Category — Parrot Education
We lost Liz Wilson, my cherished friend, on April 13th. I should have written this days ago, but I alternate between tears and yelling at Liz for being so quiet. She and I had some kind of dialog, almost every day. Even if it was via email, I could hear her voice. Those of you that have heard Liz speak know what I mean. Her voice was unique, strong, honest, and she had a gift for satire which could disarm you if you didn’t know her well.
Over the years I’ve met many people who had their views shaped by a simple truth spoken in raw honesty by Liz. Since she was dedicated to the life of the parrot, she was not patient with those who thought a situation was all about them, or that they did something right and the parrot did it wrong. That’s a good thing, parrots need this kind of advocate, someone who doesn’t dance around the edges of the hard issues. Parrots often pay the price for our stupidities, and Liz was bound and determined to help people get ahead of those. For the parrot’s sake.
Liz was ahead of her time, she was a pioneer. As the market for parrots as pets was really taking off, she along with a few others tried to make a difference for the many birds now in homes. Liz dedicated her life to understanding what it means to be a parrot in captivity. Caring well for parrots was no easy task then, it’s no easy task now. Did she always get it right? Of course not, do you? We are all learners. We are all teachers. However, Liz put her whole heart and soul into it, always seeking to learn something new and to do a better job. She tried damn hard to make sure the rest of us made an effort too. To those of you who left Liz’s side when something newer came along, yours is the greater loss.
I never stopped learning from Liz and her breadth of hands-on experience. How many of us can say we lived with the same parrot for over 40 years? Most people give up after a few short years, sometimes after only weeks or months. At Phoenix Landing, we rehome adopted parrots again and again; mostly because people – good people – can’t find the time, money or interest to stick it out longer. Sam, Liz’s blue and gold macaw, is over 60 now. There’s no doubt they had some ups and downs in their relationship, and faced the usual challenges of compatibility between two species, human and parrot. I hope some of us will be lucky enough to live up to this legacy with our parrots, what a remarkable accomplishment by Liz. I cannot imagine how Sam is feeling now, she probably has the same empty hole in her heart that I do.
Lastly, up until her final days, Liz was a treasure to Phoenix Landing. Joining our Board of Directors in 2004 as our Education Vice President, she was a steady and invaluable advisor. She knew how to cut to the heart of difficult issues or decisions, she was my constant sounding board for ideas or problems, and most of all she was an unwavering friend. No matter how contentious a discussion or challenging a situation, I KNEW we were the best of friends and that our relationship was never at stake. Everyone should be so lucky to have such a genuine friend.
Liz, I really don’t know yet what we are going to do without you, you will be forever missed. But I promise you, we will always put the birds first, and we will do our best to promote education in your honor and good name. Love always to you and all the parrots now by your side.
April 20, 2013 15 Comments
We lost two Phoenix Landing parrots in June, both related to causes that can often be prevented. Their stories deserve our attention, in the hope that other parrots may be spared the same demise.
LUKE, a gorgeous umbrella cockatoo, was well loved in his early days. Unfortunately, this also included extensive over-handling and snuggling. When Luke reached sexual maturity (about 4-6 for umbrellas), he soon began to prolapse – his sex organs fell from his body. Eventually he lost control of his muscles around his vent. Thanks to Dr. Vickie Kondik at Linden Heights, he had several successful surgeries. Unfortunately, these surgeries rarely hold, so Luke continued to prolapse. At some point in this cycle, a bird can no longer stay healthy and starts to suffer. We rarely euthanize Phoenix Landing parrots, but Luke’s future was otherwise going to be painful and short, and we just couldn’t ask more of him. One of the most important things we can teach our companion parrots, especially cockatoos, is to play independently – both in their cages and when they are spending time with us.
JACOB, a young blue and gold macaw, came to us with respiratory challenges. He was finally diagnosed with pulmonary hypersensitivity syndrome. This is a painful condition which makes it terribly hard for a bird to breathe. For macaws, it is often caused by cockatoo dander, but it can also result from smoking, fragrances, toxic fumes or cleaners, construction dust, etc. We have to remember that birds were built to fly which is based on a highly efficient respiratory system. When we subject birds to poor air quality conditions, we potentially compromise their health. Jacob paid the ultimate price with his life, but we can learn from this tragedy and try to improve care for all the other parrots in our lives! To hear more about Jacob’s joys and struggles, click here to read a beautiful eulogy written by George Goulding. Thanks to George and Nancy, Jacob had the most perfect landing for his final time with us.
