Here’s How to Feed the Eclectus Parrot in Human Care

(from Q2 2017 issue of In Your Flock pet bird magazine)

With Dr. Rob Marshall

Owners of Eclectus parrots (Eclectus roratus) know these precious birds have different dietary needs than have African greys (Psittacus erithacus), cockatoos (Cacatuidae), conures (Aratinga/Pyrrhura) or other parrots. One of the well-known reasons for the specialized diet conversation is the “different” gastro-intestinal system Eclectus parrots have when compared to other psittacines. Rob Marshall B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc. (Avian Health) at Carlingford Animal Hospital in New South Wales, Australia, shared the key features of Eclectus digestion:

Eclectus parrot pet bird magazine
Rocco Jr is a two-year-old Eclectus. His meals consist of 80 percent fresh vegetables and fruit, and 20 percent mix of high quality pellets, seed mix and nut treats. The chopped mix his owner, Sarah Juarez, has made for him here includes apples, pears, blueberries, spinach, kale, grapes, strawberries, sweet peppers, Serrano peppers, home grown sprouts, mellon, chia, hulled hemp, bee pollen granules, and Volkman Eclectus mix. Photo courtesy Sarah Juarez
  • a large crop size
  • a wide thoracic esophagus
  • a highly elastic and spacious proventriculus, which allows food much time to linger in it
  • short food-passage time in the gizzard
  • rapid movement of food through the small intestine after leaving the gizzard, and
  • highly regulated crop emptying.

Gastric function is key to healthy digestion in these parrots, so we’ll take a look at the physical and chemical disintegration of food as it goes through the three stages of protein digestion. This will show the science behind the field observations supporting Marshall’s recommendations for feeding the Eclectus in human care.

As Branson Ritchie, DVM, PhD, Dipl ABVP, Dipl ECAMS, professor at UGA® College of Veterinary Medicine, Georgia, shared with the audience at Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary, Inverness, Florida, April 2, 2017, observing the wild population of a given parrot species offers the perfect clues for feeding that species in human care. “The best thing you can do for your bird is look at where it occurs naturally, and supplement its high-quality food with foods from that habitat,” Ritchie counseled us.

Marshall’s research of wild Eclectus offers valuable observations of behavior that not only reveal tips for what to feed the Eclectus in human care, the observations also reveal tips for how to offer these foods. It all makes even more sense when we look inside the bird.

Inside the Ekkie

First, Marshall points out, food goes through the cephalic phase. As food enters the proventriculus from the crop, the proventriculus fills with peptic enzymes to help break down protein molecules before sending food to the gizzard. One of Marshall’s presentations shows Pepsin and food filling the proventriculus together.

Second, Marshall points out, food goes through the gastric phase. As food enters the ventriculus—also called the gizzard or hind stomach—the ventriculus fills with hydrochloric acid (HCL) to denature the protein bonds in the food.

One of the intriguing habits Marshall and his colleagues witnessed in the field, and something Eclectus parrot owners have commented on, is the manner in which these parrots consume seeds. The astute owner will notice the Eclectus spending considerable time munching and crunching seeds and arils before consuming them.

Marshall explained to In Your Flock magazine readers what we’re seeing: “They break the seed into smaller pieces, better exposing them to stomach acids, which reduces the workload of the gizzard. The gizzard in Eclectus is prone to overload because it has evolved on a soft food wild diet of fruit pulp.”

Third, food goes through the intestinal phase. Fast transit time and advanced protein digestion indicate a healthy digestive system. Marshall pointed out: “In clinical practice, functional digestive problems are encountered far more frequently in Eclectus than other parrot species.”

watery droppings Eclectus parrot
This picture shows watery droppings from a female Eclectus. Photo courtesy Editor Sandy Lender

Eclectus parrot owners can tell their birds may be experiencing digestive problems when they see the typical health clues. Look for changes in droppings and dropping consistency. If the first morning dropping has bubbles and/or extra water, it’s time to make a veterinary appointment. Marshall states that feather stress bars, feather discoloration and feather loss are signs of chronic digestive dysfunction. If your Eclectus parrot is plucking and barbering his or her feathers, don’t assume the problem is mere stress or boredom. Look at digestive health. Take your bird to the vet and discuss real Eclectus dietary needs.

“Ninety-five percent of feather destruction behaviors in Eclectus have a physical base,” Marshall shared with In Your Flock. “Digestion dysfunction is the most common cause of feather destruction. This must be identified and resolved in the early stages before the destructive actions become habituated. They become habituated largely because the owners tell the birds to stop picking when they see the self-destruct, which causes an attention-seeking behavioral problem. Habituation occurs in birds that are sedentary and lack exercise so their focus is on feather picking, which becomes a habit. Therefore, the feather destruction problem has physical and behavioral aspects. Even so, the feather destruction behavior will persist if the underlying physical cause is not attended to. These behaviors are definitely not related to boredom or misdirected foraging behavior.”

Let’s look to the field research that both Ritchie and Marshall put a high value on to see naturally occurring foraging behavior, and to learn more about the wild population’s dietary practices.

Wild Ekkie Life

Eclectus Parrot Female
Bobo’s age is unknown, but her recent history is complex. She has recently discovered the tastiness of a chopped vegetable mix with fruit diced on top. She also enjoys pesticide-free hibiscus flowers. Photo courtesy Sandy Lender

The family tree is the focal point of Eclectus life with the female showing an urgent need to protect the nest. She will stay at the nest site while a group of males goes out to forage twice a day, and return with food for her. While studying Eclectus in the wild, Marshall and colleagues investigated the wild diet and feeding habits of a family group of three males and one female of the Australian subspecies (E. roratus macgillivray) found in the lowland rainforests of Iron Range on Cape York Peninsular, Australia.

