Companion Parrot

Reducing Aggression and Fear through Learning

Presented at the StopPDD Conference 2002
S.G. Friedman, Ph.D., Utah State University

There is irony in the practice of using force to reduce aggression and fear in companion parrots. Chances are human force was involved in producing the aggressive and fearful behaviors in the first place, at least from the bird’s point of view. It reminds me of the equally ironic practice of slapping a child for hitting a sibling. While I can’t be sure where these pervasive practices come from in our culture, I’m sure I know some of the reasons why they persist: First, force is a familiar strategy to many of us, having ourselves been forced to do

Aratinga solstitialis

FAMILY: Psittacidae
GENUS: Aratinga
SPECIES: solstitialis

Common Name(s): Sun Parakeet, Yellow Conure

Additional Informaiton:
The Sun Conure was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work Systema Naturae. Linnaeus placed this species in the genus Psittacus, but it has since been moved to the widely accepted Aratinga, which contains a number of similar New World species. The specific epithet solstitialis is derived from the Latin for 'of the summer solstice', hence 'sunny', and refers to its golden plumage.

Ara ararauna

FAMILY:  Psittacidae
SPECIES:  A. ararauna Macaw Blue and Gold
Common Name(s):  Blue and Gold Macaw, Blue and Yellow Macaw


Blue and Gold Macaws are large parrots. Their upper body is blue, while the underside is golden yellow, and their forehead is green. The long tail feathers are mainly blue and yellow. The chin and cheek area is pinkish-white with thin lines of black feathers. Coloration on juveniles is washed out. These macaws have a hooked beak gray black in color. Their dark gray feet have two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward, each with a black claw.


Blue and Gold Macaws have a total length of 85 to 90 centimeters, or 34 to 36 inches. They have a wingspan of 102 to 112.5 centimeters, 41 to 45 inches. Their weight ranges from 900 to 1200 grams. Females have slightly smaller measurements.

Trichoglossus haematodus moluccanus

CLASS: AVESSwainsons Lorikeet
FAMILY: Psittacidae
GENUS: Trichoglossus
SPECIES: haematodus moluccanus

Common Name(s): Swainson’s Lory, Swainson’s Blue Mountain Lorikeet, Blue Mountain Lory, Rainbow Lory

Lory or lorikeet? The difference between the two is approximately the same as the difference between a parrot and a parakeet. Lory generally refers to a bird with a short tail, while lorikeets have a long tail. The words are synonymous, in their native Australasia all species are referred to commonly as “lorikeets”.

Ara glaucogularis

FAMILY: Psittacidae
SPECIES: A. glaucogularis
Common Name(s):  Blue-throated macaw, Macaw Blue ThroatedWagler's macaw, Caninde macaw
Other names:  Ara à gorge bleue, Ara canindé, Blaukehlara, Caninde-Ara, Guacamayo amarillo, Guacamayo barbazul

This species was unknown to aviculture until the 1970s and still today a limited number of ornithologists are unsure if it is truly a separate species, but rather a subspecies of the blue and gold macaw (Ara ararauna).  Previously Ara caninde, this is a bird endemic to a small area of north-central Bolivia known as Los Llanos de Moxos.   Recent population and range estimates suggest that about 250–300 individuals remain in the wild. The main causes of their demise are capture for the pet trade and land clearance on cattle ranches.  It is currently considered critically endangered and the parrot is protected by trading prohibitions.

Bobbi Brinker
S. G. Friedman, Ph.D.

Published in Bird Talk, Nov. 1999

Ask a room full of parrot owners to describe the personalities of their beloved African Grey parrots and you will hear nearly every adjective in the dictionary. The fact is, describing the typical Psittacus erithacus is like describing the average Homo sapiens. For every generalization, there are many exceptions. Still, for those of you who are thinking about owning a Grey, and those of you who have never thought about owning a Grey (yet), there is one trait you can count on: Greys are sensitive to our most private feelings and reflect back to us our most poignant emotions. It is their nature.

Though better known for their talking ability, it is this deeply empathic nature that makes African Greys so beloved. Noah, Annette Hodge’s Grey, sensitively reflects her feelings and a few secrets too: “Noah can tell if I’m in a bad mood before I even realize it myself! He doesn’t want to come to me if I’m not happy. When he repeats something I’ve said, he uses the exact same tone of voice. Everyone who hears him can tell if I’ve been upset or excited.”

