Special Needs Birds and Their Care

If you open your home to birds, especially parrots, who have some condition that makes them less desirable as a pet, you come to understand the drive of the life force, the ability to survive that makes Special Needs creatures so endearing. These birds become easy to write about because of the positive energy they embody.

I wanted an African Grey parrot since I first heard about Dr. Pepperberg and Alex. My wish was granted twice over when we adopted Bo Dangles and Io. Bobo, as we call her, lost her toes and part of each foot when her parents became frightened of something and attacked whatever they could get to. Having had this condition all of her life, she has no idea that she is disabled. She can climb all over her large cage. She falls occasionally, but I think she does it deliberately to get somewhere faster. I have spent lots of hours contemplating ways to make her cage cleaner, a better place to hang out, and a comfortable place for her. She enjoys out time as well, crawling around the floor and investigating everything chewable.

She moves pretty quickly when she wants to on the floor, which makes things interesting when I take my shoes off. While she isn’t socialized enough to let me handle her, she will submit to morning and evening head scratches. We also play tug of war with her and whatever item she wants to hold on to. My biggest regret is that she and Io never managed to get along in a single cage.

Io is blind. At some point in his life, someone plucked his neck. Now he has a permanent collar of down. All too easily, he can be confused and frightened. Hearing a voice he doesn’t know, hearing sounds from a side of his cage where a wall should be or being moved into a new cage, all these put him into panic mode.

We’ve had these two for close to six years and they do spend time sitting very close to each other in their respective cages. Io is less tame than Bobo, letting me touch his beak while he tries to bite me and letting me touch his legs also while he tries to bite me, are big breakthroughs. So maybe it’s time to try them together again. Just a temporary match to see if it would work.

Dani is an orange front conure, as sweet as can be, and extremely splay-legged so that she can’t perch. Like with Bobo, we’ve tried a bunch of different cages and finally settled on one that is not too big. She doesn’t fly unless she is really upset and outside of her cage. I used to give her out time, but she seemed more stressed than relaxed.


Dani in the corner


One of the oddest things Dani does is to sleep on the floor of her cage on her back. Yeah, that was a startling thing to find first thing in the morning. She’s a heavy sleeper, too. Luckily, her previous companion clued us in on this behavior. We put towels in for her to sleep on and she loved to roll herself up in it. Then she started to chew on the towels, causing emergency thread removal around her legs and toes. The first time that happened, we don’t know how long she was caught and unable to move, possibly 8 hours if it happened right after we left for work that day.

The towels went away and brown packing paper took its place. Dani loves to chew this up and to sleep on it, but still, it didn’t seem as comfy an option. Then I got a plastic dish and had it zip tied to the side of the cage. I put the paper in there. Dani does sleep in there now, and it must be more comfortable than the bars on the bottom of the cage. However, since she doesn’t perch, she makes these lovely stalagmites in her bed. Next, we will figure out a way to remove the dish for daily cleaning or replacement. Always an evolving situation.

Sadly, I am responsible for the special needs condition of two of my birds. First of all, I hand fed a violet lovebird whom I called Fin because I was going to be finished with hand feeding that season after he weaned. Right at the time he was learning to fly and eating on his own, he landed on Io’s cage. Being blind, I like to believe that Io simply wanted to investigate whatever was on his cage. I almost reached the cage in time, but Io bit off most of Fin’s upper beak. That day was one of the most horrible of my life.

Fin took to hand feeding again pretty well and managed to survive the shock of the event. About half of his beak grew back in, allowing him to pinch me and groom himself. He taught himself to push a seed against the side of a dish with his tongue and crack it open that way. For a short while, he had a mate I called Tekla. She groomed him and fed him and they were very happy together. Sadly, she passed away in less than a year. A very sweet person had a single violet lovebird and offered it to me.

I named the bird Rebel because the cage she had been in had been opened accidentally and Rebel’s mate flew away. Not Rebel, she stayed put. She came to live with Fin and they bonded pretty quickly. Recently I gave them a nest box, only to discover that they are both female. Oh well. The important thing is that they care for each other.


Nacho 1
Nacho before


Nacho is a green cheek conure who came to me because he made a lot of noise and he wanted to bond with another parrot in the home. The other parrot did not take kindly to his advances. I had him for a year before he started flying around extensively and without taking heed of where he should not go. Yes, he landed on Io’s cage, right after I had shooed him away from that landing several times. This time, Io removed all of Nacho’s upper beak. I was and still am devastated. The hardest part was letting his former owner know what had happened.

Nacho After.jpg

I tried to hand feed him, but Nacho was too old for that. Luckily he’s very tame and sweet, so handling him is not a problem. I found a baby food with no preservatives and just kale and apple. I mixed it with chia seeds and he ate that pretty well. About that time, I rehomed my psycho half-moon conure, a plan that had been in the works from before the accident, and needed to put Esme, another green cheek, into the cage with Nacho. They had a slight adjustment period, but soon became bonded enough to groom and feed each other. Nacho stopped eating the baby food entirely. Now I grind up sunflower seed kernels (raw, unsalted) and give him that with a sprinkle of peanut powder. He loves that treat.


Esme and Nacho
Esme in the back, Nacho up close


Taking care of and taking responsibility for special needs birds is as easy as caring for your normal parrot, as long as you think carefully about your plans. Remember, these parrots are still good companions and want to be loved so they can love you in return. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back next Sunday.


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