They observed the three males leave the family’s Kajoolaboo tree (Tetrameles nudiflora) together at first light to forage along the Claudie River. One broke away from the mini group to forage near the shoreline while the other two flew ahead. All three returned within a reasonable timespan of one another to the family tree. In the afternoon, all three went foraging together again. The next morning, at first light, they were off again, soaring into the forest canopy to find breakfast.

Marshall states this wild feeding behavior is highly regular, intermittent and offers enhanced protein digestion for the Eclectus parrot’s unique digestive system. For healthy digestion, these birds in human care must follow a similar morning and afternoon mealtime routine.

He told In Your Flock: “In the wild, Eclectus will fill their crops with food over a period of an hour or so in the morning. They eat on an empty stomach. The food eaten during this time will fill up the stomach and stretch it to capacity, which is critical to the gastric secretion of Hydrochloric acid and pepsin. In the evening, the crop and stomach have emptied of food and the same process of digestion follows according to the principles of gastric secretion. Ultimately, this produces a fast transit time of food through the gut, which underpins their healthy digestive function.”

Where owners often go wrong, Marshall pointed out, is in feeding foods that “reduce the rate of food passage through the gut, which predisposes Eclectus to many complicated digestion disorders.”

parrot magazine definitions

“In our study, Eclectus parrots were seen eating succulent pulp from the fruit of Salacia chinensis and Leea indica. The textural qualities, water and nutrient content of these fruits are typical of canopy foods eaten by Eclectus parrots, which make up the bulk of their natural diet.” (See Sidebar “Wild Diet” at the end of this article.)

In our homes, Marshall pointed out, “Eclectus parrots are commonly fed according to granivory, which explains their high incidence of diet-induced digestive problems. Such problems are averted and remedied by adopting feeding schedules that better suit a digestion model weighted towards frugivory.”

Marshall told In Your Flock readers: “Cultivated fruits lack the nutritional richness of rainforest fruits. Therefore, we move towards cooked vegetables as a source of nutrients, and these are cooked to provide the functional requirements for healthy digestion in Eclectus. The foundation vegetables for Eclectus are cooked butternut pumpkin (squash), sweet potato, boiled rice and cooked legumes. On top of these we place fleshy commercially grown papaya, mango, passionfruit, pomegranate, kiwi fruit and dragonfruit. But these are sources of vitamins and microminerals rather than major nutrients and functional foods.

“In addition, you can add green beans, kale, carrot, and corn as foraging foods.”

 

——WILD DIET——

During Dr. Rob Marshall’s observations of the Eclectus family in September through November 2015, he and colleagues started with an unpublished list of 17 fruits that researcher Sarah Legge at Iron Range National Park on Cape York, Australia, had observed in the park between December 1996 and November 2003. During the study, Marshall and colleagues confirmed the use of 15 of those original 17 fruits, plus 13 plant parts that could be added to the list. In a paper presented to the Association of Avian Veterinarians, Marshall lists the following confirmed Eclectus foods:

Fruits with soft, fleshy skin

Canarium spp.

Black Sassafrass (Cinnamonum olivieri)

Cissus pentaclada

Cissus repens

Ficus spp.

Leea indica

Mackinlaya confuse

Acid Drop (Melodorum leichhardtii)

Lime berry (Micromelum minutum)

Solitaire Palm (Ptychosperma elegans)

Lolly Vine (Salacia chinensis)

Damson Plum (Terminalia sericocarpa)

Watery Rose-apple (Syzygium aqueum)

Lilly Pilly (Syzigium luehmannii)

Lady Apple (Syzygium suborbiculare)

 

Fruits that contain seeds surrounded by aril

Golden Guinea tree (Dillenia alata)

Tuckeroo (Cupaniopsis anacardioides)

Buttonwoods (Glochidion spp.)

Fire Vine (Tetracera nordtiana)

Brittlewood (Claoxylon spp.)

Northern Tamarind (Diploglottis diphyllosteia)

 

Fruits containing edible seeds

Black wattle (Acacia meloanoxylon)

Pink Ash (Alphitonia petrei)

White Ash (Alphitonia whitei)

Red Ash (Alphitonia excelsa)

Hopbush (Dodonea lanceolata var. subsessifolia)

Grewia (Grewia papuana)

Native Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstomera archeriana)

Blush Macaranga (Macaranga tanarius)

Macaranga (Macaranga involcrata)

Celerywood (Polyscias elegans)

Cape Tamarind (Toechima daemelianum)

 

The Plucking Series — Part 6

Winston’s Awesome Blood

By Sandy Lender

boing eclectus In Your Flock parrot magazine
Winston hangs out on one of the boings at In Your Flock magazine headquarters at the beginning of the fifth week of our case study.

Thursday of last week, Winston returned to the vet to “try again” for a blood draw to do a complete blood count (CBC). In great news, he handled the visit very well. The vet was able to draw blood more easily than four weeks ago. Winston’s skin is nicely pink again. His body condition has improved. Where the vet considered him a 6.5 out of 9 on a body condition score four weeks ago, he’s closer to a healthy 5 now.

Winston’s vet called Monday morning to report on what the CBC revealed. More great news! White cell count is normal. Platelet count is normal. No parasitic indications. No cell tearing. Every indication is that Winston is “remarkably healthy.”

Factor in the nice-n-easy weight loss while he’s increasing his movement, and we’re on the right track.

