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Wings 'n Things on PetLifeRadio.comSusan Chamberlain, host of Wings 'n Things

Susan Chamberlain
Bird Expert, Author & Columnist

Your Bird's Not Bad...he's doing what comes naturally!

Understanding why your bird chews, screams, bites and makes a mess will help you devise clever ways of coping with unwanted behavior and adjusting your bird's environment to make your birdkeeping experience more pleasant! Enjoy an introduction to African grey parrots, renowned for talking and mimicking almost any sound you can imagine! Did you know the 'bare' part of the African grey's face is actually covered with very fine, hair-like feathers? We'll also take ten steps toward bird-proofing your home..with special mention about bird-proofing your family and friends!

Questions or comments? Email


Susan Chamberlain: Hi welcome to Pet Life Radio’s WingsNThings. I’m your host Susan Chamberlain and we’re all about pet birds. You know your bird is not bad when he chews the furniture and peels the wall paper off your walls. He’s just doing what comes naturally. My double yellow headed Amazon Cracker, she clucks and scratches like a crazed chicken when there are litter granules at the bottom of her cage. Kelly the orange winged Amazon, she sticks her leg through the grating on the bottom of her cage and pulls the paper cage liner right inside and shreds it into confetti. Shorty my female Senegal parrot works on reducing her perch to splinters as the Macaw bathes in her water dish drenching a four foot radius. The blue and gold Macaw emits neighborhood rousing screams and I squelched one of my own as my Red-Lored Amazon Bogart nipped at my finger at the approach of a visitor.

Reform school candidates? I don’t think so. It’s just another day in Parrot-dise. Chew this. Shredded paper and wood chips everywhere, in most cases this is a manifestation of instinctive nesting behavior. Many parrot type birds build their nests in the cavities of trees gnawing the wood into customized chambers for their mates and young. They hurl unacceptable material right to the ground. My Senegal parrots ejected wood shavings from their nest box but happily accepted chunks of wood which they worked down to their own specifications. Female peach-faced Love birds are often observed shredding paper and tucking the strips into their rump feathers. They’re not pack rats, that’s how they transport their bedding to their nest. Your bird’s chewing isn’t spiteful or wasteful. He’s simply exercising or cleaning his beak, foraging for insects or sap or saying, “Hey! I’m making a nest!”

The solution? Offer your pet bird plenty of chewable wood playthings. Those beaks are engineered for chewing and they need to do it. How about the splash zone? Does your bird begin to bathe as soon as you turn on the vacuum cleaner? He’s not protesting, he’s responding to what he perceives as the sound of a tropical rainstorm. You can maintain your bird’s feather condition and preserve the cage finish and surrounding furnishing by scheduling regular bath times away from the cage. A bath bowl in the cage allows your bird to create a wet mess which some owners interpret as bad behavior. Some water sprites enjoy bathing so much that they’ll empty their water dishes at every opportunity, soaking everything within a four foot radius. Instead, place your feathered friend on a separate perch or stand and spritz him with a fine mist of warm water from a clean spray bottle.

Some birds defecate or dunk their food in their water dishes turning them into mini cesspools. “Bad birds,” say their owners even though food dunking is a natural behavior and the other is simply accidental or the result of unfortunate perch placemat. Install a drinking water bottle on your bird’s cage to thwart splashing and bathing while offering a constant supply of clean water. Monitor your pet to be sure that he learns to drink from the bottle. Change the water at least every other day and check the bottle frequently to be sure the bird hasn’t drained it or playfully plugged that nozzle with food.

Biting birds are another problem. Has your bird ever bitten you the minute you put your hand inside his cage? If so you’ve experienced territorial biting. Your bird is programmed by nature to protect his cage and belongings from invaders. Peabody a half moon Conure becomes frenzied. Shrieking and dive booming anyone who dares touch his yellow food dish. His owner keeps several sets of dishes and replaces the empty yellow dish with the full one in a split second.

