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Overview of Avian Behavior Avian Core: CVM 6880 Objectives 1. Understand major factors influencing avian behavior - relationship to wild state Understand causes of common behavioral problems Understand basis of training methods

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overview of avian behavior

Overview of Avian Behavior

Avian Core: CVM 6880

  • 1. Understand major factors influencing avian behavior - relationship to wild state
  • Understand causes of common behavioral problems
  • Understand basis of training methods
  • Familiarization with characteristics of some companion birds: Psittacines and Raptors
factors that affect a bird s behavior
Factors that Affect a Bird’s Behavior
  • Type of Hatchling
  • Speciation/Genetics
  • Captive Selection
  • Rearing Conditions
  • Management at Weaning
  • Post-weaning Socialization and Experiences
  • Training
  • States of Health and Disease
types of hatchling
Types of Hatchling
  • Precocial birds -- also nidifugous
    • Hatched “ready to run”
    • Simple imprinting process
    • Short parental dependence
  • Altricial Birds -- nidiculous
    • Blind, unfeathered at hatch
    • Complex imprinting process
    • Longer periods of parental dependence (weeks to years)
precocial birds








Precocial Birds
altricial birds
Altricial Birds
  • Psittaciformes
  • Falconiformes
  • Passeriformes
speciation and genetics
Innate Behaviors designed for SURVIVAL

Not designed to amuse or entertain

Gain Benefit

Avoid Pain

Food Chain Placement



Psittacines are all prey species

Speciation and Genetics
fundamental of avian existence
Fundamental of Avian Existence
  • Eat
  • Reproduce
  • Avoid Annihilation
selection in captivity
Selection in Captivity
  • Most companion birds are 1 - 3 generations removed from wild stock
  • Hatched with a full complement of behaviors designed for survival in the wild
rearing conditions altricial birds
Rearing Conditions (altricial birds)
  • Cavity/Cup nesters
  • Fed regurgitated food
  • Isolated from all contact except that of parents
  • Maintain close body contact with nestmates/parents -- proper imprinting
attributes of wild psittacines
Attributes of Wild Psittacines
  • 90% of waking time is spent flying, eating, socializing with flock or mate
  • As near-equatorial birds, typical photoperiod approximates 12:12
  • May fly as far as 35 miles a day in search of food
  • Fewer than 50% of hatchlings survive to breeding age; 15-20% in some species
attributes of wild raptors
Attributes of Wild Raptors
  • Solitary birds
  • 50 - 70% survival of hatchlings
  • One in six becomes a breeder
  • Ten percent of the breeding population produces 90% of offspring that become breeders
characteristics of problematic captive environments
Characteristics of Problematic Captive Environments
  • Confinement
  • Prolonged lack of stimulation
  • Solitary
  • Ad lib food -- no foraging, no problem solving
  • Forced Weaning
  • Overbonding
  • These are the genesis of behavioral problems
management at weaning psittacines and raptors
Naturally, a gradual process with no decrease in food amount or change in type

