Over the past several years I have observed an approach being promoted to those in the companion parrot community interested in free flying parrots outdoors, they are encouraged to obtain un-weaned birds and to hand raise them themselves. This advice is not given on a one-on-one basis; it is broadcast to anyone who happens to be listening (reading). This recommendation has led me to the keyboard several times, however each time I started to write about it and to challenge its ethics I stopped short of publishing my thoughts. However after receiving several emails in the last week or so on this subject the time has come for me to take a personal position; a position that I have thought about long and hard and discussed at length with several of my professional colleagues.
I simply cannot support the sale of un-weaned birds to the general public. There is no valid evidence I have seen presented that suggests there is anything to be gained by taking this approach other than enabling a trainer who lacks the knowledge and skill to train an already weaned/fledged/mature bird to have some early success. At the very best what is presented in support of this position is limited personal observation, rhetoric, and pseudo science. The only gain in the process is to the trainer who, for a little while at least, can apply slipshod training strategies and still fly their bird. Once a bird matures, all the skills that the trainer and bird should have had up front become required in order to maintain the desired behavior. Without the trainer having the knowledge and skill level to train a fully fledged adult bird their initial success may well result in the loss of the bird when it does mature or even during those early “random” flights.
My position is not one that I hold in isolation; I have spoken to many people in aviculture about this and asked for their positions. Not one single person supports the sale of un-weaned parrots to the general public. This is not because hand feeding a bird is a complex or hard to understand process, at least as long as all goes well. Where the skill and experience become necessary is when things go wrong. Incorrect monitoring of the birds’ development or aspiration due to poor feeding technique are just a couple of things than can and do go wrong. Encouraging people with little to no experience with birds let alone hand feeding to undertake this approach is bordering upon unethical and is irresponsible in the extreme. I encourage anyone who is looking to buy a bird that they wish to free fly to approach a reputable breeder, one that understands the importance of early development with other parrots as well as being around humans. When allowed to grow and fledge with other birds while developing trusting relationships with human caretakers the birds produced provide a solid foundation for good training to yield excellent results. This approach has been used for many years by the best breeders and their birds are those prized by the professionals. Talk to your breeder and ask them how they raise their birds before you place an un-weaned bird at risk for the sake of saving time.
There is a second aspect to this discussion and that is whether the average member of the public has the attention span, time, or even the environment to be considering free flying birds outdoors. Again, my personal position is that it takes a very dedicated individual to achieve this especially when they have a life, a job, and a family in the equation. Flying a bird once or twice a week or less will simply place those birds at risk. It takes time for the bird to develop skills, time spent in the air in many different environments and it is the skill of the trainer that sets the birds up for success in these varied environments.
I fully support those who strive to keep an unclipped parrot in their home; doing so can raise the owner’s training skills to new levels and enrich the life of the bird. Flying indoors in large buildings is excellent exercise and enrichment for all. However, I feel that free flying a parrot outdoors is something that needs very careful evaluation by the owner. While it may be true that the information on how to do it is available to all, the skill required to apply that information and safely fly the bird outdoors takes more than reading a few internet articles.