Avoid territorial bites by removing your bird from its cage before cleaning and replenishing food. Refrain from making eye contact with your pet at this time as this is often perceived as a sign of aggression causing your bird to act even more defensively. Teach your bird to step on to a pro offered stick when it wants to come out of his cage. Raise the far end of the stick slightly and the bird will seek the higher altitude safely out of biting range of your hand or arm.

Has your bird ever suddenly bitten you at the approach of another human? This disturbing behavior is like a short circuit in your bird’s protective instincts. It’s called displacement biting and even occurs among birds themselves. A bird trying to protect his mate may first nip at the mate then attempt to drive off the intruders. There’s no quick fix. Encouraging other family members to handle your bird and to share responsibility for his bird’s care may help. Never permit a bird prone to displacement biting to sit on your shoulder and never encourage biting by teasing your bird or jabbing fingers through the cage bars.

Scream! Oh Lord how much screaming goes on in a flock of birds. Birds vocalize to communicate, warning each other of impending danger, locating other flock members, protecting their territory and attracting mates. Your bird may perceive you as it’s flock leader which is why it sounds off when you leave the room. Screaming maybe less prevalent in one bird household where the pet is not exposed to other avian sounds. If vocalizing is excessive, try to determine the cause. There maybe something amiss in the environment for more information just look up some noise articles in Bird Talk magazine or online. There are many articles about birds and the noise.

Our pet birds though are tamed and affectionate but they’re most likely only a generation or two from the wild. Understanding that most of their behaviors is instinctive will help us develop warm and wonderful relationships with our feathered friends. When you have an especially noisy bird, try whispering to that bird and maybe the bird will eventually learn to whisper back to you. This really works well with Cockatoos. They like to imitate your voice in that whisper so that works. I usually try singing when I’ve got an Amazon uprising going on. The Amazons will all be screaming and carrying on, stumping their little feet and yelling, “Maahhh…maahhhh” and I’ll start singing very badly but they seem to enjoy it and very soon instead of screams the room is filled with the Amazons going “hoohooo” and singing their own little tunes.

Also the noise level in your house may contribute to the noise level with your birds. If there’s a football game in my house, my birds are constantly screeching, I think they think they’re cheering but it sounds more like screeching to me. You can learn a lot more about birds and their behavior by looking at Bird Talk  magazine, joining a bird club and networking with other bird owners and regularly tuning into Pet Life Radio. You can email me with your questions and your experiences. We would love to hear about them and now we’re just going to take a short break and we’ll be right back with the species spotlight.


Susan Chamberlain: We’re back. This is Susan Chamberlain on WingsNThings on and today’s species spotlight is African Grey parrots--the grey bird with the bright red tail. The African Grey parrot is regarded as possessing the best talking potential of all psittacines. African Greys often develop impressive vocabularies and they have a talent for expertly imitating their owner’s voices and various household sounds. A friend’s Grey carries on entire conversations in her husband’s voice and even emits a final click as if ending a one sided telephone conversation. Another friend’s Grey whistles, mimics the answering machine’s beep and barks like the family dog but has yet to utter a word.

You cannot be guaranteed a talking bird unless you purchase one that comes complete with already an established vocabulary. So you should be prepared to love this or any other species for its other qualities first. African Greys are extremely intelligent, very sensitive and even somewhat high strung. They maybe prone to feather picking if stressed or frustrated and they do best in calm households. There are exceptions of course. Some individual Greys are as feisty and outgoing as Amazon parrots.

The light Grey Congo African Grey has a bright red tail and is the one most frequently seen in pet shops. The darker Timney Grey is slightly smaller and has a maroon tail. It too can be a delightful companion. Though they do not enjoy the same reputation for talking as Congo Greys many Timneys boast impressive vocabularies. African Greys emit a unique growl when they are frightened. It really is very scary sounding and they have a tendency to become one person birds if they’re not properly socialized. So if you do have an African Grey, make sure that several family members routinely take care of your bird.

