Category — Parrot Education

Nourish to Flourish: Chop Chop

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.

Patricia Sund

Patricia Sund

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.

Greens used in Chop

Greens used in Chop

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

Hot Peppers

Carrots with tops

Zucchini

Turnips

Brussel sprouts

Ginger

Sweet Potatoes

Cauliflower

Butternut squash

Acorn squash

Swiss Chard (green or red)

Dandelion greens

Kale

Cilantro

Broccoli rabe

Red cabbage

Beet green (do not use the beet in Chop because it will turn it red.)

Garlic

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

Pushing Limits, Testing Boundaries: Really?

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

Paying Forward

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?

Ann & Phoenix

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.

Moose and Gizmo
Moose and Gizmo macaws were adopted in 2006, and they are now
looking for their next new home.   They are delightful birds!

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.

 TiffanyHeadshot1
Tiffany, a Citron Cockatoo
Looking for Her Next Home

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 phoenixlanding@earthlink.net.

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

Pumpkin Bread

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.Pumpkin Bread and Ingredients
RECIPE
Add together:
• 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.
cranberry pumpkin bread trixie
Laura Ford’s Trixie eating cranberry pumpkin bread

June 24, 2011   8 Comments

Disaster Preparedness for Animals

June Is National Disaster Preparedness Month For Animals

Disaster: An event that causes serious loss, destruction, hardship, unhappiness or death.

Fabrie6

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.

Fabrie7

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.

Fabrie8
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.

Fabrie4
Domesticate: to cultivate plants or raise animals, selectively breeding them to increase their suitability for human requirements.

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.

Jennny and Joe
(Jenny Drummey and Joe the Crow during Katrina)

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.
Fabrie3
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.

Fabrie2
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

HORMONES: The Downside of the Good Life

Fern Van Sant, DVM
Presented by the Phoenix Landing Foundation
April 1, 2011

FernVanSant
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.
Tiels
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.

PSITTACINE EVOLUTION
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).
Noah
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.
Lovies
Do you know what a bird looks like when they are soliciting sex? Here is an example of one approach:

ENDOCRINE REGULATION
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
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.
Nest
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.
nesting lovie
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.

LIMITING FACTORS
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:
Feather picking
Prolapse
Screaming
Shredding
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.
plucking grey
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).
Jazzy
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
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.
Hope
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

The Landing Mash

Many kinds of birds come and go from The Landing, our adoption and education center in the Asheville, NC area. Therefore, we feed foods that can be enjoyed by a diverse group, but still ensures that each bird is eating a healthy variety of whole foods to complement their pellets, fresh fruits, pumpkin bread, nuts and treats.

Some birds come to us that have not been on a healthy diet or learned to eat fresh foods.  Getting them to try new things can be a challenge, at best.  Feeding a MASH has many positive attributes:
* You can hide things a bird might not eat otherwise by chopping it very small.
* For convenience, you can make large batches, and freeze it in portions.
* Mashes allow you to be creative, adding more or less of certain things to meet your bird’s needs.
* Most importantly, you can cover all the important food groups in one recipe, knowing that your bird will probably be eating the variety needed for a complete meal.

We have had huge success converting birds to better diets using a mash recipe, so we wanted to share it with you here.  We complement this mash with an assortment of fresh fruits, pumpkin bread, and a small amount of egg cooked with palm oil (for vitamin A) and greens.  The birds at the adoption center eagerly await their breakfast every morning, often shuffling back and forth on their perches in adorable anticipation.

The Landing Mash

THE LANDING MASH (more or less….)

2.5 cups Kamut
A heaping teaspoon of turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cups quinoa
1 sweet potato cut into 1/2″ cubes (or other winter squashes)
16 oz package organic mixed veggies (peas, corn, carrots)
16 oz package organic mixed greens (kale, collard, mustard greens)
1 cup pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
6 oz Eden small vegetable shells, whole grain
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dried cranberries
(Any dried fruit should be unsulphured, with no processed sugar)

If you don’t have much freezer space, or a small number birds to feed, proportionally reduce these quantities.  If you decide to make the recipe using these quantities, then you’ll want to start with a big soup pot.

To start: bring the large pot of water to a boil.  Add the Kamut, turmeric and cinnamon.  Stir well.   When the water starts to boil again, lower the heat to medium.  Cook for 15 minutes.

