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Parrots as pets and the revolution in the conduct of aviculture

The Issue

In the 1970s and 1980s, the popularity of parrots as pets increased markedly in the U.S. During that time, production of parrots in captivity was limited due to a lack of information about their nutrition and reproduction. Birds, mostly parrots, became the third most popular pet after cats and dogs.

Most of the parrots sold as pets, except for budgerigars and cockatiels, were caught from the wild. Capture from the wild was so extreme that it led to the endangerment of many parrot species. As a result, the Wild Bird Conservation Act was enacted in 1992 to reduce capture from the wild by stopping importation of birds into the U.S., a major market for such birds. The act has been highly effective.

Since 1992, the demand for pet parrots has been met by increased domestic production. To meet domestic demand, the conduct of aviculture has improved dramatically.

What Has ANR Done?

In the early 1980s, captive parrots were often mismanaged, particularly in the areas of nutrition, reproduction, and rearing methods.

Until recently, pet bird diets were based on folklore and tradition. Recent studies on parrot nutrition have led to the development and widespread adoption of formulated diets.

Faculty in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences developed molecular genetic approaches for sexing birds, a dramatic advance over surgical methods of sexing birds.

Photographic guides showing embryonic development have educated aviculturists on artificial incubation. Recent studies have shown how human handling of chicks better adapts them to captive environments and how cage enrichments, i.e., cage toys, help the psychological well-being of parrots, reducing the number of birds handed over to shelters and sanctuaries.

Collectively, these studies have had a major positive impact on the conduct of aviculture.

The Payoff

Aviculture has come into the 21st century

Importation of wild-captured birds to the U.S. has largely been halted. Domestically produced parrots are now meeting the demand for pet birds.

Pet bird nutrition has been greatly improved by nutritionally balanced pelleted diets. Genetic sexing and environmental control of reproduction have improved the reproductive efficiency of parrots. Methods of rearing and cage enrichments are addressing the psychological well-being of birds.

These new practices, along with advances in pet bird medicine, have radically transformed aviculture from what it was 30 years ago.


Supporting Unit: Animal Science

Nutrition: Professor Kirk C. Klasing; Behavior: Professor Joy Mench; Reproduction: Professor J.R. Millam
Psittacine Research Project, Department of Animal Science
University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616