Norwegian Government’s Parrot Keeping Guide
(If they can do this why can’t we? — ED.)
The following is a translation of the Norwegian government’s guide on keeping parrots, which was published by Mattilsynet and is available in print form for free in pet stores or online as a PDF. Mattilsynet is responsible for managing laws on animal welfare in Norway, and put together this guide with the input of parrot interest groups and experts.
Guide on the keeping of PARROTS
The state’s service for plants, fish, animals, and nutritional media – Mattilsynet
To those who have or are planning to get pets
Having pets entails big responsibility. An animal is not something you “use and throw away”, but a living and feeling individual. Animals should be cared for well and protected against danger and unnecessary stress. As an animal-owner you must ask yourself: “What can I do to satisfy the animal’s needs and give them a good life?” You must plan thoroughly around how a pet fits into your daily life.
As a pet owner you have responsibility to:
Educate yourself on the animal’s needs
Pets need to be active and live in an environment that suits their species. How the species lives in nature gives an indication on what kind of needs your pet has. Do they need to live together with other animals of the same species, be able to tuck themselves into a safe cranny, or gradually explore new environments? Animals that are bored, lonely, feel unsafe, or are frustrated in some other way can develop behavioral problems. This is something that you are responsible for, in addition to your animal. Before you choose to get a pet, you must research your animal’s species’ needs. You should buy or loan a book on the species and get information from the pet store, breeder, or interest group. You can also find a lot of information online.
Protect the animal against sickness, harm, and hardship
You must do what you can to prevent your animal from becoming sick, hurt, or spreading sickness to other animals or people. If they become sick or hurt despite your efforts, you have the responsibility to ease their suffering. You must, among other efforts, ensure that the animal is taken to a veterinarian. Many sicknesses and injuries can be treated with medicine or surgical procedures. Likewise, sometimes it is better to euthanize a suffering animal than to subject them to lengthy, painful treatment. This is something your veterinarian can help you decide. Pets should only be euthanized by veterinarians or other trained personnel.
Other things to consider:
Not all animals are suitable for families with children. Children must learn to handle animals gently, and that animals aren’t toys. Children under 16 years are not legally allowed to have sole responsibility for animals. This also applies to watching animals during trips. Even if children get their “own” pet, it is still the adult who has the responsibility for the animal’s welfare.
Being a good neighbor
Pets can inconvenience neighbors. You should consider whether the animal is suited to where you live.
Preventing unwanted reproduction
Pets shouldn’t reproduce unless it’s been planned. Many species reproduce quickly if you don’t take care to separate the adult males and females. Intentionally breeding animals requires a lot of time and knowledge. Uncritical breeding can lead to genetic defects, which can cause suffering for the animals. If you decide that your animals should produce young, it is your responsibility to ensure that they go to good homes.
Parrot biology and behavior
Parrots have been held in captivity for several hundred years. The first parrots likely came to Europe aboard trading ships in the 1700s, but many parrots were still imported from other European countries to meet demand.
In nature the majority of parrots live in pairs or in flocks, and they spend a lot of time on social activities, such as preening each other. They are active and intelligent birds that fly all around and climb in trees looking for food, nest materials, and partners. The majority of parrot species communicate with loud calls.
What you should consider – before you get a parrot
Parrots are needy and long-lived pets. Large parrots can be 40 to 60 years old, while smaller parrots like parakeets and lovebirds live from 8-25 years. If you purchase a parrot, you must be committed to spending a lot of time with them every day throughout a long future. In order for parrots to thrive in captivity, they must have opportunities to exercise and be active daily. If parrots don’t get the opportunity to have an active and content-rich life, they can become overweight or bored. A bird that is bored often starts to overgroom their feathers, and can pluck themselves bare on parts of their body.