Psittacus erithacus erithacus

FAMILY: Psittacidae
GENUS: Psittacus
SPECIES: P. erithacus erithacus

Common Name(s):  African Grey, Congo Grey, Grey Parrot

There are only three distinct birds in this genus; along with the Psittacus erithacus erithacus, there is Psittacus erithacus timneh and Psittacus erithacus princes. Whether or not they Congo African Grey Parrotare different species, subspecies or simply variants of the main species, Psittacus erithacus, is still open for debate.


Congo African Grey is the largest of the three types of Grey Parrot (the other two being the smaller maroon-tailed Timneh, and the darker colored Psittacus erithacus princes).  As their name would suggest the general body color is various shades of pastel or slate gray – the chest and head feathers have white edging resulting in a scalloped effect, whilst the wing feathers are darker with very dark primary coverts.  The tail is bright red.  Their beak, upper and lower mandibles, is black. 

Joanna Eckles
World Parrot Trust USA

Parrots are among the most familiar and charismatic of all birds. Their stunning plumage and boisterous displays are unmistakable. They are well known even to the uninitiated, adored by the devout. But their magnetism has come with a price. As a group, parrots are the most endangered of all birds. Of the estimated 330 living parrot species, almost 1/3 are considered to be threatened or endangered.


The World Parrot Trust was established in 1989 in response to the overwhelming need for parrot conservation. Today, the Trust remains a leader in parrot conservation by funding field projects, lobbying for legislative changes to protect parrots, and educating people about the plight of parrots worldwide.

The original founders of the Trust are Mike and Audrey Reynolds, and David Woolcock of Paradise Park, a popular bird park in Cornwall, UK and Andrew Greenwood, an internationally respected veterinarian. Rosemary Low is the editor of the World Parrot Trust’s quarterly magazine PsittaScene.

Ara chloropterus

FAMILY: Psittacidae
SPECIES: A. chloropterus
Common Name(s):  Green-winged macaw, Green-wing macaw, Red-and-green macaw


The Green-winged macaw, known as the "Gentle Giant", is second in size only to the Hyacinth Macaw. 

The Green-winged macaw (Ara chloropterus), also known as the Red-and-green Macaw, is often mistaken for the Scarlet Macaw, another large macaw of the Ara genus, because of its predominant red feathering.  The breast of the Green-winged macaw is bright red, but the lower feathers of the wing are green.  Iridescent teal feathers are surrounded by red on the tail.  In addition, the Green-winged macaw has characteristic red lines around the eyes formed by rows of tiny feathers on the otherwise bare white skin patch; this is one of the biggest differences from a scarlet macaw to the casual viewer.  This is the most common of the large macaws in the wild, and the largest of the Ara genus, widespread in the forests of Northern South America.  The beak is strongly hooked and the feet are zygodactylous (2 toes that point forward and 2 toes that point backward).  The Green-winged macaw’s powerful beak is designed to crush or open even the hardest nuts and seeds.

Cacatua alba

CLASS: AVESUmbrella Cockatoo
FAMILY: Cacatuidae
GENUS: Cacatua
SPECIES: C. alba

Common Name(s): Umbrella Cockatoo, White Cockatoo, Great-white Cockatoo, White-crested Cockatoo

The name cockatoo originated from the Malay name for these birds, kakaktua, which translates literally as "older sister."


The plumage of the Umberella Cockatoo is completely white except for a distinct yellow coloration on the underwings and at the base of the tail. They have a large white crest which lays flat on their head, but is raised with alarm, which may include excitement, curiosity, and/or fear. This crest is rounded and umbrella-shaped when raised, thus giving them their name.

The Groundwork for Empowerment and Trust

S.G. Friedman, Ph.D., Utah State University
Written for Avian Welfare Coalition Shelter Manual, Feb. 2004

The unfortunate increase of parrots in temporary shelters provides a unique challenge for those who work there. This challenge is made especially demanding partly due to our relative unfamiliarity with the general nature of parrots. Basing our expectations for parrot behavior on our vast experience with dogs and cats often results in an intrusive or forceful style of interaction that fails to help parrots settle and feel comfortable with the humans around them.

Steve Martin
Natural Encounters, Inc.

Your Macaw is sitting in the tree on the side of the stage, ignoring your plaintive appeals and progressive offerings of more enticing food. Your restless audience bakes in the hot sun and all you can think of is how to get this damn bird out of the tree before you have exhausted your reserves of natural history wisdom.

Sound familiar? You're not alone, it has happened to all bird trainers. All who fly their birds free, anyway. Unfortunately, all too often the result of this experience is lowering the bird's weight when poor training practices, not the weight of the bird, is often the cause of the problem.

