Tracking Young Mallards in the Dakotas

By Scott Ford

Since mid-July, I have been assisting biologists in the Dakotas to apply transmitters to young mallards for the purpose of tracking their movements in their first year of life. This is the second year of this project which is a graduate thesis for Cindy Anchor, a student at South Dakota State University.

Last year we implanted transmitters in 57 ducks. Although some ducks succumbed to hunting or predation, all the birds did well with surgery and most transmitted data well into the winter and spring. Cindy is still processing the data but based upon the success of last year, the number of transmitters was increased to 80 additional units this year. The hope is to identify habitats and specific locations that are most critical to the survival of young mallards. The project may also identify pressures, such as hunting or weather, that drive their movements.

Ornitela PTTs work on cellphone networks. They are the first fully implantable GPS/GSM units.

The trackers, which were developed by Ornitela (, are rather revolutionary as they are the first surgical implants that contain a GPS receiver and transmit their data through cellphone signal (GSM). If a cell signal is not available the units store positions until a cell tower is contacted. In the past, implanted units could only transmit a signal every few days (as programmed in advance) which was then received by passing satellites. Using triangulation, the satellites locate the position of the transmitter and its host duck. The advantage of such a system is that it consumes less power but the disadvantage is that the location fix is much less accurate than a GPS unit can provide. Other GPS units have existed for years but they could not be implanted as they required an exposed solar panel to constantly recharge.

So why do we implant trackers in ducks instead of applying them as a backpack? Studies have shown that water birds are much less tolerant of backpacks than other species. It’s particularly evident in birds that spend almost all their time in the water such as loons, grebes, and sea ducks. But even mallards, who spend substantial times out of the water, can be adversely affected. Water birds wearing backpacks probably feel cool water touching their skin around the areas where the straps ride into their plumage. They preen their feathers more than usual and behave agitated. The increased effort to care for their plumage combined with heat losses can be a real drag on their energy balance. So to avoid this, we surgically implant trackers in water-loving species. The only external component is a small antenna that exits near the tail.

Dr. Bahnson holds his first implant patient while she recovers from anesthesia

Implanting the transmitters is an invasive procedure so it’s performed only by licensed and specially trained veterinarians. The procedure must be done in sterile conditions with general anesthesia (isoflurane delivered in pressurized oxygen) as well as general and local analgesics to mask the pain, speed recover, and help them reseume their lives quickly. It’s very important that we disrupt their routine as little as possible since the movement data we collect needs to be as close as possible to their natural behavior.

Myself with Alex Carrillo, my awesome field assistant on the Dakota Mallard Project

For this project I rented an RV to provide both surgery facilities and lodging for myself and an assistant. It allows us to conveniently carry all that we need and move around to each capture area. And speaking of assistant, I’d like to introduce Alex Carrillo, my assistant for this big project. He graciously volunteered to be my anesthetist and it’s affording him the opportunity to learn more about avian field work. He has a Bachelor of Science in biology and plans to go on to graduate school to study ornithology. I’ve also had the pleasure of training Dr. Charlie Bahnson, a wildlife veterinarian with North Dakota Game & Fish, how to implant trackers into some of the mallards on this project.

I have completed over 400 of these surgeries in almost 30 different avian species over the past 10 years. The work has taken me to all corners of North America and I’ve advised veterinarians in other parts of the world on how to perform implant surgeries. Despite all of that, I would gladly have my work replaced by a less invasive tracking technology. Until that’s available, I will be doing my best to help the birds and the biologists that study them.

This research is being conducted in cooperation with South Dakota Game & Fish, North Dakota Game & Fish, and the US Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.


Hawk: Surgery Completed

By Dr. Scott Ford

The Dakota Zoo didn’t have a veterinarian available to do the orthopedic surgery that the hawk needed so they brought him back to me. Fortunately we had to change sites yesterday so it actually put us closer to them anyway, so it worked out well. I did the surgery this afternoon and it was successful. There was quite a bit of muscle damage so we’ll see how that shakes out down the road, but I’m pretty optimistic.

Thank you to all the great feedback on Facebook. We had some good recommendations on places to turn if things hadn’t worked out well with the Dakota Zoo.

He arrived bright & alert
After a bit of midazolam (for sedation) & butorphanol (opiate pain reliever), he was sleepy and ready for surgery.
We use isoflurane anesthesia delivered by tube into the trachea. For those of you that donated for the ETCO2 monitor a couple of years ago, there’s the little gadget in action! It’s telling us that his end tidal CO2 is 31 mmHg & his breathing rate is 5 breaths per minute.
This fracture required insertion of pins down the center of radius and ulna along with several smaller cross pins. I bound them all together with epoxy putty.
The end result is a bar that holds the pins together on the outside and a single pin inside the radius (you can see the tip exiting the carpus at the left of the photo). The pins will all be removed later after the fracture is healed.


Hawk Update

By Dr. Scott Ford

I have great news about the hawk that we rescued yesterday. North Dakota Game & Fish was very helpful in hooking me up with the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck. Also, because I don’t have local transportation and I need to stay close to the site of our primary field work, they were able to arrange transport of the bird. So, I gave him more fluids and pain relief through the night and he was taken to the zoo this morning.

But wait! There’s more…

X-ray image showing the fractures of the ulna and radius

They shared a radiograph with me and the fractures look fixable, particularly since they are so fresh. They would like to have me do the surgery so we’re trying to hammer out those details now. Again, I’m sort of stuck but at least I’m 40 minutes closer to them now since we had to move to another site. So, stay tuned. We may be doing surgery tomorrow.

One more thing: Who else thinks this might be a Swainson’s hawk? It’s kind of small for the average red-tail, but I’ve certainly seen males in this range. It’s buffy breast coloration seems red-tail-ish too. Swainson’s usually have a black breast band too but this guy does have a sparse splash of dark feathers on the upper breast. So, if any of you have an opinion, let me know below!

Alex Carrillo holds the hawk for treatment this morning.

Special thanks to North Dakota Game & Fish, Dr. Charlie Bahnson, his technician (didn’t catch his name), Alex, Alison, and the Dakota Zoo. It takes a team to pull something like this off.


Rescued Red-tailed Hawk

By Dr. Scott Ford

I’m still doing duck work in North Dakota but today took an interesting turn. My assistant, Alex Carrillo, found a family of red-tailed hawks alongside the road but one was clearly injured. He rescued it & brought it back to the RV we’re using as a mobile clinic.

