One Health: Psittacine Conservation Medicine, Humans, Behavior, and Welfare

One Health:  Psittacine Conservation Medicine, Humans, Behavior, and Welfare

 LoraKim Joyner, DVM,  MPVM, MDiv



Human well being is inextricably interrelated with that of other species, including birds.  Increasingly the scientific community has become aware of interconnected health, and in response is developing multidisciplinary approaches to global health.  Such approaches incorporate not just physical health, but also behavioral health of both humans and nonhumans.  Using psittacine conservation as a model and drawing upon the fields of cognitive ethology, conservation psychology, conservation behavior, and the human dimensions of avian conservation, we invite readers to consider how understanding behavior of human, and the behavior of parrots in their native habitats can improve the well being of parrots in a variety of circumstances, as well as that of humans.   Veterinarians and avian caretakers, as well as their organizations, are uniquely situated to contribute to the welfare of our entire planet and the life upon, by attending to their health and those within their communities near and far.


In the last decades in various philosophical, literature, and scientific realms of inquiry and learning there has been increasing exploration in the behavior and minds of human and nonhuman animals.  This exploration has led to the emergence and growth of  new fields, such as cognitive ethology, conservation behavior and conservation psychology.  These fields seek insight into behavior, including how it corresponds to mentation, so that we can just not understand more, but also use this information to improve the lives of human and nonhuman animals.  Just as nonhuman animal behavior in conservation is increasingly considered, so too is the behavior of humans.  We seek to understand the human dimensions of what we do, especially how our behavior relates to evolutionary biology much in the same we do with nonhuman animals.  From this viewpoint, anthropomorphism is losing its negative connotation, for common sense, evolutionary biology, and observation repeatedly tells us that humans are linked to other species in what we do and why.  The risk is that we may over interpret what we see as we project our thinking and feelings, that is, our subjective lives onto others.  On the other end of the spectrum, we are prone to anthropocentrism in that we may perceive what another species does, thinks, or feels cannot be like what we ourselves experience.  Our error is to perceive humans as uniquely unique.  Scientific methodology can help us diminish the error of over interpreting what we observe either in terms of “they think, feel, and act like us,” or “they don’t think and feel like us and hence don’t act like this.”

What we are finding is how to see human relatedness with other species so that not only can we improve upon our scientific practices, but also have a greater idea how human health cannot be untangled from nonhuman health..  The healthier we are, the greater the chance for the health of other species and their ecological communities.  The corollary to this is also true:  the healthier other species and their environments, the healthier are humans and their communities.1,2  Applying principles of interrelated health to the design and interpretation of our conservation research and practices has increased my effectiveness as a conservationist.  Including examples from my own conservation work, this paper invites veterinary team members to consider how they might apply the principles here to  increase effectiveness,  not just in the natural habitats where parrots occur, but in the variety of environments in which we find these species.

Interrelated Health

The health and well being of birds, humans, and their environments are bound in a complex web of cause and effect. Though many of these relationships are known, in recent years, studies and experience indicate that we are only beginning to discern the breadth and depth of these inter-relationships.3  Knowing more about these relationships helps us discover ways to facilitate health for our ecosystems and communities of mixed species. 

Humans as indicators of ecosystem health:

If human communities experience poor health and have low health indicators, it is likely that the environment and other species are also suffering ill effects. Ecofeminist studies correlate how women and children are the main victims of the “war against nature.4”   I have personally seen how human well being correlates with ecosystem health. In Guatemala, a complex interaction of neocolonialism, extraction economies, corruption, extreme income gap between the wealthiest and the poor, widespread poverty, drug trafficking and racism has led to widespread and continuous human right violations, genocide in the 1980’s, rampant poaching, and tremendous habitat loss and degradation. For instance, in the south coast of Guatemala,  local biologists say that the area is “desparacido” (disappeared), largely due to the encroachment of corporate financed sugar cane monoculture agriculture practices. The environment is severely degraded, parrot populations are decreasing alarmingly, and human communities find it increasingly difficult to sustain themselves, hence leading to widespread migration and disruption of family units. To apply conservation practices, Guatemalans must deal not just with the science of conservation biology, but also with human security problems, poverty, education; in short, humans must take care of themselves if they are to take care of their birds.

