Tails Blog

Teach your parrot to talk

Steve Coppell - Saturday, June 16, 2012

For many parrot lovers, teaching their pet to speak is more than a novelty its an obsession. If your keen, and you have the time and patience, you can teach many parrot breeds to mimic your favourite sound, word or verse. 

Just be careful what you teach them.

Getting started
Be patient!! Be very patient

Let the bird sit on your hand in a quiet room.

While looking into the eyes of your parrot repeat it's name over and over again in a slow clear voice.

If the bird tries to say it's name, reward it with it's favourite treat and use praise.

You will need to be prepared to teach your parrot at least twice a day for 5 to 10 minutes every day. Some people believe birds learn groups of words faster than single words. Patience and repetition are real keys to success. Don't be surprised if it takes 6 months for your pet to say a single word. 

Teach your Parrot to Step up

Steve Coppell - Sunday, July 31, 2011

Parrots have been kept for pets for centuries, since before the Roman times. For many people these creatures are revered for there colourful appearance, character and charm. New Zealand is home to six native species of parrot, though they aren't to be kept as pets because they are under threat and so are protected. 

The shape of a parrots beak offers clues about it's proffered diet. Whether it has a small compact bill designed to remove grass seeds from stalks and husks like the Cockatiel and Budgerigar, or the relatively larger beak of the Amazons and Greys for tackling a variety of fruits and seeds, or the thin bill of the Kea which is used to probe for insects.

As keeping birds for pets has become increasingly  popular, so our knowledge has improved with regard to the different species dietary needs and requirements. Some breeds of Parrot can live for 80 years and beyond. A good diet is an important aspect when you consider what provides the best outcome for a happy healthy Parrot.

That being said, Tails has a huge range of food and supplements specially designed for all your pet birds dietary needs. These are just a few. 


Toys for Parrots
Parrots are playful, and should never be denied access to toys. In the wild even our own Kea have been known to chew on cars parked up in national parks causing extensive damage and mayhem. Chewing things provides entertainment and mental stimulation. You don't have to spend a lot of money buying the most expensive toys available on the market, but you do need to be mindful that what you give them to chew is not poisonous.

Cost effective options
There are cost effective options like Pine Cones. These can be studded with treats for encouragement. Twigs and Branches for chewing. Toilet rolls and paper towel tubes, these are all light, hygienic and easily replaced when soiled.

Purchase a toy or two for your parrots environment
If you decide you want to purchase a toy or two for your parrots environment, buy ones that will last because otherwise your parrot will make short work of it, and your hard earned cash will quickly be converted to mess at the bottom of your parrots cage.


Training your Parrot
People quickly associate parrots with the idea that they can be trained to speak, and in many cases this is true, but some won't utter a word. Parrots have been known to have cognitive word association, rather than automatons repeatedly uttering the same words. Calling their owners by name, saying thank you when given food, saying hello when you arrive and good bye when you leave. All this is only achieved by our interaction with them as cognitive beings.

Step up

The first place a lot of  people start when they begin to train their parrot is to step up. Step up is taught most easily outside the cage to begin with. Ideally, place your bird on a T bar stand, facing you at chest height. Then offer your hand to the bird at it's chest while giving the command to step up. Some will automatically step up. If it doesn't step up,  push against the bird enough to unbalance the bird with your flat downward facing palm. When he climbs aboard praise and stroke him. If parrot tries to bite take things slow and offer a perch initially till your parrot becomes more use to you. Sometimes a treat in your other hand is an effective encouragement. Repeat this exercise regularly, it should soon becomes natural. By teaching step up you are asserting your dominance.

Fly to you

This behaviour (asking to step up) can extend to training your parrot to fly to you. Simply step back from the perch while extending your hand and give the command, praising him copiously when he does what is required. The distance between you and the bird can be extended until he is flying some distance to you. An extra reward or treat will not go amiss at this stage.