July 1, 2012 2 Comments
Earlier this spring I had the great pleasure to attend a Phoenix Landing lecture, with guest speaker Nyla Copp, “Get The Flock Out!” in which she discussed the importance for the health of our parrots to provide them with time outdoors in the sunshine & fresh air. Exposure to UV light is vital to parrots in order for them to produce vitamin D, which is essential for the utilization of calcium, a necessity for parrot health. There is no better source for UV light than pure, unfiltered sunshine. Parrots have a highly refined respiratory system which makes them more susceptible to chemicals and contaminants in the air. With indoor air quality decreasing over the years, avian vets have been seeing an increase in the number of companion parrots with respiratory illnesses. This was true of the little lovebird, Orlando, who came to live with Nyla several years ago. Nyla combined her construction skills, creativity, and passion for providing the best care possible for her new companion and built Orlando an outdoor aviary. Through her business, My Birdie Buddy, Nyla now designs and builds custom aviaries, as well as unique perches and playstands. In her presentation she shared invaluable tips and advice on design, materials and construction techniques for building aviaries, from simple to elaborate, from enclosing a porch or deck to building large free-standing structures or small portable ones, and left the entire audience longing for their own aviaries for their birds.
I have yet to build an aviary, for my requirements for one are high, as it must be able to contain my very powerful GreenWing Macaw, Annie, and be big enough to allow each bird to have enough personal space to prevent fighting and allow flight. In truth, I think I will need at least two separate enclosures; but this does not mean that my birds are sitting indoors waiting for me while I plan and dream and research aviaries? NO! We go outside as often as we can, nearly every day.
From my very first days with parrots, I have always taken them outside. At first, my little parrotlets were in a cage that I could pick up and carry so I would bring them out and set them on a table or bench or chair whenever I was out working in the yard. Then when Ariel joined the family, her cage was too large for me to carry around, and a friend gave me an older, travel sized cage which we used. But even that was very awkward, as it became more challenging to find places to safely set her outdoor cage.
Then one day I was attending a Phoenix Landing event, and I saw John Kerns, rolling a travel cage mounted to a babystroller frame. Wow, what a great idea! John told me that his wife Bobbie put them together and calls them “cageollers” and most generously offered this one to me! I will be forever grateful! Thank you, thank you John & Bobbie!
Once home I mounted Ariel’s outside cage onto the stroller frame and secured it firmly with zip ties (the cage that John gave me had bar spacing to large for Ariel’s little head). Now she traveled with me all around the yard wherever I went, she could reach through the bars and nibble on parrot safe plants, could easily be moved in or out of the sun or shade, with ease and safety.
From the day I knew that we would be getting Trixie, I began looking for a second stroller base to build a cageoller for her. I had no luck finding another like Ariel’s, and upon meeting Trixie, a BIG Blue & Gold Macaw, realized I needed something bigger anyway. We had a large wire dog crate in our attic that would work as a cage section, and I just needed to find a base. While glancing through one of my husband’s tool catalogs, Harbor Freight Tools, I noticed an ad for a flat (no sides) powder coated steel garden wagon. I checked the measurement of the wire crate, 36” long x 23”wide x 24”high, and realized it would fit nearly perfectly on the 24”x48” wagon, all the better that it was on sale! I removed the bottom plastic tray from the wire crate, and again used zip ties to attach the two together, trimming off the excess of the tie. I initially replaced the plastic tray, but realized that without the tray, poop, and water from misting, and pieces of food could fall straight through into the grass, resulting in less required clean-up.
As I continued to foster various birds for Phoenix Landing, I kept searching for baby carriage bases, still with no luck, so I consulted the cageoller creator, Bobbie, again. She was now buying used Snap-N-Go stroller bases, made by Baby Trend. This is a stroller base designed for a baby car seat to be snapped into place, and comes in a single and double model. Used ones can be found for sale on Craig’s List. Bobbie uses the double stroller frame with a wire dog crate, like that first one that her husband John gave me, for her macaws and larger Amazons. These would be suitable for larger cockatoos as well. For smaller birds, I have used standard “pet store” bird cages, as there are so many around that are really too small for a parrot to live in, but this puts them to good use. (Important side note here, make sure all doors, even food bowl doors are very securely latched when using these cages outdoors, use quicklinks, clamps or zip ties for extra safety.)
