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How to Care for a Yellow-Headed Amazon Parrot
This Hub was updated July 2014.
How to live with a parrot
I’ve never been all that crazy about birds; for the most part, when I was growing up, we were a dog and cat family. We did have a canary once who died after it flew out of its cage and fell into the spaghetti sauce.
Somewhere along the way, though, I’ve become the caretaker for a 30+-year-old yellow-headed Amazon parrot who will probably outlive me.**
I meet Turkey and we become friends
I first met my husband when we were both stationed at the naval base in Panama. Shortly before I arrived, he had purchased two baby parrots. As he tells it, an army sergeant's wife had gone to the local market. Someone was selling baby Yellow-Headed Amazon parrots and because she couldn't make up her mind as to which one she wanted, she ended up buying them all. Needless to say, her husband wasn't too happy and was selling baby Amazon parrots dirt cheap in an effort to recoup his paycheck.
My husband has always had an interest in birds so he bought two. He didn’t know their sex so on the advice of a buddy, he named one Turkey and the other Pavo (Spanish for Turkey).
Turkey was always on the left side of the cage and Pavo was always on the right. To this day, Turkey will not allow anyone to pet her except with the left hand. One day, when my husband was still stationed in Panama, Pavo got sick and died. That left just Turkey.
My husband said he immediately knew I was the one for him because Turkey did not try to bite me as it had tried to bite other women. (I guess that was my husband's litmus test of quality women!) Eventually my husband and I married and he went off on a West-Pac (Western Pacific) deployment for six months. I was left behind with Turkey in California, where we shared a third floor walk-up studio apartment on the edge of Balboa Park. I never had to worry about anyone knowing I was alone because Turkey often chattered. When people would call, they'd hear her in the background and think I had the television on or company over.
Six months later, he breezed in and out of San Diego, on his way to a new duty station in Virginia. I had to stay behind to finish my tour, which was just under a year. Turkey stayed to keep me company.
By the time Turkey and I made it to Virginia, we were best friends. In fact, Turkey had become “my” bird and my husband was no longer able to feed or pet her without her snapping at him.
** Turkey's passing
Turkey became ill in July 2013. We're still not sure what happened to her or what sickened her. I first noticed she wasn't her usual self when she appeared to be having seizures. She began to exhibit other signs of illness such as not eating much or drinking.
I took her to an avian vet in St. Louis who immediately placed her in their emergency care with oxygen and intravenous liquids. She was there for a few days, then I took her home with medicine. He had drawn blood but the tests weren't really conclusive and he really couldn't figure out what was wrong with her.
I took her back and forth for follow-ups but again, he really couldn't tell me what was wrong. I don't think he even knew.
By now, it was about two or three months after she'd first gotten sick and she really wasn't any better, but not worse. One day, a Saturday, I asked my husband to hold her while I went out to do errands. While I was out, an image and thought of Turkey popped into my mind.
When I got home, my husband told me Turkey had died. He was holding her when she came out of her lethargy, lifted her head, then dropped it and passed away. I believe Turkey and I had a connection and she passed away just as I thought of her.
For years I'd occasionally give her clothespins to chew on to keep her beak sharp. I have to wonder if there was some sort of chemical or something on one of them when I let her chew on it. That's the only thing I can think of that would make her sick.
There's a lamp on my desk on my porch that I can see through my living room window. When I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye, I sometimes think that's Turkey because of the lamp's shape.
My husband and I lived with Turkey for 34 years and we still miss her. She used to love cheese and popcorn. I swear she could smell the cheese because where she sat on her cage, she really couldn't see me cut it. And when she heard the popcorn popping, she'd get all excited and start talking and walking around on her cage.
Tips on Caring For Your Own Yellow-headed Amazon Parrot
My husband purchased Turkey – an exotic bird – in a very casual way with little or no thought in what was required to keep her. First, he didn’t even know what sex it was until many years later when we got her tested. Second, he either didn’t know or didn’t care that Turkey could someday outlive us; parrots live to be about 50 years old. That’s a pretty hefty responsibility – to figure out who will be able to take care of your bird after you die. Finally, he didn’t try to learn about parrots and their needs. Those are all things you should NOT do when buying an exotic bird.
Over the course of several more deployments, a few more moves and the addition of two kids, I’ve had to learn to take care of Turkey. Below are some tips on choosing a yellow-headed Amazon parrot and caring for it that I’ve picked up over the years.