Eclectus at In Your Flock magazine
Bobo is one of Winston’s friends here at In Your Flock headquarters. She takes a turn climbing on the playgym here.

Getting Winston’s weight under control was an extra facet of this case study. Our goal is to help him stop the feather-destructive behavior. Sunday morning’s weigh-in showed him at 508 to 509 grams, so he held steady for the week.

At this time, he’s still receiving Bird Hemp by Hemp Well on his food once a day, and I’m not seeing a significant change in his plucking habit yet. This is only the fifth week using the hemp oil. I’m relieved to see no increase in plucking as his food portions have been “messed with.” But we’ll need to watch and wait and see how his exercise, portion control, Bird Hemp regimen, and tender loving care carry him through the spring and into the summer. We’ll check back in on Winston in a few weeks.

The Plucking Series — Part 5

Winston’s Weight

By Sandy Lender

Eclectus feather plucking belly comparison
Here we can see Winston’s progress leaving some feathers in place from week 1 to the end of week 4/beginning of week 5.

To begin this week, Winston threw me for a loop with an odd weigh-in on Sunday. I think it was an anomaly with the scale. Monday brought a more reasonable weight of 507 grams. This means Winston has lost 11 grams since his vet appointment a few weeks ago, and that’s great. In other good news, he has more feathers that he’s leaving alone. I can see by the feathers on the tray liner each morning that he hasn’t stopped pulling feathers altogether, but he’s leaving more “in” his body. He has a follow-up with his vet this week to get the blood draw for his CBC that they were unable to perform last time.

What other feather-growth or feather-destructive experiences are going on out there?

The Plucking Series — Part 4

Here’s What We’re Doing for Winston

By Sandy Lender

Eclectus feather plucking breakfast week 4
Winston’s Week 4 breakfast example shows one dish of fresh veggies and two dishes of dry pellets that get spread around different locations in his cage.

Before we dive into this week’s update on Winston the Eclectus, I want to invite readers to share in the comments below their experiences with their feather-plucking birds. The point of this case study is to share information and educate one another on practices that have helped our birds. In the second post of this case study, titled “What Winston and I Have Tried So Far,” I listed the host of methods we’ve tried to date to interrupt his feather destructive habit. At that time, I began a new method.

Winston has just begun Week 4 of taking a new product called Bird Hemp by Hemp Well, Auburn Hills, Michigan. It is designed to calm his desire to munch on his feathers or skin. During Global Pet Expo (GPE) in Orlando in 2017, there were a handful of vendors promoting hemp-related products to help calm pets and alleviate anxiety. At GPE this year, you couldn’t turn around without seeing a banner or flyer for a company promoting a help-related product. They were everywhere. Those products were designed to calm dogs and cats. To use the products with birds, you have to scale down doses and do funky math. I’m not good with funky math. Luckily, the folks at Hemp Well have already scaled one of their products (with a second coming online soon) for pet birds.

I’m including information about the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the Q2 issue of In Your Flock, along with information on what does and does not cause a psychoactive effect in a pet. Rest assured, I’m not offering Winston a magic carpet ride. What I’m giving him is a fighting chance to calm anxiety if anxiety is the reason he continues this plucking habit. His veterinarian has read the information and is cool with watching these results as well.

As I shared in Post 3, “What’s Inside Winston,” the poor guy has some fat to lose. I’ve got him exercising and moving around more than usual on a daily basis. Winston Exercising Week4 He’s gone from 518 grams to 514 grams now, which is the right direction. A friend who came over Saturday commented that he has more green feathers on his chest than the last time she saw him. I’m not counting feathers, but I am noticing fewer feathers on the bottom of the cage during “poop tray liner change” each morning. That’s also the right direction.

Eclectus feather plucking belly comparison
Winston has lost 4 grams in four weeks, and seems to have at least slowed the feather destructive activity.

I’d like to hear/read what other bird owners have tried successfully, and what you have tried without success. You can share openly in the comments below, or you can contact me privately at publisher at inyourflock dot com to share ideas and methods.

The Plucking Series — Part 3

What’s Inside Winston

Winston climbs
Winston climbs downward. There are treats in the foraging cups behind him and in the coconut hut he’s headed toward. Food is a motivator for movement.

For the third week of Winston’s case study, we’ll begin with the startling results of his blood work. His veterinarian had difficulty getting a good amount of blood for all of his well-bird workups when he had his checkup April 5. His skin was a bit yellow and the veins somewhat hidden. This was alarming in itself. Winston typically has pink skin on his adorable belly, which is the only “skin” I regularly move fluffy feathers to look at. Even his belly skin had a bit of a yellow “tint” to it that morning, which took me completely by surprise. The vet calmed me down…

His blood work came back with no elevated markers for liver problems, thank goodness! But Mr. Winston is chubby. I am embarrassed by the fatness that has crept into his body while under my watch. He had dropped 56 grams in the 15 months since his last well-bird checkup, but he still weighs 518 grams. His blood sugar level is too high—349 when a normal range for parrots is between 145 and 245, with eclectus typically hanging around the low end of that range. His protein level is a bit low—total protein is 4.1 g/dL and albumin level is 1.9 g/dL.

Needless to say, Winston is on a new exercise regimen where I encourage him to walk around the house, climb over little obstacles I pile on the floor for him, and climb along the jungle gym that hangs from the dining room ceiling. He has no qualms about digging through foraging systems for treats, so the foraging systems are part of the jungle gym he must traverse.

I’m also increasing his bath times. He loves to bathe, and makes quite a production out of dipping, splashing, flapping, and then climbing to a perch to rest before returning to the bath bowl to dip, splash, and flap some more. A good bath for Winston can last half an hour. That’s good exercise for a perch potato.