Human mental and behavioral wellbeing  as indicators of ecosystem health:

There is a growing sense that psychology, and mental and behavioral health, are linked to environmental health. Studies are underway to show that being mentally healthy requires being ecologically attuned, and being ecologically attuned requires being mentally healthy. For instance, in the last decades studies show how loss of birds and the loss of biodiversity negatively affects the human psyche, leading to the growth of ecopsychology5 and conservation psychology. In August 2009 the American Psychological Association released a 230-page report titled “Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change.”  This report addressed the emotional costs of ecological decline: anxiety, despair, numbness, grief, and a “sense of being overwhelmed . Albrect in 2004 described the syndrome  solastalgia as  “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault..a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.6”  Therapists seek to treat exoanxiety, ecoparalysis, and nature deficit disorder, among others.

Ecopsycholgists, conservation psychologists, philosophical and religious traditions, and scientists alike find a vital link between mind and nature. E.O. Wilson coined the phrase biophilia in 1984 as the innate tendency of humans to focus on life and lifelike processes. Peter Kahn in one study found that heart rates decrease more quickly if people are exposed to the sight of real nature and not at all if either exposed to a TV image of nature or a blank wall.7  Scientists and psychologists are looking not just now to treat people for their own well being, but so that in their health, they can in turn attune to the health of others, that is, to support soliphilia: “the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet, and the unity of interrelated interests within in.6

 Human Dimensions of Conservation

 Fully instantiated, care includes cognitive, affective, and behavioral components.  In order to care..people must be informed, people must feel, and people should act in ways that will express both their knowledge and their emotion. 8

Parameters affecting a parrot’s conservation status are plentiful in Central America, and are similar to negative impacts to parrot populations around the world.  Twenty-five years of conservation medicine and research has yielded these as the most common limiting factors in Central America: predation of chicks and fledglings, nest parasites, malnutrition of chicks, Africanized bees colonizing nest cavities, poaching, habitat loss, human security issues,  (gang and drug violence, corruption, government instability) and human well-being (poverty, malnutrition, lack of education, and disease).  By far the greatest toll on nest success and a population are the human factors.  In many areas poverty and unequal distribution of resources threaten not only political stability, but biodiversity.  Turner reports that where there is poverty, ecosystem health is fundamentally important to the people’s well being.2  Yet it is these very same areas of impoverishment that are the highest biodiversity concern of the well being of people everywhere.  Turner goes on to say, “Working in international conservation, I know that nearly all conservation efforts are local. The success of any project or program largely hinges on how well it addressed the needs and constraints defined by a place’s people, institutions and conditions, and how well it engages those people and institutions in creating solutions.”

Engaging people is no easy task.  Up to 30-50% of conservation projects in Mexico fail not due to funding restrictions or characteristics of the species or habitat, but due to interpersonal conflict and lack of social capital.9  Furthermore, socioeconomic issues impacting the quality of life of humans correlates with the ability of individuals and communities to partner in conservation plans.  Since science and conservation does not exist in a vacuum without human agents or human culture, increasingly conservation teams incorporate social scientists in their multidisciplinary teams, or others who can address the human dimensions of conservation.

Focusing on human dimensions aids conservation in many ways.  Values, which impact behavior, can be more greatly clarified and shared.  People understand that everyone is invited to participate equally, improving commitment, mutual respect, and trust.  These relationships help construct solidarity in diverse communities, which are often present in conservation areas.   Furthermore, focusing on human components fosters inspiration and creativity needed to sustain solutions at the local community level.

In addition, the greater awareness we have of own behavior and motivations, the more likelihood we are to make better ethical decisions based on the information at hand, our past experiences, and our subconscious.  No matter which ethical approach or process we favor, we are still faced with the fact that we treat species differently and in a very real, pragmatic, and tragic sense we compromise our values consistently.  In fact, the only consistent approach to ethics is that we all are inconsistent.

