Caring for Your Parrot
" The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
- Mahatma Gandhi
Read about Parrots of the Cayman Islands in their natural environment here
Read about the Cayman Brac parrot and the Brac Parrot Reserve here
It is illegal to take parrots from the wild. This information is provided to improve conditions for birds that are already in captivity. This information is from a booklet by Lois Blumenthal which is available free at the Trust House. Sponsored by Petique Pets and local pet shops.
Parrots Need Friends
In 1990, an amendment to the law was passed that made it illegal to capture, export, sell or keep a Cayman Islands' Parrot as a pet. Because pet parrots don't always know how to live in the wild, people who already had pet Cayman Islands' Parrots have kept them. If pet birds that have been raised in captivity are simply set free, they might starve or eat the wrong berries and die.
Parrots are intelligent and sociable animals with special needs. It is important that captive parrots receive good care.
Pet parrots can learn to love their owners. They can talk by mimicking words and phrases, but they also use body language. They fluff, preen, make eye contact, nod and express happiness when they are near their favourite person. Owning a pet parrot should be FUN - for you AND for your bird! Otherwise, you might as well have a potted plant or a plaster yard ornament!
If you are too busy to give your pet bird several hours of attention every day, consider finding it another home or pairing it with another lonely parrot. (Do this with expert advice to avoid fights and injuries.) A parrot is as smart as a three-year old child with the emotions of a two year-old child and hates to be alone. A very young parrot cannot be left alone at all! It must be treated just like any baby and needs constant love and attention.
How Healthy Is Your Pet Parrot?
Fifty years ago people were home more and could spend time playing with their pet parrot. Now people are away at work and school most of the day. When they return they often go inside and watch TV, leaving a lonely bird sitting in a cage outside. Neglected parrots can actually lose their sanity from this solitary confinement and "turn mean."
A perch or a second cage inside, where the family spends time, will be good for your parrot's mental health and allow time for you to get to know the personality of your bird. It's much more fun to own a pet that knows you and likes you.
Parrots are beautiful when they are happy and healthy. They should have bright sparkling eyes and shiny clean feathers. Look for these warning signs:
- Dull lifeless feathers
- Loss of appetite
- Pecking its claws
- Pulling out feathers
- Change in droppings
- Weaving and bowing
- Sitting on the bottom of the cage
- Screaming for no reason
- Glazed, cloudy or half-closed eyes
- Bare skin showing through the feathers
- Shifting from one foot to another
- Bobbing up and down constantly
- Prominent heart bone, thinning of chest muscles
- Sitting too quietly on the perch with feathers fluffed
If you notice your parrot doing any of these things, call a veterinarian and ask for advice.
A pet parrot is not just a decoration. It is a living animal with needs and feelings and should be kept by someone with the leisure time to care for it. Parrots can live for 30 years or more in captivity - a lifetime of misery for those that are neglected. It is no pleasure to own an unhappy bird.
What To Feed Your Pet Parrot
Parrots need to eat lots of different seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits, and some protein. When parrots are fed only sunflower seeds or rice they will sicken and die. Vitamin enriched seed mixtures are sold in pet shops. Parrots also like cheese if it's not too strong or salty and most fresh fruits like papayas, mangoes, watermelon, apples, grapes or oranges. They like cooked or raw vegetables like callalloo, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob or peas; grains like rice, and whole wheat pasta, bread or cereal. Some people serve their pet parrots small cooled items from the family meal using a plastic jar lid for a plate!
Parrots like the foods they would eat if they were still free in the wild. Seagrapes, red birch berries, chinaberries, and ripe almonds are all good choices. Be sure exactly what a plant is before giving it to your parrot. Be sure wild foods are clean, and wash them if they were gathered near a busy road. Parrots like ixora and hibiscus flowers that have not been sprayed or heavily fertilized. An occasional treat of fresh coconut adds interest to your bird's day, but coconut, like sunflower seeds, is high in fat and a caged bird should not eat too much of it. Parrots need a small amount of fine gravel or crushed oyster shell. Buy these at pet shops.
