Photo: Dot Schwarz. Lesson one: do not leave food out in the kitchen! Dot’s African greys help themselves to a jar of biscuits


Mistakes: they can be funny, sloppy, reversible, ignorant or tragic, says Dot Schwarz. She recounts a few lessons learned in the hope that other keepers won’t make the same mistakes


SOME people require safety to the exclusion of adventure and fun. I’m not one of them. Keeping birds entails risk; not least because of careless actions such as leaving food bowls unsecured, not checking if doors or windows are ajar, or walking outside with a bird on your shoulder and off they fly. Each of these has happened to me and my flock, but fortunately, I’ve always retrieved the bird within minutes, hours or overnight. Thus, my parrot-keeping has entailed misadventures, as well as fun, delight and excitement. I’m describing some of these mistakes, so that novices and newcomers can avoid my silliest and beware my worst ones.

Free-range parrots

Some carers (I’m one of them) will allow indoor parrots free range at times. Many valid criticisms are made of this, as it can lead to numerous accidents. However, I’d claim that the majority of them could be avoided. With our pet parrots often loose in the house, we’ve never suffered a serious accident. I’m talking about things like poisoning from Teflon (see September 12 issue) or heavy metals like lead, burns and drowning in the sink or toilet.

Years before parrots ruled my life, I had toddlers. A room that’s safe for them includes many features also required for parrot safety. Of course, I didn’t need metal strips on top of doors to prevent gnawing! But electric wires and plugs were (and still are) either inaccessible to pudgy fingers or busy beaks, or are sheathed in protective sleeves.

Using positive reinforcement, you can teach parrots not to touch your earrings or never perch on your shoulder – I am slightly ahead on this one I believe. There’s no hard and fast rule whether or not free-range parrots are a viable proposition. It is an arguable case, but with human error, there aren’t any opposing arguments.

Lesson learned: rodents

My worst mistake was that before I became a parrot person, I never truly understood how persistent rodents can be. They can be fatal to birds. They steal eggs, kill chicks and roosting birds, and spread diseases from their faeces and urine. Their cousins – stoats and weasels – are worse, but rarer. Mice (easier to get rid of) don’t kill, but do spread disease.

Our aviary was built over on earth with a 20cm (8in) wide ditch around the perimeter. This was woefully too short and inadequate, with tragic results. Rats tunnelled up under the wire netting and created nests under the paving stones inside the aviary. When I lifted the paving stones, I found the neatly constructed nests with an attached larder. Having to kill 10 blind baby rats was horrible. But, the parents escaped and built more nests.

The problem took months to solve using traps and poison, and in the end, professional ratcatchers only alleviated it. The solution was to dig a trench around the perimeter and fill in a concrete apron that was 60cm (23.5in) deep and 10cm (4in) wide. A better-planned aviary construction on a concrete base would have avoided that. To my everlasting regret, the rat families took two parent kakariki and five fledged chicks. My good house cat caught a stoat and I have known professional, experienced breeders who have lost their parrots to weasels.

Mistakes through ignorance

The plum-heads, those brightly coloured Sri Lankan birds, were a delight. Sushila and Jamal had been with us since they were chicks and were getting ready to start a family. It was not to be.

A blue tit built a nest in a canvas bag hanging in the aviary for the parrots’ enrichment. The blue tit mum hatched and fledged her six eggs. The bag was left empty with the woven nest at the bottom. Sushila must have entered the bag to investigate after my morning visit. That evening, her mate Jamal was flying around the bag. Sushila had trapped her leg in a loose thread and was dead.

Jamal also died through a silly mistake. I let grass grow in the aviary section where they lived. I’d never learned about ticks. One attached itself to Jamal’s eyelid and he died. Now, the grass is always uprooted every day.

  • Continues next week.

Dot Schwarz shares her life with 10 species of psittacines, four pet parrots and 20-plus parrot and parakeet rescues and rehomes.


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