One of the major downfalls of using this type of cage for cageollers though, is that since my birds really love being misted (and I mean soaked down to the skin wet!) nearly every time we go outside, the cages were rusting and powder coating peeling off very quickly.
That’s when I came across the King’s aluminum travel carriers (contact Phoenix Landing for purchasing questions). They all have 5/8” bar spacing, this would work for all but the smallest birds. The larger one is 20x29x20, the smaller one is 18 1/2×16 1/2x 18. Aluminum is very light weight, will not chip, flake or rust like powder coating. I will admit they are pricey, but I look at it as a long-term investment.
The Kings are too small for Trixie and Annie macaws who still use the wire dog crates, but they work great for my other birds, so everyone has a cageoller to fit their needs.
Cageollers are great for traveling with your birds too. Once removed from the cage/carrier, the stroller folds flat, and when you reach your destination, reattach the cage to the stroller using several bungee cords, or you could use zipties, just remember to bring scissors to cut them off when you are ready to take the cageoller apart for the trip back home.
So go find a cage or carrier appropriate for your bird, pick up a stroller or wagon, build your own cageoller, and get outside this summer!
June 13, 2012 13 Comments
Spring is here, and the garden is growing! Thanks to a very special donor, Richard Rossi, The Landing has new greenhouse. We will be growing a wide variety of veggies over the next few months. As each comes into harvest, we’ll chop and freeze it for our future batches of mash. Not only does this save us with our fresh food expenses, but the birds that pass through The Landing adoption center will have a great boost in the freshest of nutrition. We’ll post updated photos throughout the year to show how the garden grows and how it brings joy and great value to the adoptable parrots of Phoenix Landing!!
We just had the first major harvest of several varieties of kale, chard and spinach. We chopped them into small pieces and put in the freezer for future use. Greens are one of the best sources of calcium and vitamin A – two essential nutritional needs of our parrots. We are already longing for an industrial food processor, because we are looking forward to an amazing harvest of fruits and veggies this year.
Thanks to Penny Coghe and Kathy Kocsan, we now have an orchard as well! It includes pear, peach, and apple trees, as well several blueberry bushes. Laura Ford topped it off with some gooseberry bushes for fruit and some butterfly bushes for extra parrot fun and foraging.
Stay tuned to learn more about the gardeners that made this wonderful resource possible!
April 30, 2012 4 Comments
Phoenix Landing hosted a very special guest, Ms. Patricia Sund! She presented another seminar in our Nourish to Flourish series, called Chop Chop! Patricia has been creating Chop for many years and taught us how to master it. Chop is a feeding concept. How many parrot owners chop fresh veggies each morning and evening? I know I do and it take so much time each day. However, as a parrot owner I want to provide the best possible diet to my feathered friends as possible. Chop is the way to go! There is no recipe!! You purchase fresh, seasonal, vegetables and greens that are available the time of year you make Chop. Purchase organic when you can and check the dirty dozen list each year and make sure you purchase those items on the list in organic when possible.
Once all your ingredients are washed, dried, cooked, chopped, you mix them well and place in Ziploc baggies and freeze. Make one baggie for each day. Depending on the number and size of your parrots will depend on the size of bag you should use.
Some ingredients that you could use include the following:
Wheat grass powder
Dry oatmeal (old fashion raw cut)
Crush red peppers
Seeds like flax, rape, hemp, celery
Grains like kamut, rye berries, quinoa (cooked)
Wild Rice, brown rice (cooked)
Pastas like whole wheat, quinoa pasta (cooked)
Red, green, yellow, orange peppers
Carrots with tops
Swiss Chard (green or red)
Beet green (do not use the beet in Chop because it will turn it red.)
This list could go on and go!!
For more information about Chop and to see instructional videos, please visit http://www.parrotnation.com.
The Phoenix Landing cookbook has more information about Chop and other recipes for our feathered friends. The cookbook can be purchased at PL events or on our website at http://www.phoenixlanding.org/books.html.
Good luck with your first batch of CHOP!
January 11, 2012 7 Comments
As an adoption coordinator for Phoenix Landing, I help people navigate the challenges of living with parrots. I’ve learned a lot from families and birds over the years, and I’m still learning from the many people and parrots that I meet.
One of my goals is to give folks the tools to reduce the number of parrot bites.
People often make statements about their birds that, I must admit, baffle me.
“He’s just pushing the limits to see how much he can get away with.”
