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 the eclectus is between 150 and 250. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
from a 2013 edition of In Your Flock pet bird magazine
In the parrot-human relationship that takes place in our homes, zoos, aviaries, veterinary waiting rooms or sanctuaries, the human has a great responsibility to provide what the parrot is missing by being in human care. We want to make the birds we’re responsible for “happy.” We can observe a parrot interacting with elements within its environment, but we can’t actually observe it being happy. We strive to make the bird happy—and that’s a good goal.
Start by knowing your bird. What would your bird’s species be doing in the wild? Research and learn its wild traits in general and use those traits and behaviors as the base of knowledge when building an enrichment program for your bird. Think of your knowledge as a triangle with the tip pointed down. The wide base is the general knowledge of the species’ quirks. Then move down the triangle narrowing the behaviors, traits, likes and quirks to your bird at the “tip.”
For instance, Amazons (Amazona) and Eclectus come from different regions of the world, but have similar behaviors. Both species are arboreal foragers. The Amazon parrot is typically found in the upper levels of the canopy. The Eclectus also hangs out in the upper regions of the rainforest.
If you’re designing a dietary enrichment device for an Amazon or Eclectus parrot, you might put food in a small paper bag and hang the bag from the top of the bird’s cage. This will encourage the parrot’s natural behavior of foraging in the canopy.
If you determine that your Amazon dislikes foraging in the “treetop,” you could present the device in another way that still offers your bird exercise and activity. This is where knowing your particular bird is important. It’s the tip of the upside-down triangle that helps you decide what to offer your bird.
When offering enrichment devices, remember that nothing has to be permanent. You have options just as your bird should have options. By giving your bird enrichment opportunities, you put choices back in for your birds. In the next article, we’ll take a closer look at the types of enrichment and specific ideas you can try.
Editor’s Note: An Example—In the wild, cockatiels spend time foraging on the ground. They eat a variety of grass seeds. To that end, I suggest setting up a natural grass carpet section with cockatiel food sprinkled upon it as a foraging/feeding station. The staff at In Your Flock companion parrot magazine bought a 1-foot-wide strip of plastic grass carpet at the local Home Depot hardware store for about $8. They cut a square to place in the floor of CoCo the Cockatiel’s cage. With a few river pebbles ($3 for the bag; a few cents’ worth for this station) on top of the square, CoCo can pick her seed treats out of the grass and pebbles in a natural foraging action. Check out the pre-cut, washable Foraging Green at The Leather Elves.
Robin Shewokis is the proprietor of The Leather Elves parrot enrichment toy company and works with parrot groups and zoos/animal facilities both in the United States and abroad teaching people how to enrich the lives of the animals in their care.
Beta-carotene, an important antioxidant, belongs to a class of phytochemicals called carotenoids. They are fat soluble pigments found in yellow, red, green and orange vegetables and fruits. This family of antioxidants also includes alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
There are more than 500 different carotenoids in nature. Fifty of these, including beta-carotene, can be converted to vitamin A in a healthy liver.Because of this, beta-carotene is considered a provitamin.The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A as needed, with any left over beta-carotene then acting as an antioxidant.
Antioxidants, also called free-radical scavengers, are the only way the body can successfully manage free-radicals. Numerous diseases, the effects of pollution, degenerative conditions and even the aging process itself has been attributed to free-radical damage. A free radical is a highly reactive molecule that can bind to and destroy other molecules. Also known as oxidative damage, free radical damage can irreversibly impair body cells and physiological processes.
In its role against free radicals, beta-carotene has been identified as being able to break down the chain reactions of these highly charged free radical molecules. When this occurs, this potent antioxidant prevents cholesterol oxidization and protects DNA from the harmful effects of oxidization. Beta-carotene has been seen to disable reactive oxygen species molecules caused from exposure to sunlight and air pollution, this helps prevent damage to eyes, lungs, and skin.
For these reasons, beta-carotene has become known for promoting eye health, good vision, helps postpone the effects of aging, helps prevent cancer, heart disease, heart attack, strokes and arteriosclerosis.
Any thorough discussion of this nutrient must clarify the relationship between beta-carotene and vitamin A.Many articles and nutrition data sources use the term beta-carotene and vitamin A interchangeably. This gives the impression that they are the same nutrient, when in reality they are not.
As you learned above, beta-carotene is an antioxidant and is the precursor to vitamin A.The nutrient vitamin A is also called rentinol. It is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in animal foods: whole eggs, liver, fatty fish, and cod liver oil.
When discussing beta-carotene and rentinol vitamin A you may see the letters: RE (rentinol equivalent). Over the past ten years research has been done showing that the body’s ability to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A rentinol will vary between individuals.And when beta-carotene comes from common food sources only one twelfth of it can be converted to vitamin A. However, if thebeta-carotene has been dissolved in oil half of it can be converted.
Rentinol vitamin A is one of the few nutrients where minimum daily requirements for birds have been set by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).People with diabetes and hypothyroidism (under active thyroid gland) cannot convert beta-carotene into vitamin A. Although avian veterinarians have not documented similar findings in parrots, if your bird is ever diagnosed with either of these conditions check to ensure that they have an adequate intake of vitamin A rentinol in their diet.Although vitamin A has been identified as an essential avian nutrient, because it is a fat soluble vitamin, hypervitaminosis A (an overdose of vitamin A) can and has occurred in parrots.