Check out our other Bird related blog Posts

Your Parrot and Happy Healthy Feet   
Keeping a Budgie for a Pet  
Keeping chickens for pets in NZ 
Treat foods for birds 
Feeding Parrots

Your Parrot and Happy Healthy Feet

Steve Coppell - Saturday, October 30, 2010

Perches are a necessity, not an accessory, for pet birds. They are devices for standing on, grooming tools for their nails and beak, exercise equipment for them to climb, hop and fly from, and a vantage point from which to view the world. Provide your bird with a number of perches that vary in size and texture to prevent boredom, but also because it is unhealthy for its feet to be in the same position for lenthy periods of time. Perches with a rigid or slightly uneven surface are preferable so that your bird is not continually putting pressure on the same part of the foot. Hard smooth surfaces can lead to foot problems such as poor blood circulation, sores, arthritis and atrophy, plus your bird may have difficulty balancing on them.

The best perching material for birds are natural branches. These mimic what they would use in the wild, give them something to chew on and help wear down their toe nails. Manuka (tea tree) branches are recommended. Which are available in a range of thicknesses, so they are ideal for a variety of birds from finches to macaws. Pine, willow, apple and orange tree branches are also suitable for avian perches.
Be careful not to use branches that have been painted, polished or treated with pesticides, and avoid those with lichen or excessive sap. Dont use avocado branches these are poisenous to your bird!
Before you put the branches in your cage, wash them in water with a brush, then heat them in an oven for 30 minutes at 180 degrees celcius to kill any bugs.

If you dont use natural branches for their perch or you want to provide an alternative perching surface, rope perches are another option.

No Nos
Some perches that have been popular in the past are now known to be detrimental to your birds health. Most bird cages come with dowel perches, but these arent recommended. They can cause very sore feet because of the smoothness of the wood. Sandpaper and grit covers, and plastic perches are a big no no too. Sandpaper is rough and can scratch your birds feet leading to infections, while plastic perches are slippery so your bird may find it hard to grip them.

Once you have the perches for your bird, you will need to think about their placement in the cage. Arrange them on different levels, but not directly over your birds food or water bowl. Dont clutter the cage with too many perches. Leave enough space for your bird to strech its wings, ensuring that its tail cannot touch the sides while its sitting on them.

Size Wize
Size is of critical importance when choosing perches. Your bird should not be able to completely encircle its feet around the perch, but should be able to wrap them about three quaters of the way around it.

Finally, unless you have finches, dont forget that most pet birds love to perch on you! They are social and intelligent animals that love to interact with their owners. By furnishing its cage appropriately and spending some time with your bird outside of its cage each day , it will not only have healthy feet, but will also be a happy bird!

Keeping a Budgie for a Pet

Steve Coppell - Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Budgie is  a small bird from the Parrot family. They are native to Australia, where they live in large flocks, traveling to where ever they can find food and water. In the wild, budgies natural colouring is green and yellow but in captivity breeders keep all sorts of colour variations, resulting in more than 100 recognised colour patterns.
Budgies make great little pets because they are easy to care for and can become talanted talkers and mimics. The average lifespan of a budgie is 8 to 10 years, though it is not unusual for some budgies to live to 14 years, and more rarly 20 years old. To ensure your budgie has a long and healthy life, provide a clean cage, daily exercise, a healthy diet including fresh fruit and vegetables offered daily, and plenty of activity and companionship.

The Cage

Budgies are extremely active and need to strech their wings and have space for fluttering around their cage. For this reason, your budgies cage should be long rather than high in order to provide some room for flying. When considering cage size remember to take into account cage accessories e.g. perches, seed and water dishes, toys, swings, and ladders, but do not clutter your budgies environment. To enable your budgie to climb around and get some exercise, ensure the cage has horizontal bars as well as vertical ones. Dont buy a cage with vertical bars only, and make sure it has a plastic removable tray at the bottom of the cage for easy cleaning.

Daily Exercise
Regardless of your budgies cage size, in order for it to remain healthy and happy, it will need regular time out of its cage. Let your budgie out for a fly as often as possible-at least three times a week. Just make sure all your windows and doors are closed, cover all windows and mirrors, and keep other pets out of the room.
Do not keep your budgie locked in its cage day in day out!

A Healthy Diet
High quality budgie seed mix should make up about 70% of your birds diet. These are readily available. Budgies enjoy spray millet and seed treats such as honey bells or sticks. How ever these are fattening and treats should only be offered once a week if your budgie is fairly active, or only once a fortnight if not as pet budgies can easily become overweight. fresh daily drinking water is essential. Also make available cuttlebone, calcium, mineral blocks, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

As budgies live in flocks they have a need for social activities. This means that unless you are home most of the time and are able to give your budgie regular time out of its cage to interact with you, you should get another budgie for companionship.

