Case Study: Timeline of the rehabilitation and integration of a captive parakeet into the wild

Devna Arora

On the rescue and admission of any animal, it is important that a protocol and a timeline of rehabilitation be established in order to plan a timely release. Although parakeets are typically rescued and rehabilitated in sufficiently large numbers, this document aims to give you an idea of the time required for an adult parakeet that has lived its life as a captive bird, to regain its strength and be able to fly in free skies.

History and condition on admission

Devna Arora - Captive parakeet being introduced to other parakeets under rehab

Mithoo was a 6 year old Rose-ringed parakeet (Psittacula krameri) that had been found as a fledgling and picked, caged, and passed on to another family in the following months. For six years of his life, he lived in a cage (which was now rusty) that was 1 foot x 1 ½ feet and just barely over a foot high. His tail feathers scraped the bottom of the cage and every time he moved left or right, his head would bang into a large swing that was placed centrally above his perch (as seen in the pic above) – he never used the swing. His cage was kept on the balcony floor where the house dog would road around him causing further stress. To top it all, he was put under the shower once a week since they were told that parakeets love water – this perhaps led to his initial negative association with water.

He was never exposed to other birds or wild parakeets except for the crows that would occasionally attack him – if a family member was present, the crows would be shooed away. Fortunately there was little interaction between him and the family and he hadn’t been tamed. He would reluctantly accept food by hand and did not talk, acknowledge or return any interaction towards him. In my experience and observations of other captive parakeets, the levels of stress were extremely high in this bird and the will or joy of living was extremely and unusually low. The only thing that made him happy was when he was left alone.

Physically he was in poor health – his muscles had weakened over time, his wings had never been exercised in his life, and his lung capacity was negligible. He couldn’t even scream out like a normal parakeet without running out of breath. His voice was hoarse when he attempted to call and even half a call in the lowest pitch took the life out of him where he had to visibly pant for breath before attempting another call. Far from being able to fly, he would struggle to even move on his new perch and was much too scared to even climb or descend perches initially. Parakeets are normally adept at climbing connected braches and grilled cages but he was very reluctant and struggled to do so.

Fortunately, there was no intentional abuse. His feathers were intact and he had never been physically handled. All he needed was to regain his sense of being a wild bird and the strength and the will to live free which was completely absent in him in the beginning. Thankfully for him, on the insistence of their children, the family decided to give him up for rehabilitation so he could be set free.

Protocol for rehabilitation

The very first task was to get him to come out of the cage and move around the enclosure confidently enough. With exercise and movement, his muscles would gradually develop. Food was used as driving force to encourage movement. I always ensure he had the basics available next to him but made him step further for treats. For example, there was always a bowl of seed and fresh water accessible but if he wanted fresh groundnuts, he had to move further to obtain them. This worked well.

Devna Arora - Introducing weaker birds safely

He was rehabilitated with two younger parakeets and introduced to them gradually over a period of two days. He was initially terrified of them and wanted to attack every time either of them approached him. So they were only initially allowed to meet through the bars so each was a safe distance from the other. Once the novelty and obsession had reduced, he was encouraged into the enclosure with the other two birds. Although they squabbled a bit initially, the birds all settled down very well in a couple of days. The younger and stronger bird would in fact protect him and keep an eye on him to ensure he was safe and unharmed. On the two initial instances during his flight practice that Mithoo fell to the ground and felt too dejected and scared to find his way back, the younger bird walked up to him and led him back to the perch.

Devna Arora - Minor squabbling till the birds settled down

Devna Arora -  Followed the other parakeets to a higher perch – seen top right

He was given his own time and space for the first month as I was afraid that pushing him beyond his abilities would only result in a muscle pull. It was after the first month when he showed signs of being ready that I pushed him to reach his abilities and encouraged flight practice – this had to be done gently without causing panic and distress. I would gently approach him from one side of the room which would encourage him to take off in the opposite direction; at this point I would completely back off and give him the space to return to the perch. This exercise was a little frightening for him initially and it would leave him breathless and a little scared but as his capacity increased and he was able to take bigger rounds, he started enjoying the process, needed little encouragement and took longer and successive rounds all on his own like the younger birds.

Devna Arora - Interacting with wild parakeets

Their enclosure attracted wild parakeets that would visit and watch the birds often. Although Mithoo never showed great interest in the wild birds initially, he soon copied the younger birds and chattered loudly and communicated with the wild birds every evening.

Devna Arora - Interacting with wild parakeets

He had been kept on a diet of guava and apple and some seed. Although not as curious as the younger parakeets, he accepted new foods gradually. He relished fresh groundnuts (his beak was strong and he enjoyed shelling them) and enjoyed corn on the cob, fresh peas in the pod and various types of beans particularly String beans. He also enjoyed strips of multigrain bread which were given to them as treats.


Devna Arora - Timeline of the rehabilitation and integration of a captive parakeet

Considerations for release

Mithoo was absolutely pushed to his limits and released after 7 weeks of rehabilitation. He was released with a group of younger birds and I expected for them to main a fluid group for a few weeks after release but they all spit up and headed in individual directions. Although he survived very well and was seen and easily identified for a month after release, I feel the transition would have been easier for him if he was given another two weeks of care.

Over a period of time, all older birds/animals tend to get accustomed to the way of life they have been used to. Breaking this pattern is one of the biggest challenges faced initially. In his case, he benefitted significantly from the enthusiasm and curiosity of the younger birds. The younger birds were full of life, always joyful and always up to something. This brought tremendous positive energy for Mithoo, encouraging him to want to be free and happy. He picked up on happy behaviours from them.

