When we look in the mirror, we know who looks back. Children learn that a mirror image is not a real person by the age of two. It takes them another year or so to recognise their reflection as themselves. Humans take this ability for granted, but it is in fact quite rare in the animal kingdom. So, what does your pet bird see in the mirror?
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
The vast majority of animals will respond to a mirror as though it is another animal, at least at first. Some will attack their reflection, which of course fights back. Many birds fall in this category. Others will try to make friends and may even court the mirror image.
Most animals will soon realise that the reflection is not real. In experiments with African Grey parrots, the birds will at first try to talk to the mirror, but give up when it doesn’t respond. They then start to look behind the mirror; some of us have seen cats do the same. The image has no scent and makes no sound, reducing its credibility.
An animal needs to have a certain sense of self before it can recognise itself. Researchers test this by applying a mark to the animal in a place that is only visible in a mirror. The animal is unaware of the marking process. When it sees itself in the mirror, a self-aware animal will immediately touch the mark on its own body. Think of it as that moment in the bathroom when you spot the cappuccino foam on your nose.
The only mammals, other than humans, that can do this are the great apes, elephants and dolphins. Monkeys do not recognise themselves. In the bird world, some members of the crow family show self-recognition. A magpie will remove a coloured sticker from its body when it spots the offending mark in the mirror, and so will pigeons. However, most birds, including parrots, don’t show this behaviour.
Smoke and Mirrors
Dr Irene Pepperberg has spent a lifetime working with African Grey parrots. She studies learning and language as part of the Harvard Animal Studies Project. Experiments in her laboratory looked at mirror use in parrots, with intriguing results.
The researchers placed either a treat or a scary object in a small box. The open side of the box faced a mirror. Alo and Kyaaro, both African Grey parrots, took turns to approach the box from behind. The birds were quick to check the reflection in the mirror; and if the mirror showed a scary object in the box, they retreated, but if they spotted a treat, they retrieved it. Neither parrot ever mistook the reflection for the real thing – they looked at the reflection, but went straight for the hidden treat inside the box.
In a second set of experiments, the researchers used a series of up to four boxes. They placed a treat in one of these. Alo and Kyaaro couldn’t see into the boxes, but they could view the contents in a mirror angled near the boxes. The birds were able to use the mirror to identify the correct box, containing a treat. Without a mirror, they couldn’t find the right box.
This research shows that birds can use mirrors to solve problems. They somehow know that the reflection represents the real world. At the same time, one wonders how they explain the aloof but handsome stranger in the mirror.
Budgerigars and Mirrors
Budgerigars are not able to recognise themselves in a mirror. Not only do they seem to think the mirror is another bird, they also want to get to know it better. Budgies may even prefer a mirror to a real bird. Experiments have shown that, far from familiarity breeding contempt, this affection increases over time.
Before cutting screen time for your pet, take heart in some positive effects of mirrors. Researchers at Saint Joseph’s University put mirrors with colonies of budgies. Birds who spent more time with their reflection also had stronger bonds with their mates. It seems that these individuals are more gregarious in general. For them, a mirror is good company when their mate is not in the mood.
The intelligence of birds is well recognised. Pet birds often become bored, especially when housed alone. Cage enrichment by providing toys, including mirrors, is an excellent way to provide stimulation and in some cases may help prevent abnormal behaviour such as feather plucking. Mirrors may be even more effective with added sound, such as a bell.
We may never know what our feathered friends are thinking as they look in the mirror. You are the fairest of them all, perhaps?
With thanks to LoveMyVouchers.co.uk for this revealing look into how birds and other members of the animal kingdom react to mirrors.
Bolivia is home to 12 species of macaws, and most are thriving. Not among these healthy parrot populations, however, is the Critically Endangered Blue-throated macaw (Ara glaucogularis), with less than 15 breeding pairs known to be nesting in a remote, widely dispersed range in the north of the country.
Years of intensive effort using traditional conservation methods to protect wild Blue-throated macaw from predators, raise chick survival rates, and engage local human communities have not significantly boosted the wild population nor have new breeding pairs been discovered.
Rethinking a long-held view that captive-bred parrots released to the wild have little hope of surviving there, James Gilardi is working with local and international partners to select and prepare captive, pet trade and confiscated macaws to join their wild counterparts.