African Greys have special requirements for calcium so calcium rich foods such as broccoli, figs, cooked kale and navy beans should be included in the diet. A calcium supplement maybe recommended. Ask your avian veterinarian for advise. There are manufactured bird diets on the market specifically formulated for African Grey. Consult your pet shop professionals and your avian veterinarian for specific nutritional advise for your African Grey.

I maybe partial to Greys. I have two Greys in addition to my other birds and they are just so smart. It’s just amazing and their senses are so acute. Birds rely on their sense of sight and their sense of hearing in the wild and in your home it’s no different. I can be taking a drink of water upstairs, almost behind a close door and I’m certainly not guzzling and you’ll hear the Greys making little drinking noises because that’s how well they can hear. If I’m up in the bedroom far away from the Greys and I’m  making a telephone call on my cordless phone and pushing the buttons. There is a barely imperceptible noise but then I’ll hear the Greys downstairs going “beep-beep, beep-beep-beep.” They’ll be making a telephone call too. My one Grey Bert, he know when I’m getting ready to go out. I don’t know if it’s because of the pace of what I’m doing in the house changes, maybe it’s because I have real shoes on instead of slippers or running around barefoot and maybe when he hear the closet door open although that doesn’t always have to be open for me to be going out. Little Bert will just start saying, “I’ll see you later” and he says it in this little man’s voice and the only time he says it, is when I’m going out. They recently have a lot of cognitive ability which was proved by Irene Pepperberg and her famous African Grey Alex who recently passed away last September. But the Greys are so smart and if there’s one thing you want to remember, it’s watch what you say to an African Grey because they may repeat it.

We’ll stop for another little break and we will be right back with some hints on bird proofing your home.


Susan Chamberlain: We’re back on Pet Life Radio, this is WingsNThings. This is Susan Chamberlain and when you share your home with a companion bird, it’s certainly a lot more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. Believe it or not the average home is a birdy booby trap. Things have got to change once that feathered friend moves in. Number one secure the escape routes. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because your bird never lets you out of its sight. He’s just trying to prevent you from escaping. Seriously, even the tamest, most loving pet birds sometimes escape or are inadvertently released into the great outdoors.

There are things you can do to prevent your bird from ending up in the lost section of the local newspaper. Loss prevention begins with the bird. Have your pet bird’s wings clipped regularly by an avian veterinarian or an experienced bird groomer. Inspect the wings for regrowth at least once a month. Do be aware that Cockatiels can often fly no matter how closely their flight feathers have been clipped. Take extra precautions to ensure that your Cockatiels does not have an opportunity to escape from your home. Keep a record of the information on your bird’s band. Copy it exactly as it appears on the band so you can positively identify your bird in case it ever does escape and is recovered. Take a good close up photo of your bird and make a note of distinguishing physical characteristics and an inventory of your pet’s vocabulary for identification purposes.

Now let’s look around your home. What can you do to make sure your bird stays safely inside? Check out the window screens. Are they in good repair? Is your bird’s cage or play gym located away from frequently opened exterior doors? If small children are in residence, install safety latches high up on the doors and keep them fastened. A bird playing peacefully on it’s stand maybe startled by a sudden noise or movement in the home and take off through an open door. Avoid collisions. Keep your bird’s wings clipped to help prevent collisions with mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors and other household objects.

Teach formerly flighted birds that it can no longer fly by sitting on a bed or floor with him. Allow him to attempt flight from this low altitude, after one or two soft landings, he’ll realize that you’re his best mode of transportation. Tour your home holding your bird securely. Walk right up to mirrors and closed windows with him. Allow the bird to touch windows and mirrors with his beak so that he’ll learn that they’re solid objects. Turn off ceiling fans when birds are loose in your house. Throw your bird a life preserver. Avian drownings can occur in open toilets, fish tanks, bath tubs and other receptacles full of liquid. Keep toilet seats down, cover your fish tanks and close the bath room door. Before you know it, these things will become second nature.

