Avian Expert Articles

Rosemary Low Teaches Us Parrot Enrichment

RosemaryLow_SusanOroszIt was a moment in time! That time was to spend time with Rosemary Low, an amazing British aviculturist, ornithologist and conservationist. She is one of the most knowledgeable in the world on parrots, and I got to spend several days with her! Her enthusiasm for all things parrots and birds in general is infectious. And her vast knowledge base is beyond description.

But let’s begin with some information on her life. Rosemary started as a writer for the magazine Cage and Aviary Birds as a result of her owning over 50 parrots and raising many as well. Her birdkeeping activities began with budgerigars (“parakeets”). Her first parrot was an African grey. Between the ages of 20 and 30, she started to keep neotropical parrots and lories and lorikeets and has continued to keep them in her home.

Rosemary was also curator at two of the most amazing parrot places: Loro Parque in Tenerife and then Palmitos Park in the Grand Canary Island for over 8 years. In 1989, she was a cofounder of the World Parrot Trust, editing its magazine, PsittaScene, until 2004 . Her interest in conservation, fund-raising for conservation projects and in the welfare of captive parrots has long overtaken that of breeding in captivity.

Through her writings and through a local parrot club that she founded in 2000, she continues to offer guidance to people on keeping their parrots happy and healthy. I have found that Rosemary has been a spearhead for a number of issues relating to parrots and her stated goals are:
• to widely publish information that will lead to a better standard of care for captive birds
• to reduce the demand for wild-caught parrots
• to promote and assist with parrot conservation

Rosemary has traveled widely, speaking at a number of venues on parrot conservation and parrot behaviors. She is a regular at parrot conferences in a large number of countries, including four Loro Parque Conventions. And that is how I was able to meet up with her, as we were both speakers at the Phoenix Landing Weekend Retreat for parrot owners, vets and vet students in Ashville, NC, in May of this year.

We had breakfast together several mornings in a grand old house that has been turned into a B&B. And Rosemary was way ahead of me — up at dawn to bird watch and to gather some plants she knew various parrots would eat. Those became her teaching tools regarding harvesting and gathering fresh foods that she wanted to pass on to all of us gathered in the lecture room. Out of her bag came a variety of plants: grass heads, dandelions, and a variety of fresh flowers to name a few.

She described how flowers play a large part of the diet of many parrots, from the parakeets of South America to African greys from Ghana. Flowers are used as a food source for many parrot species, and they tend to consume most of the flower parts. She suggested picking the blossoms of nasturtiums, hibiscus, roses, pansies, marigolds and the blossoms from unsprayed fruit trees as examples for our own parrots. She also related that she feeds fresh dock or Rumex crispus particularly for her pyrrhura conures but will feed dried in winter. Rosemary described the immense joy she gets watching her conures feed on the seed heads of the fresh dock, with the heads of the dock hanging downward.

She also is a big fan of feeding dried figs, which are briefly soaked and then put on fruit hangers in her aviary for the birds to eat. She indicated that when placed in the feed dishes, the birds did not eat them. But noticed that the birds would feed on the figs if there was a challenge to eating them. She suggested putting dried figs on top of the aviary wire so the birds have to work at getting to them to eat, and that worked well.

Rosemary also encouraged the use of fresh-cut branches for birds to forage in or use edible items presented in an interesting way as a great form of enrichment. She prefers in her country (UK) to cut willow and apple branches but says that hawthorn with blossoms are preferred. She did suggest that eucalyptus branches are favored in Australia, and I know that I often used them for my parrots when I lived in Southern California. They really liked them!

Another idea she suggested is to tie nuts to branches for them to forage. Additionally, small paper cups can be used to hold a few veggies for them to search and to eat. A friend of hers tied hunks of zucchini to branches and would push grapes or other fruits into the center for them to forage for.

One note of caution: For some birds, putting branches into the cage can be stressful if they are not used to frequent changing of items and/or the use of fresh items like branches in the cage. So it is important to introduce them slowly. You might need to put them into view outside of the cage and then gradually move them closer until your birds are no longer nervous. At that point you may place them in the cage and make sure that they are okay with them. Those were just a few wonderful ideas that she shared with us at the Retreat at Phoenix Landing as well as the lecture she gave in Toledo. I was able to get her to come to Toledo — to bird watch and share her knowledge!

While she has observed over 100 species of parrots in the wild in more than 30 countries, Rosemary will even sit and watch birds at my backyard feeder! She enjoys more than just parrots, as she came to Toledo where she spent a day in the marshes of Lake Erie watching the migrating species at the start of the Biggest Week of Birding.

Watching birds in their natural habitat is her greatest thrill — from the critically endangered Kakapo in New Zealand to tiny Pygmy Parrots in New Guinea, and the world’s largest Parrot colony in Argentina. Her most satisfying moment came in January 2007 with the permanent ban on the importation of wild-caught birds into EU countries. As a conservationist she has been a spearhead for change for the betterment of parrots. And it was a moment of learning with one of the greats for parrots!

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