“She’s just testing boundaries, but she’ll soon learn who the boss is.”
To this I say, “Huh?”
The statements above are common ones when describing issues in child rearing. It’s natural for us to think of our birds as our children and to use our understanding of how to raise kids when we interact with parrots.
But birds aren’t children.
Birds are prey animals and we are predators.
Can you imagine a chicken testing boundaries with a fox, or a seal pushing the limits with a polar bear? How about seeing how far you can get with a mountain lion?
When a bird reacts by lunging, biting, or exhibiting body language that otherwise expresses discomfort, she is saying one thing, and one thing only: I am uncomfortable with this situation.
Please respect her clear communication, don’t force her to “toe the line,” and make trust building your top priority.
November 7, 2011 6 Comments
AS THE YEARS GO BY, Phoenix Landing assumes protective custody for an increasing number of birds. We strive to maintain responsibility for them for their entire lives. Since birds live a long time, we believe that each home should be a good one.
This is very personal for me because Phoenix , my greenwing macaw, should outlive me by several decades. I am “paying forward” in the great hope that someone will look out for Phoenix when I no longer can. Do you worry about your bird’s future the way I do?
This idea goes to the heart of what Phoenix Landing stands for:
- It’s not often that one person can care for a parrot for their entire life (assuming the bird remains healthy);
- Birds deserve to have a good home each time, not just in the home that first acquired them;
- The term “forever home” is highly discouraged when it comes to parrots. Even the smallest parakeet can live 20 years, and frankly, very few people remain committed or able to provide a long-term home. People’s lives change, through no fault of their own, due to health, marriage, children, money, jobs, housing, family responsibilities, and even death. Caring for parrots can also be hard work.
- Ideally, non-profit parrot organizations will offer a mechanism for ensuring a succession of good homes for any bird that comes through their system. This means the organization needs to be sustainable for a very long time, and not just operated by one person or out of someone’s house; unfortunately, those organizations don’t tend to last as long as a parrot’s healthy lifespan. I am so grateful to everyone that is involved with Phoenix Landing, because our strength and longevity will come from many of us each doing a small part. We are all “paying forward” and I’m guessing you want the same safe future for your birds as I do for mine.
- One way we can help parrots is to encourage adoption. Let’s inform people that all companion birds deserve to have a succession of good homes. Someday your bird will likely need one or more new homes too, and you’ll want those to be good ones. Let’s promote adoption as the norm, not just something for the “rescues.”
- Another way we can help parrots is to teach people that birds are resilient, regardless of their past. Nature has built them to be adaptable in order to survive. Phoenix Landing rarely uses the word rescue because this word conjures up a sense of abuse, neglect, harm, and baggage. Most of the birds that come to us are from loving homes where it is just no longer possible for them to care for a bird; but even true rescue birds are likely to adapt if given an opportunity to thrive. I have yet to meet a parrot that was not adoptable, there is usually an appropriate family for each and every one.
Since 2003, Phoenix Landing has taken responsibility for over 1,940 birds. So far, about 150 of the adopted birds have been re-homed, and foster homes often change too. As the years go by, a growing number of Phoenix Landing birds will need to be adopted again and again. The good news is that we put the same hard work and effort into finding the 2nd, 3rd and 4th homes as we did the 1st one.
In a handful of situations, we have lost track of a bird because someone chooses not to abide by the specific policies outlined in our foster and adoption agreements. I must confess that it deeply disturbs me when someone disrespects the goodwill intentions of Phoenix Landing, and most importantly the long-term interests of the bird. We will never give up trying to keep a watchful eye on every bird that comes thru Phoenix Landing.
One of the ways we try to keep in touch with our adopting families is through our Alumni Program. Several people help with this function since a growing number of birds now fall under the protective umbrella of Phoenix Landing. In fact, we could use some additional help. If you are interested, please email us at email@example.com.
I’d like to give a special thanks to our extraordinary adoption coordinators (Debbie Russell, MD; Jenny Drummey, VA; Sarah Ptomey, WV; Kevin Blaylock, TN/VA; and Nina Roshon, NC). No matter how many birds they are trying to place, how many need yet another new home, how many challenging people they encounter – they always keep the welfare and future of the birds first and foremost. They are motivated and rewarded by all the good matches they make, parrot-by-parrot. I hope you will join me in giving them a special cheer of gratitude. Someday your parrot may need them too!