Parrots are social animals that should be kept in pairs or a flock. Lovebirds in the Agapornis genus and cockatiels are examples of birds that won’t thrive without companions of the same species. It is not unusual that large parrots, like macaws, cockatoos, amazons, and African greys, are kept as single birds. These birds have a great need for social contact and don’t thrive alone. If you keep a single parrot, you must therefore be committed to fill the roll of that bird’s best friend. This requires that you spend a lot of time with the parrot every single day. Single parrots bond strongly to their owners. Some can become so jealous that they begin to attack other members of the family. This is important to think about for those who live alone and want to afford themselves the companionship of a single parrot: What happens the day you find a cohabitant or romantic partner?
Even though it is best for parrots to have companionship from other birds of the same species, not all individuals will like each other. The majority of parrots can be kept in pairs if they are accustomed to it from a young age. Putting together two older birds is not always so simple, since the parrots defend their home area with beak and claw. It is easier to put together a new pair if you simultaneously give both birds a new territory. If the birds don’t get along, they must be physically separated.
Some parrots can bite hard and can therefore be dangerous for children. If you have children in the house, you should keep smaller parrots and teach the children that the bird can bite powerfully.
Some of the species can screech very loudly. In the pet store the birds can be almost peaceful due to the attention they get from customers in the store, but be prepared that the noise level can be different in your home. Remember your neighbors!
Parrots during trips
You are responsible for ensuring that your birds receive adequate care, including while you are away on travels. Before you purchase a parrot, you should therefore speak with friends and family about help to look after your bird. You must inform the person looking after your bird on routines for feeding, cleaning, and free flight periods. You should also give them information on which veterinarian you use. A single bird should not be left alone at home, but cared for by someone who can give them company for much of the day.
Parrots can come along in the car, for example to the cottage or on a camping trip, but the majority of birds may prefer to avoid transport due to the cage lifting, shifting temperatures, and lack of calm. A bird who will be transported should not be moved in their normal cage, since they can easily be hurt if they flap around inside. A smaller travel cage designed for birds can be reasonable during transport. If the cage is a little dark, the bird may be calmer. During the trip and at the holiday location, the bird should not be exposed to drafts, high temperatures, or a lot of commotion and disturbance. The birds need a large cage that shields them from children, dogs, cats, and wild birds at the destination. Building an aviary at your cabin can be a good solution.
Be mindful that there are regulations that must be followed before you can take birds into Norway or other countries. If you plan to take your bird along on trips abroad, you must research the applicable rules well in advance of your trip. You can find more information at www.mattilsynet.no.
Import and export of the majority of parrots requires following the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The responsible CITES government in Norway is Miljødirektoratet, www.miljodirektoratet.no/CITES.
Environmental requirements and necessary equipment
Aviary or cage
Parrots need a lot of space, and the best solution is therefore to make an aviary, which is a large cage the bird can fly inside. Making an aviary is less expensive than buying a finished cage and the birds will be better off. With a roll of aviary fencing you can make a great aviary for the birds in a corner of the living room, and thereby give them several square meters to move around in. You can find tips in books or on the internet. The pet store can also help you to order completed aviary parts or bird netting if you choose to build the aviary yourself. [translator’s note: they mention zinc toxicity in passing later, but to emphasize, only stainless steel should be used.]
Aviaries and cages are used first and foremost to protect the bird when they are without oversight. It is important that the parrots receive the opportunity to fly freely outside the aviary or cage every day. The shortest wall in the aviary or cage should be at least double the length of the bird’s wingspan. If the bird must be kept in the aviary or cage for several hours a day, they should have enough space to fly between perches. The aviary or cage should also be high-sided, since parrots like to climb.
Provide good lighting conditions. If the birds don’t have natural access to daylight then it is wise to purchase light bulbs or tubes with UV-light specially designed for birds.
In the warmer months of the year it is good for the parrots to also have an aviary out in the garden or on the balcony. It is important that you buy cage material of a high enough quality that the bird cannot make holes in it. Take care that the parrots aren’t in direct sunlight since overheating is deadly. On the other hand, the majority of parrots can tolerate a bit of cold, provided they are acclimated to the temperature gradually. Some parrot species can do well outdoors even in winter, but then they must always have access to a room with a minimum temperature of 10 degrees.