What NOT to Feed Your Pet Parrot
NEVER feed parrots salted popcorn, salted peanuts or potato chips, apple cores with seeds, cherry and peach seeds, raw meat, red meat, hot soups or other hot foods or beverages, coffee, tea, chocolate, cinnamon, (especially rolled cinnamon bark), sodas, alcohol, iceberg lettuce, junk foods or unidentified fruits or flowers. Though some parrots enjoy avocado pears, the part near the seed can be poisonous for them. Avocados are also very fattening for birds and for these reasons should not be given to your pet parrot. Sunflower seeds should be given only as a treat and a small part of the overall diet.
You should never put plants or sticks in the cage unless you are sure that they are non-poisonous. Oleander is especially dangerous.
It is important to supply your pet bird with the proper nutrients. Parrots fed poor diets have shorter lives and more diseases. Because parrots naturally hide their illnesses, those fed only sunflower seeds may appear healthy until they are about to die of severe malnutrition. It is usually too late for even the veterinarian to save them when this happens. Parrots need a variety of fresh foods to be healthy.
A Clean Cage for Good Health
Wash and refill water and food dishes every day. Remove water bottle and scrub it with a bottlebrush. Take the cage apart and wash it well every week. Disinfect with a mild bleach solution (no more than one ounce of bleach per quart of water). Rinse well. Scrub & rinse perches and toys too.
Note: When parrots live in the wild they must not appear sick or weak to other parrots or predators. They hide symptoms of illness until they are almost dead. This is why it is so important to keep your parrots food, water, and cage perfectly clean. If a parrot eats moldy or rotten food, or drinks slimy water you may not know how sick it is until too late. Always rush your parrot to the veterinarian at the first sign of illness.
Parrots need fresh water every day. Put water bowls where droppings can't fall into them. Water bottles from pet shops work very well and should be cleaned often, especially if they receive sunlight. If not kept perfectly clean, water bottles can become slimy and make your parrot sick.
Bathing: How Parrots Keep Clean
Parrots enjoy bathing and will clean themselves, splashing about happily, if provided with a bowl of pure water. Never add soap to your parrot's bath. Take away the water when your parrot is finished so that droppings will not fall into it. Some parrots enjoy spray of pure water from a clean spray bottle that has never been used for anything else. They will turn around and around spreading their wings and shaking their feathers. Birds will not bathe after three or four o'clock in the afternoon, as they prefer to have plenty of time to dry off before night falls. Keep damp birds out of cold drafts and air-conditioning.
A Big, Rat-Proof Cage
Parrots need a big comfortable cage. It should be rat proof and at least three feet on each side and four feet tall. Parrots should be able to stretch and flap their wings inside the cage and their tail feathers should not touch the bars. There should be plenty of room to climb and exercise. Always put the cage on a high shelf or hang it from a ceiling. Parrots hate to be down on the floor. The bars should not be too widely spaced, or your parrot could become stuck.
A tame bird should be allowed to spend time outside the cage on perches during the day and only put inside the cage for safety at night or if you are not at home. Some people maintain several cages, a smaller cage in a quiet place for nighttime, and one (or more) larger "play" cages in areas where the family spends time. Parrots enjoy the routine of being greeted in the morning; perhaps having breakfast with the family, and then being put in a more interesting cage near the centre of activities. Moving your parrot from place to place like this gives you a chance to interact with your bird every day and helps to make training easier.
A Little House
In the wild, Cayman Parrots nest in tree hollows. They enjoy having a dark private "house" inside their cage. This can be easily built from untreated wood or bought in a pet shop. Parrots can become very attached to their little houses. They climb in and out often during the day and sometimes sleep in them at night.
Note: Some parrots see "predator eyes" in paintings and configurations of wall ornaments. If your parrot seems skittish, check the room for something that might look like a "monster" to the bird!
