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Dear Parrots magazine,

Parrot Harnesses

I must say that I agree entirely with Rosemary Low’s comments on the extended use of parrot harnesses in the December 2017 issue (239) of Parrots magazine. It is undoubtedly a subject that will polarise people’s opinions, with some vehemently opposed to parrots wearing harnesses, while others find their use invaluable.

In my many years as an avian veterinarian, I admit that I found persuading a parrot to wear a harness was very difficult. Since my retirement, my wife and I have adopted two Cockatoos and have become friendly with another Cockatoo keeper who walks her three birds regularly on harnesses. With her assistance, we have found it comparatively easy to harness train our two, and we enjoy taking them out in the fresh air when the weather is good. We have also taken them on camping holidays, so the birds experience new environments, sunshine, fresh air, and meet new people - providing an educational experience for the latter.

However, after an hour or so they are clearly getting fidgety, and pulling at their harnesses, so we always give them the opportunity to rest, back in their cages, or on stands in the tent/motorhome - with harnesses off. They preen vigorously, then eat and drink and play or sleep.

We also took our two birds, together with Vicky Hammond from the Parrot Society with her Blue & Gold Macaw, to The Pet Show at Stafford in August. Once again a stimulating event, with a lot of interest engendered in the public, as well as the opportunity to educate people about parrots. However, each bird was out harnessed on our shoulders for no more than an hour, and then was given the opportunity to rest and feed, harness-free, in an aviary beside the stand. We also had a third aviary out of sight behind the stand, where the shyer Moluccan Cockatoo could completely relax. The birds appear to enjoy, and benefit from, such experiences, but always sleep well afterwards, and we certainly would never subject them to such day-long ordeals as described in the article.

The important point is in Rosemary's use of the words “extended use”. I quite agree that such prolonged usage, and forced ‘socialisation’ is quite wrong for parrots, and will be stressful. Such management is, as she rightly says, more for the ‘owner’ to "draw attention to themselves". We have become far more aware in recent years of the need for ‘environmental enrichment’ in all species, including parrots, and there is no doubt that we owe it to these wonderful creatures to make their lives in captivity as rewarding as possible.

However, taking it to the extremes of enforced ‘socialising’ has to be as bad as leaving them cage-bound all day. The same thing applies to diet. We know that feeding solely plain sunflower seed is inadequate and wrong, so we now have a wide variety of manufactured and pelleted diets. In all cases, there are advocates at either end of the spectrum, who will insist that ’their’ method is right, and that all others are wrong. There are parrot collectors who feed their birds nothing but sunflower seed, and yet still manage to produce a few chicks, so they will argue that nothing else is necessary. Then there are those who dictate that pellets are a complete diet, and that nothing else is required. Do they not appreciate the foraging nature of parrot-feeding, and their need for mental and physical stimulation, by providing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as well?

It seems that the more we learn about parrots, the more people will adopt their own pet theories as ‘doing the right thing’ for the birds, while in reality they are just saying ‘look at me, this is how it should be done’! No doubt this article will stir up some controversy from both ends of the spectrum. Sadly, it seems these days that people are too quick to criticise, and not accept other people’s points of view. The rise of the Internet has made information-seeking so much easier, but unfortunately it also leads to the promulgation of much that is false or incorrect, propounded by people who forcefully seek to impose their views on the rest of the world.

We can only continue to do our bit in our small way through the medium of this excellent magazine and the publishing of sound, sensible advice.

Alan Jones BVetMed MRCVS (retd)
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