Chronicle: Stop commercial hand-rearing of baby parrots

Baby Salmon-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua moluccensis) is hand-reared.

Photo from the internet.

Notice the headline that says "stop commercial hand-rearing of baby parrots", but not: "stop hand-rearing of baby parrots".

There is a significant difference between these two statements, as I have no objections to an aviculturist once in a while due to special circumstances allowing one or more parrot chicks in a single clutch to be hand-reared.

What I strongly oppose is when hand-rearing becomes a business and is set up in a system, so that you continuously and primarily for commercial reasons hand-rear all parrot chicks, year after year, clutch after clutch, without in any way trying to get the parent birds to function as breeding birds in a natural way. The people who practice this kind of systematic commercial hand-rearing are comparable to the poultry producers in the food industry and do not deserve the honorary title of "breeder". Those who have introduced hand-rearing of parrot chicks for commercial reasons should, for the sake of both the parent birds and the chicks, instead try to implement remedial measures to get the birds back on track. Active efforts should be made to ensure that the parent birds are able to carry out a natural breeding cycle, so that their chicks later on in life can regenerate naturally in order to ensure biodiversity in the future, as it is a known problem that hand-reared parrots often have a questionable value as breeding birds. Not infrequently, the owner seems to become the "chosen one", the mate that the hand-reared parrot wants to reproduce with.

It is also thought-provoking that the systematic commercial hand-rearing primarily focuses on rare/threatened species - i.e. typically species that have a high commercial value, partly due to their rarity, partly are species where you often have to show great patience in order to succeed with a natural breeding. Some of the same people claim that they are helping to preserve the rare/endangered parrot species in human care, but sorry, what is the use of mass-produced commercial hand-reared rare/endangered parrot species just to sell such parrots to an existence as a single-sitting tamed pet bird in a small cage in a living room for the rest of its life? It makes no sense, and therefore the purpose is only to make money from hand-rearing baby parrots, otherwise it would also have been done in relation to the most commonly distributed species.

Already back in the 1960’s and 70’s, hand-rearing of baby parrots became widespread in the USA, and this trend has subsequently also reached Europe, including Denmark. In recent years, hand-rearing of baby parrots has become even more widespread, greatly helped along the way, partly by the possibilities of carrying out DNA sex determination of parent birds on the basis of individual feathers, partly by a strong demand for tamed pet birds with an unnaturally familiar, human-like behaviour.

Seen in isolation, hand-rearing can be an excellent "tool" for the serious aviculturists to use when the situation surrounding the breeding of rare/threatened species in special cases does not progress satisfactorily. However, cf. above, it seems that hand-rearing in some bird collections is put into a system primarily for commercial reasons and is done like on an "assembly line" in order to offer other people, who have a special personal or social need, extremely tamed parrot chicks. Over time, unfortunately, it has often become the main rule that you hand-rear parrot chicks of the medium-sized and large parrot species and at the same time do it in such a way that the individual parrot becomes unnaturally close to the person who raises it. The baby parrot's frame of reference is predominantly characterized by people and human behaviour, even if the people responsible claim that the baby parrot is socially stimulated during its upbringing through association with conspecifics of the same age and/or similar parrot species.

The trend seems to be driven by money instead of a sincere and deep interest in the plight of the parrots, both in relation to the parent birds and in relation to the reared young. All too often you see people who otherwise have no interest or knowledge in keeping parrots get a sudden impulse and fall for an adorable, tiny and completely tame baby parrot. The baby parrot is bought on the basis of impulses and the buyer's own misunderstood needs rather than on the basis of factual knowledge about the basic needs the parrot has in order to thrive and live a healthy and long life. When the chick then grows and has new needs that must be satisfied - most visibly when the parrot becomes sexually mature - it causes problems, especially in cases where the prerequisites in the owner's relationship change, so that he no longer has the opportunity to use as much time with the parrot as it wants. In this connection, it should be mentioned that the vast majority of parrots in the wild either live in pairs or in small, in some cases larger flocks. The parrot thus has a large number of social needs, which change over time and which must be met in order for it to thrive optimally, and when the parrot can no longer have them fulfilled as it gets older, it may begin to try to bite the owner and the rest of his/her family. The parrot is then left more and more to itself, and it may start to scream or pluck feathers from itself, so that the once beautiful bird, in the worst-case scenario, now appears despondent and depressed. In frustration, it ends up with that the owner sells the parrot on to someone else, and it is my clear impression that many of these parrots with unnatural human-like behaviour often - like another "walking trophy" - pass between changing, new owners, whereby they suffer a sad fate until - hopefully - maybe after a few years, they arrive to a permanent and safe home.