In our quest to provide our audiences with the most dramatic and entertaining behaviors possible, we are often faced with the challenge of how to motivate our animals to perform these incredible feats. How do we encourage them do what we want them to do?

Poicephalus senegalus

Senegal Parrot




FAMILY: Psittacidae

GENUS: Poicephalus

SPECIES: P. senegalus


Common Name(s):  Senegal parrot



Senegal Parrots have a relatively large head and beak for their overall size, and feathers form a short broad tail.  Adults have a charcoal grey head, grey beak, bright yellow irises, green back and throat, and yellow, red or orange underparts and rump (depending on the sub-species – yellow is most common). The yellow/red/orange and green areas on a Senegal parrot's front form a v-shape resembling a colored vest worn over green.  Juveniles have dark grey, almost black, irises.


Senegal Parrots are not sexually dimorphic, but there are some differences which sometimes might help to determine the gender of adult birds.  For example the v-shape of the vest is usually longer in females, extending down between the legs, whereas the males vest ends midway down the chest.  Females generally have a smaller beak and head than males, and overall smaller body size.  The under-tail covert feathers are generally yellow in males and green in females. 


There are three subspecies.  They do not differ in behavior, but only in the color of the "vest" and geographical range in the wild.  In the pet trade, the nominate subspecies (yellow) is the most common though all three are raised and sold as pets.



Senegal Parrots are about nine to ten inches long, and weigh about four to six ounces.  Its wingspan is around six inches.



Senegal Parrots can be found in north and central Africa.  Ranges vary according to subspecies:


  • Poicephalus senegalus senegalus (the nominate subspecies):  this subspecies has a yellow vest; its native range includes southern Mauritania, southern Mali to Guinea and Lobos Island.


  • Poicephalus sengalus mesotypus: this subspecies has an orange vest; its range is from eastern and northeastern Nigeria and Cameroon into southwest Chad. 


  • Poicephalus sengalus versteri:  this subspecies has a red vest; its range is from the Ivory Coast and Ghana east to western Nigeria.


Their preferred habitat is savannah woodland and open forest.  They can regularly be found foraging in cultivated areas.



Senegal Parrots can be found singly, in pairs and in small flocks of ten to twenty parrots.  While small flocks are still commonly seen in the center of their range, pairs or individual birds are more frequently seen in outlying areas where they were formerly abundent.


The Senegal is a resident breeder across a wide range of west Africa.  It makes migrations within west Africa, according to the availability of the fruit, seeds and blossoms which make up its diet.  It is considered a farm pest, often feeding on maize or millet.


They are naturally shy birds and, other than for migration, rarely venture great distances from tree cover.  Their predominantly green coloring provides perfect camouflage when roosting in trees.


These small parrots share many features with other parrots including the characteristic curved beak shape and zygodactyl feet, with two forward toes and two backwards toes.  In addition to being an extremely powerful and efficient “nut cracker”, their beak is used to aid in climbing much like a mountain-climber would use a grappling hook.  The upper mandible is hinged at the joining to the skull, which gives it more maneuverability than in other birds.  The “X” shaped feet are an adaptation to assist in climbing shared with only a few other climbing birds, such as woodpeckers.  In addition to this they actually have two pairs of opposable toes on each foot, giving them great ability to pick up and manipulate objects in their environment just like we would use our finger and opposable thumb.  They hold their food in one foot while they are eating and will favor left, or right, much like a left/right-handed person.

Senegal Parrots are one of the most popular parrots to be kept as pets.  Those that are wild-caught, however, do not usually tame and do not make good pets.  These birds have high pitched whistles and squawls, but are not as noisy as some larger parrots.  Even so, like all caged birds, they require a great deal of time, attention and enrichment, as well as space to live comfortably.



Senegal Parrots nest in holes in trees, often oil palm trees, usually laying two to three white eggs. The eggs are incubated by the hen, starting after the second egg has been laid, for about twenty-seven to twenty-eight days. Newly hatched chicks have a sparse white down and they do not open their eyes until about two to three weeks from hatching. They are dependent on the hen for food and warmth who remains in the nest most of the time until about four weeks from hatching when the chicks have enough feathers for heat insulation. During this time the male brings food for the hen and chicks, and guards the nest site. The chicks fly out of the nest at about nine weeks and they become independent from their parents at about twelve weeks from hatching. 


In the wild:  Seeds, grains, fruits (especially figs) and buds.  Will also forage on millet, maize and peanuts in cultivated areas.



