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The life stages of a Parrot

Parrot Life Stages

Parrot Life Stages

Parrots go through some very bizarre stages of life. As a parrot owner you need to know what these are so they don’t catch you by surprise.

Every species of parrot is unique but there are many similarities across species that will be discussed generally here. Keep in mind that not everything mentioned in this article will apply to your particular bird.

Baby Parrots

Baby Parrot

Baby Parrot

Parrots start their lives inside of eggs. Most eggs are laid in the hollow of a tree and are incubated by the parents until they hatch. In captivity, some breeders incubate eggs with artificial heat away from the parents.

The typical parrot hatchling breaks out of its shell completely naked and blind. The chick either depends on its parents to regurgitate food for it to eat, or for a human breeder to inject warm parrot formula into its mouth. This is usually done with a needleless syringe. The content of the formula varies from species to species but is designed to simulate the half digested food that the natural parents would feed the chick.

Imprinting in parrots

As a baby parrot begins to open its eyes, imprinting occurs. Imprinting is a psychological term used to describe the process by which a baby learns who its parents are. Birds typically accept the first moving animal or thing that they see as their parent. Once imprinting has occurred, a strong bond is formed. If the bird is being hand fed by a human, the bird will assume the human to be its parent.

Unlike dogs and other fully domestic animals, birds have a strong instinctual fear of humans. Imprinting is a sort of psychological loophole that can be used to bypass this natural fear. Traditionally, breeders who are raising parrots for the pet trade will imprint the birds to humans and not allow them to have contact with their real parents. This makes the birds more likely to be tame as they are introduced and sold to their new owners.

Some breeders believe that this sort of imprinting causes psychological damage to the animals which can manifest itself in the form of future behavior problems. These breeders prefer to let the natural parents raise the chicks but will see that the chicks have constant positive contact with humans so that they are properly tamed.

Wild caught birds or any birds that were raised by their parents with no human contact are difficult but not impossible to tame. Imprinting can’t be used after a bird has already imprinted to its proper parents so a bird tamer has to use positive reinforcement to tame the bird. This usually takes a lot of time and consistent effort.

Fledgling Parrots

New Pin Feathers

New Pin Feathers

A fledgling is a parrot that is just getting ready to start flying or that has begun flying but is still dependent on its parents for food and protection.

Some people clip bird’s wings before they learn to fly, others clip them after, and I prefer not to clip them at all. As you can imagine, there is a lot of debate about when wings should be clipped, how they should be clipped, and if they should ever even be clipped at all.

Many breeders claim that learning to fly is an important step in a parrot’s psychological development. These people say that if you clip a parrot’s wings before he learns to fly you will cause the bird to develop confidence issues and extreme phobias later on in life.

Though you may be able to debate this argument due to a lack of well documented evidence, there is no doubt that wing clipping before fledging does lead to a fear of flight. Most parrots that never learned to fly as fledglings will never learn to fly as adults even when their clipped feathers grow back in.

Weaning Parrots

Many parrots will begin to stop feeding their young after they are fully fledged. Once the bird can properly fly it is expected to find its own food. In captivity a breeder will start weaning a fledgling by slowly introducing new solid foods to the bird until it no longer needs to eat formula. This process should only be done by a trained breeder because there is a high risk of malnutrition or even starvation during this process.

Juvenile Parrots

Once a parrot has been fledged and fully weaned onto an adult diet, it can usually fend for itself in the wild. In captivity it is now safe to be sold at this age. A young parrot like this is usually very accepting of new people and new situations and is at a good age to be re-homed.

Depending on the species, juvenile parrots may have different colored feathers than adult parrots. Feather colors can only change by molting the old ones and then growing new ones. It may take a young parrot several molts before it gets its full adult colors.

Parrot Puberty

Parrot Puberty

Parrot Puberty

When we talk about parrot puberty we are talking about when the animal becomes sexually mature. The age that this transition takes place varies from species to species and can vary according to the animal’s gender as well.

Most parrots go through a significant personality change as they become sexually mature, some of these changes are temporary and only occur during breeding season (which also varies from species to species). In the wild, parrots who want to breed will have to find and defend their nesting spots. In captivity they may become aggressive and territorial.

Parrots pair up with a mate during breeding season and if your bird doesn’t have another parrot to fall in love with, he just might fall in love with you. Parrots that are never exposed to other parrots during childhood can become sexually imprinted to humans which means that they will think they are supposed to mate with people and can actually reject other parrots as potential mates.

If your bird falls in love you, he (or she) may become extremely aggressive toward other people and may do strange things with you. Love struck parrots regurgitate food and offer it for you to eat, they may also try making love with your hand or pressing their back up against you inviting you to mate.

Be careful not to sexually stimulate your parrot by touching your bird around the vent and lower back, encouraging your bird to regurgitate food for your, or letting your bird rub itself on you. If you stimulate your bird, the bird’s attraction to you will solidify and things can get really strange really quick. Can you say awkward?

If a female is over stimulated she can lay eggs which can be a horrible health risk. The eggs won’t be fertile but they still take a lot of energy to produce and your parrot can suffer and even die from malnutrition.

Sex is confusing for a captive bird and sexual frustration can cause your parrot to display a wide range of behavior problems from screaming to feather plucking. Be patient with your poor little bird. He’s confused and you would be too if you were taken away from your kind at birth without ever truly understanding what type of animal you were.

Sexually related behavior problems can be fixed with careful training or by simply waiting them out. Parrots tend to calm down when breeding season ends. If you keep your bird active and well socialized with a large group of people, he or she can be mentally healthy and fairly friendly even through these difficult times.

Adulthood for Parrots

Adult parrots, those who have been sexually mature for several seasons, tend to calm down as they age. Many people report that their adult birds don’t like to travel or try new things the way they used to when they were young. If they have been properly socialized they can become very docile and loving. Old and well tamed parrots can still be a bit unpredictable but tend make fairly good family pets or visitors to schools and hospices.

In captivity some species of parrot can live to be 80 or 90 years old. In the wild a bird will almost never reach this age, as soon as they become slow they will be picked off by a predator. In captivity that risk is usually not around so make sure you are prepared for a life long pet before you take a parrot into your home. Many birds will outlive their owners so make sure to have a second care taker inline for the day that your body returns to dust of this good earth.

Enjoy your time with your little feathered friend. You and your parrot will have your ups and downs, your frustrations and your laughs, your times of peace and your battle wounds. It’s all a part of parrot keeping. If you hang on tight you’ll eventually learn to love it all!

Jon Perry

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