7 Mistakes People Make When Keeping Parrots

By Dr Gloria Lee, Mount Pleasant Vet Centre (Mandai)

Dr Gloria Lee has a special interest and special touch with birds. “Birds are challenging patients. The anatomy and physiology of a chicken is different to that of a parrot or dove. It’s like treating a domestic cat, a lion and a tiger.”

Keeping birds as pets is a popular hobby in Singapore. In recent years, more people have gravitated towards keeping smaller parrots as they can be excellent companions and are easier to keep in a flat or apartment without needing large cages. In this article, I share some mistakes often seen when I consult these birds and their owners.


mistake 1: my parrots are seed eaters

Although parrots are mainly seed eaters, their diet in captivity should include less seeds and more fresh fruits and vegetables and other wholesome healthy human foods. In the wild, parrots fly great distances foraging for fruits, nuts and seeds. A seed-only diet is low in calcium and high in fat, often causing obesity and eventually liver disease.

For small birds, it is important to have a digital gram scale to monitor their weight regularly and ensure they are not losing or gaining weight too rapidly.

  • Commonly eaten fruits are all edible for parrots, except avocado and seeds of certain fruits like apples, pears, peaches and apricots.
  • All vegetables are edible, although some have to be cooked, e.g. broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato, potato, dried peas/lentils.
  • Other wholesome human foods that are acceptable include hard boiled egg, bread, pasta, rice, egg noodles.

Feed in moderation and in great variety. These foods spoil faster so care must be taken to keep food containers and perches well scrubbed. Dispose uneaten foods within a few hours.

mistake 2: my Parrots need to shower to keep clean

Whilst true, never shower a bird that looks less than healthy, and always make sure they are placed in the sun to preen and dry off. It is unnecessary to hose them wet to the skin. Sometimes, it is adequate to place a shallow bowl of water on the cage floor or use a bottle sprayer. Some birds do not like to shower, and it is a source of stress if they are hosed down strongly. Always watch how your birds react.

mistake 3: Putting my sick birds in the sun will keep it warm

A bird’s core body temperature is 40°C. The environmental temperature in Singapore rarely goes above 33°C. A heating lamp (infra-red or basic non-energy saving light bulb) does a better job at raising the temperature of a hypothermic bird.

To avoid accidentally over-heating your bird, place your hand next to your bird – it should feel comfortably toasty warm. Adjust the distance between the lamp and your bird to get the right temperature. Position the lamp to one side so that your bird can get away from direct light if it feels too hot. 

mistake 4: glucose or honey water is the most important first aid for sick birds

If a bird a very sick and weak, it may not be able to swallow adequately. Dripping water into its beak can cause it to drown as the water gets into the lungs instead. The most important first aid for sick birds is warmth.

After you have raised the ambient temperature to support your sick bird’s recovery, make sure it is getting sufficient food and fluids. You may have to hand feed till it regains a normal appetite. Keep your ill or injured bird quiet, warm and inactive.

mistake 5: It is alright if my bird does not eat for a day

Birds have an extremely high metabolic rate, and a high body surface area compared to body mass. This means they burn up food very fast in order to stay warm and keep their body functioning. They must be checked by a vet as soon as possible if you notice a much reduced appetite. Never leave it for 2 to 3 days – often that may be too late.

During a physical examination, Dr Gloria Lee carefully evaluates the eyes, nares, beak, plumage, vent, legs etc. The heart and lungs are assessed by auscultation with a neonatal stethoscope.

mistake 6: It is cruel to cage a bird – Use a T-stand or allow it to free range

Only acquire captive-bred parrots, never wild-caught ones. They adapt to a roomy cage very well. Cages keep them safe. An untrained bird left to roam or on a T-stand can suffer severe accidents such as fractured legs, poisoning or trauma to the digestive tract when they chew poisonous houseplants or electrical cords etc. I have seen many cases of birds injured from flying into fans – they suffer bad concussions or need to have a wing or leg amputated.

