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Birds Q&A

Marc answers questions about grooming and training birds.

Martha Stewart Living Television

Why does my parrot love it when I stroke its beak?
We perceive a bird's beak as rigid and bony, but it's actually a highly sensitive appendage. Birds have touch receptors in the upper portion of their beaks, called Herbst's corpuscles, which are highly sensitive. Many birds do enjoy having their beaks stroked, but some don't. If your bird wants the contact, it will usually initiate it.

What is the best way to train a young cockatiel?
Assuming you want to train the cockatiel to perch on your finger, it's easiest if the bird has been hand-fed from an early age or has had its feathers trimmed. Start by taking the bird out of the cage and simply spending time with it. Next, as you hold the bird in your hand, feed it some favorite foods, like millet sprays. If the bird panics and jumps off, try taking it into a small room, such as a bathroom, and sitting on the floor while handling it. It may take a while for the bird to trust you, but eventually it should perch peacefully on your finger.

I bought a baby African gray parrot three months ago, and it's making no effort to talk. What am I doing wrong?
It can take an African gray up to two years to begin talking. This trait sets it apart from some other parrots, such as the Amazon, which begins speaking at four months. Simply take care of the bird, and when it feels like a member of the family, it will begin to speak.

My macaw's feathers never look as good as those of the birds I see on TV. What can I do to make his plumage look better?
The most important element in the care of a bird's plumage is diet. Make sure it gets all the nutrients it needs. Second, parrots are rain-forest creatures and need to be misted every day. Just fill a plant mister with warm water, and spray it above the bird's head. You don't need to spray the bird directly. If you do this consistently, its feathers will look healthier and more vibrant.

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