September 1, 2011 8 Comments
Parrots love birdie bread, but frankly, many of the recipes include less than healthy ingredients — like those boxed mixes. I encourage you to make every ingredient a healthy one.
Here is a recipe for pumpkin bread. Pumpkin is high in vitamin A, an essential vitamin for birds. Pumpkin bread is often one of the first foods that the birds at The Landing adoption center learn to eat, and then they expand their interests to the mash and other fresh foods that we offer. A couple of appropriately sized pumpkin bread chunks are just one portion of the wide and varied diet that we try to offer the birds in our care.
• 15 oz can of organic pumpkin (including the pie spice, or you can add cinnamon and ginger, most birds really like the spices).
• 1/2 cup applesauce or one of the snack applesauce
(a great substitute for oil)
• 1 egg
• 2 TBL quinoa (if you’d like to add some protein)
• Unsulphured dried fruits or nuts – whatever your birds most enjoy. Walnuts are high in Omega 3’s
• 2 cups flour (interesting flours include garbanzo, millet, ground oatmeal, coconut, organic cornbread mix, etc.). My favorite flour is Bob’s Redmill garbanzo bean flour. I like the texture and the nutritional content.
Make a thick batter. If it gets too thick, add some juice (mango, carrot etc). Garnish it if you like with cereals or nuts.
You can be creative with the ingredients, the important thing is to make a stiff batter. Bake 45 minutes or so @ 350 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cast iron skillets work well. Freeze in sections, keep 2-3 days worth in the fridge.
Laura Ford’s Trixie eating cranberry pumpkin bread
June 24, 2011 5 Comments
June Is National Disaster Preparedness Month For Animals
Disaster: An event that causes serious loss, destruction, hardship, unhappiness or death.
Preparedness: State of full readiness for action
What you should know.
When I spoke to Ann Brooks, Phoenix Landing’s founder, and told her about my interest in this subject she was resourceful, as always, and quick to send me information from the Katrina Disaster that was gathered in the aftermath. I had no idea how devastating it must have been for people who had pets.
• 104,00 pets were left behind after Katrina, some of the reasons are heartbreaking.
• 15,000 were officially rescued.
• An estimated 3,000 were reunited with their families.
This left an estimated 88,700 pets that were unaccounted for. This is totally mind-boggling. Maybe you have been responsible for several pets during your entire lifetime, or you may visit an animal shelter and help give a loving touch with a gentle voice to an animal without a family. I don’t think you could conceive of such an enormous number!
Yet, it is a terrible reality for those who lived it.
88,700. This means 243 individual animals would have to be touched by you every day for 365 days, sounds overwhelming to consider. To anyone who was told they had to leave their pets behind in order to be taken to a shelter, to be confined with thousands of people, caught up with their own perils, faced with thoughts of the animals that you left behind, to fend for themselves because they were not allowed in the shelter with humans, my heart aches for you.
We can’t prevent disasters but we can be proactive and condition ourselves and our animals to what might happen when circumstances are out of our control. Whether it is Mother Nature or mankind, we can help avoid the chaos of the emergency by gathering food & water supplies, comfort items, first aid items and rehearsing with our animals.
These are not the dogs and cats, birds and rabbits, cattle and horses that can just take off and survive as the creatures they once were. We have domesticated them.
We made them to conform to our world. We have to assume the role of the king of the jungle, matriarch of the herd, flock leader, pack leader. We need to prepare them to handle what ever comes their way. Those of us who have pets as family members, companions, service animals, search & rescue or maybe you help by fostering and rehabilitating, we have a connection and an unspoken feeling of responsibility to them.
Rehearse with your entire family. Put a plan into motion that is understood by anyone who may be able to help with your animals.
Communication- make a list of important phone numbers, addresses and e-mails. Update and distribute it every 6 months or when we reset your clocks or change the batteries in your smoke alarm.
• Friends and family names.
• Animal rescue organizations.
• List of hotels that are pet friendly.
• Local vets and boarding kennels.
• Local disaster shelters that will provide a safe place for pets.
• List of current vaccinations and medications your pet is taking.
• An up to date photo of your pet(s).
• The location where you keep the “Animal Disaster Kit”.
• Update your ownership address and contact information with the microchip company or organization.
Preparation- a duffel bag or a back pack that can be grabbed quickly with items that you will need for your animal to survive over an extended period of time.
• Travel cage, crate, extra leash, halter, rope, newspaper, and towels.