Like dogs and cats, cage birds, including parrots, have throughout history been among the most widespread living creatures kept in homes around large parts of the world. The most widespread parrot species today can be considered domesticated species, e.g. the Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) and the Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus). A special group of cage birds, the medium-sized and large parrots, have always attracted a great deal of attention among people, which i.e. is due to the brightly coloured plumage, intellect and behaviour of these birds. In this connection, it must be stated that it has been scientifically proven that a large number of parrot species within certain areas of intelligence can fully match the corresponding intelligence of human children right up until the child is 3 - 4 years old. This group of parrots has for many years been particularly popular to keep in human care, as the combination of their intelligence and their ability to imitate human speech gives them "human" features.

However, as a serious aviculturist, I find that the limit has been reached for the "humanization" of parrots in human care, which is an opinion that I believe is shared by more and more serious aviculturists and breeders, as systematic commercial hand-rearing, in my opinion, is very likely to harm the parrots in the long term.

Specially isolated, hand-reared baby parrots can become so tame that the birds easily tolerate all kinds of touch, handling and even veterinary examinations and measures, as they have their owner – a human – as their own mirror image. The people who produce - not breed - such parrots have so far obtained significantly higher prices for them than by selling parent-fed parrot chicks, which has also contributed to the development of the number of people practicing commercial hand-rearing. The purpose of removing eggs or chicks from the parent birds is to get them to start a new clutch immediately, whereby a larger number of chicks per pairs can be obtained in each breeding season. This means, among other things, that the female bird is exhausted and does not have time to recover properly before the next breeding season, and the parent birds are jointly deprived of completing a fully natural breeding cycle. Some people even go so far as to offer buyers baby parrots that the buyer must finish hand-rearing himself, which is deeply indefensible, as there is a great risk that the baby parrot may die. Out of respect for nature and the parrots, you must of course never deal with a baby parrot before it has become 100 % independent, i.e. that it is able to take in water and food without any problems.

As a justification for hand-rearing parrot chicks, many claim – surprisingly, even serious aviculturists and breeders, who by virtue of their work and education should know better – that the parent birds do not want to incubate themselves, do not want to feed their chicks themselves, or that they will maim or even kill their own chicks. However, the truth is often that such experiences can be observed when the parrots do not get the necessary rest during the breeding period. In advance, keeping especially the medium-sized and large parrot species is a difficult task in itself, because these highly intelligent creatures make high demands on animal welfare and care. In order for these parrots to feel comfortable in human care, they need very large aviaries, in addition to which they often thrive best in pairs or in groups, as this is their natural behaviour. Hand-reared parrots not infrequently experience many and major problems throughout their lives. They often have - or get - behavioural problems because they have grown up without their parents, who have had to teach them basic skills both in relation to themselves and in relation to their interaction with fellow species, just as the youngster does not get vital resilience to build up of his immune system throughout his upbringing. In addition, there is the whole psychological and social aspect, as the baby parrots are often without contact with other parrots and are only exposed to human behaviour. In a social context, the hand-reared baby parrot has typically only experienced humans, but it will never be able to replace conspecifics, and a new scientific study shows that hand-reared parrots are deprived of "the language" that characterizes the species, which means that it can become really difficult to resocialize the parrot in the long term to be able to have a natural interaction with conspecifics that possess natural behaviour. The previously described problems that can arise at the beginning of the parrot's puberty manifest themselves to a distinct degree in the medium-sized and large species aged around 2 – 6 years, where dramatic changes can often occur. Here the parrots often become aggressive, bite and can try to attack their owner. It is often found that hand-reared parrots, who have never learned through their parents to differentiate their voices, in the worst case have violent screaming fits, do feather plucking and exhibit stereotypical or even self-destructive behaviour.

If you look at the internet-based trading sites for pet birds, you will find that a very large number of hand-reared baby parrots are continuously for sale, where they are depicted in photos - possibly together with other baby parrots - lying in a plastic box, just waiting for a buyer to come by. People who buy these baby parrots also support the demand for them and are therefore partly responsible for the suffering of these birds. Such parrots often remain inhibited and may suffer lifelong behavioural problems. A resocialization with other conspecifics in order to counter the deliberately inflicted human imprinting is often very difficult, something that I know from experience, as over the years I have “bought free” hand-reared tamed single-sitting parrots, so that they could have a life together with conspecifics in a spacious and naturally furnished aviaries.

