by Mattie Sue Athan
Going to a new home can be a stressful event, and sometimes baby parrots will “regress” and temporarily forget that they know how to eat on their own. Mattie Sue provides some practical advice on how to best handle this issue should it happen to you.
Question: I purchased my second bird a week ago at a bird show. He’s a Hahn’s macaw, and he’s four months old. We absolutely fell in love with him the minute we met him, and he was all snuggly with us immediately at the bird show. And he was QUIET, above all else. As we started to leave, he started to make a cute baby sound when he would throw back his head and lift up his wings. It was cute at first, and I thought that he was doing it because he was young and he wanted to be fed. But he continues to do it constantly except for when he is asleep. What is this Aaack noise and why is he making it? Is this a macaw thing or does he have some sort of birdie palsy that makes him like this? Also, he will not sit up very well on his perch or on my hand… his little breast bone basically holds him up. His legs seem fine and he climbs all over his cage and even tries to escape, but he hunkers down whenever we have him out and continuously makes his noise.What should I do? Is he hungry? He seems to eat rather well… we were assured that he was weaned, but I’m beginning to wonder. But why would he have been so good at the bird show with all of those other birds around and all of the chaos? Perhaps he doesn’t know what to do with the relative quiet at my house. He makes the noise when we play music and dance for him, he makes it when we talk to him, he makes it when we hold him on his back (which he isn’t too fond of), he makes it CONSTANTLY.
This situation is not normal, but it is common in a bird with this bird’s history. It’s sort of the parrot equivalent of a “colicky baby” (similar behavior, different cause). Either the bird wasn’t fully weaned (weaning is a process, not an event; and it’s a longer process in the “more intelligent” birds) or the bird regressed to an unweaned state when it moved to its new home (some people call this “crashing”). Whether the bird was weaned before or not, it is not now convinced that it can survive by eating independently. This very problem is one of the big reasons I always recommend the purchase of weaned babies from known dependable sources. However, even a baby that has been weaned by an experienced person who has successfully weaned many babies can crash or have an adverse reaction to weaning.
Presuming that the veterinarian has given the bird a clean bill of health (going back to needing handfeeding can be either physical or behavioral), this bird is simply not ready to eat independently and is trying to convince you that it will die if it is not better cared for (sometimes this can be true). This is a macaw, an intelligent species with a reputation for taking longer to wean than smaller birds such as quakers, grass keets, and lories. If the breeder had experience with conure type birds or loris, s/he might have just weaned the bird a little young.
The bird needs warm food immediately, first thing every morning. Give him some warm oatmeal or good quality baby formula or warm nutritious whole grain toast or chunky warm food like macaroni and cheese (no salt) every morning before the “Ack Ack” starts. The bird needs to see you and other birds sharing food also. The bird should more willingly accept warm food than room temerature or cold food any time of day. Because of the bird’s age, I suspect also a possible nutritional problem, for baby birds fed incomplete nutrition also retain this fussy begging resonse.
This fussy begging problem was much more widespread when handfeeders were trying to make their own formulas. Since the advent of quality pelleted and handfeeding diets, I see far fewer of these cases. Becaue every bite is balanced nutrition, try warm, moist Harrison’s cubes or other good quality diet offered from the hand. Each incident of fussy begging must be prevented, because it’s very difficult to stop them after they start. In order to give the bird a sense of security, if has already started the begging and won’t accept warm food, I would nestle and comfort the bird in a towel and try to get it a little warmer and maybe calmer than usual, then treat it to a tiny little shower bath with a warm mist and try to get it interested in bathing, this should express some of the energy coming out as fussy begging. But the real key to success here it to get so much good warm food into the bird before it starts begging that it can become interested in the real “work” of a companion bird: destroying toys, furniture, and picture frames.
Mattie Sue Athan has been a companion parrot behavior consultant since 1978. During that time she has averaged two to three new Quaker clients per week. Her first book, Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot, is an industry standard. Her second book, Guide to the Quaker Parrot, sold out the first printing in 5 months. She also wrote Guide to the Senegal Parrot and Its Family and Guide to Companion Parrot Behavior.