimic the sounds, calls, and even volume of their flock mates. In this way, a young parrot can be "taught" to keep his volume down because that is the way he is accustomed to "speaking" with his family. Despite this however, many birds will instinctively call loudly at dusk and at dawn as a way of waking up the flock in the morning, and making sure the flock is all gathered in the same spot to sleep at night. Despite many ways of training and socialization this is, unfortunately, something that most parrots will do regardless and something every prospective parront must be prepared to live with when the decision is made to adopt a parrot.


When all is said and done, however, parrots do make up for all these traits with their intelligence, their affection, loyalty, and so much more!!! They truly are amazing companion animals and most often the question to ask is not "will a parrot be right for me?" but rather, "will my home and lifestyle be right for a parrot?"

photo source: wikimedia.commons

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The 4 things you shouldn't do when visiting with a Parrot.

So your friend just got a parrot and it is the coolest thing you've ever seen! You get into your car and you drive on over to his house. Of course, your friend being the proud parront, is more than happy to show him to you (and show him off to you!). But when you get there you realize that you've never had a parrot in your life. The only parrots you ever interacted with or saw were the ones in bird exhibits or zoos. Thankfully, being the ever considerate and mindful friend, you worry that your actions would be less than welcome in a home that is shared with a bird and so, have decided to do a quick search online about the visitor's do's and don'ts when visiting a parrot for the first time. Hopefully, that is where this article comes in. Here are a list of the 3 things you shouldn't do when visiting a friend and their beloved pet parrot. 


So we have all seen those videos you social media of birds cussing like sailors and had a good laugh at it and you think that it might be a hoot to teach your friend's parrot some bad words. After all, what harm could it be, it's not like the bird understands what he is saying, right? Wrong!!! Aside from the fact that it is pretty inappropriate to teach bad words to a bird that isn't even your's, teaching any bird derogatory language is generally frowned upon by many parronts and for good reason to. For the better part, you see, many birds don't indeed understand what they are saying or how it is wrong and so may just take it in his or herself to say the worst kinds of words in the most terrible of situations. Birds that know cuss words may end up teaching other birds in the household bad language as well or in the worse case scenario, end up screaming obscenities at the top of his or her lungs making them almost impossible to socialize. Of course this is all fine and well, you say, if the owner himself doesn't mind a potty mouthed parrot but do consider this: many birds that are excellent talkers, such as the African Gray,cockatoos, and many species of macaws, also are very long-lived animals. As such, there is even a very real possibility that one might be outlived by one's bird (depending on how hold the person was and how old the bird was when they met).  

As a general rule of thumb, a potty-mouthed parrot is more difficult to rehome than a parrot whose vocabulary is not "littered" with words one would not generally utter in polite company. Now you might not think this is a problem in the present, but consider this: who is going to look after the bird when the human family is travelling or on holiday? Not everyone who owns birds of their own, and indeed companies that offer bird-sitting services, may willingly house a potty-mouthed parrot in a setting here he or she is likely to end up teaching other birds bad language too. Similarly, if one lives in close proximity of others, neighbors may not appreciate a bird screaming out top notch obscenities in the morning. Really, the sheer volume of a parrot's natural vocalizations are often "bad enough" to the uninitiated. In fact, a potty mouth MAY end up being the reason a bird has to be rehomed or given up to a rescue in the first place. Birds also have excellent memories, so they naturally pick SOME words up along the way. However, they are also very perceptive to reaction though not all of them seem to be able to differentiate between negative and positive attention (think of a very young child) so if the swear word was taught intentionally in the first place, it is very unlikely that he or she will simply just "grow out" of cussing, especially if he or she notices that a certain four letter word is getting him more attention, and more exciting responses than others. All in all, as much of a gag it may be, I wouldn't do something that may be detrimental to the well being of my bird in the present or in the unforeseeable future so my personal take on this would be an absolute no-no! Of course, ultimately it is up to the owner of the parrot whether or not they would like to teach their fiddy a couple of swears, but even if they do, and as a visitor no less, you should probably sit this one out anyway. 