Add the quinoa and sweet potato.  Stir well.  Cook another 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat.  Drain or add some cold water.  You don’t want the Kamut to cook much more, birds really enjoy it slightly crunchy.

When the grains are drained and a bit cooled, put these in a super-sized mixing bowl, or divide into several if need be.  Add the remaining ingredients (frozen vegetables, pepitas, garbanzo beans, pasta shells, dried fruit).  Stir together.  Divide into storage containers.  Freeze in 2-3 day portion sizes.  As you finish one container, take one out of the freezer to defrost.

This recipe is versatile.  Add and subtract other things that your bird may enjoy (e.g. broccoli, coconut, fresh carrots, other grains, walnuts…).  If your bird is reluctant to eat a mash,  find the ingredient that is their favorite, and put extra amounts to pique their interest.  After they are eating it regularly, you can change the proportions to insure that they are eating the variety intended.

Thanks to Leigh Ann Hartsfield for her recipe “Franco’s Favorite Breakfast” in the Nourish to Flourish cookbook. We started with this recipe, and the adoption center birds really enjoyed the addition to their breakfast meal. Then Mary Ault discovered that undercooked Kamut was very appealing to the birds, because they use their hookbills as nature intended, and crack open the grains. The Landing Mash continues to evolve as we add new things or change the proportions. And with spring on it’s way, we will take full advantage of the fruits and veggies of the seasons.

If you try this recipe for your birds, let us know how it goes!

March 30, 2011   22 Comments

Where is the Parrot?

By Nelson Quinones

I was in bed checking the Phoenix Landing web site and went to see the calendar for the upcoming events. I was reading about the conservation event on December 11, 2010 in Fairfax, VA with Stewart Metz and Bonnie Zimmerman from the Indonesian Parrot Project. The event information includes the web site for the Indonesian Parrot Project (www.indonesian-parrot-project.org). I copied and  pasted the web site and went to check it out.
IPP header

While I was looking at it, I heard a faint parrot call. I muted the TV volume and kept hearing the sound. It sounded like a lost parrot outside. I was worried for the lost parrot because it is cold. I was already thinking that I would have to contact Debbie, Jenny and Ann from Phoenix Landing to see what to do with the parrot if I was able to catch him or her. I quickly got up, got dressed, got a flashlight, put my shoes and jacket on and opened the door. I stood halfway outside the door and kept hearing the parrot  call. I closed the door and stepped outside. The outside light came on. I couldn’t hear the call any more. I stood there like a statue thinking that maybe the parrot saw me and went silent. I waited for a few minutes but no sound.  I thought maybe it was one of my birds making a sound I had never heard before. I opened the door and heard the sound again. I went back out thinking maybe the parrot saw me leaving and started calling again but I closed the door and again I didn’t hear anything. I came back in to go check if it was one of my birds.

As soon as I opened the door I heard the call again. Then I remembered that I was just looking at parrot web site and maybe the parrot call was coming from  there. I went back to the computer and YES, the parrot call was coming from the  Indonesian Parrot Project’s web site. I started laughing out loud. My computer is connected to a speaker box that is near the door, and the volume was set at low, that is why it sounded like it was coming from outside. Well, at least I’m  glad there is not a poor lost parrot outside in the cold. :~)
SToo11.10 bonnie

For more information about this event in Fairfax, VA on December 11th, from 10-12:30 go to www.phoenixlanding.org/events. We will have a fun auction to support the conservation efforts of the Indonesian Parrot Project. A great way to start your holiday shopping and support wild parrot conservation too!!!

November 15, 2010   1 Comment

Yet Another Cautionary Tale

Lories are brilliantly colored, playful, high-energy birds: easy to love, but difficult to clean up after. I’ve fostered lories in the past, but never adopted one. Their nectar-heavy diet results in frequent, sticky droppings. Too much work for me.

But, on the rare occasion that we have one relinquished to us, I am always curious about the bird, and wish I had enough time to care for one properly. The bird recently relinquished to Phoenix Landing sounded wonderful: friendly, and he’d even had an exam with an avian vet a few weeks before. He was being given up to Phoenix Landing for the same reason that 80 percent of the birds that come to us share: The caretaker no longer had the time to care for him. Remembering that Debbie, our MD adoption coordinator, had mentioned a family looking for a lory, I sent the information on, and very soon afterward, we had found a foster family.