An exam revealed a freshly fractured left wing. The bird is probably a tiercel based on the small feet & size (825g & in good body condition). The fracture involves the ulna and radius so it will require pinning to permanently fix it, but it carries a pretty good prognosis considering it’s very fresh. I gave him a good dose of analgesic (butorphanol) and a sedative (midazolam) then we anesthetized with isoflurane him to clean the wound, push the bones back into place, flush the site, and suture the wound closed. It’s important with open fractures to keep the bone ends clean and viable by keeping them covered with skin. Then I wrapped the wing to the body for temporary support. It’s a juvenile & probably was hit by a car. As a finishing touch, we gave fluids & a long-acting antibiotic.

The hawk under anesthesia just after cleaning, suturing, and wrapping the wing

I didn’t bring equipment & supplies for orthopedic surgery so I need to find another veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitators that can take it from here. Unfortunately, North Dakota has zero wildlife rehabilitators. In fact, they stopped issuing rehab permits over 10 years ago. If anyone knows what folks do with injured wildlife here, please let us know. Meanwhile, I’m in touch with the state wildlife vet to see what options are. I’ve never run into this in any other state—quite a surprise. Hopefully we aren’t faced w/euthanizing him.


Welcome to the New Wildlife Site for Dr. Scott Ford

Have you looked at my old site ( lately? Yeah, it looks old, doesn’t it? And barely used. Well welcome to one of two new websites I’ve been working on recently. I’m putting my wildlife site live first but in the weeks ahead look for another that will showcase my pet bird services as well. They’re both created in WordPress which gives me more flexibility for remote posting, theme modification, etc. than my old site offered. So this means I can post stuff more easily, hence more frequently and timely. Here’s what I’m sharing here:

  • Details of what services I offer and opportunities to contact me for help with wild birds.
  • Reports and photos from my field work adventures.
  • Helpful resources for veterinarians, wildlife rehabilitators, and the just-plain bird-curious. There are already a few digital books and in the weeks ahead I’ll share manuscripts I’ve written.
  • Events listings so you can attend a lecture or seminar.
  • Archives of previous projects.

Please give me feedback on what you see here and help me spread the presence of this page by sharing it on social media. Just click the links below!


Disaster Response

Oil spills require experienced personnel that can quickly triage and correctly treat large numbers of critically sick birds. Similarly, “bird wrecks,” where large numbers of waterbirds are disabled by harmful algal blooms, have increased in the past decade. Dr. Scott Ford has been involved in several of these responses and has the real-world experience the job demands. Not only that but he teaches first responders in capture and rescue techniques, wildlife deterrence (also known as “hazing”) to prevent oil contact, and treatment phases of oil spill response. If you would like to consult with Dr. Ford on your oil spill response situation, please fill out the form below.

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Falconry birds are hard-working athletes. Dr. Scott Ford has practiced falconry and has worked with birds of prey since 1989. He knows how best to handle birds of prey with the least amount of stress or injury. Trust your hunting partner to the best vet for the job.

If you have an emergency in the Milwaukee, WI region, the fastest way to see Dr. Ford is by calling Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals at 414-543-7387.

If you would like to set up a consult or a non-urgent appointment, fill out the contact form below:

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Teaching & Speaking

An essential part of practicing specialty-level medicine is being able to teach others. Dr. Scott Ford regularly speaks at conferences, veterinary schools, and nature group meetings to disseminate the knowledge he has gained in his career. He will also perform in-services at clinics or in the field to instruct other veterinarians and veterinary students in surgical or medical techniques. If you’d like to see about having Dr. Ford visit your group or clinic, please fill out the form below:

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Field Work Support

I have the flexibility and experience to help you with a bird project most anywhere in the world. I can be on-site to perform surgery, bringing everything necessary or making the necessary logistical arrangements to get supplies there.

Where We Go

Wildlife research happens where the wildlife is. Working in remote environments and getting stuff there is a challenge that we handle regularly. Dr. Ford has deployed to areas close to home and in remote camps in the high arctic. He’s performed surgery in tents, cabins, garages, kitchen tables, and sometimes even in cushy clinical settings. Whatever the circumstances, he can get there and get the work done safely and reliably.

What We Provide

We typically provide everything needed for surgery and medical care. This includes sedatives for field use at capture, analgesics, anesthesia, and surgical instruments and supplies. If you provide transmitters in advance, we can prepare them for you. PTT preparation includes application of internal attachment mesh, antenna collar, testing, and gas sterilization. We also include pre-printed adhesive labels with each PTT to simplify documentation of deployments in the field. Our primary anesthesia is isoflurane gas in oxygen, considered widely to be the safest mode of general anesthesia for a wide variety of birds. We also provide copies of our protocols, which have been reviewed by various Animal Care and Use Committees and should be compatible with your institutional policies. Whatever you need for ethical, compassionate care of your study subjects, we will do our best to provide.

What You Provide

In typical projects, you will only need to supply the transmitters (if this is an implantation project), a surgery location that affords protection from the weather, a clean surface to work on, clean water, and crates for transporting and recovering the birds. If travel and overnight stays are required, this also needs to be provided or compensated.

Price Estimates and Scheduling

Contact me for an estimate but typical prices are $650/day for services in the field, $30/unit for PTT preparation, and $50/surgery for supplies. Travel expenses and any cargo/mailing fees must also be provided. If you’d like to check availability for a project or have further questions, please fill out the form below. In most cases, you’ll get a response within 72 hours– unless Dr. Ford is already away on a remote trip!

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Are you a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator and have a difficult wildlife case? Dr. Ford may be able to help. He regularly responds to cases on Veterinary Information Network ( but can also take cases directly if this is not an option. This service is reserved primarily for veterinarians or wildlife facilities. If you have found an injured wild bird, please take it to your nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility for care. Most of the time these can be found with an internet search including the terms “wildlife rehabilitator” and your local town or state (Example: “wildlife rehabilitator Washington State”).

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Seeing Dr. Ford with a Pet Bird

I serve the Milwaukee, WI area on a part-time basis. If you’re outside this area, please check out my page on finding an avian veterinarian. For pet birds, I make myself available for advanced cases, consults, and referrals primarily. I’m gone a lot and I give my wildlife conservation projects the priority for scheduling. So, I encourage you to have a local avian vet that you can trust for routine exams, blood work, and trims and I’ll back them up on the hard stuff. I can also be consulted by your veterinarian through the Veterinary Information Network.

For emergencies or referrals, I can be reached through Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals (MECA). I’m usually open for scheduling two days per week (currently Mondays and Tuesdays). They can be reached at 414-543-7387.

For well-bird checks (e.g., routine annual physicals and bloodwork), I hold semi-regular clinics at Center for Avian Rehabilitation and Education (CARE) in Waukesha, WI. Services there are limited at that location so I do not see birds there with known illness or injuries. You can check with CARE on dates and reserve an appointment by calling them at 262-875-4115.