This is something that many people tend to do, and not realize why what they are doing may be wrong, until the bird suddenly gets sick or drops dead right in front of them! Okay so I may be exaggerating a little, or... am I?  It is very tempting to offer a bird a treat so as to bribe your way into his or her good graces, but did you know that many foods that we eat are in fact dangerous to birds? Many people are aware that pets should, as a general rule, NOT be fed chocolate... but did you know that the same would apply to cheese, garlic, onions, avocados, and many more. The list, literally does go on and on. SO alright then, you think, maybe I'll just give this bird some seeds. That should be safe, right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Not all seeds are safe for birds and the pips of many fruits actually contain small amounts of toxins such as arsenic and cyanide that, when ingested by a human may pose no significant threat or danger but, could have adverse affects on a smaller bodied bird. To top it off, many parronts (myself included!) may not appreciate people coming over to say hi and then proceed to take liberties with my fiddies by spoiling them every which way as if they were their fids.  Many parronts these days maintain a veritable list of bird-safe treats that may be given to their fiddies on a regular basis. Food from the table is generally only given on occasion, and even then, only in modest amounts. A parront that has been trying to discipline his or her fid to not divebomb family members at the dinner table may therefore, not appreciate your reinforcing the bird's behavior with your well meant, but misguided gestures. Always remember that parrots are a lot like kids: just because they want it, doesn't always mean they can, or should, have it. 


So, you finally get to your friend's house and the first thing you notice is how cautious he is about everything. Don't leave the door open, make sure you locked the front door, did you open any windows? Well don't! Make sure the bathroom door is closed. Make sure you check that nothing followed you into the kitchen. Don't slam doors. When closing doors always do a double check to make sure no birdy is sitting on the door frame. Phew. So, you listen to all those instructions, do your best to obey them and not lose your mind when suddenly, the inevitable has happened: there's a streak of birdy poop on your favorite shirt. You finally decide that enough is enough and you go up to your friend and say to them "you know, you should really cage that thing when you have visitors over. Or at least clip his wings so he will just stay on his stand." You don't understand why your friend behaves coldly to you after, Soon later, he asks you to leave. You go home feeling completely perplexed and also a bit offended. What on earth just happened?

Well, there's only one way I can break it down for you: the parrot lives there, you don't. With any luck, your friend belongs to a ever growing and vibrant community of parronts who not only love their birds, but truly treat them as their own children, partners, friends, and members of the family. Suggesting to a parront that he should cage "that thing" when you are around, or clip his wings (in the case of fully flighted birds) is the equivalent of asking someone to lock their child in the attic, or tie up their legs, because you're visiting and you do not have the patience or understanding to deal with it. This can be a very difficult issue to overcome, especially for those who do not have birds of their own but there is really only one thing to it: THEY LIVE HERE, YOU DON'T. This does not mean that if you can't get over the idea of being extra cautious when visiting, or being pooped on occasionally, that you have to cut off all ties of friendship with your friend but maybe... it is probably a good idea to meet up with them someplace else instead. Don't be surprised, however, if they won't be able to hang out as often or as late anymore because they have to get home to their fiddies, though. Trust me it's a parront thing.

4. DON'T, NOT ASK!!! 

Okay, so I know I just made a double negative here, please don't shoot me : but this point is pretty self explanatory, when in doubt: simply... ask. Asking your friend, whether it be for permission to do something with the bird, or when you aren't sure of something, is not only a great way of knowing for sure the do's and don'ts in any individual parrot household, but also an excellent way of also showing that you genuinely care,  

Photosource: Wikimedia.commons
Screaming Indian Ringneck from

Friday, April 24, 2015

So you've found a baby bird PT. 1

A common conception among many people is that a baby bird should not be returned to its nest because its mother will reject it once it has been touched by human hands. This, however, is largely a myth and almost certainly not true. With the notable exception of some species: such as the vulture and the kiwi, most birds do not actually have a good sense of smell and so will not be able to detect the subtle scents left behind on a chick when it is picked up by human hands. Furthermore, birds make very dedicated parents and invest a lot of time and energy in looking out for the welfare of their young. A mother bird is more likely to resume its parental duties after its child was replaced in its nest than otherwise simply because she is genetically driven to do so by nature.

However, not all seemingly lost or abandoned birds need human intervention. So what should one do when one finds a seemingly lost or abandoned baby bird? The first thing one should do is to assess the bird's stage of development. Is it a nestling, or a fledgling? A nestling is a very young bird that has little or no feathers. It will appear very weak and helpless and will not even be able to stand unassisted. A fledgling is an older baby bird that is fully feathered. It is capable of walking and standing unassisted and may even be able to flutter for short distances.

A nestling should always be returned to its nest if possible so the first order of business would be to locate the nest and to return the chick. If the nest was destroyed or had otherwise fallen, it is possible to re-create the nest by gathering as much of the original nesting material as possible and placing it into a plastic container with holes poked at the bottom for drainage. The new makeshift nest should then be nailed as close to the spot the original nest was (it is possible to locate it by any remaining nest fibers) and the baby placed inside. The rescuer can then watch from a safe and un-obstructive distance for the parent bird to return.