So far, Winston has gained 2 grams.

This means we have more work to do to get the fat deposits away.

We will be going back to the vet for another blood panel in a few months.

For now, the increased interactions during exercise time and extra bath times are offering a different/new pattern of enrichment. We’ll see if this increase in activity helps distract him from feather-plucking.

Eclectus feather plucking fruit with breakfast
Winston’s breakfast during week three included a wee bit of fruit one morning. Notice the world’s smallest bite of banana amid about half a tablespoon of pomegranate arils, a yellow sweet pepper, some yellow summer squash, a bite of turnip, and some dehydrated peas. In the dry-food dish, Winston’s preferred ZuPreem natural pellets, Pretty Bird natural gold pellets, dehydrated peas, about a quarter of an avicake and one nutriberry round out the morning’s offerings.

For his dietary needs, I’ve lessened the amount of pellets (not by much) offered each day. I’ve also added some beans and soaked foods into the rotation to help increase his healthy protein intake. For example, one morning I offered a heaping tablespoon of Volkman’s Featherglow Soak & Simmer mix with beans and lentils. One morning I offered a tablespoon of Worldly Cuisines African Sunset with quinoa. This was in addition to his tablespoon of chopped veggie mix or cut up peppers, etc. I keep a nice variety in the dishes for him so there’s plenty of interest, plenty of choice. My next step, courtesy of my friend CB Buckley, is to place portions of Winston’s breakfast in different areas of his cage so he must move around and stretch to get his food. I’ll report back on his opinion of that next week when I share the anti-anxiety remedy I’ve instituted as well.

Full Disclosure: I haven’t gotten the permission of Winston’s vet to share names/info yet, so I don’t want to blast the clinic’s information all over the Internet until I have clearance to do so.

The Plucking Series—Part 2

What Winston and I Have Tried So Far

parrot pet bird magazine jungle gym
During the second week of our case study, Winston climbed around on the rope perches and parrot jungle gym at In Your Flock pet bird magazine headquarters.

Since Winston came to live with me February/March 2013, I’ve had four veterinarians attempt to get to the root of his feather-plucking habit. Next week, we’ll examine his current blood work from this year’s annual well-bird check-up, but let’s start with history before we move to the future.

Winston has a single owner now. Me. This has been his stability since 2013. Full Disclosure: I had a partner who offered a dangerous situation for a short while, but I resolved that.

Winston has a large cage (24 inches deep by 31 inches wide by 48 inches tall at its highest/curved point) where he can stretch his wings without touching the sides of the cage. He climbs around in it on a variety of perches and branches to shred a variety of toys. He has access to play stands (table-top and stand-alone) when he’s out of the cage, and he uses me as a tree. He is not shy about walking across the center of the living room floor and then climbing up the side of the couch and up the side of me to sit on me while I type. Recently, I have installed rope perches and several swings from the dining room ceiling, and he enjoys climbing around on those. This bird gets some exercise, but I’ll be increasing that. As I increase his activity level, I’ll document what “we” are doing for your edification.

bird breakfast Eclectus pepper zupreem peas
Here’s an example of Winston’s typical breakfast. On the left, we have ZuPreem natural pellets and Pretty Bird natural gold pellets with some dehydrated peas and three nutriberries (one was broken/partial). On the right, we have a tablespoon of beta-carotene-rich chopped veggies and one orange sweet pepper with its seeds. The chopped veggies are wet (of course) so they are easy to mix-and-hide Winston’s calming medicine in.

His current diet is this:

Each morning, he gets one dish of ZuPreem natural pellets with several Lafeber’s Nutri-berries and either a shelled almond or a pistachio (in shell), and one dish with a heaping tablespoon of chopped veggies, which may include a slice of banana, a sweet pepper (yellow or orange—he doesn’t care for the red ones), or some other fresh item that’s in season. The dish of veggies/fresh food is removed after one or two hours, depending on my schedule.

Each afternoon/evening, he gets some fruit and/or a few Nutri-berries and/or a Caitec baked birdie munchie, etc. Basically, the offering late in the day is more “treat time,” but I try to stay aware of his fiber needs.

First Thing: reduce the colorful stuff

When Winston came to me, his diet consisted of Pretty Bird Eclectus blend and some other refined pellets that had artificial colors. While the Pretty Bird food made his breath smell lovely and wonderful, I was advised by his vet to remove artificial colors from the eclectus diet. (His breath is still wonderful, musky, and hyperventilation-worthy.)

Second Thing: don’t experiment with pollen

At one point, I purchased a tea blend from a company with a name that sounds like a retirement community. Winston’s reaction to the blend was a slow increase in scratching and plucking. I went through a number of steps to isolate what he was reacting to: chamomile. Apparently, Winston is allergic to chamomile, which some birds find calming.

Eclectus feather plucking exercise treats parrot
Winston spent some time working for his treats during the second week of our case study.

Third Thing: keep the scary collar away

In the five+ years that Winston has lived with me, he has bitten me once. The bite was entirely my fault; I was assisting a friend in putting a leathery collar around his neck (we were actually in the process of removing it because he had stumbled and fallen trying to walk with the thing on) and he clamped down on the only solid thing in front of his face. My thumb. When he realized he had my thumb, he let go. I’ve never tried to put a collar on him since, and I truly hope I never have to again. He seemed so distressed that I feared his frightened heart rate was going to hurt him.