• Attach a zip lock bag and secure to the underneath of a travel cage, or tape to a halter or attach to a collar to provide owner info, microchip#, medical alerts, vet#, family contact #’s.
• Dry food and water supply for several days if space allows.
• Bowls or containers appropriate for their needs.
• First aid kit, depending on your individual pets needs and check with your vet.
• Blanket, toys, favorite comfort items from home.
• Disinfectant for your hands if dealing with foster or shelter animals.
Rehearse- don’t wait until THE EMERGENCY arrives to introduce an unfamiliar item. Being swarmed into an unfamiliar building will be scary, but if they feel protection in some way by their familiar cage, blanket or toys this will help them adjust.
• Familiarize them with the items in the kit.
• Have them experience the cage or item you will use for confining them at a shelter.
• Put your extra collar or halter on and make adjustments for a secure fit.
• Give them the emergency bowls to eat and drink out of frequently.
• Their odors on a blanket or towel will be a comfort in unfamiliar surroundings.
• Once they are introduced to these items, try to do an emergency rehearsal by moving them in and out of the cage quickly, then even out of the house, into a car for a drive around the block. Always make it pleasant and controlled.
• Obtain information through the Internet, and from animal shelters or welfare organizations for additional information and instructions about your area.
The evacuating authorities have good, solid reasons for prohibiting animals in the shelters. Not that we would all agree but consider the health aspect to the humans in the confined shelter if no one can even open a door for a day or more. Some people have allergies that would cause serious respiratory reactions and complications without conventional medicines or health facilities available to treat them. Not to mention the animals confined with all those people exuding different smells, personalities, and energy. We know that animals have a heightened sense of their surroundings. Nervous people, screaming children, adults crying! I would not want to subject any of my animals to this scene either. People have difficulties after a prolonged period of time. Our animals are not ready for all the trauma that they would be forced to endure, yet how can we keep them safe, controlled and comfortable in evacuations and disasters.
Disaster Response Teams report that after Katrina they are striving to make more emergency animal shelters within close proximity to the human shelters. They realized how many people would not evacuate because they refused to leave their animals behind. The loss of both human and animal lives was staggering enough to demand change.
Petfinder™ endorsed legislation that became law on October 6, 2006, that requires pets to be included in disaster evacuation plans. The bill, called the Pets Evacuation, Transportation Standards Act (PETS), was sponsored by Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California and Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts. The law requires that state and local disaster preparedness plans (as needed for Federal Emergency Management Agency funding) include provisions for household pets and service animals.
The PETS legislation represents the first government initiative to officially form evacuation and relief plans for people with pets. This legislation is a critical step to ensuring that pet guardians and those who rely upon service animals will never be forced to choose between their own safety and the safety of their beloved animals.
The more research I do, the more these lists and ideas grow. You will find the Internet has an endless resource for you to fill your brain, invent, adjust and decide how to conform this information to fit you and your pets. Fema.gov also carries a lot of information. Local Animal Control and SPCA’s, bird clubs, canine & feline clubs can all offer seminars on what you can do and things you should do to help them and you through any day-by-day disruptions in your lives. If you have none in your community, get together with local representatives from vets to animal welfare groups and form one.
After a Disaster
• If after a disaster you have to leave town, take your pets with you. Pets are unlikely to survive on their own.
• In the first few days after the disaster, leash your pets when they go outside. Always maintain close contact. Familiar scents and landmarks may be altered and your pet may become confused and lost. Also, snakes and other dangerous animals may be brought into the area with flood areas. Downed power lines are a hazard.
• The behavior of your pets may change after an emergency. Normally quiet and friendly pets may become aggressive or defensive. Watch animals closely. Leash dogs and place them in a fenced yard with access to shelter and water.
June 11, 2011 6 Comments
Fern Van Sant, DVM
Presented by the Phoenix Landing Foundation
April 1, 2011
THE BIOLOGY OF BIRDS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENTAL NICHE
Birds were not invented at the pet store. So to successfully care for a parrot, one must understand the bird’s biological needs, and strive to meet these needs above others when looking for guidance on bird care. Understanding a parrot’s biology is essential since they have evolved from a unique array of habitats such as a variety of altitudes, temperatures etc. Birds are very adaptive.