We arranged for the lory to be dropped off at a recent event held on a Saturday, and I met the relinquisher outside. She was obviously distressed, sad to be giving up her companion of almost 10 years, but she knew it was for the best. She brought out bags of supplies for him, including lots of toys. He also had a powdered lory nectar diet, and she emphasized that he only consumed in the liquid form, it couldn’t be served in powder. She also said that he had increased his regurgitation lately, and that it was sexual behavior, and that the problem had gotten worse the less time she was able to spend with him.

I looked at the incredible, gorgeous creature in the sunlight. He looked to be the picture of health. I envied Jane and Pete, his new foster family, getting to share their life with something so splendid.

He regurgitated when I looked at him. He pretty much regurgitated any time someone came up to the cage. I guess he just likes everyone, I thought.

Jane took the bird home, and I thought we’d had yet another happy landing. I was certain they would adopt the lory, and I hoped she’d send out pictures soon. I really wanted to get a chance to paint a picture of that bird.

The next morning, Debbie called with some bad news: The lory was being rushed to Pender Exotics in Fairfax. He hadn’t eaten or passed food since Jane had picked him up, and he was constantly vomiting. I was confused: the relinquisher had told me the behavior was sexual, so that’s how I’d seen it. The foster family had not had the bird for even a day. But could we all be overreacting? Was this bird just stressed? He had looked so healthy.

The more Debbie and I talked about the bird’s behavior, the more alarming it sounded.

Once the bird made it to Pender, I started communicating with the vet on-call, Dr. McDonald. She suggested we start with an X-ray, to see if anything was obviously blocking his digestive tract and preventing food from getting through. The results of the X-ray were inconclusive: It appeared as though there was some strange gas patterns visible in his digestive tract, but that was all.

The next test to run was a barium series.

A barium series is a set of X-rays taken of a bird’s digestive system as a dye passes through it. Using this test, vets can see how much and how quickly food passes through the bird, and if there are any obstructions. The test takes hours to run, but it was crucial to find an obstruction (if one existed) before proceeding with medication to help food pass more quickly through the bird.

Late Sunday afternoon, Dr. McDonald called with the results: the lory was passing some, but not all, of the barium. She suspected a probable hernia and possible ulcerations in the stomach, as the syringe used to give the lory the barium had some blood on it after she administered the medicine. However, they wanted to keep the lory overnight and have Dr. Davis pick up care in the morning.

The next day, Dr. Davis called, and, after reviewing the results of the barium test and the X-ray, and considering the fact that the bird was still vomiting, she recommended exploratory surgery.

This was a really hard call to make. The surgery would be over $1, 000, and both Debbie and I agreed that we needed more information and another opinion before we could pursue this option. Jane kindly offered to help do whatever it took to get the little bird well, as she’d already come to care for him, and though the financial investment was a concern, it wasn’t my biggest one.

Surgery was risky, introducing additional stress on an already compromised animal, raising the chance of infection, and then there was that word “exploratory.” The surgery was no guarantee the vets would be able to help the bird get better. Frankly, it didn’t sound to me like he would make it through the procedure.

We decided to move him to a vet closer to Jane, and, in the process, get a second opinion. We needed a few days to arrange a space at the next vet hospital. Dr. Davis said that they could keep him stable for a day or two.

We made arrangements to get him moved, and hoped for the best.

Phone calls in the middle of the night are never good, and, sadly, Pender Exotics called to tell me the lory died in his sleep at 3:30 on Tuesday morning. Phoenix Landing had not had this bird in legal custody for three full days yet.

I talked to Dr. Davis early Tuesday, and she said he was an incredibly sweet and well socialized bird who they were very sorry to lose.

But now, we had to make a choice, should we do a necropsy? We had already spent $900 on care for this bird. But we had to know why the lory died, to make sure it was nothing contagious, even though Jane had practiced good quarantine in her home. It was vital for us to learn what had claimed this beautiful bird’s life.

Dr. Davis performed the procedure Tuesday afternoon, and then she called me with the results.

A parrot’s digestive tract starts with the mouth, goes into the crop, then into the stomach, which has two parts, the glandular proventriculus, and the muscular ventriculus (also called the gizzard). A massive wad of thread or material filled the bird’s proventriculus entirely, and partially filled the ventriculus as well, causing a hernia as the GI tract was squeezed and forced into an unnatural position. His kidneys, brown in a healthy bird, where white and had an excess of uric acid crystals. Dr. Davis said there was nothing that could have been done to save this bird.

