Making The Cage Suitable For Your Special Needs Parrot

Photo of african grey by parrotsancturay.co.cc

Just like people, parrots sometimes find themselves in a place in life where they have a hard time getting around. This might be the result of a deformity, an injury or the struggles of old age. And, just like people, parrots learn to adapt to their circumstances with a little help from those around them.

To most people it makes sense that a parrot hatched with a deformity would be better able to learn to get by. After all, it has never known any other way. But how could a parrot that lost a foot in an injury learn to adapt when everything a parrot does involves its feet? How could a blind parrot learn to navigate it’s cage without hands to guide him in the darkness?

The answer to these questions is quite simple: a parrot makes the difficult adjustment because it must in order to survive. And frankly, it is a lot easier for a parrot to adapt because they don’t suffer from bouts of self pity the way humans do. They don’t waste time or energy thinking “Why me?”, or considering “If only…” They see a task ahead of them and they get to it. The footless parrot plots out another means of getting from point A to B. The blind parrot learns to rely more heavily on its other senses.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t do everything we can to make the cage more practical for our special needs parrots. Our highest priority should be in the matter of safety. Until which time the bird recovers or has adapted to its infirmity, we must be certain they are not in danger when perching or moving around the cage.

Footless african grey photo by Anna Sloan

A few years ago, a friend took in two handicapped african greys. Shortly after hatching, their parents bit off their feet, for reasons no one will ever know. If I remember correctly, the breeder’s solution to the problem was a river and a bag of rocks, but fortunately someone stepped in and they wound up in the care of my friend. Each bird had a different degree of “disability”. One had remnants of feet, one had only stumps. They both needed special considerations for their care.

Obviously, the biggest obstacle was finding a way to offer comfort and stability in perching. Below is a photo of a starter cage that my friend modified to suit the needs of one of the birds. The cage is large enough to encourage active play, but small enough to prevent injury during a fall from any real height. Everything is padded for comfort, while offering help with balance. The climbing ramp is wound with rope to add traction for footless-ness.

Aside from the obvious special caging and perching needs of the greys, some unanticipated problems arose, such as how to confidently step up a footless bird. It is difficult for a human to be a stable perch for a bird with no toes to grasp fingers or wrists. This resulted in some trust issues as the birds struggled to feel secure when being held by humans, but it was sorted out with patience and diligence. There is more to tending to special needs than meets the eye but the birds did remarkably well and have since gone on to new homes.

Photo and cage modification by Anna Sloan

Recently, someone contacted me because her bird was going blind. She was very upset, but I explained to her that this was not the end of the world – for her or her bird. She sent me some video footage of her bird’s cage and in the end we decided to change nothing. Her bird had been in that cage for its entire life and was quite aware of where the food bowls were and how the perching was laid out. As its vision declined, the bird was showing that it was quite capable of navigating the cage without any problems.

I think one of the biggest challenges with having a special needs parrot comes from within ourselves. Very often, their physical shortcomings are a bigger deal to us than it is to them.  Birds are very reactive to the stress levels of their people, and wouldn’t it be ironic that while we fret over making their lives livable in the face of their handicap, that we are actually making it more tense with our own stress?

Photo of handicapped budgie by avianweb.com

Once we have tended to their health issues and to their safety, we really must learn to back away and let the bird take it from there. Their perseverence will astound you. It’s important that we don’t over-assist our birds. In doing so, we might take away opportunities for exercise, which might be somewhat limited anyways. Once your bird has adjusted to his new way of life, be sure to allow him opportunities to explore and play like any other bird. We want to help make life do-able without crossing the line to where it is sedentary or boring.

Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987. 

12 comments

Carol Tift

Thanks for this post. We have a 32 yr old CAG who may lose her leg due to a lesion that has yet to be identified. If it can’t be treated, there may be no option except amputation. I’ve fretted about this a lot. This article helps me. Thanks.

Carol Tift
William

A few days ago our Green Check Conure, Sammy lost her left foot in an unfortunate accident. Although it has only been 2 days she has shown us she is a fighter and very determined to adapt. True to your article, we are having a harder time dealing with this then she is. So “backing off” is the strategy we are using. Although she spends more time out of her cage than in it, we did start modifying a little but I think the smart thing to do is to watch her and see where she is having trouble and make adjustments as needed. If you have any recommendations please let me know. If you are aware of anyone with a similar circumstance and has advice to lend I would be grateful. Thank you for posting this article, it has helped us to relax a bit.