For example, many parrots are subtropical – living 30 degrees north or south of the equator. For those species, they do not have 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Parakeets and cockatiels are good examples; they live further from the equator and are photoperiod responsive because of this. Their biological processes are triggered by the length of time these birds are exposed to sunlight. An increase in day length (light) signals abundance to these birds, and the time for mating. Water can also bring on mating behaviors, especially for birds from drought areas like cockatiels.
A study by E.D. Jarvis proves that animals respond to certain environmental triggers by producing proteins in their brains. These proteins then trigger certain types of behavior associated with breeding (a male canary singing, for example). This is also called Behaviorally Driven Gene Expression. So a change in light, food availability, height of a potential nest, or width of a hole can all trigger breeding for wild parrots.
Cockatoos are easy birds to breed, while Amazons are not. Breeders discovered that Amazons require a very particular hole of a certain height and depth to breed. Some behaviors are inherited, like lovebirds stashing things under their wings.
Most parrots are NOT designed to consistently reproduce. They are low-end reproducers. But, without environmental constraints, parrots can be in a continuous breeding mode. As hens produce more chicks, the hen’s health suffers, as does the health of the later chicks in the clutch. Later-born chicks are much less viable. For example, 12 eggs in a year in captivity might be the bird’s lifetime norm in the wild.
Parrots have evolved over 30+ million years. There are 332 species of parrots, with three subfamilies (Psittacine, Cacatuinae, and Loriinae).
Two-thirds of parrots are neotropical Psittacines (189 species) – those who live in central South America and the Caribbean islands.
The other third of parrots are found in Africa, India and South Asia (34 species) and Australia, Indonesia, and South Asia (109 species).
Parrots are flexible in our homes because they are flexible in their natural environments of forest, swamp, and dry land. For example, mitred conures are found all over the US, and the Maui conure, which started as 2 birds, has now grown to a flock of 100.
MYTH OF THE GENERIC PARROT
This myth assumes that one size fits all response to questions of proper diet, housing, behavior and other issues. However, each species and each individual will require care specific to their needs. There are three kinds of behaviors: innate, learned, and reproductive.
Parrot’s innate behaviors are for flight, nest selection, and vocalization. Parrots learn other behaviors, from interacting with the flock. For example, taking off is instinctive, landing and navigating is learned. Some colony nesters, like conures, may want to be more connected to you.
Reproductive behaviors include: pair bonding; vocalizations/duets; mutual preening; cavity seeking; nest building; sexual regurgitation; territorial defense; and copulation.
Do you know what a bird looks like when they are soliciting sex? Here is an example of one approach:
The hypothalamus starts the process by sending message to the “master gland” the pituitary gland. The pituitary, in turn, produces hormones to send to target organs, the gonads. The gonads are inactive at times, small and seasonally involuted. Females have one ovary on the left side, to lighten the load for flight.
The pineal gland is a day/night clock, sensing light which drives base physiology. Light is taken in through the eyes, the pineal gland and a third apparatus in the brain that is still unknown. This mystery apparatus has been proven to exist because birds who are blind and have no pineal gland still respond to light.
The Limbic system is the part of the brain that runs bonding, emotional responses, and attachment forming.
The species-specific hormonal cascade, from hypothalamus to pineal gland to gonad, happens in all birds.
Testosterone is highest in a male during nest building according to a UC Davis study.
Environmental triggers for endocrine events include light, molting, migration, and perhaps lunar cycles. Breeding and molting are biologically expensive and diametrically opposed. They do not happen at the same time.
Due to these factors, umbrella cockatoos do best with a very ordered, predictable day/night cycle.
Seasonal migration – great green macaws (also called Buffon’s macaws) migrate, as do Patagonian conures and smaller conures. These birds all migrate up and down in elevation. Tiny grass parakeets migrate 120 miles across the water to Tasmania to breed.
A hormonal trigger (as opposed to a metabolic one) produced by the thyroid takes parrots from breeding to molting. Primary feathers molt at a different time than those feathers on the bird’s trunk.
Amazons and macaw share the same nest hole at different times throughout the year.
Birds love warm food because of a thermal sensory apparatus on the roof of their mouth. When we give parrots warm food, we are simulating the actions of their mate.
Vocalizations and other hormonal triggers such as pair bonding, abundant light and food, or nesting can lead to CHRONIC HORMONAL STRESS.
Cavity seeking is also a result of the hormonal cascade. The bird may get on the floor underneath furniture, or go into a closet.
When a parrot is well fed, has nest material, and has a lengthened photo period, the hormonal cascade can begin.