Pet Bird Care Quick Help Services

Our Services

Dr. Scott Ford provides veterinary medical services for wildlife. This includes seeing wild bird patients for examination and surgery, providing surgical and medical support for field biologists, assisting in environmental disasters, and providing online or telephone support for veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators.

Injured Wildlife

Dr. Ford’s studies and career began with wild birds and he has strived to maintained a connection with them throughout his career. Most of the injuries that befall wild birds are anthropogenic (that is, human-caused). It’s only right that we do our part to lend comfort and care to injured wildlife and do our best, through public education and political action, to reduce their injuries and conserve the environment we share. To that end, whenever possible, he lends his services to local wildlife center free of charge. He also speaks at national conferences and local events and offer seminars to help improve the quality of wildlife care.

Surgical/Medical Support for Field Research Projects

Since 2008, Dr. Ford has provided services, by contract, to wildlife researchers to assist them with their field projects. Entities he has served have included US Fish & Wildlife, US Geological Survey, Canadian Wildlife Service, Sea Duck Joint Venture, Alaska Dept of Fish and Game, Washington State Department of Wildlife, Biodiversity Research Institute, Smithsonian Institute, Hamer Environmental, and many others. Typically the projects focus on surgical implantation of tracking devices in water birds. Dr. Ford understands the complexities of preparing and deploying for field work in remote locations. He simplifies the medical aspects by providing protocols for Animal Care and Use Committee approval. He also provides all his own medical supplies and handles logistics. Dr. Ford is one of the most experienced avian tracker implant surgeons in the world, having deployed over 400 transmitters into birds from 27 different species with a high rate of success.

Environmental Catastrophes

Dr. Ford has volunteered his services for major bird events caused by oil spills and harmful algal blooms on the west coast. For several years he was the lead trainer and veterinarian for the Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization (SEAPRO) based in Ketchikan, Alaska. He was also the lead veterinarian for bird treatment for Focus Wildlife during a 1 million-gallon oil spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2010. He continues to instruct and offer consultation on preparedness for environmental disasters that may affect birds in the future.

Online & Phone Consultations

Dr. Ford offers remote support for veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators on their individual medical cases. He is an avian consultant on the Veterinary Information Network ( where he responds to cases on a near-daily basis. He also regularly responds to less formal consults that come by phone or email and visits sites during his travels to lend a hand in whatever way he can. For the most part, these consults are free of charge.


Color Atlas of Avian Anatomy (Free PDF)

By John McLelland

Avian anatomy focusing primarily upon poultry. Includes histology and some pathology images.


Color Atlas of the Diseases of the Domestic Fowl & Turkey (Free PDF)

By C. J. Randall

Required reading for avian medicine board certification. The book is dated but the information and images are still relevant as all of these diseases are still around.


Care of Ducks, Geese, and Swans

Dr. Ford holding a wood duck

By Dr. Scott Ford

These are my basic care recommendations for pet Anseriformes (ducks, geese, and swans)[i]. Free free to download and share the handout.

General Information

Most species of waterfowl, including domestic ducks, geese, and swans, are within the 140 species of birds in the family Anatidae of the taxonomic order Anseriformes. There are many domestic breeds of duck and most are descended from mallards. An exception is the Mucovy duck (Cairina moschata) which is a perching duck species found in South America. The Pekin or “Long Island” duck (Anas platyrhynchos domestica) is the most common breed of domestic duck. They have been selectively bred primarily for meat and egg production. As such, they are prone to reproductive-related disorders and obesity in captivity. Pekins are typically white-feathered with orange bill and feet. There are also many (60+) domestic breeds of geese such as the African, Chinese, Embden, Toulouse, and Sebastopol to name a few. Traditionally geese were kept as a source of meat and to warn of predators or trespassers. Geese which lack forehead knobs are descendants of graylag geese (Anser anser) while those with knobs are usually derived from the swan goose (Anser cygnoides). In some cases Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are partially domesticated though they are not legal as pets in the US. Swans have not been as highly domesticated and selectively-bred. Common species of domestic swans include mute and black swans and they were bred mainly for aesthetics. It is illegal to keep or care for wild ducks without appropriate state and federal permits and licenses. Injured wild ducks should be reported to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for care.


For most adult ducks and geese we recommend feeding a commercial formulated diet such as Mazuri Waterfowl Maintenance. There are also formulations for breeding and growing stages. Your local feed store can order Mazuri products if they do not already have them in stock or you can visit for information on suppliers. Vegetables and garden greens should also be offered and access to a yard, pasture, or pond is encouraged for other foraging opportunities. Ducks are particularly fond of slugs, snails, worms, and insects in addition to grasses and waterplants. Scratch grains, cracked corn, pasta, and baked goods are not recommended since these tend to provide too much energy resulting in obesity. Exceptions can be made during very cold weather (e.g., sustained sub-freezing temperatures) when energy needs are increased. Oystershell or other calcium-containing grit should be offered and is particularly recommended during periods of egg-laying.


Ducks concentrated in earthen pens during months of rainy weather quickly create a muddy, slippery mess. For this reason, well-drained pea gravel is recommended as a pen substrate. An artificial or natural pond should be provided with non-skid ramps to help birds easily climb in and out. Some protection from sun and weather should be provided. This can be in the form of a hut or coop but good ventilation must be maintained to prevent respiratory fungal infection. Protection, particularly at night, from stray dogs and raccoons is also important. Wire pens should have their edges buried to a depth of at least 12 inches to prevent predators from digging under.

Because ducks produce very wet droppings, maintaining cleanliness is challenging. Leftover food should be removed daily from enclosures and small artificial ponds should be drained and washed out regularly. Algae blooms in bathing water may discourage use. Devices are available to circulate and aerate water to prevent this. Coops and ramps should be kept clean and dry. Pea gravel is best although straw can suffice if changed regularly. Artificial flooring such as linoleum or concrete is easier to clean but the hardness and slickness can lead to bumblefoot. Astroturf or perforated anti-fatigue mats can be placed on top of concrete to provide good footing and drainage. If high-pressure hosing is used for cleaning we recommend wearing a mask to protect you from inhaling aerosolized pathogens.

Medical Concerns                                                         

Annual examination of your flock or individual birds is recommended. A physical exam and discussion of history can uncover impending problems and allow us to prevent serious disease. Fecal analysis and bloodwork may also be recommended. Some common problems seen in domestic waterfowl include obesity, aspergillosis, bumblefoot, reproductive disorders, arthritis, and ingestion of foreign bodies. Obesity is most often a function of too energy in the diet, a lack of exercise, and genetics (e.g., Pekin ducks). Addressing the diet and increasing room to exercise can help.