Furnishing of aviary and cage
As cage lining you can, amongst other things, use paper (for example newsprint paper on a roll), powder-free tiles, or shell sand. If you use shell sand it should be ground up before use. Avoid using paper with a lot of printed ink and wax, which can be unhealthy if the bird ingests some. You should educate yourself on what the best substrate for your species is.
Parrots need perches. Natural branches that the birds like to chew on are the best, or alternatively you can use dowels bought by the meter in hardware stores and pet stores. Perches made of plastic are not recommended. Perches should be of different thicknesses. This strengthens the muscles in their legs and prevents pressure sores in their feet.
Many birds like to bathe, and moisture is an important part of daily feather care. For smaller species there are bath containers that can be attached to the bird’s cage. For larger parrots you can try to put in a low, heavy dish in the bottom of the aviary or cage. It is important that the bath water is changed often, since the birds may drink from it. Regardless of whether the birds bathe or don’t, they should be showered with a spray bottle, preferably daily. Use only pure water, as soap can damage their plumage.
Parrots in nature spend a lot of time looking for food, and they can spend a lot of time occupying themselves with things they find interesting. To prevent the birds from becoming bored and unhappy, it is important to give them the possibility to do similar things in captivity. You should therefore give the parrots access to plentiful branches, twigs, and a variety of nontoxic things of sufficiently hard material that they can play with and destroy. There are also good parrot toys that can be bought where the bird can, for example, work to retrieve hidden treats.
The aviary or cage should be washed with clean water and soap that can easily be rinsed off. You should also wash the perches and other interior items often. Dirty perches cause irritation and inflammation in the birds’ feet. How often the aviary or cage should be cleaned depends on the species and number of birds, but it should be cleaned at least once a week. Food and drink cups should be cleaned every day.
In nature parrots eat a varied diet, consisting of seeds, nuts, fruit, berries, leaves, and sometimes insects. Parrot species have differing nutritional needs; for example, lory species require a specialized nectar diet available for purchase in pet stores. Many birds in captivity are given diets that are too monotonous or nutrient-rich, which can lead to health problems.
There are many types of pellets designed for parrots available to buy. Pelleted food has the advantage that the parrots cannot pick out their favorite pieces, but rather get a balance diet in each bite. Parrots will gladly accept supplements of a seed blending suited for their species. Fruit and vegetables are also important dietary components, but take care to rinse them well. Some parrots also like animal-based foods, such as mealworms or other meats.
Some species need additives of shell sand to help with digestion. It is most hygienic to present this in its own food cup. Additives of vitamin D can be necessary to make sure the bird can absorb calcium. Get advice from a pet store or from an expert on what is best for your species.
Parrots eat small amounts throughout the entire day and should therefore have free access to their food. The food should be set out in different places, such that the bird must work a little bit to get to it. Avoid placing food below perches, or it can become spoiled with feces.
The majority of bacteria and illnesses in birds are spread through the drinking water, so it is important that the water is changed out at least once a day. It is recommended that you try to get your bird to drink from a bottle with a drip spout, as this is more hygienic. Vitamin additives can encourage bacterial growth in water and should therefore be given with food instead.
Candy and beverages such as soda, chocolate, beer, and coffee are unnatural and harmful for birds. Avocado is particularly poisonous for parrots.
Socializing and handling
Parrots are intelligent animals that like to communicate vocally and with body language. Medium-sized and larger species, especially, can learn to understand many words and be trained to do various things. In order for a parrot to work well along with you and others, it is necessary that you spend time to win the bird’s trust and that you make it possible to handle them in a favorable way. For example, it is easier to take a bird into new environments if they have learned to come and sit on your hand. When you train a bird it is most important to be patient and reward the bird every time they make progress.