Copulation is initiated by lower back scratching.
Determinate layers have a specific number of eggs in a clutch. Budgies and cockatiels are non-determinate layers, laying eggs as long as the environment supports it. This causes a serious health risk to them.
Birds who have been bred are naturally passing on the genes of productive breeding. In other words, the birds that survive the breeding process are going to be more inclined to reproduce.
Parrots in the wild are low-end producers, and certain environmental constraints will limit their urge to breed.
Food availability is not a limiting factor for neotropical birds (food is pretty consistently available around the equator). Neotropical birds are limited by the availability of nest sites. Charles Munn did a study on scarlet macaws and found that adding more nest boxes to the birds’s environment resulted in more chicks.
However, the availability of food for those birds native to Australia, Africa and Indonesia can trigger or constrain their desire to breed. Seasonal abundance and drought is a limiting factor to non-neotropical birds. For example, goffins cockatoos in Australia struggle to find food and water during the drought. When food comes during the rainy season, they are ready to breed. They are designed for this kind of seasonal stress.
LIVING THE GOOD LIFE
Birds that are in a chronic state of hormonal stress can exhibit several different results.
Clinical presentation of birds with hormonal issues (what the vet sees) include:
Territorial defense and aggression
Elevated mucus production in proventriculus, which can cause continuous vomiting and regurgitation
Degenerative conditions such as: osteoporosis; fractures; calcium and vitamin D3 deficiencies.
Estrogen stimulates the blood vessels. In the wild, a bird regulates its temperature thru flight. However, thermal regulation problems in the wing webs and legs can be a problem for any bird in our homes. These areas (wing webs and legs) help the bird to heat and cool because they are highly vascular (contain a lot of blood vessels). The inside of the legs has large vessels. An increase in estrogen causes these areas to flush with blood. Without the proper ability to thermal regulate, a bird may become hot and flushed in these areas, which can also lead to feather picking.
African Psittacines often develop feather destructive behavior at 9-14 months because they are over-stroked. They do not learn to fledge and fly as they would in the wild where their parents would make them leave the nest.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM: RETURNING AN OVERLY HORMONAL BIRD TO NORMAL
Just because we think a bird loves something, doesn’t mean we should provide it. We should only provide things that are in the bird’s best interest, not ours. Examples are over-stimulation through petting and stroking, foods that contain phyto-estrogens (sweet potatoes, soybeans).
Try “resetting” the bird by putting her in a novel environment.
Part of the problem is that vigorous, healthy parrots who are not driven by the need to breed are more difficult to live with; they are more demanding to keep them occupied. They are full of healthy energy!
When the vet does a physical exam, it starts with a detailed history.
Hormonal problems can lead to plucking, which can lead to dermatitis. The feathers are designed to, among other things, protect the skin. Skin is not designed to be exposed. If your bird has this condition, be sure that the bird thoroughly dries after any bathing. It is especially important that the wing webs are dry.
Therapies depend on each species, since they have evolved from different parts of the world (wet/dry; amount of light, etc).
The most important therapies include adding environmental constraints, just as it occurs in the wild. These include:
- Limiting shredding;
- Curtailing cavity seeking;
- Limiting physical contact (less petting!!);
- Adjusting feed schedules, such as limited food or fasting in the afternoons;
- Exercise!! More exercise, even for the elderly; and
- Spending time outdoors, especially in flight aviaries when possible.
Some short-term remedies, but not cures, can include:
Lupron can be given as a temporary solution. It down-regulates the gonads, but Lupron is expensive and it doesn’t work that long. Lupron sits on the binding site on the gonads, and prevents the hormones from landing and proteins from binding. It is a remedy, not a cure.
HCG injections are anti-inflammatory. Helps itchy macaws. It is also not a long-term cure because the immune system recognizes it and it stops working.
A more promising cure, Deslorelin, comes from Australia. It is an implant that lasts 8 months and is successful in hormonal birds.
RECOMMENDED SUPPLEMENTS and DIETS
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs): Can be given in the form of palm oil (Sunshine Factor recommended), for birds that eat palm oil (like African Greys); and flax oil for birds who do not eat palm oil. Another good supplement for all birds is Avian Vegi-Dophilus, a probiotic specifically for birds.
Pellets are not recommended for birds from arid environments such as parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels. Pellets are hard on their kidneys and can cause gout. Avi-cakes are a good option for these birds.
April 30, 2011 7 Comments