William
Wendy Jo Jordan

Need help for ideas on how to set up a safe cage for an elderly Quaker Parrot. He has very little balance. His feet don’t grip any more so therefor he falls easily. I try to make sure he can’t hurt himself.

Wendy Jo Jordan
morgan

we have a cockateil named stryker, who is 4 years old, he was perfectly normal and healthy until a week ago. he got sick with a bacterial infection and a high fever. i dont know what did it, maybe the fever, but he went blind. we have been slowly nursing him back to health. he would not eat or drink for a while, but thankfully today he managed to find his food dish and started eating. he is looking much better and is even tucking his head behind his wing when he sleeps again. hope he makes it, and thank you for all your ispirational stories!

morgan
Jackie Brosnihan

Great article Patty. Is there a website I can access that can show me how to set up a disabled cage for a baby African Grey? I am finding little piece meal articles everywhere, but I need something more thorough. Einstein has no toes on either foot so we are trying to find the biggest cage possible to house him for maximum comfort (still looking) and how to set up the cage for ease of mobility. Any help would be appreciated. We won’t bring him home until this is ready.

Jackie Brosnihan
David Henry

Thanks for this article (and picture of the furnished cage). I’ve been trying to find information on what to do for a footless budgie — and get some encouragement. I was particularly pleased to read that “their physical shortcomings are a bigger deal to us than it is to them”. This particular bird I’m concerned about is a rescue from a negligent home. All I know is that its feet “turned black and fell off”. I assume there was serious injury involved. It is eating well and pretty calm (happy with a new owner). It’s able to rest on its ‘forearms’ — using its beak to help pull along and steady itself. I’m building padded rest areas and a tiny jungle gym with ‘beak rails’ to encourage activity. Thanks again. All the very best of good things to you and yours.

David Henry
Connie

My beautiful cockatiel, Lilly, was perfectly normal when hatched. I had the parents and 2 other females. All of the adults would go in the box and feed the babies. But, one day they got into a little scuffle right on top of the 4 babies. Lilly ended up with both wings and both legs splayed. I could not find anybody who could help me. So, I wrapped her up in a washcloth to keep her wings and legs aligned. I would take her to work with me and just carried her everywhere. It was so heartbreaking to watch her trying to walk. She struggled so much and I could tell she was in pain. I was about to put her down, but I just could not do it. So, I just did the best I could and worked with her. She is now 3 years old and is doing great!! Her wings are normal but she has one leg that is out to the side. She flys great, and is able to hop around on her one good leg. The one thing that bothers me is the fact that she does have pain. I have to be careful on how I pick her up and hold her. She is my Lilly!!

Connie
damasofeliciano

I have a cockatiel lose one foot. I cure him. He is with me. Thanks too offer me what to do to help him.

damasofeliciano
Barbara DelGiudice

Thank you for posting this article about handicapped birds. All birds are precious. Even handicapped birds! I love them so much.

Barbara DelGiudice
Carolyn

Among the baby Quaker parrots I raised last summer was a little guy with a badly splayed and twisted leg. We worked with him every day even while he was only a naked baby, making special little diapers that pulled the leg into place and encouraging him to grab with the bad foot. He now appears nearly normal, but I will not sell him because I fear someone would clip his wings and that would cripple him. He will be my shop bird and general show off. His name is Quasi Moto after the humpback of Notre Dame. Very active little guy and I love him.

Carolyn
shirley martin

I have a whiteface pearl cocktiel named Lacy.Some how it was injured before it was fully weaned. It could not stand on its legs and just laid on its side. It acted like it had injured its back and I was afraid it was broken because it had no use for its wings either. I put it in a brooder with soft bedding and heat. I kept feeding her baby formula and she loved millet. She finally could stand on her legs and started to walk a little,taking small steps.She would flap her wings and go scooting across the floor until she ran in to something. I kept a close watch to make sure she didn;t reinjure herself. She is very sweet and likes to sit close to me and even though I know this is the way she will always be, It makes me love her even more.

shirley martin
donna wiedeman

wow that makes me want to cry.

donna wiedeman

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