Should You Train Your Bird for Freeflight?

August 7, 2014

If you’re asking the Internet “How can I train my bird for freeflight?” the better question is really “Should I try to train my bird for freeflight?”

(Free flight, to be clear, means flying your bird outdoors without physical restriction.)


I’ve shared my personal, amateur opinions about freeflight before, but today I wanted to share a professional’s opinion.

A few months back, we had the pleasure of meeting Hillary Hankey and since then we’ve really enjoyed the work she does and her perspective on loving and living birds (all kinds, not just parrots).

Hillary just published this great article about freeflight training that I wanted to share:

So you want to train your pet parrot for freeflight….

There are no simple tricks to make free flying your birds easy and risk-free. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a charlatan. Buying an unweaned baby to increase your bond won’t bring back a poorly trained bird. Training  your bird via “weight management” so it recalls better won’t prevent fly-offs. And no DVD training kit will give your pet bird the experience it needs to outrun a predator in the wild.

Can it be done successfully? Of course there are examples of people who do it. But even professionals have lost birds. And the amount of work it takes to free fly a parrot is, in my opinion, more than a casual bird owner is going to take on.

Take a read through Hillary’s excellent overview of what freeflight involves, and if you’re still not convinced, please, please, please spend a lot of time doing research and talking to reputable trainers (not people who will try to teach you how to train your parrot over the internet or over a weekend workshop).

p.s. The other day we learned about something called Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, which states “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.” Now, the reason that the answer is “no” according to Betteridge doesn’t really apply here — read the Wikipedia article  to see what the trick is — but I admit I did want you to open this post up so you could read why the answer is no.

 image credit: Wisely,  used via Creative Commons license.

Should You Own a Parrot: 5 Things to Consider

November 22, 2013

This article was first published in 2008 on the now-defunct PetKnows.com blog. I’m republishing it here as that site has been taken down.

Some people think of parrots as low-maintenance pets, a step up from fish and hamsters, but much less trouble than a dog or cat. Anyone who gets a pet bird under that assumption is in for a rude surprise. The truth of the matter is that parrots have a lot of needs encompassing everything from attention to diet. Parrots are not merely decoration that can be content sitting in a cage.

On the other hand, no one knows the satisfaction of being loved and trusted by an animal quite like a bird owner. If you do your research and know what you’re getting into, bringing a parrot into your home could be the most rewarding decision you could make.

If you’re just starting to think about taking a parrot into your home, here are five things to consider:

1. All Birds (May) Bite

Even tame birds can bite. Unlike dogs and cats, parrots are prey animals, which means they are hardwired to be suspicious of many things us humans take for granted. Parrots will bite if they are scared or threatened, if they are trying to communicate something and, counter-intuitively, even when they are trying to protect you from something.  A biting bird is not a defective bird, but simply one that would benefit from the right kind of training.  There are many things you should do to avoid getting bitten and to discourage aggression in your bird, but understanding that there is no such thing as “a bird that doesn’t bite” will help you deal with the inevitable. Are you ready to commit to understanding and training your new companion?

2. Birds Are Messy

Sure, parrots don’t need to be taken for walks in the rain, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to clean up after their poop. Besides bird droppings, parrot owners also have to contend with food all over their floors and walls. Rarely does a cage or play stand contain the mess of seeds and other food that gets dropped and flung during meal time. One of Stewie’s favorite games is to stick his beak in his bowl and make a scooping motion in order to toss his food as far as he can (right after I’m done vacuuming). Will you be patient with your bird as it exhibits these natural behaviors?

3. Parrots Need Fresh and Healthy Foods

Aviculture has come a long way in the past few decades when most people thought a bag of seed mix was sufficient to meet the nutrition needs of parrots. We now know that an all-seed mix contains too much fat and not enough other nutrients to keep our feathered friends healthy. Avian experts now recommend daily offerings of fresh veggies, organic fruits, whole grain pasta and all the best that your local Whole Foods has to offer, as well as specially formulated parrot pellets. Thanks to my bird, I now cook a lot more fresh foods than I used to. Will you take the time to prepare a proper diet to keep your parrot healthy?