It should be noted that the various methods of hand-rearing (including the physical ailments and possible injuries from hand-rearing) are not explained above, just as the problems with the hand-reared parrots' greater susceptibility to disease as well as problems with their reproduction are not explained in more detail either.

Different baby parrots during hand-rearing.

Photo from the internet.

A large number of Zoological Gardens etc. around the world have already decided years ago that they do not hand-rear animal or bird species unless they are rare/threatened species, where it then serves a nature conservation purpose. Already several years ago, it was decided in Austria with effect from 17th December 2004 to ban the hand-rearing of parrots for commercial purposes. With effect from 1st July 2014, the Netherlands has followed suit and banned the hand-rearing of parrots. This means that in future the chicks must stay with the parent birds until they are able to fend for themselves. Violation of the law in the Netherlands can result in up to 6 months in prison or a fine of more than 20,000 Euro. It is only legal to separate parents and chicks when the welfare and health of either the parent birds or the chicks may be threatened. In the same year – 2014 – the so-called “L80 law” was introduced in Sweden, which means that a baby parrot that is dependent on being fed must be kept together with at least one adult bird that can feed the baby. In Sweden, hand-rearing is only permitted if the parent birds do not feed the young, or if the parent birds, through their behaviour, expose the young to danger.

Back in 2010, I wrote to Dyrenes Beskyttelse (the leading animal welfare organization in Denmark) to draw attention to the problem concerning the increasing commercial hand-rearing of baby parrots. In this connection, Dyrenes Beskyttelse stated:

"Dyrenes Beskyttelse has received an inquiry regarding the problem of hand-rearing parrots. The association sees 3 central problems in this:


  1. Predation is carried out on the mother animals
  2. The chick's behaviour is seriously affected
  3. There is trade in birds that, due to the young age has a high risk of not surviving.


Dyreetisk Råd (The Animal Ethics Council, which set up by the Danish government acts under the auspices of the Danish Ministry of Food) has previously stated that they advise against this procedure. It was agreed that it is unethical, but not necessarily illegal.

Dyrenes Beskyttelse will investigate the matter further. With advice from experts in the field, i.a. extent in Denmark and legislation in the area are clarified. After that, Dyrenes Beskyttelse will decide on the case, and the further course will be decided - including whether Dyrenes Beskyttelse must formulate a policy in the area".

I have on some occasions followed up on the above inquiry, but here now approximately 14 years later, regrettably, nothing has yet happened in the area, but it must be said that Dyrenes Beskyttelse is dependent on private financial contributions to carry out its activities and therefore has limited resources. In addition, Denmark is unfortunately not known for being a leader in the field of animal welfare either. However, with effect from 1st January 2021, Folketinget (the Danish parliament), adopted a so-called animal welfare law - where animal welfare and animal ethics are the focus - to replace the outdated an over 100-year-old animal protection law. With this new animal welfare law, Denmark is the first country in the world to recognize that animals, including parrots, are sentient living beings that must have their natural needs, including psychological and social needs, satisfied in order to thrive. The law generally aims to promote good animal welfare, as it focuses on the fact that animals have natural needs and behaviours that must be met before you can talk about real animal welfare. I hope that the law will eventually mean that commercial hand-rearing of parrots in Denmark will be prohibited, and moreover that it only is allowed in very special cases.

It is also noteworthy that Dyreetisk Råd (The Animal Ethics Council) already several years ago has stated that hand-rearing parrots is advised against based on an assessment of the ethical aspects. On this basis, the individual aviculturist can decide for himself whether he wants to support the hand-rearing of parrots, which the state of Denmark officially has labeled as unethical for several years, even though it currently not is necessarily illegal. In other contexts, for example, most people would probably be grateful to work for an employer who certainly does not operate on the wrong side of the law, but who, on the other hand, does not live up to a certain moral/ethical code towards its customers and employees. It is not at all in the spirit of the times, but when money is the driving force, you obviously fail your core values.

In connection with the above, I have not at all mentioned the initiatives under the auspices of the EU, which have already begun to limit opportunities to keep parrots in human care I the member states, and which may in the long run also have an impact in relation to the practice of hand-rearing parrot chicks in in line with the fact that the EU is increasingly focusing on animal welfare and animal ethics.