My rational approach to ethics encompasses my belief that there is no rational, consistent approach to ethics. We make decisions all the time based on self interest, past experiences, and emotions that do not register in the cognitive realms. For instance, in one study of veterinary students at Cornell, those aspiring to work with food animals considered more procedures to be humane for all species than did students aspiring to work with small animals.10 Both sets of students experienced the same curricula; however, their careers impacted their interpretation of this knowledge.  Unraveling the complex intricacies of human behavior so as to change behavior is a challenge, even after spending a life time or career attempting to do so.  As veterinarians we do not need to do all, but can lean on other fields of knowledge and research as our guides.

Conservation Psychology

The field of conservation psychology takes what we know about the science of human behavior and the interdependence between humans and nature and then seeks to promote a healthy and sustainable relationship between them.8   Conservation psychology persistently and deeply asks what is the human place in nature, and what is nature’s place in the human being? These questions are asked so that we can sustain care.  Conservation psychology coaches people to care by integrating cognition, emotions, and behavior.  Given that 60% of the earth’s ecosystems being used unsustainably, led Clayton and Myers to urgently ask, “Where are the psychologists on conservation research teams?”8

If they were present they would guide others in understanding the intersection between behavior and values, attitudes, value orientation, ideologies, and a plethora of cognitive constructs. Although cognition is an important aspect of their work, how people think may not be the key influence on any specific behavior impacting the environment or animals.  Instead, emotion drives moral behavior, and reason comes in afterwards in what we would call “rationalization.”   Rees writes, “Humans…overestimate the role of mindful intelligence even as our actions are being controlled by the lower brain centers.  In fact, much of expressed human behavior is shaped by emotions and subconscious mental processes.11” Recent research suggests that emotion is an important indicator of sustainable behaviors.   For example, by encouraging students to “try to imagine how a bird feels”  researchers were able to increase emotions associated with empathy, and this empathic response in turn correlated to a greater willingness and obligation to help nature.8  Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in the place of conspecifics or hetrospecifics.

Human structures of values also impact our behavior, often subconsciously, and “understanding every human group’s structure of values is a prerequisite for conservation work.”8 Findings suggest that “values related to conformity, tradition, security, and self enhancement support utilitarian views toward wildlife, while values related to openness to change and self-transcendence support more protectionist, aesthetic, and mutualistic views toward wildlife.”12

These values then orient in different combinations,  of which two are prominent in North America:  domination, and mutualism or egalitarianism.12   “The stronger one’s domination orientation, the more likely he or she will be to prioritize human well being over wildlife, accept actions that result in death or other intrusive control of wildlife, and evaluate treatment of wildlife in utilitarian terms.  A mutualism wildlife value orientation, in contrast, views wildlife as capable of living in relationships of trust with humans, as life-forms having rights like those of humans, as part of an extended family, and as deserving caring and compassion.”   Differences in these orientations result in conflict and difficulty in developing conservation strategies that address different needs and desires.

Conservation psychology helps us understand and normalize why we are different and then helps us engage in individual and social processes that enable us to work together.  These processes help people communicate and hence gain knowledge, feel, and integrate cognitive and emotive functions with behavior. One process of behavioral change is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), popular with companion birds as well as with humans.  If people can be given frequent positive feedback in discrete small steps, their behavior can change.8

Not only is individual behavior important, but also overall behavior and social maturity of conservation teams, organizations, and communities. Local people develop greater investment and commitment to conservation strategies if empathetic understanding, provision of choice, transparent administration, and non-controlling communicating and feedback is part of routine organizational operations.Community based resource management relies on understanding how operant psychological variables interact in a given culture.  Normally we would expect cultures with the greatest social capital, such as the density of social ties, trust, and institutions to have the most sustainable agroforestry practices. In one study in Guatemala, the opposite was found to be true: the Itza’ had the lowest social capital, and also the lowest forest clearance rate. This was because the Itza’ had higher plant-animal interactions and negotiated the costs and benefits of resource use based on spiritual values and understandings of the forest.8  How a people think of the land and animals matters in how they interact with the ecosystem.