Parrots should not be handled with force unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must capture and hold the bird, it is important to take a secure grip over their back and hold their wings carefully to their body with both hands. Smaller parrots can be held in one hand, with their head secure between two fingers so that they lay entirely still. Do not apply any pressure to the bird, but use a good, firm grip. Never hold them by a wing or foot, as this can injure them severely. Wing fractures are very difficult to treat. Train them to be handled regularly. When the bird is accustomed to being handled, they won’t be as stressed when they need to be examined or treated.
Claw maintenance: Normally you don’t need to clip their claws, but it is necessary in some species. Overly long claws can be dangerous for the bird since they can get caught in netting, curtains, carpets, and other such things. Use a specialized nail clipper and provide good light so that you don’t cut into the quick, where blood vessels go out into the claw. Consult with a veterinarian or other bird expert if you are uncertain of the method.
The beak normally doesn’t need maintenance, but now and then species and individuals can have an overgrown beak. A veterinarian must trim such a beak periodically.
Clipping wing feathers: It has been common to clip the wings’ primaries in half to curtail the larger parrots’ flying ability. Parrots have a need to fly even though they are in captivity, so such feather clipping is discouraged. It is important that you think about it thoroughly and ask a veterinarian for advice before you commit to subject the bird to such an operation. Incorrect clipping of the wing feathers can give the bird great problems.
Health and sickness
A healthy parrot is inquisitive, makes sounds, and wants attention. They are active and climb, hop, and fly. The plumage is glossy and lies close to the body. They eat well and are not overly thin, and likewise not overweight. You should not be able to feel their breastbone to any particular degree. When they sleep, they tuck their head back into their neck feathers and often sit on one leg. The eyes should be clean and clear, and the beak and claws should be without wavy lines or chalky coating.
The majority of illnesses come sneakily and the bird will by nature attempt to hide that they are sick. Therefore, spend time observing the parrot, such that you realize quickly if something is not as it should be. If the bird shows any of the signs of illness listed below, you should seek a veterinarian’s help at once, instead of waiting to see:
- Reduced appetite. The bird sits near the food without eating.
- The bird sits with fluffed feathers, even when they aren’t sleeping.
- Forceful blinking of the eyes. The bird sits with half-closed eyes.
- The bird sleeps more than usual, resting often on both legs.
- Changes in weight. The bird becomes thinner quickly such that the breastbone can be felt, or other changes in body condition.
- Changes in their feces, limp abdomen
- Slime around the beak or slimy vomit
- Heavy breathing, bobbing of the tail
Some sickness conditions of parrots:
Infections: There are several types of infectious microorganisms that can give parrots infections in their respiratory or digestive systems. Therefore, be attentive of any signs of illness and contact a veterinarian to follow up.
Psittacosis (avian chlamydiosis): Symptoms of psittacosis are a runny nose and eyes, the bird breathing heavily and with fluffed feathers, diarrhea, and chronic weight loss may present. This illness is caused by a bacterium that can be spread between birds and people. Don’t have overly close contact with a bird if you have a cold or the bird shows signs of illness. Contact a veterinarian if you suspect psittacosis. Should someone in the household be afflicted with severe lung inflammation and respiratory infection, they should mention that they have a bird in their house so that the patient can be tested for psittacosis.
Severe feather loss or feather plucking: A bird losing or plucking great numbers of feathers can have various causes. Protein deficiencies, viral infection, zinc poisoning, boredom, or nervousness are some. The majority of feather plucking occurrences happen when the bird is kept in a restrictive environment where they can’t engage in natural behaviors. The bird then grooms its feathers out of boredom until there are almost none left. Simpler species pluck themselves less than others. It is important to find the cause of the plucking and do something about it, not just prevent the bird from being able to pluck itself. Often it helps to give them more space, more engaging activity in the form of other birds or people, and toys to spend time playing with, among other things. If you experience problems with feather plucking it is recommended that you seek the advice of a veterinarian.