Fourth Thing: quit the ekkie seeds

During Winston’s well-bird check-up Dec. 15, 2016, the veterinarian shared concern about the Eclectus-blend of seeds that I included in his breakfast dish each day. She stated, outright, that seeds are fattening and won’t give him the nutrients he needs. On that day, Winston weighed 574 grams. (He now weighs 518 grams.)

Fifth Thing: calm the waters

Also during Winston’s well-bird check-up at the end of 2016, the veterinarian decided I should put him on an anti-anxiety medication via his water to see if this helped deter his plucking. She prescribed red raspberry extract, at 2 to 4 drops per 8 ounces of drinking water to be used in conjunction with HomeoPet Anxiety Drops, also at 2 to 4 drops per 8 ounces of drinking water. I’ve been putting that mix together in his water bottle for 15 months, but seeing no change in his plucking habit.

Sixth Thing: embark on 2018

Now it’s time to try something entirely new. Next week, we’ll look at Winston’s current blood work and discuss what his current vet thinks of my new idea.

The Plucking Series—Part 1

Winston’s Story

In Your Flock feather plucking Eclectus progress
Winston has no fear of new toys or new perches. He’s always up for new fun.

By Editor Sandy Lender

In late 2012, I lived in Southwest Florida and visited a pet store just a bit north of my home. That store had an adorable, partially plucked, male eclectus in the front area who would happily say “hello” when I walked in. He was not available for adoption because the store owner [we’ll call her Jane] had adopted him from a local veterinarian and wished to keep and love him. He’d been at the store for about a year as her friend.

When a life change took Jane to a new occupation in another part of the country, the eclectus stayed behind and needed a new “forever friend.” I’m a sucker; that friend was me.

Before Winston came home with me, we spent time together at the store to make sure it was a good match. The store’s new proprietor put me in touch with Winston’s former owner [a veterinarian we’ll call VT], who told me his tale.

As best we know, when Winston was probably two years old, he went on an adventure outside of his original owner’s home. The original owner put flyers up around her neighborhood with Winston’s description and her phone number. When VT found Winston on his adventure-in-the-hood, VT took him to work for a quick check-up and called his first mom.

His first mom refused him. She refused him saying her eclectus would react to her differently than Winston did.

In Your Flock feathers pluck Eclectus series
Winston takes time out of playing to preen. This is Day 1 of the new regimen we’ll be talking about in this series.

This horrifies me to this day.

So Winston lived with VT’s family for about 13 or so years. He enjoyed an outdoor aviary for part of that time. He had an African grey for a cage mate at one time and a female eclectus as a cage mate at another time. I don’t remember the sequence in which the following events happened, but Winston witnessed one of his cage mates being killed by a hawk and one of them being killed by a raccoon. It breaks my heart to know he had to live through such frightening things.

By 2012, circumstances in VT’s life made it necessary for Winston to find a new home. That’s when he went to Jane’s store where he could be seen as an adoptable bird. About a year later, he chose me to be his human servant.

Now it’s 2018. As best I know, I believe Winston is 19 years old. He has plucked his feathers since before he lived at the store in Southwest Florida, which means he has plucked for at least six years. It’s a fully formed habit. In this series, we’ll look at the efforts I’ve made to help him break the habit, we’ll look at his health records/blood work, and we’ll look at a new concept to try to help these chronic feather-pluckers.

 

Full disclosure: I was never told the name of Winston’s first/original owner who refused him that fateful day at the vet’s office. All names have been obscured in Winston’s story so no one will feel vilified. No one is “to blame” for pieces of Winston’s past. Each person has contributed to bringing him good things and to bringing him to a wonderfully spoiled life with me.

Debunk Sprouting Myths

by Leslie Moran

Editor’s Note: It’s a fact that Slimy Crop is a diagnosable condition your avian vet can help you resolve if you have failed to sprout properly. Let’s start a discussion of not only good sprouting habits, but also which seeds—not necessarily beans—are best for sprouting by reading Moran’s good information here first, and then sharing a logical and professional discussion afterward. It will be great to share knowledge with the group!

sprouting sprouts parrot magazine
Sprouts with tails; photo courtesy Leslie Moran

A bird owner named Marilyn said her avian veterinarian told her to never feed sprouts to any parrot. “She hates them because she has treated so many birds who got bacterial infections from eating sprouts,” Marilyn shared. This is only one of the sweeping generalizations commonly made about feeding sprouts to parrots.

When taking a poll of why people are feeding sprouts to their birds each of these avian caretakers expressed an understanding of the relationship between the food and health. People have told me they want to feed their birds healthier, more nutritious foods because they want them to be healthier and happier birds with beautiful feathers.

To discuss this topic let’s first dispel two common myths and explain the benefits sprouts offer to a bird’s diet and overall health.

False: “It’s dangerous to feed sprouts to parrots because the birds will get bacterial and fungal infections from them.”

True: There can be dangers associated with low quality, poorly formulated sprouting blends that have been improperly grown. Those dangers can include birds getting bacterial or fungal infections. To avoid this common pitfall and have your birds be able to safely receive the nutritional benefits of sprouts you must be able to recognize the components of a quality sprouting blend. The best sprouting blend for your birds is one that is certified organic, has been formulated with a compatible germination and growth rate, and provides complete protein. Let’s look at these three components.

I recommend selecting certified organic foods for birds; such foods contain more nutrition and are grown in a manner that supports life on this earth while being free of the harmful pesticides, fungicides and nitrogen fertilizers that pollute our planet. The report, Pesticides and Human Health, by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) documents these chemicals as causing myriad health problems and diseases. Certified organic bird foods can be made from human-grade quality ingredients; look for this on the label.