Dr. Davis said she has seen this happen to other birds too, those that like to pick on thread or fabric. If the bird ingests tiny pieces, a mass can form that plugs the bird’s stomach. Unfortunately, he would not have survived any surgery, and the condition had been around for a while.

This experience has been heartbreaking, but it’s taught me many important lessons.

Don’t be so quick to accept that a description of a condition is the only possible explanation. What had been identified as sexual regurgitation was clearly not that to Jane. She saw a bird who is vomiting, and she reacted exactly the right way.

It has also taught me to be more vigilant about fabric, thread and material in general. Jane looked through the bird’s toys, and did see an obvious culprit, a small dishtowel hanging in the cage like a toy.

Know your bird. Watch what he plays with, and how he plays. If toys are missing pieces, find the pieces. If you don’t find the pieces, throw the toy away, no matter how much it cost you, or how much he likes it. My guess is that the washcloth was the bird’s favorite toy.

Know the difference between regurgitation related to sexual behavior and vomiting. Foster parent Pete who helped transport the lory to the vet, reported that the bird was trying desperately to eat, but vomited everything. If the bird isn’t ingesting any food and isn’t producing any droppings, the problem is serious. We have no way of knowing how long this bird had been swallowing the bits of fabric that filled his stomach and eventually killed him, but it was probably months.

Finally, I am always amazed when I think of all of the “behind the scenes” work at Phoenix Landing. It takes dedicated volunteers, lots of time, and lots of money to help parrots.

October 7, 2010   7 Comments

Egg Laying, Egg Binding, and Low Calcium

By: Debbie Russell, MD Adoption Coordinator and
Laura Ford, MD Education Coordinator

Excessive or chronic egg laying is when a hen (female parrot) is laying prolonged, excessive and larger than normal clutch sizes. There are lots of reasons for excessive egg laying. The presence of a perceived mate, be it another bird, a toy or you can be the cause of excessive egg laying. Limit the amount of physical interaction with your parrot. Touch only her head. Stroking the bird under its wings, down it back or under its tail near the vent is a no-no. You are making your parrot sexually frustrated which can also cause screaming, feather plucking and biting. An increase in daylight can bring on hormonal changes too. If your hen begins this chronic egg laying pattern, reduce the length of her day to 10-12 hours. Provide her a quiet, dark place to sleep for 12-14 hours. This may help to break her egg laying cycle. Diets rich in phytoestrogen such as soy & flax, and warm soft foods can bring on nesting behaviors. There may also be underlying physical issues that over stimulate hormone production that your vet can check for. Excessive or chronic egg laying can cause multiple health problems in parrots. They can become egg bound, develop osteoporosis, which eventually can lead to broken bones, lose weight and feathers and eventually become malnourished.

It is always wise to know the sex of your parrots. A simple DNA test can be performed by your avian vet when you take your parrot in for its annual exam and blood work. So, what is egg binding? Egg binding is the inability of a hen to pass or expel a developed or partially developed egg through the reproductive system at a normal rate. Eggs can be formed and laid without the presence of a male. If diagnosed and treated early, the outcome is usually very good. If left untreated, the parrot could die.

Kelly_egg_2010
This is an actual Quaker egg.

What causes egg binding in pet parrots? Egg binding is very common in parrots with other health problems like obesity, lack of exercise and poor diet.

If you know your parrot is a female, here are signs of egg binding; however, these will vary depending upon the severity:

  • Abdominal straining
  • Wagging or bobbing of the tail
  • Wings drooping
  • Standing with a wide stance
  • Lack of appetite
  • Leg paralysis or lameness (the egg is putting pressure on the nerves going to the legs)
  • Abdomen distended
  • Dirty vent area
  • Feathers fluffed
  • Weakness
  • Difficult breathing
  • Sitting at the bottom of the cage
  • Prolapse is possible
  • Occasionally sudden death

How is egg binding diagnosed?

Your avian veterinarian will make the diagnosis based on history, clinical signs, physical examination, radiography (x-rays) and/or ultrasound. Sometimes it is necessary to stabilize your parrot before proceeding with extensive examinations. If you think your parrot is egg bound and your vet’s office is closed, contact the local emergency clinic to see if there is an avian vet on call. If there isn’t an avian vet on call, try the following until you can get your parrot to your avian vet early the next morning:

1. Give liquid Calcium directly into the bird’s beak with an eyedropper. Liquid calcium is rapidly adsorbed and can revitalize nerves and muscles that allow the hen to push the egg out.

