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Can I flock my African Greys together?

Posted by garudabird on June 23, 2011


I really could use some advice on this: when we move I’m going to have make new cages for last 4 paired off Greys. 3 of the 4 were my chicks that I withheld for breeding over 20 years ago. The other was a rescue that’s been with us almost that long. Right now each pair is their own 10′ L x 2½’ W x 4′ H flight.cage. I never tried housing all of them together because both males are very aggressive and I’m afraid there would be fights and one of them would get hurt.

First of all, do you think I’m worrying too much about the possibility of the birds fighting? If I could house all of them in the same cage, I could make one big cage the size of the room. In fact, I was hoping to make an indoor/outdoor cage…putting an insert in the window so they could go in and out between the outdoor and indoor portion. Besides, if we move south of DC, they could enjoy going outdoors most of the year.

Hope to hear from you and to see you after our move.


Christopher here. It’s nice to hear from you. I’m delighted to hear that you want to flock your four Greys together. Nothing socializes and ultimately nurtures a parrot like its flock.

I understand you are worried they will fight. The bad news is that there will be a few fights or scuffles. The good news is that they won’t be serious. Your birds have known each other for some time, so it will be easier for them to form a flock. I had to watch our Greys a little more carefully then I think you’ll have to because our three Greys and your five were not as familiar. After they’d had some time to look at each other from separate cages, I flocked all eight Greys in a cage 10 ft long, 7 ft wide and 7 ft tall. There have been a few squabbles. The worst resulting injuries are generally a couple of yanked tail feathers. No big problems.

All fights are over status. The bird with the highest status gets first pick at the resources. One way to reduce fights is to provide more resources.

Resources aren’t just food and water. Resources also include real estate and toys. The dominate bird(s) will vie for the newest toys and the highest perches. And perches near the food. Extra perches (lots of perches!) means every birdy has a place to go. And extra toys (especially at first) help to distract them from any social conflicts.

As for food and water, let’s say you have two feeding stations for your four Greys. You might try giving them three or four feeding stations at first. It won’t be long before they start to neglect one or two of those stations. At which time you could consolidate the feeding locations back down to the original two.

Also, they will at times feel the need for “privacy”. I used food coloring to stain burlap green and other natural colors. I then hung strips of that burlap from the top of the cage. The strips resemble hanging vines and foliage. Hanging them in rows or clusters provide soft barriers and separations within the cage. This works well for allowing the birds to go to opposite ends of the cage and ignore each other.

A few scuffles will begin to arise within 24-36 hrs of being first moved into the new flock cage. For the first few weeks, you’ll want to be available to come in and suppress any obvious conflicts. Generally, just showing up stops fights between Greys.

Being available to “referee” any issues is really good for the flock. It reinforces your place as “alpha bird”. This brings a sense of security to the flock. They need to know there is an authority figure to stop any major problems. And then after some flock cohesion has formed, there won’t be any remarkable problems.

Flocking is the most natural social state for parrots. This a fabulous enrichment that you are bringing to your precious Greys. I wish you and the flock the best of luck. If you have anymore questions, comments, whatever… don’t hesitate to contact us.

Christopher “Rigdzen” Zeoli


Garuda Aviary

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Posted by garudabird on March 3, 2010

Our newest rescue

Meet Ana.  She’s the newest member of the flock here at Garuda Aviary. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the problems faced by parrots in captivity, her appearance is shocking. To those of us involved in parrot rescue, her story is unfortunately far too common. She doesn’t have a disease.  She’s a healthy 28 year old blue & gold macaw. Her appearance is due to extreme feather plucking, a problem common to domesticated parrots. Feather plucking usually occurs when a parrot experiences unfit living conditions, unmanageable stress and trauma.
To illustrate how something like this happens, I’d like you to read a few excerpts from the request we received to take her in.

“In June, one of my board members called me and begged me to take the macaw of a friend who had just died.”

This is unfortunately common. The lifespan of a healthy macaw is 50 years minimum. Many live past 80 years. In most cases, you cannot buy a macaw and expect to outlive it. Parrots bond intensely with their owners. The owner’s death is a terrible trauma.

“When I arrived to pick her up, I was speechless.  This 28 year old prisoner, with no feathers on her body and only one sickly looking tail feather, had lived her entire life in a horrid 2′ X 2′ cage, with a diet that consisted of sunflower seeds and Planter’s salted peanuts.  She had been purchased as a “decoration” for an orthodontist’s office, and when the inevitable happened – she became aggressive and loud – they brought her to their million dollar home in a country club community in North Canton, Ohio, and stuck her in a corner.  They fed her by opening a small side door of the cage and sticking a long handled spoon with food on it inside. Of course she was very cage aggressive, and I was immediately terrified.”

Despite her misgivings, she felt compelled to remove this poor thing from it’s unfit environment. She did her very best to care for Ana…

“It became very quickly obvious that I could not take this bird to Virginia.  She will never get the kind of attention she deserves, and quite frankly, her presence in our lives is ruining my marriage.  She hates my husband, who has been more than patient with her.  She is quiet all week, but when he arrives from VA on the weekends, she screams at him and nothing we do makes any difference. And since I am still a little afraid of her, she never gets the love and attention she needs. Her cage door is always open, and she can go anywhere she likes in our home, but she chases the dogs, cats, and rabbits, and I just don’t trust her.  So she ends up isolated more often than she deserves out of pure preservation of the other critters who live with us.”