Is there a killer in your kitchen? I know I’m always saying this but we can’t say it too much. Fumes emitted from non stick cookware and appliances can kill your birds quickly. Non stick products are coated with polymers containing polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). When products containing PTFE are heated fumes and minute particulate matters are dispersed into the atmosphere where they are inhaled by air breathing creatures. These odorless emissions may cause polymer fume fever, a flu like condition in humans but they can be lethal to birds in a matter of minutes. Manufacturers have stated that non stick products must be overheated to emit toxic fumes but there is some difference of opinion as to what temperature must be reached for over heating.

Bird owners have reported that their pets have perished when products were under normal use. According to metallurgist Frank Longo who holds a patent for Teflon thermal spraying process, flouropolymers melt at between 300 and 600 degrees fahrenheit. For at most avian safety, do switch to stainless steel, aluminum or glass cookware and eliminate appliances containing PTFE from your kitchen inventory.

Smoke from burning food, plastic convenient food containers are overheated up and can also be harmful or deadly to birds. Always tend cooking food carefully. In addition to pots and pans, some other products that may contain components coded with PTFE polytetrafluoroethylene are electric grills, hair dryers, electric frying pans, coffee makers, space heaters, roasting racks and oven racks, electric deep fryers and other small appliances, self cleaning ovens, curling irons, cooking sheets and baking pans, waffle irons and sandwich grills, ironing boards covers and irons so be very careful. Don’t use these in household where birds are present.

Other kitchen dangers include open pots and pans of cooking food, hot stove tops, bacteria laden food preparation areas and forbidden food. Reserve a cutting board exclusively for your bird’s fruits and vegetables to reduce risk of contamination from meat and poultry products. Lessen the danger of your bird falling onto a hot pot or surface or coming into contact with contaminated or prohibited food by remanding him to his cage while you are cooking.

Create a no smoking zone. Did you know that cigarettes smoke contains more than 4700 compounds including gases and particles? If you must smoke, please do it outdoors. Cigarettes can be toxic if eaten as well. Keep them out of beak reach. Be sure fire places are properly vented and furnaces are in good repair. Remember the stories about minors taking Canaries into mines with them? When the birds die, they knew toxic fumes were present. Don’t sacrifice your birds. Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your home so you’ll be warned before fumes and smoke reach lethal levels. Smoke from scented candles and incense can also be harmful. Opt for unscented candles and forgo the use of incense. Curtail your use of aerosols and chemicals. Hair sprays, pesticides, household cleaners, air fresheners, furniture polish, water proofing compounds and other common treatments and cosmetics may contain ingredients toxic to birds. Dispersed into the air through aerosol cans or pump spray they can be easily inhaled by your bird. Read all product instructions carefully and do not spray anything, not specifically intended for use on birds in your bird’s area.

Even normally harmless products can be dangerous when inhaled. If you use hair spray or other spray on cosmetics, do so behind close doors well away from your bird. Do not use products that emit fumes where they will affect your birds. Such products include nail polish remover, lacquer, varnish, mothballs, shoe polish and leather treatments, fabric deodorizers, paint remover, glue and other home improvement formulas. Fabric softeners may adversely affect your bird so never use them when laundering or drying its cage cover. Don’t leave chemicals, cosmetics or medicines where your bird can reach them. Save remodeling projects for seasons when windows can be left open and remember to have new carpeting unrolled and aired for several days prior to delivery to your home. Carpeting may have been treated with preservatives containing formaldehyde which emit sickening fumes. Airing the carpet will permit these fumes to dissipate.

Ventilate, ventilate, ventilate these are the three most important things you can do  for the air quality in your bird’s atmosphere. Open a window at least once a day even in cold weather. Install an exhaust fan over your stove. Use an air cleaning appliance in your bird’s immediate vicinity. Change air conditioner filters frequently and use a window fan blowing out to remove dust and dander from your home. You will not believe what builds up on that screen after just a week or two. I have a window fan blowing out in my bird’s room and boy oh boy does it make a big difference. Never use a whole house fan or attic fan when all the windows in your home are closed. These type of fan may pull carbon monoxide fumes from your furnace into your living space and that is dangerous to everybody.