Although there haven’t been any releases of captive Blue-throated macaw as yet, Gilardi is confident that wild populations of the species can recover if the captive birds are carefully chosen, health screened, and fully prepared for the wild.
After relentless trapping for the pet trade reduced wild Blue-throated macaw populations to mere rumors, the bird was rediscovered in 1992 in a remote area of Bolivia. Endemic only to this nation, Ara glaucogularis lives in hard-to-reach places that are flooded much of the year. Unable to easily survey similar locales, conservationists could only hope that more of the Critically Endangered parrots existed than the hundred or so they originally found.
An intensive regimen to protect the remaining birds was put into action by local NGOs —including the Conservación de Loros de Bolivia, and the Research Center for Biodiversity and the Environment — along with academic collaborators and the World Parrot Trust.
However, more than a decade of hands-on conservation yielded frustrating results, with no significant population increase or recruitment of new breeding pairs.
At that point the World Parrot Trust, under the guidance of executive director Jamie Gilardi, began to consider the captive population they had been managing for more than 15 years in a different light. Under the right conditions, perhaps some of these birds could be readied for release to the wild. If captive-reared bird releases were successful, then parrots rescued from the illegal trade might also help create a bit of bird “restitution.”
Now Gilardi and his colleagues hope to add more breeding pairs back into Bolivia’s Beni Department, in the northeast corner of the country, by carefully selecting healthy birds in captivity that have retained enough wild ways to be returned to the un-caged life.
“In the past, the thinking was that the only real way to achieve honest-to-goodness conservation was to protect wild birds where they are, and then hope they can recover with human assistance or on their own,” says Gilardi.
But the Blue-throated macaw is in too precarious a position not to explore every possible option to rebuild its population. With likely less than 300 birds scattered across a vast and inhospitable terrain, waiting for nature to take its course might allow the species to slip into extinction. Researchers hope to release a first test group of captive Blue-throated macaws as soon as possible.
Mongabay: What made you look beyond the usual approaches to protecting wild populations?
Gilardi: When we started out, about 16 years ago, it seemed to us — as had been the case for so many other parrot conservation efforts — that if we just left the birds alone and protected them from people and other predators, then they’d bounce back pretty quickly. Maybe not as fast as rabbits or sea turtles, but certainly over the course of years, we expected the population to stabilize and then start growing.
But with the Blue-throated macaws, we were working with such a small group, and every year some new thing became a big problem [threatening the species with extinction]. One year it was other parrots harassing the nesting pairs. Another year it was predation from small mammals. By the time we got to year ten, we realized there still weren’t that many birds and new recruits weren’t joining the breeding population.
So we slowly came around to the idea that we had to switch our approach because these birds are not only very small in number, they are also spread broadly across the landscape, making it even harder for them to form breeding pairs. These and other factors were apparently preventing the expected recovery.
At that point, [we saw] the captive population we’d been managing for 15 plus years as something that might be essential to the species recovery. So even though our top priority is protecting the wild birds and supporting breeding pairs to help them produce as many chicks as possible every year, we’re also focused on getting captive birds back to Bolivia, breeding them, and releasing those progeny back to selected areas of the wild.
Mongabay: When will you start releasing the birds?
Gilardi: As soon as possible.
One thing about eradicating a species from its former range, is there’s a lot of room for them to return. But lots of things have to be sorted out before any releases happen.
Initially we would want to create a “proof of concept” release site where we build up the number of birds at a site that’s working for them; a place where they’re finding each other, breeding, and raising chicks.
Once we do that, we can start augmenting the existing groups of birds out there, putting two nests here, three over there… until hopefully we’d create a situation where there’s enough population density that the birds can find each other. We’d like all these birds to be in contact with each other, exchanging genes and see the whole population growing. If we got to that point, we’d be well on our way to success.
But first, we need to get the [captive] birds back to Bolivia. Although some birds are in the country, many [confiscated and pet trade birds] are elsewhere: about 50 Blue-throated macaws are in Florida, 30 are in Canada, maybe two dozen are in England, and another two dozen are in the Middle East.
