Category — Parrot Health & Safety
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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 (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 17 Comments
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
Imagine what five months, or longer, in a small ferret cage constructed of chicken wire can do to a blue and gold macaw? In the case of Basia (pronounced Basha), the blue and gold macaw that Phoenix Landing recently took in, it’s a lot more, and a lot less, than you’d think. This inappropriate cage was the key to figuring out his persistent vomiting, but his isolation and mistreatment didn’t break his spirit.
Sarah, our West Virginia coordinator, was contacted by a family who owned a bird who was much loved by one of the family members, but, unfortunately, this person had died a number of months ago. The rest of the family wanted nothing to do with Basia the blue and gold macaw, and kept him alone in a room in a small cage for months. When Sarah understood how desperate the situation was for this bird, she immediately began looking for a solution. Without any open foster homes in West Virginia, she contacted Debbie and me, looking for homes in Virginia and Maryland. Fortunately, we had a home in Virginia that was eager to give Basia a new place to land.
Basia was transported by Maryland volunteer David, who fostered him for a few days, and picked up a large donated cage for him. He said he was immediately struck with how social Basia was. Left in a room by himself for months at a time, Basia wanted nothing more then to interact with people.
Laura and Jeff, a Phoenix Landing foster family, picked Basia up from David, and also remarked on how much he wanted to interact, especially with Laura. Very soon after coming home, Basia was spending time with the whole family and fitting right in. However, there was something wrong with him. He was vomiting.
Basia was taken in for a well bird exam and a Complete Blood Count (CBC). Phoenix Landing pays for most birds to have this important medical baseline. Basia’s white blood cell count was elevated at 40,000, which is twice the upper limit of what’s considered healthy for a macaw (20,000 may be acceptable to indicate stress during a vet visit). Basia went on a 10-day course of antibiotics, and though he bit some syringes in half, he took his meds pretty well.
Unfortunately, the vomiting and weight loss continued.
Laura and Jeff, like all of our wonderful foster families, are patient and compassionate. They took Basia back to the vet after the first round of antibiotics was almost complete. Because the symptoms persisted, Dr. Richards at Pender Exotics did a crop wash to test for the presence of fungus or bacteria. Both were found, though, there was a bit of good news: Basia’s white blood cell count on the second blood draw had dropped to 20,000.
Dr. Richards suggested an Aspergillosis test, because Basia had a slight cough, and because he had come from a filthy environment. Dr. Richards also suggested different antibiotics to treat the bacterial and fungal infections, as well as adding apple cider vinegar to Basia’s water.
Laura and I were talking about Basia’s treatment s few days before the results of the Aspergillosis test came back. Basia was still vomiting, and we were stumped. We talked through everything that he had been tested for, and everything he’d been treated for.
All of a sudden it popped into my head: What about heavy metal toxicity?
I had recently had one of my birds tested for this, and I knew that vomiting could be related. The more we talked about where Basia came from, and especially his cage, the more it made sense. Basia could have ingested a piece of the galvanized chicken wire on the cage he was in for months. Laura brought up this possibility with Dr. Richards, who suggested an X-ray, combined with a blood draw to test for elevated zinc and lead levels. Fortunately, Pender Exotics does not anesthetize a bird to do an X-ray, which is something I always worry about in treatment.
A few days later, after Basia’s appointment I talked to Dr. Richards. The Aspergillosis test had come back negative, and the X-ray hadn’t revealed anything either. She saw no foreign bodies, and no apparent pieces of metal in Basia, but we’d have to wait for the test results to come back to confirm that heavy metal toxicity was not the problem. I worried that we might never find the reason for Basia’s persistent vomiting, and he would continue to suffer. Though thankfully, on last weigh-in, Basia had actually gained a little.
A few days later, we had our answer.
Basia’s zine levels were more than twice the normal limit for a bird. What a relief that we’d finally found the cause for his symptoms, and that it was something that could be treated. The treatment is chelation therapy, continued monitoring and retesting to confirm that the zinc is finally removed from his body. While Basia isn’t healed, we now know why he’s sick, and what to do about it.
I wanted to share Basia’s story for a number of reasons. His story is by no means typical, but it isn’t unique either. Most birds do not come to Phoenix Landing with extensive medical problems, but some do. It took the hard work and dedication of many folks (Sarah, David, Jeff, Laura, Debbie, myself, Dr. Richards and the staff of Pender) to get this bird on the right track and to save his life. It also took a lot of money! Phoenix Landing has paid over $500 in vet bills so far for Basia’s treatment. This amount will certainly double, if not triple, by the time we’re done.
We’re happy to help Basia to get well, but helping parrots takes time and money. If you can donate to us to help with vet costs, wonderful. If you’re a federal employee, don’t forget about us when you complete your CFC contribution (our number is 31469). And, above all, keep learning about good parrot care, and how to keep your bird healthy. If Basia had been housed in a safe cage, it is likely none of this would have happened.
September 15, 2010 9 Comments