Oh it’s a jungle in here isn’t it? Locate your bird’s cage where other family pets and even small children will be unable to knock it over or molest the bird inside. Dogs and cats harbor Pasteurella bacteria in their mouths. If a bird is bitten or scratched, veterinarian attention must be sought immediately. By the same token you’re protecting inquisitive noses and probing fingers. Hook bill birds can deliver nasty bites to perceived cage raiders. Flea preparations can also be deadly to birds. Never allow your bird access to pet bedding, flea collars, sprays, powders or even fur from an animal wearing a flea collar or treated with anti flea products. These are toxic and can be very toxic to your birds as well.

Treat your bird like a toddler. They say that parrots have a mental age of a 2 or 3 year old child? They certainly do. Don’t allow your pet access to electrical or telephone cords, Venetian blinds, stained glass, light fixtures, closets, windowsills or house plants. The obvious dangers are electrocution, strangulation, lead poisoning from saw or an old paint, injuries and poisoning. Less apparent are mold in the soil of potted plants, zinc in door keys which can cause heavy metal poisoning and mold and mildew growing in damp areas of your home.

Little kids like to put things in their mouths and so do pet birds. Remove known hazards and toxins from your home and supervise your bird as you would a 2 year old child. Bird proof your family and friends. Discourage visitors and family members from offering non approved treats to your bird. Chocolate, avocadoes, caffeine, alcoholic beverages, candy, salty snacks and diary products are off limits for birds. Under cooked meat, salads containing mayonnaise, poultry stuffing and food that has been lying around at room temperature for 30 minutes or more is also verboten. Teach people how to handle your bird properly. Jabbing fingers and flaying arms will invite bites not friendly interaction.

The avian life style is good for you too. Cleaner air, fewer toxic chemicals and a great diet, add supervision to the equation and you and your bird will enjoy each other for years to come. When we are talking about the avian lifestyle we’re certainly not talking about dog years, we are talking human years and  my birds are getting up there. My Amazons--except for Kelly--Kelly is the youngest one she is the orange winged Amazon and she’s going to be 28 years old this year. Cracker and Romez the double yellow heads they are going to be I guess approximately 35 years old this year. I will have had Cracker for 28 years this coming summer. Bogart whom I’ve had since 1982 is going to be about 36 this year and my male Senegal parrot whom I’ve had since 1980, he is going to be—my goodness 1980 to 2008—28 I got him another year I guess he is going to be about 29 or 30 years old this year.

So we’re certainly talking a considerable life span and a considerable amount of responsibility when you take a pet bird into your home. If you have a cat or a dog, it’s like 12 to 18 years at the outset and that is the animal’s full lifespan but with pet birds you almost have to go into it planning to make it a life time commitment and beyond. You have to make arrangements for your bird if something should happen to your or if your bird should outlive you. It’s just very important this creatures, they depend on you, they are very smart, they have such wonderful personalities, it’s just doing them such a service to take care of them now and take care of them later.

In some states, you can live money in a trust for your bird after you’ve gone or also for other pets for the care of the animal. So do see an attorney, investigate your state’s laws and make arrangements for your bird for later on. Also if you are designating a guardian for  your bird, make sure the guardian knows about it. They may have a very good reason why they can’t take your bird and you’ll have to make other arrangements for it. Another little hint that an attorney gave me that’s very good, the instructions for your bird—certainly any money you leave in trust for your bird should be indicated in your will or wherever it is legally designated in your state where you live but the immediate instructions as for where the bird is going to go now—so if you’re incapacitated, you’re taken to the hospital, if you die suddenly what is going to happen to that bird? Very often a will is not read until weeks after a person dies. So have that information somewhere where someone will find it very quickly, perhaps on a note and attach it to your refrigerator with a magnet. Give it to a trusted friend, give it to a family member, just make sure that it’s out there so you’ll take care of your bird today and tomorrow.

That’s all for this segment for WingsNThings. I’m Susan Chamberlain on Thank you.

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