Other processes invoked in conservation psychology include environmental education (including offering practical and doable actions to care for animals and ecosystems), practice in ethical and moral discourse, such as socioscience13 and wildlife ethics,  learning and applying emotional and social intelligence, promoting Autonomy Supportive Environments8, promoting opportunities for meaning making and hope, and studying societal structures such as group identity, power differences in wealth, politics, privilege,  biophilic and spiritual tendencies, and knowing and using local knowledge of birds (ethnoornithology).

“Every human group has a structure of values, and to understand it’s total shape should be a prerequisite for conservation work,”1 including conservation and veterinary medical teams.


Ethnoornithology  “explores how peoples of various times and places seek to understand the lives of the birds round them.”14  It studies the relationships between humans and birds.  Research methods include collecting copious notes of events, as well as conducting interviews and surveys while being immersed in the culture.  To understand how the people working in the complex and often discouraging situation of conservation in Central America thought of  birds, I conducted ethnoornithological research targeting conservationists working in Central America in 2009-2011. My goal was to see what  motivated them to do this work, how they made meaning of their work, and how we could use this understanding to support and improve our efforts.

I found that the major meaning activity was the work itself (collecting data and applying knowledge to improve the lives of birds) and the times when team work was most manifest.  Meaning making also happened frequently around meals when stories were told of the work and experiences.  Also, meaning evolved during the collection and review of media, such as photographs and videos.  While watching media, the gathered partake in both silent storytelling as well as spoken meaning making as they talk about what they are seeing.  Meanings that frequently surfaced regarding their efforts included:  love, conversion, calling, insiders/outsiders, interconnection, death, hope, end times (eschatology, apocalypse), sacrifice, service, suffering, compassion, worth and dignity, awe, wonder, social justice, prophetic voice, resistance, solidarity.  Having time for meaning making activities allowed the team to work together more affectively across differences of class, ethnicity, language, gender, religion, age, values, and behavior patterns.

Social and emotional intelligence

Each conservation area requires particular strategies that fit the species, people, cultures, ecosystem, and limiting factors in the environment and human communities.  Conducting location specific research in the fields of ethnoornithology and psychology adds to our understanding of limiting factors as well as potential resources to guide behavior.  Behavior that we often elect to change includes use and misuse of environmental resources, trapping and hunting of birds and other wildlife, and social relationship skills.

Improving relational skills and the way we communicate aids conservation teams to work with greater satisfaction and effectiveness. For instance, human physicians experience high rates of burn out and the number of malpractice suits is correlated to impaired communication and shorter patient visits. Spending time with staff and patients decreases the chance for compassion fatigue. Superb leaders in human services are not those with greater knowledge or technical skill, but those with highly developed interpersonal skills like empathy and conflict resolution.15 Medical staffs perform better when they feel they have a secure base to work from, such as an organization that operates with a high level of social intelligence. Social intelligence is the ability to act from understanding our interior  lives (intrapersonal skills) and our lives in relationship to others (interpersonal skills).  The more attentive we can be to the emotions and status of another person or animal, the more likely we are able to respond with greater care, in more ambiguous situations, and more quickly. To be more attentive to another person, we strive to understand them, as well as ourselves.

Social intelligence also contributes to organizational management of conservation teams.  Cutting edge business leadership models focus on empathy and deep listening within the organization to improve success. The shift is from producing results to producing the growth of people who produce great results.15 Success depends on both intrapersonal and interpersonal skill development, which grows businesses and relationships. Life giving relationships are the powerful engine of successful organizations, and compassion and empathy are great tools for increasing power in organizations. Positive emotions make a difference in a work place as do expectations and clarity of how we are to “treat one another” on a day-to-day basis. Practices that produce positive emotional encounters result in individuals with higher commitments to the organization.  One such practice that I use regularly is known as Nonviolent Communication (Compassionate Communication).

