The first year with your hand-reared parrot (Rosemary Low, Mansfield, England)
The first few months after purchase are extremely important from the aspect of diet. I repeat the advice given in my article on weaning that young parrots must not be quickly weaned on to hard foods, such as seed and pellets. They need a large proportion of soft foods. They can then adjust to a diet of harder foods at their own pace.
I would suggest that every owner of a young parrot has electronic scales that weigh to the nearest 2g. It is wise to weigh the bird every week and to keep a note of its weight. Young parrots that have been force-weaned before purchase, those that are not offered enough soft foods or which are not in such good health as their appearance suggests, will be underweight and/or losing weight. I admit it is difficult to know what the normal weight should be. The weight of a healthy adult Grey, for example, can vary between 400g and 525g, according to sex, how the bird was reared, and circumstances. However, its weight should remain stable from the time it is about seven months old. Weighing is a quick and easy health check, although it will be easy only if you have made this a routine since it was very young. Some people incorporate a perch into their weighing machine and the parrot can be taught to-Step down-on to this perch.
If you have a young parrot that is losing weight, do not seek advice from a dozen different people. Go straight to an avian vet. He or she is the only one who can perform the tests that will reveal if ill health is to blame. If such tests reveal no abnormalities, the diet and possible causes of stress must be examined.
Weight and diet are often linked. It is not easy to overfeed a young parrot as at the growing stage it needs to eat more than an adult. This is especially true of young macaws. It would be easy to underfeed them if the rations are based on what an adult would eat. I have seen many underweight young macaws but I have never seen one that was obese. Correct feeding is not only about quantity; it also relates to feeding appropriate foods to the species in question. From an early age Amazon parrots, for example, must receive limited amounts of sunflower seed, to prevent an addiction that will soon lead to them becoming overweight, especially if clipped wings mean that they cannot obtain sufficient exercise. In contrast, you can give a large macaw as much sunflower and as many nuts as it can eat, and it is unlikely to become overweight, because most species evolved on a high-fat palm nut diet.
It is all too easy to give in to the food addictions of young parrots. In so doing, however, you are setting the seal on eating habits that will be extremely difficult to break in later life. Some parrots do have strange preferences but if their diet appears to be otherwise balanced, these need not concern you unduly. For example, I have an Amazon parrot that shows little interest in sunflower seed-unusual for an Amazon. He is a slender bird who would much rather eat spray millet and fruit. If you have a young Amazon who only wants to eat sunflower seed, you or the previous owner are to blame for giving in to him. Young parrots must be trained to eat a good variety of foods. The length of their lives might depend on it. Dietary deficiencies are at the root of so many diseases. You must train your parrot to eat a healthy diet because this is certainly not something he can learn himself.
Right from the outset ban human foods that are harmful and impress on other members of the family that they are taboo. If you never give them your parrot will not feel deprived. If you are eating something unhealthy yourself, such as crisps, do not do so when your parrot is free in the room. If he is in his cage, give him a healthy tit-bit at this time. Avoid the formation of habits that can be difficult to break in later life. Remember that if a parrot wants something he will not be quiet until he gets it, and this creates a situation of conflict.
Greys are among the least noisy of the larger parrots, but many species can make your life a misery with their shrieking. Before you yell at your parrot (something that no sympathetic owner does), ask yourself one question. Why is he so noisy? I refer to persistent shrieking, not the joyous calls with which many parrots always greet the dawn. Parrots do not yell and scream for no reason. Often all they need is the reassurance that you are near. Remember that many pet birds, lacking a companion of their own species, look on their human as their mate. Parrots yell to keep in touch with each other. The will keep calling until that call is answered. So do not ignore your bird when he is noisy. You do not have to go to him. Just call out, or speak to him every time you pass the cage.
Continuous calling might be a sign that you are not paying him enough attention. Hand-reared parrots are extremely demanding and if you cannot meet those demands you would have been better advised to purchase a parent-reared parrot. They can become as tame as hand-reared birds, and they seldom identify so strongly with humans and are better able to amuse themselves.
A mistake often made during the first couple of months after purchase, is to give a young parrot more time and attention than will be possible on a permanent basis. As the novelty of this appealing young creature wears off, so is the time devoted to him reduced. In my opinion a set daily schedule is a good idea. The parrot soon learns that at certain times of the day it cannot receive so much attention. It is not forever expectantly bouncing up and down by the door!
For many new parrot owners, the first year is one in which they learn a great deal about their parrot. This is just the beginning. It can take most people years to discover all its idiosyncrasies. Many never do so because their mind is not receptive to the fact that the parrot is trying to communicate with its human companion. I do not mean in words. The human should watch and listen and never underestimate the parrot’s intelligence and abilities. Only in this way can a worthwhile relationship develop.