Parrots need perches inside their cage made from unsprayed fruit tree, seagrape tree, or almond tree branches. Standing on a flat surface is not natural for birds. The perch must be wide enough so that the bird's toes do not meet underneath. Use several branches of different sizes so your parrot's feet can exercise and stay strong. If your parrot is tame, put perches around the house, near where you work or watch TV, so it can be near you. A simple free-standing perch can be made from a Christmas tree stand and an almond or sea grape branch.
Toys are not just a luxury for your pet parrot. They are a necessity. Find interesting toys in your pet shop and replace them often. Some parrots will become attached to toys with tassels and groom them as they would a mate or a friend. Any toy that the bird becomes attached to in this way should stay in the cage, but most toys should be changed or rotated often so that the bird does not become bored. Coconut husks, seeds pressed into squash, pumpkin or raw sweet potato, leather strips that have not been dyed, mineral blocks, and lava blocks all make good toys for pet birds. Be sure to wash and rinse toys carefully. Avoid toys like chains with large links, rings or anything with threads that could entangle or even strangle a parrot.
Clipping Wings & Toenails
To prevent accidental escape, both wings should be trimmed evenly. Your parrot should still be able to fly a little if it is dropped or falls. The trimming should be almost invisible. Ask a veterinarian to do this. Never let anyone "pinion" or cut the bone of the bird's wing.
A veterinarian can trim your parrot's toenails if they are too sharp or too long. A parrot's toenails will bleed profusely if cut too short. It is risky to attempt to cut them yourself.
Training your parrot to talk or do tricks (or not to bite!) takes patience. Parrots do not respond to punishment, but regard anyone who hurts them as a predator. Find a good book like "Guide To A Well-Behaved Parrot" by Mattie Sue Athan, and train your parrot using proven methods. A tame parrot that can be allowed out of the cage is much happier and more fun for everyone. A "mean" bird is an unhappy bird. It is your responsibility as a pet owner to help "socialize" your parrot.
Parrots won't breed if they are unhappy. The best place for them to breed is in the wild. Captive breeding is difficult and expensive. Parrots mate for life. This may be why some parrots in cages seem to pine away. They miss their mates.
Check List For A Healthy Pet Parrot
If you want your pet parrot to be happy and healthy, give it the things that it would have if it were still in the wild.
- Healthy Food - Parrots need special vitamin-enriched seed mixtures designed for them and fresh fruits and vegetables every day. They also enjoy native plants like seagrapes, almonds, pumpkin (with the seeds) and callalloo tops.
- Space - Parrots need space to spread their wings and move around. Cages should be large and rat-proof.
- Perches - Non-poisonous tree branches from sea-grape trees or almond trees make good perches. Smooth round perches are not good for parrots' feet.
- Water - Parrots need fresh water every day. Be sure the water is put where droppings can't fall into it.
- Baths - Give your bird a large bowl of clean water and allow it to wash itself. Some parrots like a gentle spray of water from a clean spray bottle.
- Toys - Parrots like action. They need things to swing on and things to chew and shred like coconut husks or soft wood blocks. Parrots become bored if they have nothing to do and will even have nervous breakdowns and pull out their feathers. This is very serious. If this happens to your parrot, take it to your veterinarian.
- Attention - Wild parrots are very social animals and are always in pairs or groups. In a cage, they miss the fun they used to have. Spend time with your bird, talk to it and play with it, so it won't be so lonely.
The National Trust would like to thank Petique and Miss Jackie's School of Dance for their kind donation, making the publication of this information possible. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
If your pet parrot is sick or has problems call:
Island Veterinary Services, Dr. Brenda Bush, 949-0787 or
Cayman Veterinary Associates, 949-8744
To see healthy, happy Cayman Islands Parrots visit:
Mr. Otto Watler, Cayman Honey Farm, Savannah, Grand Cayman
For information about Cayman Islands' Parrots or for help finding a home or rehabilitating a pet parrot, call the National Trust.
Written by Mrs. Lois Blumenthal,
Drawings donated by Mr. John Doak, Ms. Judy Steele and Mr. Phillipe Bush.
This publication is kindly sponsored by: Petique
Last Updated: 27 Jun 2012