The birds need to be biologically ready to go, too. Besides getting acclimated to a new place, screened for diseases, and oriented to wild foods, the macaws need to be in good physical condition to fly. Most people don’t realize how a bird’s physical condition plummets in captivity. A wild parrot can fly 40 to 50 kilometers [about 25 to 31 miles] without stopping, but a bird that’s been caged, even for just a few months, would have a hard time flying even one kilometer. It takes time to get the birds to develop that condition, so when they do go out they can fly with confidence, land appropriately, and aren’t completely exhausted by flying 100 meters.
Mongabay: What made you consider returning confiscated and pet trade birds back to the wild?
Gilardi: Up until about ten years ago, the dogma was that parrots are really hard to release back into the wild, and if you do they’re never going to eat properly and survive.
However, apart from the work we do with Critically Endangered species like the Blue-throated macaw, we also work really hard to stop the wild bird trade. One result of enforcement is that large groups of birds get confiscated and many of those birds are common species.
Over time, we learned how to prepare these birds for release [back into the wild]. We tracked them and found they were doing well, so we realized it’s not that hard to do, so long as you get the details right. For example, we’ve successfully reintroduced African grey parrots in Uganda, and Scarlet and Great-green Macaws in Central America.
Recently, the Ara Project in Costa Rica discovered that Great-green macaws (Ara ambiguus) released over the past few years currently have at least eight active nests. That’s more than 25 percent of the total number of nests for the species in the entire country.
In the case of the Blue-throated macaw, we’re eager to apply this reintegration method that we’ve developed as a result of our work on stopping the wild bird trade. Now we feel very comfortable releasing birds that were kept in captivity, whether they were confiscated or captive bred. That’s why we’re confident that releasing Blue-throated macaws can be a very productive way to get more birds back into the wild so their population recovery can take place.
We kind of got here sideways; it wasn’t intentional, but we ended up developing a lot of confidence in this new tool. For us, it’s really exciting because it opens up a ton of possibilities, not only for getting the job done, but also for allowing all kinds of partnerships — with the London Zoo, Africa Lion Safari in Canada, Natural Encounters Conservation Fund based in the U.S., and other NGO’s all around the world.
Compared to ten years ago, we view the whole conservation landscape differently [and more positively]. We never dreamed we’d be able to put lots of these birds back into the wild. Now we can.
Seychelles Black Parrot – Every year in the palm forests of Praslin, the second-largest island on the archipelago of Seychelles, a group of birds is monitored very closely during their breeding and hatching seasons.
This shy greyish-brown parrot – perhaps overenthusiastically named as the Seychelles Black Parrot (Coracopsis barklyi) – cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
The Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), a public trust which manages the unique endemic palm forest reserve of the Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island, painstakingly searches for black parrot nests and monitors them on a weekly basis throughout the season to count the number of eggs produced and monitor the hatching and fledgling stages.
This year 17 chicks hatched from monitored nests, according to SIF’s communication officer, Lynsey Rimbault.
“In the three seasons between 2012 and 2015, more than 20 chicks from monitored nests hatched per season but the 2015/2016 season only had two chicks hatch from monitored nests,” she told SNA.
Surrounded by predators
With only a few hundred of these birds left in the wild, the black parrot is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List. Threatened by invasive bird species such as the Indian Mynah and the green ring-necked parakeet, black parrot chicks are in constant danger from other aggressive birds, feral cats, rats and even invasive ants. Even the endemic trees in which they need to nest are under threat – especially the coco de mer palm trees which have often been the victims of poaching for their famous coco de mer nuts.
Rimbault says it is surprisingly difficult to confirm predation attempts at nests because usually very little evidence is found to link potential predators to the disappearance of eggs or chicks.
“We suspect that there have been cases of rat predation this season although there has not been any direct evidence of this,” she said. “In one nest, yellow crazy ants were observed with two healthy chicks, and when the nest was monitored the following week the chicks were dead. We can’t be sure but it’s possible that these invasive ants contributed to the death of the chicks.”
When the monitored chicks reached around 25 days old in January this year, the SIF team fitted coloured rings to their legs to allow identification and monitoring after they leave the nest. Each chick gets its own unique colour combination and number.
The tiny fluffy white chicks that survive the perilous hatching phase slowly lose their baby feathers and after around 45 days, once their dark brown plumage has grown in, they take their first precarious flight out of the nest.