There are far too many captive parakeets in the country, most of them being wild caught and extremely tame. Tameness and attachment to humans will of course be a major consideration when rehabilitating a bird and so is age. Wild parakeets live well over 20 years of age (longer in captivity) and most birds under the age of 10 years certainly have a good chance at a successful release but each bird must be handled on a case-by-case basis depending upon its history and condition upon admission.

Again, for birds that are admitted in physically damaged conditions – plucked feathers, damaged muscles or other infections and ailments (mostly all caused due to bad handling and negligent husbandry practices), the timeline towards appropriate rehabilitation and release will of course be contingent upon full recovery.

Case Study published in 2014.

First and foremost: if the animal is injured, it would be very obvious but is the animal truly orphaned? Please ensure if the animal is truly orphaned and not receiving parental care before you decide to pick it and take it home.

The second step would be to reach the animal to a rehabilitator or rescue center. If you are unaware of any in your vicinity, you will be able to get guidance from your local veterinarian, zoo or forest department.

This is not an uncommon situation to find yourself in. Although there are innumerable rescue centers and rehabilitators around, there may be times when there are none in your vicinity or you are unable to reach anyone in time for help. It may be best to prepare yourself to care for the animal in such an instance.

Much information on many topics and species is readily available online. Try to narrow down some pieces of information you can work with for a start. Also, get in touch with rescue centers or rehabilitators via phone or internet. Exchange digital photographs where necessary – it barely takes a few minutes. Even if unable to help you directly in person, any person or center will surely be willing to guide you through the care of the animal and help you in choosing an appropriate protocol for its care and rehabilitation.

It is a common myth that any baby (or adult) bird or mammal that has been touched by human hands will be killed by the rest of its group. This belief has most strongly been associated with baby birds, making people extremely reluctant to pick up and leave babies back in their nest even when the parents are around.

Over innumerable years, we have reunited many youngsters successfully, and inevitably, they have all been handled by human hands for several hours or days before being reunited. The key factor in the acceptance of the animal by the parent and other group members seems not to be the smell of human touch on the animal, but the actual process of reuniting.

A common mistake that most people make while attempting to reunite an animal is that they linger on too close and in turn, frighten the parents away. When trying to place an animal back in its nest, you must always keep a safe distance from the nest and the rest of the group so as not to scare them away. It is easy to get impatient and want to return to the animal after short intervals, but you must refrain from doing so, rather, observe from a distance. Success is more likely than not. I can hardly believe any parent would refuse to accept its own child just because a ‘human’ has touched it!

Some people have suggested the use of gloves to prevent direct contact with the animal. Although you may not always have gloves on you when you need to handle an animal and it isn’t completely necessary to have them when handling a rescue, you may choose to use them if you prefer to.

Yes, in all probability. But, no animal can be simply picked from captivity and released – that is when they will not survive. Animals need to go through a period of rehabilitation before they can be release. The technique and timeframe of rehabilitation will depend upon the species and individual in concern. Guidance on rehabilitating your animal can be sought from an experienced rehabilitator.

Wild animals belong in their natural habitats. Their true glory and happiness can only ever be seen in nature. As much as the babies will be attached to you and need you when they are young, they will soon outgrow their dependence on you and their heart will yearn to be outside, in the wild – where they belong.

Rather than waiting too long and releasing an animal that is not completely prepared, it is wise to plan the release, rehabilitate the animal and release a strong and prepared animal that will surely be able to survive in the wild.

If you truly love them and want what’s really best for them, I trust you will do what is best for your little one.

You can work with any species you are more comfortable with or all species that you come across. Often, we just work with animals as they come along but if you don’t feel particularly confident with any species, it might be better to transfer it to someone more confident. If you prefer to work with a certain species and feel your hands are better adapted for that species, you may specialize in it – its’ your call.

It takes lots of time, deep commitment and a genuine interest in the wellbeing of another animal’s life to enter the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Experience and knowledge are paramount as there are many that cannot be written or explained to you but those that you will learn through your own experience. Wildlife rehabilitation is a painstaking and time consuming task requiring your complete dedication and lots of sacrifices.

In a nutshell, the following are the basic qualities required to be a rehabilitator:

1. Genuine interest and concern

2. Dedication and sacrifice

3. Commitment to work in the best interest of the animal

4. Willingness to learn

5. Willingness to ask and look for help

6. Willingness to go the extra mile

7. Willingness to let go at the time of release

Many small animals, esp. urban species, can be rehabilitated and released from home as long as they have a natural distribution around your home. Many of these animals come back for visits until they are completely independent but sometimes for longer as they are closely bonded to the caregivers. Often, the animals may completely cease to return after release or some days after release. Although this seems disappointing, it a good sign demonstrating that the animal is completely independent and capable of surviving on its own without any assistance from you.

As rehabbers, our aim is always make the animal independent so it doesn’t feel the need to keep returning.

Yes, we can definitely attempt to help every animal that needs our help. But unfortunately, we may not always be able to cure every animal and restore it to its desired health status. As rescue workers, we come across a disproportionately disadvantaged population of animals, some of which are beyond human help. There may be times when it is in the best interest of the animal to euthanize it. But it is our duty and responsibility to make an informed choice and always work for the betterment and highest quality of life for the animal in concern.

Euthanasia, commonly known as ‘mercy killing’, is the act of killing someone to relieve it from unbearable and incurable suffering. Needless to say, euthanasia is always the very last resort after all other means to help the animal have failed and purely done to relieve an animal of unbearable pain and suffering. Euthanasia can be easily carried out by a veterinarian by means of an injectable drug – a quick and painless process. Your veterinarian will be able to advise you on the same. Ensure you have the appropriate permission to do so when dealing with protected species.