In conclusion, it must be emphasized that I am personally in favor of hand-rearing parrot chicks only take place to the extent that it concerns rare/endangered species, and only when the parent birds are not able to take care of the eggs and chicks themselves, provided, however, that over a few years it has not been possible to achieve useful results through remedial measures towards the parent birds, e.g. through remating.

In the past, I have kept tamed pet birds myself, but I have become wiser over the years, and today I do not believe that parrots should be kept as solitary pet birds, they should instead live together with one or more conspecifics under natural conditions in a spacious aviary.

I have the greatest respect for the serious aviculturists, who purposefully – year after year and with empathy and great patience - maintain that natural breeding is the best for both the parent birds and the chicks, as it meets the parrots' natural needs. These breeders put animal ethics and animal welfare first and are to be regarded as true animal lovers, they therefore truly deserve the title of honor, "breeder".


Own observation-based experiences with natural parrot breeding in human care:


In conclusion, I have summarized below the gist of some of the numerous observations and notes I have made over the past few years after having wireless camcorders installed in my nest boxes, which have made me an even greater supporter of parent-rearing of baby parrots. The purpose is to show what natural breeding entails, and conversely to inform about what you deprive a baby parrot of while growing up, when it is hand-reared:


A few years ago, I installed wireless remote monitoring of my nest boxes. As something completely new, I was then able to follow even the smallest things that happen when a pair of parrots breed naturally. It has shown me that parrots generally are very caring by nature. The baby parrots receive the most loving, tender caring and grooming from their parents that you can possibly imagine. The parent birds - usually with the female as the leading part - work hard 24/7 to secure the next generation, as long as the chicks are not yet able to fend for themselves. By natural breeding the chicks get the most natural - and thus optimal - start in life, which at a later stage enables them to become exemplary parent birds who take care of their own chicks, so that the species can survive in human care. I have several times seen the mother bird making intensively preening of her chicks' feathers, and very remarkably, after a while - very surprisingly to me - a chick has begun to preen the mother bird's feathers. It is very clear they enjoy each other's company. Actually, in interaction with the parent bird the chicks learn to take care of the plumage of conspecifics, which is one of the most important and time-consuming natural tasks of a parrot, skills that unfortunately are taken away from chicks that are hand-reared.


Since I have installed wireless camcorders in my nest boxes some years ago, I have spent many hours studying the behaviour of the parent birds towards the chicks in the nest box of various parrot species. Across the species, a general - and extremely touching - picture emerges that parrot parents have a very intense interaction with their chicks, which results in a tender, intensive care and nurturing of the chicks, something that no human can replace.


No matter what artificial measures people that practice hand-rearing of baby parrots make, it can never replace natural breeding from parent birds with natural behaviour. Parent-reared parrot chicks are characterized by having a natural behaviour, as their parents have spent a lot of hours 24/7 during their upbringing in direct contact with the chicks to teach them foraging, feeding, vocalizing, grooming and mutual physical contact, not to mention the learning of interactive social skills from their parents that enable them to live a healthy, natural existence with only a few, if any, behavioural difficulties.


New scientific research shows that hand-reared young parrots are deprived of the opportunity to develop a species-specific "language", which develops from "baby language" to "adult language" as the young parrots grow. Language development stops abruptly when the chicks are taken away for hand-rearing. So, both in relation to being able to obtain a natural behaviour and in relation to the young parrots' ability to communicate with conspecifics, hand-reared young parrots are deprived of their opportunities to be able to behave optimally among conspecifics later in life.


Of course, hand-rearing of parrot chicks can come into question in exceptional cases e.g., to save rare/endangered species (although not to a life as a single tamed pet bird in a small cage, but to a life in a large aviary with a mate (and/or conspecifics), so that the species can be preserved for posterity). However, if you have a pair of parent birds that notoriously do not function as a breeding pair because they are unable to look after and care for their chicks themselves, then you firstly, have to be very patient and over time try to let the parent birds develop their abilities to handle their chicks themselves, and simultaneously you can consider remedial measures such as e.g., remating the birds, placing them in other environments, etc. There are no excuses whatsoever for continuing to hand-rear baby parrots, unless you are only out to achieve a financial gain, which is at the expense of the parrots' well-being.



Jorgen Petersen


Conceived/Updated: 06.03.2010 / 13.01.2024