For germination, timing is critical. When you plant a garden, do each of the different plants germinate and grow at the same rate? Of course not. Each seed species requires a slightly different set of conditions that causes it to germinate and burst forth growing into a flowering plant.

When sprouting for your birds you’ll want to use a sprouting blend that has been formulated so it has a compatible germination and growth rate. This ensures your sprouts can safely grow for two to three days to reach optimum nutrition levels.

If you see a sprouting blend composed of mainly seeds and grains, such as millet, niger (nyjer), flax, wheat, barley, sunflower and safflower seeds, be forewarned. These types of blends often instruct you to soak and then feed them. In my experience these directions are given because these blends will not grow for two to three days to reach optimum nutrition levels. Commonly, this is the case because the ingredients have such diverse growing needs they quickly become a dangerous moldy mess.

Even blends that add a token garbanzo bean (chick pea) or a few lentils cannot be trusted to have compatible germination and growth rates. To get around these dangers, some people feed individual sprouted foods or make their own blends. These solutions eliminate the concerns of bacteria and mold developing from incompatible germination and growth rates; however, they fall short in providing adequate, wholesome avian nutrition because they lack complete protein.

Proteins are essential to life. Every living organism is composed of protein. Proteins are the primary building blocks for muscles, blood, skin, feathers, nails and vital internal organs. They are also essential for proper growth and development, and they fuel the body’s ability to form and regulate hormones, enzymes and antibodies. Proteins are responsible for every life-sustaining biochemical process in the body. However, too much protein from the wrong sources can cause problems.

In the published paper, “Estimated nutrient content of diets commonly fed to pet birds,” by L. Hess, DVM, G. Mauldin, DVM, MS, and K Rosenthal, DVM, MSc, the authors reported that 80 percent of the birds in the study consumed less crude protein than recommended for basic body maintenance. With protein being vital for the good health of our birds, concerned caretakers must start feeding plant-based foods that provide complete protein.

False: “…soaked seeds are more nutritious than sprouted seeds.”

True: There is no health or nutritional benefit from feeding soaked seeds or other foods intended for sprouting in non-sprouted form. Scientific documentation clearly shows that feeding soaked seed is nutritionally inferior to feeding sprouts that have been grown for several days. In my work I have witnessed that feeding soaked seeds produces the same results as feeding dry seeds. I teach my clients to wean their birds off all dry seeds, or to limit them to less than 5 percent of all foods fed.

Let’s explore this myth by describing the differences among soaking, germination, and sprouting.

  • Soaking is the process of putting any sproutable food—seeds, grains, legumes or nuts—in water for a period of time. When a seed is soaked it absorbs water. This triggers biochemical reactions inside the seed and germination begins.
  • Germination is the process through which a plant begins its growth and development from a seed. During this phase biochemical reactions inside the seed are just beginning.
  • Sprouting occurs after the seed is soaked, has begun to germinate and is allowed to grow. Sprouting is the process of cultivating a garden in a jar, or other sprouting container, over a period of several days.

The best way to ensure your birds receive advanced avian nutrition from the sprouts you are feeding them is to get a blend that will grow for two to three days. Because soaking and germination begins the process, sprouting—growing the food for a period of days—is where we see nutrition levels reach their peak.

Value the Nutrition

If there was ever an avian superfood, properly grown sprouts are it. Soaking and germination initiates the process where life-enhancing biochemical changes occur to a sprout while it grows.

According to Brian Clement, Ph.D., LNC, in the book Living Foods for Optimum Health, germination results when seeds, grains, legumes and nuts are soaked in water. Water removes certain metabolic inhibitors that protect the seed from bacterial growth while also preserving it during its dormant state. During germination the seed springs into life, increasing its nutritional value and digestibility.

In the landmark study “Nutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting,” J. Chavan and S.S. Kadam discovered, “Sprouting grains causes increased activities of hydrolytic enzymes, improvements in the contents of total proteins, fat, certain essential amino acids, total sugars, B-complex vitamins, and a decrease in dry matter, starch and anti-nutrients. Improvements in amino acid composition, B-complex vitamins, sugars, protein and starch digestibility, and decrease in phytates and protease inhibitors are the metabolic effects of the sprouting process.”

During the sprouting process protein levels increase over growing time. Vitamins are created and levels multiply with growth.

According to Isabel Shipard in the book How Can I Grow and Use Sprouts as Living Food?, “Vitamins, by nature, are very perishable. The fresher foods are when eaten, the higher the vitamin content. The vitamin content of some sproutable foods can increase by up to 20 times their original value after several days of sprouting. When mung bean sprouts are compared to the dry legumes, the sprouts have B vitamin increases, of — B1(thiamine) up 285%, B2 (riboflavin) up 515%, and B3 (niacin) up 256%. When compared with mature vegetable plants, sprouts can yield vitamin contents 30 times higher than vegetables.”

When barley was soaked, germinated and allowed to grow, the longer the grain grew, the higher the vitamin levels. Certain vitamins such as alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin-E) and beta-carotene (Vitamin-A precursor) are produced during the growth process. See Chart.

Vitamin C is nearly nonexistent in dry grains. In P.L. Finney’s study vitamin C levels in sprouted foods, with three to five days of growth, ranged between 9 mg and 326 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams of sprouts, depending upon the food being sprouted.

These studies provide the necessary evidence that sprouts are more nutritious than soaked seeds.

Anecdotally, since birds joined my family in 1997, I have been using my background in holistic nutrition, which began in the 1970s, to establish the best way to use food as medicine for them. My life’s work has led me to make some life-affirming decisions about what makes up proper nutrition for parrots and finches. In my experience a properly formulated, certified organic sprouting blend that contains complete protein and can be grown for two to three days is the ideal foundational food for these birds.