4. Parrots Are Noisy!

Are you ready for some noise? One of the first things a new large bird owner realizes once their new fid (feathered kid) settles in is that birds like to vocalize. Birds like canaries and budgies (parakeets) have voices that could be considered quite pleasant, but there’s nothing musical about the screaming of a cockatoo or even a conure. While attention screaming can be discouraged, it’s quite natural for parrots to yell loudly, especially in the mornings and evenings. If you don’t like a lot of noise, or your neighbors are looking for an excuse to have you evicted, your best bet is a small bird that is relatively quieter like a parakeet or cockatiel. Have you done research into the noise levels of different species and what works for your household?

5. Birds Can Live a Long Time

Smaller birds tend to live as long as an average dog, while larger parrots can have the lifespan of a human. That means there’s a chance that the baby bird you get today could very well outlive you. Like a child, they need a lot of attention. Unlike a human child, your feathered kid won’t grow up and move out of the house – for better or worse, you’re making a lifetime commitment. If you’re still expecting your life to change due to moving, relationship changes, extensive travel, etc., think hard about whether you can make that level of commitment, not just in terms of length of years they live but the quality of time you need to spend with them. A long-lived animal companion could enrich your life like you can’t even imagine, but are you ready for what that might entail for five, ten, twenty years or more?

~ ~ ~

Bonus Point: 6:  Since writing this article in 2008, I’ve been spending a lot more time volunteering for Phoenix Landing and learning how all the above points together combine to lead to an important fact: There are many more parrots in rescues, sanctuaries and foster homes than there should be. If you’re looking into bringing a parrot into your home and family, please consider adopting rather than buying from a pet store or breeder. An adult bird who has been under the knowledgeable care of a Phoenix Landing foster home is going to be a great first (or second or third) bird for your family, and will come with a fantastic support group for those times when you just need to chat with other “parrot people”. 

~ ~ ~

Parrots, unlike dogs and housecats, are not domesticated animals and aren’t going to fit neatly into your model for an “ideal pet.” They require a lot of attention, mental stimulation and out-of-cage time. Parrots are also extremely smart, and a happy parrot will delight you with its companionship and personality for many happy years to come. Before getting a bird, do plenty of research about what type of bird suits your lifestyle and what it will take to keep your parrot healthy and happy. If you’re looking for a “low maintenance” pet, please reconsider.


Do Parrots in the Wild Have Names?

November 20, 2013

Do parrots in the wild have names? If so, how do they learn them (and how can we know this)?

Check out this great video explaining how a scientist named Karl Berg is studying green-rumped parrotlets and how they learn their “signature contact calls” (aka. “names”).

Hello, I’m Bob. Hey, Tom, do you want to go get some food over that way? I’m Bob.

Do your parrots know their names? Or, even better, do they know yours? As flock animals, parrots have a need to communicate, and providing a communication-rich environment could be very important form of enrichment, don’t you think?



Discount on DIY Bird Toy Parts

November 19, 2013

Earlier this month, Deb White the founder of Super Bird Creations (a line of high-quality bird toys available for wholesale to retailers) as well as a number of other sites dedicated to enriching the lives of parrots, came to Phoenix Landing for a special lecture on the important role that “play” serves in the lives of companion birds. (If you follow this blog, you already know how important we think avian enrichment is!)

In addition to her generosity of time and knowledge, sharing an amazing amount of info to a packed house of PL fans, Deb went even further and offered a 10% discount off any order of toy parts on her site MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com, plus a matching 10% in-kind donation to Phoenix Landing, if you use the discount code: PHXCLASS before the end of the year. 

MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com Discount

Her company is U.S.-based and focuses on providing bird-safe toys, especially designed with safety and fun in mind. Buying toy parts in bulk is a great way to save money (and when you buy from MakeYourOwnBirdToys.com, you can rest assured these are high-quality parts); plus this offer helps the birds of Phoenix Landing as well.

I already ordered a ton of colored wooden slats, vegetable-tanned leather string, wooden beads and vine balls for Stewie and Mika, and my order arrived very fast. Please go check out the wonderful selection.

Remember to use the coupon code for a discount and to ensure Phoenix Landing gets credit.