Give your budgies plenty of toys but nothing with shiny surfaces as it will see another bird and want to play with it instead of you!

Safe food
Apples (without the pips!)
Brussel Sprouts
Pears (without the pips!)

Prohibitied food
Fruit seeds
Raw Potato
High fat content foods
High sugar content foods
Iceberg lettuce (small amounts might be ok but the word is it can cause diarrhea)

Keeping chickens for pets in NZ

Steve Coppell - Saturday, October 02, 2010

You might be surprised to find just how many homes out there in NZ keep chickens for pets.
Quite aside from the advantage of fresh layed eggs from your own free range flock, these critters will become quit tame, they eat all your scraps, and they are alot of fun to watch. 
A good friend of mine who is keen gardener, has had chickens for about seven years. The whole self sufficiency aspect really appealed to him. The vege garden and hen house in the back yard, and of course the fertilizer the chichens provide works wonders in his garden.

Getting Started


Buy your chickens no younger than six weeks of age, bearing in mind they don't start laying until about five months of age.If you want to increase your flock, buy eggs from a breeder and put them under a broody hen. One that spends alot of time on the nest. Most local councils have regulations and strict limits on the number of hens you can have, and almost all of them ban roosters. Most chickens live for about three years, but they have been known to live for ten years.

Living areas

Chickens need a clean well ventilated house where they can be kept at night and in bad weather, and from which they can access outdoor areas. Provide perches and nesting boxes, and spread wood shavings or straw on the floor to keep the area warm. Fence their outdoor area to keep out predators such as cats or dogs, and don't use pesticides or snail bait anywhere the chickens have access to.

Commercial chicken feed provides a good balance of nutrients, and if you want your chickens to lay eggs, they need to be well fed, about 130gms per day per chicken of pelleted feed. You can also feed chickens household scraps, especially green leafy vegetables as they produce good quality eggs and help provide the pigments for golden yolks. Chickens also like to forage for insects, so ensure they have plenty of grass to free range on. Remember chickens are greedy so don't over feed. Overfeeding or feeding too many poor quality foods like white rice or bread is a common cause of reduced egg numbers. Hens also need a sourse of grit to produce healthy egg shells. When possible the egg shells should be fed back to them.

Free range hens in lay can drink half a litre of water each a day, and more in hot weather, so they need to access fresh water at all times. Change it daily. If they don't get enough water their egg production will drop and their health will suffer. Poultry waterers are available from most pet shops or rural supply stores. A good sized waterer can be filled with ample water for a few days, but only release as needed. They also stop the birds from getting inthe water and contaminating it with droppings.

Treat foods for birds

Steve Coppell - Monday, August 30, 2010

Bread (Wholegrain)
Cereal (Without the added sugar)
Corn on the cob
Crackers (Baked without the added salt)
Dandelion Greens
Pasta (dry or cooked)
Rice cakes
String Beans

What your bird is trying to tell you

Steve Coppell - Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pet birds have been described by some as moody: playful and loving one minute, demanding and aloof the next. Sometimes very obvious and sometimes very subtle,a birds body language can give you insight into what your bird needs and wants. Although parrots and other birds communicate through different body languages, the following behaviours are observed in most pet birds. Observing your birds eyes, vocalizations, wings, beak, and overall posture can be very telling.

Unlike humans, birds are able to control their irises, enlarging and shrinking their pupils rapidly. This display is called "flashing" or "pinning" and birds may do this when they are excited, greatly interested in something, or when they are angry, frightened, or aggressive. Eye pinning should be taken into context with the birds immediate environment and body posture to get an accurate emotional reading.

Wings are not always meant for flying; they often are used to communicate.

.Wing flapping: Wing flapping, or flying in place, is used as excercise, to get your attention, or just to dislay happiness. Birds may often simply lift their wings as a means to strech or to cool themselves

.Wing flipping: Wing flipping can mean many different things such as being angry or in pain. Flipping can also be used to fluff the feathers or to get the feathers to lay just right. Wing flipping accompanied by hunching of the shoulders and head bobbing is attention getting and often means the bird wants to be fed.