2. Keep you parrot warm. Place you parrot in a smaller cage or travel carrier, and sit the cage/carrier on a heating pad. DO NOT put the heating pad inside the cage/carrier. Try to get the temperature between 85 -90 degrees Fahrenheit.

3. Moisture is also very important. Humidity should be around 80%. Steam from a shower will help, but don’t give your parrot a bath. Place the small cage/carrier in a small bathroom, shut the door and turn on the shower, running very hot water to make steam.

4. Try to get your parrot to eat her favorite food and drink a little water or Gatorade. Also, water with aloe vera juice might help get the egg moving. Aloe vera juice acts as an internal lubricant.

How to treat egg binding:

Treatment will depend on lots of things such as the condition of the bird, the severity of the signs, where the egg is located, the length of time the bird has been egg bound and if the egg has passed either whole or partially. Your avian vet will know what to do for your parrot. She might need to stay at your vets in an incubator for a few days.

Things to prevent your parrot from becoming egg bound:

1. Feed a high quality diet of fresh fruits and veggies including lots of dark greens, like turnip greens, arugula, kale, collards, mustard greens, dandelions, chicory, cabbage, pak choi/bok choy, sprouted grains, legumes, and sprouted seed. Peppermint, spearmint and basil have surprisingly high amounts of calcium. Celery seed, dill seed, fennel seed, unhulled sesame seed, cumin and coriander seeds are an excellent source of calcium too. Stay away from spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens as they prevent the absorption of calcium. Cuttle bone and crushed oyster shell are NOT good sources of calcium, as they are indigestible by birds.

2. Ask your vet to recommend a calcium supplement. A good one is Calciboost. This is a liquid that provides the needed calcium, magnesium and D3 in an easily absorbed form. You add it to water or place on soft food. http://www.allbirdproducts.com/newproductpages/calciboost.html

3. Cut out all soy and flax from her diet, as they are phytoestrogen items and will stimulate excessive egg laying.

4. Begin an exercise routine for your “couch potato” hen, to strengthen her muscles.

If your parrot is laying eggs and you don’t have a male parrot, the eggs are not fertile. Let your parrot keep the eggs until she has no interest in them. If they break, try substituting plastic eggs, golf balls or small wooden balls. Another good idea is to place a beach towel on the crate of the cage and over with newspaper, so the next egg doesn’t break and you can also make sure the whole egg was expelled. Parrots usually lay eggs every other day until they have a small clutch of about 3-4 eggs. If you have a male, the eggs should be considered fertile. Poke a small hole in them with a needle or place in the freezer, or hard boil them.

Trixie_and_wooden_eggs_small
Trixie, Blue and Gold macaw sitting on her wooden eggs.

Also, your vet might suggest Lupron injections. They are expensive and don’t always work, but it’s worth trying.

Even when your bird lays eggs with seemingly no difficulties, their health can still be at risk. During the process of forming an egg, calcium is robbed from other areas of the body, such as the bones, muscles and nervous system, and can result in a condition known as hypocalcaemia. Some of the symptoms of hypocalcaemia are muscle weakness, difficulty climbing, gripping a perch, and loss of balance. The symptoms can progress into neurological issues such as twitching, spasms, toe tapping (often seen in Eclectus parrots), or the more serious seizures of an epileptic nature. These birds are also at a much higher risk of bone breakage or bent bones, known as rickets. Low calcium may even be at the root of many behavioral problems such as excessive fearfulness, aggressiveness, feather plucking or self mutilation. (It should be noted that parrots of both sexes who have a poor diet history can be susceptible to hypocalcaemia.)

As with anything related to a healthy diet, there is a synergy or balance of multiple items to be considered. Such is the case with calcium. You can feed your parrot the most calcium rich diet possible, but if there is a lack of vitamin D, calcium cannot be absorbed and metabolized. The best and safest source of vitamin D is natural sunlight. Full spectrum lighting can be used at times when the weather will not allow you to get your parrot out into the sunshine. Vitamin D supplements can be used in cases of extreme deficiency, but use caution as too much can cause renal failure.

Isn’t it ironic that we bring these wonderful parrots into our homes, give them tons of love, security, environmental enrichment, and great diets thinking we are doing “all the right things.” Then suddenly we’re faced with nesting and egg laying behaviors which can sometimes be life threatening. It’s especially ironic when for many years some of these parrots were thought to be male!

May 16, 2010   19 Comments