Compassionate communication

Background and theory

Compassionate Communication, based on Marshal Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication theory,  emphasizes honesty and empathy in interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships.16  Through practice it leads to shifts in thinking and emotional responses. It is based on the understanding that human beings operate best in social groups when they receive empathy. Greater connection and rapport between individuals, so paramount in social discourse, happens if language used and even deeper consciousness reflected in body language, is founded upon the idea of universal needs and not on judgment, blame, or domination to get needs met. Instead empathy through deep listening, authentic sharing of needs and feelings, and clear requests suggest the best strategy for people to come up with creative solutions where everyone is heard and has their needs considered, as well as the needs of nonhuman animals. Turner develops this theory by developing concrete ways that people can transact through the medium of needs to produce positive emotions and commitment.17

Empathy and listening

Full listening helps us attune to others and their internal states. By stilling the cognitive loops and chatter that go on inside of us, we come to attentive recognition of what another is feeling, and have a greater chance to understand them and offer empathy. When another person feels heard and receives empathy, they in turn are in a better place to listen to you, as well as to recognize their own emotional state without it being overridden by concerns of threat from without.

A core concept for having compassion and empathy for others, is to have it for yourself. When you attend to your own feelings and needs, it offers you a sense of connectedness to humanity because all humans universally share basic needs.18  Furthermore, knowing your actual needs and not some “should stories” inherited from family and culture, orients you to what might satisfy you. In this spaciousness, you can then listen and open to the needs of others, without judging yourself or them. In addition, even though you may not meet your specific needs in the way hoped for, by self-reflecting and attuning to your feelings and needs, you give yourself choices on which actions might actually better meet the needs that arise in you instead of reverting to strategies that repeatedly fall short of bringing results and satisfaction in your communication and relationships.

Basics of nonviolent communication in compassionate communication

Nonviolent Communication is a social construct, one of many cognitive frameworks for growing  interpersonal and intrapersonal understanding and skills. With practice, nonviolent communication shifts our thinking and rewires our cognitive loops so that our orientation increasingly embraces compassion towards ourselves and others. Words need not even be spoken, as our consciousness demonstrates in paraverbal and nonverbal cues that we have empathy for others. The four components, observation, feelings, needs, and requests are a guide that can alter our negative cognitive loops and bring mindfulness and satisfaction to our lives.

Nonhuman Dimensions of Conservation

Cognitive ethology

Cognitive ethology “emphasizes observing animals under more-or-less natural conditions, with the objective of understanding the evolution, adaptation (function), causation, and development of the species-specific behavioral repertoire19 and focuses on cognition, which is defined as the neuronal processes concerned with the acquisition, retention, and use of information.20  It involves the thinking and emotional lives of animals, and includes species with clear advanced brain development such as primates as well as red-eyed tree frog embryos  that  possess sophisticated abilities to assess and respond to cues of predation.  Remarkable similarities are found among the species, including humans. This is often an uneasy field for scientists, for we come to it with questions framed in our own subjective experiences which are linked evolutionary to the subjective experience of other animals. We ask, is the animal actually doing X  because it is thinking or feeling Y or because evolutionary pressure Z, and how is my own human subjective world impacting these questions and observations?  We design experiments, suggest causations, and derive conclusions where we cannot ever know with 100% certainty the exact interplay of complex neuronal connections that constitute thinking, feeling, and behavior.  This should not deter us because we cannot know what humans think either, yet this does not stop valuable research that provides information which improves the lives of others.  The subjective world, though messy and not as easily observed or quantified as the objective world, impacts behavior, and hence well being.

Cognitive ethology contributes to conservation because it invites us to consider the range and complexity of behavior repertoire not just in a given species, but in a given individual.  In the past we might have ignored behavior, or considered what we saw as atypical or an anomaly, because we didn’t have a simple cause and effect hypothesis. Alternatively we might have projected our own motivations and subjective experiences onto animals. Either error can be present in avian conservation, and the rigor of cognitive ethology helps us to be as objective as possible about subjectivity.

Parenting and cognitive ethology:

The behavior of parenting is an important one in psittacine conservation as most species’ chicks are quite altricial, needing a long time in the nest and as fledglings, requiring months to learn behavior, vocalizations, flight patterns, and foraging techniques and location  The more we  understand the dynamics of parenting, the more we could improve chick survivability and learning. Unfortunately our research design does not usually include tracking parent behavior in any objective way.  Instead we often are left wondering why a certain pair behaved in a certain way, without determining what the parenting behavior repertoire is in a particular species or group, and how we might impact it and improve upon it.

