Abundance Weaning and Fledging

Wilhelm (Bill) Kiesselbach

Permission granted March 31, 2009

There is absolutely nothing more important for the healthy emotional and intellectual development of a young parrot than Abundance Weaning and Fledging. The term "Abundance Weaning" was created and trademarked by Phoebe Greene Linden of Santa Barbara Bird Farm. She has written extensively about it and subsequently, the term has been adopted by bird behaviorists as identifying the single most important contributing factor to the birdsí emotional and physical health. As opposed to "forced" weaning where birds are on a specific schedule and, usually based on their age, the breeder decides when they ought to be weaned, "Abundance Weaning" leaves that decision to the bird.

Supplied with a variety of foods ranging from fruit and vegetable tidbits to pellets that should be available all the time, the bird is continued to be hand fed. A properly weaned bird learns to trust humans through the actions of it's caregiver. It gains self-confidence, learns to accept different foods readily and is comfortable in a changing environment. While initially "Abundance Weaning" is exclusively needed for nutrition, eventually it turns into the need for emotional comfort. The word "weaning" in this context implies an awareness of the birdís needs. It goes beyond the mere satisfaction of nutritional requirements. "Weaning" implies love, caring, emotional support and the application of simple, elementary rules. It implies knowledge of the early very distinctive stages in their maturation and the birdsí individual changing and very specific behavioral patterns.

The Poultrification of parrots is an expression coined by Sally Blanchard and refers to the indiscriminate breeding of parrots on a large scale expressly motivated by profit. While there are even breeders who incubate eggs on a large scale and then ravage feed the babies without individual attention, emotional support or even a modicum of "Abundance Weaning", the worst case of poultrification is the bird breeding program by Petsmart. They breed birds by the thousands and then distribute them into their sales outlets. Everything Petsmart and volume breeders do literally flies into the face of everything we know about the emotional and intellectual needs of a young parrot. Birds "produced" in this manner are very likely to develop very serious behavioral problems.

In many cases, breeders and pet shops will even offer a discount to those who are willing to buy an unweaned bird, a clear indication of a breeder or pet shop who doesnít care beyond the "jingle" in the cash register.

While the consequences for this lack of care wonít be apparent when the birds are still babies, it will be very evident when they mature. They are prime candidates for seriously dysfunctional behavior. This, of course, is not to say that an Abundance Weaned bird is guaranteed to become a wonderful companion. A lot of knowledge, work, understanding, respect and love are still necessary. Abundance Weaning merely represents the vital foundation on which to build.

Cage bound birds which are suspicious of changes in their lives, who reject their caregiver, who become phobic or even feather pluckers most likely have not been properly Abundance Weaned.

It is a fact that in the wild, African Greys as well as Cockatoos for instance, are "Abundance Weaned" long after they have fledged. 2 year old Cockatoos have been observed being fed by their parents and other relatives. Greys are being weaned and taught the "ways of life" for a number of years to prepare them not only to survive in a hostile environment, but also for the rules of behavior within their very own flock. Bobbi Brinker the noted breeder has instituted a system of "Nanny Birds" which helps her raise her babies. She has the reputation of producing healthy and well-adjusted parrots. (The title of her latest book: "For the Love of Greys*)

At this point, it may be interesting to recount the stunning behavioral difference between wild caught African Greys and captivity raised birds. While African Greys have the reputation of being feather pluckers, there has been almost no incidence of feather plucking observed in wild caught birds. While being trapped, caged and transported must represent a level of trauma to an intelligent and sensitive creature that is hard to imagine, these birds clearly came emotionally equipped to deal with that. On the other hand the birds bred in captivity, cared for, fed and never subjected to the tremendous stress of their wild caught cousins are historically more prone to becoming phobic. The answer seems to be that they are ill prepared to deal with the uncertain, ever changing circumstances of a life with a bunch of mammals who donít even begin to understand them. Something was missing in their upbringing Ė in all likely hood they have not been properly weaned is a major part.

There is another component in successfully growing up: Learning to fly. Birds must learn to fly. Their sense of self-confidence and emotional well being depends on it. They must be able to maneuver and land safely. While the pure act of flying is a vital part of their development, it has been suggested that letting them learn to fly may even impact their eating habits. When a bird gets ready to fledge, it will instinctively reduce its food intake. That is to loose some of the accumulated baby fat and make it lighter. Many times loving caregivers become extremely concerned about lack of eating and weight loss. It has been suggested that our birds must fly to lose their focus on losing weight and regain their "normal appetite". Even though we may later clip their wings in order to protect them from injuries or escaping, they must fly first. Once we decide to clip them, we have to make sure to do that correctly. There are very clear guidelines on proper wing clipping which are based on bodyweight, size and general agility and are different for every species. Properly clipping is important and wonít harm the birdís self esteem; doing so improperly can be devastating, physically dangerous and cruel.

Finally, "Abundance Weaning" is entirely the breederís responsibility. There is no question that the birdís future behavior patterns, his/her ability to relate, the levels of socialization and emotional health are very largely dependent upon the care it receives early in its life.

The battle cry among all those dedicated to the well being of our companions parrots is: "Donít buy an unweaned bird" Ė and for a reason: Doing so clearly supports those who are in this business without regard to for the well-being of the creatures. We all should know the difference between a good breeder who cares for the birds and a bad, unscrupulous breeder. The entire future relationship between the buyer and the bird may very well depend on the breeder. A good breeder will never sell an unweaned bird and the bad breeder should be put out of business.

Articles elaborating on this subject can be found in Sally Blanchardís Pet Bird Report where Pamela Clark with her intelligent, perceptive and well founded articles is a contributor, as well as in a number of outstanding books about the upbringing and keeping of pet parrots. Sally also has developed a list of questions to qualify a breeder.

This article is not intended to provide all the necessary information, rather, it is intended to stimulate the awareness that we must do our homework before buying a parrot!