Although none of the rings from this year’s fledged chicks have thus far been confirmed from re-sightings, SIF has reported several observations of adult parrots feeding smaller parrots, which are thought to be the fledglings.
Fond Ferdinand – a new hope for the Seychelles Black Parrot
In addition to the successful nests this year in the Vallée de Mai and the neighbouring Praslin National Park, at least one nest is known to have been successful in another private reserve on Praslin Island called Fond Ferdinand, where an un-ringed fledgling was spotted in Fond Ferdinand.
“We only monitor parts of Fond Ferdinand and only a few nests per season so we don’t have data to give a complete answer on [the population size],” said Rimbault. “In general, there seems to be good breeding activity in Fond Ferdinand, but the nests appear to be more spread out than in the denser coco de mer forest of the Vallée de Mai.”
The sighting in Fond Ferdinand is encouraging news for the conservationists, as it was thought the success rate of nests in Fond Ferdinand was low this season, with only one chick from the known nests surviving to fledging stage. SIF believes the parrots might have been more successful than initially thought in this reserve and are considering undertaking more extensive searches next season to find undiscovered nesting cavities.
For now though, SIF is satisfied that the Seychelles black parrot has clawed through another hard breeding season.
“Our monitoring suggests that the population is stable at the moment and there is no cause for concern,” Rimbault told SNA. “The most recent population estimate was conducted in 2010-11 and the total population was estimated to be between 550 and 900 birds. This is still thought to be the case.
What should I feed my Parrot? and Is this food OK to give to my Parrot? are the two most common questions I get asked from existing and new customers of Parrot Essentials. Food is the single most important element of keeping your parrots healthy. What should I feed my Parrot? is a question which we should ask before even deciding on what parrot to get as a companion.
PARROTS & FOOD
Parrots are extremely intelligent and they apply this intelligence to every aspect of their life including food.
Based on years of personal experience I am sad to report that most of the companion parrots are either over fed or fed the wrong diet all together. This approach to feeding is very damaging to their health, can lead to string of illnesses and worst of all a bad diet can shorten the life expectancy of your pet by half or more.
How to tell if you are over-feeding your parrot?
Use this very simple method to find out if you are over-feeding. Fill the bowls with food in the morning. At around 7pm check if there is still food in the bowl. If there is any food left uneaten you are over feeding. If there isn’t, then you may be under feeding. This should include all the food offerings, not just the seeds or pellets. If you are offering fresh mix, fruit or veg this should also be accounted for.
By feeding the right amount you will keep your parrot in optimal health and safe money too by not wasting food.
How to choose the right diet for your parrot?
In our store you can shop by Shop by Parrot Species. Find yours and look at what is available and recommended.
If you are not sure and still have any questions, please post it on the website or give us a call on 0800 327 7511.
Complete Parrot Food
The complete parrot food is in the form of pellets and each pellet contains the exact amount of nutrients, vitamins and minerals for a healthy and balanced parrot diet. When using a complete parrot food, you do not need to offer anything else as part of the diet. However, a lot of people like to give a little bit of fresh fruit and veg. That is fine if the fresh offering does not exceed 10% of the daily intake. If it does, then the diet is no longer complete.
Seed Based Parrot Food
Seed mixes for parrots should not be high on sunflower seeds or other fatty nuts and seeds (for example peanuts). The occasional fatty seed or nut is OK but it really should be used only as a treat and not on a daily basis. This is especially important for parrot who spend most of their time inside the cage.
Fresh Parrot Mixes
Seed sprouts, mixed with fresh fruit and veg have a higher nutritional value compared to non-sprouted seeds. The mix is tasty and readily accepted by most companion parrots. This type of parrot mix can be easily adapted to mimic the food your parrots will consume in the wild. Here is a link of how we make our Fresh Sprouted Mix. We came up with this mix a few years back after having a lengthy conversation with the renowned Neil Forbes (Great Wester Exocotics) about a way of feeding our birds a fresh and healthy food. In this article we describe Step by Step of how to sprout and prepare the Fresh Parrot Mix.