A fledgling, however, may not even need to be "rescued". Though they are not competent fliers, fledglings frequently spend large amounts of time outside of the nest learning from their parents and observing other birds. It is during this stage that they are gradually "weaned" from being dependent on their parents for food. It is therefore, not uncommon for parent birds to "ignore" their fledgling young for periods at a time to encourage them to develop food and foraging independence from the adult birds. It is a NATURAL process of their development and just because a parent bird is not in sight when a fledgling is found does not mean it is abandoned.  I am sorry to say but most of the baby birds that were "rescued" by well meaning people and brought to me were very likely in reality "kidnapped" unintentionally during this weaning phase.

The best thing a person can do for a fledgling that seems lost is to cordon the area off so that it is undisturbed by stray animals or other curious, but well-meaning humans (this could scare the parents off) and to wait from a safe and un-obstructive distance for the parent birds to return. If the fledgling is in any immediate harm (for example if it has fallen into a drain or a deep puddle of water, it may be rescued but should not be removed too far from its present location so it may be similarly located from its parents.

A fledling mynah, exhausted from exploring, and taking a rest under a tree not for from its nest. 
A well meaning human may be able to hand raise a baby bird to the point where it is able to fly, but there is more to survival in the big bad world that physical development. Baby birds need to be able to formulate survival strategies and also, to socialize with wild flocks if they are ever going to make it to adulthood and come to raise young ones of their own. These are wild birds, not pets, so very often a baby bird's best bet of survival is to learn the skills and tricks it needs to live in the big wild yonder from its parents and it is the duty of those of us who rescue birds to be able to foster or encourage that as much as possible before the decision is made to "pull" the babies out from under the parent's care.

If you have done all the above and the bird's parents still have not yet returned in a day or so, then it might be necessary to bring the bird in and place it under your care. It may be very tempting to raise a baby bird on your own but hand raising a chick should always be done only by those who are experienced as each bird has its own unique set of dietary requirements as well as conditions for soft-release in gradually socializing it to life as a wild bird in the future. If this is not you, you may wish to hand the bird over to an avian vet, a wildlife rehabilitator, or friend who is. However reluctant you may be at giving up "your baby", do remember, you are rescuing the bird for its sake, not your's and so you owe it to the baby to give it the best chance of survival by surrendering it over to someone whose experience better qualifies them to function as the bird's foster mother.

If you have no other options however, you may have to attempt raising the bird yourself. This is a complicated business for the uninitiated and perhaps warrants a post on its own. Until then.

picture source: wikimedia.commonsare. 
edited and distributed under license 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike of Creative Commons

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fair Feathered Friends: Why the companion bird may just be man (and woman's) next best friend

Baby parrots in a pet shop.
photosource: wikimedia.commons
The idea of a caged pet is generally what comes to mind when one thinks about having a bird around the house. Indeed, the popularity of keeping birds as caged animals around human dwellings can be traced as far back to the days of the Roman Empire. During the spread of his influence across the lands of Europe and Asia, Alexander the Great collected, during his conquests, and maintained a large collection of exotic birds from the East. Among his favorite, which he brought back to Rome, were the parrots. Large, green birds from Punjab, with long tails and the uncanny ability to mimic human speech. Over the years, these birds grew to be very popular in private and public collections and were enjoyed and marveled at by royalty and commoners alike. Indeed, the astounding beauty of most bird species, their abilities of song and speech, and their capacity for flight have long been a point of inspiration and interest for human cultures around the world. In the contemporary household of today, many birds are still being kept as caged animals because of the value humans place on these astounding qualities, but there has also been an increasingly popular trend among animal lovers to housing various kinds of birds, typically the medium to large parrot species, as companion animals instead.  

A companion parrot, differs from a caged bird, because of the inordinate amount of time it spends with the family, and participating in family-like activities. Like many conventional companion animals, such as cats an dogs, the companion parrot is one that will thrive on constant and regular attention from its human family. While the popularity of having companion birds have grown significantly over the years, there are still many among the general animal lovers community who generally retain some reservations on placing parrots on par with cats, or dogs. A parrot, however can be just as good as, or an even better, companion animal than a cat or dog. Speaking as an individual who has lived with many kinds of animals for most of my life I can certainly attest this to be true. For the benefit of everyone else who may have reservations about adding a rescue parrot to their household, however, here are four compelling arguments as to why a companion parrot may just be an eligible candidate for that position. 

