Eclectus Parrots in the Home and Aviary
Eclectus parrots are enjoyed for their beauty, talking ability, intelligence and their interest in interacting with humans. Back in the seventies, there were not many available and not much was known about their care and keeping. During the present years, they are widely known and much more has been learned about their needs and behaviors.
Eclectus parrots come in several subspecies, ranging from the smaller Solomon Island eclectus, which generally weigh in the mid to upper 300 grams, the Red sided eclectus which weigh in the mid 400 grams, the vosmaeri which weigh in the mid 500s and the aruensis which generally weigh in the upper 500s. The Solomons can be compared in size to the Timneh African greys. Eclectus tend to be longish birds rather than short and stubby birds like African greys or amazons.
Some basic facts regarding their care: Each Eclectus parrot in the home needs their own cage. Most pet bird cages are simply not large enough to accommodate two eclectus parrots. Different parrot species have different cage requirements. What works great for an amazon or African grey may be too small for an eclectus. Recommended minimum size for an eclectus cage is 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep, with a high perch of soft wood, such as pine or fir, and 3 food bowls, preferably at least 6 inches wide. Soft wood enables an eclectus parrot to keep its beak trimmed. They cannot chew hard woods like manzanita or most perches that come with purchased cages. Hard perches discourage chewing and thus beaks overgrow.
The food bowls need to be wide so that the bird can find what it wants to eat first without having to throw other foods out of the bowl. One bowl is for soft foods like veggies, sprouts, fruits, and greens; one bowl is for dry foods like the special Volkman eclectus seed mix (which doesn't have added vitamins); one bowl is for water. It is recommended that a splash of apple cider vinegar go into the water bowl each day to reduce bacterial growth, because eclectus may lose some food particles in the water during drinking. It is recommended to have two sets of bowls so that the fresh foods and water can be placed into the cage as the used bowls are removed. Bowls should always be in the holders because some birds will crawl into those bowl holders and break wings or legs or come out of the cage through the opening.
A good varied diet is critical for the continued health of your eclectus parrot. However, some foods are definitely not recommended due to their serious negative effect on these birds' health. Never feed colored pellets as the dyes cause extreme allergic reactions in these birds, to the point they may even chew on their flesh. Never feed egg. Eclectus (and other parrots) that are fed egg often will end up with cholesterol blocked arteries. This recommendation is based on actual necropsy of eclectus (and other parrots) as young as three years of age that have died from eating egg weekly. Avoid giving eclectus parrots commercial birdie treats. These treats are loaded with man-made Vitamin A, which when consumed routinely in any foods will cause the muscle spasms known as toe tapping and wing flipping. [This information comes from avian nutrition researcher, Dr. Debra McDonald, in Australia.] So, foods to avoid include human foods that are commercially produced as they will contain man made Vitamin A and as well as various preservatives.
What to feed your eclectus? Just about any well-washed clean vegetables, fruits, and greens, especially endive or dandelion. Sprouted seeds are great. Soaked and cooked variety of legumes and brown rice is great, along with lightly cooked sweet potato. The Volkman eclectus seed mix was designed by eclectus breeders for these birds and works well. It is also fine to feed a few natural colored pellets of any well known brand, maybe 5 to 6 a day. We usually feed the soft foods in the morning, removing that bowl at the end of the day and then feeding dry seeds and pellets in the evening, leaving the bowl in the cage overnight. Special treats during the day can include a spray of millet, a slice of fresh cucumber or fresh squash, a slice of papaya with seeds, a chunk of pomegranate (be sure to have your cage away from the wall or fine furniture when you feed pomegranate as the juice will splash), a couple leaves of endive or commercial dandelion are relished and provide excellent nutrients for these birds. A half a walnut, shelled, or a whole almond, shelled, is good once a day. Walnuts provide omega 3 and are greatly enjoyed.
It is best to acquire an eclectus parrot either as an adult bird or as a bird that is weaned. These birds are not easy to hand-rear and do not take their formula like other parrot species. Thus, for an inexperienced person to purchase an unweaned bird and try to feed it and to understand the weaning process is a recipe for illness and even death of the young bird. Most responsible breeders will not sell an unweaned eclectus parrot to anyone except to someone experienced in raising these birds. I will not sell an unweaned eclectus parrot to anyone. Their varied responses during the weaning process are difficult for anyone who is not well experienced with these birds.
A responsible breeder is going to provide a contract, perhaps a vet exam, a packet of information and free consults after the bird goes home. Individuals seeking an eclectus should make sure that these kinds of provisions are offered by the seller.
Eclectus parrots that are gently and lovingly hand reared are generally interested in people, like to interact with people, are interested in various training exercises, and enjoy being with their owners and the family members. I do recommend that new owners of eclectus parrots study the workshop DVDs produced by Barbara Heidenreich, available at www.goodbirdinc.com because the information there is very helpful in working with a new bird in a new environment. I would also recommend that owners only follow those bird behaviorists and trainers who are members of the professional organization International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators, www.iaate.org, because these are the experts on behavior. Eclectus parrots generally enjoy training exercises and become adept in various skills.
For those who want to take their birds outdoors, it is strongly recommended that this be done either by using an Aviator harness or by having the bird in a container. Birds on the hand or shoulder taken outdoors are exposed to hawks which will attack them, to dangerous dogs, and to many hazards, even when they have clipped wings. [We do not recommend clipping wings! We do recommend keeping these birds fully flighted. Clipping wings is often the initial cause of feather destructive behavior as the bird tries to "fix" the cut ends of the wing feathers and develops a habit of chewing on feathers.]
Many eclectus owners build an outdoor aviary where their bird can enjoy sunshine, rain, and flying. It is best to design such an aviary so that it is longer rather than square. Length gives the bird more space in which to fly. It is also helpful if the entry to this aviary is accessed without taking the bird outside, but thru an enclosed walkway. It is important to provide an area where there is shelter from the elements, including sunshine. Full sun on a parrot for too long can cause overheating. Birds in the wild have access to leafy trees and do not sit in full sun for very long.
Some owners want their birds to talk. Eclectus have excellent voices and most will readily learn words, as well as the meaning of words. They will use them appropriately with you if you have used words with them so that they learn the meanings. Anytime I am doing something different in the aviary, I will have birds asking: What are you doing? They will also ask for their favorite foods by name. And they may say NO if there is something they don't want to do. One owner reported that his eclectus had a 600 word vocabulary.
Health concerns for parrots are important. The main concern for eclectus parrots is that they should not be exposed to polyoma virus as they are very sensitive to that virus. It will cause death in an eclectus youngster under a year of age and illness in adults. So exposure to love birds should be a concern, unless those lovebirds have been declared polyoma virus-free. It is always wise to avoid exposing your eclectus to other parrots unless their medical records are known to be ok.