Benson’ story (an example of bad diet)
This is the story of Bensons. An African Grey parrot we rescued a few years ago, who sadly is no longer with us only because she was on a poor diet. Benson’s owner (a friend of a friend) could no longer look after Benson and we were asked if we could care for her. When Benson arrived, we were advised that all she was fed during her lifetime was sunflower seed and an occasional apple or grape. Benson was 20 years old (owner had her from a baby).
As a responsible parrot owner, I immediately started the process of changing Benson’ diet to a healthier alternative. I was shocked but not surprised when she immediately started eating the new food offering and completely refused to eat sunflower seeds ever again.
Sadly, Benson had a heart attack after approximately 3 years with us and the autopsy revealed a fatty liver and clogged arteries.
I knew that she would not have a long life but I honestly expected her to be with us for at least another 5 – 10 years. My conversation with the Vet revealed that most African Greys on a bad diet do not make it past the age of 35. Just to clarify the life expectancy of an African Grey parrot is 50 – 60 years.
How to Change your Parrot’s Diet
Start by asking: What should I feed my parrot? If you think that your parrot is not eating well or is too fussy and will not eat what is good for a parrot, simply start by reducing the daily food offering. In a few days, you will see that your parrot will start trying new things.
If you think that a change of diet is what is required, choose the right one for your pet and slowly introduce the new food over a 4 – 6 week period. During this period gradually reduce the old food and increase the new food offering.
As a result, you will have a much healthier companion pet.
For older parrots and birds who have been on a poor diet over a long period I would recommend pellets, not a seed or fresh mix. You can still offer a little bit of fresh food with the pellets.
In this article Barbara covers the topic of How to Make Friends with your Parrot.
If you are a fan of parrots like me, you look forward to those moments when you get to make a new parrot friend. Unlike a dog or cat that may respond to a new person right away, birds can sometimes require a little extra effort on our part. Birds are often a bit nervous about meeting a stranger. Here are some things you can do to help them to be more comfortable when you are getting to know them.
How to Make Friends with your Parrot
1. Give the bird space: Although it is very tempting try not to go right up to a bird. Give him some time to get used to you being in the same room. Once he is looking relaxed and comfortable you can move a bit closer to the bird.
2. Move slowly: Birds can become frightened when people move too quickly. You don’t want to scare your soon-to-be new friend.
3. Approach from the front: Be sure to approach the parrot so that he can easily see you coming. Many birds don’t like it when someone is moving behind them.
4. Show him something special: Before walking closer to a parrot, it is a good idea to have some treats, parrot toys or other special item with you. Ask people who know the bird what he likes best. You can show the bird what you have to give him before you get too close.
5. Watch his body language: When you show the parrot the special treat or item you have for him, watch how the bird responds. If he leans towards you he is saying he would very much like to accept your gift. If he leans away he might be saying he is not sure he is ready to make friends right now. If he is not ready, you can always try again later.
6. Offer him the special treat: If the parrot leans forward and reaches his beak towards what you have to offer, you can move closer and give him what you have. Whenever you offer a treat or toy to a parrot for the first time try to present it so that the bird has to lean forward to take it with his beak. This way you don’t have to get too close to the bird’s beak. This is so you can be extra sure the bird is ready for the treat. Sometimes when we get too close or offer the item to fast, a bird might respond by biting.
7. Offer more treats: If the parrot takes the first treat or toy and enjoys it. He might look or lean towards you for another one. If he does, that is an invitation to really start getting to know each other. Continue to offer him special treats or items. This will cause your new parrot friend to really look forward to your visits.
Once a parrot understands good things happen when you visit, you will begin to notice he will really want to get to know you better. He might be eager to step onto your hand. He might even talk or sing to see if he can encourage you to come closer with a special treat. If he feels very comfortable with you, he might even let you stroke the feathers on his head. This is a good sign that you were very careful not to scare him and have done a good job earning his trust.
Making friends with a parrot sometimes takes a little extra effort. But it is a very special compliment when a parrot accepts you as a friend. Pay close attention to your actions when you are meeting a parrot for the first time, offer him yummy treats and fun toys. Soon you will find yourself surrounded by many new feathered friends.
Barbara Heidenreich has been a professional animal trainer since 1990. Her company Good Bird Inc (www.GoodBirdInc.com) provides parrot training DVDs, books and workshops. She has been a featured speaker in twenty countries and has been published in nine languages. Barbara also consults on animal training in zoos.