The more common cause of illness in parrots is incorrect feeding and general management, particularly lack of exercise from too small a cage. Other factors are poor hygiene from placing perches over food and water, cluttering the cage with feeding utensils and toys, and exposure to draughts or marked fluctuation in temperature. In addition, marked variations in the length of time the bird is exposed to light and/or solitary confinement for long periods produce boredom and self-plucking of feathers. Exposure to direct sunlight for long periods without shelter, failure to remove stale food and provide plenty of water, and failure to provide green food are further causes of illness in the parrot family.
Parrots are capable of inflicting skin wounds and should be handled with gloves. When grasping the parrot always try to hold it by the neck with one hand allowing the head and beak to protrude through. The two legs and wings should be held by the other hand.
A suitable feed for parrots is sunflower seed 5 parts, oats 3 parts, plain canary seed 1 part, panicum seed 1/2 part, white millet 1/2 part. Parrots purchased as youngsters are often being fed from a teaspoon on a porridge-like mixture of powdered milk and cornmeal. The new owner must continue with this until the parrot is old enough to dehull its own seed. For cockatoos an ideal feed is sunflower seed 5 parts, whole oats 3 parts, corn 1 part and wheat 1 part. Canary seed and linseed may be added if the bird enjoys them. Parrots will also eat green foods and peanuts. Smaller parrots may be fed with the mixture recommended above for budgerigars. All parrots can handle sunflower seed.
Beaks that are distorted or overgrown need to be ground back with sandpaper. Cuttlefish bone should also be supplied in the cage for the birds to do this naturally. Parakeets are inquisitive and eat almost anything placed in their cage. Parakeets need canary seed, millet seed and steel-cut oats in a ratio of 1:1 for young birds, and 1: 2 :1 for adults. Grit is essential for all caged birds. Pulverised eggshell and 1 per cent iodised salt are also beneficial.
Sexing the parrot family is very difficult and depends on the species of parrot. As there are hundreds of different species, it is impossible to describe the male and female colour differences in this book. Check with a parrot breeder, or with one of the reference books specialising in this subject.
Breeding parrots is a specialised job. Parrots usually nest in shafts inside hollow trees. For the larger parrots these shafts are up to 2 metres deep. In captivity parrots’ nesting logs should be lined with sawdust or wood shavings. Smaller parrots will use hollow logs suspended from the aviary roof or a larger version of a budgerigar nest.