Aspergillosis is a fungal infection of the respiratory tract and may occur due to poor air quality, particularly in closed sleeping areas. Keeping quarters clean and dry is the best preventative. For birds under extra stress from transport or introduction, sometimes a prophylactic antifungal regimen is appropriate.

Bumblefoot refers to a number of types of sores, swelling, and infection of the skin of the feet. Because waterfowl are mainly on the water in the wild, being forced to stand on dry, hard substrates can promote breakdown of skin and underlying tissues. Lack of dietary vitamin A, obesity, lack of exercise, and foot injury can also promote bumblefoot. Treatment can be difficult so it is best to have foot sores evaluated as soon as they are found.

Reproductive disorders range from egg-binding to inflammation of the abdomen to cancer of the ovary or oviduct. Sometimes multiple types of disorders are involved. Symptoms include alterations in normal laying rhythm, changes in droppings, abdominal swelling or sudden weight gain, labored breathing, and straining to defecate or lay. Sometimes there can be clues on the eggs such as wrinkled or rough shell texture. Treatment should be aggressive and as early in the course of disease as possible. Often surgery is necessary.

Arthritis is more common in obese ducks, particularly as they reach old age (roughly 8-10 years old in Pekins) but it can happen earlier. Slippery substrates and lack of ramps in pools can promote injury to the joints of the legs. Treatment options range from use of anti-inflammatory drugs to antibiotics (in the case of joint infections) to orthopedic surgery to fuse or correct joints.

Commonly swallowed foreign bodies include nails, screws, and wire. Ducks are attracted to these items because hard minerals help grind food in the gizzard. Many of these items never cause a problem but occasionally a sharp item will perforate the stomach and lead to illness. Some metal objects can also contain lead which will cause life-threatening disease (weakness, lethargy, green diarrhea, anemia) and must be treated immediately.

Common Zoonoses (Diseases potentially contagious to people)

  • Psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittici)
  • Mycobacteriosis (avian tuberculosis)
  • Salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis (Obtained from droppings of waterfowl and can cause several types of illnesses in people, mainly dysentery)

[i] This information is intended primarily for domestic breeds of ducks and geese and not intended for care of sea ducks, wildlife, or piscivorous (fish-eating) waterfowl.

Pet Bird Care Resources

Care of Pigeons and Doves

Woman holding huge Victorian pigeon

By Dr. Scott Ford

These are my basic care recommendations for Columbiformes (pigeons and doves)[i]. Free free to download and share the handout.

General Information

The order Columbiformes contains as many as 307 species in 10 families and subfamilies. There are some species that are currently threatened or endangered and some species have become extinct during the past few centuries (including the dodo bird). Although columbids share distinct physical features with each other there is a lot of diversity within this group of birds. Some columbids are tropical forest dwellers subsisting on insects and fruit whereas our more familiar species are granivorous, preferring seeds and grains for their diet. Some species are more similar to pheasants than to our classic idea of a pigeon. Common pigeons (domestic pigeons) usually lay 2 plain white eggs and incubate them for about 18 days. They are prolific breeders and can nest year-round if food is available. The nest is a loose collection of straw or sticks on ledge or, for some species, on a tree limb.


Our most common species of pigeons and doves should be fed a seed and grain mix appropriate for the size of the bird. This can be supplemented with formulated pigeon pellets or parrot pellets (e.g., Harrison’s Bird Diet Adult Lifetime). Because columbids swallow grains and seeds whole, they rely on powerful gizzard contractions and the presence of small stones in their stomach to grind their food. We recommend providing grit appropriate to the size of the bird. Calcium grit or oystershell for breeding or growing birds is also suggested. Fruits, such as berries, may be offered also. Greens and vegetables can be provided for variety although many captive birds may ignore them.


Most pigeons and doves can be maintained outdoors in temperate climates. A flight cage is recommended but the birds should also have an enclosure to escape wind and rain. A light bulb or ceramic bulb can be provided in the winter for particularly cold weather. Increased quantities of cracked corn, sunflower seed, or other higher oil-containing seeds can also be helpful in cold weather to provide extra calories for maintaining body temperature. Ventilation is important within lofts, particularly with large flocks. Ventilation should include floor and rafter openings to encourage dissipation of ammonia vapors from droppings and to encourage drying of fecal material. The floors of lofts should be elevated at least 12” off the ground to also discourage moisture and vermin. Use of straw, except within nest boxes, is discouraged as it provides a good medium for fungal growth. For small indoor dove cages, plain newspaper is a great substrate and should be changed daily. For outdoor lofts, bare wood, sand, or very small, washed, pea gravel can be used. Wood can be scraped clean while sand and gravel can be raked and scooped regularly. This should be performed on at least a weekly basis particularly in damp conditions or with large flocks.

Pigeons produce powder down from special feathers on their sides. People who are regularly exposed to this powder down can be at risk for developing a serious allergic reaction to it. We recommend wearing a mask when cleaning pigeon and dove enclosures. Birds kept indoors should preferably be housed in a room separate from where people sleep and with good ventilation or air filtration.

Medical Concerns

Indoor doves and pigeons from reputable, clean aviaries are generally free from disease. Outdoor pigeons, particularly those allowed to fly free, are at more risk for disease. Whenever acquiring new birds for your flock, we encourage you to quarantine the new birds for at least 28 days in a separate enclosure. An examination, fecal evaluation, and, in some cases, bloodwork are recommended on new birds. Some potential pathogens in all columbids include Psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittici infection), pigeon herpesvirus, trichomoniasis (also known as canker), paratyphoid (Salmonella infection), and intestinal parasites such as acarids.

Common Zoonoses (Diseases contagious to people)

  • Psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittici)
  • Histoplasmosis and Cryptococcus (fungi that prefer to grow in accumulated pigeon droppings)
  • Allergic alveolitis (see above under husbandry)

[i] This information is intended primarily for members of the genera Columba (includes common pigeon or rock dove and all breeds thereof), Streptopelia (ring-necked and related doves), and Geopelia (diamond and related doves).

Pet Bird Care Resources

Avian Surgical Anatomy of the Thoracic & Pelvic Limbs

By Susan Orosz

This resource has been removed at the request of the author. They will be releasing a new, co-authored book titled Surgical Anatomy and Orthopedic Management by Susan E Orosz, M Scott Echols and Patrick T Redig, in 2022. I’m excited to see this new book released– it’s been many years in the making and should be an excellent resource.