.Wing drooping: Young birds must learn how to fold and tuck in their wings and often let their wings droop before learning this. However, in older birds, wing drooping may indicate sickness. If the bird has just physically exerted herself or has recently bathed, she may droop her wings frm tiredness or to let the wings dry.

A birds body language includes how she holds her feathers.

.Ruffled feathers: Birds will ruffle their feathers during the preening process. This helps remove any dirt or feather dust, and also helps return their feathers to their normal position. Birds may also be observed fluffing their feathers as a way to reieve tension. If cold a bird may also fluff her feathers. Finally, if a birds feathers remain ruffled, it could be a sign of illness and she should be checked by a veterinarian.

.Crest position: Birds such as cockatoos and cockateils have a large expressive crest. A contented, relaxed bird will usually have the crest held back, with just the tip tilted up. If she is excited about seeing you, a new toy, food etc, she will often lift her crest. If however the crest is held very high, it indicates fear or great excitement, and should be taken as a warning. An aggressive or alarmed bird may hold the crest flat while crouching and hissing.

.Quivering: Quivering may occur when the bird is frightened, overly excited, or part of  breeding behavior.

A birds tail feathers, like other pets tails are also used to communicate.

.Tail wagging: A bird, like a dog, may wag her tail to tell you that she is glad to see you. Tail wagging may also be a precursor to defecating. This is often helpful if you are trying to house train your bird.

.Tail flapping: Tail flapping is a general sign of happiness and can be seen when she is happy to see you, plays with her favorite toy, or gets a treat.

.Tail bobbing: Tail bobbing accompanied by rapid breathing that follows strenuous exercise is your birds way of catching her breath. If however , your bird is bobbing her tail feathers and and breathing hard without activity, she may be showing signs of respiratory distress or infection. If this occurs, see your veterinarian.

.Tail fanning: Fanning the tail feathers often accompanies other behaviors in a show of aggression or anger. Spreading out of the tail feathers is a show that displays the birds strength and vitality.

Legs and feet
The legs and feet are not used as often as other body parts to communicate but they are some of the most interesting of bird behaviors.

.Foot tapping: Some birds especially cockatoos, will tap their feet as a sign of dominance over their territory. This usually only happens when they feel their territory is being threatened.

.Weak legs: Some birds that do not wnt to stand or perch for themselves diplay the sudden onset of "weak legs." This most often occurs when you have been handling them and must put them back in their cage; it is their way of resisting. Simply hold and pet the bird a while longer and, when she feels she has been given adequate attention, her legs will suddenly become strong enough to perch. Some birds become very good at this behavior and make it routine.

.Hanging upside down: Some birds consider hanging upside down a natural part of their behavior. When doing this, they are happy and content with their environment.

.Scratching on the cage bottom: Birds from those species who normally forage on the ground for food, like the african grey, may scratch on the floor of the cage, much like a chicken.

In the wild, birds use various vocalizations to warn others of danger, attract mates, protect their territory, and maintain social contacts. Most birds are highly vocal and many times may be trying to communicate with you.

.Singing, talking, and whistling: These vocalizations are often signs of a happy, healthy, content bird. Some birds love an audience and sing, talk, and whistle the most when others are around. Other birds will remain quiet when others are watching.

.Chattering: Chattering can be very soft or very loud. Soft chatting can be a sign of contentment or can be the practise of a bird learning to talk. Loud chatter can be an attemp to gain attention, to remind you they are there.In the wild, birds often chatter in the evening before going to sleep to connect with flock members

.Purring: Not the same as a cats pur, a birds pur is more like a soft growl that can be a sign of content, or a sign of annoyance. When purring, the birds environment and other body language should be taken into consideration to determine what the bird is expressing.

.Tongue clicking: By clicking her tongue against her beak, your bird may be entertaining herself or asking to be picked up or petted.

.Growling: Not heard in all pet birds, growling is an aggressive vocalization. If your bird is growling, examine her environment and remove anything that may be bothering her. Growling birds should not be handled as they do not want to be touched.

The beak is used for several functions from grooming to cracking nuts and seeds. It can be used as a weapon or to build a nest. There are also many ways a bird uses her beak to tell you things.
.Grinding: Beak grinding is often a sign of contentment in birds and is heard most often as the bird falls asleep. It is characterized by the side to side sliding of one beak over the other. It is believed by some experts that birds grind their beaks to keep them in their best condition.