Artificially, a stage for creating many problems by “forcing” change

Management at Weaning:Psittacines and Raptors
other factors in genesis of behavioral problems
Other Factors in Genesis of Behavioral Problems
  • Everything that hatches is raised
  • Poorly behaved birds end up in breeding projects
  • Owners have unrealistic expectations
  • Parrots are empathetic to mood of environment around them -- respond to owner stress
  • Overbonding=> hyperestrogenism disorders
conflicts between behavior and captive environment the hand reared imprint
Conflicts Between Behavior and Captive Environment: The Hand-reared Imprint
  • Recognizes humans as conspecifics
  • Never becomes fully weaned whining
  • Does not interact well with other birds - doesn’t “know” it is a bird
  • Will select a favorite person as a mate
    • Attempted copulations, masturbation, regurgitation
    • Will defend mate against other flock members
frequent outcome of imprinting and rearing gone awry
Frequent Outcome of Imprinting and Rearing Gone Awry
  • Overbonding obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Screaming
  • Biting/aggression
  • Feather picking/self-mutilation
socialization and post weaning psittacines
Socialization and Post-WeaningPsittacines
  • Wild-reared birds introduced to flock at this point
    • Food, Protection, Companionship
    • Learn Flock “Rules”
  • Ideally, young birds join their human “flock” at this point
  • Changes in flock condition not accepted -- safety issue
major socialization issues psittacines
Major Socialization Issues:Psittacines
  • Interbird relationships
  • Bonding
  • Territoriality
important principles in understanding and shaping socialization process 4
Important Principles in understanding and Shaping Socialization Process (4):
  • Parrots are empathetic
  • Nurturing Guidance is operative
  • Behavior patterns do not stabilize until after sexual maturity
  • Bad behavior is NEVER the parrot’s fault
aspects of nurturing guidance per sally blanchard avian behaviorist
Aspects of Nurturing Guidanceper Sally Blanchard -- Avian Behaviorist
  • Realistic Expectations
  • Strong human/parrot bond
  • Rules
  • Verbal cues and Commands
  • Instructional Interaction
  • Nurturing Authority: dominance or flock lead - human
  • Physical Interaction
  • Eye contact and body language
  • Loweringpersonal energy
  • Stimulation and Social Interaction
  • A Sense of Humor, Fun and Play
training to be a good pet
Training to be a Good Pet
  • Birds must be trained to be good pets
  • Intellectually, at the level of a 5 - 6y human
  • Emotionally, at the level of a 2y human -- never changes
  • They need (Nurturing Guidance):
    • Boundaries
    • Discipline
    • Direction as to appropriate behavior
four basic behaviors every large psittacine should know
Four Basic Behaviors Every Large Psittacine Should Know
  • Step Up
  • Step Down
  • Sit - Stay
  • The Towel is your Friend

Brian Speer, 2001

a further complication for juvenile birds wing clipping
A Further Complication for Juvenile Birds: Wing Clipping
  • Frustrates programmed attempts to learn to fly
  • May lead to injury especially in heavy bodied birds e.g. African Greys
  • More problematic for birds with high wing-loading (g/cm2)
principles in establishing acceptable behaviors
Principles in Establishing Acceptable Behaviors
  • Exert Control by understanding dominance
  • Understand nature and survival value of normally expressed behaviors = motivation
  • Actively Shape Behavior of:
    • Companion Bird
    • Human Handler/Owner
  • Use positive reinforcement, occasional negative reinforcement (No or “evil eye”)
  • Never punishment
  • Set Boundaries -- no elevated perches, no free run of the house
  • Handle at waist level -- no shoulder sitting
  • Don’t inadvertently reward undesirable behaviors
  • (continued)
  • Read body language and don’t force behavior in an upset bird -- seek to understand root of problem
  • Keep full-grown birds adequately wing trimmed
understanding normal behaviors
Understanding Normal Behaviors
  • Biting
    • Defensive (not offensive)
    • Signaling
    • Facultative -- macaws sampling perches
  • Screaming
    • ELT for other flock members
    • Alarm
    • Greet the dawn, farewell to the sun
    • Attention seeking -- avoid rewarding this
fear and panic normal behaviors
Fear and Panic: Normal Behaviors
  • Escape predators and danger
  • Frustrated in Captivity -- bird cannot escape from fear- or stress-inducing circumstances
  • Remedy by:
    • Exposing juveniles to novel situations while providing safety
    • Gradually desensitize -- use bird’s curiosity
    • Provide Nesting Boxes and/or secure cage
    • Elevate Cage (dominance subjugates fear)
species profiles budgerigars
Species Profiles: Budgerigars
  • Most domesticated
  • Easily Tamed
  • Capable of developing vocabulary
species profiles cockatiels
Species Profiles: Cockatiels
  • Gentle, loving birds
  • Fair talkers, great whistlers
  • Even Disposition
  • Females may become chronic egg-layers - hysterectomies common
species profiles lovebirds
Species Profiles: Lovebirds
  • Best when hand-raised
  • Calm disposition
  • May feather-pick when stressed
  • Chronic egg-layers
species profiles conures
Species Profiles: Conures
  • Entertaining, playful
  • Very noisy
  • Tend to bite
  • Readily dominate owner if given chance
  • Feather picking common due to medical reasons
species profiles amazons
Species Profiles: Amazons
  • > 30 species
  • Independent
  • Excellent talkers, esp yellow-heads
  • Raised with care, excellent birds
  • Tendency toward obesity=>hyperestrogen disorders
species profiles african grey
Species Profiles: African Grey
  • Highly Intelligent
  • Best talkers and mimics
  • Hormonal disorders - lead to feather picking, esp. females
  • Respond well to regimented lifestyle
  • Respond poorly to changes
  • Need a job