A big thanks to Deb for her generosity!


September is National Preparedness Month … What’s Your Plan?

August 31, 2013

If disaster strikes your home, do you have a contingency plan for your pets?

save my petA disaster doesn’t have to be on the scale of a national terrorist attack to create havoc in your household; even a small issue confined to your family (like a hospital stay) warrants having a preparedness plan for your animals.

In recognition of National Preparedness month, take some time this week to create a preparedness checklist for disasters small and large.

Things to think about:

  • Make sure if you have enough pet food and fresh water to last several days. Not just for you and your family, but for your animals as well.
  • Have pet carriers accessible for each of your pets in case you need to leave your home for any reason.
  • Make sure your pets are trained to get into their carriers quickly and without fuss.
  • Have a first-aid kit packed and ready to go.
  • Make sure your neighbors know you have pets in case you’re stuck away from home.
  • Keep your vet and emergency numbers handy.
  • Talk with the other members of your family about who is responsible for which pets and what to do in case of emergency.
  • Think about where you could take your pets if you needed to board them without a lot of notice.
  • Anything else?

Sharing our homes with pets is an amazing privilege, but one that comes with some extra responsibilities and a bit less flexibility than if you only had to look out for the humans in your family. Make sure you have a contingency plan for your animals if something were to come up so that you don’t miss anything important in a moment of stress or time crunch.

What’s your plan for your pets if disaster strikes? Leave your tips on being prepared in the comments below.


Cleaning Cages … at the Car Wash

August 30, 2013
Miracle Car Wash

Bird cages get crud on them. Not just in between the tightly spaced bars, but in the crevices where the bars join, inside the wheel housing, behind the screws of the food dish holders, etc. If you have a powder-coated cage like Stewie and Mika have, food and poop (and anything that sticks to food and poop) cling to the coating of the cage. You can wipe it down when it’s still fresh, but if stuff dries between the bars, in the crevices, in the corners and behind the screws, a simple wipe-down won’t suffice.

So you can sit there with a spray bottle of special enzymes, a toothbrush and a rag and scrape out the dried up crud (and you DO have to keep your birds’ cages clean!) all the while cursing yourself for not cleaning more often so it’s easier.

If you have a backyard, you’re in luck. You can wheel the cages out the door (assuming they fit through the door) and power wash the gunk right off. Poop and food, after all, are water soluble. The first spray softens it up and then it blasts right off.

Unless you live in an apartment building without the ability to power wash anything. Our cages, after all, are way too big to fit into a bathtub.

Or… you’re lucky like me and discovered that there’s a car wash in the garage of your building!

No, not a covered full-featured drive-in car wash. Just a space with a coin-op hose. Four quarters (and a friend to help me schlep my cages down to the garage) was all I needed to finally get Stewie’s and Mika’s cages extra, super, sparkly clean. Barely had to use the toothbrush at all. Of course, it goes without saying, I just used water and did not use the sudsy/waxy cycle. Ten minutes of a high-powered spray got the gunk out of the corners that I could never reach with the toothbrush (and various other MacGyver methods to try to clean out the crevices) and then I dried everything with a rag. The cages looked better than ever.

If you don’t have access to a power washer next to your building, maybe you can throw your cages in the back of a pickup and find a gas station car wash that has a “rinse only” option. Maybe this advice won’t work for everyone, but it just goes to show that a little out-of-the-box thinking could make life a little bit easier.

Happy cage washing!

Creative Commons photo credit: Dayna Bateman


Goldenfeast Bird Food Recall

August 28, 2013

According to the FDA, Goldenfeast has issued a voluntary recall of several of its bird food varieties due to possible Salmonella contamination of parsley flakes.

No illnesses have been reported so far, but if you’ve purchased affected product, contact Goldenfeast at 1-800-344-6536 for instruction on returning your purchase(s).

Please note that Salmonella poisoning is serious business and should not be taken lightly. If your birds act lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, or vomiting or show signs of decreased appetite, fever or abdominal pain, please contact your veterinarian.

You can get more details on the recall, including which products are being recalled, on the FDA website here: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm366526.htm