Care of Chickens and Turkeys

A chicken in a pen

By Dr. Scott Ford

These are my basic care recommendations for Galliformes (chickens, turkeys, and game birds). Free free to download and share the handout.

Diet and Care Recommendations

General Information

Chickens are domesticated descendants of the red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus) of southeast Asia. There are hundreds of breeds. Domestic turkeys are descendants of the wild turkey (Maleagris gallopavo).  There are at least 8 recognized breeds including the bronze and white turkeys, which are probably the most common breeds in America. Both chickens and turkeys have been selectively bred to enhance weight gain for meat production, for laying, or for specific external traits in the case of ornamental varieties. Common egg-breeds of chickens include Ameraucana, leghorn, Araucana, Andalusian, and Minorca. Primarily meat-breeds include Jersey giants and Cornish game. Many breeds of chickens are considered dual purpose (meat and egg production) including Australorp, Brahma, Orpington, Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, Jersey Giant, and Wyandotte. There are also exhibition breeds including the cochin, Japanese bantam, modern game, polish, old English game, Sebright, and silkie. The true bantams include silkies, Pekin, Serama, Japanese bantam, and Sebright, among others. Bantams can be very useful as surrogate brooders for falcons, sea ducks, and other endangered species. Turkeys have primarily been domesticated for meat production. Knowing what type of breed your chicken or turkey is can be important for anticipating its needs and potential management issues. Commercial breeds, in particular, are generally short-lived and exhibit severely debilitating orthopedic disease if not fed properly during growth stages. There are local native species of Galliformes in western Washington including wild turkey, ruffed-grouse, California quail, and spruce grouse. The ring-necked pheasant is an introduced species in North America.


Galliformes require a formulated diet specific to the species and type of breed, as well as the growth stage (see table below). There are numerous local and national brands (e.g., Purina) of chicken feed for various life stages, such as starter (for very young chicks), grower, layer, molting, and, as a catch-all, “all flock” feed. They may be available as mash, crumbles, or pellets. For adults, the choice of consistency is purely up to the preference of the owner and their chickens. But the life stage of feed should be selected based on the most demanding representative of the flock. In other words, if you have molting and laying hens, it’s best to provide layer feed so that the layers receive their greater demand of protein. Feeding “all flock” is discouraged, particularly if you have growing chickens in the flock.

Feed quality varies, even between batches of the same brand. New bags of feed should be inspected. Feed should not clump when compressed in the hand, should have a slightly sweet smell, and should taste mild (yes, you can taste the feed if it is non-medicated). Transition between feeds should be performed gradually (over a period of a week preferably) to allow bacterial flora in the bird’s gut to adjust to the new forms and proportions of nutrients. Wheat should be avoided as a primary constituent of the diet as it is more difficult to digest. Birds in the starter age group should also not have large clumps or particle sizes in their feed as this can lead to obstruction of their crop (a storage pouch in the esophagus).

Species/BreedStarter (ages)Grower (ages)Adult/Layer
Chickens (Layers/gen purpose breeds)15% (0-3 weeks) 15% (3-18 weeks) 16%
Chickens (Broiler/meat breeds)20% (0-1.5 weeks)18% (1.5-6 weeks)18%
Turkeys, pheasants, quail, peafowl24% (0-2 weeks)22-24% (time varies)22%
Percent protein required in formulated diet

Scratch grains, cracked corn, pasta, and baked goods are not recommended since they provide too much energy resulting in obesity. Exceptions can be made during very cold weather (e.g., sustained freezing temperatures) when energy needs are increased. In addition, vegetables and greens and regular access to a yard or pasture is recommended for free-foraging. Free-foraging is known to greatly enhance the color of the yolk, decrease cholesterol, and fortify eggs with vitamin A and Omega-3 fatty acids. Calcium-containing grit or oystershell is recommended, particularly in layers.


Chickens concentrated in earthen pens during months of rainy weather can quickly create a muddy, slippery mess. For this reason, well-drained pea gravel is recommended as a pen substrate. For most chickens, a coop is recommended for roosting at night and the birds will be most comfortable with perches and nest boxes. Perches should be no higher than 3’ off of the floor and boxes should have ramps for easy access. If hens lay eggs for long periods of time, bones can become weakened and prone to injury from hard drops. Turkeys and large breeds of chickens do not require perching although very low perches can be provided. The coop should be clean, dry, and well-ventilated. Alfalfa hay or straw can be used to pad the floor of the coop and can also help prevent muddy slippery soil in the outdoor pen. Impermiable artificial flooring such as linoleum or concrete is not recommended as the hardness and slickness can lead to bumblefoot and limb deformities. If a high-pressure washer is used for cleaning we recommend wearing a mask to protect you from inhaling aerosolized pathogens. Protection, particularly at night, from stray dogs and raccoons is also important and pens should have their wire walls buried to a depth of 12 inches to prevent predators from digging under.

Medical Concerns

Annual examination of your flock or individual birds is recommended. A physical exam and discussion of history can uncover impending problems and allow us to prevent serious disease. Fecal analysis and bloodwork may also be recommended. Some common problems seen in domestic fowl include obesity, aspergillosis, bumblefoot, reproductive disorders, arthritis, and ingestion of foreign bodies.

Obesity is most often a function of too much fat or starch in the diet, a lack of exercise, and genetics. Addressing the diet and increasing room to exercise can help.

Aspergillosis is a fungal infection of the respiratory tract and may occur due to poor air quality, particularly in closed sleeping areas. Keeping quarters clean and dry is the best preventative. For birds under extra stress from transport or introduction, sometimes a prophylactic antifungal regimen is appropriate.

Bumblefoot refers to a number of types of sores, swelling, and infection of the skin of the feet. Lack of dietary vitamin A, obesity, lack of exercise, and foot injury can also promote bumblefoot. Treatment can be difficult so it is best to have foot sores evaluated as soon as they are found.

Reproductive disorders range from egg-binding to inflammation of the abdomen to cancer of the ovary or oviduct. Sometimes multiple types of disorders are involved. Symptoms include alterations in normal laying rhythm, changes in droppings, abdominal swelling or sudden weight gain, labored breathing, and straining to defecate or lay. Sometimes there can be clues on the eggs such as wrinkled or rough shell texture. Treatment should be aggressive and as early in the course of disease as possible. Often surgery is necessary.

Arthritis is more common in large breeds or in obese chickens or turkeys. Slippery substrates and lack of ramps can promote injury to the joints of the legs. Treatment options range from use of anti-inflammatory drugs to antibiotics (in the case of joint infections) to orthopedic surgery to fuse or correct joints.