I’ve poured over sprouting data accumulated by the scientific research community spanning the past four decades and the researchers have reached a conclusion: The consensus across the board is that foods that are soaked, germinated and allowed to grow for a period of time become more nutrient-dense the longer they grow. And, we’re seeing positive clinical results; health improves in parrots and finches following my feeding guidelines.

Avian malnutrition is a vital topic for everyone who owns and cares for birds. It’s essential that accurate and responsible information be presented on all aspects of balanced and wholesome avian nutrition.

Sprout a PDD Discussion

Due to the superior nutritional content of a sprouting blend that meets the criteria discussed in this article, I believe this food is ideal for birds that have been diagnosed with Proventricular Dilitation Disease (PDD). Properly grown sprouts provide an easily digested form of protein because the amino acids are broken down into their key components making them easier to digest. All minerals present become chelated making them easier to assimilate. Sprouts contain the highest amounts of life-giving enzymes, more than any other fresh food, are rich in antioxidants and contain something no other food has—life force energy. Sprouts are alive up until the moment they are eaten. Other fresh foods stop being alive the moment they are harvested.

Research has linked under-nutrition and malnutrition to compromised immune systems. A poor functioning immune system is at the root of birds contracting illness from disease-causing pathogens. The best way to strengthen and build a healthy and proper functioning immune system is through the foods that are fed to and eaten by our birds.

Parrot Magazine Leslie Moran
Author Leslie Moran

Leslie Moran’s passion is using food as medicine for creating health and wellness in parrots. Moran shares her knowledge and newsworthy results in using food, nutrition and holistic healthcare for maintaining or restoring avian health and wellness. Her book The Compete Guide to Successful Sprouting for Parrots provides insight into the essential elements of her avian nutrition plan. Moran writes, teaches and provides consultations from her facility in Northern Nevada.

sprouting parrots
From left to right, a rice, buckwheat, wheat, adzuki bean, mung bean and lentil sprout at three days of growth; photo courtesy Leslie Moran

Eco-Tourism Protects Parrots, Natural Habitats

Ilene Stackel

by I.M. Stackel

Editor’s Note: this article appeared in an edition of the 2013 In Your Flock companion parrot magazine.

For 13 of my 40 years as a journalist, I was a professional travel writer. The first time my heart cried out and prayed for a destination to remain untouched was in 1984 when I visited Bora Bora. That was 132 years after writer and naturalist Ida Pfeiffer wrote A Woman’s Journey Around the World from Vienna to Brazil, Chile, Tahiti, China, Hindostan, Persia, and Asia Minor.

For a society that cherishes freedom and nature, it wasn’t all that long ago that the European Union got around to banning import of wild parrots. Agreed to in Brussels in 2006, the laws went into effect July 1, 2007, a scant six years ago. Enforcement is slow to catch up and requires every traveler to exercise common sense and compassion.

For starters, as hackneyed as it sounds, heed the old adage to take photographs and memories and leave nothing but footprints. Furthermore, bird lovers should avoid any souvenirs made of animals and birds or parts such as feathers, and consciously shun mementos—wood, for instance—obtained from habitats that were not harvested in a sustainable way.

Some of the best ecotourism practices might include traveling to destinations that work in partnership with conservation groups, Ayako Ezaki, communications director for The International Ecotourism Society said.

“Peru and Brazil are two examples of good birding destinations, because of some of the work our members are doing,” Ezaki said. You can learn more at www.ecotourism.org.

Steve Milpacher of the World Parrot Trust said there are literally dozens of great destinations for parrot lovers to choose from. “It’s best if they chose a general destination by country, and then look for operators in that country who align with the International Ecotourism Society,” Milpacher said. “Countries with high numbers of wild parrots include Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia and Indonesia.”

To get an idea of which destinations engage in the best and most current conservation practices, it is worth looking at BirdLife International’s Data Zone, which posts The State of the World’s Birds, a comprehensive overview of current and emerging conservation issues. The site also posts national reports, alerts and forums on globally threatened birds. Visit www.birdlife.org/datazone/sowb.

It is also illuminating to note which destinations and travel companies are confident enough to host ecotourism conferences and participate in seminars. This year’s Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference will be held Sept. 24 through 27 in Nairobi, Kenya, and is co-hosted by the Kenya Tourism Board and African Wildlife Foundation.

Bonito, MS in Brazil will play host to the 2014 ESTC. Bonito promotes itself as the capital of ecotourism in Brazil. While an ambitious claim, for the past 12 years Bonito has won the Viagem e Turismo’s best ecotourism destination award. Viagem e Turismo is Brazil’s leading tourism magazine.

Mauritius is another destination that has come to be associated with serious conservation and rehabilitation efforts.

Carl Jones, Ph.D., the keynote speaker at Parrots International’s annual symposium June 21 through 23 in Long Beach, is the scientific director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and International Conservation Fellow at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom. The latter has a wildlife park.

A bird lover who shares his home with a cockatoo, pairs of macaws, condors, owls, kestrels and an eagle, Jones’ address will be on Echos in the Forest: The rescue of a Critically Endangered species, the Echo Parakeet Psittacula eques and its long-term conservation management, citing statistics observed in Mauritius.

Likewise, Donald Brightsmith, Ph.D., is a Parrots International advisory board member, a lecturer in avian conservation at Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center in Texas, and the research director for Rainforest Expeditions, Peru. Brightsmith has worked in Peru’s tropical forests since 1993 and includes a wide range of parrot- and macaw-related topics including clay lick use, landscape level movements, diet, reintroduction, habitat management, nesting ecology and conservation.