- Make sure you buy an exotic bird from a reputable bird breeder. After my husband bought Turkey, some countries banned their exportation. We had papers to prove she had been purchased legally but many exotic birds are smuggled out of their countries and forced to endure stressful travel conditions and quarantines.
- Buy the right cage. Depending on the size of your bird, you might need a very large cage that stands on the floor. Or, you might need one that can house several small birds together. The cage needs to be large enough so that no tail feathers are poking through the cage’s bars and the bird can spread its wings inside it. The bars should also be close enough so the bird can’t get its head stuck between them.
- Consider buying a freestanding perch. A freestanding perch allows your bird a little more freedom and socialization, especially if the perch is in a room where you spend a lot of time.
- Consider keeping your bird out of its cage most of the time. Just about the only time Turkey is in her cage is at night and even then her door is open so she can get out and climb on top of her cage. The only time we lock it is when we want to ensure she won’t climb on top and take unexpected flight if we aren’t home to put her back in.
- Be watchful if you have other pets. We have always had a dog, a cat and Turkey at the same time and they all get along. Now that’s not to say we don’t keep an eye on the cat when he jumps onto the table where Turkey’s small cage is located near her perch. And a previous cat or two has learned the hard way not to get too close after getting nipped with a sharp beak. A spray bottle works wonders for training a cat to leave the bird alone. When Turkey has been startled and flown off her perch onto the floor, the dog will walk over and sniff out of curiosity but will leave her alone. But for the most part, we haven’t had any problems.
- Birds are social creatures. They love to be around their people so make sure you give them lots of time with you. Scratch its head, play with it, pet it, talk to it. The more interaction you give your bird, the happier it will be and the more used to you it will become.
- Make it work for (some of) its food. Working toys encourage birds to forage while also discouraging self-destructive behaviors such as picking at feathers.
- Toys. Your parrot will get bored if it isn’t stimulated. There are lots of toys that you can buy. You can also make simple toys for your bird, such as hiding a treat inside a small cardboard box.
- Chewing behaviors. Parrots love to chew so give them plenty of the right stuff for that. I’ve learned the hard way to keep cages away from wooden windowsills! Cardboard, paper, a wooden clothes pin are all good choices to satisfy your parrots chewing behavior.
- Food. For years, I didn’t know any better and fed Turkey what my husband always did – sunflower seeds along with fruit, cheese, baloney.... Don’t do that! With not enough exercise and a diet rich in these fatty seeds, Turkey was a little “chubby.” Yellow-headed Amazon parrots and other exotic birds need a balanced diet. Her vet recommended Kaytee Exact Rainbow brand food which offers a balanced diet of pellets. I now give her that along with just a little extra treats such as a piece of cheese, fruit or vegetables. Although she resisted at first, she is now very used to this much healthier diet.
- Hygiene. Give your bird a bath with a spray bottle. Make sure the water is warm and set it to a fine mist. Ideally, your parrot should get a daily bath but if you can’t manage that, at least make it 3 or more times a week. You’ll know your bird is enjoying her bath when she spreads out her wings and lowers her head so you can reach all areas.
- Bedtime. When the house starts to quiet down for the night, Turkey will start to settle down as well as we hear her scraping her beak's lower mandible against the upper mandible. That’s the sound of a contented bird.
- Other bird behaviors. Sometimes a bird’s pupils will dilate. In Turkey, it could mean she is either getting ready to talk or – if she’s exhibiting other aggressive moves such as snapping her head forward – getting ready to bite. When Turkey lowers her head and puffs up her head feathers, she’s telling me she wants to be scratched. When she’s particularly enjoying it, her eyes will close and you can almost hear her purr.
- Molting feathers. Birds are messy creatures, there’s no doubt about that. Every spring is molting season, when Turkey loses little white pin feathers that fly around. I have to crawl around on my hands and knees with a damp napkin to capture them all. She'll also lose the occasional quill feather. If your bird is molting, make sure you give it a bath daily to help speed the process and make it feel more comfortable.
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Birds can be great pets but if you plan to get an exotic bird, do some research first. Decide how big of a bird you can reasonably take care of, buy from a reputable bird breeder and read up on how to take care of your Yellow-headed Amazon before you buy one.