Commonly swallowed foreign bodies include nails, screws, and wire. The birds are attracted to these items because hard minerals help grind food in the gizzard. Many of these items never cause a problem but occasionally a sharp item will perforate the stomach and lead to illness. Some metal objects can also contain lead which will cause life-threatening disease (weakness, lethargy, green diarrhea, anemia) and must be treated immediately.

Common Zoonoses (Diseases potentially contagious to people)

  • Psittacosis (Chlamydophila psittici)
  • Mycobacteriosis (avian tuberculosis)
  • Salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis (Obtained from droppings)

[i] This information is primarily intended for domesticated breeds of chickens and turkeys. Peacocks, quail, and pheasants have different requirements.

Pet Bird Care Resources

Birds: Their Structure & Function (Free PDF)

By A. S. King and J. McLelland

A long out-of-print, fact-packed book of avian anatomy. It is required reading for those seeking board certification and is highly recommended for anyone in the avian medical field. Used copies can be acquired on eBay but their price has steadily risen and they are harder to find. I scanned this copy in years ago to make it more portable and to share with students. Download and enjoy!

Citation: King AS, McLelland J. Birds Their Structure & Function, 2d ed. Bailliere Tindall, London. 1984. 334 pp.


If you prefer to focus on just one system, the book is broken into chapters based on organ systems. You can select a chapter/system below and download just the area you’re interested in. These are all already included in the file above.


Healthy Choices for Your Parrot

By Dr. Scott Ford

These are my general recommendations for care and training of most pet birds.

We can all relate to the importance of balance. A balanced diet, a balanced checkbook, and a balanced lifestyle are important to our well-being. Birds also need balance in their life. Balanced nutrition is an important cornerstone of care. Equally important is balanced activity and behavioral enrichment to allow them to engage with others and with their environment.

Cornerstones of Daily Activity

Figure 1: The three cornerstones of daily activity in birds

There are three primary elements to a parrot’s daily life: Nutrition, Social Interaction, and Maintenance Behaviors. Nutrition and foraging refers to the make-up of the diet and the time and energy involved in finding, extracting, eating, and processing food. Social interaction includes time spent in a flock setting vocalizing, preening, flying, and displaying. Maintenance activities include all the things that a bird has to do to maintain its physical health, outside of eating, such as sleeping, preening, and bathing. Once these areas have been satisfied, there are additional behaviors and activities that take place on an annual cycle, such as reproduction, molt, or, in some cases, migration. However, if the three basic categories occupy most of a bird’s time and energy, the annual activities, particularly reproduction, may not take place at all. It comes down to budgeting of time, nutrients, availability of mates or nests, etc. Realizing this is the first step to recognizing how we can change a pet bird’s behavior through manipulation of the environment, diet, and our social interaction with them.

In a wild setting, birds work hard, most of the time, to find food, watch for danger, and take care of themselves. A natural equilibrium establishes which may or may not allow for extra activites. In captivity, basic needs are met easily and so there is an enormous surplus of time and energy intake and a minimal amount of physical activity required. This extra time and dietary energy can be utilized for breeding even if the other required elements, such as a mate or nest site, are minimally available. For many captive parrots, this is enough to be reproductively active on a continuous basis, often without being able to ever complete the cycle and enter a phase of rest and repair. Because physiological changes for breeding are so intensive, it is believed that birds that are constantly in this condition are very prone to a variety of medical and psychological illnesses. Resulting medical conditions include osteodystrophy (loss of bone calcium), hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), egg coelomitis (inflammation of the abdomen from internally ovulating), oviductal or ovarian cancer and cysts, egg binding, cloacitis (inflammation or infection of the cloaca), cloacal prolapse, and stroke. Undesired behaviors that can result include feather or skin destructive behaviors (feather picking/plucking), obsessive compulsive behaviors, territorially defensive behaviors, and screaming or other attention-getting behaviors (e.g., separation anxiety). Birds that do not enter breeding condition, but still cannot satisfy their needs for activity, mental exercise, or social interaction, can also exhibit some of these problem behaviors. At the very minimum, birds that are not allowed to achieve lifestyle balance probably experience more stress and do not behave and interact with their human flock to their full potential.

Social Interaction

Most wild parrots are social creatures except, perhaps, when they pair up and concentrate on raising young. Commonly the birds will spend brief periods of time allopreening (preening the feathers on eachothers’ heads) or otherwise interacting and vocalizing with a flock. These flocks can be very noisy and active. As our birds’ surrogate flock, we need to fulfill this role without inadvertantly taking on the role of mate. Talking, dancing, training, and playing games with your bird are excellent ways to fulfill your bird’s need for social interaction. Even just having your bird nearby on a perch, stand, or travel cage, wherever you are at the time, is good quality time. To avoid the impression that you are a willing mate, avoid prolonged cuddling, allopreening, or perching on your shoulder. To a parrot, these can suggest a more intimate interest.

Nutrition and Foraging

This cornerstone of daily activity includes the search for food and the act of extracting, eating, and processing it. This can occupy as much as 6-18 hours of a wild parrot’s day. The activity of foraging also engages the bird’s mind as it flies, takes in all of the sensory information, watches for predators, learns from its flock members, and concentrates on discovering, manipulating, and extracting food items. In contrast, a pet parrot may only spend 20-30 minutes a day simply eating out of a bowl in isolation from others. During periods when social interaction is limited, as is often the case when we, the surrogate flockmates, are away earning a living, other maintenance behaviors such as foraging and feather care should be increased to fill the time. This in turn may be very beneficial as a part of behavioral modification treatments for abnormal behaviors such as feather picking, screaming, or pair-bonding behaviors.

There are three keys to successfully teaching your bird to forage: Diet, starting simple, and consistency. Foraging rewards should be tiny pieces of extra special food that is not present in the regular diet. For most parrots, the basic diet should be limited to pellets and vegetables, thus freeing items like fruit, pasta, Cheerios, whole-grain crackers or other non-fatty people foods for use (sparingly) in training and foraging. Listed below are some basic foraging ideas. Remember to start easy if your bird has never foraged. On a daily basis, assemble, play with, and disassemble foraging items in front of your bird at first as they may not even understand that food can be concealed. Once they understand that rewards are involved, they will begin exploring and learning on their own. You are the surrogate flock so your bird will be naturally interested in whatever you show interest in on a regular basis. As your bird masters a particular technique, you can begin to randomize rewards, increase difficulty, and combine techniques. For example, every foraging device may have a tasty nut piece as first but later you can hide pellets or beads or toys instead. For combination, you could place wrapped items in a bowl that is itself wrapped with cardboard. Interestingly, the increased difficulty and less consistent reward can actually increase your bird’s drive to forage as they search harder for that desired reward. Give these techniques a try:

  • Foraging perch: A piece of non-treated wood (e.g., pine lumber) drilled with holes into which rewards fit tightly. The reward should be visible but not accessible without chewing down through the wood. This perch material can be used with your training perch, when the bird is outside of the cage with you. The wood can also be used as a perch in the cage, or even hung in the cage to increase the challenge.
  • Wrapping food bowls: Wrap the food bowls with paper or cardboard so that your bird has to spend time chewing in to get at the food. You may have to teach your bird the first time by punching a starter hole, or simulating the foraging activity yourself, acquiring your bird’s favorite food item, and not sharing it with the bird after you find it.
  • Treat wads: You can individually wrap rewards in small pieces of paper, corn husks, snowcone cups or Dixie cups, or other materials. Not all wrappings need to contain a reward, either.
  • Buried treasures: Pellets or more valued rewards can be mixed in with wood buttons, dry beans, or other items so that the bird has to dig through to find its food. Some parrot species, such as grey parrots, can be particularly stimulated into new foraging behaviors by having a “sandbox” and buried treasures provided.
  • Commercially-available toys: There are a variety of toys available that require birds to unscrew parts or manipulate components to get at their reward. See the Resources list at the end of this packet for ideas on where you can find commercially available foraging toys. Remember that you can gradually increase the difficulty by stuffing the toy with wrapped food items, sticks, or other clean debris.
  • Foraging tree: A “tree” complete with challenging foraging stations can be made of lumber, sticks, plastic pipe, or rope. See the Resource section at the end of this handout to learn where you can acquire the DVD “Captive Foraging” which demonstrates how to build and train your bird to use a foraging tree.
  • Trick training: By asking your bird to perform a desired behavior for a reward, you are, in essence, providing a modified foraging activity for your bird. In addition, you are also having a lot of fun, and are satisfying your bird’s need for social interaction. See the Training section later in this handout and check out the training opportunities in the Resources list at the end of this handout.

Maintenance Activities

Maintentance activities include sleeping, preening, and bathing—the basic physical needs of a bird in addition to eating. While we do not generally need to encourage maintenance activities, we do need to provide for them. A regular allowance for quiet, dark conditions for proper sleep is important as is provision of bathing opportunities. Although covering your bird can provide some privacy, if there is still activity and noise in the room, it is unlikely that the bird will completely rest. If possible, we recommend that you provide a small accessory cage (such as a travel cage) in a separate, darkened room, such as a bathroom or spare bedroom. The “sleeping cage” need only contain the basic essentials: a perch and water and possibly food if you may be delayed in removing the bird the next morning. As a general rule, your bird should have the opportunity for 10-12 hours of rest daily. If this schedule is consistent, you may be able to diminish “hormonal” or sexual behaviors since photoperiod, or day length, has some influence on the secretion of reproductive hormones. Some experts also believe that breaking up the bird’s daily environment by activity (e.g., sleeping, socializing, and feeding) could help decrease a perception of their cage as a breeding territory.

Providing for your bird’s bathing needs is usually relatively simple. Some birds will prefer to bathe in a bowl while others will enjoy showering with you. Most will accept gentle misting with water. Some like to splash in the sink under a gentle stream of water. We encourage you to experiment to find your bird’s favorite method. Frequent bathing is a good thing and the only requirement is that your house is at least 55-60°F. If they really enjoy bathing, it can be a daily activity but we recommend an opportunity at least 1-2 times a week.

Getting Back Into Balance

As mentioned earlier, an imbalanced lifestyle can lead to abnormal behaviors. For example, if a bird is picking its feathers, this could occur because of a lack of social and foraging activity. If social interaction and challenging foraging activities are introduced, there may be less time available for overpreening. Of course, there are other reasons for feather picking including health problems which should be checked out by your avian veterinarian before starting treatment yourself.

Balancing daily activities should, as closely as possible, fit the natural biology and behavior of your bird’s species as well as the lifestyle constraints of your home. Maintaining a balance of healthy social interaction, foraging and nutrition, and maintenance behaviors requires conscious effort by the owner. In the wild, a multitude of external pressures and natural processes shape and mold the bird’s lifestyle. In the absence of that, you become the master of the bird’s environment. It’s a tall order to try to provide the stimulation and boundaries that nature provides, but it’s up to you to do your best. I recommend that you become as much an expert as you can on your bird’s natural lifestyle. There are some resources at the end of this packet that can help get you started. Here are some encouraging tips to help you keep it in perspective.

  • Check out the resources at the end of this handout. You can never have too much information (or encouraging stories) to help you be the master of your bird’s domain.
  • Be the flock: Since many pet birds are hand-reared, they often have learned to recognize people as other members of their species. This recognition and the interaction that comes with it is what helps to make parrots such enjoyable companion birds in our homes. Normally, other flock members would teach a juvenile bird what social behaviors are appropriate through a system of observational learning and trial and error. To set your bird up for lifelong success (which can be up to 100 years in some species), it is important for you to fill this role as mentor. Recognizing this role is key to understanding how your parrot views you and learns from you. Consider opportunities to take your bird with you to work, on trips, or even on errands occasionally. On these adventures, provide your bird with opportunities to meet other human “flock” members and expand their social experience. Remember, most parrots are highly social and live in flocks.
  • Get involved with a local bird group. They can provide encouragement, support, and advice. As with any information, carefully consider the practicality and substantiation (e.g., scientific basis). In other words, take all advice with a “grain of salt.”
  • Homework is important for your bird. Consider the intellectual and social strengthening you experienced during your upbringing. A structured environment is equally important to shaping your parrot’s behavior.
  • Patience and consistency is a must for any behavior modification program. Everyone in the home must be on-board with the program. Results will usually come in small baby-steps. Don’t give up!
  • Well-trained and adjusted pet birds are less stressed, better nourished, and less likely to develop illness. We also gain enjoyment from our pet birds if they are well adjusted, trained and behave well in our homes. This is your ultimate goal, and it is attainable.
  • Call us to discuss your birds behavior and health any time that there is a question. Every bird and household is different so we will do our best to help you find the solutions that fit your unique situation.


Training & Behavior Modification Concepts

Define your goal: It is essential to know what you are trying to train your bird to do, otherwise how will the bird ever learn what you want? Be sure to choose small, achievable goals at first.

Use small steps or approximations to reach the goal: “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” right? Nothing complicated is learned in one great chunk—not even by humans. However, breaking it down into small, short steps and practicing these steps over and over can provide the building blocks for a variety of complicated new behaviors.

Use of bridges and cues: A bridge is a sound, such as a clicker, a spoken word, or a whistle, which is used in conjunction with the bird performing a desired action. The association eventually builds so that the bridge becomes a cue—a sound used to signal to the bird it is time to perform that behavior.