For instance, we observed a pair of orange-crowned conures (Aratinga cancicularis) who nested in a termateria in Guatemala. The male continued to care for 5 chicks which successfully fledged despite having the top of the nest hacked off by a human poacher, the chicks surviving a termite swam and multiple bites, and the death of the female.  A third adult appeared after the female died and repeatedly entered the nest, supposedly to feed the chicks.

At another nest,  a pair of yellow-naped amazons (Amazona auropalliata) was raising 3 chicks.  When the oldest chick climbed to the rim in anticipation of fledging, the female (or what we thought was the female) made aggressive movements and vocalizations at the rim of the nest. When this chick fledged, this adult drove it to the ground. Now vulnerable and unprotected by parents, the chick  was killed that night by a predator.  The remaining two chicks refused to fledge and the male abandoned the nest.

At another nest a pair of yellow-naped amazons left the nest for hours at a time, when other pairs usually stayed closer to the nest for longer periods of time.  A collared forest falcon  (Micrastur semitorquatus) began exploring the nest area and one day entered the nest and removed one of the chicks.  A few biologists were heard to wonder out loud, “Why aren’t they good parents?”

In a scarlet macaw (Ara macao cyanoptera) nest in Guatemala we discovered that the youngest chick was small, weak, and malnourished. I thought the chick was going to die and one of the biologists commented, “These are good parents, they won’t let the chick die.” The chick did die a week later.  Also, some scarlet macaw parents preen quietly in nearby tree while we climb the tree and examine the chicks, while other parents circle and call out for most of the time we are in the area.

In scarlet macaws in Peru the researchers found a lot of intrapair fighting (conspecifics as well as heterospecifics) and that the more the pairs fight, the greater the likelihood of chick death and nest failure. (D. Brightsmith, oral communication, November 2010).  In Belize, scarlet macaw nests are more likely to get poached the closer the parents choose a nest to a reservoir that is exposed to human disturbance.  In Mexico, red-lored amazons  (Amazona autumnalis) are less likely to be poached because the nests are harder to find due to the species overall wariness and inconspicuousness around nests.21

These instances raise these questions:  What makes some species or individuals more wary?  What causes some birds to abandon nests, and others not?  What is the maximum number of chicks parents can raise? Are there extrapair copulations or bonding, or polygamy?  How does behavior vary between parents and species, and how does behavior differences impact nesting success?  How does our interpretation of the behavior impact our conclusions and actions? How can we use this behavior (ours and the birds’)  to adapt our strategies for greater reproduction?

Conservation behavior

Knowing the answers to these questions can help us practice conservation behavior, which is the “application of knowledge of animal behavior in order to solve wildlife conservation problems.”22  It focuses typically on the conservation and management of single species, unlike conservation biology that addresses habitat preservation and ecosystem health.  In the ideal world, we would like to take care of all species by keeping ecosystems healthy, however, increasingly we find that we need to intervene extensively for a single species to keep it on the planet.  Knowing about a species’ social behavior, reproductive behavior, and antipredatory behavior helps us improve the effectiveness of conservation interventions.  For instance, knowing behavior helps us improve the reproduction of wild species bred in captivity and how to prepare them for translocations and reintroductions.  In addition, knowing the behavioral patterns of birds helps us assess and mitigate anthropogenic impacts such as urbanization and other human disturbances, including birds running into buildings, towers, and wind turbines. Although behavioral cause and affect can be difficult to determine given the complexity of many behaviors, individual variation across a species, cognitive and emotional influences, and probable heavy resource use of time and equipment to assess behavioral patterns, current research and its applications promise exciting possibilities to improve conservation efforts.