For our birds to be healthy they must consume hundreds of nutrients everyday.Nutritional research from the University of Maryland Medical center has shown that it’s best to get the full benefits of beta-carotene from foods sources, not nutritional supplements.Their research shows that getting more antioxidants through diet helps boost the immune system, protects against free radical damage, and may lower the risk of two types of chronic illness- heart disease and cancer.
Foods rich in beta-carotene include apricots, beet greens, broccoli, cantaloupe, watermelon, carrots, collards, dandelion and mustard greens, kale, papayas, peaches, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, turnip greens, yellow squash and an assortment of select sprouts.
Air quality is always a hot topic of conversation, though rarely in the context of our pets and how it affects their health. Birds in particular have highly delicate immune systems and efficient respiratory systems—they are affected deeply and quickly when pollutants enter the environment—so pristine air is key for our feathered friends living indoors. In the wild, birds have the freedom to breathe fresh air, but in our homes they can be exposed to a plethora of toxins that can be harmful to their health.
The spectrum of harmful products in the home can be surprising to those of us who don’t suffer from our own allergies and sensitivities. Pollutants produced from off gassing from new furniture and carpets; wood stoves, heaters, and hair dryers; Teflon from nonstick pans and irons; tobacco products; aerosols from hairspray, deodorant, and perfume; incense, scented candles, and air fresheners all contaminate living spaces and should be filtered out to protect sensitive birds. For those of us who suffer from allergies and asthma, it might not be a surprise that the contamination goes both ways; dander and keratin powder from bird feathers can irritate our lungs. It’s important to rid the air of pollutants produced by both human and animal lifestyles.
Removing these invisible toxins can seem daunting. Using fewer harmful cleaning products and vacuuming and dusting the home more often can definitely help reduce them. For a more permanent solution, install an unobtrusive always-running machine in your home to monitor the air quality. Air purifiers, particularly those with HEPA filtration systems, are an accurate and sustainable way to achieve clean air indoors. Without putting additional chemicals and deodorizers into the air, purifiers like those made by Los Angeles–based Rabbit Air take in the dander and volatile organic compounds and leave the pure stuff for the birds. Rabbit Air Purifiers are incredibly quiet—even while hard at work day and night checking and correcting the air quality, they won’t disturb your bird. Their HEPA filters remove extremely tiny particles—even the finest dander—and can be cleaned or replaced easily for convenient maintenance.
Creating a safe and healthy environment for your pets naturally means a healthy home for you, too. Eliminating the particles and fumes produced by our daily lives in the home is a simple and manageable step towards a better life. For more information about Rabbit Air Purifiers, particularly those tailored to bird owners, visit RabbitAir.
For another article on air purification benefits, visit Jen’s Reviews.
It’s not every day that you meet another best friend and have a qualified vet on hand to check out that best friend. Debbie Lacy of Orrville, Ohio, saw the stars align when she visited a bird rescue in a neighboring town with some friends in 2014. Her friend Tammy Johnson Sims was taking a donation of parrot food to the rescue and the group went in, walking past a cage in the foyer. Lacy felt compelled to stop and look in the cage, where a shy Citron-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea citrinocristata) sat huddled in the far corner.
“I just knew then she was going home with me that day,” Lacy said.
Dr. Scott E. McDonald, DVM, was onsite that day doing checkups with birds so the bird got groomed and received a physical exam. Lacy gave her the name Honeysuckle and took her home for a five-week quarantine.
“She took to her new name real well,” Lacy said. “I wanted to give her a new life, and that started with the new name.”
After her quarantine time, Honeysuckle got a full workup from Lacy’s egular avian vet. Lacy used the band on Honeysuckle’s leg to research what she could about her new friend’s background. The first three letters on the band gave her the clues she needed to find the breeder who brought Honeysuckle into the world. She contacted Rick Jordan at Hill Country Aviaries LLC, Dripping Springs, Texas, to learn that Honeysuckle hatched May 1, 2003. The sweet bird was 11 years old when Lacy adopted her.
“I feel pretty lucky to have her,” Lacy said. “She owns me. Just from the very beginning, she’s bonded to me.”
Honeysuckle’s new life is what Lacy called “a good match.” At the Lacy home, Honeysuckle has other bird friends, but they each have their own space. Lacy explained that she has lined the bird room with tile to make the walls easier to clean; this means the birds can have out-of-cage time to fly around and play at will.
“Out-of-cage, she really enjoys her very own java tree and a dangling toy that has daisies and a bell. She’s also a fan of shredding toys. But her favorite thing is sitting on my lap.”
They also have an outdoor aviary where they get sunshine and fresh air.
“They have an outside aviary inside a fenced-in yard,” Lacy said, describing the extra security. That great outdoors also gives them fresh foods. “My husband’s into gardening, so they get green beans fresh out of the garden. They get organic zucchini, green beans, peppers, sweet potatoes, strawberries and a variety of greens.”
For their formulated food, Lacy feeds Harrison’s pellets, which Honeysuckle took some time to get used to. The cockatoo really digs her fresh foods.
“She gets a little piece of papaya every night,” Lacy said. “She takes it out of the bowl and dunks it in her water, and then eats it.”
To go on vacation, Lacy and her husband have taken turns over the years. They’re committed to keeping the birds in their lives happy and cared for. In 2018, they’ll get a vacation together because they have pet sitting arranged at home.
Lining walls with tile, making special vacation arrangements, building a special outdoor aviary, daily chopping fresh fruits and veggies, are all part of a life the Lacys enjoy giving their birds. “She [Honeysuckle] deserves it. You don’t know what their past or the first 10 years were like.” For Lacy, giving Honeysuckle a great future is a joy.