Advancements in bird-keeping methods have resulted in the development of tools such as the flight harness, which can facilitate a bird's participation in a family's oudoor activities in a safe and secure manner.
Photosource: Wikimedia.commons
The African Gray parrot is one of the most intelligent animals on the planet.
Photosource: Wikimedia.commons
The term bird-brained is generally used as an insult, to refer to an individual who is particularly slow, or dim-witted but in my opinion the good folks who coined the term probably have never met with a parrot or a magpie not even once in their life. In a laboratory setting, where such birds are exposed to a focused, learning environment, parrots have exhibited an array of impressive abilities and skills once thought to be accessible only to humans or higher orders of primates such as vocal recognition skills, facial perception, stringing together complex sentences and associating words with concepts for communication, and many more. In the famous but controversial Avian Language experiment, an African Gray Parrot named Alex was able to coin the term "banerry", in reference to an apple which was red on the outside but yellow on the inside, after learning only the words cherry and banana to refer to the other fruits, respectively. This demonstrates not only an ability for word association, but an understanding of concepts such as colors. 

As a companion animal, this translates into a highly adaptive and clever animal that is capable of not only understanding instructions, but also of forming complex and unique responses to facilitate interaction with their human families. Like many companion animals, parrots can be potty trained and taught to perform tricks. However, unlike some other animals, parrots can also be socialized so that their lifestyles more closely resembles that of their human companions. A parrot, for instance, may quickly learn to use only his "inside voice" around family members who are sensitive to loud noises if he is socialized as such from a young age. Similarly, if he is disciplined by all but spoiled rotten by one, a parrot can quickly learn who is who in his family and thus, who he can boss around and achieve results! 


The Red bellied parrot is known to have a boisterous personality
Fun fact: Did you know that in the wild, baby parrots are named by their parents! That's right, in a study conducted on wild nesting parrots, it was discovered that baby parrots were recorded in their nest boxes and found to respond individually to unique vocalizations that were made by the parent birds that were in turn ascribed to each, individual chick. This naming behavior is unique and almost unheard of in any other animal except for humans and while many will insist, based on their own anecdotal evidence, that their own housecats or dogs can both understand and respond to their names, it is perhaps only parrots that are naturally and biologically predisposed to such behavior as humans are from the very start.  It is thus interesting to note that conventional wisdom surrounding the culture of "naming" things seems to suggest that naming distinguishes that individuals among a particular species are capable of exhibiting a remarkable and sophisticated level of differentiation and personality. In other words, self-awareness. One can only imagine what life must be like living in constant contact with an animal that is not only crafty and intelligent but (potentially) self-aware as well! Many of us parronts (that is, parrot's parents) will swear that our birds are very much like small feathered human beings and in many ways, we wouldn't be too far from the truth, Of course self-awareness also means that a bird can develop as wide a range of emotional and psychological problems as humans, typically when they are ignored, abused or left alone. On the one hand, this trait of many parrots makes for amazing and wonderful companions but on the other, also mean that they are not the kind of animal that can be left out of day-to-day familial interactions and activities.


The Green Cheek Conure is one of the most cuddliest of parrots around
Photosource: Wikimedia.commons
Birds are probably not the kind of animal that is generally known for their loyalty but I personally believe that this is a misconception that was probably brought about from the bird's history as a caged animal. A companion bird that is given the chance to socialize and integrate with its household will literally become an affectionate animal that thrives upon hours upon hours of physical and social interaction. Birds, in this way, will enjoy a family member simply talking to them and telling them about their day, as much as they will enjoy physical play time. In their natural habitats, parrots often live in large social groups because, among other things, they simply enjoy each other's company! Anyone who has seen lorikeets in the wild will be able to tell you how much time is spent on eating and foraging and how much more on playing, preening, squabbling, and "chatting". This truly translates into an animal that will genuinely enjoy the presence of his or her human companion regardless of whether or not the things they are doing truly coincides. Your parrot may simply enjoy being allowed to play with his toys next to you on the sofa the same way you may enjoy simply having your partner sit with you in a room even though you may not be doing anything together at the time. Incidentally, birds are also notorious displayers of public affection and some of the cuddlier species will enjoy spending hours upon hours of giving and receiving cuddles from their human companions (do note, however that not all spots on a bird's body are cuddle-safe or friendly and may in fact stimulate unwanted breeding behavior). Many of these traits coupled with the fact that a favored human companion is essentially a bird's mate, and most birds mate for life, means that you will have a companion that will likely be bonded to you unconditionally to the very end.