Senegal Parrots live an average of approximately 25-30 years in the wild, and have been known to live for 50 years in captivity.



Because of its vast range in Africa, the wild Senegal Parrot population is difficult to estimate. Nevertheless, in 1981 concerns about extensive trapping of wild parrots for the pet trade lead to it being listed on appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), along with all parrot species.  This has made the trade, import and export of all wild caught parrots illegal.  Unfortunately many are trapped and killed as pests, and despite being illegal a steady trade in live birds still remains to further deplete wild numbers.



Forshaw, Joseph M. Parrots of the World


Hilton, Eric. D Description of a Senegal Parrot


Welch, Diane An Introduction to Senegals


Amazona auropalliata

CLASS: AVESYellow-naped Amazon
FAMILY: Psittacidae
GENUS: Amazona
SPECIES: A. auropalliata

Common Name(s): Yellow-Naped Amazon, Golden Yellow-Naped Amazon


The Yellow-Naped Amazon has an overall green coloration with a small portion of yellow on the nape of their neck. This yellow spot on the nape does not develop until they are about a year old, and it continues to grow as they grow older. Often times these birds will also have a little bit of yellow on their forehead and red at the bend in the wing. Their eyes are orange with a gray eye ring. Beaks are mostly a black color and their feet are gray with black nails. Both sexes have the same appearance, but juveniles have an overall duller shade.

Cacatua galerita

CLASS: AVESSulphur-crested Cockatoo
FAMILY: Cacatuidae
GENUS: Cacatua
SPECIES: C. galerita

Common Name(s): Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo


Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are the largest of the Sulphur-crested group. They have white bodies and a yellow crest; the underside of their wings and tail is also yellow. They also have a dark gray-black, hooked beak. They have a naked periophthalmic eye ring. Males and females differ only in that females’ eyes are red-brown compared to dark brown in males. Juveniles resemble adults.


These cockatoos weigh about 700-950 grams. They are approximately 50 centimeters long.


Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos are found in Australia, from Tasmania through Victoria and New South Wales to the northern tip of Queensland. They are also found in the northern part of the Northern Territory and into the Kimberly area of Western Australia. Populations have been established near Perth and in New Zealand.

They habitat dense forests and are often seen in areas habituated by humans.


Since these birds eat seeds, they are often found in cropland. They are often viewed as pests because of their habit of digging up newly sown seed and raiding ripening crops. They also damage haystacks and attack bagged grain. On the other hand they also eat the seeds of many weed pests.

These noisy, conspicuous parrots are usually found in pairs or small family parties during the breeding season, and at other times in flocks, sometimes comprising hundreds of individuals. Each flock has its own roosting ground and this is rarely deserted even though long flights to and from feeding areas may become necessary. At sunrise the birds leave roosting grounds in favor of feeding grounds where they remain during the day. Feeding occurs in groups, with one bird watching for danger on a nearby perch.  During the hottest parts of the day they shelter in trees and return the roosting ground at dusk.

Their characteristic flight comprises a series of rapid, shallow wingbeats interspersed with gliding. When traveling to and from feeding grounds they fly at considerable height, gliding down to the trees in wide, sweeping circles.

Their call is a harsh, raucous screech. Their alarm call consists of a series of abrupt, guttural screeches.
Contact calls while feeding include the occasional sharp squawk or a shrill whistle.


Courtship display in Sulpur-crested cockatoos is simple and brief. The male struts along a branch with crest raised, bobbing his head and swishing his tail in a figure-eight motion. Mutual preening and touching of bills follows. These birds reach sexual maturity within five to six years. They nest in hollow limbs or a hole in a tree, generally high up. Nests have also been found in holes in cliffs and on top of haystacks. Clutch sizes range from two to six eggs. Both parents participate in the 30-day incubation period. The young vacate the nest 6-9 weeks after hatching.


The diet of these birds includes seeds, nuts, fruits, berries, roots, and some insects.


Greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoos can live upwards of 60 years.


This parrot species is very popular in the pet trade. The number of greater Sulphur-crested Cockatoo globally is unknown. CITES lists them in their Appendix II, meaning these cockatoos are not currently threatened with extinction but may unless exotic pet trade is controlled. The United States Wild Bird Act prohibits the commercial import of any bird listed by CITES.


Forshaw, Joseph. M. Parrots of the World

The Australian Museum:


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The International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators

is an organization for individuals who are active in the field of avian training and who are involved in environmental education programs.

IAATE was founded to foster communication, professionalism and cooperation among those individuals who serve Avian Science through training, public display, research, husbandry, conservation, and education.



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