Congo(above), Timnahs

species profiles cockatoos
Species Profiles: Cockatoos
  • Bond strongly
  • Respond poorly to being ignored
  • Poor talkers
  • Screamers
  • Feather pickers
  • Moluccans are prone to obsessive/compulsive behavior
species profiles macaws
Species Profiles: Macaws
  • Major and mini- macaws
  • Large, active, require a lot of space -- strong flyers
  • Loud screamers
  • Oral fixation
species profiles macaws hyacinths
Species Profiles: Macaws - Hyacinths
  • Largest, but most mellow and gentle of macaws
  • Expensive, but animated behavior makes them great pet birds
  • Relatively few health problems
  • Require high oil content in diet
species profiles raptors
Species Profiles: Raptors
  • Owls
  • Eagles
  • Falcons
  • Buteos
  • Accipiters
species profiles owls
Species Profiles: Owls
  • Aloof, but can be tamed to a degree
  • Imprints are trainable, dangerous as adults
  • Very active at night, more amenable to handling then
  • Barred Owls are aggressive
species profiles buteos
Species Profiles: Buteos
  • Red-tails, Red-shoulders, Swainsons, Ferruginous, Rough-legged hawks
  • Soaring hawks, rodent and amphibian consumers
  • Red-tails used extensively for falconry
    • Easily trained
    • Adapt well to captivity
harris hawk
Harris Hawk
  • Unique bird from desert Southwest
  • Combine characteristcs of buteos and accipiters
  • Bred in captivity
  • Extensively used for falconry
species profiles accipiter hawks
Species Profiles: Accipiter Hawks
  • Sharp-shinned, Coopers, Goshawk
  • High performance, high energy birds
  • Good game hawks, extensively utilized in falconry
  • Fractious temperament demands high skills for captive management
species profiles falcons
Species Profiles: Falcons
  • Kestrels
  • Merlins
  • Prairie/Peregrine
  • Gyrfalcons
  • Hybrids
  • Small falcon
  • Sexually dimorphic
  • Insect and Rodent feeders
  • Apprentice falconer’s bird
  • Larger than kestrel (150 - 200 grams)
  • Consumes birds and large insects
  • Delicate nature, harder to maintain in captivity than a kestrel
peregrines and prairies
Peregrines and Prairies
  • Large falcons -- (800 - 1100 grams)
  • Powerful, strong flyers
  • Consume birds up to size of small ducks
  • Used extensively for falconry
  • Relatively easily tamed and trained
  • Durable birds with few health problems
  • Largest of the falcons (1000 - 1600 grams)
  • Consume ptarmigan, arctic hares, large ducks
  • Used extensively for falconry
  • Delicate psychological makeup
  • Arctic birds -- many health problems when held in captivity in temperate regions
hybrid falcons
Hybrid Falcons
  • Gyr-peregrine
  • Gyr-prairie
  • Peregrine-prairie
  • Merlin-gyr
  • Gyr-peregrine highly preferred in falconry
    • gyr characteristics are highly conserved
  • Human-bird interactions are extensive and varied
  • Beyond genetics and innate behaviors, imprinting and rearing play a major role in establishing behavior patterns of any bird
  • Basic behavior patterns are focused around survival: eating, reproducing, avoiding annihilation
  • Training is key to domesticated existence
  • Many clinical and health problems of birds are based in inappropriate modifications of innate behaviors in the captive environment
  • Understanding the behavioral adaptations of a given bird to its needs for survival in the wild are key to understanding their behavioral/medical problems in captivity.