I hear this kind of thing far too often, even from people who purposefully set out to own a macaw. A blue & gold macaw can exert over 300 pounds per square inch of bite force. And parrots are usually extremely territorial, jealous and defensive. When someone buys and bonds with a parrot, it is very unlikely the bird will accept other people or pets in the home. Very likely the parrot will see other members of the household as a threat to its relationship with its person.

Now Ana lives with us at Garuda Aviary because she has no hope of being a good pet in a normal home. Rehabilitation for Ana will be learning how to live with her own kind. Living in a flock is the healthiest life for a parrot, but she has a long way to go. Ana has never lived with other macaws. Socialization will be a long and sometimes difficult process.

I wish I could say that some day she’ll look normal, but I can’t. Ana has had a long time to ingrain the habit of feather plucking as a coping mechanism for her trauma and neglect. Her need to pluck will decrease in this environment, but many of her feather follicles don’t work anymore due to years of plucking.

I’m more concerned with her emotional and physical health than her appearance. Health and happiness is my highest priority for Ana.

Christopher “Rigdzen” Zeoli
Garuda Aviary caretaker

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Posted by garudabird on December 4, 2009

New African Greys at Garuda Aviary

New African Greys at Garuda Aviary

Recently, Garuda Aviary welcomed five new African Greys into our flock. I am very happy to include these birds into our family for many reasons, one reason being the fact that these birds belonged to a parrot breeder. Now that these Greys are with me, they can look forward to a lifestyle made to suit their every want and need. No longer will they be in a position to further the problem of parrots in domestication. We are in the process of raising money for cage mesh so that I can build a huge flight cage large enough to flock them with our three African Greys. Flocking birds together by breed is a powerful enrichment and one of the most potent methods for rehabilitation

“What do they need rehabilitation from?” you may be asking. “Were they abused by the breeder?” No. This is a caring woman. I believe she loved these birds. The reason they need rehabilitation and another huge reason I am so happy to have these birds here with us is because they were “wild caught”. Illegally poached from their natural habitat. The methods used by poachers to trap and smuggle parrots into wealthy countries are some of the most stunning examples of cruelty imaginable. The birds that survive these methods (most don’t) end up insanely traumatized.

I want to make clear that the breeder, at the very least, did not add to these birds’ trauma. She didn’t breed many birds. In fact, what made her remarkably different is that she offered to take the young Greys back if they didn’t adjust to their new homes. That is unheard of when it comes to breeders. Most breeders can aptly be called “parrot mills”. Breeding pairs are often kept in the dark 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The breeders believe the parrots will mate more with nothing else to do. Best Friends, the animal rescue foundation, recently made sure our facility could be available to an Amazon parrot who had lived in conditions like this for over 20 years. This Amazon had stood so much in one position, its legs had begun to fuse in that position.

The breeder from whom our new African Greys come was more a lower quantity, higher quality type. She fed her Greys a fine diet, gave them toys and nice surroundings. You should also know that she wasn’t a very financially successful breeder. For breeding parrots to be financially worthwhile, a breeder would have to sell many birds. A successful breeder would tell the breeder of our new Greys that she spent too much time responding to the desires of her birds, desires for things like fruits and veggies, toys, extra large cages, even light! And certainly none of this “welcoming hatchlings back” nonsense.

Basically, what I’m saying here is that the reason she wasn’t a financially successful breeder is because she has a heart. Having some sense of compassion and being a profitable breeder are two mutually exclusive conditions.

Folks, there is no kind way for parrots to enter domestication. And once domesticated, the chances of a parrot being happy are extremely slim. Being a “pet”, parrots don’t have the benefit of centuries of selective breeding that brings us dogs and cats suited to live in our homes. Even hand-hatched parrots are still wild prey. Their natural instinct to avoid large predators (like us) are still completely intact.

When a parrot enters my aviary, it finds a lifelong home where its wild instincts are respected. I do not glean any profit from my birds. My only wish is to give them back some of the peace and happiness stolen from them when they were plucked from their natural habitat.

To learn more about parrots in domestication, please read Of Parrots and People and Here, There and Everywhere by Mira Tweti, which are available from the Parrot Press.  She has done an extraordinary amount of research on this topic, and she is a relentless advocate for parrot welfare. And she is my hero.

Christopher “Rigdzen” Zeoli

Garuda Aviary

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Posted by garudabird on November 15, 2009

This a blog dedicated to the wonderful birds of Garuda Aviary, a bird rescue organization for parrots (macaws, cockatoos, and so forth) operated by Kunzang Palyul Choling, a Buddhist temple in the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, located in Poolesville, Maryland.  Look forward to learning more about the characters who make up the residents of our Aviary from those whose honor it is to serve and know them.  Be sure to visit our website to find out more about us.

Two of our beautiful macaws

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