Positive Reinforcement: This is the presentation of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. Positive reinforcers are desirable items or interactions such as food rewards or moments of verbal interaction or a pet on head. The reward should be consumed or completed in within about 10 seconds so that the training can continue smoothly.

Negative Reinforcement: The removal of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to maintain or increase the frequency of the behavior. These tend to be unpleasant stimuli that the bird avoids. Negative reinforcement can be effective but the learner generally does not continue learning beyond the minimal amount necessary to avoid the negative stimulus. For this reason it is NOT generally recommended.

Positive Punishment: The presentation of an aversive stimulus following a behavior that decreases or suppresses the frequency of the behavior. NOT RECOMMENDED as it will tend to produce counter-aggression, escape behaviors, and, finally apathy.

Negative Punishment: The removal of a stimulus following a behavior that serves to decrease or suppress the frequency of the behavior. This can be used carefully to replace inadvertent positive reinforcement of undesired behaviors and is particularly helpful if acceptable replacement behaviors are positively reinforced. Example: A bird is screaming in your presence and you leave the room until it stops for a couple of minutes. Then you return and offer a treat or positive interaction for being quiet.

Targets: A target is something used to focus a bird’s attention and direct their next step. The bird is always rewarded when the target is touched or followed. If this rule is not violated, there is no end to the types of tasks and tricks that can be trained. A target can be as obvious as a colored stick or as basic as a raised finger.

Station: This is where all the neuron-building takes place. The station can be a portable perch or anything that the bird is comfortable sitting on but which is not distracted by other birds, people, food, toys, etc. The bird will learn that this is where the best rewards are to be achieved and should look forward to the time spent at this special spot.

Don’t change the rules: Once you hold out a reward, or a hand for stepping up, or a target, and the bird follows through, you must let them have their reward. If you’ve decided it’s too easy for them, reset the scenario after the reward and make them try again with a slightly harder goal. On the flip side, if it looks like too big a step, withdraw the reward, step back for a second, then step in with a new, easier goal to achieve.

Patience: Animal training takes time and patience! This is especially true if the bird has significant social issues to overcome. Take your time and celebrate and repeat the small achievements along way.

Ending on a good note: Try to end training sessions on a good note. If you see a hard-won breakthrough, give the bird a good reward and call it a day—unless it’s clear his favorite reward is continuing the training!

Foundation Behaviors to Teach Your Bird

  • “Step-Up”: Stepping up is a foundational maneuver upon which most training and behavioral guidance relies. If your bird is already fairly tame or even used to know how to step-up, then simply press your hand gently up against the front of your bird’s legs and say “step-up” (or use whatever bridge or cue you prefer). Once the bird places its foot onto the edge of your hand, hold still and provide a firm and solid perch with your hand. A shaking, hesitant, or unsure hand will not be a desirable perch for most birds to transfer their weight to. If your bird is not tame, you may have to start by “bribing” your bird to your hand by offering a small food reward. If the bird does not respond immediately then eat the reward in front of them (with obvious relish) and try again later. When they do step onto your hand to get to the bribe, avoid the temptation to lift the bird away the first few times. Repeat the exercise a few times before finally beginning to lift the bird away. If they seem uncertain, offer them a reward or set them down and start again. Remember, the priority is to build trust before building new behaviors.
  • “Step-Down”: Stepping down is important simply to allow for you to guide your bird’s movement. To step your bird down, with your hand positioned lower than the perch you desire it to go to, gently roll your hand towards the perch, shifting the bird’s weight forward so that they step down. In most cases, the bird should be encouraged to grasp the perch with it’s beak, and then climb up to the perch from there. In this sense, the bird is actually climbing up when being stepped down most of the time. A target or food reward can be used to encourage a bird to step onto a perch for the first several times—particularly if the bird seems unsure about a new or odd-looking perch.
  • “Stay”: Staying on a perch, where placed, is important for your bird to experience “normal” flock social interaction while outside of its cage with you. This simple behavioral requirement will allow your bird to share time with you, but not on you, and will preclude your bird from having free-roam throughout the home. The free-roaming pet parrot is at increased risk of traumatic injuries and household poisonings. Behaviorally, the free-roaming pet parrot will be at risk of developing pair-bonded interactions with one person, and may be less able to be guided into general flock interactions with others in the home. Portable tabletop perches are great for this training since they can be put anywhere and are not usually higher than people. Set your bird on the perch and occasionally offer a stroke or reward—as long as they stay put. If they climb down and walk around, put them back without any verbal cue or other reward. Come back a few minutes later and offer a reward if they stay put, or work to devise other positive reinforcement methods that will help your bird decide that staying on the training perch is a desired thing – from their point of view.

Foundational Diet Recommendations

An overabundance of food, foods high in fat and calories, and too many food choices can all “turn on” your bird’s reproductive drive. In addition, obesity and other nutritional complications may occur. For most captive parrots, the most appropriate diet is a combination of formulated pellets and vegetables. Fruit, seeds, nuts, pasta, and other people foods are not present in the regular diet. The brand or type of pellet is generally not as important as what the bird will accept. In other words, the best pellet is the one that the bird will eat! See my other handouts, tailored to various species, on diet and transitioning the diet to a better one.

Inappropriate Pair Bonding

Should your pet bird view you more as a mate than a member of its flock, there is a greater risk of reproductive and behavioral problems. There are four main control points that we can use to encourage or discourage our bird’s sex drive.

  • Diet: If the diet contains excess fat or simple carbohydrates or if there is a rich variety presented on a regular basis, this can support reproductive drive. See “Foundation Diet Recommendations.”
  • Social Interaction: Normally, most birds do not give each other extensive physical pleasure unless they are pairing up. Long petting sessions or touching your birds in sexually-stimulating ways will reinforce the perception of you as a willing mate. Regular amounts of shoulder time may also convey a perception of sexual intimacy with you.
  • Nesting sites: Reproductive readiness starts with certain external influences but is strengthened when a bird is able to carry out nuptial actions such as nest exploration or nest building. If your bird tends to explore cabinets, closets, clothes piles, or under furniture or bed covers, this activity should be curtailed and replaced with other activities such as foraging.
  • Photoperiod and sleep cycle: Variations in day length may affect reproductive drive. I recommend maintaining a consistent day length of 10-12 hours. You can place your bird in a small sleep cage at night if their cage is in a room where sleep may be interrupted. A sleep cage can be a small travel cage and needs only to have a perch and some water. Going to the sleep cage should be positively reinforced, particularly during the first uses.

Pet Bird Care Resources