Sparta the Conure had a tiny lump on the leg which progressively grew larger. Lumpectomy was performed by Dr Gloria Lee and the mass sent for histopathology. There was no sign of neoplastic disease or cancer and Sparta recovered beautifully. Parrots are highly intelligent and sociable birds who enjoy human interaction and playtime. Sparta’s favourite toys are balls with bells.

mistake 7: Parrots can be left in their cage the whole day as long as they have food and toys

The term ‘bird brain’ to describe dim-witted people was obviously coined by someone who does not keep parrots. Frustration, stress and anxiety are often felt by parrots, especially those that are hand-raised very well and very tame. Self-destructive behaviour and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) are well-recognised psychological diseases which are very difficult to treat.

Do not even consider having a parrot unless you can dedicate several hours to them daily. Since some parrots like the Cockatoo can live to 80 years old, be prepared, like me, to include for their care in your Will.

“Blackie the Palm Cockatoo has a superficial ulcer on his tongue and roof of mouth. We suspect the ulcers are caused by contact irritant, e.g. household detergent or items he shouldn’t be chewing on. Cockatoos are inquisitive and love to destroy things. His owner keeps him in an area free of dangerous items but they can still find ways.” Blackie was treated with a topical spray and has started eating normally again.

“My dad takes Chucky out for evening walks. He is well known in our neighbourhood and has even taken photos with our MP!” Chucky the African Grey developed a fungal infection under his wings. He has healed well with diligent cleaning and medication by his family.

Macaws are magnificent, highly intelligent and inquisitive. Make sure you have time and space to properly socialise and bond with your parrot if you decide to have one. Your parrot’s cage should be as large as possible, with safe and stimulating toys, perches, climbing nets, baskets, swings. Birds are born to fly and thrive with exercise and exposure to outdoor environments. Providing an outdoor aviary will give your parrot a better quality of life.

A healthy bird is active, vocal, bright-eyed with nicely preened feathers. A sick bird will usually fluff up its feathers and huddle listlessly in the cage. If you have rescued or acquired a new bird, isolate it to prevent exposing your flock to possible pests or diseases. The quarantine period also allows your new bird to get used to the environment and humans with less stress.


We welcome medical stories of your animal friends to educate and inspire others. Email us at comms@mountpleasant.com.sg and be part of Mount Pleasant community over at our Website and Facebook.

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Dr Gloria Lee: Nothing Is Coincidental

Whether it is a word casually spoken or a bird falling right in your path, Dr Gloria Lee from Mount Pleasant Vet Centre (Mandai) believes nothing is coincidental. We are always where we are meant to be. 

“I believe in fate, totally. I take what this life has given me to do. There is no such thing as coincidence in my book.”

have you always wanted to be a vet?

I grew up in Kuching, Sarawak, surrounded by animals. My parents always had mongrels and would feed cats who happened to adopt us. They also raised ducks and quails. When I was in primary school, a classmate said I should be a vet since I had so many pets. The seed was sown.

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“When I was around 8, we had a Calico cat (in my brother Stephen’s arms) who was very attached to me. She always tried to accompany me when I bathed!”

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“When Calico had kittens, she would bring me her firstborn & I would stay by her side throughout the birth. There were no vets (& no sterilisation of pets) in Kuching until the 1980s.”

HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR LOVE FOR BIRDS?

Like many young people, I was not prepared to practise my trade when I graduated so I took on a year of Zoology at another university.  During that time, I chanced upon a baby dove fallen from its nest and brought it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre,  Fauna Rehabilitation Centre, in the outskirts of Perth. It was a small privately-funded place, run by dedicated volunteers.

That was one of the turning points in my life.

I spent several years learning and helping the centre on a pro bono basis. I am grateful my parents were patient and allowed me the time to find myself.

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“My bathroom was converted to a water bird room; I sometimes shared a shower with a Black Swan or a Cormorant. My spare bedroom transformed into an aviary where I fostered birds too young to be released to an outdoor aviary but needed to learn to fly.”

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“Birds are much more challenging patients. The anatomy & physiology of a chicken is different to that of a parrot or a dove. They are 3 different species. It is like treating a domestic cat, a lion & a tiger.”

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“Birds hide their illness well. Being so small, it’s virtually impossible to perform standard treatments. It’s all about prevention.”

what is the best part about being a vet?

I find it rewarding to help community animals and the people who are protecting them. It is also heartwarming to help the elderly and the poor give their sick companions a better quality of life.