How can your next trip include good environmental practices? That’s the question we put to Milpacher of World Parrot Trust.

“That is too broad to answer (but) each circumstance is different, as are the practices of individual tour operators and projects,” Milpacher said. All travel companies allied with the International Ecotourism Society have “agreed to a high standard of operation that follow the following ecotourism principles,” Milpacher said.

Those SOPs include:

  • Minimize impact;
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect;
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts;
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation;
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people; and
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

How does a traveler do his or her part? International Ecotourism Society spells it out this way:

“Your travel choice makes a difference. By exploring alternative travel choices, you can have a unique trip and avoid leaving negative marks on cultures, economies and the environment.”

At the hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Talk with staff about working conditions. Does the hotel support community projects?

Language: Learn a few words of the local language and use them.

Behavior: Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes or private land.

Environment: Respect the natural environment. Never touch or harass animals. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites.

Animal products: Never buy crafts or products made from protected or endangered animals.

Pay the fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for services.

Buy locally: Choose locally owned lodges, hotels and B&Bs. Use local buses, car rental agencies and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local festivals or events.

Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live locally. Are they recommended by tour operators?

Doing your research before your trip will increase your chances for an environmentally positive experience for all.

A professional writer and journalist for four decades, Ilene Stackel is known locally for government/political and business coverage. Most recently she’s contributed to the Fort Myers News-Press but prior to that spent nine years at Naples Daily News. Stackel also worked for Knight-Ridder in the Florida Keys, South Florida Business Journal and UPI in Miami. In the 1980s and early ’90s, Stackel was a travel writer who specialized in Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean.

Olfactory Enrichment

by Robin Shewokis

Editor’s Note: this article is from a 2013 edition of In Your Flock pet bird magazine. Notice that Robin is NOT talking about essential oils. In Your Flock parrot magazine does NOT recommend using essential oils near birds.

For many years I wrestled with whether or not it was a waste of time to offer parrots olfactory enrichment. I was told that scents were dangerous for parrots and not to even consider offering scent enrichment.

I took my wonderings to the research desk and started hunting for scientific studies and evidence that would support either the ideas of most or my hopes that olfactory enrichment was another way to stimulate our parrots in captivity. My research didn’t take long as the information was slim to non-existent. There was plenty of information about vultures and sea birds and their senses of smell but very little on parrots. In preparing to write this article I looked to science once again.

The research that I found before was still about it for scientific studies. In “Olfactory Discrimination in Yellow-backed Chattering Lories Lorius garrulous flavopalliatus: first demonstration of olfaction in Psittaciformes” by T.J. Roper 2003 it states that these lories were able to discriminate artificial nectar from water and were able to use plant odor cues to differentiate foods. This made me hopeful. In a study by Julie Hagelin, “Observations on the olfactory ability of the Kakapo Strigops habroptilus,” the critically endangered parrot of New Zealand it was concluded that by offering a male kakapo three bins that could potentially contain food the bird was able to identify the food bins by scent. The kakapo used olfactory cues to forage. Again, there was hope. My other research lists parrots as very low on the olfactory food chain but they do indeed have olfactory receptors that allow them to differentiate scents.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence I did have one personal experience several years ago that keeps my hopes alive. On a trip to New Zealand, after presenting at the Auckland Zoo I had the opportunity to see and interact with a native parrot species, the kaka. While interacting with the bird we were told by the keeper that the bird responded to scent enrichment. I was able to observe the bird engaging in olfactory enrichment with myself and Barbara Heidenreich of Good Bird, Inc. The kaka would place its nares on our hair or skin, audibly inhale, and then preen. It did this several times with both of us. This experience fed my need to pursue olfactory enrichment options for captive parrots.

With these new bits of information in hand I began thinking of ways to present scent enrichment that was both safe and enriching. In all my work I try to get to the heart of what the bird does in the wild. Although our birds are mostly captive bred they are not that far removed from their wild counterparts.

A key element in creating any enrichment offering is safety. We want to enrich our parrots but we need to be sure that we are doing it safely. With the latest trend toward offering essential oils it is crucial that you are aware of safety. 

Natural food items can be used as olfactory enrichment. You can rub a chili pepper on a perch or toy. This may be olfactory and/or tactile, as the bird may taste the scent as well. If you have a bird that is reluctant to play with toys, you may be able to lure her to play by rubbing a strong scented food item on the surface of a toy. Be sure you are using scents that are pure and bird safe when using this option.

Take some of your bird interaction time and do some experiments of your own. The next time you create a great foraging opportunity for your parrot put a food item inside that has a strong scent. Create an identical opportunity that has a food item with no discernible scent. Be sure that your parrot doesn’t watch you create the foraging item or that you don’t give him any cues. They’re pretty tricky that way! Present both choices to your bird and see which one he goes for first. Make sure to make the opportunities equally accessible and attractive visually. Try this several times and see what your results are. Send an e-mail to me with your results at birdelves@aol.com. Maybe the next time I’m asked to write an article on olfactory enrichment I’ll be citing your research!

Robin Shewokis, a board member of IAATE, is the owner of The Leather Elves, which started as a family business that creates enrichment for companion parrots. After working with several facilities that housed collections of parrots Shewokis realized there was a need for enrichment targeting other species. Since then Shewokis has consulted at zoos in the United States, Canada, Holland and New Zealand. She has spoken at numerous parrot clubs and conducted workshops that help companion bird owners and aviculturists create a stimulating captive environment.