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Psittacine Scatology:
A Squirt by Any Other Name

Donna Hefton


What is it about excrement, of any sort, that makes us humans get so uneasy? We don't want to see it, smell it, look at it, and least of all touch it. We really don't even want to talk about it, especially in mixed company. Parrot owners, on the other hand, seem to live for it since we have a tendency to review our parrot's health by the droppings they produce. We are a different breed, aren't we?

The first order of business in this scatological observation is what to call parrot excrement. I commonly hear the word "poop" used for this delightful little green and white presentation produced in small amounts over the course of the day. Somehow, this word just doesn't work for me. Dogs "poop". Babies "poop". Parrots just seem to defy this category by the mere action of defecation. Parrots SQUIRT. And squirt will be the term used to define the action of defecation by the parrot for the remainder of this article. With this said, let's continue...

Parrots like their squirts. Really, they do. Have you ever noticed that your parrot will look at its squirt to see what it has produced? Perhaps they are checking their own health status in the way that we do when we check their droppings. I would like to think that this is not a learned behavior derived from watching us examining the cage bottom. Every so often you can catch them squirting and cocking their heads to see where it landed and what it looks like. And they never seem to get as excited about it as we do. So what if it lands on the couch, the hardwood floors, or the new carpet? It is a natural event that occurs roughly every to 30 minutes in the course of a parrot's day and I'm sure that it gets pretty confusing to them when we make such a big deal about it. This attention has caused some major problems in a few cases and these issues will be addressed in the course of this article.

Scary squirts. This is a topic unto itself. African Grey owners know exactly what I mean if I refer to the first squirt of the day or "the morning squirt". Whether other species have this particular habit of holding a boatload of feces until you let it out of the cage, I cannot be sure. It resembles something in size to the contents of a chicken egg when it hits the floor. If you have enough foresight you'll place a sheet of newspaper under the bird before he performs this morning ritual. New grey owners are stunned by this phenomenon the first few times it occurs. Brooding hens also have the habit of storing feces until they can afford the time to leave the nest. The amount, size, and consistency of these squirts are frightening on first inspection. Really scary squirts! What the parrot eats will effect the color of the dropping as anyone that has fed their parrot pomegranates or cherries can attest. These really get your attention and your mind races back in time to correlate what has been fed while you're determining whether to call the vet. Colored parrot squirts capture our attention immediately! A good rule of thumb to live by is "what goes in will come out". Use great caution when sharing your favorite liquids with your bird and place him in a "squirt zone" or an area that he can use to his hearts content because it will come out as it went in. Preferably not on your shoulder, lap, or favorite furniture.

I was prompted to write this article by an event that had taken place recently that got me thinking about how we deal with the squirtin' issue. A lovely little Amazon decided that the time was right to relieve herself as mother nature has intended. Upon doing so, her owner did what many of us are prone to do in these cases. With a disgusted face and vocalizations of displeasure she apologized for the mess her bird made. This observation gave me a crystal-clear message that we are not dealing properly with the natural event of squirting on the part of our parrots. Are we possibly putting across the idea that this behavior is unacceptable? We are all well aware of how observant these birds can be. How is this negative message being interpreted by them? I am inclined to put forth a positive response each time my parrots squirt. I tell them "that's a good squirt" or "good squirtin' " simply in passing and try not to make an issue of it. Yes, I've had to throw beautiful blouses into the rag bin through the years until the birds figured out I was not the place to squirt. And they did, THEY figured it out.

It really is simple if you think about it. If a parrot is bonded to you in any way it will stop squirting on you. Parrots don't squirt on their mates and rarely will it squirt on its flock members once it has learned the proper dynamics of the flock. Juvenile and adolescent birds are still learning flock etiquette and accidents will occur during this time. So, if you have a young bird you must take it all in stride until the youngster comes to terms with how the world works and its place in it. Also watch for the impending squirt. Your bird will display certain body language that indicates it needs to relieve itself and prefers not to do it on you. If you don't pay attention you will get what you deserve. If they get "wiggly" and start doing what I call "deep knee- bends" (wings slightly out and acting like they want to take off) or getting pesky, nippy, or vocal they probably are trying to tell you something. When accidents occur, try to avoid a negative response in either facial contortions or vocalization.

Over the years I have read instructions on potty training your parrot. Never once have I thought of this as being necessary to keeping a parrot, but there are those that feel a little more comfortable having their parrot squirt in some designated area or on command. My yellow-nape will perform this technique if I ask, "can you go?" but I never made an issue of this as she prefers not to squirt on me. There was no intensive training involved here, she simply got the idea the first time I asked her the question. There are dangers involved in potty training a parrot and one should keep this in mind so as not to destroy all that nature has put into place.

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