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With Kelly of MercyLight Adoption & their dogs Aki, Nino, Eden & Seven the Sheltie!

how do you cope with the emotions & frustrations of work? 

I don’t shut down and compartmentalise well and often bring my worries home. Knowing I have eased the suffering of an animal and meeting wonderful clients make things easier. Having an understanding spouse/partner is very important.

Several years ago, when my schedule became hectic, my husband Victor made a tough decision to semi-retire so that we can have some work-life balance. He comes to the clinic whenever I am at work and gives me sound advice whether I want to hear it or not. I respect him for that.

Gardening is a relaxing hobby I share with Victor who trained as a Horticulturist. I am the Hon Treasurer of the Singapore Gardening Society and he is the Hon Secretary. When all else fails, a good Scotch whisky always soothes my soul and spirit!  Sorry to the Irish and Japanese but I do enjoy Guinness and sashimi too!

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“Victor helps me see things in a different perspective. He takes care of other parts of my life so I don’t have anything else to worry about. My mom absolutely adores him. She never calls me – always him!”

tell us more about your pets

I have adopted dozens of animals in my life. We currently have 3 Scottish Terriers named Chivas, Regal, Macallan and 6 adopted stray cats. We gave all of them “alcoholic names”!

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Siblings Miguel, Cuervo & Sake rescued as kittens.

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Miguel, Sake & Cuervo now!

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Sake, had a glass too many?

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JD (Jack Daniels) as a kitten & now, Muscat & Half Pint!

what advice would you give aspiring vets?

It is not enough to have a love for animals.

A love for animals is not going to see you through 12-hour work days and clients who expect you to save their already dying pets. Many young vets are casualties of burn-out. They stop working in clinics because they have become disillusioned.

You need a deep-seated compassion for an animal’s right to quality of life and quality care. You need to accept that you cannot save every one of them.

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Our vets at Mount Pleasant Vet Centre (Mandai), formerly AMK Veterinary Surgery: Dr Gloria Lee with King Billy, Dr Kitty Huang with Joey, Dr Jade Lim with Pom Pom & Gusto, Dr Tricia Ling with Sunshine & Skye, Ming Ming the resident cat rescued by Dr Kitty.

Our vet techs and nurses

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The Mount Pleasant Vet Centre (Mandai) family, formerly AMK Veterinary Surgery,at Dr Tricia Ling’s wedding – Ai Lin, Xue Ting, Cheriel, Dr Teng Yi Wei, Melissa, John, Dr Kitty Huang, Dr Tricia Ling, Dr Gloria Lee, Shu Yin (now at MP Bedok), Dr Jade Lim, Jasmine.

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“I will continue to build & strengthen my healthcare team & look after their career welfare. They are my second family.”

Woody The Woodpecker: Suspected Concussion

Today,  a juvenile Sunda Woodpecker was brought to AMK Veterinary Surgery by a kind client who rescues injured wild birds. We shall call the woodpecker Woody for now.

Woody the Sunda Woodpecker is still a juvenile. Looks like it has suffered a concussion (head trauma).

“This Woodpecker is still a juvenile. Looks like it has suffered a concussion (head trauma).” ~ Dr Gloria Lee, AMK Veterinary Surgery

Woody is hospitalised and will be given 50% glucose solution by mouth every two hours.

Birds can suffer from concussion (head trauma) if they fly into a hard surface like a wall or window. If you find a bird lying dazed on the ground after hitting a window:

  • gently carry and place it in a box or dark container with a lid
  • leave it somewhere warm and quiet (away from pets and predators)
  • release the bird outside once it is awake and alert (some birds will revive within  a few minutes, unless it is seriously injured.)

If the bird doesn’t recover in a couple of hours, take it to a veterinarian.

Woody is currently hospitalised at AMK Veterinary Surgery where it will be kept in a quiet area and monitored closely. Although Woody’s prognosis for the next 24 hours is poor, we are still hoping for the best!

Stay tuned for Woody’s progress.

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The Sunda Woodpecker or Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker is the smallest species of woodpecker in Singapore.

Woodpeckers have a distinctive manner of hopping up and down tree trunks and branches, while drilling the wood for insects.

Here are some interesting write-ups on the Sunda Woodpecker from Nature Watch and Bird Ecology Study Group.