Last Updated on by Catherine Tobsing
We buy mortgage insurance for our homes and auto insurance for our cars.
We buy cars with airbags because they’re safer
We wear bicycle helmets.
We make our kids wear bicycle helmets.
When we have a babysitter watch our children we provide a list of numbers where we can be reached.
We bring a bird into our home who could conceivably be with us for decades and yet we fail to take the fundamental steps to help us cope with avian emergencies that will – eventually happen.
The majority of times when I ask caged bird keepers how much they’ve practiced “toweling” their birds I get a look like I’m speaking a foreign language.
I’ll also ask if they know how to restrain their bird without getting bit should they need to perform maintenance or first-aid.
Sadly the majority of caged bird keepers have never been taught these simple techniques.
Allow me to offer some quotes:
“That’s mean you could be hurting the bird I wish you were under custody with that bird”
“What the hell!
I own birds that is not how !!!!
“I’d slap the tar out of a person I saw using that torture device”
“Use a towel! I can’t imagine the trauma that poor bird encountered just putting that contraption on!”
“Awful. Should be banned.”
Generally speaking, I’d say a guy with the name and title Richard Gregory Burkett DVM Diplomate ABVP Avian, is not someone creating devices to harm our birds.
These are useful to a veterinarian for drawing blood or thorough examinations.
Dealing with an unruly egg-bound bird can be a real handful regardless of the bird’s size.
If anyone’s ever handled an unsocialized lovebird they know what I’m speaking about.
They can be like an out-of-control as-seen-on-TV multi-purpose mechanical cutting tool.
Many of you reading this are associated in some way with bird rescues.
The majority of birds get turned in to bird rescues.
The other side is the actual bird rescuing occurring regularly.
We’ve all read about homes filled with birds and filth overseen by neglectful none caregivers.
Here at Windy City Parrot, we get calls from citizens and the Chicago police department (sometimes they just walk in with a bird-in-a-box) who recovered an errant bird or knows of a trapped bird.
I literally rescued Popcorn our cockatiel who had gotten herself entangled in some very thick bushes not far from the Birdie Boutique after escaping from her previous home.
She was a pretty docile rescue, scared but happy for human interaction.
We know a rescue operator who is also a member of his local fire and police department.
In addition to that he’s licensed by the USDA and able to confiscate birds in hazardous situations.
Meaning as an example, and this really happens, a drug dealer will buy an expensive colorful bird like a Greenwing Macaw to have as part of his bling collection.
The drug dealer gets arrested and the bird is abandoned until somebody complains about the noise which could be a week later.
Now someone has to capture the starving-dehydrated-scared-of-everything-screaming-bird-with-two-razors-that-won’t-hold-still, and that someone is going to need more than tender loving care to restrain it.
That’s the dark side of caged bird keeping.
Being able to handle a flying bolt cutter that does not like you or anyone for that matter. Someone has to do it.
Recently I’ve spoken to many parrot people who are unfamiliar with how to restrain a bird even with a towel. Knowing how to hold a bird with a towel will be required of you if you have a bird under your roof – this is not conjecture.
The chances are better than even in the decades of your bird’s life span there will be, at the very least minor medical emergencies that require you to restrain your bird.
A blood feather that needs removing or checking for eggs in the reproductive tract by pressing on a bird’s abdomen are two things that come to mind.
One caged bird keeper I recently spoke with said her husband uses the towel to put inside the bird’s mouth to keep from getting bit during a maintenance procedure – sigh.
If you don’t know how to restrain a bird – It’s time you learned.
There are three facets to bird restraint.
The head and beak
Even clipped wings can flap and not every bird is comfortable being flipped over on its back and probed so keeping those wings close to its body is a good thing. We’ll come back to toweling.
Holding a parrot’s feet can be a one-person or two-person endeavor.
It all depends upon the experience of the bird handler and the demeanor of the bird being handled.
A parrot’s feet might have to be restrained to keep them from flailing out of stress, nail trim or a foot examination.
There’s a lot of power in the pulley system driving a bird’s leg movement.
Time to learn the
Zombie Death Grip
This is where you curl your thumb your forefinger tightly around a birds neck to restrain it.
If you’re able to slide the ring of your fingers close to the bottom of birds beak you will be able to restrain a bird without getting bit!
Didn’t think it was possible, did you?
Many people mistakenly think all those feathers around a birds neck provide ample padding, insulating the bird’s from pain.
Not the case.
Let’s talk about your bird’s neck, shall we?
When you think about it birds have quite a range of neck designs.
Most of us are exotic bird and parrot people but when you think about swans, geese, and flamingos you conjure up an entirely different neck profile.
We humans have seven cervical (neck) vertebrae.
Birds can have anywhere between 11 to 25 cervical vertebrae based upon the length of their neck.
Look at the complexity of a humans neck area versus that of a birds neck (below)
When your bird preens it must reach the preening gland which is at the base of the tail (not all birds have them).
To ensure the stability nature provided the proper number of cervical vertebrae for the bird to easily reach that area.
aha moment coming – wait for it…….
Bird necks and legs are usually proportional. Generally, birds with long legs have long necks so their bill can reach the ground.
The windpipe will also curve to the right of your birds neck.
Along with the trachea, you’ll find a pair of jugular veins. The right jugular vein is always larger which is why avian vets will use them to draw blood samples.
Most birds necks form an “S”.
This enables birds to do things that you and I use our hands for like grooming and nest building (combing our hair and building a house).
Although your Greenwing Macaw might be the gentlest bird in the world, a stranger might not be so keen on your bird using its beak aka bolt cutter to check out its new friend before making the decision to come aboard.
a bird’s neck anatomy defines simplicity
Birds use their beaks for many activities one of which is exploration.
Beaks appear to be a solid sheet of an inert substance (keratin) like fingernails but they are in fact filled with lots of nerves called Herbst corpuscles and return a ton of information (without the use of any microprocessors by the way) to the bird about what its beak is coming in contact with.
The S-curve of a bird’s neck usually pokes forward above it’s crop. When the crops empty, the shape of the neck sometimes is mistaken as an abnormality or tumor.
A bird’s neck is more limber, ambulatory and substantial (relative to its body) than a human mammal’s neck.
At the end of the day, a bird’s neck is seen as one of the most durable parts of its body.
Ask any vet and they’ll tell you that holding a bird by the neck falls under best practices.
For small birds, use your thumb and last two digits
to cradle the wings and restrain the head with the second and third digits
Circling back to toweling methodology, much like travel carriers a towel is essential for your bird to be comfortable with.
The video below displays a parrot’s relationship with a towel whose human is one of the most respected animal behaviorists on the planet, Barbara Heidenreich.
A bird whose flapping a wing with a broken blood feather is stressed enough and needs to see the towel or restraining apparatus (this goes for flight harnesses too) as a friend and something that provides comfort.
A large unruly parrot is a danger to itself and those around him or her. The more you have to work in your favor ie preparation-practice-equipment – the better the outcome you can expect.
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing
Your Zygodactyl Footnote