Foraging and conservation behavior:

Many species rely on public information to estimate quality of patches for foraging.  We might ask if individuals using public information are more successful in terms of survival or reproduction, and if so, what density of conspecifics is necessary of individuals to take advantage of the enhanced information about patch quality? This is important for rare social species and those species living at the edges of the distribution ranges or in isolated fragments. Unfortunately, many parrots meet the criteria of rarity and living on edges or in fragmented ranges.  If there are too many psittacine birds in a group, this could lead to depletion of resources and decreased food intake, or if there are too few, there is not enough public information to inform food intake.  Each habitat, altered or otherwise, might support an optimal group size, and we won’t know unless we design the research to answer these questions.

For instance, in Guatemala and Honduras, scarlet macaws once ranged over the entire country, and now are only found in small areas where populations have been reduced from thousands to a couple of hundred.  The same is true of the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata) who once may have numbered one million birds on the island, and now only approximately 250 (both captive and wild) exist.  The yellow-naped amazon of the Pacific Slope of Guatemala is declining dramatically while the habitat fragments and degrades at an alarming rate.  We do not know if there are adequate numbers of birds interacting to teach one another of food sources and availability, or what the optimal group size may be for a given habitat.  If we did have this information, we could judge better how to translocate or reintroduce birds, or which areas on which to concentrate our efforts.

 Welfare Applications For Captive Birds

Of the three broad scientific approaches to studying avian welfare, the fields of behavior presented here impact two:  “feeling-backed approaches which equate an animal’s welfare with its subjective experience” and using the behavioral repertoire of animals in the wild as a guide for evaluating the welfare of captive counterparts (the third being evaluating the biological state of the animal to judge welfare).23   Studying wild parrots helps us determine species specific behavior and its variability.  The more we know the less likely we are to assume that all parrots are the same, or all individuals.   Knowing species specific behavior and it’s variability and range will help us adapt our captive environments to promote full expression of behaviors that lead to individual flourishing.

The fields of behavior presented here also inform us of the importance of understanding and manipulating human behavior.  Changing human behavior has become a major focus of conservation, and falls under the general field of human dimensions of conservation and wildlife management.  If we can motivate changes in human behavior and reduce poaching and habitat destruction, many parrot conservationists would be greatly relieved, if not out of work.  Alternatively,  changing human behavior in regards to companion birds has received very little attention. One study showed that the greater the general empathetic ability of human handlers, the greater the impact on preindicators of stress (defecation and respiratory rate).  Bird were calmer around humans who tested for greater empathy. 24 This research raises the question, “How might we change human abilities in empathy, or other behavioral or mental capacities so that they can become more affective care takers of birds?”

 Veterinarians Responding to Our Interweaving Health Issues

Veterinarians have addressed interweaving health issues in a variety of ways through treatment and research of ill health in individual animals, supporting the human-nonhuman bond, animal welfare research and advocacy, veterinary social support, agricultural animal health and production, conservation medicine, and zoonotic prevention and recognition. In recent years there is a growing sense and urgency that veterinarians need to partner with other disciplines due to the complexity of community and ecosystem health. Writes King, “ The convergence of people, animals, and our environment has created a new dynamic in which the health of each group is inextricably interconnected. The challenges associated with this dynamic are demanding, profound, and unprecedented.25 The complexity of the issues surrounding mountain gorilla health and conservation spurred the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project to seek new ties with an academic institution that could provide expertise in human medicine, veterinary medicine, and agriculture” writes Gilardi of the Mountain Gorilla One Health Program in the School of Veterinary Medicine Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis.26  By bringing disciplines together “we may be able to forge synergistic conservation programs capable of protecting the vivid splendor of life on earth27” and to see “people and things not only as objects of scientific and technocratic interest, but as ‘matters of concern.28


I invite us as a profession to engage in multidisciplinary efforts to improve the health of humans and nonhumans alike.  As part of this we need to learn more about human behavior, or collaborate with those that do so that we can train ourselves to take better care of birds.  I also encourage us to support behavioral research, in the wild and in captivity so we can as objectively as possible understand avian behavior, and apply this understanding concretely and practically in conservation and companion bird medicine.  By doing so we improve human heath as well, for we are happier knowing the bird for who he or she naturally and amazingly is, and in providing an environment that preserves and promotes their well being.


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