.Clicking: Clicking of the beak, or the back and forth sliding of one beak tip over the other, can mean several things. If she clicks once and pins her eyes but is otherwise unthreatening, she is greeting you or acknowledging something. If she clicks several times in a series, she is giving a warning and should not be handled. Beak clicking is most often seen in cockatiels and cockatoos.

.Wiping: It is common to see a bird wiping her beak after eating. Often the bird will wipe her beak on a perch, the cage floor or the cage sides to get it clean. Some birds use beak wiping as a way to mark their territory. This behaviour may be seen in birds when introduced to others or kept in areas where other birds are near.

.Biting: Birds will bite for several reasons so it is important to observe other behaviors and the birds immediate environment to determine the reason behind it. Defending territory, being fearful, or being angry can all cause birds to bite. An open beak combined with a crouching position and hissing is a definate indication that the bird is prepared to bite.

.Chewing: Most birds enjoy chewing and do it for many reasons including to condition their beaks and to entertain themselves. A variety of chew toys should be provided to keep your bird stimulated and interested and to keep her from chewing, and possibly injesting inappropriate things.

.Regurgitating: Regurgitation is the expultion of contents from from the mouth, esophagus,or crop. If your bird pins her eyes, bobs her head and streches out her neck, then regurgitates her dinner she is actually showing you a great deal of affection. Birds feed their young by regurgitating food and breeding pairs often do this for each other as a part of bonding.

.Mouthing: One way birds play is to grab each others beaks and wrestle. They will often use their beaks to joust at one another during play.

. Head shaking: It is very common for African Greys to shake their heads. The reason for this is not well understood.

.Head bobbing: Birds who want attention will often bob their heads back and forth.

Feeding Parrots

Steve Coppell - Wednesday, December 30, 2009

About Seed Mixes
Seed mixes are wasteful and a potential source of poor nutrition.

Parrots don`t eat the husk and select only favourite seeds wasting up to 40 % of the seed mix.
Commercial seed mixes are made to a price and often contain grain that parrots wont eat.

Poor Nutrition
Seeds in seed mixes are either deficient in essential nutrients or have them poorly proportioned.
Storage time and conditions will reduce the nutritional value of seed.
Most packaged seed does not have an expiry date so it is difficult to know its age or quality.

Passwell Pellets
Passwell pellets are totally edible and contain all essential nutrients in a balanced formula.
Your birds get excellent nutrition while you save money.
They also have a best before date so the quality is guaranteed.

Changing to Pellets
Parrots need to modify their feeding technique to eat pellets.
Initially they will disintegrate the food trying to remove the husk, but they soon learn to consume the pellets and will even eat any powder produced during feeding.
Begin change over early in the morning on a mild day. Observe birds regularly during the day to ensure that they are eating the pellets.
Avoid changing over on days that are either very hot or cold.

Direct change to pellets
Applys to pigeons, companion birds, cockatiels and larger parrots. Remove all seed and provide only pellets.
If the birds do not eat during the day then replace the seed before nightfall and try again the next day. If this is not successful then try introducing pellets.

Introducting pellets
For parrots smaller than cockatiels start with a 50-50 mix of pellets and seed then slowly increase the proportion of pellets. Remove all seed once birds begin to eat pellets.

How much to feed
Depends on temperature size of bird and cage size. Never fill the feed bowl as birds will scatter the pellets in search of other food. At most have two layers of pellets in the feed bowl.

Non Breeding Birds
Cockatiels,parrots and pigeons 5 to 15grams per bird per day.
Large parrots and cockatoos 25 to 40grams per bird per day.

Breeding Birds
Feed 50 per cent more than the non breeding requirement of pellets.

What to feed with pellets
Pellets are a complete diet. Limit the use of supplements and treats.

Non breeding birds
Feed any three of the following each day.
Small Parrots an eighth of an apple, pear, kiwifruit, banana, orange, corn cob or silverbeet leaf.
Large Parrots a quarter of an apple, pear, kiwifruit, banana, orange, corn cob or silverbeet leaf.
Cockatoos half an apple, pear, kiwifruit, banana, orange, corn cob or silverbeet leaf.

Breeding Birds
Double the amount suggested for non breeding birds and also feed an egg and biscuit mix.