This Major Mitchell's Cockatoo named Cookie lives at the Brookfield Zoo and is believed to be AT LEAST 75 years, possibly older!
Photosource: Wikimedia.commons.

There is little in life that is more painful than the loss of a companion animal. As someone that has recently lost his faithful dog of 15 years I can only tell you that it is impossible to prepare yourself for when the time comes. Fortunately this will not be the case with many of my birds. At least not for several decades down the road. As most birds go, parrots are generally very, very, veerryyyyy long lived animals. The average lifespan for some of the smaller parrots such as budgerigars can easily outmatch those of many dog breeds at 15-17 years of age, while medium sized parrots like conures usually live for about 25-35 years with proper care. The larger species of birds, the cockatoos from Australia, or the Macaws from South America, however take the cake as well cared for companion birds have been noted to have lifespans of 90 years or so, some even living well into their hundreds! Though this reason may pale in comparison to some of the other arguments I have made in favor of birds as companion animals, this is perhaps one of the most practical of reasons for those who are seeking to form lifelong bonds with animals as a companion bird can literally be the animal that one grows old with. 


Because of their high intelligence and their long lives, however, living with a parrot is a lifelong commitment that no one should ever take likely. Most parrots are bought on a whim and are later rehomed less than 2 years later. Unfortunately, not all parrots adjust to this process adequately and may miss their human families and households so much that they develop self-mutilation and other destructive behaviors that can make them even harder to rehome. Always do your research before deciding to adopt or buy a parrot, and make sure that the breeder or rescuer allows you to spend time with the bird so that you might get used to his mannerisms and volume (and he, you!) before you ultimately decide to bring one home. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Clawed Hoatzins: Descendants of the Jurassic World

The beloved Jurassic Park film franchise has played into our imaginations over the years, offering us a possibility of seeing dinosaurs in flesh as they are exhibited in Safaris and Zoos. While conventional science has not quite yet figured out the kinks behind the resurrection of the Dinosaurs, real life may in fact, not be so far off from fiction. Birds for instance are believed to be the direct descendants of dinosaur species, and did you know that they are commonly known and officially referred to among archeologists and paleontologists as the "modern dinos"? Indeed one only has to look at the mannerisms of many birds and imagine them many times bigger to, perhaps see a striking resemblance to how, we imagine, a dinosaur would behave.

Of all the birds that presently exist, however, there is none perhaps as remarkably reminiscent to animals of the prehistoric era than The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin). The Hoatzin, also known as the Stinkbird because of its remarkably foul stench, is a large tropical bird that is found in the swamps of the Amazon Rainforest in South America. They are a fairly large, prehistoric looking bird that feeds off of the leaves and fruit of mangrove trees. Because of their primarily herbivorous diet, the birds have a digestive system that is reminiscent to that of many ruminant mammals. Unlike other species of birds, the hoatzin is the only avian known to utilize bacterial fermentation to aid its digestive processes and possesses a large crop to aid in this process. The remarkable size of the hoatzin's crop however, has had a negative relationship with its capacity for flight as it displaces much of the space occupied by flight muscles and keel of the sternum in other birds. 

Adult Hoatzins. Photosource: wikimedia commons.

Most remarkably however, are the two sets of claws present on the wings of young birds. Although nesting in trees located over large expanses of water give the birds some protection, baby birds are still particularly susceptible to predation by avian predators such as the Great Black Hawk. In times of distress, however, the birds have devised a particularly unique survival strategy. While the adults fly about noisily in an attempt to distract predators, the young birds crawl to the edge of the nest and launch themselves over the edge and into the water. Once in the water, the birds swim under the surface so as to remain unseen and escape the sharp eyes of predatory birds. When the danger has passed, the birds are then able to use the claws on their wings to climb safely back into the nest. While this is largley reminiscent to the functional claw wings on the earliest known dino-bird Archaeopteryx, recent study has suggested that the Hoatzin wing-claw may in fact be of more recent origin as is probably caused by an atavism towards the dinosaurian finger that was pushed by the chicks' frequent need to leave the nest in order to survive. These claws are no longer present in adult birds.

Closeup of Hoatzin wing-claws, and Hoatzin chick swimming underwater.
Photosource: M. Williams Woodbridge (Natgeo Creative)
Comparison between the wings of Archaeornis (left), Hoatzin chick (center) and pigeon (right)
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